The salvation history has a cycle of God’s blessing on humanity, people’s ungrateful response to Him, God’s punishment for their infidelity, their repentance after the message of conversion from God’s representatives, God forgiving their sins and blessing them again. The same cycle kept repeating during the Old Testament period. The divine incarnation happened when people were sinful, and the Jewish elites kept misguiding them. They were like sheep without a shepherd (Mt 9:36). Jesus criticized the leaders and others who rejected his message of redemption. As a result, he predicted the destruction of Jerusalem and the tribulations associated with it. He also pre-announced his second coming that would happen at an unexpected hour to separate the righteous from the sinners, followed by reward or punishment based on the people’s response to his message.
Jesus compared the warning signs of the destruction of Jerusalem and his second coming to the change that happens in the fig tree during the spring. Similar to the people’s presumption of the approaching summer from change in the trees, the faithful should understand the signs of the salvific time and remain faithful to God until the second coming of Christ for their eternal reward. Jesus compared the present time to the period when Noah constructed the ark to save himself and his family from the deluge. While Noah was righteous and obeyed God, the others indulged in worldly pleasures and sinful life. A similar destruction of the sinners and redemption of the righteous would happen with the return of Christ at an unexpected time.
BIBLE TEXT: MATTHEW 24:32-44
The Lesson of the Fig Tree
(Mt 24:32) “Learn a lesson from the fig tree. When its branch becomes tender and sprouts leaves, you know that summer is near. (33) In the same way, when you see all these things, know that he is near, at the gates. (34) Amen, I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things have taken place. (35) Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.
The Unknown Day and Hour
(Mt 24:36) “But of that day and hour no one knows, neither the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father alone. (37) For as it was in the days of Noah, so it will be at the coming of the Son of Man. (38) In [those] days before the flood, they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, up to the day that Noah entered the ark. (39) They did not know until the flood came and carried them all away. So will it be [also] at the coming of the Son of Man. (40) Two men will be out in the field; one will be taken, and one will be left. (41) Two women will be grinding at the mill; one will be taken, and one will be left. (42) Therefore, stay awake! For you do not know on which day your Lord will come. (43) Be sure of this: if the master of the house had known the hour of night when the thief was coming, he would have stayed awake and not let his house be broken into. (44) So too, you also must be prepared, for at an hour you do not expect, the Son of Man will come.
Since the Scribes and Pharisees rejected the salvific message of Jesus, he denounced them, saying, “they preach but they do not practice” (Mt 23:3). Jesus criticized their scandalous and inconsiderate behavior, calling them hypocrites (Mt 23:15, 23, 25, 27, 29) and spiritually blind (Mt 23:19, 24, 26). Jesus asked the Scribes and Pharisees, “You serpents, you brood of vipers, how can you flee from the judgment of Gehenna?” (Mt 23:33). He lamented Jerusalem that would face destruction and abandonment for the lack of its inhabitants’ conversion (Mt 23:37-38). Jesus foretold the destruction of the Temple to his disciples: “Amen, I say to you, there will not be left here a stone upon another stone that will not be thrown down” (Mt 24:2).
While Jesus sat on the Mount of Olives, his disciples asked him in private on the time of the destruction of Jerusalem and its Temple, the sign on his second coming, and the end of the age (Mt 24:3). The signs he gave were the appearance of false Messiahs (Mt 24:4-5) and false prophets (Mt 24:11), war between nations and kingdoms (Mt 24:6-7), persecution of the disciples (Mt 24:9-10), increase of evildoing, decrease in love (Mt 24:12), and preaching of the gospel to all nations. Then the end of the world would happen (Mt 24:14). Jesus instructed what one must do during the great tribulation (Mt 24:15-28). He also predicted the sign at the coming of the Son of Man in the glorious cloud. “Immediately after the tribulation of those days, the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will fall from the sky, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken” (Mt 24:29). “He will send out his angels with a trumpet blast, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of the heavens to the other” (Mt 24:31). Jesus illustrated these signs and his message with the following parables and teachings.
