End Time Chatter #2 Mark 13
Is the end near? Is the return of Jesus imminent? As things go from bad to worse End Time Chatter is once again propagating throughout the Church. The chatter always increases in times of cultural stress, social upheaval, and uncertainty about the near future.
Within the doctrines of orthodox Christian churches, you will find teaching about the return of Jesus. In our Church of the Nazarene our belief is stated:
We believe that the Lord Jesus Christ will come again; that we who are alive at His coming shall not precede them that are asleep in Christ Jesus; but that, if we are abiding in Him, we shall be caught up with the risen saints to meet the Lord in the air, so that we shall ever be with the Lord.
This is followed by nine scriptural references: Matthew 25:31-46; John 14:1-3; Acts 1:9-11; Philippians 3:20-21; 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18; Titus 2:11-14; Hebrews 9:26-28; 2 Peter 3:3-15; and Revelation 1:7-8; 22:7-20.
Disciples of Jesus believe that Jesus will come again because He said He would.
John 14:2-3 (MSG)
There is plenty of room for you in my Father's home. If that weren't so, would I have told you that I'm on my way to get a room ready for you? And if I'm on my way to get your room ready, I'll come back and get you so you can live where I live.
So, faith informs us that Jesus is coming again.
Theologians tell us that at His first advent, His incarnation, Jesus inaugurated the Kingdom of God on Earth. Jesus got things moving in the direction of making all things the way God intended, a “re-Edening” of Creation. At His second coming, Jesus will consummate the Kingdom of God on Earth; Jesus will return to complete what He started.
Revelation 21:3 (MSG)
I heard a voice thunder from the Throne: "Look! Look! God has moved into the neighborhood, making his home with men and women!
Timelines and graphs, discerning the signs of the times and setting dates, are wonderful speculation. Unfortunately, in the history of the Church, such speculations have always been wrong. Prophetic accuracy is zero. Even when the end-time prophet or teacher supports every one of their reasons upon scripture, they have been wrong. [List of dates predicted for apocalyptic events - Wikipedia]
Peter, James, John, and Andrew pull Jesus to the side and ask when is all this going to happen. When will you tear down and rebuild the Temple? When will you bring the Kingdom in full? The first thing Jesus answers is: “Watch out for doomsday deceivers” (Mark 13:5). “They will deceive a lot of people” (Mark 13:6). Then Jesus makes a list of things, wars, and rumors of wars, earthquakes, famines, incivility, persecution, and murder. Somehow we miss that Jesus calls all this “routine history” not signs of the end.
Mark 13:7 (NIV)
Such things must happen, but the end is still to come.
It is a wise course of action to be skeptical of the end-time prophets and teachers that hype the signs of the times, especially when there is a book to be bought and a conference honorarium to be gained.
The message in the Olivet Discourse as recorded by Mark is that living life as a follower of Jesus is going to be difficult. This is not meant to be a description of future history. Rather it is a warning for disciples to stay alert in the face of threats, persecutions, upheavals, dangers, and uncertainties life presents. Staying alert means to continue to do the work that you have been gifted to do, using your talents and abilities to spread the teachings of Jesus, so that as many as possible of the people you know receive the invitation and enter into the Kingdom.
In Marks's account, we can divide Jesus’ preaching into two major sections. The first is contained between verses 5-23 in which disciples are warned against four deceptive signs: false prophets, wars, and natural disasters are the first group followed by persecutions, followed by a desolating sacrilege, and culminating in false Christs. (H.Ray Dunning, The Second Coming, p 57.) Jesus tells us what to do in such times:
Mark 13:13 (MSG)
There's no telling who will hate you because of me. "Stay with it—that's what is required. Stay with it to the end. You won't be sorry; you'll be saved.
Those deceptive signs have always happened in history and seem to be happening again right now, but they are not apocalyptic signs, they are always happening (Dunning, p.58).
Mark 13:9 tells the disciples that they will be rejected from the Synagogues. This of course happened. Believers would be brought before authorities and testify. This happened as recorded in Acts. Mark 13:10 Jesus says before the end the gospel would be preached to all nations. Now we are talking about all the nations known at the time, which is the Roman empire. This happened. Mark 13:12-13 Christians were banned, enslaved, put to death, and betrayed to authorities by family members. This happened.
