Sunday, October 15, 2023

The Signs of the End Times: Be Watchful and Be Alert

On Saturday October 7th 2023 the nation of Israel was brutally attacked by Hamas terrorists from the Gaza strip. The attack involved thousands of rockets, men launches themselves through the air on hang-gliders, as well as complex breaches of the fences protecting Israel from the Gaza strip. In a few short hours, over 1,400 had lost their lives. 3,400 were injured. 199 people were kidnapped.

We should be praying fervently for Israel, and the people of Israel, as the days, weeks, and months go by. We should grieve with Israel. We should pray for the salvation of the lost in Israel. We should avoid condemning Israel for counter-attacks against Hamas terrorists. We should pray for the safety of all in the danger zone right now. God be with them! 

But when this happened, many wondered if this was a sign of the end times. Did this have a prophetic significance for the book of Revelation and the time the bible calls the last days?

In Mark chapter 13 we find the words of Jesus addressing the topic of the last days. Let’s dive in.

The Lord Jesus has visited the massive temple complex, the site of worship for all Jews in Israel, and he is now leaving the area.

We see his disciples commenting to him about the power and glory and might of Herod’s temple.

In Mark chapter 13, verses 1-2: “As Jesus was leaving the temple, one of his disciples said to him, “Look, Teacher! What massive stones! What magnificent buildings!”

2 “Do you see all these great buildings?” replied Jesus. “Not one stone here will be left on another; every one will be thrown down.”

Forty years later, in 70 AD, the nation of Israel would rebel against the Roman empire and overthrow the occupying forces in the area. But Rome would send fresh armies, and they would besiege Jerusalem. Eventually, as layer after layer of the defenses fell, finally, the defenders would fight on the walls of the temple itself. They would be defeated. And the temple was completely destroyed. As Jesus had prophesied, not one stone would be left on another. All of it would be thrown down.

Jesus said it in 30 AD, then it happened in 70 AD. How could anyone deny that Jesus was God himself in human form? No one else could know such a thing would happen. But it did.

As Jesus walked away from the temple, the disciples followed, and they went and sat on the mount of olives.

Here is what the view from the mount of olives looks like today. But at the time Jesus sat there with his disciples, they would be overlooking the city, and the temple.

So there they are on the mount of olives, overlooking Jerusalem, and Herod’s temple.

Then in verses 3-4: “As Jesus was sitting on the Mount of Olives opposite the temple, Peter, James, John and Andrew asked him privately, 4 “Tell us, when will these things happen? And what will be the sign that they are all about to be fulfilled?”

Next we see the response of Jesus. Verses 5-8: "Jesus said to them: “Watch out that no one deceives you. 6 Many will come in my name, claiming, ‘I am he,’ and will deceive many. 7 When you hear of wars and rumors of wars, do not be alarmed. Such things must happen, but the end is still to come. 8 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.”

First, Jesus tells us to be careful not to be deceived. Many will come in the name of Jesus, claiming to be Christians, but, they will deceive many. When you hear about various wars, do not to be alarmed. Don’t be alarmed. We hear of wars often in our world. I've lived through numerous times of conflicts, the gulf war, the Iraq war, the various engagements taking place in Afghanistan after 9/11. We've all seen many wars. But it was not yet the end. 

Jesus tells us not to be alarmed. Such things must happen. But the end is not yet, it’s still to come.

Earthquakes and famines indicate the beginning of birth pains. When a woman feels “birth pains” we know that she is close to going into labor. But she is not yet in labor. Similarly, when we hear of famine, and war, and earthquakes, those are birth pains, but not the birth itself. They are signs that we are getting close, but not that we are there yet.

So we have a command from Jesus here: Do not be deceived.

Next, we see in verses 9-11: “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. 10 And the gospel must first be preached to all nations. 11 Whenever you are arrested and brought to trial, do not worry beforehand about what to say. Just say whatever is given you at the time, for it is not you speaking, but the Holy Spirit.”

Here we see a second command: Be on your guard.

Jesus says that in the time of the early church, they would be persecuted and brought before government leaders. They will be betrayed and taken into custody by governments.

Also, hidden in here, is the message from Jesus saying, “The gospel must be preached to all nations.” That’s a fact as well, the gospel of forgiveness in Christ must go out to all nations everywhere before the final end will come.

And of course we see Jesus say, that the early church would speak by the power of the Holy Spirit to government authorities.

On the screen you’ll see a picture of Joe Kennedy, an assistant high school coach who lost his job because he would pray quietly on the field after football games. Thankfully, the Supreme Court in a 6-3 decision, protected his right to pray, but it was crazy to see him lose his job and come under scrutiny for doing something as simple as praying. He was brought before the authorities for his faith.

In verses 12-13 Jesus mentions family betrayal as well:

It says, “Brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child. Children will rebel against their parents and have them put to death. 13 Everyone will hate you because of me, but the one who stands firm to the end will be saved.”

