A Lesson from a Tree

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Reading the Word

Matthew 24:32–36 (ESV)

32 “From the fig tree learn its lesson: as soon as its branch becomes tender and puts out its leaves, you know that summer is near. 33 So also, when you see all these things, you know that he is near, at the very gates. 34 Truly, I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things take place. 35 Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away. 36 “But concerning that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father only.

Parallel Texts: Mark 13:28-32; Luke 21:29-33

Understanding and Applying the Word

I live in the Michigan, where we love the change of the seasons. In our area of the country, we experience all four seasons in full force, from the hot and humid days of summer to the frigid cold of winter. With each change in season, there are telltale signs that a change is in process. My personal favorite takes place in the fall when the air becomes cooler and the leaves on our beautiful hardwood trees display an array of colors before dropping. It is easy to know that summer is over and winter is coming soon.

Jesus used the example of a fig tree to teach his followers about preparing for his return. When a fig tree puts out its leaves, you know that summer is near. Just like reading the signs of the changing seasons, we can read the signs of the times to know that Jesus is coming soon. Jesus said, “When you see all of these things, you know that he is near, at the very gates.” The things Jesus referred to are the ones listed in the previous verses (vv. 4-25).

We must be careful in how we read these words of Jesus. It was not his intention tell us to watch for signs and create charts and calendars to figure out the timing of his return. He explicitly stated that no one knows the time, but the Father. Jesus’ purpose was to reassure his disciples that they could trust that he would return. “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away,” he said. We can count on Jesus’ promise to return. His word stands forever. Let us be ready and let us serve him in confidence while we wait!

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The Heavens Will Be Shaken

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Reading the Word

Matthew 24:29–31 (ESV)

29 “Immediately after the tribulation of those days the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken. 30 Then will appear in heaven the sign of the Son of Man, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. 31 And he will send out his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other.

Parallel Texts: Mark 13:24-27; Luke 21:25-28

Understanding and Applying the Word

Jesus described what it will be like when he returns. The heavens will be shaken and when the Son of Man appears in power and glory, the nations will mourn. Why will they mourn? The world will realize that the gospel that has been proclaimed and denied is true and that the opportunity for salvation has passed. Jesus will send out his angels to gather those who are his.

We must realize that time is running out. As Christians, we have to understand the urgency in preaching the message of salvation and the coming kingdom. Our families’, friends’, and neighbors’ eternities depend on hearing the gospel from us. If you do not know the Lord, today is the day to reconcile with God while there is still opportunity. He sent his Son to pay the price for our sin. We must repent and turn to Christ for forgiveness and life. God has shown us his love and grace in Christ. Turn to him today.

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It Will Not Be a Secret

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Reading the Word

Matthew 24:23–28 (ESV)

23 Then if anyone says to you, ‘Look, here is the Christ!’ or ‘There he is!’ do not believe it. 24 For false christs and false prophets will arise and perform great signs and wonders, so as to lead astray, if possible, even the elect. 25 See, I have told you beforehand. 26 So, if they say to you, ‘Look, he is in the wilderness,’ do not go out. If they say, ‘Look, he is in the inner rooms,’ do not believe it. 27 For as the lightning comes from the east and shines as far as the west, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. 28 Wherever the corpse is, there the vultures will gather.

Parallel Texts: Mark 13:21-23; Luke 17:23-24

Understanding and Applying the Word

In the days and years leading up to Jesus’ return to this earth, there will be many who will make claims that he has already come when he has not. There will also be those who claim to be him. Jesus warned his followers so that they will be on their guard and not fooled by such false claims. He assured his disciples that when he returns it will be a highly visible event that everyone will see. It will be on par with lightning flashing from the east all the way to the west. It will be known. It will not be a secret event.

Throughout history, there have been false claims by those who say they are Jesus and there have been false teachers who have made the claim that Jesus has already returned, but people missed it. Jesus’ words in today’s reading assure us that he has not returned. We have not missed it. Jesus will come again in the future for his people and it will be a grand event that everyone will know about.

As Jesus’ followers living in today’s word, our responsibility is to continue to proclaim the Good News of salvation through Jesus’ death and resurrection. We must continue to proclaim that Jesus has promised to return for his people and to judge evil. We do not know when that day will be, but we know it is future and it could occur at any moment. We must be ready.

