Yesterday, a reader asked me to clarify my understanding of a statement Jesus made in Luke 21. This is also recorded in Matthew 24. After describing the events which lead up to His return, He tells a short parable.
Luke 21:29-32 – Then He told them a parable: “Behold the fig tree and all the trees; as soon as they put forth leaves, you see it and know for yourselves that summer is now near. So you also, when you see these things happening, recognize that the kingdom of God is near. Truly I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all things take place.
Matthew 24:32-34 – Now learn the parable from the fig tree: when its branch has already become tender and puts forth its leaves, you know that summer is near; so, you too, when you see all these things, recognize that He is near, right at the door. Truly I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things take place.
In scripture, God refers to Israel as a fig tree (Hosea 9:10) and compares them to good and bad figs (Jeremiah 24 & 29). From these scriptures, many Bible scholars interpret Jesus’ words to mean that when Israel begins to blossom and put forth leaves, the generation that is alive at that time will see the end of all things. Psalm 90:10 indicates that a lifespan is 70 years or stretched to 80 due to strength.
In 1948, Israel became a nation for the first time, as the Holocaust survivors and other Jews from around the world began to regather in their homeland. This was historically and prophetically significant. From other scriptures (Daniel, Ezekiel, etc.), we know that just before Jesus returns, several things must happen. There must be a Temple built in Israel because the “abomination of desolation” (the antichrist) will stand in it and proclaim himself to be god (Matthew 24:15). Ezekiel 38 tells of the nations that will gather against Israel in the latter days while they are “living securely” but God Himself will defend them. All nations will eventually turn against Israel, indicating rising antisemitism far greater than what was experienced during World War II. These are just a few of the indicators that the kingdom of God is near.
When Jesus used the fig tree analogy, He may have indeed been referring to Israel’s rebirth as a nation in 1948, in which case we are fast approaching the end of that generation (80 years from 1948 is 2028). I don’t “disbelieve” this interpretation, but Jesus also could have been making a simpler point, that when we see all these things happening (i.e. all the descriptions He’s just given), we should understand He is near, just like seeing leaves on a fig tree tells you that summer is approaching. Either way we look at it, the current events in our world surely indicate Jesus’ return is very near.
I was also asked about evidence for a pre-Tribulation rapture and shared a link with my friend (I’ll post it below). In re-reading Matthew 24, I lean even more that way. Jesus gives very specific details on the timing of His return. Also, a study of Revelation, Ezekiel, Daniel, and other Old Testament prophets reveals a very specific timeline. We know that from the time the antichrist stands in the Temple and desecrates it by declaring himself to be god, the Tribulation will last exactly 3 1/2 years. Those who live through the Tribulation, if they understand scripture, will know to the day when to expect Jesus.
If Jesus is referring only to His second coming which will be visible to all (Matthew 24:30), why then does He transition in the second half of this chapter and verses following to telling us of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven nor the Son, but the Father alone (Matthew 24:36). He repeats – be on the alert for you do not know which day your Lord is coming … for the Son of Man is coming at an hour when you do not think He will (Matthew 24:42,44). In this context, two men will be in the field, and one will be taken, and one will be left; two women will be grinding at the mill; one will be taken, and one will be left (Matthew 24:40-41).
It certainly sounds to me like Jesus is referring to two separate events. There will be a surprise coming (the Rapture) in which the church, those who have put their faith in Christ alone, will be taken out, just as Noah’s family escaped on the ark, and just as Lot and his daughters were rescued from the destruction of Sodom. Then, the wrath of God will begin to unfold – the time of Jacob’s trouble, the Tribulation; it will conclude when Jesus appears to all, as described in Revelation.
And I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse, and He who sat on it is called Faithful and True, and in righteousness He judges and wages war. His eyes are a flame of fire, and on His head are many diadems; and He has a name written on Him which no one knows except Himself. He is clothed with a robe dipped in blood, and His name is called The Word of God. And the armies which are in heaven, clothed in fine linen, white and clean, were following Him on white horses. From His mouth comes a sharp sword, so that with it He may strike down the nations, and He will rule them with a rod of iron; and He treads the wine press of the fierce wrath of God, the Almighty. And on His robe and on His thigh He has a name written, “KING OF KINGS, AND LORD OF LORDS.”Revelation 19:11-16
We won’t know exactly how it all comes together until it happens. Jesus was very clear, however, in warning us that judgment on this world is coming. Those who repent of their sins and believe in the Son of God for salvation will escape destruction, even if we make our exit through suffering and martyrdom. I pray that no one reading this will continue to deny Jesus and refuse the gift of eternal life He offers us all.
Here is an article with a whole list of reasons to believe in a pre-Tribulation rapture.