SIGNS OF THE END OF TIME - Willa Dale Smid


Taken from the"almond-branch" Vol. 9 May 1979 No. 5

Mark 13:3-33

In studying this topic, we must first consider the background of the text. Peter, James, John, and Andrew asked about the ruin of the temple and what kind of sign God would give from heaven. They linked the coming of Christ and the end of the world with the overthrow of the temple, and they understood the end of the world to mean the restoration of all things so that the happiness of the godly would be complete.[1] We must realize that from childhood they had believed the temple would stand until the end of time. So as soon as Christ said the temple would perish, they immediately thought of the end of time.[2]

"When will this happen ... ?" would seem to refer to the destruction of the city and temple, to that and nothing else.

Nevertheless, the phrase "all these things" points to a broader meaning. In His answer, Jesus does not limit Himself to the events that were to occur about 70 A.D. His eyes scan the centuries that lie ahead and He includes His own glorious second coming among the things predicted.[3]

Christ's warning that they not be mislead not only states the main lesson of the chapter, but also emphasizes the true purpose of all biblical prophecy, which is to enable us to interpret the present and to encourage us to watchfulness.[4] Shortly after the resurrection of Christ imposters arose, each of them professing to be Christ. Because Christ had been taken from their midst and hung on the cross, the people longed for redemption and Christ's return. So it was easy for imposters to deceive them. We must realize today that the means of defence against such imposters is not lacking as long as each of us watches diligently.

In addition to being warned of imposters, the disciples (and we) are warned of international disagreements and natural calamities; but such things are not to be taken as the final sign of the end. They are, instead, the beginning of the sufferings [5] Christ tells us to meet bravely the rumours of wars and the wars themselves. If we become discouraged, we may lose our faith and Christ definitely does not want this. He also speaks about "earthquakes in various places and ... famines." These disturbances in nature are foreshadowings of that which, in a much more extensive and intensive scale, will take place in nature at the end of the age.[6]

What is behind all this discord? From the beginning, ingratitude has kindled the anger of God. So those who have broken the bond of peace with God fight each other. Those who refuse to obey the kingdom of God give in to the violence of the enemy. [7]

Verses 9-13 point out that this age will definitely be a period of suffering for the Christian church. Indeed, the church has never flourished more than during those times when it has been forced into hiding.[8] Christ does not say that nothing is to be feared, for the devil will make things difficult enough. But that which the devil means for evil God turns to good to make us strong in Him. It was proof of the truth of the Gospel that the apostles appeared before kings without dread and in plain terms confessed the name of Christ.[9] Do we also proclaim God's Word loudly or are we more apt to "join the crowd" because we are so few in number?

Now as to the preaching of the Gospel to all nations, Jesus is saying that the world's nations shall have the opportunity at one time or another during the course of history to hear the Gospel. From the very beginning, salvation was intended to be for all those who by grace placed their trust in Him, whether Jew or Gentile.[10]

What is exactly meant by "all nations" we do not know. When will all nations have heard the Word of God and to the extent desired by God? Paul knew the word of Jesus regarding the preaching of the Gospel to the whole world, yet he believed that God could return even during his lifetime (I Thessalonians 4:15). We now know that the Gospel had not been brought sufficiently to all people during Paul's time. As long as Christ has not returned the calling to preach the Gospel remains. The world-wide proclamation of the Gospel must occur, for this is God's will. We, as believers, have a responsibility to see that His will is carried out. In the last 200 years the missionary movement has been making great progress and the message of salvation in Christ has nearly rounded the earth. Jesus says that it shall be preached in the world for a testimony to all nations, and then the end shall come. This is a sign which is rapidly attaining fulfillment. We should be aware of this and strive to bring the promise to complete fulfilment. [11]

Verse 11 promises those called upon to defend their faith in the face of persecution that they will receive guidance and inspiration from the Holy Spirit.[12] This is not a promise that God's people will escape death. We certainly may not expect this. Instead, God promises to give His people the ability to speak with such wisdom that their persecutors could never contradict it.

