Series Theme: Short meditations through Marks Gospel
This Page: CHAPTER 13
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Notes: These meditations are particularly short for easy digestion. To go to a chapter use the table above. To go to a verse use the contents on the left of each page which has been simplified by showing only every third meditation. Please go to nearest number and scroll up or down.
Mk 13:1 As he was leaving the temple, one of his disciples said to him, "Look, Teacher! What massive stones! What magnificent buildings!"
I have always found this a fascinating verse. There is a truth below the surface that is amazing. Herod's Temple is believed to have been a great building and so the disciples' reaction to it is quite natural. It is quite natural to look upon great architecture or great works of art and applaud it; it is the outworking of the image of God in mankind and may indeed be very beautiful, ev e n if built or created by sinful me n .
So, yes, it is a great building but hold on, what building is it? It's the Temple . What was the Temple supposed to do? Well originally Solomon's Temple was to be a replacement for the Tabernacle, a more permanent place where God and man could come together. When originally built, in both the Tabernacle and the first temple, as it was complete the glory of the Lord filled it, an indication of the divine presence. Hence it was often referred to as the House of God.
So this great building is supposed to be a place where God makes His presence known and the people come to worship. The Temple, from t he human side , was primarily a place were people could come to worship God and seek to put right their relationship with Him through sacrifices, or expressing their love for Him through offerings. From the divine side it was supposed to be the place where God resided or made His presence known, but apart from a brief instance some thirty years or so before when an angel appeared to a priest called Zechariah , the presence of God how not been known in the Temple for many centuries.
So what do we now find. Jesus and his disciples leaving the Temple . Who is Jesus? He is the human representation of Giod, the very Son of God. So what is going on? God is walking out of His temple and the people with him are only aware of the great buildings not the great person! This is God walking out of his Temple and the focus is on the buildings.
In the book of Ezekiel the glory of the Lord is seen, stage by stage to leave the Temple in prophetic visions. Although the Temple was rebuilt after the Exile, the glory of the Lord did not fill it again in the same way it had when it was first built by Solomon. Yes, it was there as a constant reminder of God 's presence in Israel , but He Himself had been silent for over four hundred years. Now here He is in human form and the disciples focus on buildings. How often are we more taken up with our buildings or our servi ces and fail to give any thought to the presence – or absence – of God? A scary thought!
Mk 13:2 "Do you see all these great buildings?" replied Jesus. "Not one stone here will be left on another; every one will be thrown down."
So we considered the reality of this Temple theoretically being the House of God and God himself has just walked out of it in the form of His Son Jesus Christ. That is all true, but there is another reality here as well which Jesus speaks into, and it is our tendency to be impressed by temporary or transient things of this world.
Yes, this is the truth that Jesus now speaks: there is coming a time when all of these fine stones will be thrown down. I n fact, in AD70 after a rebellion, Rome came into Jerusalem and utterly destroyed Herod's Temple and it has never been rebuilt.
Yes, we tend to look at ‘big ' things or ‘big' people and we are impressed and when we are impressed we tend to act accordingly. We tend to respect what is ‘big' but sometimes that respect is not justified. The disciples may have been overwhelmed by the apparent greatness of this Temple , but in reality it had been built to the glory of Herod the Great and not to the glory of God. Beautiful it may have been but it was more an edifice or memorial to godless mankind and so much of what went on in it was in reality godless.
So what impresses us? Are we impressed by ‘big people' wearing fine suits and who hold positions of authority within our society? Be careful, their personal lives may not hold up under scrutiny. That is even more true of film stars and celebrities which the media hold up before us and invite our adoration. Again, their lives so often do not stand up under scrutiny. How many ‘great people' go through several marr iages, leaving behind a trail of broken relationships and damaged children? Every divorce points to the frailties and failures of one or both partners to the marriage. Every divorce where there are children, leaves behind damaged young people. So don 't be impressed by ‘great people' whose lives reveal, to those who will see, vast shortcomings.
Do political parties or government institutions impress us ? Beware for all such things are still run by frail, sinful human beings \and often they are human beings who are godless.
Are we impressed by great works of literature, art or music? We may be moved by them and indeed they may be just that – great works of art – but check out the person behind them for history is littered with persona histories that are best not examined if you still want to feel good about them. Realise that even those who produce such things have what we call ‘feet of clay'. Their achievements as those made in the image of God may truly be great but they themselves may not be worthy in their personal lives of s uch exaltation. Be careful.
