"Behold, I am coming quickly! Blessed is he who keeps the words of the prophecy of this book."
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Signs of the end of the age
Fig tree shoots forth its leaves - Matthew 24:32-33, Mark 13:28-29, Luke 21:29-31
Jesus had finished answering the question about His 2nd Coming, when He switches gears to answer the questions about the "signs of the end of the age." The first sign that would show that the end of the age had arrived was the fig tree shooting forth its leaves. The fig tree is one of the last trees to bud in the spring. So when it puts forth leaves, people know that summer is right around the corner. What does the fig tree represent?
Hosea compares the people of Israel to figs and Isaiah compares them to plants in a vineyard:
Hosea 9:10 - "I found Israel like grapes in the wilderness; I saw your fathers as the first fruits on the fig tree in its first season."
Isaiah 5:7 - For the vineyard of the LORD of hosts is the house of Israel, and the men of Judah are His pleasant plant.
Joel compares the land of Israel to a fig tree:
Joel 1:6-7 - For a nation has come up against My land, strong, and without number; his teeth are the teeth of a lion, and he has the fangs of a fierce lion. He has laid waste My vine, and ruined My fig tree; he has stripped it bare and thrown it away; its branches are made white.
The passage below is a another parable Jesus shared about a fig tree:
Luke 13:5-9 - "...unless you repent you will all likewise perish." He also spoke this parable: "A certain man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard, and he came seeking fruit on it and found none. Then he said to the keeper of his vineyard, 'Look, for three years I have come seeking fruit on this fig tree and find none. Cut it down; why does it use up the ground?' But he answered and said to him, 'Sir, let it alone this year also, until I dig around it and fertilize it. And if it bears fruit, well. But if not, after that you can cut it down.'"
The passage in Isaiah 5:7 shows us that the vineyard belongs to the Lord. The keeper in the parable above is Jesus, who was three years into His ministry at the time. Right before Jesus shared the parable, He warned that unless Israel repented, the nation would perish. In the parable, God told Jesus to cut down the tree, which is Israel. Jesus requested to give the tree until the next season to bear fruit, before cutting it down.
Jesus was to spend the next half-year trying to bear fruit from the nation Israel, before giving up on them. The cursing of the fig tree in the passage below shows us the verdict of the nation Israel. Though Israel as a nation would be destroyed, faith and salvation would still be available on an individual basis, as shown at the end of the following passage:
Matthew 21:18-22 - Now in the morning, as He returned to the city, He was hungry. And seeing a fig tree by the road, He came to it and found nothing on it but leaves, and said to it, "Let no fruit grow on you ever again." Immediately the fig tree withered away. And when the disciples saw it, they marveled, saying, "How did the fig tree wither away so soon?" So Jesus answered and said to them, "Assuredly, I say to you, if you have faith and do not doubt, you will not only do what was done to the fig tree, but also if you say to this mountain, 'Be removed and be cast into the sea,' it will be done. And whatever things you ask in prayer, believing, you will receive."
In the passages below, Ezekiel likens Israel to a tree and Amos predicted that God would "plant" His people again in their land. These prophecies show that Israel would become a nation again, which found fulfillment in 1948. However, the people of Israel are not producing the fruits of belief and faith yet, but the following passage shows that they will bear fruit in the future.
Ezekiel 36:8-12 - But you, O mountains of Israel, you shall shoot forth your branches and yield your fruit to My people Israel, for they are about to come. For indeed I am for you, and I will turn to you, and you shall be tilled and sown. I will multiply men upon you, all the house of Israel, all of it; and the cities shall be inhabited and the ruins rebuilt. I will multiply upon you man and beast; and they shall increase and bear young; I will make you inhabited as in former times, and do better for you than at your beginnings. Then you shall know that I am the LORD. Yes, I will cause men to walk on you, My people Israel; they shall take possession of you, and you shall be their inheritance; no more shall you bereave them of children."
Amos 9:14-15 - "I will bring back the captives of My people Israel; they shall build the waste cities and inhabit them; they shall plant vineyards and drink wine from them; they shall also make gardens and eat fruit from them. I will plant them in their land, and no longer shall they be pulled up from the land I have given them," says the LORD your God.
All these passages point to the nation Israel being the fig tree in the parable of the Lord's discourse. If so, then are who "all the trees" in Luke? Some say that the passages about the fig tree are just analogies to show that the people who see all the signs will know that the return of Jesus is near. They are correct, in that the increasing signs show the nearness of Christ's return, but they then discount Israel being represented by the fig tree.
However, the passage above in Ezekiel definitely likens Israel to a tree. The wording about "shooting forth your branches" nicely parallels that in the "Olivet Discourse," where Jesus is specifically talking about a fig tree. And the nation Israel died in 70AD, just like the fig tree did when Jesus cursed it. It shot forth its branches again in 1948AD, just as Ezekiel predicted.
So if the fig tree represents Israel as a nation, then all the trees would likewise represent a nation or nations in some way. Though not clear, there are some clues in Scripture that point us to what "all the trees" might represent in Luke.
All the other trees could be Israel's neighbors, who also became nations as a result of the partitioning of the Ottoman Empire after World War 1. The trees were then "planted" as a result of the League of Nations mandate and all became "budding nations" within the next two decades.
"The League of Nations mandate refers to several territories established under Article 22 of the Covenant of the League of Nations, 28 June 1919. The first group or Class A mandates were areas formerly controlled by the Ottoman Empire deemed to have reached a stage of development where their existence as independent nations can be provisionally recognized subject to the rendering of administrative advice and assistance by a Mandatory until such time as they are able to stand alone. The wishes of these communities must be a principal consideration in the selection of the Mandatory."
"The Class A mandates were: Iraq (Great Britain), 10 August 1920 - 3 October 1932, then an independent kingdom. Palestine (Great Britain), from 25 April 1920 (effective 29 September 1923 - 14 May 1948 to the independence of Israel), till 25 May 1946 including Transjordan (the Hashemite emirate, later kingdom of Jordan). Syria (France), 29 September 1923 - 1 January 1944, including Lebanon; By 1948 these mandates had been replaced by new monarchies (Iraq, Jordan) and republican governments (Israel, Lebanon, Syria)."
