The Signs of the End (Part 1) – Mark 13:1-13
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 Mark 13, this morning.
When I first set out to go through this sermon series on Mark’s Gospel, there were several passages that I knew were going to be very difficult to preach. This passage of Scripture is one such passage. And that is not to say that the rest of Mark has been easy to preach, by any means. The whole Gospel of Mark should bear its weight on us, regardless of the topic. But this is a weightier passage of Scripture, in the sense that it deals with matters pertaining to the end times.
And what happens when we study passages of Scripture like this is that things can get rather heated. Eschatology, the study of the end times, is a polarizing topic within the Church. We have the tendency to argue over the millennium and the tribulation and many of the events associated with the end times.
But when we argue about these things, the problem is that we miss the point of what the original authors intended to convey. In reality, we can lovingly disagree with one another on many matters pertaining to the end, but there is one significant point on which we all can find agreement, and that is, that Christ will one day return to renew and restore all things, and that we will reign with Him, forever. And it is my hope that, in delving into such matters, we will be able to do so with open hearts and open minds.
And so, despite my unworthiness to cover what Mark records Jesus saying about the end times, I am convinced of the words of the apostle Paul, in Acts 20:27, “for I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole counsel of God.” I will not be able to answer all of your questions about the end times, because, interestingly enough, Mark doesn’t cover all of it. What I can do is remain faithful to the text and, by God’s grace, “teach what accords with sound doctrine.”
And I will begin by reading all of Mark 13 for us. We will only be covering the first 13 verses for our time together, this morning. But then, next Sunday, Lord willing, we will look at verses 14-27. And then, the Sunday after that, Lord willing, we will unpack the remainder of Mark 13, looking at verses 28-37.
So, with that, let us read 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.’”
As the theologians from the band R.E.M., once said, “It’s the end of the world as we know it, and I feel fine.” The song was written, back in 1987, but, according to a news article from March 17, 2020, the song jumped 184% in song downloads, amid the coronavirus pandemic. It would seem as though many people are viewing this pandemic as the end of the world.
But there is a curiosity about the end of the world. It’s why many people make predictions about when the world will end, and why many people believe those predictions, only to be disappointed when those predictions don’t come true.
As Christians, how are we to think through these things? I think it’s important to note that faithful, Bible-believing Christians differ on the details of the end times. Pertaining to this passage in Mark 13, in particular, there are some who take this passage to be entirely future, and there are some who take this passage to be entirely past, having already occurred with the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem in A.D. 70.
This is a very difficult passage of Scripture to interpret, because I am preaching to a specific people in a specific place during a specific time on what Mark is writing to a specific people in a specific place during a specific time about what Jesus is saying to a specific people in a specific place during a specific time.
And so, we must be careful to do two things: 1. We must be careful to not take this passage out of its original context and interpret it through what we are going through, and 2. We must be careful to not leave this passage in its original context, without considering any future implications for us, today.
What I am putting forward for us to consider is that, in this passage, Jesus is addressing the immediate context of the coming destruction of the temple in Jerusalem in A.D. 70, but Jesus is also preparing us for the future coming of the Son of Man in clouds with great power and glory. In other words, this passage isn’t strictly future and it isn’t strictly past, but it is entirely relevant for us, today.
In these first 13 verses, Jesus is going to give us four imperatives and one promise that are going to point us to the preserving grace of God, in the midst of the trials and tribulation we are going to face as followers of Jesus.
And we begin in verse 1, as Jesus is coming out of the temple. There is rich symbolism here that we must not overlook. Around 600 years, earlier, the prophet Ezekiel, in Ezekiel 11:23, prophesied, “And the glory of the Lord went up from the midst of the city and stood on the mountain that is on the east side of the city.”
In a very real sense, the glory of the Lord, in the Person of Jesus Christ, has departed from the temple and stands outside the city of Jerusalem. You might remember when Jesus entered Jerusalem, back in Mark 11, how He went first to the temple, and seeing what He did not like, He left, but came back again the next day. Here, Jesus leaves the temple and does not return.
And we discover the significance of this when one of Jesus’ disciples notes the splendour of the temple, and Jesus responds, in verse 2, by saying, “Do you see these great buildings? There will not be left here one stone upon another that will not be thrown down.”
Herod the Great was obsessed with grandeur. He had made the Jerusalem temple truly a spectacle to behold. But as remarkable as this structure is are the words of Jesus that destruction was coming for it.
Can you imagine hearing those words from Jesus? Everyone is marvelling at the temple and admiring the gold covered stones that would have shone brilliantly in the sunshine, but Jesus sees past the veneer and the shiny stones and the massive structure that the temple was, and into the perversion of its God-ordained purpose, and declares judgment on it.
And this prompts Jesus’ disciples, Peter and James and John and Andrew, to ask Jesus, “When will these things be, and what will be the sign when all these things are about to be accomplished?”
The disciples could not imagine a world without the temple. And so, they believed that the destruction of the temple would coincide with the end of time. In fact, Matthew 24:3 records them, asking, “Tell us, when will these things be, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?”
You can understand where the disciples are coming from. Jesus began His earthly ministry by declaring, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand.” They didn’t think there would be much time between the destruction of the temple and the consummation of the kingdom of God on the earth. It’s what prompts them to ask Jesus about the sign of His coming.
But Jesus corrects their thinking. He doesn’t immediately address their question of future events, but instead, addresses their question of the events surrounding the destruction of the temple. Thus, each one of these four imperatives that Jesus gives find their immediate application in the time of the disciples, but we find that they also apply to us, today.
1. The first imperative from Jesus is: Do not be led astray.
In verse 5, Jesus says, “See that no one leads you astray. Jesus is saying here that there is a very real possibility of being lead astray. He wouldn’t warn His disciples and us to “see that no one leads you astray,” if there was no possibility of being led astray. In fact, one of Jesus’ own disciples, who would have heard this discourse, Judas Iscariot, is led astray by the devil himself to betray Jesus.
This is a terrifying warning for us. But then, Jesus explains why this is important: Because “many will come in my name, saying, ‘I am he!’ and they will lead many astray.”
In Acts 5:35-37, Gamaliel, one of the teachers of the law, stands up before the Jewish council, who was enraged at those who were preaching about Jesus, and gives a couple of historical examples of this. He says, “Men of Israel, take care what you are about to do with these men. For before these days Theudas rose up, claiming to be somebody, and a number of men, about four hundred, joined him. He was killed, and all who followed him were dispersed and came to nothing. After him Judas the Galilean rose up in the days of the census and drew away some of the people after him. He too perished, and all who followed him were scattered.”
There would be some who would rise up, claiming to be the “I AM,” claiming to be God. They would give the impression that they were the Christ, but they would only deceive people.
Jesus is wanting His disciples and us to beware of such individuals. This isn’t something unique to the disciples of Jesus; this has been happening, throughout church history to the present day. In fact, in 1 John 2:18, the apostle John writes, “Children, it is the last hour, and as you have heard that antichrist is coming, so now many antichrists have come. Therefore we know that it is the last hour.”
There have been many and there will be many more, who will lead many people astray. And if you want to know how to avoid being led astray, or how to spot those who lead people astray, read your Bible. It’s why, every time I speak, I tell us to grab a Bible. It’s great that you want to hear what I have to say on a given passage of Scripture, but what matters more than what I say is what God has already said in His Word.
If you want to spot those who are teaching in error, then you need to cross-examine what they are saying with the Word of God, because the Word of God will never contradict itself.
Helena showed me a video, this week, where Todd White was given a copy of the documentary American Gospel: Christ Alone. If you remember, we watched American Gospel in our church, back in January, and if you want to borrow, just let me know, and I can get it to you. It is such an important film for Christians in our day to watch. But in the documentary, Todd White is exposed as a false teacher. And how he responded to being given a copy of the film is that he called American Gospel, a “demonically inspired movie.” He did not watch it, and he continues to deceive many people, today.
Don’t be led astray by false christs or false prophets or false teachers. There are many who try to deceive, but we must remain vigilant, by reading our Bibles and praying for God to give us wisdom in these last days.
2. The second imperative from Jesus is: Do not be alarmed.
Jesus continues, in verse 7: “And when you hear of wars and rumors of wars, do not be alarmed.” Why? Because “this must take place, but the end is not yet.” Again, Jesus is referring to the destruction of the temple in A.D. 70, and you can read in many of the historical records of that day, how there was increasing military conflict leading up to the destruction of the temple.
That’s the immediate application of what Jesus is saying, but we also know that there has been war since Genesis 4 when Cain killed his brother Abel, and there will be war in Revelation 19 when Christ returns to strike down His enemies. Throughout human history, war reminds us that we live in a fallen world and that we are longing for the day when Jesus will return to end all war.
“Do not be alarmed,” Jesus says. This is not the end. “For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be earthquakes in various places; there will be famines.” But “these are but the beginning of the birth pains.” These will only increase in intensity and frequency as the return of Christ draws near.
When we were expecting Gideon, we knew that we needed to respond quickly to the first contractions, so that we had enough time to make it to the hospital in St. Albert, rather than having him on the way to St. Albert, not like that would have been the worst thing in the world, but it just would not have been my preference.
And so, we had everything planned out for where Liam and Benji were going to stay, and what we needed to take with us, and how much time we needed to allow ourselves. But our plans changed a little bit when we were in the city for a doctor’s appointment and the doctor suggested that we stay in the city, because we might be having the baby later that day.
And so, we started getting a hold of people and rearranging our plans. But after some time in the hospital, we were told to come back the next morning, which we did, only to discover that things had not progressed, so they sent us home. And Helena was having contractions sporadically, all the next week, before things started getting more intense.
So, we made our way back to St. Albert, and just in time, as we had only been in the hospital for 20 minutes, before Gideon was born. And all that to say, I can identify with what Jesus says about the “beginning of the birth pains.”
We have this idea that a natural disaster or a war or a coronavirus means that the end of the world is near. We tend to view the end of the world in light of what we are going through, as though this is the first time in human history that there has ever been something like this; therefore, we must be close to the end. And the reality is that these are the beginning of the birth pains.
This was the case for the disciples in Jesus’ day, as they approached the destruction of the temple, and this has been the case for the last two thousand years, as the contractions become more frequent and more intense before Christ returns. And rather than become preoccupied with these things, Jesus wants us to not be alarmed, but rather, to view these things as the beginning of birth pains.
3. The third imperative from Jesus is: Be on guard.
In verse 9, Jesus says, “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.”
Again, the immediate application of what Jesus is saying here is for the disciples. In our North American context, we aren’t being delivered over to Jewish councils. We aren’t appearing before governors and kings. And when was the last time we were beaten in a synagogue? But if you read through the book of Acts, everything that Jesus is speaking about, here, happens to the disciples.
If you look down at verse 13, Jesus reiterates His point that “you will be hated by all for my name's sake.” The Jews hated the Christians, because of what the Christians said about Jesus being the Messiah, and the Gentiles hated the Christians, because the Christians were “atheists,” in the sense that they didn’t worship the pantheon of gods that the Romans worshipped, and because they were considered cannibals, in the sense that they gathered together to eat of the body and blood of Jesus.
They were indeed hated by all. And yet, Jesus’ words, in John 15:20, also find their fulfillment in our context, that “if they persecuted me, they will also persecute you.” And we are reminded of brothers and sisters in Christ, from around the world, who are losing their lives for the sake of Christ and the gospel.
I encourage you to go online and check out World Watch List 2020. It is an annual report put out by an organization called Open Doors, which looks at the top 50 countries where it is most dangerous to follow Jesus.
And just to give you a sense of the kind of persecution that is going on, I looked at the most dangerous country in the world: North Korea. And here is what they say: “If North Korean Christians are discovered, they are deported to labor camps as political criminals or even killed on the spot. Driven by the state, Christian persecution in North Korea is extreme and meeting other Christians to worship is nearly impossible unless it’s done in complete secrecy.”
In 1 Peter 4:12-13, the apostle Peter writes, “Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice insofar as you share Christ's sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed.”
This is what Jesus is talking about when He speaks of the birth pains ramping up. The contractions will come more frequently and more intensely, but as Helena has told me, she is able to endure the birth pains, because there is a baby awaiting her at the end of it all. And likewise, the follower of Jesus can endure the suffering that comes along with the birth pains, because there is coming a day when we will experience the glory of what awaits us.
4. Finally, the fourth imperative from Jesus is: Do not be anxious.
We must not become anxious when trials come our way, for “the gospel must first be proclaimed to all nations.” What does that mean? Look back at the beginning of Mark 13. Jesus leaves the temple, symbolizing the departure of the glory of God from the temple, and God now inhabits followers of Jesus by way of His Spirit, so that the gospel—the good news of Jesus Christ—is no longer confined to the temple, but it is now being proclaimed to all people, everywhere.
In Acts 1:8, Jesus says to His disciples, “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.”
And you see that this is exactly what happens in the book of Acts and in the days leading up to the destruction of the temple. You see the gospel spreading to the ends of the earth.
Now, does that mean that the gospel has nowhere else to go, today? No, the kingdom of God continues to advance and the gospel of Jesus Christ continues to spread to this day.
2 Peter 3:9 says that “the Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.”
Praise God that He is patient. Peter and James and John and Andrew did not have a concept of North America in their minds when they were asking about when these things would come to pass, but thankfully, God had North America in His mind, as a place that would eventually be reached with the gospel.
The disciples could not have imagined the scene in Revelation 7:9-10, when the apostle John writes about “a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, ‘Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!’”
How does it happen that the gospel spreads like this? Jesus tells us how that happens, in verse 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.”
Today is Pentecost Sunday, which commemorates when the Holy Spirit descended upon the followers of Jesus in Jerusalem, after Jesus ascended to heaven. Our Call to Worship, this morning, was from Acts 2, where Peter is quoting the prophet Joel, that, in the last days, God would pour out His Spirit on His people.
Church, we are in the last days. We have been in the last days for nearly two thousand years, and we will continue to be in the last days until Christ returns, but do not be anxious, church, because God has poured out His Spirit on all who believe, so that we can take His gospel to the ends of the earth. That’s the point.
Verse 12 says that “brother will deliver brother over to death, and the father his child, and children will rise against parents and have them put to death.” Praise God that He has not left us in despair, but has indwelt us with His very presence to endure all that is coming our way.
And church, here is the promise that Jesus gives: Amid the suffering and trials and persecution that we will inevitably experience as followers of Jesus, “the one who endures to the end will be saved.”
The good news that God has put His Spirit in those who have trusted in Jesus doesn’t mean that we will never be persecuted, or that we will never experience war or famine or political unrest, or that we will never have to go through the pain of losing our family for the sake of Christ, but that God will give us the endurance to persevere when these things come upon us. He will keep us to the end.
That’s the promise of God. But this promise came at a cost. God the Father would send His Son, Jesus, into the world. And Jesus would experience the worst suffering, imaginable. He would be crucified on a Roman cross, which was bad enough, but Jesus would also fully satisfy the wrath of God against our sin. In order for sinful humanity to be in the presence of holy God, we needed our sin problem dealt with, by the perfect, sinless Christ.
Jesus would die for sin, but He would not stay dead. Three days later, He would rise from the dead in victory over sin and death and Satan. And He would ascend to the right hand of God the Father Almighty, from where He will one day come to restore all things to how they were intended to be.
This is the good news of Jesus Christ that we receive by faith. If you have not believed this good news, then I encourage you to turn away from your sin and trust in Jesus, today. The signs of the end will only get more frequent and more intense. And if your hope is not in God, then you will have nothing to hold on to, when a judgment—greater than the destruction of the temple—comes.
Are we grabbing hold of the promise that “the one who endures to the end will be saved.” Are we drawing near to Jesus, in the midst of our suffering and trials and persecution? Are we faithfully waiting for Jesus to return to make all things right? Are we trusting Him with every natural disaster and pestilence and war and tribulation? Is He our Suffering Saviour, who died to make us right with God, and is He our Conquering King, who reigns that we may reign with Him, forever?
Is it the end of the world as we know it? I think we can safely say that it has been the end of the world for nearly two thousand years. And yet, as Christians, we can confidently say, “I feel fine,” because our hope is in God, who is sovereign over all, and who holds all things in the palm of His hand, and who has given us this Word that we might endure to the end. Let’s pray…