I. Recognize the signs that the end is near (28-32)
II. Be on the alert (33-37)
I. Verses 28-31
What parable is Jesus referring to here?
What signs are there on a fig tree that the summer is near?
How does this parable relate to Jesus’ coming again?
What are the signs that Jesus’ coming is near?
What does “this generation” refer to in verse 30?
Are heaven and earth really going to pass away? What other Scriptures refer to this? Then what?
How about Jesus’ words? Why is this important?
Knowing that Jesus’ words will not pass away, what application is there for us?
2 Peter 3:3-15 – Peter describes the Lord’s patience in waiting, the destruction of the elements by fire, and how we should act knowing this is going to happen.
Revelation 21:1 – There will be a new heaven and a new earth.
Isaiah 65:17 – God will create a new heaven and a new earth.
Isaiah 40:8 – The grass withers and the flowers fall, but the Word of the Lord endures forever.
John 1:1 – The Word became flesh.
2 Timothy 3:2 – Describes how people will act in the latter days.
Mark 13:30, “Truly I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things take place.”
The problem: Many liberal theologians, atheists, and skeptics look at this verse and use it to say that Jesus was fallible and therefore not divine. It is interesting to note, that these same people tell us that the Bible has been changed and is therefore not reliable. Except in this case they would say it does reliably represent what Jesus said because they think it makes Jesus look bad. However, we do believe in the inspiration and the infallibility of the Bible and therefore we must solve this presumed problem which revolves around the question, “What does this generation refer to?”
Many possible interpretations have been proposed for what this verse means. I will list the most common ones here.
A. This generation does actually mean the generation who was alive when Jesus was talking. But the “these things” referred to in Mark 13 all refer to the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70. Some would say that it was at this time that Jesus returned spiritually. The problem is that some events in this chapter clearly did not happen in AD 70, most notably Mark 13:24-26 including the cosmic signs and Jesus coming in the clouds with great glory. By trying to solve the generation problem in this way, they create an even more difficult dilemma.
B. The word for generation (genea) and race (genos) are very similar. Jesus is saying that the Jewish race will not pass away until He has returned. This would seem to make some sense since the Jewish race has been in danger a few times in history and faced many persecutions. Yet the two words are different and there is no compelling reason to think that the meaning suddenly changes here in this verse, but not in other places where it is referred to (Matthew 1:17; 11:16; 12:39, 41, 42, 45; 16:4; 17:17; 23:36; 24:34; Mark 8:12, 38; 9:19; 13:30; Luke 1:48, 50; 7:31; 9:41; 11:29, 30, 31, 32, 50, 51;18:8; 17:25; 21:32).
C. Some scholars say that the fig tree is a symbol for the nation of Israel. Indeed sometimes in the Bible it is. They would say that this generation refers to the generation alive at the time when the Jewish nation was formed again (1948). This view was especially popular 20 years ago as many predicted that Christ would return soon before that generation passed away. It is still technically possible. The problem is that this passage does not mention at all the re-founding of the nation of Israel and makes no actual connection to the generation alive at that time and this generationmentioned here.
D. Another proposed solution is that this generation refers not to the generation alive during Jesus’ day, but to the generation who sees “these things” happening (verse 29). This interpretation not only makes logical sense, but it also makes sense within the context. Considering the parable of the fig tree, Jesus’ point is that when all of these signs are seen, He is coming very soon just like the summer is near when the fig tree sprouts its leaves.
So what are the various signs in this chapter? False prophets, false christs, wars, earthquakes, famines, heavy persecution, betrayals by family members, the abomination of desolation, false christs performing signs and wonders, cosmic signs such as the sun being darkened and the moon not giving its light, and stars falling from the heavens. These are all of the signs mentioned in this chapter leading up to the event of Jesus’ actual return.
Have you seen them all? No! We have seen some of them (the beginnings of the birth pangs), but we have not seen all. Jesus is saying that the generation who sees all of these signs should know that the end is very near and He is right at the door. Although there will be heavy persecution and the death rate will be astronomical, some who live at that time will not die, but will live to see Jesus’ actual return (see also 13:13).
Looking at the context, it is important to remember that Jesus’ main point is not about the timing of these events. It is about the certaintyof these events and the need to be ready. These words are not only a reminder to be alert to the generation who sees these things happen, but it is also an encouragement and a reminder that the Lord is coming soon and they won’t have to wait much longer.
We can make no conclusion about the timing of Jesus’ return based on these signs since we have not seen them all. If we did see all of these things take place, then we could conclude that the generation alive at that time will not pass away until Jesus returned.
Verse by Verse Commentary
1. The parable of the fig tree – This is a simple parable. A fig tree gives forth some signs that summer is coming, notably the branch becomes tender and leaves sprout. When a person sees a fig tree like that they know that summer is near. In a similar way, the person who sees the signs Jesus has mentioned in this chapter will know that He is near, even at the door. Based on the context there is no reason to assign deeper meaning to this fig tree or assume that it is the nation of Israel. That goes far beyond the simple point of Jesus’ parable.
