‘ALL THINGS BEFOREHAND’ – Mark 13:14-23
Posted by Pastor Greg Allen on February 5, 2017 under 2016 |
Preached Sunday, February 5, 2017 from Mark 13:14-23
Theme: In this passage, the Lord Jesus alerts His followers beforehand of the nature of the times that will precede His return.
(Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture references are taken from The Holy Bible, New King James Version; copyright 1982, Thomas Nelson, Inc.)
The Three Sisters is a volcanic arc of peaks in the Cascade Range in Lane and Deschutes Counties. I understand that, when early settlers first saw them, they named these three peaks Faith, Hope and Charity. Sadly, the names didn’t stick; and now they’re called North Sister, Middle Sister, and South Sister. (I like the other names better.) There are three; but if you were to stand in the right spot and look at them all in a row from either the northerly or southerly direction, they wouldn’t appear to be three individual sisters. They would together look like an only child. It would only be as you got a better view of them by drawing closer that you would make the discovery that they are three individual peaks—over 10,000 feet each—separated by several miles from one another.
That serves a good illustration for a phenomenon we sometimes find in some of the prophecies that are told to us in the Bible. One single prophecy may involve a division of events that are separated by several centuries of time. But from the foreshortened perspective of a time-bound view, they may appear to describe only one event—occurring at only one period in history. It would only be as you drew closer in time to the separate events of that prophecy, and understood it better, that you would realize that it didn’t speak of just one event; but rather, of more than one event—with the parts of the prophecy separated by a long span of time.
Bible scholars refer to this phenomenon as ‘prophetic foreshortening’. There are several fascinating examples of it in the Bible. And I believe that, as we come to our passage this morning, we discover yet another sample of it. It’s a passage found in Mark 13; where our Lord speaks in His ‘Olivet Discourse’ about the turbulent times that would occur just before His second coming.
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Jesus had just told His disciples something shocking—just a few days before going to the cross. As His disciples looked at the beautiful structure of the glorious Temple in Jerusalem that had been built by King Herod the Great, Jesus told them that there was a time coming when not one stone of the temple would be left upon another that would not be thrown down. This speaks of complete destruction! The disciples were stunned; and they asked Jesus when this would happen, and what would be the sign of His coming and the end of the age.
After describing, in verses 5-13, the long period of time in which we are living today—at least two-thousand years of time after His words were spoken—He then begins in verses 14-23 to answer their question:
“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).
There is a sense in which the disciples had asked Jesus—without realizing it—two very different questions: (1) when would the destruction of the temple occur; and (2) what would be the sign of His coming and the end of the age. From their time-bound perspective, they thought of these questions as being about one event. But when you look at the whole of our Lord’s answer from the perspective of all of the Gospel accounts, He really answered their questions by giving them one prophecy that involved events that are separated by many centuries.
If you were to read Jesus’ answer as it’s recorded for us in the twenty-first chapter of the Gospel of Luke, you’d find that He described events that picture the destruction of the Temple that they were then looking at. That destruction occurred in 70 AD—some forty years or so after Jesus had spoken those words—at the time when the Roman general Titus conquered the city and destroyed it. That Roman general literally fulfilled Jesus’ promise; because he left not one stone of the Temple upon another. And that would have been the answer to the disciples first question about when the destruction of the Temple would occur.
But they had a second question—the question of what would be the sign of all these things being fulfilled, and that would indicate His coming and of the end of the age. And I believe it’s that second question that He is dealing with in the words that we find in Mark’s Gospel—in our passage this morning. When you compare one Gospel account with another, it seems, at first, to be a little confusing. It appears, at first glance, as if the answers that Jesus gives in the two accounts appear in conflict with one another. But they are not. When put together in harmony with one another, they describe one prophecy fulfilled in two events of time—separated by several centuries; but both appearing as if they occur at one point of time because of our foreshortened viewpoint of prophecy. As we draw nearer—just as would happen as you drew nearer the Three Sisters—you can see that they are separate events united under one prophetic theme.
The first event—the destruction of the Temple in 70 A.D.—was an unspeakably horrible event in history; a grievous time of tribulation that involved the destruction of the ancient city of Jerusalem and the brutal loss of hundreds of thousands of Jewish lives. And from the standpoint of Jewish history, it was the event that officially marked the beginning of what the Bible refers to prophetically as ‘the time of the Gentiles’—the prophetic era in which we are living today. But here in our passage this morning; our Lord lets us know that this first event—as horrible as it was—is really only the prophetic ‘type’ of yet another event to come in the future. It’s the event that immediately precedes our Lord’s return—an event we call ‘the Great Tribulation’.
