In order to identify counterfeit money, bank tellers are encouraged to study, touch, and handle real money. The more comfortable tellers are with the real thing, the more likely they will be to identify counterfeit bills. Every generation of Christians is confronted by those who claim to know the truth but are actually teaching false doctrine. How do Christians identify false teachers? Like bank tellers, Christians must become so familiar with the truth that they can identify what is false.
Mark 13 is one of the more challenging chapters in the Gospel of Mark. “Why not skip it and focus on more practical sections?” some might ask. Jesus answers that question by explaining why he includes this teaching. Jesus wants his followers … Not to be deceived and led astray (5) … Not to be discouraged by evil or persecution (9) … To remain faithful (13) … To have confidence in God’s sovereign plan. He will deal with evil (14-23) as certainly as Christ will return (24-27) … To be prepared (23), awake, and ready for his return (35-37).
Mark 13 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 (2), and the far event, the coming of the Son of Man in clouds with power and glory (26).
Jesus’ reply is both prophetic and pastoral. Rather than helping the disciples set dates, however, Jesus encourages them to stand firm. After warning his disciples not to be distracted by false saviors and false signs (5-8) and not to be discouraged by persecution (9-13), he now addresses their second question of what signs to look for (14-27). Christ followers are to watch for the abomination of desolation (14-23) and for the return of Christ (24-27).
The “abomination of desolation” (14) is an act/person so evil that it causes the temple to be abandoned. The phrase first appeared in Daniel 9:26-27 and 11:31-32. There are three possible meanings:
- Antiochus Epiphanes (167 B.C.). Historically, the first fulfillment of Daniel’s prophetic use of the expression was the desecration of the temple by Antiochus Epiphanes. He erected an altar to the pagan Greek god Zeus over the altar of burnt offering and sacrificed a pig on it.
- Jesus’ use of the phrase referred to another fulfillment—the temple’s desecration and destruction in A.D. 70. Prior to this event, Zealots occupied the Temple in the winter of 67-68. They permitted criminals to enter the Holy of Holies and committed murders in the Temple themselves. They crowned their sacrilege with a circus-like investiture of one Phanni, who according to Josephus “was such a clown that he scarcely knew what the priesthood meant.”
- The events of 167 B.C. and A.D. 70 foreshadow a final fulfillment of Jesus’ words just prior to Jesus’ Second Coming. The Antichrist will make a covenant with the Jewish people at the beginning of the seven-year period preceding Christ’s second coming. The temple will be rebuilt and worship reestablished. In the middle of this period, the Antichrist will break his covenant, stop temple sacrifices, desecrate the temple, and proclaim himself to be God. This launches the terrible end-time events of the Great Tribulation.
When this occurs, FLEE! (14). When this crisis breaks, it is time to run for your life. It is time for urgent action (15-16). You don’t have time to pack a bag or load the car. It will be a time of great difficulty (17-20), especially for pregnant women and young moms. Pray it doesn’t happen during the rainy season in winter when travel is difficult.
It will be a time of great distress as God brings judgment on the world. The difficulty will be worse than anything that preceded it. At no time in the past was there a period of tribulation like this one. And yet, God’s grace will be evident (20). In his sovereign plan and grace, God makes the judgment shorter than it could have been. Otherwise, no one would survive.
In the midst of all the difficulty, false teachers and false messiahs will make outlandish claims seeking to lead people astray (21-22). As we watch the flow of history, we need to maintain the same vigilance (23). We should not be swayed by false hopes and deceptive claims.
Like the Christians in the first century, we often feel as if evil is in control of our world. It feels as if things continually get worse. Still, Jesus told his disciples, the worst is yet to come. However, as in every natural catastrophe, the storm ends and peace returns. At the end of history the return of God’s peace will last for eternity. The powers of evil are doomed, for God is sovereign and will end this world at the time he has chosen.
This is the synopsis of a message preached at First Central Baptist Church in Chicopee, MA, on January 10, 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.