June 25, 2017
This week while driving home, I turned on a Christian radio station. The speaker – a well-known pastor many of you know – was teaching on one of his favorite topics – prophecy. Seems like every time I hear him, that’s what he’s talking about. Now, don’t misunderstand me, he’s a great pastor and an excellent teacher, and I largely agree with him. He spoke, as he usually does, with great clarity and confidence on this topic of which there is considerable ambiguity and frankly disagreement. I thought, I wish I could have that confidence.
You see, three weeks ago, we began what is called the Olivet Discourse – so named because it took place on the Mount of Olives, across the Kidron Valley from Jerusalem, in full view of the Temple complex. Jesus is talking with His disciples, per their request, on the topic of prophecy. In fact, it’s the longest of Jesus’ discourses in the Gospel of Mark. It takes place at the end of a very long Tuesday of Passion Week. Remember, He will die on Friday. So, He’s preparing His disciples for His departure.
As I mentioned, Tuesday was very long day – a day in which He did verbal battle with the religious leaders. You see, the day before, He had cleansed the Temple of their religious chicanery. This was highly significant. There is a sense in which Jesus was bringing the religious sham that had evolved in the Temple to a close. More than that, the time for the Temple and its sacrifices was done. Well, the religious leaders were a little irritable and asked by what authority He did these things. Thus began the back and forth – several different groups attacked – Pharisees, Sadducees, scribes – tried to trap Him and were unable to do so. He also took His shots with much more success. Now, if you compare the Gospel narratives, you find Jesus also did extended teaching during this long day. In Matthew there’s the:
- The Parable of the Two Sons in which He pegs these religious leaders.
- The Parable of the Landowner in which He pegs these religious leaders.
- The Parable of the Marriage Feast in which He pegs these religious leaders.
- In Matthew 23, the entire chapter is devoted to exposing these guys. He pronounces no less than seven woes against them.
In Mark, in addition to cleansing of Temple, cursing the fig tree and these verbal battles, we also saw the Parable of the Vine-growers in which He pegs the religious leaders. In Luke, there is much the same. What’s my point? Jesus is clearly done with the false, legalistic practices of the religious leaders of His day. The Old Covenant – the Mosaic Law – had done its work – revealing the sinfulness and hypocrisy of humanity. Now, it was time to do away with that Old Covenant, and bring in the New. But first, Jesus shows the emptiness of their religiosity.
Of course, the disciples didn’t get it – they never really did until after the resurrection and the coming of the Holy Spirit. So after that long day of battle at the Temple, as they were leaving Tuesday evening, one of them said, wow Jesus, aren’t these buildings and stones of the Temple wonderful? Pretty impressive, huh? Apparently, they hadn’t caught the tenor of both Jesus’ actions and His words over the past couple of days. So Jesus says, this impressive Temple, and all it represents is history. Do you see these great buildings? Not one stone will be left standing on another – it’s all going to be wiped out. That was shocking.
They make their way across the Kidron Valley apparently in stunned silence. Jesus sits on the Mount of Olives – assuming the position of a teacher – with the Temple spread out before Him. Four of the disciples regained their voices and asked, “Tell us, when will these things be, and what will be the sign when all these things are going to be fulfilled?”
Now here’s a question: what are these things they’re asking about? The things Jesus had just prophesied – the destruction of the Temple. So Jesus launches into the prophetic Olivet Discourse – of which there is some ambiguity and considerable disagreement. You see, the further question is – what exactly did Jesus say in His answer? Was He only talking about the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple, or does throw in His Second Coming as well? And people are all over the map. Which leads me back to my opening statement, I wish I had the confidence many have to say, this is definitively what Jesus said.
I have a number of very good commentaries on the Gospel of Mark – good and godly authors. And they don’t agree. So, I’ll do my best to teach the text – and if I sound less than confident – or if you disagree – that’s okay – lots of people do. Maybe that doesn’t inspire confidence in you – but I’m just trying to be honest, and not come across like I have all the answers. I don’t, and neither does anyone else.
As I shared with you three weeks ago – some people take what’s called a preterist position – that everything Jesus said in Mark 13 happened by 70 AD when Jerusalem and the Temple were razed to the ground – destroyed in fulfillment of Jesus’ prophecy. There can be no denying that is at least partly right. After all, Jesus had just said the Temple is going to be destroyed, and the disciples ask the question, when will these things be? We have to assume Jesus at least answered their question.
