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Posted by Pastor Greg Allen on February 19, 2017 under 2016 |

Preached Sunday, February 19, 2017 from Mark 13:28-31

Theme: When the events of the end of the age begin to happen, they will—in mercy—be fulfilled quickly.

(Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture references are taken from The Holy Bible, New King James Version; copyright 1982, Thomas Nelson, Inc.)

We’ve all, throughout our lives, have had experience with doctors. But I’ll bet that, for every one of us, our first real conscious encounter with a doctor came during a time when we were very young, and when we were probably just a little scared, and when—as he or she was treating us—that wise and tender physician looked us gently in the eye and said, “Now; this will only hurt for a minute.”

Those are nice words; but I also have to admit that there were times when they made things worse for me. I remember hearing them; and then wondering, “What will hurt? And how much?”, and then waiting with horrified anticipation of the coming “hurt” from whatever it was that was about to be done—whether it was for a minute or not. I usually had my eyes closed; and it made me jumpy at every move of the doctor’s hand and the smell of every drop of rubbing alcohol he poured—until it was done; and afterward, he or she would say, “There. All better.”

I still pretty much have those same feelings when I go to the physician’s office; by the way. Here I am—an older adult now; but whenever I’m giving a blood sample, or taking a shot of some kind, I still look away while the doctor or the medical assistant does his or her job. I just don’t like it. (I’ll admit it—I’m a wimp.) I have the maturity now, of course, to know that it’s something that needs to be done; but I also take comfort in knowing—even without being told—that if it hurts, it’ll only hurt for a moment or two. (I’m too proud to ask, though.)

I believe that we can find a spiritual parallel to this in that, under the hand of our loving God, something painful that He brings us through is only going to be painful for a short while. We can see hints of this idea in the New Testament. In Romans 8:18, Paul wrote;

For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us (Romans 8:18).

For the woman or man in Christ, the painful trials of life—while necessary in the Father’s wise plan for our lives—are painful only for a while. And then, after the pain, they give way to a future glory in Christ that far exceeds any suffering that the trial itself may bring. Paul said a similar thing in 2 Corinthians 4:16-18;

Therefore we do not lose heart. Even though our outward man is perishing, yet the inward man is being renewed day by day. For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, is working for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory, while we do not look at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen. For the things which are seen are temporary, but the things which are not seen are eternal (2 Corinthians 4:16-18).

It’s as if our kind and compassionate heavenly Father tells us in advance—very tenderly—that sometimes, something necessary will hurt; but He promises that it will only hurt for a little while. It will hurt for no longer an amount of time than He decrees that it will hurt; and that it will hurt to no more of a degree than He allows. And then—when the hurt is over—He says, “There. All better.”

It truly is all better. It’s all better to His eternal glory and our eternal good.

* * * * * * * * * *

I have been thinking about this experience in our Father’s love as we come to this morning’s passage in the thirteenth chapter of the Gospel of Mark—where we have been studying together from our Lord Jesus’ instruction to His disciples about the end times, as He sat with them on the Mount of Olives.

He had just left the Temple in Jerusalem for the last time—after He had been repeatedly rejected and opposed by the religious leaders and elders of the Jewish people. He had come to them as their long-awaited King; but they wouldn’t receive Him. And as He left, and as His disciples followed along with Him and commented on the beauty of the buildings of the Temple, He told them;

Do you see these great buildings? Not one stone shall be left upon another, that shall not be thrown down” (Mark 13:2).

This came as a great shock to His disciples; and as He sat on the mountain overlooking that Temple, they came to Him and said, “Tell us, when will these things be? And what will be the sign when all these things will be fulfilled?” Jesus’ answer—given to us in the rest of Mark 13—is what we have come to know as the Olivet Discourse.

