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Instructions for the Tribulation

Mark Exposition  •  Sermon  •  Submitted   •  Presented   •  42:01
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Bible Reading

Mark 13:14–23 NIV84
14 “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. 15 Let no one on the roof of his house go down or enter the house to take anything out. 16 Let no one in the field go back to get his cloak. 17 How dreadful it will be in those days for pregnant women and nursing mothers! 18 Pray that this will not take place in winter, 19 because those will be days of distress unequaled from the beginning, when God created the world, until now—and never to be equaled again. 20 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. 21 At that time if anyone says to you, ‘Look, here is the Christ!’ or, ‘Look, there he is!’ do not believe it. 22 For false Christs and false prophets will appear and perform signs and miracles to deceive the elect—if that were possible. 23 So be on your guard; I have told you everything ahead of time.

Introduction

From our previous studies in , you will recall that Jesus had told his disciples that the temple would be destroyed, not one stone would be left upon another.
Based on this pronouncement by Christ, a question was posed to Jesus by four of his disciples, asking when all of these things would take place.
A question was posed.
In response to that, Jesus began by outlining for them a number of general warning signs that should be expected.
Jesus began by responding with general warning signs that should be expected.
Jesus spoke of deceivers coming into the world;
Earthquakes, wars, rumours of wars, nation rising against nation, false teachers would arise etc.
He spoke of wars and rumors of wars;
He spoke of nation rising against nation;
He spoke of Earthquakes and famines.
But His words there were very general, and (importantly for the disciples) these were what He called the beginnings of birth pains.
As I mentioned last week, all of those warning signs continue in our own day. Every single one of them. The same signs are seen as we look at the world around us.
What was important for the disciples, as is important for us today as we observe these signs in the world, is that we need to heed the instruction of Jesus to be discerning.
Elabourate on “Be Discerning”...
As we come to the verses that we will consider this morning, we must notice that there is a change in the way in which the details are given.
In these next few verses, Christ moves from giving vague and general elements that show the beginnings of birth pains, to giving some very specific details to his disciples.
The details that we read of in this particular passage (along with the support from parallel accounts in Matthew and Luke) are not vague. They are clear.
Now to our minds, the details may remain a little unclear due to the language and terminology, the same was not the case for the Jews and disciples of Jesus’ day.
Sermon Title: "Instructions for the Tribulation"
As we come to the text, we need to recognise that the central idea in this portion of Scripture is that Christ is giving his disciples instructions for a time of great tribulation that is approaching.
As we come to the text, we need to recognise that the central idea in this portion of Scripture is that Christ is giving his disciples instructions for a time of great tribulation that is approaching.
The word “tribulation” occurs in verse 19 of our text (NIV = distress):
Mark 13:19 NASB95
“For those days will be a time of tribulation such as has not occurred since the beginning of the creation which God created until now, and never will.
The word for tribulation there is the Greek θλῖψις (Thripsis), which is variously translated as “tribulation”, “Affliction”, “distress”, “anguish” etc.
The essence of it is that there will be a time of great turmoil and hardship - difficult days! The disciples will need to be prepared for this, and they will need to take action in this time that comes.
In my view, the words of Christ that are recorded for us here came to fulfillment at the fall of Jerusalem and the temple, in AD 70.

1. The Sign of the Tribulation (v.14)

The first point that we will consider this morning is “The Sign of the Tribulation.”
Jesus speaks to his disciples here about a sign that is to come that will be a warning for them that this time of tribulation is at hand, and that they should thus respond accordingly.
Mark 13:14 NIV84
“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.
The sign that Jesus speaks about is “The Abomination that causes Desolation”...
This abomination that causes desolation will be standing where it does not belong.
To our minds, this may be extremely puzzling language. We don’t understand what was being spoken of. We don’t understand the terminology being used.
But those to whom Christ spoke would have had a much greater appreciation of what was being said.
In the first place, there was a context to the word “abomination” - which is somewhat lost on us today!
What does “abomination” even mean, and in what context was it used for the Jews?
The term “abomination” ... appears more than 100 times in the Old Testament and just a few times in the New Testament. An abomination is normally a great sin, commonly worthy of death....Scripture calls sexual sins like adultery, homosexuality, and bestiality abominations (e.g., , ). But more often throughout the Bible “abomination” refers to major covenant violations, especially idolatry...
For example in Deuteronomy:
Deuteronomy 7:25 NASB95
“The graven images of their gods you are to burn with fire; you shall not covet the silver or the gold that is on them, nor take it for yourselves, or you will be snared by it, for it is an abomination to the Lord your God.
(in Deuteronomy alone, see 7:25, 13:6-16, 17:2-5, 18:9-12, 27:15, 32:16). In the historical books, “abomination” always describes idolatry, often with child sacrifice (, ).
In the historical books, “abomination” always describes idolatry, often with child sacrifice (, ).
1 Kings 11:7 ESV
Then Solomon built a high place for Chemosh the abomination of Moab, and for Molech the abomination of the Ammonites, on the mountain east of Jerusalem.
2 Kings 23:13 ESV
And the king defiled the high places that were east of Jerusalem, to the south of the mount of corruption, which Solomon the king of Israel had built for Ashtoreth the abomination of the Sidonians, and for Chemosh the abomination of Moab, and for Milcom the abomination of the Ammonites.
So the words that were being used in terms of abomination had a meaning to the people of the day.
The abomination was “A Detestable Thing,” and for the Jews, mostly related to things which were detestable in God’s eyes.
If we look across to Matthew’s Gospel, we find some additional words of Christ that were recorded by Matthew in . Matthew there writes that this abomination of desolation was spoken of through the prophet Daniel.
Furthermore however, if we look across to Matthew’s Gospel, we find some additional words of Christ that were recorded by Matthew in . Matthew there writes that this abomination of desolation was spoken of through the prophet Daniel.
That phrase is found in the prophecy of Daniel in a few places.
Daniel 9:27 NASB95
“And he will make a firm covenant with the many for one week, but in the middle of the week he will put a stop to sacrifice and grain offering; and on the wing of abominations will come one who makes desolate, even until a complete destruction, one that is decreed, is poured out on the one who makes desolate.”
Daniel 11:31 NASB95
“Forces from him will arise, desecrate the sanctuary fortress, and do away with the regular sacrifice. And they will set up the abomination of desolation.
Daniel 12:11 NASB95
“From the time that the regular sacrifice is abolished and the abomination of desolation is set up, there will be 1,290 days.
So the prophet Daniel speaks very clearly of this abomination of desolation - some abomination (probably referring to idol worship) being set up.
We need to now recognise that the words spoken by the prophet Daniel had a fulfillment even prior to the coming of Christ.
It was the Greek King Antiochus Epiphanes who later would fulfill that prophecy. This Greek king was very powerful, and was attempting to spread the Greek influence of culture (Hellenism).
Antiochus issued a decree outlawing Jewish rites and worship, and he ordered the Jews to worship Zeus, rather than Yahweh. This was an attempt to utterly eliminate all traces of Jewish culture.
This led to a rebellion by the Jews.
That in turn led to Antiochus raiding the Jewish Temple, plundering it of its treasures, and setting up an altar to Zeus. He then proceeded to offer up Pigs as a sacrificial offering on the altar to Zeus.
Here was the abomination that causes desolation. Such evil being set up in the very temple of God. Unclean animals being sacrificed. These events are recorded for us in historical books, including the book of 1 Maccabees (apocryphal writings).
This all led eventually to the Maccabean revolt.
And yet in our current text, as we consider the words of Christ, we see that he warns His disciples of another such abomination.
He tells them that when they see this abomination of desolation being set up where it should not be (referring to the holy place, the temple), then the disciples should know that there is trouble.
This will be the warning sign for them that they are to run!! They are to flee to the mountains.
And friends, such an abomination did occur.
With reference to the abomination that Jesus was speaking of, if you go across to Luke’s account of this, he adds this detail:
Luke 21:20 NASB95
“But when you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies, then recognize that her desolation is near.
Jesus said that Jerusalem would be surrounded by armies, and when this took place, they would know that the desolation was near. These signs would be very apparent to them, and they would know that immediate action was necessary.
And friends, precisely this happened. In 70 A.D. following the Jews having revolted against the Romans who were trying to Hellenize them, the Roman forces surrounded Jerusalem and began to attack them. A massive war broke out.
Jerusalem was on the brink of destruction.

