On the Alert

Dr. Ron J. Bigalke

Jesus said, “Behold, I am coming quickly” (Rev 22:12a). Do you find it difficult to understand why Jesus has not yet returned? Imagine a young child pondering God’s existence. The child asks, “God? Are you really there?” In an experience that can only be compared to God speaking to Moses from a burning bush (Exod 3:1-6), the child is astonished to hear a voice from the clouds. “Yes, I am here. What would you like to ask?” Seizing the opportunity, the child asks, “God? What is a million years like to you?”

God knew it was impossible for the child to understand the concept of infinity, so He responded in a manner that would help. “A thousand years is like one day.” “Oh,” the child remarked, “What’s a thousand dollars like to you?” “A thousand dollars is like a penny,” God responded. “Wow!” replied the child, with an idea in mind. “God, you are obviously generous. May I have one of your pennies?” “Certainly,” God answered. “Give me a day to get it to you.”

Second Peter 3:8-9 reads, “But do not let this one fact escape your notice, beloved, that with the Lord one day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years like one day. The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance.” Mark 13 is particularly important because of the instructions that Jesus gave to His disciples. His teaching not only impacts those listening, but also all those who will follow Him in the future. Jesus prepares His people in both the present and the future to be ready for His return.

(Mark 13:1-27) The extensive discourse of Mark 13 is known as the Olivet Discourse; it is so named because it was given on the Mount of Olives, just outside Jerusalem. (The Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke are called “Synoptic,” which means literally “to see together” or “to take the same point of view.”) The Olivet Discourse is the only lengthy teaching of Jesus in all the Synoptic Gospels (cf. Matt 24—25; Luke 17; 21). The occasion for Jesus’ discourse on the Mount of Olives was the disciples’ comment regarding the remarkable stones in the Temple and the adjacent buildings (Mark 13:1).

In The Antiquities of the Jews (15.11.3),  Jewish historian Josephus wrote, “Now the temple was built of stones that were white and strong, and each of their length was twenty-five cubits, their height was eight, and their breadth about twelve.” (A cubit equaled a foot and a half.) The buildings were also remarkable. The brass gates were one hundred thirty feet high. The Temple was magnificent to behold. Jesus responded to the disciples’ awe with a devastating announcement: “Not one stone will be left upon another which will not be torn down” (v. 2).

Jesus predicted the complete destruction of the Temple buildings, which did occur in AD 70, when the Roman armies under Titus destroyed the city of Jerusalem. Only one part of one wall is preserved (the “Wailing Wall”), because the Romans broke apart many of the stones to obtain the gold embedded in them. The prophecy, however, has not yet attained complete fulfillment, because many stones still remain upon one another in the Temple complex, specifically in its foundations. Jesus prophesied what would occur in the future in relation to His return.

As they crossed the Kidron Valley that separated the Temple complex from the Mount of Olives to the east, the disciples likely pondered Jesus’ prophecy. “As He [Jesus] was sitting on the Mount of Olives opposite the temple,” the Lord’s first four disciples (1:16-20) asked two questions (13:3-4). The first was regarding the time of the Temple’s destruction, and the second concerned the sign of Jesus’ coming and the end of the present age (cf. Matt 24:3).

The disciples believed the destruction of the Temple and the end of the present age would occur simultaneously. Jesus taught His disciples otherwise by warning them of false signs (Mark 13:5-13), and then instructed them concerning the events that will indicate great tribulation, climaxing in His second coming (vv. 14-27). The first deceptive sign of the end is the presence of false messiahs and the lies they will disseminate (vv. 5-6), which corresponds to the first seal of the Apocalypse (Rev 6:1-2). Given a date of approximately AD 95 for the writing of Revelation, and AD 45-68 for the Synoptic Olivet Discourses (Matt 24—25; Mark 13; Luke 17; 21), this would be logical. The Synoptic Gospels were written earlier, and false messiahs would have been anticipated already (as the beginning of the tribulation period).

The sequence of the Synoptic Olivet Discourses would indicate that the first seal refers to false messiahs already mentioned in Mark 13 (and the Matthean and Lukan parallels). The white horseman is then a counterfeit of the second white horse rider (the Lord Jesus Christ) in Revelation 19. “Antichrists” are already present in the world, yet God’s people “have an anointing from the Holy One” so they can discern between truth and lies (1 John 2:18-24). The manner for knowing the truth is to “let that abide in you which you heard from the beginning”; that is, the revealed Word of God, the Holy Bible.