For those who remain loyal to Christ, the period of persecution will last until death delivers them from earth. Then they will be free from their trials. For the church in general, the persecution will last until Christ's return in glory. When persecution is really severe, many of those whose worship of God has only been outward will even become "informers" against members of their own families. The true believers, however, will remain loyal to the very end.

In verses 14-18 two momentous events are intertwined: 1) the judgment upon Jerusalem and 2) the tribulation climaxed by the final judgment at the close of the world's history.[13] Verse 14 refers to the desecration of the Temple in 70 A.D. Nevertheless, Jesus was probably referring in a secondary sense to the appearing of antichrists, whether political or so-called religious, who oppose Christ's teaching.[14] Christ warns that terrible calamities are ahead for Judea. Neither Jerusalem nor the Temple as then known would remain to the end of time. Yes, even to remain in Judea would not be safe. He says that these calamities will come so suddenly that there will be very little time for escape.

There will never again be such tribulation. Surely the rejection of Christ was the most terrible of all sins and as such deserved punishment more severe than any other. For the sake of His chosen ones, however, the Lord cut short the days of the final tribulation. It has pleased the Lord to elect those whom He would save and He shows this by easing their suffering.

Once again Christ warns of false Christs and false prophets. This is, without a doubt, the main idea in this chapter. For the antichrists will come with signs and wonders that might lead away weak believers. They will try to lead away even the elect, but the suggestion is that it is not possible to mislead God's elect.

At this point we should also consider II Thessalonians 2 where the "man of lawlessness," the son of perdition, is mentioned. Who is this man of lawlessness, this antichrist? Many are still waiting for him to come. Yes, they say, there have been many antichrists, but the one powerful antichrist at whose words the whole political and so-called religious world will bow, when will he come? They feel he still needs to come before the end of the world is here. They think of the antichristian communist power and the World Council of Churches with its communist sympathizers. Will they unite with the one Antichrist at their head? Will the communistic-socialistic antichristian trade unions reach the peak of their power when the communist block joins hands with the World Council of Churches so that no one can buy or sell unless he has the mark of the beast? Many people believe this and thus say, "Why worry? There's still time to repent. The day of the Lord is not yet at hand." Is that the way it is with us?

One thing that we really should remember is that Paul expected that Christ could return in his lifetime. He stresses that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night (I Thessalonians 5:2) and that the teachings of those who said that the day of the Lord had already come were false. it is correctly said that more Christians appear to live in expectation of the coming of the one Antichrist than in hope of the return of Christ Himself. How do we live?

In the days of Paul the true, Christian believers probably felt that the Jewish priests and scribes were the antichrists who filled the temple with their religiosity and made themselves God, rejecting the Lord Jesus and persecuting the saints. Later the Christian believers probably regarded the Roman Emperor as antichrist. The reformers saw in the papacy the antichrist. In more recent times Hitler and even Kissinger have been seen as the antichrist. Were people wrong in labelling these people as antichrist?

According to what Venema writes in his book What is Necessary For A Christian To Believe?, the man of lawlessness is not one person but a characterization of man. He feels that in the Old Testament church the man of lawlessness represented the Jewish scribes and priests. In the New Testament it was those who, although seemingly very pious, really did not see Christ as their Redeemer.[15] In I John 2:18 John says, "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."

The commentary on the State translation of the Dutch Bible apparently also comments that the antichrist in I John 2:18 could mean a whole succession of antichrists. From these commentaries it appears that there will not be one specific powerful antichrist that still needs to come, but that the antichrists are already here as Paul mentions in II Thessalonians 2:7 that the mystery of lawlessness is already at work.

Antichrist, the man of lawlessness, was, is, and will be to the end of time. It may be present in different forms and to a greater extent than we are aware of or can even comprehend. We are not fighting against man, but the devil himself.

