July 6 – What Does the Future Look Like? – (Mark 13)

Today’s devotions will be a little longer. Chapter 13 is Jesus’ description of what will happen in the future. It’s not a passage that is easy to break apart in sections, so here we go:

Mark 13: 1 – 37 NLT – Jesus Speaks about the Future

13 As Jesus was leaving the Temple that day, one of his disciples said, “Teacher, look at these magnificent buildings! Look at the impressive stones in the walls.”

2 Jesus replied, “Yes, look at these great buildings. But they will be completely demolished. Not one stone will be left on top of another!”

Steve Wilmhurst in his commentary, A Ransom for Many, tells us information about the Temple in Jesus’ day:

“Jesus and the Twelve are leaving the Temple and as they look around, they are struck once more by the magnificence of the buildings (v.1). We know from the eye-witness accounts that this is a stunning building. It dominates the whole city; it’s covered with marble and gold; it’s one of the wonders of the world. Herod the Great used the top Roman engineers; archaeologists today have confirmed the quality of Herodian building, wherever it is found. From Josephus we know that the standard size of the stones in the Temple walls was over ten metres long and five metres wide. The Jews may detest the Herods, but they are fiercely proud of their Temple. This is an impressive building – and now one of the disciples invites Jesus to join him in admiration. Jesus’ reply is hardly encouraging (v.2). Not surprisingly, the disciples are speechless. Not until they reach the slopes of the Mount of Olives, on their way out of town for the night, do four of them pluck up the courage to ask Jesus what on earth he is talking about. As they sit there, just across the Kidron Valley from the city, they have a breathtaking view of the Temple; and as the sun sets, glinting off its towers and pinnacles, they put their question (vv.3-4). In what follows, we need to understand that for the disciples, if the Temple is destroyed in this way, that can only mean that their whole nation is destroyed; and if their nation is destroyed, that must mean that God is coming in judgement, with what the prophets called ‘the day of the Lord’, the end of the age. Their question embraces not just a building, but the fate of the whole world. By now they have learned to take Jesus’ words very seriously. They no longer have any doubt that if Jesus says it, it will happen.”

“3 Later, Jesus sat on the Mount of Olives across the valley from the Temple. Peter, James, John, and Andrew came to him privately and asked him, 4 “Tell us, when will all this happen? What sign will show us that these things are about to be fulfilled?”

5 Jesus replied, “Don’t let anyone mislead you, 6 for many will come in my name, claiming, ‘I am the Messiah.’ They will deceive many. 7 And you will hear of wars and threats of wars, but don’t panic. Yes, these things must take place, but the end won’t follow immediately. 8 Nation will go to war against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be earthquakes in many parts of the world, as well as famines. But this is only the first of the birth pains, with more to come.

9 “When these things begin to happen, watch out! You will be handed over to the local councils and beaten in the synagogues. You will stand trial before governors and kings because you are my followers. But this will be your opportunity to tell them about me. 10 For the Good News must first be preached to all nations. 11 But when you are arrested and stand trial, don’t worry in advance about what to say. Just say what God tells you at that time, for it is not you who will be speaking, but the Holy Spirit.

12 “A brother will betray his brother to death, a father will betray his own child, and children will rebel against their parents and cause them to be killed. 13 And everyone will hate you because you are my followers. But the one who endures to the end will be saved.

14 “The day is coming when you will see the sacrilegious object that causes desecration (See Daniel 9: 27; 11: 31) standing where he (or it) should not be.” (Reader, pay attention!) “Then those in Judea must flee to the hills. 15 A person out on the deck of a roof must not go down into the house to pack. 16 A person out in the field must not return even to get a coat. 17 How terrible it will be for pregnant women and for nursing mothers in those days. 18 And pray that your flight will not be in winter. 19 For there will be greater anguish in those days than at any time since God created the world. And it will never be so great again. 20 In fact, unless the Lord shortens that time of calamity, not a single person will survive. But for the sake of his chosen ones he has shortened those days.

21 “Then if anyone tells you, ‘Look, here is the Messiah,’ or ‘There he is,’ don’t believe it. 22 For false messiahs and false prophets will rise up and perform signs and wonders so as to deceive, if possible, even God’s chosen ones. 23 Watch out! I have warned you about this ahead of time!”

