1 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?” 5 And Jesus began to say to them, “See that no one leads you astray. 6 Many will come in my name, saying, ‘I am he!’ and they will lead many astray. 7 And when you hear of wars and rumors of wars, do not be alarmed. This must take place, but the end is not yet. 8 For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be earthquakes in various places; there will be famines. These are but the beginning of the birth pains. 9 “But be on your guard. For they will deliver you over to councils, and you will be beaten in synagogues, and you will stand before governors and kings for my sake, to bear witness before them. 10 And the gospel must first be proclaimed to all nations. 11 And when they bring you to trial and deliver you over, do not be anxious beforehand what you are to say, but say whatever is given you in that hour, for it is not you who speak, but the Holy Spirit. 12 And brother will deliver brother over to death, and the father his child, and children will rise against parents and have them put to death. 13 And you will be hated by all for my name’s sake. But the one who endures to the end will be saved.
What would you do if you knew the world was about to end? Interestingly, there are numerous places online where some variation of this question has been asked. The comments are telling. Here’s a sampling:
I’d tell everyone who I know exactly how I feel about them. My crush, my brother, friends, everyone who I can contact within 24 hours
Play with my dog for as long as she wants to. Then pet her and hold her close.
I’m a man of simple tastes. I’d steal either a Nissan GT-R or a Porsche 911 Turbo.
I would drive away far away from the havoc that would definitely ensue with friends. I would chill with friends, kayak across that beautiful river I dreamed about kayaking on, hike on that mountain that looks like it has a beautiful view from the top, throw a party, spend the rest of my money on food, drinks and fun, get a bonfire going and chill with all the amazing people in my life and when the sun sets for the last time I’ll be watching it over the mountains with people I truly care about by my side.
Raid, pillage, and plunder to my hearts content. After all, only fools are certain.
get some beer, get some speakers, And sit on my roof drinking the lot whilst blasting out the AC-DC
I guess I’d do my laundry.
Make plans for the following day. Just in case.
And my favorite:
I would place my son in the specially-designed space capsule I have built ahead of time for just this occasion, even though the government and my peers thought me mad. My wife would wrap him in a red blanket with our family symbol on it. We would launch him toward a hospitable planet just as our planet exploded.
Ha! Somebody has seen Superman one too many times!
It is an interesting question, though, and one that is not without merit. What would you do if you knew the world was about to end?
Mark 13 is a chapter that has fascinated and perplexed interpreters over the years. It is a chapter in which Jesus talks about the end and instructs His disciples on how they, and we, should act in light of its approach.
As the end approaches, do not let your eyes be dazzled.
Before we approach Jesus’ specific words about “the end,” I think a point needs to be made about the way in which we think about “the end.” In short, I fear that we do not think rightly about it and, as a result, we create confusion where there should not be. To state the matter bluntly, I think we have grossly oversimplified the idea of time and its end. We tend to think of three things: (a) time, (b) the end, when Jesus returns, and (c) eternity. But it would be much more biblical to think of it in terms of four movements. It would look like this:
- the time between the times (the beginning of the end) beginning with the first coming of Jesus
- the end, when Jesus returns
In other words, we need to recognize the uniqueness of the time in which we currently live. The Kingdom has already and is currently breaking into the world in the person of Jesus and in the lives of His people, though it has not come in fullness. That in-breaking of the Kingdom will be completed at Jesus’ final return. But it is much more accurate to speak of our current time as “the beginning of the end” than to speak of it as merely ordinary time waiting for the end. In short, I agree with philosopher Giorgio Agamben who wrote:
The sojourning of the Church on earth can last—and indeed has lasted—not only centuries but millennia without altering its messianic experience of time….
Consequently, what interests Paul is not the final day, the moment at which time ends, but the time that contracts and begins to end. Or, one might say, the time that remains between time and its end.
In the Judaic tradition there is a distinction between two times and two world: the olam hazzeh, the time stretching from the creation of the world to its end, and the olam habba, the time that begins after the end of time. Both terms are present, in their Greek translations, in Paul’s Letters. Messianic time, however—the time in which the apostle lives and the only one that interests him—is neither that of the olam hazzeh nor that of the alam habba. It is, instead, the time between those two times, when time is divided by the messianic event (which is for Paul the Resurrection).