Consider the two beasts of Revelation 13. The first beast, coming out of the sea, possibly symbolizes a totalitarian, political antichrist, with the sea representing the nations of the world. The second beast comes out of the earth i.e., from the devil himself, with horns like a lamb. The appearance of this beast might possibly be mistaken for the Lamb of God. Working hand-in-hand with the first beast, this beast appears to be the spiritual antichrist.  [16] Think about this for a minute. How do the many so-called religious leaders and churches view such issues as abortion, capital punishment, and moral laws? With the mass media as we know it today, is the power of the two beasts perhaps not greater than we can comprehend? Or are we asleep and not even aware of what is happening?

Will the beasts succeed in leading the believers away? We might expect so, except that in Revelation 7 we learn of the sealing of the 144,000 by the Lord, and in Revelation 12 we read of the preparation of a place in the desert for the woman.[17] Hence we know that the Lord will care for His chosen ones. This does not mean that the faithful will not suffer under the beasts, but it does seem to indicate that they will not perish under them.[18] We will not be tempted beyond what we can bear.

Another sign which we might consider, but which is not mentioned in Mark, is that of the two witnesses (Revelation 11: 3-14). Just as the "man of lawlessness" or the antichrist may not represent one person alone, Selles believes that the two witnesses are not two specific persons, but represent a whole group of people, i.e., the church.[19]They do nothing but prophesy, and, as long as their prophesying lasts, their enemies are powerless. However, when their testimony is over, things are different. The beast, i.e., the antichristian power, conquers and kills them. This does not mean that all believers will be killed nor that the church as the body of Christ is destroyed. It only means that her public existence will come to an end.[20] The people rejoice at the sight of the dead bodies, for the witnesses had caused them much torment. But their peace is short-lived - only 3 1/2 days compared to the 1260 days that the two witnesses had prophesied. [21] Selles also believes that the resurrection of the witnesses is actually the restoration of the church, the visible congregation of believers. [22] Those who see this resurrection are struck with fear and give glory to God, but they are not really converted to Him.

Have we not also seen the prophecy of the two witnesses fulfilled many times? Consider the churches in Europe during the Reformation. The believers were severely persecuted and many died, but eventually the church overcame this persecution and flourished. In the U.S.S.R. and Eastern Europe today, Christian churches have been eliminated and there exists only a state church politically controlled by the communists. Will the believers there be able to overcome this persecution? The prophecy of the two witnesses has been fulfilled, is being fulfilled, and will be fulfilled. Let us always pray that the true believers will remain strong in the Lord in anticipation of the day to come.

Returning to Mark now, we read that after the church has gone through its afflictions, the sun and moon will be darkened. As for the stars, according to Calvin, there will be such a disturbance in the heavenly system that they will appear to fall. And then, at the end, the daylight will break through to show Christ's shining majesty .[23]

The very appearance of the Son of Man upon clouds of glory is the one great final sign. Hendriksen says:

Christ's brilliant appearance will be the signal that He is about to go forth to meet His people while they ascend to meet Him in the air (I Thessalonians 4:16-17). He will gather all the elect - both the survivors and those who have previously fallen asleep - to Himself, to be with Him forever.` It is clear that both groups - the survivors and the dead - consist of nothing but believers. [24]

Christ uses a parable to help us understand what He is saying. When trees begin to put forth leaves, we know that summer is near. Likewise when we see things of which He has warned us being fulfilled, we will know that the day of the Lord is close at hand.

It was not Christ's intention to promise His people an end to troubles within a short time; this would have contradicted His earlier warning, in verse 7, that the end was not yet. He is simply telling us what to look for. Actually all the things Christ mentioned occurred prior to the destruction in 70 A.D. This would explain the phrase "This generation shall not pass away." Another possible meaning of the phrase is ... This generation, namely, the Jewish people, will not cease to exist until all these things which Jesus predicted have happened." [25] This is Hendriksen's opinion, but it is certainly debatable.

Jesus emphasizes that no matter how firm and strong heaven and earth appear, they really are unstable. In contrast, His own words will continue for ever and ever. How often we think of things in terms of worldly value rather than spiritual value! Perhaps the stability of God's words frightens us. Or perhaps the fact that we have little confidence in our own ability to cope with all these calamities poses a problem for us. But we must always remember that these words are not spoken to frighten us, but are intended merely to show God's plan. We must always trust in God for our strength.

