The Book of Mark
PARABLE OF THE FIG TREE
Text: MARK 13:28-37
1. We have been studying the Gospel of Mark and tonight we will pick up at 13:28, the parable of the fig tree (cf. Matt. 24:32; Luke 21:29-31).
2. There is a popular interpretation of this passage, which considers the fig tree as a picture of Israel. According to some who hold this view, the fact that Israel is back in the promised land constitutes a budding of the fig tree.
3. One of my favorite Bible preachers, H.A. Ironside, wrote these words back in 1948: “The pre-eminent sign that the time for the appearance of the Son of Man has drawn near is that of the budding fig-tree. The fig-tree is the well-known symbol of Israel nationally. For many centuries the scattered Israelites, once owned by God as His own covenant people, have had no national existence. But today they are returning to Palestine in large numbers and once more indulging in the sense of again being a distinct nation.”
4. Ironside went on to say: “At present they are going back in unbelief, as the Scriptures indicate they would, for it is after many have returned to the land that the nation will be regenerated.”
5. Of course, we have no idea when this restoration of Israel (when the nation repents and turns to Christ) will happen. Therefore, I believe we are still waiting for the sign of the fig tree. It is quite possible that the Jews could stay in Israel for many years, and remain hostile to the Gospel. Therefore, the fig tree is not putting forth leaves.
6. I mentioned last time that in the Olivet Discourse, our Lord was certainly referring to Israel and to a Jewish audience (13:2, 9, 14, 15; cf. Luke 21:20, 24).
7. The nation Israel plays a central role in Bible prophecy.
8. Even if one takes the view that the fig tree represents Israel, note that in Luke 21:29, our Lord said: “Behold the fig tree, and all the trees.” These prophecies have special reference to Israel, but are not limited to the nation Israel.
9. In Luke 21:25, our Lord refers to “distress of nations.” As I mentioned last time, the coming tribulation preceding the second coming of Christ will be worldwide.
10. Our Lord said in Mark 13:8, “For nation shall rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom.” “And there shall be earthquakes in divers places” (not just in Israel).
11. In Luke 21:35, our Lord refers to the judgment (“as a snare”) that shall come upon “them that dwell on the face of the whole earth.”
12. When you read the book of Revelation and pay careful attention to the seal judgments, and the trumpet judgments, and the vial judgments you quickly see that these catastrophic judgments will affect the entire world, not just the Middle East.
13. In this parable of the fig tree, our Lord was calling attention to a general principle that applies to everyone – Jews and Gentiles. Spurgeon said, “God’s great book of nature is full of illustrations for those who have eyes to perceive them.” In the parable of the fig tree, our Lord is giving an illustration from “God’s great book of nature.”
14. Here is the principle: During the winter months the trees were bare. People who had endured the long, cold, damp winter were looking forward to the coming of summer.
15. As they approached the fig tree, they would notice it putting forth leaves. This meant “that summer is near” (13:28).
16. Here are some lessons from this parable:
I. THOSE WITH SPIRITUAL DISCERNMENT WILL KNOW WHEN THE TIME IS NEAR (13:28-30).
1. This does not mean we are to set dates like Harold Camping (13:32).
2. Mark 13:32 has been used by scoffers to try and prove that Jesus was nothing more than a man with limited knowledge like any other mortal man.
3. Even many professed believers have misunderstood this Scripture. For example, I once read an article in the newspaper about Bible prophecy, and they quoted Pat Robertson. He said, “Even Jesus doesn’t know when He is coming back!”
4. That is not the proper interpretation of this verse. While it is certainly true that Jesus veiled His deity during His earthly ministry, it is also true that there was never a time when He was not fully God.
5. During His incarnation, our Lord “made Himself of no reputation, and took upon Him the form of a servant” (Phil. 2:7).
6. The theme of Mark’s Gospel is that Christ is “the Servant” (cf. Scofield’s introduction to Mark). It is interesting to note that only Mark records the words, “neither the Son.”
7. It is a case of our Lord’s submissiveness to His earthly task and to His heavenly Father. “As God Jesus knew all things, but as man He limited Himself when divine wisdom so dictated” (English).
8. As a servant, our Lord deliberately limited Himself in order to be made like us. Our Lord definitely knows now when He is coming back.
9. There have been major disagreements over the words “this generation” in Mark 13:30. Those who do not take Bible prophecy (such as the “preterists”) literally have taught that it applied to the generation to which Christ spoke, and so was fulfilled in AD 70 when Titus and the Roman army destroyed Jerusalem.
10. Some Bible teachers, such as Hal Lindsey in his book The Late Great Planet Earth, have taught that the timing of the second coming can be figured out by adding the length of a “generation” (most calculating 40 years as the approximate length of a generation) to the year Israel was established in 1948.
