People make clocks out of the strangest things. A quick Googling for “weird clocks” will show all sorts of strange things to look at. I have shown a few here and some of them you can buy if you click on that link.
In Mark 13 Jesus was sitting with at least four of his disciples telling them of future things. He concluded his lesson by using the fig tree as an analogy.
28 “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. 29 So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that he is near, at the very gates. 30 Truly, I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things take place. 31 Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.” (Mark 13:28-31–ESV)
We look at blossoms in our day knowing by the arrival of certain leaves or flowers that spring has sprung. The same thing was going on with fig trees in Palestine, and Jesus used that as a framework for interpreting the times.
Generations – not just one
The disciples generation
Jesus died around A.D. 33 (plus or minus a few), and the Emperor Vespasian sent his son Titus to Jerusalem and in A.D. 70 he destroyed Israel. Some of Jesus’ followers would have remained alive until this event. That is what I believe Jesus meant when he said to the disciples that their generation would not pass away before these events came to pass.
I do not think that the use of the fig tree was merely a convenient analogy. It also would have been a helpful reminder to be on the lookout. Every blossoming of the fig tree with leaves might have been a bell going off drawing the attention of the Christians to the things going on around them.
Peter, James, John and Andrew were not the only ones to get ready and they would have told others of Jesus’ words. The preparation in Palestine was to get out of town! Some Christians did as Eusebius recorded.
There is another generation and that is the generation of the church. The third abomination of desolation is yet to come, and just as the early church we only have a few things to go on. Many in Jerusalem died before Titus came (think of James the son of Zebedee who is recorded in Acts 12 as having been executed by Herod). He did not see this prophecy of Christ come to fruition. Many of us will not see the return of Christ, but some may.
Fig trees and clocks
There is a tendency among Christians to interpret various events as the end of it all. Some will decide that one person or another is the anti-Christ who will be closely connected to the next abomination of desolation. All of these things are rather impractical. We need to be ready, but we must not lose focus. Even if one or the other ends up being the anti-Christ it does not have any bearing one how we should live now. Christ will come when God the Father tells him to come and not before. We may have some inklings, but certainly no sufficient basis to do as the Thessalonians did becoming idle.
There were many terrible things that happened in the 20th Century. Think of World War 1 and World War 2. After the Fascism of that second world war think of the spread of communism. Under Hitler millions of Jews died. Under Lenin and Stalin millions of non-Jews died. China, too, was not without great atrocities and these tendencies linger in North Korea even now (the early 21st Century). Persecutions are ongoing against Christians in many areas of the world.
Were any of those things that which would usher in the return of Christ? Apparently not1. So, we would do very well to not decide the next terrible thing is the end. We also must not decide that the end will never come. It will.
These things are the signs of the end, but when the end comes people lose. God loves people not wanting any to perish. When he closes out the world it is over. It is like taking your dog or your guinea pig to the vet when it is time for it to be put to sleep.
Not all passes away
Jesus was about encouragement. Remember the way he encouraged his disciples throughout this passage? He prepared them and warned them. He encouraged them and guided them. We are in the same boat. In verse 31 we see that Jesus’ words never pass away. We have them and by banking on him we thrive…spiritually. We may or may not thrive physically, but spiritually “it’s all good.”
The world won’t finish without God’s decisions. Our job is to be people of God’s word. They are sturdy and upon them we should stand. The standing is for godliness. We are to be upright and loving. We are to be compassionate. The way and style of Christ is the shape we are to have. Be there! That is good. That is eternal and there is the place people thrive.