July 2, 2017
Well, I don’t know if you realize it or not, but we have a serious problem. Over the past several decades, end-times prognosticators, date-setters, and prophecy mongers have told us all the signs are in place for Jesus to return at any moment. In addition to wars and rumors of wars, in addition to earthquakes and famines, in addition to false christs and the persecution of believers, there is also the fact Israel became a nation in 1948 – first time since 70 AD. We’ve been told, that certainly fulfills the prophecies concerning the regathering of Israel right before His return. It’s the Parable of the Fig Tree – this generation won’t pass away until all is fulfilled. But,’48 till now is about 70 years, almost two generations. We have a problem – the return of Christ is on hold. You see, but we just need to rebuild the Temple – if it wasn’t for that doggone Dome of the Rock built on the Temple Mount, we could proceed with the end of the age. In fact, it was circulated some years ago the stones for rebuilding the Temple were numbered and stored in the basements of K-Marts around the country. I wonder what Publix did with ours.
Enough sarcasm. Prophecy can be very confusing. Much of the time, we don’t understand it until after it happens – then all the pieces fall into place. We’ve been in the Olivet Discourse for a couple of weeks – a passage that has caused much confusion and controversy through the centuries. As I shared last week, we’ve been told for years all the signs are pointing to the end being right around the corner – and it may well be. But the problem is, the supposed signs we’ve heard about all our lives aren’t really signs at all.
I’ve been trying to encourage us not to get overly carried away with current events – not to assign dates – not to be carried away by end-times prognosticators who continue to whip people into a frenzy – assigning current events to Scripture passages. You see, predictions come and go – dates come and go – speculations come and go – current events come and go. I want to caution us not to get sidetracked – not to get involved in silly speculations, rather, since no one knows the day or the hour, to continually be prepared for the coming of Christ. I hope after the last couple of weeks your byword, even if you didn’t know it, was Maranatha, which means, Oh Lord, Come.
The truth is, we saw that wars, rumors of wars, earthquakes and famines, even persecutions, must take place, but the end is not yet. They must take place through the church age – the time extending from Jesus’ ascension to His return. They’re here, because we live in broken world that doesn’t work rightly. These are simply birth pangs to make us long for the end. We’re told, be prepared, be on your guard. These things will happen. When you hear of them, don’t be frightened, it’s not the end yet. So what portends the end?
We remember the context well by now. It’s Tuesday of Passion Week. Jesus has done battle with bankrupt spiritual leaders. His cleansing of the Temple, His cursing of the Fig Tree have been overt symbols that the old system of Law and sacrifice are about to come to an end. We remember, for example, when Jesus dies, the veil of the Temple – that separated people from the most holy place – the very presence of God – the veil was torn in two from top to bottom, signaling the way had been opened to His presence. We understand that came through the death, burial and resurrection of His Son Jesus.
So, Jesus has made it clear the old economy is over – better said, it will find its fulfillment in His perfect life, death and resurrection. And so, the Temple, with its impressive architecture, ornate fixtures and blood sacrifices, is done. In fact, not one stone will be left standing on another. What are you talking about, Jesus? When will these things happen – that is, when will the Temple be destroyed? Last week, we saw when we compare Matthew’s account, the disciples also asked, what will be the sign of Your coming and the end of the age? Now, they thought those two things – the destruction of the Temple and the return of Christ – had to be one event. They weren’t. The destruction of the Temple happened in 70 AD, and we’re still here eagerly awaiting His return. Along the way, we have these events happening that remind us He is coming – that make us long for His coming. Wars, earthquakes, famines, persecutions – they are the beginning of birth pangs – they’ve happened since the beginning and will continue until the main event – when He comes back.
But, they did ask two questions – when will these things be, the destruction of the Temple and what will be the sign of its end, and, what will be the sign of the end of age, and Your return? Our job as students of the Word of God is to determine when He was answering which question. It’s very challenging, thus the ongoing controversy, even disagreement between evangelical, Bible-believing, faithful believers.
Now again, Jesus said these things we looked at last week will happen, but don’t be frightened – and these aren’t signs. Be on your guard, endure to the end. But now, we get to verse 14 of the discourse, and Jesus changes His tune a bit. Read it with me – Mark 13:14-23.
