June 4, 2017
Jesus is coming back. This is a non-negotiable truth of the Christian faith. But the question is when? Perhaps no other question has sparked more interest or been debated more hotly. While Jesus Himself said no one knows the day or the hour, people have always tried to answer the when question anyway. Maybe we don’t know the day, but maybe we can know the week or the month or the season. Maybe we can narrow it down a bit. Maybe we can identify some signs.
Not to worry – Rapture Ready has done the work for you. A popular site on the world wide web, RaptureReady.com has a page entitled the Rapture Index. On a weekly basis, they assign ratings to signs appearing around the world – you know, earthquakes, famines, wars, false Christs, the Middle East, etc. The higher the rating, the more likely Christ is to return. While not setting an actual date, they seek to identify periods most suitable. The number this week? 183. Almost 15 years ago, when I first discovered this incredibly important site, the number stood at 144. This week’s rating of 183, then, is very high – now we can all be ready. After all, there’s no time to change your mind, you don’t want the Son to come and be left behind.
According to the site, “the Rapture Index is a Dow Jones Industrial Average of end time activity, but it would be better if you viewed it as prophetic speedometer. The higher the number, the faster we’re moving towards the occurrence of the pre-tribulation rapture.” Here are some definitions of their ratings:
Rapture Index of 100 and Below: Slow prophetic activity
Rapture Index of 100 to 130: Moderate prophetic activity
Rapture Index of 130 to 160: Heavy prophetic activity
Rapture Index above 160: Fasten your seat belt. Folks, we are at 183. Hyperspace.
Of those predicting dates, they often point to signs. For example, one author wrote, “desolating earthquakes, sweeping fires, distressing poverty, political profligacy, private bankruptcy and widespread immorality which abound in these last days obviously indicate that the Lord is returning immediately.” While it sounds like that was written yesterday, it was actually written by Baptist preacher William Miller in 1843 as he predicted the return of Christ to be that year, then 1844. Followers sold their possessions, donned white rapture robes, and waited on rooftops. The day became known as The Great Disappointment.
There have been date setters throughout church history. Wikipedia actually has a page listing about 160 dates throughout history. Not all, but most dates suggest the return of Christ – others just the end of the world. The guessing started with the disciples themselves. At Jesus’ ascension, they asked, is it at this time you’re going to restore the kingdom to Israel? Is this it, Jesus, is it time? To which Jesus responded, it’s not for you to know the times which the Father has set by His own authority – you, just be about the business of being my witnesses, in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and to the ends of the earth. Don’t worry about the timing of My return, you just be faithful until I return.
And yet, even with those words of instruction from Jesus, people have tried to guess the day – obsessed with speculation. Some think with the help of computers they’ve been able to crack some secret Bible code. They’ve come up with timelines and diagrams that plot last days scenarios which are more difficult to read than the book of Revelation – and that’s no small task. It would take the rest of our morning to share all the dates with you, but let me share some of the more interesting.
About 50 AD, the Apostle Paul had to write a letter to the church of Thessalonica to assure them the date had not already passed – they had not somehow missed it.
A priest living in the second century said Christ would return in 500 AD – he somehow came up with the date from the dimensions of Noah’s ark.
The year 1000 AD goes down as one of the most heightened periods of hysteria – many were affected by a prediction Jesus was coming back at the start of the new millennium. The sole reason was simply the magic number 1000. During the final months of 999, everyone was on his best behavior; worldly goods were sold and given to the poor or to the church – like they would need it; swarms of pilgrims headed east to meet the Lord in Jerusalem; buildings went unrepaired; crops were left unplanted; and criminals were set free from jails. When the year 999 turned to 1000, nothing happened, although the church did refuse to return the donations.
There are so many more: Herbert W. Armstrong, founder of the Worldwide Church of God, said Christ would come in 1936, then in ‘75. He didn’t. Chuck Smith said the rapture would come in 1981, Pat Robertson suggested ‘82 would be a good year. 1988 was a great year for predictions, namely because it came 40 years, or a generation after 1948, when Israel became a nation. So, Hal Lindsay said the rapture would come by 1988. When that year came and went, he said, oops did I say ‘48? I meant 40 years after 1967, that is 2007. Still here.
Another 1988 date setter was Edgar Whisenant, a NASA scientist who published a book entitled, Eighty-eight Reasons for the Rapture in 1988. It sold over 4 million copies. He selected a three day period in September, and as I understand it, the Trinity Broadcasting Network pre-recorded three programs on the subject of the rapture for those three days, just in case no one was around to air them. The subject of the program was, what to do in case all your Christian friends disappeared. When the year came and went, Whisenant wrote another book, Eighty-nine Reasons for the Rapture in 1989. He sold very few of those.
