2019-11-10 The End of the World

The End of the World
Mark 13:1-37
November 10, 2019

Prayer for Illumination:

Lord God, give us wisdom to understand your word. This is a hard passage. May you give us eyes to see, ears to hear, and hearts to understand your word to us. Guide us in all things. In Christ, amen.

As Jesus was leaving the temple, one of his disciples said to him, “Look, Teacher! What massive stones! What magnificent buildings!”

“Do you see all these great buildings?” replied Jesus. “Not one stone here will be left on another; every one will be thrown down.”

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 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. 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.

“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. 10 And the gospel must first be preached to all nations. 11 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.

12 “Brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child. Children will rebel against their parents and have them put to death. 13 Everyone will hate you because of me, but the one who stands firm to the end will be saved.

14 “When you see ‘the abomination that causes desolation’ j standing where it does not belong—let the reader understand—then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains. 15 Let no one on the housetop go down or enter the house to take anything out. 16 Let no one in the field go back to get their cloak. 17 How dreadful it will be in those days for pregnant women and nursing mothers! 18 Pray that this will not take place in winter, 19 because those will be days of distress unequaled from the beginning, when God created the world, until now—and never to be equaled again.

20 “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. 21 At that time if anyone says to you, ‘Look, here is the Messiah!’ or, ‘Look, there he is!’ do not believe it. 22 For false messiahs and false prophets will appear and perform signs and wonders to deceive, if possible, even the elect. 23 So be on your guard; I have told you everything ahead of time.

24 “But in those days, following that distress,

“ ‘the sun will be darkened,

and the moon will not give its light;

25 the stars will fall from the sky,

and the heavenly bodies will be shaken.’ r

26 “At that time people will see the Son of Man coming in clouds with great power and glory. 27 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.

28 “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. 29 Even so, when you see these things happening, you know that it is near, right at the door. 30 Truly I tell you, this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened. 31 Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away.

 “But about that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. 33 Be on guard! Be alert! You do not know when that time will come. 34 It’s like a man going away: He leaves his house and puts his servants in charge, each with their assigned task, and tells the one at the door to keep watch.

35 “Therefore keep watch because you do not know when the owner of the house will come back—whether in the evening, or at midnight, or when the rooster crows, or at dawn. 36 If he comes suddenly, do not let him find you sleeping. 37 What I say to you, I say to everyone: ‘Watch!’ ”[1]

This is the Word of God for the people of God. Thanks be to God.

In the mid 2000s through the 2010s, there was a trend in movies to depict the end of the world. A lot of them were about zombies. Somehow, someway zombies arose and gradually took over the population. Every movie has a different cause as to why zombies came to be and how they have taken over the world.

I can remember a lot of people would ask, “What do you plan to do when the zombie apocalypse happens?” It was a fad. The popularity of those movies caused people think about the end of the world and jokingly talk about it.

The chapter we read a few moments ago is Jesus’ longest speech in Mark. We call it the Olivet Discourse because it takes place on the Mt. of Olives. The discussion is all about the end of the world. As they are leaving the temple complex, the disciples marvel at the beauty of the temple. “Look, Teacher! What massive stones! What magnificent buildings!” Even though this wasn’t Solomon’s temple, one of the seven great wonders of the ancient world, this temple was a sight to behold.

“Do you see all these great buildings?” replied Jesus. “Not one stone here will be left on another; every one will be thrown down.” Even though the temple is beautiful, Jesus makes quite clear that the temple will be destroyed. Every Jew would have understood that as the cataclysmic event. They would have understood that as the end of the world.

That’s exactly how the disciples understand what Jesus said. When they reach the Mt. of Olives, about a thirty minute walk, Peter, James, John, and Andrew say “Tell us, when will these things happen? And what will be the sign that they are all about to be fulfilled?”

This is a heavy, deep passage of Scripture. This is one of the most difficult passages to interpret in all of Scripture. We could spend weeks studying just these verses trying to unravel all of the knots. But as it is, we’re only take an eagle’s eye view of this passage. We’re going to look at the major themes but not wade too deeply into the issues.

