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Author:Dr. Wes Bredenhof
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Congregation:Free Reformed Church of Launceston, Tasmania
 Tasmania, Australia
 
Preached At:Providence Canadian Reformed Church
 Hamilton, Ontario
 
Title:Christ our prophet warns of the coming covenant judgment
Text:Mark 13:1-23 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:End Times
 
Preached:2012
Added:2012-07-17
Updated:2012-07-17
 

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

NOTE:  all songs from the 2010 Book of Praise

Psalm 121
Hymn 82:3
Psalm 7
Psalm 68:1-3
Hymn 41

Reading:  Ezekiel 7
Text:  Mark 13:1-23
* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Wes Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.


Beloved congregation of Christ,

Christians have often been obsessed with the end of the world.  Some of you may remember the name of Hal Lindsey and his famous book from 1969, The Late, Great Planet Earth.  The book was subtitled, “A penetrating look at incredible prophecies involving this generation.”  According to Lindsey, the end times were upon us.  Closer to our own time, there was the series of books by Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins, Left Behind.  Even many Reformed people found these books to be compelling reading, though some didn’t.  Nathan Wilson and renowned prophecy expert Mr. Sock wrote a parody entitled Right Behind.  According to Augustine’s endorsement on the back cover, “Right Behind is at least as horrible as the original.”  The point is the end times have been a source of discussion and disagreement in the past and still are today. 

We have a special name for the doctrine of the last things.  We call it eschatology.  At the center of a lot of modern eschatology is the passage we’re looking at from Mark and its parallel in Matthew 24.  It’s called the Olivet Discourse, named after the Mount of Olives.  It’s one of the most intensely debated parts of the Bible.  It’s widely misunderstood in our day.  Therefore, it’s important for us to have a clear understanding of what our Lord Jesus was teaching here.  He was acting in his office as a prophet and warning the people about the judgment to come.    

Let’s first review where we are here in the Gospel According to Mark.  Jesus is in Jerusalem.  We’re right at the end of his ministry on earth, right before his trial, suffering, and death.  This is just a couple of days before Good Friday.  We’re almost at the point where all hell breaks loose against him – literally.  He’s been in the temple and he’s been confronting the Jewish religious leadership.  He cleared the temple and he exposed the false teaching of the Pharisees and the Sadducees.  In the passage preceding this one, he pointed to this poor widow as one offering the proper sacrifice that pleases God.

Now Jesus and his disciples are on their way out of the temple.  One of the twelve makes a comment about its beauty.  The stones and the building were impressive.  Imagine these stones.  They were probably marbleized granite.  They were enormous:  each stone was 40 feet long, 15 feet high and 20 feet wide.  Cutting these stones and putting them into place on Mount Zion would have been an ancient engineering feat.  The temple not only had these huge stones, it was covered in gold.  Gold was everywhere.  It was said to be “a mountain of white marble decorated with gold.”  The temple complex was widely considered to be an architectural wonder, not only by Jews, but also by Gentiles.                

All these years later we can hardly imagine how important the temple was to the Jews.  Its external beauty was only part of the equation.  This was where God promised to be present to bless his people.  This was where the sacrifices were offered which spoke of the forgiveness of sins and God’s grace.  No, it wasn’t the original temple built by Solomon.  This one had been constructed by Herod.  But it was built on the same site and according to much the same idea.  It definitely held the same significance.  No Jew could imagine life without the temple – this building was more than a structure, it was an institution.  You could compare it somewhat to the Parliament Buildings in Ottawa.  These are an important part of the fabric of Canadian life, but because the temple was the place where God made his name dwell it was even more so for the Jews.    

It’s this temple that the disciple marvels at in verse 1.  That brings Jesus to make his remarkable statement in verse 2.  Christ says that this institution is slated for demolition.  The temple will be so thoroughly destroyed that not one stone will be left standing on top of another.  It’s a startling statement, but there’s nothing unclear about it. 

Christ and his disciples left the temple and exited the city.  They travelled through the Kidron Valley and then up the slopes of the Mount of Olives.  On one side of the valley was the temple and on the other was Jesus and his four disciples, Peter, James, John, and Andrew.  From there they could still see the temple in all its glorious splendour.  They heard what Jesus said about the destruction of the temple and they wanted to know more.  So they asked him.  They asked when this was going to happen and when they would be able to see the signs that it was about to happen.  And the rest of our text is taken up with the first part of his answer. 

Let me first lay out for you an overview of what Jesus is teaching here.  He is speaking about two things in this chapter.  These two things are intertwined.  First, he’s speaking about the destruction of the temple in the year 70 A.D.  Second, he’s speaking about the last days before his return to judge the living and the dead.  He’s speaking the way the Old Testament prophets did.  They often intertwined events in the near future and events further off.  Jesus does that here too.  It can be a bit confusing to try and understand it.  But with some careful attention, we can discern what refers to the last days and what refers to 70 A.D. and what refers to both. 

