October 7, 2012
Pastor Joe Wittwer
Follow the Leader!
Are you ready?

Opening:

ILL:  One year, I coached my 11 year-old son’s baseball team.  I started, like all good coaches, with the basics: how to throw, catch, run, and hit.  One of the basics is what we call “ready position”. When you are at bat, this is ready position.  When you are in the field, this is ready position. Baseball can be a slow game, especially for kids this age, when their pitcher walks 5 batters in a row, and the kids in the field get bored.  Pretty soon you see them standing out there with their legs crossed, staring into the sky, back to the batter, even laying down out in the outfield!  I’d have to yell, “Ready position!  C’mon guys, let’s be ready.”

Today, I want to talk about ready position for a Christian.  Jesus told his disciples that he was coming back, and they should be ready.  What’s it look like to be ready for Jesus?


Greeting:

What do you have to do to get ready for winter?


Announcements:

Kenya team send-off (live at 9 AM, photo at 11:15 AM and 5 PM)

Life Group sign-ups: meeting regularly with a group generates as much happiness as doubling your income!  Get in a group, you’ll be glad you did!! You can fill out the sign-up sheet in today’s program and drop it at the Info Center or sign up online.

Bible reading and invite card.

Reveal Spiritual Life survey: The survey gives you a chance to tell us where you are in your faith journey and how we are helping you to grow spiritually.  It is really important that we get a large enough sample to give us a true snapshot of our church. Go to lifecenter.net to take it. 

Men’s breakfast this Saturday, 8 AM with Kent Hughes, author of A Man’s Guide to Spiritual Disciplines.  You can sign up online or today at the Info Center.

Baptisms


Introduction and offering:

This summer, we set out to finish the gospel of Mark, from chapter 9 on.  We took a break in September to do the Polarized series, and now we’re back to Mark and we’ll take the next 6 Sundays to finish.  Today, we pick it up in Mark 13.  It is the last week of Jesus’ life; he is in Jerusalem where he has cleansed the temple, and had a series of conflicts with the religious leaders there.  As they are leaving the temple for the last time, one of Jesus’ followers comments on the beauty and majesty of the temple. Jesus shocks them by saying that it will all be demolished!  They ask when, and what will be the sign that it will happen.  The rest of the chapter is Jesus’ answer.

Every scholar I read began by saying that this is the most difficult chapter in Mark—or any of the gospels for that matter.  The disciples ask about the destruction of the temple; Jesus talks about that, but also about His final coming at the end of the age, and warns about persecution and the need for watchfulness.  And he seems to change subjects without warning, so it’s hard to know which he is talking about.  Also, Jesus’ words are steeped in Old Testament imagery that was familiar to his audience, but unfamiliar to most of us.  All of this makes it difficult to understand.  

Once again, we will use the SOAP method, which many of us use in our daily time with God when we read the Bible.


  • Scripture: read the Bible.

  • Observation: what does it mean?  

  • Application: what does it mean to me?  

  • Prayer: pray it back to God.

So I’ll read it section by section and make observations as we go, then we’ll get to the application.  What should we do this?  Here is:

The Big Idea: Jesus is coming!  Watch and be ready!


Scripture: Mark 13


Observation

Mark 13:1–37

1 As he was leaving the temple, one of his disciples said to him, “Look, Teacher! What massive stones! What magnificent buildings!”

2 “Do you see all these great buildings?” replied Jesus. “Not one stone here will be left on another; every one will be thrown down.”

As they are leaving the temple, an unnamed disciple comments on its magnificence.  And it was magnificent.  It was one of the wonders of the ancient world.  The temple had been under construction for 50 years and was still not finished.  It was massive. Archaeologists have uncovered foundation stones that are 42 feet long, 11 feet high, and 14 feet deep, and weigh over a million pounds (500 tons).  You can see why Jesus’ disciple said, “What massive stones!”  

The temple grounds covered 35 acres; the outer wall was almost a mile in circumference, and this huge complex dominated the landscape of Jerusalem.  The whole thing was built on a hilltop, towering above the city.  The temple was made of gleaming white limestone; parts of it were covered with gold.  The rising sun made it shine with “fiery splendor” (Josephus).  It was larger and more striking than any other ancient temple in the world. “What magnificent buildings!”  It was awesome—in the truest sense of the word.  

You would expect Jesus to say something like, “Yeah, awesome, dude!”  Instead, he rocks their world by predicting that the entire complex will come crashing down.  And it did in their lifetimes.


Mark 13:1–37

3 As Jesus was sitting on the Mount of Olives opposite the temple, Peter, James, John and Andrew asked him privately, 4 “Tell us, when will these things happen? And what will be the sign that they are all about to be fulfilled?”

Later that day, Jesus was sitting on the Mount of Olives, which rises 300 feet above Jerusalem just opposite the temple and across the Kidron Valley—it would have provided an excellent view of the temple.  Four disciples ask him privately: when will this—the destruction of the temple—happen and what will be the sign that it’s about to happen.  

