There is a Godly lady that we know who turned up to church one Autumn day at her usual time for her for a 10:30 church service. She wandered through the doors to no welcome. Nobody was milling around the foyer. The church was quiet and lonely apart from the worship band playing to what appeared to be to themselves. She was quite scared and bemused in that she thought that the rapture had happened and she was left behind. It turned out that she had forgotten to change her clock when the clocks went back. She was very relieved when she found out what had happened. If you are like me, the reading that we read in Mark’s gospel involves a very mixed reaction. It fills us with fear and excitement at the same time. Or it could be that you are just excited about the coming King and the events that lead up to it and beyond it, or are you just scared about it all. This passage however warns us that we should be alert and be on our guard.
In the synoptic gospels, Matthew, Mark and Luke, Jesus predicted three future events. One was his own death and resurrection, one of the destruction of Jerusalem that happened in AD70 and the third was his own future return. Interestingly references to Jesus’ return can be found in every book in the New Testament except for 3 John! This to me says how significant this event will be, when Jesus will take up his rightful place as Lord of Lords and King of Kings. Where evil will be defeated and we the saints will be living with our God for ever and ever. This passage warns us that we must be on our guard and be alert for these last days.
The first verse that we read (verse 14) gets us to ask a question – “When you see ‘the abomination that causes desolation’ standing where it does not belong” as it is written in the NIV version. In the NLT version it reads “The day is coming when you will see the sacrilegious object that causes desecration standing where it should not be”. What does it mean? Jewish readers in the first century would be familiar with this. The prophet Daniel prophesised that an object would stand in the temple of Jerusalem. If we read from another historical book (1 Maccabees 1:54) Antiochus Epiphanes had set up a statue of Jupiter on the great alter. In Daniel 9:27 we read about an army of zealots and assassins filling the holy place with the bodies of their own fellow citizens. In a parallel gospel in Luke 21:20 there is a reference to the Roman army where some commentators suggest that it was the Roman Eagle being displayed in the temple. It was shortly after this gospel was written the mighty Roman army took over Jerusalem. Jesus warned the people of Judea to flee to the hills away from Roman rule. Verse 15 warns of people not even packing, or even collecting a coat. Jesus is talking about something that is urgent. He is warning people not to play the waiting game to see how things develop. Why the warning about those who are pregnant or who have young children? Another historian at the time of the destruction of Jerusalem, Josephus, tells us about women who ate their own children due to starvation. The harsh weather of winter would have added to their struggle in verse 18. In verse 20 we see the mercy and the grace of God in operation – shortening the days of suffering of his people. So is this a prediction of the fall of Jerusalem that happened in AD70 as many scholars believe or are these events yet to happen?
Jesus in verses 21 – 23 is providing us with a warning about false messiahs. An internet search on false messiahs and people who claim to be Jesus Christ reveals a rather large list that seems to be getting bigger. Some of us may have watched the 1974 film ‘The Life of Brian’ where Brian is born next door to Jesus and after various misadventures is mistaken to be the messiah. There was a large crowd at one point that turns up to Brian’s house proclaiming him to be the messiah. His mother responds by saying “He’s not the messiah; he’s a very naughty boy” she goes on to say “There’s a mess, all right, but no messiah”. Unable to change their mind Brian goes along with the crowd. Numerous people were crucified all claiming to be Brian of Nazareth. Jesus however warns us that these people will exist and they will be able to perform miracles and that they will even fool the cleverest. Jesus is warning us to be alert and to be careful.
But before Jesus comes again there are still more signs that we need to be aware of. Verses 24 and 25 “the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light; the stars will fall from the sky, and the heavenly bodies will be shaken”.
Are these metaphorical signs as some commentators suggest or are they scientific? There are however plenty of astronomical and geological evidence that things like this could happen – stars will fall, stars will and do lose their light, our planet will warm up – speeded up by human activity and eventually it will be burnt up by our sun.
When Jesus does return, everybody will see it (Verse 26, Rev 1:7). In Acts 1 verses 10 and 11 it says “when suddenly two men dressed in white stood beside them. “Men of Galilee,” they said, “why do you stand here looking into the sky? This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven”. There are certainly plenty of CCTV cameras dotted around the world especially in Jerusalem that could televise the whole event. When will this happen? We do not know, nor are we supposed to know. We must keep alert. Verse 32 tells us that nobody knows the exact hour when this will happen, only the father. So be alert! Throughout the New Testament writings, there has been an urgency to do with the return of Jesus. Even in verse 29 Jesus talks about it as at being just at the door – that was 2,000 years ago – how much more urgent it is now! The return of Jesus is closer today than it has ever been.
In verses 34-37 Jesus compares his return to a master going away and telling his slaves about the work they must do, without telling them when he is to return. I remember living with my parents and they asked me to get a particular task done, for example tidy my room for when they returned back from going somewhere. There were times when I thought that I could get other things done instead. Going for a bike ride, watching TV or even doing my homework seemed more appealing than tidying up. I learnt that if I managed to tidy my room first I could relax more at doing the things I enjoyed and I certainly didn’t disappoint my parents if I had done what they had asked me to do. Jesus is telling us that we must be prepared. Remember the words we say during communion – Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again. In 1 Corinthians 11 verse 26 Paul writes “For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes”.
Now for some words of encouragement. Jesus’s angels are coming for his followers from all over the globe (verse 27). But we must remain faithful despite any persecution that we may face because of our faith in Jesus Christ. According to some research done by David Barrett, the number of Christian martyrs since Jesus is estimated to be about 70million people. According to Open Doors, a charity that specialises in looking after and making people aware of the persecuted church, said that in 2018 245 million Christians faced significant persecution, up by 30 million from the previous year. 4,136 people were murdered last year because of their faith in Jesus, up from 3,066 the previous year. We must remember these people in our prayers. But Jesus again warns us about these events.
As a body we believe in Jesus Christ. We believe that he died and rose again and that he will come again to judge the living and the dead. Although we are warned about these events by Jesus 2,000 years ago, we do not need to be afraid because it is by grace that we have been saved through faith. We do not need to fear that day, but we do need to be aware of what the Bible says and to offer up our prayers to him. We need to talk to each other and to discern what is going on in the world going back to what is written in our Bibles and to what Jesus said. We need to 1) Be aware of what is going to happen. 2) We need to be alert; we need to be alert to what is happening so that we are not deceived. 3) We need to take comfort that Jesus is going to take his rightful place as Lord of Lords and King of Kings, that we are His children whom he loves and came to save us.