Mark 13


‘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.’ 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 said to them: ‘Watch out that no one deceives you. Many will come in my name, claiming, ‘I am he,’ and will deceive many. When you hear of wars and rumours 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. ‘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. 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. ‘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.’ Mark 13:1-13

As they left the temple area, one of the disciples pointed to the magnificent buildings and commented on their splendour. Jesus replied that they all would be torn down. This remark astonished the disciples and they asked when this would happen and what sign there would be of the temple’s impending destruction.

Jesus began answering by telling about some things that would happen before the temple was destroyed. He warned of false Christs, wars, natural disasters and great persecution. These events would be unsettling for the Christians, but Jesus assured them that they were not signs of the overthrow of the temple.

Remarkably, some people have taken these things that Jesus said were not signs of the destruction of the temple and used them to try to predict the date of the return of Christ.

‘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. 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 unequalled from the beginning, when God created the world, until now—and never to be equalled again. “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. 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. “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.’ ‘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. ‘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. Truly I tell you, this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened.’ Mark 13:14-30

This paragraph is one of the most difficult in the Gospel of Mark.

Several things should be carefully observed:

1. Jesus said that all of these things were going to occur within that generation. Mark 13:30.

2. We know that Jerusalem and the temple within it were destroyed by Roman armies in the year 70 A.D. Contemporary reports chronicle Jerusalem’s horrible siege and tell that thousands, possibly more than a million died in the conflict.

3. Jesus warned the Christians to flee to the mountains. History records that the disciples fled to a mountain fortress near the Dead Sea. As far as we know, no Christians perished in that war. It always pays to listen to Jesus.

Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away. But about that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. 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!’ Mark 13:31-37

In verse 30 Jesus said that the destruction of the temple would occur within that generation. But in verse 32, He spoke of an event that would occur at a totally unknown time. He was referring to His own return and the destruction of the world. Not even Jesus Himself knew when that would occur. So, He exhorted everyone to be alert and constantly prepared for His return.

Signs of the times!

Do the world’s catastrophes and problems indicate the imminence of the Lord’s return? Are these ‘Signs of the Times’?

We’ve all been in this situation. haven’t we? There’s a knock at the door and two people are standing with tracts in their hands. The moment I opened the front door and saw the two men who stood before me, I knew who and what they were, as surely as if they had their identity branded on their foreheads.

They were ‘servants’ of the ‘Watchtower Organization’, that religious body which, in 1931, became guilty of the offence of ‘Identity Theft’ when it took upon itself the name that God had used to describe His ‘unfaithful’ ancient people, Israel, Isaiah 43:9-10 / Isaiah 44:8-9.

In other words, these two men were so-called, ‘Jehovah’s Witnesses’. They were smartly dressed and very friendly, and it came as no surprise to me when, in an affable, conversational style, one of them asked me what I thought of the current world situation.

‘Tsunami. Earthquakes. Volcanic action. Flooding. Epidemics. Global warming. Destruction of the ozone layer. The collapse of the world’s financial system’ Did I think that we are living in the ‘end times’?

Also, did I think that all the world’s catastrophes and problems indicate the imminence of the Lord’s return? Are they ‘signs of the times’?

Now, I don’t claim to be well-versed in what ‘The Watchtower’ organisation teaches, and I am aware of the fact that its ‘servants’ have been instructed by their leaders, to radically change their approach when they go ‘door to door’.

They are no longer to present themselves in the old, uncompromising and rather a superior manner which often left people feeling angry and antagonistic towards them. Instead, they must seek to engage their contacts in friendly discussion.

Some of us remember that, years ago, they met with wide resentment, because of their manner of approach, but they accepted resentment and the rejection of their message quite happily, because they regarded themselves as being ‘persecuted for righteousness’ sake’, and, therefore, they went on their way rejoicing!