That is well said. We live now in “Messianic time,” that time within time in which we see time differently and for what it is. We live in that time in which we have embraced the reality of the coming end of time that is truly the beginning in Christ and in which we have done so in the midst of the times in which we live. So we do not wait. We are. And we live out of this informed and renewed perspective without despair.
What is more, as Peter reminds us in 2 Peter 3, we realize that this time between the times may last for a very long time but it only does so from our perspective, not God’s.
8 But do not overlook this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day. 9 The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance. 10 But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a roar, and the heavenly bodies will be burned up and dissolved, and the earth and the works that are done on it will be exposed.
The time between the times, no matter how long it lasts, is still the beginning of the end awaiting the final coming of the end. So we live now as followers of Christ realizing that the end that ends in the beginning has already begun! What, then, are we to do in this time between the times? First of all, we are not to allow our eyes to be dazzled by the impressive temporalities of the world. Consider:
1 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.”
The disciples are impressed by the beautiful sight of the temple. As well they should be! The Zondervan Illustrated Bible Background Commentary offers us some helpful descriptions of what it would have looked like:
The highest walls of the temple mount reached 165 feet. Philo reports that Marcus Agrippa, the grandfather of the emperor Gaius (Caligula), visited Jerusalem and could talk of nothing else “but praise for the sanctuary and all that pertained to it.” The wonderful buildings elicited pride and a sense of security because of the conviction that the temple was the place where God dwelt: “This is my resting place for ever” (Ps. 132.14).
It is easy to understand how they could be dazzled! Josephus says further about the temple:
Now the exterior of the building wanted nothing that could astound either mind or eye. For, being covered on all sides with massive plates of gold, the sun was no sooner up than it radiated so fiery a flash that persons straining to look at it were compelled to avert their eyes as from solar rays. To approaching strangers it appeared from a distance like a snow-clad mountain; for all that was not overlaid with gold was of purest white….Some of the stones in the building were forty-five cubits in length, five in height and six in breadth.
How easy it is to be dazzled by the beautiful, the glittering, the shimmering, the wonderful, and the awe-inspiring! But these things, even when they adorn the sacred places and objects of God and even when they are intended to point us toward God, can deceive us if they lead our eyes away from the Beauty behind all beauty, that is to say, if they lead our eyes away from God.
Like awe-struck children, the disciples gaped in wonder at the temple! But Jesus taught them the difficult but important lesson of all history: all that is not eternal is destined to crumble away into oblivion. And, in the case of the temple, this crumbling was less than forty years away.
It is a true but heartbreaking reality that we allow things that will not last to take our attention away from the things that will. Some might accuse Jesus of being a buzz-kill in this moment. After all, is it wrong to admire the beautiful and the sublime? Surely it is not. Even so, what better time for Jesus to teach the jarring reality that needed to be taught: the beautiful will slip away, either violently or gradually, but the things of our God never will!
The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God will stand forever. (Isaiah 40:8)
Do not be dazzled by that which will not last! In this time between the times we may appreciate beauty but we must not be sidetracked by it.
As the end approaches, do not let your ears be frightened.
If we must not be dazzled by beautiful distractions neither should we be frightened by dark tidings. Conservative Christians are oftentimes accused of being overly beholden to “a narrative of declension,” that is, to a view of history as an inexorable downward decline. To be sure, there is a pessimism that sometimes betrays the great hope that is within us. We should shun this. But there is a difference between shunning pessimism and having a sober and open-eyed belief in Jesus’ words about the coming dark days that will come just before the end.
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?” 5 And Jesus began to say to them, “See that no one leads you astray. 6 Many will come in my name, saying, ‘I am he!’ and they will lead many astray. 7 And when you hear of wars and rumors of wars, do not be alarmed. This must take place, but the end is not yet. 8 For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be earthquakes in various places; there will be famines. These are but the beginning of the birth pains.
