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Now we're turning in our Bibles to Mark's gospel chapter 13, and we'll not read the portion for the sake of time - what we will do is, we'll go through it verse-by-verse as we come to each part. If you wanted a title for what we are going to study this morning - and it is more of a Bible study, tonight will be a challenge and a devotional thought or two, but this morning is quite an in-depth Bible study on the 'Signs of the Second Coming' of the Lord Jesus. We are taking these weeks a series on the final 'Countdown To Calvary' - in other words, what Mark does in these last chapters of his gospel, from chapter 11 right to chapter 16, is: he gives us a breakdown in the last week of the life and ministry of the Lord Jesus Christ. Quite disproportionate in the sense that it is only a week of His life, and yet Mark gives so much time in his gospel to it - but it's vital to his theme, because Mark is, of course, the gospel of the cross.

Chapter 13 encompasses for us the teaching of the Lord Jesus concerning His second coming, which has come to be known as 'The Olivet Discourse'...

Now, last Sunday morning we started on the Sunday of this last week, as Jesus rode - it's called the 'Triumphal Entry' - rode on a donkey into Jerusalem as the King of the Jews. Then we moved on, still on Sunday morning past in our time, we moved on to Monday as far as Jesus was concerned, where He cursed a fig tree, and then He went into the Temple and He cleansed the Temple of the thieves and those who were dealing there. He told them: 'My house shall be a house of prayer, but you have made it a den of thieves and robbers'. Then we saw last Sunday evening that the Lord Jesus, probably on Tuesday, was questioned by the Sanhedrin. We saw four questions that Jesus had to answer about various subjects - they were trying to catch Him in His words. Then we saw that the fifth question in the passage was from Jesus, as He turned the tables on the Pharisees and Scribes and asked them the most important question of all - and that was: what they really thought of Him. That is the most important question of all, what we think of Christ.

Now, I'm not dogmatic about these events being on particular days of the week, but it's more than likely that what we're going to read and study this morning took place on Wednesday of the last week of the Lord Jesus. Mark's gospel chapter 13 encompasses for us the teaching of the Lord Jesus concerning His second coming, which has come to be known as 'The Olivet Discourse'. Of course He taught on the Mount of Olivet, and you can also read it in a more elongated form in Matthew's Gospel chapters 24 and 25, and also in Luke's Gospel chapter 21 - but we will be sticking really to Mark's record of it in chapter 13.

Now, if you were with us you will remember that the Lord Jesus has spent some time in the vicinity of the Temple area, and that's where the Sanhedrin were questioning Him. In that context, moving out of the Temple and out to the Mount of Olivet, verse 1 of chapter 13: 'As He went out of the temple, one of His disciples said to Him, 'Teacher, see what manner of stones and what buildings are here!''. This particular disciple, we don't know who he was, just was awestruck at the magnificent architecture and structure of this Temple. Now, I'm not going to go into a detailed description of what it was like, but just to let you know that it still had not been finished at this point in history. The building of this Temple, which is known as Herod's Temple, which was based on Zerubbabel's Temple, was not finished until A.D. 64 - so there are 30-odd years still left of the building of the Temple, and yet at this point it was so magnificent in its structure that it drew from this disciple awe and wonder. We're told by Josephus, the Jewish historian, that there was gold plating on this Temple on every side - so much so that when the sun rose in the morning and you looked at the Temple, you could get blinded by the reflection! It was also made of limestone bricks, and it is recorded that strangers approaching the holy city of Jerusalem, as they looked and saw the Temple, thought it looked like a snowcapped mountain. So you can imagine the wonder and magnificence of this sight, and this disciple is turning the attention of the Lord Jesus to the Temple.

This particular disciple just was awestruck at the magnificent architecture and structure of this Temple...

So in verse 2, the Lord Jesus - in relation to the Temple - makes a prediction: 'Jesus answered and said to him, 'Do you see these great buildings? Not one stone shall be left upon another, that shall not be thrown down'. The Lord Jesus says: 'No matter how magnificent and wonderful this Temple is that you're looking at, I am predicting that it is going to be destroyed'. Now, if you know your history, you will know that in A.D. 70 the Romans came in with all their armies and destroyed this very Temple, indeed the whole city of Jerusalem. Now, may I remind you of some of the thoughts that we pondered last Lord's Day morning in particular: empty religion is worthless to God. Remember that's what the sign was of the Lord Jesus going into the Temple and driving out the thieves and the businessmen. He was signifying also when He cursed the fig tree - it was taking up room but bearing no fruit, just like the children of Israel - that empty religion is worthless to Him. This is the final death knell to Judaism, at this point at least, when He predicts the destruction of the Temple. These are the consequences for suppressing the truth of God.

