Patrick Preaching—The End of the World

Every square inch of creation is corrupted, from the depths of space to the depths of our hearts—it’s all come under judgement. How is Jesus going to solve all of this? How in the world is Jesus’ judgement our hope? 

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This sermon was preached for Capital Pres Fairfax and McLean Presbyterian Church on March 26, 2023. The text is Mark 13:1-37, Jesus’ prophecy concerning the destruction of the temple and his second coming, included below. 

1 And as he came out of the temple, one of his disciples said to him, “Look, Teacher, what wonderful stones and what wonderful buildings!” 2 And Jesus said to him, “Do you see these great buildings? There will not be left here one stone upon another that will not be thrown down.” 

3 And as he sat on the Mount of Olives opposite the temple, Peter and James and John and Andrew asked him privately, 4 “Tell us, when will these things be, and what will be the sign when all these things are about to be accomplished?” 5 And Jesus began to say to them, “See that no one leads you astray. 6 Many will come in my name, saying, ‘I am he!’ and they will lead many astray. 7 And when you hear of wars and rumors of wars, do not be alarmed. This must take place, but the end is not yet. 8 For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be earthquakes in various places; there will be famines. These are but the beginning of the birth pains. 

9 “But be on your guard. For they will deliver you over to councils, and you will be beaten in synagogues, and you will stand before governors and kings for my sake, to bear witness before them. 10 And the gospel must first be proclaimed to all nations. 11 And when they bring you to trial and deliver you over, do not be anxious beforehand what you are to say, but say whatever is given you in that hour, for it is not you who speak, but the Holy Spirit. 12 And brother will deliver brother over to death, and the father his child, and children will rise against parents and have them put to death. 13 And you will be hated by all for my name’s sake. But the one who endures to the end will be saved. 

14 “But when you see the abomination of desolation standing where he ought not to be (let the reader understand), then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains. 15 Let the one who is on the housetop not go down, nor enter his house, to take anything out, 16 and let the one who is in the field not turn back to take his cloak. 17 And alas for women who are pregnant and for those who are nursing infants in those days! 18 Pray that it may not happen in winter. 19 For in those days there will be such tribulation as has not been from the beginning of the creation that God created until now, and never will be. 20 And if the Lord had not cut short the days, no human being would be saved. But for the sake of the elect, whom he chose, he shortened the days. 21 And then if anyone says to you, ‘Look, here is the Christ!’ or ‘Look, there he is!’ do not believe it. 22 For false christs and false prophets will arise and perform signs and wonders, to lead astray, if possible, the elect. 23 But be on guard; I have told you all things beforehand. 

24 “But in those days, after that tribulation, the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, 25 and the stars will be falling from heaven, and the powers in the heavens will be shaken. 26 And then they will see the Son of Man coming in clouds with great power and glory. 27 And then he will send out the angels and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of heaven. 

28 “From the fig tree learn its lesson: as soon as its branch becomes tender and puts out its leaves, you know that summer is near. 29 So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that he is near, at the very gates. 30 Truly, I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things take place. 31 Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away. 

32 “But concerning that day or that hour, no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. 33 Be on guard, keep awake. For you do not know when the time will come. 34 It is like a man going on a journey, when he leaves home and puts his servants in charge, each with his work, and commands the doorkeeper to stay awake. 35 Therefore stay awake—for you do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or when the rooster crows, or in the morning— 36 lest he come suddenly and find you asleep. 37 And what I say to you I say to all: Stay awake.”

I was born in 1995, so even though I barely remember them, I still qualify as a 90’s kid. There’s lots of jokes about being a 90’s kid and all the unique and fun things we remember from our childhood. Here’s the most interesting thing about us 90’s kids: we survived at least three “end of the world” predictions before we had graduated high school. Can you list them all? 