Now; so far in this passage, Jesus has given us descriptions of the period of time that would come between His ascension to the Father and the great day of His return. The disciples didn’t know it; but it would actually be a time period of many centuries in length. He told them about those days in verses 5-13; and we are living in those days now. But then, He went on to describe—in verses 14-23—the terrible times that would come upon the earth just prior to His return. It will be a time that we have come to call “the Great Tribulation”—a tribulation, He said, “such as has not been since the beginning of the creation which God created until this time, nor ever shall be” (v. 19). And then after that, in verses 24-27, He went on to describe the signs that would come upon the earth after that time of tribulation—foreboding signs in the heavens and in the stars and heavenly bodies; and the sight of the Son of Man coming in the clouds; and the angels being sent forth to gather His elect unto Himself. That was the part of Jesus’ discourse that we discussed last week.

And now, after all these details, the Lord Jesus begins to give practical application to His followers. In verses 28-31; Jesus said;

“Now learn this parable from the fig tree: When its branch has already become tender, and puts forth leaves, you know that summer is near. So you also, when you see these things happening, know that it is near—at the doors! Assuredly, I say to you, this generation will by no means pass away till all these things take place. Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will by no means pass away” (vv. 28-31).

Jesus is telling His disciples that, when these things begin to happen, they will happen quickly. Their unfolding wont stretch out over several centuries—such as in the period in which we’re now living; but rather, will happen within a mere generation’s space of time. In the verses that remain in this chapter, our Lord goes on to warn His followers not to get distracted by trying to figure out the exact time of things. He lets them know that not even He Himself knows the time appointed for His return; and that the exact time is known only to the Father. What they were to do instead was to be faithful to His call, work and walk faithfully in His service, and watch and wait for His return.

But first—in this morning’s passage—He assures His followers that the turbulent events that precede His coming will begin to happen suddenly, and will be completed very quickly.

* * * * * * * * * *

Now; one of the things that I have wondered is why it would be that He would tell His disciples this.

Perhaps you remember what happened just before Jesus went back up to the Father—after He was raised from the dead. His disciples met with Him one more time—on the Mount of Olives, in fact—and asked Him, “Lord, will You at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” They wanted to know if right then was the time when these things would begin to be fulfilled. But Jesus answered and said;

It is not for you to know times or seasons which the Father has put in His own authority. But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth” (Acts 1:7-8).

It wasn’t their business to know when things will happen. Rather, it’s their business to be about the business of being His witnesses. So; why then did He want His followers to know, in our passage this morning, that—whenever these things will begin to happen—they will happen quickly? I suggest to you that it’s a lot like that tender, compassionate doctor who would take the hand of a child—just before something painful will have to happen—and tell him or her, “Now, I have something that I must do. This will only hurt for a little while—and then, it will be all better.”

Our Lord is being very compassionate to His beloved people, then, in telling them that there will be a time of suffering—just before His return and the outpouring of His righteous wrath on a sinful world-system that has rejected Him and has refused to honor His Father’s will. But He is assuring us that, when the events at the end of the age begin to happen, they will—in mercy—be fulfilled quickly.

* * * * * * * * * *

Now; let’s look at His words in greater detail. And let’s first notice …


In verse 28, Jesus drew His disciples’ attention to a lesson that He wished to teach them by saying, “Now learn this parable from the fig tree …”

Jesus—along with every other way that He is the Master—is the Master Teacher. He knew how to put a lesson before His students in a way that they could easily understand and never be forget. And He did this often through ‘parables’. The word ‘parable’ basically means ‘a placing or throwing of a thing down beside another’. It’s a way that He taught spiritual truth by comparing important concepts with well-known, everyday-life situations or things. And here, He is drawing His disciple’s attention to a phenomenon of nature—the blooming of a fig tree.

Fig trees were everywhere in those days. People would often walk by a fig tree and pluck off a fig and munch away as they strolled on. Sometimes, people would sit and have conversations under a fig tree. Fig trees where the ‘Starbucks’ of the day. But they also had symbolic significance. You might remember that it hadn’t been too long before the events of this story that the Lord Jesus and His disciples had encountered a fig tree.