Now this was literally fulfilled, as I said, in A.D. 70 - but it wasn't just literally fulfilled by the destruction of the Temple, but Jesus actually prophesied in verse 2 that 'not one stone shall be left upon another, that shall not be thrown down'. It was literally fulfilled to the very jot and tittle, the exact details of this prophecy. The reason why that is: we know from historical records that Titus, the Roman general who was given the job of going in and destroying Jerusalem, he apparently wished to salvage the Temple - most likely because there was much gold there. There was gold in not only the edifice, but in the furniture and even the decor inside and outside. But unfortunately the Roman soldiers beat him to it, and they set the Temple alight and burned it to the ground. What happened to the gold then? Well, the gold melted, and it ran down the edifice of the Temple and into every nook and cranny, into the joins and the cracks of the bricks. So the general, Titus, gave the order to take the remains apart - brick by brick - to salvage the gold. The Lord Jesus' prophecy fulfilled to the exact minutiae: not one stone would be left upon another.

Now, the only remaining wall of that Temple is the foundation wall that some of you who have been to Jerusalem will have seen - but, apart from that, not one brick was left upon another. Now we learn from that that we have got to take prophetic Scripture seriously, and we've got to look in detail at every specific thing that is said in the word of God. Not to just fudge it or spiritualise it but, if we can, to try to isolate specific details to understand what God is saying - but let me also say to you, maybe you're not a believer here this morning: prophecy is how God authenticates His message. Some unbelievers will say: 'How can we know that God is there? How can we know that Jesus Christ is His Son? How can we know that what He said was true? That what is said in the Bible really is the case, that He died for sins, rose again, and is coming again? How do we know?'. Prophecy is God's stamp of authenticity on His message. We can know that the Bible is true, we know Jesus is true, we know the message of the Gospel is true, because prophecy has proven it to be such. In other words, God fulfilling His word shows His authenticity in the message. You can believe God's word, and incidentally: Jesus, when He came the first time, fulfilled over 300 prophecies in the Old Testament Scriptures that were made hundreds of years before He was born - but there are eight times more prophecies in the word of God concerning His second advent, His second coming, than there were of His first. So you can be eight times more sure that He's coming again, and that He will fulfil to every jot and tittle what has been prophesied concerning that great event.

They are asking Him about His return: when it will be and what the signs will be of His coming...

Now, that prediction about the Temple moved them on in verses 3 and 4 to more questions from the disciples: 'Now as He sat on the Mount of Olives opposite the temple, Peter, James, John, and Andrew asked Him privately, 'Tell us, when will these things be? And what will be the sign when all these things will be fulfilled?''. Now, as I said at the beginning, this discourse is also recorded in Matthew and Luke, and we know from their record that the disciples actually asked more than simply when the Temple would be destroyed. Matthew 24 verse 3 says: 'Now as He sat on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to Him privately, saying, 'Tell us, when will these things be? And what will be the sign of Your coming, and of the end of the age?'. So they're not just asking Him when the Temple would be destroyed, but they are asking Him about His return: when it will be and what the signs will be of His coming.

Now, it seems to me at least, that in the minds of the disciples the destruction of the Temple coincided with the end of the age and His return. Therefore the verses that follow in Jesus' answer, answer both these questions: one, when the Temple would be destroyed; and two, when Jesus would return and what the signs of His coming would be. Let me say, before we delve into it, as you read this portion of Scripture you will see that some of these predictions obviously referred to the destruction of the Temple in A.D. 70 - there's no doubt about that. Yet, as you read, what is equally obvious is that these prophecies go farther into the future, and indeed right to the events preceding the second coming of the Lord Jesus.

Now, a few tips for you in interpreting prophetic Scripture. One is that you always must harmonise what you read in any prophetic passage with other prophetic Scriptures in the word of God, they have all got to fit together. We will see this morning, if you turn to verse 14, that Jesus refers there: 'when you see the 'abomination of desolation', spoken of by Daniel the prophet, standing where it ought not' (let the reader understand), 'then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains''. Now, He is appealing to Daniel's prophecy in the Old Testament. You've got to remember also that Mark, writing his gospel, was writing to Roman Gentiles - so he wanted them to understand, without the Jewish background, that biblical prophecy and specifically the second coming of the Lord Jesus Christ is rooted in depth in the Hebrew prophecies of the Old Testament. So, in order to understand these great future events that are going to happen, you've got to put all prophetic Scripture together and don't take any in isolation.

People are full of prophetic head knowledge, but their life remains the same. That was never the Holy Spirit's intention in giving us prophetic truth...

