In the movie The Agony and the Ecstasy, we see the story of Michaelangelo painting the Sistine Chapel. As the painting drags on, the Pope asks Michaelangelo repeatedly: “When will there be an end?” Michaelangelo replies each time, “When I am finished.” A lot of us would love to ask God the same question: “Lord, when will there be an end?” I have no doubt that God’s reply would be the same: “When I am finished.” In the first half of Mark 13 Jesus deals with that question from His disciples, and His answer is much the same, “When it’s time.” He does emphasize the need to continue living for God until the end comes.
1. And as he went out of the temple, one of his disciples saith unto him, Master, see what manner of stones and what buildings are here! 2. And Jesus answering said unto him, Seest thou these great buildings? there shall not be left one stone upon another, that shall not be thrown down.
We tend to be impressed with magnificence in buildings – Well, that and cars. The disciples were no different. As they walked outside of the Temple, one of them looked back and said, in effect, “Wow! Look at this magnificent building! Have you ever seen anything greater?” Every time I read that exclamation, all I can think of is refrigerator art. Refrigerator art is what you get when your child scribbles something on paper and says, “Look mommy! (or daddy) I drawed this for you!” And, the proud parent immediately puts it on the refrigerator, praising the child for such good work. Compared to the magnificence and beauty of heaven, anything we think great and beautiful on earth is but refrigerator art to God. Jesus responded by noting that as wonderful as this building was, it was temporary. These buildings would be destroyed. It’s amazing that most of the things that impress us are temporary – are refrigerator art. Look at any great building, any great man made thing, and realize that it too will eventually be destroyed. The only things that will last relate to our relationship with God.
3. And as he sat upon the mount of Olives over against the temple, Peter and James and John and Andrew asked him privately, 4. Tell us, when shall these things be? and what shall be the sign when all these things shall be fulfilled?
The only other things that draw our interest to such a great degree are questions about the end times. When are they coming? How will it happen? What will happen to me? So, Peter, James, John, and Andrew talked to Jesus privately and asked for the inside scoop. They wanted to know when it would happen, and if they couldn’t get an exact date, they wanted to know what sign would warn them that the end was coming. We want to know when it will happen and even today, we search the Scriptures to see if we can figure out God’s plan. You can find books, video series, and lectures on when the end will come. We have people predicting dates, and, because people make those predictions, the world and the Christians go crazy over the imminent Second Coming of Christ. We long for the temporary to disappear and the new heavens and the new earth to appear. I can safely say that I’ve lived through more than twenty predicted raptures. If my faith had been in the predictions of men, I’d be disappointed. What we need to do is trust that God has a plan and that He’s working that plan. So let me ask a question: How would you live if you knew that Jesus Christ was returning next week? (No, that isn’t a prediction.) Assuming that maxing out credit cards isn’t one of your options, let me ask another question: Why aren’t you living that way now?
5. And Jesus answering them began to say, Take heed lest any man deceive you: 6. For many shall come in my name, saying, I am Christ; and shall deceive many. 7. And when ye shall hear of wars and rumours of wars, be ye not troubled: for such things must needs be; but the end shall not be yet. 8. For nation shall rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom: and there shall be earthquakes in divers places, and there shall be famines and troubles: these are the beginnings of sorrows.
We all need to keep these words in mind: “Take heed lest any many deceive you.” While Jesus was applying this to the questions about the end of times, it’s a reminder that we should seek God’s guidance in all we do. In this specific instance, though, Jesus was talking about those who would claim to be the second coming of Christ. The problem for most Christians is that we earnestly desire for Jesus to come back as the conquering hero who will wipe out evil and injustice. We know we should be more careful, but if someone comes around and seems to be making progress in doing that, we’re eager to accept them at their word. We see signs that would seem to indicate that our need for God to come in and take over is so great that we’re sure the end of the world is coming: wars, rumors of wars, nation against nation, kingdom against kingdom, natural disasters, and even man made disasters will make us ready to accept anyone whose teaching gives us hope that this will all soon be over. In the words of Jesus, it’s only the beginning of the troubles we’ll see.
