The Returning King
Mark 13:1–37 – “Introducing…Jesus” – July 25, 2021
A reading of Mark 13:1–13.
As you surely know, there’s a lot of international soccer being played now—Olympics….tournaments on the continents.
To Americans it can be a confusing sport: Off-sides? No time-outs?
And then it’s how the game ends. Basketball/football, you look at the clock. Gets to 0:00, the game is over. In soccer the clock goes upward till it gets to 90:00.
But it doesn’t really stop at 90:00. There’s something called STOPPAGE TIME. Some number of minutes added to make up for delays.
- It’s a judgment call by the head referee—he decides.
- And when the end is near, he decides exactly when the end comes.
- Not in the middle of an important play.
- The game is over when the Head Referee blows the final whistle.
- And then…no more chance to change the outcome of the game.
Our whole life is in stoppage time. We live close enough to the end that the Head Referee can blow the final whistle at any moment. God decides when he’ll blow the whistle. And at that point, we have no ability to affect the outcome. It’s over.
“Introducing…Jesus.” That’s what Mark is doing for us.
- From 1st verse: “The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God” (1:1).
- Mark begins his account at Jesus’ baptism with Jesus in his early 30s.
- First 10 chapters = 3 yrs from his baptism to arrival outside Jerusalem.
- Last 6 chapters = 8 days—from Palm Sunday to Resurrection Sunday.
- Our passage takes place on the Tuesday of that week.
In every passage he’s introducing Jesus.
- Chapter 13 = “Introducing Jesus” as The Returning King.
- Why? So that when he does return, we’ll be ready.
Sermon: The Days of Birth Pains, The Days of Tribulation, The Day of Glory
I. The Days of Birth Pains (13:1–13)
This day began back in 11:20, most of it in the temple (11:27ff.).
13:1—The disciples can’t help but marvel.
This was Herod’s temple, rebuilt after the Babylonian captivity and then expanded under Herod. It was a massive and ornate structure. For fishermen from Galilee, it would have been stunning to see it. Everything about it spoke of beauty, strength, and something permanent.
13:2—Jesus instantly corrects them. The Jewish historian Josephus confirms that these words would prove true. When Rome destroyed the temple in AD 70 it was a complete destruction.
13:3–4—A group of four ask about it later—Peter, James, John, Andrew. The big 3 + 4th
Jesus gives his longest teaching in the gospel of Mark.
The question has to do with things to come. Jesus answers their question by giving the NEAR-TERM, SLIGHTLY LONGER TERM, and the LONG TERM perspective.
But knowing which verses apply to which is not easy.
Look at mountains through a telescope, the peaks look as if they’re right next to each other. The spatial dimensions get flattened. Hides the fact that if you were to hike from one peak to the next you’d realize they’re miles and miles apart. It could take you all day or multiple days to get from one to another.
Jesus gives us three peaks of mountains here in a single teaching—short-term (persecution), slightly longer (AD 70), long-term (Return of Christ).
In his teaching all three are presented right together. But separated by time. This is how prophecies in the Bible often work.
Short-term—“Beginnings of birth pains” (13:8).
What can we expected during these “beginnings of birth pains”?
False Christs – Mark 13:6
False Christs like David Koresh.
- Men who draw people to themselves, leading people astray, taking them to false teachings, gross immorality.
- Relatively small scale.
- Joseph Smith.
- Scale of these false christ’s is simply massive. Millions of people for Joseph Smith. Hundreds of millions for Muhammed.
- “They will lead many astray” (Mark 13:6).
Wars earthquakes, famines.
When these happen tempting to think the end is here.
Jesus calls then, “The beginnings of the birth pains” (Mark 13:7–8).
Christian persecution (Mark 13:9, 11–13)
Remember the four asking Jesus these questions.
- Peter, James, John, Andrew. James is the first apostle killed, Acts 12. Peter would be executed by crucifixion by Nero in the AD 60s.
- John would live the longest but experience plenty of persecution.
- This fulfilled by the end of the New Testament (Book of Acts).
Gospel expansion (Mark 13:10).
Passages like this one correct our expectations.
Hardships and tragedies and natural disasters feel like the end.
