THERE IS A CLOSE TEMPORAL RELATIONSHIP TO END TIME SIGNS AND THE RETURN OF CHRIST TO ESTABLISH HIS KINGDOM ON EARTH
Grant Osborne: Jesus has finished responding to the disciples’ question of v. 3 and now is giving the implications of the whole chapter. When the signs of vv. 15–28 appear, they will know the end is near (vv. 4–14; note those signs that do not herald the end). This is then followed by a series of parables on imminence and readiness.
David Thompson: When it comes to the Rapture of the Church, we do not look for signs. When it comes to the second coming of Jesus Christ to establish His millennial kingdom, there are specific signs. In Matthew, Jesus has presented Himself as the Davidic King who could have given Israel her kingdom. But He came unto His own and His own nation did not receive Him. Jesus predicted that Israel would be left desolate (23:38) and that Israel would not see Him again until the nation said, “Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!” (24:39).
WHEN ISRAEL SEES ALL OF THESE SIGNS, SHE NEEDS TO REALIZE THAT THE COMING OF JESUS CHRIST IS VERY NEAR.
David Turner: This passage parabolically expresses the nearness of Jesus’s coming (24:32–33) and solemnly affirms its certainty (24:34–35). Jesus’s contemporaries are familiar with the fig tree’s budding and blossoming in the spring and in the summer bearing fruit (24:32), and so he compares his coming to this process (24:33). In terms of the disciples’ question in 24:3, the “sign” is the tree’s spring budding and blossoming, and Jesus’s “coming” is the summer bearing of fruit. When the disciples see the spring signs, they know that summer’s coming is near. The affirmation of 24:34 depends on the eternal trustworthiness of Jesus’s words (24:35).
(:32a) PROLOGUE – GROWTH CYCLE OF THE FIG TREE TEACHES US
“Now learn the parable from the fig tree:”
I. (:32-33) END TIME SIGNS POINT TO SOON ULTIMATE FULFILMENT
A. (:32b) Lesson from Nature – Correlation between Fig Tree Sprouting Leaves and Soon Arrival of Summer
“when its branch has already become tender, and puts forth its leaves,
you know that summer is near;”
Grant Osborne: The fig tree was the harbinger of summer. It was somewhat unusual among trees of Palestine in that it lost its leaves when winter hit. That makes it easier to note the change in spring when the sap begins to flow and the branches become “soft” or “tender” and ready to sprout leaves. Since this is easy to see with the absence of leaves, fig trees were one of the primary signs of the approach of summer. As the leaves began to unfurl, people’s hearts surged with joy because the warm days of summer were around the corner.
The Bible Says: The changing of a tree’s leaves is nature’s way to indicate a change in season is approaching. Jesus used the fig tree as His example. He possible used the fig tree because He was sitting on the Mount of Olives (Mark 13:3) where fig trees were present. Jesus cursed a fig tree near this very spot a few days earlier on His way into Jerusalem for not having any fruit despite being in leaf (Matthew 21:19). And the nearby village of Bethphage means “house of the unripe fig” indicating that fig trees were abundant in this area. The fig tree also undergoes several obvious leaf cycles throughout the year.
Because it was Passover (early/mid spring), a fig tree’s branches were either already tender and putting forth its leaves or about to do so. Tender branches mean new growth. This takes place during the increasing warmth of spring. Everyone who saw tender branches in the fig tree would instantly recognize and know that summer, though not yet here, is near.
Using this visible and simple example of approaching change from nature, Jesus told His disciples, so, you too, when you see all these things, recognize that He is near. . .
Jesus wanted to His disciples to know that the Messiah’s coming was near when they saw these events just as easily as they knew summer was near when they noticed the tender branches and new leaves on a fig tree.
For emphasis, Jesus added the expression, right at the door. This indicated that all these things would practically occur the instant before He appeared.
Assuring the disciples with His personal divine authority, Jesus said, Truly I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things take place.
