The Olivet Discourse – Part 1
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Main Idea: Christian discipleship is a call to persevering gospel-centered faithfulness, not a fascination with end-times speculation.
Outline (part 1):
I. Unsettling events that are Common to Christian Discipleship but are not “signs” of the Temple’s Destruction (Mark 13:1-13)
A. False Teachers Leading People Astray (Mark 13:5-6)
B. Natural Disasters and Wide-Spread War (Mark 13:7-8)
C. Intense Persecution for the Sake of the Gospel (Mark 13:9-13)
I grew up in the hay-day of end-times mania. I saw the old movie “Thief in the Night” when I was 6-years old and it frightened out of my mind. I remember walking into my home: dinner on the stove and the evening news on the television but no one was to be found. And I was instantly overcome with the horror that I had been left behind.
In fact, a large part of my teen years and early adulthood were marked by an unhealthy fascination with Tribulation charts, anti-Christ speculations, and the so-called prophecy experts’ predictions about the coming end based on recent earth quakes, volcanic eruptions, blood-moons, regional wars, and the proposed formation of the European Union which is now 27-years old. And in my early years as a youth pastor in Alaska, a disagreement over the timing of the end-times almost split our church.
And I say all of that because, (1) I know from personal experience that it’s easy to get wrapped up in biblical prophecy and (2) I am rather sure that a number of you have been eagerly anticipating this chapter since we started the Gospel of Mark. I get it. We want to know as much as we can about the end as we possibly can.
But, as I’ve spent the last two weeks dissecting the grammar of this passage, digesting a small mountain of commentaries, and meditating on its content; I am increasingly convinced that the prophetic revelations in this text are primarily intended to fuel our faithfulness to God not enflame a myopic fascination with end-times speculation.
Main Idea: Christian discipleship is a call to persevering gospel-centered faithfulness NOT a fascination with end-times speculation.
And even though we are going to focus our attention this morning on verses 1-13 I want to give you my outline for the entire chapter so you can see where I am going and where you and I may see things differently. And if we do that’s ok.
Because as long as we agree about the first level issue: that Jesus Christ will physically return in glory to put a final end to all rebellion and rescue his people forever, our third level convictions about timing should never divide us. So here is my chapter outline:
Mark 13:1–13 Unsettling events that are common to Christian discipleship but do not signal the Temple’s destruction.
Mark 13:14–23 The singular event that will signal the Temple’s destruction and appears to foreshadow The Tribulation.
Mark 13:23–27 The irrefutable sign that will signal the End of Days.
Mark 13:28–37 Two Parables about the timing of these two events.
So as we turn to the text itself. I want you to see that, the disciples’ question about timing and signs is driven by their concern about the Temple’s coming destruction.
Mark 13:1–4 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?”
It is only natural that the disciples would ask about timing and signs because the OT is jam packed with prophetic promises that contained accompanying signs. Yet, as we carefully read everything that Jesus says about the Temple’s destruction and the Day of the Lord in this chapter he only uses the word “sign” one time. And it’s a negative reference to the false signs and wonders of false prophets before his Second Coming (13:22).
And I think that is because he doesn’t want his disciples to become self-absorbed prophetic sign watchers. He is preparing them to be steadfast hope-filled gospel proclaimers. Faithful men who are able to stay on mission, proclaiming and defending the gospel despite the unsettling events that they might misinterpret as signs of the end. Christian, don’t miss this, because it will help us navigate the uncertainties of life as well.
Unsettling Events are Common to Christian Discipleship but are not Signs of the End (Mark 13:5–13)
False Teachers Leading People Astray (Mark 13:5–6)
Notice, the first thing that Jesus tells his disciples is that their pursuit of a sign from God about the end could have catastrophic consequences on their faith… in that false teachers will lead may people astray (including professing Christians who are eager for Christ’s return). Three examples from the final decades of the 20th century:
- The cult leader Jim Jones used his influence to sexually abuse countless followers and led 918 people to willingly commit suicide in 1978.
- The cult leader David Koresh used his influence to sexually abuse scores of women and children before he led 78 of them to their fiery death in 1993.
- The cult leader Marshall Applewhite—who peddled an eclectic mix of Biblical prophecy, eastern mysticism, and a belief in ancient alien astronauts—led his followers to commit suicide in 1997 so that they could be miraculously transported from earth into a spaceship hidden behind the tail of the approaching Hale Bop Comet.
What do all of these cult leaders have in common? Their patent abuse of God’s Word and the ultimate ruin of their followers!