Look at what Mark goes on to tell us that Jesus said in verses 24-27:
“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).
So; I believe that, in this morning’s passage, our Lord is passing on some important information to you and me as His followers. He is letting us know—well in advance—the nature of the great time of tribulation that will immediately precede His coming. That time is pictured for us—in a lesser way—through the terrible destruction of 70 A.D.
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But how do I, as a preacher, make this sermon ‘practical’? The followers of Jesus have experienced tribulation in this world from the very beginning; and continue to do so even to this day. And we don’t really know if the Lord will return in our lifetime or many centuries from now. What is it that we are to ‘do’ as a result of what the Lord teaches us about the Great Tribulation?
I would suggest that it boils down to what He says in verse 23: “But take heed; see, I have told you all things beforehand.” Or you can see it in verse 33; “Take heed, watch and pray; for you do not know when the time is.” Our job on earth as His followers is not to wait until the time of His return comes upon us, and to THEN begin to be faithful to Him. The Bible makes it clear that that time will come suddenly and catch the world by surprise. He even tells He will come at at time when we do not expect Him.
And so; let’s learn from His teaching about what the times will be like then; and to make sure we are living in readiness TODAY in the light of His immanent return—no matter what the times may be.
Let’s go through this passage in a bit more detail, and consider what the Lord tells us about those times. First, notice that He tells us about …
1. THE SIGN.
The disciples had asked what the sign would be when all these things would be fulfilled; and now He tells them in verse 14. “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.” Jesus had already given one clear, objective sign. In verse 10 of this chapter, He said, “And the gospel must first be preached to all nations.” And now, here is the other objective sign—the ‘abomination of desolation’ standing where it ought not.
In the translation I’m using, it has Jesus saying that this had been spoken of in the prophet Daniel. You may be using a translation that does not contain those words. But they are words that are legitimately found in the account of Jesus’ teaching in the Gospel of Matthew. An ‘abomination’ is something detestable and repulsive—and it is often used in the Old Testament to describe a paganistic idol. And the fact that it is an abomination “of desolation” suggests that its appearance is accompanied by terrible destruction and loss. The Old Testament prophet Daniel speaks of just such a thing.
In another example of ‘prophetic foreshortening’ the prophet Daniel—in Daniel 11—was told beforehand of the career of a very powerful and extremely wicked king from the regions of ancient Syria. (A fuller story of what he did is told to us later in history in the first chapter of the apocryphal book of 1 Maccabees.) His name was Antiochus IV. (He demanded to be called Aniochus Epiphanes, which meant ‘Antiochus—God Manifest’; although in whispers behind his back, people called him Aniochus Epimanes, which meant “Antiochus—The Madman”). He had an almost demonic hatred for the Jewish people; and in the 2nd Century B.C., he marched his troops in to the city, erected a pagan altar over the Jewish altar of burnt offering, sacrificed pigs and other unclean animals upon it in order to render it defiled, killed many Jewish people who would not comply, destroyed any copies of the Scripture he could find, and sought to bring an end to the ordinances given by God. His pagan altar was referred prophetically by Daniel as “the abomination of desolation” (Daniel 11:31). But remarkably, Daniel then goes on later in his prophecy to write of another event yet to come. He asked the angel that had shown him these events—much as the disciples did—“My lord, what shall be the end of these things?” And in Daniel 12:9-11, he was told;
“Go your way, Daniel, for the words are closed up and sealed till the time of the end. Many shall be purified, made white, and refined, but the wicked shall do wickedly; and none of the wicked shall understand, but the wise shall understand. And from the time that the daily sacrifice is taken away, and the abomination of desolation is set up, there shall be one thousand two hundred and ninety days” (Daniel 12:9-11).
Do you remember that phrase that we find in our passage this morning?—the one where it says in parentheses, “let the reader understand”? Many Bible teachers—and even Bible translators—believe that this was a comment by Mark or by Matthew. But I don’t believe that. I believe they are words spoken by our Lord; and that He was saying that, as the Book of Daniel had been sealed in former days, it would now be opened to the understanding of His followers who see these things unfold in the course of time.
