The Signs of the End (Part 3) – Mark 13:28-37
Good morning! If you have a Bible, I invite you to turn to the Gospel according to Mark, where we are going to be looking at the remainder of Mark 13. Over the past couple of weeks, we have been looking at Mark 13, trying to make sense of what this difficult passage of Scripture meant for the disciples in Jesus’ day and what it means for us, today.
And what we have discovered, in this passage, is that Jesus is addressing the destruction of the Jewish temple in A.D. 70, but He is also addressing His Second Coming at the end of the age. In other words, this passage of Scripture is not entirely past and it’s not entirely future, but it is entirely relevant for us in the present.
Jesus isn’t necessarily giving His disciples or us a blueprint of what is to come, but rather, a lens through which we are to view our world. The events of the past should affect how we live in the present, as we await “our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ.”
But as we bring Jesus’ eschatological discourse to a close, there are two extremes that we must avoid:
First, we must avoid setting dates for the return of the Lord. In 1988, a man by the name of Edgar Whisenant wrote a booklet titled 88 Reasons Why the Rapture is in 1988. The World Bible Society, which published the booklet, printed 3.2 million copies and distributed 200,000 of them to pastors throughout the United States.
What was the response to Whisenant’s prediction? There were many Christians who took the booklet seriously, some even quitting their jobs to prepare for the rapture, while many Christians shrugged the booklet off as being fanatic.
When Whisenant’s prediction failed, many Christians were left disappointed. But if Jesus isn’t giving us a blueprint in this passage but a lens through which we are to view our world, then it shouldn’t surprise us that his prediction failed. The return of the Lord is not something to decode; it’s something to wait patiently for, which is what we will see as we conclude this last section in Mark 13.
But the second extreme that we must avoid is indifference. In my third year of Bible College, we had a class called The Church and Last Things. And one of our assignments in this class was to create a Personal Eschatological Timeline, where we had to use biblical support to present our perspective of the end times.
And one of my classmates was a funny guy. Helena and I were living in a four-plex on campus. And before class, one morning, he came by our place to grab a frying pan. I didn’t know what he needed a pan for, but I gave it to him, anyway.
And what he did is he printed off a title page for his timeline that read “Pan-Millennialism: How Everything Will ‘Pan Out’ in the End.” And he attached that title page to our frying pan and gave it to our professor. It was actually quite creative. Our professor thought it was funny.
Now, of course, he wasn’t serious. But this is how many Christians approach the study of the end times. They don’t necessarily get caught up in setting dates, but they go so far in the other direction that they become indifferent towards the study of the end times, satisfied that everything will simply “pan out” in the end.
But even though Jesus isn’t necessarily giving us a blueprint of what is to come doesn’t mean that we can live blissfully ignorant of the signs of the end. Jesus is wanting us to be aware of what is going on in the world around us, always living in such a way that anticipates the end is near.
And in this final section of Mark 13, Jesus is going to give us hope for the future that is rooted in His eventual Second Coming and what our response ought to be as His disciples.
So, with that, let us begin by reading all of Mark 13, so that we can get the context, and then we will dive in. Mark 13, beginning in verse 1: “And as he came out of the temple, one of his disciples said to him, ‘Look, Teacher, what wonderful stones and what wonderful buildings!’ 2 And Jesus said to him, ‘Do you see these great buildings? There will not be left here one stone upon another that will not be thrown down.’
“3 And as he sat on the Mount of Olives opposite the temple, Peter and James and John and Andrew asked him privately, 4 ‘Tell us, when will these things be, and what will be the sign when all these things are about to be accomplished?’ 5 And Jesus began to say to them, ‘See that no one leads you astray. 6 Many will come in my name, saying, “I am he!” and they will lead many astray. 7 And when you hear of wars and rumors of wars, do not be alarmed. This must take place, but the end is not yet. 8 For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be earthquakes in various places; there will be famines. These are but the beginning of the birth pains.
“9 ‘But be on your guard. For they will deliver you over to councils, and you will be beaten in synagogues, and you will stand before governors and kings for my sake, to bear witness before them. 10 And the gospel must first be proclaimed to all nations. 11 And when they bring you to trial and deliver you over, do not be anxious beforehand what you are to say, but say whatever is given you in that hour, for it is not you who speak, but the Holy Spirit. 12 And brother will deliver brother over to death, and the father his child, and children will rise against parents and have them put to death. 13 And you will be hated by all for my name's sake. But the one who endures to the end will be saved.