“Wars,” “rumors of wars,” “earthquakes,” and “famines” will precede Jesus’ return and demonstrate that He is coming, even though it is impossible to know the precise time of the Lord’s return (Mark 13:7-8). “Wars” and “rumors of wars” are components of what Jesus called “the beginning of birth pangs” (v. 8), which ultimately culminate in His return to earth. The components just identified correspond to the red horse rider (the second seal of the Apocalypse), who will emerge shortly after the first horseman (or perhaps later in the first half of the tribulation). Nevertheless, it does appear that the many false messiahs and prophets influence the second horseman and essentially challenge any claims to maintain peace for Israel.

The third seal horseman, or black horse rider, brings famine and is thus a foreboding forerunner of the pale horse rider. The third seal is likely to be broken shortly after the second seal judgment, because famine often follows warfare. Each of the Olivet Discourses in the Synoptic Gospels prophesy famine as a result of wars and rumors of wars.

The fourth seal horseman, the pale horse rider, brings death. The judgment he brings parallels the Olivet Discourse, which prophesies earthquakes, famine, and pestilences, resulting in death. Interestingly, the prophet Ezekiel referred to four figures of judgment. “For thus says the Lord GOD, ‘How much more when I send My four severe judgments against Jerusalem: sword, famine, wild beasts and plague to cut off man and beast from it!” (Ezek 14:21). The judgments were well-known covenant curses (Lev 26:20, 22, 25, 33; Deut 32:24). Contextually, the judgment is the wrath of God, and thus a period of God’s indignation will have been brought upon the earth with the breaking of the four seal judgments.

Jesus will return in history similar to an infant who emerges from a painful birth experience (v. 8; cf. Isa 66:8; Jer 22:23; Hos 13:13; Mic 4:9-10). He then encouraged perseverance in the midst of suffering (Mark 13:9-13). The purpose of persecution is proclamation, and God promises special grace in desperate times (v. 11). Faithful endurance results in the privilege of reigning with Jesus in His kingdom (vv. 12-13; cf. 2 Tim 2:12).

Jesus prepared His people for the time of His return by instructing them regarding the abomination that will cause desolation (Mark 13:14-19). The prophecy of abomination is from Daniel 9:27, 11:31, and 12:11. Daniel’s prophecy was partially fulfilled in 168 BC, when Antiochus Epiphanes IV desecrated the Temple by erecting an altar to Zeus over the Jewish altar. Jesus indicated that more of the prophecy would be fulfilled. God’s mercy alone will relieve the desolation, and He will do this for the sake of His elect (Mark 13:20-23). The distress just mentioned will be followed by cosmic events related to Jesus’ second coming (vv. 24-27).

(Mark 13:28-37) Jesus began His discourse with exhortation (vv. 4-13), and He concluded in the same manner (vv. 28-37). The lesson from the “fig tree” is to develop spiritual sensitivity (vv. 28-30). The budding of the fig tree indicates a change in seasons, and discerning people can anticipate coming events by the signs preceding those events. Jesus solemnly guaranteed the truth of His words (v. 31). His words were authenticated by the fall of Jerusalem in AD 70, and will reach their complete fulfillment in the end times.

The phrase “these things” (v. 29) refers to the generation that witnesses the events of the Olivet Discourse, which culminate in Jesus’ second coming. Only the generation witnessing all the events prophesied in the Olivet Discourse will be the one to experience the Lord’s return. The generation that goes through the beginning of that period will also witness the end. When the signs of the beginning of the end occur, then the culmination of that period will come relatively quickly; that is, within a generation. When the events of the Olivet Discourse occur, they will be swift and with haste.

Jesus ended the Olivet Discourse with an exhortation to persistent vigilance, because no one, “not even the angels in heaven,” knows the exact timing of the events of the second coming (v. 32). Jesus emphasized the need for alertness by making the comparison to faithful servants being ready for the owner of the house to return (vv. 34-36). “Be on the alert!” is applicable to people in every time period  (v. 37). Mark 13 emphasizes how to remain faithful to the mission of God. Take heed to be attentive and vigilant to the calling of God in your life! May all God’s people be intentional to shine amid the darkness, until the Lord’s work is accomplished. Then His church will be able to stand before Him without shame (cf. Rom 10:11; 1 John 2:28).

Midnight Call - 06/2020

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