Scripture: “From the fig tree learn its lesson: as soon as its branch becomes tender and puts out its leaves, you know that summer is near. So also, when you see all these things, you know that he is near, at the very gates. Truly, I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things take place. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.” Matthew 24:32-35 ESV
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Observation: Recapping Friday’s Daily Focus, Jesus adds more details about the coming of the Son of Man. With the tribulation nearing its end, a celestial bombardment (likely fiery asteroids and meteors) will darken the sky and foreshadow the shaking of creation to make all things new. Then Christ will come “on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory” (v.30). And his angels will gather the elect (those he and the Father have saved for eternal communion with them) accompanied by the trumpet blasts of war and certain victory.
Today’s reading, the fourth segment, marks a shift from Jesus’ response to the disciples’ question on the temple’s destruction to addressing their right attitudes in this New Covenant era of the “now but not yet.” His first lesson is a parable on the fig tree. Earlier, we read about an incident where Jesus cursed a fig tree symbolizing Jerusalem’s unfaithfulness that leads to unfruitfulness. He challenged his astonished disciples to exercise their faith and pray to the Father for what is seemingly impossible but not with God (21:18-22). Here, he addresses the observance of the fig tree’s seasonal development parallel to the signs of the time. The fig tree loses its leaves in the winter but yields new leaves and buds in the spring, indicating summer is near. In like manner, Jesus’ disciples must stay alert and observe the signs of the times that will point to his imminent return.
He then makes two declarations, the first of which appears problematic regarding “this generation will not pass away until all these things take place” (v.34 above). The second, however, clearly and succinctly aligns with the outcome of his return, juxtaposing our temporal world with his eternal words (both further explored below).
Takeaway: The problematic phrase, “this generation will not pass away until all these things take place,” if understood to refer to the signs of spring that point to a fruitful summer (as theologian Michael Wilkins suggests, NIV Application Commentary: Matthew, p.786), then this age extending from the inauguration to the consummation for which we now live would be in view. Of course, many of us would question our world’s fruitfulness given the past two thousand years of wars, plagues, slavery, genocides, famines, and natural disasters. But if we consider the spiritual growth of Christ’s kingdom, particularly the spread of the Gospel to all nations, we are in a blessed summer epoch.
But what about “this generation”? Does Jesus have his disciples and their peers in view? Theologian D. A. Carson argues there is no basis from Scripture to interpret “this generation” as a generalized term for all people of this era extending from the inauguration to the consummation. Instead, we must take Jesus’ words at face value and assume he has in view the seismic wave of the Jewish revolt and the ensuing Roman invasion (66-70 CE) that led to the devastation of Jerusalem (The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Matthew, p.507). However, both scholars agree that the distress leading up to his return has no terminus, particularly considering that most Old Testament prophecies see fulfillment in the near and distant future. So future generations will also see “all these things take place” in various forms.
Lastly, Matthew records Jesus’ authoritative and forthright statement that the earth and its atmosphere as we know it will face destruction, but his words remain eternal. Indeed, in John’s prologue to his Gospel, he tells us Jesus is the Word: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made” (John 1:1-3 ESV). And the author of Psalm 119 declares, “Forever, O LORD, your word is firmly fixed in the heavens” (v.89 ESV).
Our takeaway? In his second epistle to the church, the elderly Peter, wiser in the spirit than his impetuous youthful self, presents his last words to his beloved. In his closing remarks, he writes, “But do not overlook this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day. The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance. But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a roar, and the heavenly bodies will be burned up and dissolved, and the earth and the works that are done on it will be exposed” (2 Peter 3:8-10 ESV). He adds that we must seek holiness and godliness while waiting for the new heavens and earth where “righteousness dwells” (3:11-13).
Following Peter’s sound advice, we will fair better in these uncertain times if we actively wait for Christ’s return. But it’s not about trying to force God’s hand by pressing headlong into foreign missions or rebuilding the Jerusalem temple to expedite his plan. Instead, it involves humbly submitting to the Holy Spirit’s lead to continually repent and transform our minds where we no longer conform to the patterns of this world but pursue holiness by doing God’s good and pleasing will (Romans 12:2). And as we exercise our faith and confess our sins the Righteous One’s grace will prove to be sufficient to prepare us to dwell with him in his new creation.
Prayer: Father God, we thank you for your Son, the eternal Word, and our Righteous One, whose prophecies and promises stand the test of time. So would you please help us actively wait for their fulfillment while taking care of business here and now by exercising our faith that leads to repentance and by renewing our minds according to your will so that we might be ready to dwell with you and your Son in his new creation? Amen.
Rev. Gordon Green, M.Div., M.A. Counseling