2. Heaven and earth will pass away – Jesus mentions this in contrast to His words which will not pass away. While it is not His main focus to tell us that heaven and earth will pass away, it is nonetheless true. See 2 Peter 3:3-15 and Revelation 21:1. The earth is corrupted by sin and far from the original paradise which God created. Heaven here could refer to the second heaven (meaning outer space) rather than the third heaven (meaning the place where God resides). That is unclear. The main point for us to remember is that everything is going to change. This world and everything you see will one day be destroyed. It will not be a random act of nature as many scientists believe, but instead it will be a determined act of God.
Application: The application is simple. Do not love the world or the things in the world (1 John 2:15-17). Many people spend their entire lives pursuing worldly things like money, career, materials, a bigger house, or a nicer car. All of it will fade. It is not going to last. So don’t make these things the focal point of your life. Set your mind on heaven and not on the earth.
3. But My words will not pass away – This is the thrust of what Jesus was saying. Every detail of this prophecy would come to pass just like He predicted. His words are reliable and trustworthy. So far it is true. Jesus’ words have endured for almost 2000 years. How many others can we say that about? Just a handful. Most of us who live now will be forgotten in a hundred years, much less 2000. It is safe to say that for most of us our words will pass away. But Jesus’ didn’t. See Isaiah 40:8. Even when this earth and everything we can see and touch has faded away, Jesus’ words will still endure. Their truth does not change from generation to generation. You cannot take your car or house or bank account with you into this new heaven and earth, but you can treasure His Words and obey them knowing that this ensures He will say, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”
Application: What should you do knowing that Jesus’ words endure forever while the material things around you do not?
4. Of that day or hour no one knows – Let no one deceive you. NO ONE KNOWS THE TIME EXCEPT GOD THE FATHER! If anyone, no matter how popular or respected, gives you a date or even a time window when this will happen they are lying and misleading you. And this is not a grey area or a controversial area. Jesus said very clearly that no one knows the time. If someone says otherwise, they have shown themselves to be a false teacher and you should not pay attention to anything else they teach.
Why did Jesus not know the time if He is divine?
We know that at certain times Jesus has limited Himself from certain divine rights. In Philippians 2 we see that He gave up certain divine rights for a period of time while coming to the earth to become a man. This did not make Him any less divine, but it instead highlighted His submission to the Father and His self-control.
I will give an example, although a bad one. A husband wants to throw a surprising party for wife’s birthday. She suspects there will be one. She could easily find out the time of the surprise party if she wanted to. But out of respect for her husband, she decides to purposefully remain ignorant about the time. In a similar way, Jesus chooses to remain ignorant about the time of His second coming.
II. Verses 33-37
Why do you think God planned Jesus’ second coming like this so that no one would know the time?
When do you think that time will be? (Trick question: We can’t know!)
What does it mean to take heed?
How can you keep alert?
What is the point of this parable?
Who is the man on the journey?
Who are the slaves?
What are the slaves to be doing while the master is away?
What should we be doing while waiting for Jesus’ return?
What would you say to the various “Christian” groups that do not do anything except wait?
How can you get ready?
Matthew 25:14-30 – Lengthier version of the same parable in Matthew.
Verse by Verse Commentary
1. Take heed/Keep alert – Of the many lessons we can learn in this chapter, this seems to be the one that Jesus wants us to get. God’s whole plan for the second coming seems to be made with the idea of helping us keep alert. He doesn’t want His saints to grow complacent. He wants every generation in the church age to be ready and therefore shows some birth pangs in each generation. Are you alert? Are you ready? In case you aren’t, He gives another parable to remind you just how important it is.
2. Parable of the man on a journey – The man who went on a journey is Christ. The slaves are believers. Each believer has been given a specific task to do while Jesus is away. The master doesn’t tell His slaves when He will be back. All they know is that He will come back again. It might be in a day or it might be in 50 years. In Jesus’ case it could be 2000 or 10000 years or 100000 years. If He wanted them to know, He would have told them. But let’s say He told them He would come back in 3 months. Well, then the slaves get 2 months and 3 weeks of party time! And then they have one week to get everything into tip-top shape for His return inspection. The master/Jesus does not want us to have “party time.” He wants us to be sober minded and diligent, to redeem the time because the days are evil (Ephesians 5:16)
3. In case he should come suddenly and find you asleep – What will you be doing when Jesus comes back? Are you ready? If not, when will you be ready? What do you need to do to get ready? Imagine if you had a list of things to do before Jesus came. Are you working on the list? Is it getting longer or shorter? Do you have relationships that need to be mended? Do you have sins that need to be confessed? Whatever you need to do, do it! Don’t wait. Don’t put it off.
4. Be on the alert! – Imagine that right now during this Bible study, each of you heard Jesus’ voice power from heave saying “Be on the alert!!” That would be pretty memorable. It may also be pretty terrifying. You surely wouldn’t forget it. And you would probably do it. Well, guess what? That is what this Scripture text is. It is EXACTLY the same as if Jesus said these words audibly from heaven. He even said, “I say to all…” That is the message from Christ to us today. The question is, will you do it?