Timing of the Tribulation

The issue of timing has

Timing of the Tribulation

Screenshot20120804at12752PMTiming - a highly controversial issue

The article reprinted here is taken from the pamphlet What the Bible Says about These Days Vol II - a copy of which you can request free of charge by e-mailing us. Be sure to tell us your mailing address when requesting it.

Now learn a parable of the fig tree; When his branch is yet tender, and puts forth leaves, you know that summer is close at hand:

So likewise you, when you shall see all these things, know that it is near, even at the doors.

Matthew 24:32-33

Bear in mind that Jesus has just finished a long description of the Tribulation - with a special emphasis on the signs that will herald its approach.  Why the emphasis on signs?  Because that's what prompted the disciples to question Jesus in the first place.

And as he sat upon the Mount of Olives, the disciples came unto him privately, saying, Tell us, when shall these things be? and what shall be the sign of thy coming, and of the end of the world?

Matthew 24:3

In light of the context, then, the fig tree here in verses 32 and 33 symbolizes the entire complex of signs Jesus has just spelled out for the disciples - and its branches symbolize each of the specific signs.  When, therefore, the branches begin to bud and leaves begin to sprout - meaning the signs begin to appear - both The Tribulation and The Second Coming are fast approaching.

It's important to note that Jesus uses the word "summer," a whole season, to depict the notion of timing here in verse 32 - nothing more specific than that. 

... you know that summer is close at hand

Matthew 24:32

... and that's in keeping with what Jesus tells his disciples later on in verse 36 - where he makes it clear that God won't reveal the exact timing - its day and hour.

But of that day and hour knows no man ...

Matthew 24:36

Macro not Micro

In short, the signs Jesus has delineated are "macro," not "micro." That doesn't mean, however, that the word "summer" - a season - in verse 32 leaves us to drift about in a sea of ambiguity.  That's because verse 33 narrows its definition considerably...

So likewise you, when you shall see all these things, know that it is near, even at the doors.

Matthew 24:33

We know, then, that at the very least the word "summer"- depicting a whole season - means "even at the doors."  That brings us to Matthew 24:34. 

Verily I say unto you, This generation shall not pass, till all these things be fulfilled.

Matthew 24:34

The word "generation" has stirred up a great deal of controversy - some of it rather heated.  And that's because it's a very elastic term - and often indicates different time-spans.  In some passages, it delimits a forty year span of time (e.g., Numbers 32:13); in other passages, it is reckoned at one hundred and twenty years (Genesis 15:13-16); in still other passages, twenty years is indicated, and, last of all, in others, Screenshot20120804at40101PMit simply means  "contemporaries." 

But whatever its meaning in other passages of scripture, its meaning here in verse 34 is obviously controlled by verse 33.  In short, just as the word "summer" in verse 32 is controlled by the phrase "even at the doors" in verse 33, so too is the word "generation" in verse 34.  All three terms are clearly commensurate with each other - meaning they're by and large synonymous. 

The bottom line is obvious: when the signs Jesus spells out in Matthew 24 begin to appear, The Tribulation and The Second Coming are just over the horizon. Then, to emphasize their reliability, Jesus goes on to say...

Heaven and earth shall pass away, but my words shall not pass away.

Matthew 24:35

Clearly, Jesus wants the church to lend credibility to the signs he has just delineated.  He's saying, "You can count on these signs to mean precisely what I've indicated - that when they appear, The Tribulation and the Second Coming are just over the hill."

However, in the very next verse, as we've already noted, he goes on to stress that the signs are "macro," not "micro" - that they delimit seasons, not days and hours.

But of that day and hour knoweth no man, no not the angels in heaven, but my father only.

Matthew 24:36

Both Predictable and Unpredictable

The macro nature of the signs means the timing of The Tribulation is both predictable and unpredictable - meaning once the signs begin to appear we can know generally that The Tribulation is about to occur, but not exactly.

The End is near; that's incontrovertible;

  • when precisely it will occur, we don't know;
  • but that it will and that it's very near at hand, THAT we do know.