Signs of the Close of the Age

Jesus begins by answering the disciples’ second question first. He begins by answering the question about what the signs will be. After Jesus’ ascension, there will be false messiahs, wars, natural disasters, and persecution. Jesus warns us of those things so that we are not taken by surprise.

Not long after Jesus’ ascension, there were false messiahs. One of the most prominent false messiahs was a zealot called Simon ben Kokhba, Simon son of the Star. He led a revolt against Rome but was killed. Many of the Pharisees of that time considered him the messiah.

We have experienced false messiahs here in America. Many of us know the name of David Koresh. Koresh became leader of a group that had broken away from the Seventh-Day Adventists. This group believed that the Davidic Kingship would return to Israel. Koresh believed himself to be the messiah. And as messiah he claimed the right to take women as wives, some as young as 12. The in 1993, there was a standoff between Koresh’s group and the FBI for 51 days that left 79 dead, 21 of which were children under 16. And there have been others too. Charles Manson. Jim Jones. Sun Myung Moon. And many others history has forgotten.

Let us be on guard against false messiahs. They will come claiming to be reincarnations of Jesus as Charles Manson and Jim Jones did. They will come claiming to be messiahs of a completely different sort than what Jesus is. Don’t believe them. Don’t trust them. Jesus, the Messiah, will only return when all of creation is being remade and humanity stands before him in judgment.

While there will be false messiahs, there will also be wars. Wars have been a constant part of life since Cain killed Abel. Historian Will Durant writes, “War is one of the constants of history, and has not diminished with civilization and democracy. In the last 3,421 years of recorded history only 268 have seen no war.[2]

At one point we thought we could out grow war. That if we had the right education in place, then there wouldn’t be war any more. That if we were generous with our resources then there wouldn’t be war any more. Most people called World War I the war to end all wars. Well that war didn’t end all wars. About 20 years after the War to End All Wars ended there was another war, World War II. And since then there have been countless wars.

While we may like to imagine a world without countries and on killing or dying, we simply know that will not happen until after Jesus returns. Before Jesus returns, there will be wars and rumors of wars.

If false messiahs and wars aren’t bad enough, Jesus tells us that his followers will face suffering and persecution. Jesus continues:

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. 10 And the gospel must first be preached to all nations. 11 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.

Scripture and history attest to this. In Acts 5 we’re told that the Apostles were arrested and put in prison for following Jesus. The next morning when the council met, they decided that the Apostles were to no longer teach in Jesus’ name. Peter, under inspiration by the Holy Spirit, answered “We must obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29). The Sanhedrin was enraged by the Apostles’ proclamation of the gospel. They forbade them from preaching and beat them. Luke tells us that they left the Sanhedrin “rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonor for the name”. That was just the beginning. The book of Acts is filled with examples and stories of the Church facing suffering.

When Mark was writing his gospel account, the Church was being persecuted. Nero had blamed Christians for the fire that swept Rome when he probably started it. He threw many believers into the Coliseum where they were fed to wild animals. Others he used as human candles to light the way into Rome. History is filled with examples and stories of the Church facing suffering.

We should not be surprised when we face suffering for following Christ. As Evangelicals, we have been used to political and cultural favor. We have had court access for at least the last generation. But culture is changing. We are losing that cultural and political favor. And as we lose that favor, we will suffer more. We will have people say negative things about us. We will be mocked for our positions on sex, sexuality, and marriage. We will be ridiculed for believing that Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life that no one comes to the Father except through him.

Maybe in the future we will experience persecution. Maybe we will not just lose cultural and political favor. Maybe worshipping the Triune God will be made illegal, like our brothers and sisters in China and Afghanistan. When persecution comes, let us know that Jesus told us it would. Let us know that it comes because we follow him. And when we stand trial for following Jesus, the Holy Spirit will give us the words to say.

