Following on the heels of my last post, I was able to contact Ryan Habbena and ask him a few questions about his book, The Parable of the Fig Tree. This question and answer session turned out so good that I want to post it for you readers to show Ryan’s passion for the subject of being prepared for the soon return of Jesus Christ. Everything in orange is me, everything in green is Ryan. The bold and highlighted are actually supplied by me stressing something that I think is especially insightful that Ryan has to offer.
Interview with Ryan Habbena:
Ryan, thank you very much for taking the time to interact with me about your book. I’m very enthused about it since I think it will be a blessing to anyone who takes the time to read it. I wanted to ask you a couple of questions so that readers out there can know where you personally were coming from when you wrote your book. First off, it is not written in an overly scholastic style. As I read, there were a couple of points where I surmised that you had the capability to write about more difficult themes but you were purposefully keeping it simple. Can you tell us why?
That’s actually a very perceptive question. Before I began penning the book, I put myself in a hypothetical position: If knew I was (again, hypothetically) at the threshold of the beginning of the 70th week of Daniel what would I write, and how would I write it? This hypothetical position produced three goals in my writing.
First, I needed to be focused on accurately expounding the biblical texts. Since the word of God is how we are prepared and given guidance, accurately understanding the primary end-times texts (The Olivet Discourse, the Thessalonian epistles, and Revelation) was of first importance.
Second, I sought to widen the audience by not letting the reader get lost in some of the precise theological debates that pepper the rapture question, while still paying attention to sound exposition. This was extremely difficult at times. After writing I would often anticipate a potential objection from a pretribulational or preterist perspective. The temptation was always there to follow that “bunny trail,” but it would have derailed many readers. Judging from the feedback I have received over the last year, the style seems to have largely worked (by His grace, of course).
Third, I sought to biblically exhort the church what needs to be done to prepare for such. In end times literature, the application of Biblical truths is often missed because, as I stated in one chapter, we just think we need to get our “charts” right. However, Christ emphasizes we need to put His teaching into practice. As a pastor, the application was two-fold. Given that there are many unsettling matters that lead to the end of the age, I sought to give true believers comfort in their security in Christ through stressing the Scriptures that teach His sustaining and protective power in tribulation. Assurance will be essential for the time of the end (as it is now). But also, the exhortations to endure and be alert needed to be affirmed. So these were highlighted and stressed.
So these three goals were the driving force behind the writing of the book, and the primary reasons why the book isn’t a scholastic work. There is a place for in-depth scholarly interaction but the goal of this book was, while not sacrificing sound biblical exposition, making the book as accessible as possible to all readers.
Because the fig tree is a parable for us to understand and apply, you take us to several end times passages and point out that there are many things that will happen prior to Christ’s return. Why should Christians be concerned with the signs for Christ’s return? Isn’t God going to take care of us, even if we don’t know a whole lot about the Bible?
God will indeed take care of His children, but we need to heed His word. The prime reason all believers need to be concerned about the signs of Christ’s return, is because He commanded us to. That is what the parable of the fig tree is all about.
There are also instructions from our King to His people in the book of Revelation. We need to both know these commands and pray for the strength to obey them. This goes for both end times theology and theology in general. We are a blessed generation, with virtually unparalleled access to the word of God. We are called by our King to avail ourselves of His word, and this includes reading and heeding His word concerning the end of the age.
You point out that the use of the word “tribulation” is uniform throughout scripture. It always refers to persecution from the world against Christians. More specifically, it never refers to God’s wrath. You took the majority of a chapter to explain this theme. Why do you think this issue is so important?
Just a quick clarification; the word used for “tribulation” in end times contexts is “thlipsis.” It is a general word meaning affliction. In end times contexts it almost always is referring to activity of the world against God’s people – not the day of the Lord wrath (which is what we are promised deliverance from in 1 Thessalonians 5). An exception is 2 Thessalonians 1:6, where Paul poetically is basically saying – “those who are afflicting you, God is going to afflict.” So the source and object affliction is clearly defined by the context in this text.