Do you see? In the first few verses of the discourse, Jesus clearly describes life as it is – not only before the destruction of the Temple, but throughout the church age – these things must be. In a sense, be prepared, but don’t worry about it. When you’re persecuted, don’t worry – the Holy Spirit will give you what you need to say. It’s going to be tough, but endure.
But now, in answer to their question – what’s the sign we should be looking for – He says, but, and He changes His tune. But when you see the abomination of desolation standing where it should not – that’s the sign. Now’s the time for action. Not fright, but action. Notice the difference in His tone. When you see it, those in Judea should flee to the mountains. If you’re up on the roof, don’t even take time to go back inside the house to get anything. Take the outside stairs and flee. If you’re out in the field and hear about the abomination – it’s time. Don’t go back to get your coat – flee. There is a new sense of urgency here. What is Jesus talking about – is it the destruction of the Temple? The end? Both? You should know there is some disagreement, shocking, depending on how you interpret the Olivet Discourse.
Just so you know, most of my commentaries see Jesus talking about the destruction of the Temple at least through verse 23 – which I just read. If that is the case, and I think it is, we need to ask and answer some questions which form our outline today, namely:
- What (and when) was the Abomination of Desolation? (14)
- Why the command to flee? He’s told them to endure, why flee now? (14-18)
- What is this reference to tribulation? (19)
- What is this shortening of days? (20-23)
- And finally, what does this say to us as believers today?
Let’s begin with this abomination of desolation. It’s an interesting phrase – notice my version on the screen, has it in all caps which indicates it’s a quote of an OT passage. Matthew even tells us where when he writes, “Therefore when you see the abomination of desolation which was spoken of through Daniel the prophet, standing in the holy place…flee.” So, clearly this obscure phrase is found in Daniel – specifically three times – Daniel 9, 11 and 12. Jesus just told His disciples what to expect through their lives and through the church age, until His return.
Now, there are those who believe when Jesus transitions in verse 14 that He moves from talking about the church age to the tribulation period that will take place during the last seven years before His second coming. There is an intricate system called dispensationalism which involves a complex integration of the book of Daniel with Mark 13 and the book of Revelation. So, it is said, in verse 14, where Jesus talks about the abomination of desolation, we have fast forwarded to the tribulation when the Antichrist breaks his treaty with Israel and defiles the Temple. The challenge, of course, is the Temple would need to be rebuilt.
I’m not saying that won’t happen – if you find yourself a dispensationalist holding that position, that’s fine – there are other passages, including Daniel 9, that seem to refer to a seven year period called the tribulation or the 70th Week of Daniel. I’m just not convinced that’s what Jesus is talking about here, so we’re not going to get into it. And if you don’t have any idea what I’m saying – that’s fine, too. Whether you realize it or not, if you believe in a rapture that will take the church out of the world prior to a tribulation period, then you are to some degree a dispensationalist. Again, that’s fine. But, I’m not sure that’s what Jesus addresses here.
You see, as I’ve suggested, Jesus has been describing life in a broken world. Now, He proceeds to give His disciples the specific sign they asked about – when will these things be, what will be the sign when the Temple is to be destroyed such that not one stone is left standing on another? Without doubt, everyone agrees, when the Temple is destroyed, at the very least that will constitute an abomination of desolation. The question is, when did, or when does that happen?
Jesus gives us a little clue when He says this event is spoken of by Daniel the prophet. What does that mean? An abomination is an Old Testament idiom that refers to some kind of idolatrous affront to the worship of the true God. An abomination that causes desolation would be an idolatrous action that would desecrate the worship of God – here, in the Temple. So, Jesus tells us He’s talking about something the prophet Daniel talked about. There are three verses in the book of Daniel that refer to an abomination of desolation – I won’t read them, but here they are on the screen:
9:27 “And he will make a firm covenant with the many for one week, but in the middle of the week he will put a stop to sacrifice and grain offering; and on the wing of abominations will come one who makes desolate, even until a complete destruction, one that is decreed, is poured out on the one who makes desolate.”
11:31 “Forces from him will arise, desecrate the sanctuary fortress, and do away with the regular sacrifice. And they will set up the abomination of desolation.”
