July 9, 2017
Forecasting the weather can be quite challenging. In Colorado, for example, weather can change quickly and drastically. So much so, we heard a TV weather forecaster actually say, “Today, go to your front door and look out. Whatever it’s doing, that’s your forecast.” He was actually quite accurate. I found this weather forecaster online, called John’s Weather Forecasting Stone:
Stone is wet – Rain.
Stone is dry – Not raining.
Shadow on ground – Sunny.
White on top – Snowing.
Can’t see stone – Foggy.
Swinging stone – Windy.
Stone jumping up & down – Earthquake.
Stone gone – Tornado.
Weather forecasting can indeed by quite challenging. There is another kind of forecasting called prophecy that can be just as challenging, even as we try to read the signs. Consider for example, the fact that there were plenty of very clear signs to accompany the first coming of Jesus. Anyone looking for the Messiah should have seen the signs. Many of them were Old Testament prophecies which were completely, precisely and decisively fulfilled in the birth of Christ. Things like, He would be of the line of David, He would be born of a virgin – that doesn’t happen every day, He would be born in Bethlehem. You can’t orchestrate those things.
I told you some time ago the statistical probability that Jesus would fulfill all the Old Testament prophecies concerning His first coming was equivalent to taking a bunch of silver dollars and covering the state of Texas with them – two feet deep. On one of those silver dollars, you place a red X. Then, you blindfold someone, have them wander aimlessly through the state of Texas, and bend over and randomly pick up one silver dollar. The statistical probability that he or she would select the marked coin is the same probability Jesus of Nazareth would fulfill all the Old Testament prophecies concerning the Messiah. There can be no denying it was He – He met the Old Testament signs. But when these things happened, few knew, and most missed the signs.
And there were other signs. There was the angelic chorus, the host of heaven, that declared His birth. True, they only appeared to a few lowly shepherds in a field who were keeping watch over their flocks by night. After those shepherds saw the child lying in a manger, just as the angelic messenger had said, they ran to tell everybody what they had seen and heard. Interestingly, while we’re told those who heard the story wondered, there is no evidence that they went to see for themselves. The Messiah is here, really? Right here in Bethlehem. Wow, I’d love to go see, but I don’t want to miss the Seinfeld rerun. They missed the sign.
In addition to the prophecies, there was a cosmic sign – a sign in the sky – the star that appeared in the east. Of course, you had to be looking for it, or you would miss it. Some magi from the east saw it – they traveled hundreds of miles, perhaps from Babylon or Persia, following the star. They came to Jerusalem to inquire of the Jewish scholars where the king of the Jews, the awaited Messiah, was to be born. In Bethlehem, they were told. And so, they followed the star, and it indeed led them to Bethlehem, to the very place where the child lay – now that was a sign. But again, there is no evidence anyone, outside the magi and Herod, who tried to kill the child – there is no evidence anyone paid any attention to the sign. They of all people should have been looking for it, but when it came, they missed it.
There were so many other signs. There was the forerunner, spoken of by Isaiah the prophet, the voice of one crying in the wilderness, to prepare the way of the Lord. John the Baptist was that forerunner – just like Isaiah said. And some listened, but most missed the sign.
Then of course, there were all the signs Jesus performed while He walked the earth. In fulfillment of Isaiah 61 and other passages, He healed the sick, cleansed the leper, made the blind to see, the deaf to hear, the lame to walk. He raised the dead, calmed storms, multiplied loaves and fish to feed thousands. There was the crucifixion, in fulfillment of Isaiah 53, Psalm 22, and Zechariah 12. There was the resurrection, which Paul declares was the sign of all signs – by it, Romans 1 says, He was declared to be the Son of God with power. That was the sign – but everyone today just wants to explain it away.
There were plenty of signs to point to the first coming of Christ – that He was the Messiah, the Son of God, come in the flesh. And yet, most people missed the signs then, and sadly, most miss them today. You can show me all the undeniable evidence, but I won’t believe – it will interfere with my life. While it is true Christianity is making its way to the ends of the earth – while it is true this gospel is being preached as a testimony, making its way to all nations, there are many who willfully ignore the signs.
And they’ll continue to miss them. They’ll continue to ignore the undeniable evidence and the road signs along the way. To include this one. The disciples asked Jesus, “When will these things be [that is, the destruction of the Temple that Jesus amazingly prophecies, and then from Matthew’s account], and what will be the sign of Your coming and the end of the age?”
