We have been looking at the return of Jesus from Mark 13 for the past several weeks. Today, we conclude this series on the Lord’s return. We have a lot to look at and think about today, so let’s just dive right into it.
“Now learn a lesson from the fig tree. When its branches bud and its leaves begin to sprout, you know that summer is near. 29 In the same way, when you see all these things taking place, you can know that his return is very near, right at the door. 30 I tell you the truth, this generation will not pass from the scene before all these things take place. 31 Heaven and earth will disappear, but my words will never disappear. 32 “However, no one knows the day or hour when these things will happen, not even the angels in heaven or the Son himself. Only the Father knows. 33 And since you don’t know when that time will come, be on guard! Stay alert! 34 “The coming of the Son of Man can be illustrated by the story of a man going on a long trip. When he left home, he gave each of his slaves instructions about the work they were to do, and he told the gatekeeper to watch for his return. 35 You, too, must keep watch! For you don’t know when the master of the household will return—in the evening, at midnight, before dawn, or at daybreak. 36 Don’t let him find you sleeping when he arrives without warning. 37 I say to you what I say to everyone: Watch for him!” (NLT)
There are three things the Lord wants us to do until He returns. They are simple, but significant. He wants you to be learning, be alert, and be watchful. Let’s look at each one.
First, Jesus wants us to be learning. Jesus said in verse 28, Now learn a lesson from the fig tree. Jesus constantly used object lessons. Throughout God’s Word we see God using ants, donkeys, trees, rivers, wind, birds, seeds, flowers, grass, weeds, goats, lambs, horses, dogs, and storms to name a few to illustrate God’s truth. As a side note to parents, as you live out your life with your kids help them to see God and His truth in the creation around them. The object lessons will never contradict the Word of God, they illustrate the word of God. Use them to your advantage as you teach your kids and grandkids.
Jesus points to a fig tree and He is about to use it as an object lesson regarding signs for the end of the world. Jesus goes on to say, When its branches bud and its leaves begin to sprout, you know that summer is near. Most of the trees around Jerusalem were evergreens and do not change dramatically with the seasons. However, the fig tree is different. The fig tree would be one of the last trees to produce green leaves in the spring. When it did this, it was an indication that summer was near.
Jesus says in verse 29, In the same way, when you see all these things taking place, you can know that his return is very near, right at the door. Jesus compares the fig tree with all these things taking place that he just mentioned in Mark 13. When you start hearing and seeing the abomination of desolation in verse 14, the sun and moon go dark in verse 24, the stars or meteors hitting the earth in verse 25, and the universe shaking in chaos in verse 25 those are the leaves of the fig tree sprouting. Just as the summer is about to arrive, so is Jesus about to arrive – you can know that his return is very near. When you see those signs its like Jesus is right at the door. When those signs happen, its like Jesus is standing on the doorstep and He is about to walk into the house. Are you learning something from the fig tree?
Then Jesus adds this statement in verse 30, I tell you the truth, this generation will not pass from the scene before all these things take place.
Every time Jesus says, I tell you the truth, He is about say something that you need to grab hold of and give it serious consideration. This is the Lord’s way of saying pay attention or listen carefully.
Jesus says, this generation will not pass from the scene before all these things take place. So, what does Jesus mean by this generation? There are three ways to look at this.
- First, some see this generation referring to the generation that was there at the time Jesus said it. For those who interpret it that way they view the contents of Mark 13 as referring to the destruction of the Temple in AD 70. I don’t believe that is what Jesus meant because it doesn’t fit the context of what Jesus is saying. If it’s this view, then it means nothing to us today. I don’t think it’s this view.
- Another view for this generation is it is referring to the people who are living at the time of the Tribulation and witness all the signs Jesus has just described. This interpretation requires you take what Jesus is saying as being addressed not to the believers when Jesus said it or to us today, but to the future believers who will witness the things described in Mark 13. This view has some merit. It has a strong possibility.