“14 ‘But when you see the abomination of desolation standing where he ought not to be (let the reader understand), then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains. 15 Let the one who is on the housetop not go down, nor enter his house, to take anything out, 16 and let the one who is in the field not turn back to take his cloak. 17 And alas for women who are pregnant and for those who are nursing infants in those days! 18 Pray that it may not happen in winter. 19 For in those days there will be such tribulation as has not been from the beginning of the creation that God created until now, and never will be. 20 And if the Lord had not cut short the days, no human being would be saved. But for the sake of the elect, whom he chose, he shortened the days. 21 And then 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 arise and perform signs and wonders, to lead astray, if possible, the elect. 23 But be on guard; I have told you all things beforehand.
“24 ‘But in those days, after that tribulation, the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, 25 and the stars will be falling from heaven, and the powers in the heavens will be shaken. 26 And then they will see the Son of Man coming in clouds with great power and glory. 27 And then he will send out the angels and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of heaven.
“28 ‘From the fig tree learn its lesson: as soon as its branch becomes tender and puts out its leaves, you know that summer is near. 29 So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that he is near, at the very gates. 30 Truly, I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things take place. 31 Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.
“32 ‘But concerning that day or that hour, no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. 33 Be on guard, keep awake. For you do not know when the time will come. 34 It is like a man going on a journey, when he leaves home and puts his servants in charge, each with his work, and commands the doorkeeper to stay awake. 35 Therefore stay awake—for you do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or when the rooster crows, or in the morning— 36 lest he come suddenly and find you asleep. 37 And what I say to you I say to all: Stay awake.’”
One of Jesus’ disciples makes a comment about the glory and splendour of the Jewish temple, at which point Jesus prophesies its eventual destruction. And in response to what Jesus has just said, some of Jesus’ disciples ask Him when these things will take place. Jesus then gives His disciples signs to look for, as the coming destruction of the temple draws near.
But then, in verse 24, Jesus doesn’t seem to be talking about the destruction of the temple, anymore. Instead, Jesus is alluding to His Second Coming, when He will return in great power and glory to gather His elect from all over the earth.
But then, in verse 28, Jesus switches back to speaking about the destruction of the temple, using the illustration of a fig tree. Jesus says, “As soon as its branch becomes tender and puts out its leaves, you know that summer is near. So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that he is near, at the very gates.”
According to one commentator, the fig tree “loses its leaves in winter, and only late in spring, when winter is past and warm weather is at hand, does its branch grow tender with buds.”
If you have ever been to our house, then you know that we have two beautiful apple trees in our backyard. Unfortunately, they only produce apples every other year, but when they do produce, they produce so many apples that we don’t even know what to do with them all.
But one of the signs at our house that summer is coming is when those apple trees blossom. It is truly a breathtaking sight. They have all blown away by now, but a couple of weeks ago, they were in full bloom. And I just get excited, right? It means that apples are coming. It doesn’t mean that apples will be on our trees tomorrow, but it’s a sign that apples will be coming soon.
And in the same way, the fig tree would tell you that summer was coming when its branches became tender and put out leaves. It wasn’t saying that summer was coming in the next minute, but it was saying that summer was coming soon.
Jesus is using the fig tree as a metaphor of the nearness of the destruction of the temple. “When you see these things taking place…” What things? The things that He spoke about in verses 5-13. When you hear of false teachers and wars and rumors of wars and political unrest and earthquakes and famines and persecution, then “you know that he is near, at the very gates.” Who is near? The abomination of desolation in verse 14.
We looked at this last week as likely pointing to the Roman General Titus and the Roman army as they converged on Jerusalem around A.D. 70. But just like how the fig tree can tell you that summer is coming, the signs of the end aren’t indicating that destruction would happen, tomorrow, but they were an indication that destruction was coming soon.
It’s why Jesus says, in verse 30, “This generation will not pass away until all these things take place.” Again, what things? The signs leading up to the destruction of the temple. The generation in Jesus’ day would not pass away until the things spoken of by Jesus, concerning the destruction of the Jewish temple, had taken place.
