“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)
Over the past few days we’ve read some amazing prophecy spoken by Jesus regarding His return to earth as well as the immediately preceding period. This was in response to the disciples asking Him when He would return and what would be the sign of His return [Matthew 24:3]. While they expected Him to come in power almost immediately the world has actually been waiting for almost 2,000 years. In today’s passage Jesus assures His followers that what He said will indeed happen.
Using a lesson from nature, Jesus tells us that just as we know that summer is near when the fig tree puts out its leaves we will know that Jesus’ arrival is near when we see all these things that Jesus has just told us [Matthew 24:15-31]. In fact, Jesus will be at the very gates – He will be on the verge of entering back into earthly life. Those people who experience the tribulation (called this generation in this passage) will be the ones who will see all these things take place, including Jesus’ return.
The Greek word for “learn” here is μαντηανο (pronounced: man-than’-o) which implies more than just head knowledge. It means “to understand and put into practice”. Jesus is telling us that we need to do more than just understand the details of what He has told us – the abomination of desolation, the tribulation, His appearing in the sky – we must apply them to our lives.
This means living the way Jesus taught at the beginning of His response to the disciples’ question. Before telling them what the sign would be of His return He first told them to stay focused on Him and not be alarmed when persecution came [Matthew 24:4-8]. But considering that it has been 2,000 years and Jesus has not yet returned it would be easy to lose hope and behave in a way that reflects that loss of hope.
Sadly, this is precisely what the vast majority of the world has already chosen to do. They have embraced atheism or have made up their own religions which act as a substitute for faith. Rather than believing Jesus they have created and believed lies.
In fact, in this very passage Jesus allays thoughts of doubt that He knew would arise during His lengthy absence by confirming what He is saying is true (Truly, I say to you). His words will not pass away. That is, they will not die and be rendered moot. They are alive with meaning and truth. We can count on what Jesus tell us – including the fact that He is coming back – is 100% true.
Notice also that Jesus tells us that heaven and earth will pass away. The current heaven and earth have been tainted with sin and therefore must be destroyed. In their place God will create a new heaven and a new earth [Isaiah 65:17; Revelation 21:1].
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