The fact that the word “tribulation” is virtually always speaking of what the world is doing to believers in end times texts clashes with how the word “tribulation” is used in contemporary eschatology. When I hear the word used in today’s culture it is most often used to speak of a time of God’s wrath from which Christians are promised deliverance. Thus that erroneous definition is then wrongly imported into the texts where the word “tribulation” is used.
Why, then, is this important? Precisely because we need to understand what we are delivered from. We are indeed promised deliverance from God’s end times, “day of the Lord,” wrath. But we are not promised exemption from tribulation. Instead the church should expect it. The early church understood this, as in Acts, Luke chronicled:
After they had preached the gospel to that city and had made many disciples, they returned to Lystra and to Iconium and to Antioch, strengthening the souls of the disciples, encouraging them to continue in the faith, and saying, "Through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God." (Acts 14:21-22)
Much of the church right now is under harsh tribulation. Just prior to His return, tribulation against God’s people will be worldwide – it will be the final and greatest of the “many tribulations” spoken of in Acts 14:22. Since the time preceding the coming of Christ will be marked with harsh persecution and intense deception, we need to be well prepared and equipped with His word. This is why I devote a sizable portion of The Parable of the Fig Tree to highlighting Christ’s exhortations to be both on the alert and ready to endure persecution. We are also to know that tribulation cannot separate us from the love of Christ. Romans 8 gives the word of promise that needs to be anchored in every Christian’s soul.
Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? Just as it is written, "FOR YOUR SAKE WE ARE BEING PUT TO DEATH ALL DAY LONG; WE WERE CONSIDERED AS SHEEP TO BE SLAUGHTERED." But in all these things we overwhelmingly conquer through Him who loved us. (Romans 8:35-37)
You take an entire chapter to solely interact with Preterism. Has this position really entered into our mainstream churches to the point where we should be concerned? How often do you come across this position in your community and in your church?
The preterist position has definitely become more mainstream. In fact, I have witnessed the debate about end times over the last decade has shifted more to whether you are a preterist or a futurist, rather than focusing on millenial positions.
So in short, yes I believe it has entered the mainstream and while it is not near as common as premillenialism, I have increasingly encountered preterism.
The reason why I single it out in The Parable of the Fig Tree is two-fold. First, preterism, like pretribulationism, does not believe the parable of the fig tree is for us to learn and apply (since it has already passed in, and around, A.D. 70). Pretribulatism, of course, believes it is future, but we will not “see all these things” because in their view the church is raptured in between verses 3 and 4 in the Olivet Discourse. So, preterism needed to be engaged, and expositionally overcome for the reader to see why the parable of the fig tree is for us to learn and apply.
Secondly, since the issue of “this generation” not passing away until all these things take place is a significant point in the Olivet Discourse (Matthew 24:34) and really is preterism’s chief text, I perceived the need to correct the preterist (and even traditional futurist) misunderstanding of this text in order to establish that the parable of the fig tree is for us to learn and apply.
In your book, you never name your rapture position. Why didn’t you take one of the popular labels out there to use in your book? Now I know that you are not PreTrib because your position interacts with PreTrib in your book. I really like how you pointed out that there is no confusion between Jesus and the Apostle Paul regarding Christ’s second coming. You also quote favorably from different PreWrath and PostTrib books, even though you don’t name your position. But for my interview, could you tell readers what your rapture position is? And perhaps how you came to that position?
Rather than having the reader thinking in terms of the standard premillenial positions (pretrib, midtrib, posttrib, prewrath) I wanted to distill the issue down to this: Are you listening to our King in learning and applying the parable of the fig tree?
I saw this as an effective way of articulating the view, as the parable of the fig tree is very much a command to learn the events leading to the end and also heed the commands Christ has granted. It also forces the reader to go outside the realm of modern theological positions, and ask themselves “Do I really have enough evidence and reason to not listen to Lord here — to not learn the parable of the fig tree in order to recognize He is near?” Of course, I think the context demands believers read and heed Christ’s words here, learning “all these things” He has outlined, and be prepared to “recognize He is near” when they sprout on the scene of human history.
