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Explain Matthew 24 Signs and the Fig Tree.

Signs of the nearness of the Lord's return.

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Matthew 24:32,33 Now learn a parable of the fig tree; When his branch is yet tender, and putteth forth leaves, ye know that summer is nigh: So likewise ye, when ye shall see all these things, know that it is near, even at the doors.

The primary explanation of the parable is that when we see the signs that Christ describes beginning to happen we will know that his return is imminent. Below is a summary of the accounts in Matthew 24, Mark13 and Luke 21 with additional verses from Luke 17 and 12 and 1Thessalonians 4 that speak of the same events. This helps by bringing together the whole of the Olivet discourse and similar statements.

Mt 24:27 For as the lightning cometh out of the east, and shineth even unto the west; so shall also the coming of the Son of man be.
[Lu 17:24 For as the lightning, that lighteneth out of the one part under heaven, shineth unto the other part under heaven; so shall also the Son of man be in his day.]
Mt 24:28 For whosesoever the carcase is, there will the eagles be gathered together.
(see Lk 17:37 below)
Mt 24:29 Immediately after the tribulation of those days shall the sun be darkened, and the moon shall not give her light, and the stars shall fall from heaven,
Mk 13:24 But in those days, after that tribulation, the sun shall be darkened, andthe moon shall not give her light, 25 And the stars of heaven shall fall,
Lk 21:25 And there shall be signsin the sun, and in the moon, and in the stars;
Lk 21:25 …and upon the earth distress of nations, with perplexity; the sea and the waves roaring; 26 Men’s hearts failing them for fear, and for looking after those things which are coming on the earth:
Mt 24:(29)… and the powers of the heavens shall be shaken:
Mk 13:(25)… and the powers that are in heaven shall be shaken.
Lk 21:(26)… for the powers of heaven shall be shaken.
Mt 24:30 And then shall appear the sign of the Son of man in heaven: and then shall all the tribes of the earth mourn
Mk 13:26 And then shall they see the Son of man coming in the clouds with great power and glory.
Lk 21:27 And then shall they see the Son of man coming in a cloud with power and great glory.
Lk 21:28 And when these things begin to come to pass, then look up, and lift up your heads; for your redemption draweth nigh.
Mt 24:31 And he shall send his angels with a great sound of a trumpet, and they shall gather together his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other.
Mk 13:27 And then shall he send his angels, and shall gather together his elect from the four winds, from the uttermost part of the earth to the uttermost part of heaven.

1Th 4:16 For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first: 17 Then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord. 18Wherefore comfort one another with these words.

Mt 24:32Now learn a parable of the fig tree; When his branch is yet tender, and putteth forth leaves, ye know that summer is nigh:
Mk 13:28 Now learn a parable of the fig tree;
When her branch is yet tender, and putteth forth leaves, ye know that summer is near:
Lk 21:29And he spake to them a parable; Behold the fig tree, and all the trees; 30 When they now shoot forth, ye see and know of your own selves that summer is now nigh at hand.
Mt 24:33 So likewise ye, when ye shall see all these things, know that it is near, even at the doors.
Mk 13:29 So ye in like manner, when ye shall see these things come to pass, know that it is nigh, even at the doors.
Lk 21:31 So likewise ye, when ye see these things come to pass, know ye that the kingdom of God is nigh at hand.
Mt 24:34 Verily I say unto you, This generation shall not pass, till all these things be fulfilled.
Mk 13:30 Verily I say unto you, that this generation shall not pass, till all these things be done.
Lk 21:32 Verily I say unto you, This generation shall not pass away, till all be fulfilled.
Mt 24:35 Heaven and earth shall pass away, but my words shall not pass away.
Mk 13:31 Heaven and earth shall pass away: but my words shall not pass away.
Lk 21:33 Heaven and earth shall pass away: but my words shall not pass away
Mt 24:36 But of that day and hour knoweth no man, no, not the angels of heaven, but my Father only.
Mk 13:32 But of that day and that hour knoweth no man, no, not the angels which are in heaven, neither the Son, but the Father.
Lk 21:34 And take heed to yourselves, lest at any time your hearts be overcharged with surfeiting, and drunkenness, and cares of this life, and so that day come upon you unawares.35 For as a snare shall it come on all them that dwell on the face of the whole earth.
Mk 13:33 Take ye heed, watch and pray: for ye know not when the time is.
Lk 17:20 And when he was demanded of the Pharisees, when the kingdom of God should come, he answered them …
Mt 24:37 But as the days of Noe were, so shall also the coming of the Son of man be.38 For as in the days that were before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day that Noe entered into the ark,39 And knew not until the flood came, and took them all away; so shall also the coming of the Son of man be.
Lk 17:26 And as it was in the days of Noe, so shall it be also in the days of the Son of man. 27 They did eat, they drank, they married wives, they were given in marriage, until the day that Noe entered into the ark, and the flood came, and destroyed them all.
Lk 17:28Likewise also as it was in the days of Lot; they did eat, they drank, they bought, they sold, they planted, they builded; 29 But the same day that Lot went out of Sodom it rained fire and brimstone from heaven, and destroyed them all. 30 Even thus shall it be in the day when the Son of man is revealed. 31 In that day, he which shall be upon the housetop, and his stuff in the house, let him not come down to take it away: and he that is in the field, let him likewise not return back. 32 Remember Lot’s wife. 33 Whosoever shall seek to save his life shall lose it; and whosoever shall lose his life shall preserve it.
Mt 24:40 Then shall two be in the field; the one shall be taken, and the other left.41 Two women shall be grinding at the mill; the one shall be taken, and the other left.
Lk 17: 34 I tell you, in that night there shall be two men in one bed; the one shall be taken, and the other shall be left.35 Two women shall be grinding together; the one shall be taken, and the other left.36 Two men shall be in the field; the one shall be taken, and the other left.
Lk 17: 37 And they answered and said unto him, Where, Lord? And he said unto them, Wheresoever the body is, thither will the eagles be gathered together. (see Mt 24:28 above)
Mk 13:34 For the Son of man is as a man taking a far journey, who left his house, and gave authority to his servants, and to every man his work, and commanded the porter to watch.
Mt 24:42 Watch therefore: for ye know not what hour your Lord doth come.
Mk 13:35 Watch ye therefore: for ye know not when the master of the house cometh, at even, or at midnight, or at the cockcrowing, or in the morning: 36 Lest coming suddenly he find you sleeping.
Mt 24:43 But know this, that if the goodman of the house had known in what watch the thief would come, he would have watched, and would not have suffered his house to be broken up.
LK 12:39 And this know, that if the goodman of the house had known what hour the thief would come, he would have watched, and not have suffered his house to be broken through.
Mt 24:44 Therefore be ye also ready: for in such an hour as ye think not the Son of man cometh.
LK 12:40 Be ye therefore ready also: for the Son of man cometh at an hour when ye think not.


