Study in Mark’s Gospel. Presentation 42. The End Of The Age Chap 13v1-37. Presentation 42. Introduction.
Many years ago one of our children cried inconsolably when told our summer holiday was over and it was time to pack up and go back home. She found it difficult to think that her holiday environment would not be a permanent one.
However, it is not only children who want to invest a quality of permanence on things that are transient. Grown-ups do it all the time. If some people had their way they would stop the world and say, 'We want things to stay just as they are forever'. Some of the Jews in Jesus’ day thought in these terms.
Jesus’ disciples shared the popular Jewish view that the temple in Jerusalem would have a permanency about it. It had taken over 50 years to build and was considered to be the holiest place on earth. Many taught that the temple was indestructible.
Jesus burst that bubble when he told them it would be flattened. Imagine the shock! It would be a bit like telling the Iranian Tourist Board that Persepolis has vanished or a Manchester United football supporter that Old Trafford Stadium would shortly collapse. Many things are not as permanent as we hope.
Jesus’ explanation which begins in v5 may appear to confuse rather than to clarify. Jesus seizes the opportunity to teach on two related yet quite distinct subjects; the fall of Jerusalem, during which time the temple would be destroyed, and the end of the age, when he would return again in power and glory.
Jesus deals with both subjects together because the first is a kind of microcosm of the second, or the first is a rehearsal for the main production, or an artist’s sketch for a more final work. In this sense, the destruction of Jerusalem foreshadowed the
end of the age.
What similarities bind these two events together?
First, just as the inhabitants of Jerusalem thought the idea of the temple's destruction to be preposterous so many in the last days will scoff at the idea of Jesus’ return ushering in the end of the age. People can't break out of the ‘life will always go on as it is’ way of thinking.
Secondly, both events were to be heralded by devastating calamities and natural disasters.
Thirdly, both events are marked by judgement upon sin. The essence of sin is rebellion against Christ’s rule. Jerusalem’ rejection of Jesus is mirrored in the rejection of him by many others down the ages.
In one of Hans Christian Anderson's fairy tales he tells of an Emperor who wanted to see how his people behaved in his absence. So he dressed as a beggar and visited the streets of his city. They threw him out. A few days later when he drove through the streets in his golden carriage, everybody bowed low
before him; but when they looked into the carriage to see the
emperor they were astonished to see the face of the beggar
they had treated so badly!
Many will be surprised on Christ’s return.
Fourthly, the historical fulfilment of the first
prediction, the destruction of Jerusalem should
prepare us to take seriously the certain fulfilment
of the second, the end of the age. If the first
balloon burst what of the second?
Jerusalem was destroyed in 70AD. Titus, levelled the city after a siege of two years during which time the inhabitants turned to cannibalism. Josephus, a contemporary historian, records the death of over a million people. Natural disasters shook the Empire including famines and the eruption of Vesuvius, seen by many to be 'the beginning of the birth pains'. If the 'abomination of desolation' v14 refers to acts of sacrilege in the temple, Caligula wanted a statue of himself on the site of the altar. Phanni, installed as High Priest, made a mockery of the office. These 'abominable practices' fulfilled Jesus’ predictions. The fulfilment of the first prediction, should make us take seriously the fulfilment of the second.
Jesus’ prediction is accompanied by a number of warnings against deception cf. v5, 21-23.... Many would claim to be the returned Christ.
Sun MyungMoon, the leader of the Mooney cult has claimed exactly that! So too did another eastern religious leader, who some years ago went into voluntary liquidation selling off his 78 Rolls Royces in the process! Many will falsely claim to be Jesus.
This deception involves not only false claims but false miracles v22. What Paul calls 'lying wonders‘ in 2Thes. 2v9.Some people naively believe that if some supernatural event takes place, then God must be the author of it.
Members of various religious cults have claimed that supernatural events have taken place during their times of worship. And they argue that because of these manifestations of the supernatural, their teachings must be true and their worship vindicated. Not according to Jesus. We are warned to expect such things.
Jesus also warns us against the folly of date fixing. Human ingenuity has often been stretched to its limits in an attempt to fix the date of Jesus’ return. Why do people have such difficulty accepting the words of Jesus in v32, 'No one knows about the day or the hour, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son but only the Father!' Martin Luther in a moment of folly predicted Christ's return in 1530. Some of the cults have been repeatedly embarrassed by their false predictions. The Jehovah Witnesses have made at least three stabs at it and
now, to save face, tell us that Jesus came
back in 1914 but he came secretly
and invisibly. How convenient! But it
does not square with Jesus’ language
in v26... or with Matt. 24v30ff... Nor
with what we read in Rev.1v7, ‘
every eye will see him...
Jesus makes it clear that his immanent return should shape the way we live our lives 'Be on your guard… v9 'Be on your guard, be alert!'v33 'Watch!' v37. Now although we are to be aware of ‘the signs of the time’ we are not to be distracted by them.
The human and natural disasters that Jesus calls ‘signs’ are also described as ‘birth pains’. Labour pains indicate that a birth is about to take place but cannot accurately predict the time of the birth. They serve as warnings to women to be ready! We must not allow ourselves to be panicked into making a wrong diagnosis of the contractions of the universe.
Secondly, there is an implicit exhortation to evangelise in v10.... Many have abandoned the task of evangelism because they say we are ‘living in evil days’. There is a sort of siege mentality in parts of the church that is content to remain in a comfortable and holy huddle. The fact of Christ's return should be a spur to evangelism.
It is the patience of God which, from a human perspective, delays the return of Jesus. Peter reminds us,
'the Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.'2Pet. 3v9
Thirdly, the return of Jesus should become a focal point of the thinking of his followers v33…This was certainly true of the early church. They lived with a real spirit of expectancy concerning Jesus’ return.
‘The primitive church thought more about the Second Coming of Jesus Christ than about death or about heaven. The early Christians were looking not for a cleft in the ground called a grave but for a cleavage in the sky called Glory. They were watching not for the undertaker but for the uppertaker.’
Does that describe the church today? Are we watching of sleeping? When a teenager, I was left to look after myself while my parents went off on holiday. I had a real lazy time the dishes piled up in the sink, no housework was done! I intended to blitz the whole place on the day before they were due to return. But to my everlasting embarrassment they came back a day early! From that day on whenever they went off on holiday, I was in a state of readiness and the housework was done on a daily basis. The fact of Christ’s return should make us constantly vigilant v34-36.... Watchfulness, is not passively looking to the stars, but diligently being about our Master's business..
John Wesley was once asked what he would do if he knew that Jesus would return the following day. He took out his diary and pointed to his preaching engagements and said, 'I would do exactly as I have planned to do'.
Could we say that? Or would we be found running around in a frenzy of activity attempting to get our spiritual houses in order, seeking to mend broken relationships, attempting to speak to those people in our office or workplace that we have failed to witness to for Christ? Do we fear being ashamed on that great day? We are all of us prone to complacency of Spirit. Now the teaching of Jesus’ second coming, as a thief in the night is a sure antidote to that.
You will notice that at the beginning of this chapter Jesus’ disciples had asked him about the timing of certain events. But Jesus has turned that around and he has stressed instead the need of his people to be in a state of readiness for his return. Are we truly ready for his return?
Someone has said that when the author walks on the stage the play is over. When Jesus steps back onto the stage of human history it will be the end of time as we know it and in one sense, the beginning of eternity. The big challenge facing men and women in the light of this teaching is not only where we will spend eternity but also what might our reward or punishment be?