Jesus View of His Disciples’ Future
And he told them a parable:
“Consider among all the trees, the fig-tree. When you see it burst into leaf you know that summer is on the way, so also when you see these things happening you [now] should take it as confirmation that the Kingdom of God is very near. Truly I tell you, this generation [season] shall not pass away without all these things [which are now in evidence] happening. Heaven and earth will pass away [like seasons come and go with their signs] but my words will never pass away.
“And take heed, accept responsibility for yourselves to guard against [wallowing in] luxury, becoming drunk, torn apart by your cares, so that this day will creep up upon you and will be ambushed [trapped unaware]. For [in fact] that is how it will be for all who have put down their roots across the face of the earth.
“Be perpetually on watch [night duty] with a petition [on your lips] that you might be able to withstand when these things are about to happen [seemingly indiscriminately] so that you will be able to stand before the Son of Man.”
Now these were days in which he was teaching in the temple and at night he went out to stay over on [the other side of] the Mount of Olives. And come the dawn, all the people were thronging to the temple to hear him.
We are told at the beginning of the creation account in Genesis 1 that the Creator had it in mind, from the outset, to assist his image-bearers in the way we plan our days by clocks and calendars – that’s what the sun, moon and stars have ever helped us to do. But why is it, asked Jesus, that we can’t read the clock of God’s Kingdom? We can discern what tomorrow’s weather is going to be, so why can’t we read the signs that tells us his kingdom is near?
When you see a cloud rising in the west, you can immediately say, a storm is coming and so it is. And when there is a south wind you say that it is going to be hot – and so it is. Hypocrites – you know how to test the appearance of the earth and the heavens [to tell the weather], but why then do you not know how to test the time [in which you are living]? (Luke 12:54-56).
So Jesus continues his teaching and now takes another creature, dear to the heart of his Jewish listeners, the fig-tree, to explain his teaching. Was he under a figtree, planted there near to the temple precincts, as he taught? He pointed to the branches and reminded them of the fig-less figtree of Jeremiah (Jeremiah 8:13) to describe God’s disappointment. Then he refers to Isaiah.
34:4 All the host of heaven shall rot away, the skies shall be rolled up like a scroll. Their host shall fall, as leaves fall from the vine, like leaves falling from the figtree.
When we think about the future, and what God is going to do, we realise that we couldn’t have learned much at all without the clocks God has given us – the sun, the moon and the stars. We read these clocks as part of our decision about what we are going to do next. But Jesus told his disciples that all the signs are there to be seen, and the “sign of signs” was right there, right in front of them. He was the One whose coming is according to God’s time-table.
Because the sun, the moon and the stars can be seen they can tell us what time it is. Now they knew that the Son of Man was “at the door” – that’s the time in which we live, the time of waiting for his coming, waiting for the fulfilment of our lives … . It’s close … it is always closer than we think. That is the marvellous thing. Now that Jesus has fulfilled the work he was sent to do, we live life waiting for his return. He promised he would return and he promised us that he would not be late. We live with an alert imagination.
You do not know the time, Jesus said to his closest disciples, and in truth it is not given to me to know the time either. But we have been created to live waiting for the return of the householder. You are to remain alert. You are to take yourself in hand and live a disciplined life, the life of my disciple, expecting my coming.
It is worth reading the parallel passage in Mark 13 in relation to this important piece of advice that Jesus gave to his disciples. We should do it carefully, again and again. In some Bibles the heading is “Signs at the end of the age”. I think that is misleading. It is not a history lesson before its time; it is about how we can use our imagination now in the light shed by the coming of Israel’s Messiah, God’s Son. His Jesus’ completed work encourages us to avoid needless speculation about matters not within our own control (see above Luke 21:12-14). We trust God to see us through. We heed Jesus’ teaching. We read the signs waiting for him to bring everything to its true completion as he said he would.
The disciple is not to panic, not even if the rebellion against God seems to begin to roll back everything to what it was at day 4 of the creation when the sun, moon and stars were placed in the heavens. We read Genesis Chapter One to learn how Moses told his readers to consider God’s creation in six days. Here Luke recounts how Jesus told his disciples that that even such a massive – even unthinkable – roll-back would not cancel our Heavenly Father’s promises to us – he has surely prepared his rest, the seventh day, into which he invites us. Jesus said “Watch!” He taught his disciples not to be afraid to go to sleep at night. They are to be alert and watch. Here also is what Daniel predicted:
7:13 At night in a vision I saw on the clouds of heaven a person, a son of man, coming up to the Ancient of Days to be presented before him. And it was to this person that dominion and glory and kingdom was given, so that all the people, all the nations, and all the languages should serve him; his rule is an everlasting rule, which shall never pass away. His kingdom shall never be destroyed … .
Daniel told of kingdoms rising and kingdoms falling, kingdoms that denied the Lord God. But Daniel’s ancient prediction also speaks decisively of the faithfulness of God to his promises:
27: The kingdom and the rule and the might of the kingdoms under the whole of heaven shall be given to those who are saints of the Most High; their kingdom shall be an everlasting kingdom, and all dominions shall serve and obey them.
Daniel’s praise of the Lord was reminding us that when God Himself takes charge, he ensures that his purposes for all people will be maintained. He will not be overthrown. We can count on it. And his aim is that we help bring the rule of his Kingdom by our patient following of his Son, the Son of Man, the One standing before the Ancient of Days, the One with whom God is indeed well pleased. [Remember Jesus’ baptism? Remember when he met Moses and Elijah?] God wants us for his family; that is why he created us. And we are told that that desire of the Lord Almighty pre-dates the rebellious decision to destroy God’s works taken by God’s enemies. God is utterly reliable. He is not taken by surprise.
He told his disciples to “keep alert!” That is what it is all about. And here he was telling his disciples then – and henceforth – to be alert, to remain on watch – and at this time, morning by morning he returned to the temple to continue teaching those who thronged to hear his teaching.
BCW 7th February 2017