there is any one topic which is taught with more fervor (and venom) that the
return of Christ, I do not want to teach it. Prophecy in the Bible stirs up
deep emotions in the partisans of the various theories of interpretation. Of
those controversies, none is more heated than the debate over when Jesus is
if you think about it for a minute, is rather silly. Jesus told us that only
God the Father knows the time. Indeed, in today’s Scripture, see how little
Jesus says about future events – and how much more concerned he is to find us
Holy Bible, New International Version
1As he was
leaving the temple, one of his disciples said to him, “Look, Teacher! What
massive stones! What magnificent buildings!”
2“Do you see all these great buildings?” replied Jesus. “Not one stone here will be left on another;
every one will be thrown down.”
3As Jesus was sitting on the Mount of Olives opposite the
temple, Peter, James, John and Andrew asked him privately, 4“Tell us, when will these things happen? And what will be the sign
that they are all about to be fulfilled?”
5Jesus said to them: “Watch out that no one deceives you. 6Many will come in my name, claiming, ‘I am he,’ and will deceive
many. 7When you hear of wars and rumors of wars, do
not be alarmed. Such things must happen, but the end is still to come. 8Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There
will be earthquakes in various places, and famines. These are the beginning of
9“You must be on your guard. You will be handed over to the
local councils and flogged in the synagogues. On account of me you will stand
before governors and kings as witnesses to them. 10And the gospel must first be preached to all nations. 11Whenever you are arrested and brought to trial, do not worry
beforehand about what to say. Just say whatever is given you at the time, for
it is not you speaking, but the Holy Spirit.
12“Brother will betray brother to death, and a
father his child. Children will rebel against their parents and have them put
to death. 13All men will hate you because of me, but he
who stands firm to the end will be saved.
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. 15Let no one on the roof of his house go down or enter the house to
take anything out. 16Let no one in the field go back to get his
cloak. 17How dreadful it will be in those days for
pregnant women and nursing mothers! 18Pray that this will not take place in
winter, 19because those will be days of distress
unequaled from the beginning, when God created the world, until now—and never
to be equaled again. 20If 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. 21At that time if anyone says to you, ‘Look,
here is the Christ£!’ or, ‘Look, there he is!’ do not believe
it. 22For false Christs and false prophets will
appear and perform signs and miracles to deceive the elect—if that were
possible. 23So be on your guard; I have told you
everything ahead of time.
24“But in those days, following that distress,
“‘the sun will be darkened,
and the moon will not
give its light;
25 the stars will fall from the sky,
and the heavenly bodies will be shaken.’£
26“At that time men will see the Son of Man
coming in clouds with great power and glory. 27And he will send his angels and gather his elect from the four
winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of the heavens.
28“Now learn this lesson from the fig tree: As
soon as its twigs get tender and its leaves come out, you know that summer is
near. 29Even so, when you see these things
happening, you know that it is near, right at the door. 30I tell you the truth, this generation£ will certainly not pass away until all
these things have happened. 31Heaven and earth will pass away, but my
words will never pass away.
32“No one knows about that day or hour, not
even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. 33Be on guard! Be alert£!
You do not know when that time will come. 34It’s like a man
going away: He leaves his house and puts his servants in charge, each with his
assigned task, and tells the one at the door to keep watch.
35“Therefore keep watch because you do not
know when the owner of the house will come back—whether in the evening, or at
midnight, or when the rooster crows, or at dawn. 36If he comes suddenly, do not let him find you sleeping. 37What I say to you, I say to everyone: ‘Watch!’”
13:1 through Mark 13:37 (NIV)
is useless to start such a lesson without at least examining the prophetic
content. The curiosity of the average Christian pops up and asks, “When do you
think he is returning?” My answer is always the same: soon. Why?