Jesus would answer their questions, and much more, preparing them for his return.


Mark 13:1–37

5 Jesus said to them: “Watch out that no one deceives you. 6 Many will come in my name, claiming, ‘I am he,’ and will deceive many. 7 When you hear of wars and rumors of wars, do not be alarmed. Such things must happen, but the end is still to come. 8 Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be earthquakes in various places, and famines. These are the beginning of birth pains.

First, Jesus warns them not to be alarmed by the events that would precede the destruction of the temple.  Don’t be deceived by false prophets or messiahs that would try to lead them astray.  Don’t be alarmed by wars or earthquakes or famines.  All these things happened prior to the destruction of the temple in AD 70.  There were famines in the reign of the emperor Claudius, AD 41-54.  A great earthquake struck Phrygia in AD 61, and of course Pompey was leveled in AD 63.  And there was no shortage of wars.  But all these were only “the beginning of birth pangs”, not the actual event itself.

Some scholars see a deeper double meaning here.  Many prophecies have a primary and a secondary meaning.  It could be that Jesus is speaking not only of the prelude to the destruction of the temple, but the prelude to the end of the age and his return.  If so, we too are warned not to be deceived and not to be alarmed by social upheaval and natural disasters.  Steady!


Mark 13:1–37

9 “You must be on your guard. You will be handed over to the local councils and flogged in the synagogues. On account of me you will stand before governors and kings as witnesses to them. 10 And the gospel must first be preached to all nations. 11 Whenever you are arrested and brought to trial, do not worry beforehand about what to say. Just say whatever is given you at the time, for it is not you speaking, but the Holy Spirit.

12 “Brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child. Children will rebel against their parents and have them put to death. 13 All men will hate you because of me, but he who stands firm to the end will be saved.

After warning about larger social upheaval and natural disasters, Jesus warns them about persecution.  “Be on guard,” he tells them.  They will be persecuted by the Jews—they will be handed over to the local councils and flogged in the synagogues.  They will be persecuted by the Gentiles—they will stand before governors and kings as witnesses to Jesus.  He tells them that the gospel must be preached to all nations, and promises that the Holy Spirit will give them what to say when they are arrested!  You will be arrested and put on trial, but you won’t be alone—the Holy Spirit will be with you, empowering you, giving you what to say.

The apostles experienced this in the book of Acts.  In Acts 4, you can read the story of their arrest and questioning and their amazing answer.

Acts 4:13 When they saw the courage of Peter and John and realized that they were unschooled, ordinary men, they were astonished and they took note that these men had been with Jesus.

They were astonished!  Where do unschooled ordinary men get this kind of courage and wisdom?  Jesus!  Jesus promised the Holy Spirit would help them.

Persecution from the Jews and Gentiles was bad enough, but worse, Jesus promised it from within our own families: “brother will betray brother…”  And then this: “All men will hate you because of me.”  Ouch!  Don’t take the “all” literally—not every single person will hate you; the idea is that we can expect persecution and opposition from every quarter.  

ILL: Earlier this year, a well-known public figure in our state told 3000 high school students that the Bible was BS—BS is not short for “brilliant stuff”.  When some students walked out in protest, he called them “pansy-asses”.  This was at a high school anti-bullying seminar!  Are you shocked?  You shouldn’t be.  Jesus predicted it.  Don’t be surprised!

1 Peter 4:12 Dear friends, do not be surprised at the painful trial you are suffering, as though something strange were happening to you.

Now Jesus shifts gears, and what follows seems to be about the destruction of Jerusalem.


Mark 13:1–37

14 “When you see ‘the abomination that causes desolation’ standing where it does not belong—let the reader understand—then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains. 15 Let no one on the roof of his house go down or enter the house to take anything out. 16 Let no one in the field go back to get his cloak. 17 How dreadful it will be in those days for pregnant women and nursing mothers! 18 Pray that this will not take place in winter, 19 because those will be days of distress unequaled from the beginning, when God created the world, until now—and never to be equaled again. 20 If the Lord had not cut short those days, no one would survive. But for the sake of the elect, whom he has chosen, he has shortened them. 21 At that time if anyone says to you, ‘Look, here is the Christ!’ or, ‘Look, there he is!’ do not believe it. 22 For false Christs and false prophets will appear and perform signs and miracles to deceive the elect—if that were possible. 23 So be on your guard; I have told you everything ahead of time.

Many scholars believe Jesus is predicting the fall and destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70, although many believe that this event was a prophetic anticipation of the end of time.  Another double meaning…

In AD 66, Jewish Zealots rebelled against Rome and captured Jerusalem.  The Roman emperor Vespasian sent his son, General Titus to quell the rebellion and take back the city.  (That looks like Anthony Hopkins; here’s the real Titus.)  In AD 70, Titus and his troops surrounded the city and began a lengthy siege.   Many Christians, remembering the words of Jesus, fled the city before the siege began.  But thousands of Jews took refuge in the city.  What happened then was one of the most gruesome stories in history.  The Jewish historian Josephus (who was there) writes that over 1 million Jews perished by starvation or the sword.  When the Romans broke into the city, it was littered with corpses.  Those still alive were taken captive, and the city, including the great temple, was burned and leveled.  They were “days of great distress.”