Others hold a futurist view – my radio preacher holds that view – that is, most of what we read here is still going to happen sometime in the future. There can be no doubt, I think, that is at least partly right – after all, in His answer, Jesus talks about Himself – the Son of Man – coming in the clouds with great power and glory. Okay, that hasn’t happened yet, it’s got to still be in the future.
Still others hold that part is talking about the destruction of 70 AD, part is talking about the return of Christ in the future. I told you I hold this position. But the question then becomes, which is which? That is, when is He talking about the destruction of the Temple, and when is He talking about the end times and the return of Christ? Let me give you an example. I told you I have many good, godly, biblical, faithful commentaries on the Gospel of Mark, so they should agree on this, right? Right.
The Zondervan Exegetical Commentary of the New Testament outlines the chapter this way:
- Coming Destruction of Jerusalem (1-23) Coming of the Son of Man (24-27) The Parable of the
- Fig Tree and Destruction of Jerusalem (28-31) The Parable of the Owner’s Return and the
- Coming of the Son of Man (32-37)
The Baker Exegetical Commentary of the New Testament says basically the same thing. Great.
- The Destruction of the Temple/Jerusalem (1-23)
- The Coming of the Son of Man (24-27)
- The Parable of the Fig Tree (28-31)
- The Coming of the Son of Man (32-37)
But then, The Pillar New Testament Commentary:
- The End of the Temple/Jerusalem (1-13)
- The Tribulation and the Second Coming (14-27)
- The End of the Temple/Jerusalem (28-31)
- The Second Coming (32-27)
The New International Greek Testament Commentary:
- The Destruction of the Temple/Jerusalem (1-31)
- The Coming of the Son of Man (32-37)
The St. Andrew’s Expositional Commentary says the whole chapter is:
- The Destruction of the Temple/Jerusalem (1-37)
I consulted several other commentaries – and here’s what I found: very few agree perfectly. Why do I share that with you – to impress you with my study? No. So you can be as confused as I am. One thing everyone does agree on is this is a most challenging text. And then, couple Mark 13 with the parallel passage in Matthew 24 and we have another challenge. Let me put the disciples’ questions in Matthew and Mark side by side. In Mark, they asked, “Tell us, when will these things be, and what will be the sign when all these things are going to be fulfilled?” That’s basically the same question – when, and what will be the sign so we know when all this will happen? Remember, these things refer to what Jesus just said – the destruction of the Temple.
Matthew, however, records the disciples’ question this way, “Tell us, when will these things happen, and what will be the sign of Your coming, and the end of the age?” That’s different. It’s not a contradiction, Matthew just remembered they asked more than just about the destruction of the Temple. They asked two questions – when will the Temple be destroyed, and what will be the sign of Your coming at the end? Now this is incredibly important. For them, they saw the two events – the destruction of the Temple and the coming of Christ as the same event. They asked two questions they thought were one. They weren’t, obviously – the Temple was destroyed in 70 AD, and yet we’re still here in 2017. So obviously, as Jesus answered the question in Matthew, He answered both questions – regarding the destruction of the Temple and His return. They just didn’t know the time between those two events would include most of what we call the Church Age – the time between Christ’s ascension and His return. Are you with me? Now, most see this clearly in Matthew’s Gospel – Jesus is talking about two events. And yet others argue strenuously that Mark’s Gospel is only talking about the first event – that is, the destruction of the Temple, since that’s what the disciples asked. But here’s the problem – if you put Jesus’ answer in Matthew and Mark side-by-side – they’re almost identical. My point is, clearly Jesus is talking about both events, even in Mark 13. Our job is to try and discover which is which. And I’m going to suggest much of what Jesus says about the first event – the destruction of the Temple – also finds fulfillment in the second event – the coming of Christ. You may not agree with that, but hey, I’ve got the microphone.
Now, here’s another thing I want you to remember. This whole chapter, regardless of where we draw the lines between the two events, is talking about watchfulness. Preparedness. Being on the alert and looking for the coming of Christ. It’s not so we can see certain signs that we’ll look at today and set dates. It’s so we will keep our eyes heavenward, longing for the coming of Christ. Besides, today we’ll see the signs Jesus talks about are not signs signaling either event – rather – they are just descriptions of what must take place before both events. So with that rather long introduction, read the text with me, Mark 13:5-13.
Do you see? Many of you have heard these things – wars, rumors of wars, earthquakes, famine – signal the soon return of Christ. Actually, in both Matthew and Mark, they are simply things that must take place before the destruction of the Temple – and I think continue through the church age as well. Regardless, they are not signs signaling the end – rather, they are simply the beginning of birth pangs. They are labor pains, if you will, reminding us the end is coming. You see, labor pains remind us that something else is coming – the birth of a child. As it relates to the first event, something much worse is coming. As it relates to the second event – the coming of Christ, it brings great joy. Just like we endure labor pains to look forward to the arrival of the child, so also we endure, being prepared and looking forward to the arrival of Christ.
