What is going to happen before Jesus’ return? Jesus addressed that question in a prophecy in Mark, where he tells us to be alert. The United Methodist lectionary does not include verses 14-23 but many pastors do and also include other similarly excluded passages, so that over a three year period we can hear the whole counsel of Jesus.
Let us understand the bad end of this age leads to a good beginning for eternity.
We will look at a prophecy that predicted what would happen soon after the cross on up until the second coming and beyond.
A literal prophecy
The passage in Mark 13:1-13 prophesied the destruction of the temple and also looks forward to the second coming. Prior to his becoming Emperor, because of the fierceness of the Jewish revolt, Titus ordered Jerusalem and its temple to be demolished in 70 AD. The temple was built by Zerubbabel and Ezra. It was greatly expanded by Herod. However, just like many things dedicated to God, it had become an idol and God is in the habit of destroying idols. Some of the largest stones were 50 feet wide, 25 feet high, and 15 feet deep. They were cut, transported and placed with such precision that no mortar was needed. This prophecy was literally fulfilled, revealing to us that the rest of the prophecy is also to be taken literally. Before Jesus’ return other dramatic events will also occur.
Prophecy in the language of grief
In the language of grief Jesus prophesied about events to happen within 40 years of his death and at the end of this age (Mark 13:1-23). His first warning was against deception by those claiming to be a Messiah figure. The First Jewish-Roman War, also called the Great Revolt, occurred between 66-74 AD. It began with religious tensions, growing poverty and unemployment, high taxes and corruption in the Jewish government. Many came saying that they would save the people from Roman oppression. Thus began an anti-tax revolt which spread to guerrilla warfare and eventually full-scale war. The Jews suffered a disastrous defeat, a terrible tragedy. Jerusalem was destroyed in 70 and the last rebels were defeated at Masada in 74. We have similar issues today. Many rise up claiming to be saviors of the nation. There is only one Savior.
Be on guard
In Mark 13 a warning is repeated four times. Take heed! Be on guard! Watch out! (vs. 5, 9, 23, 33) Each time it is the same Greek word warning against deception, persecution and the neglect of prayer. In our comfortable western churches we sleep and slumber. We are a complacent community, doing our small bit for God on Sunday and little more. We get distracted by petty church politics and arguments over trivia, yet we must awake! There’s work to be done, our Father’s work! Spiritual warfare is all around us. The world is about to explode and we must get busy with the Lord’s work. Our job is not to worry about such things, which God in his wisdom will allow. Our job is to watch, pray, to be about our Father’s work and endure to the end.
A time to flee
Mark 13:1-14 prophesied a time to flee. Living in the modern democracies of the Anglosphere we cannot imagine a time when we might have to flee from our countries. Yet, those who remember the Nazi time in Europe can well imagine it. Jews were among the most severely persecuted at that time. Many saw the handwriting on the wall and fled to freedom leaving everything behind. Others ignored the danger and stayed. Many of them were never heard from again after they ended up in one of Hitler’s concentration camps and died in the Nazi’s terrible “final solution.” Times of persecution are not new. Christians live it today in North Korea, China, in parts of the Middle East and Africa. Will we ever experience it here? Jesus seems to indicate that it will become widespread before his second coming.
Warning for today
The “little apocalypse” of Mark 13 predicted the Temple’s destruction. It was a huge complex, five football fields long and three wide. The Temple was the center of national life for Israel. The marble was so white that from a distance it looked like snow. The gold was so magnificent that in the morning sun it was blinding. Yet this beautiful place also contained corruption that caused the nation distress. Part of Jesus’ early popularity was from his political criticisms of Temple leadership. When rebellion began in the 60’s one of the first things they did was to burn the Temple records of debt. There was no middle class, only the rich and the poor. Taxes on the poor were near 50% and tax debt was so high that foreclosure and unemployment were rampant. It’s a dire warning for today.
What is the church
The church is the assembly of people called out by God. The church is not the building that we rent or own. Jesus’ prophecy of the destruction of the Temple in Mark 13:1-23 is a lesson for us today that the building is not that important to God. When the Temple destroys people, it is no use. When the Temple is a center of corruption and bickering, it is no good any more. If a building stands in the way of God’s work, then it is no longer needed. Throughout the Bible the voice of the widow and the orphan cry out for justice. The poor and the alien shout for good news. A building serves no purpose if those voices are not heard. Buildings come and go, but the the assembly of the saints, and its purpose remain.
Jesus was always political, comparing the values of the kingdom of God to the hypocritical leadership of this world. His prophecy in Mark 13:1-23 contains two imperatives: don’t be led astray by false religion and don’t be disturbed by wars. Roman and Jewish politics stunk. The people were oppressed and sinking into poverty. The political-religious leadership misused the Temple. Times would become more and more politically uncomfortable for Christians. Several of those loyal to the kingdom of heaven would be brought to court on trumped up charges and beaten up. Some would even be executed. Political loyalties would divide families and Christians would have to flee their homelands without time to take possessions. All this is preliminary to the good news of Jesus’ coming, to take over the governments of this world and usher in the kingdom of God.
The end is a beginning
When we read bad-news passages like Mark 13:1-13 we may be tempted to think that it is the end of us. But it is not. It is the end of the bad news and the beginning of the good news. It is the prelude to the kingdom of God finally becoming reality on earth as it is in heaven. Often times when an enemy is about to lose, he goes all out in an insane last ditch effort to win, like Hitler’s Battle of the Bulge in World War 2. The enemy of humanity, Satan will also attack us in a last ditch effort. That is the biggest battle before Christ returns. His offensive will involve deception, wars and rumors of wars, earthquakes, famines, kangaroo courts, murder and betrayal. But that’s only the bad end before the good beginning.
Let us not be overly concerned about world events, but watch in prayer and look to God for salvation.