Over the past several weeks now, we've read Jesus' response (Mark 13:5-27) to the disciple's question in Mark 13:3-4. It has been both frightening and yet encouraging because in the end Jesus returns and His angels will gather us together to be with Him (Mark 13:27).

Now Jesus gives two examples, or lessons, to illustrate the conditions signaling His return. This week we'll discuss the lesson of the fig tree (Mark 13:28-33), and next week we'll discuss His illustration of the man going away (Mark 13:34-37).

Jesus tells us that just as we know Summer is near when the twigs of a fig tree become tender and its leaves come out, so also are the indicators that Christ is returning (Mark 13:29).

Jesus assures us all these things will have happened before this generation passes away (Mark 13:30-31). This "generation" is not a generation as we normally think of one - it refers to the age of grace, the New Covenant, which placed the Law of the Old Testament upon our hearts.

Christians recognize this age of grace by the Holy Spirit dwelling within us, teaching us through the daily study of His Word, from both the Old Testament and the New Testament.

Yet even with all that, God has not - and will not -reveal that day, that hour in which Christ will return - to anyone, not even the angels or His own Son (Mark 13:32). Only God knows that time.

So Jesus tells us to be on guard (Mark 13:33). How do we do that? We've already discussed how a lot of what Jesus describes has been happening since recorded history. It's not necessarily that these things will intensify, though they may; it's not that there will be something different about these events as that day draws closer.

What we are to do is to be alert and pray. If we live our lives without studying God's Word daily - not just studying the end-times, but His entire Word, we enable the Holy Spirit to work in our lives, to make us more Christ-like, so we can recognize the unique and subtle nuances of all aspects of our life here on earth and respond to each new situation and circumstance as God would have us. Such study will enable us to discern right from wrong, to recognize false teachers and even expose them - and it will make us alert as Jesus commands us.

Is Jesus returning soon? I don't know, and neither does anyone else. But we know the signs Jesus has given us (Mark 13:5-27), and we know what we need to do to be on guard: study His Word.