Before The Great Tribulation – Part 1 (Mark 13:1-4)

Mark-13
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Before The Great Tribulation – Part 1
Sunday, March 3rd, 2024
Christ Covenant Church – Centralia, WA

Mark 13:1-13

And as he went out of the temple, one of his disciples saith unto him, Master, see what manner of stones and what buildings are here! And Jesus answering said unto him, Seest thou these great buildings? there shall not be left one stone upon another, that shall not be thrown down. And as he sat upon the mount of Olives over against the temple, Peter and James and John and Andrew asked him privately, Tell us, when shall these things be? and what shall be the sign when all these things shall be fulfilled? And Jesus answering them began to say, Take heed lest any man deceive you: For many shall come in my name, saying, I am Christ; and shall deceive many. And when ye shall hear of wars and rumours of wars, be ye not troubled: for such things must needs be; but the end shall not be yet. For nation shall rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom: and there shall be earthquakes in divers places, and there shall be famines and troubles: these are the beginnings of sorrows. But take heed to yourselves: for they shall deliver you up to councils; and in the synagogues ye shall be beaten: and ye shall be brought before rulers and kings for my sake, for a testimony against them. 10 And the gospel must first be published among all nations. 11 But when they shall lead you, and deliver you up, take no thought beforehand what ye shall speak, neither do ye premeditate: but whatsoever shall be given you in that hour, that speak ye: for it is not ye that speak, but the Holy Ghost. 12 Now the brother shall betray the brother to death, and the father the son; and children shall rise up against their parents, and shall cause them to be put to death. 13 And ye shall be hated of all men for my name’s sake: but he that shall endure unto the end, the same shall be saved.

Prayer

O Father your Word says that it is the glory of God to conceal a matter, and the glory of kings to search it out. As we desire to be kingly and to search out these words of the Lord Jesus, and try to understand them, we ask for divine illumination. We ask for the Holy Spirit. We ask for all of this in Christ’s name, Amen.

Introduction

Well, we are back in the Gospel of Mark this morning and have come to what is perhaps the most difficult chapter in the book. Mark 13 is the longest monologue from Jesus in this gospel, and in it he prophesies the destruction of Jerusalem and the end of the old creation.

  • Now what makes this chapter difficult is not really the words themselves (which are pretty straightforward), but rather all the false ideas that we import and bring to this text when we hear it. There are entire denominations of Christians who have interpreted this chapter wrongly and from those errant (but often well-meaning) conclusions they have constructed a vision of the future that is not a true or accurate portrait.
  • I speak primarily of the viewpoint that teaches that the world is going from bad to worse, at some point the Antichrist is going to come, and there will be an evil one-world government that persecutes Christians and brings about The Great Tribulation. And then there is debate amongst these proponents as to whether a rapture will occur before, during, or after this Great Tribulation. For those of you familiar with the books or movies “Left Behind,” it is this dispensational reading of Scripture that has blinded many Christians from a biblical vision of the future. Which is a future far more glorious and full of hope than what the doomsdayers and alarmists continually perpetuate.
  • And so before we get into the first four verses of this chapter, we need to do some ground clearing exercises so that we can come to this passage and hear what Jesus is actually saying.
  • So I want to begin by defining a few terms for us that you will likely hear as we study this chapter.
    • 1. The first term is eschatology. What is eschatology? Eschatology is simply the doctrine of last things.
      • Theology is the doctrine of God
      • Anthropology is the doctrine of man.
      • Protology is the doctrine of Creation/beginnings.
      • Eschatology is the doctrine of how things end.
    • So under this heading eschatology are things like, the resurrection of the dead. What happens when you die? Where does your soul go after death? What is heaven like? What is hell like? What is the final judgment? What happens after the final judgment? How should we understand the book of Revelation, and so forth. These are all eschatological questions.
    • And so what eschatology is concerned with is how the Christian story ends. Genesis tells us how the story began, how we ended up in such a sorry state. And then scattered throughout the rest of the Bible, but especially in the final chapters of Revelation, we are told how the story ends. This is what eschatology is concerned with.
  • Now the difficulty when it comes to a passage like Mark 13, is knowing which parts of it, if any, are referring to events that are future to us.
    • We know that Jesus is speaking about events that are future to his disciples, but the question for us is, is there anything in this chapter that is still in our future? And how you answer that question is going to make a BIG difference in your understanding of how the Christian story ends.
    • And so there are two other terms I want to introduce that signify which position someone holds on a particular passage. And those two labels or positions are called Futurism and Preterism.
      • What is futurism? Futurism is what it sounds like. It is the belief that a certain event is still in our future.
      • Preterism, on the other hands believes that an event has already happened and is therefore in the past.
      • So all of us are both futurists and preterists, depending on which text or prophecy or event we are discussing.
      • For example, we are all futurists in regards to the resurrection of our bodies and the bodily return of Jesus Christ.
        • The angel says in Acts 1:11 after Christ’s ascension, “this same Jesus, which is taken up from you into heaven, shall so come in like manner as ye have seen him go into heaven.” And so we confess as an article of faith when we recite the Nicene Creed, “he shall come again with glory to judge both the living and the dead…[and] I look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come.” Those things are still future to us living in 2024 AD.
      • Now the places of controversy are whether someone is a futurist or preterist on say, the book of Revelation. If you are a futurist, is it all in the future? Or just chapters 4-22?
      • My position on Revelation (which is of course the correct position), is that chapters 1-19 are all 1st century events (I am preterist there), and chapters 20-22 describe the period that began in AD 70, and continues to the final consummation when Christ returns. I am futurist on chapters 21-22.
    • So bringing this all back to Mark 13, the question before us now is which of these events were fulfilled in the 1st century and are therefore in our past. And which events, if any, are still in the future.
  • The position that I will contend for and seek to demonstrate throughout this series of sermons is that all of Mark 13 was fulfilled in the 1st century.
  • There are many arguments for this position and we’ll get into some of them this morning, but the clearest is what Jesus says in Mark 13:30. After all the wars and rumors of wars, after the abomination of desolation, after the stars fall from the sky, after all of that, Jesus says, “Verily I say unto you, that this generation shall not pass, till all these things be done.”
    • “This generation” refers to that generation of Jews then living, and in biblical terms a generation was a period of roughly 20-40 years.
    • So Jesus answers the disciples’ question in verse 4, about when the temple will be destroyed by first describing all of these cataclysmic events that will precede it, and he says here’s a list of things that must happen first, and then he guarantees that “this generation will by no means pass away till all these things take place.” And then he says in verse 32-33, “But of that day and that hour knoweth no man, no, not the angels which are in heaven, neither the Son, but the Father. 33 Take ye heed, watch and pray: for ye know not when the time is.”
    • So just as Jesus said in Acts 1:7, “It is not for you to know the times or the seasons, which the Father hath put in his own power,” so also he says that the day and hour of his coming to destroy Jerusalem is not for them to know. But what they can know is all the events that must happen first, and that his word of prophecy (“not one stone will be left upon another”) will be fulfilled within one generation.
  • Summary: Mark 13 is all about the destruction of Jerusalem and the Son of Man coming to judge the old world and transfer the kingdom to the saints. This is exactly what Daniel 2 and Daniel 7 prophesied, and it is also what the book of Revelation describes in great detail. So this is not a prophecy about the end of our world, it is a prophesy about the end of the old covenant world and its spiritual-political government.
  • Moreover, if Mark’s gospel alone were not enough to convince us of this 1st century fulfillment, this same prophesy and timestamp is recorded in Matthew 24 and Luke 21 as well. God intended to give us three witnesses to this prophesy (“the Olivet Discourse”) so that we could compare and contrast and see that in every case, the conclusion is the same. The Old Creation and the Temple that held it together, is going to be destroyed within one generation. And, it turns out, that is exactly what happened in AD 70, as both secular and Christian history records for us.
  • So we ought to be preterists on the Olivet Discourse, on Mark 13, Matthew 24, and Luke 21, because to be a futurist is at its worse, to call Jesus a false prophet (as many atheists and liberal biblical scholars have called him), and at best to badly misinterpret a central teaching of the New Testament.
  • So with that as a long setup, let us expound these opening verses of Mark 13.