Mk 13:3,4 As Jesus was sitting on the Mount of Olives opposite the temple, Peter, James, John and Andrew asked him privately, "Tell us, when will these things happen? And what will be the sign that they are all about to be fulfilled?"
Jesus and his disciples had left the Temple and as they had gone the disciples looking back had commented on the greatness of the architecture. In response Jesus merely said that they would not be there for ever but will one day all be pulled down.
The leave the city and go across to the Mount of Olives nearby and there they sit down to rest, it appears. Time passes between verses 2 and 3. It appears from the text that although we may assume all the disciples are there, Peter, James, John and Andrew are sitting closest to Jesus and while sitting there with him, they quietly turn to him and ask him what he meant a little earlier when he spoke about the Temple being pulled down.
Now we suggest they asked him quietly because Mark says they asked him privately. In other words, not everyone heard their question. It may be that they felt talking about pulling the Temple down was incendiary talk, the talk of revolutionaries and so didn't want to say anything out load. They have two questions.
The first question is very simply when such a thing will happen. Now we might have thought that Jesus' original comment was so general that he meant just some time in the future, but the disciples have come to learn that when Jesus says something he is always quite sure of what he is saying and says nothing casually. If Jesus has said we he has said, he must have a specific time in mind. There is no question in their minds that this was just general talk. This was a warning about something that was specifically going to happen at some point in future history. Of course now we know that it happened about forty years later in AD70.
But they also have a second question which is equally as interesting: what will be the sign that this is all just about to happen? No w why should they ask such a thing? Well think into our own times and the tsunamis that have happened around the world in the last decade killing thousands. Experts are saying they are certain that another will come within the next thirty years south of India . Well as a warning that is too general. So, the next best thing is, if you can't exactly tell us when, what signs will warn us it's about to happen? Why do you want to know? To do something about it, to flee the area, to get out of the area of destruction. Thus the disciples realise this warning is serious and they'll need to get away. Now see all that follows.
270. Don't be deceived
Mk 13:5-7 Jesus said to them: "Watch out that no one deceives you. Many will come in my name, claiming, `I am he,' and will deceive many. When you hear of wars and rumors of wars, do not be alarmed. Such things must happen, but the end is still to come.
The danger of deception crops up at various times in the Bible. Of course the first instance was Satan deceiving Eve with, “ You will not surely die," the serpent said to the woman. "For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God knowing good and evil." (Gen 3:4,5) Deception is being made to believe something that is untrue.
Later in Israel 's early history we find the deception of the Gibeonites: “Joshua summoned the Gibeonites and said, "Why did you deceive us by saying, `We live a long way from you,' while actually you live near us?” (Josh 9:22). They had pretended to be distant aliens and not inhabitants of Canaan and deceived Joshua into accepting them.
So now when we come to Jesus talking about the days to come, he warns his disciples not to be deceived, not to be conned into believing something that is not true. And what is that? It is people who will come in the years ahead and declare that they are Jesus who has come back, the Messiah returned, and they will deceive many gullible people into following them. Indeed when we look at history that has happened; there have been those who have come with just that claim and there have been people who have followed them because they did not know what the Bible says.
While on that point, always remember the words of the two angels to the disciples when Jesus had just ascended to heaven: “This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven." (Acts 1:11) i.e. he'll come in the sky! (Read also Rev 19:11-21)
So on the human level, watch out that you aren't deceived by false Messiahs. But there is also going to be an international dimension to watch for as well: wars and rumours of wars. Now that seems to have a longer term dimension to it. Yes, the disciples no doubt thought that it applied to that century but it clearly didn't because it still continues. It more feels that these things Jesus is speaking about are more the characteristics of the period of the church, the period between Jesus' first coming and his second coming. There is more here than just the destruction of the Temple , although that may be one of the early features of this age. Two things: First, don't be alarmed when you hear these things for, second, they are merely parts of the age, for the ‘end' will be the end of this age. These things are ‘normal' in this age!
271. The beginning
Mk 13:7,8 Such things must happen, but the end is still to come. Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be earthquakes in various places, and famines. These are the beginning of birth pains.
