Look at the Fig Tree
Reformed Free Publishing Association
This is an extract from chapter 11 of Called to Watch for Christ's Return, by Martyn McGeown, published by the RFPA. MCGeown is commenting on Matthew 24:32–35.
The main idea of the parable of the fig tree is this. Just as a fig tree putting forth leaves tells you that summer, and therefore harvest, is near, so the signs that Christ has been explaining in verses 4–31 tell you that his coming, and therefore the final judgment, is near: “So likewise ye, when ye shall see all these things, know that it is near, even at the doors” (v. 33).
The objection to this has always been that Christ’s coming was not near: “We have been waiting for two thousand years, and still he has not come.” We must understand that the second coming of Christ is near, but not near in the sense of our experience of time. Peter explained that in 2 Peter 3:8: “One day is with the Lord as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day.”
God is outside of time. He inhabits eternity. He is in no hurry. Although he seems to delay from our perspective, everything is on his schedule. Many things must happen before that day can arrive. However, it will come, as surely as a budding fig tree indicates summer. Christ’s coming is near: conceive of him as standing just outside the door with his hand on the doorknob about to come in (Matt. 24:33).
To illustrate the idea of biblical “nearness” consider some passages from the prophets. “Thus saith the Lord of hosts; Yet once, it is a little while, and I will shake the heavens, and the earth, and the sea, and the dry land; and I will shake all nations, and the desire of all nations shall come: and I will fill this house with glory, saith the Lord of hosts” (Hag. 2:6–7, emphasis added). The writer to the Hebrews quotes these verses:
25. See that ye refuse not him that speaketh. For if they escaped not who refused him that spake on earth, much more shall not we escape, if we turn away from him that speaketh from heaven:
26. Whose voice then shook the earth: but now he hath promised, saying, Yet once more I shake not the earth only, but also heaven.
27. And this word, Yet once more, signifieth the removing of those things that are shaken, as of things that are made, that those things which cannot be shaken may remain.
28. Wherefore we receiving a kingdom which cannot be moved, let us have grace, whereby we may serve God acceptably with reverence and godly fear:
29. For our God is a consuming fire. (Heb. 12:25–29)
Whether you interpret Haggai’s words, “yet once…a little while,” to refer to the first or second coming of Christ or even to both comings of Christ, the prophecy was not fulfilled in a short period of time, but after the passing of many generations.
“My salvation is near to come, and my righteousness is to be revealed,” declared the prophet Isaiah many years before the Babylonian captivity and return, and centuries before the coming of Christ, in whom salvation and righteousness are accomplished, and millennia before the final, perfect revelation of salvation and righteousness at the second coming of the Lord (Isa. 56:1).
That nearness means that Christ’s second coming is the next great event on God’s agenda. The reason Christ’s coming is now near in the New Testament is that everything else has been accomplished, for Christ has come in our flesh, Christ has been crucified for our sins, Christ has risen and ascended, and Christ has poured out the Holy Spirit. Now Christ’s second coming is near, and with every day it becomes nearer.
Christ having accomplished that, he can promise that his coming is near. There are no more wonders of grace to be performed by God before the consummation of all things. Once the elect church has been gathered, sin has developed to the full, and the church has filled up the sufferings of Christ, the Lord will return. From our perspective that is a long time, but from God’s perspective it is near.
Christ illustrates that with the parable of the fig tree. Do you want to know that the coming of Christ is near? Look at a fig tree! Does it sprout leaves? Do you then doubt that summer is coming soon? Then when you see all these things, do not doubt that Christ’s coming is near.
The budding fig tree in nature is a sure sign of approaching summer, but there is something surer. The physical creation of heaven and earth is sure, for the world expects it to last forever, and it will surely last until God’s purpose with it has been fulfilled. What is more stable, more firm, and more reliable than heaven and earth? Do we not expect that every day the sun will rise and set, and that the earth will remain firm under our feet? Nevertheless, even the heaven and earth will pass away. God promises in 2 Peter 3 that they will be destroyed by fire and renewed in the new creation.
But, says Christ, my words are surer: “My words shall not pass away” (Matt. 24:35). What mere man can dare say that? The words of Alexander the Great, Plato, Aristotle, Julius Caesar, Karl Marx, and Charles Darwin pass away. Christ is the eternal Son of God and his word is God’s word. Therefore, none of his words pass away. They are true forever.
Matthew 24:35 is powerful proof of the authority, permanence, and preservation of the scriptures. When Christ spoke, none of his words were recorded. Christ himself wrote no books; Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John had not yet written their inspired accounts of Christ’s life and ministry; and none of the apostles had written any of the New Testament books. Yet Christ’s words did not—and never will—pass away. What Christ said has been recorded in the holy scriptures. Christ promised that the Spirit would accomplish the great work of the inspiration and preservation of his word: “The Comforter, which is the Holy Ghost, whom the Father will send in my name, he shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you” (John 14:26). If “holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost” (2 Pet. 1:21), the holy apostles and prophets of the New Testament were moved in the same way, so that, as Peter remarks concerning Paul’s writings, they are on a par with “the other scriptures” (2 Pet. 3:16). That is, they too are “given by inspiration of God” (2 Tim. 3:16).
To that one might object that not everything Jesus said has been preserved in the New Testament. Jesus lived for thirty- three years, and even if we only include the words spoken during his public ministry of three and a half years, not every single word he spoke has been recorded and preserved. Indeed, John writes, “There are also many other things which Jesus did, the which, if they should be written every one, I suppose that even the world itself could not contain the books that should be written. Amen” (John 21:25).
It is not necessary for every single word that Jesus ever spoke to be recorded and preserved. What is necessary is that the words ordained by God the Father and inspired by the Holy Spirit are recorded and preserved. The Bible contains all the words that we must know for our salvation and for our life in this world. All those words have been recorded and preserved. What Christ taught about God, man, himself, salvation, the church, and the last things has been and shall be forever preserved. That means that the Bible has been preserved, so that the church will never lose the word of Jesus Christ.
It also means that what God has promised will stand. “Not as though the word of God hath taken none effect” (Rom. 9:6). Not as though the word of God hath taken none effect! When the words of all other men perish, the word of Christ will stand forever. What he has said about his coming shall be accomplished.
Therefore, do not doubt Christ’s words. When you hear of wars and rumors of wars, do not be alarmed. When the world shakes for fear from famines, pestilences, or earthquakes, do not be frightened. All these things must come to pass exactly as Christ said. When deceivers of every kind assault the church, when many fall away from the truth of the gospel, do not be terrified, and do not follow them into apostasy. When antichrist comes and lays the church waste through persecution, stand firm. All these things are part of Christ’s words, which will not pass away. All these things are simply, like the budding fig tree, signs that summer and harvest are on their way, the great harvest of the final judgment. Christ has died for our sins; he has defeated Satan; he has set up his eternal kingdom—he is on his way back to us. When all is completed, he will come.
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