LIVING FAITHFULLY IN THE TIME OF WAITING – Mark 13:1-13
Posted by Pastor Greg Allen on January 29, 2017 under 2016 |
Preached Sunday, January 29, 2017 from Mark 13:1-13
Theme: The Lord Jesus gives instructions on how to live faithfully for Him during the times that precede His return.
(Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture references are taken from The Holy Bible, New King James Version; copyright 1982, Thomas Nelson, Inc.)
But before we read from it, I ask that you first turn with me to the end of Matthew 23. It’s there that we read a story that, I believe, gives us the context for what we will find in Mark 13.
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The Lord Jesus had just completed the last of His three final visits to the Temple in Jerusalem—just a few days before He would go to the cross for us. He had come into the city as the rightful, long-awaited, promised King of the Jews; and had entered the Temple with the right to have been received and welcomed by His people. But instead, the religious leaders and rulers of the people rejected Him and contended with Him. And on the last of these three final visits, He left with these parting words—found in Matthew 23:37-39:
“O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the one who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing! See! Your house is left to you desolate; for I say to you, you shall see Me no more till you say, ‘Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!’” (Matthew 23:37-39).
Sobering words; are they not? The “house” that He speaks of—the one that will be left to them “desolate” or “destroyed”—is the Temple itself. He came as the Son of God to His own Temple; and the stewards of that Temple rejected Him and would not have Him. And now, that Temple itself would be lost to the Jewish people—for a time, anyway—until they would finally welcome Him and say to Him, “Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord.”
It is that parting announcement from our Lord that, I believe, was on the minds of His disciples as we come to the story in Mark 13. The focus of the story now shifts from the Temple itself to the Mount of Olives; situated just east of the Temple, on the other side of the Kidron Valley—a place from which the whole of that Temple area could be viewed. It was there from that spot (a spot, by the way, that I personally believe is the most remarkable spot on planet earth) that Jesus goes on, with the Temple in full view, to give one of the longest discourses on any one single subject that you’ll find in the whole Gospel of Mark. Bible scholars often refer to it as the Olivet Discourse—so named because of the place at which it was spoken. It is a discourse in which our Lord lays out to His disciples the whole plan of what would happen in the unfolding centuries after the desolation of the Temple until the time that He would—once again—return to the Jewish people and to the site of that very Temple.
Please allow me to read a large portion of it to you—and please allow the wonder of it it to grip your heart. Mark tells us;
Then as He went out of the temple, one of His disciples said to Him, “Teacher, see what manner of stones and what buildings are here!” And Jesus answered and said to him, “Do you see these great buildings? Not one stone shall be left upon another, that shall not be thrown down.”
Now as He sat on the Mount of Olives opposite the temple, Peter, James, John, and Andrew asked Him privately, “Tell us, when will these things be? And what will be the sign when all these things will be fulfilled?” And Jesus, answering them, began to say: “Take heed that no one deceives you. For many will come in My name, saying, ‘I am He,’ and will deceive many. But when you hear of wars and rumors of wars, do not be troubled; for such things must happen, but the end is not yet. For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. And there will be earthquakes in various places, and there will be famines and troubles. These are the beginnings of sorrows. But watch out for yourselves, for they will deliver you up to councils, and you will be beaten in the synagogues. You will be brought before rulers and kings for My sake, for a testimony to them. And the gospel must first be preached to all the nations. But when they arrest you and deliver you up, do not worry beforehand, or premeditate what you will speak. But whatever is given you in that hour, speak that; for it is not you who speak, but the Holy Spirit. Now brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child; and children will rise up against parents and cause them to be put to death. And you will be hated by all for My name’s sake. But he who endures to the end shall be saved (Mark 13:1-13).
I believe, dear brothers and sisters, that those words speak of the long period of time in God’s redemptive plan in which we are living today. It’s the time between the desolation of the old Temple, and the promised construction of the new. It’s that period during which God has—for a time—shifted the focus of His grace from the Jewish nation to the Gentile world. It’s also a time of testing and trouble for Jesus’ followers. It is the time of our waiting for His return.
And then, Jesus goes on to speak of the times that would follow after that age of grace—and of the greatest of all times of testing and trouble;
“So when you see the ‘abomination of desolation,’ spoken of by Daniel the prophet, standing where it ought not” (let the reader understand), “then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains. Let him who is on the housetop not go down into the house, nor enter to take anything out of his house. And let him who is in the field not go back to get his clothes. But woe to those who are pregnant and to those who are nursing babies in those days! And pray that your flight may not be in winter. For in those days there will be tribulation, such as has not been since the beginning of the creation which God created until this time, nor ever shall be. And unless the Lord had shortened those days, no flesh would be saved; but for the elect’s sake, whom He chose, He shortened the days. Then if anyone says to you, ‘Look, here is the Christ!’ or, ‘Look, He is there!’ do not believe it. For false Christs and false prophets will rise and show signs and wonders to deceive, if possible, even the elect. But take heed; see, I have told you all things beforehand” (vv. 14-23).