The Bible teaches us that there will come a time when a diabolical, satanically-empowered world leader—the Antichrist—will come upon the scene; and he will deceitfully draw the whole world after himself. Revelation 13 tells us about him. The apostle John was given a glimpse of this Antichrist—whom he calls “the beast”—and writes that
… all the world marveled and followed the beast. So they worshiped the dragon who gave authority to the beast; and they worshiped the beast, saying, “Who is like the beast? Who is able to make war with him?” And he was given a mouth speaking great things and blasphemies, and he was given authority to continue for forty-two months [very close to the 1,290 days of which Daniel spoke]. Then he opened his mouth in blasphemy against God, to blaspheme His name, His tabernacle, and those who dwell in heaven. It was granted to him to make war with the saints and to overcome them. And authority was given him over every tribe, tongue, and nation. All who dwell on the earth will worship him, whose names have not been written in the Book of Life of the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world. If anyone has an ear, let him hear. He who leads into captivity shall go into captivity; he who kills with the sword must be killed with the sword. Here is the patience and the faith of the saints (Revelation 13:4-10).
In Revelation 13, the apostle John is told further that there would be a ‘false-prophet’ who would arise and cause the whole world to worship this beast. John says;
He performs great signs, so that he even makes fire come down from heaven on the earth in the sight of men. And he deceives those who dwell on the earth by those signs which he was granted to do in the sight of the beast, telling those who dwell on the earth to make an image to the beast who was wounded by the sword and lived. He was granted power to give breath to the image of the beast, that the image of the beast should both speak and cause as many as would not worship the image of the beast to be killed (vv. 13-15).
And I believe that the Lord Jesus is telling us that, when this image is seen—the ‘abomination of desolation,’ spoken of by Daniel the prophet and further described in the Book of Revelation—standing where it ought not, then it is the primary sign that the end of the age has come.
Now; do you notice how Jesus says that when this happens, “then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains”? When teaching His disciples about the nature of those times, this is how He speaks of them in terms of …
2. THE URGENCY.
The moment that sign is made clear, then those who are in near proximity to it should flee as fast as they can. They should literally ‘head for the hills’. And why? It’s because the whole world will be under the delusions of the devil and will worship the image of the beast—and anyone who will not do so will be immediately arrested and be brutally put to death.
Look at verse 15, and at how Jesus describes the sense of urgency with which His people should flee. He said, “Let him who is on the housetop not go down into the house, nor enter to take anything out of his house.” In those days, the roof of one’s house was like a room of the house all its own. People would often relax there at the end of the day. But when word comes of this ‘abomination of desolation’ sitting where it ought not, they should flee so fast that they don’t even take the time to go inside to take anything along. And He said, “And let him who is in the field not go back to get his clothes.” If someone was working out on the farm and plowing his field—and he gets the word of this ‘abomination of desolation’ sitting where it ought not—then he should not go home. He should simply drop his plow and keep running—without a coat if need be.
If I may, this reminds us that—as a general principle of life as followers of Jesus—we should keep such a loose hold on the things of this world that we can drop them and go at our Lord’s call. “For what will it profit a man,” Jesus said elsewhere, “if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul?” (Mark 8:36).
And along with this sense of the urgency of the times, look also at verses 17-18 at what Jesus said about …
3. THE DESPERATION.
“But woe,” He said in verse 17, “to those who are pregnant and to those who are nursing babies in those days!” Imagine what desperate times they will be!—that mercy would not even be shown for those who are slowed down because they are pregnant or because they care for an infant! When I read this, I thought of what Jesus said to the women who were weeping for Him as He passed by bearing His cross;
“Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for Me, but weep for yourselves and for your children. For indeed the days are coming in which they will say, ‘Blessed are the barren, wombs that never bore, and breasts which never nursed!’ Then they will begin ‘to say to the mountains, “Fall on us!” and to the hills, “Cover us!”’ For if they do these things in the green wood, what will be done in the dry?” (Luke 23:28-31).
And look at how He also said, in verse 18, “And pray that your flight may not be in winter.” Why? It’s because the urgency of travel to get to safety would be hindered and made more difficult then. By the way: Why would Jesus say to pray this? Wouldn’t He know whether it would be in winter or not? And the answer is that no—He would not know. He says later in this chapter that He Himself did not know the time of His return, but only the Father. But in thinking about the end times, have you ever thought to pray that the time of fleeing away would not be in winter? What desperate times these will be!
