Christ’s Second Coming and the Parable of the Fig Tree
“Immediately after the tribulation of those days shall the sun be darkened, and the moon shall not give her light, and the stars shall fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens shall be shaken: And then shall appear the sign of the Son of man in heaven: and then shall all the tribes of the earth mourn, and they shall see the Son of man coming in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. And he shall send his angels with a great sound of a trumpet, and they shall gather together his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other. Now learn a parable of the fig tree; When his branch is yet tender, and putteth forth leaves, ye know that summer is nigh: So likewise ye, when ye shall see all these things, know that it is near, even at the doors. Verily I say unto you, This generation shall not pass, till all these things be fulfilled. Heaven and earth shall pass away, but my words shall not pass away.” (Matthew 24:29-35)
Our Lord seems to have deliberately mingled the prophecies of the destruction of Jerusalem and his own second coming. Thus, he carefully avoided satisfying the carnal curiosity of his disciples’ questions, while at the same time encouraging them to live in watchful anticipation of his glorious second advent.
The fact is, our Savior does not intend for us to know the day and hour of his second coming (Acts 1:4-7). — “But of that day and hour knoweth no man, no, not the angels of heaven, but my Father only” (v. 36). While assuring us of his second coming and inspiring our hearts with the blessed hope of that great day, our Savior wisely hides from us any information regarding the time of his advent.
Without question, much that is contained in these verses has direct bearing upon the coming of the Roman armies into Jerusalem as the instruments of God’s judgment upon that city and the nation of Israel. Immediately after the great tribulation that fell upon that nation, spiritual blindness engulfed that nation. Their sun, and moon, and stars, all the spiritual light they had was turned into darkness. The very things that had once been to them symbols of heavenly power and favor were shaken to the very foundation, and became to them a snare and a stumbling block. However, it would be a great mistake to limit the words of our Lord in these verses to that terrible day of judgment upon the nation of Israel. The verses now before us speak also of Christ’s glorious second coming to judge the world.
The Second Coming of Christ
The first thing spoken of here is the second coming of our Lord Jesus Christ (vv. 29-31).
"Immediately after the tribulation of those days shall the sun be darkened, and the moon shall not give her light, and the stars shall fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens shall be shaken: And then shall appear the sign of the Son of man in heaven: and then shall all the tribes of the earth mourn, and they shall see the Son of man coming in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. And he shall send his angels with a great sound of a trumpet, and they shall gather together his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other."
The darkening of the sun and moon, and falling of the stars are to be understood figuratively, having reference to the prophesy of Amos (Amos 8:8-14). Those terms speak of God taking away the light he had given to Israel, casting them off, and shutting the nation up in the darkness of divine judgment (Rom. 11:8-10). When our Lord speaks here of the Son of Man coming to judgment, he is not speaking of the day of final judgment, but of the judgment that fell upon the nation of Israel for rejecting the Lord of life and glory. The sending of “his angels with the great sound of a trumpet” to gather his elect refers to him sending forth gospel preachers to preach the gospel, by which he gathers in his chosen (Isa. 27:13; Rev. 14:6).
Yet, as he came in judgment upon that nation in 70 AD, so he shall come again in the last day to judge the world in righteousness. There will be no need for the sun, the moon, and the stars when he who is the brightness of the glory of the invisible God and the express image of his person shines forth in the fullness of his indescribable glory. Christ’s second coming will be a glorious event, universally known and acknowledged at once, both by the righteous and the wicked, the believing and the unbelieving (Rev. 1:7; 2 Thess. 1:7-10).
“Christ’s coming,” wrote C.H. Spurgeon, “will be the source of untold joy to his friends; but it will bring unparalleled sorrow to his foes.” Without trying to expound the doctrine of the second advent, let me show you what our Lord teaches us in these verses about his coming.
First, the Lord Jesus Christ really is coming again. Scoffers abound who think our faith is foolishness and that our hope is a dream. Do not allow their infidelity to rub off on you. There is a day of reckoning yet to come. Christ is coming again. There is yet to be a day of resurrection and of judgment (Acts 1:11; 17:30-31; 1 Cor. 15:19, 51-58; 1 Thess. 4:13-18; 2 Thess. 1:7-10; Titus 2:13; Heb. 9:27-28; Rev. 1:7; 22:20).
Second, when the Lord Jesus Christ returns to this world, it will not be in secrecy or in humiliation, but in power and in great glory. There is no such thing as a secret coming of Christ, or a secret rapture. Our Lord here declares that all men “shall see the Son of man coming in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory” (Jude 14). When Christ comes again, the very sun, and moon, and stars will melt before him. The heavens themselves, being on fire, shall melt with a fervent heat (2 Peter 3:10-14).
Our Lord’s second advent will be as different as possible from his first coming. At his first advent, our Savior came into the world as “a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief.” He came here in humiliation, born in a stable, laid in a manger, the child of a poor, insignificant woman. He took upon himself the form of a servant. He was despised and rejected of men. He was betrayed into the hands of wicked men by the kiss of a friend. Condemned by a mockery of justice, beaten, crowned with thorns, and covered with the spit of vile humanity, the Son of God was at last crucified between two thieves.
But when he comes again, he shall come in all the full display of his royal majesty as the King of glory, the King of heaven, and the King of the earth. All the nations of the world shall be gathered before his august majesty to be judged by him. Before him every knee shall bow. Every tongue shall acknowledge and confess that he is Lord.
Whatever ungodly men and women say and do now, things will be different in that day. There will be no scoffing then, no jesting, no infidelity. Every mouth will be stopped. We need to constantly remember these things, so that we may wait patiently for our Savior’s arrival. Our Master will one day soon be acknowledged by all the world; and we shall see him with joy (Job 19:25-27).
Third, when our Lord comes again, his first concern and his first order of business will be the security, salvation, and glory of his own elect. — “And he shall send his angels with a great sound of a trumpet, and they shall gather together his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other” (v. 31). As it always has been, so it shall be then: our Master’s great concern shall be his people. When he comes again to judge the world, he will first take care of his elect. Not a hair of their heads shall fall to the ground. Not a bone of his mystical body shall be broken.
When God destroyed the world in the flood, there was an ark for Noah and his family. When he poured fire and brimstone down upon Sodom, Lot found refuge in Zoar. And when the wrath of God at last bursts out against the wicked to destroy this world, his elect shall first be gathered by his holy angels to their blessed hiding place, Christ Jesus.
Those holy angels, who rejoiced over each repenting sinner, who ministered from the beginning to those who were chosen to be the heirs of salvation, shall gladly gather them all out of the earth in one mighty sweep of grace! Our Savior has gone to prepare a place for us. When the place is ready and the time has come for us to be glorified together with him, he will come again. And when he comes, his first work will be to send his angels to gather his elect from the four corners of the earth.
“East and west, and south and north,
Speeds each glorious angel forth,
Gathering in with glittering wing
Zion’s saints to Zion’s King!”
Fourth, the day of our Lord’s second advent will be a great and terrible day of judgment and wrath for all the wicked; but for believers it will be a day of great glory and great joy. This is a point that needs emphasizing. Nowhere in the Word of God is the second coming of Christ set forth as a matter of fear and dread for believers. Not at all! This is the one day we ought to look forward to and anticipate with great joy.
When Christ comes in his glory, all God’s elect shall be gathered together as one; and we shall be one. The saints of every age and every tongue shall be assembled at once before his glory. All shall be there, from righteous Abel down to the very last soul to be converted to God, from the oldest patriarch down to the smallest infant to be aborted by wicked hands. What a happy gathering that will be, when all the family of God meets together in perfection and glory! Our little meetings and reunions, our assemblies for worship and our conferences here are matters of great delight to us. How we look forward to meeting God’s saints here. Just try to imagine what that will be when we meet that great multitude which no man can number!
John Newton once wrote, “When I get to heaven, I shall see three wonders there. The first wonder will be to see people there whom I did not expect to see. The second wonder will be to miss many people whom I did expect to see. The third and greatest wonder of all will be to find myself there!”
After commenting on these things, J.C Ryle wrote, “Surely, we may be content to carry the cross, and to put up with partings for a few years. We travel on towards a day, when we shall meet to part no more.”
The Parable of the Fig Tree
In verses 32-34 our Lord illustrates his doctrine using the parable of the fig tree.
“Now learn a parable of the fig tree; When his branch is yet tender, and putteth forth leaves, ye know that summer is nigh: So likewise ye, when ye shall see all these things, know that it is near, even at the doors. Verily I say unto you, This generation shall not pass, till all these things be fulfilled.”
There has been much speculation about this parable of the fig tree. Numerous sermons have been preached about it; and far too many books have been written about it. But there is nothing really mysterious about it. Our Lord simply drew another illustration from nature, as was his custom, to enforce what he was teaching. As men know that summer is near when they see the trees, in this case a fig tree, putting forth their leaves, so our Lord said this generation would know that God had come upon the nation of Israel in judgment when the Roman armies left Jerusalem as a heap of ashes in a pool of blood.
The key which must determine our interpretation of this parable is verse 34. Our Savior said, “Verily I say unto you, This generation shall not pass, till all these things be fulfilled.” Spurgeon explained, “It was just about the ordinary limit of a generation when the Roman armies compassed Jerusalem, whose measure of iniquity was then full, and overflowed in misery, agony, distress, and bloodshed such as the world never saw before or since.”
So the second coming of Christ will be a summer of joy and comfort to the saints. Christ will be glorified by his saints and in them. We shall see him as he is and admire him. Grace will consummate in glory. Then we will enjoy full redemption and salvation. The winter of sorrows, afflictions, and persecutions, and of coldness, darkness, and indifference will be over. The sun shall no more go down, nor the moon withdraw itself, but the Lord will be the everlasting light of his people!
The Infallibility of Holy Scripture
In verse 35 our Savior declares the absolute infallibility of Holy Scripture. — “Heaven and earth shall pass away, but my words shall not pass away.” The Word of God is infallible. It will stand forever. Everything written upon the pages of Inspiration must and shall be fulfilled (Isa. 40:8; 1 Pet. 1:25).
Our Lord’s predictions will be fulfilled. He knew that scoffers would come, saying, “Where is the promise of his coming?” He knew that when he comes again faith will be a rare thing among men. He knew how terribly prone we are to unbelief. Therefore, he gives this word of assurance concerning his Word. Let us be wise and hear what he says. Every promise he has made of mercy, grace, and pardon shall be fulfilled. Every prophecy of wrath, judgment, and everlasting punishment must be fulfilled. When heaven and earth have passed away, as they must, the Word of our God, and the purpose for which he created the heavens and the earth shall stand forever.
“The Lord is not slack concerning his promise, as some men count slackness; but is longsuffering to us-ward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance. But the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night; in the which the heavens shall pass away with a great noise, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat, the earth also and the works that are therein shall be burned up. Seeing then that all these things shall be dissolved, what manner of persons ought ye to be in all holy conversation and godliness, Looking for and hasting unto the coming of the day of God, wherein the heavens being on fire shall be dissolved, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat? Nevertheless we, according to his promise, look for new heavens and a new earth, wherein dwelleth righteousness. Wherefore, beloved, seeing that ye look for such things, be diligent that ye may be found of him in peace, without spot, and blameless.” (2 Peter 3:9-14)