Leon Morris: Jesus turns from the signs that will precede his coming to the kind of conduct that is appropriate in his servants as they await him. As he has so often done throughout his ministry, he proceeds to teach by means of a parable, this one not so much a story (as many of them were) as a command to pay attention to the significance of the way the fig tree grows (REB, “Learn a lesson from the fig tree”). Most trees in first-century Palestine, we are told, kept their leaves throughout the year, but not the fig tree. This tree sheds its leaves in winter, but year by year the miracle takes place in spring. The branch becomes tender44 (the reference will be to the change that takes place when the sap rises in the spring) and puts forth leaves. There are other ways of knowing that the winter has come to an end, but anyone who has grown trees knows how satisfying it is to see the new leaves make their appearance. There is then no doubt that the harsh days of winter are gone and that summer is near. The fig tree does not bring the summer, but the appearance of its new leaves is a sure and certain indication that summer is now at hand.
B. (:33) Application to End Time Events – Correlation to End Time Signs and Soon Return of Christ
“even so you too, when you see all these things,
recognize that He is near, right at the door.”
Leon Morris: The followers of Jesus are to be no less discerning than the orchardist. When the tokens of which he has spoken make their appearance, they are commanded, “know that it is near” (it is also possible to take the Greek in the sense “you know”); the imminence is underlined with right at the doors. It is also possible to understand the meaning as “he is near” (so NRSV), but this does not seem nearly as probable as “it”; the reference is to the whole series of events, not simply to the central person.
II. (:34) TARGET AUDIENCE = GENERATION VIEWING THE SIGNS
“Truly I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things take place.”
Warren Wiersbe: The generation alive on earth at that time will see these events take place.
Opposing View: Donald Hagner: The attempt to explain ἡ γενεὰ αὕτη, “this generation,” as the generation alive at the time of the parousia or more generally as the human race or people of God goes against the natural meaning of the phrase and makes the words irrelevant both to Jesus’ listeners and to Matthew’s readers. The fact that, as Lövestam has shown, the expression clearly alludes to a sinful generation, one ripe for judgment, fits the fall of Jerusalem (and not merely the end of the age, which is Lövestam’s conclusion).
III. (:35) CERTAINTY OF FULFILMENT GUARANTEED
“Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words shall not pass away.”
David Thompson: Jesus makes a promise that everything He has said will take place. He will not return until every one of these signs has been fulfilled–the world will experience God’s wrath. Heaven and earth will pass away, but His words will not pass away. What is interesting about this statement is that heaven and earth will not pass away until after Jesus Christ has come back and reigned for 1000 years (Rev. 21:1ff). However, His words will not pass away. The Word of God will be in existence forever. Now the generation that Jesus refers to – “this generation” – is a reference to Jewish people, who will be in existence when the signs take place. Keep in mind that one of the signs will be an extermination plot of the antichrist to destroy the Jews (Rev. 12:13, 17). If you are a Jewish person and you actually see these signs occurring, you will think the entire nation of Israel will be destroyed. However, Jesus makes it clear that Israel will not pass away. She will survive and He will return.
Donald Hagner: Heaven and earth, seemingly so permanent, are transitory and are destined to pass away in their present form with the dawning of the eschaton (cf. Isa 51:6; 2 Peter 3:7, 11–12). By contrast, the words of Jesus (οἱ δὲ λόγοι μου, “but my words”) will endure forever. They are thereby made the equivalent of the word of God, which is the usual contrasting element in such statements (e.g., Isa 40:8). In the present context, the emphasis falls not on the teaching of Jesus generally (as, e.g., in 7:24, 26) but on the authority and reliability of his words concerning the future. Though all else of the present order will pass away, the words of Jesus will not fail.
Stanley Saunders: In Isaiah 65:17, from which Matthew draws this image, and Revelation 21:1, the vision of heaven and earth passing away also reveals the glory of the new creation that follows God’s judgment of the world’s empires.