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There Will Be Great Tribulation

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Reading the Word

Matthew 24:15–22 (ESV)

15 “So when you see the abomination of desolation spoken of by the prophet Daniel, standing in the holy place (let the reader understand), 16 then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains. 17 Let the one who is on the housetop not go down to take what is in his house, 18 and let the one who is in the field not turn back to take his cloak. 19 And alas for women who are pregnant and for those who are nursing infants in those days! 20 Pray that your flight may not be in winter or on a Sabbath. 21 For then there will be great tribulation, such as has not been from the beginning of the world until now, no, and never will be. 22 And if those days had not been cut short, no human being would be saved. But for the sake of the elect those days will be cut short.

Parallel Texts: Mark 13:14-20; Luke 21:20-24

Understanding and Applying the Word

In this passage, Jesus speaks of the future time preceding his return (cf. vv. 29-31). He refers to the Book of Daniel and mentions an “abomination of desolation”. In 167 B.C., Antiochus IV Epiphanes desecrated the Jewish temple by setting up an altar to Zeus and sacrificing pigs on the altar. Daniel 8 speaks of that event, but Jesus speaks of another, future event. He describes it as a time of “great tribulation such as has not been from the beginning of the world until now.” It will be a time foreshadowed by Antiochus, but it will be much worse. During that time, believers will suffer greatly.

As bad as it will be, Jesus assures his followers that evil will not win the day. Christ will return and end the suffering of his people. He will defeat the tyrant, who is known as the Antichrist, and he will establish his own kingdom.

As those who belong to Christ, believers may sometimes become concerned with the way the world seems to be heading. We may wonder if the end is near and if persecution will increase for Christians. We know that our brothers and sisters around the globe often find themselves in great difficulty because of their faith. What should we do?

Christ’s words here should encourage us. Evil may continue for a time. It may even become extremely great. But God has a plan. The days will be cut short. Christ will return and defeat his enemies and the enemies of his people. We must find strength and confidence in these promises as we pray for our fellow believers in the line of fire and as we pray for our Lord’s coming.

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The Gospel Will Be Proclaimed

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Shaped by the Word is a daily, Bible-reading devotional. I do not publish supplemental material on Sundays, but I do include a suggested Scripture reading. Please be sure to subscribe to this page so you can follow along every day. We are currently reading through the life of Jesus Christ.

Reading the Word

Matthew 24:9–14 (ESV)

9 “Then they will deliver you up to tribulation and put you to death, and you will be hated by all nations for my name’s sake. 10 And then many will fall away and betray one another and hate one another. 11 And many false prophets will arise and lead many astray. 12 And because lawlessness will be increased, the love of many will grow cold. 13 But the one who endures to the end will be saved. 14 And this gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.

Parallel Texts: Mark 13:9-13; Luke 21:12-19

Wars and Rumors of Wars

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Reading the Word

Matthew 24:3–8 (ESV)

3 As he sat on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to him privately, saying, “Tell us, when will these things be, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?” 4 And Jesus answered them, “See that no one leads you astray. 5 For many will come in my name, saying, ‘I am the Christ,’ and they will lead many astray. 6 And you will hear of wars and rumors of wars. See that you are not alarmed, for this must take place, but the end is not yet. 7 For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom, and there will be famines and earthquakes in various places. 8 All these are but the beginning of the birth pains.

Parallel Texts: Mark 13:3-8; Luke 21:7-11

Understanding and Applying the Word

Matthew 24 begins what is commonly referred to as the Olivet Discourse. The discourse runs to the end of Matthew 25 and gets its name from the location of Jesus’ teaching, the Mount of Olives. In these chapters, Jesus’ instruction is in response to his disciples’ questions regarding the coming of the last days (cf. Matthew 24:3). The topic of the end times is one that raises much interest and much speculation still today. It is important for us to read the words of Jesus and understand what Scripture says on this subject.

Jesus told his disciples that there would be those who would come and claim to be the Christ (or “Messiah” in Hebrew). Jesus’ followers must not be fooled by counterfeits. There will also be much conflict (“wars and rumors of wars”) and many natural disasters in the days leading up to the time of the end. However, those things do not mean that the end has dawned. They are simply the beginnings of birth pains that will later lead to the birth of the last days. Wars and disasters, as we see throughout history, are a common theme in our world and remind us that something is very very wrong with this world.