Christ first speaks about what refers to both.  He warns his disciples that there will be deceivers, there will be men pretending to be Jesus.  Such men will say that the end is near because Jesus is here and he’s me.  I’m Jesus.  And the sad part is that some will believe these lies.  This happened in the days of the apostles already and it’s happened throughout history.  There have always been impostors.  Every generation seems to have some kook who claims to be Jesus.  On Wikipedia, there’s actually a page with a list of people who claimed to be Jesus.  Some of the names you may recognize:  Haile Selassie, Jim Jones, David Koresh, Sun Myung Moon.  It’s quite a long list and most of them developed some kind of following.  We can expect to see more of this deception in the time before Christ’s return. 

Jesus speaks of wars and rumours of wars.  He speaks of nations and kingdoms rising against one another.  Earthquakes and famines.  All these things took place during the lifetime of the apostles before the fall of Jerusalem in 70 A.D.  All these things continue to take place today.  Each new year brings new wars.  Each new year sees old wars continue.  Every year we hear of some devastating earthquake somewhere on the globe.  Famines are often in the news too.  These are things which constantly warn us of coming judgment.  Jesus calls us to be watchful. 

He tells his disciples that there will also be persecution.  He’s mentioned that before.  Christ’s disciples in any age should not expect to be warmly welcomed.  The message of the gospel is not going to win you friends; it’s much more likely to earn you hatred.  For the disciples, Jesus told them that they would be arrested.  They would be flogged.  They would be given the opportunity to present the gospel as a testimony to rulers.  And they were to take those opportunities, just as we are.  One of the important things that has to happen is the preaching of the gospel to the entire world.  That had to happen in the days of the apostles and that still has to happen today.  The good news of what Christ has done has to be announced to one and all, to people from every tribe, tongue and nation.  Here our Saviour reminds us again of the missionary calling of the church.  He calls us to be an outward looking church with a heart for the world lost in darkness.  Jesus Christ wants the gospel to be preached to one and all.  The final judgment will not come until the missionary task is completed.  That’s not to say that everyone who hears the gospel will believe it.  It’s to say that the church has to bring the gospel far and wide so that all the elect will be brought in. 

As the gospel goes out, persecution is going to be a reality.  The disciples then and disciples now will be faced with those who demand an explanation for why they believe this gospel.  Sometimes those asking will be doing so with hostile intent.  If they don’t like your answer, they may put you to death.  Christ says you might be tempted to worry about what to say.  But don’t.  Say what God gives you through his Spirit.  His Spirit is living in you and he will give you the words.  That happened in the days of the apostles.  You can read about that in Acts.  That happened afterwards too.  There are tons of examples in church history.  There was Polycarp, martyred in 155.  The Romans gave him a chance to turn his back on Christ.  Then the old man responded, “I have served him for 86 years and he has done me no wrong.  How can I blaspheme my king who saved me?”  He was then burned at the stake.  But the Spirit gave him the words to make a sound witness for his Saviour.  Loved ones, we may not ever be in such a dramatic situation, but even in the less dramatic moments where we need to speak of Christ, we can trust that we have the Spirit to help us.  He will give us the words just as he gave words to Polycarp and just as he gave the words to the apostles in Acts.  You can trust him.              

And believers in this age can expect not only to face opposition from rulers, but even from within their own families.  Jesus speaks of brothers betraying one another.  He speaks of fathers betraying their own children and children doing the same to their parents.  It’s an awful scenario brought about by the hatred that people will have for Christ and for the gospel.  Though it’s good news that Christians bring, it always means bringing some bad news first.  People have to understand that they’re sinners and prideful people don’t want to hear that message.  They don’t want to give up the false idea that they’re on the throne.  They don’t want to submit to Jesus Christ as Lord.  Therefore, they will rage against him and against his followers.  This is to be expected.  In the face of that, Jesus encourages his disciples, and he encourages us too, to persevere, to stick with it.  Standing firm to the end, holding to Christ as your Saviour no matter what the cost, no matter what the pressures, that’s the way to salvation.  That’s the way to survive the coming judgment.

Beginning at verse 14, Christ becomes more concrete and much of what he says from this point to verse 23 has to do with the events of 70 A.D.  It all begins with the abomination of desolation.  A Jewish audience would hear that and right away think of Daniel 9.  There Daniel prophesied of an abomination being set up in the temple at Jerusalem.  The Jews thought that this had been fulfilled during the days of the Maccabees, during the inter-testamental period.  In 168 BC, Antiochus Epiphanes attacked Jerusalem and conquered it.  He desecrated the temple.  His soldiers set up idolatrous altars.  It was a gross violation of the holiness of the temple.  After that happened, the Jews thought that Daniel 9 had been fulfilled.  Now another prophet has come and he says, “Not so quick.  Daniel 9 was fulfilled by Antiochus Epiphanes, but it’s going to be fulfilled again.  The temple is again going to be desecrated.”  And Jesus says to his disciples, when that happens, you better run for the hills because a huge disaster is about to strike. 

Christ is warning the disciples.  He says when the temple gets profaned, then it’s time to run as quickly as you can away from Jerusalem.  Echoing the words of Ezekiel in our reading, he tells them to flee to the mountains.  Don’t get your stuff from inside your house.  Don’t worry about your coat.  It’s like they tell you on airlines, if you have to go for the emergency exits, leave your carry-on luggage behind.  And then Jesus says that it’s going to be especially hard for those believers who are pregnant or nursing – and he says that you better hope it’s not winter because there’s nothing like what’s about to happen.  This is an unparalleled disaster.  But the judgment will be short-lived because of God’s love for the elect.  For the sake of Christians, God will keep the time of tribulation short. 

And again, Christ warns them that there are going to be deceivers.  There are going to be false Messiahs, claiming to bring deliverance.  The disciples have to be aware that these deceivers are out there and they shouldn’t believe them.  There will even be signs and miracles and so on.  By the way, that tells us that even if there are people out there who can do miracles today (and that’s dubious in most cases) that doesn’t mean they’re genuine servants of God.  Think of the magicians in Egypt.  They could do many of the same things that Aaron did.  A miracle in itself doesn’t qualify you to be a representative for God.  Demonic powers can make miracles happen too or maybe appear to.  But the whole point of this is that Christ is telling his disciples to be on their guard – they have to be aware, watchful, circumspect. 

The events described here are awful.  Let me tell you something about the fulfillment of these prophecies in 70 A.D.  The historical fulfillment is not described in Scripture.  Most of what we know about this comes from the Jewish historian Flavius Josephus.  It lines up exactly with what Christ prophesied would happen.  There were the wars and rumours of wars and so on.  There were the earthquakes and famines.  There was persecution of Christians.  There were false prophets and messiahs.  But then things become more specific.  The abomination of desolation appeared, just as Christ prophesied.  The temple was actually desecrated at least twice.  The first was the one directly spoke of by Jesus.  In the year 68 A.D. the Idumeans ended up in Jerusalem and they attacked the Jews there.  These Gentiles attacked the Jews in the temple and they killed thousands.  Josephus says that the temple was overflowing with human blood.  8500 Jews had their throats slit.  Dead bodies piled up in heaps in the temple.  The high priest Ananus was executed.  Josephus writes that this was the beginning of the destruction of Jerusalem that culminated in 70 A.D.   When these dramatic events were taking place, Jesus’ disciples should have gotten the clue – the great judgment was at the door step.  It was time to flee to the hills.  Those who would have fled away from Jerusalem would have been swimming upstream, so to speak.  Because Josephus relates that most Jews were running to Jerusalem, away from the Romans.  The Romans were on their way to crush a revolt and they were slowly making their way to the centre of the revolt in Jerusalem. 

Eventually the Romans  arrived and they started a siege of Jerusalem in March of 70 A.D.  They surrounded the city and no one could get in or out.  This was a problem.  The hundreds of thousands of Jews now inside the city soon started running short of food.  Some resorted to cannibalism.  Josephus tells of a Jewish mother named Mary.  A bunch of men found her eating a delicious meal and they gave her a hard time over it.  She replied something like, “Do you want to try and eat some of my infant son too?”  It was horrific.  Some tried to escape the city.  Thousands of them were caught by the Romans.  To send a message, the Romans crucified on them on the siege mound surrounding the city.  They crucified them every which way.  Josephus estimates that they crucified approximately 500 Jews per day.  They ran out of room for the crosses.  Then the Romans ran out of wood for the crosses.  The entire area around Jerusalem became deforested because the Romans cut down all the trees to make them into crosses.

The siege began to break in July.  The Romans began making their way into Jerusalem, killing as they went.  They made it to the temple.  Titus, the Roman general, he wanted to spare the temple.  But a fire was accidentally started.  All the gold on the structure melted and spilled into the temple’s drainage system.  To get at this gold, the Romans dismantled the temple, stone by stone.  Not one stone was left standing on top of another – just like Jesus had prophesied would happen.  The beauty was gone.  Those massive stones became a heap of rubble.  The Prophet’s words came true. 

The Romans desecrated the temple with one final abomination.  Josephus tells of how the Roman soldiers brought their ensigns into the temple precincts.  These ensigns were not only military markers, they also had a religious function.  They represented the Roman gods and Roman soldiers used them for worship.  They made sacrifices to the Roman gods in the temple.  

Today the temple is gone.  It’s gone because of the events of 70 A.D.  The Romans destroyed it and brought terrible suffering to the Jewish people of that time.  Over a million people reportedly died just at the siege of Jerusalem, men, women, children.  But now the question we have to ask is:  why?  And what do we take away from this?

All this happened because it was a covenant judgment of God against the Jews.  They had rejected Jesus Christ as their Saviour.  They had been given so many riches, so many promises, so many benefits.  They had been given a promised land.  They had been given the Word of God in the Old Testament.  God had given them his good law to make them the envy of their neighbours.  The prophets had been sent to them.  God had given them kings to rule them in righteousness.  The list of benefits and blessings doesn’t end.  It goes on and on.  And when the Messiah appeared, what did they do with him?  True, some believed.  There was a remnant looking for his coming and when he did come, they embraced him in faith. We think of the disciples and many in the early apostolic church.  Many of them had Jewish blood.  But many others, far more, rejected the gospel.  Many others turned their backs on Christ and refused to repent and believe.  Loved ones, that’s why all these horrific events happened.  It was a judgment on the unbelief and rebellion of the Jews.  Jesus had warned them.  He told them that it would be more tolerable on the day of judgment for Sodom and Gomorrah than for these covenant people who had been given so much, yet rejected the Saviour.  There would be less wrath for the sins of Sodom and Gomorrah than for the sins of the covenant-breaking Jews.  Think about that for a moment.  Think about what the sins of Sodom and Gomorrah were.  We recoil at them, yet God says that there is a sin that is worse:  being a covenant child, hearing the gospel, and then rejecting it.  That sin will be judged more harshly than sodomy.  And it was on the day of the LORD’s vengeance in 70 A.D.  What was seen on the ground that day by Josephus was nothing compared to what happened when those hearts stopped beating and those lungs stopped breathing and their souls went into an eternity of divine punishment.

Brothers and sisters, I think you know where we’re going with this as we consider how this applies to us today.  Judgment day is coming.  Jesus is clear about that for all of us.  The final day of the LORD’s vengeance will come upon us.  And who are we?  We’ve all been marked with baptism.  We are his covenant people.  God has claimed us for his own, just like he did with those million and some Jews in Jerusalem in that terrible July in 70 A.D.  He’s given us some incredible promises.  He’s promised eternal life in his Son Jesus Christ.  What will become of us if we reject him?  What will be our fate if we do not respond with faith in Christ?  Listen, I’ll tell you the truth.  The truth is you will not be treated like an average vanilla unbeliever.  Sometimes people say that God has a special place in hell reserved for unrepentant serial killers, child molesters, and genocidal dictators.  Likely he does.  But for sure he has a special degree of wrath and punishment waiting for covenant people who spurn him.  The judgment we read about in Mark 13 is there to warn us as covenant people:  the day is coming!  Watch out that no one deceives you!  Most of all, watch out that you do not deceive yourself into thinking you’re safe if you don’t trust in Christ!  You must be on your guard!  Most of all, be on your guard against complacency and thinking that covenant status automatically qualifies you for eternal life.  Be on your guard beloved, and again look to Christ, be resting and trusting in him alone.

When we have Christ, we need not fear the coming day of judgment.  When we have Christ, if people want to harm our bodies it may be unpleasant and painful, but they cannot rob us of our joy.  When we have Christ, we have a hope that will keep us steadfast in the face of great evil and suffering.  Our great prophet told us all this ahead of time to prepare us.  The signs are always there to remind us that he is coming again to judge the living and the dead.  Brother, sister, be prepared for that day when he returns, be prepared by holding fast to your Saviour.  With him you’ll always be safe, no matter how hard the storm blows.  AMEN.            

Prayer:

Our great and mighty God,

When the final day of judgment comes, let us all be found safe in Christ.  When your wrath is poured out on the earth, let us all be found within the refuge of your Son.  When your justice is served, let us all be found acquitted and righteous in the Holy One.  O Father, please help us with your Spirit so that we may be always looking to our Saviour.  Help us too to live out of him each day.  Please give us more grace so that we would not live in our sins, but Christ in us and we in him.  Thank you Father, for your word of warning to us this morning.  In it we see your love for us, that you do not desire that any of us perish.  Thank you too, Father, for the gospel.  Thank you for giving us a hope in Jesus.   

 

                             

 




* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Wes Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

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