Let’s take a closer look at one example of a sign that happened but did not bring the end times to a close. Jesus says: “But be ready to run for it when you see the monster of desecration set up where it should never be.” Then there is a parenthetical statement inserted by the author that means “note to the reader.” Now scholars tell us that the note to the reader is to the person who has read the book of Daniel and knows of the prophecy concerning the abomination that causes desolation.
Daniel 11:31 (NIV)
"His armed forces will rise up to desecrate the temple fortress and will abolish the daily sacrifice. Then they will set up the abomination that causes desolation.
A student of biblical history will point out that the Temple was desecrated around 168 BC. In a writing few protestants read called 1 & 2 Maccabees, we have the historical account of Antiochus Epiphanies desecrating the Temple. [Hanukkah and the Desecration of the Temple Chosen People Ministries ] The writers of 1 Maccabees 1:54 understood Antichus actions to be a fulfillment of the Daniel prophecy. This incident incited the Jews to a rebellion called the Maccabean Revolt.
About 100 years later in 63 BC Roman General Pompey the Great profaned the Temple by entering the Holy of Holies. 80 years or so after in AD 40, Emperor Caligula wanted his statue set up in the temple. [Jewish peasants block construction of statue of Gaius Caligula in Galilee, 40 CE | Global Nonviolent Action Database (swarthmore.edu)] The orders were canceled when the Emperor was assassinated.
In Jesus’ lifetime, Pilate was determined to set up the Empire’s standards in the temple. [Master: The Ecole Initiative: Pontius Pilate (middlebury.edu)] As we learned last time around 66-70 AD the Roman General Titus did a similar thing by setting up the Legion standard in the Holy of Holies and sacrificing a pig on the altar desecrating the Temple. [Why Historians Believe Titus Sacrificed a Pig to the Ensigns in the Temple in A.D. 70. | Revelation Revolution] There is also recorded that after the fall of Jerusalem Titus “ordered a victorious sacrifice near the eastern gate of the Temple. One of the animals burned there, which was the most insulting and blasphemous of all, was a pig” (The Fall of Jerusalem in 70 CE: A Story of Roman Revenge (warfarehistorynetwork.com)). These two accounts may be of the same event.
If there is a prediction of the future it is here, it was an immediate warning to Jesus’ followers. In the parallel passage found in Luke we read:
Luke 21:20-21 (NIV)
When you see Jerusalem being surrounded by armies, you will know that its desolation is near. Then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains, let those in the city get out, and let those in the country not enter the city.
Mark wants the reader to know that Jesus was telling His disciples to get out of Jerusalem when they see this happening because a disaster is going to fall on the City of God. The Romans eventually destroy the Temple and the City walls.
There is a tradition that many Christians fled to Pella. [ The Amazing Christian Escape from the A.D. 70 Destruction of Jerusalem - DocsLib) ]Pella is about 75 miles north of Jerusalem in the country called Jordan. This area is also referred to as the Decapolis, and in one of those 10 cities, Jesus cast out a legion of demons from a wild man into a swine heard. [ Matt. 8:28-34; Mark 5:1-20; Luke 8:26-39 ] There is more than one understanding of this exorcism, which we will save for some other time.
[ “The whole body, however, of the church at Jerusalem, having been commanded by a divine revelation, given to men of approved piety there before the war, removed from the city, and dwelt at a certain town beyond the Jordan, called Pella.” Ecclesiastical History, tr. C. F. Crusè, 3d ed., in Greek Ecclesiastical Historians, 6 vols. (London: Samuel Bagster and Sons, 1842), p. 110 (3:5) ]
The end-time prophets proclaim that for Jesus’ return to happen, the Temple must be rebuilt so that anti-Christ can decorate it with his abomination again. According to these teachers, the desecration of the new temple will occur halfway through the Great Tribulation.
An understanding of “let the reader beware” more aligned with the theme of the Discourse is for believers to stay faithful to the Kingdom even if the symbol of nationalistic identity and intuitional religion collapses (Dunning, p 58).