The Lesson of the Fig Tree
(Mt 24:32) “Learn a lesson from the fig tree. When its branch becomes tender and sprouts leaves, you know that summer is near.”
Learn a lesson from the fig tree.
The Bible mentions fig trees even from the beginning of the salvation history. The Garden of Eden had fig trees, out of which Adam and Eve “sewed fig leaves together and made loincloths for themselves” (Gen 3:7). That happened after they sinned by disobeying God. Until then, “The man and his wife were both naked, yet they felt no shame” (Gen 2:25). The land of Canaan that God promised to the Israelites was “a land of wheat and barley, of vines and fig trees and pomegranates, of olive trees and of honey” (Deut 8:8). Vine and fig trees were part of the prosperity of the Israelites. During the reign of Solomon, “Judah and Israel lived in security, everyone under their own vine and fig tree from Dan to Beer-sheba, as long as Solomon lived” (1 Kgs 5:5). The Bible documented vine and fig trees together (Song 2:13) and were valuable (Kgs 10:27).
Jesus used the fig tree as a similitude of Israel for his teachings because his listeners were familiar with the tree. In the parable of the barren fig tree (Lk 13:6-9) Jesus compared Israel to a fig tree that did not yield fruit on time. The gardener requested to extend time with additional care for the result. We are in that waiting period for repentance and fruit production. Jesus cursed a fig tree that failed to produce fruit and it withered later (Mk 11:12-14, 20-22). Here the tree represented Jerusalem, that the Romans destroyed in 70 A.D.
The Jews used the shade of a fig tree for scripture reading and reflection. Its canopy-like shade gave a peaceful and comfortable condition during the summer when it was hot inside the house. Jesus had noticed Nathanael doing so before he called him as his disciple (Jn 1:48).
People can assume seasons by watching the changes happening on the trees. Jesus was pointing to the disciples a fig tree near them during the spring because fig and olive trees were plenty on the Mount of Olives where they sat during this discourse of Jesus. People can learn from the nature that God created in His wisdom. The lesson here is the sign of the Jewish revolt and the consequent Roman attack on Jerusalem that happened in 70 A.D., 40 years after the prediction of Jesus.
When its branch becomes tender and sprouts leaves, you know that summer is near.
The animals, plants, and trees prepare themselves according to the change in the seasons. The fig trees’ branches become tender, swell to form buds, and sprout leaves during spring is a natural phenomenon. That happens because of better sunlight after the winter, and the flow of sap from the roots to the bark of the tree. It becomes a sign of the closeness of summer is familiar to all. Similarly, there would be sure signs of the prediction of Jesus in the end times. Though the disciples will recognize them, the non-believers and the ungodly cannot acknowledge it, like the Scribes and Pharisees failed to understand the Messiah when he came as Jesus.
(33) In the same way, when you see all these things, know that he is near, at the gates.
The people will face judgement based on their acceptance or rejection of faith. Signs will happen which the believers will understand based on Jesus’ teachings. A comparable situation happened during the time of Noah, when his family believed and prepared the ark for the forthcoming deluge. God had selected Noah to save his contemporaries and warned them of a destructive deluge of punishment if they continued to sin. No one listened to him, and God destroyed them in the flood.
The Israelites while in Egypt had followed the directions of Moses when the tenth plague was about to take place. While the first-born of the Egyptians died, God save the first-born of the Israelites and they gained freedom from the Egyptians.
When the Israelites in the north and the Jews in the south ignored the warnings of the prophets and disobeyed God, the Assyrians attacked the north and the Babylonians in the south.