Short and long views
of the most frustrating things about interpretation of the prophecies of the
Bible is simply that the same prophecy may have a short and long view. For
example, it’s generally held that the “abomination that causes desolation” was
adapted from an earlier sacrilege (which led to the Maccabean revolt). Most
scholars think this prophecy was filled in the short view in AD 70 when Roman
forces sacked Jerusalem. Others hold that it will be seen again – after the
construction of the Millennial Temple. The date for that latter event is
example: the “days of distress.” Many identify these days as being synonymous
with the Great Tribulation in Revelation. Again, depending upon your
interpretation, that is either the Diocletian persecution or an event yet to
itself can become a victim of one’s view of prophecy. Look at verse 30. See
the phrase “this generation?” It can be interpreted (and translated)
differently depending upon your point of view:
you hold that this passage is talking about the Roman sack of Jerusalem
(and nothing more) then “this generation” means the people walking about
you hold the views commonly associated with pre-millennialism, it means
that whatever generation sees such destruction will see the return. This
is why many writers “know” that Jesus will return before the year 2017 –
because that would be one generation (70 years) from the founding of
word for generation can also be translated as “race.” This could be a
prophecy that the Jewish people will not disappear as a people before the
Impact of prophecy
makes this task more difficult is that people want to know not only what is
prophesied but “what it means” – the impact on them in their daily lives. By
way of example, let’s suppose that passage really did reflect on the sack of
Jerusalem. What Jesus did not tell us is this: it would serve as the baseline
point of separation between the Jewish church and the non-Jewish church. Read
through Acts; a common problem is that the Apostles (who are Jewish) preach to
the Gentiles – who are not under the Law. Just what parts, if any, of the Old
Testament Law would apply to the Gentiles?
sack of Jerusalem ended the Old Testament sacrifice system. That was not
prophesied. I suspect the disciples assumed that after the destruction the
Jews would (as they had before) build again. Instead, they were dispersed all
over the world. The system of sacrifices was gone; it no longer appeared as
an alternative to the Christian.
this destruction took place 40 years after the earliest date for the
Crucifixion. Here again: one generation. In the sight of that generation it
happened – but could they have foreseen the consequences? I doubt it.
is the habit of God not to tell us more than is good for us. In this passage
he gives three “trigger events” and mentions one other time period.
trigger events are:
preaching of the Gospel to all nations. In some views this is already
fulfilled. “Nations” in this context would refer to the nations in the
Roman Empire (everyone outside would be “tribes.”) Other views take it in
the sense we would have it today.
“abomination of desolation” will be set up in the Temple. As discussed,
this could be what happened in AD 70, or it could be something which
happens in the future.
there are astronomical signs. Until recently, these were interpreted as
signs not in the heavens but in politics (remember Joseph’s dream?)
of these things we are told to watch for. In addition, there is one other
period mentioned here – the “day of distress.” It is generally agreed that
this is synonymous with the Tribulation (or part of it).
keeping our eyes open to what might be happening around us, we come to the
when Christ will return is trivial compared to being ready for it. Think of it this way: the soldier
does not know when the next battle will be, or where the next war will be. The
soldier, however, trains for war all the time. That way, he will be ready.
Until then, Instructions
real question, then, is what do we do until He returns?
Signs in the world around us
important to know the difference between an event which has significance in
prophecy and one which is simply overwhelming at the time. Jesus tells us
quite specifically these things:
people will show up, preaching in the name of Christ, who will attempt to
lead the church astray.
of those people will have the ability to simulate miracles, too.
interesting to note that some of these people have turned up in the midst of
crisis. In crisis we seek a solution, and the thought that God has returned
(or is about to) is wonderfully comforting. So we need to see those events
which are NOT prophetic:
of War (remember the Cold War?)
(or, I suppose, any other disaster in nature)
are pretty heavy events – and Christ simply says, “Expect it.” Don’t think too
much of it.
Signs to individuals
now outlines for us what we should expect, and what to do about it. First, as
individuals, we must be on our guard. In particular, we should
to get into trouble with the civil authorities for preaching Jesus Christ.
– it’s encouragement – he tells us that when you are on trial for the
Gospel, the Spirit will provide the words. (Good news for those with
a more personal level, we should expect to be betrayed and hated. Our Lord
went through this. He was betrayed by a friend. We are told here that we
will be betrayed by our own children, or our own parents and so on. This is
hard to take. But Christ makes it clear. He is God. You will worship him,
and him alone, or you cannot be his disciple. He comes first.
also tells us that we will be hated. Many of us see that venom today from
those who are “politically correct.” It sometimes surprises us to see the
bitterness of hatred people hold just because we are Christians. We should
take it as a badge of honor.
than that- we need to remember that we are betrayed and suffering only until he
comes – which is “soon.”
sounds so much like pessimism that it’s important to point out the
encouragement that Christ gives us here.
- His prophecy is sure. The sack of Jerusalem was
prophesied; it came as directed.
- The Holy Spirit is in us. If you are a Christian, the
Holy Spirit is not only the comforter but also the deposit of God –
guaranteeing you a share in the victory.
- God will cut short the days. He knows how miserable it will
be; he will therefore make them short so that we have a hope of enduring
them. This is another sign of God’s mercy.
- Christ’s words will never pass away. No matter how much the world
rages against him, his kingdom is forever. His words are eternal – and
given to you.
- Christ will return in power. Then we will know the date. We
will also know our Lord.