Scripture’s description of the last days fascinates many, but we must keep in mind the primary points that we can know about it. It will be a terrible time. It will be a time unlike any other in history. God’s people will face severe persecution under the rule of one who makes himself as a god. However, as bad as it will be, it will come to an end. Jesus Christ will return and will defeat his enemies and also gather his people. The Lord has promised that sin and evil will be judged and that the people of God will find rest in his presence for eternity. We can find strength and encouragement today knowing that the trials we face are temporary and that our God’s plans are in place, even if we have not been given all the details we would like. Let us find our hope in the words and promises of our Savior who is risen and coming again!

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True Religion

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Reading the Word

Matthew 24:1–2 (ESV)

1 Jesus left the temple and was going away, when his disciples came to point out to him the buildings of the temple. 2 But he answered them, “You see all these, do you not? Truly, I say to you, there will not be left here one stone upon another that will not be thrown down.”

Parallel Texts: Mark 13:1-2; Luke 21:5-6

Understanding and Applying the Word

The temple in Jerusalem was the center of Judaism. It reminded the people of their special relationship with God, who had chosen them through Abraham and brought them out of Egypt through Moses. It reminded the people that the land that they lived in was given to them by the Lord. The temple was the center of Jewish worship and was the place where God had graced the Jewish people with his unique presence. The temple was a grand building and was the pride and joy of the Jewish people. It is no surprise that Jesus’ disciples would comment on the greatness of the structure and be in awe of its size and beauty.

Jesus’ response to the disciples concerning the temple probably was surprising. As the disciples spoke glowingly of the greatness of the temple, Jesus told them that it was going to be destroyed. There would not be one stone left on another. The words of Jesus were fulfilled in A.D. 70 when the Romans entered Jerusalem to put down a revolt. The temple was destroyed in the process.

The disciples, and the Jewish people, saw the temple as the center of their religion. However, Jesus consistently taught that the religious leaders and the religious practices of Judaism had become empty and meaningless. There was no spiritual substance to their religion, only external ritual and show. The temple was going to be destroyed and religious practice would never be the same. This would serve as a reminder that our religion means nothing if it does not issue forth from the depths of our hearts. Our worship must come from changed lives and love for God. Fancy buildings and external rituals are worthless without a heart devoted to the Lord.

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A Poor Widow’s Offering

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Reading the Word

Mark 12:41–44 (ESV)

41 And he sat down opposite the treasury and watched the people putting money into the offering box. Many rich people put in large sums. 42 And a poor widow came and put in two small copper coins, which make a penny. 43 And he called his disciples to him and said to them, “Truly, I say to you, this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the offering box. 44 For they all contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on.”

Parallel Text: Luke 21:1-4

Understanding and Applying the Word

In today’s passage we read of a woman who gave “two small copper coins, which make a penny.” The coins that are mentioned are lepta. A lepton was a Jewish coin worth about 1/128th of a day’s wage. So, two coins would have only been worth about 1/64th of a daily wage. The two coins were of a very small value. They were insignificant by worldly standards.

Jesus commented on the woman’s offering and remarked that the woman had given more than the rich people who put in large sums. Why did he say this? Because the rich gave out of their excess. It was easy for them to give the amounts they did. They would never miss it! However, the woman was poor and gave all that she had to live on. Her gift was truly sacrificial and revealed what was truly valuable to her.

It is a well-known saying: “Show me what a person spends his money on and I will tell you what is truly important to him.” What would our financial records reveal about us. Do we put God and his kingdom first, or are we only ready and willing to give out of our excess? How we use our money, possessions, and time truly reveals what is most important to us.

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As a Hen Gathers Her Brood

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Reading the Word

Matthew 23:37–39 (ESV)

37 “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing! 38 See, your house is left to you desolate. 39 For I tell you, you will not see me again, until you say, ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.’ ”

Parallel Text: Luke 13:34-35

Understanding and Applying the Word

After pronouncing woes on the Pharisees and scribes in the previous verses, Jesus laments over the people of Israel. Jerusalem was the city chosen by God to make his presence specially known to his people through the temple and the worship surrounding it. It was the place, more than any other, that was centered on the word of God and was the pride of the nation because it was the city of the Lord.

