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“And there shall be signs in the sun, and in the moon, and in the stars; and upon the earth distress of nations, with perplexity; the sea and the waves roaring; men’s hearts failing them for fear, and for looking after those things which are coming on the earth: for the powers of heaven shall be shaken. And then shall they see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory. And when these things begin to come to pass, then look up, and lift up your heads; for your redemption draweth nigh. And He spake to them a parable; Behold the fig tree, and all the trees; when they now shoot forth, ye see and know of your own selves that summer is now nigh at hand. So likewise ye, when ye see these things come to pass, know ye that the kingdom of God is nigh at hand. Verily I say unto you, This generation shall not pass away, till all be fulfilled. Heaven and earth shall pass away: but my words shall not pass away. And take heed to yourselves, lest at any time your hearts be overcharged with surfeiting, and drunkenness, and cares of this life, and so that day come upon you unawares. For as a snare shall it come on all them that dwell on the face of the whole earth. Watch ye therefore, and pray always, that ye may be accounted worthy to escape all these things that shall come to pass, and to stand before the Son of Man. And in the day time He was teaching in the temple; and at night He went out, and abode in the mount that is called the mount of Olives. And all the people came early in the morning to Him in the temple, for to hear Him”—Luke 21:25-38.
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This is the second part of our Lord’s great prophetic discourse given to His disciples during His last week with them before His crucifixion. The first part of this prophecy carried us down to the destruction of Jerusalem. The Lord had told His disciples, as they were admiring the marvelous temple and other buildings in Jerusalem, “As for these things which ye behold, the days will come, in the which there shall not be left one stone upon another, that shall not be thrown down.” He depicted conditions that would lead up to this, concluding with the declaration, “And when ye shall see Jerusalem compassed with armies, then know that the desolation thereof is nigh.” Everything up to this point was fulfilled literally, and Jerusalem was destroyed in A.D. 70, as He predicted. But He put a limit on its being trodden down. He said, “Jerusalem shall be trodden down of the Gentiles,” (not forever; not so long as the world lasts, but) “until the times of the Gentiles be fulfilled.” We have seen that the expression “times of the Gentiles refers to the entire period during which the Jews are under Gentile dominion. Ever since Nebuchadnezzar’s day this has been their condition. So the times of the Gentiles have continued considerably over two thousand years. Just when it will come to an end we dare not attempt to say. Many have tried to work out some kind of time system, but so far all these have failed. But we can be very sure that we are rapidly drawing near the end of the Gentile times.
A glorious event is going to take place for us before the end comes, of which the Lord said nothing in this great prophetic discourse, but which later He mentioned to His disciples as they were gathered together that evening in the upper room. He said, “I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you unto Myself.” In the Epistles of Paul we find details unfolded concerning that event. Before the times of the Gentiles come to an end the Lord Jesus is coming in the air to take His heavenly people out of this scene. “The dead in Christ shall rise first: then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord” (1 Thess. 4:16,17). Now our Lord does not mention this here. The time had not come to reveal it. But He went on to explain what will take place when the times of the Gentiles shall be fulfilled. First He spoke of astronomical signs, “And there shall be signs in the sun, and in the moon, and in the stars.” Now these signs have not begun to take place so far as we know; but we can be certain of this, that the people who will be living on the earth at the time these things begin to have their fulfilment will see these great signs in connection with the heavenly bodies. Jesus next spoke of conditions that will prevail on the earth, “And upon the earth, distress of nations, with perplexity; the sea and the waves roaring.” In a limited sense we may say that these conditions are manifest now, “distress of nations, with perplexity.” It has often been pointed out that this word “perplexity” means literally, “no way out”: “Distress of nations and no way out.” This is most significant. At this very time our statesmen and the rulers of the various countries are endeavoring to form a league to bring about a warless world and assure continued prosperity. But it is evident that they are at their wits’ end as they face apparently insurmountable difficulties. We may be sure of this: conditions will not improve, and wars will continue until the Lord Jesus Christ comes in glory.
Jesus also mentions great natural convulsions. Elsewhere we read that not only will the earth be shaken but also heaven, “that those things which cannot be shaken may remain” (Heb. 12:27). So we may be sure, in the light ,of the prophetic Word, that this poor world is doomed so far as man’s ability to help is concerned. When things are at their worst God will intervene. “And then shall they see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory.” He will take over the reins ,of government and set up the kingdom of God on the ruins of all earth’s vaunted dominions. He says, “When these things begin to come to pass, then look up, and lift up your heads; for your redemption draweth nigh.”
Surely His words can mean nothing else than the visible second advent of the Lord Jesus Christ. In the Book of Revelation (1:7) we read, “Behold, He cometh with clouds; and every eye shall see Him, and they also which pierced Him: and all kindreds of the earth shall wail because of Him.” There are people who profess to accept the Bible and yet tell us that they do not believe in the literal second coming of Christ. They insist that all this will have only a spiritual fulfilment. But I remind you again that every prophecy having to do with the first coming of our Lord was fulfilled literally, and therefore we have every reason to believe that all the prophecies having to do with His second coming will be fulfilled just as literally. He is coming back in person to this earth, and the world that rejected Him will bow before Him, recognizing His absolute authority. He tells them very definitely when these things will take place: at the end of the times of the Gentiles. The believers in the Lord Jesus Christ need not be in distress because of present world conditions. We know that God works everything according to the counsel of His own will, and we can trust Him and not be afraid. As these signs begin to come to pass they serve to tell us that the coming of the King draweth nigh, and so our hearts are encouraged as we look up and wait for our blessed Lord’s return.
