Do you believe what you’re told? For instance, did you know that Pope Francis had heartily endorsed Donald Trump? Well, he didn’t. It was a completely made up story with no factual basis at all. Yet it was shared among thousands of Facebook users as being true! As a result, social media sites are under heavy scrutiny for allowing blatantly false content to be on their sites without any verification. The problem with fake news is that soon you just don’t know what to believe anymore. With so many stories, some people start to believe everything and some won’t believe anything. It’s hard sometimes to know what is true and what is not.
And so here is my question for you: Do you believe that Jesus is coming again? After Jesus teaches the disciples about the coming persecution, he gets even more specific about the dangers that are coming but gives them reassurance that there is a bigger reality that is coming. Until that time, however, Jesus gives his disciples such clear advice as to what to do as they await his coming again. The point that I want us to hear clearly in this passage is that God has us no matter what we may have to face in our lives. Let’s read Mark 13:14-31.
In verses 14-20 Jesus is talking about the coming destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple. As we saw last week, this would happen very soon, within the next 30 years. Now this abomination is something the prophets had talked about years before. In describing the coming destruction of the Temple, Daniel 11:31 says, “His armed forces will rise up to desecrate the temple fortress and will abolish the daily sacrifice. Then they will set up the abomination that causes desolation.” Daniel is describing an abomination so detestable that it causes the Temple to be abandoned by the people of God and causes desolation and destruction.
But Jesus is talking about something or someone who is coming that will desecrate the Temple again and even more completely. The New English Bible brings out the meaning nicely: “When you see the abomination of desolation usurping a place that is not “his.” Mark inserts a parenthetical note to the his readers which indicates that this prophecy was fulfilled in his own day by the invading Roman general and his army.
As a result of the coming destruction in Jerusalem, Jesus issues very pointed warnings to his followers and those who would come to believe in him. Fleeing to the mountains is necessary in order to escape the judgment of God. This idea of flight and judgment was also anticipated in the Old Testament. Ezekiel 7:15-16 says, “Those in the country will die by the sword; those in the city will be devoured by famine and plague. The fugitives who escape will flee to the mountains.” Zechariah 14:5 says, “You will flee by my mountain valley...”
Now ordinarily Jerusalem was considered to be a place of refuge. But in the circumstances described by Jesus here, the almost impregnable walls of the city will offer no real defense to its inhabitants. In fact, those who remain in the city during the siege of Jerusalem found themselves helplessly trapped between starvation and violent death.
And Jesus is saying that there the people’s flight should be urgent and immediate! The flat roof was used for prayer and was reached by an outside staircase. So a person praying on the rooftop must not go back into his house first. At this point, safety of his own life takes precedence over possessions. The man working in the field would leave his cloak at the corner of the field. He must leave it behind rather than to risk going back to get it. Nothing must get in the way of fleeing. Jesus’ compassion is evident as he thinks of the hardships that pregnant and nursing mothers will have when forced to flee in such difficult circumstances. In winter the streams would be swollen and that would make it difficult for people to cross them to get away, but all must flee immediately!
II. Jesus then talks about the shortened time frame and possible false messiahs.
God will powerfully punish his chosen people but he will leave a remnant. Yet it will not last for a long time and God will ultimately save his elect. The elect in themselves are a sign of God’s grace for he will spare them from judgment.
Jesus then immediately warns of a real threat during this coming time. In verses 21-22 Jesus is saying that the coming crisis will bring a wave of messianic pretenders but they will not bring a stop to the tribulation that will strike the land. Again, for the people of God, flight is the most important thing for them to do. They must not be deceived by anyone giving them signs and wonders to prove their claims to be a messiah. Jesus concludes by urging his disciples to be on their guard. All these things will indeed happen. But after this, all that remains is the final victory of the Son of Man.
In contrast to the false hopes which will mislead many of the people is the assurance that there will be final redemption when the Son of Man will be revealed in power and glory. At that point Jesus will return and all the trials Jesus speaks of will be over. Now some view the return of Jesus as being a time when the things of this earth that we don’t like or are mere hassles will be removed.
III. Jesus’ return is then described in verses 24-27.
Jesus says that his return will be after those days but he gives no specific time period. There will be preliminary events that will have occurred as seen in the previous verses. These are the necessary events that must happen prior to the return of the Son of Man, but they do not in themselves determine the time of his return. These things must occur but in the end all the conflicts and trials will be resolved when Jesus does return again.
The reference to the heavenly events which accompany the appearance of the Son of Man is significant in this setting. Joel 2:10 and 3:15 talk about the moon darkening and stars not shining. Such events were part of God’s intervention in the course of human history. Now again the final destiny of history will be reflected in the upheaval in the heavens themselves. The heavens themselves will demonstrate that he is the Son of Man.
At that time the Son of Man will come. This coming as king in the clouds, with power and glory, is the second coming of Jesus. Yet it is important to for us to remember that Jesus had announced earlier that the Son of Man would be rejected, humiliated and put to death. Yet he will come again in glory as the final judge. His coming “with the clouds” will mark the end of the time when the true nature of Jesus, which was hidden while he was on earth, will be fully revealed.
He will come with the angels in all his glory to gather the elect from all over the world. This gathering of God’s scattered people is something that only God did in the Old Testament. And so Jesus is here making a clear claim that he is God.
Now Jesus responds to the original question of his disciples as to when they may expect to see his prophecy concerning the Temple fulfilled and he uses a living example to illustrate. In contrast to most of the trees in Palestine, the fig tree loses its leaves in the winter. Unlike some other trees, the fig tree shows signs of life only later in the spring. And so when leaves begin to appear on the fig tree one can be certain that winter is past and the warm summer season is very near. When the fig tree is green one is certain that summer is coming and is very near. The Mount of Olives was famous for its fig trees. When Jesus gave this instruction just before the Passover, the fig tree would have its leaves sprouting. Jesus is highlighting his teaching by calling the disciples to observe what was right there around them on the Mount of Olives.
Jesus underscores this even more when he says that these events are right at the door. The catastrophe of sacrilege which will profane the Temple is imminent in the same manner that the coming of summer is imminent when the fig tree has leaves. In fact, in verses 30-31, Jesus makes it clear that all these things that he has been talking about will happen in this generation, during the time of Jesus’ disciples. They will see the destruction of the Temple and the destruction of Jerusalem.
But there is comfort as well when Jesus says in verse 31 that while heaven and earth will pass away, his word will never pass away. They can have Jesus’ word as God himself that these things will happen. But they can also know that God’s promise to save them will always be secure.
The point is that God has us no matter what may happen; meteors, hurricanes or wars. There is the threat of nuclear war with North Korea but God has us. Medical experts tell us that a world-wide pandemic that will kill millions is a real possibility in the coming years, but God has us. We may lose our loved ones; we may lose our very lives, but God has us. Our own lives may seem to be unraveling in our own trials, but God has us!