Verses 1-2

And as he went out of the temple, one of his disciples saith unto him, Master, see what manner of stones and what buildings are here! And Jesus answering said unto him, Seest thou these great buildings? there shall not be left one stone upon another, that shall not be thrown down.

  • Remember the context. It is the week of Passover. It is springtime. And in just a few days Jesus is going to be crucified for the sins of the world. He has just refuted all the most influential authorities in Jerusalem, the Pharisees, the Sadducees, the scribes, elders, and chief priests. He has demolished their false teaching and proclaimed the truth.
    • This is the work of a priest and a prophet to investigate the health of God’s house and its leadership, and to pronounce judgment upon it.
    • Just as the priest and prophet Ezekiel was carried in the spirit through the first temple and destroyed it by his prophecies (Ezekiel 43:3), so also Jesus visits the second temple and pronounces destruction upon it by his words and actions.
  • First, he physically departs the temple, just as God’s glory departed the temple in Ezekiel’s day. And as they are leaving, and his disciples are admiring the stones and craftsmanship of the buildings, Jesus says, “Seest thou these great buildings? there shall not be left one stone upon another, that shall not be thrown down.”
    • This is the prophecy of Jerusalem’s destruction, and it this prophecy that provokes the disciples to ask about when this going to happen.

Verses 3-4

And as he sat upon the mount of Olives over against the temple, Peter and James and John and Andrew asked him privately, Tell us, when shall these things be? and what shall be the sign when all these things shall be fulfilled?

  • What we have here are two rival temples with two rival peoples. In Jerusalem you have the temple of the Jews and their corrupt and apostate worship. And then you have Jesus, the new temple, the one who is Himself holy, holy, holy, and he sits “upon the mount of Olives over against the temple.”
  • The Mount of Olives is almost certainly the same mountain upon which Jesus was crucified. And he was most likely crucified to a living olive tree. The olive tree is a symbol of the Holy of Holies and is associated with the Holy Spirit and the church who possess the Holy Spirit.
    • The two cherubim that stood above the mercy seat in the holy of holies were carved out of olive wood. The doors that lead into the holy of holies were carved out of olive wood (1 Kings 6:32-33).
    • David says in Psalm 52:8, “But I am like a green olive tree in the house of God,” meaning, he clings to the mercy seat in the holy of holies by faith.
    • In Romans 11, the Apostle Paul describes the church as an olive tree, where unfaithful branches are cut off, and wild olive trees are grafted in.
  • So we have in this scene the Lord Jesus, who is the holy place, who is the head of the church, sitting upon the Mount of Olives. On one side, you have the Old Jerusalem and its corrupt priesthood and followers, and on the other side, you have the New Jerusalem and the priesthood of Christ with his disciples. True church and false church. True Jews and false Jews. And it is from this new holy of holies, this new throne upon which he sits on the Mount of Olives, that Jesus pronounces the end of the Old World.
  • Now pay close attention to the question in verse 4 that the disciples are asking, because the rest of this chapter is Jesus’ answer to that question. The disciples are not asking about the end of the space-time continuum. They are not asking about the final judgment and the end of the all things. Jesus has just said the temple will be destroyed and they say, “Tell us, when shall these things be? and what shall be the sign when all these things shall be fulfilled?”
    • The disciples knew that the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem was a destruction of the entire cosmic, spiritual, and political order of the old creation. And this is because the Old Testament teaches that the Israel is a priestly nation who mediates God’s blessings and curses to the whole world.
      • God says in Exodus 19:6, “And ye shall be unto me a kingdom of priests, and an holy nation.”
      • Remember the promise to Abraham in Genesis 12:3 is, “I will bless those who bless you, and curse those who curse you, and in you shall all the families of the earth be blessed.”
    • So the whole purpose of God calling Abraham, and making a covenant with him, and calling Israel out of Egypt, and making them into a priestly nation, and then giving them all of the sacrificial offerings and festivals and the priesthood and tabernacle, was so that God’s House would be a house of prayer for all nations.
    • Just as Adam was the head of the human race, the high priest was a Son of Man, a son of Adam, who functioned as a kind of federal representative not only of Israel, but of the whole world.
      • If someone had committed accidental manslaughter and fled to a city of refuge, the law states that they had to remain there until the death of the high priest. Because anytime innocent blood is shed, is must be atoned for, and only the death of a high priest could “reset” the system.
    • The high priest symbolically carried the sins of the nation and the whole world upon his shoulders. And when they offered sacrifices of animals, of incense, and of prayers to God, they were atoning/covering (pleading the blood of the Passover lamb) for the sins of the whole world. That is what it means to be priestly nation mediating God’s covenant promise to Abraham.
    • So what happens if those sacrifices stop? What happens if the priestly nation apostatizes? What happens when the high priest is corrupt? What happens when the Gentiles are not allowed to pray and offer sacrifices unto God? All those sins start to pile up. It is like static electricity building and building. They are going without atonement, without covering, and when blood goes uncovered it cries out for vengeance!
  • This is why Jesus says in Matthew 23, after pronouncing all of the woe’s against the scribes and Pharisees, “That upon you (Jerusalem) may come all the righteous blood shed upon the earth, from the blood of righteous Abel unto the blood of Zacharias son of Barachias, whom ye slew between the temple and the altar. Verily I say unto you, All these things shall come upon this generation” (Matt. 23:35-36).
    • The high priest and the sacrificial system was really only a way to delay judgment until the coming of Christ.
    • And because of the Jews rejection of Christ, and because of their blasphemy against the Holy Spirit, and their persecution of his witnesses, there is no atonement left for them. And so it is upon them that all the righteous blood that was ever shed is going to be required. And so Jesus says in Luke’s version of the Olivet Discourse, “For these be the days of vengeance, that all things which are written may be fulfilled.”
    • Paul says likewise in Hebrews 10:26, warning Jewish Christians of this same judgment, “For if we sin wilfully after that we have received the knowledge of the truth, there remaineth no more sacrifice for sins, But a certain fearful looking for of judgment and fiery indignation, which shall devour the adversaries.”
  • So either you accept Christ’s sacrifice on your behalf, and die by faith in him. Or, you die in your own sins. You pay the price, and that price is eternal torment in the lake of fire. This is why Jesus weeps over Jerusalem. Because they have rejected the revealed will of God for them. As it says in 1 Timothy 2:4, “God desires all men to be saved, and to come to the knowledge of the truth.”
    • Application: Right before this verse Paul commands the church saying, “I exhort therefore, that, first of all, supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks, be made for all men; For kings, and for all that are in authority; that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and honesty. For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Saviour.”
    • The New Testament Church, we who are the New Jerusalem, we who are a royal priesthood, a holy nation (1 Peter 2:9), who have been made kings and priests unto God (Rev. 1:6), now have the responsibility to plead the blood of Jesus for our nation. It is our morning and evening sacrifices of praise and worship, it is our weekly prayers of intercession and offerings unto God, that now mediate God’s blessings and curses in the world. Those who bless the church God blesses, those who curse and persecute the church, God shall destroy.
    • The church is what holds the world together. We who are in Christ are the Son of Man that Daniel saw ascend to the Ancient of Days, and of whom it says in Daniel 7:14, “And there was given him dominion, and glory, and a kingdom, that all people, nations, and languages, should serve him: his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom that which shall not be destroyed.”
  • This is the kingdom that Christ came to bring, and in future weeks we will see the how and the when of Christ’s kingdom arriving. For now, just know that as Jesus answers in verse 30, it came within one generation, just like he said it would.

Conclusion

Jesus Christ is presently reigning from heaven right now, just like he began to reign in the 1st century when he ascended to heaven. And throughout the centuries, Christ has come in judgment upon many nations, and he continues to steer history, and footstool his enemies, and the promise of Psalm 110 and 1 Corinthians 15 and many other passages is that, “he must reign, till he hath put all enemies under his feet. 26 The last enemy that shall be destroyed is death. 27 For he hath put all things under his feet…And when all things shall be subdued unto him, then shall the Son also himself be subject unto him that put all things under him, that God may be all in all.”

  • This is how the story ends, with every wrong made right. And every tear wiped away. And death made no more. And God all in all. May He hasten that glorious day.
  • In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit.
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