My previous post asserted that though we cannot know the day and hour of the Rapture, the next major event in God’s program when the church will be caught up into heaven, God has given us some landmarks that inform us when we’re getting close.
That information is contained in one of the major teachings of Christ, often referred to as the Olivet Discourse because He delivered it on the Mount of Olives. Strangely enough, though it was taught on the Mount of Olives, the portion of this discourse that most directly applies to us is not about an olive tree but a parable about a fig tree.
Understanding this parable requires that we grasp the layout of this discourse as a whole, which will be our task in this post.
Though this teaching is recorded in the gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke, Matthew offers its most comprehensive presentation, and therefore I will anchor my discussion in Matthew’s version of it.
In Matthew, Christ’s discourse covers two chapters, Matthew 24-25. I ended the previous post with Christ and His disciples on Tuesday evening of Holy Week headed out of Jerusalem, walking to the east down into the Valley of Kidron, with the Mount of Olives rising up on the other side of the Valley ahead of them. The disciples commented on the beautiful stones from which the Temple was constructed, to which Christ responded, “Do you not see all these things? Assuredly, I say to you, not one stone shall be left here upon another, that shall not be thrown down.” (Matthew 24:2 NKJV)
This response no doubt provoked some serious conversation among the disciples as they walked down into the Valley of Kidron and up onto the Mount of Olives. They stopped on the mountain, perhaps to rest, and as Jesus sat facing the Temple, Andrew, Peter, James, and John approached Him regarding His ominous prophecy by asking two questions: “Tell us, when will these things be? And what will be the sign of Your coming, and of the end of the age?” (Matthew 24:3 NKJV) In response, Jesus launched into the discourse.
The first section, contained in Matthew 24:4-31, describing the events of the seven year Tribulation that follows the Rapture of the church. This seven years comprises the worst days human beings will have ever experienced. In fact, Jesus describes them as follows: “For then there will be great tribulation, such as has not been since the beginning of the world until this time, no, nor ever shall be. And unless those days were shortened, no flesh would be saved….” (Matthew 24:21-22 NKJV) The book of Revelation describes some of the terrors of those times such as earthquakes, famines, and hundred pound hailstones. It is like the plagues of Egypt on steroids.
The second section of the discourse, found in Matthew 24:37 through 25:30, reveals a drastic change of tone, describing the days before the Rapture of the church. These will be times of normal living, which Jesus depicts in this way: “But as the days of Noah were, so also will the coming of the Son of Man be. For as in the days before the flood, they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day that Noah entered the ark, and did not know until the flood came and took them all away, so also will the coming of the Son of Man be. (Matthew 24:37-39 NKJV)
Notice that the challenge represented by these days will be just the opposite of that confronting people during the Tribulation. As we have seen, life during the Tribulation will be so bad that the challenge for those people will just be surviving. By way of contrast, the challenge for those living in the days prior to the Rapture, the times we are living in right now, consists of getting lulled to sleep spiritually by business as usual. People will be preoccupied with Dancing With The Stars and Monday Night Football, making money, getting kids to basketball practice, and raking leaves, giving little thought to the prospect that followers of Christ might suddenly disappear, bringing about immediate catastrophe, followed closely by the worst seven years imaginable.
The final segment of the discourse, presented in Matthew 25:31-46 describes the events following the return of Christ to earth after the seven year Tribulation, when He will set up His Millennial Kingdom. Upon His return He will conquer opposing armies in short order, a thorough victory that will be followed by a time of judgment, the main topic of this section. These activities pave the way for the establishment of His Kingdom.
The order of the first two sections differs from their historical order, which is provided on the diagram below.
As indicated on this diagram, the parable of the fig tree gives us information about the time of the Rapture, which will occur at the end of the church age and right before the seven year Tribulation begins. I plan to discuss that parable during my next post.