From the full discourse we have:

Mt 24:29 Immediately after the tribulation of those days shall the sun be darkened, and the moon shall not give her light, and the stars shall fall from heaven,
Mk 13:24 But in those days, after that tribulation,the sun shall be darkened,and the moon shall not give her light, 25 And the stars of heaven shall fall,
Lk 21:25 And there shall be signsin the sun,and in the moon,and in the stars;
Lk 21:(25) …and upon the earth distress of nations, with perplexity; the sea and the waves roaring; 26 Men’s hearts failing them for fear, and for looking after those things which are coming on the earth:
Mt 24:(29)… and the powers of the heavens shall be shaken:
Mk 13:(25)… and the powers that are in heaven shall be shaken.
Lk 21:(26)… for the powers of heaven shall be shaken.

The ‘signs in the sun moon and stars’ is a prophecy similar to the fall of Babylon.

Isaiah 13:9 Behold, the day of the LORD cometh, cruel both with wrath and fierce anger, to lay the land desolate: and he shall destroy the sinners thereof out of it. 10 For the stars of heaven and the constellations thereof shall not give their light: the sun shall be darkened in his going forth, and the moon shall not cause her light to shine... 19 And Babylon, the glory of kingdoms, the beauty of the Chaldees’ excellency, shall be as when God overthrew Sodom and Gomorrah.

Similar language is used in Isaiah 34.

Isaiah 34:2 For the indignation of the LORD is upon all nations, and his fury upon all their armies: he hath utterly destroyed them, he hath delivered them to the slaughter. 3 Their slain also shall be cast out, and their stink shall come up out of their carcases, and the mountains shall be melted with their blood. 4 And all the host of heaven shall be dissolved, and the heavens shall be rolled together as a scroll: and all their host shall fall down, as the leaf falleth off from the vine, and as a falling fig from the fig tree. 5 For my sword shall be bathed in heaven: behold, it shall come down upon Idumea, and upon the people of my curse, to judgment.

Although physical signs in the sun moon and stars cannot be ruled out completely, the general meaning of the symbology is the fall of National Governments. Luke 21 adds:(v25)... upon the earth distress of nations, with perplexity; the sea and the waves roaring; 26 Men’s hearts failing them for fear, and for looking after those things which are coming on the earth... This indicates a general distress among national populations which seemingly has no solution. We have seen with the banking crisis how national economies are affected worldwide. We have the ongoing problem of ‘so called’ global warming and know that energy resources do have limits. We have not reached the stage where men’s hearts are failing them for fear and we do not yet know what will finally bring it about.

It is evident from the Olivet prophecy is that there are two sieges of Jerusalem. One took place in AD70 and the other is still future. The latter is covered in detail in Ezekiel 38 and 39 and Zechariah 12 to 14. Revelation 16:16 calls it Armageddon. The return of the Jews to Israel was a major milestone in bringing to an end the down treading of Jerusalem by the gentiles but there is still a final ‘overturning’ (Ezekiel 21:27) to come before he comes whose right it is to rule. With a invasion from the north following a time of peace for Israel there would seem to be a ‘stand-off’ between the invaders and a southern confederation of maritime powers (Ezekiel 38:13). The world at this point would be on the brink of a nuclear war. This would certainly cause men’s hearts to fail them for fear; but it is of course speculation.

The restoration of Israel as a nation gives rise to a possible secondary application of the parable. Israel is referred to as a fig tree.

Hosea 9:10 I found Israel like grapes in the wilderness; I saw your fathers as the firstripe in the fig tree at her first time...

It seems certain that the fig tree cursed by Christ was symbolic of Israel under the Covenant of Moses bearing no more fruit.

Matthew 21:19 And when he saw a fig tree in the way, he came to it, and found nothing thereon, but leaves only, and said unto it, Let no fruit grow on thee henceforward for ever. And presently the fig tree withered away.

So the fig tree whose branch is yet tender, and coming into leaf, could represent Israel prospering in a time of peace prior to the crisis foretold. Likewise all the trees could represent all the new nations that came into being after the 1st and 2nd world wars beginning to prosper. This may be stretching the parable too far but Israel restored as a nation after nearly 2000 years of ‘treading down’ is certainly a fact. And it is certain that things will get worse before Christ returns.

I hope this helps.
Glenn Smith

 
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