Mark 13:19-20 informs us that the Roman sack of Jerusalem will be days of unequaled distress. The Romans surrounded the city, it was a summer of starvation. The Temple was set on fire. “As the flames shot into the air the Jews sent up a cry that matched the calamity and dashed to the rescue, with no thought now of saving their lives or husbanding their strength; for that which they had guarded so devotedly was disappearing before their eyes,” wrote the Jewish historian Flavius Josephus. [ The Fall of Jerusalem in 70 CE: A Story of Roman Revenge (warfarehistorynetwork.com) ] Josephus reported that starvation was widespread and over a million Jews were slaughtered and 100,000 enslaved. A majority of those killed were non-combatants. [ Josephus, Wars of the Jews, 6:9:3] The city was abandoned for about 50 years.
Is the abomination that causes desolation a future event? Is the desecration a historical event? Is it a historical event that foreshadows a future event? You get to decide. What is being advocated in this teaching is that if this passage is prophetic the only word of prophecy is for the fleeing of Jerusalem, the rest are not signs of the imminent return of Jesus rather they are routine history.
[One should also take into account when the gospels were written and to the audience, they were written for. It is possible that Mark, the first account written, can be dated after AD 70 ]
If Mark 13:1-23 is routine history what’s the message for us today?
“Watch out that no one deceives you…” “These are the beginning of birth pains.” “You must be on your guard.” “…he who stands firm to the end will be saved.” “So be on your guard; I have told you everything ahead of time.” (Mark 13:5, 8, 9, 13, and 23 (NIV). What has been told, is the destruction of the Temple. Jesus is warning his followers to be on guard for the deceivers, the fancy fakes, the false teachers, and the lying preachers who like the false prophets of old predicted that everything was going to be alright, that God would not allow a foreign power to destroy His city.
For us today, our task as a follower of Jesus is to continue his mission:
“to preach the Message of good news to the poor, … announce pardon to prisoners and recovery of sight to the blind, To set the burdened and battered free, to announce, ‘This is God's year to act!’” (Luke 4:18-19 (MSG)
Matthew 28:19-20 (MSG)
Go out and train everyone you meet, far and near, in this way of life, marking them by baptism in the threefold name: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Then instruct them in the practice of all I have commanded you.
You will carry out your task in a world of chaos. There are no easy streets when you are living for Jesus. Life will be difficult and added to the difficulty, you will face persecution. Amid the social upheaval, people need the good news of the gospel. Your task is to proclaim Jesus with words and deeds of love. You will find comfort and power in the hope of Jesus' imminent return. In the end, whenever that happens you will find that you have been saved.
We will pick up verses 24-37 of Mark’s Olivet Discourse next time.
Messiahs will arise and claim to be The One. Jewish historian Josephus mentions a Samaritan, Theudas, the sons of Judas of Galilee, the “Egyptian” and various other “imposters.” Whether they claimed to be the Messiah or prophets, they said of themselves that they were divinely inspired and empowered (France, p. 902).
Could they deceive many?
Gamaliel’s speech (he was Saul / Paul’s mentor):
For some time ago Theudas, claiming to be somebody, followed by about 400 men, was killed, and everyone who was convinced by him was dispersed and came to nothing. 37 After this Judas the Galilean during the census led the people in a revolt after him. He too was destroyed, and everyone who was convinced by him was scattered. (Acts 5:36-37)
Paul was arrested, and the centurion asked him:
37 When they were about to take him into the barracks, Paul said to the commander, “If it is permitted to me to say something to you?” He said, “Do you know Greek? 38 Then you are not the Egyptian who ignited a revolt and led four thousand men of the Assassins into the desert some time ago?” (Acts 21:37-38)
False prophets will arise in the Messianic communities. Their teachings will lead many astray. Here is Paul’s description of bad teachers and false prophets in Ephesus, Asia Minor:
29 I know that after my departure ferocious wolves will come in to your midst, not sparing the flock. 30 And from among yourselves men will arise, speaking seductive things so as to draw the disciples away for themselves. 31 Therefore, be alert, remembering that for three years, night and day, I did not stop warning each one of you with tears. (Acts 20:29-31) ]