Matthew 24:32-44; Mark 13:28-36; Luke 21:29-38
Jesus has spoken both of the coming destruction of Jerusalem and his own return on the clouds of glory. As I have said before, these two events are intertwined in this chapter, sometimes referring specifically to one, sometimes to the other, but never to the exclusion of either. Today’s lesson centers around the warning of readiness; that is, whether you are a Jew living in Jerusalem from 66-70 A.D. who will experience the horrors of the Roman siege, or whether you are living at this very moment when Christ might return “like a thief in the night” and you be caught unawares and left undone – the message is the same: WATCH! Be ready! You do not know the hour when destruction comes.
Jesus uses the illustration of the budding fig tree which signals the approach of summer. Likewise, he says, when you see these signs coming to fruition, know that it is near. Then Jesus says something that has been the source of much ink as God’s people have tried to understand it: “Truly, I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things take place.” The confusion comes in that Jesus says this after he refers to his return from heaven at the end of time. So it appears that Jesus thought that he would return shortly after his ascension. And there are some who see matters this way. But as the very next chapter in Matthew records Jesus teaching two parables which clearly indicate an interval of time before his return, Jesus obviously meant those words to refer to that present generation which would experience the destruction of Jerusalem, and not his return.
But as I have been arguing all along, the verse still has relevance for us who await his coming. We must watch. And we can be sure that when those signs come to pass, that generation upon whom those signs come will not pass away until all is fulfilled. And why is this? Jesus adds, “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.” Are these the words of a mere man? No, these are the words of God. We may be sure that those generations upon whom those signs come to pass will experience those trials. And for all we know, we are the very generation Jesus is talking about. And so the next several verses speak of staying awake and being on guard. Luke explains it best: “But watch yourselves lest your hearts be weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and cares of this life, and that day come upon you suddenly like a trap.” Jesus is telling us that the only way to prepare for that horrible day is godly living. Only then shall we be able “to stand before the Son of Man.” Watch!