Viewing the World through God's Word

Category: Prophecy

Like a Thief in the Night

Trying to sleep at night, I sometimes imagine what I’d do if someone broke into our house.   I see myself grabbing my gun (two steps from my bed—closer I might shoot myself in the foot while asleep).  Then I quietly sneak from bedroom to living room to find the bad guy.  My imagination has complications:  (1) in my condition it takes at least a full minute to push out of bed to get the gun; (2) I’m guessing an old bald guy leaning on a walker won’t strike the fear of God into the thief.

In 1 Thessalonians 5:1-11 Paul answers the question, When will “the Lord himself descend from heaven” (4:16, ESV)?

Now concerning the times and the seasons, brothers, you have no need to have anything written to you. For you yourselves are fully aware that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night (5:1,2, ESV).

Apparently Paul had explained the “when” when he’d visited  (Acts 17:1-9).  No need to write it, still he does:  “For you yourselves are fully aware that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night.”  Question:  When will the Lord Jesus come again?  Answer:  “the Lord will come like a thief in the night.”

Before unpacking that, let’s camp briefly on “the day of the Lord.”  It was a familiar Old Testament term, which Paul uses here of Jesus’ Second ComingHere are three representative passages from among dozens . . .

Prophesying against unfaithful Israel in the 8th century B.C. Amos warns, “Woe to you who desire the day of the LORD! Why would you have the day of the LORD? It is darkness, and not light, as if a man fled from a lion, and a bear met him, or went into the house and leaned his hand against the wall, and a serpent bit him” (Amos 5:18,19, ESV). 

Calling God’s rebellious people to repentance, Joel cries,  “Blow a trumpet in Zion; sound an alarm on my holy mountain! Let all the inhabitants of the land tremble, for the day of the LORD is coming; it is near, a day of darkness and gloom, a day of clouds and thick darkness! Like blackness there is spread upon the mountains a great and powerful people; their like has never been before, nor will be again after them through the years of all generations (Joel 2:1,2, ESV).  They did repent and[t]hen the LORD became jealous for his land and had pity on his people” (Joel 2:18, ESV).

The day of the Lord would bring, not only the Lord’s wrath, but prior to it,  the outpouring of his Spirit.  “And it shall come to pass afterward, that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh; your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, and your young men shall see visions.  Even on the male and female servants in those days I will pour out my Spirit.  “And I will show wonders in the heavens and on the earth, blood and fire and columns of smoke.  The sun shall be turned to darkness, and the moon to blood, before the great and awesome day of the LORD comes. And it shall come to pass that everyone who calls on the name of the LORD shall be saved. For in Mount Zion and in Jerusalem there shall be those who escape, as the LORD has said, and among the survivors shall be those whom the LORD calls” (Joel 2:28-32, ESV).  

We conclude that the Old Testament “day of the Lord” would be the day when he would both execute his wrath and consummate his salvation.  The New Testament writers identify Jesus Christ as the Lord of that day.  He fulfills all the Old Testament “day of the Lord” prophecies.   The “day of the Lord”, then, includes the rapture of believers, but also wrath on unbelievers.

Now back to Jesus the thief.  Well, that’s not precise.  Paul doesn’t call Jesus a thief; he explains the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night:  suddenly.  “My imaginary thief” won’t ring my doorbell to announce he’ll be back in 30 minutes to break in.  He’ll come abruptly, without forewarning, all of a sudden.

Nothing more to explain about when.  Especially since Jesus said, “No one knows about that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father” (Mark 13:32).  But Paul does picture world conditions surrounding that day . . .

While people are saying, “There is peace and security,” then sudden destruction will come upon them as labor pains come upon a pregnant woman, and they will not escape (5:3, ESV).

The world will feel quite capable, thank you, of providing peace and security through governments and guns.  How blind and arrogant the sinful mind!  Even today, with the Middle East burning, the threat of new nuclear powers, and rampant violent crime in America, we slog on making political promises, ratifying treaties, arranging deals, marshaling military to find the right combination that will enable “people of good will” to create a peaceful, secure world.

But “they will not escape”.  Like “labor pains come upon a pregnant woman”.  “Honey, I think it’s time.”  “Honey” jumps as if jabbed with a live wire.  He’s shocked silly.  Nor did mother-to-be expect tonight would be it.  Look at them.  Barely-controlled chaos.   So it will be for the world when the Lord comes again.

