End Time Chatter #3 Mark 13
In our consideration of the Olivet Discourse, we have discovered that the so-called signs of Jesus' return are just routine history. The prophetic warning in this passage is to flee Jerusalem. As the Roman armies marched to the city, Christians fled Jerusalem for the city of Pella (Did All of the Judean Christians Flee to Pella? – Pursuing Truth (adammaarschalk.com). In this teaching, we are looking at the second portion of the Discourse, Mark 24-36. The essential message of the passage for us today is that you as a disciple of Jesus are to find great motivation to get all that God has assigned you to do done looking forward to the promise of the Second Coming (H. Ray Dunning. The Second Coming, p.65). The future will be calamitous so hold on to the hope of the Return (Dunning, p.65). Allow that hope to empower you to love amid the chaos.
You have been introduced to the teachings of dispensationalism. A literal interpretation of the scripture is one of the foundational principles of this doctrine. What this means in practical terms is that when the scripture reads that “the sun will be darkened and the moon will not give its light and the stars will fall from the heavens” (Mark 13:23-25 RSV) this is exactly what astrologically must happen. This interpretation, unfortunately, ignores what the original readers would have understood, the colloquialisms of the day, the use of poems, and historical material that the writer used to communicate to a 1st-century audience. We’re going to look behind the scenes, or we should say the words, and discover what meaning is being conveyed.
There is a little historical secret that you can uncover. When you do you will find that any catastrophic current event will have some prophet or teacher declaring it to be a sign of the imminent return of Jesus. Martyn Whittock's book “The End Times, Again?” chronicles that almost every upheaval in the social order can be identified as a sign of the Second Coming. In an interview on Levaire, Whittock was asked what are the constants in all these reports. Whittock replied: “It’s that despite a track record over 2,000 years of mistakes, fellow believers rarely admit errors, they revise and repeat the same views, and spend such a lot of time on end-time speculation, regardless of scripture warnings not to do so …” (End Times, Again? Interview with Martyn Whittock, Author - Levaire).
Regardless of not getting it right for 2000 years of end-time speculation once again end times chatter is at an all-time high. It seems every headline is used as the imminent fulfillment of prophecy. Microchips embedded under the skin are the mark of the beast (Are microchips under the skin a mark of the beast? (christiantoday.com). The United Nations, the European Union, the new world order, the international monetary fund, and globalization are all fuel for the speculation of a one-world government from which the Anti-Christ will arise (Does the Bible say the United Nations will have a role in the end times? | GotQuestions.org). Covid is the pestilence prophesized as the sign of the end (COVID-19: A Sign of the Apocalypse? | Tomorrow's World (tomorrowsworld.org). Supply Chain problems, food shortages, and famine, all can be seen as signs of the end.
End times, not really, more like the results of turning one’s back on God.
“There is no truth or mercy or knowledge of God in the land. By swearing and lying, killing and stealing, and committing adultery, they break all restraint, with bloodshed upon bloodshed. Therefore the land will mourn; and everyone who dwells there will waste away.”
This is reported to us daily in our news outlets. Therefore, the end-time prophets proclaim that Jesus is coming at any time. Truth mixed with speculation. The truth is that Jesus will return. The speculation is that current events are pointing to the Return happening soon. The soon return is an expectation every believer should hold dearly in his or her heart. But current events are not the source of that expectation. The promise of the Return is.
As we continue our consideration of the Olivet Discourse as found in the Gospel according to Mark the message is to stop looking for signs and start doing the work of the Kingdom and remain faithful regardless of what is happening. We would be wise to remember that Mark is also telling us something about Jesus.
Mark records Jesus' words as:
Mark 13:24-27 (MSG)
"Following those hard times, Sun will fade out, moon cloud over, Stars fall out of the sky, cosmic powers tremble." And then they'll see the Son of Man enter in grand style, his Arrival filling the sky—no one will miss it! He'll dispatch the angels; they will pull in the chosen from the four winds, from pole to pole.
“Following those hard times” is a phrase taken from the Old Testament (Joel 3:1, Zechariah 8:32). The way it is used doesn’t point to a specific time (Dunning, The Second Coming, p.63). It’s similar to saying something like: “Remember when we were kids, those days were great.” Those days, “those hard times” refers to circumstances outlined in verses 5-23. Which as we have seen can be applied to just about any historical catastrophe.
That Jesus’ Arrival will fill the sky means that you can’t miss it. It’s a huge event, an earth-shattering event, a regime change that changes everything. Coming in the clouds means judgment. This judgment is upon the current religious establishment symbolized in the Temple.
Then Jesus uses an idea present in Jewish apocalyptic thought, that those listening or reading the text would understand. Cosmic calamity is expected to usher in the Day of the Lord, God’s judgment upon the unrepentant. As you read the Old Testament you find that these cosmic events always happened when God shows up to make a regime change. [Isaiah 13:10, Job 9:7, Job 3:9, Joel 2:10, Amos 8:9, Ecclesiastes 12:2, Ezekiel 32:7-8] If these astrological disasters had occurred life would be very different than it is today. A better understanding of the context renders the idea that even if the sky falls and the earth trembles it is still not a sign of the end (Dunning, p. 64). For the Jews, the destruction of the Temple and the sacking of Jerusalem would be an earth-shaking event. The world changed.
