There are quite a number of interesting things to consider in Jesus' instructions here. First, this is not instruction given generally to the public, but rather it was directly to His disciples. Second, He says that we should know from the signs given that His return is near. Our predictions may not be specifically accurate, but at least in the ballpark—near. Third, He emphasizes the element of surprise, even terrifying surprise. The impression is that the world will be taken completely by surprise. Fourth, the overall point of this instruction is that by being alert to the signs and taking advantage of them, we should be ready. The fifth is a final warning in verse 44, because He feared that even the attention, the alertness of His disciples, would be threatened: "Therefore be you also ready: for in such an hour as you think not the Son of man comes."
Are we getting anxious about Christ's return? I do not mean anxious in a sense of being fearful, but anxious in terms of seeing it come to pass. First, because things are getting so bad one wonders at times whether it can get much worse, and yet we know that it can. Second, as a result of the pressures of enduring life, there is some measure of concerned anxiety because the end seems to be taking so long to come to pass. We are undoubtedly in "the time of the end," but at the same time we feel that we have been on the gun lap a very long time.
Part of our anticipation exists because we have had it drilled in our minds to watch for certain events to happen. Sometimes it looks as though those events indeed are coming to pass, and right now some of the more important events we had drilled into our minds just are not happening in a clearly visible way. If they are, they are being worked out in a way that we are not prepared for, and therefore probably do not see.
Jesus meant this admonition in the sense of a soldier on guard duty, alert to what is going on around him, and so watch we do! But what if our point of view—the perspective we are looking from—is not correct? We might be alert, diligently and sincerely looking in that direction, but at best, we are only getting a part of the picture. We might be likened to a soldier on guard duty who is alert, but looking in the wrong direction, and so the enemy sneaks up from a blind spot and surprises him, despite him looking intensely in a particular direction.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Where Is the Beast? (Part One)
A parable is a story drawn from human experience that has a higher spiritual meaning. This is its principal purpose, just as a psalm is primarily intended to praise God. This does not exclude its use for other ends. God creates most things with multiple functions, and the various parts of His Word are not exceptions.
The Parable of the Fig Tree is a good example. It both teaches a universal principle and prophesies of the coming Kingdom of God. As further proof of this parable's prophetic nature, Jesus gives it in the midst of the Olivet Prophecy! He has just listed several signs of His second coming, and He presents this parable to key us in on their time element. Notice He says, "when they are already budding," meaning that the events that signal His return will be happening—in motion—before we realize how close we are to the end!
Richard T. Ritenbaugh
Parables and Prophecy
What Does Jesus Mean by the Parable of the Fig Tree (Matthew 24:32)?
Some have thought—incorrectly—that Jesus is saying that the seasons are indistinguishable except by the budding of trees. Notice what Jesus actually says in Matthew 24:32: "Now learn this parable from the fig tree: When its branch has already become tender and puts forth leaves, you know that summer is near." He is simply using the budding of the fig tree to illustrate a point about His second coming.
When spring comes and the trees put out new leaves, we know that summer is not far off. In the same way, we will know Christ's return is near when we see the events He mentions earlier in the chapter begin to occur. Verse 33 provides the key to His parable: "So you also, when you see all these things [described in verses 4-29], know that it [Christ's second coming] is near, at the very doors."
Nevertheless, Jesus warns that we will only know the approximate time of His return, that is, that it is close. He says in verse 36: "But of that day and hour no one knows, no, not even the angels of heaven, but My Father only." We believe that time is quickly approaching, but we have no idea how soon it will be. The best approach is contained in the apostle Paul's admonition to the Romans: "And do this [live godly], knowing the time, that now it is high time to awake out of sleep; for now our salvation is nearer than when we first believed." If we live as if Christ will come tomorrow, we will always be striving to be prepared for it.
This Generation Shall Not Pass
Why Isn't Harold Camping Right?
Is the Kingdom of God Within You?
A Swift End
Caught Up in the Rapture
Not One Stone Upon Another
Other Forerunner Commentary entries containing Matthew 24:32: