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How Can We Know His Return is Near without Knowing the Day or Hour?
First of all, we need to acknowledge that today's passage (along with Matthew 24 & Luke 21) is probably the most difficult teaching of Jesus to understand properly. If you read today's passage and you're wondering, "What is the Abomination of Desolation," this might be helpful: What is the "Abomination of Desolation"? by Dan Doriani. You may also find this commentary helpful.
Today, I want to focus on one particular question: How can we be sensitive to the signs that the coming of Jesus is near and yet not know the day nor the hour?
Jesus tells us in verse 28 to learn the lesson of the fig tree. By this, Jesus means that we should be discerning enough to know when He is near. Or are His words limited to those in His generation? I do think the immediate context of Jesus' words in that section of this discourse probably applies best to His disciples and their generation. (see v. 30) Thus, I think the lesson of the fig tree was most directly applicable to the coming judgement of AD 70, when the Temple and City of Jerusalem were destroyed.
However, the broader lesson still applies to us: God wants us to be discerning and understand the times in which we live. We need to be attuned to the spiritual climate of our day and always aware of the possibility of coming judgment. We need to always be aware of the soon return of Jesus. When is "soon"?
Well, in speaking more directly to us beyond the context of AD 70, Jesus says in verses 32-33: "
It is good to give thanks to the Lord,
to sing praises to Your name, O Most High;
to declare Your steadfast love in the morning,
and Your faithfulness by night,
Let me rise from my bed in the morning with Your praise on my lips,
and let me lay down at night with a song of thanksgiving in my heart!
For You, O Lord, have made me glad by your work;
at the works of Your hands I sing for joy.
How great are Your works, O Lord!
Your thoughts are very deep!
The stupid man cannot know;
the fool cannot understand this:
that though the wicked sprout like grass
and all evildoers flourish,
they are doomed to destruction forever;
but You, O Lord, are on high forever.
For behold, Your enemies, O Lord,
for behold, Your enemies shall perish;
all evildoers shall be scattered.
But You have exalted the Lord Jesus, my horn of salvation;
You have poured over me fresh oil.
My eyes have seen the downfall of my enemies;
my ears have heard the doom of my evil assailants
the devil who tempts, taunts and accuses me,
the word that entices and ensnares me,
me flesh that seeks to enslave me.
All were overthrown at the cross and in the resurrection.
The righteous flourish like the palm tree
and grow like a cedar in Lebanon.
They are planted in the house of the Lord;
they flourish in the courts of our God.
They still bear fruit in old age;
they are ever full of sap and green,
to declare that the Lord is upright;
He is my rock, and there is no unrighteousness in Him.