In our study of Mark chapter thirteen, we look at Jesus' words concerning end times prophecy. This teaching is commonly called the Olivet Discourse and it will show us that many of the things that He said would happen have already taken place. We will also see what is yet to come.
As Jesus was leaving the temple, one of his disciples said to him, 'Look, Teacher! What massive stones! What magnificent buildings!' 'Do you see all these great buildings?' replied Jesus, 'Not one stone here will be left on another; every one will be thrown down.'
Jesus had already pronounced the desolation of the temple and, now as they left, a disciple pointed out how big and wonderful it was. Jesus answered the question with a question of His own. He basically asked them if they truly saw the buildings and the fact that they were temporary. It would have been hard for them to imagine the big stones being tossed down but it happened in the year 70 A.D. Even for us today, it can be difficult to remember that all of the things that we see around us are temporary.
As Jesus was sitting on the Mount of Olives opposite the temple, Peter, James, John and Andrew asked him privately, 'Tell us, when will these things happen? And what will be the sign that they are all about to be fulfilled?'
Jesus was sitting on the Mount of Olives where you can look across the valley and see the temple mount. The disciples asked Him when the place would be destroyed.They thought that the destruction of the temple would usher in the last days and the kingdom of God.
Jesus said to them: 'Watch out that no one deceives you. Many will come in my name, claiming, "I am he," and will deceive many.'
Jesus begins to answer their question by warning them about false prophets and false messiahs. This has happened many times since the days that Jesus walked this earth and is what Paul was talking about in his second letter to the Thessalonians. There have been many cults and crazies who claimed to be Jesus and they even got many people to follow them into death.
'When you hear of wars and rumors of wars, do not be alarmed. Such things must happen, but the end is still to come. Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be earthquakes in various places, and famines. These are the beginning of birth pains.'
Jesus compared the last days with childbirth and that is because the last days will birth the new heaven and the new earth. As in natural childbirth, pains can start but the actual delivery can last for many hours after it starts. In the same manner, Jesus said that the rumblings of nations and nature are just the beginning. These things have been happening since the days that Jesus walked the earth and are continuing today.
'You must be on your guard. You will be handed over to the local councils and flogged in the synagogues. On account of me you will stand before governors and kings as witnesses to them. And the gospel must first be preached to all nations.'
This may be happening in places today but was primarily speaking of the persecution of the early church. Paul is a good example of this happening exactly as Jesus said it would. Many have been confused by the requirement that the gospel be "preached to all nations". Throughout the Bible, the nations refers to the Gentiles and Jesus was speaking of the fact that the gospel would be preached to the Gentiles. This was necessary to provoke the Jews to jealousy.
'Whenever you are arrested and brought to trial, do not worry beforehand about what to say. Just say whatever is given you at the time, for it is not you speaking but the Holy Spirit.'
This is good for us but was also a direct prediction of what would happen to Peter and John after Jesus was taken up to heaven (see Acts 4).
'Brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child. Children will rebel against their parents and have them put to death. Everyone will hate you because of me, but the one who stands firm to the end will be saved.'
Now, Jesus begins to describe a period of time that is commonly called the "Great Tribulation". This is still to come and is described in the book of Revelation.
'When you see "the abomination that causes desolation" standing where it does not belong - let the reader understand - then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains.'
This period of time that is referred to as the "great tribulation" begins with "the abomination that causes desolation" which is a picture of the anti-christ. Jesus was talking about the fact that an idol will be set up in Jerusalem just as it was in the time of Antiochus Epiphanes. Daniel referred to this in his visions of the end times (see Daniel 9). It is also what John was talking about with the people worshiping the beast in Revelation 13. "Flee to the mountains" refers to the Transjordan Mountains. During the reign of Antiochus Epiphanes, many of the faithful Jews fled to the city of Pella which is located in the modern country of Jordan. In the last days, God's people will once again flee from the anti-christ.
'Let no one on the housetop go down or enter the house to take anything out. Let no one in the field go back to get their cloak. How dreadful it will be in those days for pregnant women and nursing mothers! Pray that this will not take place in winter, because those will be days of distress unequaled from the beginning, when God created the world, until now - and never to be equaled again.'
This will happen so fast that people will not have any time to gather their things. The times will be so terrible for those who are not prepared to move quickly such as mothers with small children. Times are rough now but, even the worst of days that we have seen are not as bad as these times.
'If the Lord had not cut short those days, no one would survive. But for the sake of the elect, whom he has chosen, he has shortened them.'
These days are numbered as God allows Satan to exercise some control over the events on the earth. God limited the number of these days for the good of His people. There will be a remnant of His people that are left as a witness on the earth and, if He had not shortened the days, even they would perish.
'At that time if anyone says to you, "Look, here is the Messiah!" or, "Look, there he is!" do not believe it. For false messiahs and false prophets will appear and perform signs and wonders to deceive, if possible, even the elect. So be on your guard; I have told you everything ahead of time.'
During that period of great tribulation, people will be looking for anyone to save them and there will be many that claim that they can. They are all sent by Satan to deceive the people of the earth but Jesus has warned all of us about what is to come.
'But in those days, following that distress, "the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light; the stars will fall from the sky, and the heavenly bodies will be shaken."'
Now, we see the signs that will occur before the final judgment. These signs will appear and the devil will make his final attempt to overthrow the kingdom. The battle is short and the final judgment begins.
'At that time people will see the Son of Man coming in clouds with great power and glory. And he will send his angels and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of the heavens.'
Jesus then tells us of the final gathering of the saints for the judgment of rewards. Those that are left on the earth will join with those who are in heaven and the rewards will be given to the faithful.
'Now learn this lesson from the fig tree: As soon as its twigs get tender and its leaves come out, you know that summer is near. Even so, when you see these things happening, you know that it is near, right at the door.'
Jesus uses the example of a fig tree and we are reminded that, throughout the Bible, the fig tree speaks of the nation of Israel. So what did Jesus mean by "it is near"? He was talking about the kingdom of God which is what the disciples had asked about. When all the elect of Israel have accepted Jesus Christ, the harvest will begin.
'Truly I tell you, this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away.'
All of those last days events have not happened but all of the apostles have died; so, what's up? The Hebrew understanding of generation is not a straight line like we think but is a circle of events and time. There was a circle from the days of Adam until the destruction of Noah's day. There was a circle from the days after the flood to the destruction of the temple. The generation that Jesus was talking about was the time from the giving of the Holy Spirit to the final judgment.
'But about that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.'
When this latest generation (circle) will end is only known to the Father. As we have seen, the only remaining clue that we have is the sign that Jesus said to look for which is the "abomination that causes desolation". That will be the start of the Great Tribulation.
'Be on guard! Be alert! You do not know when that time will come. It's like a man going away: He leaves his house and puts his servants in charge, each with their assigned task, and tells the one at the door to keep watch. Therefore keep watch because you do not know when the owner of the house will come back - whether in the evening, or at midnight, or when the rooster crows, or at dawn. If he comes suddenly, do not let him find you sleeping. What I say to you, I say to everyone:"Watch!"'
Jesus reminded His disciples that we are like servants that have been given a job while the master is gone. We are to be about that task until He returns. We will know of His imminent arrival when we see the sign that was given. We all (those in Christ) have a task to do before we meet Jesus. If that task is done before He returns, then, we will go to meet Him. If it is not, then, we should be working at it when He arrives.