But, these days, they adopt a more diplomatic, conciliatory tone, and ask such questions as those to which I have already referred, ready, when the opening presented itself, to introduce their ‘gospel’ of a Renovated Earth, dry cleaned and sanitised, free of all problems, and providing a Paradisiacal life for the ‘great multitude’ who accept the ‘Watchtower’s’ message when Christ returns.

So, in these days, they constantly look for ‘signs of the times’, a phrase, the definition of which is given as, ‘Evidence of the imminence of the Return of Christ and the End of the World’.

A Common Error

Now, the ‘Watchtower’ isn’t alone in its search for ‘signs’. Throughout the centuries of ‘church history’ men have preached and made predictions concerning the Lord’s return, but we don’t have the space here to deal with that aspect of the subject, but let me give you a few examples of misguided predictions from more modern times.

Ellen. G. White was converted by William Miller in 1842, the year when he was attracting popular attention, predicting that the Return of the Lord would occur in 1843. Within a year, he claimed 100,000 followers, and, when his prediction failed, he said there had been a slight miscalculation and Christ would return in 1844.

Some believed him, but when Christ didn’t return Millerism went to pieces, and it was later, in 1863 that Mrs White established the Seventh Day Adventist Church on the remnants of the Miller movement by simply adding the observance of the seventh-day Sabbath.

‘Chamber’s Biographical Dictionary’ confirms the dates, and, if I took the time to examine my notes or my library I am sure that I could supply you with other statements in the same vein.

The information relating to Joseph Smith comes from the Mormon official ‘Doctrine and Covenants Commentary’ Section 130, which begins on p.1001 and which is headed, ‘Important Items of Instruction, given by Joseph, the Prophet. April 2nd, 1843’.

The commentary on this ‘revelation’, tells us that on the 2nd of April, Smith had heard Orson Hyde, one of the first ‘Apostles’ of Mormon, refer to the return of the Lord when speaking at a meeting.

Later, at dinner, Smith called the attention to Hyde to his statements and said he would ‘offer some words of correction’.

Verse 14ff of this ‘revelation’ records Smith saying, ‘I was once praying very earnestly to know the time of the Coming of the Son of Man when I heard a voice repeat the following – ‘Joseph, my son, if thou livest until thou art eighty-five years old, thou shalt see the face of the Son of Man; therefore, let this suffice and trouble me no more on this matter’. ‘I was left thus, without being able to decide whether this coming referred to the beginning of the millennium or some previous appearing, or whether I should die and thus see his face’.

Smith was 38 years old, born in 1805 at this time. Verse 13 in the same ‘revelation’ says that it was received when he was ‘praying earnestly’ 11 years earlier, on December 25th, 1832. Had he lived. He would have reached the magical age of 85 in 1890, but he died in 1844, shot whilst attempting to escape from the jail in Carthage.

Then Charles Taze Russell came along, in 1874 he published a pamphlet entitles, ‘The Object and Manner of the Lord’s Return’ and according to the ‘official history’ of the Watchtower movement, the same year he came down to breakfast and announced to those present, ‘The Lord is now present, although His presence has been graciously veiled from mortal view’.

Russell continued to say that the Lord had been on earth for three and a half years, but invisibly. In 1918, the year following the death of Russell, His successor, the so-called Judge Rutherford, published a book, which declared that ‘The world has ended. Millions now living will never die!’

And, one final example of this religious folly, 50 years ago, there appeared a monthly religious magazine bearing the name, ‘The Signs of the Times’, and, as the title indicates, it was dedicated to identifying any event on earth, that might be seen as a ‘sign of the times’, and, therefore, as a sign that the Second Coming was at hand.

In fact, I think that this magazine is still published in parts of the world where ‘Seventh-Day Adventism’ seem strong, for example, in Australia and the U.S.A.

Furthermore, although they do not share the views of the ‘Watchtower’ concerning what will happen before or after the return of the Lord, there are other religious groups who also love to talk about ‘the signs of the times’ and whose ideas are just as erroneous as those of the self-styled ‘Witnesses’.