12:11 “From the time that the regular sacrifice is abolished and the abomination of desolation is set up, there will be 1,290 days.”
Everyone agrees that at least the middle passage speaks of an event that happened about 400 years after Daniel wrote his book. Antiochus IV came to power as a Seleucid king in Syria in 175 BC. He gave himself the name Epiphanes which means, God manifest. He saw himself as a deity and ordered the people within his realm, which included Israel, to present themselves to him in worship. The Jews, of course, refused. So, he marched on Jerusalem in 167 BC. Among other things, he devastated the city, defiled the Temple, offered a pig on its altar, erected an altar to Zeus which he supposedly incarnated; he prohibited Temple worship, forbade circumcision on pain of death, sold thousands of Jewish families into slavery, destroyed all copies of Scripture and slaughtered everyone who was found with a Bible, and resorted to every conceivable torture to force Jews to renounce their religion. That sounds like an abomination to me. This horrible time, to include the desecration of the Temple, everyone agrees, was the abomination of desolation of which Daniel spoke, at least in Daniel 11.
The question is, is there another abomination of desolation for which we should look that is similar to Antiochus Epiphanes? Jesus clearly says, yes. Antiochus did his thing 167 years before Jesus was born, so Jesus must be speaking of something else. But, from here, there is some disagreement. Again, there are those who believe that sometime in the future, the Antichrist, per Daniel 9, will do somewhat the same thing – that is, we’re still looking for another abomination – which is why some are waiting for the Temple to be rebuilt in Jerusalem. Thank you K-mart.
That may well be – II Thessalonians 2:4 seems to point to a similar future event when the Antichrist, the man of lawlessness if revealed. Again, that’s fine, but what we have in Mark 13, I think, refers to a different event – a different abomination that has already taken place. And I think I can prove it. In the parallel passage in Luke 21, we read these words:
7 They questioned Him, saying, “Teacher, when therefore will these things happen? And what will be the sign when these things are about to take place?” [We’re reading the same story.]
8 And He said, “See to it that you are not misled; for many will come in My name, saying, ‘I am He,’ and, ‘The time is near’. Do not go after them.
9 “When you hear of wars and disturbances, do not be terrified; for these things must take place first, but the end does not follow immediately.”
10 Then He continued by saying to them, “Nation will rise against nation and kingdom against kingdom,
11 and there will be great earthquakes, and in various places plagues and famines; and there will be terrors and great signs from heaven.
12 “But before all these things, they will lay their hands on you and will persecute you, delivering you to the synagogues and prisons, bringing you before kings and governors for My name’s sake….[see, same story. Drop down to verse 20] 20 “But when you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies, then recognize that her desolation is near.
21 “Then those who are in Judea must flee to the mountains, and those who are in the midst of the city must leave, and those who are in the country must not enter the city…
Do you see? Jesus tells us what He was talking about – He gives us His definition of the abomination that causes desolation in verse 20 – when you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies. When did that happen? You’ve heard me say it a dozen times – in 70 AD when the Roman general Titus laid siege to Jerusalem from April to September of that year. The abomination came as the Roman armies carried their standards, which bore emblems of the legions and images of the emperor that were virtually worshipped. These were later set up in the Temple prior to its destruction. The siege and destruction of the city was a horrible event. It slaughtered over a million Jews. During the siege, there was famine, disease, savagery too brutal to name, and death.
Jesus is saying, backing up to verse 5, there will be terrible things that happen before the destruction, that will happen throughout church history. But one most awful thing will be the destruction of Jerusalem. He doesn’t tell them when it will happen, but He does tell them, you’ll know it when you see it – the abomination. Do you suppose, when it happened – when they saw the armies surrounding Jerusalem – when they saw the sign, don’t you suppose the words rang especially true for believers – Maranatha, oh Lord, Come. But, Jesus says, when you see it – when you see the armies surrounding Jerusalem, here’s what you need to do.
Which brings us to the next question, flee the abomination of desolation to come. I’m not going to spend a lot of time on this, but it’s obvious He was talking to the generation living then – some forty years later, the destruction did come. When you see it about to happen, flee. But aren’t we supposed to endure persecution? This isn’t persecution – this is wholesale political slaughter, and Jesus is warning, even protecting His elect.
