by Pete Garcia
The time of the end has been one of the most controversial, debated, and often divisive topics within Christendom. It would seem that as soon as Christ ascended, Christians began arguing about when He would return. So why is it important for us to even care about when Christ will return? Isn’t He going to return, when He returns?
Given the numerous positions and all the confusion of when and how He will return, a proper understanding eliminates certain positions which have been promulgated throughout the centuries, which both destroy the faith of many, and are counter to what the Scripture actually teaches. Clearly, we have only one Bible. Contained on the pages therein, lies one consistent message about when Christ would return. What everyone is divided over then, is how to interpret the Bible. Some say allegorically (i.e.…you can’t take it literally), and others, take it literally (you take it for what it says).
In the end, only one eschatological (end times) view can play out. Opposing views about when and how Christ returns cannot be weighted equally, because they do not all possess either the historical facts or consistent theological message which qualifies and quantifies their particular interpretations. The only logically, scripturally consistent method of interpretation, is to take the text for what it says. If one were reading a medical book, or newspaper, one would take it at face value…so why can’t we apply that same level of interpretive application to God’s word? The same God who spoke the very universe into being, is the same one who inspired the prophets and apostles to write the very words we read. And if the naturalistic world can be understood down to the very fabric of our being (DNA), why do we arbitrarily apply some mystical level of interpretation to what the text clearly say?
If taking the text literally seems nonsensical, then we must take the text in its proper context. Many Christian’s almost seem antagonistic to the idea that Christ would return at all. So let us look at one controversial passage that deals with the timing of Christ’s return and see how only one interpretation can actually fit it, given the screening parameters of history, scriptural consistency, and context.
“Now learn this parable from 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 is near—at the doors! Assuredly, I say to you, this generation will by no means pass away till all these things take place. Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will by no means pass away. Matt. 24:32-35.
“Now learn this parable from 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 these things happening, know that it is near—at the doors! Assuredly, I say to you, this generation will by no means pass away till all these things take place. Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will by no means pass away. Mark 13:28-31
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. Luke 21:29-33
Since this was a parable (story meant to convey a deeper truth), we know that Christ was using this as a teaching tool to convey a truth about the timing of His return that would resonate with everyone. In other words, like the sower and seed, yeast spreading through dough, master journeying on a long journey, and all the other parables Christ used to convey truths, He chooses here the fig tree, which both has historical linkages to the nation of Israel, and would be something that everyone would understand and relate too, even Gentiles.
Jesus is not speaking to all His disciples, but only to those who came to Him privately (Mark 13:3-4) to inquire about what He meant when He said that not one stone would be left atop the other of Herod’s temple. And since Christ was speaking, we know that it is impossible for Him to lie. Nor was Christ being elusive about this particular topic. He was both stating when it would occur and what the conditions would be surrounding His return, which is what makes up the bulk of the Olivet Discourse. Given that preface, we can only come to four possible conclusions about this particular passage:
1. If this generation meant the people of Israel as an ethnic group, then the people of Israel should not exist today. He stated ‘this generation would not pass away until’, and for those who believe in an AD70 Second Coming (primarily Preterists), that would mean that once the Romans under General Titus Vespasian conquered and decimated Jerusalem, destroyed the temple, and scattered the remaining Jews out of Judah, there should not exist Jewish people today or a nation of Israel. Clearly, the Nazi Holocaust says otherwise. This generation cannot be referring to an ethnic group.
2. If this generation meant that it found fulfillment in the destruction of Jerusalem, how is that redemptive? (Luke 21:28) In other words, if the parable of the Fig Tree found fulfillment in the destruction of Jerusalem, how is that something the Apostles could both look forward to and somehow find redemption in? How does God glory in the destruction of the ‘apple of His eye’? (Zech. 2:7-9) Although the Olivet Discourse (primarily Luke’s account) mentions AD70’s destruction of Jerusalem, it was by no means an act of redemption. This generation cannot be referring simply to the events surrounding AD70.
3. If this generation meant Christ would return to that generation He was physically speaking there to on the Mount of Olives, then He was wrong when He said that He didn’t know when He would return (Matt. 24:32; Mark 13:32), because He would have known that He would return in their lifetimes. Christ stated He did not know, and knowing that Christ did not give up any of His Deity when becoming a man, but rather, gave up the privileges of being Deity, which include surrendering to the will of the Father, the timing concerning His return. Subsequently, if this generation meant ‘that generation sitting there with Him on the Mt. of Olives, how could it apply to them considering Luke 21:24? 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.
And how could that generation, if it was to the one He was physically speaking too, live to see this transpire, considering that Jerusalem was in Gentile hands for the better part of 2,000 years? They couldn’t, which by very basic deductions (remove all other choices), means that either the Jews in Israel now aren’t really Jews, Israel isn’t really Israel, or that Scripture has been fulfilled with the rebirth of the nation of Israel after 1,900 years of diaspora. The parameters of the diaspora were laid out by Moses in Deuteronomy 30:1-5, the prophet Amos in Amos 9:15, and the prophet Ezekiel in Ezekiel 37. This being a second, global re-gathering of Jews, from the four corners of the earth, in unbelief. So clearly, this generation could not only be referring to those alive in the first century.
4. This generation, is speaking to that future generation who would live to see all the events come to pass, as explained in the Olivet Discourse. These events would in birth pang fashion, find their prophetic fulfillment culmination (or crescendo) in one, single generation. These are those who would see all the things that Christ spoke about, which means this generation who live to see all the events, can be the only logical, biblical and historical conclusion.
Given what we know of history, we know that the events that are laid out in the Olivet Discourse, have not yet fully come to pass. Yes, Jerusalem was conquered and destroyed by the Romans in AD70. Yes, false messiahs have come claiming to be “the” Christ. Yes, there have been wars, and rumors of wars. Yes, there have been earthquakes and divers places, as well as pestilences and signs in the heavens. What can’t be, is that ALL of those things, took place as birth pangs, meaning there would by necessity, be a slow escalation leading up to a faster and more intense escalation, all in forty years.
While scoffers, both religious and non, like to point out that every generation thought they were the last one. I would counter to them, to which generation saw the rebirth of the nation Israel? Which generation saw the assimilation of Europe back together as a single entity? Which generation has seen technological advancement move from the speed of horse, to the speed of sound? Which generation has seen massive World Wars, unparalleled in human history? Which generation has seen civilization create instantaneous, global communications? Which generation has created a virtual reality that has literally taken over every facet of our existence? This same virtual reality is also able to monitor and record everything we say or do, as well as everything we buy or sell? Which other generation has seen morality turned on its head? Which other generation has seen the rise of violent, completely anti-Christian religions on a scale unmatched in human history? Which generation has seen the population reach back over seven billion? Which generation has given birth to the reality of artificial intelligence?
Which generation has seen all of these happen at the same time?
Now when these things begin to happen, look up and lift up your heads, because your redemption draws near.” Luke 21:28