Jesus' great prophecy expounds and builds upon Daniel's 70 Weeks.
The theme of Matthew is Jesus presenting Himself as Israel's MESSIAH-KING, their rejection of Him and the results. This rejection came to a climax in chapter 12 with Jesus casting out a blind and dumb spirit - a MESSIANIC MIRACLE. Their deliberate rejection of Him despite such proof manifested in accusing Him of being able to do this because He was possessed by satan. He warned them of committing the unforgivable sin and told them He would only give them one more sign (chance to believe) - the sign of Jonah - His death and resurrection after 3 days (v39,16:1-4). In a parable where ISRAEL is a HOUSE, He warns them of the coming destruction if they reject Him and refuse to let Him in (v43-45) John cleaned up Israel, but if they reject Christ they will be empty and open for destruction and their last state (dispersion) will be worse than the first (occupation)
Chapter 21 Jesus’ triumphal Entry - He presented Himself as their King
but knew the leaders had rejected Him and so prophesied the resulting destruction coming on Jerusalem (Luke 19:41-44).
Chapter 23 He pronounced woes (judgements) on Israel's leaders for rejecting Him (see v37) concluding:"Your house (the Temple) is left to
you desolate...you will see me no more until you say. "Blessed is He (Messiah) who comes in the name of the Lord" (v38,39). He was signifying that He was turning away from Israel until they receive him as their King.
Chapter 24: "Then Jesus went out and departed from the Temple" (24:1). This action signified the glory leaving the Temple prior to its destruction.
"His disciples came to Him to show Him the buildings of the Temple and Jesus said to them,"See all these things? Verily I say to you, there will not be left here one stone upon another, that shall not be thrown down" (Matthew 24:1,2). This was literally fulfilled in AD 70 when the Romans destroyed Jerusalem. Despite Titus' wishes the Temple was burnt and the molten gold went between all the cracks of the stones so that by the time gold hunters had finished every stone was dismantled! So we see that Jesus is predicting judgement coming upon Israel for rejecting her Messiah.
Now the disciples ask 3 Questions
- the answers to which are the basis of Jesus' famous prophecy.
As well as in Matthew 24, it is in Mark 13 and Luke 21
- we have to combine these three to get the full prophecy.
See the Appendix at the end for a detailed harmonisation.
Matthew 24:3 and Mark 13:4 give the three questions the prophecy answers.
"As he sat on the mount of Olives (looking at the Temple),
the disciples came to him privately, saying, "Tell us,
Question(1): WHEN shall these things (the destruction of the Temple) be? and what shall be the SIGN when all these things come to pass? and
(2) What shall be the SIGN of Your Coming?
(the Coming of Christ marks the ‘telos’ = the final end of the age)and
(3) (the SIGN) of the end ('suntelia' = the consummation, the closing)
of the age?" (this is talking about the TRIBULATION). ‘suntelia’ does not mean the final end like ‘telos’ but a period of time in which things are brought to their conclusion.
The key word here is SIGN. When you travel somewhere you look for signs before your destination that grab your attention and tell you how close you
are to your goal. It is important to know and see the signs of the times.
(In Matthew 16:1-3, Jesus rebuked the Pharisees for failing to discern the signs of the times and thus missing out on what God was doing).
Question 1. They asked for the sign by which they would know the Temple would soon be destroyed.
Question 2. They asked for the signs that would happen before the Second Coming; these are the signs of the final end (‘telos’).
Question 3. They asked for the signs by which we would know that the Tribulation was drawing near. These are the signs of the approach of the end or consummation (‘suntelia’) of the age.
Jesus answered these three questions giving three sets of signs.
He answered Question 1 in Luke 21:20-24: "When YOU SEE Jerusalem surrounded by armies (this is the SIGN) then know her desolation is nigh." The answer to WHEN the Temple would be destroyed was that it would be in the disciples’ generation (it was a judgment on that generation for rejecting Christ). The SIGN they were to look for was the very next time that Jerusalem would be surrounded by armies - then they would know that the destruction was about to happen. This happened when Rome besieged Jerusalem in AD 67. "Then let them in Judaea flee to the mountains; and them in the midst of it depart out; and let not them in the countries enter it. For these be the days of vengeance (on Israel for rejecting her Messiah), that all things written may be fulfilled” (Jesus was providing for the protection of believers in the terrible times predicted by Daniel 9:26).
But how can they escape with Jerusalem surrounded? Due to trouble at Rome, the army pulled back for a time. So most thought things were O.K, but all the Christians mindful of Jesus' warning, fled to safety in Pella in Jordan. Soon after the Romans returned and destroyed the city and the Temple in AD 70. "But woe to them with child, and them who give suck, in those days! for there shall be great DISTRESS in the land, and wrath (judgement) upon this people and they will fall by the edge of the sword, and be led away captive into all nations and Jerusalem shall be trodden down of the Gentiles, until the times of the Gentiles be fulfilled."
FULFILLED! Israel was indeed scattered to the nations, but the 'until' signifies that this will only be for a certain set time of Gentile domination. Therefore, when the Times of the Gentiles are fulfilled, Israel will return, be restored as a nation and regain control of Jerusalem. In fact this part of the prophecy has also been fulfilled in 1948 (the rebirth of the nation) and 1967 (the capture of all Jerusalem). This signifies that the Times of the Gentiles (Gentile domination over Israel) have been fulfilled and that we are now living in a new final phase of this age. Later in this prophecy, Jesus confirms that this restoration of Israel is the key sign of being in the last generation before the end.
Jesus answered Question 2 (the SIGNS of His Second Coming) in Matthew 24:7-31, where He gives the succession of events (in the Tribulation) leading to the Second Coming. The Tribulation is a unique period of time just before the Return of Christ, so all the special events of the Tribulation are the signs of the Second Coming. Thus, He gives the various signs by which people will know they are in the Tribulation. He describes its start, middle and end.
But first, in v4-6, Jesus gave the GENERAL CHARACTERISTICS OF THIS AGE, Jesus answered (their question): “Take heed no man deceive you. For many shall come in my name, saying, I am Christ; and shall deceive many and you shall hear of wars and rumours of wars: see you are not troubled for all these things must come to pass, BUT THE END (‘telos’) IS NOT YET (imminent)."
These are not signs of any of the three events the disciples asked about.
In particular, they are not signs of the END (the Second Coming). That is, they are not indicators of being in the Tribulation. However all these features grow in intensity throughout the age and climax in the Tribulation.
Having given what are NOT the signs of the End, Jesus then gave what are the signs of the End - that is the characteristics of the Tribulation (v7-14). The use of ‘telos’ in v6 is significant. It shows that Jesus is in the process of answering Question 2 which concerns the ‘telos’ or Second Coming (this is confirmed by the use of ‘telos’ in v13,14). I used to think that verses 7-14
are the answer to Question 3 because they are the description of the ‘suntelia’ (Tribulation). However signs are something that happen before an event. We see from v6 that Jesus is thinking of signs in this way, for the events of the Tribulation (v7-14), are the true signs of the End (Second Coming) in contrast to the general characteristics of this Age (v4-6). Thus; “BUT THE END (‘telos’) IS NOT YET" is the point where Jesus turns from what are not signs to are the real signs of the End.
Jesus now describes the START OF THE TRIBULATION (see v8).
This is parallel to John’s account of the start of the Tribulation in Revelation 6.
(1) CONFLICT and WAR ON A WORLD-WIDE SCALE.
"FOR nation shall rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom" (v7). This is an expression referring not just to a local war but World-War. The Tribulation will start with world-wide conflict. This corresponds to the first two Horseman of the Apocalypse (Rev 6:1-4). SEAL 1 releases the Rider on the White Horse (antichrist) who goes forth to conquer and releasing World-War and bloodshed (SEAL 2 - the Rider on the Red Horse).
(2) "There shall be FAMINES" (v7).
This is the Rider on a Black Horse (Revelation 6:5,6 = SEAL 3).
(3) "Pestilences, and earthquakes, in divers places" (v7).
One in four are killed (over one billion people!).
This is the Rider on the Pale horse (Revelation 6:7,8 = SEAL 4).
The SEALS in Revelation 6 reveal the massive scale of the destruction way beyond anything that has happened in the past. These things will happen suddenly and all together in such a way that previous catastrophes will seem minor in comparison.
"All these (sign-events) are the BEGINNING OF SORROWS (literally
‘the BEGINNING of BIRTH PAINS’)”(v8). That is, they mark the BEGINNING of the TRIBULATION. ‘BIRTH PAINS’ was a technical term for the sufferings which would immediately precede a new age, the Age of Messiah. All these happen at the start of of the Tribulation and continue through the first half of the Tribulation. As birth-pains grow in intensity as the birth (of the Kingdom) approaches, so these disasters will intensify and get even worse in the second half of the Tribulation. This is the ‘sudden destruction’ of1Thessalonians 5:2,3:
“You yourselves know perfectly that the Day of the Lord (the Tribulation) so comes as a thief in the night. For when they say, “Peace and safety!” then sudden destruction comes upon them, as labour pains upon a pregnant woman and they shall not escape.”
(4) A great world-wide persecution of believers and Jews.
"Then shall they deliver you up to Tribulation, and shall kill you and you will be hated of all nations for my name's sake" (v9) (Compare
Rev6:9-11= SEAL 5). Jeremiah 30:7 calls it: "The time of Jacob's Trouble." It is pictured by the seven years of famine in the time of JOSEPH. It is a time of testing and sifting of unbelievers from believers, as sin comes to its fullness. "Then shall many be offended, and betray one another, and hate one another and many false prophets shall rise, and shall deceive many and because iniquity shall abound, the love of many shall wax cold. But he (the believer) who endures (in faith) to the END (of the Tribulation)will be saved (by Christ at His Return)" (v10-13). v13 shows that these conditions will continue to the END (‘telos’) of the Tribulation when Christ returns. Again this confirms Jesus is answering Question 2. At the end Israel will receive and welcome Jesus as her Messiah-King. He returns to deliver her from the Tribulation and through her establish His Kingdom.
(5) Signs in the Sky: “There will be fearful sights and great signs
from heaven” (Luke 21:11). Compare Revelation 6:12-17 = SEAL 6.
(6) "This Gospel of the Kingdom shall be preached in all the world
for a witness to all nations; and then shall the END come" (v14).
There will be the world-wide preaching of the Gospel throughout the Tribulation. This great move of evangelism will be initiated by 144,000 anointed Jews and continued by their converts, not the Church (see Revelation 7), proclaiming again that the Messianic Kingdom is at hand - as John and Jesus preached in the first century. The recent Rapture will have awakened many to the reality of Christ, making then open to the Gospel. The Harmony of the Olivet Discourse shows that Jesus also predicted the world-wide preaching of the gospel in the Church-age (Mark 13:10).
The END is ‘telos’, the final end, the Return of Christ. Again, this shows that Jesus is answering Question 2. All these things (including evangelism) must happen and continue to the END of the Tribulation. v7-14
are the SIGNS that indicate the START of the Tribulation (v7). All of these things (including a new world-wide evangelistic outreach) will occur together near the start of the Tribulation and continue for seven years with increasing intensity. Next He gives the special signs for the MIDDLE and END of the Tribulation.
Next Jesus gives the SPECIFIC SIGN of being at MID-TRIBULATION:
"When you therefore shall SEE the Abomination of desolation,
spoken of by Daniel the prophet, stand in the holy place” (v15).
This happens MID-TRIBULATION when the antichrist breaks his covenant with Israel and invades, setting up an idol of himself in the Temple (see Daniel 9:27). "Whoso READS, let him understand” (v15 - compare Daniel 9:25). 'Reads' indicates that this will happen in a later generation. This is similar to what happened in the first century. In both cases the Roman Ruler comes to take Jerusalem. This is a sign to believers to flee immediately. There is then three and a half years of mounting trouble and destruction for Israel until the end but the believers are kept safe (Revelation 12:6). So, still answering Question 2, Jesus gives the sign of antichrist’s Abomination of Desolation which tells us when Christ’s Coming (the end) is three and a half years away.
This statement by Jesus gives confirmation of our interpretation of Daniel’s 70 Weeks:
(1) Jesus was looking for a literal fulfilment of an event in the 70th Week,
showing we should take the whole prophecy literally, including the timing.
(2) The fact that this event was still future to Jesus confirms that Daniel meant 70 Weeks (Sevens) of years not days.(3) Jesus still expected the prophecy of the 70th Week to be fulfilled in the future even though He knew He was already at the end of the 70th Week. This means He understood that there was a postponement of the fulfilment of the 70th Week because of Israel’s sin. He had come to Israel exactly when Daniel had predicted but was not able to establish the Kingdom at that time because Israel rejected Him. However, Daniel’s prophecy anticipated such a delay was possible.
The time just before the Tribulation is characterised by the Fig-Tree (Israel), and its reappearance requires the ending of the Times of the Gentiles. So, the final phase of the Church-Age began when the Times of the Gentiles were fulfilled (we shall study this more in Part 3). Thus a key marker of being in this new time-period is Israel and so we entered this final phase at or before 1948. We shall see that the Times of the Gentiles began to wind down from 1914, which is perhaps when these new final phase of this age began.
Luke 21:24 divides the Church-Age into three parts: (1) The first generation - the time up to the destruction of Jerusalem and the scattering of Israel to the nations, (2) An extended period of time with Israel out of the land, under Gentile domination, (3) A final generation that sees the restoration of Israel and recapture of Jerusalem at the close of the Times of the Gentiles.
In conclusion, Luke 21:24 gives the starting point for ‘these things’ that characterise the closing of the age, ‘the last of the last days’. Then v25-27 describe how ‘these things’ will come to an end. v28 says that when you see these things begin, in particular Israel’s rebirth and possession of Jerusalem (v24), then get ready for you know the Rapture is near! Then v29-32 says
that the total time-period from when we see ‘these things’ start happening
until they are all fulfilled at the Second Coming is within a man’s lifespan.
Thus the total length of this final period of time must be 120 years or less.
Luke concludes this Section: “But take heed to yourselves, lest...
that Day (the Tribulation) come on you unexpectedly. For it will come
as a snare (a trap that will suddenly snap tight) on all those who dwell
on the face of the whole earth. Watch therefore, and pray always that you may be counted worthy toescape all these things (the troubles of the Tribulation) that will come to pass, and to stand(resurrected) before the Son of Man (in the Rapture)” (v34-36). This confirms that Jesus has gone back to the time before the Tribulation and promises there will be an escape from the ‘Tribulation trap’, provided for believers just before the Tribulation events (‘all these things’) come to pass. This is as plain a statement as you could wish for, of a Pre-Tribulational Rapture!Jesus gives the major SIGN (Tree) by which we can know we are in the final generation- the time just before the Tribulation,in the parable of the Fig-Tree.
SIGN (1): THE FIG-TREE
“Now learn the Parable of the FIG TREE: when its branch has already become tender and puts forth leaves, you know that Summer is near. So you also, when you see all these things, know that it (the Kingdom) is near - at the doors! Assuredly, I say to you, this generation will by no means pass away tillall these things take place” (Matthew 24:32-34).
It is clear that the first thing to look for is the FIG TREE, but what is it? The Fig-Tree in the Bible represents ISRAEL. Jeremiah 24 shows Israel in captivity as a basket of figs. This is because they are no longer a Fig-Tree planted in the Land but scattered). See also Hosea 9:10, Joel 1:6,7; Ezekiel 36:8. The Fig-Tree as Israel is confirmed by Jesus’ use of this symbol in
Luke 13:6-9. Thus the major sign of being in the end-times, just before the Tribulation is the reappearance of Israel as a living nation.
Jesus had started this Parable of the Fig Tree earlier.
He is now bringing it to its conclusion. This parable is therefore in two parts:
(1) Jesus came to the Fig-Tree (Israel) to inspect its fruit (faith) and found none so he announced that he will cut it down and remove it from the land (Luke 13:1-9). He symbolically acted this out when He cursed a Fig-Tree and it withered from its roots (Mark 11:12-24, Matthew 21:18-19). The judgment started immediately (but invisibly - at the roots, the trees’ source of life) but was only visibly manifested some time later (’the next day’). This was fulfilled in AD33 when Israel was cut off spiritually, and then in AD70 this judgment was manifested when Israel was expelled from the land.
(2) But Jesus also predicted that the Fig-Tree will rise again!:
"Learn the parable of the FIG TREE (ISRAEL), when his branch is become tender, and puts forth leaves(not fruit) you know SUMMER (the Millennial Kingdom) is nigh" (Matthew 24:32).
So, the Fig-tree is Israel which was cut down and cursed by Christ for rejecting her Messiah. But she will spring up again and then we can know that Summer (the Kingdom) is near. Luke confirms this: “Look atthe Fig Tree, and all the trees. When they are already budding, you see and know for yourselves thatSummer is now near. So you also, when you see these things happening, know that the Kingdom of God is near” (Luke 21:29-31). Luke makes it clear that Summer represents the Messianic Kingdom.
The sign of being in the final generation before the Kingdom is the Fig-Tree with its leaves shooting forth, for all to see. All of history is moving towards the Kingdom (Summer) when Israel (the Fig-Tree) will bear mature fruit. In the Tribulation, especially by the end, as Summer approaches, this fruit (faith) will start to appear. In the Spring (the season before Summer) the Tree grows and puts forth leaves and these are signs that Summer is soon to come. So Jesus is saying that the sign of being in the time-season just before the end of the age is the reappearance of Israel on the world-scene.
The Fig-Tree is now putting forth its leaves for all to see. The Rebirth of Israel (1948) and her further growth (1967) is the clear-cut sign that we are in the last days of the Church Age! The Fig-Tree has reappeared and put forth leaves (but not fruit) as Jesus predicted! This confirms other prophecies that Israel as a nation will first of all be regathered to the land in unbelief (leaves only) and will only come to faith in Christ (bear fruit) later.
Next, Jesus went even further saying that Israel was God's Time Clock. The Rebirth of Israel would start the final countdown:
"Verily I say to you, this generation (that sees the Fig-Tree) shall not pass away, until ALL THESE THINGS be fulfilled" (Luke 21:32).
The generation who see this amazing Sign of the Fig-Tree (those alive to see the events of 1948) will not all die (pass away) before all the events of the Tribulation and Second Coming are fulfilled. Jesus reinforced this amazing claim with great emphasis on its truth:
“Heaven and earth shall pass away, but my words shall not pass away” (v33). The Clock started at Israel’s Rebirth and runs for a man’s lifetime.
