The Lesson of the Fig Tree | Mark 13:28-31

  • Home
  • Resources
  • Sermons
  • The Lesson of the Fig Tree | Mark 13:28-31
  • When I was young, there was a “psychic” whose commercials regularly played on TV. Miss Cleo gave assurances she could reveal your future over the phone. There were clips of phone sessions to prove her assertions. Then she would say in a Jamaican accent, “Call me now!” The caption read: “First 3 minutes of each call free. Must be 18. For Entertainment Only.” 

    Many make bold predictions about the future. Their prognostications are only useful for entertainment. Jesus is not a part of that list. You can live with confidence in what Jesus says about the future. That’s the message of Mark 13:28-31. 

    It was Wednesday of Passion Week – Jesus’ last visit to the temple in Jerusalem. As he departed, he predicted the temple would be destroyed. Later, on the Mount of Olives, Peter, James, John, and Andrewasked follow-up questions. Mark 13:4 says: “Tell us, when will these things be, and what will be the sign when all these things are about to be accomplished.”

    • “These things” refer to the near event of the temple’s destruction. 
    • “All these things” refer to the far event of the Lord’s return. 

    Matthew 24:3 clarifies the distinction: “Tell us, when will these things be, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age.”

    Mark 13:5-37 records the Lord’s response. It is called the Olivet Discourse. The chapter is filled with prophetic predictions. Some Bible teachers believe these predictions are about the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem in A.D. 70. A plain reading of the chapter makes it evident that Jesus is talking about his second coming at the end of the age.

    Some conclusions about this chapter are more about defending Jesus than accurate interpretation. Jesus is not Miss Cleo. His claims do not need to be defended. You can live with confidence in what Jesus says about the future. What is the basis of your hope for the future? Mark 13:28-31 gives four reasons to live confidently in what Jesus says about the future. 

    The Practical Wisdom of Jesus

    Verses 26-27 predict the second coming: “And then they will see the Son of Man coming in clouds with great power and glory. And then he will send out the angels and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of heaven.” Jesus is coming again definitely, imminently, bodily, visibly, gloriously, triumphantly, and unexpectantly.

    How should we respond to this glorious truth? Jesus does not give a radical or fanatical end-time strategy. He teaches a simple lesson of practical wisdom. Verse 28 says, “From the fig tree learn its lesson: as soon as its branch becomes tender and puts out its leaves, you know that summer is near.” 

    “Learn” is an imperative, not a suggestion. The Lord commands the disciples to master the lesson he teaches from the fig tree. The call to learn is what it means to be a disciple. Matthew 28:20 tells us to teach disciples to observe all that he has commanded us. We must accept what Jesus says as true and apply it to our lives. 

    The lesson is about the coming of Christ and the end of the age. There are three schools of eschatology: premillennialism, postmillennialism, and amillennialism. Many Christians subscribe to “pan-millennialism” – it will all pan out in the end. We claim to be on the welcoming committee, not the planning committee. But the coming of Christ is not a subject to leave for theologians to debate. Jesus commands you to learn this subject, which means you can learn this subject. 

    Verse 28 says, “From the fig tree learn its lesson.” “Lesson” is the Greek word for “parable.” The word means “to toss alongside.” Jesus often taught by tossing a common reality alongside spiritual truth. Many of the parables are stories. Some are simple analogies. This is what we have in the lesson of the fig tree. Most of the trees in Jerusalem were evergreen. Figs trees were deciduous. They bud, bloom, fade, and fall with the passing of the seasons. This changing condition made the fig tree a fitting parable: “As soon as its branch becomes tender and puts out its leaves, you know that summer is coming.”

    In the spring, the fig tree branches become “tender” as they fill with sap. Then green leaves began to sprout. When the disciples saw this, they knew what it meant. They did not need expertise in horticulture.Tender branches and growing leaves meant summer is coming.

    In Mark 11, Jesus cursed a fig tree with leaves but no fruit. It was a symbol of the temple in Jerusalem. Jesus uses the fig tree to illustrate a different truth here. The fig tree does not represent Israel. It is just a blossoming fig tree that indicates summer is coming. Shakespeare said there were “sermons in stones.” The Lord is always teaching us something. Don’t miss the spiritual lessons in practical things. 

    The Imminent Return of Jesus

    • Verse 28 announces the lesson of the fig tree. 
    • Verse 29 applies the lesson of the fig tree. 

    Jesus says, “So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that he is near, at the very gates.” The lesson of the fig tree points to something to see and know. 

    Something to See. “So also” connects verse 29 to verse 28. 

    • Verse 28 illustrates: “as soon as its branch becomes tender and puts out its leaves.” 
    • Verse 29 explains: “When you see these things taking place.”