Let me be clear, if anyone claims to be Jesus Christ you don’t have to meet him and listen to him teach in order to figure out if he is telling the truth or not. You can be 100% confident—every single time—he is a false teacher no matter what he says or does because verses 26 and 27 promise that Jesus’ second coming will be unmistakable and that everyone will see him.
But, while this may protect the disciples (and us) from being led astray there are countless events that might cause them to be alarmed.
Natural Disasters and Wide-Spread War (Mark 13:7–8)
Just think about it how many times have you heard Christians try to read the “tea leaves” of the daily news into Biblical prophecy? Whether it be earthquakes, tsunami’s, hurricanes, health epidemics, or military conflicts…It happens all the time.
But, according to Jesus natural disasters and human conflicts do not mean that history has run amok or that the world is coming to an end. Rather, wars and rumors of wars and nations and kingdoms warring against one another are things “must take place” (δεῖ). And they must take place, because they are a part of God’s sovereign and active supervision of history, which is unfolding day-by-day according to his divine plan.
- They will need to know that God is in control when they are forced to endure debilitating famines during the reign of Emperor Claudius who reigned from 41–54 A.D. (Acts 11:28).
- They will need to know that God is in control when they are affected by the devastating earthquakes that struck Phrygia in 61 A.D and the cataclysmic eruption of Vesuvius in 63 A.D.
- And they will need to know that God is in control when they have to face the horrors of Nero’s bloody tirade against the church and the civil wars that followed his suicide in 68 A.D.
The disciples need to know that all these things—as alarming as they are—are not a sign of the end, but merely the beginning of labor pains. Now I agree that this metaphor can be confusing for many reasons, especially because men cannot fathom the pain of childbirth.
But, I believe the key to this picture is anchored in the ancient Jewish belief that motherhood was the ultimate validation of a woman’s worth. And on account of this, they viewed birth pains as the agonizing but necessary means to escape the disgrace of childlessness by demonstrating their true worth in child-bearing.
Please hear me, I am NOT saying that a woman’s worth is tethered to her ability to have children. Rather, that this view is the cultural background that helps us understand what Jesus is telling his disciples.
Therefore, I think Jesus is saying something like this: Just like a woman perseveres through her initial birth pains and the final scream-inducing contractions of her delivery in the joyous hope of her child’s birth, so also the disciples should not be alarmed at the ever ever-present threats around them because their present suffering—which is only beginning—will ultimately lead to a whole new world that is greater than anything they can ever imagine when Jesus returns in glory.
Which ultimately means that, the litany of catastrophes in verse 8 are not intended to induce worrisome speculation about the end BUT to foster steadfast faithfulness in the present and enduring hope for the future.
Because, as we will see in the very next warning, the disciples may very well wish they were facing the impersonal peril of natural disasters and human warfare instead of the very intimate pain of personal betrayal for the sake of Christ.
Intense Persecution for the Sake of the Gospel (Mark 13:9–13)
Notice that Jesus does not warn the disciples about imminent persecution so that they can somehow escape it (like the abomination of desolation in verse 14), but rather to prepare them to endure it as they faithfully proclaim the gospel to all nations.
See, they are not be persecuted because of their social class, ethnicity, or gender. They will be betrayed by family members, beaten by authorities, and arraigned before national leaders for one reason—the gospel of Jesus Christ.
But in the midst of the pain of betrayal and persecution, Jesus emphasizes three things: (1) a purpose, (2) a promise, and (3) a call for perseverance. As my former pastor Jason Meyer observes:
The text is clear, God’s purpose in this persecution is not to inflict pain on his people. Rather, it is to provide a captive audience for their faithful gospel proclamation! Notice, this persecution takes place under the authority of governing officials whether they be counsels, synagogue leaders, governors, or kings. Every instance an opportunity to bear witness about the gospel of Jesus Christ (13:9–10) to those who hate Jesus the most.
See persecution is not a sign that the gospel is being contained. Rather, it’s a sign that faithful disciples are more passionate about gospel proclamation than their personal protection.
And these disciples are going to do it because they know the truth about human beings, they know that we all start as God-haters. But, through the power of the gospel, some of these recalcitrant God-haters will be transformed into passionate worshipers who will love God with all of their heart, soul, mind, and strength.
Therefore, persecution is not a sign that God has abandoned his people. Rather, it is the very means by which God presses the gospel into enemy territory and adds people to his kingdom.
Second, Jesus promises his disciples that they will never have to face their accusers alone in their own strength and wisdom. Rather, the Holy Spirit himself will help them answer every accusation in winsome clarity and piercing truth.
In fact, we see this very promise fulfilled in the early chapters of Acts when Peter and John were arrested by the temple guards and had to defend themselves before the rulers, elders, scribes, and high priest himself!