So far, they’ve been the “beginnings of birth pains.”
II. The Days of Tribulation (13:14–23)
These verses describe the fall of Jerusalem. It’s especially clear in Matthew 24 and Luke 21, but it’s clear enough here.
The “abomination of desolation”
The initial fulfillment is Antiochus Epiphanes. Greek ruler that followed shortly after the death of Alexander the Great when he divided up his kingdom. Antiochus Epiphanes reversed the pattern of allowing local religions to continue in conquered areas. He wanted the worship of Zeus to be the universal law of the land. Any dissent was punishable by death (1 Macc 1:50). He came to Jerusalem and plundered the temple in 167 BC set up “the abomination of desolation” in it. He burned pigs in worship of Zeus to offend the Jews as much as possible.
But Jesus speaks of another “abomination of desolation.”
A reasonable fulfillment occurrred with the Jewish Zealots.
- They attacked Twelth Legion of Rome in AD 66. 
- It was an “impressive victory.”
- But to many it was a sign of what was to come. To them it was obvious Rome would not sit idle. They’d come forcefully to destroy the Zealots. It was an absolute certainity. Many began to flee Jerusalem.
- THIS WAS HOW THE JEWISH WAR GOT STARTED IN LATE 60s AD.
- When the Romans did come the zealots eventually retreated into Jerusalem and into the temple and proved to be more about military might than morality. Known for their murders and criminal behavior and mocking Jewish religion. Set up a clown as the high priest.
- Not long after this the siege of Jerusalem began. Roman soldiers surrounded the city and let no one in or out. Deaths by starvation were massive. Tens of thousands.
Josephus records the tens of thousands who died in Jerusalem.
- The stench was vile. At the beginning there was mourning and burials.
- Eventually they just piled the bodies or threw them over the wall of the city.
- He speaks vividly of a woman named Mary who was wealthy and generous in her better days (War 6:201ff.). In her desperation she eventually killed her infant for food. Her actions shocked those still alive also starving to death.
What Jesus says in Mark 13:19 is not hyperbole.
And Mark 13:20 is just as true.
Based on church history, it seems the early church listened to Jesus—Mark 13:23.
When Christians saw what was about to happen, they left in large numbers.
We need to remember what God was doing with the destruction of the temple.
- This wasn’t cruelty—it was judgment.
- God tolerates no other gods.
- He does not tolerate false worship.
- He does not tolerate worship that doesn’t have his Son at the center.
- In his judgment was mercy—Jesus warned but 40 more years till it happened.
- It was also a declaration.
- A declaration that no physical temple is required to access him.
- Jesus is the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.
- No animal lamb could make any difference after that.
- Jesus is God’s temple now—How we access God’s presence.
- It was a reminder to all of us we can’t play around with the judgment of God.
- It might delay, but it is coming.
III. The Day of Glory (13:24–37)
Now we’re advancing in the end times timeline.
- No longer the destruction of Jerusalem from Mark 13:14–23.
- In fact, here Jesus is fast-forwarding a lot.
Three Basic Views
There are three basic approaches to this section.
- 1—The Rapture (Dispensationalists like John Walvoord);
- 2—The Fall of Jerusalem in very cosmic language (R.T. France);
- 3—The Return of Christ (D.A. Carson, William Lane, majority of Evangelical scholars).
The Rapture makes a lot more sense if you look at Matthew’s gospel—and that’s one of the great weaknesses of it. It can’t really make sense of Mark and Luke’s gospels. And there’s not enough support in the rest of the NT.
The view that says it’s the fall of Jerusalem is hurt by the dramatic language. You have to spiritualize so much of it in ways that feels like a forced view.
The most natural reading is to say it’s The Return of Christ.
13:24–25 – Cosmic signs
He speaks of his return with familiar cosmic signs. The universe itself has a destiny connected to the return of Jesus—just like we do!
13:26 – Son of Man
Then the language of Daniel 7:13 is used (Mark 13:26):
“I saw in the night visions, and behold, with the clouds of heaven there came one like a son of man, and he came to the Ancient of Days and was presented before him.”
