I think we can all agree that the world is getting pretty crazy, and some Christians are wondering if we’re in the endtimes. Some are even wondering if we’re in the Tribulation period. Well, if you believe in a pretribulation rapture – that Christ will take us to heaven before the terrible things of the tribulation start – then, no, we are not in the Tribulation or even beginning the Tribulation. So, what’s going on as we witness so much chaos in our world and even our nation? Jesus tells us that what we’re seeing is the beginning of birth pains (Mark 13:8, NIV); and this morning we’re going to learn some of the signs that we’re supposed to be watching for that herald the nearing return of Christ. I’ve entitle our message, “Discerning the Season.”
False Christs Will Appear (vv. 5-6)
5 And Jesus, answering them, began to say: “Take heed that no one deceives you. 6 For many will come in My name, saying, “I am He,” and will deceive many.
The statement “take heed” (v. 6) is from the Greek word blepete, meaning “discernment concerning realities which lie beyond the observations of the physical senses . . . The disciples will need uncommon spiritual [discernment] to be able to withstand the deceivers and to weather the storms of persecution. They will need their wits so that they will not be led astray in the midst of crises and cries of confusion.”(1)
Jesus said, “Many will come in My name” (v. 6). A good example from the Scripture of someone being ascribed the power of God is seen in the description of Simon in Acts 8:9-10, which says, “But there was a certain man called Simon, who previously practiced sorcery in the city and astonished the people of Samaria, claiming that he was someone great, to whom they all gave heed, from the least to the greatest, saying, ‘This man is the great power of God’.”
The first known messianic pretender was Simon Bar Kokhba. He was a Jewish military leader who led the Bar Kokhba Revolt against the Roman Empire in 132 A.D. During the revolt, Rabbi Akiva regarded Simon as the Jewish messiah, and gave him the surname “Bar Kokhba,” meaning, “Son of the Star,” from the Star Prophecy in Numbers 24:17 (Wikipedia).
So, let me ask, “Have there been people who have falsely come in Jesus’ name in modern times?” The answer is yes! Let me give you a few examples: In 1978, Jim Jones, claiming to be the reincarnation of Christ, moved from the United States to South Africa with his followers. On November 18, 1978, he ordered his followers to drink from a tub of grape-flavored Fla-Vor-Aid laced with potassium cyanide and tranquilizers, and all nine-hundred plus people died.(2)
There was also David Koresh, the cult leader of the Branch Dividians at Waco, Texas, who claimed to be Jesus Christ. On April 19, 1993 he refused to surrender to the FBI and the ATF, and around ninety people died in a fire at the compound.(3) And then on March 26, 1997, thirty-nine members of the “Heaven’s Gate” cult decided to “shed their containers” (or bodies), and board a spacecraft supposedly hiding in the tail of the Hale-Bopp comet. This resulted in a mass suicide of twenty-one women and eighteen men, ages twenty-six to seventy-two.(4)
Commentator Warren Wiersbe applies these verses as a warning against anyone claiming to have all the answers to the world’s woes. He says, “There is something in human nature that loves a lie and refuses to believe the costly lessons of the past. Mark Twain said that a lie runs around the world, while truth is [still] putting on her shoes! How easy it is for spiritually blind people to follow popular leaders and gullibly accept their simple solutions for the problems of life. Jesus warned His disciples not to be deceived by these impostors, and that warning holds good today.”(5)
Wars, Earthquakes, Famines, Troubles (vv. 7-8)
7 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. 8 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.
“When you hear of wars and rumors of wars” (v. 7). Just how many wars, or rumors of war, have we heard about? Well, in just over the past one hundred years alone there has been WWI, WWII, the Korean War, the Vietnam War, the Gulf War, the War in Afghanistan, the War in Iraq, and probably many smaller conflicts that we aren’t even aware have occurred. War seems to be common place; so much so, that we have become nearly apathetic to it, and we rarely think twice about our military men and women who are continually fighting for the cause of freedom.