  • Jan 1, 2000 – Y2K. All the computers were supposedly going to short circuit at the turn of the millennium and cause a total collapse of the grid, knocking us back to the Stone Age
  • May 21, 2011 – The famous evangelical radio host Harold Camping predicted the rapture would occur—and when it didn’t, readjusted the date to Oct 21, 2011
  • Dec 21, 2012 – According to conspiracy theorists and Ancient Aliens, the Mayan calendar predicted the cataclysmic resetting of the universe 

My favorite of these (can I have a favorite end of the world?) was Dec 21, 2012. I was a junior in high school and it was not quite Winter break yet. A handful of my friends skipped class that day to throw a doomsday party. Whether or not you’ve ever thrown a doomsday party, many of us lived through at least one “end of the world”, and the world has kept on spinning. All that came of those predictions was the media freaking out for a week and prophetic charlatans scamming people out of their life savings.  

It’s worth asking: Is that what Jesus is doing here? Is Jesus just a charlatan? Is he fear-mongering for public attention or to exploit the gullible? A lot of people today believe just that. And maybe you find yourself wondering the same. Maybe you’re new to Christianity; you might be thinking “Hey I was on board with Jesus healing people and caring for the needy, but you’ve lost me with all this apocalyptic stuff. I’m out.” Or maybe you’ve been a Christian for a long time, but you’re still confused and intimidated by passages like this. Why is Jesus talking about the end of the world?

As we’ll see, it’s not because he’s a fraud who wants to exploit people—in fact, it’s the opposite. Jesus is the righteous King of kings, he deeply cares about justice. Our passage today tells us how he’ll bring perfect and lasting justice. Here’s our main point: Jesus’ judgement is our hope. We’re going to talk about that in that order; first, we’ll focus on Jesus’ judgement, and then we’ll talk about the hope we get from it. 

Jesus’ Judgement 

Mark 13 begins with Jesus’ proclamation of judgement against the temple in Jerusalem. To understand why Jesus says this, we need to back up a bit and remember how we got here. Ever since Jesus entered Jerusalem there’s been an escalation of tension between him and the religious authorities. Two weeks ago Bill preached on Jesus’ warning about the religious authorities in Mark 12:38-40. At one point Jesus says, “Beware of the scribes…who devour widows’ houses.” That’s an odd accusation, it feels a little out of the blue until we read the very next passage. We see an impoverished widow dropping her very last two coins in the offering box at the temple and walking away with nothing. 

Bill noted, nobody else was paying attention to this woman, but Jesus saw her. Hear what Jesus says “Truly, I say to you, this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the offering box. For they all contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on” (Mark 12:43-44). 

Friends, on the one hand, this is a beautiful display of faith and we do well to learn from her dependence on God. But on the other hand, this is quite frankly outrageous. This woman just went from poverty to to nothing, total destitution, and nobody cared! Nobody even saw her! Those two last copper coins were a plea for help, banking all she had on God with the expectation that this temple, these people, this system would see her and protect her. But nobody does. All they’re concerned with is flashing their own wealth, protecting their own power, and trying to get rid of Jesus. 

Do you see the irony there? The incarnation of the God they claim to worship isn’t even welcome in his own temple. He’s not welcome to teach the crowds who are starving for truth, he’s not welcome to heal the sick, he’s not welcome to advocate for poor widows—and it’s his temple! Can you imagine how Jesus is feeling after this long day of opposition, of exploitation, of blindness in his own house? At the end of that day, we come to 13:1-2. “And as he came out of the temple, one of his disciples said to him, ‘Look, Teacher, what wonderful stones and what wonderful buildings!’” (13:1) 

You see, what captivated the attention of Jesus was this one poor widow. You know what captivated the attention of his disciples? The shiny white stones, the gold plating, the tall columns and intricate decorations—all funded by rich, hypocritical religious leaders, and by poor widows who were left with nothing. That’s why Jesus says what he said: “You see these wonderful buildings? Not one stone will be left on another. It’s all coming down.” 

Now, the disciples are understandably concerned. They recognize that the destruction of the temple can’t be an isolated event. If the temple’s going to be destroyed, Jerusalem is in trouble—all of Judea is in trouble. So a few of them ask Jesus to clarify: they ask for a time, and for a sign. 