Remember, they thought these were all one event – when the Temple was destroyed, not one stone left standing on another, that would certainly signal the coming of Christ and the end of the age. So Jesus gave them an answer, called the Olivet Discourse, which stretches all the way through Mark 13. And He starts by giving them a lot of events that will point to the coming destruction, and I think, the coming of Christ, that will cause them to long for His coming. Road signs, if you will, that happen throughout the church age, from the ascension to the second coming. But they don’t necessarily portend the end.
Jesus said, there will be false christs who will arise, and mislead many. You will be hearing of wars and rumors of wars – nation rising against nation, kingdom against kingdom. There will be natural disasters to cause you to long for Christ – famines and earthquakes, plagues and pestilences, Luke adds. Despite all our advances in physical, agricultural and medical technology, there doesn’t seem to be much we can do about those things. Even so, come quickly, Lord Jesus, and deliver us from the mess we’ve made of Your creation. Not only that, Jesus says, you need to understand you’ll be handed over to tribulation and persecution – you will be hated by all nations, even family members, simply because you choose to follow Me. Maranatha, oh Lord, come. That’s the purpose of those events Jesus calls birth pangs – painful, yes, but reminding us something, better, Someone is coming.
But that’s not all. In verses 14-23, Jesus describes what He calls the abomination of desolation, a tribulation event so severe that one like it has not occurred since the beginning of time, nor till now. We saw last week He was likely talking about the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD – and it happened just like Jesus said it would. The abomination was the sign of the destruction. Does it also point to the coming of Christ, causing us to long for the return of Christ? In other words, will it happen again, as some suggest? We’ll have to wait and see – perhaps. But, don’t miss that He prophesied that event 40 years before it happened, but most missed the sign. You mean Jesus prophesied the Temple would be destroyed before it happened? Yes – within a generation, and it did. Lucky guess. Right.
Now remember, the disciples actually asked two questions, one about the destruction, one about His coming. None of the things He’s talked about so far are definitively the sign that will signal His return – His coming in full display. The end is not yet – these are merely the beginning of birth pains. And yet, through the centuries, people have looked at these signs – false christs and wars and famine and earthquakes and said, Jesus’ coming must be right around the corner. And we’ve learned His coming has always been right around the corner – as His followers, we are always to long for the coming of Christ – we are always to be prepared – which, by the way, is the main topic of the discourse. Be ready.
Because the good news is this: Jesus is coming back. Despite all the faulty end-times prognostications, all the predictions, all the wrong guesses, that is a non-negotiable truth of the Christian faith. Jesus is coming back, and today, I am going to tell you when. After weeks of study, pouring over charts and biblical numerology, this morning, I will reveal to you the timing of the coming of Christ – because I don’t want you to miss the sign. Let’s read about it in our text today, Mark 13:24-27.
The destruction of the Temple. Severe difficulties in this life. And so we long for redemption. Humanity longs for deliverance. They long for someone on a white horse with a big white hat or a blue suit and a red cape to show up and save the day. In verses 21-22, Jesus had said, there will be false messiahs, false would-be heroes who show up to do just that.
Sure, some of them will be accompanied by demonically empowered miraculous signs and wonders – but those aren’t the signs we are to be looking for. Jesus has been telling His disciples – I want you to long for my return. When you see the road signs along the way, they are designed to make you long for My coming. But don’t be deceived. Don’t be mislead by the so-called christs, false prophets. If anyone says to you, “Behold, here is Christ,” or “Behold, He is there,” don’t believe him. The bottom line is this – you won’t need someone to tell you that Christ has returned – you will know, and so will everyone else.
Can I encourage you, brothers and sisters? You say, I don’t want to be deceived, but what if I am? What if one of these guys shows up with lots of really cool miracles and signs – what if I am deceived – what then? Verse 22 lays that issue to rest. In fact, the verse tells us that one of the reasons these demonic false christs arise is to mislead the elect. But notice the way Jesus says it – they “will arise and will show great signs and wonders, in order to lead astray, if possible, the elect.” While that may be their purpose, the implication is, it is not possible. Because Christ’s sheep know His voice, and they follow Him. You need not worry about being deceived – you just need to look for the coming of the real Christ.