When you see it coming, Jesus said, exercise haste – tribulation is upon you. Those in Judea, since that’s where the armies marched – flee to the mountains. If you’re on the housetop, which for them were like decks, don’t waste time going back into the house – run from housetop down the outside stairs which most had and get out – flee. If you’re in the fields, and you left your cloak at home, don’t go back and get it. Woe, He says, meaning, alas to those who are pregnant or nursing babies – if you’re carrying a baby inside our out, that will make it harder. And pray, that your flight won’t be in winter. The weather will be cold, the wadis or stream beds will be filled with water – making your flight more miserable.
And He finishes with these terribly ominous words: Flee, “For those days will be a time of tribulation such as has not occurred since the beginning of the creation which God created until now, and never will.” And immediately, you may think, but what about Stalin, who killed an estimated 20 million Jews, or Hitler, who killed 6 million Jews in the Holocaust – wasn’t that worse? Not in terms of mere percentages – almost all in Jerusalem were killed – and not in terms of brutalities. It was an awful event – the Romans ran out of wood with which they were crucifying Jews. And so Jesus warns them – when you see it coming, flee. And remember, He’s talking about the sign. When you see this one, flee. Now again, some want to see this referring to a future tribulation, and it could be what is called a double reference – the time of the destruction of Jerusalem, and the time of the Tribulation at the end of time. But we can all be sure it refers at least to the destruction.
And notice, for the protection of His elect, the days will be shortened. Who are the elect? He tells us, those whom He chose. Is that believers, the church? The Jews? Believing Jews? Lots of discussion, but He is talking to His disciples, and the elect in the NT are primarily believers – for the sake of the elect, believers, He shortened those days. You see, most sieges took much longer – this one lasted a mere five months.
Finally He says, there will be false christs and false prophets during this time – don’t be mislead. Don’t believe them. He said that to begin this discourse. It’s called an inclusion – He began in verse 5 with false Christs, and He ends this section with a reference to them again. They will seek to lead people astray – even the elect – if possible. Of course, it’s not, because they belong to the true Christ.
Which brings us to our conclusion, and that last question. You say, great, not only does this have little application for us, it’s also not very encouraging. Let me share a couple of encouraging thoughts with you.
First, just because this prophecy has been fulfilled – that is, just because the abomination of desolation of Jerusalem that Jesus talked about has already taken place – it doesn’t negate the fact that He talked about it 40 years before it happened. It was prophecy – now it’s fulfilled prophecy. Listen, the disciples were left speechless – no one would have prophesied the destruction of such a magnificent structure as the Temple. Not one stone left standing on another? You bet – it happened, just like Jesus said it would. Which means, we can trust that the other things He prophesied in this discourse will happen as well. Fulfilled prophecy in the Scripture is solid evidence that we can trust yet unfulfilled prophecy. So when He says He’s coming back, you take it to the bank.
Let me be clear, if Jesus accurately prophesied the rise of false christs, wars and rumors of war, earthquakes and famines, the persecution of His followers, and if He accurately foretold the destruction of Jerusalem, then we can trust the rest of this discourse. That is, next week, when He says, immediately after that tribulation, the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will fall from the sky, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken, as unlikely as it sounds, we can believe it. And when He says, And then they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds – which, by the way, was also prophesied in Daniel, we can believe it. And when He says that the elect, that’s you and me, will be gathered together from the four winds, from the farthest end of the earth to the farthest heaven, we can believe it. No matter how bad the road signs get along the way, as we long for the coming of Christ, He will come back.
Don’t miss, finally, that He will take care of His elect. In this warning, Jesus cared for His disciples and future followers. There is evidence that Christians fled Jerusalem to safety in 68 AD, midway through the rebellion, a full two years before the fall of Jerusalem. The church historian Eusebius records that many other Christians were permitted to leave in 69 AD. The point is, Jesus forewarned them, and it unfolded just like He said it would. Will it happen again in the future just like this with the Antichrist? I don’t know – possibly – I’m still trying to figure that out – and if I ever do, there will be somebody who disagrees with me. But here’s the point – He takes care of His elect, and will do so when He comes back. So be prepared – that’s the point of the discourse.