Summary: While there is no way to name a specific date, Jesus gave three clues as the general time when we should be looking for his return.
A little boy came home from his first day in school. His mother met him and asked, “What did you learn today?” He replied, “Not enough, I guess. They want me to come back tomorrow.” In this message I hope you will learn the lesson something about the Second Coming by learning the lesson of the fig tree.
As many of you know, the last few weeks have been filled with speculation about the Rapture. An 89-year-old man named Harold Camping owns a string of radio stations across California and other states. Mr. Camping, who has no theological training, has declared that all organized churches are apostate. As a former engineer, he developed his own esoteric dating system of the Old Testament. Based on his dating system, he was convinced that May 21, 2011 was exactly 7,000 years from the day Noah entered the ark, so he concluded this would be the date of the Rapture. His radio stations receive millions of dollars in donations and he spent a fortune buying full page ads in newspapers like USA Today and sponsored over 2,000 billboards announcing that the Rapture would happen May 21. He even had the audacity to say, “The Bible guarantees it.” Mr. Camping, who had earlier predicted Jesus would return in 1994, was wrong again—and now you can expect him to just extend his date to October 21.
Some people are taking advantage of all this Rapture talk. There is a website that offers to take care of the pets of Christians after the Rapture. For a one-time payment of $135 you can rest assured this organization of pet-lovers will collect your pet and take care of it. The website guarantees that all the members of this organization are all avowed atheists, agnostics, or blasphemers. If you think it’s a joke, many people didn’t. Saturday, a week ago, the day of Camping’s predicted Rapture, the website had so many hits it shut down. These folks raked in thousands of dollars. I guess P.T. Barnum was right about a sucker being born every minute!
When you read the title of this message you might think I’m speaking in reaction to all the recent hype about the Rapture. But many of you know I plan out my messages over a year in advance, and it just so happened that God brought us to Matthew 24 at a time when a lot of people are thinking about the second coming of Christ. Jesus had more to say about His return in Matthew 24 than in any other chapter in the New Testament.
We’re not going to study the entire 24th chapter of Matthew, because we’re restricting our study to parables and miracles and today we’re going to examine the parable of the fig tree. But in order to understand the context of this parable of the fig tree, it’s important to understand what Jesus is addressing. “Jesus left the temple and was walking away when his disciples came up to him to call his attention to its buildings. ‘Do you see all these things?’ he asked. ‘I tell you the truth, not one stone here will be left on another; every one will be thrown down.’ As Jesus was sitting on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to him privately. ‘Tell us,’ they said, ‘when will this happen, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?’ (Matthew 24:1-3).
There are three specific questions asked and answered by Jesus. First, “When will this happen?” Jesus predicted the destruction of the Jewish Temple and that would occur 40 years later in 70 A.D. The second question was, “What will be the sign of your coming?” We’ll address that answer in this message. And the next question was “What will be the sign of the end of the age?” The return of Christ isn’t the same thing as the end of the world. With that in mind let’s pick up with our parable found in Matthew 24:32-35.
“Now learn this lesson from the fig tree: As soon as its twigs get tender and its leaves come out, you know that summer is near. Even so, when you see all these things, you know that it is near, right at the door. I tell you the truth, this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away.”
Some people are looking at the woeful world conditions and think that we must surely be approaching the end of the world. The world seems to be in chaos. I recently read an article that said, “It is a gloomy moment in the history of our country. Not in the lifetime of most men has there been so much grave and deep apprehension; never has the future seemed so unpredictable as at this time. The domestic economic situation is in chaos. Our dollar is weak throughout the world. Prices are so high as to be utterly impossible. The political cauldron seethes and bubbles with uncertainty. It is a solemn moment of our troubles. No man can see the end.” When do you think that was written? Last week? Last month? That statement appeared in October 1857 in Harper’s Weekly Magazine!