72. Parable of the fig tree
NOW learn a parable of the fig tree: Behold the fig tree when her branch is yet tender, and putteth forth leaves; and behold the trees when they now shoot forth: ye see and know of your own selves that summer is nigh at hand.
So in like manner, when ye shall see all these things come to pass, know ye that the kingdom of God is nigh at hand, even at the doors. Verily I say unto you, This generation shall not pass, till all these things be done. Heaven and earth shall pass away, but my words shall not pass away.
¶And take heed to yourselves, lest at any time your hearts be overcharged with surfeiting and drunkenness, and cares of this life; and so that day come upon you unawares. For as a snare shall it come on all them that dwell on the face of the whole earth.
Watch ye therefore, and pray always, that ye may be accounted worthy to escape all these things that shall come to pass, and to stand before the Son of man.
¶But of that day and that hour knoweth no man, no, not the angels which are in heaven, neither the Son, but my Father only.
Take ye heed, watch and pray: for ye know not when the time is. But as the days of Noe were, so shall also the coming of the Son of man be. For as in the days that were before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day that Noe entered into the ark, and knew not till the flood came, and took them all away: so shall also the coming of the Son of man be. Then shall two be in the field; the one shall be taken, and the other left. Two women shall be grinding at the mill; the one shall be taken, and the other left.
¶Watch therefore: for ye know not what hour your Lord doth come.
For the Son of man is as a man taking a far journey, who left his house, and gave authority to his servants, and to every man his work, and commanded the porter to watch.
Watch ye therefore: for ye know not when the master of the house cometh, at even, or at midnight, or at the cockcrowing, or in the morning: lest coming suddenly he find you sleeping.
And what I say unto you I say unto all, Watch.
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. Therefore be ye also ready: for in such an hour as ye think not the Son of man cometh. And what I say unto you I say unto all, Watch.
Who then is a faithful and wise servant, whom his lord hath made ruler over his household, to give them meat in due season?
Blessed is that servant, whom his lord when he cometh shall find so doing. Verily I say unto you, That he shall make him ruler over all his goods.
But and if that evil servant shall say in his heart, My lord delayeth his coming; and shall begin to smit his fellow servants, and to eat and drink with the drunken; the lord of that servant shall come in a day when he looketh not for him, and in an hour that he is not aware of, and shall cut him asunder, and appoint him his portion with the hypocrites: there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth.
¶Then shall the kingdom of heaven be likened unto ten virgins, which took their lamps, and went forth to meet the bridegroom. And five of them were wise, and five were foolish. They that were foolish took their lamps, and took no oil with them. But the wise took oil in their vessels with their lamps.
While the bridegroom tarried, they all slumbered and slept. And at midnight there was a cry made, Behold, the bridegroom cometh; go ye out to meet him.
Then all those virgins arose, and trimmed their lamps. And the foolish said unto the wise, Give us of your oil; for our lamps are gone out.
But the wise answered, saying, Not so; lest there be not enough for us and you, but go ye rather to them that sell, and buy for yourselves.
And while they went to buy, the bridegroom came: and they that were ready went in with him to the marriage: and the door was shut.
Afterward came also the other virgins, saying, Lord, Lord, open to us. But he answered and said, Verily I say unto you, I know you not.
Watch, therefore, for ye know neither the day nor the hour wherein the Son of man cometh.
Scripture: Matthew 24:15-35
Meditation 1 of 3:
Do you take God’s judgments lightly or seriously? When Jesus warned his disciples about the destruction of Jerusalem and its holy Temple, he quoted from the prophet Daniel who prophesied the desecration of the holy place in Jerusalem as “an abomination that makes desolate” (Daniel 12:11). This came to pass around 170 BC when the king of Syria, Antiochus Epiphanes, determined to wipe out the religion of Israel. He captured Jerusalem and set up an altar to Zeus in the temple court and sacrificed swine’s flesh on the altar. He also turned the priests’ room and temple chambers into public brothels. Jesus now prophesies that the holy place would be desecrated again. This time the destruction would be far worse for Jerusalem and its inhabitants. This time there would be no deliverance, no restoration nor purification. Jesus’ advice was very practical – flee before the destruction comes!
