Though the Christians have always expected the literal return of the Lord Jesus Christ to this earth, few live with that expectancy in their hearts. When the Lord comes again will the event be unexpected and unwelcome?
“Now learn a parable of the fig tree; When her branch is yet tender, and putteth forth leaves, ye know that summer is near: So ye in like manner, when ye shall see these things come to pass, know that it is nigh, even at the doors. Verily I say unto you, that this generation shall not pass, till all these things be done. Heaven and earth shall pass away: but my words shall not pass away” (Mark 13:28-31).
Most Bible commentators agree that the fig tree represents the State of Israel. Scripture itself makes use of this symbolism when speaking of Israel. “I found Israel like grapes in the wilderness; I saw your fathers as the firstripe in the fig tree at her first time” (Hosea 9:10). Jesus used the tree in a parable about the faithlessness of Israel, “He spake also this parable; A certain man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard; and he came and sought fruit thereon, and found none. Then said he unto the dresser of his vineyard, Behold, these three years I come seeking fruit on this fig tree, and find none: cut it down; why cumbereth it the ground? And he answering said unto him, Lord, let it alone this year also, till I shall dig about it, and dung it: And if it bear fruit, well: and if not, then after that thou shalt cut it down” (Luke 13:6-9). In 1948 Israel was restored as a recognised political and geographical land, thus the fig tree started to put “forth leaves” again.
Matthew adds the word “all” to verse 29 (see Matthew 24:33), suggesting that the Lord had in mind everything He had taught about the last days. This includes all the signs leading up to and during the tribulation period, the abomination of desolation, as well as Israel’s re-emergence on the world scene.
Though ‘generation’ can mean a specific number of years (some say forty and others seventy), it is more likely that Jesus was referring to the world (people) living at the time prior to His second coming. If 1948 is the reference point for the beginning of the end, i.e. “the budding of the fig tree” (see Luke 21:29-30) then it is possible that He will return before there is no one left to remember the re-establishment of the State of Israel. This interpretation also hinders actual date setting for the Rapture of the Church or the Second Coming of Christ.
Regardless of what interpretation we put on the prophecies of the Last Days, every word Christ spoke will come to pass exactly at the right time and in the right place. “The grass withereth, the flower fadeth: but the word of our God shall stand for ever” (Isaiah 40:8) … “So shall my word be that goeth forth out of my mouth: it shall not return unto me void, but it shall accomplish that which I please, and it shall prosper in the thing whereto I sent it” (Isaiah 55:11).
“But of that day and that hour knoweth no man, no, not the angels which are in heaven, neither the Son, but the Father. Take ye heed, watch and pray: for ye know not when the time is. For the Son of man is as a man taking a far journey, who left his house, and gave authority to his servants, and to every man his work, and commanded the porter to watch” (Mark 13:32-34).
This text does not indicate that Jesus would never know when He would return to earth. During His earthly life He was subject to His Father’s will and only spoke and acted in the Father’s timing. “For I came down from heaven, not to do mine own will, but the will of him that sent me” (John 6:38). Scripture forbids the practice of date setting with regards to the Second Coming of Christ.
Mark uses the parable of “the traveller” who has not given his household precise details of his return. They must simply obey whatever commands he has given them until he returns, and expect him to arrive at any moment. The word “watch” indicates constant vigil. Therefore we cannot assume that the Lord cannot return today. Some one has said that Christ’s “return for His church is possible any day, and impossible no day.”
“Watch ye therefore: for ye know not when the master of the house cometh, at even, or at midnight, or at the cockcrowing, or in the morning: Lest coming suddenly he find you sleeping. And what I say unto you I say unto all, Watch” (Mark 13:35-37).
The watchword of the whole passage is “watch”. This means more than simply being ready and prepared. True believers are alert and active instead of wasting their time and spiritually sleeping. “Therefore let us not sleep, as do others; but let us watch and be sober” (1 Thessalonians 5:6). “Sleeping” here suggests involvement in worldliness, “And that, knowing the time, that now it is high time to awake out of sleep: for now is our salvation nearer than when we believed. The night is far spent, the day is at hand: let us therefore cast off the works of darkness, and let us put on the armour of light. Let us walk honestly, as in the day; not in rioting and drunkenness, not in chambering and wantonness, not in strife and envying. But put ye on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make not provision for the flesh, to fulfil the lusts thereof” (Romans 13:11-14).
No one knows the timing of the Lord’s return, but we can all be prepared for the event. A home owner may not know when a burglar might break in, but he can still be prepared for the possibility. “But know this, that if the goodman of the house had known in what watch the thief would come, he would have watched, and would not have suffered his house to be broken up” (Matthew 24:43). The people of Noah’s day were fully informed about the coming judgement, but they chose to ignore the warnings so did not bother to prepare or watch for it. “But as the days of Noe were, so shall also the coming of the Son of man be. For as in the days that were before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day that Noe entered into the ark, And knew not until the flood came, and took them all away; so shall also the coming of the Son of man be” (Matthew 24:37-39).
Jesus will arrive on earth again, but those who live careless lives will find His return will be unexpected and unwelcome. Jesus will come again, but He is coming for His own rather than pretenders. The next big event on the prophetic calendar is probably the Rapture of the Church. Christ’s church is made up of faithful and obedient Christians. “Nevertheless when the Son of man cometh, shall he find faith on the earth?” (Luke 18:8).