What Did Jesus Say About the End Times? Part 1
What Did Jesus Say About the End Times? Part 1307
What Did Jesus Say About the End Times? Part 1
Main Idea: We should be on guard so that we are not deceived or anxious about the end times.
- Deception Is Coming, so Do Not Be Led Astray (13:1-8).
- Persecution Can Be Expected, but Do Not Be Anxious (13:9-13).
- Tribulation Will Be Intense, so Be on Guard (13:14-23).
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.
No one has swung and missed more than the Jehovah’s Witnesses, whose false predictions currently stand at nine (1874, 1878, 1881, 1910,
1914, 1918, 1925, 1975, and 1984). In 1988, many evangelical Christians looked rather foolish when they were seduced by Edgar Whisenant’s 88 Reasons Why the Rapture Is in 1988. Not to be outdone, New Age advocates cited Mayan calendars and predicted the end would come on December 21, 2012. They of course were wrong too. I could continue down this tragic trail for quite some time.
Jesus addressed issues related to the end times in what is often called “the Olivet Discourse,” delivered on the Mount of Olives overlooking Jerusalem (Matt 24:1-25, 46; Mark 13:1-37; Luke 21:5-36). We do not find Jesus encouraging us to set dates or identify the Antichrist, the False Prophet, or the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. Rather, He admonishes us to be on guard (Mark 13:9, 23, 33) and stay awake (vv. 33, 35, 37). No one but God knows when the end will come (vv. 32-37). However, since the end will come—and suddenly (v. 36)—we must remain constantly faithful in our service to our Master (v. 35). It will not be easy, but “it will be worth it all when we see Jesus.”
Now, Mark 13 is a difficult text to interpret, with faithful, Bible-believing teachers differing on the details. Some are convinced Jesus is only addressing the destruction of Jerusalem, which took place in ad 70. Others are equally certain He only has in view the end of the age. I, personally, think there is a third and better understanding. Jesus does indeed address the308 imminent destruction of the temple and Jerusalem. And in doing so, He provides a preview of distant attractions: His Second Coming and the end of the age. John Grassmick says,
Jesus predicted the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem (13:2) which prompted the disciples to inquire about the timing of “these things” (v. 4). Apparently they associated the destruction of the temple with the end of the Age (cf. Matt 24:3). In reply Jesus skillfully wove together into a unified discourse a prophetic scene involving two perspectives: (a) the near event, the destruction of Jerusalem (ad 70); and (b) the far event, the coming of the Son of Man in clouds with power and glory. The former local event was a forerunner of the latter universal event. In this way Jesus followed the precedent of Old Testament prophets by predicting a far future event in terms of a near future event whose fulfillment at least some of His hearers would see (cf. Mark 9:1, 12-13). (Grassmick, “Mark,” 168)
Jesus will employ no less than 19 imperatives in verses 5-37 as He instructs us on how to be prepared for the end times. Many will be surprised both by what He says and by what He does not say.
Deception Is Coming, so Do Not Be Led Astray
Jesus leaves the temple for the last time. The glory of the Lord has departed (cf. Ezek 11:23). One of the disciples draws attention to the magnificent splendor of the temple, one of the great architectural wonders of the world. Built with large white stones and lavishly decorated with gold, it was blinding when struck by the sunlight. The Jewish people believed it to be the very sanctuary of God and therefore virtually indestructible until the end of time. Thus, Jesus’ response could not have been more shocking: “Do you see these great buildings? Not one stone will be left here on another that will not be thrown down!”
Verse 3 now locates them on the Mount of Olives “opposite the temple.” It is 2, 700 feet above sea level and two hundred feet above the temple complex. The inner circle of Peter and James and John and Andrew approach Him privately. They want to know, “When will these things happen? And what will be the sign when all these things are about to take place?” The disciples are thinking about the final consummation of history. They did not expect a long interval between the destruction of the temple and the end of the age. But Jesus does not address the issue of timing, though He does309 use the soon coming destruction of the temple and Jerusalem as a type or foreshadowing of end-time events. The imminent destruction of the temple is the lens through which we should view the distant destruction of this present evil age and the return of the Son of Man, the Lord Jesus (13:24-27).
Jesus begins with a warning that is applicable to any believer at any time: “Watch out that no one deceives you.” Why?
- “Many will come in My name, saying, ‘I am He,’ ...” This is literally “ego eimi” (I AM), and a claim to deity. They will say, “I am from God, and I am God.”
- “They will deceive many.” Simon the magician typifies what Jesus is talking about (Acts 8:9-11). First John 2:18 describes the parade of false christs who will come prior to the climactic false Christ: “Children, it is the last hour. And as you have heard, ‘Antichrist is coming,’ even now many antichrists have come.”
- You will hear of “wars and rumors of wars,” but “do not be alarmed.” Why? The evidences that we live in a broken world will continue until the end.
