In our text for today, Jesus is preparing His disciples for the Second Coming. In Matthew 24:42, 43, Jesus says, “Watch therefore: for ye know not what hour your Lord doth come. 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.” Before Jesus gave us these words, He first taught some lessons.
I. LEARN FROM THE FIG TREE (Matt. 24:32-34)
The parable of the fig tree is simple. Jesus is talking about the change in season, using the fig tree as an example. In Jesus’ day, the fig tree was very common in Israel, much as it is now. In that part of the world, fig trees put forth their fruit for nine months of the year. They are dormant during a few winter months but are covered in blossoms during the early spring. When the tree blooms, you know that summer is near.
The illustration and its explanation are easy, but its application is difficult. What is Jesus referring to when He speaks of “changes”? Jesus said that when you look at “these things,” you will know that the time is near. What are “these things”?
Jesus spent much of His discourse describing the things that would take place before He comes. Have “these things” taken place? Since the days of Jesus, there have always been deceivers, wars, disasters, earthquakes, persecutions, and defections, and the gospel has continued to spread.
“These things” took place in the days just after Jesus. Jesus said that they would: “Truly I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things take place” (verse 34). Many of “these things” have continued to take place since the generation that was alive in the days of Jesus. Since the ascension of Jesus (as recorded in Acts 1), I believe that the days have been primed for Jesus to return again.
The lesson of the fig tree is this: “Know that summer is near!” The lesson for us today is this: “Know that the Lord is near!” This is the language of the New Testament writers (Phil. 4:5; 1 Peter 4:7; James 5:8, 9).
James uses almost the same terminology as his divine brother. Jesus said, “The Lord is near, right at the door” (verse 33). We need to learn this lesson. When we think of Jesus’ Second Coming, we ought not think it is a long way off. We ought to think of the coming of Jesus as soon and near.
From the fig tree, learn that the coming of Jesus is soon!
II. LEARN FROM JESUS (Matt. 24:35, 36)
Verse 35 indicates a certainty in the words of Jesus, but verse 36 indicates an uncertainty in the words of Jesus. He is uncertain regarding the timing of these things. From these two verses, I want to pull out two lessons for us to learn, one lesson from each verse.
From verse 35, we learn that these things are certain. Admittedly, Jesus’ words in this chapter are difficult to believe, especially regarding the parable of the fig tree. Jesus said that when you see these things happen, you know that His coming is near. You know that His return is soon! But He spoke these words more than 2,000 years ago! This very observation has led many to renounce the faith. In 2 Peter 3, Peter anticipated this problem to Christianity.
When we hear the word “soon,” we think that it will be the next thing we do. In some circumstances, “soon” could be next week or next month. But certainly in our minds, “soon” doesn’t mean 2,000 years!
That is where God is different than we are. For us, eternity is 70 years! “Soon” means this year, this month, tomorrow, or even right now! But, for God, eternity is eternity! And so, for Him, “soon” can be 10,000 years. All eternity will make any delay—however long—seem as if it were but a day. “With the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day” (2 Peter 3:8).
How long has the Lord delayed His coming? Two days! The days of delay have a purpose; they are for repentance (2 Peter 3:9). Any delay in His coming is an expression of His kindness toward the unrepentant. Perhaps the Lord is being kind to you! Perhaps today is a day when you need to repent of your sin and bow to the Savior!
Every person who has ever set a date for the return of Christ has always been wrong! In fact, you must realize that if anyone sets a day for the return of Christ, you can be assured that He will not return on that day.
From the fig tree, learn that the coming of Jesus is soon! From Jesus, learn that the return of Christ is certain!
III. LEARN FROM NOAH (Matt. 24:37-41)
Jesus goes back to Genesis, the very first book of the Bible, to illustrate His coming. He tells the story of Noah. You remember that Noah was a man who lived on earth when the corruption of men had spread far and deep.
While Noah was building the ark, life went on as usual. Jesus said that before the flood, “they were eating and drinking, they were marrying and giving in marriage” (Matt. 24:38). Jesus describes a typical life. None of the things mentioned by Jesus was particularly sinful. The people’s sin was to ignore the words of Noah.
The eight people in the ark were the only ones saved from the flood. Those who weren’t in the ark perished. The point of the story is clear. Most people didn’t understand that a flood was coming (Matt. 24:39). They made no preparations for that day. They heard Noah’s warnings, but they certainly didn’t believe that the flood was coming. In verse 39, Jesus said, “So shall the coming of the Son of Man be.”
I believe Jesus was trying to make a point here that His return will be sudden! In Noah’s day, life went on as usual. Though the warning was sounded, the people ignored it. When Jesus returns to this earth, His coming will be just as sudden. When the Lord comes back, there isn’t going to be any time to repent. The game will be over. It will all be decided!
From the fig tree, learn that the coming of Jesus is soon! From Jesus, learn that the return of Christ is certain! From Noah, learn that the return of Christ will be sudden. All of these lessons are different variations on the same point: Be ready. This is where we began this morning. Jesus said, “You be ready too; for the Son of Man is coming at an hour when you do not think He will” (verse 44).
General Conference Ministerial Association