Geometry can be really useful for finding the center of things. If you want to find the center of a line segment, geometry can help. If you want to find the center of a triangle or square geometry can help. If you want to find the center of a circle again, geometry can help. Some of you are wondering what this has to do with the Scriptures aren’t you? Let me say this, knowing where the center is can be really helpful in construction and engineering, and since everything we live in, work with, and use in life has been engineered and built, the center is really important. It’s too bad, we can’t use geometry to find the center of the universe. For if the center of lines, circles, and various others shapes are important in building, then the center of the universe would be really important wouldn’t it. If we knew the center of the universe, we would be able to reconstruct the very fabric of life. Unfortunately, science is yet to admit there is a center. But did you know, to the Jewish mind, the answer to where the center of the universe was located was extremely obvious.
It wasn’t just in our solar system, or on our planet, or in Israel, but it was a the very heart of Jerusalem. Here’s how they got to the answer: God called the Jews to be a blessing to the nations and when he setup the plan for living with the tabernacle, he placed himself in the center of the camp, with the tribes three on a side radiating out towards the world. Everything in the tribal time would lead the Jew to see God as the center of all creation, but when he chose to make his name to dwell in the temple in Jerusalem, then certainly Jerusalem became the center of the world as well, with the temple marking the spot. Not a bad piece of theologizing, especially given the fact that God says in Ezek. 5:5 “This is what the Sovereign LORD says: This is Jerusalem, which I have set in the center of the nations, with countries all around her.
So when the disciples of Christ say, “Look Teacher, What massive stones! What magnificent buildings!” (Mk 13:1), they are essentially saying: “Look how cool and great this is. God is at the center of the world; his messiah is here. There isn’t anyplace on earth like this. Nothing the Roman Empire has can compare with the temple. This is the abode of God; this is the center of the world and this is the seat of true faith and worship.” For these disciples, who didn’t quite get it and who couldn’t quite understand that one greater than the temple is here (Mt 12:6) was in their midst, Jesus’ answer is unnerving. To declare that “not one stone here will be left on another; every one will be thrown down” (Mk 13:2) is like declaring the prophetic judgment of Ezekiel all over again. For after God declared that Jerusalem was the center of the nations, he also declared that because of her idolatry he would withdraw his favor and she would become a ruin and a reproach among the nations (Ezek 5:14). This is like saying without the center to hold it together, everything will crumble. To a Jew, to see every stone removed and cast down would mean that the destruction of Jerusalem must be bigger and more complete than any previous judgment that God has brought upon the city. It will be more complete that the Babylonian siege of Ezekiel’s day that lasted 2 years and destroyed the temple. To see the temple destroyed a second time would mean the end of the ages had come and that God has rolled back the sky and the final judgment is present.
It is no wonder the disciples declare, “Tell us! when will these things happen?” (Mk 13:4) They want to know so they can be prepared. Knowing this, Jesus’ answer is very intriguing. He plays on their preconceptions of the end of the ages to discuss not only the end of the ages (plural, i.e. the final judgment) but also the end of the age (singular, i.e. the end of the temple period and the rise of the gospel. As Jesus declared in Matthew’s gospel, “I tell you that one greater than the temple is here” (Matt. 12:6).
As we talk about these two ages, one thing to note is that Jesus gives very little concrete signposts for the disciples to use to try and calculate or know exactly when the end of the temple period or the final judgment will be. One will follow the other, as verse 24 makes clear, following that distress, the sun will be darkened…(Mk 13:24) but the chronological road map is fuzzy at best. What we do know is that it is going to be after wars, earthquakes and famines. It will be after persecutions and death. It will be after the ‘abomination that causes desolation’ (Mark 13:14) is standing where it does not belong. It will be after some weird celestial phenomena where “the sun will be darkened, the moon will not give its light, the stars will fall from the sky and the heavenly bodies will be shaken” (Mark 13:24-25). And then the end of the ages will come and it will be unmistakable for the Son of Man, the Christ, Jesus himself will come on the clouds with great power and glory (Mark 13:26) and he will judge the creation. For all authority to judge has been granted to him as the gospels declare first in Matt 28:19 “All authority in heaven and earth has been given to me” and again in John 5:27 And he (The Father) has given him authority to judge because he is the Son of Man…and verse 22 “the Father judges no one but has entrusted all judgment to the Son.”
