Thus reads one of the most quoted and most misunderstood sections of scriptural prophecy. Many are the varying beliefs of what Jesus actually meant. However, the answer is not that hard.
What is the context of the verse?
Jesus has been prophesying against the religious leaders of his day (Mat.23:13-36). He lays out some severe punishments for the external religion they practiced- full of pride and arrogance and devoid of any real relationship with God. Then, seemingly without warning, he shifts gears and proclaims both his LOVE for the people of Jerusalem and their impending judgement, due to their lack of responding to him- their Messiah and God!
Note: he speaks to them as GOD, not as a man here- "O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, thou that killest the prophets, and stonest them which are sent unto thee, how often would I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, and ye would not." You can hear the anguish in his voice and see the tears rolling down his cheeks as he loudly proclaims his great love for them! He tells them that he sent prophet after prophet to try and bring them to a place where he could gather them into his protective and loving arms, but they killed his prophets and refused his offers. Now, as God in the flesh- Jesus Christ- he tells them that they have rejected their God as well. His heart is breaking because of his great love for them and their rejection of his love.
His disciples are somewhat taken aback at his outburst. Almost like any caring child would do, they seek to cheer Jesus up by pointing out the great beauty of the temple of God. "Look, daddy, can't you see the wonderful temple of God? Cheer up." For centuries, this temple had stood as a reminder of the special relationship of the Jews to their God. Millions had gained courage and cheer by observing it's great walls and remembering the promises it represented.
But Jesus was not any ordinary man. He was God almighty and he knew full well what was to come in the future, due to the disobedience of "Abraham's children". He shocks the disciples further by refusing their offered comfort and proclaiming the destruction of the temple that they were so proud of. It's as if he's asking them, "Don't you understand? Can't you see the destruction that will come because of their disobedience?"
The disciples are absolutely stunned at this revelation. Shaken to their core, they then ask Jesus 3 questions: 1)"When shall these things be?" 2) "What shall be the sign of thy coming?" 3) "And of the end of the world?" Jesus then gives an incredible chapter: He lays out a basic time frame of the order in which things will happen - from their day until his second coming. All those who wish to understand when prophesies occur, and in what order, would do well to use Jesus' own blueprint!
He warns of the deceptions to come (verses 4-5), increasing wars - both numbers and intensity (verses 6-7), increasing diseases and natural disasters (verse 7), and then says, "That's only the beginning"(verse 8). He warns of the many martyrs that will be made (the disciples and the millions that have died for him through the ages) (verses 9-10). He tells them that many false prophets will come and deceive many (verse 11). The love of men's hearts will grow cold, but if his people can keep his love alive in their hearts and lives, they will be saved (Verses 12-13). The Gospel of the kingdom (1 Cor 15:1-4, 2 Thes. 1:7-10, Acts 2:38) shall be preached (to cry, as a town cryer) in ALL the world (the land, the terrain part of the globe, specifically, the Roman Empire) for a witness (testimony) unto all the nations , THEN shall the end come (verse 14).
He then warns of the great tribulation to come (the final 3 1/2 years before his second coming), that begins with the Abomination of desolations (verses 15- 28, Daniel 9:27, 2 Thes. 2:3-4). Most importantly, to me, he then says the the rapture and his return both happen AFTER (or at the end of) the great tribulation (verses 29-31).
This ends his teaching of the times, but he then begins to help them put things into context by giving them the "parable of the fig tree". He says that just as you, when you see a fig tree bloom, you know that summer is near, "LIKEWISE, when ye see these things (what things? Israels rebirth? NO! Though it is prophesied in other scripture passages, Jesus did not even mention Israel here. So, what are the things we are to be looking for? The things he discussed in Mat. 24: 4-29! ) know that it (the return)is near, even at the door. Verily I say unto you, this generation (what generation? the generation that is alive when these things (4-29) are happening) shall not pass, till all things be fulfilled. (verses 32-34).
Those that try and point to the "fig tree" as being Israel, have NO SCRIPTURAL BASIS. They are simply reading into it something that strikes their fancy and sounds neat. However nice it may sound, it is not truth!
Israel became a nation again in 1948. That's 61 years ago. Chances are high that should Jesus decide not to return for another 30 years (I'm not saying that is the case, it's his choice), that whole generation of people who were alive on the earth at the time will be dead. How many people would be turned away from the Bible and call it a false book, because of the false understanding of "the fig tree" parable? That's why I'm writing this blog. The simple reading of the text tells you that this parable is referring to the prophetic scriptures listed before the parable (verses 4-29). Jesus says what he means and means what he says!