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What Did Jesus Say About the End Times? Part 1

Few subjects spark greater interest than the study of eschatology, the “end times.” Christians and non-Christians alike are fascinated by the issue, even if they are skeptical about much of what they see. Unfortunately, much of this skepticism is warranted when you consider the spectacularly erroneous predictions of so many pseudo-prophets and prognosticators.

Opposition from governmental and legal authorities will be harsh. Rejection by family and friends will be heartbreaking, but it will happen, so get ready. “Then brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child. Children will rise up against parents and put them to death.” The word “death” occurs twice, emphasizing the extent of the betrayal and persecution some will face. We will be arrested, beaten, betrayed, put to death, and even “hated,” all for the sake of King Jesus. While this may sound surreal and unfathomable in America, it is the experience of millions of brothers and sisters around the world today and throughout church history. One can consult the famous Fox’s Book of Martyrs to read the stories of faithful believers who sealed their witness with their blood. Church tradition informs us that all the apostles, with the possible exception of John, died as martyrs. Some have estimated that more than 70 million Christians have given their lives for their witness to Jesus, 45 million in the twentieth century alone (ZENIT.org, “20th Century”). In the last decade “there were on average, 270 new Christian martyrs every 24 hours,” or approximately one million in the last 10 years (Weigel, “Christian Number”).

Yes, we will be hated for our faithful witness to our Master, but Jesus tells us to be encouraged: “The one who endures to the end will be delivered.” Perseverance is the proof that our profession is real. It may be tough, but our Lord will be faithful to keep us by His power.

Vance Havner used to say, “Faith that fizzles before the finish was faulty from the first.” This is especially true when we experience severe persecution. It was certainly true in the first century, it is true in the twenty-first century, and it will be true in the future as history moves toward its climactic end with the return of King Jesus.

Mark 13:14-23

Verse 14 introduces us to one of the most cryptic and difficult phrases in the Bible: “the abomination that causes desolation.” The phrase occurs three times in the book of Daniel:

Jesus connects the phrase with meaning of indescribable suffering and tribulation, “the kind that hasn’t been from the beginning of the world” (v. 19). Let me do my best to simplify the complex.

First, the initial fulfillment of Daniel’s prophecy (particularly 11:31-32) was the desecration of the temple in 167 bc by the Syrian Antiochus Epiphanes when he sacrificed a pig on the altar of burnt offerings and set up an altar to Zeus. This act of idolatry and insult so incensed the Jewish people they would soon rise up in what history calls the Maccabean Revolt.

Second, given the context of the passage and Jesus’ instructions, it appears He has in mind another fulfillment in the destruction of Jerusalem in ad 70. When the abomination of desolation is “standing where it should not”—perhaps a reference to the Roman General Titus entering the temple in September ad 70—then “those in Judea must flee to the mountains” (v. 14). Further, everyone was to act with a sense of urgency. James Edwards said, “People on their flat-roofed Palestinian house must flee by the outside staircase without going inside (v. 15) ... and the field worker will have no time to fetch his outer cloak (v. 16). Worst of all will be the fate of pregnant women and nursing mothers (v. 17; see Luke 23:29-31), and anyone fleeing in winter when the wadis—the ravines and gorges—are swollen and impossible to cross (v. 18)” (Edwards, Mark, 397). All of this took place in Judea in ad 70.

Third, the tragic events of 167 bc and ad 70 anticipate a climactic event of horrible destruction and desecration just prior to our Lord’s second coming. Jesus is speaking of the eschatological end through the eyes of the imminent destruction of the temple. Again, the precise explanation of312 James Edwards is excellent, especially as he makes a connection with other crucial New Testament texts:

John Grassmick adds of the man “standing where he should not” of verse 14, “This person is the end-time Antichrist (Dan 7:23-26; 9:25-27; 2 Thes. 2:3-4, 8-9; Rev 13:1-10, 14-15)” (“Mark,” 170).

Verse 19 informs us “those days” (cf. v. 24) will be unequalled in all of human history. As horrible as ad 70 was, that event will pale in comparison to the end-time “tribulation.” Indeed, no one would be delivered from death if those days were allowed to continue. However, in grace, God places a divine limitation on the time of tribulation. Even in His wrath, God remembers mercy (Hab 3:2).

313Jesus concludes this section with a warning about “false messiahs and false prophets” (v. 22). Count on it that they will come on the scene and “perform signs and wonders” (cf. Rev 19:20). If possible—but praise God they can’t—they would “lead astray the elect.” Since we are safe, do we grow complacent? No! “Watch!” This is the third time Jesus has warned them. In fact He concludes, “I have told you everything in advance.”

Teaching on the end times can be both comforting and troubling. In our broken and fallen world we can expect trials, tribulations, and troubles until Jesus returns. While we wait, should we be working out a prophetic schedule of events? Not at all. Instead, listen to what Jesus says and not to others who wish to lead you astray. Instead, do not be surprised by the catastrophes of nature, the wars throughout history, or the sufferings of God’s people. Instead, realize that when Jesus talks about the future, “his words are meant to change the way we live in the present” (Ferguson, Mark, 218). Instead, do as Paul encouraged in Titus 2:13 and look for “the blessed hope and appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ.” Instead, do as John urged in Revelation 22:20 and pray, “Come Lord Jesus.” And as you watch and pray, be on your guard and don’t worry. Jesus already told you all about what to expect!

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