Now learn a parable of the fig tree; When his branch is yet tender, and puts forth leaves, you know that summer is near:…
Having unfolded to the disciples the manner and circumstances of the two great events respecting which they had inquired, our Lord now proceeds to speak more particularly of their certainty and of the time of their occurrence.
I. THE EVENT OF THE JUDGMENT IS CERTAIN.
1. This is asserted under a simile. (Vers. 32-35.)
(1) The fig tree was a symbol of the Jewish nation (cf. Joel 1:7; Matthew 22:19). To the literal Israel these things were primarily spoken. They have relevance also to the spiritual Israel, viz. in a future fulfilment. The outside world give no heed to sacred signs. "None of the wicked shall understand" (see Daniel 12:10).
(2) The teaching is that as the budding of the fig tree, then probably visible before them (cf. Matthew 21:19; Luke 21:29), was a sure presage of summer, so must the signs indicated in the preceding discourse be taken to pledge the near approach of the sequel, glorious to the righteous, disastrous to the wicked (cf. Matthew 16:3; Luke 21:31; Revelation 1:1).
(3) "The summer is nigh." When the trees of righteousness put forth the leaf of faithful promise, it is a happy presage of good times. But that which to the good is an enlivening light is to the wicked a scorching and consuming fire.
2. The assertion is repeated in the comment.
(1) The generation that witnesses the signs will also witness the sequel. This was literally so in regard to the destruction of Jerusalem (cf. Matthew 16:28; Matthew 23:36). There is a distinction between "these things," which refer to the events of the destruction of Jerusalem, and "that day" (ver. 36), which indicates the season of the final judgment. Yet was the judgment upon Jerusalem a type of the judgment of the last day.
(2) The "generation" destined to see the end of "all things" in the wider sense, is the Jewish race (see A. Clarke, Steir, and Alford). Therefore the preservation of that race amidst untoward circumstances pledges the certainty of the sequel.
(3) It is easier for the heavens and the earth to pass away than for the word of Christ to fail (see Luke 16:17). The creation had a beginning, so may have an end; but Christ's truth is from eternity, and cannot but abide. The failure of the truth of God would be, in other words, the failure of his existence, which is a supposition superlatively absurd.
II. THE TIME OF THAT EVENT IS NOT WHOLLY UNCERTAIN.
1. It is particularly known to God alone.
(1) To him it is known. It is therefore distinguished as "the day of the Lord." Christ, as God, therefore, knew it. "It is necessary to distinguish between the knowledge of Christ as a Divine Person and that which he possesses as the Prophet of his Church. As Divine he knows all things; but as a Prophet he receives his messages from the Father, and makes them known to us. In this sense he knew not the day of judgment; that is, it was no part of the revelation which God gave to him to make known to men" (A. Fuller). "To know" has the idiomatic sense of "make known" (cf. 1 Corinthians 2:2; Acts 1:6, 7; 1 Timothy 6:15).
(2) As it was not given to the Son to make it known, so neither was it given to the angels. They have great capacities for knowledge, and, dwelling at the fountain of light, have also great opportunities; but their prescience is limited, or at least it is not given to them to make it known.
(3) The day on which Titus was to invest Jerusalem was not known to the disciples when our Lord advised them to pray that their flight might not be on the sabbath. The hour or season was not known to them when he advised them to pray that it might not be in winter (ver. 20). So are we without knowledge of the day and season of the great event of which the judgment upon the Jews was but a figure. Wisdom withholds particular revelations of the future to encourage prayer.
2. Yet is it generally made known to the wise.
(1) Many ancient prophecies contain approximate anticipations of the time. Light upon this subject was progressively increasing. Daniel gave intimation of the destruction of Jerusalem to the year in his period of four hundred and ninety years, though not the day or season.
(2) Our Lord himself speaks of great political revolutions that should happen before his return; and his language plainly implies that the event was then remote (see ver. 48; Matthew 25:5, 19).
(3) Paul declares that before that great event there should occur a gradual development and subsequent gradual wasting of a great apostasy, the germs of which were already working in his day (see 2 Thessalonians 2.).
(4) Proceeding further, we find Peter using language evidently designed to prepare the Church for a long delay (see 2 Peter 3.).
(5) The series of intervening events is wonderfully disclosed in the course of the revelations given to John. The wise who study this series cannot be ignorant as to the approaching time.
3. But to the wicked it will come as a surprise.
(1) So the Flood came upon the men of that generation. "They knew not." They were warned, but did not heed. "Death never comes without a warrant, but often without a warning (Anon.). Not knowing, i.e. acknowledging, is joined with eating and drinking and marrying. They were sensual because secure; but the ignorance of wickedness is an imaginary security. The flood came." Those who will not know by faith shall be made to know by feeling. The evil day is never further off for men's putting it off. Judgments are most terrible to those who make a jest of them.
(2) "As in the days of Noah." The design here is to show that the desolation will be as general as it will be unexpected. The miserable Jews neglected the advice of Jesus to watch, and were destroyed, it is for us to learn wisdom by the things which they have suffered. The general neglect of religion is a more dangerous symptom to a people than particular instances of irreligion.
(3) The siege of Jerusalem surprised the Jews in the midst of their festivity at the Passover (cf. Judges 18:7, 27; 1 Thessalonians 5:3). Man's unbelief shall not make the truth of God's threatenings of none effect (cf. Isaiah 47:7-9; Revelation 18:7). "The uncertainty of the time of Christ's coming is to those who are watchful a savour of life unto life, and makes them more watchful; but to those who are careless it is a savour of death unto death, and makes them more careless" (Henry).
4. It will be a time of separation.
(1) "Then shall two men be in the field," etc. (ver. 40). Many who have been united in the closest earthly relations will then be found separated in their spiritual condition and eternal allotment.
(2) Those "taken" correspond to Noah and his family, who were taken into the ark, and to the disciples of Jesus, who removed to Pella. Those "left" correspond to the people shut out of the ark, and those shut into Jerusalem when it was devoted to destruction. In the last day the elect will be gathered out of the devoted world into the cloud of Christ's protecting presence.
(3) Here our Lord enjoins upon his disciples to watch, and that too in reference to his coming - an event so far remote that when it occurs they will be found among the dead. In like manner, we find the apostles exhorting their brethren to watchfulness, and urging the same reason, while they certainly knew that event to be remote. The lesson, then, is that it is manifestly the Divine purpose that the thoughts of the people of God should be carried forward to and fixed upon that momentous time when Christ shall come to judge the world. Observe, then:
1. That to live in a state of preparation for this event is also to live prepared for death.
2. That every exhortation of Scripture to watch for the former is alike applicable to the latter.
3. That in a most important respect the hour of death is to every man the hour of judgment. - J.A.M.
Parallel VersesKJV: Now learn a parable of the fig tree; When his branch is yet tender, and putteth forth leaves, ye know that summer is nigh: