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The End is Near

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Mark 13:1-8. “The End is Near” Safe Haven Worship Centre. Sunday December 29, 2019. Mark 13:1–8 And as he came out of the temple, one of his disciples said to him, “Look, Teacher, what wonderful stones and what wonderful buildings!” 2 And Jesus said to him, “Do you see these great buildings? There will not be left here one stone upon another that will not be thrown down.” 3 And as he sat on the Mount of Olives opposite the temple, Peter and James and John and Andrew asked him privately, 4 “Tell us, when will these things be, and what will be the sign when all these things are about to be accomplished?” 5 And Jesus began to say to them, “See that no one leads you astray. 6 Many will come in my name, saying, ‘I am he!’ and they will lead many astray 7 And when you hear of wars and rumors of wars, do not be alarmed. This must take place, but the end is not yet. 8 For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be earthquakes in various places; there will be famines. These are but the beginning of the birth pains. (ESV) As events are reviewed for the past year, one storyline seems to continue like every other year: Conflict in the Middle East. Over the past week, Palestinian terrorists fired a rocket toward the southern city of Ashkelon on Wednesday night as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was campaigning for the upcoming Likud leadership primary, prompting the premier to be rushed off stage to take cover for the second time in under four months. The Israel Defense Forces said soldiers operating the Iron Dome missile defense system shot down the incoming rocket. ( Hostility has always existed, and always will until Christ returns. Understanding this hostility however is very important in understanding where history is headed. Though the Lord Jesus was sent “to the lost sheep of the house of Israel” (Matt. 15:24), They willfully rejected Him. As the apostle John explained in John 1:11: “He came to His own, and those who were His own did not receive Him”. Jesus responded to Israel’s unbelief by pronouncing divine judgment on the apostate nation (Matt. 12:41–42; cf. 11:20–24). On one hand, their stubborn rebellion moved Him to weep (cf. Luke 13:34–35; 19:41–44), yet it also provoked Him to righteous indignation (cf. Mark 3:5). He repeatedly rebuked the religious leaders for their hypocrisy and hardheartedness, doing so openly and severely (cf. Matt. 15:3–9; 22:18; 23:13–29; Mark 7:1–8; Luke 12:1), and warned His disciples to avoid their influence (Mark 8:15; cf. Matt. 16:6, 11). Twice in His ministry, at both the beginning (John 2:13–22) and the end (Mark 11:15–17), Jesus struck at the heart of corrupt Judaism by attacking the moneymaking operations of the temple, accusing those involved of turning God’s house into a robbers’ den. But rather than repenting, the religious leaders maliciously arranged to kill their own Messiah (Mark 11:18). Beginning with events around the earthly temple of God, we can begin to understand what is going on around us and get a clearer picture of what is going to happen to this earth. To ignore history and prophetic events, is to have a dangerous myopic view. An uninformed view will contribute to dangerous assumptions that can lead us astray and fail to head warnings for the future. The stakes not only include our spiritual health but the spiritual health of our congregation, friends, families and co-workers. When we look back at 2019, understanding the factors in play will help us to make decisions and take precautions that will better enable spiritual growth and health. The Lord Jesus prophetically described features that would occur during that intervening time between His first coming and His return. In Mark 13:1–8, surveying that future history, He depicted three coming realities: 1) The Destruction of the Temple (Mark 13:1-2), 2) The Deception of Many (Mark 13:4–6), and finally, 3) The Devastation of the Earth (Mark 13:7–8). To better understand what is going on around us, and get a clearer picture of what is going to happen, we must understand the significance of: 1) The Destruction of the Temple (Mark 13:1–2) Mark 13:1-2 And as he came out of the temple, one of his disciples said to him, “Look, Teacher, what wonderful stones and what wonderful buildings!” 2 And Jesus said to him, “Do you see these great buildings? There will not be left here one stone upon another that will not be thrown down.” (ESV) Having engaged in a full day of teaching in the temple, delivering His final instruction to the people (cf. 12:1–37) and issuing a stinging denunciation to the religious leaders (12:38–40; cf. Matt. 23:13–38), Jesus left the temple and headed east, exiting Jerusalem through the eastern gate (cf. 11:19). As He and His disciples came out of the temple, one of His disciples looked back and said to Him, “Look/behold Teacher what wonderful stones and what wonderful buildings!” Situated atop the plateau above the Kidron Valley east of the city, the temple and its surrounding buildings stood as one of the architectural marvels of the ancient world. They particularly marvelled at the massive size of the stones which were used in the structure and substructure of the Temple. With its eastern wall covered in gold, the temple’s main structure gleamed in the evening light as if it were a massive jewel. The impressive temple complex contained numerous porticos, colonnades, patios, and courtyards—enabling tens of thousands of worshipers to congregate and present their offerings and sacrifices. In Jesus’ day the temple had already been under construction fifty years, and was still unfinished…Herod enlarged Solomon’s temple to an esplanade measuring some 325 meters wide by 500 meters long, with a circumference of nearly a mile. The immense thirty-five-acre enclosure could accommodate twelve football fields (Edwards, J. R. (2002). The Gospel according to Mark (p. 387). Grand Rapids, MI; Leicester, England: Eerdmans; Apollos.). J. C .Ryle commented on this location and dangerous presumption in worship: “The eyes of our Lord Jesus Christ could find no pleasure in looking at the very temple which contained the holy of holies and the golden candlestick and the altar of burnt offering. Much less, we may suppose, can he find pleasure in the most splendid place of worship among professing Christians, if his Word and his Spirit are not honored in it”. (J. C. Ryle as quoted in Barton, B. B. (1994). Mark (p. 370). Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House Publishers.) • The beauty of our worship over this past year has not been because of having a comfy space, integrate programs, wonderful music, eloquent preaching or elaborate prayers. The beauty of our worship has been in recognizing the beauty of our God. Our gathering, liturgy, music, preaching and prayers have been beautiful as they have recognized the beauty of God. Please turn to Matthew 23 The sheer enormity of Herod’s stone temple, combined with its magnificence and splendor, made it difficult to imagine that such an edifice would be destroyed. But Jesus said to one of His disciples verse 2, “Do you see these great buildings? There will not be left here one stone upon another that will not be thrown/torn down.” “Thrown/torn down” (καταλυθῇ) is a very graphic word, implying gradual demolition. (Vincent, M. R. (1887). Word studies in the New Testament (Vol. 1, p. 221). New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons.) The failure of the Temple authorities in Jesus’ day to respect God’s intention with reference to the Temple created the climate in which its ruin was certain. Jesus’ prediction was fulfilled with awful finality in the destruction of Jerusalem by the legions of Rome in A.D. 70. After fire had raged through the Temple precincts Titus Vespasian ordered the demolition of the Temple in the course of which buildings were leveled to the ground. Isolated fragments of the substructures and of the old city wall which have been recognized by archeological research only confirm the degree to which Jesus’ prophecy was fulfilled. (Lane, W. L. (1974). The Gospel of Mark (pp. 452–453). Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.) (cf. Josephus, War VI. iv. 7). So completely was the temple and the accompanying buildings destroyed that only parts of the Wailing Wall remained. (Cooper, R. L. (2000). Mark (Vol. 2, p. 216). Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers.) The temple’s external beauty was a monument to apostate religion, not unlike a whitewashed tomb. As Jesus explained in Matthew 23: Matthew 23:27-38 27 “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs, which outwardly appear beautiful, but within are full of dead people’s bones and all uncleanness. 28 So you also outwardly appear righteous to others, but within you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness. 29 “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you build the tombs of the prophets and decorate the monuments of the righteous, 30 saying, ‘If we had lived in the days of our fathers, we would not have taken part with them in shedding the blood of the prophets.’ 31 Thus you witness against yourselves that you are sons of those who murdered the prophets. 32 Fill up, then, the measure of your fathers. 33 You serpents, you brood of vipers, how are you to escape being sentenced to hell? 34 Therefore I send you prophets and wise men and scribes, some of whom you will kill and crucify, and some you will flog in your synagogues and persecute from town to town, 35 so that on you may come all the righteous blood shed on earth, from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah the son of Barachiah, whom you murdered between the sanctuary and the altar. 36 Truly, I say to you, all these things will come upon this generation. 37 “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing! 38 See, your house is left to you desolate. (ESV) • On the outside the Temple’s polished marble glistened, but on the inside it was characterized by a stench rising from the corruption, hypocrisy, and hard-hearted unbelief of Judaism’s religious leaders and those who followed them. Lest you think, if I was there I would have recognized Jesus and obeyed him (v.30), a lack or inner examination witnesses against yourself (v.31). Consequently, the cup of God’s fury would be poured out, the temple destroyed, and the house of Israel left desolate (cf. Matt. 23:38). • What’s your focus on for 2020? Most people have a list of external qualities like fitness, financial gain, possessions or travel. When we neglect the most crucial factors of spiritual growth reflected in holiness, then all our external goals set us up for internal failure. Illustration: Temples of the Spirit Shortly before his death, Timothy Richards, missionary statesman to China, told of this experience. He was in Shantung visiting with a Chinese philanthropist who voiced unashamedly that he had read the New Testament through three times. Whereupon Richards asked what were his impressions and what ideas were generated. Reflectively he replied, “I think that the most marvelous thing that impressed me was this—that it is possible for us men to become temples of the Holy Ghost.”( Jones, G. C. (1986). 1000 illustrations for preaching and teaching (p. 166). Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers.) Unimaginable time and effort is spent in order to construct Jewish, Buddhist, Hindu, Muslim and other temples to worship. The marvelous truth in the destruction of the earthly temples resulted in God’s residence in believers. Earthly temples are restricted to one location with only outward grander. As we are temples of the Holy Spirit, we are called to exemplify the glory of God wherever we go. To better understand what is going on around us, and get a clearer picture of what is going to happen, we must understand the significance of: 2) The Deception of Many (Mark 13:3–6) Mark 13:3–6 3 And as he sat on the Mount of Olives opposite the temple, Peter and James and John and Andrew asked him privately, 4 “Tell us, when will these things be, and what will be the sign when all these things are about to be accomplished?” 5 And Jesus began to say to them, “See that no one leads you astray. 6 Many will come in my name, saying, ‘I am he!’ and they will lead many astray (ESV) Having crossed the Kidron Valley and ascended the Mount of Olives, Jesus and the disciples looked back at the temple complex. As Jesus sat on the Mount of Olives opposite the temple, Peter and James and John and Andrew asked/were questioning Him privately. These two sets of brothers comprised the innermost circle of Jesus’ disciples. Having heard prophecy of the temple’s destruction, they were eager to learn more about what the future held. The prophet Zechariah had prophesied that the Lord would return upon the Mount of Olives (Zech. 14). ( Cooper, R. L. (2000). Mark (Vol. 2, p. 216). Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers.) Hence, they asked Him in verse 4, “Tell us, when will these things be, and what will be the sign when all these things are about to be accomplished/going to be fulfilled?” According to the parallel passage in Matthew 24:3, their full question was, “Tell us, when will these things happen, and what will be the sign of Your coming, and of the end of the age?” As Matthew’s account indicates, their question was bigger than just an inquiry into the coming ruination and carnage at the temple. They wanted to know about the end of the present age. The disciples (like other first-century Jews) envisioned only a single coming of the Messiah. But God intended the Messiah to come twice—once as the Suffering Servant (cf. Isa. 53:1–12) and again as the conquering King (cf. Rev. 19:11–19)—with an extended period of time elapsing between His two advents. In order to help them understand that reality, Jesus gave His disciples a detailed reply to their question. In fact, the response found in Mark 13 (and the parallel passages in Matt. 24–25 and Luke 21) constitutes the longest recorded answer given by Jesus to any question He was asked. Clearly, the Lord intended it as vitally important truth for His followers to grasp. Throughout the discourse He is more concerned to prepare them by exhortation and warning for the trials that lay ahead than to give them dates and signs (Wessel, W. W. (1984). Mark. In F. E. Gaebelein (Ed.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Matthew, Mark, Luke (Vol. 8, p. 744). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House.). • We are often distracted by the urgent and not important. In considering the future year ahead, kingdom priorities must ground our prayers, planning and process. If this is not the case then what is sensational before us will draw us away from what is most significant and eternal. In answer to the disciples’ question, in verse 5 the Lord delineated some specific birth pangs, or warning signs, that would precede His return. First, as Jesus began to explain to them, the world will be subjected to relentless deception by spiritual frauds. He told them, “See that no one leads you astray/misleads you. Jesus’ first response is a call for discernment. “See” is a PRESENT ACTIVE IMPERATIVE. Jesus commands them to be on constant alert. Every generation of Christians has tried to force its contemporary history into biblical prophecy. To date they have all been wrong! Part of the problem is that believers are to live in a moment-by-moment expectation of the Second Coming, yet the prophecies are all written for one end-time generation of persecuted followers. Rejoice that you do not know! (Utley, R. J. D. (2000). The Gospel according to Peter: Mark and I & II Peter (Vol. Volume 2, p. 159). Marshall, Texas: Bible Lessons International.) “See” (Blepete) calls for careful discernment, for eyes that see past the surface details to the true significance. Deceivers will come; do not be deceived. History will bring disasters; do not be fooled into thinking the End has come. Persecution will come; do not overlook opportunities for witness; and so on…. “See” (Blepete) is never a call for self-protection (as in Watch out!); nor is it a call to recognize signs or to figure out a timetable. It is not the means of sign-seeking; it is the alternative to it (cf. 8:14–21, where discernment is also the alternative to sign-seeking). It is a call to discern which challenges and opportunities will arise in a life of faithful discipleship. It is Jesus’ way of saying, “Go into the future with your eyes wide open!” As we head into 2020, discernment and faithfulness are required precisely because it is not possible to know when one will be called to give an account of one’s service. Faithfulness at every moment and not just at the final moment is required. Only complete ignorance of the timing can provide adequate motivation for constant readiness (Geddert, T. J. (2001). Mark (p. 305). Scottdale, PA: Herald Press.). As Jesus continued in verse 6, He warned that: “Many will come in My name, saying, ‘I am He!’ and they will lead many astray/mislead many.” The annals of the Roman historian Tacitus tell us how the Roman world was convulsed, before the destruction of Jerusalem, by rival claimants of the imperial purple. In verses 22–23, Jesus repeated the same warning: “For false Christs and false prophets will arise, and will show signs and wonders, in order to lead astray, if possible, the elect. But take heed; behold, I have told you everything in advance.” Jesus’ followers were to watch out for false teachers so that they would not be misled. Though there have been many counterfeit messiahs and false prophets throughout history, both before and after the time of Christ, their numbers will vastly increase at the end of the age. Their work of deception foreshadows that of the ultimate false teacher—the Antichrist (cf. Dan. 8:23; 11:36; 2 Thess. 2:3; Rev. 11:7; 13:1–10). Though he will mislead many (cf. 2 Thess. 2:3–4), even the Antichrist will be unable to deceive the elect (cf. John 10:3–5). (Jamieson, R., Fausset, A. R., & Brown, D. (1997). Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible (Vol. 2, p. 86). Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc.). Please turn to 1 John 4 Over eight hundred people lost their lives by following the command to drink poisoned Kool-Aid from the cult leader Jim Jones, in Jonestown, Guyana. Many people were killed in a fire that destroyed their compound in Waco, Texas, because of following David Koresh, who claimed he was the Messiah. Finally, over thirty suicides took place in Los Angeles, California, among a group called Heaven’s Gate because they followed a leader who claimed to know when God was returning. These people were barren in their souls. Their thirst for meaning and purpose caused them to follow these so-called Messiahs. Jesus warned us not to be deceived by such false prophets as these (Cooper, R. L. (2000). Mark (Vol. 2, p. 217). Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers.). John warned in 1 John 4 1 John 4:1-4 Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world. 2 By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, 3 and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you heard was coming and now is in the world already. 4 Little children, you are from God and have overcome them, for he who is in you is greater than he who is in the world. 5 They are from the world; therefore they speak from the world, and the world listens to them. 6 We are from God. Whoever knows God listens to us; whoever is not from God does not listen to us. By this we know the Spirit of truth and the spirit of error. (ESV) (cf. 2 Tim. 3:13; 2 Peter 2:1–3;) • Christian faith is should not be spiritual gullibility. The unseen spiritual influences that guide people’s speech and actions can be “tested” by observing their doctrine and conduct as well as by the gift of spiritual discernment (cf. 1 Cor. 12:10; 14:29). False prophets claim to speak for God but are actually speaking by demonic influence (1 John 4:3–4). The challenge in today’s age of “tolerance,” is that discriminating discernment can be viewed as being judgmental (cf. “Judge not,” Matt. 7:1). Yet Jesus also taught, “Do not judge by appearances, but judge with right judgment” (John 7:24). The reason why so many will be deceived is that people who are not true believers resist sound doctrine. It does not make sense to them and does not fit their human-centered, materialistic system of thought (cf. 1 Cor. 2:14). (Crossway Bibles. (2008). The ESV Study Bible (p. 2434-5). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.) Illustration: In the publication Christian Reader Erma Landis wrote: For decades, anyone living within five or six miles of the hat factory in Denver, Pennsylvania, set their clocks and watches by the sirens the factory set off five days a week. At 5:30 a.m., the wake-up siren would begin the day followed by the starting, lunchtime, and quitting sirens at the designated times. When the siren system was eventually disbanded, a friend of mine was reminiscing with the timekeeper about his job. “What did you use to determine the exact time?” With a twinkle in his eye, the man reached in his pocket and pulled out a child’s Mickey Mouse watch. Some experts are not as authoritative as they seem. (Without checking against scripture, they will lead many astray). (Larson, C. B. (2002). 750 engaging illustrations for preachers, teachers & writers (p. 32). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books.) Finally, to better understand what is going on around us, and get a clearer picture of what is going to happen, we must understand the significance of: 3) The Devastation of the World (Mark 13:7–8) Mark 13:7–8 7 And when you hear of wars and rumors of wars, do not be alarmed. This must take place, but the end is not yet. 8 For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be earthquakes in various places; there will be famines. These are but the beginning of the birth pains. (ESV) As Jesus continued to articulate the birth pangs that will precede His return, He described global devastation resulting from both human conflicts and natural disasters. The immediate reference in v. 7 is to the war with Rome, which resulted from the Jewish rebellion in a.d. 66 and lasted until the fall of Jerusalem in a.d. 70 and beyond that to the fall of the fortress Masada in a.d. 73 or 74.( Brooks, J. A. (1991). Mark (Vol. 23, p. 209). Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers.) Wars and rumors of wars between nations and kingdoms have been a reality through every generation, including the present. Such as would be a cause of terror to the Hebrew Christians; as the three threats of war against the Jews by Caligula, Claudius, and Nero. There were serious disturbances at Alexandria, a.d. 38, in which the Jews were the especial objects of persecution; at Seleucia about the same time, in which more than fifty thousand Jews were killed; and at Jamnia, near Joppa (Vincent, M. R. (1887). Word studies in the New Testament (Vol. 1, p. 222). New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons.). • It is so natural to think the end has arrived when we personally experience any of these things. Wars have always been with us. … In the last 3,421 years of recorded history only 268 years have seen no war.” …Yet, when you or I are touched by war, it is so easy to think apocalyptically—“surely the end of the world is here!” This is how the Russians felt in the Napoleonic wars, and how many believers felt in Germany in 1945. This is all very natural, but sometimes it becomes absurd, like the man who said that the return of the Lord must be imminent because our national debt is out of hand. This is narcissistic, self-centered, money-clip eschatology!( Hughes, R. K. (1989). Mark: Jesus, servant and savior (Vol. 2, p. 137). Westchester, IL: Crossway Books.) But, in keeping with Christ’s analogy of increased pains, these catastrophes will increase in magnitude and intensity near the end of this age. As bad as those painful realities are, believers do not need to be alarmed/frightened, because this must take place according to God’s sovereign plan for the world, but the end is not yet. There is more yet to come. “Do not be alarmed/frightened” is a PRESENT IMPERATIVE with the NEGATIVE PARTICLE, which usually means to stop an act in progress.( Utley, R. J. D. (2000). The Gospel according to Peter: Mark and I & II Peter (Vol. Volume 2, p. 159). Marshall, Texas: Bible Lessons International.) • As we head into 2020, we tend to be focused on what is to come. But the end of 2019, also calls for us to end what God calls for us to cease. We carry too much into the future when we are burdened by the past. Jesus concluded this section in verse 8, warning that: “nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom”. Yet, those conflicts, no matter how frequent or intense, only foreshadow the final, climactic conflict when the nations of the world will converge on Israel, and Christ will return to deliver His people and consummate His kingdom (cf. Dan. 7:24; 9:27; 11:40–45; Zech. 14:2–3). That final battle, called Armageddon (so named because much of the fighting will take place on the plain of Megiddo, about sixty miles north of Jerusalem), is described in Revelation 16 and 19. When the Lord Jesus returns in victory, He will destroy His enemies (cf. 2 Thess. 1:7–10; Rev. 19:17–21) and cast the Antichrist into the lake of fire (Rev. 19:20).In addition to the pains of war, there will be earthquakes in various places. Between the prophecy and the destruction of Jerusalem (a.d. 70) occurred: A great earthquake in Crete, a.d. 46 or 47: at Rome, on the day on which Nero entered his majority, a.d. 51: at Apameia, in Phrygia, a.d. 53; “on account of which,” says Tacitus, “they were exempted from tribute for five years:” at Laodicea, in Phrygia, a.d. 60: in Campania, a.d. 63, by which, according to Tacitus, the city of Pompeii was largely destroyed.( Vincent, M. R. (1887). Word studies in the New Testament (Vol. 1, p. 222). New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons.) Please turn to Revelation 6 In his parallel account, Luke records that these will be “great earthquakes” (Luke 21:11). Throughout human history, many powerful tremors have been recorded. But they will be dwarfed by the massive earthquakes before Jesus returns. The book of Revelation records one such quake: Revelation 6:12–17 12 When he opened the sixth seal, I looked, and behold, there was a great earthquake, and the sun became black as sackcloth, the full moon became like blood, 13 and the stars of the sky fell to the earth as the fig tree sheds its winter fruit when shaken by a gale. 14 The sky vanished like a scroll that is being rolled up, and every mountain and island was removed from its place. 15 Then the kings of the earth and the great ones and the generals and the rich and the powerful, and everyone, slave and free, hid themselves in the caves and among the rocks of the mountains, 16 calling to the mountains and rocks, “Fall on us and hide us from the face of him who is seated on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb, 17 for the great day of their wrath has come, and who can stand?” (ESV) (cf. Rev. 11:13; 16:18-20) • Who can stand indeed? People try to hide from God’s accounting through busy projects: work, politics, recreation, activism. There is no righteous standing before God by human good deeds. Indeed, by human works, no one is justified before Him (Rom. 3:20). Our standing is only by grace as John explained in Revelation 7. • This global upheaval described in Revelation 6 will dramatically alter both earth’s topography and its geopolitical organization. But it is a necessary part of God’s judgment on the world at the end of the age. In addition to wars and earthquakes, there will be famines throughout history, a reality that again prefigures the ultimate devastation of the very end. During the reign of Claudius, a.d. 41–54, four famines are recorded: One at Rome, a.d. 41, 42; one in Judaea, a.d. 44; one in Greece, a.d. 50; and again at Rome, a.d. 52, when the people rose in rebellion and threatened the life of the emperor. Tacitus says that it was accompanied by frequent earthquakes, which levelled houses. The famine in Judaea was probably the one prophesied by Agabus, Acts 11:28. Of the year 65 a.d., Tacitus says: “This year, disgraced by so many deeds of horror, was further distinguished by the gods with storms and sicknesses. Campania was devastated by a hurricane which overthrew buildings, trees, and the fruits of the soil in every direction, even to the gates of the city, within which a pestilence thinned all ranks of the population, with no atmospheric disturbance that the eye could trace. The houses were choked with dead, the roads with funerals: neither sex nor age escaped. Slaves and freemen perished equally amid the wailings of their wives and children, who were often hurried to the pyre by which they had sat in tears, and consumed together with them. The deaths of knights and senators, promiscuous as they were, deserved the less to be lamented, inasmuch as, falling by the common lot of mortality, they seemed to anticipate the prince’s cruelty” (“Annals,” xvi., 10–13). In times to come, famines will contribute to billions of deaths as one-fourth of the world’s population perishes (cf. Rev. 6:5–6, 8). The various natural disasters that are part of God’s judgment in times to come will include the poisoning of a third of the world’s freshwater supply (Rev. 8:11), which will severely affect the vegetation and ecosystems of the earth. The result will be a massive loss of human life. (Vincent, M. R. (1887). Word studies in the New Testament (Vol. 1, pp. 222–223). New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons.) • Year end reviews always recount the massive fires, floods, quakes, tornados and such. Unfortunately, these are often only met in strategies of carbon pricing, animal welfare or engineering revamps. But, as sinfulness increases, so will the disastrous consequences. When human efforts are limited to human renovations, the results will only unfortunately result in temporary band-aid fixes. The reality of a fallen world should drive people to repentance. Finally, as the Lord delineated the reality of future wars, earthquakes, and famines, which foreshadow final disasters, He added that these things are but/merely the beginning of birth pangs. The metaphor of birth pangs, a reference to the contractions experienced by a woman in childbirth, was often employed by ancient Jewish writers to refer to the end times (cf. 1 Thess. 5:1–3 cf. Isa 13:8; 26:17–18; 66:8; Jer 4:31; 6:24; 13:21; 22:23; 49:22; 50:43; Hos 13:13; Mic 4:9–10.). Initially, an expectant mother’s contractions are separated and somewhat mild. But as the moment of childbirth grows closer, they intensify both in frequency and severity. The disasters that currently mark human history are merely previews of far more horrible things to come. They are mild compared to the utter devastation that will result from God’s judgment at the end of the age. But, like labor contractions, these events, filled with great pain, will hasten the joyous birth of the (new age) (Radmacher, E. D., Allen, R. B., & House, H. W. (1997). The Nelson Study Bible: New King James Version (Mk 13:8). Nashville: T. Nelson Publishers). Even when the cosmos is plunged into chaos, God is in control. Jesus and his promises will outlast heaven and earth. Nothing in life or death can (ultimately) harm those who belong to him. They may have to share his suffering now, but in the end they will also share his victory (Knowles, A. (2001). The Bible guide (1st Augsburg books ed., p. 463). Minneapolis, MN: Augsburg.). In the centuries that have passed since Jesus spoke these words, there have been wars, earthquakes, famines, false messiahs and even a few who claimed to be Jesus. The assurance that God orders history has been a marvelous comfort to the church through the ages. From time to time pretenders still appear, but today the church faces a new type of uncertainty: the challenge posed by the postmodern world. Today the threat does not simply come from those who claim that the Messiah has finally arrived. Some voices within the church (at large) argue that Jesus is not the only Savior. Either claim can be profoundly disturbing. Yet Jesus has not abandoned the church, nor has God left us to our own devices. Jesus’ words of assurance are still trustworthy. In spite of these unsettling developments, God continues to order the events of history. We should understand these things as another component of the events that must take place. Neither the end of the church nor the end of the world has arrived. Events like these are part of the birth pains, and God is still acting in history for the salvation of the world. (Kernaghan, R. J. (2007). Mark (p. 250). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.) • May this both be our perspective, and our prayer heading into 2020. (Format Note: Outline & some base commentary from MacArthur, J. (2015). Mark 9–16 (pp. 226–239). Chicago, IL: Moody Publishers.)
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