In response, Jesus gives them signs and warnings so that they might escape judgement, they can survive the destruction of the temple. For the question of “when” Jesus gives them a general answer. This will come to pass after the disciples have been persecuted and the gospel is proclaimed to the nations. Look with me at verses 9-13, we’re given a pretty solid one-paragraph summary of the book of Acts. The apostles are arrested and beaten, some are martyred, and through persecution the gospel reaches all the known world so much so that Paul can say in Romans 10 and Colossians 1 that the gospel has been heard throughout the whole world. So destruction will come sometime after Acts, maybe 30-40 years in the future. 

For the sign Jesus gives them a specific one: the abomination of desolation. We all know what that is, right? Crystal clear? Probably not for us. But notice, Mark assumed his original audience did. He adds that little footnote “Let the reader understand.” It wasn’t obscure to them; when they read this passage, everyone would’ve gone “Yep, I know what to look out for.” Scholars today debate as to what the abomination was, but the general consensus is it involved the hostile takeover of the temple by Jewish rebels fighting against Rome. 

If you want the full history lesson, I’d be more than happy to share it with you after worship.1 It’s worth noting, the temple is destroyed exactly how Jesus describes it happening. After a massive revolt, Rome sieges Jerusalem and destroys the temple in 70AD. The key point for us is why it happens: the temple has become so corrupt, it’s going to collapse in on itself

The reason Jesus says this is because he cares deeply about justice, and because it’s his temple. The temple was supposed to be the place where humanity met with God and where God’s justice was most clearly on display. Instead, it’s become a den of robbers that devours widows’ houses. Judgement is coming. The problem is, that’s not the whole answer—if that’s the whole answer, we have a few big problems. 

If the temple is the place where humanity meets with God, how can humanity know God after its destruction? How can they be reconciled to him? It seems like in bringing judgement on the temple, Jesus is erasing all hope. Even more than that—and most relevant for us today—does the destruction of the temple really achieve the lasting justice Jesus is after? 

We are all well aware that the temple in Jerusalem was not the last corrupted system in human history. History is chock full of corrupt governments and exploitative economic systems and abusive religious institutions. The present is no different—and maybe even worse in terms of scale. It’s like we can’t escape corruption, no matter who is in power or what system is set up. And you know what the one common factor is in every corrupted system across time and culture and structure? Humanity. It’s almost like we’re the ones who are corrupted; in fact, it’s not like that, it is that. This is what the Bible calls sin. It’s the corruption of our hearts to our very core, so that no matter how good our intentions or how intelligent our systems, we can’t not cause harm. 

And our situation is even worse than that! It’s not just our systems that are corrupted, it’s not just our hearts, it’s the very earth we live on. It’s the air we breathe, it’s the sun we depend on. It’s all broken. Look back to verse 8, Jesus says that earthquakes and famines are the beginning of the birth pangs of judgement. We’re still facing natural disasters today. Think of the horrible earthquakes in Syria and Turkey, famines across the world, global pandemics. This is not the paradise God intended. So even the heavens and the earth need to be fixed, they’re also corrupted. That’s what we see in verses 24-25. The sun and the moon will go black, the stars will collapse, “the powers in heaven will be shaken.” 

Every square inch of creation is corrupted, from the depths of space to the depths of our hearts—it’s all come under judgement. How is Jesus going to solve all of this? How in the world is Jesus’ judgement our hope? 

Our Hope

Jesus tells us in the very next two verses, read 26-27 with me: “And then they will see the Son of Man coming in clouds with great power and glory. And then he will send out the angels and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of heaven.”

God’s answer to a world facing judgement is to send his Son on a rescue mission. You see friends, this passage isn’t just about the judgement that Christ gives; at its heart, it’s about the judgement he takes upon himself. This has been the heart of Mark’s Gospel all along. Right in the middle of the book, as soon as Peter proclaims “You are the messiah” Mark writes this: “And Jesus began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and the chief priests and the scribes and be killed, and after three days rise again” (8:31). 

Jesus satisfies the justice of God by subjecting himself to injustice at the hands of a broken system. By dying a murderer’s death on a Roman cross and taking all our sin, all our corruption on himself. That corruption dies with him. The broken system of the temple comes to an end with him: the curtain of the temple is torn in two. The corruption of sin in our hearts comes to an end: He declares, “It is finished, my people’s debt is paid in full, their sin is no more.” It was as if the whole world ended with Jesus’ death: as other gospels tell us, earthquakes split open the ground and even the Sun went black. Judgement had come—and praise be to God, that’s not the end of the story. 

