The following sermon was prepared by Ps Lucas Stoltz this week for your edification and uplifting. We encourage you to please contact us if you would like to know more about us.

Click here: Mark 13:14-23, to download or stream the audio sermon, or click here: Mark 13:14-23, for the video version. Alternatively, you can read the notes below, or follow along as you watch or listen.

Mark 13:14-23, The Beginning Of The End, pt2:

  • Last week we turned our attention to Jesus’ words on the end. The end of the Temple and it’s religious system, as well as what to expect from that time, to the time of His return. The beginning of the end. And our encouragement was that the birth pains have intensified and will continue to intensify, but they are not the end.
  • However, Jesus continued His conversation with the disciples on the Mount of Olives as they needed an understanding of the times. And this would equip them for coming troubles in their day.
  • And I need to make this clear going forward, we’re not coming to this text with our own eschatology, we come to the text as we deal with every other Bible verse, with an openness to learn and grow by looking at who was writing it and to whom it was written! 
  • And perhaps a lesson from this account is how Christians are to care for one another in a time of great need, especially as this prophetic account is increasingly relevant for us today.
  • Therefore, in order to get to this lesson, we need to review the context of our passage and deal with the interpretation of these words so that we can understand the times and care for one another!

1. Context Review

  • Text – 13:1-23
  • Explanation – Coming out of the Temple after a long day, the disciples notice the beauty of the Temple. And Jesus says, enjoy it while it lasts. Because the Temple would be destroyed, broken to its foundation stones.
  • It brings us to the two questions: “When will these things be, and what will be the sign when all these things are about to be accomplished?” What “end” did they have in mind? The end of one age and the beginning of another age. Jesus was speaking about both the beginning of the end and the end of the beginning! He was speaking of the end of the old covenant era and the complete beginning of the new covenant era.
  • Apart from Jesus dying, being resurrected, and then ascending, something else had to also take place before the full transition took place from the old covenant to the new covenant era: The temple would need to be destroyed, putting an end to the Levitical priesthood and its sacrificial system. 
  • Illustration – With the destruction of the temple in 70 AD, there could be no old covenant religion. And for two thousand years, all attempts to rebuild the temple have failed.
  • So the disciples understood that from Jesus’ prophecy of the destruction of the temple, the Jewish world was coming to an end. But it was also the beginning of a new age.
  • Application – Now in this new age, the church age, Jesus told them to expect certain “birth pains.” But they would specifically start to experience these birth pains leading up to the end of the destruction of the Temple, but they would also continue thereafter, as they serve as reminder that Christ will return.
  • Conclusion – So after looking at this review, many today argue that these signs point to a time in the future. However, this is not what the disciples were hearing. They asked him a two-fold question, which Jesus answered directly. He didn’t have a pre-millennial, or post-millennial, or a-millennial view in mind. He told them that in their near future, these things would take place. Not in a hundred years or a thousand years, or two thousand; but in their day.
  • Bridge – First, it would encourage them that a better day was coming (see John 16:19–22). Second, it would keep them from panicking and following cunningly devised eschatologies. This would become a serious problem in the days of the early church, as it is for some in churches today. Paul wrote to the Thessalonians to correct their failure to pay heed to the teaching of Jesus in this very Olivet Discourse (see 2 Thessalonians 2:1–12; 1 Thessalonians 4:13–18; 5:1–11).
  • In vv. 14–23 we read of the sign that Jesus gave that would indicate that the end was near. The sign pointed to the beginning of the end.

