Summary: How do we prepare for the return of Christ?
On the Return of Jesus: An Exposition of Mark 13:24-37
For the Christian, nothing is more comforting to know that Jesus is going to return and receive us unto Himself. All the things which trouble us so much will be gone. We will be relieved of that great pressures (tribulations) that we feel. It is this hope that we remember as we come into the season of Advent.
For this Christian, nothing is more unsettling that the controversies concerning the return of Christ. Will the church be raptured before this Great Tribulation or will we have to go through it? Or will Jesus take His church in the middle of this Tribulation? We certainly do not desire to undergo either the persecutions of this time or the judgments of God. Will we be ready when He comes? These are things we desperately want answers for. And there are many who try to give us answers. I can only pray that I will give comfort in trying to address these issues rather than add one more theory on the return of Christ.
The lectionary text seems to start in the middle of Jesus’ sermon to the hearers on the Mount of Olives at verse 24. So we need to fill in some context to the selected text that we might understand it. If we follow Luke, Jesus had left the Temple for the last time, after noticing the widow who had cast her last two mites in the treasury. The treasury was supposed to help support widows and orphans. Instead, it seems that the gold and silver coin was used in the renovation of the Temple. The disciples noticed how impressive the Temple was. Jesus’ answer is shocking: “Not one stone shall be left upon another.” This becomes the basis of Jesus’ discourse here. So at least in part, the prophecies in this message seem to do with the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD. But like many prophecies in Scripture, they also seem to point to a distant fulfillment. To me at least, we need to see the prophesied destruction of Jerusalem as a paradigm for the destruction and judgment at the end of the age. It will be like the destruction of Jerusalem except that it will be worldwide.
If one were to read of the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD, he would find it to be nauseating. Many people died during the siege. Factions arose within the city and hurt each other almost as much as the Romans. Josephus records the miserable details. Many false “messiahs” arose. Jesus warns of such in this passage. The discourse talks about events leading up to the final destruction of the city. All of the Gospels and probably Revelation as well associate this destruction as a result of Jewish rejection of Jesus as their Messiah (Christ). To that point in history, the Jews had never suffered such great tribulation. There was a lull in the seven year war against the Jews in which the siege was temporarily lifted as Vespasian and the Roman armies departed to Rome after the death of Nero to seize power. This was 3 ½ years into the siege. The warning went out among the Christians to leave the city or be destroyed. So the Christian believers fled to Pella and escaped the final destruction of the city.
As we can see, the events are very similar to those which the students of prophesy say will happen at the end of the age. On the surface, if one were to use the history of the fall of the Jerusalem, the Christians would be taken in the midst of this tribulation. In further support of this, we can look at the plagues by which Yahweh delivered Israel from Egypt. The Israelites suffered with the Egyptians for the first few plagues. But the LORD them made a distinction between His people and the Egyptians. For example, when there was darkness in the Land of Egypt, the land of Goshen where the Israelites lived still had light.
But this view of the end times is one of many. Some feel all of this prophecy refers to the destruction of Jerusalem. It has already been fulfilled. Therefore it speaks to the Christians of 66-73 AD and not directly to us. Others hold that all of it remains to be fulfilled in the Great Tribulation. This would say that it speaks to us and not to the original hearers. But it seems to me that it might speak to both. This idea of dual fulfillment of prophecy can be demonstrated in Scripture. The Immanuel Prophecy of Isaiah 7 has details which seems to indicate that this child was born in the days of Ahaz as a sign that the two kings who oppressed Judah would be dead before the child was weaned. But we also hold that it prophecies of the Virgin Birth of Jesus Christ. The first fulfillment of the prophecy within the lives of the original hearers becomes a type to a greater deliverance and fulfillment in the future. The fulfillment of the first proves that the prophet had been sent by the LORD. It then validates the greater fulfillment in Jesus of Nazareth. The birth of Maher-shalal-hash-baz was a sign of deliverance of Judah from Syrian and Israel. The birth of Jesus is the promise of deliverance of the world from sin. Both children were a sign that God is with us, which is the translation of Immanu-El.