What did Jesus mean by “the abomination that causes desolation”? Mark adds an editorial comment: “let the reader understand”.  But we don’t.  This enigmatic phrase has generated many different opinions.  It is first found in the OT book of Daniel.  The phrase is later used by the Maccabees to refer to the sacrilege of the Syrian general, Antiochus Epiphanes, who conquered Jerusalem in BC 168, and set up an altar to Zeus in the temple and offered a pig as a sacrifice.  Now Jesus uses it; but to what is he referring?  It could be the destruction of Jerusalem by Titus.  Or it could be pointing to something in the distant future, the “man of lawlessness” or “the antichrist” of end times.  Or it could be both.

Jesus seems to shift gears again, moving to the end of the age.


Mark 13:1–37

24 “But in those days, following that distress,

“ ‘the sun will be darkened,

and the moon will not give its light;

25 the stars will fall from the sky,

and the heavenly bodies will be shaken.’

26 “At that time men will see the Son of Man coming in clouds with great power and glory. 27 And he will send his angels and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of the heavens.

Jesus used familiar Jewish imagery from the OT to predict his second coming and the end of the age.  He is only days away from being condemned and crucified as a criminal, and yet Jesus predicts a time when he will “come in the clouds with great power and glory!”  

Then Jesus shifts gears again and moves back to the destruction of Jerusalem.


Mark 13:1–37

28 “Now learn this lesson from the fig tree: As soon as its twigs get tender and its leaves come out, you know that summer is near. 29 Even so, when you see these things happening, you know that it is near, right at the door. 30 I tell you the truth, this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened. 31 Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away.

Jesus uses the fig tree as an illustration—one that we can all relate to.  When the grass greens up and starts to grow, when the lilac bushes bud and begin to leaf out, we know the long winter is over and summer is on the way.  In the same way, “when you see these things happening, you know that it is near, right at the door.”  What are these things?  Jesus could be talking about things that signal the destruction of Jerusalem or the end of the age—or both.  Many scholars believe it is the destruction of Jerusalem because of the reference to “this generation”—many of those standing there would have been alive in AD 70 when Jerusalem fell.  But others take it to mean the final generation.  

ILL: In 1948, when Israel became a nation again, many prophecy buffs believed that was the sign of the beginning of the end, and that Jesus would come before this generation passed away.  A generation is roughly 40 years.  So in 1988, many people expected the Lord’s return.  In fact, Edgar Whisenant published a book, 88 Reasons Why the Rapture is in 1988.  (It didn’t happen. And so the next year he published a follow-up, 89 Reasons why the Rapture is in 1989.  It didn’t happen then either.)

My boss, Dr. Roy Hicks Sr., believed that Jesus would come by 1988.  He told me in the early 80’s that if Jesus didn’t come by 1988, we would have to rethink our understanding of this passage.

What all these folks had in common was that they failed to pay attention to the next verses.


Mark 13:1–37

32 “No one knows about that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. 33 Be on guard! Be alert! You do not know when that time will come. 34 It’s like a man going away: He leaves his house and puts his servants in charge, each with his assigned task, and tells the one at the door to keep watch.

35 “Therefore keep watch because you do not know when the owner of the house will come back—whether in the evening, or at midnight, or when the rooster crows, or at dawn. 36 If he comes suddenly, do not let him find you sleeping. 37 What I say to you, I say to everyone: ‘Watch!’ ”

Jesus ends this discourse on the future with this call to readiness.  No one knows the day or hour, except God.  Not even Jesus knew it!  This means that any attempt to know the day or hour of Christ’s return is wasted time!  

ILL: Last year, Harold Camping predicted the date (May 21, 2011), and of course, he was as wrong as everyone before him.  Jesus said, “No one knows.”  Notice the name of Camping’s website: wecanknow.com.  Hmmm…I guess he thought he knew more than Jesus!

Since we can’t know, we are called to be on guard, to be alert, to watch.  Jesus uses the illustration of a doorkeeper waiting for the owner of the house to return.  His task is to be there, ready to welcome the owner when he arrives—whenever that is.  So Jesus finishes with this word for everyone: Watch!

Let’s finish with some practical applications.


Application

 

What you can know.

Eschatology is the study of end times.  The second coming of Jesus, the rapture, the tribulation, the rise of the anti-Christ, the millennium, the battle of Armageddon and the final judgment—there are so many different opinions about all these things.  


  • Will Jesus come back before, after or during the great tribulation?  Are you pre-trib, post-trib or mid-trib?

  • Will there be a rapture, a removal of Christians before the tribulation, or no rapture: we will rise to meet Jesus in the air at the final judgment?

  • Will there be a literal millennium, a thousand year reign of Christ on earth before the final judgment?  When is Jesus’ coming in relation to the millennium?  Are you pre-millennial, a-millennial, or post-millennial?  Or like me, are you pan-millennial—it will all pan out in the end?  

What can we know about these things?  

On your outline, under the observation, I listed some Scripture references.  These verses talk about the second coming of Jesus.  Some of them discuss it in detail; others refer to it in a way that indicates it was part of the fabric of early Christian faith.  They lived with the constant and hopeful expectation that Jesus could return at any time.  If you study these verses and others in the New Testament, there are three things you can know about the end.


  • Jesus is coming.  

  • No one knows when.

  • You should be ready!

Everyone I know who takes the Scriptures seriously would agree with these three statements.  All the other stuff—the rapture, the tribulation, the millennium, all the prophetic schemes about how it all happens—we’re guessing.  Good Christians have wildly different views on all that—but we all agree that Jesus is coming, no one knows when, and you should be ready.

ILL: In 1970, Hal Lindsay wrote, The Late Great Planet Earth, a best-selling book that linked current events and Biblical prophecy, and interpreted the fig tree as referring to our generation.  The book was a spectacular success, selling 29 million copies by 1990, and spawning a movie version in 1979 that was one of the year’s top-grossing films. I loved the book!  I read it and gave it to my friends.  I know people who became Christians because of the book—it literally scared the hell out of them!  Scared them into heaven!

Of course, he was wrong.  Most of his predictions were wrong; most of his associations of current events and prophecy were wrong.  But it created a wonderful sense of expectancy.  Jesus could be coming back soon!

So here is my question: how can we avoid being wrong about the details, but still have the sense of expectancy?  I think the answer is: by simply sticking to what we know.


  • Jesus is coming.  

  • No one knows when.

  • You should be ready!

Which leads me to my final application:


How can we be ready?

First, live with an eternal perspective.  As Christians, we believe that this life is not all there is.  There is more!  We believe that history is going somewhere; we believe that there was a beginning and will be an end, and that we are moving purposefully toward that end.  So we live with the end in mind—with an eternal perspective.  

This is very different from those who don’t believe in God, and therefore don’t see history going anywhere.  For them, the universe is an accident, and we are accidents within the accident.  There is no guiding purpose.  We came from nowhere and are going nowhere.  While Christians believe history is God’s story, atheists believe there is no story at all.  One day the sun will burn out, or we’ll blow up the planet, and human life will end.  Oh well.  

The Christian perspective is very different.  History is God’s story and He is moving it toward His desired end.

So we live with the end in view.  We live with an eternal perspective.  We live knowing that one day we will see Jesus—it could be when he returns or when we die—but one day we will see him.  And since we don’t know when that day will be, we live ready.  

Second, watch and prepared.  Jesus used the illustration of a doorkeeper waiting for the owner to return, and said to watch rather than be asleep.  

ILL: If you knew that a thief was going to break into your house, what would you do? You’d be sitting there with your shotgun!  

In another passage, Jesus used that very illustration. You’d be watching.  You’d be awake.  You’d be alert.  One of my favorite sayings is: Be alert—the world needs more lerts!  You don’t know when Jesus will show up—so be watching, be alert!

ILL: If I told you that I was mailing you a big check, what would you do?  Watch for it!  Each day, when you got home, the first thing you’d do is check the mail.  Is it here?  You’d live with a sense of anticipation and watchfulness.

That’s how we’re to live with Jesus.  

Watch and be prepared.  Be in ready position.  Based on Jesus’ example of the doorman, being prepared means doing what he told you to do.  It means that each day I do what he wants so that if he shows up today, he will say, “Well done good and faithful servant.”  

Jesus’ return should inspire us to live each day all out for Christ, live each day as though it could be our last and we want to give him our best.  I’ll finish with this story:

ILL: While on a South Pole expedition, British explorer Sir Ernest Shackleton left a few men on Elephant Island, promising that he would return. Later, when he tried to go back, huge icebergs blocked the way. But suddenly, as if by a miracle, an avenue opened in the ice and Shackleton was able to get through. His men, ready and waiting, quickly scrambled aboard. No sooner had the ship cleared the island than the ice crashed together behind them. Contemplating their narrow escape, the explorer said to his men, “It was fortu

October 7, 2012

 

Pastor Joe Wittwer

Follow the Leader!

Are you ready?


The Big Idea: Jesus is coming!  Watch and be ready!

Scripture: Mark 13


Observation

Matthew 24, Luke 21, John 14:3, Acts 1:11, 1 Thessalonians 4:13-5:11, 2 Peter 3:3-14, Revelation 1:7-8, 22:7, 12, 20; 1 Corinthians 11:26, Philippians 3:20-21, 2 Timothy 4:8, Titus 2:13

Application

Prayer


October 7, 2012

Pastor Joe Wittwer

Follow the Leader!

Are you ready?


Opening:

ILL:  One year, I coached my 11 year-old son’s baseball team.  I started, like all good coaches, with the basics: how to throw, catch, run, and hit.  One of the basics is what we call “ready position”. When you are at bat, this is ready position.  When you are in the field, this is ready position. Baseball can be a slow game, especially for kids this age, when their pitcher walks 5 batters in a row, and the kids in the field get bored.  Pretty soon you see them standing out there with their legs crossed, staring into the sky, back to the batter, even laying down out in the outfield!  I’d have to yell, “Ready position!  C’mon guys, let’s be ready.”

Today, I want to talk about ready position for a Christian.  Jesus told his disciples that he was coming back, and they should be ready.  What’s it look like to be ready for Jesus?


Greeting:

What do you have to do to get ready for winter?


Announcements:

Kenya team send-off (live at 9 AM, photo at 11:15 AM and 5 PM)

Life Group sign-ups: meeting regularly with a group generates as much happiness as doubling your income!  Get in a group, you’ll be glad you did!! You can fill out the sign-up sheet in today’s program and drop it at the Info Center or sign up online.

Bible reading and invite card.

Reveal Spiritual Life survey: The survey gives you a chance to tell us where you are in your faith journey and how we are helping you to grow spiritually.  It is really important that we get a large enough sample to give us a true snapshot of our church. Go to lifecenter.net to take it. 

Men’s breakfast this Saturday, 8 AM with Kent Hughes, author of A Man’s Guide to Spiritual Disciplines.  You can sign up online or today at the Info Center.

Baptisms


Introduction and offering:

This summer, we set out to finish the gospel of Mark, from chapter 9 on.  We took a break in September to do the Polarized series, and now we’re back to Mark and we’ll take the next 6 Sundays to finish.  Today, we pick it up in Mark 13.  It is the last week of Jesus’ life; he is in Jerusalem where he has cleansed the temple, and had a series of conflicts with the religious leaders there.  As they are leaving the temple for the last time, one of Jesus’ followers comments on the beauty and majesty of the temple. Jesus shocks them by saying that it will all be demolished!  They ask when, and what will be the sign that it will happen.  The rest of the chapter is Jesus’ answer.

Every scholar I read began by saying that this is the most difficult chapter in Mark—or any of the gospels for that matter.  The disciples ask about the destruction of the temple; Jesus talks about that, but also about His final coming at the end of the age, and warns about persecution and the need for watchfulness.  And he seems to change subjects without warning, so it’s hard to know which he is talking about.  Also, Jesus’ words are steeped in Old Testament imagery that was familiar to his audience, but unfamiliar to most of us.  All of this makes it difficult to understand.  

Once again, we will use the SOAP method, which many of us use in our daily time with God when we read the Bible.


  • Scripture: read the Bible.

  • Observation: what does it mean?  

  • Application: what does it mean to me?  

  • Prayer: pray it back to God.

So I’ll read it section by section and make observations as we go, then we’ll get to the application.  What should we do this?  Here is:

The Big Idea: Jesus is coming!  Watch and be ready!


Scripture: Mark 13


Observation

Mark 13:1–37

1 As he was leaving the temple, one of his disciples said to him, “Look, Teacher! What massive stones! What magnificent buildings!”

2 “Do you see all these great buildings?” replied Jesus. “Not one stone here will be left on another; every one will be thrown down.”

As they are leaving the temple, an unnamed disciple comments on its magnificence.  And it was magnificent.  It was one of the wonders of the ancient world.  The temple had been under construction for 50 years and was still not finished.  It was massive. Archaeologists have uncovered foundation stones that are 42 feet long, 11 feet high, and 14 feet deep, and weigh over a million pounds (500 tons).  You can see why Jesus’ disciple said, “What massive stones!”  

The temple grounds covered 35 acres; the outer wall was almost a mile in circumference, and this huge complex dominated the landscape of Jerusalem.  The whole thing was built on a hilltop, towering above the city.  The temple was made of gleaming white limestone; parts of it were covered with gold.  The rising sun made it shine with “fiery splendor” (Josephus).  It was larger and more striking than any other ancient temple in the world. “What magnificent buildings!”  It was awesome—in the truest sense of the word.  

You would expect Jesus to say something like, “Yeah, awesome, dude!”  Instead, he rocks their world by predicting that the entire complex will come crashing down.  And it did in their lifetimes.


Mark 13:1–37

3 As Jesus was sitting on the Mount of Olives opposite the temple, Peter, James, John and Andrew asked him privately, 4 “Tell us, when will these things happen? And what will be the sign that they are all about to be fulfilled?”

Later that day, Jesus was sitting on the Mount of Olives, which rises 300 feet above Jerusalem just opposite the temple and across the Kidron Valley—it would have provided an excellent view of the temple.  Four disciples ask him privately: when will this—the destruction of the temple—happen and what will be the sign that it’s about to happen.  

Jesus would answer their questions, and much more, preparing them for his return.


Mark 13:1–37

5 Jesus said to them: “Watch out that no one deceives you. 6 Many will come in my name, claiming, ‘I am he,’ and will deceive many. 7 When you hear of wars and rumors of wars, do not be alarmed. Such things must happen, but the end is still to come. 8 Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be earthquakes in various places, and famines. These are the beginning of birth pains.

First, Jesus warns them not to be alarmed by the events that would precede the destruction of the temple.  Don’t be deceived by false prophets or messiahs that would try to lead them astray.  Don’t be alarmed by wars or earthquakes or famines.  All these things happened prior to the destruction of the temple in AD 70.  There were famines in the reign of the emperor Claudius, AD 41-54.  A great earthquake struck Phrygia in AD 61, and of course Pompey was leveled in AD 63.  And there was no shortage of wars.  But all these were only “the beginning of birth pangs”, not the actual event itself.

Some scholars see a deeper double meaning here.  Many prophecies have a primary and a secondary meaning.  It could be that Jesus is speaking not only of the prelude to the destruction of the temple, but the prelude to the end of the age and his return.  If so, we too are warned not to be deceived and not to be alarmed by social upheaval and natural disasters.  Steady!


Mark 13:1–37

9 “You must be on your guard. You will be handed over to the local councils and flogged in the synagogues. On account of me you will stand before governors and kings as witnesses to them. 10 And the gospel must first be preached to all nations. 11 Whenever you are arrested and brought to trial, do not worry beforehand about what to say. Just say whatever is given you at the time, for it is not you speaking, but the Holy Spirit.

12 “Brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child. Children will rebel against their parents and have them put to death. 13 All men will hate you because of me, but he who stands firm to the end will be saved.

After warning about larger social upheaval and natural disasters, Jesus warns them about persecution.  “Be on guard,” he tells them.  They will be persecuted by the Jews—they will be handed over to the local councils and flogged in the synagogues.  They will be persecuted by the Gentiles—they will stand before governors and kings as witnesses to Jesus.  He tells them that the gospel must be preached to all nations, and promises that the Holy Spirit will give them what to say when they are arrested!  You will be arrested and put on trial, but you won’t be alone—the Holy Spirit will be with you, empowering you, giving you what to say.

The apostles experienced this in the book of Acts.  In Acts 4, you can read the story of their arrest and questioning and their amazing answer.

Acts 4:13 When they saw the courage of Peter and John and realized that they were unschooled, ordinary men, they were astonished and they took note that these men had been with Jesus.

They were astonished!  Where do unschooled ordinary men get this kind of courage and wisdom?  Jesus!  Jesus promised the Holy Spirit would help them.

Persecution from the Jews and Gentiles was bad enough, but worse, Jesus promised it from within our own families: “brother will betray brother…”  And then this: “All men will hate you because of me.”  Ouch!  Don’t take the “all” literally—not every single person will hate you; the idea is that we can expect persecution and opposition from every quarter.  

ILL: Earlier this year, a well-known public figure in our state told 3000 high school students that the Bible was BS—BS is not short for “brilliant stuff”.  When some students walked out in protest, he called them “pansy-asses”.  This was at a high school anti-bullying seminar!  Are you shocked?  You shouldn’t be.  Jesus predicted it.  Don’t be surprised!

1 Peter 4:12 Dear friends, do not be surprised at the painful trial you are suffering, as though something strange were happening to you.

Now Jesus shifts gears, and what follows seems to be about the destruction of Jerusalem.


Mark 13:1–37

14 “When you see ‘the abomination that causes desolation’ standing where it does not belong—let the reader understand—then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains. 15 Let no one on the roof of his house go down or enter the house to take anything out. 16 Let no one in the field go back to get his cloak. 17 How dreadful it will be in those days for pregnant women and nursing mothers! 18 Pray that this will not take place in winter, 19 because those will be days of distress unequaled from the beginning, when God created the world, until now—and never to be equaled again. 20 If the Lord had not cut short those days, no one would survive. But for the sake of the elect, whom he has chosen, he has shortened them. 21 At that time if anyone says to you, ‘Look, here is the Christ!’ or, ‘Look, there he is!’ do not believe it. 22 For false Christs and false prophets will appear and perform signs and miracles to deceive the elect—if that were possible. 23 So be on your guard; I have told you everything ahead of time.