Yes, dark days are coming. R.T. France has pointed to some events that likely would have been seen as fulfillments of the words of Jesus by those who heard them.
First-century earthquakes might include one experienced at Jerusalem in A.D. 67 (Josephus, War 4.286-87; cf. 1.370 for an earlier severe earthquake in Palestine), and further afield Acts 16:26 mentions an earthquake in Philippi, while news of the partial destruction of Pompeii by an earthquake in A.D. 62 or of a major earthquake in Asia Minor in A.D. 61 would probably have reached Palestine. There was a major famine in the reign of Claudius, c. A.D. 46 (Acts 11:28…)
Yet we continue to hear such rumors and reports for true the birth pangs leading up to the return of Christ continue. The prophecy of Jesus has been proven true: wars, rumors of wars, earthquakes, and famines have plagued humanity as it hurtles towards the end. Even so, note that Jesus calls for His people to cast off fear in the midst of these reports: “do not be alarmed.”
Yes, do not fear! Do not let the dark news of lost humanity lead you to despair! Christians are not allowed to despair! Despair is different than the occasional battle with fear that might grip our hearts on the occasion of a terrible diagnosis from the doctor or devastating news about a family member of even world news that shakes us in the moment. God does not begrudge these seasons of battle with fear. But when Jesus says “do not be alarmed” He is speaking of something more basic, more fundamental. He is telling us that we must not have a constitution or despair. We must not view the world as those who have no hope! We must not let fear take hold of us. We must not, in this sense, give in to fear!
Charles Spurgeon said it so well when he beseeched his people with these words:
Get rid of fear, because fear is painful. How it torments the spirit! When the Christian trusts, he is happy; when he doubts, he is miserable. When the believer looks to his Master and relies upon him, he can sing; when he doubts his Master, he can only groan. What miserable wretches the most faithful Christians are when they once begin doubting and fearing! It is a trade I never like to meddle with, because it never pays the expenses, and never brings in any profit —the trade of doubting. Why, the soul is broken in pieces, lanced, pricked with knives, dissolved, racked, pained. It knoweth not how to exist when it gives way to fear. Up, Christian! thou art of a sorrowful countenance; up, and chase thy fears. Why wouldst thou be for ever groaning in thy dungeon? Why should the Giant Despair for ever beat thee with his crabtree cudgel? Up! drive him away! touch the key of the promises; be of good cheer! Fear never helped thee yet, and it never will.
The Christian is not unmoved by the bad news of the day. We are not indifferent. We are not callously stoic. But neither do we hear and process this news as those who have rejected Christ do. We hear it, that is true, but there is greater news in our ears already and that is the news of the gospel! With each dire report we hear from this dark age we hear again and again the news that Jesus is Lord and the He is faithful to His word!
If you are so immersed in the news of the day that you find your spirit is tempted to despair, turn it off! I do not say that we should have our heads in the sand. I only say that turning off the news is better than giving an unguarded ear to it if you are allowing it to eclipse the good news of the gospel! Perhaps you need to turn it off for a while and turn to the promises of God in scripture (which is something we must always do!). Perhaps you need to allow your ears to be filled again with the words of Jesus, “And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:20)
Oh be careful little ears what you hear! Do not let your ears draw you into fear! Fill them with the good news of King Jesus!
As the end approaches, do not let your tongues be silent.
There are two things we must not do: be distracted and give in to fear. But there is one thing we must do: speak the name and message of Jesus! Jesus turns next to the need for His followers to bear a bold witness before the world.
9 “But be on your guard. For they will deliver you over to councils, and you will be beaten in synagogues, and you will stand before governors and kings for my sake, to bear witness before them. 10 And the gospel must first be proclaimed to all nations. 11 And when they bring you to trial and deliver you over, do not be anxious beforehand what you are to say, but say whatever is given you in that hour, for it is not you who speak, but the Holy Spirit. 12 And brother will deliver brother over to death, and the father his child, and children will rise against parents and have them put to death. 13 And you will be hated by all for my name’s sake. But the one who endures to the end will be saved.
There is, of course, a note of persecution in these words. The Church will face increasing opposition as the end approaches. But let us focus on what the Church is supposed to do in the midst of this hostility. In short, we are to bear witness. We are to refuse to allow our tongues to be silent. This is emphasized throughout the words of Jesus:
- “to bear witness before them”
- “the gospel must first be proclaimed”
- “do not be anxious beforehand what you are to say”
- “say whatever is given you in that hour”
- “it is not you who speak, but the Holy Spirit”
Bear witness. Proclaim. Say. Speak.
The principle that those who know of forthcoming danger have an obligation to announce these realities is a principle that even the secular world recognizes. I have long been struck by this dynamic in Bob Dylan’s 1963 song, “A Rain’s A-Gonna Fall.” After announcing (through the words of the “blue-eyed son”) that the selfishness and violence of man is going to bring judgment and destruction upon the earth, Dylan concludes the song with these words:
Oh, what’ll you do now, my blue-eyed son?
Oh, what’ll you do now, my darling young one?
I’m a-goin’ back out ’fore the rain starts a-fallin’
I’ll walk to the depths of the deepest black forest
Where the people are many and their hands are all empty
Where the pellets of poison are flooding their waters
Where the home in the valley meets the damp dirty prison
Where the executioner’s face is always well hidden
Where hunger is ugly, where souls are forgotten
Where black is the color, where none is the number
And I’ll tell it and think it and speak it and breathe it
And reflect it from the mountain so all souls can see it
Then I’ll stand on the ocean until I start sinkin’
But I’ll know my song well before I start singin’
And it’s a hard, it’s a hard, it’s a hard, it’s a hard
It’s a hard rain’s a-gonna fall
It is a powerful moment. Here we see the commitment to proclamation: “I’ll tell it and think it and speak it and breathe it.” Meaning, the truth that the blue-eyed son sees and knows will permeate his existence and manifest itself in his life and speech.
The Church must not be a silent Church. We too must tell, think, speak, and breathe the truth of the gospel, even and especially to those who do not want to hear it! The Church must be a Church of proclamation, of witness.
Are you a follower of Jesus? Then speak the name! Do you know the way of salvation? Then proclaim the way! Do you believe that judgment is coming upon those who reject the Lord Jesus Christ? Then call the lost home!
What would you do if you knew the end was coming? It is not, Church, a theoretical question. The end is coming! So what will we do? Jesus has shown us the way: stay focused, do not fear, and speak!
I have always been touched by Jonathan Edwards’ resolutions, written in the 1722-1723. In a number of these resolutions, Edwards resolves to live his life as if the end were near or as if he were reflecting back on his life after death. He wrote:
Resolved, never to lose one moment of time; but improve it the most profitable way I possibly can.
Resolved, never to do anything, which I should be afraid to do, if it were the last hour of my life.
Resolved, that I will live so as I shall wish I had done when I come to die.
Resolved, never to do anything, which I should be afraid to do, if I expected it would not be above an hour, before I should hear the last trump.
Resolved, I will act so as I think I shall judge would have been best, and most prudent, when I come into the future world. July 5, 1723.
I frequently hear persons in old age say how they would live, if they were to live their lives over again: Resolved, that I will live just so as I can think I shall wish I had done, supposing I live to old age. July 8, 1723.
Church, let us, as a church, live in just this way. Let us do what we would like to be found doing if the Lord Jesus returned at this very moment! Let us be about the business of the Kingdom. Let us strive for faithfulness. Let us, when we stand before our Lord, be found faithful to the King we will serve throughout eternity and the King we are privileged to proclaim until we arrive there.
 Giorgio Agamben, The Church and the Kingdom. (New York: Seagull Books, 2012), p.2,4,8-9.
 David E. Garland, “Mark.” Zondervan Illustrated Bible Backgrounds Commentary. Gen. Ed., Clinton E. Arnold. Vol. I (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2002), p.277, 279.
 R.T. France, The Gospel of Mark. The New International Greek Testament Commentary. Gen. Eds., I. Howard Marshall and Donald A. Hagner. (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2002), p.512.