When the Romans decided to destroy Jerusalem in 70 AD, they first cut off all food supplies to the walled city and allowed no one to escape. They then waited for its inhabitants to starve to death before they entered the city and destroyed it and leveled it to the ground. According to the Jewish historian Josephus, over a million inhabitants died. Josepheus described in detail the seige and famine. “The famine confounded all natural passions; for those who were just going to die looked upon those who were gone to their rest before them with dry eyes and open mouths. A deep silence, also, and a kind of deadly night had seized upon the city. ..And every one of them died with their eyes fixed upon the Temple.” (Josephesus, War of the Jews, 5.12.3)
While Daniel prophesied the destruction of Jerusalem because of the stubborn pride and rebellion of its inhabitants, he also foretold that God would send his Anointed One, the Son of Man who would come on the clouds of heaven to bring God’s reign on the earth (see Daniel 7:13-15). Daniel’s vision describes a royal investiture of a human king before God’s throne. This king, whose authority comes from God, is given world-wide rulership and power which lasts forever. Many Jews in Jesus’ time expected the Messiah King to come at any moment. Jesus warns his disciples that many false Christ’s (the Greek form of the word for ‘Messiah’) and false prophets would lead people astray. The Jews were looking for the right sign to show them who the true Messiah would be. Jesus pointed to himself as the definitive sign of God’s imminent kingdom.
Jesus illustrated his point with two parables or word pictures – how lightning strikes the earth and sky and how eagles search out their prey. When lightning appears in the darkened sky, its powerful surge of flashing energy and light and its piercing noise strike awe and terror. You don’t need a special sign to make it visible or to show where it is striking. It manifests itself quite clearly. In like manner, when “the son of Man comes” it will be as clear as the lightning in the heavens. Jesus quoted a familiar proverb to his audience: “Where the body is, there the eagles (or vultures) will be gathered together.” Eagles, like vultures, are attracted to carrion – dead or dying prey. The Book of Job describes the eagle spying out its prey from afar (Job 39:29). What’s the point of this analogy? If we are not spiritually alive in Christ, then the Day of Judgement will catch us unprepared to meet the Lord when he comes to separate the “sheep from the goats”) and the “wheat from the weeds”).
Jesus used the image of a fig tree to teach his disciples an important lesson about reading the “signs of the times”. The fig tree was a common and important source of food for the Jews. It bore fruit twice a year, in the autumn and in the early spring. The Talmud said that the first fruit came the day after Passover. The Jews believed that when the Messiah came he would usher in the kingdom of God at Passover time. The signs of spring are evident for all who can see. Just so are the signs of God’s kingdom and his coming in judgment. The “budding” of God’s kingdom begins first in the hearts of those who are receptive to God’s word. Those who trust in God’s word will bear the fruits of his kingdom. And what are the fruits of that kingdom? The kingdom of God ..is righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit (Romans 14:17).
We do not know when the Lord will return again. But the Lord does give us signs, not only to “wake us up” as a warning, but also to “rouse our spirits” to be ever ready and eager to see his kingdom come in all its power and glory. The “Day of the Lord” will strike terror in those who reject the kingdom of God, but it will be a day of joy and rejoicing for those who long to see the Lord face-to-face. The Lord wants us to be filled with joyful anticipation for his coming. He surely comes to us each day and knocks on the doors of our hearts. And he will surely come again to establish his kingdom in all its fulness. Do you read the “signs of the times” with God’s perspective and do you pray with joyful confidence for God’s kingdom to come in all its fulness?
“Lord, fill me with gratitude for the gift of redemption and increase my hope and longing for your return again in glory. May that day bring joy to my heart rather than sorrow. Help me to serve you faithfully and to make the best use of my time now in the light of your coming again.”