“For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom” (v. 8). Commentator Kenneth Wuest says, “Our Lord exhorts the disciples not to permit political troubles and national upheavals to distract them from their work of evangelization. There are two kingdoms on this earth moving along side by side, the world system of evil headed up by Satan and in which the nations are constantly at sword’s point, and the kingdom of God. No matter what happens in the former kingdom, the people of God must carry on toward the God-ordained and predicted consummation.”(6)
“There will be earthquakes in various places” (v. 8). I have an interest in geology, and over the past twenty years, it has appeared to me as though the frequency of earthquakes worldwide has been increasing. If you take a look at the U.S. Geological Survey website, you will learn that hundreds are occurring each and every day across the world. Allow me to provide four examples of some devastating earthquakes from the past twenty years that you will probably recall.
On December 26, 2004, in Sumatra, Indonesia, there was an earthquake registering 9.1 on the Richter scale. In total, 286,000 people were killed. About 1.7 million people were displaced by the earthquake and the subsequent tsunami, in fourteen countries in South Asia and East Africa.
On January 12, 2010, in Haiti there was an earthquake registering 7.0 on the Richter scale. In total, 222,570 people were killed. According to official estimates, 300,000 people were also injured, and 1.3 million were displaced.
On March 11, 2011, in Japan there was an earthquake registering 8.9 on the Richter scale, leaving more than 20,000 people dead or missing. The tremor created a massive tsunami along the Japanese coast and triggered the world’s biggest nuclear disaster, since Chernobyl back in 1986.
And last, on April 25, 2015, in Nepal there was an earthquake measuring 7.8 on the Richter scale. More than 8,000 people were killed. Deaths were also reported in India, Tibet and Bangladesh. The United Nations estimates that 8 million people were affected. Now, let’s move on to the next observation.
“There will be famines and troubles” (v. 8). If you search through the Old Testament, “famine” and “troubles” go hand-in-hand; and “troubles” are often associated with such things as pestilence, mildew, and locusts (see 1 Kings 8:37). Pestilence is wide-spread sickness, such as what we’re seeing right now in 2020 with a world-wide pandemic; and famine goes right along with pestilence as food harvesting, processing and distribution is slowed or ceases altogether.
What about locusts? A May 5, 2020 headline by the “Washington Post” reads, “They’re Back: Trillions of Locusts Descend on East Africa in Second Wave.” A “National Geographic” article, commenting on the African locust plague, states, “Swarms can swell to 70 billion insects – enough to blanket New York City more than once – and can destroy 300 million pounds of crops in a single day.” This too is something that can contribute to famine.
I must point out that the word “troubles,” is the Greek word tarakhay, which can be translated as, “a disturbance or commotion” from “a mob of sedition” (Blue Letter Bible). The word “mob” is defined as, “A large crowd of people, especially one that is disorderly and intent on causing trouble or violence” (Dictionary.com), and “sedition” is defined as, “conduct or speech inciting people to rebel against the authority of a state” (Dictionary.com). Right now in America we are seeing “mobs of sedition” ransack and loot our major cities.
“These are the beginnings of sorrows” (v. 8). In the New International Version, “Jesus identifies these things as the ‘beginning of birth pains’ – a time of suffering. When the world is collapsing around them, Christians may impatiently yearn for deliverance from their present distress; however, they must prepare themselves for the long haul. The suffering only marks the beginning. One cannot know how long the labor will be; only that it will be a hard delivery.”(7)
You Will Be Tried for Your Faith (v. 9)
9 But 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.”
“Jesus gives these warnings so that [His disciples] will not be surprised and can respond appropriately when suffering overtakes them. They must grasp what it means to be persecuted as a Christian . . . The persecution sketched [in verses 9-13] . . . specifically targets Christians because they are Christians. They will be singled out for persecution because they faithfully follow their Lord.”(8)
“They will deliver you up to councils” (v. 9). “Councils were local courts or Sanhedrins, with 23 members each, located in Jewish communities other than Jerusalem.”(9) “They were local courts of discipline.”(10) Jesus was saying, “You will be tried in the ‘local courts’ on account of your faith, as some will bring you to court trying to stop you from worshipping Me.”