- A third view for this generation is it is referring to a certain type of people throughout history. Throughout Jesus’ ministry, Jesus would use this phrase or others like it to refer to a sinful and rebellious people who rejected God’s truth (Matthew 12:45; 23:35-36; Deut. 32:5, 20; Prov. 30:11-14). Instead of referring to a certain time of people, Jesus is referring to a certain type of people.
When the time comes, it will be clear to who Jesus is talking too. I love the way the Message paraphrases this when it says, “When you see all these things, you know he is at the door. Don’t take this lightly. I’m not just saying this for some future generation, but for this one, too—these things will happen. Sky and earth will wear out; my words won’t wear out.”
To drive His point home, Jesus says in verse 31, Heaven and earth will disappear, but my words will never disappear. With that statement Jesus says two things.
- Jesus says, heaven and earth will disappear. Jesus is talking about the future. According to Colossians 1, Jesus is both the creator and sustainer of all things created. The Bible says that “everything was created through him and for him” (v. 16) and that Jesus “holds all creation together” (v. 17). Later, Peter commented about the heaven and earth disappearing when he wrote in 1 Peter 3, “But the day of the Lord will come like a thief. The heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire” (v. 10, NIV). The Bible also teaches there will be a new heaven and a new earth for God’s people to experience, one that is a part of heaven without sin. But the day Jesus returns everything will be wiped out. The Lord’s sustaining power will be removed.
- But then Jesus says, my words will never disappear. This echoes what the prophet Isaiah said in Isaiah 40:8, “The grass withers and the flowers fade, but the word of our God stands forever” (NLT). We cannot add to God’s Word or take away from it (Deut. 4:2; Matt. 5:17-19; Luke 16:17; Rev. 22:18-19). The Word of God is the same invincible, unchanging truth whether it speaks of the past, present, or future. Just as you were “born again… [with] the eternal, living word of God” (1 Peter 1:23, NLT) and are being sanctified by “the word of His grace” (Acts 20:32, NASB), so also will you in the future be glorified, according to the promises of His word (Rom. 8:17, 30). The Lord’s words will never disappear.
There are three primary ways to translate the Lord’s statement regarding His words will never disappear.
- One way is like the New Living Translation which says the Lord’s words will never disappear. For something to disappear means it has been taken away somewhere where nobody can find it. The word disappear also means to stop existing or happening. It vanishes, as though it never was here. The devil would love that. He would love for God’s Word to disappear. Even though He has tried to make it disappear throughout history, it keeps showing up.
- Another way is like the New American Standard Bible which says the Lord’s words will not pass away. To say someone has passed away is to say they have died, they cease to be, or their life has ended. Jesus is saying my words are eternal; they will always be alive, they will always exist, and they will never end. The devil may try to kill God’s Word, but it will not die. The world has tried to get bury God’s Word, but it keeps crawling out of the grave. It will not pass away.
- Another way is like the Amplified Classic version which says the Lord’s words will never perish. The word perish means to die as a result of very harsh conditions. The world and the devil are constantly putting the heat on God’s Word. They attack it, try to change it, attempt people to get rid of it, not trust it, and devalue it, but God’s Word will never perish no matter what kind of conditions the world or the devil places on it.
Generally speaking, God’s Word will never disappear, pass away, or perish. God’s Word is called living and eternal. It has always been true, is currently true, and will always be true. It has always been trustworthy, is trustworthy, and will always be trustworthy. Whatever God’s Word addresses is true, correct, and trustworthy. Whatever God says about creation, sin, heaven, hell, hope, love, forgiveness, wrath, mercy, Jesus, salvation, the devil, angels, end times, and the Lord’s return it is all correct. It will never disappear, pass away, or perish.
Not only are we to be learning, but we are to be alert. Jesus said in verse 32, However, no one knows the day or hour when these things will happen, not even the angels in heaven or the Son himself. Only the Father knows. 33 And since you don’t know when that time will come, be on guard! Stay alert! Let’s take a close look at this.