But you are not in darkness, brothers, for that day to surprise you like a thief.  For you are all children of light, children of the day. We are not of the night or of the darkness (5:4, ESV). 

Believers “are not in darkness”, which here means more than ignorance.  The world is morally, spiritual dark; in that dark realm unbelievers reject Jesus and his message.  Jesus’ followers “are all children of light, children of the day.”  Not just in their knowledge of Jesus coming, but in their faith/Spirit connection to the new eternal age that has dawned.  Consequently, they are not surprised when the trumpet sounds.  They belong to the one who comes calling.

So then let us not sleep, as others do, but let us keep awake and be sober.  For those who sleep, sleep at night, and those who get drunk, are drunk at night  But since we belong to the day, let us be sober, having put on the breastplate of faith and love, and for a helmet the hope of salvation (5:6-8, ESV).

“So then” introduces how, according to Paul, believers should respond to the message of Jesus’ coming “like a thief in the night.”  Not by taking to a mountain, donning a white robe and gazing heavenward.   Rather, believers shouldn’t sleep the sleep of indifference.  They should be watchful and on guard, lest the world’s ways and their own sinful nature “drug” their minds.  They must be controlled, clear-headed.  The anti-model is the drunk staggering at the bar.  The model is the sentry at the gate.

Paul doesn’t imply that we believers should become moralistic, as if refraining from the mind-dulling partying of the world will save us.  Instead, he calls us believers to live practicing we are in Christ—people who belong to the “day”, who know they’re in a spiritual war.  We’ve already “put on” (in military analogy) “faith and love” as a breastplate and “the hope of salvation” as a helmet.

For God has not destined us for wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us so that whether we are awake or asleep we might live with him. Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing (1Thessalonians 5:9-11,ESV)

Ah, but such spiritually/morally “sober” living in a spiritually/morally “drunken” world means fighting and winning a war.  Who among us has what it takes, especially given our track record?  We are warriors critically wounded in countless battles.  How can we be encouraged to fight the fight to be ready for the day of the Lord’s coming?

“For God has not destined us for wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ.”  God plans to save all who trust Jesus for their salvation.  On that day, we will boast of his saving work, not our moral obedience.

Furthermore, Christ died for us.  Neither our worst sins nor most embarrassing fickleness will bring us God’s wrath, rather his salvation.  He died so  whether we are alive (“awake”) or dead (“asleep”) when Jesus comes, we will “live with him”.  That’s why he died for us.

Paul exhorts the Thessalonians to “Therefore, encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing.”  We are not to fight the war to maintain readiness for Jesus’ coming as if on a one-man mission.  We are to “encourage one another.”  We are to “build up one another” in the Gospel of Jesus’ return.  We are to be a team of warriors, who model for each other, how to live now in anticipation of then.

“The day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night.”
How are we doing at living ready? 

Better, I hope, than I am with my gun in a shaking hand and my disabled body leaning on a walker!




The Living Dead

Jesus will come in our generation!

That’s what early converts to Christ envisioned.  Paul, too.  He wrote to the Thessalonian church:  “For this we declare to you by a word from the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord (1 Thessalonians 4:15).  (Several years later, he apparently revised his thinking:  “ . . . knowing that he who raised the Lord Jesus will also raise us [this is, from death]with Jesus and bring us with you into his presence”—2 Corinthians 4:14.)

No convert questioned the promise of Christ coming again.  No apostle either.  Nor do we Bible-believing Christians today.  We’ve pages of questions about when and in what relation to other end-time events and so on (not to mention all sorts of “certainties” about details).  But the New Testament is clear:  he’s coming.  The Thessalonians, too, had a question, which they apparently relayed to Paul via Timothy’s visit.  (From Athens, Paul had sent Timothy back to Thessalonica to encourage these new converts in the faith—3:1-3,6.)

Question:  Will fellow-believers who’ve died miss some of the glory of Christ’s second coming because they won’t be alive when he comes?  That’s the implicit question Paul answered:    “But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope.”  He had taught them about Christ’s return (1:10); but this question probably arose when some of their number died (maybe in the persecution?).  What will happen to them?  Will they miss the explosive beginning of glory?

What’s so important about knowing the answer?  Because Paul isn’t writing a theology of Christ’s Second Coming.  He’s not answering every eschatalogical question.  Why is it important to know that?  Because unless we limit his answer to what they’re asking, we  may carelessly read into Paul’s words what he never intended, trying to establish a more complete end-time theology.

