Mark 13:14-27

MarkSeriesTitleSlide1Mark 13

14 “But when you see the abomination of desolation standing where he ought not to be (let the reader understand), then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains. 15 Let the one who is on the housetop not go down, nor enter his house, to take anything out, 16 and let the one who is in the field not turn back to take his cloak. 17 And alas for women who are pregnant and for those who are nursing infants in those days! 18 Pray that it may not happen in winter. 19 For in those days there will be such tribulation as has not been from the beginning of the creation that God created until now, and never will be. 20 And if the Lord had not cut short the days, no human being would be saved. But for the sake of the elect, whom he chose, he shortened the days. 21 And then if anyone says to you, ‘Look, here is the Christ!’ or ‘Look, there he is!’ do not believe it. 22 For false christs and false prophets will arise and perform signs and wonders, to lead astray, if possible, the elect. 23 But be on guard; I have told you all things beforehand. 24 “But in those days, after that tribulation, the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, 25 and the stars will be falling from heaven, and the powers in the heavens will be shaken. 26 And then they will see the Son of Man coming in clouds with great power and glory. 27 And then he will send out the angels and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of heaven.

As we approach the Table of the Lord this morning I am struck that our text is one of dark foreboding yet also exuberant joy. I am struck by this because, seen from a certain perspective, the symbols here on this table combine the very same elements: the dark foreboding of the violent death of Jesus on the cross at the hands of wicked men yet the exuberant joy that it was in this way that Christ won for us our salvation! Put another way, we are hereby reminded of the darkness of our sins and of the fallen world but only in order that we might proclaim the light of the coming of Jesus into the world and is death and resurrection.

Mark 13:14-27 is a text of darkness and light, of warning and hope, of bitter judgment and beautiful salvation. We have seen that the church stands in the time between the times: that time that is different from ordinary time because Christ has come and the Kingdom of God has broken into the world and is breaking into the world even now. This time between the times is the time between was has been and what will be. We live in the beginning of the end, a beginning end that might last another day or another two thousand years. We do not know. But something has changed now. The church has seen the glory come and coming. We await the coming of Christ who has come and will come again.

In our text, Jesus warns of greater darkness then heralds the victory of the light.

The darkness will get darker still and God’s judgment will fall upon the world.

We begin by observing that, according to Jesus, the darkness will get darker still and God’s judgment will fall upon the world.

14 “But when you see the abomination of desolation standing where he ought not to be (let the reader understand), then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains. 15 Let the one who is on the housetop not go down, nor enter his house, to take anything out, 16 and let the one who is in the field not turn back to take his cloak. 17 And alas for women who are pregnant and for those who are nursing infants in those days! 18 Pray that it may not happen in winter. 19 For in those days there will be such tribulation as has not been from the beginning of the creation that God created until now, and never will be. 20 And if the Lord had not cut short the days, no human being would be saved. But for the sake of the elect, whom he chose, he shortened the days. 21 And then if anyone says to you, ‘Look, here is the Christ!’ or ‘Look, there he is!’ do not believe it. 22 For false christs and false prophets will arise and perform signs and wonders, to lead astray, if possible, the elect. 23 But be on guard; I have told you all things beforehand.

How are we to understand this reference to “the abomination of desolation standing where he ought not to be”? First, we must realize that Jesus, in using the term, was drawing from the book of Daniel. Daniel references “the abomination of desolation” in Daniel 9, 11, and 12.

Daniel 9

27b And on the wing of abominations shall come one who makes desolate, until the decreed end is poured out on the desolator.

Daniel 11

31 Forces from him shall appear and profane the temple and fortress, and shall take away the regular burnt offering. And they shall set up the abomination that makes desolate.

Daniel 12

11 And from the time that the regular burnt offering is taken away and the abomination that makes desolate is set up, there shall be 1,290 days.

Daniel foretold that there would come a figure of great evil and wickedness who would profane the temple and the city of God. He would disrupt the true worship of God’s people. Barclay has pointed out the phrase “the abomination of desolation” “literally means the profanation that appals” and that it had an earlier fulfillment in [Antiochus Epiphanes IV] who “tried to stamp out the Jewish religion and introduce Greek thought and Greek ways,” who “desecrated the Temple by offering swine’s flesh on the great altar, and by setting up public brothels in the sacred courts,” and who “set up a great statue of Olympian Zeus and ordered the Jews to worship it” in the courts of the temple. Barclay observes that “the abomination of desolation, the profanation that appals, originally described the heathen image and all that accompanied it with which Antiocheius desecrated the Temple.” Thus, many in Jesus’ day would have thought Daniel’s prophecy was already fulfilled in the horrible reign of Antiochus Epiphanes IV (who ruled from 175-64 B.C.).

In fact, in the disciples’ lifetime, Barclay continues, “[i]t very nearly happened literally in the year A.D. 40” when Caligula “heard of the imageless worship of the Temple of Jerusalem and planned to set up his own statue in the Holy Place.”[1] Caligula was ultimately dissuaded from doing this.

