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Mark 13:1-37: Persevering to the End Print E-mail
Sunday, 18 November 2007

If you read the text this week in preparation for our time together this morning (which I hope you did), then you probably have some questions about what you read.  You might be wondering in general: In light of what is going in our world today, does this passage mean that the end is near?  If so, when will it happen (the question that everybody wants answered)?  Or maybe your questions are more particular: What does the destruction of the temple have to do with the return of Christ?  Who or what in the world is the abomination of desolation that Jesus mentions in verse 14?  All of these are seemingly valid questions (with the possible exception of the when question, which we are clearly told is not known, see v.32-37).  So, what do we do with all of this?

Although none of the questions above are unreasonable, we do have to ask a more important one, namely, what is the point of Jesus’ teaching here?  This is where I want to begin this morning.  Yet, because these texts (in the Gospels and epistles) are often troublesome, let me offer a few words about interpreting them in general.  First, as we have already noted, context is critical.  Instead of looking for times and seasons and signs, we need to begin by asking what the passage is teaching in context.  Also, as we will see this morning, we need to understand any Old Testament prophecies that are referenced as well in order to understand the larger context of the given passage.  Second, we need to realize that these passages (particularly the ones in the Gospels) have an immediate fulfillment (the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 a.d.) as well as a future fulfillment (the return of Christ at the close of the age).  I noted this in my sermon on Matthew 24-25 and I state it again because it is important if we are to be able to understand what the text is saying.  Third, we need to realize that the general thrust of these passages is a call to present action, normally revolving around the ideas of being prepared and being encouraged.  So often in our efforts to answer intriguing questions, we actually miss the author’s main point.

Keeping these general thoughts in mind, I want to ask and answer three questions from our text.

First, what is the main idea of this passage?

If the main idea of the text is critical in understanding these passages, then what is the main idea of our text this morning?  Here is my answer: In spite of difficult days ahead, Christians are to persevere to the end.  The context of this passage involves the questions that the disciples ask in verse 4 in response to Jesus’ prediction of the destruction of the temple.  Look at verses 1-4.  Jesus has been teaching in the temple and as He is leaving with His disciples, they being to marvel at the structure.  Jesus tells them that the building will be destroyed.  After they get across the Kidron Valley to the Mount of Olives, they ask Him about when the temple will be destroyed and what sign will foreshadow its destruction.  Thus, verses 5-37 are Jesus’ answer to these questions.  His answer will include a prediction of the temple’s destruction in 70 a.d. as well as comments about His future return (two events that the disciples possibly thought would happen together.)  Yet, He answers their questions not so that they will necessarily know exactly when these things will happen, but so that they (and those who would follow after them) will be able to persevere to the end.  Notice how this comes up again and again in the text.  Look at verse 5, 9a, 13b, 23, and 33.  Jesus is telling them what He is telling them to prepare for the difficult days ahead.  He wants them to be ready so that they can persevere through these hard times.  Since this passage also deals with the return of Christ, then we too are called to persevere through hardships.  This main idea of perseverance leads to our other two questions this morning.

Second, what exactly are we to persevere in?

I see two answers to this question in our text.  First, we must persevere in true belief in the true Christ, namely Jesus of Nazareth.  Look at verses 5-6 with me.  Jesus begins His answer by telling them that others will come in His name and try to lead them astray.  He says something similar in verses 21-23.  There will be false christs and false prophets who will try to lead the elect astray.  They will claim power and authority.  They will be ‘religious’ and deceitful.  They will perform signs and wonders (something we do not often think about the enemy being able to do).  Thus, the disciples must be prepared to persevere in their belief in Jesus.  We too face these same struggles today.  Some will go out in the name of Christ and lead people astray.  Some will even perform signs and wonders.  Thus, we must know the Lord and His Word well to recognize and avoid such errors.  The enemy is ever around us and against us and we need to be prepared that we might persevere through his attacks against our faith in Jesus.  Again, this is one of the major reasons why we need to study and meditate on the Word of God faithfully.  Through the Word, the Lord will equip us and strengthen us to persevere in our belief in Jesus.