- In the Old Testament, COSMIC SIGNS + Son of Man on the clouds of heaven could sometimes mean historical events—fall of a king or empire. Destruction of Jerusalem.
But the NT is a very different era because of at least two things.
- ONE is massive: We know WHO this “Son of Man” is.
- We know his IDENTITY.
- It’s no mystical or symbolic figure.
- It’s the Lord Jesus Christ.
- When the Bible talks about him returning we don’t have to guess about that.
- And SECOND is his ascension.
- In his ascension we see the Son of Man rise physically and visibly into the clouds and then disappear. And we’re told he’ll return in the same way—visibly, physically.
- The guys who watched him ascend and heard the angel explain it are the ones hearing this Olivet Discourse and then recording it in the gospel accounts.
- Even if at the original teaching of the Olivet Discourse they would miss some things, once Jesus was resurrected and ascended they would understand.
- These men wouldn’t mistake a Roman figure Titus destroying Jerusalem for the return of the Son of Man.
- These cosmic signs surrounding “the Son of Man coming in clouds with great power and glory” could mean only one thing, the Return of the King of kings.
“This Generation Will Not Pass Away”
Verse 30 is one of the puzzles of Mark 13. The straight-forward reading is right, though, the ones hearing Jesus at the time are those who will experience “all these things.”
- “All these things” connects to “all things” in Mark 13:23 and “all these things” in Mark 13:4 and even “these things” in Mark 13:29.
- All these times of speaking of “All these things” are taking about the same things.
- The idea there is that these future dramatic events are all part of the era between Jesus’ first advent and his second advent.
- We live in the same era.
- The fall of Jerusalem was a moment in that era but not a new moment of salvation history.
- When these first disciples experienced everything they experienced—persecution and the destruction of Jerusalem—they experienced “all these things take place.”
The Response: “Stay Awake!” (vv. 32–37)
In this last section, Jesus makes it crystal-clear why he’s saying these things:
- Not a ghoulish obsession with sad things.
- Not end-times obsession.
- Not mere future-telling.
The point is for us to LIVE READY FOR THIS TO HAPPEN.
- Like we said at the start, we’re in STOPPAGE TIME.
- The final whistle is set to blow and then no more chance to make a difference.
- Therefore: “STAY AWAKE!”
Sometimes it feels like the more days that pass without Jesus returning the less likely it is to ever happen.
- We think of it like meeting someone for lunch—If we decide noon at Tacos Mexico, the later it gets past noon the less likely you’re coming.
- I’m not staying till 1pm or 2pm if we decide noon—you’re not coming.
- But with Jesus it’s the very opposite.
- Every hour takes us closer to his return.
- Every day brings us closer.
And there’s another side to this.
- One of two things is going to happen.
- Either Christ returns to us at an hour we don‘t expect.
- Or we’re going to die and go to him at an hour we don’t expect.
- My dad was exactly my age when he died.
- These are not that different. The result of both in terms of our destiny is really the same. Our chance for repentance and change will be over. God’s judgment will be fixed.
- Jesus’ warning fits both—him to us or us to him—Either way, Get ready.
In the Bible there’s a lot of emphasis on “today”:
- “Today if you hear his voice, do not harden your heart” (Heb 3:7)
- Jesus to the thief: “Today, you will be with me in Paradise” (Luke 23:43).
- “Today is the day of salvation” (2 Cor 6:2)
You have TODAY. You aren’t promised tomorrow.
Let’s take a minute and do business with God.
- If Jesus came back tomorrow, what would you want to change today?
- What will “the Lord of the house” find you doing?
- Faithful in what he’s given you to do?
- Or something less than that.
- What would you change in your life if you knew he was coming tomorrow?
- That’s what Jesus is asking us to do today.
- Not quit your job or refuse to get married—Christians have tried those things.
- As we do those things, it’s living a life pleasing to “the Lord of the house.”
- If you knew Jesus was coming tomorrow, what would you change today?
- Seek his help and go do it.
Prayer and Final Song
 A powerful video recreation of it: https://youtu.be/QQQyNVw8Pf4.
 This explanation of “the abomination of desolation” is from William Lane, The Gospel According to Mark, NICNT, 468–469.
 Lane, 469.