At least two places in the Old Testament compare kings of Israel's neighbors to trees. Interestingly, Israel's neighbors, Iraq, Palestine, Jordan, Syria and Lebanon were all part of both the Babylon and Assyrian Empires:
Daniel 4:19-22 - Then Daniel, whose name was Belteshazzar, was astonished for a time, and his thoughts troubled him. So the king spoke, and said, "Belteshazzar, do not let the dream or its interpretation trouble you." Belteshazzar answered and said, "My lord, may the dream concern those who hate you, and its interpretation concern your enemies! "The tree that you saw, which grew and became strong, whose height reached to the heavens and which could be seen by all the earth, whose leaves were lovely and its fruit abundant, in which was food for all, under which the beasts of the field dwelt, and in whose branches the birds of the heaven had their home - it is you, O king, who have grown and become strong; for your greatness has grown and reaches to the heavens, and your dominion to the end of the earth."
Ezekiel 31:2-5 - Son of man, say to Pharaoh king of Egypt and to his multitude: 'Whom are you like in your greatness? Indeed Assyria was a cedar in Lebanon, with fine branches that shaded the forest, and of high stature; and its top was among the thick boughs. The waters made it grow; underground waters gave it height, with their rivers running around the place where it was planted, and sent out rivulets to all the trees of the field. 'Therefore its height was exalted above all the trees of the field; its boughs were multiplied, and its branches became long because of the abundance of water, as it sent them out.'
Ezekiel 31:6-9 - All the birds of the heavens made their nests in its boughs; under its branches all the beasts of the field brought forth their young; and in its shadow all great nations made their home. 'Thus it was beautiful in greatness and in the length of its branches, because its roots reached to abundant waters. The cedars in the garden of God could not hide it; the fir trees were not like its boughs, and the chestnut trees were not like its branches; no tree in the garden of God was like it in beauty. I made it beautiful with a multitude of branches, so that all the trees of Eden envied it, that were in the garden of God.
Another possibility is that "all the trees" could represent different aspects of Israel. In the parable of the trees in Judges, Jotham likened the men of Shechem to "trees." The first capital city of Israel was Shechem before the kingdom was split. In the following passage, Jotham depicts the specific trees associated with Israel as potential kings of Israel:
Judges 9:1-5 - Then Abimelech the son of Jerubbaal went to Shechem, to his mother's brothers, and spoke with them and with all the family of the house of his mother's father, saying, "Please speak in the hearing of all the men of Shechem: 'Which is better for you, that all seventy of the sons of Jerubbaal reign over you, or that one reign over you?' Remember that I am your own flesh and bone."And his mother's brothers spoke all these words concerning him in the hearing of all the men of Shechem; and their heart was inclined to follow Abimelech, for they said, "He is our brother." So they gave him seventy shekels of silver from the temple of Baal-Berith, with which Abimelech hired worthless and reckless men; and they followed him.
Judges 9:6-7 - Then he went to his father's house at Ophrah and killed his brothers, the seventy sons of Jerubbaal, on one stone. But Jotham the youngest son of Jerubbaal was left, because he hid himself. And all the men of Shechem gathered together, all of Beth Millo, and they went and made Abimelech king beside the terebinth tree at the pillar that was in Shechem. Now when they told Jotham, he went and stood on top of Mount Gerizim, and lifted his voice and cried out. And he said to them: "Listen to me, you men of Shechem, that God may listen to you!"
Judges 9:8-15 - "The trees once went forth to anoint a king over them. And they said to the olive tree, 'Reign over us!' But the olive tree said to them,' Should I cease giving my oil, with which they honor God and men, and go to sway over trees?' "Then the trees said to the fig tree,'You come and reign over us!' But the fig tree said to them, 'Should I cease my sweetness and my good fruit, and go to sway over trees?' "Then the trees said to the vine, 'You come and reign over us!' But the vine said to them, 'Should I cease my new wine, which cheers both God and men, and go to sway over trees?' "Then all the trees said to the bramble,'You come and reign over us!' And the bramble said to the trees, 'If in truth you anoint me as king over you, then come and take shelter in my shade; but if not, let fire come out of the bramble and devour the cedars of Lebanon!'
If "all the trees" represent the different aspects of Israel, then the fig tree would represent Israel as a nation, based on Jesus' prophetic parable that pointed to the 70AD destruction in Matthew, and the rebirth of Israel in Ezekiel and Amos. The vine would represent the spiritual state of Israel, per Isaiah 5. The olive tree would be associated with Israel's salvation based on Romans 11.
Notice in the passage in Luke that the "kingdom" is near when "all the trees" are budding. The use of "kingdom" with "all the trees" may show that the vine (spiritual) and olive tree (salvation) of Israel will start to bud shortly before the Millennium begins, which Ezekiel and the Apostle Paul prophesied:
Ezekiel 37:13-14 - "Then you shall know that I am the LORD, when I have opened your graves, O My people, and brought you up from your graves. I will put My Spirit in you, and you shall live, and I will place you in your own land. Then you shall know that I, the LORD, have spoken it and performed it," says the LORD.
Ezekiel 37:24-28 - David My servant shall be king over them, and they shall all have one shepherd; they shall also walk in My judgments and observe My statutes, and do them. Then they shall dwell in the land that I have given to Jacob My servant, where your fathers dwelt; and they shall dwell there, they, their children, and their children's children, forever; and My servant David shall be their prince forever. Moreover I will make a covenant of peace with them, and it shall be an everlasting covenant with them; I will establish them and multiply them, and I will set My sanctuary in their midst forevermore. My tabernacle also shall be with them; indeed I will be their God, and they shall be My people. The nations also will know that I, the LORD, sanctify Israel, when My sanctuary is in their midst forevermore.