2. The Urgency in the Tribulation (v.15-17)

That leads us to our second consideration from the text, and that is “The Urgency in the Tribulation.”
In verses 15-17, we find Christ’s words as He urges His disciples to take urgent steps to get out of Judea at this time when these events unfold.
Mark 13:15–17 NIV84
Let no one on the roof of his house go down or enter the house to take anything out. Let no one in the field go back to get his cloak. How dreadful it will be in those days for pregnant women and nursing mothers!
The picture that is given is that there will be no time to even get the most basic of belongings when these events unfold. It will be necessary to drop everything and flee to the mountains.
In those days, the houses of the people usually had flat roofs, with stairs going up on the outside of the house. The roofs of these houses were used for relaxation and cooling off during summer evenings. Jesus says, if you’re up on the roof of your house - get away as fast as possible. Don’t go inside to gather your belongings. Don’t think about what you’re going to need for your trip. Just flee!!
He further says that if you’re out in the field, whether working in the field or just walking through it, forget about getting to your house and fetching anything there. Just run away.
This would be a time that these disciples would learn just how loosely they were to hold on to their possessions. Nothing was going with them. One wonders if they limited their accumulation of goods after that, knowing that this day was approaching.
But we should pause to ask ourselves, are we ready to leave behind everything that we have here? It’s a
Jesus goes on to say that it will be dreadful for pregnant women and nursing mothers. Pregnant mothers are hardly the most agile and mobile. When there is a rush to get out of town, it would certainly be a danger both to them and their babies.
Those with young children would have to take their young children and go immediately, without having opportunity to gather their supplies and provisions.
Illustration of life with children... life becomes a little more complicated when you’ve got to get out and do anything. Heading out to the shops takes on a whole new dimension of planning and organising. To get all the children in the car, with the bag full of goods and to remain sane while doing it, is an exercise in itself.
In a time of war and threats to ones life, the anxiety, the deep concern, the pain that would accompany these women as they had to flee with their young children would be an immense, deep struggle.

3. The Extent of the Tribulation (v.18-20)

Following on from this, and leading us to our third point this morning, we see: “The Extent of the Tribulation.”
Mark 13:18–20 NIV84
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. 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.
Jesus says that they should pray this doesn’t take place in winter, the reason being that if you had to flee in winter, many of the wadis - streams and ravines - would be swollen and filled with water, and thus very dangerous and difficult to cross.
The tribulation that was to be experienced at that time would be severe. In the words of Christ, they would be days of distress unequaled from the beginning of time, and never to be equaled again.
If you go to the works of Josephus, you will find descriptions of all that took place at this time. A terrible description of great calamity indeed.
The war by the Romans against the Jews began in 66AD, and culminated in 70AD with the siege of Jerusalem taking place by the Romans. The Roman army, under the emperor Titus, surrounded Jerusalem, and laid siege to the city.
When the Jewish people saw what was taking place, they flocked into Jerusalem, hoping for protection behind the high and solid walls.
The Gospel of Mark A City’s Agony (Mark 13:14–20)

Josephus tells the story of that terrible siege in the fifth book of The Jewish Wars. He tells us that 97,000 were taken captive and 1,100,000 perished by slow starvation and the sword. He tells us, ‘Then did the famine widen its progress and devoured the people by whole houses and families. The upper rooms were full of women and children dying of starvation. The lanes of the city were full of the dead bodies of the aged. The children and the young men wandered about the market places like shadows, all swelled with famine, and fell down dead wheresoever their misery seized them. As for burying them, those that were sick themselves were not able to do it. And those that were hearty and well were deterred by the great multitude of the dead, and the uncertainty when they would die themselves, for many died as they were burying others, and many went to their own coffins before the fatal hour. There was no lamentation made under these calamities … the famine confounded all natural passions … A deep silence and a kind of deadly night had seized upon the city.’

The details that Josephus only get worse from there as he describes the lengths that people went to in order to get some kind of nutrition into their stomachs, some even resorting to cannibalism of their own children.
But what is so important to recognise was that those who had heard and believed the words of Christ, those who had remembered these warning words that he uttered, were able to escape to the mountains.
Only those who heeded His warning and obeyed His words were spared.
But the fact is, they were spared. They survived!!

4. The Deception in the Tribulation (v.21-22)

Fourthly from our text, we must notice that Christ warns of “The Deception in the Tribulation.”
Mark 13:21–22 NIV84
At that time if anyone says to you, ‘Look, here is the Christ!’ or, ‘Look, there he is!’ do not believe it. For false Christs and false prophets will appear and perform signs and miracles to deceive the elect—if that were possible.
We’ve already considered last week that Christ gave a general warning to this disciples that in the days to come, there would be those who would come to deceive. There would be those who would lead people astray after them. Last week we considered the examples of such people.
In these verses again, Christ simply says that if at that time there arises anyone who would claim to be the Messiah, then you must not believe it.
The Messiah that the people would seek after in those times would no doubt be a person who would be a political deliverer who would claim to come and deliver the Jews from the hands of the Romans.
And such examples there were in history.
But Christ says, don’t listen to them. What I am telling you is the truth - flee to the mountains!!
Don’t be led astray by these false Messiahs who would come and seek to lead you astray.
The temptation to follow these false Messiah’s would have been significant. Who wants to remain surrounded by the Romans, slowly dying of starvation!?
But the deception would be great! Christ says that these false Christ’s and prophets would appear and perform signs and miracles. They would have some kind of power - even though this power was not of God. They would be miracle workers, but they would be false.
In fact, so deceptive would they be, that they would deceive even the elect - if that were possible.
The clear implication is that it is impossible to deceive the elect of God, precisely because they are His elect. They are His chosen ones, and if chosen by Him, cannot be deceived by such false Messiahs, but rather will continue in the ways of the true Messiah, Jesus Christ.

5. The Loving Warning of the Tribulation (v.23)

Fifthly and finally then, we must note “The Loving Warning Concerning the Tribulation”, and we see that in verse 23...
Mark 13:23 NIV84
So be on your guard; I have told you everything ahead of time.
Again, this is the word we considered last week: “Blepete” - be discerning!!
Christ has issued these words to His disciples precisely because He desires them to be aware of what is to come, so that they may always be prepared.
This desire of Christ was not unique to this situation.
Consider some of these examples from John’s Gospel...
John 13:19 NASB95
“From now on I am telling you before it comes to pass, so that when it does occur, you may believe that I am He.
In , while referring to Judas being the one who will betray Him, Jesus says:
John 13:18–19 NIV84
“I am not referring to all of you; I know those I have chosen. But this is to fulfill the scripture: ‘He who shares my bread has lifted up his heel against me.’ “I am telling you now before it happens, so that when it does happen you will believe that I am He.
John 16:1–4 NIV84
“All this I have told you so that you will not go astray. They will put you out of the synagogue; in fact, a time is coming when anyone who kills you will think he is offering a service to God. They will do such things because they have not known the Father or me. I have told you this, so that when the time comes you will remember that I warned you. I did not tell you this at first because I was with you.
John 16:32–33 NIV84
“But a time is coming, and has come, when you will be scattered, each to his own home. You will leave me all alone. Yet I am not alone, for my Father is with me. “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”
John 16:
Christ had regularly forewarned His disciples of the things that were to come in order that they would be prepared and ready for what lay ahead. This was His loving warning of what would unfold, and it was told them in order that they may be spared!
And so His loving exhortation to them as disciples is once again to be discerning.

Application

With that in mind, let us consider what application this text may have for us today.
I will begin by saying, that it is my conviction that these verses that we have considered were directed particularly to those who lived in that day. In other words, I don’t believe that these verses should be used to look forward to some future day when similar events will unfold.
Many have suggested that there was both an immediate fulfillment as well as a longer term event - towards the second coming of Christ - that were contained in these verses. I’m not convinced of that.
The words are very specific, and they relate to a particular place - Judea, Jerusalem.
Furthermore - and this is so important - was that the place that the Jews believed to be a meeting place with God was going to be destroyed, according to Jesus.
The reason the Jews ran into the city and the temple was because they believed that God’s presence was there. Even if they had to die there, it would be an honour for them.
The NIV Application Commentary: Mark Warnings about the Destruction of the Temple (13:5–23)

The Roman historian Dio describes just such a deluded allegiance. He was amazed at the Jewish resistance to the very end of the war when obviously everything was lost.

The Jews resisted [Titus] with more ardor than ever, as if it were a kind of windfall [an unexpected piece of luck] to fall fighting against a foe far outnumbering them, they were not overcome until a part of the Temple had caught fire. Then some impaled themselves voluntarily on the swords of the Romans, others slew each other, others did away with themselves or leaped into the flames. They all believed, especially the last, that it was not a disaster but victory, salvation, and happiness to perish together with the Temple.

But the point of Christ’s warnings to His disciples was to encourage them not to reverence the temple. To do so would be to turn against Christ.
Christ’s followers were instructed to flee, because judgment was coming. That’s been the point of Christ’s words to the Sanhedrin in time leading up to this discourse. That has been the point of Christ’s cursing the fig tree that wasn’t producing fruit. Judgment was coming.
But further to judgment just coming, what is of such great importance was that something new, something greater was coming in its place.
But what is of such great importance was that something new, something greater was coming in its place.
When Christ spoke to the Samaritan woman at the well, they spoke about the worship of God.
John 4:19–24 NIV84
19 “Sir,” the woman said, “I can see that you are a prophet. 20 Our fathers worshiped on this mountain, but you Jews claim that the place where we must worship is in Jerusalem.” 21 Jesus declared, “Believe me, woman, a time is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. 22 You Samaritans worship what you do not know; we worship what we do know, for salvation is from the Jews. 23 Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. 24 God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in spirit and in truth.”
We need to also then consider the words of Christ recorded for us in
John 2:18–22 NIV84
18 Then the Jews demanded of him, “What miraculous sign can you show us to prove your authority to do all this?” 19 Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days.” 20 The Jews replied, “It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and you are going to raise it in three days?” 21 But the temple he had spoken of was his body. 22 After he was raised from the dead, his disciples recalled what he had said. Then they believed the Scripture and the words that Jesus had spoken.
I agree that there will be wars and rumours of wars. I agree that nation will rise up against nation. I agree that there will be earthquakes and famines until the return of Christ. I agree that there will be great persecution of Christians in various places, as is happening even in our day.
We need to consider these words for a moment. Christ spoke of His own body as the temple.
Now we mustn’t overlook that as if it is something insignificant or just some strange kind of connection that Jesus was trying to make of His body and the temple.
There is great significance in this.
We must understand firstly that the temple was the meeting place between God and His people.
This is one of those great themes that runs through the whole of Scripture - being in fellowship with God.
In the Garden of Eden, Adam and Eve, before the fall, walked with God in the garden. After the fall, the hid from Him, and ultimately they were banished from the Garden.
With the Israelites, as they wandered out into the Wilderness, they built a Tabernacle, which was the dwelling place of God amongst them. Very specific rules surrounded the Tabernacle.
Later on, it was Solomon, the son of David, who built the Temple for God, so that His dwelling would be amongst the people.
It was at the Temple where the people of God would meet with God.
“...it is interesting that God says to the exiles by the banks of the Kebar River through the mouth of Ezekiel that even though they are far away, “I will be a sanctuary to them” (). That is temple language.
So, in other words, the real sanctuary is where God is. It is not where the masonry is. It is not in a geographical location. God is not restricted to Jerusalem. God is not restricted to a box. God is not restricted to a cubical room behind a veil. “And I will be a sanctuary to them” becomes very strong. [D.A. Carson]
The fact is that Jesus is the ultimate temple. Jesus is the ultimate place that we come into the presence of God and meet with Him.
But then in a secondary sense, the church of Jesus Christ is the Temple.
Ephesians 2:19–22 NIV84
19 Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and aliens, but fellow citizens with God’s people and members of God’s household, 20 built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone. 21 In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. 22 And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit.
Ephesians 2:20–21 NASB95
20 having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus Himself being the corner stone, 21 in whom the whole building, being fitted together, is growing into a holy temple in the Lord,
Ephesians
This is significant! We are the temple of the living God. Christ is the temple, and He dwells in our midst within our hearts as the church. As we gather together as a people, we form the very place where God makes His presence known.
2 Corinthians 6:16–18 NIV84
16 What agreement is there between the temple of God and idols? For we are the temple of the living God. As God has said: “I will live with them and walk among them, and I will be their God, and they will be my people.” 17 “Therefore come out from them and be separate, says the Lord. Touch no unclean thing, and I will receive you.” 18 “I will be a Father to you, and you will be my sons and daughters, says the Lord Almighty.”
2 Corinthians 6:
There are many other dimensions to this temple imagery that are fulfilled in Christ.
Temple was the meeting place between God and His people
Sacrificial system - Christ was the perfect sacrifice
Priests interceding for the people - now Christ intercedes on our behalf.
Temple was the place where sacrifices were offered up
Do you recognise the significance of being in Christ?
Christ is the one to whom we look today.
Are you in Christ? Christ is the way to the Father. There is no other.
If you have not yet trusted in Him as your Saviour and Lord, then I urge you to confess your own sin today, turn to Him and confess Him as Lord!
So, in other words, the real sanctuary is where God is. It is not where the masonry is. It is not in a geographical location. God is not restricted to Jerusalem. God is not restricted to a box. God is not restricted to a cubical room behind a veil. “And I will be a sanctuary to them” becomes very strong.
John 2:19 NASB95
Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.”
John 2:22 NASB95
So when He was raised from the dead, His disciples remembered that He said this; and they believed the Scripture and the word which Jesus had spoken.
So in the New Testament the antitype of these strands regarding the temple emerge in three ways — two big ones and one small one. The first big one is Jesus himself as the ultimate temple. The second big one is the church of Jesus Christ as the temple; that is, it is the meeting place between God and sinners. Here is where God speaks through his temple to the surrounding nations. Being constituted as the church, it becomes the meeting place between God and sinners and, thus, becomes a temple as well. And then in one or two passages only our bodies are the temple of the Holy Spirit. That language is used further there.
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