You see, when He comes, we’ll know it. He describes it in our text today. First, He gives us the timing of the event in verse 24. We’re finally there. For all the prophecy mongers, end times prognosticators and sign watchers, I will now divulge the timing of the second coming. Jesus says it will be in those days, after that tribulation. But you said last week that was the destruction of the Temple. That’s right, and we’re still after that tribulation. We were last week, and we will be next week. Stop to think about it – the only time we could be sure Jesus was not coming was before the destruction of the Temple – a forty year period or a generation. The disciples missed that, because at His ascension, which was from the Mount of Olives, they said, is it now that you’re going to set up the kingdom. No, Jesus said – I told you from this very spot a few weeks ago, it wouldn’t happen till after the destruction of the Temple – right there. It’s still here. You just be my witnesses in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria and to the ends of the planet. I mentioned that too – this Gospel must be preached to all nations, then the end will come. We’re just getting started, guys. The timing of His return – after the tribulation, the fall of Jerusalem.
Will there be another great tribulation in the future, after which He will come? Perhaps – I think so – but when He comes, we will know it.
You see, now He tells us of some cosmic disturbances that will take place at His coming – the sun will be darkened, the moon will not give its light, the stars will fall from the sky, and the power of the heavens will be shaken. What does that mean? Are we to take that literally or figuratively? Honestly, I don’t know. Jesus is quoting Isaiah 13 and Isaiah 34 which, in the context, talks about the fall of Babylon and Edom. Did the sun and moon not shine, did stars fall from the sky, literally? Or was it figurative to speak of the magnanimity of the event to happen? You decide. I can say this for sure – this will be an enormous event. And it will be clear to everyone what is happening.
Now some want to suggest, that just as Isaiah was talking about the fall of Babylon and Edom in cataclysmic ways, so also Jesus is talking about the fall of Jerusalem in similar, cataclysmic ways. Also, they say, His coming on the clouds is a quote from Daniel 7, which speaks of the Son of Man going to heaven, not coming to earth. I want to say, that’s possible. But let me tell you briefly why I think He’s actually talking about His return.
First, Jesus says they will see the Son of Man coming in clouds. Who is they? Clearly the implication is those on earth. I think, all those on earth if you compare this text with Matthew 24. The question is, if Jesus is talking about coming to heaven, who on earth saw that? And in what way does Jesus come to heaven at the destruction of the Temple? He came to heaven when He ascended, forty years before.
The second point I would make is the coming of the Son of Man throughout the NT consistently points to the return of Jesus, from heaven to earth, not the other way around. All that said, I think, and many others think Jesus is talking about His return – separated from the Fall of the Temple by many years now.
So, I think Jesus then gives us a further description of His return in verse 26. “Then they will see the Son of Man coming in clouds with great power and glory. This “coming in or on clouds” is a quote of Daniel 7:13-14, which says, “I kept looking in the night visions, and behold, with the clouds of heaven One like a Son of Man was coming, and He came up to the Ancient of Days and was presented before Him. And to Him was given dominion, glory and a kingdom, That all the peoples, nations and men of every language might serve Him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion which will not pass away; and His kingdom is one which will not be destroyed.” This was well-recognized as a Messianic prophecy, and Jesus applied it to Himself – I am the Son of Man of whom Daniel spoke, and the Father, the Ancient of Days, will give Me an everlasting dominion, a glorious kingdom which will never pass away.
Now, at this point, Matthew adds they will see the sign of the Son of Man which will appear in the sky. What is this sign of the Son of Man? Some of the early church fathers, namely, Chrysostom, Origen, and Cyril of Jerusalem, thought it would be a blazing cross spread across the sky. We don’t know what it is – but what we do know is this – and I want you to get this. When the sign appears, and when Jesus comes on the clouds with power and great glory, no one will miss that sign. There will be no misreading or misinterpreting that sign.
Do you hear me? It all comes to this. Unlike His first coming, when almost everyone missed the signs, unlike the road signs along the way throughout the church age when many miss the signs or choose to ignore the signs – no one will miss this sign. When Jesus comes back, there will be no guessing. Everyone will know exactly what’s going on. I don’t know how – all I know is everyone will know. I just hope I’m alive to see it. Even so, come quickly Lord Jesus.