The difficulty about this section, and the equivalent longer section in Matthew's Gospel, si that it starts off being focused on the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem but then gets much bigger. There is going to come the destruction of the Temple but that is just one thing to watch out for in the coming centuries, is what Jesus seems to be implying.
The other difficult thing is that the disciples as good Jews, and we as believers, so often focus on what we think might happen when Jesus returns. The apostle Peter under the anointing of the Holy Spirit, preaching on the day of Pentecost clearly indicated that the period from Jesus onwards was that which had been prophetically referred to ‘the last days' (see Acts 2:17). The events surrounding the return of Jesus we thus tend to refer to as ‘the end times' (e.g. Mt 13:39, Dan 12:4).
When Jesus is speaking, however, it is sometimes difficult to determine whether he is referring to things that will happen generally throughout or during these last days or whether they are specific things happening just prior to his return.
In our verses above Jesus seems to indicate that the things he is speaking about now are things that will happen during the last days but there is more to come before the actual last day – the end is still to come, he says.
There will be national turmoil, he declares with nation rising against nation. The First World War was a classic example of that, and then similarly, but in a different way, the Second World War. Both conflicts were much more than just one nation against another.
But, he says, there will also be earthquakes. Now there have been earthquakes scattered throughout this period of church history, the last days, but whether it is simply our communications are better or it has been so, but the last century does seem to have been particularly prone to earthquakes and, of course, we now also link them to tsunamis. Seismologists tell us that every year and earthquake will happen somewhere around the globe, not always of major proportions but sufficient to be measured.
And finally in the verses above, there will be famines. Africa has been the continent that brings famine after famine to our awareness. Each of these things may be increasing as the years pass and we get nearer the return of Jesus. These particular signs are clearly all around us.
Mk 13:9-11 You must be on your guard. You will be handed over to the local councils and flogged in the synagogues. On account of me you will stand before governors and kings as witnesses to them. And the gospel must first be preached to all nations. Whenever you are arrested and brought to trial, do not worry beforehand about what to say. Just say whatever is given you at the time, for it is not you speaking, but the Holy Spirit.
From ‘big event' stuff Jesus now moves in his warnings about the future to very personal stuff. So far they attitude might have been, ‘well yes, these sorts of things happen so we just have to try and avoid them if possible'. But now it becomes very much about what will happen to them. The word ‘you' appears five times in these verses.
In the light of what follows, Jesus opening warning sounds a bit strange: “You must be on your guard”. But then he speaks about things that WILL happen to them so why be on your guard for what must happen?
But what will happen? They will be handed over to rulers and flogged by religious authorities and they will stand before national leaders to be witnesses, and they will be arrested and put on trial. Well they were arrested and flogged in the very early days of the church, most of them were to die as martyrs and the apostle Paul was arrested and stood before kings as a witness to Jesus.
But why be on your guard? Well perhaps there is at least a twofold answer to this. First is it like Jesus is saying, “don't be surprised or don't be caught out if these things happen to you.” If the Christians thought that life was going to be easy, they might have felt very down when they found they were being opposed and even outright persecuted. Being aware of what was coming would actually help them cope with it when it came.
Perhaps another indirect aspect of this warning was the implication for the disciples not to deliberately inflame opposition. Sometimes Christians can be remarkably insensitive and brash and invite hostility. This is not the persecution that Jesus is thinking about. Opposition would not always be there for in fact in some of the early days the disciples had favour with the community (see Acts 2:47, 5:13).
But Jesus gives them an encouragement as well. It is like he is saying, be on your guard and fully understand the dynamics of what is happening because you'll never be alone and when you are required to speak up for me, you won't have to worry about what you should say because the Holy Spirit will give you the words at the right time. It will be all right for He will be with you.
273. Family Division
Mk 13:12,13 Brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child. Children will rebel against their parents and have them put to death. All men will hate you because of me, but he who stands firm to the end will be saved.
If the former part of the warning about opposition and persecution wasn't bad enough, the continuation of this warning becomes positively hard rending. That people should betray people, simply for their beliefs is terrible, but that they betray them and have them arrested or even put to death for their belief in Jesus is even more terrible, yet that has happened in history and still happens.
