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Forest Hills Baptist Church

Stay Awake

When is Jesus coming back? When will the end of the world arrive? Human beings seem fascinated figuring out the how and when of the end of the world. You may remember a few years ago, everyone was holding their breath for the Mayan prediction of the end of the world on December 21, 2012. The day came and passed without the apocalypse. If you go back earlier you may remember the great stress of Y2K. As the new millennium dawned, everyone was terrified that a computer glitch would cause the nuclear weapons to go off and destroy the world. I remember sitting on my tv that night waiting for the new year to dawn, wondering that when the ball dropped so would the nations power grid.

Though few are arrogant enough to select a date for the end of the world, humanity is ready to meet that challenge. With every prediction, they prove themselves false prophets. The Jehovah’s Witnesses, have predicted the end of the world nine different times (1874, 1878, 1881, 1910, 1914, 1918, 1925, 1975, and 1994). However, even Christians can be duped by these predictions. Many evangelical Christians looked foolish when they bought into Edgar Whisenant’s 88 Reasons Why the Rapture is in 1988. Most recently, many Christians were swindled by a man named Harold Camping, who predicted that the end of the world would come on May 21, 2011. When the apocalypse didn’t come, he revised his prediction to October 21, 2011. Camping has acknowledged his wrong, however this hasty and foolish predictions cause harm to the church and to its witness.

After all, Jesus is coming back! The end is coming. Though the details of his arrival are sparse, Jesus tells us what we need to know—he will return! When speaking of the last days, Christians tend to act in two opposite, but equally destructive ways. On the one hand, Christians can become obsessive over the end of the world, analyzing the news each day and trying to match the events with biblical prophesy, coming to very strange conclusions. On the other hand, Christians can grow so tired of the obsessive weirdness that comes with the apocalypse obsessors that they just ignore the end times completely. What we need is balance. We must live in the present for the glory of God, making as much of the time he’s given us to advance the Gospel of Christ, while at the same time realizing the end is coming, and coming soon.

As we study Mark 13, Jesus gives a final prophesy before the events leading up to his crucifixion. Here the shepherd-king of Israel takes on the role of a prophet, predicting future events. The prophetic teaching of Jesus is called the Olivet Discourse, because he gave it on the Mount of Olives. The passage is notoriously difficult to interpret, and Christians today still debate on the specifics of Jesus’ prophecy. My goal this morning isn’t to connect every detail of this prophecy to contemporary events. Rather, may aim is to help you stay awake and alert, watching for the signs as we hope for Jesus’ return. We mustn’t fall asleep within our own monotonous routines that we fall to grasp the startling Christian truth—the end is near! Though none of us should unhealthly obsess over the time of Christ’s return, we must not let his delay cause us to drift to sleep. Be awake! Be watchful! For Christ is coming soon!

1. Watch for the Signs (13:1-13)

To remind you where we are in Jesus’ life, this is his final week before his arrest and crucifixion. We’ve seen Jesus enter triumphantly into Jerusalem throwing down the proverbial gauntlet to the religious establishment and publicly presenting himself as the Messiah. After a series of conflicts with the religious leaders, they are ready to conspire to kill him. Jesus knows his time is growing short and the time of his mission has come. In Mark 13, Jesus gives his disciples a final prophecy to know what will come.

The prophecy began as Jesus walks out of the temple with his disciples. One of the disciples comments on the beauty of the temple. Then Jesus says to him, “Do you see these great buildings? There will not be left here one stone upon another that will not be thrown down.”

This peaks the disciples interest. How could the temple be destroyed? What else would happen in the days to come? After all, the temple was the center of the religious life of Israel. So they retreat away to Mount Olives, and the disciples began to ask him for more detail. “Tell us, when will these things be, and what will be the sign when all these things are about to be accomplished?”

Thus begins the Olivet Discourse, and one of the most difficult passages in the New Testament to interpret. One of the greatest difficulties in interpreting this passage is the chronology. When do these predictions take place? Have some of them already occurred? What sparked the conversation was the destruction of the temple, which would occur in 70 AD. How much of Jesus’ teaching here is in reference to this particular event, that for us has already occurred. However, not everything Jesus prophesies here finds fulfillment in the destruction of the temple in 70 AD, but clearly point to the end of the age that has yet to arrive. I think the best way to understand Jesus’ teaching here is the idea of a dual fulfillment. Much of what Jesus says here does immediately refer to the destruction of the temple and the sufferings of the apostles. However, the prophecy also has a second fulfillment at the end of the age. It is through this idea of dual fulfillment that we will work through Jesus’ prophecy.

