Understanding The Bible
Instructions for Life in Prophetic Days
Beginners are sometimes confused when they hear the disciples addressed as representative men who couldn't possibly be present in the prophetic times being described. For instance, the disciples would not live until the return of Christ, but they were addressed as if they would (Acts 1:11).
return of Messiah to the earth, as depicted by the Olivet Discourse, cannot be
imminent until an advanced time in the period known as the tribulation. The
disciples knew an age had to pass for this to occur (Matt. 24:3), although they
did not know the approximate length of such an age. Thus, they could not
possibly be present and personally in need of the instructions of
their role as representatives, the disciples were given a series of six
instructive lessons. These lessons are for those who, like Daniel, must live
in prophetic times. In particular, the instructions are for those who live as
genuine believers during the tribulation period. It is instruction on how to
"endure until the consummation" (cf.
lesson from the fig tree.
From the fig tree one can lean truth in parabolic format. It is the truth that prophetic summer is near and harvest-time is sure. That the fig tree is Israel, here, is evident. It is called the fig tree. In Matthew, the article has previous reference only in
The usual statement is that the fig tree does not necessarily mean Israel. This is certainly innocuous, but it is also inadequate. The Scripture is clearer than that. In Luke (13:6-9), Jesus told a parable explaining His search for the fruits of repentance over a period of three years. The fig tree, in that parable, cannot be exegeted in connection with anyone but the nation Israel due to its contextual clue (13:1-5). The third and final time of this search was on Monday of Passion Week — the day before the Olivet Discourse was uttered.
cursing of the fig tree (Matt. 21:18-22) was a miracle employed as an
acted lesson from which the disciples are now asked to learn a particular
prophetic truth. The hunger of the Lord was certainly not physical. Thus the act
was not from temper. Israel had plenty of show but no faith to show (cf.
fig tree has no moral character of its own. Yet, Messiah assigns it
representative moral and national character by enshrining it parabolically and
miraculously. The fig tree was only cursed or judged for one age (Greek) and not
forever. The narrative of Matthew's Gospel, as well as all Gospels, shows that
the generation of leadership which was then rejecting Messiah was to be blinded
on the side of their national hope. The New Testament is uniform in confirming
The added phrase in Luke (21:29), "and all the trees" serves only to underline the fact that trees are here assigned national meaning. For all nations will come into spiritual Spring during the tribulation, preparatory to the spiritual Summer of the earthly millennial kingdom of Messiah. Even in Luke the fig is distinguished singularly from the plurality of the other trees.
If the cursing of the fig tree is a solitary, unconnected event, it has very little, if any, significance. As a parabolic miracle it gleams brilliantly as an important part of a great whole. Messiah had been hungry for fruits of repentance from His fig-tree-nation. Fruit, in Palestine, appeared on the fig tree before the leaves. Israel had attempted to by-pass the fruit which could only come from national repentance (Matt. 3:1-3). But Israel is not cursed forever. During the Church age, Israel — as a nation — is not able to produce fruit because its branches are hard and dry. After the Church has been raptured, the fig tree branches will become tender in the prophetic Spring of the tribulation which comes upon Israel in particular ways.
So a lesson is to be learned from this particular fig tree. The prophetic harvest-time is near (Rev. 14:15). It is near the doors. These are the doors of Israel because they are the only ones prepared to operate from the vantage points of viewers (24:33) who can recognize such events. In terms of the discourse, the fruit has been growing on the fig tree for seven years. The Messiah will wait until He sees the leaves also for then the fruit will be worth harvesting. Thus the consummation of the age means the coming of the King (Messiah) and the coming of the earthly kingdom of the heavens based upon the return of Israel in belief.
lesson has still another fold (Matt. 24:34). The race (Israel) whose
generation sees these things begin will see them come to consummation. The
generation which rejected Messiah at His first advent was judged (Matt. 12) and
that generation was withered (Matt. 21:18-22), and its house left to it (Matt.
23:37-39) in prophetic national hope. The
all these things refers to the events of
So the key to the prophetic hope of the people of the tribulation period is the coming to repentance, life and fruitfulness of the national Israel. It is a lesson for that yet future day. Any tendering in Israel observable today cannot be more than a trend. The end is beyond the rapture.
lesson from Scripture's indestructibility.
In order to train the learners in the certainty of prophetic events, Messiah states (prophetically) that the heavens and the earth shall pass (Matt. 24:35) away (Rev. 20:11; 21:1-2), but His words on these matters of the Olivet Discourse shall never do so. This shows the certainty, authority, and indestructibility of prophetic truth. This great utterance was precipitated by His rehearsal of the revival of Israel.
The prophetic word is especially important in prophetic times. Because it calls the events before they happen, it requires the covering statement of the God who backs the program involved. We can thus be sure that there will be a tribulation with the purposes already set forth.
lesson on timing.
Already, the fig tree lesson was intended to reveal the nearness of the consummation for Israel. But the exact timing of the coming of Messiah was not to be known. Neither was it, at that time, in the province of the Son as Mediator. This is to be understood much as
lesson from antitype.
