Noted for drawing illustrations from everyday occurences, Jesus doesn't dissappoint in this Discourse. Here, He refers to the fig tree that may have been visible before them as He spoke. The illustration is straight forward as Jesus compares the natural growth pattern of the fig tree to the inevitable fruition of His prophetic utterances. The prophetic 'signs' He has just enumerated are as the leaves of the tree. When you see them come forth, you can know that His coming is near ... 'right at the door'!
Of interest is Jesus' statement that 'this generation will not pass away until all these things take place'. It has been interpreted in several ways including:
1. The generation of people listening to Him will live to see the complete fulfillment of all the prophecies.
2. The people of Israel will continue to survive and see the fulfillment of all the prophecies.
3. The generation that is alive when the prophecies begin to occur will live to see their complete fulfillment.
4. This 'age' will not end until all the prophecies are fulfilled.
An examination of how Jesus used the word 'generation' favors the first interpretation. However, did the disciples listening to Christ at that moment really live to see their complete fulfillment? In a way, yes, for they did experience intense persecution at the hands of the Jewish leaders and Romans. And some of them were certainly alive when Jerusalem was ransacked and the Temple dismantled in 70AD, 40 years later. But did they see Christ return in the clouds in glory and power? Or the sun darkened, moon dimmed and stars fall from the sky? Or even the Rapture of the elect 'from one end of the sky to the other'?
Most students would say 'no', especially if we're talking about a literal fulfillment. But sometimes prophecies are fulfilled in ways that are not obvious, such as Malachi's prophecy that Elijah would appear before the coming of Christ (Malachi 4:5). At His first coming, Jesus said Elijah had come in the person of John the Baptist (Matthew 11:14). There is every indication from Revelation 11 that Elijah will come again, as one of the two witnesses, before Jesus returns.
Many prophecies fit this pattern of a double fulfillment, the first one foreshadowing the second. For example, Old Testament prophecies describe the destruction of Jerusalem just prior to the second coming of Christ (Zechariah 14) which was foreshadowed by the ransacking of the city in 70AD. As far as the appearing of Christ, He will come to judge those who will not receive Him as Savior and LORD. In light of this, Preterists (who believe all the prophecies of Matthew 24 and Revelation were fulfilled by 70AD) believe Jesus did come in judgment of Israel through the Roman army, though the next time, He will return in person in judgment of the entire world! Matthew 24 foretells both events!