These groups, also, are convinced that His return will be preceded by the ‘signs.’ Indeed, the teaching of certain denominations on the subject of the ‘Second Coming’ is the foundation that underpins everything else that they believe and teach, so that it has become nothing short of an obsession.

It is recorded that, on one occasion, C.H. Spurgeon, said, ‘Ye men of Plymouth, why stand ye gazing up into heaven? Get on with your work!’

No Signs!

It’s sad, therefore, that it seems never to occur to these people that they may not be on biblical ground when they look for such ‘signs’ or that they may be guilty of teaching error when they claim that the Lord’s return will be preceded by ‘signs’. I say this because, when we examine the particular passage of Scripture in which the phrase ‘signs of the times’ are mentioned, it becomes quite clear that the ‘signs’ to which the passage refers, have nothing whatsoever to do with the end of the World, or to the Lord’s return.

Let me state this simply, there is not a single verse in the Word of God that instructs, or encourages, believers, to look for ‘signs of the times’ in connection with the Lord’s return, or with the end of the Age.

The request for a sign

‘The Pharisees and Sadducees came to Jesus and tested him by asking him to show them a sign from heaven. He replied, “When evening comes, you say, ‘It will be fair weather, for the sky is red,’ and in the morning, ‘Today it will be stormy, for the sky is red and overcast.’ You know how to interpret the appearance of the sky, but you cannot interpret the signs of the times. A wicked and adulterous generation looks for a sign, but none will be given it except the sign of Jonah.” Jesus then left them and went away.’ Matthew 16:1-4.

That expression, ‘signs of the times’, occurs only once in the New Testament scriptures. It is found in Matthew 16, where we read about an unlikely alliance of traditional enemies, the Pharisees and Sadducees, who came to Jesus ‘tempting’ Him, that is, ‘testing Him’.

They asked Him for a ‘sign from heaven’. They had already raised the issue earlier, in Matthew 12:38, when they said, ‘Master, we would see a sign from you.’

Incidentally, it is significant that they didn’t treat him with anything more than mild politeness. They merely called Him ‘didaskale’, which means ‘teacher’. In John 3: 2, Nicodemus also called Jesus ‘Master’, using the title ‘Rabbi’, which also means ‘teacher’, but which is a much more respectful and honourable title.

But, notice what the Jewish leaders asked for. They asked for a ‘sign’, but a sign of what? There’s no mention of His ‘Return’ or the end of the World.

Why not?

The reason is surely obvious, it would never have occurred to them to ask such questions, and they would even have regarded any suggestion that He may be the Messiah as outrageous and blasphemous. Only those who believe Him to be the Christ would talk about such subjects.

So, what sort of ‘sign’ were they seeking? And why did they want a sign?

They demanded a sign because the issue was one of authority. They were challenging His authority Because His authority depended on His identity. Had He, in fact, appeared on the scene with a message from God. In other words, was He a true prophet?

This was something that Nicodemus, himself a Pharisee, had already settled for himself and which he acknowledged when he said to Jesus, ‘We know you are a teacher come from God, for no one can do the signs you do unless God is with him’, John 3:2

Notice, please, that, although the ‘A.V.’ uses the word ‘miracles’, John consistently uses the word ‘signs’. Later, when the faith of Nicodemus had grown stronger, he appears to have become a true ‘believer’, John 19:38-39.

Now, when the Jewish leaders asked for a ‘sign from heaven’ they thought they were setting Him a test that they were confident He would fail. They were demanding a demonstration of miraculous power as proof that He was a true prophet of God.

We need to bear in mind that, because the Jews were a Theocracy, a people governed by God, at least, in theory! They were never surprised when men came claiming to be prophets sent by God. But they invariably demand that anyone claiming to be divinely commissioned should give proof of his heavenly calling by performing a miraculous act. Such an act would be accepted as the ‘sign from heaven’, that is, of ‘heavenly’ endorsement.

