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Luke 21 vs. Matthew 24
Q. Why does the symbol of the fig tree and rebirth of the nation of Israel begin the "last generation" Jesus spoke about in Matthew 24:34 according to some scholars? Can we harmonize end-times descriptions in Matthew 24 and Luke 21? Or are these just inconsistencies in the gospel accounts?
Good questions - I'm not confidant these symbols do foretell the "last generation." Nor should the Olivet and Apocalyptic discourses necessarily be harmonized. Let's look at it:
For our readers Matthew 24:34 states, Truly I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things take place.
To many scholars "all these things" in the above reference refer back to Matthew 24:3-29 which describe horrific events including famines, earthquakes, wars, a darkened sun, and possibly asteroids hitting earth among other catastrophic things. However, preterists such as R.C. Sproul believe that these signs are allegorical only - they are not literal.
For many dispensational scholars "this generation will not pass away" in the same reference speaks of the people who would see the fig tree put forth its leaves mentioned in Matthew 24:32.
For example, according to Grant Jeffrey the fig tree is a symbol of the nation of Israel. (www.grantjeffrey.com). Therefore, "this generation" must refer to those who witness Israel becoming a nation again in 1948.
Olivet Discourse in Matthew 24
Not everyone agrees with these interpretations, however. Dr. Missler believes that the Olivet discourse in Matthew is given specificially for Israel and the Jews - not for the Church.
In fact, Missler says Matthew chapter 24 is a "survival guide" telling Jews to flee Jerusalem when they see a future leader declaring himself to be "god" in a rebuilt Jewish temple (Matthew 24:15). This is yet a future event.
Apocalyptic Discourse in Luke 21
Missler further teaches that the apocalyptic discourse in Luke 21 first teaches that the temple would be torn apart - which already occurred when Titus invaded Jerusalem in 70 A.D. Clearly, this is a past event (according to Missler's interpretation).
From his viewpoint, this passage was meant for Jesus' first-century followers. Many of His followers escaped slaughter because they got out of Jerusalem when they saw the Roman armies surround Jerusalem just as Jesus warned in Luke 21:20. In fact, history records that believers in the church at Jerusalem fled and saved their lives as a result (Eusebius, History of the Church, 3.5.3).
The "end-times" signs are not listed until Luke 21:25-26. They include "roaring seas and strange tides." Those are some of the signs meant probably for today. The tsunamis and hurricanes afflicting us in modern times are possibily included in these signs. In fact, National Geographic News recently noted that huge, solar storms could have been seen in 2012 due to solar particles inside Earth's magnetic field (Jaggard 2008). What does the future hold? Always be ready.
Jerusalem Occupied until Last Christian Saved
In verse 24 of Luke 21 Jesus teaches, Jerusalem will be trampled under foot by the Gentiles until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled.
This may be a more specific marker for the end times than the "fig tree" (which may refer to Israel as a nation). It means that there is a specific number of people who will become Christians. Then Jerusalem will be ruled by Jews again. At this point the end-times tribulation period will begin. You might want to make a mental note that Jerusalem was recaptured by the Jews in 1967 - possibly an important date.
Regathering Jews out of Nations
Please note that Isaiah 11:10-11, Ezekiel 36-37, Amos 9:11-15 and a few other passages speak of the regathering of Israel after a long period of being scattered among the nations worldwide. Amazingly, after 2000 years Israel finally became a nation once again in 1948 in fulfillment of these prophecies.
Judgment upon Israel Presumes Israel Exists!
In fact, for God's judgment upon Israel to occur literally - called the "great tribulation" and "time of Jacob's trouble" in biblical references - Israel had to become a nation again.
It is interesting that prior to the rebirth of the nation of Israel in 1948 several prophecy scholars insisted that Israel must once again become a nation before the end times events could unfold.
However, many church leaders began to doubt the possibility of this literal interpretation and concluded that the allegorical method of interpretation was better. Yet, 1948 proved them wrong. Or at least it should have "raised some antennas." Some still doubt the significance of Israel's nationhood.
In other words, God's judgment upon Israel - the "great tribulation" - presumes that Israel as a nation exists on planet earth. (How can God literally judge a nation which no longer exists)?