Jesus tells us to watch for the signs of the end of the age. And just what are those signs? On key sign is global violence and deception. Jesus warns us so that we will not be lead astray during these last days. Many will claim to be the Messiah, and these false-Christ’s will lead many people astray. In addition, we will hear of wars and rumors of wars. In the end, nation will rise up against nation, kingdom against kingdom. The earth will quake and famine will starve. However, Jesus tells us, “These are but the beginning of the birth pains.”

Indeed, we’ve seen these birth pains the last two millennia since Jesus made this prophecy. If you know your history, the last two thousand years have been filled with wars and rumors of wars. The kingdoms of the earth have arisen in combat, and many antichrists have arisen to lead people astray. Over the last century, we’ve witnessed countless blood shed. From WW1 to the War on Terrorism, we’ve watch human beings craft new and innovative ways to kill one another, from tear gas to nuclear bombs to drone strikes. As our technology improves so does our ability to kill one another. Even in recent days, their have been rumors of war with North Korea. Christians over the last century have made great predictions each time a new war begins, and anticipate the apocalypse. However, such wars and rumors of wars have happened ever since Jesus’ prediction. Such global instability is a sign of the end, and Jesus tells us that these are but the beginning.

However, Jesus also tells us to be on guard, because in the end persecution will come for the church. As we embark on our missionary duty, we will be brought before governors and kings to bear witness to Christ. In such persecution, Jesus tells us not to be anxious, for the Holy Spirit will give us the words to say. However, the persecution of the church will be a sign of the times. We will be hated by all, because we love and follow Jesus. Yet, “the one who endures to the end will be saved.”

Though the only persecution we currently experience in our country is social marginalization, Christians around the world suffer much worse. However, Jesus warns us to prepare us. Persecution will come for his church. Each of us must prepare to be a faithful witness to Christ, even before a council of kings. The world will hate Jesus and the Gospel so much, that it will even divide families. Brother will deliver brother to death, a father his child, and children against parents. Though Jesus is the prince of peace, those who hate him hate his people. In the last days, persecution will increase, and the church must be prepare to be a faithful witness, even to the point of death.

Of course, Peter and the disciples listening to Jesus’ prophecy would experience persecution unto death. The way of discipleship is the way of suffering. The Roman persecution against Christians was intense. They knew what it meant to suffer for Jesus, and were prepared for the ultimate display of devotion. Even as Emperor Nero torched Christians to light up his garden by night, through the smoldering skin of Christ’s servant, the burning light of witness to Christ pierced the darkness. As Tertullian said, “The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church.” They knew what it meant to suffer for Christ. Do we? Are we prepared for the persecution that is coming, or have we grown so lethargic as comfortable, American Christians, that we have forgotten to count the cost of discipleship? Time will tell as persecution purifies the church of God, and burns the superficial chaff from the church. May you prepare today to give your life tomorrow for the cause of Christ. May you be faithful to Christ, even unto death.

These are the signs that we must watch for as the end approaches—the rise of false messiahs, the spread of war, and the rise of Christian persecution. Though the apostles would experience these in their life time, we much look out for the intensity of these signs. For these signs indicate that the end is coming. Watch for the signs!

2. Watch for Tribulation (13:14-22)

Jesus tells us to watch for tribulation, particularly the “abomination of desolation.” This is a phrase that Jesus borrows from the book of Daniel. The book of Daniel uses it three different times (Dan 9:27; 11:31; 12:11). Let me share with you one occurrence:

He will make a firm covenant with many for one week, but in the middle of the week he will put a stop to sacrifice and offering. And the abomination of desolation will be on a wing of the temple until the decreed destruction is poured out on the desolator. (Dan 9:27).

So Jesus connects this phrase to a “tribulation as has not been from the beginning of the creation.” What is the abomination of desolation. Well it refers to three different events.

First, it refers to the initial fulfillment in the book of Daniel when the Syrian Antiochus Epiphanes sacrificed a pig on the alter of the temple as a burnt offering in 167 BC. This unclean animals sacrifice in the temple was a description of the temple, as Epiphanes setup an alter to Zeus within the Jewish temple. This act so offended the Jewish people, that it lead to an uprising called the Maccabean Revolt.

Second, the “abomination of desolation” refers to the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70, when the Roman General Titus entered the temple. At that day, the people of Judea fled to the mountains. The pregnant women and nursing women would have great difficulty fleeing for their lives on that day, particularly if it was winter! So as Jesus commandeers this phrase from Daniel, the abomination of desolation refers to the coming destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD.

