What is going to happen to our country?
One of the looming questions on the minds of Americans right now is: “What is going to happen to our country?” If Trump gets another term what will happen? If Biden gets in, what will happen?
But the question still seems a bit more existential. It still seems to have us wondering where this country is ultimately headed. People who’ve lived long are saying they’ve never seen it like this before. It’s a new America from what they’ve known in the past. If America moved from what it was, then here’s the thing: it is moving! It’s not staying still. Where is it moving to? Where are we headed? What is going to happen to America?
Perhaps the uncertainty and even insecurity we might feel in today’s America is how the disciples felt in Mark chapter 13, “What is going to happen, Jesus?” Jesus’ answer isn’t for the faint of heart. Or maybe it is. Maybe the faint of heart need chapter 13 to become strong. Maybe its more than coincidence I arrive at Mark 13 merely days away from what many are saying is the most important election we’ve ever had. Perhaps this chapter becomes most important as a result of our own time.
I say that because for us Christians, the pulse of our life is an expectation of what’s coming -Jesus coming back. It affects your attitude; it affects how you face temptation, it affects how you go through trials, it affects how you face persecution, it affects how you prioritize your life. Expecting Jesus to come back is foundational to our worldview.
Today we begin chapter 13 of Mark’s Gospel, where Jesus powerfully describes the events surrounding His return to earth. It is the longest recorded teaching of Jesus in Mark’s Gospel. Remember this is an action Gospel, focusing on events more than speeches. There are 3 famous teachings that Jesus gave recorded in the Gospels: the Sermon on the Mount (“blessed are those…”), the Upper Room Discourse (washing the disciple’s feet), and this one here, the Olivet Discourse. It is called the Olivet Discourse because He was sitting with His disciples on the Mount of Olives when He taught these things. The Olivet Discourse is found in the 3 Synoptic Gospels (Matt., Mark and Luke).
What prompted Jesus to give this lesson? Well, his disciples asked him several questions. Many times the teachings of Jesus come as responses to questions: thank God for those who asked questions!
The way it happened was like this: leaving the Temple area the disciples tugged on Jesus’ robe and pointed out how beautiful the Temple was. And beautiful it was indeed. This was the 2nd Temple, built originally by the Jewish exiles who returned from Babylonian captivity. The 1st Temple was Solomon’s Temple, destroyed by the Babylonians when they swept through and took the Jews off the land into captivity (foretold for centuries by God through the prophets).
But when Herod the Great ascended to power shortly before Jesus’ birth, he thought the temple was too modest for his ego. He decided to upgrade the Temple. MacArthur says,
“The building was awe-inspiring by any standards, but to a group of common men from rural Galilee it must have been a breathtaking marvel. They could not conceive how such an enormous structure could have been built or decorated so magnificently. The Roman historian reported that it was a place of immense wealth, and the Babylonian Talmud said, ‘He that never saw the temple of Herod never saw a fine building.’ Some of the stones measured 40 feet by 12 feet by 12 feet and weighed up to a hundred tons, quarried as a single piece and transported many miles to the building site.” (Mt. 24-28, pg 8)
We know how they felt because we feel the same way about our places of worship today. We want them to be nice buildings, attractive, impressive, inspiring. That can be a problem if it leads to materialistic attitudes, like the Laodicean church. By that I mean if a great building is the only thing we’ve got going for us religiously and it really only serves to give a false impression of great spirituality then we’re hypocrites.
However, we can aim for beauty, greatness, and inspiration in our buildings when they come out of our being inspired by how great God is. If we are struck with how awe-inspiring God is, we will be like David in the OT, and desire to build something for God more worthy of Him. So a building can be a statement about our God – our God we know and revere. Furthermore, if we believe our mission as the Church is the most important thing happening on the planet, and we have a high opinion of what we’re all about, then a building can be a statement about the grandness of what we’re doing as well. We might even see it as an extension of man’s role in the Garden, when he was charged with cultivating its beauty and productivity.
Application: On the one hand, let us make our property beautiful because we know God is divinely beautiful and we want to build beautiful things for Him. On the other hand, let us take care never to think that a beautiful building makes us spiritually beautiful.
And here is where I think we come to understand Jesus’ reaction. To be blunt: He is unimpressed. He doesn’t share the same enthusiasm for the Temple’s magnificence as His disciples. As a matter of fact, He says the building is going to be destroyed. Which shocked the disciples. You know they were shocked because they were near the Temple when He said that, but, they didn’t ask Him anything about it until they were on the Mount of Olives a little while later. It’s those questions they ask that launch what has become famously known as His Olivet Discourse.