Although the events that precede Christ's return have been described, the exact moment of His return has not been given. That is not for us to know. Christ wants us to be so uncertain of His coming that from day to day, even from moment to moment, we should be intently waiting. In Luke 17 Christ points out that things will be essentially normal except that people will think of nothing but the present. Isn't that the way it is now? People are so concerned about having enough money for the things that make life more pleasant that they are working on Sundays, limiting the size of their families, and mothers are going to work and leaving their children in the care of a baby-sitter. In doing so, they are ignoring God's command and thinking only of themselves. When the Son of Man does come, it will be a surprise for the godless world, and it will be too late to change or escape.

Verse 32 contains a wise warning. If we try to determine the exact date when Christ will return, we will always be wrong. Superficially, the occurrences described by Christ are common happenings without special meaning, but these things work together to produce the Day of the Lord. Just as birth pangs exist before a birth and have as a result that birth, so also the signs performed by the Lord before His return have that day as a result.

Four times in this chapter Jesus warns us to "Take heed" (verses 5, 9, 23, and 33). We must always be alert, studying the events that are taking place or are yet to occur, so that we can see the fulfillment of Christ's predictions and be strengthened in our faith.

We must watch and pray, but must not be discouraged or uncomfortable at the thought of Christ's coming. Rather we must be prepared; for the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night" (I Thessalonians 5:2). Let us all live each day in the expectation of His glorious return.
 

Willa Dale Smid Essayist
 


FOOTNOTES


[1]ReturnJohn Calvin, Calvin's New Testament Commentaries: Matthew, Mark and Luke, Vol. Ill; James and Jude (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1972), 75.

[2]ReturnIbid.

[3]ReturnWilliam Hendriksen, New Testament Commentary: The Gospel of Mark (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1975), 514.

[4]ReturnD. Guthrie (ed.) The New Bible Commentary, Revised (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1970), 879,

[5]ReturnIbid.

[6]ReturnHendriksen, 517.

[7]ReturnCalvin, 78.

[8]ReturnGuthrie, 879.

[9]ReturnCalvin, 80.

[10]ReturnHendriksen, 520.

[11]ReturnWilliam Hendriksen, The Bible On The Life Hereafter (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1959),118.

[12]ReturnGuthrie, 879,

[13]ReturnHendriksen, Mark, 526.

[14]ReturnGuthrie, 879.

[15]ReturnDs. F.F. Venema, Wat Is Een Christen Nodig Te Geloven? (Groningen: Ulitgeverij "De Vuurbaak"), 281.

[16]ReturnIbid, 283-284.

[17]ReturnRev. L. Selles, The Book of Revelation (The Interleague Publication Board of Canadian Reformed Societies, 1969),II, 22.

[18]ReturnIbid.

[19]ReturnIbid, 1, 7 1.

[20]ReturnIbid, 7 2.

[21]ReturnIbid.

[22]ReturnIbid,

[23]ReturnCalvin, 94.

[24]ReturnHendriksen, Mark, 536.

[25]ReturnIbid, 540.

BIBLIOGRAPHY


Calvin, John, Calvin's New Testament Commentaries: Matthew, Mark and Luke, Vol. Ill, James and Jude. Grand Rapids: Wm. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1972.

Guthrie, D. (ed.), The New Bible Commentary, Revised. Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1970.

Hendriksen, William, The Bible On The Life Hereafter. Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1959.

Hendriksen, William, New Testament Commentary: The Gospel of Mark. Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1975.

Selles, Rev. L., The Book of Revelation, Vol. I The Publication Board of the Canadian Reformed Young People, 1965.

Selles, Rev. L., The Book of Revelation, Vol. II. The Interleague Publication Board of Canadian Reformed Societies, 1969.

Venema, Ds. F.F. Wat Is Een Christen Nodig Te Geloven? Groningen: Uitgeverij "De Vuurbaak."