    “These things” refers to all that Jesus has said in verses 5-27. He has warned there will be great deception, hot and cold wars, natural disasters, religious persecution, and global evangelization before he returns at the end of the age. At the end of the chapter, Jesus will tell us to be on watch. Here he says, “When you see these things taking place.” 

    This statement assumes these things will take place and they will be observable and obvious. It is a call to spiritual discernment. We are tempted to ignore the world’s foolishness, wickedness, and tribulation. Jesus bids us to pay close attention through the eyes of faith.

    Something to Know. Jesus says, “When you see these things taking place, you know that he is near, at the very gates.”What are we to conclude when we see the signs of the times? We are to “know that he is near.” The verb “is” has no subject. It can be translated personally (“he”) or impersonally “it.” Many who translate the text “it is near” believe the Olivet Discourse is about the temple’s destruction in A.D. 70. But much of what Jesus says points to a much greater event. Verses 26-27 predict his second coming.

    I believe it is best to translate the text “he is near.” His coming will be imminent: “at the very gates.” Verse 29 is the most direct answer to the disciples’ question in verse 4. The disciples asked for a sign. Jesus pointed them to himself. The purpose of the Olivet Discourse is not to figure out what’s going on in the world. It is to prepare us for the return of Christ. Titus 2:13 teaches us to wait “for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ.”

    The Perfection Timing of Jesus

    Verse 30 says, “Truly, I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things take place.”This is the hardest saying in the Olivet Discourse. Liberal theologians flat-out say Jesus was wrong. That’s a high-stakes claim. If Jesus is wrong, you cannot trust anything he says. Faithful Bible teachers argue the Olivet Discourse is about the destruction of the temple. It is a convenient way to protect Jesus from claims of error. I don’t think this verse is controversial. It affirms the perfect timing of Jesus. 

    The Solemn Affirmation. Verse 30 begins, “Truly I say to you.” It is a call to attention used twelve times in Mark. These “verily, verily” statements are emphatic and authoritative. That is why it is a high-stakes claim to say Jesus was wrong. This is not a throwaway statement. Jesus calls for his disciples’ full attention to make a bold claim.

    Here is also why neglecting or rejecting what Jesus says about the future is sinful. The Christian life is lived backward. We follow Jesus because we know what the end is going to be. Philippians 3:20 says, “But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself.”

    The Sovereign Assertion. Verse 30 says, “Truly, I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things take place.”The controversy is over the reference to “this generation.” If Jesus was talking about the disciples standing before him, either Jesus was wrong, or you must conclude he was talking about the destruction of the temple, which happened about forty years later. But it seems clear that Jesus is talking about the generationthat will be alive when these things occur. The point is that the Great Tribulation will have a limited duration. The generation that sees these things take place will see the return of Christ. 

    • With one hand, the Lord controls the thermostat.
    • With the other hand, the Lord controls the timer.

    Trouble won’t last always! This is the hope of the believer and the horror of the unbeliever. In Christ, we are saved, safe, and secure. Without Christ, the tribulation of this world is a terrible foretaste of eternal punishment. Every sin is punished either at the cross or in hell. If you do not trust Christ now as Savior, you will face him as Judge. Run to the cross! 

    The Divine Authority of Jesus

    Verse 31 is one of the most important Christological statements in Mark’s Gospel: “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away.” This statement declares the divine authority of Jesus through a stark contrast. 

    The world is temporary. Jesus said, “Heaven and earth will pass away.” This would have been a difficult statement for the disciples to get their heads around. The sun, moon, stars, land, and sea would have seemed unmovably stableto them. Ironically, because of our modern advances, unbelievers would agree with this statement. The more we learn about the cosmos, the more we know how fragile it is. We are a nuclear war, climate disaster, or stellar catastrophe away from heaven and earth passing away.

    We refuse to get caught up in the hoopla of the experts, not because we are climate deniers. We believe the words of Jesus. Heaven and earth will pass away. Revelation 21:1 says, “Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more.”

    The word is permanent. Jesus says, “My words will never pass away.” This is the claim the Old Testament makes about the word of God. Isaiah 40:8 says, “The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God will stand forever.” Jesus affirms this in Matthew 5:18: “For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished.” 

    Now Jesus makes that claim about his words. It is an unmistakable claim to deity. “I am God,” Jesus says. “And if I say it, that settles it.” His word is more enduring than creation itself. This verse applies to everything Jesus says. But it is recorded here in the context of his discourse about the world to come. The world to come is present in the words of Jesus.

    My father kept two blues tapes in his glove compartment. On occasion, he would tell me to put on in the player. We would ride silently as B.B. King sang, “There must be a better world somewhere.” This song was not hopeful at all. King claimed there must be a better world somewhere because things were so bad in this world. King Jesus gives us the blessed hope that a better world is coming because his word will never pass away! 


    H.B. Charles Jr.

    Pastor-Teacher at the Shiloh Metropolitan Baptist Church of Jacksonville and Orange Park, Florida.