“Tell us, when will these things happen? And what will be the sign that they are all about to be fulfilled?” Jesus said to them: “Watch out that no one deceives you. Many will come in my name, claiming, ‘I am he,’ and will deceive many. When you hear of wars and rumors of wars, do not be alarmed. Such things must happen, but the end is still to come. Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be earthquakes in various places, and famines. These are the beginning of birth pains. “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. And the gospel must first be preached to all nations. (Mark 13:4-10)
If you knew the icon of your nation was going to be destroyed in the near future, and the whole world was going to end in the far future, how would you explain it to others?
Such was Jesus’ challenge. He foreknew the destruction of Herod’s temple by Titus and the end of the world as we know it. So when His disciples asked, “Tell us: when will these things happen?” it was a little hard to know where to start.
When we remember there were two events on Jesus’ mind, it helps us avoid some of the miscues people have made in their interpretation of end-time events. Millions of dollars have been made off of apocalyptic novels and movies characterizing the end of the world and the judgment of the wicked as a time of war, earthquakes and famine. I am not saying these things will not happen when God brings everything to a conclusion, but we should not assume the final end is what Jesus was addressing in our passage today.
In fact, since Jesus was talking to those who were alive at that time, I am much more inclined to think He was referencing events they would experience in their lifetime. He wanted them to be warned so they could take any steps necessary to protect themselves and their families, and so they wouldn’t be drawn into a religious movement that used the events as a vehicle to recruit followers (Sound familiar?).
Some have thought Jesus’ last statement here, “And the gospel must first be preached to all nations” was a way of saying, “When these things happen, know that it is not the end. There is a lot of kingdom work that needs to take place before the end comes. So just be faithful and keep sharing the good news.”
I am not opposed to interpreting the “times” and pondering the end of the world. And I have known of people who came to the Lord because they suddenly realized this was a possibility at any time and they wanted to be right in their walk. On the other hand, I have heard a lot of bad theology in the name of end-times, because that sort of stuff sells. And I have also seen people so wrapped up in how current events tie in with Biblical prophecy they squeeze out the hope of the gospel and lose perspective on how God might want to use their lives for His glory.
Will the end come? Yes. Will it be a spectacular event? Yes. Do we know when it will happen or what world events will take place when it happens? Not really.
Just be ready…and don’t be taken in by the apparent permanence of things.
Dear God, help me be ready. In Jesus’ name, Amen.