You will be hated. This was true for the early church, for Paul as well, they were hated by so many. He had crowds wanting to kill him. The same is true today, people will hate us for our message of the gospel. We will not be popular. We will often be disliked, and gossiped against and mistreated. Our name will be dragged through the mud. I know, I’ve experienced that. It will happen to you too.

Unless you’re a false teacher, then most will love you. Because you only tell them what they want to hear. So, if you want to be liked, just sugar coat everything you say, and twist scripture to show only grace, and no truth. You'll be loved then, by everyone, well, everyone aside from God, who will despise your false teachings. 

Next we see a mention of a time of great struggle, in verses 14-19 it says, “When you see ‘the abomination that causes desolation’ standing where it does not belong—let the reader understand—then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains. 15 Let no one on the housetop go down or enter the house to take anything out. 16 Let no one in the field go back to get their cloak. 17 How dreadful it will be in those days for pregnant women and nursing mothers! 18 Pray that this will not take place in winter, 19 because those will be days of distress unequaled from the beginning, when God created the world, until now—and never to be equaled again.”

Here we find something called a double-prophecy, a prophecy with a dual meaning. Because this does speak of the anti-Christ, during the end times, but it also spoke to the early Christian church, that when Israel would be surrounded by it’s enemies in 70 AD, that they should flee the area. In fact history tells us that the Christians did flee the area during the siege, to a city called Pella. We learn of this from of one the early church leaders, Eusebius' in his work “Historia Ecclesiastica.” So the event Jesus was speaking of did reference 70 AD, but we also believe it references a time still to come in the future as well, when the anti-christ will reign from Jerusalem at a rebuilt temple.

It goes even deeper in verses 20-25, which says, “If the Lord had not cut short those days, no one would survive. But for the sake of the elect, whom he has chosen, he has shortened them. 21 At that time if anyone says to you, ‘Look, here is the Messiah!’ or, ‘Look, there he is!’ do not believe it. 22 For false messiahs and false prophets will appear and perform signs and wonders to deceive, if possible, even the elect. 23 So be on your guard; I have told you everything ahead of time.

24 “But in those days, following that distress,
“‘the sun will be darkened,
and the moon will not give its light;
25 the stars will fall from the sky,
and the heavenly bodies will be shaken.’"

Here the Lord Jesus quotes from Isaiah 13:10 and Isaiah 34:4. These are prophecies of the end times, really these scriptures point to the very end of the book of Revelation, when the final bowls of God’s wrath are being poured out on the Earth. It’s a time beyond anything any of us could imagine, as far as chaos and destruction and the judgment of God.

Again Jesus gives us the command: Be on your guard.

We’re commanded as well to watch out for false messiahs, false teachers, we’ve even told they’ll have power to perform false signs and wonders. But we have to cling to the word of God, and resist false signs and wonders. Instead we must believe the truth.

The basic fact is this: Jesus will not be on Earth in the flesh. He will be in heaven. And his return will be seen by all.

Jesus talks about this in verses 26-31: “At that time people will see the Son of Man coming in clouds with great power and glory. 27 And he will send his angels and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of the heavens.

28 “Now learn this lesson from the fig tree: As soon as its twigs get tender and its leaves come out, you know that summer is near. 29 Even so, when you see these things happening, you know that it[d] is near, right at the door. 30 Truly I tell you, this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened. 31 Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away.”

So we see that Jesus will be coming in the clouds, from the sky, with great power. And he will gather his people, the elect, the body of Christ, the church, us.

We must be watchful and careful to observe the times and seasons we live in, because the time is near. So on the one hand be watchful for the time and season of his return.

At the same time, no one knows the day or hour exactly.

Jesus talks about that lastly here, in verses 32-37: “But about that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. 33 Be on guard! Be alert! You do not know when that time will come. 34 It’s like a man going away: He leaves his house and puts his servants in charge, each with their assigned task, and tells the one at the door to keep watch.

35 “Therefore keep watch because you do not know when the owner of the house will come back—whether in the evening, or at midnight, or when the rooster crows, or at dawn. 36 If he comes suddenly, do not let him find you sleeping. 37 What I say to you, I say to everyone: ‘Watch!’”

We find direct commands from Jesus to us: 

1. Be on guard
2. Be alert
3. Keep Watch
4. Watch!

So Jesus is saying that because no one knows the day or hour we should just kind of sit back and do nothing, just say well, nobody knows, so just kinda go to sleep right? Just ignore end times stuff, right? Wrong.

We’re commanded to “be on guard” “be alert” “keep watch” and “watch!” Those are four different ways of saying something similar: Be a faithful servant of God observing the times and seasons, watching for the return of the Master at any moment.

So that is our challenge. We shouldn’t get flustered. We shouldn’t panic, when COVID hits, or when Israel is attacked. We should stand. We should pray. We should keep watch. We should stay awake and stay alert, because Jesus will return.

This is all mindset-wisdom. A Mindset of an active Christian who is active in their faith, actively watching, actively serving day and night, is what Jesus is teaching us here. We should be a soldier at our post, armor on, spiritual weapons ready, praying, seeking God, sharing the gospel, mentoring others, and preparing for the return the Messiah.