Now I don’t know about you, but as for concrete signs by which I would be able to ascertain the time of the end of the ages, that is about as clear as mud. It’s like trying to look through a milkshake and make out the person on the other side. About all I can say is, it could be any time – there are plenty of wars, famines, and persecutions and idolatry and plenty of weird celestial phenomena with eclipses and shooting stars and near misses of meteors. And you know what, that is how Jesus wanted it, I think. He wanted us to live like he was about to return any moment so that we would be ready, prepared and diligently about the Father’s work: the preaching of the Gospel and being conformed to the image of Christ.
But what fascinates me about Jesus’ unspecific answer about the signs of the times, is his very specific set of commands for how the disciples are to live in the intervening time until the end of the ages. Between verses 5 and 37 Jesus gives 18 commands. Let me read them to you: Watch Out! (v5); Don’t be alarmed (v7), Be on your guard (v9), don’t worry (v11), say whatever is given (v11), understand (v14), flee (v14), don’t go down, re-enter your house, or go back for clothes (v15-16), Pray (v18), be on guard (v23), Learn (v28), Be on guard (v33) be alert (v33) keep watch (v35), Watch (v37). Incidentally, those last three: Be alert, Keep watch and Watch, are all the same word in the Greek.
WATCH – 7x
Given that catalogue of commands, if watching and being alert are taken to be synonymous or at least similar and related activities, then 7 times Jesus’ disciples are told to be observant or to watch. 4 times we are told to flee or run, 3 times we are to increase our understanding, twice we are to not be alarmed or worried and once each we are to speak and to pray. That list surprised me, it shouldn’t have, but it did. The most prolific command, and the one that is given first and last is the command to Watch. Watch your Christian life. Watch your doctrine. Watch the world. Stay alert. Christians living in the last days are called to watch out for deception first and foremost. Watch out that no one deceives you (Mark 13:5).
In chapter 13 the deception that Jesus is most worried about are people who claim to be the messiah, false christs and false prophets, if you will. Twice in chapter 13 false christs are singled out as a concern (V. 6 & 22). According to 2Pet. 2:1, we know these false prophets, false teachers and false christs They will secretly introduce destructive heresies, even denying the sovereign Lord who bought them — bringing swift destruction on themselves. And John encourages us with these words, (1John 4:1) Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world. That is what Jesus is getting at in his instructions. Watch out that you don’t fall for the claims that the Messiah has returned, for it will be evident to all when I will return, the Son of Man will come in the clouds with great power and glory (Mk 13:26). In an age where many claim that the teachings of so and so are salvific or can lead you to happiness and bless, remember to watch and not be deceived, there is only one Savior who both promises and can deliver peace and joy.
Here are a few simple tests that can help you recognize false teachers and deception: First, They are liars denying that Jesus is the Christ, and by denying this they deny the word of God, even denying the Father and the Son (1John 2:22). By refusing to acknowledge Jesus as supreme Lord and King, they are evident (1John 4:3 but every spirit that does not acknowledge Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you have heard is coming and even now is already in the world.) Second, they deny Jesus as coming in the flesh (2Jn 7). Watch out in the last days for people will deny Jesus as God incarnate.
But we are also encouraged by Jesus to Watch out that we aren’t deceived in the way we live. Don’t be found sleeping, Mark 13:36 warns. Don’t be found with a way of life that is in opposition actively or passively to the teaching of the Lord. Paul encourages the Ephesians to Eph. 5:15-16, “Be very careful, then, how you live — not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil.” And to the Colossians he says, “See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the basic principles of this world rather than on Christ” (Col. 2:8).
We are to be watchful of our life. Haggai 1:5 said the same thing, “Consider carefully your ways.” One of the greatest deceptions promulgated on the church in the last hundred years has been the heresy that as Christians it is okay if we don’t look any different than the world. But the scripture says we are to be in the world, not of it (Jn 17:14-15); we are to be transformed by the renewing of our minds (Rom 12:1)
INCREASE UNDERSTANDING 3x
And that means we need to be a people who are listening to and learning from the Word of God and the Holy Spirit. That means we need to be a people who don’t take anything that another Christian says at face value, it doesn’t matter how much we respect them or how learned that person may be, and that includes me. Don’t just assume that I have it all correct, or incorrect, but rather be like the more noble Bereans who received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true (Acts 17:11).