Jerusalem, the city of God, had become the city that killed the prophets. The people had closed their ears to the word of God and rejected those God had sent to speak to them. As a result, city and the people would be judged. Jesus proclaimed, “How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!” In these words we see the Lord’s compassion for the people in the pronouncement of judgment. We also see Jesus’ claim to be more than just another prophet. He claimed to be the one who had been desiring to gather the people. e sent the prophets who had been rejected and now he had also been rejected.

Jesus’ last words look forward to a future time when the people of God will be gathered together and will be in the presence of Jesus. Christ will one day come again and believers from every tribe and nation will be gathered to be with him for eternity. In that day, it will be those who have heard the prophetic word of the written Scriptures and responded in faith who will be gathered together under the wings of Christ. Even now, Jesus calls to us with compassion and desires for us to find shelter in him. Will you go to him?

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Don’t Be a Hypocrite

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Understanding the Word

Matthew 23:13–36 (ESV)

13 “But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you shut the kingdom of heaven in people’s faces. For you neither enter yourselves nor allow those who would enter to go in. 15 Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you travel across sea and land to make a single proselyte, and when he becomes a proselyte, you make him twice as much a child of hell as yourselves.

16 “Woe to you, blind guides, who say, ‘If anyone swears by the temple, it is nothing, but if anyone swears by the gold of the temple, he is bound by his oath.’ 17 You blind fools! For which is greater, the gold or the temple that has made the gold sacred? 18 And you say, ‘If anyone swears by the altar, it is nothing, but if anyone swears by the gift that is on the altar, he is bound by his oath.’ 19 You blind men! For which is greater, the gift or the altar that makes the gift sacred? 20 So whoever swears by the altar swears by it and by everything on it. 21 And whoever swears by the temple swears by it and by him who dwells in it. 22 And whoever swears by heaven swears by the throne of God and by him who sits upon it.

23 “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness. These you ought to have done, without neglecting the others. 24 You blind guides, straining out a gnat and swallowing a camel!

25 “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you clean the outside of the cup and the plate, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. 26 You blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and the plate, that the outside also may be clean.

27 “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs, which outwardly appear beautiful, but within are full of dead people’s bones and all uncleanness. 28 So you also outwardly appear righteous to others, but within you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness.

29 “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you build the tombs of the prophets and decorate the monuments of the righteous, 30 saying, ‘If we had lived in the days of our fathers, we would not have taken part with them in shedding the blood of the prophets.’ 31 Thus you witness against yourselves that you are sons of those who murdered the prophets. 32 Fill up, then, the measure of your fathers. 33 You serpents, you brood of vipers, how are you to escape being sentenced to hell? 34 Therefore I send you prophets and wise men and scribes, some of whom you will kill and crucify, and some you will flog in your synagogues and persecute from town to town, 35 so that on you may come all the righteous blood shed on earth, from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah the son of Barachiah, whom you murdered between the sanctuary and the altar. 36 Truly, I say to you, all these things will come upon this generation.

Understanding and Applying the Word

After warning his disciples about the Pharisees and scribes in the first twelve verses, Jesus turned to the religious leaders and told them what he thought of their religion. Jesus pulled no punches and repeatedly called the scribes and Pharisees “hypocrites.” Even today, no one would like to be labeled in this way. In Greek culture, the word hypocrite was used to speak of the actor who played many roles in stage performances. An actor would change roles by simply changing masks.

In calling the Pharisees and scribes hypocrites, Jesus condemned them for saying and teaching one thing, but living differently. Often, their external actions may have seemed holy and righteous, but their true inner identities were far from what their external actions indicated. All they did was for religious observance or to be noticed by others. They were not sincere followers of God who were motivated by love. The danger in their teaching and in their own lives was that it was easy to mistake external rule keeping with true devotion to the Lord.

We must be careful even today that we do not fall into the mistake and trap of these leaders. Religious observance for the sake of religion does not please God. Our Lord desires worshipers who follow and obey out of love and a sincere heart. This is only possible when we realize we cannot do that on our own and that we need the Lord to change us from the inside out. When we repent of our sin and call out to be saved, God pours out his Spirit into our lives and gives us new life as a new creation. Through our transformed life and the continual presence of the Holy Spirit, we are able to love the Lord and worship him in sincerity.

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