Romans 11:25-26 - For I do not desire, brethren, that you should be ignorant of this mystery, lest you should be wise in your own opinion, that blindness in part has happened to Israel until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in. And so all Israel will be saved....
More support for this view is found in the following passage:
Habakkuk 3:17 - Although the fig tree shall not blossom, neither shall fruit be in the vines; the labour of the olive shall fail, and the fields shall yield no meat; the flock shall be cut off from the fold, and there shall be no herd in the stalls.
The book of Habakkuk is about God judging Israel at the hand of the Babylonians. The trees not blooming or bearing fruit shows how the nation Israel fell, both physically and spiritually. Therefore, the blooming and bearing of fruit of the trees shows Israel's restoration. Notice that the same trees listed here are those in the parable of the trees in Judges: fig tree, vine and olive tree.
Fig tree shoots forth its leaves (continued) - Matthew 24:34-35, Mark 13:30-31, Luke 21:32-33
It appears that the sign of the fig tree is the beginning of the last generation before Jesus returns. How long is a generation? How does the Bible define a generation? What is the context and starting point of a generation in this passage? The Bible tells us the following:
120 YEARS - TIME UNTIL JUDGEMENT DURING THE DAYS OF NOAH - God allowed 120 years for Noah's generation to repent before the flood:
Genesis 6:3 - And the LORD said, "My Spirit shall not strive with man forever, for he is indeed flesh; yet his days shall be one hundred and twenty years."
100 YEARS - PROMISE OF RETURN TO THE LAND - Egypt was in captivity for 400 years or four generations of 100 years each. Also, there have been four different generations of God's chosen people promised they would return to the land (Abraham, Exodus from Egypt, release from Babylon, the Balfour Declaration):
Genesis 15:13-16 - Then He said to Abram: "Know certainly that your descendants will be strangers in a land that is not theirs, and will serve them, and they will afflict them four hundred years. And also the nation whom they serve I will judge; afterward they shall come out with great possessions. Now as for you, you shall go to your fathers in peace; you shall be buried at a good old age. But in the fourth generation they shall return here, for the iniquity of the Amorites is not yet complete."
70-80 YEARS - NATURAL LIFESPAN OF MAN - The Psalm below gives a range of 70-80 years for the average lifespan of man:
Psalms 90:10 - The days of our lives are seventy years; and if by reason of strength they are eighty years, yet their boast is only labor and sorrow; for it is soon cut off, and we fly away.
As an interesting side note, a fig tree typically "puts forth leaves" in March, with the first figs ready for harvest in early June, or about 70-80 days later.
The number "70" appears in other prophecies about Israel. Israel was in Babylonian captivity for 70 years and God told Daniel that there were 70 weeks of punishment coming on Israel:
Daniel 9:2, 24 - ...I, Daniel, understood by the books the number of the years specified by the word of the LORD through Jeremiah the prophet, that He would accomplish seventy years in the desolations of Jerusalem.... Seventy weeks are determined for your people and for your holy city.
50 YEARS - JUBILEE - Liberty, cancelled debt, and possessions returned:
Leviticus 25:8-10 - And you shall count seven Sabbaths of years for yourself, seven times seven years; and the time of the seven Sabbaths of years shall be to you forty-nine years. Then you shall cause the trumpet of the Jubilee to sound on the tenth day of the seventh month; on the Day of Atonement you shall make the trumpet to sound throughout all your land. And you shall consecrate the fiftieth year, and proclaim liberty throughout all the land to all its inhabitants. It shall be a Jubilee for you; and each of you shall return to his possession, and each of you shall return to his family.
40 YEARS - PERIOD OF TESTING - The time it took for the evil generation in Israel to die in the wilderness during the Exodus.
Numbers 32:13 - So the LORD's anger was aroused against Israel, and He made them wander in the wilderness forty years, until all the generation that had done evil in the sight of the LORD was gone.
Joshua 5:6 - For the children of Israel walked forty years in the wilderness, till all the people who were men of war, who came out of Egypt, were consumed, because they did not obey the voice of the LORD - to whom the LORD swore that He would not show them the land which the LORD had sworn to their fathers that He would give us, "a land flowing with milk and honey."
The period of 40 years is also tied to 30 years, the age that a priest could begin to serve:
Numbers 4: 1-3 - Then the LORD spoke to Moses and Aaron, saying: "Take a census of the sons of Kohath from among the children of Levi, by their families, by their fathers' house, from thirty years old and above, even to fifty years old, all who enter the service to do the work in the tabernacle of meeting."
Although not a priest, we see a parallel to David, where he became king at the age of 30 and reigned for 40 years:
2 Samuel 5:4 - David was thirty years old when he began to reign, and he reigned forty years.
Satan tested Jesus at the beginning of His ministry for 40 days, when He was 30 years old. (Though not 40 years here, it is still a period of testing tied to the number 40):
Luke 3:23 - Now Jesus Himself began His ministry at about thirty years of age.
Luke 4:1-2 - Then Jesus, being filled with the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit into the wilderness, being tempted for forty days by the devil.
There were 40 years after the cross, before Israel's exile and destruction of the temple.
Jesus said the generation that witnesses the fig tree budding would witness "all these things." Jesus had described "all these things" throughout the discourse; they are all the things that will occur before He returns. Then He answers the question about the end of the age and says that the fig tree budding would be the starting point of "all these things." It appears that the context of the fig tree budding is about the life of the generation that saw Israel become a nation again. If this is true, the life of the generation would be 70-80 years. The signs rapidly converging around us show that this length is reasonable. It is also interesting to note that all the prophecies predicting the Jewish exile, and destruction of Jerusalem and the temple, all occurred within the normal lifespan of 70-80 years from the birth of Christ.
A word of caution here. Though, the 70-80 year generation argument is convincing, we should take care not to pinpoint dates. God designed His inspired Word with purposeful patterns and symmetry. Therefore, it would make sense if the Scriptures point to the time of the 2nd Coming. However, we don't have the luxury of having the exact number of years set out for Christ's 2nd Coming like His 1st Coming in Daniel 9:24-26.
We are only human, so it is probable that our interpretations are not all correct. Therefore it is prudent to not get hung up on dates. The point of all this, even without dates, is that we know just from the signs that time is rapidly running out. Besides, we never know when our time on Earth is up. Therefore, it is best to busy ourselves to further the Kingdom, be ready to meet Jesus at any moment, and not be disappointed if our interpretations are not correct.
Day and hour no one knows - Matthew 24:36, Mark 13:32
The next sign of the end of the age, after the fig tree blooms, is the event known as "the day or hour no one knows." Prophecy students and teachers disagree on the context of this verse. Some place it at the end of the Tribulation when Jesus returns. Others place it before the Tribulation at the rapture of the Church.
First, let's look at the context of who the intended audience was for. Most can agree that the "Olivet Discourse" was for the Jews, as was the rest of the Gospel of Matthew. In fact, the purpose of Jesus' ministry was to offer the "Kingdom of Heaven" to the Jews, if they would accept Him as the prophesied Messiah.
While it is clear that Jesus came to present the "Kingdom of Heaven" message to the Jews during His first coming, I do not believe this necessarily means that Jesus never made mention of the Church in His teachings. In fact, I believe the following verse is a direct mention that Gentiles would be part of the "kingdom of Heaven," which would include Tribulation and Millennial saints, in addition to Church saints:
Matthew 8:11 - And I say to you that many will come from east and west, and sit down with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven.
The Church was a "mystery" until God revealed it to Paul. A "mystery" is something in Scripture that wasn't understood until God revealed it. Paul talks about the wisdom of God being a mystery that the Holy Spirit reveals:
1 Corinthians 2:6-10 - However, we speak wisdom among those who are mature, yet not the wisdom of this age, nor of the rulers of this age, who are coming to nothing. But we speak the wisdom of God in a mystery, the hidden wisdom which God ordained before the ages for our glory, which none of the rulers of this age knew; for had they known, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory. But as it is written: "Eye has not seen, nor ear heard, Nor have entered into the heart of man The things which God has prepared for those who love Him." But God has revealed them to us through His Spirit. For the Spirit searches all things, yes, the deep things of God.
The passage below shows that accepting the Word of the Lord makes one wise:
Jeremiah 8:9 - The wise men are ashamed, they are dismayed and taken. Behold, they have rejected the word of the LORD; so what wisdom do they have?
In short, the intended audience of the "Olivet Discourse" was Jewish. However, that does not negate possible veiled mentions of the Church in the ministry of Jesus and the Old Testament.
Now that the ground work has been laid, let's return to our discussion on the "day or hour nobody knows." First let's take a look at the view that places the "day or the hour no one knows" at the end of the Tribulation. Looking ahead, it is clear that the next section is speaking of the 2nd Coming of Jesus at the end of the Tribulation. Therefore, many believe that "the day or hour no one knows" is about the return of Jesus at the 2nd Coming.
Scripture teaches that the Jewish feasts are a shadow of Christ (Colossians 2:16-17). Because Jesus fulfilled the first four feasts at His 1st Coming, He will surely fulfill the last three feasts at His 2nd Coming. This is why many believe that the 2nd Coming of Christ will fulfill the Feast of Trumpets. In Jewish tradition, Jews celebrate the new moon festival of the Feast of Trumpets for two days. Before computer technology was available to predict the new moon, at least two witnesses had to sight the sliver of the waxing moon to declare the first day of the month, which sometimes took a day or two to see. In that regard, we can see where "no man knows the day or the hour."
One problem with this view, is from the time of the "abomination of desolation" to the end of the antichrist's rule, there will be 42 months, or an exact day count of 1,260 days (Revelation 12:6 & 13:5). Having an exact day count from a prophesied event would seem to negate the literal rendering of the "day or hour nobody knows." However, the earth's orbit and rotation are going to change in the second half the Tribulation, as Isaiah describes the earth "reeling to and fro like a drunkard" (Isaiah 24:20), and the earth apparently begins to spin faster after the fourth Trumpet judgment because night and day are shortened by a third (Revelation 8:12). It may become impossible for anyone but God to calculate the 1,260 of the second half of the Tribulation, which would fit "no man knows the day or hour" of the return of Jesus.
The other view on "the day or hour no one knows" is that it is a prophetic event between the time Israel became a nation and the end of the Tribulation, described in the rest of the discourse. Many believe this in-between event is the rapture, which is when Christ takes the Church to Heaven before the Tribulation begins:
1 Thessalonians 4:15-17 - For this we say to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive and remain until the coming of the Lord will by no means precede those who are asleep. For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And thus we shall always be with the Lord.
"The day and hour nobody knows" is a figure of speech in the "Jewish Wedding Tradition." Traditionally, the son would build a bridal chamber on his father's property. When the father decided the chamber was ready, he told his son it was time to go fetch his bride. When people asked the son when the wedding day was, he would respond with "no man knows the day or hour except my father." We see that Jesus spoke of this very tradition in regards to coming for the Church:
John 14:2-3 - In my Father's house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am.
There are many aspects of the ancient "Jewish Wedding Tradition" that make it a prophetic picture of the marriage between Christ and the Church revealed to the Apostle Paul:
Ephesians 5:31-32 - "For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh." This is a great mystery, but I speak concerning Christ and the church.
Though we should take care in drawing conclusions using Jewish traditions, I believe Scripture supports the "Jewish Wedding Tradition" as a picture of the marriage between Christ and the Church, and has merit in the study of "the day or the hour no one knows." Click here for more on the "Jewish Wedding Tradition."
"The day or hour no one knows" comes up again in one of the parables about the Kingdom, after the discourse. We will touch on the second parable in Matthew 25:14-30 at the end of this study. It is clear that the second parable is in the context of the 2nd Coming because Jesus destroys His enemies at the end of it. But let's take a look at the first parable to see if it can shed some light on "the day or hour no one knows":
Matthew 25:1-7 - "Then the kingdom of heaven shall be likened to ten virgins who took their lamps and went out to meet the bridegroom. Now five of them were wise, and five were foolish. Those who were foolish took their lamps and took no oil with them, but the wise took oil in their vessels with their lamps. But while the bridegroom was delayed, they all slumbered and slept. "And at midnight a cry was heard: 'Behold, the bridegroom is coming; go out to meet him!' Then all those virgins arose and trimmed their lamps."
