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But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, but My Father only. (Matthew 24:36)


Jesus’ description of His return in the Discourse bears some similarities to symbolic language used in the Book of Revelation. In following the Church Historic interpretation of the Book of Revelation it appears that Jesus gave His disciples a brief outline of the history of the Church. In the economy of God, the Church will come into prominence after the destruction of Jerusalem, but within a short time there would be a darkening, or losing sight, of the essential truths of the gospel concerning salvation, the Scriptures as a whole would become obscured, and the ministry would apostatize and be of no spiritual value. Historically, this did happen beginning late in the Third Century and continued up to the Protestant Reformation. With the Reformation the truth of the gospel concerning salvation were brought back to light and God raised up a ministry to lead people into salvation by faith in Christ. In this sense, Christ returned in the body of His Church as it emerged from spiritual darkness.

Not all theologians agree with this interpretation, but, as a rule, we all believe in the Second Advent of Christ—He will physically return! While there is a real truth concerning Christ’s return and there are discernable truths in the Olivet Discourse and the Book or Revelation concerning His return, what is of paramount importance is that we be ready for His return, whenever and however it happens. Jesus said His return would be as “the lightning comes from the east and flashes to the west;” that is, suddenly and without warning. A flash of lightning is over almost as soon as it happens; in like manner, the duration of His coming will be so short that nothing can be done at that moment except to be caught up to the final judgment.

Generations have passed anticipating His coming, but He has not yet come. Will He come in our generation? We do not know. Jesus exhorts us all to be ready.


The Parable Of The Fig Tree


Now learn this parable from the fig tree: When its branch has already become tender and puts forth leaves, you know that summer is near. (Matthew 24:32)


Jesus uses a simple lesson from nature to illustrate the season of His coming. As summer begins to make its presence known, the sap of the fig tree is activated and the tree’s leaves and fruit begin to bud. When the signs of which Jesus speaks begin to appear it signifies that His return is the next event on God’s calendar.

If what Jesus said about His return is in fact an outline of church history, we are about 1,700 years into that history. The apostasy happened and lasted for about 1,300 years. The Reformation happened about 400 years ago.

The last part of the sign is the angels gathering the elect. These angels may be understood as ministers of Christ’s church. They play trumpets, signaling the gathering of the elect, which can be understood as the preaching of the gospel with clarity. The gathering of the elect may be people responding to the truth of the biblical church brought out by the clear preaching of the gospel so as to be the visible representation of Christ’s church. If that gathering is in fact God’s people coming together around the truth of the biblical church, there was such a movement that began in the late 1800s and continues even today. If that was what Jesus described, that event began just 135 years ago.

If these historical facts are what Jesus described in His Discourse, they have come to pass and the proverbial summer of which He spoke is here. We are now living in the season of His coming. “So you also, when you see all these things, know that it is near—at the doors!” (Verse 33).

Jesus told His disciples that “this generation will by no means pass away till all these things take place.” (Verse 34). The Greek word for “generation” in its simplest form means a birth, and by extension it means the whole multitude of people living at the same time. Thayer, in his Greek lexicon, says that the context can expand the meaning to “an age, the time ordinarily occupied by each successive generation,” and “from generation to generation.” The context of the Discourse suggests that this generation, or age, begins with the darkening of the sun, etc., and extends to the time of the gathering of the elect. Or, put simply, the generation is the church age as it encompasses all the things all the things Jesus spoke of in the Discourse. Jesus reinforces the certainty of what He says with a verbal exclamation point: “Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will by no means pass away;” or, as Albert Barnes puts it, “You may sooner expect to see the heaven and earth pass away, and return to nothing, than my words to fail.”


Take Heed


At this point in the Discourse, Mark and Luke add statements not found in Matthew.

Mark, in verses 32–34 first warns to “take heed, watch and pray; for you do not know when the time is.” He uses an example of a man going to a far country who left his house in the care of his servants, commanding them to watch. In like manner, Christ ascended to heaven and left His church in the charge of His servants, commanding them—us—to watch. He continues in in verses 35–37 warning the servants to watch because the master will return suddenly and not to be found sleeping on the job. We have had 1,700 years to watch the house; are we sleeping on the job? Jesus emphasizes His warning in verse 37, “And what I say to you, I say to all: Watch!” The “all” of whom Jesus speaks certainly includes us in our time. We had better take heed and be busy about our housework!