So, they said to Jesus, ‘What sign do you show?’ ‘We would see a sign from heaven.’ Yes!, you and I know that the Lord had already performed enough wonderful deeds to have convinced unbiased people that He had come from God, but, behind their opposition to Him we must see the fact that these religious leaders were actually concerned about their own authority which they felt He was undermining, they were resentful of His growing influence among the ordinary people who ‘heard Him gladly’,

and they wilfully, and quite deliberately, refused to recognize and acknowledge the miracles He had already performed.

Matthew 12:34-43 tells us that He had performed a miracle of healing which had amazed the common people, but the Pharisees dismissed the miracle, saying, ‘He casts out devils because he is in league with the Devil!’

This is why He called them, ‘a wicked and adulterous generation’ when they asked for a sign. He accused them of refusing to see the ‘signs of the times’, that is, the signs of those times, and warned them that no special sign would be given to them.

The ultimate proof of His identity and His authority was one which had already been determined by ‘heaven’. It was the sign of the prophet Jonah. Now, we know that he was speaking about His death, burial and resurrection on the third day.

Romans 1:4, states that He was ‘declared to be the Son of God…….by the resurrection from the dead’ and it is this, the ultimate sign, which Jesus describes as ‘the sign of the prophet Jonah’.

He declared that the acts of power that He had already performed endorsed His identity and proved that He had come to do the will of the Father. But, these men shut their eyes against the evidence.

More than this, they wickedly described His ‘signs’, performed by the power of the Holy Spirit, as the work of the Devil, and in so doing, they were actually committing the unforgivable sin.

Authority again demanded

‘Jesus entered the temple courts, and, while he was teaching, the chief priests and the elders of the people came to him. ‘By what authority are you doing these things?’ they asked. “And who gave you this authority?’ Jesus replied, ‘I will also ask you one question. If you answer me, I will tell you by what authority I am doing these things. John’s baptism—where did it come from? Was it from heaven, or of human origin?’ They discussed it among themselves and said, ‘If we say, ‘From heaven,’ he will ask, ‘Then why didn’t you believe him?’ But if we say, ‘Of human origin’—we are afraid of the people, for they all hold that John was a prophet.’ So, they answered Jesus, “We don’t know.’ Then he said, ‘Neither will I tell you by what authority I am doing these things.’ Matthew 21:23-27.

This wasn’t the only occasion when the Jewish leaders showed they were dishonest men. On another occasion, described in Matthew 21:23, when Jesus was in the Temple teaching the people, the Jewish leaders descended on him in full force.

The chief priests and elders of the people, backed, no doubt, by members of the Temple Guard who had the responsibility of maintaining order in the Temple courts, came and demanded to know ‘By what authority do you do these things? And who gave you this authority?’

They knew that the previous day He had cleansed the Temple for the second time, and the words, ‘these things’ refer to the evens of that day. that is, to His cleansing of the Temple court and His teaching of the people. The priests were indignant.

Firstly, because He had disrupted the business of buying and selling that went on in the Court of the Gentiles, an enterprise which they allowed, and of which approved because it made them a great of money, Matthew 21:12.

Secondly, because He frequently taught the people in the Courts of the Temple, without first acknowledging their authority and obtaining their permission, Matthew 21:23.

In their view, Jesus was not a qualified and authorised teacher, and they, therefore, concluded that He acted with an authority He did not possess. Hence, their challenge, ‘By what authority do you do these things? And who gave you this authority?’

In response, He asked them a question, concerning the authority of the baptism preached by John the Baptiser. Was his baptism from heaven, or of men?

They were quick to understand the significance of the question, and so they declined to give Him an answer, claiming, ‘We cannot tell’. We hear His scorn for these evil men, when He replied, ‘Neither will I tell you by what authority I do these things.’

A Conclusion

We see, then, that nothing in these Scriptures concerns ‘signs of the times’ such as those for which my two ‘Watchtower’ visitors were looking.