Jesus said, no one knows the day or hour when His return will happen. Listen carefully, no one knows when the Lord will return. I remember back in the eighties a guy had written a book called, “88 reasons why Jesus will return in 1988.” Every few years someone comes along giving a list of reasons why they believe the Lord is coming back the next year. A few years ago, Bible codes were extremely popular, and some were saying there was a secret code within the Bible that told you when the Lord would return. They don’t know. If anyone tells you the Lord is coming back this year and they give you 23 reasons why the Lord is coming in 2023. Write their name down and put on your calendar January 1, 2024. Call them up asked them what happen and then tell them they are a false prophet. Do not be deceived by these people. Be on guard! Stay alert!
Jesus goes on to say that not even the angels in heaven know when His return would be. According to 1 Peter 1:12, “the angels are eagerly watching these things happen” (NLT). They don’t know when all these things will happen, but they are very interested in it and are fascinated by what is unfolding from the hands of God. By the way, the devil is a fallen angel, and he does not know when all these things will happen either. It will surprise Him as much as it will everyone else.
Then Jesus says something very intriguing. He says that the Son himself did not know when these things will happen. That’s Jesus’ way of saying, “I don’t even know when I’m to return.” But you may say, “I thought Jesus was God in the flesh, God incarnate. I thought Jesus knew everything.” Let me be clear, Jesus is God in the flesh. Jesus is God incarnate. Jesus is the visible image of the invisible God. But Jesus placed limitations on Himself when He became a human. Listen carefully to Philippians 2:6,
“Though he was God, he did not think of equality with God as something to cling to. 7 Instead, he gave up his divine privileges; he took the humble position of a slave and was born as a human being. When he appeared in human form, 8 he humbled himself in obedience to God and died a criminal’s death on a cross” (NLT).
When Jesus became human, “he gave up his divine privileges.” While Jesus was walking around on earth, He was both fully God and fully man which means he allowed Himself to have limitations. He now had to sleep, eat, got tired, got hungry, felt pain, and gave up some of His knowledge. One of the privileges He gave up was the knowledge of when He would return. Now that He has ascended back to the Father, I believe He now knows. Because of His humanity, I don’t think Jesus knew at the time He made that statement, but as the risen Lord I think He knows now.[i]
Then Jesus says, since you don’t know (I don’t know, the angels don’t know, neither does anyone else know, except for the Father) when that time will come, be on guard! Stay alert! The image here is a soldier who is on guard and alert. The word alert (agrupneo) means to be awake. You are spiritually awake. You are not spiritually drowsy. You are paying attention to what is happening around you, to you, and to others. You are paying attention to what God is doing and you are paying attention to what the devil is doing (Eph. 6:18). To be alert is to be prepared, observant, and ready. The false teachers, false messiahs, and false prophets are not going to take you by surprise because you are alert. The natural disasters that will happen around the world will not cause you to panic because you are spiritually on guard and alert. The wars and rumors of wars will not distract you because you are spiritually awake and alert. When persecution and betrayal begin to happen to believers it will not be something strange to you because you are alert and ready for it. You are informed. You know what to look for and what to ignore. Stay alert!
What Jesus is calling you and me to is a lifestyle of perpetual readiness. You are to continue to live your life, make plans, go to work, get married, have kids, enjoy the blessings God has given to you, be an awesome grandparent, go to church, share the gospel, be generous, be kind, be loving, and be forgiving, yet be prepared for the return of Christ and all that comes before it. As you are learning and alert, live your life.
So far Jesus has told us to be learning and be alert, then He says we are to be watchful. To help us be watchful, Jesus gives us an illustration. Jesus says in verse 34,
The coming of the Son of Man can be illustrated by the story of a man going on a long trip. When he left home, he gave each of his slaves instructions about the work they were to do, and he told the gatekeeper to watch for his return. 35 You, too, must keep watch! For you don’t know when the master of the household will return—in the evening, at midnight, before dawn, or at daybreak. 36 Don’t let him find you sleeping when he arrives without warning. 37 I say to you what I say to everyone: Watch for him!”