That's the first tip, you've got to harmonise biblical prophecies. The second is: you've got to understand that, specifically in chapter 13 of Mark in the Olivet Discourse, these are questions asked by Jews - the disciples were Jews - of, essentially, a Rabbi, Jesus, who was a Jewish Teacher. So the environment, the climate of these prophecies and their fulfilment is essentially Jewish. They involve inherently Jewish issues and we ought not to forget that. A third thing to remember in interpreting Bible prophecy is: there always must be practical application. Now, if you look at verse 5 you will see that Jesus says: 'Take heed'. If you look down again at verse 23, He says: 'Take heed'. In verse 33 He says: 'Take heed'. In verse 7 He says: 'Do not be troubled'. In verse 13 He says: 'Endure'. In verses 18 and 33 He says: 'Pray'. In verse 9, verse 33, verse 35, and verse 37 He says: 'Watch'. There is a practical application to prophecy - and I'm sad to say that in many evangelical circles today, much study on these matters is simply idle speculation, or selfish gratification of the knowledge of the future. Often this preoccupation and selfish gratification leaves lives unchanged. People are full of prophetic head knowledge, but their life remains the same. That was never the Holy Spirit's intention in giving us prophetic truth, it was always with a practical application. It was not given to gratify and satisfy our curiosity, it was given to engender holiness of life and watchfulness - as we do not look around us for signs, but we look for the Saviour who will come for those who believe in Him. I'm reminded of that hymn that refers to the Lord's Table by C.H. Spurgeon - and I'm taking it completely out of context, but you'll understand what I mean when I recite it to you - he said, concerning the Lord's Supper:

'If now, with eyes defiled and dim,
We see the signs, but see not Him,
O may His love the scales displace,
And bid us see Him face to face!'.

Now, applying that to the second coming doesn't lose any of its meaning. If we see the signs, but do not see Him, there is a problem - because there has to always be a practical application to these truths.

Now, to get a complete picture of this Olivet Discourse and the predictions, all three Gospels must be studied. We haven't got time for that this morning - you'll be glad to know! - but we may add some information from the other gospel writers as we go through here. Now, before Jesus answers what they actually asked He gives them some characteristics of the present age in which they were living, and in which we are living to a certain extent, and He tells them of things that are not signs of the end of the age and of His return. Verses 6 and 7: 'For many will come in My name, saying, 'I am He,' and will deceive many. But when you hear of wars and rumors of wars, do not be troubled; for such things must happen, but the end is not yet'. Now, the Lord Jesus just wanted these Jews to know that every time some false christ or false messiah arises, or there is a war somewhere, they are not to conclude that that is the end of time and that Jesus will come soon.

Now, history bears this out, for as far as I am aware, historically, Jesus was the first to claim to be Messiah - but, after that claim, His life, death, and resurrection, many arose - Jews and Gentiles - who claimed to be the Christ. What Jesus was warning these disciples of is: 'This is going to happen. It's going to happen more and more, but don't conclude that this is the end and that I'm coming soon. This is going to happen in your time' - and it's happening in our time. But also He mentioned wars and rumours of wars, and what He was telling them is: there will be local wars, and when local wars arise, even in the Middle East, it is not necessarily significant and not necessarily pointing to the fact that it is the end. Now note verse 7, and this is clearly what He's saying at the end: 'Do not be troubled; for such things must happen' - what things? false christs and local wars, but the end is not yet.

If we see the signs, but do not see Him, there is a problem - because there has to always be a practical application to these truths...

What will the signs be of the end? Well, verse 8, I think, gives us the clue: 'For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. And there will be earthquakes in various places, and there will be famines and troubles. These are the beginnings of sorrows'. Now you can check this out yourself, but all three Gospels, Synoptic Gospels, Matthew, Mark, and Luke, give what Mark here mentions as the sign at the end of the age as being: 'Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom... Earthquakes, famines, troubles. These are the beginnings of sorrows' - that could be translated, 'These are the beginnings of travail'. Your margin might read, 'These are the beginnings of the birth pangs'. Now, you women in the meeting this morning who have been through labour will know that it starts with a sharp pain - you would think I knew what I was talking about here! I do know what a sharp pain is, mind you, after the delivery! - but you will know that the birth labour pangs, the contractions, increase just before the delivery. What Jesus is saying here is that 'This is the beginning of the birth pangs, it's the start of the process of the end of the age which will bring My return'. The first pang, if you like, the first labour pain and contraction is verse 8, the beginning: 'Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom'.

Now, if you ask questions of the Scripture rightfully you will be wondering now: 'Well, what is the difference between the beginning of verse 8 and what Jesus said about wars and rumours of wars in verse 7?'. If He said not to get all excited about wars and rumours of wars, what's the difference between that that does not signify His coming, and nation rising against nation, and kingdom against kingdom, which is a sign of the beginning of the birth pangs? Well, I think it may be obvious enough that verse 7 is speaking of local wars. Jesus is saying that there will always be local wars in humanity right across this globe, but verse 8 seems to be more encompassing than that: nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom - in other words, many believe this to be an idiom in the Hebrew language, or in the Hebrew mind at least, of a world war. Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. So verse 7 may be referring to local wars - we're not to get worried about that, that will happen - but when we see world wars taking place, it may well be that they are birth pangs of the end of the age, and a signal that the second coming of Jesus is soon. The end has begun when world wars begin.