I was thinking a little more about this “setup”: their awe over the Temple and Jesus’ indifference. There’s more here. Jesus wasn’t just speaking about its destruction in the future because He was aware of it, He knew it was going to happen because He was going to bring it about. He is the God they rejected. They were religious hypocrites, they worshipped God with their lips but their hearts were far from Him. Jesus said “I know you, I know that you do not have the love of God in your hearts.” They were not going to be allowed to worship in God’s house any longer since it was not God they worshipped.
Moreover, their whole religion was nothing more than man-made. They had created their own religion with their own man-made rules, traditions and regulations. Their man-made scheme trumped God’s commands in their day-to-day living. The religion and the religious Temple where they practiced religion was all made by man for man. They had built a superstructure without God. I think of Psalm 127:1, “Unless the LORD builds the house, its laborers labor in vain.” All that religious work, that beautiful temple, counts for nothing. The only thing God thinks its good for is destruction.
Another thing i thought of was this: its not the material building that God is focused on, its the spiritual building. It’s not the massive stones in the wall of the Temple, it’s the new spiritual temple built out of spiritual stones. Turn to 1 Peter 2 with me and let’s read verses 4-8. Jesus is the Living Stone capitalized, we are living stones lower case. He is the cornerstone and the capstone – which is to say He is the first and the last stone in the building. I’m reminded of Jesus as the Alpha & Omega, the Beginning & the End, the First & the Last. But there’s more: He is the rejected stone and the stone that causes stumbling. In rejecting Him they stumble over Him and fall – into condemnation. On Him, God is building something new, and each of us, as we come to Him, become stones who are added to this new building.
Turn with me to Ephesians 2:20-22. The Temple of Herod, aka the 2nd Temple, did not impress Jesus because the religion of that Temple did not impress Him. Jesus came to build a new Temple, a new House of God, a spiritual building made of believers who have come to Him and trust in Him. Those who put their faith in Him are the ones who impress Him. And while Herod’s Temple would be burned to the ground in only 40 more years, the Church Jesus came to build will stand forever, because He Himself builds it and the gates of Hell will never prevail against it.
So, the disciples are shocked. Taken aback it takes them the mile to the Mount of Olives to gather their thoughts. Once they arrive they ask Him their questions. Combining this moment from Matthew, Mark and Luke they ask Him the following questions:
“When will this happen?”
(“This” refers to the destruction of the Temple Jesus foretold)
“What will be the sign they are all about to be fulfilled?
(Again, the destruction of the Temple)
“What will be the sign of your coming and the end of the age?”
They wanted to know when will the destruction of the Temple occur? What kind of sign will tell them that its destruction is going to happen? But notice too that according to Matthew they ask about Jesus’ coming and the end of the age. It seems that in their end times views they understood all three to be closely related: the destruction of the Jewish Temple, the end of the age, and Jesus’ coming back.
Now Jesus gives them a lengthy answer, what we call His Olivet Discourse.
He tells them there will be wars and disease and famine. There will be persecutions, betrayal by friends and family, the love of most will grow cold because of the exceeding wickedness everywhere, the abomination that causes desolation, the fleeing of Jews from Jerusalem to nations around the world, the killing and imprisoning of Jews on the run, the appearing of the Son of Man from heaven, the sun goes dark, the stars fall from the sky, the gathering of the elect and more. And throughout this whole discourse Jesus keeps telling them not to be deceived. As a matter of fact His first sentence and last sentence are warnings to be alert for deception.
This Is For Israel, Not The Church
Now you might read this chapter, or the parallel ones in Matthew 24 or Luke 21, or you might read Revelation 6-18 and think “Am I going to go through the earthquakes? Am I going to go to war for my country with all those wars going on? Am I going to be arrested, imprisoned, and beaten? Are my parents, kids and spouse and siblings going to turn me in to the authorities? Am I going to witness the rise of the antichrist? Am I going to have to flee to the hills? Will I face soldiers trying to kill me as I flee? Will I be taken prisoner by armies of foreign nations?
The thing to keep in mind is that Jesus is speaking to Israel, not the Church. There’s a difference. God has a plan for the Israelites and He has a plan for the Church. We do not accept the teaching that the Church has replaced Israel in God’s plans. We understand from the Scriptures that God’s plans for Israel have been on pause since He began the Church 2,000 years ago. When God’s plans for the Church conclude with the Rapture, then God will resume His plans with Israel. Those plans include a 7 year time period known as the Tribulation. That period begins with Israel signing a covenant with the Antichrist and concluding with the glorious and powerful appearing of Jesus Christ from Heaven. During that 7 year period the earth will experience the most catastrophic events ever in history, and to use Jesus’ words,
those will be days of distress unequaled from the beginning and never to be equaled again.” (Mk 13:19)
All that chaos and catastrophe, Jesus says, are the “beginning of birth pains” (Mt. 24:8) Well if there are birth pains, then what is being “birthed”? The globally-visible coming of Jesus to the earth. Everything is leading up to that:
- The most extreme Deception is the pain leading to the “birth” of the True One from heaven.