Luke takes another approach on the same warning telling us to “take heed to yourselves, lest you be weighed down with carousing, drunkenness, and cares of this life.” Why? Because in so doing the Day will come on you unexpectedly; it will come as a snare of all who dwell on the face of the earth. Jesus, in John 5:28–29 gives us an idea of the rapidity and inclusiveness of His return: 


Do not marvel at this; for the hour is coming in which all who are in the graves will hear His voice and come forth—those who have done good, to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil, to the resurrection of condemnation.


Pair what He said here with the text in 1 Thessalonians 4:16–17 and we find that the snare catches all people that have ever lived. The snare is an appropriate simile as birds are caught in a snare because it springs shut quickly when they are not expecting it. The return of Christ and the judgment will snap shut on the human race while not expecting it. How many people living today are anticipating Christ’s return and the final judgment? Luke closes with an ominous warning in verse 36:


Watch therefore, and pray always that you may be counted worthy to escape all these things that will come to pass, and to stand before the Son of Man.


When Christ returns, He returns as our judge, not our Savior. Be ready!


The Days Of Noah


Matthew likens the literal return of Christ to the days of Noah in verses 37–41. At that time there was an ark and eight people prepared by God for the coming judgment of the flood. They were faithful to preach the gospel of the ark and the warning of impending judgment. But, what was the response of the people to whom they preached? “For as in the days before the flood, they were eating and drinking and giving in marriage, until the day that Noah entered the ark.” (Verse 38). Dr. Barnes comments on this: 


The things mentioned here denote attention to the affairs of this life, rather than to what was coming on them. It does not mean that these things were wrong, but only that such was their actual employment, and that they were regardless of what was coming upon them.


The people of our time are so caught up in living life from day-to-day they are totally unaware and unconcerned of impending judgment, just as the people in Noah’s day. Verse 39 is just as true about the people of our time as it was of the people of Noah’s day: “and did not know until the flood came and took them all away, so also will the coming of the Son of Man be.” When Christ returns, the world as a whole will be unprepared.

Verses 39 and 40 mention two men and two women who are engaged in everyday activities. People that believe in a coming rapture rely on these verses as proof-positive that Christians will be taken up and sinners left behind. A better explanation of was Jesus is saying as that a few people will be prepared and others will not. The Greek word for “left” has many uses; in the context of these verses it means to leave one by not taking him as a companion. Christ will return and find us in our usual occupation. The Saints will be caught up to be with Christ but they will not be able to take anyone not redeemed with them; the unsaved will be left to be sent to eternal darkness of which Jesus speaks of later in Matthew 24. Notice, Jesus did not say they would be left behind! Just left.

At this point the narrative in Matthew ties in with that in Mark. Matthew’s account is a little more descriptive and he includes a blessing and a curse spoken by Jesus. The blessing is for the faithful servant that is diligent in his duties. “Assuredly, I say to you that he will make him ruler over all his goods.” Faithful servants of Christ will be rewarded. The reward is His approval and the blessing of the eternal heavenly world. On the other hand, the evil servant, as Jesus calls him, “says in his heart, My master is delaying his coming.” He relies on the thought that Jesus’ coming is way out in the future—so far out that it has no real significance—and, therefore, I can do just as I please for as long as I want. With this attitude, he engages in behavior unbecoming the servant. He abuses his fellow servants and he parties with evil people. In other words, he rejects a holy life and embraces the indulging of his own desires, whatever they may be. The curse that falls on him according to verse 51 is to be cut in two and placed with the hypocrites. While the literal words used by Jesus are “cut him in two pieces,” it implies a punishment that a slave owner could inflict on his slave for disobedience—kill him with a sword. The Revised Standard Version translates “cut in two” with “will punish him,” which is accurate but perhaps a little mild. The Amplified Bible renders the expression as “will punish him—cut him up [by scourging]. The Living Bible gives a paraphrase that makes the mean fairly clear to modern Bible readers: “and severely whip you and send you off to the judgment of the hypocrites.”




Jesus gave us the picture of the budding fig tree as an idea of the season of His coming. That season, based on the outline of church history, is the time of the gathering the elect into the biblical Church. We have been living in that season for the past 135 years—how much time is left?

We cannot know the day or the hour of His coming, but we can know the season. Jesus exhorts us to be ready. As the world becomes more ungodly, and much of what professes to be Christ’s church acting like unfaithful servants, we must give heed to Jesus’ command to watch and be ready for His coming.