Now, I'll not test you if you can remember the first one - I'm not looking at anyone in particular! - World War I, 1914-1918, was the first world war ever. It may well have been the fulfilment of this first birth pang. There are many who believe that World War II, 1939-1945, was essentially a continuation of World War I. It's very interesting to note that both these world wars had significant impact on the Jewish history. World War I gave impetus to the growth of the Zionist movement, and World War II led to the re-establishment of the Jewish state in 1948. Now, some interpret - and I have sympathy with this - World War I, the first-ever worldwide conflict, to be the beginning of the birth pangs, testifying that the end of the age has begun.

Climate catastrophes and so on and so forth seem to be on an accelerated scale that we have never known before...

He also says in verse 8 that there will be earthquakes in various places. Dr Arnold G. Fruchtenbaum, a Jewish Christian and Bible scholar, says that according to the Encyclopaedia Americana, between the years 63 and 1896, there are only 26 recorded earthquakes. Now, obviously, the records weren't as extensive as we have today - nevertheless, it's interesting to note. The US geological survey says that most of the world's earthquakes with 1000+ deaths began since the year 1900. Now, obviously our ability to detect earthquakes has increased, but nevertheless it does appear that there is an increasing trend - that earthquakes are increasing. In the first thousand years after Jesus, there were approximately 5 recorded major earthquakes - now, as we said, there were certainly others in more remote areas that were not recorded. But watch the pattern: the 14th century, 157 major earthquakes; the 15th century, 174; the 16th century, 253; the 17th century, 278; the 18th century, 640; the 19th century, a massive jump, 2119 - what of the 20th century? Nearly 900,000 earthquakes! That works out at approximately 1 per hour! Over the period of a month recently, just December, on the 2nd of December there was an earthquake of 6.9 magnitude in New Guinea; on the 17th of December an earthquake of 7.2 on the California-Mexican border; December the 20th, 5.6 in El Salvador, December the 21st, 6.2 in Sumatra and 7.4 in Japan on the same day; on December the 25th, 7.6 in Fiji; and on January 5th, this month, 6.6 in Vanuatu in the South Pacific - and 10 minutes later there was another earthquake in the same place of 5.5.

Now, you interpret that as you like, but I think the evidence signifies that earthquakes are increasing - incidentally, round about the same time as the First World War! Jesus said these would be signs of the end of the age and of His second coming - and, of course, we'll spend no time on famines, pestilences, and troubles! We're looking on our news every day and seeing climate catastrophes and so on and so forth that seem to be on an accelerated scale that we have never known before.

Verse 9 appears now for Jesus to be turning His attention to the present time again, that means His present time with the disciples. He starts to address in verse 9: 'Watch out for yourselves', He starts to address the experiences that the Apostles could expect. Now Luke actually makes it more clear when he says: 'Before all these things', before these signs of the ends of the age will occur, Apostles, you need to be careful and watch because there are things that you're going to experience that you need to be ready for. He gives a list of the things in verses 9 through to 13: 'Watch out for yourselves, for they will deliver you up to councils, and you will be beaten in the synagogues. You will be brought before rulers and kings for My sake, for a testimony to them. And the gospel must first be preached to all the nations. But when they arrest you and deliver you up, do not worry beforehand, or premeditate what you will speak. But whatever is given you in that hour, speak that; for it is not you who speak, but the Holy Spirit. Now brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child; and children will rise up against parents and cause them to be put to death. And you will be hated by all for My name's sake. But he who endures to the end shall be saved'.

Now, we'll not go into the details here, but all you need to do is read the Acts of the Apostles and you will see that all of this was fulfilled in the life of the Apostles in the early church. I believe the Lord was interjecting here, preparing the Apostles for what they must expect, to teach them not to expect the end of the age too soon, not to expect the Tribulation too soon, and the second coming to the Mount of Olives too soon. Now, verse 14 then, Jesus now turns, I believe, to answer the question that they have asked about the end of the age. In verses 14 to 23 He speaks about what we know as the Great Tribulation that will lead up to His second coming. When I speak of His second coming, I'm not talking about the rapture of the church which many believe will take away believers, faithful Christians, to be with the Lord before this period of time. You can read about it in 1 Thessalonians 4, 1 Corinthians 15, and John 14 and several other Scriptures. What we're talking about is the Lord Jesus coming to the Mount of Olives to judge the world and reign from Jerusalem for a thousand years - and I call that His second coming.

I believe the Lord was interjecting here, preparing the Apostles for what they must expect, to teach them not to expect the end of the age too soon...