Example:  Let’s suppose I’ve just had back surgery and you, my friend, email me from California to ask how everything went.  Together with my health I include the procedure they used.  My explanation is accurate, but it doesn’t include everything about even my surgery, let alone all back surgeries.  We should keep that in mind in Paul’s text here.

“But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about those who are asleep (a common euphemism for death), that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope” (4:13, ESV).

Paul writes this, not just to give them  knowledge about believers who’ve died, but “that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope.”  This isn’t a theology lesson (though the theology is correct); it’s pastoral encouragement for the grieving.

A 2nd century condolence letter to a couple who had lost a son contained these words:  “I sorrowed and wept over your dear departed one as I wept over Didymas (the son he’d lost) . . . but really, there is nothing one can do in the face of such things.  So, please comfort each other” (1 & 2 Thessalonians, F. F. Bruce).  That’s grieving without hope.

These days, however, it seems virtually everybody has the idea that after death comes heaven.  In the 2nd century the error was “no heaven for Jesus’ followers”; in the 21st century “heaven’s the next stop on the journey for everyone.”

“For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep” (4:14, ESV).

Here’s why the Thessalonians and we “may not grieve as others do who have no hope”—“ . . . we believe that Jesus died and rose again.”  The resurrection of Christ’s Second Coming is founded on Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection in his First. “God will bring with [Jesus, when he comes again] those who have fallen asleep.”    Jesus’ historical resurrection will be repeated over and over and over again as every believer is raised out of the grave!  This is our hope (expectation, future).  Grieve?  Yes.   But not as the hopeless.

For this we declare to you by a word from the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep” (4:15, ESV).

Those who’ve died believing in Christ won’t miss any of the glory by being bodily resurrected after the living are bodily raised. The opposite will be true.  Those who died will rise first. 

For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord” (4:16,17, ESV).

On that day, writes Paul, will come “the Lord himself”.  Not a vision or an angel, but “the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command.”   That’s not a whisper in the ear; it’s a military term that raises the dead!  Philo, a Jewish philosopher who lived during the time of Christ, spoke of God gathering his people from the ends of the earth with one shout of command.

Together with that command-call will come “the voice of an archangel” and “the sound of the trumpet of God.”  The blast of a great trumpet called the Jewish exiles home from Assyria (Isaiah 27:13).  And even now these words are spoken in synagogue worship:  “Sound the great trumpet for our liberation; lift up the ensign to gather our exiles . . . “  So on that day the great trumpet will call us “exiles” home to our Lord.

Those who died “in Christ” (that is, “connected to Christ by faith and by the Spirit” will rise first.  Those alive who are left will be “caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air . . . “  The Greek arpazo, translated here “caught up”, is used of the crowd that tried to take Jesus by force; therefore, it can also be translated “snatch, seize, take away (forcibly)”.  The Latin term for arpazo is repere, from which we get the English “rapture.”  That word has nothing to do with time in relation to other events; it has to do with the manner in which we believers will rise. Our Lord will enter again a seething, corrupt world and “snatch us up” to be with him.

And rapture raises a question:  Does Paul here teach a “secret rapture” of believers before the Great Tribulation?  (If that question means nothing to you, good!)  For what it’s worth, here’s my understanding  in this brief quote from F. F. Bruce:  “When a dignitary paid an official visit (parousia) to a city in Greek times, the action of the leading citizens in going out to meet him and escort him back on the final stage of his journey was called the apantaysis (the meeting).”  Paul doesn’t say if Jesus then leads the risen believers to earth or to heaven.  (I think to earth.  We’ll all find out the correctness of our eschatology some day!)

In any case, we believers will meet the Lord in the air and from then on “always be with the Lord.”

Therefore encourage one another with these words” (4:18, ESV).

Thessalonians grieving over departed loved ones?  Will they miss out on some of Christ’s glory when he comes again?  Take courage!  Be comforted!  The Lord himself is coming!  And they will meet him in the air first!

Who-goes-first isn’t our problem.  Ours is that groundless view that virtually everybody who dies goes.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  It is the dead “in Christ” who will rise.  Therefore, the most important eschatalogical question is this:  “Have you turned your life over by faith to the crucified, and resurrected Lord Jesus Christ?”

The final issue is this: 
Except for that last generation, we will all die,
most enduring the harsh aging process. 
But we can be confident of this: 
At the end of this life,
what’s coming is not the grave
but our Lord whom we’ll meet in the air.




