When the disciples asked our Lord when the destruction of the temple would occur and what would be the sign of his coming and the end of the age (Matt 24:3), he replied with a series of answers that demonstrate that he had more in mind than just the events leading up to AD 70.

To the Master there would be two ‘end of the age’ events. Firstly, there would be the fall of the Jewish State and the dispersion of the nation into all countries of the world. In a very tangible sense it was the end of the Jewish constitution under the Law of Moses. Following the arrival of the Roman eastern legions, marching under their eagle banners, the city and temple were burnt and “the sun [was] darkened, and the moon [did] not give her light, and the stars [fell] from heaven” (Matt 24:27-29).

But there was another age the Lord had in mind and that age is ours. The Jewish heavens and earth would be back once more. Jerusalem would be in the hands of the Jewish people again but it would be a time characterised by international distress and fear, a time of anxiety and anguish with no clear solution evident (Luke 21:24-25).

It was in this context that the Lord spoke to his disciples in a parable saying: “Behold the fig tree, and all the trees; When they now shoot forth, ye see and know of your own selves that summer is now nigh at hand. So likewise ye, when ye see these things come to pass, know ye that the kingdom of God is nigh at hand” (Luke 21:29-31). The fig tree was a recognised symbol of Israel. Hosea likened the fathers of the nation to “the firstripe in the fig tree” (Hos 9:10). Jeremiah also compared the people of his time to figs (Jer 24:1-8).

Jesus Christ is instructing us to take a good look at the nation of Israel, especially when we see it emerge from its dormant state and blossom once more amongst all the other tree-nations. The image was drawn from the restoration prophecies of Ezekiel. In Ezekiel 36 the prophet addresses the land of Israel which has been barren for many generations. In verse 8 we read this prediction: “But ye, O mountains of Israel, ye shall shoot forth your branches, and yield your fruit to my people of Israel; for they are at hand to come.”

What a marvellous link Jesus is making. He was well aware of the infamy of “the residue of the heathen” who would seize possession of “the ancient high places” (Ezek 36:1-3). He was equally conscious of the re-gathering of Israel as a prelude to their final redemption and hence he took these words of the prophet and extended the parable by identifying the fig tree as the primary tree that would shoot forth its branches.

This year, this month, we behold the fig tree and what an amazing sight we see. Within 70 years we have seen the barren and waste lands giving way to prosperity and wealth. In 1948 the population was 806,000. In 2018 it is 8.7 million and of that number, Jews make up 6.5 million and Arabs make up 1.8 million. In 1948, there was only one city in Israel that had more than 100,000 residents – Tel Aviv. Today, there are 14 cities with more than 100,000 residents and eight cities that have a population of 200,000 or more – Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, Haifa, Rishon Lezion, Petah Tikva, Ashdod, Netanya and Beersheba.

During the last 70 years the hand of God has been evident in preserving Israel from national annihilation. It has survived significant existential threats but, tragically, the heart of this people is still bent towards exulting in its own prowess and strength.

For us, however, this preservation and return is evidence of the hand of the Son of God at work. It is a miraculous revival, styled in Matthew 24:30 “the sign of the Son of man in heaven.” In other words it is the Lord’s sign, the token of his personal work. He supervised the removal of the Jewish heavens and he is also responsible for bringing them back (cp Joel 3:15). Interestingly we note that the Jewish “moon” is also back (Luke 21:25). This is a reference to the the supreme rabbinic and spiritual authority for Judaism in Israel, called the Chief Rabbinate. It consists of two Chief Rabbis: an Ashkenazi rabbi and a Sephardi rabbi, and they regulate Jewish marriages and divorces, as well as Jewish burials, conversion to Judaism, kosher laws and kosher certification, Jewish immigrants to Israel (olim), supervision of Jewish holy sites, working with various ritual baths (mikvaot) and yeshivas (Orthodox Jewish colleges or seminaries), and overseeing Rabbinical courts in Israel. Along with “the sun”, the religious “moon” plays a large part in Israeli life today.