9. But take heed to yourselves: for they shall deliver you up to councils; and in the synagogues ye shall be beaten: and ye shall be brought before rulers and kings for my sake, for a testimony against them. 10. And the gospel must first be published among all nations. 11. But when they shall lead you, and deliver you up, take no thought beforehand what ye shall speak, neither do ye premeditate: but whatsoever shall be given you in that hour, that speak ye: for it is not ye that speak, but the Holy Ghost.
As Jesus continued this teaching, He made it personal. He let them know to expect persecution. They would be delivered to authorities who would beat them and abuse them. They’d be called before rulers and kings because of their testimony about Jesus – and their testimony about Jesus in front of them would make them confront the evil they would be doing by working against God. The message of Jesus Christ, the gospel MUST be published among all the nations. All people need to hear. Sometimes, though, we get so caught up in saying the right things just the right way that we forget the most important part of our message: the leadership of the Holy Spirit. Rather than spending time learning just the right words, perhaps we should spend more time focusing on our relationship with God and allowing the Holy Spirit to work in us and through us. Be willing to speak out as God gives you guidance through the Holy Spirit.
12 Now the brother shall betray the brother to death, and the father the son; and children shall rise up against their parents, and shall cause them to be put to death. 13. And ye shall be hated of all men for my name’s sake: but he that shall endure unto the end, the same shall be saved.
Things were going to be so bad for those committed to following Jesus that families would be at war with each other over the gospel. Family members who rejected Christ would seek to harm their family members or turn them over to the authorities. We see this happening in some parts of the world today as people who turn to Christ are then persecuted, attacked, turned over to authorities, and even killed for following Jesus. There are people who will hate you for following Jesus. Don’t be dissuaded. Perseverance has amazing rewards for those who endure to the end shall be saved. We’re more likely to live to the end of our lives than to have the end of times cut our lives short. Our commitment, then, should be to live for God no matter what and to keep on living for Christ until the end of our natural lives. Our salvation is multi-faceted: we’re protected from the evil of this world, we needn’t worry about what others will do for us, we’re forgiven of sin, and we maintain an amazing relationship with God. What else could you want? (And if you think I missed something, please feel free to add it in comments.)
14 But when ye shall see the abomination of desolation, spoken of by Daniel the prophet, standing where it ought not, (let him that readeth understand,) then let them that be in Judaea flee to the mountains: 15. And let him that is on the housetop not go down into the house, neither enter therein, to take any thing out of his house: 16. And let him that is in the field not turn back again for to take up his garment. 17. But woe to them that are with child, and to them that give suck in those days! 18. And pray ye that your flight be not in the winter.
Jesus warned the people that there was a time to run, and that time would be when they see the abomination of desolation mentioned by Daniel. OK, logical point here. As Jesus is teaching, He’s not just talking about the end of times. If the whole world is going to be destroyed, then what would be the use of running? I believe that Jesus foretold the destruction of Jerusalem that would happen in AD 70. During this time, the Temple itself would be destroyed and the pagan Romans would go through the Temple area. I believe this alone is enough to qualify to be the abomination of desolation. If the Romans sacrificed to their deities as well, that would intensify the abomination. Jesus warned people to run. During the siege of Jerusalem, many Jews did run to Masada, a fortress in the mountains. The exodus from Jerusalem was to be immediate, without giving thought to material possessions – even those for comfort. Those women who were expecting children or still nursing would endure extra hardships. Jesus told them to pray that this wouldn’t happen during the winter. I believe that the hardships of winter would cause more difficulties for the people and thus, they should pray that they have time to prepare after their flight to safety. In spite of all these warnings, and a successful flight from Jerusalem to Masada, history tells us that the end of Masada and any hopes of rebellion against Roman overlords ended tragically.
The message for us is still clear: stay true to the teaching of the gospel. Don’t get so attached to material things that you miss the spiritual joys of walking with Jesus. Trust God in the most difficult of circumstances.