God Has Glorified His Servant Jesus

P.AllanI often hoped God would work a miracle.  A miracle would attract crowds.  And that would be a chance  to preach the Gospel to unbelievers.  That’s what happened in Acts 4:11, 12a

While the beggar held on to Peter and John,
all the people were astonished and came running to them
in the place called Solomon’s Colonnade.
And when Peter saw it he addressed the people . . .

Peter’s address is the 2nd sermon in “The Acts Eight”—“God Has Glorified His Servant Jesus”.

Glorified and Guilty. 

When Peter saw this (all the people running to him), he said to them: “Men of Israel, why does this surprise you? Why do you stare at us as if by our own power or godliness we had made this man walk?  The God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the God of our fathers, has glorified his servant Jesus. You handed him over to be killed, and you disowned him before Pilate, though he had decided to let him go.  You disowned the Holy and Righteous One and asked that a murderer be released to you (3:12-14).

Faith-healers are spiritual superstars.  They exude power beyond the ordinary.  And they eat it up.   However, when Peter saw starry eyes staring at him , he quickly re-aimed their focus to Jesus.

Speaking to Jews, Peter connected Jesus with “the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob”.  Jesus was the servant of the God of their fathers.  In Jesus, God has continued (and consummated) his saving work begun with the patriarchs.  Jesus-crucified, God glorified.  Jesus sits at the Father’s right hand in the seat of the universe’s sovereign power.  The healed cripple proves it.

At the same time, Peter calls Jesus the servant of God, echoing Isaiah 52:13—“Behold, my servant (wounded for our transgressions—Isaiah 53:5) shall act wisely; he shall be high and lifted up and shall be exalted” (Isaiah 52:13). 

Despite  their ignorance and God’s fulfillment, Peter’s audience is guilty.  They rejected Jesus.  Cried, “Crucify him!”  Preferred a murderer to God’s Holy and Righteous One.

We don’t use this in-your-face language.  We’d rather talk about Jesus filling a void or making our lives better.  Jesus is like “Gumout”:  add him to your gasoline and your engine runs better.  Peter will have none of it.  Men and women are guilty sinners.

Jesus’ Name. 

You killed the author of life, but God raised him from the dead. We are witnesses of this.  By faith in the name of Jesus, this man whom you see and know was made strong. It is Jesus’ name and the faith that comes through him that has given this complete healing to him, as you can all see (3:15,16).

Humans killed “the author (originator, source) of life”.  (Would we do differently today?) ” . . . but God raised him from the dead.”  Over and over the apostles heralded the news.

“The cripple had been healed because Jesus had been glorified.  From His place of exaltation He endowed His disciples with power to act in His name, to perform mighty works such as He had performed in the days of His bodily presence among them” (F.F Bruce, The Book of Acts, p. 88).

Peter must have often passed that cripple at the gate and heard him beg.  But on this day he stopped and “directed his gaze at him” (3:4).  Perhaps in that moment “the faith that comes through Jesus” came to Peter.  And he knew. 

“It is Jesus’ name (all that Jesus is) . . . that has given this complete healing to him.”  Sadly today’s “faith healers”  preen themselves for the spotlight.  Peter redirected  it on Jesus.  The ultimate aim of all miracles is the fame of his great name.

Repent for Remission, Refreshment & Restoration.  

“Now, brothers, I know that you acted in ignorance, as did your leaders.  But this is how God fulfilled what he had foretold through all the prophets, saying that his Christ would suffer.  Repent, then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out, that times of refreshing may come from the Lord, and that he may send the Christ, who has been appointed for you– even Jesus.  He must remain in heaven until the time comes for God to restore everything, as he promised long ago through his holy prophets (3:17-21).

Even though the Jews “acted in ignorance” and even though “this is how God fulfilled what he had foretold”, Peter calls them to “repent”.  That sounds like a word from great-grandmother’s generation, but it’s as crucial today as it was in Peter’s.   It means to change our mind about whom we thought Jesus was to who he really is.  (In this case, the glorified servant of the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.)  And we live that repentance out by living as he taught us to.

With repentance, Peter promises . . .

  • remission of sins (his audience can be forgiven for preferring a murderer to the Holy and Righteous One!),
  • refreshment from the Lord (the gift of the Holy Spirit to live in them, Acts 2:38), and
  • the restoration of all things when Jesus comes again with the new creation.

John Newton echoes this Gospel with his wondering words . . .

Alas!  I knew not what I did,
But now my tears are vain;
Where shall my trembling soul be hid?
For I my Lord have slain.