We must be students of the Word. Learning from it for all Scripture is God breathed and useful for correcting, rebuking, teaching and training in righteousness that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work (2Tim 3:16-17). And as we learn the Scriptures, we must also be exegeting the culture around us. We must be discerning where the idolatrous abominations of culture are sneaking into the church and we must counter them.
We must be fleeing such idolatry without even a second thought. Running from it. And in our day that may mean fleeing a denomination that increasingly adopts the ways of the world and trades the gospel of Christ for a gospel of social justice. Or it may mean fleeing a country that actively persecutes the believers in Christ. In the last days, God doesn’t expect his people to stay still. They will be going hither and yon, from one place to another, being welcomed into one village where they will stay and leaving another village that wont accept them, shaking the dust off their feet as they go (Mk 6:10-11). We aren’t to stay where persecutions are breaking out or idolatry is rampant, we are to move on and preach the gospel to all the nations.
NOT WORRY 2x
And if and when we find ourselves in persecution, we are commanded to not worry about it. Don’t fret beforehand, don’t be anxious about anything but in everything by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, we are to present our requests to God (Phil 4:6). Persecution will come. It is a simple fact of Christian life. There will be many persecutions in this life (Mk 10:30) for if they persecuted Christ they will persecute his followers (Jn 15:20). But we have nothing to fear, (Rom. 8:38-39) For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, 39 neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. We belong to Christ and persecutions, even death can’t change that.
And what is more, those who are granted the right to be persecuted unto death, need not fear during their trial. For God promises to speak through them. Just say whatever is given you at the time, for it is not you speaking but the Holy Spirit (Mark 13:11). What better promise than that can a believer get for living in the end of the ages amidst persecution, false prophets and the deceptions of Satan – God shall speak through you.
We have covered the commands to Watch, Flee, grow in knowledge , not worry and to speak as we are empowered by the Spirit, which leads us to the last command, the command to pray. Pray that the fleeing you must do from idolatry and persecution will happen at a timely season when travel will be easy and the going will be smooth. Pray. Notice, Jesus didn’t invite us to pray that persecution will be held off. Or even that persecution would be bearable. He calls his disciples to pray that their escape would be easy because of the season. Might we not pray as well for safe passage from one location to another as we live in these last days? Surely! Give us safe treading from one place to another where the gospel will be received. Pray for ease of separation from denominations that are going awry. Pray for ease of fleeing cultural idolatry in work, play, school and home. (I met a psychologist this week in the military who is worried about the new same sex benefits available for military personnel. He is worried about having to do ‘marriage’ counseling for something that is against his religious faith and conviction.) Pray for ease in escaping these situations and others like them. It might mean losing a lot along the way, but pray for a way out at an opportune time and flee.
So returning to our geometry and construction metaphors, if we want to stand squarely in the center of the universe with our heavenly Father, building our life upon the righteousness of Jesus Christ, then the end times believer must be watchful of their life and doctrine; they must flee idolatry by be a student of the Word and the culture refusing to fear but boldly speaking the gospel to the persecuting world while also praying for an opportune season to flee when the time arrives. Such is our calling and none of if can be accomplished without the power of God working in and through us to bring his kingdom into the world. For truly Christ and not the temple, or Jerusalem or any thing else, stands in the center and he is commanding us to stand with him in these ways. To God be the glory.
As we come to the table today, you are likely wondering Scott, you talked a lot about the signs of the end of the ages and how we are to live, but what about that other part, the signs of the end of the temple? That is what we have before us in the communion table. When Jesus died on the cross and rose from the dead, the temple age had found its end. Sure it took a few more decades before Rome moved in, besieged Jerusalem, and destroyed the temple, but the destruction of the temple was completed when the curtain was torn in two, the graves were broken open and the earth shook as our Lord hung on the cross and said, It is finished. And with that he bowed his head and gave up his spirit. (Jn 19:30)
As I have declared a few times already, Jesus is greater than the temple (Mt 12:6). The destruction of the temple didn’t mean the end of faith and worship as the Jews envisioned, rather it meant the very beginning of a worship that encompassed the spirit and the truth. With Christ the final sacrifice was made and the empowerment of the Spirit was given so that you and I could become living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God (Rom 12:1).
So if you are here today and you believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, fully divine and fully human. If you believe that he is the perfect sacrifice for sin, and nothing more is needed. If you desire to live in accordance with his teaching and earnestly rely upon his power to become a living stone in a living temple, then you are invited to participate, for this is Christ’s body given for you and this is his blood shed for you.