Thus we can see the SIGN OF THE FIG-TREE and KNOW that we are IN THE LAST GENERATION. As Israel gets older and puts forth leaves, she is a sure sign of the imminent start of the Tribulation (the short transition into the Millennial Summer) when she will increasingly bear fruit.
The Fig-Tree gives the general, but not the exact time of Christ’s Coming.
Jesus said: “The generation that sees the Fig-Tree (the nation of Israel) put forth her leaves shall not all pass away before the end shall come.” Israel was reborn in the land in 1948, and began putting forth her leaves for all to see!Out of the labour-pains of the World-Wars and Holocaust came the rebirth of the nation of Israel - the major miracle of this century. A nation dispersed to the nations regathered in her land once again as an independent nation after 2000 years. This is unheard of in all history! Moreover it was predicted by the prophets and by Jesus (Luke 21:24). The fact that Jesus gave the restored Fig-Tree as the key sign for the last generation is appropriate because the end-time prophecies require Israel to be restored to the land before the start of the Tribulation, and for Israel to be centre-stage again and in control of Jerusalem, with a rebuilt Temple (Daniel 9:27, Matthew 24:15-20). The stage has to be set before the final scene (the Tribulation) begins. Bible Prophecy of the nations is all centred on Israel and the Land, so we should expect this miraculous event to be a major end-time sign.
In Luke 21:20-24, in a prophecy outlining future events resulting from Israel's rejection of Jesus, He predicted the scattering of Israel among the nations in AD 70: “And they will fall by the edge of the sword, and be led away captive into all nations. And Jerusalem will be trampled by Gentiles until the Times of the Gentiles are fulfilled.” (v24) This implies that a major marker of the time before the end isthe regathering of Israel. (She must be back for the stage to be set for all the end-time prophecies of the Tribulation to be fulfilled). When Israel is back, the end comes soon after (v25-28). He confirms this in the PARABLE OF THE FIG-TREE (v29-33).
This sign of the rebirth of the nation of Israel concerns the beginning of their regathering (the tree planted in the land beginning to put forth leaves tells us we are in the last generation), it does not require the regathering of Israel to be complete which only happens at the Second Coming. Matthew 24:31 describes the completion of the regathering, then in v32-34, Jesus said that when we see the regathering begin we know are in the last generation!
One aspect of the Fig-Tree’s restoration is that full control of Jerusalem must be restored to Israel (Luke 21:24). In the Tribulation there will be a rebuilt and functioning Jewish Temple (Daniel 9:27, Matthew24:15; 2 Thessalonians 2:3,4; Revelation 11:1-2). This requires prior Jewish control of the Temple area and therefore of Jerusalem so that it can be built (fulfilled in 1967).
THE VEIL OVER ISRAEL is removed in the Tribulation (144,000 Jewish evangelists will be anointed at the start). We would expect growing Jewish interest in Jesus and conversions in the time running up to this as a preparation for a great national turning to Christ. Today, there is a move of God among the Jews with increasing numbers turning to their Messiah.
SIGN (2): ‘ALL THE TREES.’
The Parable of the Fig-Tree tells us about other signs that confirm that the Tribulation is near. “Now whenthese things begin to happen, look up and lift up your heads, because your redemption draws near.Look at the FIG TREE, and ALL THE TREES. When they are already budding (leaves), you see and know for yourselves that Summer is now near. So you also, when you see these things happening, know that the Kingdom of God is near. Assuredly, I say to you, this generation will by no means pass away till all these things take place” (Luke 21:28-32).
Matthew says: "when you see ALL THESE THINGS, know that it is near, even at the doors" (v33). ‘All these things’ must refer to the conditions of the Tribulation, mentioned just before by Jesus.
This says that as well as the sign of the Fig-Tree there are other signs (trees) indicating the closeness of the Tribulation. These are world-conditions that come to their fullness in the Tribulation. Jesus had just mentioned some of these in His description of the Tribulation,and so they are also called ‘these things’ in v28,31). The Fig-Tree is the major sign for the approach of the Tribulation and ‘all the Trees’ are the other signs of the Tribulation. We know that Israel (the Fig-Tree) must be back in the land for the Tribulation. So her regathering must take place before this, and it is a sign that this time is approaching. The main sign is the Fig-Tree and the other signs (conditions and characteristics of the Tribulation) are represented by the other Trees.