- Nations and kingdoms will fight one another, and earthquakes and famines will take place. These types of events set the stage for the finale. What we experience now, almost daily, will intensify as history draws to a close (Rev 6-18).
Human history is headed toward the birth of a new Messianic Age and kingdom, of that we can be sure. But before it comes, we can expect times of worldwide trouble and tribulation. Like the labor pains of a woman that grow in intensity before the blessed birth of the baby, distress will increase before the glorious end. This was true leading up to the destruction of the Jewish temple in ad 70. It especially will be true as the curtain on world history comes down.
Persecution Can Be Expected, but Do Not Be Anxious
Not only will there be trouble on a global level; there will also be trials and persecutions on a personal level. Jesus again challenges His disciples to “be on your guard” (the same word as in verse 5). This is also a present imperative, a word of command. Why does He issue a second challenge to watchfulness? Difficult times are to be expected for faithful followers of King Jesus.
You can expect that “they will hand you over to Sanhedrins” just like your Lord. You also will be publicly flogged in the synagogues and viewed310 as false teachers and traitors to the nation of Israel. This is all part of God’s plan for gospel proclamation! “You will stand before governors and kings because of Me, as a witness to them.” We see this unfold in the book of Acts (4:1-22; 5:17-42; 12:1-19; 21:27-28:31). Further, “the good news must first be proclaimed to all nations.” All the ethne, all the people groups of the world, must hear this gospel before the end comes. So do not get discouraged. This is God’s plan. Just be faithful to speak of Jesus and His gospel “in that hour.... For it isn’t you speaking, but the Holy Spirit.” Wow! Praise the Lord! He will empower you and enable you to say the right thing in the right way at just the right time.
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.
Tribulation Will Be Intense, so Be on Guard311
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:
He will make a firm covenant with many for one week, but in the middle of the week he will put a stop to sacrifice and offering. And the abomination of desolation will be on a wing of the temple until the decreed destruction is poured out on the desolator. (Dan 9:27)
His forces will rise up and desecrate the temple fortress. They will abolish the daily sacrifice and set up the abomination of desolation. (Dan 11:31)
From the time the daily sacrifice is abolished and the abomination of desolation is set up, there will be 1, 290 days. (Dan 12:11)
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:
“The abomination that causes desolation” refers to “the man of lawlessness” as conceived in 2 Thess 2:3-4, who will exalt himself in the temple as God.... The agreements of 2 Thessalonians 2 with v. 14 are [close]. The “man of lawlessness” corresponds to the man standing (masculine participle) in v. 14; and the description of him parodying God in the temple correlates with “‘the abomination that causes desolation standing where he does not belong.’” Both texts depict a blasphemous Antichrist who will do a scandalous deed that will trigger the return of the Lord. Both texts also warn disciples against mistaken eschatological assumptions, especially against being deceived by signs and wonders....
[Verse] 14, like 2 Thessalonians 2, indicates that Jesus foresaw the rise of a terrible antagonist, an Antichrist, who at some future time will unleash a severe tribulation on the people of God, which in turn will usher in the return of the Lord. Mark relates this abominable event only cryptically and suggestively to the destruction of the temple. In so doing he imputes both historical and eschatological value to the same event. V. 14 is thus the hinge of Mark 13 that links “these things,” relating to the destruction of Jerusalem in a.d. 70, with “those days” of the End. “The abomination that causes desolation” alludes to the destruction of the temple in a.d. 70, but it is not exhausted by it. The “abomination” is a mysterious (2 Thess 2:7!) double referent, a historical medium that anticipates an ultimate fulfillment in the advent of the Antichrist and the final tribulation before the return of the Son of Man. Titus’s destruction of Jerusalem is like a scouting film: it gives an authentic picture of one’s future opponent; but there is, of course, a great deal of difference between clashing with players in the stadium as opposed to simply watching them on film. (Edwards, Mark, 388-89)
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!
Reflect and Discuss
- Do you remember hearing any predictions of the end of the world? What did you think at the time?
- How was Jesus’ prophecy a prediction of both imminent events and distant events? What Old Testament prophecies also had near and far fulfillments?
- Why did the Jews think the temple could not possibly be destroyed? Do we feel the same way about certain buildings, institutions, or denominations?
- What is discouraging about Jesus’ predictions of end times? What is encouraging about having the predictions before the events happen?
- What recent and current events appear to be fulfilling this prophecy? What should we do in light of these events?
- How can persecution of Christians result in the spread of Christianity? What are some recent examples? How is this encouraging?
- In what context should you not “worry beforehand what you will say”? Does this mean we should not practice our testimony, study apologetics, or prepare for hypothetical theological debates?
- When we see that “death” is a possible result of persecution, what should be our Christian attitude toward death? Why is this sometimes difficult to take to heart?
- 314What are the indications in this text that God is completely in control of events all the way to the end of time? How is this encouraging?
- What value is there in studying current events and analyzing whether they are fulfilling the prophecies of the end of time? What should we be doing with our time and talents while we wait?