Wars. Terrorism. Earthquakes. Increasing racial and political tension. Even a solar eclipse! Some people may be wondering, “Are these the end times? These must be signs that we’re nearing the end, and Jesus’ return is soon!”
In what is known as the “Olivet Discourse” (because the conversation took place on the Mount of Olives), Jesus addressed the end times with a small group of his apostles. That conversation is relayed for us in Mark 13. Here are a few of the highlights:
“Do you see these great buildings (the Temple)? Not one stone will be left upon another—all will be thrown down.”
“Many will come in my name, saying, ‘I am he,’ and they will deceive many. When you hear of wars and rumors of wars, don’t be alarmed; these things must take place, but it is not yet the end. For nation will rise up against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be earthquakes in various places, and famines. These are the beginning of birth pains.”
“But in those days, after that tribulation: The sun will be darkened, and the moon will not shed its light; the stars will be falling from the sky, and the powers in the heavens will be shaken. Then they will see the Son of Man coming in clouds with great power and glory. 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.
“Now concerning that day or hour no one knows—neither the angels in heaven nor the Son—but only the Father. Watch! Be alert! For you don’t know when the time is coming.”
The list Jesus provides seems like something ripped out of our newspapers. And yet, every generation of Christians since the days of the Apostles has pointed to current events as the same proof. Especially with today’s news service and the ability to literally watch events unfold on the other side of the world as it’s all happening… this increases our awareness of wars and disasters and controversies. It is also probable that Jesus listed wars, disasters, and famines because these were the most devastating crises of the day. If Jesus spoke today, he would probably list cancer and similar deadly diseases.
While there’s certainly a lot to chew on and discuss, Jesus left a lot unsaid and unexplained. His emphasis in this conversation is best summarized by two words: live ready. He didn’t allow his disciples to speculate and grow obsessed with the end times… instead, he instructed them to continue proclaiming the gospel, even despite opposition and persecution (see v.9-13).
Christian – if you are more excited to discuss the end times than you are to talk about the gospel with a nonChristian then you have misguided priorities. The reality that judgment and hell are real must fuel our engagement in evangelism and world missions. The gospel is good news because without it, we stand guilty before God. But the message of the gospel announces God’s rescue through faith in Jesus’ provision. Especially if you are convinced that the end is near, how could you not grow an urgency for evangelism and world missions?
It seems that Jesus’ focus in the Olivet Discourse was not to reveal details about the end times. Rather, it was to warn his disciples against the danger of falling asleep to the things of God. Stay awake. Be alert. Watch out.
So are we living in the end times? YES… and we have been for 2000 years. Considering the link between v.14 and v.19, Jesus seems to indicate that the Tribulation (“days of troubling”) would begin upon the Abomination of Desolation. He continues by saying, “But in those days, after that tribulation” and describes events leading up to the final judgment when Christ will return.
Christian: Do you believe this, or have you been lulled to sleep regarding Christ’s return and the coming judgment? Or have you become so interested in the details of the end times that figuring out details and timelines has suffocated your passion for evangelism?
NonChristian: Are you giving your soul the attention required, or are you putting off any decisions for later? I don’t believe in scare tactics, so don’t go making a hasty decision… but do let this be a loving warning. Jesus is the only Savior who can rescue and grant your adoption as a son or daughter of God. Admit your sin, Believe in Jesus, and Commit your life to God.
note: this post is based off a sermon I preached at Emmanuel Baptist Church on 8/20/17. Sermon audio should be available online here.