If you knew how your life would end, would it change how you lived today?
Alfred Nobel was a Swedish chemist who made a fortune by inventing dynamite and other powerful explosives used for weapons. Years later when Nobel’s brother died, a newspaper accidentally printed an obituary for Alfred instead. He was described as a man who became rich by enabling people to kill one another in unprecedented quantities. Shaken by this assessment, Nobel resolved to use his fortune to honor accomplishments that benefited humanity. Thus, he created the Nobel Peace Prize, among others.
As a result of his seeing his own obituary, Alfred Nobel was able to make some key changes in his life. Similarly, Jesus has given us a glimpse of the future in Mark 13. How will this information change our lives? How will we live life differently?
Mark 13 is known as the Olivet Discourse as Jesus gave it on the Mount of Olives. It begins with Jesus predicting the destruction of the temple (2) which prompted the disciples to inquire about the timing of “these things” (4).
In his reply, Jesus weaves together the near event, the destruction of Jerusalem, and the far event, the coming of the Son of Man in clouds with power and glory. Jesus’ reply is both prophetic and pastoral. Rather than helping the disciples set dates, however, Jesus encourages them to stand firm (Mark 13:1-13).
As Jesus and his disciples were leaving the temple, the disciples marvel at its beauty (1). The Jerusalem temple was built by the Herodian dynasty to win Jewish favor and to create lasting monument to King Herod. It was not fully completed until A.D. 64. It was considered an architectural wonder of the ancient world. Built with large white stones, polished and generously decorated with gold, it looked like a snow-capped mountain and was a blinding sight. According to the Jewish historian, Josephus, some of the stones were thirty-seven feet long by twelve feet high by eighteen feet deep and weighed more than 100 tons.
Jesus warns of the temple’s soon destruction (2). In A.D. 70, Jesus’ words were literally and precisely fulfilled when God brought to Jerusalem the Roman army under Titus Vespasian to destroy the city and the entire temple complex. The Romans lit massive fires that caused the stones to crumble in the intense heat. By the time they were finished dismantling the temple, having taken all of the gold and thrown the remaining rubble into the Kidron Valley, all that was left were massive foundation stones that formed footings for the retaining wall under the temple mount.
Jesus takes the disciples across the valley to the Mount of Olives (3). It was 150 higher than the Temple Mount. It was said that from the mountain, you could look directly into the temple. The disciples ask two questions: When will the events happen? and, What sign should we look for to know the end is near? (4)
As Jesus explains, a disciple is to remain alert to the dangers that will confront them (5). The presence of false teachers (6), wars (7), and natural disasters (8) do not signal the end of the world. They signal the beginning of labor pains. Rather than speculate about the end, we are to stay faithful in the present.
The problem addressed in 9-13 is not that Jesus’ followers would be misled, but that they would fall away because of persecution. As the end approaches, persecution will become the norm (9). Believers will suffer persecution publicly and it will divide families (12).
Rather than give up and throw in the towel, we should view persecution as an occasion for mission. We should share our faith near and far (10). We are to depend on the Spirit for what to say (11). We are to stand firm to the end (13).
- Don’t be distracted by things that don’t last. Beautiful buildings are not enough. The people within must be serving God.
- Don’t be distracted by false teachers. God’s people must know his word in order to distinguish truth from error.
- Don’t be distracted by world events and natural disasters. Creation groans (Romans 8:18-22) and will continue to do as long as humankind exists on the planet.
- Don’t be distracted by persecution. There will always be opposition to the gospel.
- We are to remain faithful while we wait for Jesus to return. We must stand firm.
- Use all of these events as opportunities to share the gospel. World evangelism must always have priority for the church.
This is the synopsis of a message preached at First Central Baptist Church in Chicopee, MA, on January 3, 2016. It is part of a series in the Gospel of Mark. Please click on the link to download a copy of the sermon notes.