In Luke 21:29 the Lord invites us to see all the trees, not just Israel. Why should this be? The answer lies in observing the reaction of all countries to the shooting forth and budding of the Jewish nation. The prophets have outlined the state of play amongst the nations of the earth at the time of Armageddon. One of those predictions outlines the final rejection of Israel by the whole world at the time of their wounding by Gog. In the words of Jeremiah 30:14: “All thy lovers have forgotten thee; they seek thee not.” Israel will stand like a solitary and lone tree in a forest of nations.

We have already had a taste of this recently. US President Trump announced that the US now recognises Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. The UN reacted with anger and 128 countries voted to uphold the international status of Jerusalem, 35 countries abstained and 9 voted against. Despite Prime Minister Netanyahu’s attempt to win international favour by promoting Israel’s technology, in the end the world community will turn against Israel.

The Lord brought his discourse to an end by saying: “So likewise ye, when ye see these things come to pass, know ye that the kingdom of God is nigh at hand” (Luke 21:31). If ever we want evidence that the kingdom is nearly upon us then this is the verse! How many more signifcant anniversaries do we have to witness before the Lord returns? Surely there cannot be many more.

Furthermore, the Lord added these poignant words for our generation: “Take heed to yourselves, lest at any time your hearts be overcharged with surfeiting, and drunkenness, and cares of this life, and so that day come upon you unawares. For as a snare shall it come on all them that dwell on the face of the whole earth. Watch ye therefore, and pray always, that ye may be accounted worthy to escape all these things that shall come to pass, and to stand before the Son of man” (Luke 21:34-26).

Every phrase he spoke contains a powerful exhortation for us who are alive at the time of the end:

Take heed – the word conveys the idea of paying attention, of holding the mind towards. Our Lord exhorts us to focus our mind on the issues before us and concentrate on the solution he offers.

to your selves – don’t focus on other peoples’ faults. Look at yourself.

lest at any time – the dangers and pitfalls are so numerous and so unexpected we need to be constantly alert to all evils that assail us.

your hearts – the issues that will come upon us will affect attitudes of the heart and mind. The assault will be mental and spiritual.

be overcharged – the Greek word means “to weigh down.” We have been called to forgiveness and release from the burdens of sin. We can, however, re-acquire those burdens and these weights can affect our walk towards the kingdom (cp Heb 12:1).

with surfeiting – the giddiness and headache caused by drinking to excess.

and drunkenness – this is a life of intoxication, (whether literal or spiritual – cp Matt 24:49; Rev 17:2) induced by addiction and excess.

and cares of this life – this refers to the anxieties and distractions that life can throw at us. They have the potential to choke out the fruitful life in Christ if we allow them to take control of our lives (Matt 13:22).

and so that day come upon you unawares – no one knows the precise hour of the Lord’s return, but we do know the state of the world that will prevail before he comes. But sometimes we are caught off guard by the distractions of this age and our commitment to the ways of God retreats in importance. Sometimes apathy just creeps up on us unexpectedly and before we know it we are losing interest in spiritual things!

For as a snare shall it come on all them that dwell on the face of the earth – the day of Christ’s coming will definitely take the world by surprise. The expression ‘face of the earth’ is drawn from Genesis 6:1 – the times of Noah.

Watch ye therefore – here is the antidote: to be vigilant, to be alert, to shake off drowsiness and indifference. It means that we need to guard that which has been entrusted to us and remain faithful to that charge.

and pray always – literally ‘pray in every season’. The Lord’s exhortation implies that our faith is constant and that we share a closeness with our Father and His Son. It is not an age of prayer and so we need to give diligence to making our prayers vibrant and meaningful.

that ye may be accounted worthy to escape all these things that shall come to pass and to stand before the Son of man – this language suggests an accountability to our Lord. It is a judicial phrase because there will be an inspection of our lives at his coming. We seek to stand approved in his presence and although we are all unworthy, we seek to be accounted worthy through the obedience of faith.

As we gaze with wonder at the great sign of Israel’s existence may we take heed to the warning of our Lord and “watch; for ye know not what hour your Lord doth come.”