29 Then he gave them this illustration: “Notice the fig tree, or any other tree. 30 When the leaves come out, you know without being told that summer is near. 31 In the same way, when you see all these things taking place, you can know that the Kingdom of God is near. 32 I tell you the truth, this generation will not pass from the scene until all these things have taken place. 33 Heaven and earth will disappear, but my words will never disappear.
34 Watch out! Don’t let your hearts be dulled by carousing and drunkenness, and by the worries of this life. Don’t let that day catch you unaware, 35 like a trap. For that day will come upon everyone living on the earth. 36 Keep alert at all times. And pray that you might be strong enough to escape these coming horrors and stand before the Son of Man.”
37 Every day Jesus went to the Temple to teach, and each evening he returned to spend the night on the Mount of Olives. 38 The crowds gathered at the Temple early each morning to hear him.
I think there are two (complementary) ways we can take the little parable at the beginning of this passage. The most direct is that the signs of what Jesus was just prophesying about, the fall of Jerusalem and (separately) the end times, will be as obvious as the leaves on a tree. Everyone will be able to read and understand those signs. No special or secret knowledge will be required. No elaborate schemes of taking select passages from Daniel, and then Revelation, then a verse from Paul and a verse from Peter… all of that (yes, Tim LaHaye, I’m looking at you) is utter nonsense and is closer to the heresy of Gnosticism than legitimate biblical interpretation and application.
The second meaning I think is possible is that the other signs – the ones that show the kingdom has come – are just as obvious. When the ‘not yet’ comes around we will know, when the ‘already’ shows up, we know that too. Or at least we should. Just like with the Left Behind fiction, we can get distracted with what constitutes the kingdom now. There are a lot of flashy, noisy, flamboyant expressions of “spirituality,” and there is a big focus on signs in those circles. But I’m not sure they are signs of the kingdom. In my experience (hey, I grew up Pentecostal), that stuff doesn’t tend to make the heart more sensitive, but usually the opposite. Too much noise and you start to lose your hearing (hey, I’m a bass player). Too much religious carousing dulls the heart.
Signs of the kingdom come now are: people being healed – as in we can get verification from a doctor they were actually healed; lives being transformed – as in we live in relationship with people over a long period of time and we see them become better people, more loving, more kind, more free of addictions, more patient, having more self-control; people living together in community – as in they learn to trust each other (enough to bear with each other’s differences), hope for each other to become the best they can be (respecting each one’s transformational journey), and love each other, which means equality and servant leadership are practiced (and I mean really practiced, not just given lip service). Signs like these make the kingdom obvious to all.
Think about what signs you and your community are giving off. Also think about the command Jesus gives here: look out, keep your heart alert and focused. Don’t let it become dull. What makes your heart dull? Carousing (religious or carnal), drunkenness (I think we can safely add other forms of chemical addictions), and the cares of this life (same phrase Luke used in the parable of the sower – the weeds choke out the word of God). These are very different things but they share one thing in common – they dull the heart. They make your heart numb and insensitive to the kingdom. You can’t sense the Spirit’s nudge to pray for someone when your heart is dull. You can’t as readily participate in the kingdom. You are less able to feel the Holy Spirit convicting you. Keep away from what dulls your heart. If you aren’t sure what things dull your heart, ask God to clarify. Then wait quietly, ready to write down the list you will get. Deal with the list. Keep your heart ready to do kingdom work, ready for the kingdom to come, both now and at the end.
New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible. New Living Translation copyright© 1996, 2004, 2007 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale HousePublishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.