In Chapter 11 of Mark’s Gospel, we’re told that Jesus and His disciples were making their way into the Temple for the second time early in the morning—the day after He had made His ‘triumphant entry’ into the city. We’re told that as they were coming into the city, Jesus saw a fig tree along the road. It was lush with leaves—which would have suggested that there were delicious figs growing on it. But when He came to it again, all that Jesus found upon it was leaves. Its lush leaves gave off a false impression that it bore fruit; when, in fact, it bore nothing. And He then cursed the fig tree and said, “Let no one eat fruit from you ever again”—or as it can more accurately be translated from the original language, “No longer—unto the age—let anyone eat fruit from you.” When they came upon that tree a day later—the very morning of the day of the Olivet Discourse, in fact—they found that it had withered; dried up from the roots.

That was a picture of the nation of Israel at that time. Their King had come to the Jewish people; and they rejected Him. They had the outward ‘leafy’ appearance of religious devotion with all the Jewish rituals and ceremonies; but they bore no true spiritual fruit of trust in Him. And I don’t think that it’s mere coincidence that Jesus—once again—teaches His disciples a lesson from a fig tree. ‘Fig trees’ would have been very fresh on their minds.

And here is the fact about fig trees that He brought to their attention. He said; “When its branch has already become tender, and puts forth leaves, you know that summer is near.” In Luke’s Gospel, when he relates this story to us, he has it that Jesus also said that this was true of all trees. And I’m sure you know this very well. Where I sit in our home and read my Bible in the morning, I can look out the big picture window at one of the apple trees next to the house. I see them all the year through. For many months in the winter, they’re not very attractive to look at. (If you want to know the truth, at night they look a little spooky—with the church cemetery in the background.) But around March or so, you begin to see little tiny sprouts of leaves. Then, by April, you see the tree beginning to turn very green. And by May, you see the apples begin to grow and get bigger. It’s one of my favorite things to watch. And the next thing you know, it’s summer.

Now; let me offer a little side thought. Jesus said elsewhere that this is true of all trees. But He especially singled out the fig tree. Why? Could it be that the fig tree—among all other things that it is—is a biblical symbol of Israel? And could it be that when, in the course of history, we begin to see Israel begin to bloom and prosper, we should take it as a sign that something very significant is about to happen?

The Jewish people have been back in their homeland now since 1948. This year, they are celebrating the 50th anniversary of their possession—once again—of Jerusalem. Before that time, the land was barren; and no one really wanted it. Now, it has truly blossomed; and everyone seems to want it! That tiny strip of land has become almost the most controversial and fought-over spot on earth! And there truly is nothing in human history like the modern state of Israel—a land whose people were driven out and scattered around the world for nearly two-thousand years; and which then—within the lifetime of many of us—has seen the same preserved Jewish people return; speaking the same language that they formerly spoke; occupying the same general spot on the earth that they occupied two millennia ago; and identified by the flag of the same ancient King David that they used to honor.

I can’t help wondering if the branches of the fig tree truly have become tender, and have began to put forth leaves in our time; and if God is letting the world know that the summer of human history is about to come!

* * * * * * * * * *

Well; Jesus then went from that parable, taken from nature, to give us …


In verse 29, He goes on to say, “So you also, when you see these things happening, know that it is near—at the doors!”

First, what is the “these things” that He said we might see “happening”? I believe that they are the things that He has mentioned in verses 14-27—things that characterize the end of this present age. First would be the ‘abomination of desolation’ that was spoken of in the prophet Daniel. Then would be the need for God’s people to quickly flee for their lives to the mountains; because the whole ungodly world-system will have turn murderously against them. Then would come times of tribulation so great that, as Jesus said, “unless the Lord had shortened those days, no flesh would be saved”. And then would be false prophets and false christs arising and performing signs and wonders to deceive the people of this world.

And then, as Jesus said,

But in those days, after that tribulation, the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light; the stars of heaven will fall, and the powers in the heavens will be shaken. Then they will see the Son of Man coming in the clouds with great power and glory. And then He will send His angels, and gather together His elect from the four winds, from the farthest part of earth to the farthest part of heaven (vv. 24-27).

I believe that these are the “these things” that Jesus is saying would begin to happen.