The persecution that believers face will not just be cultural and political. It will come from within families. Jesus says, “12 “Brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child. Children will rebel against their parents and have them put to death. 13 Everyone will hate you because of me, but the one who stands firm to the end will be saved.”

Some will disown their sons and daughters for coming to faith. This is not uncommon in Islamic communities. God will renew someone’s heart and mind so that they recognize Jesus is God and that Islam is a false religion. Often families will shun their son or daughter who has come to faith in Jesus.

This doesn’t just happen in Muslim families. I know someone who grew up in a non-religious, non-Christian home and when she came to faith many of her extended family shunned her. Believers will face persecution for following Jesus, some of that will come from family members.

The Destruction of the Temple and Future Judgment

Jesus has answered the second question the disciples asked, now he answers their first question. “When you see ‘the abomination that causes desolation’ j standing where it does not belong—let the reader understand—then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains. 15 Let no one on the housetop go down or enter the house to take anything out. 16 Let no one in the field go back to get their cloak.”

Peter, James, John, and Andrew would have immediately understood what Jesus was referring to when he said “the abomination that causes desolation”. The abomination that causes desolation was a phrase from Daniel 9 and 11. Daniel is given a glimpse of the future in those passages. He’s given a glimpse of something that would happen 400 years after him and 150 years before Jesus. He’s sees a man offering a sacrifice in the temple to an idol, desecrating it. That vision came true when Antiochus IV the Seleucid King who forbade Jewish worship and began offering sacrifices to Greek gods in the temple. He even set up a brothel in the temple chambers.

The disciples would have known this. They would have immediately thought of this when Jesus said “the abomination that causes desolation”. Jesus is equating the desecration that Antiochus IV brought to the temple with what will happen to Jerusalem and the temple.

About 40 years after Jesus’ death, resurrection, and ascension Jerusalem was destroyed. Shortly before Jerusalem was destroyed, the Zealots took control of the Temple. They allowed criminals to enter the Holy of Holies. They murdered people in the temple complex. And then they installed their own high priest who had no interest in following the high priest regulations. Two years after the Zealots took control over Jerusalem and the Temple, Rome laid siege and destroyed the city and temple by burning it all to the ground.

Theologian Kim Riddlebarger says this about this passage:

Jesus was saying that he would explain the mysteries Daniel was never able to fully comprehend. This also meant that the desolation of the temple by Antiochus was but a foreshadowing of a future desolation that would fulfill Daniel’s prophecy of the desolation of the temple. This desolation would be far more horrific and would foreshadow the coming destruction of the city of Jerusalem. This was every pious Jew’s greatest fear—the temple would become desolate once again and the people of Israel would be hauled off into captivity to suffer and die in a land not their own. But this was exactly what Jesus predicted.[3]

The destruction of Jerusalem and the temple were signs of judgment. God had judged the leadership who rejected his Son, the Christ. He had judged the priests who had made mockery of his worship.

While some think that this passage was completely fulfilled in the destruction of Jerusalem, it is better to see this as a prophecy with multiple fulfillments. That’s not entirely uncommon in biblical prophecy. One of the most obvious is Isaiah 7. In Isaiah 7, the prophet is attempting to comfort King Ahaz. At that time, the Syrians and the Northern Kingdom of Israel were threatening attack Judah.

Isaiah is attempting to tell Ahaz that Syria and Israel will not attack but the king doesn’t believe him. Ahaz is convinced Syria and Israel will attack. To assure him that won’t happen, Isaiah tells him to ask God for a sign but the king won’t. Isaiah responds by giving his own sign. He says, “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel” (Isaiah 7:14).

In context that verse refers to the son born to Isaiah who proves that Syria and Israel won’t attack Judah. But we know that verse had a greater fulfillment in the birth of Jesus as Matthew and Luke tell us.

This passage was fulfilled in 70 A.D. when Jerusalem was burned. But there will be a greater fulfillment of this prophecy. There will be a greater judgment when Christ returns. At that time, he will judge humanity. Those in him will be declared righteous by virtue of Jesus imputing his righteousness on them; our sinful souls will be counted free as God the just will be satisfied to look on him and pardon us. Those not in him will be judged for their sin and rebellion.

