by Sam E. Stone
The Bible centers in Jesus Christ. All of the books from Genesis to Malachi can be summed up, “Jesus is coming.” The books of Matthew through John tell us, “Jesus is here.” All the remaining books—from Acts through Revelation—are saying, “Jesus is coming again!” While there are many things we may not fully understand about our Lord’s return, the main lesson is clear.
Today’s lesson text comes from the last week of Jesus’ earthly life. He was leaving the temple and one of his disciples commented, “What massive stones! What magnificent buildings!” (Mark 13:1). Jesus quickly replied, “Not one stone here will be left on another” (v. 2). Matthew explains that the disciples then asked, “When will this happen, and what will be sign of your coming and of the end of the age?” (Matthew 24:3). They incorrectly assumed all of these events would occur at the same time.
The Coming Siege/Mark 13:14-20
Christ responded by speaking first about the coming destruction of the temple and fall of Jerusalem. To answer their query—”When will this happen?”—he provided a clue: “When you see the ‘abomination that causes desolation’ standing where it does not belong . . . then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains.” This very wording occurs in 1 Maccabees 1:54, where the historian described the time that Antiochus Epiphanes erected an altar to Zeus where the altar to Jehovah had been. Daniel had also predicted such an event (see Daniel 9:26; 11:31; 12:11). Josephus tells us that the Romans burned the temple and offered sacrifices when they proclaimed Titus as emperor.
The exhortation by the Gospel writers (“Let the reader understand“) provided a final warning so that believers might avoid the destruction that would come on Jerusalem, if they happened to be in the area at the time. When it did happen, many Christians fled to Pella, a mountainous area south of the Sea of Galilee. Jesus added, “Those will be days of distress unequaled from the beginning, when God created the world, until now.” By warning his disciples of the coming disaster, Jesus made it possible for them to escape.
The False Messiahs/Mark 13:21-23
In difficult times, self-proclaimed prophets are always around, seeking to lead people astray. Jesus warned, “If anyone says to you, ‘Look, here is the Christ!’ or ‘Look, there he is!’ do not believe it” for false Christs and false prophets will appear and perform signs and miracles to deceive the elect—if that were possible.” Christ’s followers will face hardships and will see charlatans pretending to be from God. When such times come, they must remember Jesus’ words of warning and guidance.
The Returning Lord/Mark 13:24-27, 31
Jesus then addressed the disciples’ question about his return and the end of the world. In those days, following that distress, the sun will be darkened. His words are reminiscent of Isaiah’s prophecy: “The stars of heaven and their constellations will not show their light” (13:10). Judgment will be rendered against all who oppose God (see Joel 2:10, 31; Revelation 6:12, 13). In contrast to the destruction of Jerusalem when Christ taught his followers to flee the city, when he returns, no one can escape by running to the mountains.
This final judgment, ushered in by Christ’s return, means hope and joy for the believer, however. Luke wrote that Jesus also told them, “When these things begin to take place, stand up and lift up your heads, because your redemption is drawing near” (Luke 21:28).
When Jesus returns it will be in complete contrast from those who are false Messiahs. In Revelation John writes, “Look, he is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see him, even those who pierced him; and all the peoples of the earth will mourn because of him” (1:7). Paul explained, “We who are still alive, who are left till the coming of the Lord, will certainly not precede those who have fallen asleep . . . . The dead in Christ will rise first. After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air” (1 Thessalonians 4:15-17).
Christians must live in expectation of that day. An unknown poet wrote,
I wonder, if I knew this week my last,
Would I continue living as today?
Or would I seek a higher, nobler way,
And would I hasten to amend the past?
Oh grant me grace, my Savior and my Friend,
To live each day as if it were the end.
Sam E. Stone is the former editor of Christian Standard. He continues his writing and speaking ministry from his home in Cincinnati, Ohio.