It tends to occur only where the government of the country is particularly hostile to the Christian faith and therefore puts pressure on local communities to give up those who would support a belief that is threatening to them. China is today's primary example of this but Saudi Arabia and some other Arab countries are also severely hostile to Christianity and the Church. Arrest and imprisonment for being a practising Christian is still not uncommon across the world today, despite the world's token acceptance of human rights and Western governments prefer to turn a blind eye for the sake of ongoing trade. Yet the records show that there is ongoing arrest and imprisonment for Christian believers and also of people who simply disappear and are never seen again.
What is bizarre about these things, is that where there is a totalitarian government opposing Christianity, they are opposing the very people who are likely to be the best citizens working for the good of their communities. Yes such governments recognise that the faith community has a different sovereign allegiance and that allegiance makes them speak out for injustice and unfairness, and however much such regimes protest against it, they are the worst in the world as far as injustice, unfairness, inhumanity and human rights abuses go.
But under such regimes fear reigns and people are forced to take sides and if they don't ‘side' with Jesus, then they will side with the totalitarian government and will oppose and even betray the beliefs that may be held within the family.
Whether Jesus' words in respect of children rebelling is still within this context or within a wider, more general context is unclear, but the truth is that where there is belief in Jesus there will also be the absence of belief and so often the enemy will take that and, using fear, will stir up antagonism and hostility and rejection which may mean family division and then even persecution against believing family members – simply for their belief in Jesus. How terrible, how revealing!
274. Who? What?
Mk 13:14 "When you see `the abomination that causes desolation' A standing where it B does not belong--let the reader understand--then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains.
Now because we are confronted with the most unusual shorthand, we have left in the verse above the two note references to remind us what our Bible's say. Mark has inserted “let the reader understand ” in this sentence as an emphasise for us to think about what is here because ti definitely sounds very strange to the modern mind.
This phrase, “ the abomination that causes desolation” occurs three times in Daniel - Dan 9:27, 11:31, 12:11 and some have suggested that it refers to the altar to the pagan god Zeus Olympus, set up in 168 B.C. by Antiochus Epiphanes and prefiguring a similar abomination that Jesus predicted would be erected. The fact that the Temple was destroyed in AD70 and subsequently in 691AD the “Dome of the Rock” was built on the temple mount by Islam, may be considered by some as that fulfillment.
Yet scripture also seems to speak of the setting up of an image of the antichrist in Jerusalem (see 2Th 2:3,4, Rev 13:14) in the end times: “the man of lawlessness is revealed, the man doomed to destruction. He will oppose and will exalt himself over everything that is called God or is worshiped, so that he sets himself up in God's temple, proclaiming himself to be God.” (2 Thess 2:3,4) and, “Because of the signs he was given power to do on behalf of the first beast, he deceived the inhabitants of the earth. He ordered them to set up an image in honor of the beast who was wounded by the sword and yet lived.” (Rev 13:14)
Whatever else we may think of this, it is clear that something was to be set up in the Temple in Jerusalem that would be a horror to faithful and pious Jews who regarded the Temple as a holy place, the house of God. This image – or whatever – would cause desolation, i.e. God would not tolerate it. Was it the arrival of the Romans after insurrection in AD70 which was followed by them totally destroying the Temple ? Yet the things are followed by other things which would seem to indicate the end time. The problem, of course, is that there is no Temple in Jerusalem . For this to be exactly fulfilled (if it is not as we have suggested above) it means the Dome of the Rock will be destroyed – with total anger from the Arab world – and the Temple rebuilt, before it is finally taken over by the powers of darkness. Whatever the mysterious fulfillment, Jesus' warning is, “When this happens, run for your life. We'll see more about that in the following meditation.
Mk 13:15-17 Let no one on the roof of his house go down or enter the house to take anything out. Let no one in the field go back to get his cloak. How dreadful it will be in those days for pregnant women and nursing mothers!
Sometimes in Christian circles, for some situations, you hear a mentality that says, sit tight and hold on, it will always be all right because God is in command and Jesus will look after you. The history of martyrs says that sometimes, humanly speaking at least, it won't be ‘all right'. Sometimes the Lord allows us to go right into these life threatening situations, but Jesus' words here challenge the ‘all right' philosophy.
He is quite clear and very specific and there is no doubt about what he is saying. When you see this ‘abomination' standing where it does not belong (presumably in the Temple ) - take to the hills, and quick! There is no question of sit around, wait and be a witness. Whatever this is that it is coming, it means destruction and death for anyone who hangs around, so get out quick!