This speaks, I believe, of ‘the great tribulation’—such a time of tribulation, as our Lord puts it, that has never been since creation nor ever will be again. It will be a time in which, unless the days be deliberately shortened by the sovereign hand of God, no human being would survive.
And then comes our Lord’s description of the time of His return:
“But in those days, after that tribulation, the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light; the stars of heaven will fall, and the powers in the heavens will be shaken. Then they will see the Son of Man coming in the clouds with great power and glory. And then He will send His angels, and gather together His elect from the four winds, from the farthest part of earth to the farthest part of heaven” (vv. 24-27).
As we read on in the verses to follow, we find that the Lord gives further teaching on how the events that surround His return will come quickly and be fulfilled rapidly—all within the days of that generation which sees them begin. And then, He closes with a strong and practical exhortation for His followers to watch and be ready.
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Now; let me speak personally for a moment. I always get a little apprehensive about preaching from passages about prophecy. (It’s one of the two subjects I get most nervous about in my preaching—the other one being tithing.) We all have some pretty deep feelings and commitments about the subject of prophecy. And so, as we begin studying this great ‘Olivet Discourse’ together, let me offer a couple of appeals.
First, let’s not expect our Lord’s words in this passage to answer every question you or I might have about the end times. I don’t believe that it was our Lord’s intention in this discourse to tell us everything we may want to know prophetically. Instead, I believe that it was His specific intention to establish our hearts in faithfulness—and call us to a life of faithful watchfulness and waiting with respect to His return, whatever the times may be. I believe that if we end up doing what He tells us to do in verse 33—“Take heed, watch and pray; for you do not know when the time is”—then we will have handled this passage correctly; and will have gotten the most important thing we will have needed to get from it.
And second, please allow me grace as I seek to preach from this passage. Every one of us has our own favorite Bible teacher or writer who has spoken expertly on the end times; and if I say something along the way that doesn’t measure-up with what a Bible teacher that you respect might have said, please know that I’m doing my very best to interpret things with dependency upon the Holy Spirit—just as I suspect that other Bible teacher would try to do. I can’t promise that I will always say something that you will find agreeable. But I can promise you that I do my very best, God helping me, to draw out for you only what I believe the Lord Jesus truly taught us in this passage.
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Now; with that being said, I believe that, in the first great division of this passage, our Lord gives instructions to His followers on how to live faithfully for Him during the times that precede His return.
And let’s begin by considering …
1. THE STARTLING ANNOUNCEMENT.
As they left the temple, Mark tells us that one of the disciples—he doesn’t tell us which one—commented on the buildings and stones of the Temple. According to ancient historians, that ancient Temple—the Temple built by King Herod the Great—was an astonishing structure. It was one of the most beautiful buildings in the world at that time; with enormous stones that were brilliant white; and with walls that reached high into the sky. As the rising or setting sun shone upon it, it must have been a stunning sight. It must have looked like it would stand forever.
I suspect that the disciples were thinking much of this building as they left it with our Lord—and particularly after hearing Him declare that it would be left ‘desolate’. And it was then—as they were overwhelmed with admiration for it—that He made that solemn and sober pronouncement. He told His disciples in verse 2, “Do you see these great buildings? Not one stone shall be left upon another, that shall not be thrown down.” That describes total destruction.
I have had the privilege of visiting the old Temple site twice now. There is a road within the temple area that has been recently unearthed; and it’s a road that the Lord Jesus Himself would have walked on. On the far end of this road, and along the stone wall, are piles of enormous rubble stones—huge stones that were from the old Temple. Jesus’ words were literally fulfilled in 70 AD—just a few decades after He spoke them—when the Roman general Titus invaded the city, knocked down its walls, demolished the temple, and destroyed the city of Jerusalem.
When you look at the old city today, and gaze upon the site of the old Temple, you see walls and structures. But of what you see today, nothing of that old Temple remains standing. The walls and structures we see today were built centuries later. Jesus’ words were fulfilled—and the old Temple was left desolate—without a stone left upon another; except for a few fragments that show that the Temple of old was once there.
