As we continue to walk through this perplexing chapter in Mark 13, we have noted that the perplexity comes because of the many difficult passages to understand in this chapter, ‘these things,’ ‘those days,’ ‘tribulation,’ ‘abomination of desolation,’ or ‘let the reader understand.’ We have again another difficult phrase today, ‘this generation.’ However, before we get to the difficult phrase, we need to remember what question Jesus is asking in Mark 13. Many people come to Mark 13 and try and interpret these difficult phrases without understanding what Jesus is talking about. Jesus in his largest teaching in the Gospel of Mark is answering the disciple’s questions found in verse 4, “Tell us, when will these things be, and what will be the sign when all these things are about to be accomplished?” The question is twofold, when will it be, and what will be the sign leading up to these things? Now, these things are a clear reference to Jesus’ statement in Mark 13:2, “Do you see these great buildings? There will not be left here one stone upon another that will not be thrown down.” We have seen that what Jesus is talking about is the destruction of the Temple, which occurred in 70 AD. Jesus has been answering the second portion of the disciples’ question about the signs when these things are about to be accomplished. Within this answer, Jesus has not only given them a prophetic word of these signs, but more importantly, he has given them pastoral advice on how to live during these days before the destruction of the temple. They should not be led astray, alarmed, or anxious. They should be on their guard. Jesus has not addressed the first question of ‘when.’ Today we see other key parts of this passage to help us show this is relating to the destruction of the temple in 70 AD.
I. Fig tree (vs 28)
I have tried to show that chapter 13 is not stand-alone but is a part of the section which proceeded with it, namely Jesus’ Temple ministry. We noted when we were looking at chapter 11 the important imagery of the fig tree. Not only Jesus curse the fig tree (Mark 11:12-14, 20-26) but also the names of Bethany and Bethphage which is near the Mount of Olives which is where Jesus is teaching his disciples about the Olivet discourse. We noted that Bethphage and Bethany can both be referred to as the House of Figs (Bethany) or The House of unripe Figs (Bethphage). The fig tree was an image of the fruitless temple. Beautiful on the outside but the inside, it did not bear any fruit and therefore is useless. Jesus in Mark 13, brings up the fig tree again. I believe this has a double meaning, which is not two different meanings but tied together.
a. Mark 11
The first is that Jesus uses the image of the fig tree when a fig puts forth its leaves. This is how Jesus found the fig tree in Mark 11:13. As we noted then this when we looked at Mark 11. Fig harvest would happen from mid-August to mid-October. Following the harvest, the fig tree would produce buds that would stay on the tree over winter. Then in March or April, the buds would turn into ‘immature’ figs, which in Hebrew are called ‘paggim.’ The ‘paggim’ are eatable, although not as ripe as they would be at the end of the summer. The fig tree that Jesus approaches has no fruit at all. Although summer is near, there is no ripe figs or even’ paggim.’ We also noted that Mark sandwiches Jesus cursing the fig tree and the lesson from the withered tree with the cleansing from the temple. The temple is cleansed and withers away. Jesus uses this image again in Mark 13. I believe this is a part of a bookend to the temple ministry.
b. Summer is near
Jesus’ second image of the fig tree is a lesson to be learned from nature. Luke expands on this in Luke 21:29, “Look at the fig tree and all the trees…” This particularly addresses the disciples’ question, “what will be the signs when these things are about to be accomplished.” Jesus has explained to them that it will start with birth pains, but it will progress. To continue in the birth analogy, the contractions will increase in pain and frequency. Eventually, you will be able to know when it is about to be the time of the harvest. We see that he gives specific instruction to his disciples found in verse 29, “So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that he is near, at the very gates.” When you see the accumulation of all these things taking place. That is all that he has mentioned before. The birth pains, bearing witness, those hating them for his name’s sake, the false christs the abomination of desolation, the tribulation, Christ sending and gathering. All of these things will be like a fruit tree preparing to produce fruit. Summer is coming.
Jesus then explains and gives a very specific reference, “you know that he is near, at the very gates.” This is a strange explanation. Who is near? What does it mean to be at the gates? Now of course there are many different interpretations of who ‘he’ is. For those who believe this is to happen in the future, the meanings are somewhat endless, many people would explain ‘he’ would be Satan or the antichrist. Others explain that Jesus is near the door. However, for those, as I have argued that this is speaking of the future during the time of the lesson, but it is not in the past we can know who Jesus is referring to. Mainly this is Emperor Titus, who was the leader of the army that came in 70 AD and dismantled the temple so that no stone would be on another (Mark 13:2). The temple was started by Herod the Great in 20 BC, of which the disciples turned to Jesus and told them about the wonderful stones (Mark 13:1). This temple was completed in 66 AD. But around April 70 AD, around Passover, Josephus the Jewish historian explains that Emperor Titus began his siege on Jerusalem. He started on the third wall on the west end of Jerusalem at the Jaffa gate. Summer was coming, he was at the gate. Titus would besiege Jerusalem and in just under 5 months he had taken control of the city and the destruction of Jerusalem would be fulfilled as Jesus had said.