In other words, every time we hear of these rather painful events, they will remind us the joyful end is coming. They are to turn our hearts toward the fulfillment of prophecy, to include, the return of Christ. Now, there are three birth pangs which must happen before the fulfillment of the destruction of the Temple, and continue to happen until the coming of Christ:
- False Christs (5-6)
- Catastrophic Events (7-8)
- And everyone’s favorite, Persecutions (9-13)
What I simply want to do for the next few minutes is look at each of these categories to see if they happened before the destruction of the Temple – and see if they are still happening now. Why? To remind us, they are birth pangs, encouraging us that something much better is coming.
So first, Jesus says, don’t let anyone mislead you. Because, many will come in My name – either claiming to be Me, or claiming to be the Messiah, or claiming to come with My authority – and their desire will be to mislead you. Don’t do it – don’t listen to them. Later in the chapter, Jesus calls them pseudo-Christs, false Christs. Now, were there false Christs at the time of Jesus and before the destruction of Jerusalem? Clearly yes. Even the book of Acts names some. In Acts 5, Gamaliel describes a man named Theudas who claimed to be somebody and rallied 400 men around him. They were eventually dispersed and killed. He also speaks of Judas the Galilean who led a tax revolt against the Romans. In Acts 21, Paul is mistaken for a an Egyptian who led four thousand Jews into the wilderness, as a messiah-like figure. The Jewish historian Josephus mentions this same Egyptian, as well as Judas the Galilean and a number of other imposters. The point is, there were false messiahs during and after the time of Jesus. Are there today? Way too many to mention. Some of the most famous or interesting are:
The Reverend Sun Myung Moon who claimed to be the Second Coming of Christ. He said he came to complete the mission the first Christ, Jesus, failed to complete. By the way, Moon died in 2012, his movement to undoubtedly pass into obscurity.
Jose Luis de Jesus of Miami claimed to be the returned Jesus Christ and the antichrist, all rolled into one. He had to number 666 tattooed on his arm. His followers called him Jesuchrito Hombre, roughly translated the man Christ Jesus. He died in 2013, after which his followers started calling him Melchizedek. I don’t know why – but I do know he was a false Christ.
David Icke of Great Britain claimed to be the Son of God and the channel for the Christ spirit. He had been a soccer player – obviously too many headers. He’s still alive by the way, seeking followers – I wouldn’t recommend him.
David Shayler, also still alive, is a former British MI5 secret agent who claimed to be the Messiah in 2007. In fact, he suggested that David Icke is his own John the Baptist – the forerunner who was supposed to proclaim Shayler as the Christ. Oops.
There have been hundreds of false Christs through the centuries, dozens of second comings in the 20th and 21st Centuries alone. And every time we hear such drivel, we might chuckle, we might be dismayed, but we should not be mislead and we should look for the return of the true Christ. His name is Jesus of Nazareth, and He won’t come to Miami – He will come in the clouds with great power and glory, and every eye will see Him.
What about the cataclysmic events in verses 7 and 8 – wars, earthquakes and famines? Now again, as those grow in number and magnitude today, people start proclaiming the soon return of Christ – and that may be. The problem is, they aren’t signs, Jesus says, they’re simply birth pangs to remind us – we need Jesus to come back. This place is broken – it doesn’t work right. The pain of these events are supposed to make us long for the consummation of all things. You see, He’ll deal once and for all with wars and earthquakes and famines. Now, just a little side note – please notice Jesus, God in the flesh, says these things must happen. In other words, God is sovereignly in control of these cataclysmic events – they don’t take Him by surprise; they happen under His sovereign hand.
But, those things have always been around. Wars and rumors of wars have existed since the beginning of time, certainly through the first century. In fact, it was the rebellion of the Zealots in 66 AD that eventually led Titus to capture Jerusalem, kill one million of its inhabitants, and raze the city and the Temple, in fulfillment of Jesus’ prophecy. Are there wars in our day? There has yet to be one minute of worldwide peace in the 21st Century. Even so, come quickly.
Earthquakes? Then and now. Famines, then and now. But these should not frighten us – they must take place, but the end is not yet. They are simply birth pangs, reminding us of something to come. For the first century reader, the destruction of the Temple. For us, the reminder of the coming of Christ. They must take place – they have since He ascended, they will till He returns. And they remind us He is coming back – and we are supposed to long for it.
