Fight for Joy! Blog
Where Jesus Changes Everything
“Now learn the parable of 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. Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will not pass away”(Matthew 24:32-35). Matthew 24:32-35, verse 34 in particular, is a difficult text for Bible interpreters. Matthew 24 is known as the Olivet Discourse. The problem is that Jesus appears to be predicting a particular period of time in which we can expect His glorious and visible return to this earth. The argument goes like this: The fig tree represents the nation of Israel. The “branch [becoming] tender and [putting] forth its leaves” refers to the rebirth of the nation in 1948. Therefore, the generation born around the time of Israel’s return to the land will be alive at the Second Coming of Christ. Many conclude such an interpretation cannot possibly be correct given Jesus’ words in verse 36: “But of that day and hour no one knows.” He said the same thing to the disciples in Acts 1:7, “It is not for you to know times or epochs which the Father has fixed by His own authority.” Paul repeated this in his 1st letter to the Thessalonians, “Now as to the times and the epochs, brethren, you have no need of anything to be written to you” (1 Thess. 5:1). Those who have been following my writings for any length of time know that I believe the Bible says what it means and means what it says. In other words, God doesn’t have a speech impediment. I use the Historical-Grammatical method of interpretation and the rule of thumb I follow is if the plain sense of the text makes sense; seek no other sense, lest you end up with nonsense. So what is the solution to this difficult text?
Hank Hanegraaff, radio’s “Bible Answer Man,” and author of The Apocalypse Code (I do not recommend it), believes the entirety of Matthew 24 refers to events surrounding the fall of Jerusalem in A.D. 70. Therefore, his conclusion is that “this generation” of Matt. 24:34 refers to the generation alive at the time Jesus spoke this prophecy. Since Jesus spoke this prophecy around A.D. 32 or so, there were some still alive when the Romans laid siege to Jerusalem and destroyed the Temple. Hank, although he does a splendid job answering most questions posed to him, is a partial Preterist who is thoroughly confused on matters of eschatology. As a partial Preterist, he believes all prophecy except for the Second Coming and resurrection of believers and unbelievers at the end of the age has already been fulfilled. It is obvious that Hank is seeking “other sense” in the passage thus ending up with nonsense. Another solution to this difficult passage is offered by Pastor Bob DeWaay, a man I highly admire and respect. He believes this prophecy is used in a pejorative sense in the New Testament and is therefore qualitative and not setting a time limit. He sees the issue of “this generation” in Matt. 24:34 in the sense of Jewish hardness to the gospel and their rejecting Jesus as Messiah down through subsequent generations. He uses passages like Matt. 12:41-45, Luke 9:40-45, Acts 2:40, and others to support his interpretation. His argument is well thought out and he may very well be correct.
Although it is possible the fig tree here refers to Israel’s rebirth, I believe Jesus was using this parable to say that when the people of Israel see all the end-times signs He described, they will know that His return is really near. Notice I said “the people of Israel.” I believe the Olivet Discourse, though contained in three Gospels, is meant for Israel, not the Church. The fig tree is among the last to get its leaves in the spring. So when it begins to bud, you know that summer is really near. However, there is one important thing to keep in mind. No end-times prophecy could be fulfilled without the existence of the nation of Israel. In other words, the Jews must be back in their biblical lands, and prior to 1948 there had been no nation of Israel for over 2000 years. Therefore, I sincerely believe Israel’s rebirth signals the time of the end has begun. For this, I look to Ezekiel. His detailed prophecies of the end of the age are given chronologically. Chapters 36-37 predicted Israel’s rebirth as a nation. Chapter 38 said it would occur after the land had long lay desolate and had recovered from war. Its people would be gathered from many nations. All of this clearly happened in and since 1948. Chapters 38-39 then describe a great battle known as the War of Gog and Magog where the Lord Himself will intervene and bring His people back into a covenant relationship with Him. This hasn’t happened yet, and whether it happens before or shortly after the Rapture I do not know. But when it does occur, it will set the stage for Daniel’s 70th Week to begin. During that period the signs Jesus spoke of will appear making it clear that His return is near—we see the foreshadowing of these signs today. Ezekiel chapters 40-48 talk about life in Israel during the Millennial Reign of Christ on earth.