When the Priests and Pharisees asked Jesus for a sign they were concerned about His identity and authority at that time, during His earthly ministry. They were concerned about his First Coming, not about His Second, concerning which they knew nothing, and understood nothing.

A plain denial of signs

Still in the Gospel according to Matthew, we see that in chapters 24 and 25, His disciples raised the matters of His Return and the end of the Age. In fact, they asked three questions, which we find in Matthew 24:3.

1. There was a question concerning the destruction of the Temple and the City.

2. A question concerning ‘the sign of His coming’.

3. A question concerning ‘the end of the world’.

In response to their first question, the Lord gave them detailed information and instruction, from Matthew 24:4, then, in Matthew 24:36 of that chapter, we find this unmistakable statement, ‘But about that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.’

The Lord warns that, as it was in the time of Noah before the Flood came and the people were going about their lives in the usual way, so it will be when He returns. In those days, they neither knew nor suspected that anything usual was about to happen. They paid no attention to Noah’s warnings and were unprepared when the flood came and swept them all away.

He then proceeds to teach how believers should behave in view of the fact that there will be nothing to warn that His Coming is imminent. He says that it will be unheralded, like the coming of a thief, in the night, and He gives us, in parabolic form, three watchwords when He says that we should be:

1. Waiting

2. Watching and

3. Working,

No ‘signs of the times’!

No special evidence of His imminent appearance! Instead, a solemn warning which every one of us should take seriously and think about more frequently, Matthew 24:42.

Was the Lord Jesus talking about ‘end times’?

The Lord’s prediction of the devastation of the temple in Matthew 24:2 prompts the disciples’ questions in verse 3. The Lord’s response is also recorded in Mark 13 and Luke 21. Comparing Matthew’s record with these helps us to understand it better. It is a good idea to read all of Matthew 24-25 to see the whole context, Matthew 24:1-3.

The disciples’ questions

Their three questions addressed two distinctly different issues. The disciples ask the Lord when the temple building would be destroyed, what would be the sign of the Lord’s coming and of ‘the end of the age’.

The AV has ‘the end of the world’, the primary meaning of the word translated ‘world’ is age, era, ‘aion’.

The apostles might have been confusing the consummation of the Mosaic era with the second coming of the Lord. They appear to confuse the destruction of the temple with the Lord’s coming but the two are distinctly different.

Two matters are being considered

1. One is the events leading up to the siege of Jerusalem and the destruction of the temple, AD 70.

2. The other is the coming of the Son of man on the day of Judgement.

In Matthew 24:36 and Mark’s record, the word ‘that’, ‘ekeinos’ makes this distinction clear, Matthew 24:36 / Mark 13:32-33 / Matthew 24:32 / Mark 13:28 / Matthew 24:36 / Mark 13:32-33.

The increasing social and political unrest would enable them to anticipate the siege of Jerusalem. The onset of the siege of Jerusalem would alert them to be ready for when they could make their escape.

In contrast to this, no one can predict the coming of the Son of man in judgement. That is why it is emphasised that we must always be ready for the Lord’s appearance.

It would then be foolishness to allow any favourite theological outlook to influence our interpretation so as to make it appear that the events heralding the destruction of the Temple will also herald the coming of the Lord.

‘… of that day and hour no man knows, no, not the angels of heaven, neither the Son, but my Father only.’ Any interpretation which contradicts this statement cannot be right.

‘Jesus answered: ‘Watch out that no one deceives you. For many will come in my name, claiming, ‘I am the Messiah,’ and will deceive many. You will hear of wars and rumours of wars but see to it that you are not alarmed. Such things must happen, but the end is still to come. Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be famines and earthquakes in various places. All these are the beginning of birth pains. ‘Then you will be handed over to be persecuted and put to death, and you will be hated by all nations because of me. At that time, many will turn away from the faith and will betray and hate each other, and many false prophets will appear and deceive many people. Because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold, but the one who stands firm to the end will be saved. And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.’ Matthew 24:4-14

First, there would be, false messiahs, rebellions, persecution, betrayals and false prophets. Before the siege of Jerusalem, there would be many disturbing events, false messiahs, false prophets, battles in various countries, widespread anarchy, earthquakes, famine and plagues.

