THE OLIVET DISCOURSE
In Mark chapter 13, Jesus is teaching on the signs of the times before He returns, speaking of His second coming. It is a section that is known as the Olivet Discourse because Jesus is on the Mount of Olives and He is teaching His disciples these things. Also, keep in mind that this is still Tuesday, the end of a long day of ministry, and Jesus continues to teach. He uses every opportunity to share these things with His disciples.
As Chapter 13 opened up we saw the general signs that related to the Lords second coming and the establishment of His kingdom on this earth, the kingdom age. He spoke of the many false Christs, the many false prophets that would come on the scene, but the end is not yet! There will be wars, world wars, and rumors of wars, but the end is not yet! There will be earthquakes, famines, intense persecution against Christians, but the end is not yet. Jesus likened the signs to birth pains or labor pains. As a woman goes into labor the contractions, the pains are far apart and their intensity is mild. But, as the birth of the child gets closer, the pains get closer together and they increase in intensity until the baby is born. And that is what we will see with these signs, increasing in frequency and intensity until the kingdom age is born!
And as Jesus moves on in His teaching, He gets more specific. One of the major signs of His second coming, that it is getting closer, is the abomination of desolation. And that speaks of the Antichrist going into the rebuilt temple in Jerusalem and demanding to be worshiped as God. Jesus said that when you see this take place, speaking to the Jew, they are to flee to the mountains for the wrath of this man will come upon them to destroy them. And from the Scriptures we know that this occurs at the half-way mark of the 7 year tribulation period. And thus, we can count off 1,260 days from that event until the second coming of Christ!
And when Christ does return, there will be cataclysmic events in the heavens that will affect the earth. And as Christ returns we are told in Matthew "For as the lightning comes from the east and flashes to the west, so also will the coming of the Son of Man be...Then the sign of the Son of Man will appear in heaven, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory." Matthew 24:27, 30. All will see Him as He returns to set up His kingdom on this earth, He does not come in secret, but like lightening flashing across the sky, all will see Him!
Now, in our study this evening, we are going to cover a parable that is related to the second coming of Jesus and then an exhortation by Jesus that we should be watching for His return, we should be ready for His return. We should not be caught by surprise!
As Christians, this period of time known as the tribulation period is not for us but for those who have rejected Christ. Paul said in I Thessalonians 5:9-11, "For God did not appoint us to wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us, that whether we wake or sleep, we should live together with Him. Therefore comfort each other and edify one another, just as you also are doing." What will happen to us? We will be caught up to be with the Lord, the rapture it is called, and that will occur prior to the start of the tribulation period. Again in I Thessalonians Paul tells us "For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And thus we shall always be with the Lord. Therefore comfort one another with these words." I Thessalonians 4:16-18. But, as we are going to see, it is important to known what season we are living in!
1. Now the key to this parable is the fig tree. You see, when the leaves start coming out, those tender shoots are growing, it is a sign that summer is approaching. And that will help us to understand the signs of the last days. So who is the fig tree or what does it represent?
2. An obvious point is the fig tree represents the nation of Israel. In Mark 11:12-14 we read, "Now the next day, when they had come out from Bethany, He was hungry. And seeing from afar a fig tree having leaves, He went to see if perhaps He would find something on it. And when He came to it, He found nothing but leaves, for it was not the season for figs. In response Jesus said to it, Let no one eat fruit from you ever again. And His disciples heard it." Jesus was cursing the fig tree because it did not produce any fruit, it did not do what it was created for. And He was using that as an object lesson of the nation of Israel, that they were not producing fruit in their lives, they were not doing what they were created for. And so if Israel is the fig tree, many then point to the fact that in 1948 they became a nation once again, after wandering without a homeland for almost 2,000 years. And so, with this sign, we see that summer is near.
3. Now I do believe that Israel being back in the land is an important sign for us, but I dont believe that is what Jesus is saying here. In Luke 21:29-30 we are told, "Then He spoke to them a parable: Look at the fig tree, and all the trees. When they are already budding, you see and know for yourselves that summer is now near." Notice, not just the fig tree, but all the trees, as they start putting forth the tender shoots and new leaves you know that summer is coming. It is an agricultural reference and not a symbolic one!
1. See what things happen? The false Christs, the false prophets, the wars, the world wars, the rumors of wars, the earthquakes, the famines, the persecutions, the abomination of desolation, the cataclysmic signs in the heavens and on the earth! You see, we dont know the day or the hour that the Lord is coming for His bride, the church, to rapture us home to be with Him. But we do know the day the Lord is returning in His second coming, for we are told it is 1,260 days after the abomination of desolation takes place! So we can look out and see the signs that are out there and know it is getting close!
1. Now those who liken the fig tree to the nation of Israel say that the generation that sees the formation of the nation of Israel, which occurred in 1948, will not pass away before the second coming of the Lord. And a generation in the Bible can be anywhere from 40 years to 100 years, but I dont believe that is what is being spoken of here.
2. It can mean that the generation that sees these things begin to take place, the birth pains or the beginning of sorrows, will see the end of all of this and the second coming of Christ. I believe that is a very legitimate interpretation of this verse, and yet, I believe it goes even deeper than that. Not to say that this view is wrong, but I think there is another aspect to it.