A second look He gave, which said:
“I freely all forgive;
This blood is for thy ransom shed;
I die, that thou mayest live.”

Thus, while His death my sin displays
In all its blackest hue;
Such is the mystery of grace,
It seals my pardon too.

With pleasing grief and mournful joy
My spirit now is filled,
That I should such a life destroy,
Yet live through Him I killed.

Ancient Prophecies Fulfilled.  

For Moses said, ‘The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among your own people; you must listen to everything he tells you.  Anyone who does not listen to him will be completely cut off from among his people.’  “Indeed, all the prophets from Samuel on, as many as have spoken, have foretold these days.  And you are heirs of the prophets and of the covenant God made with your fathers. He said to Abraham, ‘Through your offspring all peoples on earth will be blessed.’  When God raised up his servant, he sent him first to you to bless you by turning each of you from your wicked ways” (3:22-26).

Peter assures the Jewish crowd what they must know:  that Jesus doesn’t do away with the prophets they’ve trusted all their lives; Jesus fulfills their words.  The Gospel of Jesus doesn’t oppose God’s Old Testament revelation; the two are bound in holy unity.  What God promised through the prophets, he has fulfilled in Jesus—his now-glorified servant.

God, who raised your servant Jesus from the dead,
I don’t want to repeat the sin of that generation;
I don’t want to reject the Holy and Righteous One
for what will kill me in the end.
I confess my sins to you
and trust your servant to forgive, refresh and restore me.
I give my life to Jesus in whom all your prophecies are fulfilled.
I bow with humble and glad heart to your Servant whom you’ve glorified
and pray my life will give him glory too.
For the sake of the name above all names.  Amen.


Fig Tree Alert! Stay Awake!

O PreacherSounds like a traffic alert.  Fig trees on the highway!  Be alert!  Jesus talks about fig trees and staying awake in today’s text (Mark 13:28-37).  But, before we go there, let’s recall how we got here.

How We Got Here.  On the Mount of Olives overlooking Jerusalem. Jesus answered disciples’ questions.  It all started when Jesus prophesied the towering temple would all come tumbling down.  “When?” they wanted to know.  “And what sign will point to it?”  (Mark 13:1-4).

Jesus identified signs.  False messiahs, wars, earthquakes, famines, and persecution (13:5-13).  The sign of the temple’s imminent destruction would then appear:  “the abomination of desolation”  (a reference to  the Roman army besieging the city and ravaging the temple).  Then, after an indeterminate time, cosmic signs would appear:  dark, falling and shaking bodies in the sky.  Finally, “they will see the Son of Man coming in clouds with great power and glory.  And he will send out the angels and gather his chosen ones from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of heaven” (13:26,27). 

Notes About the Signs.  As I see it, all the signs up to the cosmic pertain to the first century, climaxing with the temple’s destruction in 70 A.D. (13:5-23).  Cosmic signs and Second Coming remain future, even to us.

But those pre-cosmic, first-century signs (13:5-13) seem to mark the entire period from the first century to the Second Coming.   They appear in that indeterminate time between Mark 13:23 and Mark 13:24, which includes our time.

Look at the news.  Wars in the Middle East, terrorism metastasizing globally, famine on the African continent and earthquakes all over the place.  (No kidding.  Google “earthquakes” and see.)  These current events, then,  have sign value.    That brings us to Jesus’ . . .

Fig Tree Alert!

“Now learn this lesson from the fig tree:
As soon as its twigs get tender and its leaves come out,
you know that summer is near.
Even so, when you see these things happening,
you know that it is near, right at the door.
I tell you the truth, this generation will certainly not pass away
until all these things have happened. Heaven and earth will pass away,
but my words will never pass away” (13:28-31).

A blossoming fig tree signified summer’s start (the fig tree being a late-Spring bloomer), so“these [signs} happening” show “it is near, right at the door.”  In fact, “this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things happen”.

Jesus’ fig-tree-alert raises three puzzling questions about what Jesus means(1) by“these things”   which signify “it is near”?  (2) by “it”  that “is near, right at the door”?  (3)  by “this generation”?  that “will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened”?

Commentators are as divided as Congress and suggested interpretations as numerous as Obamacare regulations.  I’ll just set out what I understand.  Two things lead me to believe the pre-cosmic, first-century signs continue throughout these last days until the end.  One, is history (including Acts) and current events.  Two, Jesus said, “These are but the beginning of the birth pains” (13:8),   implying “birth pains” will continue.

