The Signs of the End (Part 2) – Mark 13:14-27
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.
Recently, I have been listening to a podcast by Pastor Timothy Keller of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York City on trusting God in difficult times. And in one of the episodes, his wife, Kathy, gives the following illustration: If you were driving in the dark in a place you didn’t know, what would you rather have with you: the best army topological map showing every rock and bump and tree, or a local resident sitting in the seat next to you? Would you rather have a map that shows you the whole picture but you better interpret it right to get where you need to go, or a local who can show you the way to go?
I know which one I would rather have in that moment, but if we were to apply this to the Christian life, there are times when I want the map more than I want the Mapmaker in the vehicle with me. Instead of trusting in God, I often want to see the whole picture, so that I can know what is going to happen to me.
And for many of us, this is how we approach the study of the end times. Instead of trusting in God, we often want to know what is going to happen and when it’s going to happen and how it’s going to happen. But what we need when we are embarking in territory that is foreign to us is not a map, but rather, we need the Mapmaker. We don’t need the whole picture, but rather, we need God Himself.
And the good news is that God gets into the vehicle with us, in the Person of Jesus Christ, and shows us where we need to go. He doesn’t give us the whole picture. He doesn’t show us everything all at once. But He has revealed to us what we need to know for the present. And the fact that we have God in the vehicle with us means that we will never get lost, if we trust in Him.
And this important when we come to a difficult passage of Scripture like Mark 13, because we tend to interpret this passage in one of two ways: We either take this passage out of its original context and interpret it through the lens of what we are going through, today, or we leave this passage in its original context and don’t consider any future implications for us, today.
And what we discovered, last week, is that Jesus is speaking to the immediate context of His disciples in preparing them for the destruction of the Jerusalem temple in A.D. 70, but Jesus is also looking ahead to the events surrounding His Second Coming. In other words, the destruction of the temple is the lens through which we are to view the return of the Lord.
Instead of giving us the whole picture, Jesus is wanting us to be on our guard and to watch for the return of the Lord. Instead of allowing the study of the end times to become a point of contention among us, Jesus is wanting us to find agreement in the truth that Christ is risen, that He has been given all authority in heaven and on earth, and that He is coming again to gather His people.
So, with that, I’m just going to begin by reading all of Mark 13 for us, 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.’”
Last week, we looked at how persecution was coming for the disciples of Jesus, as they would suffer for the sake of Christ and the gospel, and how we find that this has continued to this day with the persecution of followers of Jesus all around the world. And the good news of Jesus is that “the one who endures to the end will be saved.”
But then, in verse 14, Jesus introduces us to a specific kind of persecution in the “abomination of desolation.” The phrase that Jesus uses here is taken from three references in the book of Daniel:
Daniel 9:27 says, “And he shall make a strong covenant with many for one week, and for half of the week he shall put an end to sacrifice and offering. And on the wing of abominations shall come one who makes desolate, until the decreed end is poured out on the desolator.”
Daniel 11:31 says, “Forces from him shall appear and profane the temple and fortress, and shall take away the regular burnt offering. And they shall set up the abomination that makes desolate.”
Daniel 12:11 says, “And from the time that the regular burnt offering is taken away and the abomination that makes desolate is set up, there shall be 1,290 days.”
So, what is the abomination of desolation? And what relevance do Jesus’ words have for us, today?
There is a sense in which the abomination of desolation was already fulfilled, around 167 B.C. At that time, the Seleucid king by the name of Antiochus IV Epiphanes slaughtered 40,000 Jews and plundered the Jewish temple. He sacrificed a pig on the altar of burnt offering, sprinkled broth from the unclean flesh all over the holy grounds as an act of deliberate defilement, and then erected an image of Zeus above the altar.
If you know anything about Jewish culture, then you know that this would have been a sacrilege of indescribable proportions. It was actually this incident that sparked the Maccabean Revolt, in which the Jewish people rebelled against the Syrians, and won, securing the only period of autonomy they had from the time of King Nebuchadnezzar in 586 B.C. to the formation of the state of Israel in 1948.
No doubt, the disciples of Jesus and the readers of Mark’s Gospel would have had this incident in the back of their minds, as Jesus speaks of the abomination of desolation. But Jesus seems to have a near future fulfillment in mind. Given that Jesus is still addressing the question of His disciples about when the destruction of the temple would be accomplished, there is a sense in which the abomination of desolation would take place in A.D. 70.
Luke, in his Gospel account, gives us some insight into what the abomination of desolation meant for the people of Jesus’ day. In Luke 21:20, Luke records Jesus saying, “But when you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies, then know that its desolation has come near.”
What Jesus is referring to is what would eventually take place in A.D. 70, when the Roman General, Titus, would converge on Jerusalem and the temple with the Roman army. Matthew 24:15 helps us further by identifying the abomination of desolation as “standing in the holy place.” In Mark 13:14, Mark notes “the abomination of desolation standing where he ought not to be.”
Gentiles could only go as far as the Court of the Gentiles in the temple, but General Titus would stand where he ought not to be, in the holy place, where only the high priest was allowed to enter. And this would be the sign to all those in Judea to “flee to the mountains,” for Jesus’ prophecy that “there will not be left here one stone upon another that will not be thrown down” would soon be fulfilled.
This would require everyone to act urgently. “Let the one who is on the housetop not go down, nor enter his house, to take anything out, and let the one who is in the field not turn back to take his cloak. And alas for women who are pregnant and for those who are nursing infants in those days! Pray that it may not happen in winter.”
All of this took place in A.D. 70. The appearance of the abomination of desolation in the temple would be a sign to them that intense persecution “as has not been from the beginning of the creation that God created until now” was soon to come upon them.
We know from historical records that this was the case for those in Jerusalem. One commentator writes, “Never so high a percentage of one city's population was destroyed. Everyone was either killed or sold into slavery. Approximations are that 1,100,000 people were killed and 100,000 were enslaved.”
But however horrible the persecution was in the days of 167 B.C. and A.D. 70, these events anticipate a final, climactic event of horrible desolation to come in “those days” just before the Second Coming of Christ. Remember, Jesus is addressing the immediate context of His disciples, but He is also looking ahead to a future time of destruction to a greater degree than that of the destruction of the temple.
In 2 Thessalonians 2:3-4, the apostle Paul writes, “Let no one deceive you in any way. For that day will not come, unless the rebellion comes first, and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the son of destruction, who opposes and exalts himself against every so-called god or object of worship, so that he takes his seat in the temple of God, proclaiming himself to be God.”
The abomination of desolation alludes to the destruction of the temple in A.D. 70, but finds its future fulfillment in “those days” when a blasphemous Antichrist will exalt himself as God and unleash “such tribulation as has not been from the beginning of the creation that God created until now, and never will be,” as Mark 13:19 says, which will usher in the return of the Lord.
We are to think of this as the preview of a movie. We have a lot of old Disney movies on VHS, so our family has been watching more movies in the evenings, these days. But it was funny to watch one, a little while ago, where there was a preview for a new Disney movie that was coming soon to theaters called The Lion King. And I laughed, because The Lion King was one that I grew up with, and it’s hard for me to imagine that it was coming soon to theaters, at one time.
But the preview gives us a taste of what is to come when we actually watch the movie. And in the same way, the destruction of the temple is a preview of what is to come when the man of lawlessness, from 2 Thessalonians 2, will be revealed. We can know that great desolation and tribulation is coming, because of what we know has already taken place.
In verse 20, Jesus says, “And if the Lord had not cut short the days, no human being would be saved.” If it weren’t for the grace of God in putting a limitation on the tribulation, no one would survive. “But,” Jesus goes on to say, “for the sake of the elect, whom he chose, he shortened the days.”
Jesus seems to be working off of Daniel 12:1, where the prophet Daniel says, “At that time shall arise Michael, the great prince who has charge of your people. And there shall be a time of trouble, such as never has been since there was a nation till that time. But at that time your people shall be delivered, everyone whose name shall be found written in the book.”
Church, this is good news. And why this is good news is because of what Jesus says, in John 16:33: “I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.”
Romans 8:35 is another important text for us to remember: “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword?” Verse 37: “No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.”
Regardless of what the future looks like, however bleak things may seem, we have the assurance that nothing can separate us from the love of Christ, nothing can touch us apart from the will of God for His elect, because Christ has overcome the world.
It means that nothing happens to followers of Jesus that has not first passed through the hands of Almighty God. And church, this is the best place for us to be, because if God takes us home to glory, however that might be, it’s because it was His will to do so, and not the will of the devil, or the will of the Antichrist, or the will of anyone else who would desire evil against us.
It is God who sovereignly reveals the man of lawlessness and it is God who cuts short the days of his tribulation. There is nothing that can be done to God’s elect, apart from God’s own choosing.
Therefore, we must not let tribulation and persecution and trials distract us from the return of Christ. As we saw, last week, these things are the beginning of the birth pains. They will only increase in frequency and intensity as we get closer to His return. But we can be assured that God will intervene, in some measure of grace, on the part of His elect.
Jesus continues, in verse 21, “If anyone says to you, ‘Look, here is the Christ!’ or ‘Look, there he is!’ do not believe it. For false christs and false prophets will arise and perform signs and wonders, to lead astray, if possible, the elect.”
It’s interesting to note that, throughout Mark’s Gospel, the true Christ, the true Messiah, is reluctant to do signs and wonders, because He wants people to come to Him by faith and not because of what He can do for them. But here, we see that there will be many who will succeed at performing signs and wonders, in order to lead astray God’s elect. But praise God, they will not succeed.
Listen, we will not miss the return of Christ. Don’t be fooled into thinking that Jesus has already come, because there are two distinct ways in which we will know that Christ has returned:
1. We will see it. In verse 24, Jesus says, “But in those days, after that tribulation, the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will be falling from heaven, and the powers in the heavens will be shaken.”
At the crucifixion of Jesus, in Mark 15:33, it says that, for three hours, “there was darkness over the whole land.” That’s the kind of thing that Jesus is talking about here, but on a more cosmic, apocalyptic scale.
It’s similar to what the prophet Isaiah prophesied, in Isaiah 13:9-10: “Behold, the day of the Lord comes, cruel, with wrath and fierce anger, to make the land a desolation and to destroy its sinners from it. For the stars of the heavens and their constellations will not give their light; the sun will be dark at its rising, and the moon will not shed its light.”
There will be no mistaking the return of Christ. The whole earth will see Him return. Jesus Himself says, “And then they will see the Son of Man coming in clouds with great power and glory.”
In Acts 1, after Jesus ascended to heaven, two angels appeared to the disciples, saying, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into heaven? This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.”
In other words, Jesus left physically and visibly, and He will return both physically and visibly. Revelation 1:7 says, “Behold, he is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see him, even those who pierced him, and all tribes of the earth will wail on account of him. Even so. Amen.”
2. First of all, we will see it. Secondly, we will hear it. Jesus continues, “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.” Matthew 24 31 says that “he will send out his angels with a loud trumpet call.”
The apostle Paul fleshes this out for us, in 1 Thessalonians 4:16-17. He writes, “For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord.”
Again, the prophet Isaiah prophesied about this, in Isaiah 18:3: “All you inhabitants of the world, you who dwell on the earth, when a signal is raised on the mountains, look! When a trumpet is blown, hear!”
This is not a quiet event. The whole earth will hear and see the coming of the Lord. We will not miss it. Instead, we have the hope from Jesus and the rest of Scripture that Christ is coming to gather His people—those “whom He chose.”
Mark 13:27 says that Jesus will send out the angels to “gather his elect,” and 1 Thessalonians 4:17 says that “we will always be with the Lord.” The kingdom of God that Christ began on the earth when He first came will be fully consummated on the earth when He comes again to make all things new.
That’s the great hope of the Church. In our broken and fallen world, we can expect to face tribulation, and we can expect others to try and lead us astray, but we can stand firm on the assurance that Christ is coming again with great power and glory to gather His people. And it’s why Jesus says, in verse 23, “But be on guard; I have told you all things beforehand.”
Now, has Jesus given us all the answers for what is to come? No, He hasn’t. In fact, Jesus doesn’t mention anything about the millennium, or the New Jerusalem, or the battle of Armageddon, or anything like that. But He has given us everything we need to know to get to where we’re going. He hasn’t given us the whole picture, but He has given us the directions to find our way Home.
That’s the point. This study of the things that have been and the things that are still to come is not intended to give us the whole picture, but is intended to get us trusting in God, who is in the vehicle with us, which is far greater than having the whole picture in front of us. This study of things past and future is intended to change the way we live in the present.
We are to be a people, as Titus 2:13 says, who are “waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ.” We are to be a people, as Revelation 22:20 says, who are praying, “Come, Lord Jesus.” We are to be a people proclaiming the gospel to all nations, so that, as Revelation 7:9-10 says, there will be “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!’”
And this is the good news that we proclaim: That God created all things good, but that sin entered the world through the disobedience of the first man and first woman, and death through sin, so that every human being rightly stands condemned before holy God on account of their sin.
But God, being rich in mercy, sent His only Son into the world to take our place of condemnation, so that God’s right justice would be satisfied in the substitutionary atonement of Christ on the cross.
Three days later, God would raise Jesus from the dead in victory over sin and death, so that anyone who trusts in the completed work of Christ alone will be saved from the judgment to come.
And when Christ returns, He will fully and finally restore all things, destroying every rule and authority and power, and He will reign on the earth as King and Lord over all, and we will reign with Him, forever.
This is the good news of Jesus Christ. Do you believe it? I pray you do. There is time now to turn away from your sin and turn to God, but there is coming a day when there will be no more time. The judgment of God is coming upon all the earth on account of our sin. And on that day, there will be no time to flee to the mountains. Unless we have put our faith in Christ, we will not survive.
But thanks be to God. He has made the way of salvation possible through Christ, our Suffering Saviour and Conquering King. As we sang earlier, “‘Mid toil and tribulation and tumult of her war, she waits the consummation of peace forevermore; till with the vision glorious her longing eyes are blest, and the great Church victorious shall be the Church at rest.”
When Christ returns, all that is wrong will be made right, all our sorrows will be turned to joy, all our tribulation will be turned to peace, as we rest in the finished work of Christ alone.
Again, as we sang earlier, “When He shall come with trumpet sound, oh may I then in Him be found, dressed in His righteousness alone, faultless to stand before the throne. On Christ the solid Rock, I stand; all other ground is sinking sand, all other ground is sinking sand.”
Jesus will come again to gather His people to reign over all the earth. The question is: Will you be found among them? Let’s pray…