In verse 14 it had specifically warned the inhabitants of Judea to take to the hills so we are clear that it is something that is going to come to Jerusalem and affect all the surrounding districts. Now these following three verses emphasise the point – get out quickly!
The first part of the warning sounds like the same sort of thing they say on aircraft or in public buildings when they are going fire warnings – don't stop to collect your belongings. In those days the roof of the house was often flat and was a working space so the instruction was don't even go back downstairs and back into the house to collect anything; get away as fast as you can. But then some members of the family might be working out in the fields. The instruction for them was don't bother to go back to the house to collect your coat, just get away as quickly as possible.
But then comes a heart-felt concern for people who may not be able to move out quickly or even run – pregnant women or those with young babies that they will have to carry. These people will be slowed down and these people will be at risk.
Particularly when you come to this last concern you realise the strength of the emphasis that Jesus is putting on all of this – it is going to happen VERY quickly. There will be no time for thinking about this, discussing or debating the issue: one minute all will be well and the next minute ‘they' will have arrived and set up the abomination, and then immediately after that, they will be coming to get you! Of all of Jesus' warnings, this one is the most scary when you stop to think.
276. A Unique time
Mk 13:18-20 Pray that this will not take place in winter, because those will be days of distress unequaled from the beginning, when God created the world, until now--and never to be equaled again. If the Lord had not cut short those days, no one would survive. But for the sake of the elect, whom he has chosen, he has shortened them.
If these warnings had not already had a very sense of urgency and awfulness, they do even more now. It is going to happen but whether the saints can affect when it happens by praying or whether Jesus is just saying ‘hope it won't be winter time' is not completely sure again.
That consideration is followed by the terrible warning that when it happens it will be a unique time in the history of the world, worse than anything that has happened before or will happen after it. This seems to have a sense about that makes it far worse than that which happened at the destruction of Jerusalem in AD70.
In Revelation there is mention of the great tribulation: “ he said, "These are they who have come out of the great tribulation; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.” (Rev 7:14) and this appears to be a time akin to that which Jesus is speaking of in these verses above.
Yet the wording above is strange for it seems to refer to everyone and then ‘the elect. The warning is that what is coming is going to be so bad that “no one” would survive it – no one from the whole world? – if God had not had mercy for the sake of the elect, the Christians who He wants to spare. Thus He limits its duration. The clear inference is that He will save the elect in the midst of this. Some speak of this as a time of great persecution and cite the verse above from Revelation, but it may well be that the Tribulation is more a time of immense judgments upon the world – of which Revelation is full.
The overall picture of the end times as shown here in the Gospels and in Revelation appears to be a time of great and increasing ungodliness and great and increasing judgments of God. According to Paul in 1 Thess 4:15 there will still be Christians alive at the coming of the Lord, though it is also clear that there will be many martyrs (Rev 6:9,11)
Of course we have to balance this with the warning that “the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night. While people are saying, "Peace and safety," destruction will come on them suddenly, as labor pains on a pregnant woman, and they will not escape.” (1 Thess 5:2,3) Thus as with Jesus words above, it will come very suddenly and before it there will even appear to be peace and it will be that which might catch people out thus the call to the saints is to be alert (1 Thess 5:6) and thus not be surprised when it comes.
277. Beware Deception
Mk 13:21,22 At that time if anyone says to you, `Look, here is the Christ!' or, `Look, there he is!' do not believe it. For false Christs and false prophets will appear and perform signs and miracles to deceive the elect--if that were possible.
Back near the beginning of this chapter we read Jesus' first warning about deception: “ Jesus said to them: "Watch out that no one deceives you. Many will come in my name, claiming, `I am he,' and will deceive many.” (13:5-6) Now we find a repeat and an expansion of that.
He had followed that first warning with a warning about upheavals that would come, persecution that would come and family divisions that would come but then, at verse 14, he warned about a specific incident that would be the start of a terrible destruction from which all should flee, a destruction referred to as the great tribulation.
It is into that context that he now brings a second warning about deception. Possibly the first one applied to the whole era of Church history but this one now seems to apply to those specific last days for he starts it with “At that time” and has firmly put it in the context of the awful things happening that are to be worse than anything before or since.
We have commented previously that the end time seems to be characterized (in Revelation) by godlessness but it also appears that it will be characterized by demonic deceiving powers being manifest. Look at the warning.