And He said that, when these things are seen to begin happening, we are to know that “it” is near—so close that it’s at the doors. What is the “it”? Some translations—like the English Standard Version—have interpreted it to say that “He” is at the door. Certainly that would be true; but I believe we get a far clearer understanding from Luke’s Gospel. In Luke 21:31, Jesus is quoted as saying that it is “the kingdom of God” that is near. I believe that Jesus is telling us that when we see these things begin to take place—when the branch of God’s prophetic promises through Israel begin to become tender; and when we begin to see the leaves of these prophetic events beginning to sprout; and the promised signs beginning to take shape and converge—then we are to know that the coming of God’s kingdom reign on earth through King Jesus is just around the corner—very, very close.

* * * * * * * * * *

Now; in a way, that’s like the doctor saying that he’s about to do something that is good for us—but that, at first, it will hurt. Jesus warns us that these times of remarkable transition that precede His earthly reign will not be easy. They will involve the greatest times of trouble that human history has ever seen. And they will be very dark and difficult and trying times for God’s people. It will be very costly and very painful to be a follower of Jesus in those times.

But that’s when I believe Jesus—like a tender physician—lets us know that it will only hurt for a short time. Notice how He goes on to give us …


In verse 30, He says, “Assuredly, I say to you …” And I believe you have grown to appreciate—as I have—that these words always causes one of Jesus’ statements to stand out in a very important way. Everything that He says, of course, is true. But when He prefaces what He is about to say by asserting the absolute truth of it in this way, we should take it very seriously—and know that we can rest our eternal destiny on the truth of what He says.

What does He tell us with such great certainty? It’s that “this generation will by no means pass away till all these things take place.” And I must tell you that these words have caused a great deal of controversy among Bible scholars. It sounds as if Jesus was saying that we can take it for absolute certain that the people living in His day would see all these things come to pass. It certainly seems as if the apostles—and even Paul—spoke and wrote as if they anticipated that the Lord would come back very soon in their time. And yet, He didn’t return in their lifetimes. And so; what do we do with Jesus’ promise? (In fact some critics of the Bible have turned to this very verse to argue that the Bible cannot be trusted in what it says.)

I believe this all comes from a serious misunderstanding of the meaning of “this generation”. The “this generation” that Jesus was speaking of was not the generation of people living at the time that Jesus spoke those words. Rather, the word “this” applied to the context of what He was speaking. He was speaking of the generation of people who would see the things He spoke of beginning to happen, and who would be alive at that future time. This same generation, He is saying, will not—by any means—“pass away” until all these things that He has spoken of will come to pass. The appointed time of trial will not stretch out indefinitely, or drag on from generation to generation and from century to century; but the culmination of the age will occur quickly against the backdrop of the vast span of human history—and all these things would be fulfilled within but one generation’s time.

Like a doctor, our Lord is telling us that the events that precede the beginning of His kingdom reign on earth will be dark and difficult and trying and painful. And just like the child who is about to get a needed shot, His people wince just a bit at the thought of it—anticipating that pain. But He assures us that, though it will hurt, it will only hurt a little while. And then, it will be over; and the summertime of humanity—the reign of Jesus Christ on earth—will begin.

As if to give us the greatest possible assurance of this, Jesus adds in verse 31, “Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will by no means pass away.” This is surely true of all that our Lord says. But it is particularly and especially true with respect to the words of promise He makes in this passage. We can be sure of it—and history will prove it to be so.

And when He finally sits upon His throne afterward—reigning upon this earth, with us reigning with Him in glory—it will be as if the doctor tells us, “There. All better.”

* * * * * * * * * *

And so; as we think about our Lord’s teaching to us concerning the end times, let’s remember what He tells us in this passage:

“Now learn this parable from the fig tree: When its branch has already become tender, and puts forth leaves, you know that summer is near. So you also, when you see these things happening, know that it is near—at the doors! Assuredly, I say to you, this generation will by no means pass away till all these things take place. Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will by no means pass away.”

Let’s be very sure that we learn the lesson from the fig tree—and thus have hope.

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