Mark 13

flooding in New Orleans A disaster of biblical proportions. The destruction of a city.

Fires breaking out. Destruction of property. Violence on the rise. People making a shelter out of what was once a symbolic building for the city. What started as their safe haven now becoming a place of death. Others flee the destruction only to be lost on the way. It sounds like New Orleans, but it is Jerusalem in 70 A.D.

destruction of Jerusalem in 70 A.D. A war began in Jerusalem in the year 66. Eliezar Ben-Hanaiah, led an assault on the Jewish garrison in Jerusalem. He suspended worship in the Temple. Other resistance movement began in the Northern regions led by other Jewish generals. Many of these claimed to be the Messiah. Civil war broke out among the Jews. Some joined the Zealots and the resistance. And those who did not were executed as traitors – included Jewish followers of Christ who refused to fight. Titus Flavius led the final assault and siege of Jerusalem. Zealots under Eleazar ben-Simon held the Temple, Sicarii led by Simon ben-Giora held the upper city. By the summer of 70 the Romans had breached the walls of Jerusalem, ransacking and burning nearly the entire city.

Forty years before the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem, Jesus warned his disciples that it would happen. Mark writes down the words of Jesus in the late 60’s less than five years before the destruction – during the events of the Jewish War with Rome. It was a time of high anxiety and fear.

That generation of Christians needed to hear the definitive word of Jesus about the end of days and God’s will. So do we.

Watch Out!
Jesus’ warning is not meant to give Christians or Jews a secret “script” for future events. In fact it is quite the opposite. Jesus is warning his disciples – in the 30’s, the 60’s, and on into the 21st century not to get distracted by speculations about the end of days.

Jesus indicates that there will be three kinds of events that are what he calls “birth pangs:”

  1. People will claim to come in the name of Christ. In the Jewish War, there were leaders who claimed to be the Messiah. There are many in our generation who claim that the Tsunami, the Hurricane, and events like 9/11 and the Gulf War are part of God’s countdown to the end of time. I reject this. Scripture shows that God always informs his people before he acts in a cataclysmic way. He informed Abraham before the destruction of Sodom, he informed Noah before the flood. God informed Jonah before his intended instruction of Ninevah. The purpose of informing his people is so they may warn the world. God has given the definitive word of his involvement in human history. He has revealed it in Jesus Christ. So there’s no reason for any of us to assume that we somehow have to unlock the “bible code” or “DaVinci Code” in order to learn the secrets of the end.
  2. Wars and rumors of wars. Every conflict seems to carry the seeds of civilization’s annihilation.
  3. Natural disasters. There was a massive earthquake in Pompeii in 62. God tends to get the credit for the disasters.

None of these are signs of the end. Jesus’ warning is not to watch out for these things and predict them. Rather his warning is not to be distracted from their mission by such reports. (13:23 – I have given you a warning so you won’t be surprised, so don’t think I want you busy trying to foretell the future. These things will happen, but WHEN they happen isn’t important. That is on a need-to-know basis. When certain details of information are on a need to know basis and you don’t know, what does that tell you? It tells you that you do not need to know!

“Above all else, the gospel must be preached.”
To say that these are not reliable signs to predict the end of the age does not mean that there will not be difficult days ahead. Quite the opposite – we will face difficult days: Families will turn against one another. Situations will be so desperate that people will be at each other’s throats. Christians will be persecuted and taken before authorities for believing. (Christians in America often ask, “When is this going to happen?” It is already happening – and has already happened around the world. Jesus’s teaching isn’t validated only when it takes place in the USA). Jesus says to all of us – “Watch Out! These things will happen. But endure through it. Stick to your mission and make it your priority to announce the gospel. (Not to the exclusion of good works, rather as the purpose for good works).

Disasters of Biblical Proportions
Jesus admits that there will be some disasters of biblical proportions. There will be some Category 5 abominations of desolation. Sometimes you will have to run for the hills. Whether the wave of destruction is a Roman army or a force named Katrina, there is nothing to do but run. But some cannot run. These will be particularly difficult times – especially for the weak, the poor, those who cannot simply pack and leave. It will be so sad for pregnant mothers and their newborn children.

These will be moments when it seems that the world is ending. Worlds do end. The people who fled Jerusalem watched the world they knew come to an end. They lost the house of God. For many people fleeing the Gulf Coast, the world they knew has come to an end. When planes fell out of the sky four years ago, the world we knew ended.

It is during these times that we need to know this:

  1. God has already intervened. God is cutting the days short. That is, he is restraining the full effects of the corruption on earth. (This isn’t rapture).
  2. The Word of God will endure. He keeps his promises and he is faithful even if it seems our world is falling apart. God created the world with words, and he doesn’t have to have the resources of this world to deliver on his promises. All he needs is his enduring word.
  3. The Son of Man will come back. No power on earth can delay that. And every day, both good and bad, is one day closer to his return. When the Son of Man comes our watch is over. That is the last world changing event. But until then – keep watch.

What we do not need to know is the exact date, time and place, of the return. There seems to be a real hang-up in the history of the world and even the church of being fixated on prediction. Why get obsessed over knowing something that Jesus says even he doesn’t know. If anyone does figure it out I would say the first thing to do is get in touch with Jesus and clue him in. And then perhaps you will let him clue you in! Well he has clued us in. And he has told us what to do. He tells us to watch – watch out for rumor, false info, and hysterical anxiety. And then also to watch – as in keep our watch.

citizens of New Orleans at Fort Chaffee Even as we witness the destruction of a city, we see the creation of a city on the outskirts of our own. Fort Chaffee has received over 9,000 evacuees. We need to do our duty and serve them in the name of Christ. Let’s be on watch. There is much frustration in our nation right now because people do not know what they need to know. We can get frustrated thinking we need to know more but in truth we know all we need to know. We know our mission. Our mission remains the same ...

We are needed – to be the church, to be Christians, to share the good news.
We are needed – to do whatever we do in the name of Christ. Let doctors, nurses, ministers, van drivers, bankers, teachers, listeners, counselors, food servers, bed makers, all serve in the name of Christ.

Watch Out vs. Keep Your Watch (Do Your Duty) – [explain the difference between the two Greek terms for watch in this chapter: blepete and gregoreite.] Be the church! Watch out so you will not be distracted and keep your watch – do your duty.

The end of this age and the return of the Son of Man is like this . . . a householder takes off on a trip and puts all of his servants on guard and instructs them to keep their daily duties. He promises to return but doesn’t tell them exactly when. Now what should they do between his leaving and his return. Exactly what he told them to do. What if they get distracted trying to find out when the boss is coming back? They will ignore their duty and leave their post.
I saw this at Fort Chaffee on Friday. They set up an EOC and had MP’s and other soldiers ready to register the evacuees. I asked one of them, “When are they going to get here?” He said “We have been told in the next 15 minutes.” That fit with what I had heard at the briefing. But 15 minutes became 30 minutes. 30 minutes became 60 and the time stretched on. I left and went home – I wasn’t any help anyway – and when I tuned into the news at 10 the buses still hadn’t arrived. And I thought of the MP. He would be doing the same thing at 10 pm that he was at 5 pm. For him the arrival was always just 15 minutes away. He kept his watch and did his duty.

Chris Benjamin

West-Ark Church of Christ, Fort Smith, AR
Morning Sermon, 4 September 2005

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