Jesus predicted a parallel tragedy for the Jews if they do not believe in him. Sign of the judgement had started with the public ministry of Jesus. Like the branches of fig trees became tender and its leaves sprouted to prepare for summer, the time had arrived for salvation and judgement with the preaching of Jesus.
at the gates
The ancient cities had fortresses and gates. The enemies break into the city through the gates. Once that happens, defeating them is risky. Someone is “at the gates” expresses the urgency for action to take place. Prophets had the style emphasizing the future event as if it would happen instantly. Titus and his Roman army took forty more years to reach the gates of Jerusalem to destroy the city and the Temple.
(34) Amen, I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things have taken place.
Amen, I say to you
This expression is an emphasis of the surety of the statement to follow.
this generation will not pass away
One generation in the Biblical concept is 40 years (Heb 3:9-10). So, the destruction of the Temple took place 40 years after the prediction. Hence, many listeners of Jesus were alive when the destruction of Jerusalem happened in 70 A.D.
until all these things have taken place.
Everything Jesus had predicted on the destruction of Jerusalem and its Temple had taken place within the time he referred. Since the celestial signs of the end times (Mt 24:29-31) did not happen, “all these things” could mean only those that apply to the destruction of Jerusalem. The others will happen later when the Jewish generation will be in the world.
(35) Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.
According to the prediction of Jesus, prior to the coming of the Son of Man and “Immediately after the tribulation of those days, the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will fall from the sky, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken” (Mt 24:29). Hence, the celestial bodies that God had created will undergo a refinement. Similar to the transformed body of the humans after the resurrection (Phil 3:21), there will be a transformation in nature.
According to the Book of Revelation, heaven and the earth will pass away, and the sea will be no more. Jerusalem will be a new city (Rev 21:1-2). Through Isaiah, God had predicted, “See, I am creating new heavens and a new earth; The former things shall not be remembered nor come to mind. Instead, shout for joy and be glad forever in what I am creating. Indeed, I am creating Jerusalem to be a joy and its people to be a delight” (Isa 65:17-18). Peter affirmed this by stating, “the heavens will be dissolved in flames and the elements melted by fire. But according to his promise we await new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells” (2 Pet 3:12-13). Hence, acquiring and preserving wealth in this world is worthless.
my words will not pass away.
Jesus assured the fulfillment of his teachings and prophesies because he is the Word of God. Isaiah asserted, “the word of our God stands forever” (Isa 40:8). According to Psalm, “the heavens are the work of your hands. They perish, but you remain; they all wear out like a garment; Like clothing you change them and they are changed, but you are the same, your years have no end” (Ps 102:26-28). Isaiah reminded the Israelites of the transitory nature of the universe and the permanence of God’s salvation that came through Jesus. “Though the heavens vanish like smoke, the earth wear out like a garment and its inhabitants die like flies, My salvation shall remain forever and my victory shall always be firm” (Isa 51:6). Since Jesus is the word incarnate of God, his words are of eternal value and will be fulfilled in time. The disciples have to trust in Jesus’ words than any worldly realities.
The Unknown Day and Hour
(Mt 24:36) “But of that day and hour no one knows, neither the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father alone.”
The angels are servants of God. They do not know the diving plan unless God reveals to them.
A question arises here: Why does Jesus, the Son of God, did not know the time of his return? Though Jesus used his divine power to help the people in need by healing the sick, expelling demons, multiplying food, and other miracles, he voluntarily limited his divine privileges as part of his incarnation. So, during his public ministry, he humbled himself and became like man except in sin (Heb 4:15). “Though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God something to be grasped. Rather, he emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, coming in human likeness; and found human in appearance, he humbled himself, becoming obedient to death, even death on a cross” (Phil 2:6-8).
As a human, Jesus had limited his divine powers so he could think, speak, act like a human. Jesus said, “I cannot do anything on my own; I judge as I hear, and my judgment is just, because I do not seek my own will but the will of the one who sent me” (Jn 5:30). Jesus prayed often (Lk 5:16) and sought the blessing of the Father before he did major miracles (Jn 6:11; 1:41-42). Hence, no one except the Father knows when the Son will return from heaven to earth. However, this was only when he was on the earth as a human. Once he ascended to heaven, he resumed the full faculties of God and the knowledge of everything, including the time of his return.