Matthew 25:8-13 - And the foolish said to the wise, 'Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.' But the wise answered, saying, 'No, lest there should not be enough for us and you; but go rather to those who sell, and buy for yourselves.' And while they went to buy, the bridegroom came, and those who were ready went in with him to the wedding; and the door was shut. "Afterward the other virgins came also, saying, 'Lord, Lord, open to us!' But he answered and said, 'Assuredly, I say to you, I do not know you.' "Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour in which the Son of Man is coming."
In the parable above, the virgins needed oil to go to the wedding with the Bridegroom. It is clear that the amount of oil had nothing to do with going out to meet the Bridegroom, as we are not told how much oil the wise virgins had. Only the foolish virgins, who had no oil, were not allowed into the wedding. Apparently any amount of oil was enough.
Oil is widely used in Scripture as a symbol of the Holy Spirit. Wisdom comes from the Holy Spirit (Exodus 31:3, Isaiah 11:2, Daniel 5:14, 1 Corinthians 12:8). Therefore, we see that the wise virgins had the wisdom of the Holy Spirit and the foolish did not.
The parable of the ten virgins is different from most of the other parables of the Kingdom, in that when the Lord separates groups of people, He sends those not saved to eternal punishment, like in the parables of the talents (Matthew 25:30) and the "Sheep and Goat Judgment" (Matthew 25:46). In the parable of the ten virgins, no one goes to eternal punishment. This may suggest that these foolish virgins get a chance to gain salvation during the Tribulation. They will miss out on being part of the wedding in Heaven, but perhaps will be able to enter the Kingdom on Earth when Jesus returns.
Notice that the foolish virgins went to get oil, but by the time they came back with oil, they were already shut out of the wedding. In other words, the five foolish virgins had another opportunity to buy the wisdom of the Holy Spirit. However, they were too late for the wedding and had to go through the Tribulation. The foolish virgins would then be people who are not saved at the time of the rapture, but then find salvation through the Holy Spirit during the Tribulation.
The following proverb supports that the foolish virgins bought wisdom, which comes from the Holy Spirit, and suggests they later gain salvation through truth and understanding:
Proverbs 23:23 - Buy the truth, and do not sell it, also wisdom and instruction and understanding.
In the "Jewish Wedding Tradition," after the son builds the wedding chamber and the father decides when it is time, the son would go fetch his bride. The bride and wedding party would go back to the father's house, where the bride and bridegroom would go inside the wedding chamber for a week to consummate the marriage. The wedding party would celebrate outside the wedding chamber during this week. After the couple emerged from the chamber a week later, the celebration would continue with a reception and feast to honor the new couple. The following passages show this tradition:
Genesis 29:28 - Then Jacob did so and fulfilled her week. So he gave him his daughter Rachel as wife also.
Judges 14:17 - Now she had wept on him the seven days while their feast lasted. And it happened on the seventh day that he told her, because she pressed him so much. Then she explained the riddle to the sons of her people.
John 2:1-3, 8-10 - On the third day there was a wedding in Cana of Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there. Now both Jesus and His disciples were invited to the wedding. And when they ran out of wine, the mother of Jesus said to Him, "They have no wine." ...And He said to them, "Draw some out now, and take it to the master of the feast." And they took it. When the master of the feast had tasted the water that was made wine, and did not know where it came from (but the servants who had drawn the water knew), the master of the feast called the bridegroom. And he said to him, "Every man at the beginning sets out the good wine, and when the guests have well drunk, then the inferior. You have kept the good wine until now!"
So you can see, in light of the "Jewish Wedding Tradition," the rapture of the Church might be "the day no one knows." Christ will whisk away the Church to Heaven, where they will spend seven years in the New Jerusalem, or the "Father's house" (John 14:2-3). After the seven-year Tribulation is over, they will return to Earth to celebrate at the "Marriage Supper of the Lamb" (Revelation 19:9), with the Tribulation saints invited as guests (Luke 12:35-37).
Many dismiss that "the day no one knows" could be for the Church because they believe the "Olivet Discourse" is solely for the Jews. As I mentioned earlier, that might be true, but Gentiles are still mentioned as being part of the Kingdom in Matthew 8:11. That being said, an assumption is usually made on their part that the "Olivet Discourse" is only for the Jews that will go through the Tribulation. They overlook that there is a Jewish remnant within the Church who will go to Heaven in the rapture. In other words, the wise virgins may represent the Jewish remnant in the Church body and the foolish virgins would then represent the Jewish remnant that gets saved through the Tribulation.
Some that view "the day no one knows" as the 2nd Coming argue that Christ only has one Bride, not many as this parable would suggest. Instead, they see these virgins as "bridesmaids," being the servants spoken of through the rest of the discourse. Based on their assumption that these are "bridesmaids," they point out that these servants are Jewish because John the Baptist called himself a friend of the Bridegroom (John 3:29). However, Jesus called the disciples "friends of the Bridegroom," yet they are part of the Bride (Matthew 9:15, Mark 2:19, Luke 5:34).
There is one passage in Scripture where virgins are bridesmaids:
Psalms 45:13-15 - The royal daughter is all glorious within the palace; her clothing is woven with gold. She shall be brought to the King in robes of many colors; the virgins, her companions who follow her, shall be brought to You. With gladness and rejoicing they shall be brought; they shall enter the King's palace.
Note that the bridesmaids go where the bride goes. If the ten virgins are bridesmaids to the Church, then the five wise virgins would be part of the procession to the heavenly throne as part of the bridal party.
