In the midst of a discourse about the destruction of Jerusalem, Jesus used a fig tree to give a parable. He said:
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. (Matthew 24:32-33)
Signs About Jerusalem’s Destruction
Jesus told His disciples that Jerusalem would be destroyed (Matthew 24:1-3). They wanted to know when. He didn’t give them a particular time, but provided a number of signs which would come before the destruction. Among them would be wars, famine, pestilence, earthquakes, and false prophets (Matthew 24:6-13). The purpose of the fig tree parable is to tell them how to view these signs which would come.
The fig tree doesn’t have tender branches and shows its leaves in winter. When we see these, it is a sign that summer has come. In the same way, Jesus shared a series of signs which would be evidence that Jerusalem would soon be destroyed. People in Jerusalem were expected to know the warning signs and get out when the time came. In Luke’s parable, we read:
…when you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies, then know that its desolation is near. Then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains, let those who are in the midst of her depart, and let not those who are as the country enter her. (Luke 21:20-21)
Anyone who listened to the Lord took note of the signs and obeyed His word would not be harmed in the destruction, for they would have left before the time of danger.
No Signs About The Lord’s Return
There are some things in life for which there are signs beforehand, and we would do well to know and heed the signs. There are other things which do not come with signs. Two events are spoken of in Matthew 24, the destruction of Jerusalem, as we have noted above, and also the second coming of Christ—the final judgment. Jesus’ parable about paying attention to the signs was for those who were in Jerusalem in the first century, lest they be trapped in a situation that was easily avoidable. When they saw the signs He spoke of, they were to know that the destruction was “at the doors!” He even gave them the timeframe they were looking for:
Assuredly, I say to you, this generation will by no means pass away till all these things take place. (Daniel 9:26)
All the signs spoken of in the first half of Matthew 24 would take place before the city was destroyed and in the days of the people whom He spoke to. Let us not misapply the words of the Lord in Matthew 24:1-34—He was speaking about the Roman army besieging and eventually destroying the city of Jerusalem in 70 AD. These things were not about the final judgment.
We await the final judgment, but there are no signs which will precede it. Just a few verses later, Jesus said of His return:
But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, but My Father only. (Matthew 24:36)
Always Be Ready
There are no signs associated with the Lord’s return. But if there are no signs, how can we make sure we are ready? How can we prepare for an event if we do not know when it will come? The answer is simple—we need to always be prepared. If we are always ready for the Lord’s return, then it will not matter when He comes—we will be ready.
To emphasize that there are no signs surrounding His return, Jesus spoke of the days before the flood (Matthew 24:37-39). The only warning which God gave was the preaching of Noah. He did not reveal the time of the flood to the people—he didn’t know it himself until a week before it came (Genesis 7:1-15), at which time he was busy with final preparations on the ark and its cargo. The flood came upon them without warning, and they were destroyed.
So it will be when the Lord returns. The only warning is the preaching of the gospel, the gospel warms us of the judgment against sin, of salvation in Christ, of the righteous walk we should make, but does not tell us when the Lord will return to judge the world. Again, we are left with the conclusion that to be prepared for His return, we must always be ready. There won’t be a fig tree bearing leaves to warn us beforehand.
Despite the signs given about the destruction of Jerusalem, a huge multitude died there at the hands of the Roman army. How many more will perish at the coming of the Lord, for which there are no signs? Why not prepare yourself today? He may come today! If He doesn’t, that’s fine, you were still prepared. But don’t stop there, prepare yourself tomorrow too, and every day which comes. You do not know when the Lord will return to judge the world.