(37) For as it was in the days of Noah, so it will be at the coming of the Son of Man.
Jesus took an example from the lives of sinners during the time of the great deluge when God saved Noah and his family. The people ignored the warning of conversion while Noah and family obeyed God. Though Noah constructed the Ark, he did not know the exact day when the deluge was going to happen. On an unexpected day, the flood happened, and on another day, God shut the door of the Ark.
Jesus gave enough warning on the need for repentance and the upcoming judgement with the eternal reward for the righteous and destruction of the obstinate sinners. Like Noah’s ark, he established the church for the salvation of the faithful. Those who make use of it will overcome the tribulation and gain eternal life. The day and time of Messiah’s return shall be at an unexpected day and time.
(38) In [those] days before the flood, they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, up to the day that Noah entered the ark.
In [those] days before the flood, they were eating and drinking
Prior to the great deluge when Noah was 600 years old, the people were numerous, and they indulged in sinful life. They were only flesh, and the spirit of God left them (Gen 6:3). They enjoyed the food and drinks for their worldly pleasure. Though eating and drinking are necessary for humans to sustain their lives, they ignored God, who provided them with everything. While giving priority to the pleasures of the body, they did not care for their souls and worship of the true God. Jesus compared this situation to his contemporaries who were also concerned about the material food and not the spiritual nourishment. After feeding five thousand men with five loaves of bread and two fish, the next day, they approached Jesus. Understanding their intention for worldly goals, Jesus said, “Do not work for food that perishes but for the food that endures for eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you” (Jn 6:27).
Jesus warned the people about conversion through his preaching and miracles of mercy. However, some responded like the people who ignored the warning of Noah for their repentance and did not learn from his life and his construction of the ark. Jesus continues his preaching and acts of mercy through his church. Those who ignore these warnings and live in sin will face destruction similar to the people who died in the flood during Noah’s time.
marrying and giving in marriage, up to the day that Noah entered the ark.
Marriage and giving in marriage are necessary according to the design of God for the continuation of humanity and mutual support. However, prior to the pre-deluge period, “The Nephilim appeared on earth in those days, as well as later, after the sons of God had intercourse with the daughters of human beings, who bore them sons. They were the heroes of old, the men of renown” (Gen 6:4). Thus, a sinful generation developed from the marital mingling of the godly and worldly people. The chosen people could not sanctify the worldly ones. Instead, the people became unfaithful to God and became a sinful generation. Thus, God had to wipe them out while saving the righteous Noah and his family. A similar separation and judgement would happen at the second coming of Christ.
up to the day that Noah entered the ark.
After finishing the construction of the ark, according to the directives of God, Noah entered seven pairs of clean animals and birds along with one pair of unclean animals (Gen 7:2-3) in the ark. He also stored food for his family, animals, and birds (Gen 6:21). On the day they entered the ark, the Lord shut its entrance. “On the very same day, Noah and his sons Shem, Ham, and Japheth, and Noah’s wife, and the three wives of Noah’s sons had entered the ark, together with every kind of wild animal, every kind of tame animal, every kind of crawling thing that crawls on the earth, and every kind of bird. Pairs of all creatures in which there was the breath of life came to Noah into the ark. Those that entered were male and female; of all creatures they came, as God had commanded Noah. Then the LORD shut him in” (Gen 7:13-16).
(39) They did not know until the flood came and carried them all away. So will it be [also] at the coming of the Son of Man.
They did not know until the flood came
The contemporaries of Noah continued to lead their sinful life until the flood came, and God shut Noah’s ark. They should have believed Noah and repented. In that case, God would have avoided punishing them through the deluge. They were too late to realize the truth of what Noah said and did.
carried them all away
The flood swept away all the sinners, their animals, and their wealth. They died in despair. “The LORD wiped out every being on earth: human beings and animals, the crawling things and the birds of the air; all were wiped out from the earth. Only Noah and those with him in the ark were left” (Gen 7:23).