And then, consider that Jesus says about these times of tribulation in terms of …
4. THE INTENSITY.
In verse 19, He says, “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.” There can, categorically speaking, be only be one such time—and that’s why we call it ‘the Great Tribulation’.
Many Bible teachers, whom I love and respect, have taught that the times that Jesus is describing were referring ONLY to the destruction of the Temple in 70 A.D. You may be familiar with such a viewpoint—often called Preterist view (named after the Latin word for “past”). It holds that these end-times prophecies describe events that—from our perspective—have already occurred in the past; most of which having been fulfilled in the destruction of 70 A.D. But I cannot hold that view with respect to this verse. As horrible as that event was—viewed from the perspective of the horrible events that have occurred since then, and most particularly in the 20th Century—it was not an event of tribulation that was greater than any since then. I believe it was only a harbinger of what will come—a time that Jesus Himself referred to in Revelation 3:10 as “the hour of trial which shall come upon the whole world, to test those who dwell on the earth.”
As if to express to us how horrible that time will be, Jesus says, in verse 20; “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.” The heavenly Father has fixed a time-limit in His sovereign purpose for the sake of His chosen ones; and those dreadful days will endure no further than He will allow. But Jesus is telling us that, if those days were not limited by God, no human life would survive.
Now; it won’t be a time just of suffering. It will also be a time of terrible deception. Notice what Jesus goes on to speak in verses 21-22 about the times in terms of …
5. THE DECEPTIVENESS.
He warns, “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.”
The Bible warns us—as far back as Deuteronomy 13—that the mere fact that ‘signs’ and ‘wonders’ are performed is not itself a sign that someone is a spokesperson of God. Many people throughout the centuries have been deceived by such things; and have been easily drawn from a faithfulness to the truth of the gospel through impressive false teachers and false miracles. Jesus warns us that this will happen to an even greater degree in the time of tribulation that is to come.
Consider what the apostle Paul said about the Antichrist in 2 Thessalonians 2:9-12:
The coming of the lawless one is according to the working of Satan, with all power, signs, and lying wonders, and with all unrighteous deception among those who perish, because they did not receive the love of the truth, that they might be saved. And for this reason God will send them strong delusion, that they should believe the lie, that they all may be condemned who did not believe the truth but had pleasure in unrighteousness (2 Thessalonians 2:9-12).
What deceitful times they will be! The devil will work overtime—and many will fall under His lying spell. It will take nothing less than the grace of God Himself to keep His people faithful!
And that leads us to our responsibility. Notice Jesus’ words in verse 23 about …
6. THE NEED TO BE VIGILANT.
“But take heed,” He says; “see, I have told you all things beforehand.” No one will have an excuse; because the Son of God will have told us what we needed to know—if we will but heed His warning.
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At the beginning of the message, I mentioned something about Three Sisters. Let me close by reading what Jesus said about ten virgins.
In Matthew 25—at the end of the Olivet Discourse—we’re told that our Lord said;
“Then the kingdom of heaven shall be likened to ten virgins who took their lamps and went out to meet the bridegroom. Now five of them were wise, and five were foolish. Those who were foolish took their lamps and took no oil with them, but the wise took oil in their vessels with their lamps. But while the bridegroom was delayed, they all slumbered and slept. And at midnight a cry was heard: ‘Behold, the bridegroom is coming; go out to meet him!’ Then all those virgins arose and trimmed their lamps. And the foolish said to the wise, ‘Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.’ But the wise answered, saying, ‘No, lest there should not be enough for us and you; but go rather to those who sell, and buy for yourselves.’ And while they went to buy, the bridegroom came, and those who were ready went in with him to the wedding; and the door was shut. Afterward the other virgins came also, saying, ‘Lord, Lord, open to us!’ But he answered and said, ‘Assuredly, I say to you, I do not know you.’ Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour in which the Son of Man is coming” (Matthew 25:1-13).
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ; I can’t think of any more appropriate application for our lives to our Lord’s teaching about the Great Tribulation than that! Keep the oil in your lamps and keep them burning! Keep under the rule of the Holy Spirit, and keep vigilant in your faith! Don’t squander your time; and then presume to ‘get serious with the Lord’ when you see the prophetic signs becoming clearer. You may not have time to do so then!
Take heed, be alert, and keep faithful now! May it be that He comes soon; but whenever He comes, may He find us ready!