As he was leaving the temple, one of his disciples said to him, ‘Look, Teacher! What massive stones! What magnificent buildings!’
‘Do you see all these great buildings?’ replied Jesus. ‘Not one stone here will be left on another; every one will be thrown down.’ Mark 13:1-2 (NIV)
God’s Word Speaks In Every Generation
Imagine a visit to Washington DC in the company of the Son of God. You visit the White House and the US Capitol, and as you are leaving, He says to you, “Do you see all these great buildings? Not one stone here will be left on top of another.”
You would be deeply disturbed. You would want to know: “When will these things happen? And what will be the sign that they are about to be fulfilled?” (v4). That is exactly what happened here. Jesus had prophesied the destruction of the temple. The disciples were disturbed, and they wanted more information. Christ answered their question but also He told them much more about His own return in power and glory.
The difficulty we have in this chapter is that it’s not always easy to know what relates to the destruction of the temple (which happened in the year AD 70), and what refers to Christ’s return.
For example, Jesus says “I tell you the truth, this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened” (v30). Does He mean the disciples’ generation won’t pass away before the temple is destroyed in AD 70? Does He mean the generation that sees “the sun darkened” and “the moon not give its light” (v24) will not pass away until the Lord returns? Or are we to take the word ‘generation’ figuratively, as a reference to the Jewish race?
Pasta in the sauce
Picture a plate of pasta in tomato sauce. Separating the pasta from the sauce would be extremely difficult… and also extremely pointless! The pasta has been put in the sauce because they belong together. Jesus chose to put the pasta of His answer about the temple in the sauce of his teaching about life in this world and His coming at the end of the age.
Our Lord had good reason for blending these things together. If He had spoken only about what would happen to Jerusalem in AD 70, this teaching would be relevant only to the disciples’ generation. If He had spoken only about what would happen at the time of His coming, then this teaching would be relevant only to the last generation of Christians, and would have nothing to say to Christians who lived and died before Christ’s coming. If it was all about yesterday or all about tomorrow, it would have nothing to say to us today.
But all of Scripture is for all of God’s people, all of the time. So when our Lord answers the disciple’s very specific question about the destruction of the temple, He broadens the answer. He tells us not only what would happen in AD 70, but what Christians can expect to face in this world in any age, and also what all believers can look forward to when Christ comes again in power and glory.
Jesus Speaks To What Is Happening Now
These are the beginning of birth pains. (v8)
Jesus uses the picture of childbirth to describe the pain that Christians experience in this world. As every mother knows, the process of giving birth to a child begins with birth pains.
Paul uses the same picture, “The whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time” (Romans 8:22). So this is a long labor. It has been going on for 2000 years! “Such things must happen, but the end is still to come” (v7).
Birth pains increase as a mother gets closer to the actual birth, and these labor pains will grow in frequency and intensity as the coming of Jesus draws near. The Bible speaks about intense suffering or tribulation in the end times. But we can’t limit these labor pains to the days immediately before Christ’s coming because the disciples experienced the beginning of these troubles and we also experience them today.
Watch out that no one deceives you. Many will come in my name, claiming ‘I am he,’ and will deceive many. (v5,6)
This first pain of deception is aimed at disciples. Leaders will rise up in the church claiming to have the real message that everyone else has lost, and call us to follow them.
The mark of the true teacher is that he opens up the Bible and shows you the message of Jesus. The mark of the false teacher is that he brings his own message, and because his message is unique, you have to follow him, or at least to join his movement.
These deceivers pitch their books and seminars to believers. Jesus says they will come in “my name” (v6), and when you hear these claims “do not believe it” (v21). Christians can’t afford to be gullible. It is as important to be clear about what you do not believe as you are about what you do believe.
The apostles lived with these problems in New Testament times. We experience them today with cults and other movements within the church. As the coming of the Lord draws near, we will have to contend with these things more and more.
When you hear of wars and rumors of wars, do not be alarmed. Such things must happen, but the end is still to come. Nation will rise against nation and kingdom against kingdom… (v7,8)
The disciples lived during a time of unusual peace. Rome ruled. It was the time of Pax Romana (which means ‘Roman peace’). So when there were “wars and rumors of wars,” the disciples might easily have thought that the end had come. But Jesus says: No! “The end is still to come” (v7). Wars and rumors of wars will be a recurring pattern throughout history. And as the coming of Christ draws near we should expect to see this even more.
There will be earthquakes in various places, and famines. These are the beginning of birth pains. (v8)
The disciples experienced earthquakes and famines in their time, and we experience the same things today. As the coming of Christ draws near we should expect to see them more.
You must be on your guard. You will be handed over to the local councils and flogged in the synagogues. On account of me, you will stand before governors and kings as witnesses to them. (v9)
Whenever you are arrested and brought to trial, do not worry beforehand about what to say. Just say whatever is given you at the time, for it is not you speaking, but the Holy Spirit. (v11)
The disciples experienced persecution in the 1st century and many Christians throughout the world endure it today. Again, we should expect this birth pain to intensify as His coming draws near.
And the gospel must first be preached to all nations. (v10)
The book of Acts charts the international spread of the gospel, as it burst out from Jerusalem, across Judea and Samaria, and from there all across the Roman Empire. Praise God that it did not remain a narrow Jewish sect!
The gospel is still spreading today. There is a great emphasis in our time on bringing the gospel to unreached people groups. But that is only part of the task. Every minute 245 people are born. And none of them have ever heard about Jesus! Over one third of a million (353,051) babies are born every day. The truth is, the whole world needs to be evangelized in every generation!
Expect trouble in the world
Christ’s teaching about the birth pains should shape our expectations of life in this world. The Bible never suggests that we can expect a Christianized world where peace reigns and truth is honored. Until the coming of the Lord, we must expect widespread deception, international conflict, natural disasters, and religious persecution. And in the middle of all this, we are to proclaim the gospel to all nations.
The idea that Christ has promised us a life of peace, comfort and convenience in this world is completely foreign to the New Testament. Christ says “In this world you will have trouble” (John 16:33). So don’t expect life or ministry to be easy.
Count on the sufficiency of the Spirit
Whenever you are arrested and brought to trial, do not worry beforehand about what to say. Just say whatever is given you at the time, for it is not you speaking but the Holy Spirit. (v11)
Christ gives us a special promise for the times of great trouble: The Holy Spirit will give you words to say. This has nothing at all to do with preachers ditching their preparation and ‘winging it’ in the pulpit. I know a pastor who regularly preached two different sermons each Sunday. He worked hard on preparing for the morning, but in the evening he said he would speak ‘spontaneously, as he was led by the Holy Spirit.’
I knew someone from his congregation who said, ‘The amazing thing is that the sermons he prepares are better than the ones he says are given by the Holy Spirit!’ There’s no excuse for lack of preparation in Christian work or in any other kind of work.
But there are some situations in life for which you cannot prepare. Something happens and you are tipped into circumstances you could never have imagined. You feel completely overwhelmed. You do not know what to say or what to do.
Now here’s the promise: Christ says, ‘The Holy Spirit will be with you. He will stand beside you. He will show you what to do. He will give you what to say.’ You can be confident in the sufficiency of the Holy Spirit for everything that you encounter, especially when you face circumstances for which you could not possibly have prepared.
Jesus Speaks To What Is Still To Come
When you see the abomination that causes desolation. (v14)
These verses (v14-31) are especially difficult to understand, and there are different opinions about how we should interpret them.
Jesus speaks about things that are clearly still to come “the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light” (v24), and “At that time men will see the Son of man coming in clouds with great power and glory” (v26). Yet this teaching is not only about the future because Jesus indicates that Peter, James John and Andrew would see “the abomination that causes desolation” in their own lifetime.
Why prophecy can be so confusing
William Hendriksen points out that often in prophecy you find two events telescoped into one. When you look at a range of mountains you see one peak. But when you start climbing, you may find that the peak you saw is actually behind the hill you are on.
For example, in Joel 2, the prophet merges the Day of Pentecost and the Day of Final Judgment together: “I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy and your old men will dream dreams your young men will see visions” (v28). That’s Pentecost! (Acts 2:17). But Joel continues, “I will pour out my Spirit in those days…The sun will be turned to darkness and the moon to blood before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord” (v31). That’s clearly the Day of Judgment.
In another example, the prophet Isaiah merges the first coming and the second coming of Christ together. “A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse… [and] the Spirit of the Lord will rest upon Him” (Isaiah 11:1, 2). This has already happened. It is what Jesus said about himself at the beginning of His ministry (Luke 4:18). But Isaiah continues, “He will strike the earth with the rod of His mouth; with the breath of his lips he will slay the wicked” (v4). This is clearly a future event. It will happen on the Day of Judgment.
Unraveling the desolation
It is characteristic of Bible prophecy that two or more events are merged together. It’s rather like looking at a hologram, where two images are superimposed on each other. One moment you are looking at one image, the next you are looking at the other.
This is what is happening here in v14, where Jesus speaks about “the abomination that causes desolation.” The prophet Daniel spoke about a king whose armed forces would desecrate the temple and abolish the daily sacrifice. “They will set up the abomination that causes desolation” (Daniel 11:31).
This had already happened once before the time of Jesus. More than 150 years before the birth of Christ, Antiochus Epiphanies erected a pagan altar in the temple.
Jesus says to his disciples “when you see the abomination that makes desolate,” He indicates that the desolation Daniel spoke of would happen again in the disciples’ lifetime. And it did when the Roman armies, with the image of the emperor on their standards, marched into the temple and destroyed it completely.
The desecration in AD 70 points forward to another time, still to come, when Paul says the man of lawlessness (the antichrist) will “set himself up in God’s temple, proclaiming himself to be God” (2 Thessalonians 2:4).
Days of unequalled distress
Those will be days of distress unequalled from the beginning, when God created the world until now—and never to be equaled again. (v19)
We need to feel the weight of this. In our own congregation there are different opinions about where Christians will be during this time. Some think Christians will endure these days of distress. Others believe that the Lord will take us home midway through these days. But many of us believe that the church will be taken into the presence of Jesus before this happens.
It’s easy for us to think “Well, we don’t need to worry about this, because we’ll be gone.” How self-centered is this? Last week we heard the words of Jesus about loving your neighbor as you love yourself!
If God allowed these days to continue, “no one would survive” (v20). But for the sake of His own people, Christ steps in and shakes the heavens: “In those days, following that distress, ‘the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light; the stars will fall from the sky and the heavenly bodies will be shaken’” (v24, 25).
If the sun is darkened, the moon no longer reflects its light. The stars that are held in their orbits by the gravitational pull of the sun start to shoot off in different directions—the whole solar system shakes!
Days of unequalled joy
At that time, men will see the Son of Man coming in the clouds with great power and glory. (v26)
The days of unequaled distress are shortened, and they give way to the joy of seeing Christ, as He gathers His people to himself: “He will send his angels and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of the heavens” (v27).
Christians disagree about where we will be in this great gathering. Some think that we will be among those who are gathered with the Lord from heaven because we have already been taken into his presence. Others believe we will be gathered to the Lord from across the earth where we have continued to witness and serve. Whichever is right, we can be sure of this: all of Christ’s redeemed people will participate in this great event. It will be a day of overwhelming, glorious joy!
Looking even further into the future, we will share in the unimaginable joys of a new heavens and a new earth. Notice our Lord says, “Heaven and earth will pass away” (v31). The book of Hebrews gives us a picture of this passing: “The heavens are the work of your hands. They will perish but you will remain. They will all wear out like a garment. You will roll them up like a robe” (1:10-13).
God says that this earth, which seems so enduring and substantial, is just like a flimsy robe. The day will come when God will roll it up, and the world as we know it will be no more. “Heaven and earth will pass away but my words will never pass away” (v31). You can trust the words of Jesus more than the ground that you walk on.
Then God will create a new heaven and a new earth that will be “the home of righteousness” (2 Peter 3:13). The reason you need to become a new creation through Christ now is so that you will be able to live in the new creation with Christ then. Christ came to give you the kind of righteousness you need to enter “the home of righteousness.”
When Jesus says that he “came to seek and to save what was lost” (Mark 10:45), that means that there is something that we need saving from, and that there is something we need saving for. Christ came to save you from the judgment of the old creation, and He came to save you for life in the new creation.
When he died on the cross, the sun was darkened. He died in your place, bearing your judgment. Then He rose again in the power of a new life, and He offers His new life to you today.
Jesus Speaks To How We Should Live Today
Be on guard! Be alert! You do not know when that time will come. (v30)
Set realistic expectations. Until the coming of the Lord, we are to expect widespread deception, international conflict, natural disasters, and religious persecution. And in the middle of this, we are to proclaim the gospel to all nations.
Be confident in the sufficiency of the Spirit. If you are facing a situation for which you could not have prepared, the Lord is with you. He is all that you need. He will stand beside you, and He will show you what to do.
Pursue wholehearted obedience. If you knew the time of Christ’s coming you would face up to temptation and fight it more vigorously. You would brace yourself in suffering and endure it more joyfully. You would examine your own life and confess your sins more frequently. You would witness, love and serve more urgently. And you would give yourself to the Lord more freely and completely.
You would go into school or work tomorrow saying “Everything around me is passing away, so my obedience and faithfulness to Christ matters more than anything else that happens today.” Now that’s how we are to live!
Rejoice in Christ’s ultimate triumph: “He who stands firm to the end will be saved” (v13). You know the end of the story. You don’t know how everything will unfold, but you do know how it will end. Evil will be overthrown. Christ will be exalted. Christ’s people will be gathered together. The whole creation will be liberated from its bondage to decay. And we will see His face.
 Statistics taken from https://www.wholesomewords.org/missions/greatc.html#birdatrate
 William Hendriksen, Mark, p.526
© Colin S. Smith
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