The English Standard Version says, “You will stand before governors and kings for my sake.” “Governors and kings were non-Jewish authorities . . . The governors would include procurators, proconsuls, and perhaps even magistrates. To ‘stand before them’ means to be tried before them.”(11) Jesus was saying, “You will also be tried in the ‘higher courts’ on account of your faith.”
Right now, even as this pandemic is slowing and as businesses begin to reopen, there are states denying Christians the right to assemble for worship. It takes fear, intolerance and hatred towards church-goers to suggest that they carry more germs and spread illness quicker than any ordinary person who gathers at a big box store or other shopping venue. And there are presently Christians being brought before both the local and higher courts when they attempt to assemble for worship. There are also Christians choosing to go to court and winning their right to worship, based on the First Amendment. But, Jesus says, “Watch out for yourselves” when you see this happening.
The Gospel Preached to All Nations (v. 10)
10 And the gospel must first be preached to all the nations.
This statement is an answer to verse 4, where the disciples asked, “Tell us, when will these things be? And what will be the sign when all these things will be fulfilled?” Jesus answered (in verse 10) that before the end comes, one thing that must happen is for the gospel to go forth into all nations. Does this mean that each and every individual on the planet must hear the gospel, or that the gospel must go into each political country? Or does it mean that it must penetrate each people group?
The word used for “nations” is ethne, which “can mean a collection of individuals with a common identity,”(12) which we would call a people group. “The latest estimates suggest that approximately 7,400 people groups are considered unreached. That means over 40 percent of the world’s people groups have no indigenous community of believing Christians able to evangelize the rest of their people group; [and] over 42 percent of the world’s population live in these over 7,400 people groups.” So, we are not quite there in seeing the gospel preached to all nations.
Walk in the Power of the Spirit (v. 11)
11 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.
When Jesus said “do not worry beforehand” about what to say, “worry beforehand” (promerimnate) is from the verb merimnao, which means, “to be drawn in opposite directions [or] to be distracted.”(13) “Do not worry beforehand,” or “Do not be anxious beforehand,” means, “Do not be worriedly dividing your attention between [what you will say] and their threats about what will happen to you.”(14) Jesus’ disciples are to walk in peace and confidence in the presence of the Comforter. They are “to face fearlessly those in high places who are seeking to overthrow the preaching of the gospel.”(15)
In John 14:26, Jesus stated that when His disciples walk in peace and confidence in the presence of the Comforter, that “the Comforter, which is the Holy Ghost, whom the Father will send in my name, he shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you.” In other words, “Whatever is given you in that hour . . . it is not you who speak, but the Holy Spirit” (v. 11). So, be free of fear, live your life for God; and come what may, just know that the Lord is with you, guiding even the very words that come out of your mouth.
You Will Be Hated by All (vv. 12-13)
12 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. 13 And you will be hated by all for My name's sake. But he who endures to the end shall be saved.
In 2 Timothy 3:1-4, we read a similar admonition about the season nearing Christ’s return. The apostle Paul said, “But know this, that in the last days perilous times will come. For men will be . . . disobedient to parents . . . unforgiving, slanderers, without self-control, brutal, despisers of good, traitors, . . . [and] lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God.” The part about being “traitors” reminds me of how some people are “snitching” on those who don’t follow stay at home orders, or snitching on those who gather for church services; and no doubt, some are even “betraying” (v. 12) their own family members, as Jesus warned.
Commentator David Garland says that “suffering and hatred come to Christ’s followers because they preach the gospel faithfully . . . They will be loathed by everyone . . . The antagonism will be so intense that family members will even turn on other family members because they passionately hate the gospel or are desperate to escape persecution themselves.”(16) Just look at what’s happening right now. Those who obey Christ are being betrayed to fines and jail time; but things will grow even worse to where believers in Christ will be betrayed by family to be put to death. Let’s now skip down and look at verses 28-29.