Given these things, I have no qualms saying that my position matches the central teachings of the prewrath position. I may have some differences with peripheral issues that are more “standard” in the prewrath community. Yet, my end times understanding matches the overall framework of the prewrath position. I came to the position through reading much of the original prewrath materials from VanKampen, Rosenthal, and Cooper. It was the lining up of Matthew 24, 1 and 2 Thessalonians, and the seals of Revelation that I found most compelling, and this really is the heart and framework of the prewrath view, even though there may be disagreements on some of the peripheral points.
I will say that I hold a different view on a minor issue in this book. If I might push your graciousness just a bit and ask what you would say to someone, like myself, with a different view. In Matthew 24:5-8, you see the birth pangs as intense signs just before Christ returns. I see them as ongoing events that occur from the time of Christ until the second coming. Jesus tells us not to be alarmed about these things and distances them from being precursors to the question at hand. You agree with this to some extent since you write,
“in some manner, these events mark the whole age of the church.” So what might you say to someone like myself to try to tip the scales in favor of your position?
As you pointed out, I agree with you that in one manner these mark the whole age of the church. There have been false christs, wars, famines, earthquakes from the first century until now. So yes, they are ongoing. The reason I see “intensified” birthpangs that match Matthew 24 is the correspondence of the first three seals of Revelation, since I see the first seal as the rising of Antichrist. This is the primary reason why I see a heightened application of the birthpangs within the first half of the 70th week. But since they are indeed ongoing, we need to always be on the alert.
We can’t think that when the 70th week starts everyone will “for sure know it,” as I have often heard. Nor are we to fear, as these things “must take place,” but always be on the alert. I am sure you believe that the birthpangs will be continuing up until the midpoint of the seventieth week, so we may be very close theologically on this point, but just are stressing different aspects. I think it is good and profitable to engage these points, even among likeminded believers, as it sharpens our perspective and preparation.
Ryan, thank you very much for not getting discouraged part way through writing your book. It has been a blessing to me personally, and I’m sure many others will be blessed as well. Is there anything you would like to add about the soon return of our LORD Jesus Christ?
Thank you for your kind words. It is certainly humbling to know the Lord is using this work to bring blessing and preparation to His people.
One exhortation to your readers regarding understanding and applying end times texts, is this: Don’t entrust your belief system to other teachers if you are not compelled yourself. I can’t tell you how many times I have engaged in discussing end times theology where people have simply stated (implicitly and explicitly) “If that is what (insert teacher’s name) believes this position, I do as well.” Beliefs have consequences. If a teaching doesn’t make sense, or is not compelling, follow your conscience. If you don’t understand, pursue understanding rather than trusting in another’s work. Have things truly settled in your own mind, and reflect on the biblical consequences.
Also, I would like to exhort those who hold to the prewrath position. I know first hand that it is easy to get frustrated with those that oppose you, especially as often the frustration comes from our fellow heirs of eternal life. Remember we are to pray for strength for what is about to come to pass (Luke 21:36). If our knowledge of the end is correct, we must pray for this strength, not only for ourselves, but also our brothers and sisters who aren’t doing so because of their theological misunderstanding. We are accountable to live in love with whatever truths we are granted by divine grace.
Finally, there is no better, and more succinct, word regarding the end, than the word delivered to us by our magnificent King.
What I say to you, I say to all: Watch! (Mark 13:37)
Thanks so much for taking the time to interview me. Blessings to you as we all watch for the return of our King.
Well there you have it folks. Those of us who look forward to the return of Christ will benefit from having this book on hand. For those who want to bless a friend who believes otherwise, this book engages other views on the simplest level, that of obedience to Christ in Matthew 24:32. Hand it to them, ask them to read with an open mind, and then follow up by asking what they thought. And a heads up for my readers, I’m pretty sure we haven’t heard the last from Ryan Habbena as a prophecy author. So keep your eyes open right here as I will be keeping you informed.
Have fun and stay busy – Luke 19:13
-The Orange Mailman