We're going to read here in verses 14 to 23 about what Old Testament prophets called 'Jacob's Trouble'. Now, birth pangs, travail, would equate well with that description, 'Jacob' being Israel, the people of God, the chosen generation in the Old Testament, it's their time of trouble or tribulation. It's also described as a time of wrath, unprecedented indignation and punishment upon this world. In Daniel 9 it is spoken of as 'Daniel's 70th week'. I don't want to get too technical on Sunday morning, but prophetic weeks are made up of weeks of years - our week is made up of a week of days, 24-hour days; prophetic weeks are made up of weeks of years. In other words, one day is as a year, and so one week of prophetic weeks, seven days, will be seven years. We believe that 'Daniel's 70th week' means that this period, this Tribulation period on the earth, just before Jesus comes to the earth, will last seven years - and Revelation also bears that out, but we'll not go into that this morning.

Jesus gives, from verse 14 on, an overview of this period - mainly, in Mark's gospel, its the second half, in other words the last three and a half years; Matthew and Luke give the whole overview of this seven year period. So verse 14 really is the halfway mark of the seven year time, so three and a half years into this Tribulation period we read that this is what will happen, this actually will mark the three and a half years: 'When you see the 'abomination of desolation,' spoken of by Daniel the prophet, standing where it ought not' (let the reader understand), 'then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains''. Now, what is the 'abomination of desolation' spoken of by Daniel? Well, it refers to an idolatrous pollution of the Jewish temple by the Gentiles. They will come into the Temple, that holy, sacred place of God's people, and they will desecrate it. Now the Temple was defiled in 167 BC by the Syrian King Antiochus Epiphanes - but the fact of the matter is: what Jesus is speaking of is future to that. This is after that event, and in fact Mark says here in verse 14, for the benefit of his Roman Gentile readers, not Jesus' listeners now but the Gentile readers: 'let the reader understand'. So this is future in time.

Of course the Temple was defiled in A.D. 70 when the Romans came in and destroyed it, but Jesus here is clearly referring to a future abomination of desolation, still to be even in our time. Now this is referred to - this is how we know this is future - it's referred to in other scriptures. Turn with me to 2 Thessalonians, please, chapter 2 and verse 3: 'Let no one deceive you by any means; for that Day will not come unless the falling away comes first, and the man of sin', that's the Antichrist, 'is revealed, the son of perdition, who opposes and exalts himself above all that is called God or that is worshiped, so that he sits as God in the temple of God, showing himself that he is God. Do you not remember that when I was still with you I told you these things?'. Now that is a future abomination of desolation, where the Antichrist will come into the Temple of God - and by the way, that necessitates that it will have to be rebuilt after its destruction in A.D. 70. What sits on Mount Zion is not a Temple, it's a mosque, and somehow there is going to have to be a Temple built there, either on top of it or, as I suspect, probably beside it in some new peace agreement that the Antichrist will bring into the Middle East. Nevertheless, this abomination halfway down through the seven years is going to be Antichrist setting himself up in the Jewish temple to be God, and to be worshipped as God.

Now, if you're interested in the rebuilding of the Temple, you might like to know the plans have already started. If you go to Jerusalem - some of you, I know, have been there recently - you will visit down a little street a place called 'The Temple Institute'. You don't have to go to Jerusalem to find out about it, you can go online, Google 'The Temple Institute', go to 'About Us', and you will find that this is what they say: 'Our short-term goal is to rekindle the flame of the Holy Temple in the hearts of mankind through education. Our long-term goal is to do all in our limited power to bring about the building of the Holy Temple in our time'. They have already made much of the furniture for the Temple.

If you're interested in the rebuilding of the Temple, you might like to know the plans have already started...

Now this is also prophesied in Daniel 12:11 - don't turn to it - this 'abomination of desolation', but to show you that this is future turn with me to Revelation chapter 13, speaking of the same event. Verse 14 of Revelation 13: 'He deceives those who dwell on the earth by those signs which he was granted to do in the sight of the beast', that's the Antichrist, 'telling those who dwell on the earth to make an image to the beast', the Antichrist, 'who was wounded by the sword and lived. He was granted power to give breath to the image of the beast, that the image of the beast should both speak and cause as many as would not worship the image of the beast to be killed'. Now this completely corresponds with 2 Thessalonians chapter 2: there is going to be an image of the beast, the Antichrist, set up in the Temple of God. The false prophet is, by supernatural power, going to give that image the appearance of life - and he will demand to be worshipped. That's what Jesus is talking about, is it not? The act of the desolation of the Temple.

He goes on in verse 15 of chapter 13 of Mark, please, the abomination of desolation halfway through this seven year period will signal for the Jews to flee Jerusalem. We read here in verse 15 back in Mark 13: 'Let him who is on the housetop not go down into the house, nor enter to take anything out of his house. And let him who is in the field not go back to get his clothes. But woe to those who are pregnant and to those who are nursing babies in those days! And pray that your flight may not be in winter', for obvious reasons, for pregnant women wintertime will not be the most satisfying time to flee Jerusalem, so pray that it's not winter, 'For in those days there will be tribulation, such as has not been since the beginning of the creation which God created until this time, nor ever shall be'.