These would be only the beginning of the many troubles that would all happen before the destruction of the temple. Matthew 24:8 / Mark 13:8.

The disciples to whom he was speaking would be persecuted by the Jewish religious leaders, be betrayed even by their close relatives and killed. They would be hated everywhere, Matthew 24:9.

All this had to happen before the temple was destroyed. Mark 13:5-13 / Luke 21:8-17. They were required to remain faithful throughout all those traumatic experiences, Matthew 24:13 / Mark 13:13. In verse 14 and Mark 13:10, we learn that only when the Gospel had been preached to all nations would the temple economy be finally terminated.

The word ‘end’ in verse 14 refers to the destruction of the Temple. Even by the apostles, Acts 1:2 / Acts 1:4 / Acts 1:8 ‘in all the world’, ‘all nations’. Colossians 1:23 ‘every creature’. The destruction of the temple and the cessation of the sacrifices brought to an end all vestiges of the Mosaic era.

Writing to Hebrew Christians, a few years before the destruction of the temple, the writer wrote, ‘In that he said, A new covenant, Jeremiah 31:31, he has made the first old. Now that which decays and grows old is ready to vanish away.’ Hebrews 8:13.

‘So, when you see standing in the holy place ‘the abomination that causes desolation,’ spoken of through the prophet Daniel—let the reader understand—then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains. Let no one on the housetop go down to take anything out of the house. 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 your flight will not take place in winter or on the Sabbath. For then there will be great distress, unequalled from the beginning of the world until now—and never to be equalled again. ‘If those days had not been cut short, no one would survive, but for the sake of the elect those days will be shortened.’ Matthew 24:15-22

Then there would be the sign that it was time to flee. In verse 15 and Mark 13:14, this sign is referred to as ‘the abomination of desolation spoken of by Daniel the prophet.’ Daniel mentions three different desolations.

1. That was previously caused by Nebuchadnezzar, Daniel 9:17.

2. That was eventually caused by Antiochus Epiphanes, Daniel 8:13 / Daniel 12:11.

3. The series of desolations that would occur at the time of the Roman siege, from AD 68 to AD 70, Daniel 9:26-27.

Note that Hebrew years were grouped into sevens by Sabbatical years, Leviticus 25:1-4. The Lord Jesus was talking about the third one. Daniel predicted how, after the execution of the Messiah, war and desolations would be poured upon ‘the desolate’.

The city and the temple would be destroyed by the prince’s people. This was done in AD 70, by Titus’ army, even though he had commanded them to spare the temple.

The words ‘desolations are determined’ indicate that it would be a period of several desolations. These culminated in the destruction of the temple and devastation of Jerusalem and Judaea. The Lord spoke of a specific desolation taking place where it had no right to be, Mark 13:14, even in ‘the Holy Place’, Matthew 24:15

The Holy Place was the first of the two sacred rooms of the temple proper. Josephus records how, to the dismay of many priests, Jewish Zealots took over the temple during the siege and turned it into a fortress. The Zealots set up the command headquarters in the Holy place, ‘where it ought not’ to be. Mark 13:14.

This desolation of the Holy Place was the ‘sign’ to flee to the mountains Matthew and Mark made it clear to the readers that they were to flee and not return to the city when.

1. The Temple Holy Place was desecrated and

2. The city was surrounded by Roman troops. Luke 21:20-21 / Matthew 24:15-18 / Mark 13:14-16. Troops encircling the city would indicate that its devastation was imminent.

The desolation mentioned in Matthew and Mark is the desecration of the Holy Place by the Jewish Zealots, in setting up their command headquarters there. Whereas the desolation referred to in Luke 21:20 is the subsequent devastation of the city, Luke 21:20-21.