Here is how I summarize that illustration: be watchful but working. Be looking for Him, but do not be lazy while waiting for Him. Jesus tells us to do two things.
First, until He returns you are to be working. Notice before the master goes on his long trip, he gave each of his slaves instructions about the work they were to do. Listen to what Paul says about working until the Lord returns in 1 Corinthians 15, “Be strong and immovable. Always work enthusiastically for the Lord, for you know that nothing you do for the Lord is ever useless” (NLT). Whatever God calls you to do, do it enthusiastically. The word enthusiastically means to do something in a way that shows intense and eager enjoyment and interest. Throw yourself into it. Whatever God has called you to do, do it with enthusiasm. Love those kids with enthusiasm. Go to work with enthusiasm. Go to school with enthusiasm. Love your spouse with enthusiasm. Be generous with enthusiasm. Go to church with enthusiasm. If you don’t have enthusiasm, ask God to give it to you by changing how you see what you do every day.
The instructions that tell you how to do what God wants you to do is called the Bible. God’s Word gives instructions on how to love your wife, how to love your husband, how to love your children, how to manage your money, how to encourage others, build other up, and how to share the gospel, how to pray, how to give, how to forgive, how to serve others, how to worship God, how to be a great employee, and a host of other important things. Until the Lord returns you are to be working with enthusiasm regarding whatever God calls you to do.
Second, until He returns you are to be watchful. The gatekeeper[ii] was to watch for the master’s return. Then Jesus said to His disciples, you, too, must keep watch.[iii] Then He repeats Himself at the end of verse 37 saying, watch for him.
When Jesus says we are to watch for him (gregoreuo). The Greek word Jesus used here is a word that means to be alertly watchful to avoid danger. It suggests an intense and relentless watchfulness. His return is on your mind all the time. You look for Him. You long for Him. You anticipate Him. You live for Him and His return. Our lifestyle is driven by anticipation of His return. You are watchful.
Jesus says, Don’t let him find you sleeping when he arrives. The idea of sleeping (katheudo) refers to an attitude of spiritual laziness or indifference. When it comes to your assigned work by God and His return you are not to see this as insignificant, trivial, or unimportant. You are not to be idle about what God has given you to do.
Jesus says he will arrive without warning (exaiphnes). It will be sudden. Jesus is saying be ready, be watchful.
Until the Lord returns, Jesus wants you to…
- Be learning: Learn to recognize what are the signs of His return and what is not. Learn that all the things around you (your house, yard, car, clothes, money, etc.) are all temporary, so learn to focus on what is eternal and most important in life. Be learning and growing until He returns.
- Be alert: Be attentive and observant to the spiritual atmosphere and battle you are in. Have the mindset of a spiritual soldier who knows the enemy is just around the corner looking for someone who he can devour. As your life becomes more difficult, become more alert. Focus your life on doing what God has called you to do.
- Be watchful: Let your life be driven by the knowledge of knowing that Jesus is going to return. Work enthusiastically for the Lord and you look forward to His return.
[i] Jesus made it clear that only the Father knows when the return will take place. After His resurrection, Jesus was asked about restoring the kingdom in Acts 1. Jesus said, “The Father alone has the authority to set those dates and times, and they are not for you to know. 8 But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you. And you will be my witnesses, telling people about me everywhere—in Jerusalem, throughout Judea, in Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:7-8, NLT).
[ii] Jesus mentions a gatekeeper. This master had a gatekeeper which means he had some kind of barrier around his property because he was very wealthy. There was only one way in, and it was through that gate. The gatekeeper could see people coming from a distance before anyone else.
[iii] Jesus says, You, too, must keep watch! For you don’t know when the master of the household will return—in the evening (6-9 pm), at midnight (9 pm – midnight), before dawn (midnight – 3 am), or at daybreak (3 – 6 am). This was a common way to describe the four watches of the night (the Roman system of time). The point is that Jesus could return on any of these watches.