There are a few versions of the Bible that do translate virgins as bridesmaids in Matthew 25, but the original language has the literal meaning of "virgins." Even though Christ has one Bride, it consists of individuals who accept Christ as Savior and become sealed by the Holy Spirit. The following passage supports the notion that even though we are all one in the Spirit in the body of Christ, being His Bride, we are still "many members":
1 Corinthians 12:12-14 - For as the body is one and has many members, but all the members of that one body, being many, are one body, so also is Christ. For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body - whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free - and have all been made to drink into one Spirit. For in fact the body is not one member but many.
Paul had said that he wanted to present the Church as a chaste virgin in betrothal to Christ (2 Corinthians 11:2). In other words these "chaste" virgins, having the wisdom of the Holy Spirit and being sealed by Him would have their lamps burning at the time of the rapture. We do see in Luke 12:35 that the servants are to have their lamps burning when Christ returns, but as already suggested, the foolish virgins might be able to "buy" their oil in the Tribulation.
Being a "virgin" spiritual wise would suggest they believe that there is only one true God, and not harlot after other gods like we see throughout the Old Testament. In other words, spiritual harlots may believe there is one "supreme being," but they chase after other gods too. The foolish virgins would be those who believe there is only one true God, but do not have a true repentant heart; being Christian "in name only," yet they do not worship other gods like a harlot. The wise virgins would be those who genuinely accept Christ before the rapture. In other words, the wise virgins would be the true body of Christ and the foolish virgins would just be nominal Christians.
If the virgins are speaking of believers at the end of the Tribulation, some argue whether it is possible for them to all be sleeping and be taken unaware at the end of the Tribulation? Believers in the Tribulation will be constantly fighting to survive, but unbelievers will definitely be taken unaware at Christ's Coming, as He is coming to them as a thief (Matthew 24:43-44, Mark 13:33, Luke 12:37-40). In that regard, it seems more fitting that it is the Church would be sleeping in the time leading up to the rapture, and seems to better fit Peter's characterization of the last days:
2 Peter 3:3-4 - ...scoffers will come in the last days, walking according to their own lusts, and saying, "Where is the promise of His coming? For since the fathers fell asleep, all things continue as they were from the beginning of creation."
In other words, in the time approaching the rapture, people would question His return because they see everything as "business as usual," or for whatever reason they do not want to consider that He could return in their lifetime. On several occasions I have been a witness to this attitude described by Peter, and sadly it has been mostly from Christians who cite this very passage about not knowing the day or the hour as an excuse for not watching.
It seems to me that most of the Church is not watching and does not want to watch. It wouldn't surprise me if the percentage of believers not watching would be enough to round down to consider them ALL asleep, as depicted in the parable. The sleeping Church has no idea how near Christ's return really is. When the rapture does happen, it will take them by surprise. The parable of the ten virgins seems to illustrate this perfectly.
There is good support for both views, but the view that the rapture is the "day or hour nobody knows" is dependent on the "Jewish Wedding Tradition" and one's own interpretation of the parable of the ten virgins. On the other hand, the plain reading of the text would more likely support the view that Jesus was talking about the day or hour of His 2nd Coming not being calculable by anyone on Earth, which is possible because of the earth's orbit changes due to some of the Tribulation judgments. At any rate, it seems the verdict is still out on what the Lord meant when He said "no man knows the day or the hour."
Days of Noah - Matthew 24:37-39, Luke 17:26-32
In the passage above, Jesus describes the time leading up to His 2nd Coming. Based on the description the Lord gives, I believe we are already living in the days of Noah. However, the context here is pointing to the time immediately before the 2nd Coming. It is incredible to picture people "living it up," and refusing to repent in the midst of judgment during the horrors of the Tribulation, but the following passages confirm what Jesus told us in His discourse:
Revelation 11:7-14 - When they finish their testimony, the beast that ascends out of the bottomless pit will make war against them, overcome them, and kill them. And their dead bodies will lie in the street of the great city which spiritually is called Sodom and Egypt, where also our Lord was crucified. Then those from the peoples, tribes, tongues, and nations will see their dead bodies three-and-a-half days, and not allow their dead bodies to be put into graves. And those who dwell on the earth will rejoice over them, make merry, and send gifts to one another, because these two prophets tormented those who dwell on the earth.
Revelation 16:8-11 - Then the fourth angel poured out his bowl on the sun, and power was given to him to scorch men with fire. And men were scorched with great heat, and they blasphemed the name of God who has power over these plagues; and they did not repent and give Him glory. Then the fifth angel poured out his bowl on the throne of the beast, and his kingdom became full of darkness; and they gnawed their tongues because of the pain. They blasphemed the God of heaven because of their pains and their sores, and did not repent of their deeds.
Revelation 18:9-14 - "The kings of the earth who committed fornication and lived luxuriously with her will weep and lament for her, when they see the smoke of her burning, standing at a distance for fear of her torment, saying, 'Alas, alas, that great city Babylon, that mighty city! For in one hour your judgment has come.'" "And the merchants of the earth will weep and mourn over her, for no one buys their merchandise anymore: merchandise of gold and silver, precious stones and pearls, fine linen and purple, silk and scarlet, every kind of citron wood, every kind of object of ivory, every kind of object of most precious wood, bronze, iron, and marble; and cinnamon and incense, fragrant oil and frankincense, wine and oil, fine flour and wheat, cattle and sheep, horses and chariots, and bodies and souls of men. The fruit that your soul longed for has gone from you, and all the things which are rich and splendid have gone from you, and you shall find them no more at all."
Mark of the Beast - Luke 17:33
Though this passage can apply to us today, in context, Jesus is reaching out to the Tribulation period. This will be the time in history where everybody will have to make a choice for either God or the antichrist. In order to buy or sell, people will have to take the "mark of the beast," which will seal their fate to eternal damnation if they take it. Many will take the mark to save their physical life. Those who refuse the mark of the beast will likely be killed or starve to death, but those who take the mark will be lost eternally:
Matthew 16:24-26 - Then Jesus said to His disciples, "If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me. For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it. For what profit is it to a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul?"