These verses are talking about the difficulties we will face in the future. Being a Christ follower won’t be easy at all. They also include information about the destruction of the Temple in the following 100 years after Jesus’ ascension. At the end of the devotions today, I’ve included some paragraphs from A Ransom for Many that describe the historical events that destroyed the Temple. However, we can also find warnings for us today in those verses. They are not just applicable to that point in history. Let’s reread some of those verses.

“5 Jesus replied, “Don’t let anyone mislead you, 6 for many will come in my name, claiming, ‘I am the Messiah.’ They will deceive many. 7 And you will hear of wars and threats of wars, but don’t panic. Yes, these things must take place, but the end won’t follow immediately. 8 Nation will go to war against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be earthquakes in many parts of the world, as well as famines. But this is only the first of the birth pains, with more to come.

9 “When these things begin to happen, watch out! You will be handed over to the local councils and beaten in the synagogues. You will stand trial before governors and kings because you are my followers. But this will be your opportunity to tell them about me. 10 For the Good News must first be preached to all nations. 11 But when you are arrested and stand trial, don’t worry in advance about what to say. Just say what God tells you at that time, for it is not you who will be speaking, but the Holy Spirit.

12 “A brother will betray his brother to death, a father will betray his own child, and children will rebel against their parents and cause them to be killed. 13 And everyone will hate you because you are my followers.”

Life is not going to be easy for humanity. History is going to include one disaster after another – wars, famines, earthquakes, imposters claiming they can solve the world’s problems. When we look back over history, we have to admit that is true. Right now, we are experiencing a world-wide pandemic. We are an imperfect, sinful people, and we live in a broken world. These crises won’t stop until Christ returns. In particular, Christians will be persecuted. Living in Canada, that is hard to comprehend, but all over the world, there are places where Christians are persecuted – especially in Muslim countries – but elsewhere as well. Even within families, a Christian can be treated badly by other family members who don’t agree with their faith.

But there is one thing we can know for sure. God is with us. The Holy Spirit will provide us with the appropriate words to say when we are harassed or persecuted. God wants us to continue to spread the Good News wherever we are. We will not be alone, nor do we need to be afraid.

These next verses talk about the day when Jesus returns:

“24 “At that time, after the anguish of those days,
the sun will be darkened,
the moon will give no light,
25 the stars will fall from the sky,
and the powers in the heavens will be shaken. (Isaiah 13: 10; 34: 4)

26 Then everyone will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds with great power and glory. (Daniel 7: 13) 27 And he will send out his angels to gather his chosen ones from all over the world – from the farthest ends of the earth and heaven.

28 “Now learn a lesson from the fig tree. When its branches bud and its leaves begin to sprout, you know that summer is near. 29 In the same way, when you see all these things taking place, you can know that his return is very near, right at the door. 30 I tell you the truth, this generation will not pass from the scene before all these things take place. 31 Heaven and earth will disappear, but my words will never disappear.

32 “However, no one knows the day or hour when these things will happen, not even the angels in heaven or the Son himself. Only the Father knows. 33 And since you don’t know when that time will come, be on guard! Stay alert!

34 “The coming of the Son of Man can be illustrated by the story of a man going on a long trip. When he left home, he gave each of his slaves instructions about the work they were to do, and he told the gatekeeper to watch for his return. 35 You, too, must keep watch! For you don’t know when the master of the household will return—in the evening, at midnight, before dawn, or at daybreak. 36 Don’t let him find you sleeping when he arrives without warning. 37 I say to you what I say to everyone: Watch for him!”

Jesus’ second coming won’t be anything like his first visit to earth. Back then he was born in a stable to young, poor parents. He was raised in a small village where he learned to be a carpenter, and then he lived a nomadic life in poverty as he ministered to Israel. His human life ended in a crucifixion, and then he was raised from the dead and returned to heaven. The second time he comes will be very, very different.

“24 “At that time, after the anguish of those days,
the sun will be darkened,
the moon will give no light,
25 the stars will fall from the sky,
and the powers in the heavens will be shaken. (Isaiah 13: 10; 34: 4)

26 Then everyone will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds with great power and glory. (Daniel 7: 13) 27 And he will send out his angels to gather his chosen ones from all over the world – from the farthest ends of the earth and heaven.”

This will be seen and recognized world-wide. It will be a catastrophic event. No one will not know that Christ is coming. No sun, no moon, falling stars, the heavens will be shaking. Jesus will have a majestic appearance – “coming on the clouds with great power and glory”. “Heaven and earth will disappear, but my words will never disappear.” (v. 31) This is certain to happen.