However, there is a third referent to this phrase “the abomination of desolation.” The tragic desolation in 167 BC and 70 AD anticipate a climactic destruction and desecration before the Lord returns. These lesser desolations, anticipate a greater one at the end of the age. Knowing the specifics of this desecration is difficult to understand, but most likely it refers to the “Man of Lawlessness” in 2 Thessalonians 2, “who opposes and exalts himself against every so-called god or object of worship, so that he takes his seat in the temple of God, proclaiming himself to be God” (2 Thes 2:4). Though there have been many antichrists throughout the history of the church, eventually the antichrist will come, this man of lawlessness, and his desperation will spur the return of the Lord.

Jesus warns us against those who says, “Look, here is the Christ!” or “Look, there he is!” Jesus says to not believe them, for many false Christ’s and prophets will do signs and wonder. But, we are to be on guard. That is why Jesus warns us.

The people of God must be prepared to endure this tribulation. The wailing destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD is simply a small picture of the greater tribulation to come at the end of the age. Though for the sake of the elect, God will keep this tribulation short, we must be prepared to endure these great days of tribulation at the end of the age, and on guard against those false christs and prophets who would lead us astray!

3. Watch for the Son of Man (13:28-36)

Jesus gives us these warnings and signs of the end of the age, and some of you might be frightened at such a thought! The end will bring war and lies, suffering and persecution, destruction and devastation. However, it is through these birth pains, that the new beginning of Christ’s rule is established. Here we get to the point of the Olivet Discourse that clearly has not happened yet—the return of Christ! Jesus tells us that after the time of great tribulation, the celestial bodies prepare for the arrival of the Son of Man. Just as the lights get dim before show begins, so will the cosmos as it prepares for the return of its creator. The sun will be darkened and the moon will not reflect its light. Stars will fall and the powers in the heaven be shaken. With cosmic power, the Son of Man will come in clouds, cloaked in power and in glory! Then, the angels will be sent out to gather the elect of God from every corner of the earth. King Jesus will return for his church and gather them unto himself. After this period of great tribulation (there is Scriptural indication from Daniel and others that this will be seven years), Christ will return!

Jesus uses a fig tree to give another lesson. Just as the tree begins to put out its leaves, we know that summer approaches. So too it will be at the end of the age. These signs that Jesus gives us indicate that his arrival is close at hand! When we see these signs and the beginning of the great tribulation, we will know his return is close. The generation who sees the tribulation at the end of thane age, will not pass until all these things take place. At that day the temple will be destroyed, history will cease, and heaven and earth will pass away, but Christ and his word will not pass away.

Are we in this final generation to see the final days of history? I do not know. Anyone who claims to know is a liar. After all, Jesus is clear, “But concerning that day or that hour, no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.” The end is coming, and it is coming soon! And this is Jesus point in giving us this prophecy, that we might be ready. Be on guard and be awake! For we do not know when Christ will return, so we must always be prepared. We do not know when the master of the house will return, but we do not want him to find us asleep when he returns!

Are you awake and ready for the return of Christ? Have you entered into a spiritual slumber? May God awaken you to the reality of eternity, the coming signs of trouble, and the glorious return of Christ! May our knowledge of the future guide our lives in the present. Anyone who doesn’t know Christ, will receive Christ’s wrath. The unexpected return of Christ must create within us a sense of urgency. It is urgent to get your heart right before God today. Turn from your sins and trust in Jesus as your savior and Lord while there is still time! For Jesus has come to save sinners, rescuing them from the coming wrath by enduring the punishment for our sins upon the cross. Those who humbly throw themselves upon Christ, will find forgiveness and everlasting life! In love, he has come for us. In love, he has rescued us. If you don’t know Christ, then turn from your sin and trust in him today! For the end is near.

This teaching today should stir the body of Christ to action. We cannot be found falling asleep in our spiritual lives. We cannot nap when the end could come at any moment! May we keep our souls ready, for whatever suffering and tribulations await us. We must prepare today for what awaits us. We must deeply root ourselves in Christ and in his word, so that when the winds of suffering come, we will not be uprooted. We must put on the whole armor of God, in order to defend ourselves against the coming tribulation. In addition, we have a mission to take the Gospel to the ends of the earth. We are called to go to the hard, risky, and dangerous places to take the Gospel to the nations. I pray that God may raise up some of you to do just that, to go to the closed and dangerous countries for the sake of Christ’s mission. The end is coming—when Christ returns may he find us busy doing his work.

Stay awake! Stay alert! For behold the Son of Man is coming soon. Yes, suffering awaits us, but so does everlasting joy! The day is coming, when Christ will overcome his enemies, and establish his kingdom upon the earth. The former things will pass away and the new will come! In your suffering, remember the glory of the Son of Man in his return. Long for the day of Christ’s return. Whether he returns in our lifetime or not, we do not know. But if Christ does return in our generation, may he find us faithful. May he find us awake!

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