Jesus uses trees to describe these kind of signs because they are not just one-off events but developing, maturing world-conditions. These Trees are full grown in the Tribulation. He is telling us to look at the Trees (world-conditions) that are mature in the Tribulation. The time just before the Tribulation will be characterised, not just by the springing up of the Fig-Tree but of ALL the Trees. Moreover, the more these Trees develop and start budding (the more they resemble their final state in the Tribulation) the closer we must be to the Tribulation. Just as Summer’s approach is signalled by all the trees putting forth their leaves in Spring, so when we see all the world-conditions moving toward the Bible’s description of the Tribulation we know we are close. Some of these trees are manifestations of evil forces that have been working and growing throughout the age but are only allowed to come to fullness in the Tribulation when their evil fruit will be ripe for the judgment that Christ executes at the end of the Tribulation, cutting down all trees that are not of Him (Matthew 3:7-1).
The time just before the Tribulation is a special time when all the Trees put forth their leaves (they all develop and grow quickly into greater prominence and manifestation than before). We will look at the various Trees described by the Bible and observe how this is uniquely true of the present time. All these Trees will start appearing in the time just before the Tribulation (like the Fig-Tree) or at least coming into greater visibility. Therefore if you see ALL of these Trees (signs) sprouting up together, you know that time is short. Moreover, as you see how all these trees are coming into fuller and greater manifestation (as the trees put forth leaves as Summer approaches), we can get a general idea of how close we are to the Tribulation. They are only full grown in the Tribulation (for example Israel will probably only have her Temple rebuilt and functioning in the Tribulation) but the closer we get, we will see each Tree get greater and more like the way it will be in the Tribulation. As we consider these other Trees now, you can judge to what degree things at the present time line up with what the Bible tells us world conditions will be at the end (in the Tribulation).
These Trees could be called Continuity Signs. Most prophecy jumps over the Church-Age and shows us the climax of history in the Tribulation. But the general world-conditions in the Tribulation can't just spring up overnight - they have to be present and growing before the Tribulation. All history is moving toward the climax of the Tribulation and so we can measure how close we are by how close general conditions are compared to what is going to be in the Tribulation. Certain conditions must be in place before the Tribulation begins. When we see these all happen together, we have strong evidence of being in the last generation. “Now when (all) these things (that will come to fullness in the Tribulation) begin to happen(in the time just before the Tribulation), look up and lift up your heads, because your redemption (the Rapture) draws near ” (Luke 21:28). He is saying ‘get ready’, for the Tribulation is soon to start, but there will be a Rapture for believers first.
WHAT ARE SOME OF THESE TREES (signs of the Tribulation)?
1. THE BIRTH-PANGS Jesus described the Tribulation as characterised by World-War, famine, disease, and earthquakes in the natural world; and worldwide anti-semitism, persecution of believers, apostasy, godlessness, lawlessness, as well as the rise of great religious deceptions in the form of many false prophets, cults and religions in the spiritual realm (Matthew 24:7-12). He called all these BIRTH PAINS - they are the signs of being in the last stages of a pregnancy: "For nation shall rise against nation, and Kingdom against Kingdom (world-wide conflict). There will be famines, pestilences (diseases), and earthquakes, in divers places (world-wide). All these arethe beginning of birth-pains (the sorrows of the first-half of the Tribulation, that will intensify in the second-half or Great-Tribulation)” (Matthew 24:7,8).
As in a pregnancy, the birth pains of the Tribulation will come on suddenly, and increase in intensity as the Birth approaches (see the Book of Revelation). These will indicate that the end is very soon. However, these pains exist in a measure throughout the age (v4-6). As in a pregnancy, we expect the discomfort to increase. The baby (the Kingdom of God on earth) is GROWING invisibly. Its birth is at a set time. As it grows and the time gets closer to its birth, the conflict also increases within the mother (the present world-order) until it reaches a climax in the final pains (the Tribulation). The baby (the new world-order) has to overcome resistance within the mother just before being manifested, which sets up the labour-pains. But just before these final pains, women also have Braxton-Hicks contractions, premature (false) labour pains, which feel just like labour pains, but the birth is not yet immediate. However, they do indicate that the time of labour-pains is approaching quickly. This is the time we are in now, just before the final pains of the Tribulation begin.Thus the time just before the Tribulation should be marked by a steady increase in MASSIVE WORLDWIDE WARFARE among the nations, EARTHQUAKES, FAMINES, DISEASES, and other disturbances of nature; anti-semitism, persecutions and many deceptions in the religious world and godlessness and lawlessness in society.
World War and natural disasters. The 20th Century certainly fulfilled this criteria in a unique way with World Wars 1 and 2 (in previous centuries
World-War was impossible). In fact, 1914 marks the start of this final phase
of history. Since then we have also seen an exponential increase of earthquakes, disease, persecutions, famines and false religion around the world. This shows that we are getting very close to the final (and even worse) pains of the Tribulation. (Many thought they were in the Tribulation in World War 2 with good reason because of the birth-pain prophecy, but it couldn't have been so, because it is also necessary for Israel to be back).
