Downtown Jerusalem had magnificent albeit ill-fated buildings. The wonder of the disciples Jesus took and coupled with the dark prophecy of destruction as they walked along their tour. In the third verse of this chapter we see that while they continued their walk toward the Mount of Olives their minds had not been idle. They had continued to marvel and had continued to wonder. The questions which arose in their minds a few of them then took to Jesus.
3 And as he sat on the Mount of Olives opposite the temple, Peter and James and John and Andrew asked him privately, 4 “Tell us, when will these things be, and what will be the sign when all these things are about to be accomplished?” (Mark 13:3-4–ESV)
Peter was different (sort of) this time
Some time before this event Peter had taken Jesus aside and told him he was wrong. That did not go so well. Peter had felt Jesus’ righteous anger like a bolt of electricity. That strong response had some impact altering his mental reflexes. Look, for instance at how they responded to Jesus’ prophecy in this situation. They responded with faith. Peter, James, John and Andrew asked an entirely different question and one without skepticism. They asked a question of belief; a question tactfully brought when alone with the only one who could have any legitimate answer.
I used the words sort-of in the heading here for while Peter had moved beyond telling Jesus he was wrong Peter probably still had inklings of an earthly kingdom. I suspect that their question remained somehow tending toward their own advancement. Whatever the motive at least they were teachable and so Jesus laid the groundwork for what they actually needed.
Let’s begin to peel back the perfect answers of Jesus
5 And Jesus began to say to them, “See that no one leads you astray. 6 Many will come in my name, saying, ‘I am he!’ and they will lead many astray. 7 And when you hear of wars and rumors of wars, do not be alarmed. This must take place, but the end is not yet. 8 For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be earthquakes in various places; there will be famines. These are but the beginning of the birth pains.
Verses 5 & 6
The first warning that Jesus gave was an admonition to not be deceived. Jesus said that many would come as impostors and many would go after them. After the ascension the disciples would be on the lookout for his return. Jesus knew it would not be as quickly as the disciples expected or wanted. Jesus had told these men that the hour and time was not known except by the Father, but Jesus clearly had some grasp that it would not be immediate.
The second coming of Jesus would not be mistakable. Jesus would come back to that in verse 26, but he started off merely warning them to steer clear of those who would claim to be Christ.
The risk that the disciples would face was in thinking Christ would return immediately. That vigilance would leave them open to false claims. The risk that we face is in thinking Christ will not come back anytime soon. That lack of vigilance leaves us open to spiritual laziness and being caught unawares at his return.
The disciples were at risk of going astray. We are at risk of staying away, or staying astray. In our era many come speaking of alternate beliefs and that can water down our confidence. We can be lulled into disavowing or just not acting on Jesus’ claim that he is the way, the truth and the life.
Verses 7 & 8
Warring nations naturally unsettle people, but Jesus says something interesting here. He says to not be alarmed at those things. “Don’t respond in the natural way.” Jesus said that awareness of wars was not to trouble, or unsettle the mind. We must not take this too far for Jesus was not giving a treatise on that subject. He was dealing with the men who would not be in the war, but aware of it.
Jesus told those who were closest to him that terrible world events were part of life on earth. He almost discards them as irrelevant. To me it sounds like his commentary on the poor saying, “The poor you will always have with you.”
Jesus was not saying that his disciples should be indifferent to suffering, but that they should not be weighed down with anxiety as a result of it. These intimate followers of Christ would have real concerns and as such were receiving from him guidance on what to do with them. The kingdom of Christ was not a kingdom on the earth, but a kingdom in the hearts. The demise and destruction of civilizations and magnificent temples would have no lasting effect on the important things, so the followers of Christ were not to allow such things to drive a wedge into their confidence.
Jesus did not even stop with the events of man, but included what we would call acts of God1: earthquakes, famines.
What about us?
This lesson will be given just before the Donald Trump versus Hillary Clinton Presidential election of 2016. The election cycle has been rough and many are very concerned for the future. “Will Trump start World War III (and IV)” someone asked me sort-of in jest as I walked through a parking lot on November 3rd, 2016. What will Clinton do with the Supreme Court or with religious rights? There are millions of questions and there is no “savior” candidate that one can run off to. So that is a taste of uncertainty faced at the time of this lesson.
Even if wars come and even if persecutions come there is still a bigger more final end to come. Getting to that end is like childbirth. Jesus said encouraging things to the disciples whom he unsettled. These things are relevant for us as well. We must not be indifferent to them, but Jesus gave insight into them as a help to faith and an antidote to anxiety.
9 “But be on your guard. For they will deliver you over to councils, and you will be beaten in synagogues, and you will stand before governors and kings for my sake, to bear witness before them. 10 And the gospel must first be proclaimed to all nations. 11 And when they bring you to trial and deliver you over, do not be anxious beforehand what you are to say, but say whatever is given you in that hour, for it is not you who speak, but the Holy Spirit.
To be on guard is to take heed, to prepare the mind. In verse 5 Jesus tells the disciples to be on the lookout for deception so that their beliefs will not be set askew. In verse 9 Jesus tells them what proper beliefs will result in, and to steel the mind for them. The world will have a specific reaction to right beliefs, and it will not be kind and loving.
The response will be persecution. It is interesting to see that Jesus does not tell them at this point to make sure they do not fall away. Each of these disciples will have their own falling away at the crucifixion, and Jesus would later on tell them that. In this moment of preparation for the apostleship, though, that is not raised. Jesus knew the influence of the Holy Spirit and that religious persecution would not cause these men to scatter.
The Holy Spirit will provide what will be needed.
The risk these men faced was anxiety over proper discharge of their duties. These men were unlearned and most comfortable on a boat with their friends carrying out their livelihood. Jesus told them that their audience will be local councils, governors and kings. These apostles would not be tongue-tied before such exalted men of the earth. The Holy Spirit would be there putting the words in their mouths. Jesus knew this, but the disciples needed to get ready for this. They were not to sit around worried about writing their speeches. They were to rest upon the Lord knowing themselves to be on his mission. Having been chosen by God and for his purposes they were to be vessels, speakers, proclaimers–not the speech writers.
Don’t be anxious
Haven’t we heard time and again the admonition of Jesus to cast our cares upon him? Here is that same principle being taught to the first followers of Jesus. We must see this lesson and steel our minds for it. We must take heed that when our lives bring us to the place of being witnesses we will be given what is needful. That does not mean we can float idly through this life. No we need to study to show ourselves approved. We need to put the words of God into our hearts and minds. The Holy Spirit teaches in the moments of study and he reminds in the moment of need. So fear not.
12 And brother will deliver brother over to death, and the father his child, and children will rise against parents and have them put to death. 13 And you will be hated by all for my name’s sake. But the one who endures to the end will be saved.
The most basic relationships will break
The unit of humanity is the family. God put this together right at the beginning of our existence. The family is often the first to feel the brunt of our emotions and rejections. Family members are also the contingency plan. When all else fails back to the family we go. Look at the parable of the prodigal son. Where did he go? To his father.
In the end times when all hell has broken loose even the familial connections will be disrupted. Loyalties will be tested and betrayals visited even upon the most sacred of our earthly connections.
Jesus says here that God’s end game still survives. The real “when all else fails” is God. He does not fail and as one can see here standing firm on God’s plan is the platform that will not falter. That does not mean physical harm or even death will be avoided. It does mean that despite persecution, rejection by family, and even death there is an eternal safety net in God’s house. He will catch you when you fall out of favor on the earth, and he will catch you when you fall in death to the earth.
That is very sturdy ground to stand upon. So much strength resides in the heart of one who takes heed to proper beliefs.