John 12:25 - He who loves his life will lose it, and he who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life.
Revelation 14:9-10 - Then a third angel followed them, saying with a loud voice, "If anyone worships the beast and his image, and receives his mark on his forehead or on his hand, he himself shall also drink of the wine of the wrath of God, which is poured out full strength into the cup of His indignation. He shall be tormented with fire and brimstone in the presence of the holy angels and in the presence of the Lamb."
Revelation 13:15-17 - He was granted power to give breath to the image of the beast, that the image of the beast should both speak and cause as many as would not worship the image of the beast to be killed. He also forced everyone, small and great, rich and poor, free and slave, to receive a mark on his right hand or on his forehead, so that no one could buy or sell unless he had the mark, which is the name of the beast or the number of his name.
With economies weakening and collapsing around us, eventually there will be a push for a global currency, which would likely be cashless. This could happen very soon, even before the Tribulation begins. Also, the technology for the "mark of the beast" is here, as it is now commonplace to implant pets and medical patients with microchips.
Even though the technology is already here and we may witness the change to a global currency, the Bible is clear that the "mark of the beast" system will not come until after the antichrist takes power in the middle of the Tribulation. People will have a clear choice to make - to accept the mark in allegiance to the beast, or death in refusal to worship the beast.
Sheep and Goat Judgment - Matthew 24:40-41, Luke 17:34-37
The passage above describes the "Sheep and Goat Judgment," and how Jesus will divide the people who survive the Tribulation after He returns. We see that people "will be taken" away to judgment like the flood that took the unrighteous away in judgment. But the righteous will be left to repopulate the earth like Noah and his family.
As discussed in the Pre-Tribulation Rapture study, there is a harvest of souls in the Tribulation, which Jesus alludes to in the imagery of the men in the field and the women grinding at the mill. The "tares" are the unrighteous who will die and go to the everlasting fire:
Matthew 13:24-30 - Another parable He put forth to them, saying: "The kingdom of heaven is like a man who sowed good seed in his field; but while men slept, his enemy came and sowed tares among the wheat and went his way. But when the grain had sprouted and produced a crop, then the tares also appeared. So the servants of the owner came and said to him, 'Sir, did you not sow good seed in your field? How then does it have tares?' He said to them, 'An enemy has done this.' The servants said to him, 'Do you want us then to go and gather them up?' But he said, 'No, lest while you gather up the tares you also uproot the wheat with them. Let both grow together until the harvest, and at the time of harvest I will say to the reapers, "First gather together the tares and bind them in bundles to burn them, but gather the wheat into my barn."'"
Jesus goes into more detail on the "Sheep and Goat Judgment" at the end of His discourse:
Matthew 25:31-34,41,46 - "When the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the holy angels with Him, then He will sit on the throne of His glory. All the nations will be gathered before Him, and He will separate them one from another, as a shepherd divides his sheep from the goats. And He will set the sheep on His right hand, but the goats on the left. Then the King will say to those on His right hand, 'Come, you blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world....' "Then He will also say to those on the left hand, 'Depart from Me, you cursed, into the everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels....' And these will go away into everlasting punishment, but the righteous into eternal life."
Christ will first gather and separate the nations, then He will kill the unbelievers left after Armageddon, and birds will gather to feast on the carnage, as discussed in the parallel passage in Matthew 24:28 and shown in the passage below:
Revelation 19:17-18, 21 - Then I saw an angel standing in the sun; and he cried with a loud voice, saying to all the birds that fly in the midst of heaven, "Come and gather together for the supper of the great God, that you may eat the flesh of kings, the flesh of captains, the flesh of mighty men, the flesh of horses and of those who sit on them, and the flesh of all people, free and slave, both small and great.... And the rest were killed with the sword which proceeded from the mouth of Him who sat on the horse. And all the birds were filled with their flesh."
In short, the unrighteous "will be taken" away at the end of the Tribulation and the people left will enter the Millennium in the flesh.
Church will stand before Christ - Luke 21:34-36
Before Jesus gave His discourse to His disciples on the Mount of Olives, He told the crowd at the temple to watch and lead holy lives as the time approaches. This message can be applied to the Church. In this time before the Tribulation, we are to watch the signs and pray that we "may be counted worthy to escape." Those who have prayed for salvation through Christ and are part of the Church body are worthy. The Lord will take them to Heaven via the rapture, and they will escape the Tribulation:
Revelation 3:10 - Because you have kept My command to persevere, I also will keep you from the hour of trial which shall come upon the whole world, to test those who dwell on the earth.
Psalm 27:5 - For in the time of trouble He shall hide me in His pavilion; in the secret place of His tabernacle He shall hide me; He shall set me high upon a rock.
Isaiah 26:20-21 - Come, my people, enter your chambers, and shut your doors behind you; hide yourself, as it were, for a little moment, until the indignation is past. For behold, the LORD comes out of His place to punish the inhabitants of the earth for their iniquity; the earth will also disclose her blood, and will no more cover her slain.
Zephaniah 2:3 - Seek the LORD, all you humble of the land, you who do what he commands. Seek righteousness, seek humility; perhaps you will be sheltered on the day of the LORD's anger.
1 Thessalonians 4:14-17 - For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with Him those who sleep in Jesus. For this we say to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive and remain until the coming of the Lord will by no means precede those who are asleep. For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And thus we shall always be with the Lord.
After the rapture, believers will stand before Jesus during what Bible teachers call the "Bema," which is the Greek word for "judgment seat." In the ancient Olympics, judges awarded ivy crowns, called "stephanos," to the winners of the various events at the "Bema." They still do this at the Olympics and other athletic events today, using medals instead of crowns. The following passages describe this judgment:
2 Corinthians 5:10 - For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive the things done in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad.
1 Corinthians 4:5 - Therefore judge nothing before the time, until the Lord comes, who will both bring to light the hidden things of darkness and reveal the counsels of the hearts. Then each one's praise will come from God.
1 Corinthians 9:24-25 - Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may obtain it. And everyone who competes for the prize is temperate in all things. Now they do it to obtain a perishable crown, but we for an imperishable crown.