Then, we have the questions what “it” and “this generation” refer to.  Remember Jesus is answering “When will the temple be destroyed?” and “What signs will precede its destruction?”  Therefore, I take “it” (which “is near, right at the door”)  as referring to the temple’s and city’s fall in A.D. 70.  In that case, ” . . . this generation” which won’t pass away “until all these things happen”, then refers to the disciples’ generation.  “These things” would happen within 40 years.  Cosmic signs and Second Coming lay outside that time frame.

Stay Awake! 

“No one knows about that day or hour,
not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son,
but only the Father.  Be on guard! Be alert!
You do not know when that time will come.
It’s like a man going away:
He leaves his house and puts his servants in charge,
each with his assigned task,
and tells the one at the door to keep watch.
Therefore keep watch
because you do not know when the owner of the house will come back–
whether in the evening, or at midnight, or when the rooster crows, or at dawn.
If he comes suddenly, do not let him find you sleeping.
What I say to you, I say to everyone: ‘Watch!'” (13:32-37).

It seems to me (not a polished,professional prophecy professor) that what Jesus taught here refers primarily to his Second Coming (13:24-27), though it can include the temple destruction secondarily (13:14-23).  (Interpreting prophecy is like being a politician:  I try to cover all the bases!)

In the 1840s, William Miller proclaimed Jesus would return and the world would be burned up between March 1843 and March 1844.  As many as 100,000 “Millerites” sold their belongings and headed to the mountains to wait for the end.  Needless to say, they were disappointed, though Miller came up with a later date—and was wrong again.

This is precisely what Jesus warns us not to do with his prophecy.  Since no one but the Father knows the day or the hour, it’s useless to waste time trying to figure it out.  Miller, Harold Camping, Hal Lindsay are only a few who refused to see that.

What Jesus does urge us to do with his prophecy he states three times in this paragraph:  “Stay awake.”  Does that mean always have someone on duty watching the sky?  Of course not.  Each of us is a servant of our Lord with our own work to do.  That means preaching, praying, driving a truck, teaching school, changing diapers, running a business and so on, in ways that bear witness of the good news of the kingdom of God at hand in the Son.  And it means doing it aware that our Master is returning to call us to account.

I laugh at the prophecy professionals with their wall-to-wall charts onto which they squeeze and stomp everything in Scripture and life.  But it’s not really funny.  Become obsessed with prophecy and you overlook what Jesus wants us to do with it.

We may disagree about the details of Jesus’ prophecy in Mark 13.  But there are three things we must not do . . .

  1. Fight, criticize and divide.
  2. Ignore the urgent lesson of the fig tree.  Jesus will fulfill his prophecies soon, even if his “soon” seems slow.
  3. Fall asleep at the wheel or be distracted by the trivial.  Instead, “stay awake” in a world that yawns at Jesus.  In other words, faithfully do what Jesus calls us to do as his servants who one day soon will give an account to our Lord.


The Son of Man Is Coming

P.Allan(Save video ’til the end!)  If Jesus’ prophecy is true (and I believe it is), it will end the world as we know it.  Sounds extreme, no?  But it’s the best way I can introduce this momentous event beyond imagination.

Lets’ briefly set the scene.  It’s (still) Tuesday before Jesus’ Friday crucifixion.  Every brand of Jewish authority has verbally attacked Jesus through the day in the temple courtyard, trying but failing to force him into self-incrimination (Mark 11:27-12:34 & previous posts).

As they had left the temple, the disciples had been awed by its wonders.  Not one stone will be left standing, Jesus had replied.  Later, outside the city on the Mount of Olives, the disciples asked when this would happen and what signs would precede this cataclysmic destruction.  Jesus told what lay ahead:   wars, famines, earthquakes, false messiahs and persecution (13:1-13).  One sign would be critical—“the abomination of desolation” standing where he shouldn’t.  That’s when you must flee to the mountains, Jesus had warned.  Tribulation on Jerusalem would be unequaled (13:14-23).

“But in those days, following that distress,
“‘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.’
“At that time men will see the Son of Man coming in clouds
with great power and glory.  And he will send his angels
and gather his elect from the four winds,
from the ends of the earth to the ends of the heavens” (13:24-27).