The Countdown has Begun
Because Jerusalem was recaptured in 1967, it is highly likely that the countdown has begun. The generation that witnessed the recapture of Jerusalem is the one who most likely "will not pass away until all has taken place" (Luke 21:32, ESV).
What things will take place? …Signs in sun and moon and stars, and on the earth distress of nations in perplexity because of the roaring of the sea and the waves, people fainting with fear and with foreboding of what is coming on the world. For the powers of the heavens will be shaken. And then they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory. Now when these things begin to take place, straighten up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near (Luke 22: 25-28, ESV).
Does this mean we will witness the Second Coming of the Lord in our lifetime? Possibly so! Matthew 24:29 clarifies that "Immediately after the tribulation of those days the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken. Then will appear in heaven the sign of the Son of Man"…(ESV)
Acts 15 future Temple
In Acts 15:16 James essentially stated that after the Lord was finished building his church, he would then rebuild the Temple as Amos 9:11 had prophesied. So while the rebirth of national Israel and Jerusalem's recapture may be the first of the End Times signs, the rebuilding of the Jerusalem Jewish Temple will probably be a subsequent sign. This may occur in the near future.
In that day I will restore the fallen house of David. I will repair its damaged walls. From the ruins I will rebuild it and restore its former glory (Amos 9:11, Acts 15:16, NLT).
Dispensationalist Bible teacher, Jack Kelley, suggests that we look to the book of Ezekiel for a chronological account of Israel's future history. Ezekiel chapters 36 and 37 predict Israel's rebirth as a nation. Chapter 38 says this will occur after a long period of desolation.
Watch Russia and Iran
Then chapters 38 and 39 describe a battle wherein Russia and Iran invade Israel. It will be during this time that there are signs of Christ's imminent return. Please note that we appear to be very close to this event! Keep your eye on Russia and Iran.
No matter which signs you give attention - whether the fig tree, Jerusalem, or the rebirth of the nation prophesied in Ezekiel and other passages - the rebirth of Israel and especially the retaking of Jerusalem in 1967 are extremely important prophetic markers in our time.
Jack Kelley speculates, "Considering that a biblical lifespan (or a "generation") is 70 or 80 years (Psalm 90:10), along with the end times beginning with Israel's rebirth in 1948, and the Lord's promise that those being born at the beginning of the end would still be alive when all was completed (Matt. 24:34), I believe that all End Times prophecies including the Lord's return could be fulfilled as early as 2018 and no later than 2037" (Kelly, "Peace for Israel").
Hmmm…remember that this is all just fascinating conjecture…"Of that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but the Father alone" (Mark 13:32). However, Jesus also expects us to discern the times…"Do you know how to discern the appearance of the sky, but cannot discern the signs of the times?" (Matthew 16:3)
Move over Nostradamus
At any rate, it sure beats Edgar Cayce or Nostradamus for its prophetic specificity if this interpretation is accurate.
Please "beam me up," Lord! I'm ready to go to the New Jerusalem if this is your will (1 Thessalonians 4:17).
Eusebius. Ecclesiastical History, Book III, 5.1
Jaggard, Victoria. 2008. Magnetic-Shield Cracks Found - Big Solar Storms Expected. National Geographic News. 17 December. Available from: http://www.nationalgeographic.com/news.
Jeffrey, Grant. Ancient Evidence that the Fig Tree is a symbol of Israel. From the book:Triumphant Return. Or available from: http://www.grantjeffrey.com/article/ancient_manuscript.htm.
Kelley, Jack. Peace for Israel? Ask a Bible Teacher. Available from: http://www.gracethrufaith.com/ask-a-bible-teacher/peace-for-israel.
—- The Fig Tree and Matt. 24. Available from: http://www.gracethrufaith.com/ask-a-bible-teacher/the-fig-tree-and%20-matt-24.
Missler, Chuck. 2005. This generation? (Tapes). Coeur d'Alene, ID: Koinonia House. Available from: www.khouse.org.
Rose Publishing, "The Middle East" map available from: SundaySchoolResources.com.
Authors Valorie Mays Emilio received her MA in History from UCLA specializing in early church history. Ken Emilio holds a B.S. from CSULB and completed an MA in Biblical Studies from Louisiana Baptist University.
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