Peter Ruckman said the end would come around 1990, Benny Hinn 1993, Harold Camping 1994. Jack Van Impe has implied so many dates it’s hard to keep up, the latest being 2012.
The list goes on and on – big names: Nostradamus, Charles Manson, and Louis Farrakhan. Even Jonathan Edwards, John Wesley, Jerry Falwell and Tim LeHaye. Another very popular year was 2000, Y2K, remember that? Would it be global technological meltdown, a speed bump on the technological superhighway, or the end? Of course, many thought the new millennium would be the millennial, or thousand year reign of Christ. They explained, according to some chronologies, the new millennium would be the seventh millennium since the creation of the world. So, it would make sense, in keeping with the six days of creation and the seventh day of rest, that the seventh millennium would be the millennial reign of Christ.
In addition to Y2K, another term was coined – it’s called TEOTWAWKI. While it sounded like a Japanese motorcycle, it stood for “The End Of The World As We Know It.” 2000 was to bring it. People actually had TEOTWAWKI parties all over on December 31, 1999. The latest date I could find was May 13 – like three weeks ago. Missed it by that much.
With all the interest in end times prophecy, there has come speculation about the Antichrist. Who is he? Is he alive today? Some of the guesses I can remember reading about are Nero, one of the popes, Hitler, Stalin, Khrushchev, Henry Kissinger, Saddam Hussein, Mikhail Gorbachev (he even had the mark of the beast on his forehead), Ronald Reagan, Prince Charles, or Barack Obama. I haven’t heard anyone name Trump yet, but it’s still early in his presidency.
Think about it. With all this speculation – I didn’t say expectation, I said speculation about the coming of Christ one generation after another, what happens to the credibility of the gospel? You remember the story of the boy who cried wolf? Eventually people stopped listening. The world thinks we’re nothing but a bunch of lunatics, and the words of Peter ring true – they are scoffing, saying, “Where is this coming He, and by the way, you promised.” The truth is, while He promised His coming – He didn’t promise the when of His coming. In fact, we’re told over and over, no one knows the time – not the angels in heaven, not even Jesus Himself when He walked on this earth. If we spend our time in foolish and unbiblical speculation, we ruin our credibility as witnesses. If we’re always crying wolf, they will stop listening.
We do know Jesus will return. We believe, and must believe in the literal, visible, personal, bodily return of Jesus Christ – He promised it. All of us who know Christ pin our hopes on this truth – it’s what the Apostle Paul calls the blessed hope. It is that truth that sustains us – this sorry old earth is going to be set right one day. Notice, however, Jesus never said, I’m coming back, so speculate about when. No, rather, He said, my Father wants it to be a surprise. When He comes, He will not be looking for a when and where committee, He will be looking for a welcoming committee. And He wants us to be busy about His work till He comes – He wants to find us faithful – whether He comes tomorrow or not.
But, there is another extreme we need to avoid, and that’s to not look forward to and be prepared for the return of Christ at all. To believe, and therefore live in such a way we don’t believe His return will happen in our lifetimes. To believe everything will continue to go on, just like it has since the beginning of time.
You see, some Christians want to ignore biblical prophecy – it’s too confusing, or too difficult to understand. In the introduction to his study of the book of Revelation, Pastor John Ortberg points out many avoid the book altogether. They say, what, with “bizarre images, strange creatures, beasts and blood and bowls of sulfur and people eating scrolls, and bottomless pits, the whore of Babylon, the four horsemen of the Apocalypse, war, pestilence, famine and death – it just doesn’t seem like a very happy book.” Ortberg went on to say, you might meet the Apostle John in heaven one day, and he might ask, “how’d you like my book?” It would not be good to say, “I never read it – it was just too weird.”
That’s the opposite extreme – the promise of the return of Christ rarely crosses our minds at all, and as such, that hope has no impact on our daily lives. The only dates we’re setting are vacation, or graduation, or marriage, or due dates, or retirement dates. Because we don’t really expect Jesus to come back before we die. Just as there are those in Christian circles setting dates, there are also those confidently ignoring it. When you come right down to it, most of us don’t believe Christ will return in our lifetimes. Do we want Him to?
