Signs of the Times
In Mark 13:29 we are confronted with an interesting situation where the Greek can be translated in two ways. Jesus says: “Even so, when you see these things happening, you know that it/He is near (ἐγγύς ἐστιν), right at the door.” The verb ἐστιν in this sentence is third person singular, and personal endings do not designate gender. It could be “…it is near” or it could be “…He is near”. When there are more than one possible translation, the translator has to choose what he deems the most probable meaning of the sentence. In this case the subject of the sentence might be the destruction of the temple, or the coming of the Lord, or even the time for the event might be the subject of the verb in this sentence.
Let us look at a few ways translations have handled this verse:
(KJV) “So ye in like manner, when ye shall see these things come to pass, know that it is nigh, even at the doors.”
(RSV) “So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that he is near, at the very gates.”
(NLT) “In the same way, when you see these all things taking place, you can know that His return is very near, right at the door.”
(CEV) “So when you see all these things happening, you will know that the time has almost come.“
As a general rule the subject nearest to the verb would be indicated, yet all possibilities should be considered. The context of the passage as a whole should be our guide.
John Gill, (1690-1771) has already pointed out this ambiguity: “know that it, or he is nigh, even at the doors; either that the destruction of Jerusalem is near; or that the son of man is just ready to come to take vengeance on it…”
Directly preceding the example of the fig tree (Vs. 28) Jesus mentions His return which would be the easiest choice. Yet His next statement in verse 30 causes a problem. “Truly, I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things take place.” Jesus seems to be saying that He will return within a single generation, but that of course, didn’t happen.
According to prof. Bill Mounce (http://www.koinoniablog.net) the chapter is in an ABAB structure. The disciples’ question in verse four, “Tell us, when will these things happen? And what will be the sign that they are all about to be fulfilled?” according to the parallel in Matthew 24:3, is really two. (1) What are the signs that the temple will be destroyed? (2) What will be the signs preceding Jesus’ return?
The first A asking for the signs that the temple is about to be destroyed, is answered in verses 5 – 23, the first B, inter alia that Jesus’ followers will be prosecuted and wars will rage. But verse seven says (NIV): “Such things must happen, but the end is still to come.” or as GODS’ WORD translates it: “These things must happen, but they don’t mean that the end has come.”
If indeed these signs were to indicate the end of the world and Jesus’ return, why would He advise His followers to flee to the mountains? (Vs.14)
In typical prophetic telescoping, Jesus then skips thousands of years between verses 23 and 24, and talks about his return, bringing us to the second A, implicated in verse 4. “What will be the signs preceding Jesus’ return?”
The second B answers this question in verses 32 – 37. There will be no preceding signs or reason to flee. It will be completely unexpected for “No one knows about that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father”! (vs.32) That is why Jesus warns in verse 37: “What I say to you, I say to everyone: ‘Watch!’ ”
Between the answer to the question concerning the preceding signs for the destruction of the temple, (the first B, vs. 5-23) and the answer concerning the returning of the Lord, (the second B, vs.32 – 37) Jesus gives the sign of the fig tree. Does it refer to the destruction of the temple, or to the return of Christ?
If indeed we accept that Mark 13:29 refers to the destruction of the temple and not the return of Christ, it is in accordance with verse 30: “I tell you the truth, this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened ”, for the temple had indeed been destroyed within that generation.
If you had to translate this passage, would you translate with “it” or “He”?
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