“And He spake to them a parable; Behold the fig tree, and all the trees.” The fig tree as used in Scripture is a symbol of the nation of Israel. In the Book of Judges (in the parable of Jotham), there are four trees mentioned. These are the olive, the fig-tree, the vine, and the bramble. Now all these different trees are really types or symbols of Israel. The olive-tree speaks of Israel in covenant relationship with God: Abraham is the root, and the branches represent those who are his descendants after the flesh and after the Spirit. During the present time the national branches have been broken off from their own olive-tree because of unbelief, and Gentile wild branches have been grafted in. Some years ago I noticed an objection to this illustration. A learned doctor of divinity insisted that Paul was very ignorant of the first principles of horticulture, or he never would have spoken of grafting wild branches into a good olive-tree. He pointed out that the very opposite is what is done. Therefore it is folly to think that this was written by inspiration. God would not use such an absurd illustration as this to teach spiritual or dispensational truths. But if that good man had read his Bible a little more carefully he would have found that Paul said his illustration about grafting in the Gentiles was “contrary to nature.” The apostle knew he was using an illustration which was contrary to nature, and he tells us so. But that is the way grace works. Grace is ever contrary to nature. When the end of this age comes the natural branches will be grafted in again, and Israel will enter into the new covenant blessing.
So the olive-tree speaks of God’s covenant people. The fig-tree speaks of Israel, as a nation, set by God in Palestine to glorify Him. The vine speaks spiritually of Israel. God brought forth a vine out of Egypt and planted a vineyard, Jehovah’s witnesses in the earth, and “He Looked that it should bring forth grapes, and it brought forth wild grapes” (Isa. 5:2). Because of this, Israel has for a time been set aside. Jesus said, “I am the true Vine, My Father is the Husbandman” (John 15:1). He speaks of those who profess faith in Him as the branches of the Vine, who are to bring forth fruit unto God. But the day is coming, as we have seen, when the Church of God will be caught up, and a remnant of Israel will be left in the world to witness for God. The other symbol is the bramble. This speaks of Israel away from God, a curse instead ,of a blessing to the world. It was the Lord’s intention that Israel should be a blessing to all nations, but because they turned away from God they became a curse instead of a blessing among the Gentiles. Some day that will be changed, and Israel will become a means of blessing to the whole world.
The symbol to which Jesus refers here is the fig-tree. For centuries Israel has been without national consciousness. At the end of the age the fig-tree will begin to bloom again. Israel will be brought back into her land and into relationship with God. There will be a new Israel, a regenerated people, who will lead all the nations in devotion to the Lord Jesus Christ. Already the fig-tree is beginning to bud. The day of deliverance is near. “When they now shoot forth, ye see and know of your own selves that summer is now nigh at hand. So likewise ye, when ye see these things come to pass, know ye that the kingdom of God is nigh at hand.” It is as though He said, “Watch Israel, and watch the movements among the other nations.” “All the trees” refers, undoubtedly, to the Gentile nations in the prophetic vision. As we see these conditions developing and note what is taking place among the nations, we can see the great combinations forming that will have a place in the final conflict ere the return of our Lord Jesus Christ. Israel will come again into a special place before God. Already they are beginning to think of themselves as a nation, not simply a scattered people; and many of them are turning to the Lord. The close of this age is drawing near. The end of the times of the Gentiles will soon come. One evidence of changing sentiment among the Jews is that many of their leaders now insist that the Gentiles are indebted particularly to them because of the teachings of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, who was one of their greatest Rabbis! They acknowledge that their fathers did not understand Him and made a great mistake in rejecting Him. But the sad thing is that they think of Him only as a great teacher instead of God manifested in flesh. Nevertheless, the eyes of many are being opened to Christ, their promised Messiah, the Son of God; and there have been more definite conversions in the last quarter of a century than during many centuries before. “So likewise ye, when ye see these things come to pass, know ye that the kingdom of God is nigh at hand.” That kingdom has been making its way into the hearts of men ever since our Lord ascended into heaven and the Holy Spirit came down. He will soon be manifest openly.
“Verily I say unto you, This generation shall not pass away, till all be fulfilled.” There has been a great deal of argument as to the exact meaning of these words. In my judgment, the Lord is simply saying that the race of Israel will not pass away until all these things have been fulfilled. God will preserve Israel in the world, though sadly enough the great majority will remain in their unbelief until these things begin to come to pass.
“And take heed to yourselves, lest at any time your hearts be overcharged with surfeiting, and drunkenness, and cares of this life, and so that day come upon you unawares. For as a snare shall it come on all them that dwell on the face of the whole earth.” As the Lord warns His disciples so we may take the words to our hearts, even though we are waiting for the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ to gather us together unto Himself. We need to be careful lest we become so occupied with the things of this scene, with making a living and getting on in the world, that we fail to put Christ first in our lives and to live day by day as those who are waiting for His return. “Watch ye therefore, and pray always, that ye may be accounted worthy to escape all these things that shall come to pass, and to stand before the Son of Man.” These words have a particular application to those who will be living on the earth in the days of the great tribulation. The coming of the Son of Man is the consummation, and is always distinguished from the coming of the Lord to receive His saints into the air.
The chapter concludes by telling us that during the last week He was on earth, “in the day time He was teaching in the temple; and at night He went out, and abode in the mount that is called the mount of Olives.” Whether this refers to Bethany which is on the eastern slope of the Mount of Olives, or whether it means He lay in the open, we are not told; but at any rate, He left the city, where He was an outcast as far as Jerusalem and all its religion was concerned, but early in the morning many people came to Him in the temple to hear Him.