And many today see this prophecy of the coming “abomination of desolation” as having been fulfilled in A.D. 70 when Titus besieged and sacked Jerusalem. What happened there was truly horrific. Again, Barclay offers a helpful summary:

The horrors of that siege form one of the grimmest pages in history. The people crowded into Jerusalem from the countryside. Titus had no alternative but to starve the city into subjection…[Josephus] tells us that 97,000 were taken captive and 1,100,000 perished by slow starvation and the sword. He tells us that, “Then did the famine widen its progress and devoured the people by whole houses and families. The upper rooms were full of women and children, dying of starvation. The lanes of the city were full of the dead bodies of the aged. The children and the young men wandered about the market places like shadows, all swelled with famine, and fell down dead wheresoever their misery seized them. As for burying them, those that were sick themselves were not able to do it. And those that were hearty and well were deterred by the great multitude of the dead, and the uncertainty when they would die themselves, for many died as they were burying others, and many went to their own coffins before the fatal hour.” To make it still grimmer there were the inevitable ghouls who plundered the dead bodies. Josephus tells grimly how when not even any herbs were available “some persons were driven to such terrible distress as to search the common sewers and old dung-hills of cattle, and to eat the dung which they got there, and what they could not endure so much as to see, they now used for food.” He paints a grim picture of men gnawing the leather of straps and shoes, and tells a terrible story of a woman who killed and roasted her child, and offered a share of that terrible meal to those who came seeking food.[2]

How utterly terrifying!

Who, then, fulfilled the prophecy of the coming “abomination of desolation”? Was it Antiochus Epiphanes IV or was it Titus in A.D. 70? Or is there another option?

As we saw last week, many prophecies have current day fulfillments yet point beyond their own day to the end of all things when they will be ultimately fulfilled. I would suggest to you that this is what is happening here. So Antiochus Epiphanes IV was a type of the “abomination of desolation” as was Titus, yet there is one yet to come before the end. It should be noted that Paul, in 2 Thessalonians 2, prophesied that the final abomination of desolation (who Paul calls “the man of lawlessness”) would come before the end.

Let no one deceive you in any way. For that day will not come, unless the rebellion comes first, and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the son of destruction, who opposes and exalts himself against every so-called god or object of worship, so that he takes his seat in the temple of God, proclaiming himself to be God.

This idea of there being forerunners to the antichrist is explicitly articulated by John in 1 John 2.

18 Children, it is the last hour, and as you have heard that antichrist is coming, so now many antichrists have come. Therefore we know that it is the last hour.

This is significant. If we see foreshadowings of the antichrist we also see foreshadowings of the horrors that accompany the antichrist’s ascendancy and the divine judgment it invites. The horrors of, for instance, A.D. 70 certainly point to the collapse of civil order, the evils that accompany it, and the divine judgment that will accompany the coming of Christ.

Let us not be naïve. Let us not turn away from the difficult truth: the darkness will get darker still and God’s judgment will fall upon the world.

But the judgment of God will not fall upon those who are hidden in Jesus.

The darkness will get darker, but the darkness still cannot overcome the light!

24 “But in those days, after that tribulation, the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, 25 and the stars will be falling from heaven, and the powers in the heavens will be shaken. 26 And then they will see the Son of Man coming in clouds with great power and glory. 27 And then he will send out the angels and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of heaven.

In the first act of creation recounted in Genesis 1, light pierces darkness.

And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light.

In John 1, a chapter in which John is clearly alluding to Genesis 1, John speaks of the light once again piercing the darkness, this time in the person of the Son of God, Jesus the Christ.

In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.

In creation, light pierced the darkness.

In the first coming of Jesus, light pierced the darkness.

And in the second coming of Jesus, light will conquer the darkness.

The growing darkness is not so strong that it can beat back the coming of the creative, redeeming, restorative, life-giving light of the glory of Jesus Christ.

26 And then they will see the Son of Man coming in clouds with great power and glory. 27 And then he will send out the angels and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of heaven.

The darkness will not win! The light of God will come again in the second coming of the Son. This will mean salvation for the gathered elect. It will also mean judgment for those who reject the Son.

R.A. Torrey once wrote:

The coming again of Jesus Christ is a subject that is awakening much interest and much discussion in our day; but it is one thing to be interested in the Lord’s return, and to talk about it, and quite another thing to be prepared for it.[3]

As you come to this table, remember that Christ has come…but also remember that Christ is coming again. In 1 Corinthians 11, Paul combined the two comings in his reflection on the church’s observance of the supper.

26 For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death [the first coming] until he comes [the second coming].

Let us remember that the crucified and risen Lamb is also the coming-again Lamb! Let us remember that Christ who was born in humility is the Christ who will come again in revealed and resplendent glory.

Christ has come.

Christ is coming.

Trust in the King who is the light!

 

[1] William Barclay, The Gospel of Mark. The Daily Study Bible. (Edinburgh: The Saint Andrew Press, 1971), p.324.

[2] Barclay, p.325-326.

[3] Torrey, R. A.. How to Pray (Moody Classics) (p. 7). Moody Publishers. Kindle Edition.

 

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