11. It is said that Mr. Lindsey’s The Late Great Planet Earth sold over 15 million copies. Back in 1970, Mr. Lindsey wrote these words: “When the Jewish people, after nearly 2000 years of exile, under relentless persecution, became a nation again on May 14, 1948, the ‘fig tree’ put forth its first leaves. Jesus said that this would indicate that He was ‘at the door,’ ready to return. Then He said, ‘Truly I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things take place’ (Matthew 24:34 NASB). What generation? Obviously, in context, the generation that would see the signs – chief among them the rebirth of Israel. A generation in the Bible is something like forty years. If this is a correct deduction, then within forty years or so of 1948, all these things could take place” (p. 43).
12. Mr. Lindsey’s “forty years or so” passed us by over 20 years ago, and so this scheme has been discredited and this view is no longer popular.
13. A better understanding of the word “generation” is found in the Scofield Study Bible. Scofield writes that the primary definition is “race, kind, family, stock, breed” (p. 1034).
14. the position of M.R. De Haan, Dwight Pentecost, and many other good Bible teachers.
15. Personally, I believe the Lord deliberately chose a vague word such as “generation” (Luke 21:32) to keep us from date-setting (which Harold Camping and others have done ).
16. No one can say for sure how long a “generation” lasts. The Bible says, “David…served his own generation by the will of God” (Acts 13:36). How many years was David’s generation? Do we start counting when he slew Goliath? Do we stop counting when he turned his kingdom over to Solomon?
17. “Generation” is an elastic word. It is impossible to draw up hard and fast lines as to when a generation begins or ends because of the endless flow of births and deaths. One generation very gradually merges into another generation.
II. THE INFALLIBITY OF GOD’S WORD (13:31)
1. Heaven and earth will surely pass away (cf. Isa. 65:17; 66:22; II Peter 3:10-13; Rev.21:1).
2. Heaven and earth shall pass away, but God’s Word will stand forever.
3. The emphasis here is on the certainty of Bible prophecy taking place. Just as all the prophecies concerning His first coming were precisely and accurately fulfilled, in like manner all the prophecies concerning His second coming will be precisely and accurately fulfilled.
4. “Within this simple volume lies
The mystery of mysteries.
Happiest they of human race
To whom their God has given grace
To read, to fear, to hope, to pray,
To lift the latch, to force the way;
Far better had they ne’er been born
That read to doubt or read to scorn.” – Sir Walter Scott.
5. THE BIBLE STANDS
The Bible stands like a rock
The Bible stands like a mountain
The Bible stands, and it will forever
6. The Bible is the inspired Word of God. “All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness” (II Tim. 3:16).
7. And the Bible is the preserved Word of God (Mark 13:30).
8. “O LORD, thy word is settled in heaven” (Psalm 119:89).
9. Psalm 12:6, 7 says, “The words of the LORD are pure words: as silver tried in a furnace of earth, purified seven times. Thou shalt keep them, O LORD, thou shalt preserve them from this generation for ever.”
III. GOD’S PEOPLE SHOULD BE WATCHING AND PRAYING (13:33-37).
1. Mark chapter 13 closes with an exhortation to “watch and pray.”
2. W Graham Scroggie said, “The passage before us says three things with utmost plainness: first that Christ is to come again; second that we do not know when he will come; and third, that we should be looking for him all the time…If we definitely knew that Christ would not come until a particular date, what would be the good of watching between this and then?”
3. The fact that we do not know the scheduled time of His coming is an incentive for godly living (cf. Titus 2:13, 14; II Peter 3:14; I John 3:2, 3).
4. This parable concludes Mark’s account of the Olivet Discourse.
5. The Bible has much to say about watching and praying.
6. Our Lord said in Luke 21:36, “Watch ye therefore, and pray always.”
7. The apostle Paul wrote in Colossians 4:2, “Continue in prayer, and watch in the same with thanksgiving.”
9. Our Lord said, “Watch and pray, that ye enter not into temptation…” (Matt. 26:41).
1. Let me share with you something I observed many years ago. I have discovered (for the most part) that Christians who are pretribulational and premillennial are the godliest Christians, the holiest Christians, the most prayerful Christians, the most faithful Christians, the most generous and missions-minded Christians, etc.
2. I have never heard of a liberal premillennial church. In fact, liberals mock premillennialism.
3. For example, Brian McLaren, the leading proponent of “the emerging church” heresy, mocks the “fundamentalist expectations” of a literal second coming of Christ and calls the literal, imminent return of Christ the “eschatology of abandonment” (cited by David Cloud).
4. On the other hand, the great evangelist D.L. Moody said: “I have felt like working three times as hard since I came to understand that my Lord is coming again.”
5. FB Meyer once asked DL Moody, “What is the secret of your success?” Moody replied, “For many years I have never preached a message without the consciousness that the Lord may come before I have finished.”