2. The Abomination that Makes Desolate:

  • Text – 13:14-23
  • Explanation – So here we have a change of subject. “But when you see the abomination of desolation standing where he ought not to be (let the reader understand), then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains” (v. 14).
  • Jesus told them that, after the birth pains started, they could expect something that would signal the beginning of the end. When this happened, they would know that the end was near, and that they would need to respond accordingly.
  • Now where the confusion may be is where this phrase, ‘abomination of desolation.’ It appears 3 times in the book of Daniel (9:27; 11:31; 12:11). It also appears in the New Testament; in here, Matthew 24:15. Luke 21:20. But Jesus’ hearers had only the Old Testament, so when they heard him use the phrase, they would have immediately have thought of Daniel.
  • But who or what was the abomination of desolation? An abomination is something disgraceful/shameful. Desolation means misery/depression! I hope you notice I’m asking in the past tense, because it would have come in their time. Look at Christ’s answer; “When you see.” They would see this abomination. And Mark expected his first-century readers to understand.
  • Mark expected his readers to clearly understand what the abomination was because they would be affected by it as Mark’s Gospel was written in the 60s. In verse 30, Jesus says, “Truly, I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things take place…” referring directly to them.
  • In addition, Mark’s Gospel would most likely be viewed as rebellious by both Jewish leaders and Roman officials as Christianity was seen as a threat.
  • Illustration – So, again, who or what was the abomination of desolation? Whatever the abomination was, Jesus was teaching that it would cause or lead to great desolation. And so far in our text, the only desolation Jesus mentioned, is the desolation of the temple—their temple specifically.
  • The ESV unfortunately interprets this verse rather than translates it. The abomination as a “he” rather than an “it.” The clearest evidence of this is Luke’s parallel account. 21:20 reads, “But when you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies, then know t0hat its desolation has come near.”
  • The “desolation” in Luke’s language would be caused by “armies” surrounding Jerusalem. Since this would happen in the first century, and since it would result in the desolation of “the holy place” according to Matthew 24:15, the only possible candidate is the Roman armies that surrounded Jerusalem in 70 AD.
  • Therefore the warning was to Christians in Jerusalem. When they saw Roman armies surrounding the city, threatening the desolation of the holy place (the temple, possibly including the city), it was the sign for them to flee.
  • Application – Jewish historian, Josephus, describes what happened prior to the destruction of the temple and the city of Jerusalem itself. The Roman army overwhelmed the city in early 70 AD. General Titus, who had overall authority, initially planned to spare the temple but, in April of that year, Jewish Zealots took control of the temple and defended it and the city to the point of their deaths.
  • But once this happened, they allowed criminals into the most holy place to offer sacrifices. In addition, they unfortunately did other things I regret to mention. They even went on and anointed as high priest a professional clown named Phanni.
  • They also set one of the courtyards on fire in order to keep the Romans out. This got the attention of Titus, who then came into the city and killed these Zealots. While at his destruction,
  • Once in the city, and in the temple, the Roman armies implemented their standards in the temple and performed sacrifices to their gods. Yet at the same time, one commentator notes that the previous Roman general retired when they first marched against the city, and withdrew his armies
  • This gave everyone the opportunity to flee, to run for their lives! A third century historian, Eusebius, writes that the members of the Jerusalem church were ordered to leave the City before the war began and settle in a town in Peraea called Pella.
  • Conclusion – Look at Mark 13:15–18 again. Let me just say, this doesn’t refer to a future rapture! It is a running to escape. Jesus said that, when this abomination took place, Christians should rush from their flat-roofed home to the mountains, workers in the field shouldn’t turn-back but flee, without bothering to collect their belongings.
  • Pregnant and nursing mothers would find great difficulty in escaping, but they could if they were determined to obey. They had to “pray that it may not happen in winter,” not because of low temperatures, but because the rivers and streams would swell from the winter rains. Which would make fleeing on foot very difficult!
  • Bridge – So the abomination of desolation took place in 70 AD when Titus destroyed Jerusalem & the Temple. However, Jesus continued to encourage them as there would be a great tribulation which would lead to some of the worst forms of Christian persecutions. And that’s our next point…