Knowing this will happen, but not telling us when, leaves us with some warnings by Jesus. “And since you don’t know when that time will come, be on guard! Stay alert!” (v. 33) Once again, Jesus challenges me and you with these words. He gives the example of a property owner going on a long trip and leaving the care of his place with many servants. That example is you and me here on earth waiting for Jesus’ second coming, with these instructions – “For the Good News must first be preached to all nations.” (v. 10)

In 2020, it’s so easy to be consumed with all kinds of things that really aren’t bad things – health and fitness, jobs, family, home décor, vacations, etc. We can go to church regularly and volunteer in various capacities, but … where do my priorities lie? Personally, I find these questions hard. I am committed to Jesus, but in my comfortable Canadian home and culture, am I doing what God really wants from me? If Jesus came today, would I regret the way I’ve lived my life? Would I wish I had done more for him? Each one of us should stop and think about that – me included.

Here is the historical explanation of how the Temple was destroyed and violated from Steve Wilmhurst’s book, A Ransom for Many:

“We begin with the warning in v.14. Frankly, this sounds highly mysterious! In fact, Mark is being deliberately obscure, probably for security reasons – that’s why he adds this phrase ‘let the reader understand’. The ‘abomination that causes desolation’ is a reference to the prophet Daniel – specifically Dan 9:27, 11:31 and 12:11 – where God warns Daniel about an invader who will commit an outrage in the Temple, desecrating the sanctuary. That prophecy was fulfilled by a Hitler-like tyrant, an evil madman named Antiochus Epiphanes around 167 BC. He built an altar to the god Zeus in the Temple sanctuary and sacrificed pigs on it. Jesus’ point is that that desecration, that abomination, is going to happen again, only this time it will be even worse. When you see it happen, then get out of town! Run for the hills. Vv.15-23 expand on that warning – stop for nothing, don’t even go home to get your stuff. It will be worse still for pregnant or nursing mothers; it will be worse if it’s winter because the roads will be impassable: pray it doesn’t happen then! Terrible times are coming – so bad that if they continued for very long, death would come to everyone in the land – but even in those terrible times, Jesus says, God is still in control (v.20). He will make sure that he protects his people. The Church will survive the disaster. There will be people out to distract you, false leaders trying to lead you astray (v.22), but don’t be put off. Don’t lose sight of me and what I have told you. I have warned you: be ready, be on guard (v.23). This is the first great crisis.

History tells us that all this came to pass in the years 66 to 70 AD, within 40 years of Jesus speaking these words. The Jews rebelled against Rome. For a while it even looked as if they might prevail. But then the Romans hit back; and meanwhile the Jewish factions began to fight one another. The party called the Zealots took over the Temple and as the Roman legions approached the city, and the threat of destruction grew nearer and nearer, they permitted all sorts of outrages within the Temple precincts. They allowed criminals to wander into the Holy of Holies; there was murder in the Temple Courts; finally they enthroned a clown as High Priest The enthronement by the Zealots of the clown named Phanni as High Priest is recorded by Josephus in his Jewish War.. Perhaps that is the specific event that Jesus refers to in v.14. We can’t be sure. History also tells us that many people saw the disaster that was looming and fled the city while they had the chance. The Church in Jerusalem remembered Jesus’ warning and fled to the hills, to Pella across the Jordan; and they were kept safe. Meanwhile, the Romans arrived. They laid siege to Jerusalem; and in that siege the most appalling events took place. Hunger stalked the city. There’s an account of a mother who killed, roasted and ate her own child. The defenders fought among themselves. Finally, with the Temple in flames, the Romans broke in to the city. The priests continued the routine of sacrifice until the last possible moment when the sanctuary was destroyed. The remaining defenders were slaughtered; and then at the command of the new emperor Titus, the magnificent Temple was levelled to the ground, never to rise again. The generation that rejected the Lord Jesus was judged. The old regime of priesthood and sacrifice was gone for good, fulfilled in the ultimate sacrifice of Jesus himself. Jesus says, I have told you everything ahead of time (v.23). His word can be trusted. We have the proof.”

Steve Wilmhurst, A Ransom for Many: the Gospel of Mark Simply Explained, Welwyn Commentary Series, Evangelical Press, 2011 – Chapter 20

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