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Now; when the Lord’s disciples heard His prophetic prediction, it must have been astonishing to them. It must have upset their expectations. They believed fully that Jesus was the promised Messiah—and rightfully so, because that’s who He was. But what would then happen to His promised reign if the Temple is destroyed? What would happen to their expectations of Him? How does all this all work out in the plan of God? And so, we’re told that our Lord sat on the Mount of Olives—overlooking the city from a distance; and a handful of them came privately. It’s then that we find …
2. THE DISCIPLE’S INQUIRY.
I think it’s very significant that this conversation happened at the Mount of Olives. As I have said earlier, I believe that that’s the most remarkable place on planet earth. It would be from that place—not long after this discussion, sometime after our Lord was raised from the dead—that He would ascend to the Father into heaven from that place. And what’s more, the Bible tells us that it is to that same place that our Lord will descend from heaven and touch His feet on the earth once more. Truly—to my mind, at least—there is no more significant place in the whole world than the place where Jesus sat right then. The destiny of humanity truly hinges upon it. How remarkable, then, that it was from that very place that our Lord explained to His disciples the things that would come.
As they sat with Him, verse 4 tells us that they asked Him, “Tell us, when will these things be? And what will be the sign when all these things will be fulfilled?” Those are two different questions, by the way. “When would it be that the destruction of the Temple that You just described to us—and all the surrounding events—would happen?” And then, as it’s put in Matthew’s account, “And what will be the sign of Your coming, and of the end of the age?” (Matthew 24:3).
Now the disciples thought that those two events would happen together; and that they would happen just a short time from then—within their lifetimes. What they didn’t know—and what our Lord’s words go on to show; and what history itself has now demonstrated to us—is that there is a great deal of time between those two events.
So far, at least two-thousand years have passed. That long period of time is the time in which we are now living. How much longer this period will last is unknown to us. It’s something that not even the Lord Jesus Himself knows, but is something known only to the Father.
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Now; the Lord is going to answer their questions. But first, He has certain things that He wants His followers to know about living in those times—that period of time in which they await His return.
It’s then, in verses 5-13 that we find …
3. THE LORD’S INSTRUCTIONS.
I believe that this section stresses to us the thing that the Lord wants you and I to know the most about these times. He isn’t so concerned to answer all our questions about everything that we might want to know. Instead, He tells us what we—as His followers—need to know.
Notice first, in verses 5-6, that He speaks a word of warning about not being deceived. He says, “Take heed that no one deceives you. For many will come in My name, saying, ‘I am He,’ and will deceive many.” This long period of time in which we are living—this time of waiting—would be marked by many who would arise and say that they were the long-expected Christ.
I take it that the reason our Lord says, “Take heed that no one deceives you” is because there is a true danger of our being deceived. And sadly, there are lots of tragic stories of such false-messiahs rising up, and gathering many followers to themselves, and turning many from the truth. But no one ever has to be fooled. Jesus said that His coming would be like the lightning coming from the east and flashing to the west. No one would have to read about it a day later in the New York Times, or be told on a special news announcement that the Christ had come the night before and is planning a public press conference soon. When He finally comes, everyone in the world will know it as it happens.
He also warns us, in verses 7-8, about not misreading the times. “But when you hear of wars and rumors of wars,” He says, “do not be troubled; for such things must happen, but the end is not yet.” There is sometimes a tendency, in turbulent times, to wonder, “Is this the end of all things?” But Jesus tells us that times of political and societal upheaval are not themselves a sign that the end has come. “For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom.” That, after all, pretty much describes the history of the past two thousand years; doesn’t it?
And it won’t be just political matters. He says, “And there will be earthquakes in various places, and there will be famines …”; and as it also adds, in the translation I’m using, “and troubles.” Our Lord is warning us not to jump to the conclusion that difficult times themselves mean that the end is near. Many people, in many periods of history, have looked at the troubles in the world, assumed that the end had come, and had basically checked-out of involvement in life—thus losing their opportunity to serve as the Lord’s witness in their God-appointed time. “These,” He says, “are the beginnings of sorrows”—or literally, ‘the birth-pangs’. They are only the early rumblings of things to come. Let’s be careful not be too hasty and misread the times—confusing mere ‘birth-pangs’ with ‘the end of all things’—and thus failing to be the kind of clear-headed, critically involved witnesses our Lord wants us to be to this world.
He then goes on in verse 9 to speak about testifying under trial. He warns us, “But watch out for yourselves, for they will deliver you up to councils, and you will be beaten in the synagogues.” You only have to read the Book of Acts to see how this happened often to the very apostles to whom He then spoke. Many others of Jesus’ followers have been dragged before the authorities since then. Many are being dragged before the authorities today—and many more will be so treated in the future.
