I remember how this was preached in the 70s by some popular end times preachers. They said that the fig tree symbolizes Israel (always) and so when the fig tree blossoms, we will have one generation before the Return of the Lord – or more specifically the Rapture.
Date setting looked like this. Israel was re-established in 1948 by the United Nations and a generation was taken to be 40 years. 1948 plus 40 is 1988. Thus they assured us, the end could very well (some equivocation inserted here just to be safe) come before 1988.
I recall a book called, “88 Reasons Jesus will return by 1988″. One of the reasons was that the swine which rushed into the sea after Jesus exorcised the Gerasene Demoniac were “almost 2000”, Hence Jesus will return before the year 2000. They did not use the calendar system we do today, but that did not matter. At any rate when 1989 rolled around the book could be purchased from the 90% off bin.
32 “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. 33 Even so, when you see all these things, you know that it is near, right at the door. 34 Truly I tell you, this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened. 35 Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away. Matthew 24:32-25
The fig tree is not about Israel but about how quickly fruit follows leaf. (When we see cherry blossoms, we expect cherries in short order.) When the fig shows its leaves, the figs will soon follow.
What will be soon? “all these things” are the subject (v. 33, 34). What Jesus has been talking about are signs that are not of the end (v. 1-14), the sign of the destruction of the temple (v. 15-21) and then a discussion about the return of the Son of Man (v. 22-31). The only sign of the end of the age is the sign of the Return of the Son of Man (v. 30). That answers the question about signs in verse 3. So “all these things” are all the other listed items.
Within the lifetime of the Apostles, all the things Jesus talked about would happen: persecution, earthquakes, false messiahs, and the destruction of the Temple (70 AD).
Sorry kids, no dates here!
In case you had hopes of a date, consider what comes next…
36 “But about that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. 37 As it was in the days of Noah, so it will be at the coming of the Son of Man. 38 For in the days before the flood, people were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, up to the day Noah entered the ark; (Mt 24:36-38)
Again, I heard a speaker say that we can not get the day or the hour, but we should be able to pick out the year or month. Well, have fun with that.
The point is that the return of the Lord in Glory is unknowable. Period.