Date Setting and Matthew 24

fig tree

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.

This is not the End- Matthew 24


It is interesting that Matthew 24 is more about what is not the end than what is.

V. 1-14 are signs of various kinds that the end is not yet here.  On a popular level, people will respond to natural disasters and political turmoil as if those are evidence that the end is at hand. but the text says that these are not the end, or that they are the beginning of the birth pains (v. 6, 8)  This is a process of ending that does not have a specific end time – ask anyone who has given birth how predictable that is.  The real warning in these verses is that one should not be lead astray (v. 4, 5, 10, 11).

v. 15 – 22 speaks of an event that does indicate the end – the “abomination of desolation” which is tied to  verses in Daniel (8:13, 9:27, 11:31, 12:11).  This is specific and yet not specific.  Many scholars think Daniel was speaking of the desecration of the temple which occurred under Antiochus Ephiphanes IV in 168 BC, but Jesus was looking for something later, which is partially realized at the destruction of the temple in 70 AD under the Romans – in both cases the holy place was taken over and desecrated and/or destroyed by the conquering army.  Yet Matthew 24 deals with two questions, the destruction of the temple that Jesus spoke of (v. 2) and when would be the end of the age.  So there is yet to be a final and greater fulfillment of this abomination of desolation at the end of the age.  The tribulation in 70 AD does not seem to fit the idea that it was the worst event that ever has or will be (v. 21).  So we have another sign with an end date, but a warning to be on guard.

v. 23-31 assures believers that there can be no mistake on when the Son of Man returns – so we should not look for hidden or far of events to be that fulfillment. When he returns, it will be self-evident – as clear as lightning in the night sky.

So we have to say that the real purpose of this discourse is not to give you a date to circle on your calendar. The purpose is to give both warning and hope.  It is a warning that the world will have all sorts of trouble, both normal and natural troubles, and even intense troubles.  It is a warning against falling astray or falling for false teachers and prophets, who will always be around.  Yet the hope is that when things are seemingly out of control, they are not.  The date and time with the Father knows will come about. (v. 36).