But as we’ve seen throughout this difficult passage of Scripture, there are two fulfillments of what Jesus is saying. There is an immediate fulfillment of what would eventually take place in A.D. 70, and there is a future fulfillment of will eventually take place at the Second Coming of Christ. And the same is true of what Jesus says about “this generation.”
There is a future generation, who will experience the signs that Jesus speaks about, but who will also “see the Son of Man coming in clouds with great power and glory.” This is something unlike anything the world has ever seen, including those around the time of A.D. 70. That day, that hour, is still to come.
And this is where this passage of Scripture acts as a lens through which we are to view our world, because each generation from the time of Christ to today has experienced the signs of the end that Jesus speaks about here. You see the beginning of the birth pains in every generation, to one degree or another, as we get closer to the return of the Lord.
But there is coming a day when there will be a generation who will witness the coming of the Son of Man in the clouds. And regardless of whether or not we will be that generation, Jesus is wanting each generation to live with a sense of imminency, because unlike the destruction of the temple, which can be dated by signs, the Second Coming of Christ cannot be dated by signs.
The fig tree can tell you that summer is coming, but it can’t tell you on what day it will come. The same can be said about the return of Christ. Whether Jesus is coming tomorrow or in another two thousand years, we are to live today as though Jesus is coming soon. We are to always live with a sense of imminency.
When we were expecting Liam, our oldest child, we planned out what we were going to do when labour started, because we had heard that these kinds of things can take a while, and we wanted to do things that would take Helena’s mind off of the contractions and on to other things.
So, we planned to go to Walmart to “people watch,” and go to the theatre to watch a movie, and go out for supper. It was going to be like a cute, fun date. But what we weren’t expecting was how quickly these things could progress once they got started.
We were still at home when Helena started having contractions, but we thought that it would be too early to go anywhere or do anything, so we stayed at home for a little while longer.
But then, Helena’s contractions started getting more frequent and more intense, so I suggested to her that we maybe go to the hospital, already. And she didn’t like that idea, because we had made all these great plans. But after she got to the point where she had to stop walking until the contraction passed, I made the executive decision to take her to the hospital, which was probably a good thing, because Liam was born shortly after we got there.
But needless to say, we weren’t living with a sense of imminency. We thought that we had more time than we did, because we had things we wanted to accomplish. I guess you could say that we had become complacent.
And this is how many Christians come to the study of the end times. We have this idea that a natural disaster or a war or a coronavirus means that the end of the world is near. We have this idea that some cataclysmic event like Y2K or the end of the Mayan calendar or World War III means that Christ is going to return.
But the reality is that these things are not the end, in and of themselves, but are merely signs of the end. In fact, do you want to know what things will be like when Jesus returns? Normal. Things will be normal. It will be business as usual.
Matthew 24:37-39 says, “For as were the days of Noah, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day when Noah entered the ark, and they were unaware until the flood came and swept them all away, so will be the coming of the Son of Man.”
The people in Noah’s day had no idea that judgment was coming. They were eating and drinking and getting married. It wasn’t perilous times; it was good times. They weren’t expecting judgment, because everything was as it should be. It was almost like heaven on earth. There was no concern for coming judgment, because there was nothing to suggest that judgment was imminent.
And the danger that they were in, and that Jesus is trying to get us to avoid, is complacency. It’s why He continues in verse 33: “Be on guard, keep awake. For you do not know when the time will come.”
Even though we don’t know the day or the hour of the Lord’s return, even though the human nature of Jesus Christ doesn’t know, only the Father, even so, Jesus doesn’t want us to lose our sense of imminence. He doesn’t want us to be more focused on our best laid plans than on the return of Christ.
Listen, I’m all for bucket lists. If your goal is to go somewhere or do something or get married to someone, by all means, do it. But if I want Christ to hold off coming back, so that I can get married or travel or accomplish some life goal, then it might be an indication to me that my priorities are not right. It might be an indication to me that I value this thing more than I value Jesus.
Jesus is exposing our idols. What do we want to experience in this life more than we want Christ to return? That’s the question. We are to be on our guard, regardless of whether times are good or bad. We are to watch out that we do not become complacent, living more for earth than we are for heaven.
So, be on guard. The good news is that we don’t need to know the time when Christ will return, because it’s all under the sovereign control of God. We can take Jesus at His Word that the end is near when He will come again to destroy every rule and power and authority.
In verse 31, Jesus says, “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.” This is truly a remarkable statement. You don’t make a statement like this without some kind of authority. And throughout Mark’s Gospel, what we have seen is that Jesus’ authority is divine authority.
Jesus’ statement here sounds a lot like Isaiah 40:8, where the prophet Isaiah writes, “The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God will stand forever.”
So, not only will the temple pass away, because the Roman army is going to destroy it, but heaven and earth as we know it will give way to a renewed heaven and a renewed earth. The end of all things is coming when all things will pass away, but the Word of God, Jesus Christ, will never pass away. Jesus is the Word made flesh. His words are the bedrock upon which we stand, forever.
This is why we must avoid setting dates for the return of the Lord. When we consider the authority of King Jesus, we quickly realize that we are not the master of our fate or the captain of our soul. We are not in control of the future. We don’t know what's going to happen later today. That’s how little control we actually have in the grand scheme of things.
But in Isaiah 46:8-11, God says, “Remember this and stand firm, recall it to mind, you transgressors, remember the former things of old; for I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like me, declaring the end from the beginning and from ancient times things not yet done, saying, ‘My counsel shall stand, and I will accomplish all my purpose,’ calling a bird of prey from the east, the man of my counsel from a far country. I have spoken, and I will bring it to pass; I have purposed, and I will do it.”
In Acts 1:7, in the last words of Jesus to His disciples before He ascended to heaven, Jesus says, “It is not for you to know times or seasons that the Father has fixed by his own authority.”
We must avoid setting dates, but we must also avoid indifference when it comes to the study of the end times. Jesus closes with the following illustration: “It is like a man going on a journey, when he leaves home and puts his servants in charge, each with his work, and commands the doorkeeper to stay awake. Therefore stay awake—for you do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or when the rooster crows, or in the morning—lest he come suddenly and find you asleep.”
One commentator writes, “Living faithfully in the present, being attentive to the signs, and being ready at any hour for the return of the master is not one job among others; it is the doorkeeper’s only job.”
Jesus isn’t giving us a blueprint of things to come, but He is giving us a lens through which we are to view our world. And what this does is it gets us out of our complacency, and it gets us anticipating the imminent return of Christ.
But the question is: Do we live our lives in this way? Are we living for earth, or are we living for heaven? Do we want Christ to hold off coming back, so that we can accomplish this thing, or do we long for Christ to return? Have we put down deep roots into the soil of this world, or do we live as though this world is not our home and that Jesus is going to renew this world when He comes again? Do we have the Second Coming of Christ in our minds?
Why is this important? Why should we be ready? Because Matthew 25:31 says that “when the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne.” And He will say to those on His right, “Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.” And He will say to those on His left, “Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.”
Hebrews 9:27-28 says, “And just as it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment, so Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him.”
Church, this is why we need to be ready. Our relationship with Jesus will determine whether we are on the right or on the left of Jesus on Judgment Day. Do you believe in Jesus? Do you believe that He came to deal with the problem of your sin? Do you believe that He has delivered you from the judgment to come? Do you believe that He is coming again to create a new heavens and a new earth? Do you believe this good news of Jesus Christ?
I pray that you put your trust in Jesus, today. If there is one thing that I hope we come away with, from this study of Mark 13, it is that Jesus is coming again, and when He does, He will come suddenly. May we never be so complacent as to think, “I will trust in Him, tomorrow,” when there is no guarantee that we will ever get, tomorrow. Instead, we are to “stay awake,” lest we be found asleep.
We are not waiting for the tribulation, or for the Antichrist, or for the battle of Gog and Magog, or for the Millennium, or for the judgment to come, or for anything else pertaining to the end times; we are waiting for the Second Coming of Christ. We don’t know what the coming days will look like, but what we do know is that Jesus is coming again, and we are to wait for His return in simple faith.
There is a hymn in our hymn book called He Is Coming Again. I’m not going to sing it for you, because I don’t know the tune. I just saw it for the first time this week and thought it was pertinent to our text, so I am going to close our time together with the words of the chorus. It says, “He is coming again. He is coming again. The very same Jesus, rejected of men. He is coming again. He is coming again. With power and great glory, He is coming again.”
Jesus is coming again. May we be a people, who are waiting for Jesus to come and who are living today as though His return is near. Let’s pray…