Yeah, right.  Religious crazies.  It’s been, what, 2000 years?  I know, I know.  I’ve heard prophecies like this since I was a kid.  And the sun still shines.  No “Son of Man” in clouds.  The time-factor mightily disputes these  end-of-the-world words.  So does this whole apocalyptic prophecy itself.  Dark sun.  Murky moon.  Fallen stars.  Whole lotta shakin’ going on in the sky.  Son of Man coming powerfully and gloriously to gather his chosen people from Australia to Alaska.

The Time Factor.  Okay.  I agree.  2000 years is a long time, especially when my computer takes maybe 60 seconds to power up and a pop-up moans, “Too slow.”  Maybe Jesus miscalculated.  Or author Mark misheard Peter (from whom Mark got this stuff) or Peter misheard.  Maybe instead of putting his foot in his mouth as he was prone to do, he stuck it in his ear.

Peter answered the time-factor dispute like this:

. . . scoffers will come in the last days with scoffing,
following their own sinful desires.
They will say, “Where is the promise of his coming?
For ever since the fathers fell asleep,
all things are continuing as they were from the beginning of creation . . . ”
But do not overlook this one fact, beloved,
that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years,
and a thousand years as one day.
The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness,
but is patient toward you,
not wishing that any should perish,
but that all should reach repentance
(2 Peter 3:3,4,8,9)

Jesus’ word “But” concurs.  It translates the Greek alla which indicates a strong break with what preceded it and implies Jesus is now speaking of a new time period.   Indefinite and long (as we’ve seen) to be sure, but sharply disconnected in time from the temple’s end in 70 A.D.

Apocalyptic Content. What Jesus predicts for the sun, moon, stars and sky sounds crazy.  But so would a prediction on 9/10  of 9/11.  Who would have imagined the twin towers would fall and make the southern tip of Manhattan a ghostly war zone?

Will the sun really go dark and the moon reflect no light and the stars all shoot to earth and the whole heavens shake like an otherworldly earthquake?  Why wouldn’t they if the One through whom they were created was coming to judge the world?

I used to wonder how people throughout the earth could all, at the same time,  see Jesus  coming in the clouds.  When TV went global, I thought that’s how.  Some of us will see him in the flesh, others on live, cable TV.  I’ve changed my mind.  I still don’t know how Jesus will pull it off, except to say that, since he’s coming with “great power and glory”—not just “power and glory” but “great” (Greek mega)—I’m sure he’ll find a way.  (Can you imagine what Jesus considers “great power and glory”?)

Good News:  Gathering.  The first part of Jesus’ prophecy implies bad news for Jesus’ enemies (including all who refuse to follow him in faith).  But the second part—And he will send his angels
and gather [together] his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of the heavens”
is good news.

I see Jesus’ followers at work in office buildings, in hospitals, on farms, in nursing homes, in families around dinner tables, or alone at a kitchen table.  All activity has stopped.  Eyes on every continent are lifted toward the great power and glory of the Son of Man coming.  Then angels move among people from every tribe, language, people and nation, approaching a man here, a woman there, a child there, saying “Come, he’s calling you.”  And like a massive, holy, loving and joyful exodus the chosen stream together to the Son.  Somehow, though they seem to be more than the sand by the sea, he welcomes each by name.

(Now, listen to the video, trust his words, and rejoice in praise!)











Abomination of Desolation

P.AllanIn 66 A.D. the full-scale revolt began.  Jews in Jerusalem, infuriated by Roman rule that buried them with taxes and blasphemed their holy places, united, rose up and drove the oppressors out.  The Romans soon returned, this time from the north, 60,000 strong.  They crushed Galilee.  One hundred thousand Jews were killed or enslaved.  The Romans then swept south through the country and laid siege to Jerusalem.  In the summer of 70 A.D. they finally breached the city walls.  The temple was burned and hundreds of thousands were executed, many who had fled into the city for safety.    When Jerusalem fell, the Jewish state collapsed, not to be established again until 1948.  (The video above is a 59-minute, dramatized BBC version of the conquest; I found it worth watching.)

Forty years earlier, it’s Tuesday in Jerusalem, three days before Jesus’ crucifixion.  It had been a day of verbal conflict in the temple courtyard as chief priests, scribes, elders, Herodians, Pharisees and Sadducees unsuccessfully tried to ambush Jesus into incriminating himself (Mark 11:27-12:37).

As he was leaving the temple, one of his disciples said to him, “Look, Teacher! What massive stones! What magnificent buildings!”  “Do you see all these great buildings?” replied Jesus. “Not one stone here will be left on another; every one will be thrown down.”  As Jesus was sitting on the Mount of Olives opposite the temple, Peter, James, John and Andrew asked him privately,  “Tell us, when will these things happen? And what will be the sign that they are all about to be fulfilled?” (13:1-4).