So will it be [also] at the coming of the Son of Man.
Jesus compared the situation of the people who died in the flood during the time of Noah to the people who rejected Jesus and his message of salvation. Like the deluge started suddenly with no more hope for escape, the second coming of Christ will happen at an unexpected time with the salvation of the righteous and merciless destruction of the sinners.
(40) Two men will be out in the field; one will be taken, and one will be left.
Though Jesus preached the gospel of salvation, some accepted it, and others ignored or rejected it. Hence, there will be a selection of the righteous and rejection of the unrighteous at his second coming. Jesus illustrated it through the parables of the faithful and unfaithful servants (Mt 24:45-51), the parable of the ten virgins (Mt 25:1-13), the parable of the talents (Mt 25:14-30), and the description of the judgement of the nations (Mt 25:31-46). “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit upon his glorious throne, and all the nations will be assembled before him. And he will separate them one from another, as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats” (Mt 25:31-32). Hence, not all will be saved, nor all will be destroyed. Everyone will be judged based on the person’s response to the Word of God. Two people in the same situation might respond differently to the gospel. “I tell you, on that night there will be two people in one bed; one will be taken, the other left” (Lk 17:34). So, one will be rewarded and the other punished.
(41) Two women will be grinding at the mill; one will be taken, and one will be left.
Grinding at the mill was done by hand, and it needed two people to work as a team. The lower part was fixed and the upper one was turned around by a handle. Two women sat on opposite sides, facing each other. One lady turned the wheel halfway and let the other turn the rest to complete one rotation. It was laborious, as well as a meager type of labor. In Egypt, it was the work of slave girls (Ex 11:5). Male captives had to grind the mill in prison (Judg 16:21; Lam 5:13). While Jesus was teaching this at the Mount of Olives, he might have noticed two women grinding at a mill. So, he could point to them and say the selection of one and the rejection of the other. This example has the same meaning as in the previous verse “Two men will be out in the field; one will be taken, and one will be left” (Mt 24:40). Jesus repeated the unexpected separation and judgement here.
(42) Therefore, stay awake! For you do not know on which day your Lord will come.
Though Jesus taught the faithful can estimate the time of tribulation and his second coming, like the forthcoming summer from the change in the fig tree, the exact day of his return is unknown to the humans. The Father decides that day and that would be an unexpected time for us. That is to emphasize the need for continuous faithfulness to God. “Stay awake” can imply the continuous spiritual uprightness. Those who are spiritually prepared have nothing to worry about. Instead, we look forward to it because of the Lord’s promise of eternal reward in heaven.
(43) Be sure of this: if the master of the house had known the hour of night when the thief was coming, he would have stayed awake and not let his house be broken into. (44) So too, you also must be prepared, for at an hour you do not expect, the Son of Man will come.
By stating, “be sure of this,” Jesus assured the surety of the hypothetical situation and its application that follows. If the house owner knows the breaking in of his house by a thief, he would take precautions to prevent it. In this parable, Jesus says the owner knows the hour the robber would arrive. However, with the second coming of Christ, no one knows the day or hour of his coming. Hence, we have to be always watchful in keeping up the graceful state of our souls.
The stress on this passage is the unexpected arrival of the Son of Man and the constant preparation to face him. Matthew gives the nature and purpose of the second coming of Christ. That will be a glorious arrival as a divine king to separate the righteous from the sinners and to reward or punish them accordingly. “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit upon his glorious throne, and all the nations will be assembled before him. And he will separate them one from another, as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will place the sheep on his right and the goats on his left” (Mt 25:31-33). His first arrival was as a servant to serve humanity and as a redeemer to save us. Now is the time of repentance and salvation. That period of redemption is limited, and its duration is unknown to us. Hence, let us be on the right path now and always until our death or his return to establish the just and divine kingdom.