Scripture: Matthew 25:1-13
Meditation 2 of 3:
If you knew that an impending disaster, such as a flood or hurricaine, was about to destroy your home and threaten your life, wouldn’t you make preparation to escape and find refuge in a safe place? Jesus warned his followers to avert spirtual disaster and to not be caught off-guard when the “day of judgment” would strike the earth and its inhabitants. The “Day of the Lord” was understood in the Old Testament as the time when God would manifest his power and glory, and overthrow his enemies. Isaiah describes it as a day when God will bring down the proud and the arrogant who flaunt his law (Isaiah 2:11). That day will be darkness, gloom, disaster, and desolation for the earth when “God will punish the world for its evil and the wicked for their iniquity” (Isaiah 13:6-11). The prophet Amos declared that the “Day” meant judgment for the house of Israel as well, and not just the other nations who followed other gods (Amos 5:18-20). The prophet Joel proclaimed that at this “Day” those who truly repented would be saved, while those who remained enemies of God, whether Jew or Gentile, would be punished (see Joel 2).
The day when Noah entered the ark
Jesus compares the separation of the good from the evil on the Day of judgement at the end of the age with the judgment and separation that took place in the days of Noah, when God saw that the inhabitants of the world had been filled with every imaginable evil (Genesis 6:5), with corruption and violence spreading everywhere (Genesis 6:11-13). In Noah’s day, God swept away in the great flood all who chose the way of evil rather than good. God intended to start over again with a people who would choose to do good by obeying him. Noah and his family alone were spared this punishment because they remained faithful to God. They heeded his warning to build an ark to escape the destructive force of the impending flood. [See the book of Genesis, chapters 6-8, for the account of Noah’s ark and the great flood.] Noah’s ark has stood as a beacon of hope to all who would seek refuge in God and follow in his way of justice and holiness.
Jesus makes clear to his disciples that the Father has given him all authority to execute judgments on the earth “because he is the Son of man” (John 5:27). The “Son of man” is a Messianic title for God’s anointed one who will destroy God’s enemies and establish an everlasting kingdom of righteousness and peace. The “Day of the Lord” points to the final judgment of all the living as well as all the dead who dwelt upon the earth. The “Son of man” is the one who is given supreme authority to judge and execute justice on the earth. Jesus comes the first time to lay down his life as the atoning sacrifice for the sin of the world. He promises to return again at the “end of the age” to complete the work of restoration and final judgment. While we do not know the time of his return, we will not mistake it when it happens. It will be apparent to all, both Christians and non-believers as well.
One taken and one left
How are we to live in light of Jesus’ promise to return again on the day of judgment? Jesus gives two striking images to illustrate the urgency of the need for personal preparation and readiness to meet the Judge when he comes. The first image is a picture of two men working in the field. One is suddenly taken away without a moment’s notice and the other is left to fend for himself. The image of two women at their work repeats the theme of the sudden rupture and separation of two people working together. Would this illustration appear strange to Jesus’ audience? Probably not. When a ruler wished to arrest someone, he would not announce his intention ahead of time to give the culprit an opportunity to escape. It was also common for armies to conscript civilians for their service. An officer or soldier could show up unexpectedly and grab whoever he wanted and force that person to do whatever he was commanded. We are familiar with the incident of Simon of Cyrene, a passerby who was forced by Roman soldiers to carry Jesus’ cross to Calvary. What is striking about this parable is the unannounced encounter with the judge who shows up unexpectedly to arrest one and to release the other. You can imagine the shock on the face of both subjects — the one taken and the one left behind! The encounter is so unexpected and so swift that neither had any opportunity to hide, escape, or look for help!
The thief in the night
Jesus’ second story of the thief in the night brings home the necessity for constant watchfulness and being on guard to avert the danger of plunder and destruction, especially under the cover of darkness and secrecy! While no thief would announce his intention in advance, nor the time when he would strike, lack of vigilance would nonetheless invite disaster for those who are unprepared to keep their treasure and their lives secure at all times! The intruder strikes when he is least expected!