Christ’s Return

Christ promises that he will return. He says:

At that time people will see the Son of Man coming in clouds with great power and glory. 27 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.”

His second coming will not be in secret; it will not be silent. Jesus’ second coming will be with “great power and glory”; all will see and know that the Christ has returned. Some people think he will return quietly and invisibly taking the elect out of suffering and persecution. But Jesus has made quite clear that his Church will suffer just as he suffered. We will be persecuted for his namesake. We won’t be spared that ourselves.

But he will return. And when he returns the elect from all nations will be gathered to him as he ushers in the new heavens and the new earth. When he returns the elect from all time and all nations will be given their new, glorified bodies. His return will be visible for all and it will be with great power and glory.

When will he return?

“But about that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. 33 Be on guard! Be alert! You do not know when that time will come. 34 It’s like a man going away: He leaves his house and puts his servants in charge, each with their assigned task, and tells the one at the door to keep watch.

35 “Therefore keep watch because you do not know when the owner of the house will come back—whether in the evening, or at midnight, or when the rooster crows, or at dawn. 36 If he comes suddenly, do not let him find you sleeping. 37 What I say to you, I say to everyone: ‘Watch!’ ”

Jesus does not give us date or time as to when he will return. In fact, while Jesus ministered here on the earth he didn’t know. How is that? Jesus is God-incarnate. How could he not know? This is a mystery. Somehow the divine nature of the person of Jesus withheld that information from the human nature.

Why would he do that? Why would Jesus withhold the day and hour of his return from us, from himself? He withholds that information from us so that we are on guard and continue our tasks. We, the Church, have been tasked with the proclamation of the gospel. We have been tasked with sharing the gospel to all nations and all people. If we knew the day and hour which Christ was returning, we would probably shut up shop. We would probably say, “The hour is late, let’s call it a day”.

I can remember when I worked at Starbucks. I usually opened the store but occasionally they convinced me to close. The few times I closed the store, the three of us would start watching the clock with about ten minutes left hoping and praying that no one would come in. We would say, “The hour is late, let’s call it a day”. We were hoping to shut up shop early.

That would be our natural inclination. If we knew the day and the hour of Christ’s return, we would shut up shop early. We would try and call it a day before the day and hour actually came. That is our natural inclination. So to prevent us from giving up early, God in his infinite wisdom withholds the day and hour from us.

That means two things for us. First, it means that we shouldn’t speculate and try to predict when Jesus will return. People have tried to predict when Jesus will return. In the 1840s, William Miller said that he had figured out the day that Jesus was returning. That day came and went leading to a great disappointment.

Maybe some of you remember Harold Camping. Camping had a very successful radio ministry where he faithfully shared the gospel. In spite of his successful radio ministry, Camping is most known for three failed predictions of Christ’s return, one in 1994, one in 2005, and the most well known in 2011. Let us not try to predict the day and hour that Christ will return.

Second, it means that we are to continue our task of making disciples as we are going. Until Jesus Christ returns, we are to go about our business of making disciples, of teaching them all that is in Scripture. We are to go about our business of worshipping week in and week out. Let us not think that because the hour is late we can shut up shop. Let us not think that because it’s been 2,000 years since Jesus’ death, resurrection, and ascension that he isn’t coming back. He is. He is returning and until he returns we are to continue our task of making disciples.

There will be people who are constantly saying “this is the end of the world as we know it”. Let us know the signs of the end of the time; that false prophets will arise, wars and persecution will continue. Let us know that there will be a final and great judgment. And let us know that Jesus will return.

[1] The New International Version. (2011). (Mk 13:1–37). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

[2] Will and Ariel Durant, The Lessons of History (New York Simon and Schuster, 1968), p. 81

[3] Riddlebarger, K. (2013). A Case for Amillennialism: Understanding the End Times (Expanded Edition, p. 197). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books.