But note that there is a very important purpose for this happening. He said, “You will be brought before rulers and kings for My sake, for a testimony to them.” Our sovereign God purposes that the official prosecution of His people would become the means by which leaders and those in authority will be made to hear the clear testimony of the Gospel that they oppose.
And along with this, look at verse 10; where He tells us about expecting the gospel to spread. He said, “And the gospel must first be preached to all the nations.” Do you realize what a remarkable promise that is? This was spoken in a remote, seemingly-insignificant part of the world—in a little section of the Middle-East that was occupied by the Roman government at the time. It was spoken by a Man who was about to be crucified as a criminal; and to a group of men who would shortly thereafter scatter from Him and go into hiding—men who barely understood what the Lord was teaching them; and none of whom were scholars or statesmen or powerful men of influence. And yet, that very gospel that Jesus spoke of was later spread by them; and it has now—over the past two-thousand-year’s time—reached all the way around the globe.
I don’t believe that our Lord’s words have been completely fulfilled yet, though; do you? I don’t believe all the nations have heard yet. But we’re getting closer than we’ve ever been. The Internet, print media, and broadcasting technology is making it possible to reach almost everyone, in every nation, with the gospel. And I believe that this is one of the clear, objective signs that the time of the Lord’s return is near—when the gospel will have been preached to all the nations. Let’s do what we can to help make that happen soon!
Notice also that, in verse 11—in the context of the gospel’s spread—He speaks about trusting the Holy Spirit. He says, “But when they arrest you and deliver you up”—and do you notice that He doesn’t say “if”, but rather “when”? We shouldn’t think it’s too unusual a thing when it happens. And when it happens, He says, “do not worry beforehand, or premeditate what you will speak. But whatever is given you in that hour, speak that; for it is not you who speak, but the Holy Spirit.” Many faithful followers of Jesus throughout the past two thousand years of history have been able to testify of this. As they were made to stand trial for their faith, God gave them just the right thing to say—just when it was needed. Some of those words have gone into the history books, and have been the inspiration of courage for many faithful Christians ever since.
I don’t believe that this means we should never think about what we should say. I have heard of preachers who have mistakenly taken this to mean that they didn’t need to prepare their sermons. (Those kind of sermons, by the way, are horrible!) Rather, I believe that this is spoken specifically with regard to our faithful witness in times of trial for our faith; and is a call to not be anxious about it. The Holy Spirit will honor our faithfulness at such times, and will give us words that none of the adversaries of the faith will be able to answer or resist.
Now; in the light of this, Jesus also gives us—in verses 12-13—a warning about suffering rejection. He says, “Now brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child; and children will rise up against parents and cause them to be put to death. And you will be hated by all for My name’s sake.” I don’t believe that this is speaking of the times we call ‘the great tribulation’. Such things will happen then too. But they have also happened to the faithful followers of Jesus throughout the past two thousand years, and in many cultures of the world. The attitude of this world toward the followers of Jesus will be one of hatred; and not even the closest family connections will overcome it.
Some of us have experienced this personally in some way. And it’s very painful. But we shouldn’t be surprised by it. It would be a little later that our Lord would tell His disciples;
“If the world hates you, you know that it hated Me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love its own. Yet because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. Remember the word that I said to you, ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you. If they kept My word, they will keep yours also. But all these things they will do to you for My name’s sake, because they do not know Him who sent Me” (John 15:18-21).
But look at the last thing that the Lord would have us know concerning this waiting period in history—a promise about enduring to the end. At the end of verse 13, He says, “But he who endures to the end shall be saved.”
And let’s be careful how we understand this. I don’t believe the Lord is saying to us that we would somehow ‘earn’ our salvation by enduring to the end. Rather, I believe He is saying that we prove that we are already saved by the fact that we endure to the end. In the long history of this hostile and turbulent period before His return, it will be the ‘endure-to-the-end’ ones who prove that they were truly His.
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Now; as you can see, this doesn’t speak to the question yet of how we will recognize the time of Jesus’ return. It may be that that time is coming soon. Personally, I believe it is. Certainly, we’re one day closer today than we were yesterday! But it may be that it is yet far away in the future. Only the Father knows.
But for now, let’s make sure we get the point of the passage before us. We are living right now in the waiting period—the long period of time between the destruction of the old Temple and the promise of our Lord’s return. This is the time in which the heavenly Father has graciously given it to us to live for our Lord and be His witnesses to this world. And in this passage, He has given us some specific instructions on how to do so faithfully all the way to the end.
By His grace, let’s do so!