Origen, a third century bible scholar and church father, comments on how this verse can be applied to our everyday lives:
All who listen to the depths of the gospel and live it so completely that none of it remains veiled from them care very little about whether the end of the world will come suddenly and all at once or gradually and little by little. Instead, they bear in mind only that each individual’s end or death will arrive on a day and hour unknown to him and that upon each one of us “the day of the Lord will come like a thief.” It is important therefore to be vigilant, whether in the evening (that is, in one’s youth) or in the middle of the night (that is, at human life’s darkest hour) or when the cock crows (at full maturity) or in the morning (when one is well advanced in old age). When God the Word comes and brings an end to the progress of this life, he will gather up the one who gave “no sleep to his eyes nor slumber to his eyelids” and kept the commandment of the One who said, “Be vigilant at all times.”…But I know another kind of end for the righteous person who is able to say along with the apostle, “Far be it from me to glory except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom the world is crucified to me and I to the world.” In a certain sense, the end of the world has already come for the person to whom the world is crucified. And to one who is dead to worldly things the day of the Lord has already arrived, for the Son of man comes to the soul of the one who no longer lives for sin or for the world. (Commentary on Matthew 56)
The faithful and wise servant
Jesus ends his teaching on watchfulness and vigilance with another judgment parable about a master and his servants (Matthew 24:.45-49). The storyline is similar. There is an element of surprise–the master suddenly returns home unexpectedly, probably from a long journey. He rewards one servant for his faithfulness to his master. He has performed his service dutifully and has done all that the master required of him. He punishes the other servant who behaved wickedly. This servant was not only irresponsible–he was frequently absent from work and spent his master’s money by partying (eating and drinking) a lot with his friends. The wicked servant also abused his fellow workers with physical force and violence–probably to make them do the work he was supposed to do for his master. The master not only throws him out of his house (he fires him from his job!). He also throws him into the worst possible place – a prison of no return where there is nothing but torment and misery. Should we be surprised to see the master acting with such swift judgment? He rewards faithfulness with privilege, promotion, and honor, and he punishes unfaithfulness due to lazyness and abuse with demotion, dishonor, and imprisonment.
The Lord Jesus calls us to be vigilant in watching for his return and to be ready to meet him when he calls us to himself. The Lord gives us his Holy Spirit so that we may have the wisdom, help, and strength we need to turn away from sin to embrace God’s way of love, justice, and holiness. The Lord’s warning of judgment causes dismay for those who are unprepared, but it brings joyful hope to those who eagerly wait for his return in glory. God’s judgment is good news for those who are ready to meet him. Their reward is God himself, the source of all truth, beauty, goodness, love and everlasting life.
“Lord, you have captured my heart for you. Make it strong in faith, steadfast in hope, and generous in love that I may seek to please you in all things and bring you glory. Keep me ever watchful for the coming of your kingdom.”
Scripture: Matthew 25:1-13
Meditation 3 of 3:
Are you missing out on what’s most important in life? Being unprepared can lead to a lot of unnecessary trouble and even disastrous consequences! What good is a life-jacket left on shore when the boat is sinking? Jesus’ story of ten silly girls seems strange to westerners today. But his audience knew all too well how easily this could happen to them. Wedding customs in ancient Palestine required extra vigilance and preparation for everyone involved. (Some near eastern villages still follow this custom.) The bride and groom did not go away for their honeymoon, but celebrated for a whole week with their family and friends. It was the custom for the groom to come at his discretion and get his bride and bring her to the wedding party. If he came at night lamps were required by necessity. To show up for a night party without a wedding garment and a lamp is like showing up for a play or movie that requires a reservation and a ticket. You just don’t get in without the proper pass. Can you imagine the frustration one experiences in traveling abroad and finding out you can’t get into some country because you don’t have a valid passport or visa.
Jesus warns us that there are consequences for being unprepared. There are certain things you cannot obtain at the last moment. For example, a student cannot prepare for his exam when the day of testing is upon him. A person cannot get the right kind of character or skill required for a task at hand unless he already possesses it. Our eternal welfare depends on our hearing, and many have trained themselves to not hear. We will not be prepared to meet the Lord, face to face, when he calls us on the day of judgment, unless we listen to him today. The Lord invites us to feast at his banquet table. Are you ready?
“Lord, make me vigilant and attentive to your voice that I may heed your call at all times. May I find joy in your presence and delight in doing your will.”