Now this flight of the Jews, if you go back to Revelation, this time chapter 12, Revelation chapter 12, you will find it's also prophesied there. This is future, not just referring to A.D. 70, but future - Revelation 12 and verse 13: 'Now when the dragon', that is Satan, 'saw that he had been cast to the earth, he persecuted the woman', I believe that's Israel, 'who gave birth to the male Child', that is Christ, 'But the woman was given two wings', Israel was given two wings, 'of a great eagle, that she might fly into the wilderness to her place, where she is nourished for a time and times and half a time, from the presence of the serpent' - three and a half years. So this is a signal, the abomination of desolation, this is a sign that Jesus is coming soon. It's a sign for the Jews to flee, and the elect Jews in verse 20 - I believe that's who the elect are here in this passage - 'And unless the Lord had shortened those days', back to Mark 13, 'Unless the Lord had shortened those days, no flesh would be saved; but for the elect's sake, whom He chose, He shortened the days. Then if anyone says to you, 'Look, here is the Christ!' or, 'Look, He is there!' do not believe it. For false christs and false prophets will rise and show signs and wonders to deceive, if possible, even the elect'. We've seen that, the false prophet will do signs and wonders that will cause the whole world to marvel. But Jesus is saying to the chosen people, Israel, they are not to believe during this period that any Messiah has arisen secretly. Many will come to the Jews and say: 'O, here is Messiah, there is Messiah' - Jesus is saying, 'At that point I will not come secretly, but when I come', Revelation 1 verse 5 says, 'Behold, every eye will see Me' - every eye will see Me!

When miracles are divorced from the truth of God we have to take heed and flee...

Even if signs and wonders accompany such false christs, they are not to believe. Incidentally, if you were to read 2 Thessalonians again and chapter 2 and verse 7, we read that the mystery of this lawlessness, this lawlessness of Antichrist, is already at work. What that simply means is that, I believe, as we come closer to the second coming of our Lord Jesus Christ there will be miraculous deeds done in the name of false christs and false religion that will deceive even the very elect of God. Now don't misunderstand what I'm saying here, I believe in miracles, I believe in the supernatural, I believe that the Holy Spirit is the same as He was in the Acts of the Apostles - but when the miraculous is divorced from biblical truth, we're not to believe it, for there is coming a day when someone will do signs and wonders that have been unsurpassed in reference to what the world has already seen, apart from Christ. But when miracles are divorced from the truth of God we have to take heed and flee. Let me be more specific: some of you have got religious television, and cable television, and satellite television that bombard you with 'evangelical' trash - another way of putting it, an effluence of wickedness, doctrines of devils. They are doing things, supernatural things, in the name of Christ or a christ, but their demeanour, their language, their way of life - Jesus said of false prophets: 'By their fruit you will know them'. I don't care what miracles are being done - and I believe in miracles - but I don't care who's doing miracles, if their life and their teaching is divorced from this book it's not of the Holy Spirit but of a false spirit.

Now a sign of Jesus' return is found in verses 24 to 27: 'In those days, after that tribulation, the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light; the stars of heaven will fall, and the powers in the heavens will be shaken. Then they will see the Son of Man coming in the clouds with great power and glory'. Now, after the Tribulation and after these seven years of wrath being poured out on the Earth, there will be a solar blackout - lights out. We read that the light of the moon and the stars also will deplete, will be blocked, and indeed the very forces that keep stellar bodies in their orbit since creation will be shaken. There will be utter blackness. Now, why is there utter blackness? The utter blackness is to be a backdrop for Jesus returning, verse 26: 'Then you will see the Son of Man coming in the clouds with great power and great glory'. The great glory that He's coming with is the Shekinah glory of God that dwelt in the Tabernacle, the Temple, and at Pentecost and on various other occasions - that Shekinah light of God's presence will precede Jesus coming, that will be the sign that Jesus is just at the threshold of the door - and the backdrop will be this solar blackout. Think about it, it's wonderful, isn't it? We read about it in Zechariah 12, we'll not look at it  - but He did tell the Jews that He would not come again until they asked for Him. We read in Zechariah 12 and Zechariah 14 that Jerusalem will be surrounded at this last point in the Tribulation period by the armies of the world, and they will be almost obliterated, and they will cry out to their Messiah that they rejected and He will come.

Now, the Lord Jesus at this point in the Olivet Discourse didn't want His disciples to be taken up with the signs and not live up to the responsibilities - and that's not the result He wants either for us this morning. I know I have bombarded you with a lot of information, but this is what the Lord felt fit to give His disciples on the last week of His life, and I think it bodes well for us to take attention and time in looking at it. But in order that they don't make this mistake of getting taken up with the future and doing nothing in their lives presently toward holiness and godliness, He ends with two parables. Now Matthew records three more parables than Mark does, but we'll just deal with Mark's this morning.