During the siege of AD 70, there was a short break in hostilities. That day, Christians, heeding this advice, took that opportunity to flee Jerusalem. According to the historian Eusebius, there was no record of any Christian perishing in the siege.

‘They were to flee Judea and go into the mountains’ ‘For it will come on all those who live on the face of the whole earth.’ Luke 21:35.

The Greek word age, is not ‘kosmos’. The mountains on the east of Jordan have many interconnecting caves where numerous folk could hide in safety.

In Matthew 24:20 they are ‘to pray that they would not have to flee on the Sabbath’. This confirms that these predictions are to do with the Jews living then. They have nothing to do with the end of the world.

The horrors of the siege and the devastation of Judea. The horrors that would ensue would exceed anything else in history, either in the past or in the future. Matthew 24:19-22 / Mark 13:17-19. Following the destruction of Jerusalem Titus’ soldiers desolated the whole country. But, God stopped them from pursuing those who had fled into the mountains, Matthew 24:22 / Mark 13:20 / Matthew 24:23-26.

At that time, there would be false messiahs and false prophets. Here and in Mark 13:21-23, they are again warned in Matthew 24:4-5 and Mark 13:5-6 to ignore false Messiahs and false prophets, Matthew 24:27.

They were to ignore them because here the Lord gives a reason why they must ignore the false messiahs. They are to ignore them because when the Lord does come, it will not be in the desert or some obscure place. He will appear instantaneously and will be seen by everyone who has ever lived. Revelation 1:7.

The Essenes in the desert at Qumran were expecting a Messiah who would throw off the Roman yolk. Their seclusion did not save them from being massacred by the Roman army.

‘Wherever there is a carcass, there the vultures will gather.’ Matthew 24:28. This is a proverb, the wicked, wherever they are, will not escape the administration of God’s justice. Wherever the body is, there will the ‘vultures’ be gathered together. Some translations use the word, ‘eagles’, this word cannot refer to the eagle on the Roman military standard because eagles do not usually gather around carrion and the illustration here is of scavengers gathering around carcasses. It probably refers to vultures.

The word ‘body’ or ‘carcass’ is evidently directed at the spiritually dead, the wicked. All the spiritually dead will be gathered for judgement. This proverb could apply equally to the administration of God’s justice on the nation of Israel, compare Luke 21:22 with Isaiah 46:11 and Ezekiel 39:4 or to the administration of His justice when the Lord Jesus appears.

A person can be physically alive yet spiritually be a carcase. She who lives in pleasure is dead whilst she lives, 1 Timothy 5:6. Many who are alive physically are dead spiritually. The Lord makes it clear that wherever the spiritual carcases are they will be separated and suffer judgement, Galatians 6:7-8 / 1 Thessalonians 1:7-10.

‘Immediately after the distress of those days ‘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.’ Matthew 24:29.

Immediately after ‘those days’. Having explained what will really happen when he does appear, Jesus resumes talking about the events accompanying the devastation of Judea. Here and in Mark 13:24-25 it refers to a period of confusion immediately following the destruction of Jerusalem, Matthew 24:29.

‘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.’ Mark 13:24-25.

The word ‘those’ directs the mind back beyond his immediate comments to what he said earlier about the destruction of the temple. Political and religious hierarchical chaos immediately followed the destruction of the temple and the devastation of Jerusalem and Judea, Luke 21:25-26.

Similar figurative language is used for spiritual and political confusion in the Hebrew Scriptures. Isaiah 2:19 / Isaiah 2:21 / Isaiah 13:10-13 / Isaiah 24:23 / Isaiah 34:4 / Isaiah 60:19-20 / Ezekiel 32:7-8 / Joel 2:28-32 / Joel 3:15.