Click here for more on the "Judgment Seat of Christ."
Tribulation saints are to watch - Matthew 24:42, Mark 13:35-37
While the call to watch in Luke 21:34-36 is for believers before the Tribulation, the Matthew and Mark passages are for believers who are in the Tribulation. Recall from our discussion about the "day and hour no one knows," that believers might be able to count the days to Jesus' return from the "abomination of desolation." However, as shown in the passages above, those watching will still not know the hour of Christ's return. In fact, pointing to certain times of the day to watch in the passage in Mark may suggest that the day might be known, but not the hour.
As discussed earlier, pinpointing the day of Christ's return cannot be determined until the "abomination of desolation" occurs. Later, in Matthew 24:43-44, Jesus says He will come on a day that unbelievers aren't expecting Him. Since Jesus only mentioned unbelievers not expecting the day of His return, perhaps believers in the Tribulation can expect Him to return on a certain day after they see the "abomination of desolation".
Tribulation saints eat at Wedding Supper of the Lamb - Luke 12:35-36
The servants in this passage are believers in the Tribulation who are watching for the 2nd Coming. As discussed in the "day and hour no one knows," perhaps these servants opening the door to the master will be the five foolish virgins who missed the rapture.
When Jesus returns, it will be from His own wedding to the Church. Together, they will return from Heaven to celebrate the "marriage supper of the Lamb," after the Tribulation. The servants will be guests at this feast. This pattern is found in the "Traditional Jewish Wedding," where the bride and bridegroom consummate their marriage for seven days in a room that the son built on the father's house, with a reception to celebrate the marriage at the end of the week. The consummation between Jesus and the Church takes place in Heaven, before the 2nd Coming of Jesus, because when He returns, the Church is no longer called His "bride" - she is now His "wife":
Revelation 19:7-9 - Let us be glad and rejoice and give Him glory, for the marriage of the Lamb has come, and His wife has made herself ready." And to her it was granted to be arrayed in fine linen, clean and bright, for the fine linen is the righteous acts of the saints. Then he said to me, "Write: 'Blessed are those who are called to the marriage supper of the Lamb!'"
Christ comes as a thief to unbelievers - Matthew 24:43-44, Mark 13:33, Luke 12:37-40
Jesus coming as a thief portrays destruction and judgment on unbelievers. Therefore, it is important for believers during the Tribulation to watch and pray and be ready for Jesus' return, so He doesn't come to them as a thief, being caught unaware:
John 10:10 - The thief does not come except to steal, and to kill, and to destroy. I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly.
1 Thessalonians 5:2-4 - For you yourselves know perfectly that the day of the Lord so comes as a thief in the night. For when they say, "Peace and safety!" then sudden destruction comes upon them, as labor pains upon a pregnant woman. And they shall not escape. But you, brethren, are not in darkness, so that this Day should overtake you as a thief.
Revelation 3:3 - Remember therefore how you have received and heard; hold fast and repent. Therefore if you will not watch, I will come upon you as a thief, and you will not know what hour I will come upon you.
Sheep and Goat Judgment (revisited) - Matthew 24:45-51, Mark 13:34
In conclusion, Jesus ends His discourse with some parables about believers watching and waiting for His return. Anyone that does not accept Christ during the Tribulation will die and be taken to await final judgment when He comes, as shown in the parable above and the parables of the "talents" and the "Sheep and Goat Judgment" below:
Matthew 25:14-18 - For the kingdom of heaven is like a man traveling to a far country, who called his own servants and delivered his goods to them. And to one he gave five talents, to another two, and to another one, to each according to his own ability; and immediately he went on a journey Then he who had received the five talents went and traded with them, and made another five talents. And likewise he who had received two gained two more also. But he who had received one went and dug in the ground, and hid his lord's money.
Matthew 25:19-23 - After a long time the lord of those servants came and settled accounts with them. "So he who had received five talents came and brought five other talents, saying, 'Lord, you delivered to me five talents; look, I have gained five more talents besides them.' His lord said to him, 'Well done, good and faithful servant; you were faithful over a few things, I will make you ruler over many things. Enter into the joy of your lord.' He also who had received two talents came and said, 'Lord, you delivered to me two talents; look, I have gained two more talents besides them.' His lord said to him, 'Well done, good and faithful servant; you have been faithful over a few things, I will make you ruler over many things. Enter into the joy of your lord.'"
Matthew 25:24-30 - "Then he who had received the one talent came and said, 'Lord, I knew you to be a hard man, reaping where you have not sown, and gathering where you have not scattered seed. And I was afraid, and went and hid your talent in the ground. Look, there you have what is yours.' "But his lord answered and said to him, 'You wicked and lazy servant, you knew that I reap where I have not sown, and gather where I have not scattered seed. So you ought to have deposited my money with the bankers, and at my coming I would have received back my own with interest. So take the talent from him, and give it to him who has ten talents. 'For to everyone who has, more will be given, and he will have abundance; but from him who does not have, even what he has will be taken away. And cast the unprofitable servant into the outer darkness. There will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.'"
Matthew 25:31-36 - "When the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the holy angels with Him, then He will sit on the throne of His glory. All the nations will be gathered before Him, and He will separate them one from another, as a shepherd divides his sheep from the goats. And He will set the sheep on His right hand, but the goats on the left. Then the King will say to those on His right hand, 'Come, you blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world for I was hungry and you gave Me food; I was thirsty and you gave Me drink; I was a stranger and you took Me in; I was naked and you clothed Me; I was sick and you visited Me; I was in prison and you came to Me.'"
Matthew 25:41-43,46 - "...Then He will also say to those on the left hand, 'Depart from Me, you cursed, into the everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels for I was hungry and you gave Me no food; I was thirsty and you gave Me no drink; I was a stranger and you did not take Me in, naked and you did not clothe Me, sick and in prison and you did not visit Me....' And these will go away into everlasting punishment, but the righteous into eternal life."
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