Three days later, Jesus rose from the grave. Look at Jesus’ words in Mark 13:28-31. Jesus describes this ultimate judgement as a Spring season giving way to the summer of the resurrection. I think it’s beautifully poetic that we celebrate Easter in Spring, because that’s exactly what is happening. Paul writes about it like this in 1 Cor 15:42-45. 

So is it with the resurrection of the dead. What is sown is perishable; what is raised is imperishable. (The KJV translates this as “The body is sown in corruption, it is raised in incorruption.”) It is sown in dishonor; it is raised in glory. It is sown in weakness; it is raised in power. It is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body. Thus it is written, “The first man Adam became a living being”; the last Adam became a life-giving spirit.

The restoration of all things begins with Jesus’ resurrection. His resurrection is the first act of new creation, the genesis of a new world free from corruption. If you think back to Genesis 1, we see God’s first creation narrative; it begins with the creation of the heavens and the earth, and it finishes with the creation of humanity, of Adam. Here in Mark 13, we’re getting a sneak peek into God’s new creation narrative, and this time around it happens in reverse order. We begin with the creation of New Adam—the resurrected Christ. From him, God is building toward what we read about at the end of Revelation, when God says “I am making all things new.”

Under the reign of the risen King Jesus, all the same forms of corruption brought under judgement we talked about earlier will be restored: our systems, our world, and our hearts. See Revelation 21:22-24, John is recording his vision of the New Heaven and New Earth created before his very eyes: 

And I saw no temple in the city, for its temple is the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb. And the city has no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and its lamp is the Lamb. By its light will the nations walk, and the kings of the earth will bring their glory into it.

This is our hope: Jesus is making all things new, all corruption has been judged by Christ and is coming to an end, and he invites us to partake in his new, incorruptible world. 

Now, clearly this has not happened yet: the resurrection of Jesus has happened, but what’s described in Mark 13:24-27 and in Revelation has not yet come to pass. We are painfully aware of the corruption around us and within us—and the Bible talks about this as well. Romans 8:19-24 talks about all creation groaning under the burden of corruption as it eagerly awaits restoration. Right now we’re in this long period of waiting—just like the disciples waiting for the for the end of the temple. How are we to live in hope until Jesus comes again? Fortunately, he gives us some directions? 

Jesus’ Warnings

There are three main warnings Jesus gives us in Mark 13. 

First he says “don’t be led astray.” When times get tough, when the world is tumultuous, a lot of “false saviors” come out of the woodwork. In Jesus’ day, a new person claiming to be the messiah would pop up every few years and try to overthrow Rome. Such false messiahs would be the catalyst for the destruction of the temple. Jesus warns his followers, “Remember who your king is, keep your eyes on me.” 

The same call applies to us, Lets read 24-27 again: “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…”

What? “And then God will destroy the whole world and *poof* that’s it. Fade to black. End of movie.” Is that what it says? Does the story end with destruction? No! There is no hope in nihilism. And there’s no truth to it, either. Jesus is coming back. There is life after death. Don’t be led astray into cynicism and  pessimism. 

Does it say “And then after enough destruction, humanity will finally figure it out and get their act together. They’ll reach enlightenment and achieve world peace.”? No! There’s no hope in ourselves, either. Perhaps the greatest danger that threatens to lead us astray here in the DC area is believing we can make all of this right. If I can just vote the right person into office, if I can just get that promotion or become the captain of my team I can get all of this in order. By God’s grace, you might be a force for good on your team or in your office, and our politicians might work with honesty and integrity. But they will never be the solution to this ultimate problem; you will never be the solution. Only Jesus can save us from this; don’t be led astray. 

Next, Jesus says “Be on guard.” Elsewhere Jesus calls his disciples his sheep, and the world is a scary place for sheep—they are not apex predators, without a shepherd they’re defenseless. Jesus commands his disciples to beware of wolves in sheep’s clothing. There will be people who claim to love God and who will say that they’re your friend, but in the end will deny Christ as their king and betray his church; Jesus says be on guard for wolves in sheep’s clothing. But there will also be wolves in wolves’ clothing—real, obvious external threats who are hostile to those who love Jesus. Jesus tells the disciples to watch out, be vigilant; their survival depends on paying attention to the times and following the voice of their shepherd. 