Noah's situation provides an illustrative explanation of the lesson on timing — and the knowledge of the times. The people of Noah's day were taught the certainty of a day of judgment. They knew from Noah's preaching and from the Holy Spirit's striving (Gen. 6:3) that it would come. They did not know the timing of it. Therefore, they lived like Epicureans.
Noah and the seven, who were saved in the ark and throughout the flood-judgment, knew the certainty of the event but not the timing of it. As a result, they lived for the day when they would be saved in the ark.
It is curious that Noah was told that his ministry would cover one hundred and twenty years — and yet he did not know the exact timing. God the Father kept it in His own authority. So the people of the seven year tribulation period will know the length of the seven years, but they cannot know the exact timing of the coming (parousia) of the Messiah.
But the lesson of the antitype goes behind these true observations. The lesson teaches the totality of the judgment on unbelievers when Messiah returns to the earth. The parable of the tares (Matt. 13) prepares for our understanding of this judgment — first, bind the tares and burn them.
Although some read the rapture into this passage (Matt. 24:37- 42); this is actually a rupture. Here unbelievers are taken away in judgment. These are they, like those in Noah's day, who knew not and thus were taken away in judgment. So in the day of the consummation of the age not one unbeliever will enter the earthly, millennial kingdom of the heavens.
The duos are used to illustrate how it will happen in Messiah's parousia. It is not intended to show that fifty percent or any other percent will be taken. All unbelievers will be taken away in spite of their proximity to believers — in the field or in the mill, etc.
lesson on watching.
The therefore (v. 42) is setting up the logical application of the lesson from the antitype. The saints of those days are to be alert or to watch with eyes wide open. It is to be a constant (present tense) vigil grounded in the fact that the believer does not know the exact day of the Lord's coming.
Watching will prevent a tragic mistake. The illustration of the thief and master of the house serves to underline the importance of a constant alertness when men know not the exact timing. When men fail to watch, they are claiming to know the right and wrong times. When this attitude grips men, their presuppositions about His return are in their greatest danger. Messiah's return to earth will, after all the signs are complete, be imminent. Just when men suppose He couldn't come, due to the great successes of Antichrist and his world-system, Messiah will come.
Watching is important not only for the Lord, but over one's life while he waits and watches. The parable of the virgins will bring this out (Matt. 25:1-13). Being ready points to this truth (v. 44).
So prophetic truth digs the deepest into men's hearts and alters their attitudes as well as their altitudes in the spiritual life. Prophetic research is not speculation (we are not to presuppose). Prophetic study makes us sensitive, with a holy healthiness, to the certainties claimed by the Lord for the future.
lesson on fidelity.
This lesson is addressed to the servants of the Lord both genuine and false. The false are openly labeled hypocrites (v. 51). The assignment of all of these servants is to give those in the Lord's house spiritual food or nourishment in season. Faithfulness in ministry of the prophetic Word of God in a prophetic season — regardless of opposition — is looked for by the Lord. This faithfulness operates in wisdom (v. 45). This fidelity is necessary right up to the coming of the Lord (v. 46). The Lord will entrust such servants with all His possessions — referring to life within the millennial kingdom.
And what is the point where unfaithfulness is most observable? When the servants of the Word start misinterpreting Messiah's imminence, and begin to preach delay (v. 48), they are in deep trouble. Then these servants will become like the people of Noah's day — drinking with the drunken. Judgment will be immediate upon their infidelity. It is required of stewards that they be found or discovered, faithful to the prophetic Word as well as to all the Word of God.
Once again we are allowed to peer into the apostatizing that takes place among self-styled servants of the Lord. Like the Pharisees and Scribes (Matt. 23:13) they say things in their heart (24:48) which prove their variance with the word on imminence. Their hearts are not right. God's servants, like Daniel Of old (Dan. 1), must have a real heart for their returning Lord.
The Writings of Douglas B. MacCorkle (also
see brief Biography)
Prophetic Peaks, Exposition of the Olivet Discourse. Copyright 1968 by Douglas B. MacCorkle. Third Printing 1972. Printed by Careers With Christ Press, Philadelphia College of Bible, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Printed in the United States of America. Published by the not for profit MacCorkle Bible Ministries, Inc. Books. P.O. 320909, Cocoa Beach, Fl 32932-0909. Used by permission through the generosity of Judith and Ray Naugle.
God's Own VIPS, Copyright 1987 by Douglas B. MacCorkle. MacCorkle Bible Ministries, Inc., Printed in the United States of America. Published by the not for profit MacCorkle Bible Ministries, Inc. Books. P.O. 320909, Cocoa Beach, Fl 32932-0909. Used by permission through the generosity of Judith and Ray Naugle.
Dr. MacCorkle's Books and Study materials on this website are made available here free, through the generosity of Judith and Ray Naugle, and may be copied for use in Bible study groups, in limited numbers, providing that no charge is made for them. No further distribution or use of these materials is allowable under U.S. or International Copyright Law without express permission.
Additional copies of Dr. MacCorkle's books are available from Judy Naugle, 2201 Harmony Hill Dr, Lancaster PA 17601.