Second, we must persevere in faithful proclamation of the gospel to all nations.  Look at verses 9-13.  Jesus tells the disciples that they will be given many opportunities to speak the good news.  They will go before councils, governors, and kings to bear witness about Jesus.  Of course, this will not be an easy task.  Jesus tells them that they will beaten and put on trial for what they believe and speak.  Their faithful proclamation will divide families and many will be put to death.  Yet, the gospel must go forth.  We see this passage at least partially fulfilled in the book of Acts, where the disciples continue to speak the Name of Christ in the midst of persecution.  Yet, its fulfillment did not end in Acts 28.  No, the call to proclaim the gospel to the nations still remains on the followers of Christ.  Likewise, the promise of persecution remains as well.  This call will not end until the gospel has been faithfully proclaimed to all nations.  We too must take up the banner of Christ and speak the good news to all that we can.  We must go from our neighbors to the nations preaching repentance and faith in Jesus of Nazareth.  This is what His followers are called to do.  It continues (and will continue) to be a difficult task.  Many will lose their life in the effort.  Yet, we must persevere to the end.

Third, how do we persevere?

All that we have said thus far leads to this final question.  Let me answer with two thoughts from our text.  First, we persevere by being prepared for the suffering to come.  Jesus tells us that we will suffer and the days will be hard.  Thus, we need to be ready for such.  One of my commentators states it this way: “To be forewarned…is to be forearmed.” 1  We have already seen in verses 9-13 that we will be persecuted for sharing the gospel.  Beyond persecution, we will face other difficulties as well.  Look at verses 7-8.  Wars and earthquakes and famines will all be a part of these days.  In fact, these have all been present since the time of Christ and they will continue to be present until He returns.  The important thing for us to realize is that none of them should surprise us.  The war in Iraq should not surprise us.  Hurricane Katrina should not surprise us.  Yes, we should broken over the tragedies and over the suffering, but we should be surprised by it.  It is part of living in enemy occupied territory.  It is part of living in a sin cursed world.  Such suffering and persecution should never cause us to question whether or not God is still in control.  Jesus told us that these things would happen.  Such knowledge should equip us and strengthen us in our perseverance. 

Look at verses 14-20.  These are some of the hardest verses to understand in the passage.  Many see them as referring to what will happen in Jerusalem before the destruction of the temple in the first century.  Jesus is warning the disciples about what is going to happen in the city and how they are to respond.  The abomination of desolation is a reference to the book of Daniel and probably represented some sort of blasphemous action taken in the temple prior to its destruction.  Jesus tells the disciples that when they see this they are not to remain in the city.  Rather, they are to flee to escape the terrible tribulation that will take place.  Church History tells us that a majority of the Church did exactly that after the persecution began in 66 a.d.  How exactly some of these predictions were fulfilled is hard to know.  Nevertheless, we know that Jesus is preparing His disciples to face these difficult days by forewarning them.

Second, we persevere by believing that Jesus will keep His promise to return with power for His elect.  Look at verses 24-27.  Although a few see this still as referring to the aftermath of the destruction of Jerusalem, the majority of interpreters see this as a reference to the return of Christ.  I agree with the latter.  Even though the disciples probably thought that the destruction of the temple would be the end of the world, Jesus knew that this would not be the case.  Thus, He says that after those days of tribulation in Jerusalem He will come with great power and glory.  He goes on in verse 27 to say: And then he will send out the angels and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of heaven.  Brothers and sisters, this should serve as a great encouragement to us. 

As hard it gets to persevere, as much persecution that we might face, we must remember that Jesus is coming.  He will not forget or forsake His elect, His Bride.  Look at verses 28-31.  Jesus speaks of the fig tree and how it gives signs when the summer is coming.  In the same way, His coming will be accompanied by signs.  I believe that all of the signs in this passage have been fulfilled and were actually beginning to be fulfilled in the days of the disciples.  That is why Jesus can say what He says in verse 30.  The destruction of the temple, wars, famines, the taking of the gospel to the nations, were all being fulfilled in that generation and are continuing to be fulfilled.  Thus, we know that He is near, at the very gates.  This knowledge should serve as great encouragement for us as we strive to persevere.

In verses 32-37 Jesus tells us that the day or hour of His return is not known.  Thus, we should not spend time trying to figure it out.  Rather, we should be on guard and keep awake.  His return will come suddenly and unexpectedly for many.  Yet, it should not for us.  We must be ready and awake.  As this passage repeatedly instructs us, we must persevere through all the difficult days.  God has told us that He will be with us and that He will give us strength to persevere (see Romans 14:4 and Jude 24-25).  Jesus has told us what to expect.  Thus, in light of all that He says, may we persevere to the end in our belief in Him and our faithful proclamation of His death for our sins and His victorious resurrection until He comes.  Amen.

1 R. Alan Cole, The Tyndale New Testament Commentaries: Mark Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1989), p. 272.

~ William Marshall ~

Last Updated ( Saturday, 01 December 2007 )

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