Another interpretation, one that I like better than my own (and it might very well be the correct interpretation), suggests Matthew 24:34 says that the generation being born when the end-times signs begin will still be alive when all signs are fulfilled and Jesus returns visibly to this planet. According to Psalm 90:10, a biblical lifespan is 70-80 years. Most scholars worth their salt agree that the first of the end-times signs was the rebirth of Israel in 1948. Therefore, the generation born around 1948 can expect to see everything fulfilled in their lifetime. If this interpretation is correct we must keep in mind that Israel recently celebrated 61 years as a nation. If a biblical lifespan is 70-80 years, what does this say about the lateness of the hour? Israel has been a nation since May 14, 1948. Since that time the nations that made up the ancient Roman Empire have been coming back together in the European and Mediterranean Unions – a key end-times prophecy. Russia has been entering into military and economic alliances with several Moslem countries, not the least of which is Iran (Persia in biblical times). This is astounding because 2600 years ago the Prophet Ezekiel foretold of a confederation of nations led by Iran and armed by Russia that would form a confederacy in an all out assault on Israel to annihilate her. The most astounding part of this prophecy is when it would take place. Ezekiel carefully pinpoints the exact time – a specific generation. We’ve never seen anything like this in history until now. It is coming to pass just as the Bible predicted. Another thing we are seeing in this generation, something we’ve never seen before in history, is the overwhelming push for a comprehensive Middle East peace. Daniel 9:26-27 says a pseudo-peace is coming between Israel and her enemies. This peace will be brokered by a European—a descendent of the people who destroyed Jerusalem in A.D. 70, the Romans. The Hebrew word used here indicates this peace agreement will be forced upon Israel. This is amazing considering the rhetoric we’ve heard over the past few weeks—that a two state solution is non-negotiable and Israel must accept this. Furthermore, Jerusalem has become the point of contention over Middle East peace—who will own and control it. And we must remember, the Bible says when they say, “Peace and safety!” that is the time to expect the Day of the Lord—God’s judgment upon unbelieving Israel and the unbelieving world leading up to the return of Christ. But before all this happens, the Bible foretells another event, one that requires absolutely no signs or prophetic fulfillment—the Rapture of the Church. I believe this event will happen at any moment with the Tribulation period quickly following. So regardless of which interpretation is correct, I do believe we are the generation to witness the Lord’s return! Are you ready to meet the Lord in the air? If not, your time is running out. Maranatha!
"For you yourselves know full well that the day of the Lord will come just like a thief in the night. While they are saying, ‘Peace and safety!’ then destruction will come upon them suddenly like labor pains upon a woman with child, and they will not escape” (1 Thessalonians 5:2-3). Both of Paul’s letters to the Thessalonian believers are highly eschatological in their content. Eschatology, of course, is that branch of theology that deals primarily with prophecy related to the end-times. Every chapter of 1 Thessalonians ends with a reference to the second coming of Jesus. According to Acts 17:2, Paul was with the Thessalonians for only a few weeks. In that time he taught them more about the end-times and the return of Jesus Christ than most churches cover over a period of years. In fact, Paul would be amazed and disappointed that some people today consider the study of end-times prophecy to be unimportant. It is no wonder that most people in the church today have absolutely no idea about the nearness of the Day of the Lord.
What is the Day of the Lord? It is a phrase that identifies events that take place at the end of history and is often closely associated with the phrase “that day.” It always identifies the span of time during which God will personally intervene in human affairs, both directly and indirectly, to accomplish His plan. It will begin with the Rapture of the Church and will continue through the tribulation period. The Rapture is that event when Jesus comes in the air for His Church. Paul clearly taught this in 1 Thess. 4:13-18. The tribulation period, known by its technical name as Daniel’s 70th Week is a period of seven years when God will pour out His wrath on unbelieving Israel and on the unbelieving world. It will also be a time of salvation as God will deliver the remnant of Israel, fulfilling His promise that “all Israel will be saved” (Rom. 11:26). Scripture always presents it as an imminent event that will come quickly, like a thief in the night: “For you yourselves know full well that the day of the Lord will come just like a thief in the night” (1 Thess. 5:2). It will come upon the world silently and unannounced. Jesus said, “Be on the alert, for you do not know which day your Lord is coming” (Matt. 24:42). Therefore, we as Christians must be watchful and ready for the coming of Christ at any moment: “For you, brethren, are not in darkness, that the day would overtake you like a thief” (1 Thess. 5:4).
Paul tells us when we can expect the Day of the Lord: “While they are saying, ‘Peace and safety!’” (1 Thess. 5:3). In other words, although the unbelieving world will not expect it, Christians should see it coming and be ready. One thing that has really stood out to me lately is the intensifying push for peace in the Middle East. A recent news article reports that, “Israel, Syria, Lebanon and other Arab nations should sit down together to try to resolve the Middle East conflict under a new ‘combined approach’ currently under discussion with the U.S. What we are discussing today is a combined approach of bringing together Arabs, Europeans and the United States as a team to create the circumstances over the next several months that allow Israelis and Palestinians to sit at the table, but also with Lebanese, Syrians and Arab nations.” Another article reports, “There is not an alternative to a two-state peace settlement between Israel and Palestinians.” All of this is right in line with what the Bible says will occur in the last days, right before the return of Christ for His Church and the ensuing Day of the Lord. Daniel 9:27 tells us one is coming on the scene who will finally bring peace to the Middle East, albeit a false peace: “And he will make a firm covenant with the many for one week.” One week, of course, means seven years. In Daniel 11:39, we learn that this peace agreement will be based upon the concept of “Land for Peace”: “He will…parcel out land for a price.” Jeremiah 6:14 tells us this process will be totally one-sided in nature and leave Israel completely vulnerable: “They have healed the brokenness of My people superficially, saying, ‘Peace, peace,’ but there is no peace.” It will center on the city of Jerusalem—who will own it—and will be imposed by a global coalition: “It will come about in that day that I will make Jerusalem a heavy stone for all the peoples; all who lift it will be severely injured. And all the nations of the earth will be gathered against it” (Zech. 12:3). We are seeing this today—all nations, including America, are turning on God’s land and people. The world is in turmoil. The global financial upheaval of late has many blaming the Jews! If only we could work out the Middle East problem then all would be well—or so the world thinks. But remember this: “He who watches Israel neither slumbers nor sleeps” (Ps. 122:3). Very soon, perhaps today, millions of people worldwide will disappear, suddenly and without warning. The Day of the Lord will quickly follow. Are you ready to meet the Lord in the air? If not, your time is quickly running out.
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