First is is a warning against false Christs and false prophets, men coming in the name of Jesus but who are not of him. Yet they will have the words and, even worse, they will also have the power. If they are not of God then we can only assume that the power is given them by Satan.
So why should God allow such a time? Why should He allow Satan to use such power? The answer must surely be twofold. First is is part of the judgment of God. In Romans 1 we see the judgment of God sometimes comes in the form of God lifting off His hand of restraint so sinful man goes ever deeper into his sin until he comes to the point, either of destruction or of repentance. What we appear to have here is an extension of that whereby God allows Satan free reign to deceive even more those who are already deceived – to confirm them in their unbelief, if you like. The second reason we might suggest, is to sift the real from the unreal. Many will be deceived and follow this false beings, and it will only be those who are whole heartedly committed to Jesus who will remain faithful. Hence Jesus' words about the elect being deceived. It is possible where the relationship is tenuous.
278. Be Alert
Mk 13:23 So be on your guard; I have told you everything ahead of time.
Even in such a short verse, a slight mystery. It appears that Jesus was speaking directly to his disciples, then and there, to be on their guard and to be alert. Did Jesus himself expect all these things to come about in their lifetimes? Was Jesus therefore limited in his knowledge, because so often we see he isn't, and he's just spoken prophetically about a whole lot of things to come in the future which suggests that he had an immense amount of knowledge?
Well, a few verses on, as he emphasises that these things that he has spoken of WILL happen, he then adds the following: “ I tell you the truth, this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away. "No one knows about that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son , but only the Father.” (v.30-32)
The conclusion that we are left with is that Jesus spoke as the Holy Spirit enabled him, and no human being was ever to sensitive to the Spirit as Jesus, the very Son of God, YET in his human form it seems he was limited on rare occasions to things that the Godhead had left in the Father's domain so that only He would know and thus the Spirit cannot convey it to the Son. It is a mystery this mix of human and divine that was Jesus in the flesh. Someone has illustrated it referred to one of the offerings in Leviticus, where flour and oil are missed together. They remain unique but it is impossible observing the offering to distinguish between them.
So Jesus instructs them to be on their guard, and the assumption we have made is that he is warning them about these things that are to come. But when we consider them we realize that some of them would be fulfilled in their lifetime, some in the era of the Church, and some right at the very end of that era. This, yes, the warning is for them, but it is also for us, those Christians who live at any time throughout the era of the Church (and of course we don't know how long that will be because the Father has not said!), A ND specifically for those Christians who find themselves observing some of these signs that tell them that they are indeed living in the very last days.
Note also that Jesus says, “I have told you everything ahead of time.” There are no surprises coming; he has told us the nature of the period and indeed then some of the specific things of the period. Is it ultra clear? No, because if it was then there would be no surprise element about it, which Scripture clearly indicates there is. Thus the call is for us to remain faithful and alert in every day of this period.
279. Look up
Mk 13:24,25 "But in those days, following that distress, " `the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light; the stars will fall from the sky, and the heavenly bodies will be shaken.'
If some of the things before in Jesus' warnings had not been very clear, this is less so. Should this be understood literally so that perhaps there will be upheaval in the skies, or perhaps pollution that blanks the skies out? Or is this, as some suggest, simply figurative prophetic language indicating great upheaval as an expression of god's judgement? Or is this all figurative language that speaks of the falling of all authority on the earth that sheds light on the affairs of the world?
The passages quoted here in the text appear to come from or are reflected in two passages from Isaiah, both referring to the day of God's judgment: “See, the day of the LORD is coming --a cruel day, with wrath and fierce anger-- to make the land desolate and destroy the sinners within it. The stars of heaven and their constellations will not show their light. The rising sun will be darkened and the moon will not give its light,” (Isa 13:9,10) and “The LORD is angry with all nations; his wrath is upon all their armies. He will totally destroy them, he will give them over to slaughter. Their slain will be thrown out, their dead bodies will send up a stench; the mountains will be soaked with their blood. All the stars of the heavens will be dissolved and the sky rolled up like a scroll; all the starry host will fall like withered leaves from the vine, like shriveled figs from the fig tree.” (Isa 34:2-4) and the same comments would seem to apply to them. We are left speculating on the actual outcome.