Acts 4:7–13 And when they had set them in the midst, they inquired, “By what power or by what name did you do this?” 8 Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them, “Rulers of the people and elders, 9 if we are being examined today concerning a good deed done to a crippled man, by what means this man has been healed, 10 let it be known to all of you and to all the people of Israel that by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead—by him this man is standing before you well. 11 This Jesus is the stone that was rejected by you, the builders, which has become the cornerstone. 12 And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.” 13 Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were uneducated, common men, they were astonished. And they recognized that they had been with Jesus.
Notice, Peter didn’t have a sermon in his back pocket. He was filled with the Holy Spirit who empowered him to proclaim the truth about Jesus with such power and clarity that it blew the religious elite away! So not only does God have a purpose in persecution but he promises to empower every disciple to accomplish his gospel-purposes in the midst of their persecution.
Finally, Jesus emphasizes the need for personal perseverance. This may seem a little strange—even counterintuitive—given his promise of the Holy Spirit in verse 11. But, this final call is a generous gift to everyone who has ever has or ever will ever face persecution for the sake of Jesus Christ.
The Holy Spirit does not necessarily shield God’s people from the psychological, emotional, and physical pain of persecution. Even though
- He gives them gospel confidence and gospel answers as they are being questioned.
- He infuses them with supernatural gospel strength, despite their weakness, in the moment of trial.
- And in all of this, he bears witness that their testimony is true, even though many have been and will be sentenced to prison and death.
1 Peter 4:12–16 Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. 13 But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed. 14 If you are insulted for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you. 15 But let none of you suffer as a murderer or a thief or an evildoer or as a meddler. 16 Yet if anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God in that name.
See, the call for perseverance is a gracious call to hold fast to the gospel until their final breath for two reasons (1 Peter 4:13):
- Jesus is not asking them to do anything that he has not already done—when disciples suffer for the sake of the gospel they are merely sharing in his sufferings.
- World rulers might act as if they can define the very nature of reality by their laws; but they are blindly living in a self-made fantasy world that will come to a crashing end when Jesus comes again.
Yet, at the same time Peter warns Christians of all ages against taking matters into our hands so that we do not face punishment for or repaying evil for evil when persecution comes. If we must suffer at the hands of our governing authorities let it be for the sake of Christ alone.
So how should we respond to this passage?
If you are not yet a Christian, I pray that this chapter and our continuing study of Mark will help you see that Jesus is more than a historical example of love or ancient teacher trying to reform Jewish religion.
As we are going to see in the very soon, He is the Son of God who willingly died on the cross to pay the penalty for our sin. Yet, he didn’t stay dead. He was raised in glory to give undeniable living proof that everything he said was true.
Just think about that: He foretold the temple’s destruction and it razed to the ground in 70 A.D. And he promised that he will return in glory; to punish those who refused to embrace his free offer of forgiveness and restoration in the gospel and to receive all those who believe into everlasting joy.
Today is the day of salvation for all who repent and believe.
If you are a Christian, I want you to understand that these events are part-and-parcel of the normal Christian life and are not “sure signs” of the end. Therefore, we should not be a people who are known as “sign watchers” but a people who are faithful gospel-proclaimers:
A people who are not easily deceived because we are anchored in sound doctrine and are looking after one another in love so that none of us are led astray.
A people who are not easily shaken or alarmed when it looks like the world around us is literally falling apart because Jesus is reigning on the throne—right now—and he is not only upholding every single atom in the universe by the word of his power, but the Father is sovereignly shepherding history toward the culmination of his perfect purposes.
And finally, we are called to be a people who face mounting discrimination and persecution in hopeful perseverance, holding fast to God’s purpose and promise in the day of testing because we are convinced:
That nothing can separate us from God’s love for us in Christ.
That God is working all things together for good for those that love him and are called according to his purpose. A good that is not a matter of popularity and prosperity but conformity to the person of Jesus Christ.
And that eternal glory with Jesus is more valuable than anything this world has to offer.
 Walter W. Wessel and Mark L. Strauss, “Mark,” in The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Matthew–Mark, Revised Edition., ed. Tremper Longman III and David E. Garland (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2010), 919.
 Robert H. Stein, Mark, Baker Exegetical Commentary on The New Testament (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2008), 599.
 James R Edwards, The Gospel According to Mark, The Pillar New Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2002), 392–93.
 Wessel and Strauss, “Mark,” 921.
 Much of this section is derived from, Jason Meyer, “The Second Coming:” https://bethlehem.church/sermon/the-second-coming.