“Take a lesson from the fig tree. From the moment you notice its buds form, the merest hint of green, you know summer’s just around the corner. So it is with you: When you see all these things, you’ll know he’s at the door. Don’t take this lightly. I’m not just saying this for some future generation, but for all of you. This age continues until all these things take place. Sky and earth will wear out; my words won’t wear out. But the exact day and hour? No one knows that, not even heaven’s angels, not even the Son. Only the Father knows. (Matthew 24:32-36, MSG)
In its original context, this parable refers to the fig tree because of its character. The fig tree was famous for being strong, growing to thirty-feet tall. And it was patient because it waited through all threats of late frost and bloomed at just the right time for optimum survival. It would seem then that Jesus is telling his followers to be patient and to be ready for whatever comes.
We often hear this parable interpreted to mean that the Second Coming of Christ is imminent. People are prone to seeing the events of our day as being “these things” that Jesus talks about, leading them to foretell yet another “end of days” scenario. This tendency may stem from the fact that the usual text layout for this parable ends at verse 35, leaving out the part that begins above with: “But the exact day and hour?” That is a classic example of taking scripture out of context in order to serve your pre-conceived interpretation. Unfortunately, it is a wrong way of viewing Jesus’ words and it does a disservice to what Jesus is calling us to do as his followers today.
So, what is Jesus talking about here and what might it mean for us in 2016? We can look back at this parable and recognize that Jesus did not return soon after he gave this message. We can see that he was not referring to his return to earth at the end of days. We have the benefit of hindsight. What Jesus is talking about in this story is the destruction of the Temple, which happened in 70 A.D., and the persecution of the church that continued for years afterward. He is warning his disciples to be prepared for these events and to be unwavering in their work to spread the good news of Jesus. It would be hard work with little reward; they would suffer but, in the end, Jesus would win.
For us, “these things” are indeed manifest in our culture and the horrible things that people are doing to one another every day. We see countless examples of bad behavior and hateful rhetoric that causes us to throw up our hands and shout: “The world has gone to hell in a hand basket!” I don’t think we’d be far off. However, what Jesus is saying to us is: “Yes, these things are happening and will continue to happen. Even so, I am faithful and my words to you are true. Stay the course and I will make everything right in the end.”
The message to us seems to be that God is well aware of what is going on here and is relying on us to help spread the good news to as many people as possible while we have time. We must keep going in the face of the worst possible odds. We must always keep hope that one more person can be saved; one more life can be healed. In our Church Council meeting on Sunday someone reminded us that church is for the broken people. We must keep trying to heal that brokenness until God decides the time is right to return.