The same is true for us: we still live in a corrupted world this side of heaven. Even though Jesus has been raised, the world is still a dangerous place, so don’t go walking around as if nothing bad will ever happen. Earthquakes and famines are still real, wars are still real. Don’t be surprised, be ready—and be agents of mercy in the midst of it all. Be prepared to be the hands and feet of Jesus. 

That brings us to our last warning “Stay awake.” See our last few verses, 32-37, Jesus is adamant no one knows when Jesus will come back. Jesus has given us clear commands while he’s away: “Continue my ministry. Preach the gospel to the nations, care for the needy, protect the vulnerable, study my word and become like me.” Don’t fall into the error of assuming Jesus’ return is just around the corner, so you can afford to doze off with respect to his calling. Don’t say to yourself “The world’s about to end, so I can do whatever I want; Jesus is about to fix it all anyway.” You might find yourself like those who believed the “end of the world” predictions in 2011 and 2012—totally unprepared to continue living in waiting. 

On the other hand, don’t fall into the opposite error of assuming Jesus’ return is so far off you lose hope. It’s really easy to grow exhausted in waiting; there is so much work to be done this side of heaven, and the world just seems so bad. Think of how many Psalms repeat “How long, O Lord? When will you make all this right?” We need not fall asleep in despair of waiting; Jesus calls us to stay awake in hope. He’s given us his own Spirit, the same Spirit that preserved him through the garden of Gethsemane and was poured out on Pentecost gives us the strength to live in waiting and certainty in our hope. 

Jesus’ very last words to us in Revelation 22 are this: “Surely I am coming soon.” In response, John simply writes “Amen. Come, Lord Jesus!” We pray that with him. Come with your justice, Lord! 

 * * * 

1 In his commentary The Gospel of Mark (Eerdmans, 1974) biblical scholar William Lane notes that a more accurate translation of the famous phrase “abomination of desolation” from Daniel is “the desolating sacrilege.” He writes the following: 

The prophecy of Daniel concerning the appalling sacrilege had been called to mind in the year A.D. 40 when Caligula laid plans to have an image of himself set up in the Jerusalem Temple (see Philo, Legatio ad Gaium; Josephus, Antiquities XVIII. viii. 2–9; Tacitus, History V. 9). After that catastrophe was averted, Josephus found the fulfilment of Daniel in the events of A.D. 66–70 (Antiquities X. xi. 7: “in the same manner Daniel also wrote about the empire of the Romans and that Jerusalem would be taken and the Temple laid waste”). He refers to an ancient prophecy concerning the desecration of the Temple by Jewish hands and found its fulfilment in a whole series of villainous acts committed by the Zealots in the Temple precincts from the period November 67 to the spring of 68. 

“For there was an ancient saying of inspired men that the city would be taken and the sanctuary burned to the ground by right of war, when it should be visited by sedition and native hands should be the first to defile God’s sacred precinct. This saying the Zealots did not disbelieve; yet they lent themselves as instruments of its accomplishment” (War IV. vi. 3). 

During this period the Zealots moved into and occupied the Temple area (War IV. iii. 7), allowed persons who had committed crimes to roam about freely in the Holy of Holies (War IV. iii. 10), and perpetrated murder within the Temple itself (War IV. v. 4). These acts of sacrilege were climaxed in the winter of 67–68 by the farcical investiture of the clown Phanni as high priest (War IV. iii. 6–8). It was in response to this specific action that the retired high priest Ananus, with tears, lamented: “It would have been far better for me to have died before I had seen the house of God laden with such abominations and its unapproachable and hallowed places crowded with the feet of murderers” (War IV. iii. 10). Jewish Christians who had met in the porches of the Temple from the earliest days would have found this spectacle no less offensive. It seems probable that they recognized in Phanni “the appalling sacrilege usurping a position which is not his,” consigning the Temple to destruction. In response to Jesus’ warning they fled to Pella. 

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