3. The word for "generation" in the Greek is GENEA, and it can speak of a race or nationality. I also believe that one of the signs is that this nation of Israel, the Jews, would not ethnically pass away, be eliminated, until God accomplishes all these things. In 70 AD, Titus and the Romans came in and destroyed Jerusalem and scattered the people all over the place. Some 37 years before this event took place, Jesus warned the people of this dispersion. He said "For days will come upon you when your enemies will build an embankment around you, surround you and close you in on every side, and level you, and your children within you, to the ground; and they will not leave in you one stone upon another, because you did not know the time of your visitation." Luke 19:43-44.
And for some 1878 years the Jewish people were scattered throughout the world, not having a homeland. Big deal? You bet it is a big deal. You see, you have to realize that no other ethnic group has survived more than 5 generations, more than 150 years, without being assimilated into the other cultures they are living in. It has never happened before the Jewish people did it. Dont believe it? How many Babylonians do you know? How many Assyrians do you know? Why? Because they have been assimilated into other cultures when their nations were destroyed.
In Ezekiel chapter 37, Ezekiel is given a vision of dry, lifeless bones. And the Lord asked Ezekiel, "Can these bones live?" And he said to the Lord, "Lord, only you know!" And as Ezekiel watched, these bones came together, the muscles, the ligaments, the skin and then God breathed in them life! During the massacre of the Jewish people by Hitler, over 6 million Jewish people were murdered. And as you look at that, you may wonder, "Can these people live?"
On the heels of that destruction, God brought this dead nation back to life once again, and that occurred in 1948 as they once again became a nation. It truly is a miracle of God. Even the Hebrew language was preserved, as Zephaniah 3:9 tells us, "For then I will restore to the peoples a pure language, that they all may call on the name of the LORD, to serve Him with one accord." Hebrew is a pure language, there are no swear words in it. If you want to swear you cant do it in Hebrew, you have to use a different language. I think that is cool!
And so the preservation of this nation tells us that the Lords return is drawing close. This was not luck, nor was it a chance happening. For 1878 years they didnt have a homeland, and now they do, the nation has been reborn! Gods prophetic time clock has begun ticking!
1. Everything we place our trust in will pass away, except the Word of God, it is eternal, His truths are unchanging. And as many like to deny this fact, the Second Law of Thermodynamics tells us that everything is wearing down, moving towards disorder, falling apart. Did you know that the sun loses 1.5 million tons of mass every second! That means that every hour the sun is shrinking about five feet or its diameter is decreasing by about one tenth percent per century. Now dont worry, we still have about 10 billion years to go before it burns out and we are in a deep freeze!
But I personally dont believe that this life will go on that long, for I believe the Lords return is very close. And as Christians we look for a new heaven and a new earth. This old one, Peter tells us "But the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night, in which the heavens will pass away with a great noise, and the elements will melt with fervent heat; both the earth and the works that are in it will be burned up." II Peter 3:10. And in Revelation 21:1 we are told, "Now I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away..." So trust in Gods Word, the things that He has spoken and is speaking to us, for they are eternal, they are unchanging!
1. The Lord is exhorting us to be ready, to look at the signs and watch for His return. And Jesus seems to be speaking of the rapture of the church here, for no man knows the day or hour it will occur, only the seasons we are in by the signs that are out there. On the other hand, we will know the day of His second coming, as I have said, 1,260 days after the abomination of desolation takes place.
2. Why didnt Jesus know of this day? Because in His humanity He emptied Himself of some of His Godly attributes, but now He is fully aware as He was received in glory. Paul said in Philippians 2:5-11 tells us, "Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, but made Himself of no reputation [emptied Himself of His privileges], taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross. Therefore God also has highly exalted Him and given Him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those in heaven, and of those on earth, and of those under the earth, and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father."
1. Again, the Lord wants us to pay attention, to be careful, to be ready! Why? It would seem that as this day draws closer people will not be ready, they wont be looking for His return!
1. In this illustration here, Jesus is the master who goes to a far country, leaving His servants, you and me, in charge to take care of His home. And the reason we are to be ready is because we dont know when the master will return. And Jesus uses the Roman watch, in which there were four. The evening watch was from 6 PM to 9 PM. The midnight watch was from 9 PM to midnight. The crowing of the rooster was from midnight to 3 AM. And the morning watch was from 3 AM to 6 AM. It could happen at any time! The Jews had the night watch broken down into 3 watches.
2. In Luke we also read of this warning to watch for the Lords coming, to be ready. In Luke 21:34-36 we read "But take heed to yourselves, lest your hearts be weighed down with carousing, drunkenness, and cares of this life, and that Day come on you unexpectedly. For it will come as a snare on all those who dwell on the face of the whole earth. Watch therefore, and pray always that you may be counted worthy to escape all these things that will come to pass, and to stand before the Son of Man." You see, this will be a surprise to the people of this world, but it should not be a surprise to us!
3. Also, Jesus says we should pray that we are "worthy" to escape these things that are coming upon the earth. Does that mean we need to be good enough to be accepted? Do we have to work our way into this position? Some feel that way, but it goes against what the Scriptures say. We are not saved by our good works, but our faith in Jesus Christ. Paul said in Ephesians 2:8-10, "For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast." You see, our deliverance only comes through Jesus Christ, not by our own efforts! We are saved by the grace of God, and that is received by faith!
4. As Christians, we should live each day as if this is the one the Lord will return on, because it might be! And it will help you to walk in a holy manner, causing you to keep your eyes focused upward, looking for His return, just as Jesus told us we should do!