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

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

Written by H.B. Charles, Jr. |
Wednesday, December 13, 2023

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.”

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.

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