The last few years have been fun, haven’t they? Obviously not. I am not making light, and I am picking sides. What I am saying is, everyone has suffered. Everyone has had their life changed, altered, or turned upside down because of the events we’ve gone through collectively. Some more than others, some worse than others for sure, but none of us were, or are, immune.
When we suffer, it makes us think about the end. The end our suffering, the end of life as we’ve known it, the end of our lives, even, the end of times. No matter your view on God or faith, the evidence is clear, an end is coming. Science says so too. Over the last few years, there has been a lot of talk about “the end.” One of the most common questions I have received from other Christians throughout this season, is “do you think we are living in the end times?” In other words, do you think that the signs and stars are aligning and soon we will Jesus return on His white horse? Honestly, I’m not sure. What I do know is that we’re one day closer than we were yesterday.
There’s a section of the Holy Week story that relates to this whole notion, and interpreting it, is challenging at best. In a somewhat unique way, this story appears in all of the canonical gospels. It goes like this. Jesus passes by a fig tree one day, and curses it, and in the same day, the tree withers and dies. At first, Jesus uses this to challenge the faith of His disciples and call them to doubtless prayer. Later, He talks to them again about the tree.
Luke 21:29–33 (ESV) – And he told them a parable: “Look at the fig tree, and all the trees. As soon as they come out in leaf, you see for yourselves and know that the summer is already near. So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that the kingdom of God is near. Truly, I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all has taken place. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.
Like I said, these words are confusing. It helps a little to know that the word for generation here can be translated to mean several things including; a race of people, people who share a certain quality, a generation of believers, or a little generation of people. Using the first or second definition, we can assume that Jesus was saying that the Jewish race or those who believe in and follow Him, will not pass away until the prophecy has been fulfilled. If we go with the second two, it means the prophecy has multiple fulfillments, some of which have already taken place. See what I mean? Challenging.
Two things aren’t so hard to understand though.
First, Jesus says we will see things taking place and know that the Kingdom of God is near. Notice that last word, near. This one isn’t hard to translate – it literally means near, in place or time. I find it incredible that He doesn’t say the Kingdom of God is “coming” – but rather that it is near. It is and was after all, already come, although not in totality. Jesus wants us to remember that when we see the signs, like a fig tree in leaf, we will know that the Kingdom of God is both close to us (living in us and through us) AND on its way (in totality).
Second, Jesus refers to what will happen after His second coming. Heaven and Earth will pass away, as we see again referenced in John’s revelation, BUT He says, “my words will not pass away.” Put another way; His Word is timeless. It reveals truths all followers of Jesus are called to live by, whether they walked and talked with Him, or they are living two thousand or two hundred thousand years later. Jesus wanted them, and us to know – “I am the same yesterday, today and forever. I was there when it all began, and I’ll be there when it ends. I am, who I am.” More powerful and truer words have never been spoken.
So why, in a week filled with so many other things, does this story about a dead tree find its way into three separate stories about Jesus last days? I believe it’s because Jesus knew his audience, then and now. He knew suffering would come, for them and for us, and He wanted us to know, when it does, we are not alone.
The picture above is a warning sign in case of “explosive atmosphere.” Not one I think we typically see, but perhaps apt in the last few years. The atmosphere has indeed been volatile, ready to explode at a moments notice. Things are happening and changing at a rapid pace, and if you look hard enough you might just think you see some signs that it’s all coming to an end. I’m sure that’s how Jesus disciples felt after a parade on Sunday, and some table flips on Monday. Signs of the end. And in a way, they would’ve been right, but two thousand years also proves they were wrong, and things were just beginning.
So whether you think this is it, or you’re firmly in the camp that thinks Earth’s got another million years – remember, Jesus took time on this holiest of weeks to remind you that either way, the Kingdom of God is near, and His words will not pass away.
Seems like that about says it all.