He will come on the clouds with power and great glory. Unlike the first time when He came as a lowly carpenter’s son, a Galilean from the lowly Jewish nation which found itself under Roman oppression, this time, He will come with power and great glory. The first time, His glory was veiled – hidden from human eyes. Philippians 2 speaks of Him emptying Himself, voluntarily limiting the display of His glory, clothing Himself in human flesh, coming as a man, less than that, as a bond-servant. But now, God will highly exalt Him and give Him a name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee will bow and every tongue confess that He is Lord. The first time, most missed the signs. Make no mistake about it – the second time, no one will miss the sign. Listen to the Apostle John as He describes the second coming (Revelation 19:11-16):
11 And I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse, and He who sat on it is called Faithful and True, and in righteousness He judges and wages war.
12 His eyes are a flame of fire, and on His head are many diadems; and He has a name written on Him which no one knows except Himself.
13 He is clothed with a robe dipped in blood, and His name is called The Word of God.
14 And the armies which are in heaven, clothed in fine linen, white and clean, were following Him on white horses.
15 From His mouth comes a sharp sword, so that with it He may strike down the nations, and He will rule them with a rod of iron; and He treads the wine press of the fierce wrath of God, the Almighty.
16 And on His robe and on His thigh He has a name written, “KING OF KINGS, AND LORD OF LORDS.”
Does that sound a little different than the first time? No one will miss it. Notice, when the sign appears, there will be one of two responses, two positions in relation to His coming, which brings us to our conclusion.
The first is seen in the parallel passage in Matthew 24:30. All the tribes or nations of the earth will mourn, for they will see and understand the coming of the Son of Man. This is a reference to Zechariah 12:10, which says, “I will pour out on the house of David and on the inhabitants of Jerusalem, the Spirit of grace and of supplication, so that they will look on Me whom they have pierced; and they will mourn for Him, as one mourns for an only son, and they will weep bitterly over Him like the bitter weeping over a firstborn.”
You see, when He comes, the first response of many people – today, billions of people, will be mourning. Revelation 1:7 says it this way, “BEHOLD, HE IS COMING WITH THE CLOUDS, and every eye will see Him, even those who pierced Him; and all the tribes of the earth will mourn over Him. So it is to be. Amen.” You say, but I didn’t pierce Him – I didn’t crucify Him. Yes, you did, by your rebellion and by your sin, you are just as guilty as the hands that drove the nails into His hands and feet. But the good news is, He died for your sins, that you could be forgiven, redeemed, and reconciled to God.
Listen to me clearly – the mourning here is a mourning of missed opportunity. They will know – many will have heard the truth, rejected the truth, and they will mourn. They will know in a moment that they have chosen to live in rebellion to their Creator. They will know. You see, there is coming a day when every knee will bow and every tongue will confess that Jesus is Lord to the glory of God the Father. The question is, will you accept Him now, as Savior and Lord, or will you only bend the knee later, when forced? If you wait till later, you will mourn because of missed opportunities – maybe even this opportunity. My urgent encouragement to you today, if you have never accepted Christ, is to receive Him, while it’s your choice. So that when He comes, you will not mourn, but you will rejoice.
Because that’s the second response, found in verse 27 of Mark 13. It is a response of joy, because when Jesus comes, He will send forth His angels, and the elect will be gathered from every corner of the earth. His point is no one will be overlooked, no one will be missed, no one will be missing. He will gather all of His elect, every last one. The waiting will be over, the bride of Christ will be assembled, the kingdom will be established in its fullness. Paul described the event in a couple of different familiar passages:
I Corinthians 15:51-52, “Behold, I tell you a mystery; we will not all sleep, but we will all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet; for the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed.”
In I Thessalonians 4:16-17, we read these words, “For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive and remain will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we shall always be with the Lord.”
We will not miss this sign. When is Jesus coming? At the end of the age. What sign should we be looking for? This one, and we will know it – there will be no mistaking it. Every eye will see Him; and if we are alive when He comes, we will hear the trumpet call of God, and we will be gathered to meet Him in the air.
My encouragement to you as we close today is to be prepared. For you here who have never given your lives to Jesus Christ, I urge you to do so. To repent of your sin and believe in Jesus. You’ve heard the truth – don’t wait till the sign appears in the sky – it will then be too late. And for those of you who know Him, be prepared – long for His coming – look for His appearing – it is our blessed hope, the glorious appearing of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ.