Mark chapter 13 is traditionally titled "The Little Apocalypse." Although often treated as a separate entity, it serves as the conclusion of Jesus' Temple ministry recorded in chapters 11 and 12. Having exposed Israel's hypocrisy, Jesus abandons the temple in fulfilment of Ezekiel 10:18-19, 11:22-23, and moves to the Mount of Olives where he answers the disciples' question concerning the preliminary signs that will usher in the end of the old order of things. In our passage for study we learn that the days before "the end" will demand endurance.
v1-2. Jesus' leaves the temple for the last time, but a disciple's comment about the magnificence of the building, prompts a prophetic word to the crowd. The day is coming when the temple will be completely destroyed.
v3-4. Alone with his disciples on the Mount of Olives, Jesus is asked what sign will warn of the coming day when the temple is about to be destroyed.
v5-6. Jesus now sets out to describe a number of "signs" which are not actually signs. The first non-sign will be the emergence of messianic leaders who will claim to act with the authority of Christ. They will appear in the interim leading up to the destruction of the temple. Disciples must be discerning and so not be deceived by them. Their presence is not a sign of the end.
v7-8. The second non-sign is wars, famine and natural calamities. These are but a foretaste of the coming terrible day, but are not a sign of its nearness. When they occur, disciples should not jump to hasty conclusions.
v9. The third non-sign is persecution. At a personal level, the disciples can expect that their fellow Jews will persecute them during the interim before the end. As Jesus was "given over" to suffering, so will they. Not only will the disciples suffer at the hands of their own fellow Jews, they will find themselves defending their faith before secular magistrates.
v10. In the face of the troubled days before "the end", the disciples will need to sharpen their witness; they must proclaim the gospel from king to surf, throughout all nations.
v11. The disciples will also need to rely on the Holy Spirit to give them the words to say when they are forced to give account of their faith.
v12-13. Finally, the disciples must firmly face the days of trouble. Jesus points out that those who follow him will suffer as he suffered. Yet, the disciple who endures through the times of trouble will inevitably be vindicated. There is no guarantee that this hostility will be overcome, but it must be endured.
A prophet always speaks to their own generation, but their words also point to the future. When Jesus spoke with the disciples about the destruction of the temple, of the troubles leading up to that terrible day and of the signal that the terrible day is upon them, he was speaking to our generation as much as to theirs. We live in the interim between the ascension and Christ's return and in this interim we experience the same circumstances that Jesus promised his disciples all those years ago. We will experience false prophets, wars and rumors of wars, natural calamities and somewhere in the world, believers will experience persecution.
As Jesus said to his disciples, these circumstances, often horrific for those caught up in them, are but "the beginning of the birth pangs"; they are a taste of that terrible day in the future and so, in a sense, they prompt a faithful eye toward glory. Yet, terrible as the circumstances may be, they are not a sign that the day of Christ's return is at hand.
As for living in the interim, Jesus gave his disciples four pieces of advice:
First, the disciple must be discerning of their leaders, of their teachers and prophets. There will always be those who promote second-coming fever, claiming some special last-days divine imprimatur.
Second, rather than get distracted by the circumstances of life, the disciple needs to be focused on the business of evangelism. Moving the gospel out into the world is our top priority. What with modern communications, there has never been a time in human history when it was possible to communicate the gospel as effectively as it is today. Faced with the diversity of evangelistic programs, we need to sort through them and support those programs which effectively communicate the message of God's grace in Christ through the mass media.
Jesus' third piece of advice is particularly for those who face persecution. It was true of the early disciples, and is often true today, that the followers of Christ are not always this world's "beautiful" people. Does not the Lord call the foolish to confound the wise? We babes in Christ often get picked on. In the face of suffering, Jesus tells us to rely on the indwelling Spirit of Christ to find a word that gives account for the faith that is ours.
Finally, during this long interim, Jesus calls on us to endure. The difficulties of life and the hostilities we may face because of our faith, may not necessarily be overcome, we may not be victorious in the trouble, but the trouble must be endured. Our faith in Christ will be tested, but in all our doubts we must constantly hold onto our loving Lord.
1. What should we look for in a false teacher?
2. How would you spend a $5,000 budget for evangelism?
3. You have been asked to preach a sermon at short notice. Will the Spirit give you the words to say?