“THE 11th HOUR” In the World-Wars God gave us a sign that the end of the age is near. The Lord's Return is described as being at the MIDNIGHT hour: "At MIDNIGHT there was a cry made, Behold the Bridegroom comes" (Matthew 25:6). God clearly marked 11 o'clock when WORLD WAR 1 ended on: The 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month of 1918 exactly 11 months after General Allenby entered Jerusalem and freed it from Turkish domination (11th December 1917) - a major step to Israel's rebirth - for at that time Britain committed to make it a homeland for the Jews.
WORLD-WAR and the RESTORATION of ISRAEL are two key signs of being
in the last days before the Lord's Return (Matthew 24). Both began to occur together and marked the startof the FINAL HOUR of the Age (11pm),
confirmed by God in the timing of the end of World War 1.
INCREASING EVIL The Book of Revelation shows great evil during the Tribulation. Moral conditions don't just suddenly change so there must be a great decline in morality before the Tribulation to prepare the way for the final manifestation of evil (so that God may judge it). Paul predicts this increase of evil in the last days of the Church Age: “Know this, that in the last (of the last) days perilous times will come: For men will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, unloving, unforgiving, slanderers, without self-control, brutal, despisers of good, traitors, headstrong, haughty, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having a form of godliness but denying its power. And from such people turn away!” (2 Timothy 3:1-5). This describes our times very well.
"Then (when you see the Abomination) let them in Judaea flee to the mountains (this prophecy is the key to the preservation of the believers
in Israel at this time). Let him on the housetop not come down to take anything out of his house. Neither let him in the field return to take
his clothes and woe to them with child, and those giving suck in those days! But pray that your flight be not in the winter or sabbath day. For then will be GREAT TRIBULATION, such as was not since the beginning of the world to this time, no, nor ever shall be.
Except those days should be shortened, there would be no flesh saved: but for the elect's sake those days shall be shortened" (v16-22).
This marks the start of the second half of the Tribulation - called the GREAT TRIBULATION (it is far worse than the first half). It will come to a climax at the Battle of Armageddon where if Jesus did not intervene all mankind would be destroyed. But Jesus comes to deliver believing Israel who are calling on Him to return as their King and save them. The days are shortened by the personal Return of the Lord to save believing Israel.
Notice that although Jesus predicted Israel would be scattered to the nations in Luke21:24, He also is saying they will be back as a nation in the land by the time the Tribulation starts, for the prophecies of the Tribulation assume this.
Still answering Question 2, Jesus now gives the SIGN indicating the END of the Tribulation - the final sign just before His Second Coming (Matthew 24:23-30).
First, He describes counterfeit signs of His Return, which are to be rejected and not to be acted upon. He says it is not a quiet or secret Coming that requires someone to tell you that it has happened:
"Then (in the Great Tribulation) if any man says to you, 'Lo, here is Christ, or there'; believe it not. For there will arise false Christs, and false prophets, and shall show great signs and wonders (especially antichrist) so that, if it were possible, they will deceive the very elect (believing Jews). Behold, I have told you before. So if they say to you, 'Behold, He is in the desert', go not forth (out of their place of hiding and safety) 'behold, He is in the secret chambers', believe it not" (v23-26).
Next he gives the true and unmistakable SIGN of His Coming:
"For as the LIGHTNING comes out of the east, and shines even to the west; so shall also the Coming of the Son of man be.” (It will be visible to all, nobody will have to tell you as in v23-26). Where and when?“For wherever the carcass is, there the vultures will be gathered together” (v27,28). It will be when the armies of the world gather at the Battle of Armageddon to destroy Israel. Christ will return to where the vultures (the invading nations, inspired by satan) have all gathered to eat
the carcass of Israel, for He will come to destroy them and deliver Israel.
Thus a sign of being within weeks or days from the end is the gathering at Megiddo of a massive multinational force to invade and destroy Israel.
“Immediately after the TRIBULATION of those days shall the sun be darkened and the moon shall not give her light and the stars shall
fall from heaven and the powers of the heavens shall be shaken.”
Just before it happens there will be a worldwide Blackout for a day - see Zechariah 14:6 - and other cosmic upheavals. This is the sign of being in the last few hours before the end.
“And then shall APPEAR (shine forth) the SIGN of the Son of Man
in heaven and then shall all the tribes of the earth mourn.” The appearance of His Glory is the Sign that come immediately before His personal appearance. Because of the Blackout, only His glory will be seen in that day. “and they shall (all together) SEE the Son of Man coming
in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory” (v29-30). It will be so majestic everyone on earth will see it together.