Many scholars believe Jesus is predicting the fall and destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70, although many believe that this event was a prophetic anticipation of the end of time.  Another double meaning…

In AD 66, Jewish Zealots rebelled against Rome and captured Jerusalem.  The Roman emperor Vespasian sent his son, General Titus to quell the rebellion and take back the city.  (That looks like Anthony Hopkins; here’s the real Titus.)  In AD 70, Titus and his troops surrounded the city and began a lengthy siege.   Many Christians, remembering the words of Jesus, fled the city before the siege began.  But thousands of Jews took refuge in the city.  What happened then was one of the most gruesome stories in history.  The Jewish historian Josephus (who was there) writes that over 1 million Jews perished by starvation or the sword.  When the Romans broke into the city, it was littered with corpses.  Those still alive were taken captive, and the city, including the great temple, was burned and leveled.  They were “days of great distress.”

What did Jesus mean by “the abomination that causes desolation”? Mark adds an editorial comment: “let the reader understand”.  But we don’t.  This enigmatic phrase has generated many different opinions.  It is first found in the OT book of Daniel.  The phrase is later used by the Maccabees to refer to the sacrilege of the Syrian general, Antiochus Epiphanes, who conquered Jerusalem in BC 168, and set up an altar to Zeus in the temple and offered a pig as a sacrifice.  Now Jesus uses it; but to what is he referring?  It could be the destruction of Jerusalem by Titus.  Or it could be pointing to something in the distant future, the “man of lawlessness” or “the antichrist” of end times.  Or it could be both.

Jesus seems to shift gears again, moving to the end of the age.


Mark 13:1–37

24 “But in those days, following that distress,

“ ‘the sun will be darkened,

and the moon will not give its light;

25 the stars will fall from the sky,

and the heavenly bodies will be shaken.’

26 “At that time men will see the Son of Man coming in clouds with great power and glory. 27 And he will send his angels and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of the heavens.

Jesus used familiar Jewish imagery from the OT to predict his second coming and the end of the age.  He is only days away from being condemned and crucified as a criminal, and yet Jesus predicts a time when he will “come in the clouds with great power and glory!”  

Then Jesus shifts gears again and moves back to the destruction of Jerusalem.


Mark 13:1–37

28 “Now learn this lesson from the fig tree: As soon as its twigs get tender and its leaves come out, you know that summer is near. 29 Even so, when you see these things happening, you know that it is near, right at the door. 30 I tell you the truth, this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened. 31 Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away.

Jesus uses the fig tree as an illustration—one that we can all relate to.  When the grass greens up and starts to grow, when the lilac bushes bud and begin to leaf out, we know the long winter is over and summer is on the way.  In the same way, “when you see these things happening, you know that it is near, right at the door.”  What are these things?  Jesus could be talking about things that signal the destruction of Jerusalem or the end of the age—or both.  Many scholars believe it is the destruction of Jerusalem because of the reference to “this generation”—many of those standing there would have been alive in AD 70 when Jerusalem fell.  But others take it to mean the final generation.  

ILL: In 1948, when Israel became a nation again, many prophecy buffs believed that was the sign of the beginning of the end, and that Jesus would come before this generation passed away.  A generation is roughly 40 years.  So in 1988, many people expected the Lord’s return.  In fact, Edgar Whisenant published a book, 88 Reasons Why the Rapture is in 1988.  (It didn’t happen. And so the next year he published a follow-up, 89 Reasons why the Rapture is in 1989.  It didn’t happen then either.)

My boss, Dr. Roy Hicks Sr., believed that Jesus would come by 1988.  He told me in the early 80’s that if Jesus didn’t come by 1988, we would have to rethink our understanding of this passage.

What all these folks had in common was that they failed to pay attention to the next verses.


Mark 13:1–37

32 “No one knows about that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. 33 Be on guard! Be alert! You do not know when that time will come. 34 It’s like a man going away: He leaves his house and puts his servants in charge, each with his assigned task, and tells the one at the door to keep watch.

35 “Therefore keep watch because you do not know when the owner of the house will come back—whether in the evening, or at midnight, or when the rooster crows, or at dawn. 36 If he comes suddenly, do not let him find you sleeping. 37 What I say to you, I say to everyone: ‘Watch!’ ”

Jesus ends this discourse on the future with this call to readiness.  No one knows the day or hour, except God.  Not even Jesus knew it!  This means that any attempt to know the day or hour of Christ’s return is wasted time!  

ILL: Last year, Harold Camping predicted the date (May 21, 2011), and of course, he was as wrong as everyone before him.  Jesus said, “No one knows.”  Notice the name of Camping’s website: wecanknow.com.  Hmmm…I guess he thought he knew more than Jesus!

Since we can’t know, we are called to be on guard, to be alert, to watch.  Jesus uses the illustration of a doorkeeper waiting for the owner of the house to return.  His task is to be there, ready to welcome the owner when he arrives—whenever that is.  So Jesus finishes with this word for everyone: Watch!

Let’s finish with some practical applications.


Application

 

What you can know.

Eschatology is the study of end times.  The second coming of Jesus, the rapture, the tribulation, the rise of the anti-Christ, the millennium, the battle of Armageddon and the final judgment—there are so many different opinions about all these things.  


  • Will Jesus come back before, after or during the great tribulation?  Are you pre-trib, post-trib or mid-trib?

