We are now halfway through our extensive series of messages on “The Parables of Jesus”. In today’s sermon we will consider the 20th of the 40 parables on our long list. It is a brief illustration known as “The Parable of the Budding Fig Tree”. It is recorded almost word-for-word in Matthew, Mark, and Luke. After teaching in the temple all day long, Jesus and the disciples departed to the Mount of Olives for some privacy. That evening, just a few days before His arrest and crucifixion, Jesus told them this brief but chilling parable.
“The Parable of the Budding Fig Tree” is the first of a new category of parables that deal with the end times. There are 7 parables altogether in this group, and we will discuss each of them over the course of the next month. Collectively, these stories teach us the importance of being watchful and ready for Christ’s return while warning us of the judgement that will follow during the last days. We will call this portion of our series “His Coming”.
The first set of parables that we studied focused on “His Kingdom” and illustrated the manner, value, and size of the Kingdom of God. The second set of parables highlighted “His Character” and described several of the LORD’s characteristics such as His love, grace, forgiveness, power, and delight in the redeemed. The third set of parables dealt with “His Covenant” and pictured the contrast between the God’s Old Covenant with Israel and His New Covenant with the Church. Now we are beginning the fourth set of parables that relate to “His Coming” during the final days of the earth.
People have always been fascinated and intrigued by stories about the end times. There seems to be an innate human curiosity about this topic. For this reason, I suspect that the parables we’ll study over the next few weeks will be of particular interest to many of you - just as they were to Jesus’ followers centuries ago.
I. KNOW THE SIGNS - Matthew 24:3-31; Mark 13:3-27; Luke 21:7-28
There are many warning signs given throughout Scripture which indicate that the end is near. Some are rather vague while others are more specific. Jesus mentions a few of them just prior to telling “The Parable of the Budding Fig Tree”. Let’s touch on 5 general signs that the Lord lists during His conversation with the disciples on the Mount of Olives.
As the last days approach, there will be an increase in the number of false prophets claiming to be Christ. They will deceive many with their empty theology and flattering speech. Multitudes of well-meaning and good-hearted people will be led astray by these charlatans who profess a form of godliness while denying its power. The church will gradually weaken as it is infiltrated by more and more of these teachers.
Outside the Church wickedness and lawless among people will grow. Sin will be pervasive; it’s immoral effects will taint and poison every aspect of society. There will be intense persecution of Christians. As the world’s hatred grows, authorities will seek to silence believers. If and when that fails, thousands will be martyred for their faith. Despite this heavy oppression, the gospel will go forth to all the earth.
The relationship between nations will continue to deteriorate. There will be ongoing and widespread war and rebellion. Thousands of soldiers and civilians will die as a result of the fierce conflict. Tensions will be high, accompanied by constant threats and accusations. Diplomacy will fail as tempers flare. Peace will be hard to come by and turmoil will run rampant.
The frequency and severity of natural disasters will rise - such as violent earthquakes, devastating famine, and unrelenting pestilence. Other catastrophes including hurricanes, typhoons, tidal waves, flash floods, landslides, wildfires, volcanic eruptions, and tornadoes will kill thousands. Infectious epidemics will spread around the globe while others will die of thirst and starvation.
There will also be signs observable in the heavens. The sun will be darkened, such as in the case of a solar eclipse. The moon will appear as blood, otherwise known as a blood moon. Stars will fall from the heavens, perhaps a reference to shooting stars, meteors, or comets. All of these celestial events will mark the final days.
II. RECOGNIZE THE SIGNS - Matthew 24:32-33; Mark 13:28-29; Luke 21:29-31
After naming some of the signs, Jesus told a simple, illustrative parable about a fig tree whose branch had become tender and whose leaves were beginning to sprout. These are the characteristics of a plant in the springtime, after the long, cold winter has ended. They indicate that summer is drawing near. In the same way, the visible and recognizable signs that Jesus mentioned earlier signal the closeness of Jesus’ return.
As we learned in a previous message, a fig tree is often used in the Bible to represent Israel. This being the case, what happens in, around, and to Israel is of particular importance to the careful observer. This tiny nation is certainly the focal point for end times warnings. While all 3 gospels point specifically the to fig tree, Luke also encourages us to look at “all the trees”. In other words, cautionary signs can be seen in and among all countries, but there is a special emphasis on Israel.
III. HEED THE SIGNS - Matthew 24:34-35; Mark 13:30-31; Luke 21:32-33
Bible prophecies often have multiple fulfillments. They point to both an imminent event and a parallel yet much more distant event. By successfully predicting something in their own lifetime or that of their listeners, a prophet’s message is validated. In other words, because they were right in the near term we can trust their warnings over the long term. The destruction that Jesus spoke of on this occasion was and is such a prophecy - it has a dual fulfillment.
Jesus stated that “this generation would not pass away” before seeing the end come. He was referring first to the fall of Jerusalem and the demolition of the temple. This occurred in A.D. 70 when the Roman army led by Titus ransacked the city. Many who were alive at the time of Jesus’s original statement were still living then. The second and parallel fulfillment will come when Jesus returns. This will be followed by judgment and destruction of the entire earth. The generation of the Church, which started with the apostles, will not pass away until then.
Ultimately, both the old heavens and earth will pass away and be replaced with a new heavens and earth. We read about this in the final chapters of Revelation. Though these things will change, the Word of God - including the accuracy of Jesus’ prophecy - will remain both constant and accurate.
“The Parable of the Budding Fig Tree” figuratively teaches that there are clear signs which indicate that the coming of Christ and subsequent tribulation is drawing near. While some of these are a bit scary, we should not fear. Also, we should remember that these signs are only he beginning of the birth pangs. They do not point to an exact moment or day, but rather reflect a season of nearness. We should not panic or try to set certain dates - as no one knows the day or hour - but rather should simply be aware of the warning signs all around us which reveal that the end is getting closer.