Are we looking for the sign of the Son of Man to appear in the sky, to see Him coming in the clouds in power and great glory? Are we eagerly anticipating the return of our Lord Jesus Christ? Do we have the attitude of the John, even so, come quickly Lord Jesus? Do we have the attitude of the Peter, it’s all gonna go up in smoke? Do we have the attitude of the Paul, to be absent from the body and present with the Lord is better by far? Does the promise of His return affect our thinking and living at all?
It’s been two thousand years since Jesus left. And Peter told us in II Peter 3:3-4 that in the last days, mockers, scoffers would come, saying, “Where is the promise of His coming? For ever since the fathers fell asleep, all continues just as it was from the beginning of creation.” Are the scoffers in these last days in the church? Are we the ones saying, where is the promise of His coming? Oh, maybe not verbally, maybe not even consciously – but when is the last time you looked at the Eastern sky and thought, today, Lord?
I’m not suggesting we start creating complicated charts. I’m not suggesting we start setting dates. I am suggesting we start living like New Testament believers who expect and long for the return of our Savior. Beyond that, we are commanded, in light of the certainty of Christ’s return, to live in such a way that, if He came tomorrow, we would be ready. We’re not to say He will come tomorrow, nor are we to live like He won’t – two extremes to avoid. And if we did, I believe it would change the way we live. We wouldn’t put off talking to a friend about the claims of Christ – after all, there’s no time to waste, we must redeem the time. We wouldn’t put off serving His church, because we want to be found faithful stewards when He comes. And we wouldn’t put off a deeper relationship with Him – because we might just see Him soon.
We arrive at Mark 13 today. Some of you have been waiting for this – as have I. As I began my study of this passage, I was sure we’d find a myriad of interpretations – I was not disappointed. One commentary suggests few chapters in the Bible have brought more disagreement than this one. Atheists and skeptics have pointed to this chapter as the reason Jesus and the Bible are untrustworthy. My commentator went on to suggest the history of the interpretations of this chapter was immensely complex – I found that to be an understatement.
You see, people answer the challenge according to their system of interpretation: dispensational, covenant, preterist, historical, futurist, idealist, iterist, literalist, allegorist, pre-trib, mid-trib, post-trib, no-trib, pre-mill, post-mill, a-mill. How you interpret the book of Revelation will have a bearing on how you interpret Mark 13. And so as we go through this chapter, some of you will like me, some of you will not. Some of you will be confirmed in your interpretation, some of you will not, and some of you will be just plain confused. My attempt will be to interpret this passage as simply and straightforward as possible, within the context of our study of Mark.
I want to remind you we are in the midst of Jesus’ Passion Week – it is Tuesday evening, Jesus will die on Friday. He’s about to leave, so He is interested in telling His disciples what to expect after His departure. These are important words. As we get ready to jump into Mark 13, which all agree is prophecy, there are four basic schemes of interpretation when approaching this text, and the book of Revelation, which are closely connected. So, for those of you who think we’ll never get to the book of Revelation, you might be right, so here’s a little taste.
- The first of the four approaches to this chapter is the preterist view, which seeks to limit the events to a description of the past – everything that appears in Mark 13 and Revelation 6-19 have already taken place in the past, namely by 70 AD, which was the Fall of Jerusalem.
- The second is the historicist view – that is, Mark 13 contains a chronological outline of church history, covering successive periods through history, from the time of Christ, to the present day, till Jesus returns in verse 30, and in Revelation 19. One of the challenges with this view is assigning dates and events somewhere along the way. That is, where are we – in Revelation chapter 14, 15, 16? Are we in the trumpet or the bowl judgments, or are we still in the seal judgments? Who knows? Who decides?
- The third view is the futurist view. This one says that much of Mark 13 and Revelation 6-19 is still future. The dispensationalists fall in this camp, for example, the Left Behind series. Many hold the events of the tribulation described here and in Revelation take place over a 7 year period, called the seventieth week of Daniel. Some hold the church will be raptured, or taken to heaven, before the 7 year tribulation; others before the great tribulation, that is, in the middle of the seven year period; others say the church will go through the tribulation, then be raptured by Christ as He returns to earth. I would guess many of you hold a futurist view.
- The last view is called the iterist view. This is somewhat of an eclectic view that sees the events as contemporary with the New Testament, leading up to 70 AD, and beyond – to include events happening throughout the future, progressively, and in increasing measure.