“And He shall send forth his angels with a great sound of a Trumpet and they shall gather together his elect (Israel) from the four winds, from one end of heaven to another" (v31). The final regathering of Israel will be at Christ’s Second Coming. Jesus stays with this thought as He gives the general sign of being near the Tribulation - the Fig-Tree (v32-33) - the initial regathering of Israel (in unbelief) which is fulfilled in our time. This is the sign of being in the generation immediately before the end.
We have seen that Jesus confirmed and built upon the revelation of the prophets; especially we see how Jesus' prophecy connects with and builds
on Daniel's prophecy as He interprets it literally.
Jesus then answered Question 3: “What is the SIGN of the end of the age?" Or: how can we know if we are in the time just before the Tribulation? His subject is the Tribulation, the Day of the Lord, and what will happen just before it. This question is, how can we know that we are in the time just before the Tribulation? What are the signs? We shall see that the signs given by Jesus are the SIGNS OF OUR TIMES. These signs tell us that we are now living in this special time - the last days of the Church Age! By harmonising Luke 21:28-36, Matthew 24:32-44 and Mark 13:28-37, we can get an idea of Jesus’ full answer as to which signs precede the Tribulation. This passage us great relevance to us today. Notice that the removal of believers immediately before this Day begins is a major theme.
Luke 21:28-33: “Now when these things begin to happen, look up and lift up your heads, because your redemption draws near. Then He spoke to them a Parable: “Look at the Fig Tree, and all the trees. When they are already budding, you see and know for yourselves that Summer is now near. So you also, when you see these things happening, know that the Kingdom of God is near. Assuredly, I say to you, this generation will by no means pass away till all things take place. Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will by no means pass away.”
Matthew 24:36-42: “But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, but My Father only. 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. Then two men will be in the field: one will be taken and the other left. Two women will be grinding at the mill: one will be taken and the other left. Watch therefore, for you do not know what hour your Lord is coming.”
Luke 21:34-36: “But take heed to yourselves, lest your hearts be weighed down with carousing, drunkenness, and cares of this life, and that Day come on you unexpectedly. For it will come as a snare on all those who dwell on the face of the whole earth. Watch therefore, and pray always that you may be counted worthy to escape all these things that will come to pass, and to stand before the Son of Man.”
Mark 13:34-37: “It is like a man going to a far country, who left his house and gave authority to his servants, and to each his work, and commanded the doorkeeper to watch. Watch therefore, for you do not know when the master of the house is coming - in the evening, at midnight, at the crowing of the rooster, or in the morning - lest, coming suddenly, he find you sleeping. And what I say to you, I say to all: Watch!”
Matthew 24:43-44: “But know this, that if the master of the house had known what hour the thief would come, he would have watched and not allowed his house to be broken into. Therefore you also be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you don’t expect.”
His answer contains three main signs:
(1) The FIG-TREE = The Rebirth of the Nation of Israel.
(2) ‘All the TREES’ = ‘All these things’ (of which the Fig-Tree is the most prominent) are the various characteristics of the Tribulation, the signs of the end that Jesus has just described. These signs are described as Trees because they grow. Thus although they only reach maturity in the Tribulation, they must must appear and be growing before the Tribulation. So the time before the Tribulation is marked by the appearance of ALL these things together and growing in intensity. The signs of the Tribulation will be ‘these Trees’ springing up, followed by the Rapture.
(3) The RAPTURE, the escape or disappearance of believers is the final sign that happens immediately before the Tribulation begins. Jesus introduces this new section by saying: “Now when these things (the world-conditions and events of the Tribulation that Jesus had just described in answering Question 2)begin to happen, look up and lift up your heads because your redemption (the Rapture) draws near ”(Luke 21:28).
He goes back in time before the Tribulation begins, in order to answer Question 3. He is saying: “when you see the beginnings of these things, then you know the Tribulation is soon approaching.” He is pointing to the origin of ‘these things’ in the time just before the Tribulation starts. The ‘beginning of these things’ speak of a special period of time that closes the Church Age and leads up to the Tribulation.
To find when this time-period starts we need to look back at the previous verses in Luke. v25-27 show how ‘these things’ end in the Second Coming
of Christ, but v24 tells us how we can know that this time has begun:
“They (Israel) will fall by the edge of the sword, and be led away captive into all nations. And Jerusalem will be trampled by Gentiles
until the Times of the Gentiles are fulfilled.”
It is the ending of the Times of the Gentiles and the consequent restoration of Israel to the Land (1948) and the recapture of Jerusalem (1967) that clearly shows that we are in time of the beginning of ‘these things’, a new phase of history, the final build-up for the Tribulation. The direct consequence of the ending of the Times of the Gentiles (that Jesus points out here) is the rebirth of Israel and the recapture of Jerusalem. This provides a confirmation, because ‘these things’ that must be fulfilled in the end-time must include the restoration of Israel (the Fig-Tree, v29-31).