  • Will there be a rapture, a removal of Christians before the tribulation, or no rapture: we will rise to meet Jesus in the air at the final judgment?

  • Will there be a literal millennium, a thousand year reign of Christ on earth before the final judgment?  When is Jesus’ coming in relation to the millennium?  Are you pre-millennial, a-millennial, or post-millennial?  Or like me, are you pan-millennial—it will all pan out in the end?  

What can we know about these things?  

On your outline, under the observation, I listed some Scripture references.  These verses talk about the second coming of Jesus.  Some of them discuss it in detail; others refer to it in a way that indicates it was part of the fabric of early Christian faith.  They lived with the constant and hopeful expectation that Jesus could return at any time.  If you study these verses and others in the New Testament, there are three things you can know about the end.


  • Jesus is coming.  

  • No one knows when.

  • You should be ready!

Everyone I know who takes the Scriptures seriously would agree with these three statements.  All the other stuff—the rapture, the tribulation, the millennium, all the prophetic schemes about how it all happens—we’re guessing.  Good Christians have wildly different views on all that—but we all agree that Jesus is coming, no one knows when, and you should be ready.

ILL: In 1970, Hal Lindsay wrote, The Late Great Planet Earth, a best-selling book that linked current events and Biblical prophecy, and interpreted the fig tree as referring to our generation.  The book was a spectacular success, selling 29 million copies by 1990, and spawning a movie version in 1979 that was one of the year’s top-grossing films. I loved the book!  I read it and gave it to my friends.  I know people who became Christians because of the book—it literally scared the hell out of them!  Scared them into heaven!

Of course, he was wrong.  Most of his predictions were wrong; most of his associations of current events and prophecy were wrong.  But it created a wonderful sense of expectancy.  Jesus could be coming back soon!

So here is my question: how can we avoid being wrong about the details, but still have the sense of expectancy?  I think the answer is: by simply sticking to what we know.


  • Jesus is coming.  

  • No one knows when.

  • You should be ready!

Which leads me to my final application:


How can we be ready?

First, live with an eternal perspective.  As Christians, we believe that this life is not all there is.  There is more!  We believe that history is going somewhere; we believe that there was a beginning and will be an end, and that we are moving purposefully toward that end.  So we live with the end in mind—with an eternal perspective.  

This is very different from those who don’t believe in God, and therefore don’t see history going anywhere.  For them, the universe is an accident, and we are accidents within the accident.  There is no guiding purpose.  We came from nowhere and are going nowhere.  While Christians believe history is God’s story, atheists believe there is no story at all.  One day the sun will burn out, or we’ll blow up the planet, and human life will end.  Oh well.  

The Christian perspective is very different.  History is God’s story and He is moving it toward His desired end.

So we live with the end in view.  We live with an eternal perspective.  We live knowing that one day we will see Jesus—it could be when he returns or when we die—but one day we will see him.  And since we don’t know when that day will be, we live ready.  

Second, watch and prepared.  Jesus used the illustration of a doorkeeper waiting for the owner to return, and said to watch rather than be asleep.  

ILL: If you knew that a thief was going to break into your house, what would you do? You’d be sitting there with your shotgun!  

In another passage, Jesus used that very illustration. You’d be watching.  You’d be awake.  You’d be alert.  One of my favorite sayings is: Be alert—the world needs more lerts!  You don’t know when Jesus will show up—so be watching, be alert!

ILL: If I told you that I was mailing you a big check, what would you do?  Watch for it!  Each day, when you got home, the first thing you’d do is check the mail.  Is it here?  You’d live with a sense of anticipation and watchfulness.

That’s how we’re to live with Jesus.  

Watch and be prepared.  Be in ready position.  Based on Jesus’ example of the doorman, being prepared means doing what he told you to do.  It means that each day I do what he wants so that if he shows up today, he will say, “Well done good and faithful servant.”  

Jesus’ return should inspire us to live each day all out for Christ, live each day as though it could be our last and we want to give him our best.  I’ll finish with this story:

ILL: While on a South Pole expedition, British explorer Sir Ernest Shackleton left a few men on Elephant Island, promising that he would return. Later, when he tried to go back, huge icebergs blocked the way. But suddenly, as if by a miracle, an avenue opened in the ice and Shackleton was able to get through. His men, ready and waiting, quickly scrambled aboard. No sooner had the ship cleared the island than the ice crashed together behind them. Contemplating their narrow escape, the explorer said to his men, “It was fortunate you were all packed and ready to go!” They replied, “We never gave up hope. Whenever the sea was clear of ice, we rolled up our sleeping bags and reminded each other, ‘He may come today.'”

He may come today.  Are you ready?

Prayer

nate you were all packed and ready to go!” They replied, “We never gave up hope. Whenever the sea was clear of ice, we rolled up our sleeping bags and reminded each other, ‘He may come today.'”

He may come today.  Are you ready?

Prayer