The same sort of picture appears to be conveyed in the book of Revelation: “I watched as he opened the sixth seal. There was a great earthquake. The sun turned black like sackcloth made of goat hair, the whole moon turned blood red, and the stars in the sky fell to earth, as late figs drop from a fig tree when shaken by a strong wind. The sky receded like a scroll, rolling up, and every mountain and island was removed from its place.” (Rev 6:12-14) As horrific as this appears to be, it clearly doesn't entirely wipe out the human race as you might expect it to for we find following, “Then the kings of the earth, the princes, the generals, the rich, the mighty, and every slave and every free man hid in caves and among the rocks of the mountains.” (Rev 6:15)
Possibly the best that we can say is that Jesus is confirming earlier prophetic Scriptures that at the very end there will be a time of immense destructive upheaval that will follow that previous time of distress, the tribulation. Not a good time to be around!
280. Jesus' Return
Mk 13:26,27 At that time men will see the Son of Man coming in clouds with great power and glory. And he will send his angels and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of the heavens.
The testimony of the New Testament to Jesus' Second Coming is quite clear. It starts here in the Gospels. Now Jesus had already made an oblique reference to his coming again: “ If anyone is ashamed of me and my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will be ashamed of him when he comes in his Father's glory with the holy angels.” (Mk 8:38)
The Old Testament was full of prophecies about God winding up the world and making a new start at the last judgment but the scholars had mostly focused on the a coming of the Messiah to put things right for Israel; they had not seen it as a two part thing. The reality, we now see, was that Jesus came to deal with our sins and has now given us an era of the Spirit to live out the wonder of that. The fact that the world at large will reject the testimony of the Church, means that Jesus will return again but this time as a conquering king.
So here above we have Jesus' second reference in the Gospel to his coming again. The next major reference to it is by the angels immediately after Jesus has just ascended to heaven : “This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven.” (Acts 1:11) That was very specific: Jesus would come again one day and his coming would be visible to everyone because he would appear in the sky. The apostle Paul was also clear about this when he said, “This will happen when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven in blazing fire with his powerful angels.” (1 Thess 1:7) Note that he adds to what we have already in that his coming will be a very spectacular coming, complete with his angels.
Our final reference is the actual event as revealed I nteh book of Revelation : “I saw heaven standing open and there before me was a white horse, whose rider is called Faithful and True. With justice he judges and makes war. His eyes are like blazing fire, and on his head are many crowns. He has a name written on him that no one knows but he himself. He is dressed in a robe dipped in blood, and his name is the Word of God. The armies of heaven were following him, riding on white horses and dressed in fine linen, white and clean.” (Rev 19:11-14) So there he is, the Word of God in the flesh, returning in power to judge the word and herald in a new day. Hallelujah!
281. Watch the Signs
Mk 13:28-30 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. Even so, when you see these things happening, you know that it is near, right at the door. I tell you the truth, this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened.
Now when I first came across these verses and saw the reference to the fig tree I thought Jesus was going to refer back to the incident of the fig tree being cursed but, no, this reference to a fig tree is for a completely different purpose.
Again and again Jesus is saying to his disciples, be alert, watch out for the signs so you won't be surprised or caught out when these things happen. The number of times he says it and the different ways that he says it, suggests that he really does want his disciples to understand and remember these things. There may be question marks over some of the things, the way they will work out and when they will occur but above all that comes this persistent instruction – think, look, remember, understand and act!
To all that he has said so far, now comes this very simple illustration. If it was in our country he might have said “Learn from the apple tree” but in that country fig trees were some of the most common and they would all be familiar with them. So yes, they knew that in the course of a year the tree changed. At some point the new stems of twigs would grow and new growth would be obvious and then leaves would appear. Yes, they had been around long enough to know that when this was happening they were well into Spring and Summer was just around the corner. When certain things started happening, it was an indication of the season and what they might expect next.
So, rather like Jesus' use of parables, this is a simple illustration that they would all understand and remember. But it is just a reminder illustration and it needs an application – which soon follows. So, continues Jesus, when you see the things I have been speaking about starting to happen, you will know ‘the season' in God's economy and you will know what is coming soon.