Perhaps the most challenging of Jesus’ descriptions, however, is in verses 9-13 where He reminds us again persecution is to be expected for followers of Jesus. Three times He uses the phrase, you will be handed over. So be on your guard. To escape it? No – to be prepared for it and endure to the end. Look at the different sources from which persecution would come.
First, you will be handed over to religious authorities – the courts and the synagogues. The courts refer to small councils in each Jewish town, the synagogues were their local places of worship. For early followers of Jesus, they were indeed flogged in the Sanhedrin, in local courts and synagogues. As you read through the book of Acts, you find this happening all over to followers of Christ. The early apostles were arrested, beaten, threatened, and killed. Saul himself was involved in such opposition – and later, as Paul, would receive such persecution at the hands of religious authorities – five times he says he received from the Jews 39 lashes.
Second, they would be handed over to and persecution would come at the hands of governors and kings – secular rulers. Again, through the book of Acts, we find opposition from governmental leaders like King Agrippa, governors Felix and Festus. Of course, even before the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple, the first general persecution against the church came at the hands of Emperor Nero himself, beginning in 64 AD.
Through the centuries, persecution against followers of Christ has persisted, to the present day. Throughout much of the world, our brothers and sisters are facing severe persecution and martyrdom. In some places throughout the Muslim world, naming Christ will cost you your life. Make no mistake about it, even genocide is being perpetrated against Christians – simply because they name the name of Christ.
In addition to coming from other religions, and secular authorities, Jesus says persecution will even come from family members. Brother will betray brother to death, a father his child, child will rise up against his parents to have them put to death. That has happened throughout church history. Even today, Muslim family members will betray professing believers, even though they be family – betray them to the point of death. And verse 13 culminates by saying you will be hated by all – meaning all kinds of people – religious authorities, secular authorities, family members – all kinds, because of My name – you follow Me. Birth pangs that make long for heaven.
Now, every once in a while, the criticism is perhaps rightly leveled against me that I talk a lot about persecution. That’s true – because it’s in the Bible we go verse by verse. But someone suggested they often leave feeling the weight of the promise of persecution without much hope. I don’t want that to be the case. In this passage, Jesus gives us three words of encouragement in the midst of promised persecution. Look at them with me quickly. First, Jesus reminds us His gospel must first be preached to all the nations. Some suggest this was accomplished by Paul as he established churches throughout the then known world – before the destruction of the Temple. Paul even says in Colossians 1 that the Gospel is being proclaimed throughout the whole world. The point is, the Gospel was spreading – Jesus was building His church.
But, the gospel has continued to reach those who’ve never heard to the present day. Just last week, we heard over 80 percent of our denomination’s missional resources are being allocated to the 10-40 window – the most unreached area of the world. Jesus said further in Matthew 24 His gospel would be preached to all people groups, and then the end would come. So, as we are persecuted, we remember it is because of Gospel mission. His name is being proclaimed to all nations. Sure, there’s a cost, but it’s worth it.
Second, Jesus says in verse 11, when you’re arrested and handed over, don’t worry beforehand what you’re going to say. The Holy Spirit will fill you and empower you to give you what to speak, so you will even be a testimony to those persecuting you. We certainly see this with Peter and John when they stood before the Sanhedrin, being filled with the Holy Spirit and giving testimony to Jesus. The Sanhedrin was amazed at their confident answers – after all, these Galileans were ordinary and unschooled, yet turning the world upside down. What that means is, you’ll never face persecution alone – He’ll always be with us.
So the gospel will be preached to all nations, even in the midst of persecution. The Holy Spirit will be with you and empower in the midst of persecution. And third, verse 13, even though you will be hated by all because of My name – you bear the name Christian, Christ-follower – the one endures to the end will be saved. To the end of what? Life. That doesn’t mean if you falter you lose your salvation – He’s just promised the presence and power of the Spirit. True believers will endure to the end, and be physically and spiritually saved. Not by your endurance, but by the grace of Christ which fills you and saves you.
We’re out of time. Listen, all of this – false Christs, cataclysmic events, persecution – should make us long for and love His appearing. You see, if you’re too comfortable, you seldom think of the return of Christ. Paul says it this way in Romans 8:
18 For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to us.
19 For the anxious longing of the creation waits eagerly for the revealing of the sons of God.
20 For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of Him who subjected it, in hope
21 that the creation itself also will be set free from its slavery to corruption into the freedom of the glory of the children of God.
22 For we know that the whole creation groans and suffers the pains of childbirth together until now.
23 And not only this, but also we ourselves, having the first fruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our body.