I probably hold more to the last view – that is, the events described in Mark 13 will happen through the church age until Jesus returns, with a special fulfillment at the end of time during the Tribulation, at the end of which, Christ returns. I’m not going to get into a pre-tribulation/ post-tribulation discussion in this chapter, so you can put away your stones. With that in mind, let’s read verses 1-4 to launch into the chapter.
Well there it is – the when question. Jesus and His disciples leave the Temple. Many suggest this is more than a physical departure – this is a spiritual departure as well. And we remember that event in Ezekiel 8-11 when the Spirit of the Lord left the Temple then because of their idolatry. In Ezekiel 11:23, we read, “The glory of the Lord went up from the midst of the city and stood over the mountain which is east of the city,” that is, the Mount of Olives. This had happened once before, and Jesus was acting it out again. God is done with the empty religion of the Temple, and it will be judged – as it was in Ezekiel’s day.
Well, He leaves and will never return to this Temple. And we remember a theme running through this Passion Week has been Jesus’ judgment of the Temple and the empty religious practices going on there. After arriving on Sunday, He came back on Monday and cleansed the Temple – My Father’s house is supposed to be a house of prayer – you’ve made it a den of robbers. He cursed the fig tree – an object lesson of what awaited the Temple. He verbally battled the religious leadership in the Temple, putting them in their place. He was now done with this religious sham. He leaves.
You’ll remember the Temple was constructed on a mount, and there was more to the complex than just the Temple itself. It was magnificent – truly one of the wonders of the ancient world. The complex covered 35 acres on the temple mount. There were a number of other buildings, but without doubt, the Temple itself was stunning. Historians tell us that Herod’s Temple was breathtaking, comprised of huge stones, some as large as 60 feet long, 12 feet wide, and 12 feet deep. Josephus tells us much of the Temple was overlaid with massive plates of gold, and what wasn’t covered with gold was made of pure white marble.
Now remember, the disciples are primarily from Galilee, so this is quite the sight to them. Teacher, behold what wonderful stones and wonderful buildings. They’re incredible, don’t you think? To which Jesus responds, “You’re impressed, are you? Do you see these great buildings? Not one stone will be left upon another, which will not be torn down.” Without doubt, everyone agrees, Jesus is referring to the destruction of Jerusalem, which happened in 70 AD. At that time, the Temple was completely razed to the ground. It is said that after burning the Temple and toppling the walls, the soldiers pried the stones apart to get the gold that had melted between them.
At this point, Jesus and the disciples made their way through the Eastern gate, across the Kidron Valley, and to the Mount of Olives. As Jesus was sitting there, with the Temple Mount still in view, these four disciples – two sets of brothers – the first four He called – came to Him with a couple questions. Jesus, tell us, when will these things happen, namely, the destruction of the temple, and what will be the accompanying signs? Jesus, when will all this happen, and how will we know it’s about to happen?
As I mentioned earlier, many agree that in His answer, Jesus interweaves what will happen at the destruction of the Temple in 70 AD, and what will happen when He returns. Lots of discussion, but let me suggest this common understanding of Mark 13:
- The End of the Temple and the Fall of Jerusalem (1-13)
- The Tribulation and the Second Coming (14-27)
- The End of the Temple and the Fall of Jerusalem (28-31)
- The Second Coming and Watchfulness (32-37)
Don’t miss that – watchfulness is a theme that runs through this chapter:
Vs. 5 – Beware
Vs. 7 – Do not be frightened
Vs. 9 – Be on your guard
Vs. 11 – Do not worry
Vs. 14 – When you see
Vs. 23 – But take heed
Vs. 29 – When you see these things
Vs. 33 – Take heed
Vs. 35 – Be on the alert
Vs. 37 – Be on the alert!
Which brings me back to the two extremes we need to avoid. One, obviously, is setting dates and being overly preoccupied with the when of Christ’s return. The other is to ignore it altogether. Over and over in this chapter, Jesus will challenge His disciples, and us, to be on our guard, to be on the alert, to be ready for the unfolding of the end. To be found faithful, doing the work He has left us to do. Clearly, there are a number imperatives – commands – in this chapter, and they have to do with being ready. So again, I ask you, when is the last time you thought, could it be today, Lord? I hope so.
We’re out of time. The disciples were asking a couple questions about the destruction of the Temple, and I believe Jesus gives an answer that transcends the rest of history. Again, as we approach this chapter called the Olivet Discourse, Jesus does give an answer, but it transcends the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple, it transcends the entire church age, in which we live, and it leads us to the culmination of time, the end of the age, when He will come in power and great glory. Are you ready? Are you eager?