The first is the parable of the fig tree, verse 28: 'Now learn this parable from the fig tree: When its branch has already become tender, and puts forth leaves, you know that summer is near. So you also, when you see these things happening, know that it is near; at the doors! Assuredly, I say to you, this generation will by no means pass away till all these things take place. Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will by no means pass away'. Now we know that the fig tree represents Israel, we saw that last week - but here I don't think that's the specific point, because Luke also says that the fig tree and other trees bring forth leaves. I think it's just an illustration to say that, just as you know summer is coming when spring comes and the leaves start to sprout on fig trees and all sorts of trees, when you see these signs taking place you know that the return of Jesus is near.

Just as you know summer is coming when spring comes and the leaves start to sprout on all sorts of trees, when you see these signs taking place you know that the return of Jesus is near...

Now, remember He's talking in the context of the Tribulation. The sign that He gave in verse 14 is that midway in the Tribulation this abomination of desolation will happen, and those who are there who have believed during this period, when they see this happen in Jerusalem, are not only to flee but they are to count down from that moment three and a half years to know that Jesus isn't very far away. That will give them help to endure, we read that in verse 13, there's no doubt about that - but look at what Jesus says, and this has caused many to scratch their head, in verse 30: 'Assuredly, I say to you, this generation will by no means pass away till all these things take place'. Now, what generation is He talking about? Surely it's not the generation of the people He was speaking to, for they are all dead! I believe it's the generation who see this abomination of desolation in verse 14, the generation that sees this will be 3.5 years away from the coming of Jesus Christ. But, incidentally, you've got to remember that this abomination of desolation performed by the antichrist is in order to exterminate the Jewish race - and we know that Mark has actually used this word 'generation' of the Jews in his gospel, and Jesus used it of the Jewish people. So it could mean the ethnicity of the Jewish race, and what Jesus is saying is that they will survive despite the attempts of antichrist, the false prophet, and Satan to eradicate them from this Earth - they will survive, as a testament to what? As a testament to God and His promises, that when God makes a covenant as He did with Israel in the Old Testament, when God makes a promise with you, my friend, He keeps it! Through hell and high water He keeps it!

Verse 31 is testament to this: 'Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will by no means pass away' - 'I will fulfil my words'. You see, we as believers do not depend upon signs, we depend upon the unchanging word of God, 'a more sure word of prophecy', that's what Peter said. Jesus will fulfil His word. Now, whilst this fig tree parable appears to apply to the Tribulation, the next parable, the parable of the porter in verses 32 to the end of the chapter could apply directly to us, and everyone in any age. Look at it, verse 32: 'But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. Take heed, watch and pray; for you do not know when the time is. It is like a man going to a far country, who left his house and gave authority to his servants, and to each his work, and commanded the doorkeeper to watch. Watch therefore, for you do not know when the master of the house is coming; in the evening, at midnight, at the crowing of the rooster, or in the morning; lest, coming suddenly, he find you sleeping. And what I say to you, I say to all: Watch!'.

He urges watchfulness. Three times in this small parable at the end of the chapter He uses the word 'Watch'. He is saying: 'Be ready!'. Are you ready? Are you ready for the rapture, believer? We don't look for signs, for it could happen at any moment. Are you ready if the Lord should take you home? Are you ready spiritually, are you the way that you would like to be when Jesus comes? Is your life in order? For He could come at any moment for His people! It's urging watchfulness. Are things right with others in your life? Are your affairs right? Is your business right? Is your marriage right? Is your relationship with your children, and your parents, and your neighbours, and your work colleagues, your brothers and sisters in Christ in your fellowship - is it right, that when the Saviour comes you're watching, because you're watching yourself because you're watching for Him? John says: 'Whoever has this hope within him purifies himself, even as Christ is pure'. You see, if you're looking for Jesus coming, and you're watching and you're ready, it will bring holiness into your heart. We are to be watching, and we're to be labouring - not sitting about just waiting, we're to be up and doing because the day is far spent. We are to redeem the time and make the most of what we have.

If you're looking for Jesus coming, and you're watching and you're ready, it will bring holiness into your heart...

Now, I know verse 32 causes a bit of consternation and debate, for here the Lord Jesus says 'of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven' - well, we can live with that - 'nor the Son, but only the Father'. People say: 'Well, this is proof that Jesus was not divine' - no it's not! Neither does it show that Jesus set aside His divine attributes when He came to the Earth, what it speaks of is His servanthood. Mark's gospel is the gospel of the Suffering Servant of Jehovah, and if you look at Philippians 2 you will see that whilst Christ is divine, and in coming to earth remained divine, He took the form of a Servant, and thought it not something to be grasped at to walk around proving Himself to be God. He was God, but He didn't grasp at the use of His own divine attributes which were rightfully His. So, in other words, for the Son of God as the Servant of Jehovah at this point in time, this knowledge was only given to the Father. In fact, in Acts chapter 1 the Lord Jesus said to His disciples again: 'It is not for you to know times or seasons which the Father has put in His own authority'. This is something the Father knows. The point is: you don't know, and I don't know. The terrible fact is: most of us live as if it were a fairy-tale. Most Christians in the 21st-century West are living as if Jesus was never going to come. We are practical atheists. We need to watch.

