Continuing our simple Sunday reflections in the Gospel of Mark, this week 13:28-31 still within Jesus’ ‘Olivet Discourse’ and urgent warnings to the disciples over how to respond to dramatic, destructive and imminent events in Jerusalem.
Jesus’ prophetic, scary and yet pastoral monologue is drawing to a close. From start to finish it has been peppered with dramatic images and OT themes.
In this text he throws in another, that of the fig tree. Just as the budding leaves are a sign of summer to come, so the events he has just described are forerunners of the cataclysmic fate of the Temple, subsequent persecution and the victory of God in the Son of Man.
These verses make it hard not to read the weight of this passage in a ‘here and now’ rather than a futurist framework. ‘This generation’ will experience ‘all’ the predicted events for themselves. The purpose of the whole discourse is to prepare the disciples for what is to come.
Yet Jesus is giving them hope. These events are known by him in advance. They will not be a surprise to God and now, forewarned, neither will they be unexpected by the disciples.
As we saw last week, even in the midst of violence and pagan desecration of the Temple, they are to understand and know that no ruler, however apparently powerful and idolatrous, can frustrate the triumphant victory of the Son of Man [who is Jesus].
Israel has a future; the disciples are to stand strong and know that they will be part of it. They are to trust Jesus is telling the truth for he speaks with the authority of God – thus his remarkable Christological claim that his words have eternal validity – a claim only appropriate for God himself.
Few passages make it so clear that following Jesus is no guarantee of an easy life!
Jesus’ pastoral advice for his friends is do not be surprised by hardship, persecution, opposition and violence; do not misinterpret events and fall prey to fear or false teaching; rely on the Spirit to guide and give wisdom; don’t welcome death – survive if you can!; and in it all to take heart; trust in him; and live in hope of the vindication and triumph of the Son of Man who will gather his people to himself in a new eschatological age.
Yesterday I posted on the assassination of Shahbaz Bhatti in Pakistan. All over the world, Christians are suffering and dying for their faith. Such suffering is not to be welcomed – injustice, violence and oppression are to be resisted, especially by Christians in a position to help their persecuted brothers and sisters .
But suffering is not to be a surprise. It is not somehow incompatible with the election and love of God, as if he has abandoned his people. And certainly the idea that a life of ease, comfort, ‘un-surprise’, security, and absence of opposition is to be an expected ‘blessing’ of being a Christian is simply a bizarre modern and Western idea.
The Lesson of the Fig Tree
28 “Now learn this lesson from the fig tree: As soon as its twigs get tender and its leaves come out, you know that summer is near. 29 Even so, when you see these things happening, you know that it is near, right at the door. 30 Truly I tell you, this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened. 31 Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away.