Summary: I will be today and next week presenting the four or five views of what the end time entails.
I cannot think of more exciting time in my life than the summer of 1972 as a rising high school senior. I had attended Explo ’72, a nationwide week-long conference of high school and college students. About 80,000 attended. I came back fired up for the Lord. Another friend who had gone and I began evangelistic Bible studies and had a mini-revival among our friends. It was during that summer that I sensed my call to the ministry. I was excited about Jesus, about my salvation. The second most exciting thing to me was anticipating Jesus’ return.
At that time the biggest bestseller was Hal Lindsey’s The Late Great Planet Earth. It was the Left Behind book of its generation, the old ’73 paperback copy I have states that more than 2,000,000 were in print. I was so excited about the subject I helped put together a musical for church using the information from that book. When I started college, one of the first things I did was to go to the library, look up old newspaper reports of earthquakes, and make copies. I was going to collect the growing evidence that Christ’s return was near.
It was obvious that it was near because the nation of Israel had been re-established in 1948. Let me read Lindsey. I have not read the book in 25 years, and I still remember this passage:
Jesus said that this would indicate that He was “at the door,” ready to return. Then He said, “Truly I say to you, this generation (italics his) will not pass away until all these things take place” (Matthew 24:34 NASB).
What generation? Obviously, in context, the generation that would see the signs – chief among them the rebirth of Israel. A generation in the Bible is something like forty years. If this is a correct deduction, then within forty years or so of 1948, all these things could take place. Many scholars who have studied Bible prophecy all their lives believe that this is so.
Wow! What could be more exciting! The final stage of Jesus’ imminent return had been set and the remaining signs for his coming were popping up in the daily newspapers. Imagine my dismay, while attending a retreat of Reformed Christian students (from Clemson of all places!) and finding on a booktable books that attacked The Late Great Planet Earth. It was the first time I became aware that its view of the end times was not the view of all conservative Christians. Before then, I had thought premillenialism, which is the term for this view, was as accepted by evangelicals as they accepted the historic events of Jesus’ life. According to the author, it was only liberals, doubters of the Bible, who differed with him. At least, his was the view of those who took the Bible “seriously and literally” and the scholars who “have studied Bible prophecy all their lives.”
I eventually came to learn that the end times is a subject that Bible believing Christians have debated throughout the ages. For certain time periods one view has prevailed over the others. Within the Reformed community several views have been held, although the two most prevalent are minority viewpoints as far as the American evangelical churches are concerned.
As we enter into the chapter described by commentators as the most difficult passage in Mark to explain, I want to set forth my approach over the four Sundays we will be in this. First, the outline. This morning we will look at verses 1-13, which cover the “birth pains,” the troubles and persecutions that the church will face; next, we will study 14-23, which present a special day of tribulation; third, we will consider Christ’s return in verses 24-27; then we will close with verses 28-37 about what we are to be doing as we wait for his return.
I will be today and next week presenting the four or five views of what the end time entails. My goal, when this is all over, is not so much to convince you of one view, as it will be to have a charitable attitude towards the different opinions. I want you to realize how complex this issue really is. Indeed, I would add that if you have not done much study on the subject, you will not be able to have a firm position when these sermons are done. I cannot do justice to the subject in the brief time I am giving it. What I do want to leave you with, however, is a firm belief in Christ’s return and with a wonder and joy of that last wondrous event for which we are waiting.
As he was leaving the temple, one of his disciples said to him, “Look, Teacher! What massive stones! What magnificent buildings!”