II. This generation (vs 30)
This generation is not complicated for someone who believes that Jesus is talking about the destruction of the temple. Jesus is most likely teaching this around 30 AD, or thereabouts. The term generation often referred to a period of about 40 years. This generation means this generation. That although the disciples themselves would not see the destruction of the temple (E.g. it is thought that Peter died in 66 AD under Nero). The passage does not say that they would not pass away but this generation would not pass away. Jesus explains that all these things will take place before this generation passes away. So, this becomes a problem verse for those who believe that most of the Olivet discourse speaks of the destruction of the temple. I explained this was my position. I would have explained that ‘these things are specific to verses 2, 4, and 8. That the emphasis was on how you would define ‘these things.’ However, this becomes a bigger problem for those who believe that this passage is to deal with the moments before Christ returns (Futurist).
I have mentioned before that this is a perplexing passage and that people who share our understanding of the Bible have a different interpretation of this passage. Generally, speaking their difference does not come from this passage but from how they understand the relationship between the Old and the New Testament. I cannot walk through that all right now. However, I will briefly explain how they handle this passage and my short rebuttal of their interpretation. Some explain that a generation does not always mean 40 years. Some explain generation as an age between two comings of Christ, others refer to a generation of sinners. However, generally speaking, those who believe this passage speaks of Christ’s second coming, so they explain that ‘these things’ speaks of Christ’s second coming. So when Jesus says, when you see these things taking place, that then applied to that generation. However, I have two disagreements, regarding verse 30. The first is how they present ‘these things’ clearly the disciples’ question is regarding Jesus’ statement in verse 2. They often replace ‘these things’ with the phrase of Christ’s second coming, which I do not see in this passage. But specific to verse 30, is they often pause or place a comma in between “Truly, I say to you, this generation…” In doing so they want to separate you (the disciples) and this generation. However, Jesus is speaking to the disciples. Simply, that this generation’ means ‘this generation’ not ‘that generation.’ Now, as I said, the major disagreement is not found in Mark 13, but Daniel and the 70 weeks and Revelation the 1000 years. Now, as you have noticed I have not referenced these passages because I do not believe that is what Jesus is talking about in Mark 13 (cf. Mark 13:1-4). But it speaks of the judgment of the temple and Jerusalem.
III. My words will not pass away (vs 31)
Jesus finishes the answer to the second question with a wonderful statement of the authority of which he speaks. That his words will not pass away. Jesus spoke this way in the sermon on the mount about the Law of God (Matt 5:18). Now he speaks of the judgment coming on Israel. Christ is the great prophet. One who was to follow Moses, and was greater than Moses (Deut 18:15). We saw this when we studied the transfiguration (Mark 9:1-8). Christ’s words will not pass away. Just as Jesus had said this generation will not pass away he explains that His words will not pass away, that they would outlive heaven and earth. What a claim of authority. The author of Hebrews explains, “Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son” (Hebrews 1:1–2a). When we think of creation we can see the reality of death everywhere we look; like leaves on the ground. However, we see the heavens and the earth and they seem to be timeless and unmovable. James Edwards, a commentator, explains, “For Jesus to assert that his words will outlive heaven and earth is a remarkable claim of authority. The only being who could reasonably make such a claim is God.” Only God’s word has the guarantee to never pass away (Is 40:8). Jesus claims that his word, will not pass away They will outlive heaven and earth.
This is a bold claim from Jesus, that words spoken by man are hardly ever recorded, we have speeches in history but they are only a slither of the words which are spoken in history. And when we think of it only a few men and women have their few speeches recorded throughout history. Words are often vapors that are spoken and forgotten. Few things are as short-lived as words that come from our lips. Jesus’ words will not pass away. The longevity of the earth is short-lived compared to Christ’s words. Christ the great prophet has spoken. He has uttered words that will stand forever. Think of the reality of this truth, here Jesus is with four of his disciples and they ask him a question on the top of Mount Olivet, possibly around 30-33 AD. Here we are about two thousand years later, in southwest Virginia, studying the words that came out of Jesus’ mouth that day.
Jesus cleared the temple, was challenged by the leaders about his authority, and spoke the parable of the wicked tenants, which the leaders perceived was about them. Jesus was asked questions to try and get him to be killed. Jesus asked the question who is David’s son? And gave the warning of the unfaithful, unfruitful scribes in contrast to the faithful widow and her two small coins. Jesus is the great prophet who has come to the people and has been rejected by the leaders and will be killed by the leaders. Just as they have killed the prophets that have gone before (Matt 25:34-36). The prophet has spoken. Jesus speaks in Matthew chapter 23 of the seven woes of the Religious leaders, which he concludes in verse 36, “Truly, I say to you, all these things will come upon this generation.” The wicked tenants have been sent the king’s son to speak, and they will soon seek to kill him to claim the inheritance. The judgment will come just as God had foretold (1 Kings 9:6-7)