[ In the New Testament, we read that when Jesus was crucified the sun refused to shine for 3 hours and there was an earthquake (Matthew 27:45). If the Old Testament’s cosmic calamities are symbolic, does that mean that there was no darkness and no earthquake at the time of the Crucifixion? If we choose symbolism, then we see a regime change on the Cross. “The kingdom of the world is now the Kingdom of our God and his Messiah! He will rule forever and ever!
Rev 11:15 (MSG) ]
[If we understand the cosmic calamities to be regime changes, then a more accurate sign of the Return is when the current ruling elite are replaced after a time of distress so great that “if the days were not shortened no one would survive” with a new ruling elite. ]
Following those hard times, Jesus returns. “And then they'll see the Son of Man enter in grand style, his Arrival filling the sky—no one will miss it! He'll dispatch the angels; they will pull in the chosen from the four winds, from pole to pole.”
Dispensationalism speculates that there must be a Parousia of the faithful before the wrath of God falls upon humanity in the Great Tribulation. This is also called the Rapture of the Church. The idea is that before things get really bad, Jesus secretly comes back to earth and takes all believers with him to safety while God’s judgments upon sin become a megaphone of pain to call people to repentance and into a right relationship with Him.
1 Corinthians 15:51-52 (MSG)
But let me tell you something wonderful, a mystery I'll probably never fully understand. We're not all going to die—but we are all going to be changed. You hear a blast to end all blasts from a trumpet, and in the time that you look up and blink your eyes—it's over. On signal from that trumpet from heaven, the dead will be up and out of their graves, beyond the reach of death, never to die again. At the same moment and in the same way, we'll all be changed.
This is one reason I hope the dispensationalists are right. Who wants to go through any more tribulation than they have already endured? Don’t you want to miss out on persecution, violence, pestilence, famine, and death? If Jesus arrives right now, and believers skip the whole end-of-life journey and are translated into life eternal. But, unfortunately, there is no pre-tribulation rapture. There is no secret return to gather the elect, Jesus said His return would be in Grand Style and no one will miss it. There is a second coming, in which the faithful are gathered to Jesus but it will be no secret.
Still, the Pre-tribulation rapture of the faithful is great speculation. The tribulation is when God pours out His wrath upon the unrepentant. But if you do a careful study of God’s wrath poured out, you will discover that it has already happened. God’s wrath was poured out on the Cross.
1 John 2:2 (MSG)
When [Jesus] served as a sacrifice for our sins, he solved the sin problem for good—not only ours, but the whole world's.
1 John 4:10 (MSG)
This is the kind of love we are talking about—not that we once upon a time loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as a sacrifice to clear away our sins and the damage they've done to our relationship with God.
God’s wrath is satisfied in the Atonement, Jesus’ sacrifice upon the Cross. This future tribulation is not God’s wrath in the sense that God is punishing or using pain as a call to repentance but simply the consequences of a person or nation rejecting God.
Let's strip away the dispensational template with its teaching of a pretribulation rapture of the church and look for a more contextual meaning of “They will see” and “people gathered.”
We need to understand to who the “they” refers. The best possible explanation given the context of this narrative is that “they” refers to those who stand in opposition to Jesus (New Beacon Bible Commentary Mark 13:1-37). Jesus says something very similar when He stands before the Sanhedrin
Mark 14:61-62 (MSG)
The Chief Priest tried again, this time asking, "Are you the Messiah, the Son of the Blessed?" Jesus said, "Yes, I am, and you'll see it yourself: The Son of Man seated
At the right hand of the Mighty One, Arriving on the clouds of heaven."
The Sanhedrin will see Jesus rise and the Temple destroyed. They will see a regime change. The Temple was to be a house of prayer for all nations, for people everywhere, Jew and Gentile alike. Instead, the Temple symbolizes religious oppression, and an exclusive nationalism, its purpose is not fulfilled, and it utterly failed (Mark 11:17). With the Resurrection, Jesus begins the process of gathering people from every nation into the family of God.
Mark is telling His readers that Jesus supersedes the Temple, fulfilling both the Law and the Prophets in a New Covenant, a new way to become right with God. Now, a couple of millennia after, what is Mark telling us today?
You may choose to take home with you the warning to avoid the fancy fakes, the lying preachers, and the deceiving end-time prophets no matter how charismatic their message is delivered. Let us also add the misguided but sincere teachers who are caught up in speculating about the end times (Mark 13:23).
You may choose to take home with you that in the tough times' believers have the hope of the second coming empowering them to keep on keeping on with the mission God has given them. (Mark 13:13).
You may choose to take home with you the realization that having the hope of the second coming is not a call to passivity: “So the World is getting what it deserves, God is going to get me out of here before bad things happen to me, so let sinners do what sinners do.” Such an attitude is contrary to Mark 13:18 which calls us to compassion. The hope of the second coming spurs us to activity. To tell others the gospel (Mark 13:9).
Next time we will conclude our exploration of the Olivet Discourse as we consider Mark 13: 28-37.
If you are in a tough time right now, take the perspective that it will not last, and instead of waiting for things to change, take action to change things. Believers are not to be passive and reactive, they are to be proactive creators of the best possible future for everyone.