Before leaving the temple, Jesus had prophetically warned many deceivers would come in his name; disciples must not be misled.  Wars, earthquakes and famines would strike; disciples must not fear or presume the end is near.   Deadly persecution would arise; disciples must continue to preach the gospel to all nations and endure to the end (13:5-13).  Then Jesus prophesies an unthinkable coming disaster:

 But when you see ‘the abomination that causes desolation’ standing where it does not belong– let the reader understand– then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains. Let no one on the roof of his house go down or enter the house to take anything out.  Let no one in the field go back to get his cloak. How dreadful it will be in those days for pregnant women and nursing mothers!  Pray that this will not take place in winter,  because those will be days of distress unequaled from the beginning, when God created the world, until now– and never to be equaled again.  If the Lord had not cut short those days, no one would survive. But for the sake of the elect, whom he has chosen, he has shortened them.  At that time if anyone says to you, ‘Look, here is the Christ!’ or, ‘Look, there he is!’ do not believe it.  For false Christs and false prophets will appear and perform signs and miracles to deceive the elect– if that were possible.  So be on your guard; I have told you everything ahead of time” (Mark 13:14-23).

What is “the abomination that causes desolation”?  That ominous phrase comes from Daniel’s prophecy in the 6th century B.C.   Here’s one of several texts referring to it  . . .

“And the people of the prince who is to come
shall destroy the city and the sanctuary . . .
Desolations are decreed . . .
And on the wing of abominations
shall come one who makes desolate,
until the decreed end is poured out on the desolator.”
(Daniel 9:26,27b)

The prophecy was fulfilled in 167 B.C. when a Greek-influenced Syrian king, Antiochus Epiphanes (“God Manifest”) offered sacrifices to Greek gods in the Jerusalem temple in order to put an end to Judaism.  Now in 30 A.D.  Jesus picks up Daniel’s prophecy and predicts another fulfillment when another “abomination” will desecrate the temple and bring desolation to the city.  Forty years later Jesus’ prophecy was fulfilled by the Romans as cited above.

I take three lessons from this.

One, tribulation marks the end of this age.  False “messiahs”, wars, famines, earthquakes, and Christian persecution characterize these last days (Jesus’ Incarnation to his Second Coming).  It’s obvious from history and current events that the end of this age is full of tragedy and troubles.

Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal
that is taking place among you to test you
as though something strange were happening to you.
(1 Peter 4:12, NKJV).

“We must go through many hardships
to enter the kingdom of God”
(Acts 14:22, NIV).

Two, Jesus prophesied to warn us.  Biblical prophecy isn’t given as a game or for insider-information.  It’s given to encourage us and warn us.  This one Jesus gave to warn his disciples, so they might be ready and kept safe from “the abomination of desolation.”

“. . .let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains.
Let no one on the roof of his house go down
or enter the house to take anything out.
Let no one in the field go back to get his cloak.
How dreadful it will be in those days for pregnant women
and nursing mothers!  Pray that this will not take place in winter . . .  

if anyone says to you, ‘Look, here is the Christ!’
or, ‘Look, there he is!’
do not believe it . . .
So be on your guard; I have told you everything ahead of time”
(Mark 13:14b-18,21,23)

Even after Jesus had done all these miraculous signs in their presence,
they still would not believe in him
(John 12:37).

Three, Jesus’ prophecies come true.  This one certainly did.  The disciples saw it.  30 A.D. prophecy.  70 A.D. fulfillment.  Of course, people who disbelieve the miraculous manufacture “reasonable explanations”—like the disciples wanted us to believe their gospel so Mark composed this prophecy after Jerusalem fell!

Even after Jesus had done all these miraculous signs in their presence,
they still would not believe in him.
(John 12:37)


These are pretty dark words.  Let’s leave off with words of light.  Tribulation does mark these last days.  Jesus gave this prophecy to warn us.  And his prophecies do come true.  So let’s hear his prophetic words given to encourage us, which will indeed come true (and which we’ll consider next time) . . .

“But in those days after that tribulation,
the sun will be darkened and the moon will not give its light,
and the stars will be falling from heaven,
and the powers in the heavens will be shaken.
And then they will see the Son of Man
coming in clouds with great power and glory”
(Mark 13:24-26, ESV).






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