- The most extreme Wickedness and evil is the pain leading up to the “birth” of the Righteous One from heaven.
- The most extreme persecution of the saints is the pain leading up to the birth of their Deliverance from Heaven.
- The most extreme chaos is the pain leading up to the birth of Peace from heaven.
I would say that the chaos of the Tribulation is the end stage development of the consequences from the Fall. What I mean by that is that the Fall in the beginning of human history was the beginning of sin in the world, but, at the end of human history the Tribulation is sin “fully grown”. The Tribulation is when sin has fully matured in history – it is all grown up and nasty. Everything God created in Genesis 1-2 fell under the curse from Genesis 3. Therefore everything is corrupted by sin. And in the Tribulation we’ll see the full effect of that corruption on everything. Every aspect of life will experience the full degree of corruption of sin:
- Earth. The earth was subjected to the curse because of sin. It, you can say, has been in revolt against man who has dominion over the earth, but, who revolted against God. The earth frustrates man’s existence: producing thorns and thistles. But the fullness of the the curse’s effect on earth will be in the Tribulation: it will convulse with frequent and severe earthquakes, famines, pestilence, stars falling, sun darkening, etc.)
- Family is God’s design from the very beginning. Yet sin entered with the Fall and has worked against family ever since. Jesus says a man’s enemies will be the members of his own household, and, family members will betray each other to the authorities.
- Animals were created beneath humans, and we are to rule over them. When the Fall happened alienation happened between us and animals. In the 1,000 year kingdom a baby will play with cobras Isaiah says, and wolves and lions will play with kids. But immediately before that time in the Tribulation we read things in Revelation where wild animals will help to kill a fourth of the earth’s population (6:8)
- Political upheaval will be at its worst in the Tribulation. Government is God’s design and man is to govern. Yet this institution, like everything else has been corrupted by sin and will be most corrupt and evil during the Tribulation. Reading Daniel and Revelation you have no indication of any lasting peace between any nation.
Many themes are found in this section of the Gospels: persecution, the coming of Jesus, fulfilled prophecy stand out. Today we are going to look at one: Vigilence
#1: Be Vigilent – Do Not Be Distracted (5, 9, 23, 33, 35, 37)
In the previous verses we saw how Jesus watches. In these verses we are told to watch. Read verses…..
Do not be distracted. Watch out. Be on your guard. Keep watch. Be vigilent. These are standard NT instructions. Every Christian needs to be vigilant. Every Christian needs to discipline their life so that they are not distracted. What does that mean though? The idea of watching means you’re vigilant. Underlying that idea is the fact we don’t know when Jesus will return. There are signs, and we’re going to explore those, but, we don’t know precisely.
- We watch out for false teachers. (v 5, 22-23; 2 Pet. 3:17….watching out specifically for false teachers….)
- We watch for the coming of Jesus (Mk 13:32-37)
- We watch our lives. We are careful to live righteously (Rom 13:11-14; 1 Thess. 5:4-11….stay awake knowing Jesus is coming back, darkness and sleeping equated with sinful deeds whereas staying awake and clothing yourself with Christ means you’re actively waiting for His coming)
- We watch in prayer (Mk 14:38, staying awake means praying, sleeping has to do with giving in to the flesh and temptation)
- We are ready for anti-Christian hostility (Mk 13:9)
Dont be like Sleepy Sardis. You remember the church Jesus spoke to in Revelation 3. He told them they needed to wake up! Sardis was known to be an impenetrable city. There was a sating, “To Sieze Sardis!” which meant to do the impossible. But twice in its history Sardis was captured. How? The watchmen didnt watch.
Charles Wesley, brother of John Wesley, wrote a hymn called Lo He Comes. The last stanza says:
Yay Amen, let all adore Thee
High upon thine eternal throne
Savior Take the Power and glory,
claim the Kingdom for thine own,
O Come Quickly, O come quickly, O come quickly,
Allelujah, Come Lord Come!
Waiting, counting days gone by,
Upward, eyes watching cloudy gates;
Looking, longing, each word nigh,
‘Til faith to sight His glory makes!
That’s why we say “Maranatha!” It means “Come Lord!”