But what about, “ this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened ”? You will note in your Bible a note that goes with the word ‘generation' to indicate that the original word can also mean ‘race'. The suggestion is, therefore, that Jesus does not mean a single generation as we mean it, but that this, which he has been talking about, is for this human race and will come to this human race and in this era of the Church. He anchors it in our continuum and it will happen sometime in our history.
282. Be Ready (1)
Mk 13:32,33 "No one knows about that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. Be on guard! Be alert! You do not know when that time will come.
We have taken note of these verses before when we first considered whether Jesus actually knew everything about these last and then final days that he has been speaking about. These verses clearly tell us that he doesn't! At least the human side of Jesus that walked the earth did not know these things and relied entirely upon the Holy Spirit to communicate the Father's heart for the world. But the actual time when this will happen – this is something that comes on a ‘need to know' basis only.
Sometimes in Christian circles preachers seem to be so sure about everything in Scripture and yet the truth is, as we have noted many times earlier in these studies, that there are many questions over Scripture because much is left unsaid. As we have noted many times, of the Scriptural record appears like students' notes – bare and skimpy and, as the apostle John said, there is so much more that could have been recorded about Jesus' three years of ministry that if it were all written down the books would fill the world. (Jn 21:25)
We like to assume we know everything and have answers for everything we find in the Gospel, but when we do we simply reveal our own insecurity. There is sufficient in the word of God to establish our Faith and keep us in His love, but true security comes from knowing Him and even our future security in the light of the things Jesus has been saying, comes in our knowledge of Him being in us and with us, and there to keep us.
When Jesus says that even he doesn't know exactly when all this happen, it is as if he says to us, “And it's all right, you don't have to know the exact dates for I have said sufficient to help you when these things do start happening. It's all right not to know everything!”
And of course the apostle Paul knew this and communicated it when he said we live by faith, not by sight (2 Cor 5:7) Faith is built on what God has said and if He hasn't told us everything, that's all right. He knows that what He has told us is sufficient to release faith in us. We too need to realise this and be at rest in it.
So why is Jesus saying all this? He says it for the reasons he gives in these verses – so that we may be alert and on guard. If we knew exactly when it was all going to happen, we might become apathetic and sleepy in our faith but the fact that we don't know means that we need to constantly be alert and watchful, constantly in contact with the Father, constantly being sensitive to His leading – and warnings!
283. Be Ready (2)
Mk 13:34,35 It's like a man going away: He leaves his house and puts his servants in charge, each with his assigned task, and tells the one at the door to keep watch. "Therefore keep watch because you do not know when the owner of the house will come back-
In this chapter Jesus piles on warning after warning: “ Watch out that no one deceives you.” (v.5), “You must be on your guard.” (v.9), “So be on your guard” (v.23), “Be on guard! Be alert” (33), “Therefore keep watch.” (v.35), “I say to everyone: `Watch!'” (v.37)
We have already recently commented how neither Jesus, his disciples nor us will know exactly when all these things will happen. All we know is that they will and that we are to watch out for them because the herald the last day when Jesus will return in judgment.
In the midst of the various warnings, Jesus has warned them against being deceived (v.5,21) that will severely test the elect (v.22) and so his ultimate call is to remain faithful. To emphasize this Jesus puts it almost in parable form. He imagines an owner going away leaving his house in charge of his servants.
Now there are various little bits of his ‘story' that appear to stand out. The man, surely, has got to be God or Jesus, and his ‘house' is surely the world. Now the first thing to note is that Jesus is going to leave his world for an undefined period of time – but he will come back. That is what is behind this story although not directly stated. The point is that the master of the house is going to come back but he hasn't said when.
The next thing to note is that he has committed the care of the house (world) into the hands of his servants and there is an implied accountability here. He states about the servants, “each with his assigned task.” Every believer has ‘tasks' from Jesus. The apostle Paul said, “For we are God's workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” (Eph 2:10) The Holy Spirit equips us to do the things we are best designed to do and therefore as He leads us, we will exercise the gifts and talents He gives us to do the things He puts before us. When Jesus returns he expects to find us doing the things he has put before us. It is an implied call to ensure that we are following our calling when he comes back again.
But note also that there is one servant at the door whose role is to watch out for the master's return. We must assume that this is the role assigned to the prophets who will discern the times and as they realize the signs that are appearing, they will call to the Church to be ready fo his immediate return. Again and again there is the call to be ready and that implies awareness and faithfulness. Be ready!