3. The Great Tribulation:

  • Text – 13:19-23
  • Explanation – This is why they needed to flee when the abomination of desolation took place. Now many say this is the reason that Jesus must be describing something other than the destruction of Jerusalem.
  • But Jesus began to speak to the disciples about what they should expect and only they are still in view. There is no dual prophecy. This is to be the worst event in history because God is about to oppose the creation of the Jewish nation.
  • Illustration – Don’t get me wrong, the nation of Israel is special to God, Isaiah 51:12-16 tells us that they are His people. But in 70 AD, the great tribulation takes place as the temple is destroyed, as the capital is destroyed, and the people are left without a system of worship. As their homes are burning down! Josephus claims that 1.1 million people died, of whom were majority Jews, and yet, not a single Christian.
  • Application – And it is for this reason we read that Jesus shortened the days. Verse 20-23. What does this mean? It means that God would do His work of judgement quickly. It wouldn’t be a long period of devastation through war, it would be quick “for the sake of the elect, whom he chose.
  • It was a specific encouragement! Jesus was emphasising that those who belong to God, are His because He personally choose them. The nation of Israel was God’s chosen people.
  • But the elect that Jesus was referring to, were those who were true Jews; those who believed the promises of God (Romans 2:28–29).
    So the elect were safe, but a sense they were in danger. They were in danger of noticing false teachers. So Jesus warned them.
  • See, His concern was the false messiahs and false prophets who, “if possible” would “lead astray” God’s “elect” even in a time of tribulation. And I think closer they got to judgement day, the more false teachers there would be.
  • These teachers were contradicting God’s word, saying they had to stay in Jerusalem and fight back. In 64 AD, Paul wrote to Timothy about “times of difficulty” in the “last days” (2 Timothy 3:1, 5–9; 4:3–4). And his encouragement was that they must continue in the word (3:13–17) and to preach the word (4:1–2, 5).
  • In the early 60s, Peter had the same message. In 1 John 4:1, John warned about the same thing, saying; “Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world.”
  • Conclusion – And this was the Tribulation they encountered. See tribulation means pressure. And in 67 AD, the first persecution of the Church took place under Nero. He was an angry, crazy man. He ordered that the city of Rome should be set on fire, which order was executed by his officers, guards, and servants.
  • Now if this man was willing to do this to his own people, imagine what he would do to those he saw as an enemy. Once Nero find out his people were upset, he blamed it on Christians. And in order to get the attention away from him.
  • His persecution was horrifying! Nero came up with the most creative and destructive ways to entertain the Romans while he persecuted the Christians. He sewed the skins of wild beasts to them. He had them chased by wild dogs till they died. He dressed some dressed in shirts made stiff with wax, tied them to poles, and set them on fire in his gardens.
  • Bridge – This was coming, and we read once again that the section closes with a call to watchfulness. Jesus said, “But be on guard; I have told you all things beforehand.” In other words, “You have no excuse for being deceived, you have my word.” See, Jesus was equipping the disciples to handle the attack of false christs and false prophets, they would persevere to the end and be saved, if they cling to His Word!

Application:

  • So my friends, the same principle applies to us. We are to stand firm in this time of confusion, and distress. We need to trust in God’s Word alone! As the disciples proclaimed the gospel (v. 10), they could expect opposition, but they could also expect progress.
  • They could expect that the end was coming, but also needed to trust that God was with them. And He was, as He saved His elect! Our trouble shouldn’t be taking Bible verse such as these and tying them to contexts they weren’t intended for.
  • Will there be a Great Tribulation coming again? Friends, I believe in a sense that we are experiencing a tribulation, a pressure of persecution. Because when was the church not persecuted? And again, the signs of the times are a reminder that Christ is coming!
  • We will meet Him in the air, not in a secret rapture, but when He comes in His glory. It will be loud, it will be glorious, and it will be our salvation! And so, just as Christ told the disciples to preach the word as they stood firm, so are we. We don’t know what God has planned for His elect, but we do know that He strengthens us, and cares for us! Hear the words of Hebrews 3:12-15