‘Then will appear the sign of the Son of Man in heaven. And then all the peoples of the earth will mourn when they see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven, with power and great glory. And he will send his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of the heavens to the other.’ Matthew 24:30-31.

This politico-spiritual darkness will not end until the Lord appears. The Apostle Paul wrote of a man of sin causing chaos in the temple of God, i.e. in the church. The man of sin is seen at work in such as Diotrephes 3 John 9. This personified evil, this agent of Satan was already at work in Paul’s time, 2 Thessalonians 2:7.

The desire for supremacy in power-hungry members of the church produced political hierarchies, causing darkness and chaos. This was restrained by the persecution but came into its own under Emperor Constantine. The perpetrator of darkness will be destroyed by the brightness of the Lord’s light at his appearance. 2 Thessalonians 2:1-8.

The Lord will appear instantaneously, everywhere on the last day. Then the wicked will mourn and the faithful will be taken to be with the Lord for eternity. Luke 21:27 / Matthew 24:30-31 / Mark 13:26-27.

Reference ‘mourn’ ‘see’ ‘clouds’, Matthew 26:64 / John 5:27-29 / Acts 1:9 / Acts 1:11 / 1 Corinthians 15:52 / 2 Thessalonians 1:7-10 / 2 Peter 3:7 / 2 Peter 3:10 / 2 Peter 3:12 / Revelation 1:7.

‘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 all these things, you know that it is near, right at the door. 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.’ Matthew 24:32-35

However, the immediate concern for them was to be ready to flee. In the parable of the fig tree, verses 32-33 and Mark 13:28-29, the Lord reverts to talking about the events preceding the devastation of the temple. Matthew 24:4-15 / Matthew 24:21 / Matthew 24:22-26 / Mark 13:5-14 / Mark 13:19-23.

‘This generation’. All the predictions leading up to and including the destruction of the temple would be fulfilled within the lifetime of people listening to the Lord Jesus. Matthew 24:34 and Mark 13:30. They have nothing to do with ‘end times’.

The phrase ‘this generation’ occurs 15 times in the New Testament. Everyone is where the Lord is referring to the generation of people to whom he was talking.

Whereas the phrase ‘that generation’ is used when referring to folk of a different time, Hebrews 3:10. Dreadful and devastating as the events would be, they wouldn’t stop the Lord’s words from continuing to reach out to all mankind. Mark 13:31.

‘But about that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.’ Matthew 24:36. ‘That day’. Nothing could be more clearly stated than these warnings, that we cannot know when the Lord will come. So, we must be prepared, Matthew 24:36 / Mark 13:32-33 / 1 Thessalonians 5:2 / 2 Peter 3:10 / Revelation 16:15.

‘As it was in the days of Noah, so it will be at the coming of the Son of Man.’ Matthew 24:37. We must always be prepared for the Lord’s sudden appearance. Matthew and Mark continue with three parables illustrating the need to always be prepared for the Lord’s appearing, emphasising that we cannot know when he will come.

‘Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour in which the Son of man comes.’ Matthew 25:13.

Mark has this additional warning

‘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!’’ Mark 13:34-37

The Lord has not left us ‘in the dark’ that He will appear suddenly, without warning. So, by always being prepared we will not be caught out, 1 Thessalonians 5:4.

The Lord Jesus says, ‘I am definitely coming suddenly.’ Can we with confidence and with joy say, ‘Even so, come, Lord Jesus’? Revelation 22:20.

Practical lessons

1. We should not believe anyone who claims to be able to predict the date of the Lord’s return.

If Jesus didn’t know, surely no mere man does. Anyone who claims to be able to discern the time of Jesus’ return by a careful study of prophetic texts is claiming to know more than the Lord Himself and should not be taken seriously.

2. Since we don’t know when the Lord will come back, we should always be ready.

If you knew for sure that the Lord would come back today, would you change some things in your life?

Then why not just assume that He is returning today, for He might, and make the changes immediately. It is utterly foolish to procrastinate in our repentance.

Go To Mark 14