Jesus said in this discourse that you need to take heed that you're not deceived. Many Christians are being deceived by false prophets and false teaching on every hand. That will increase and wax worse and worse as we come near the return of the Lord. Take heed that you do not be discouraged and quit, that's what the Lord says: 'Endure, keep going'. So many Christians have just thrown in the towel. It's not easy, it was never easy being a Christian - how would you like to be fed to lions like the Apostles and early Christians were? - but it's not getting any easier, in our generation it's getting harder. It's caused many a one to just say: 'That's it, I can't handle it any more, I'm giving up'. Jesus says: 'Look, if you're watching for Me, if you believe I'm coming, you will endure to the end. Keep persevering, take heed that you don't get discouraged and quit'. Then He says in these final verses: 'Take heed that you watch and pray'. Are you watching and praying?

Do you know that Mark wrote his gospel for Gentile Romans who very soon - and we know this from 1 Peter 4 - they were going to face the worst persecutions that Christians have ever known? It must have brought them comfort to know that the greatest tribulation that would ever be, that has never been seen since the creation of the universe, that Christ is able to make people endure even through that - those who believe in Him during that period of time. So, if He's able to strengthen them through the Great Tribulation, surely He will strengthen His saints through any fiery trial that may come upon them? There is an encouragement there for you today, for some of you are going through fiery trials, aren't you? You're in the crucible, you're in the furnace! You feel consumed, you feel at the end of your tether! Be encouraged: Jesus is able to keep these dear people in the midst of all wrath being poured out on the earth, He is able to keep them unto the end without stumbling, and present them faultless unto their Father in heaven.

The Christian reading this may be encouraged to look up, for their redemption draws near...

Did Jesus say all of us would face some trial or tribulation or another? In John 16:33 He said: 'In the world you will suffer persecution', in the world you will have tribulation, 'but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world'. Hallelujah! I love that statement, I know it's a bit of a cliche, but: 'I've read the back of the book, and we win!'. There's a lot between now and then, mind you - but it doesn't change the outcome. The Christian reading this may be encouraged to look up, for their redemption draws near. I'm not dogmatic on any of these things, but I believe we are coming very close to the return of our Lord - but for unbelievers, that's you here if you've never trusted Christ and been born-again, repented of your sins and believed the Gospel, for you: you're going to have to face all this if you don't come to Jesus. You don't know when He will come, so you must come to Him now!

Let us pray. Now, I know this teaching has been in-depth - but I hope that you have gleaned something from it, and I hope it has reached your heart not just your head. As we come to the Lord's Table, we do this only till He come. Jesus, when He instituted this Supper, as we will see next week probably, He told them that He would not drink of the fruit of the vine until He did in His kingdom. Now this is all relevant to what we're going to do now in the Breaking of Bread. It looks back to Calvary, it looks inward to yourself, asking yourself 'Are you right with God?' - and it looks forward to His return when we shall sit at the table with Him. Now, look, there's no better place to get your life right before God than round the Table of the Lord. Examine yourselves. Why not even do it now, just before we come to this point in our worship - come to the Lord and say: 'Lord, here I am, I didn't realise it was as late in the day as it is'. Sure you can see, if you have two eyeballs in your head, that things are getting very bad in our world? Say: 'Lord, You have my life, for whatever's left, whether You call me, or whether You come, You've got it all'.

Father, we thank You for the bluntness of our Saviour - full of grace, and yet full of truth. Lord, we know that there has been a lot of truth this morning, and we pray that You would help us not to tread where angels fear to in saying this is that - but, Lord, we certainly have got the message that we don't know the day or the hour. We all must be ready, and may every soul in this place - young and old, saved and unsaved - may they get ready, and may we look forward now as we even break bread, as we remember Calvary, may we look forward to the day when we will see the Lamb slain in the midst of the Throne, when we will see the One who died for us and worship Him in person. We will throw our crowns at His feet - if we have any - and we will worship the Lamb that was slain before the foundation of the world. We will sing praise unto Him, who alone is worthy of our honour. May that risen, exalted, glorified Jesus, who once was slain, be revealed to us now in the Breaking of Bread as He was to the two on the Road to Emmaus. For His glory we pray, and our good, Amen.

Don't miss part 52 of our Studies In Mark: “A Miserable Betrayer and An Extravagant Worshipper

Transcribed by:
Preach The Word.
February 2011

This sermon was delivered in Ards Evangelical Church, Newtownards, Northern Ireland, by David Legge. It was transcribed from the fifty-first recording in his 'Studies In Mark' series, entitled "Signs Of The Second Coming" - Transcribed by Preach The Word.

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