A Sign of the Times (vv. 28-29)
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. 29 So you also, when you see these things happening, know that it is near – at the doors!
“The fig tree is one of the few deciduous trees in Palestine. Jesus uses it to illustrate another lesson. It’s ‘leafing out’ is a harbinger of summer.”(17) Jesus tells us that when all of these things occur, we will know that His return is near. Down in verse 32, Jesus said, “But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.” We cannot know the day and hour of Christ’s return, but we can see the leaves unfurling; and from everything that is transpiring around us right now, we can surmise that the season is upon us.
So, what are we to do as the harbinger sounds? Jesus tells us down in verse 33, “Take heed, watch and pray; for you do not know when the time is.” Meaning, let’s start getting serious about our walk with Christ; and let’s start getting serious about sharing the gospel with as many people as we can. Why? So God will protect us from persecution? No, for getting serious about our faith will only lead to greater persecution. The reason why we need to get serious is because Jesus is coming soon!
Time of Reflection
Before we close, I want to share something from elsewhere in the Scripture. In the book of 2 Thessalonians, we observe how the believers of Thessalonica were preoccupied with the parousia, which is the return of Christ. In 2 Thessalonians 3:6-13, Paul noticed something disturbing that was taking place among the believers. They weren’t working at their jobs, nor were they following the Great Commission, because they felt that Christ would return in the immediate future; so, they used His return as an excuse for idleness. Commentator F. F. Bruce says, “The expectation of the parousia should not be an excuse for idleness but for vigilance and sobriety, for ‘the day of the Lord,’ [Paul] says (echoing a word of Jesus), ‘will come like a thief in the night’.”(18)
Since the believers in Thessalonica thought that Jesus would return soon, they reasoned, “If Christ is coming back, then what’s the point of working?” They also thought, “What’s the point of ministry when we’re going home soon? Our work here is almost over!” Let me ask you, “What would happen if we, at Mackville Baptist Church, reasoned that Christ is coming back soon and that there is no more need to be concerned about witnessing anymore?” The answer is that there would be people who would miss out on coming to know Jesus Christ. In 2 Thessalonians 3:13, Paul admonished the believers in Thessalonica, “Do not grow weary in doing good.”
Not only do we, as believers, need to get serious about our faith, as we enter the season of our Lord’s return; but the lost need to make sure they know Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord. If you were to die this day, would you have what it takes to enter into heaven? What it takes is a relationship with Jesus Christ. If Jesus were to rapture His church tomorrow morning, would you be caught up in the clouds with Him, or would you be left behind? Be certain that you are prepared by repenting of your sins and confessing Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord.
(1) David E. Garland, “Mark,” The NIV Application Commentary (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1996), 492.
(2) The Cults-R-Us Hit List, taken from the Internet September 1999 at http://www.mayhem.net/Crime/cults1.html.
(5) Warren Wiersbe, The Bible Exposition Commentary, vol. 1 (Wheaton, Illinois: Victor, 1989), 155.
(6) Kenneth Wuest, “Mark,” Weust’s Word Studies from the Greek New Testament (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1953), 246.
(7) Garland, 493.
(8) Ibid., 493.
(9) Henry E. Turlington, “Mark,” The Broadman Bible Commentary, ed. Clifton J. Allen (Nashville: Broadman, 1969), 373.
(10) Weust, 247.
(11) Turlington, 373.
(12) “Has Everyone Heard?” Joshua Project: https://joshuaproject.net/resources/articles/has_everyone_heard.
(13) A. T. Robertson, Word Pictures in the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1930), 376.
(14) Turlington, 374.
(15) Robertson, 373.
(16) Garland, 494.
(17) Ibid., 502.
(18) F.F. Bruce, Paul: Apostle of the Heart Set Free (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1977), 230.