July 23, 2017
There is an old fable in which three apprentice demons were talking to Satan. They were to finish their apprenticeship by going to earth to tempt and ruin humankind. The first demon said to Satan, “I will tell people there is no God.” Satan replied, “That will not fool many, because they know there is a God.” The second demon said, “I will tell them there is no hell.” Satan said, “You will never fool many that way, because they know there is a hell.” The third demon said, “I will tell people there is no hurry.” To which Satan replied, “Go, for you will ruin millions.” While a fable, there is much truth to those words. There is no hurry. A Gallup poll conducted in the US just last year revealed the following results:
- 89% of those surveyed believe in God, just as the fable suggests.
- 61% believe in a devil.
- 71% believe in heaven, while
- 64% believe in hell.
Do you see those numbers? It seems Satan was right – telling people these don’t exist will not fool many. The vast majority of Americans believe in God – however they define Him – about two-thirds or more believe in the devil, heaven and hell. And yet, that same survey also gave these results: only about half of those surveyed say religion plays an important part in their lives. And over 60% of those same people – the vast majority who believe in heaven and hell – over 60% attend church once a month or less. You see, there is no hurry. I believe in God, but He’s just not that important to my life.
The fable contains this truth: people generally believe in God – they believe in heaven, they believe in hell – but very few live like it. Very few live like they will ever meet God, or, give an account to Him. There is no hurry.
In our study of Mark, we find ourselves at the end of the Olivet Discourse. It is Tuesday evening of Passion Week – Jesus will die on Friday. He’s about to return to heaven, and these are some of His final thoughts as He leaves His disciples. And we find one of His major concerns is they and we are prepared for what is to come. That we are prepared for His return, we are prepared for heaven, that we are prepared to meet God. Because, there is a day of reckoning coming.
In John 14, in what has been called the Farewell Discourse – when Jesus says goodbye to His disciples on Thursday night, the night of His betrayal, the night before His death, He shares some of the same thoughts. He starts that discourse with these words:
1 “Do not let your heart be troubled; believe in God, believe also in Me. [Isn’t that interesting? You believe in God – good – lots of people do, but since you do, know this]
2 “In My Father’s house are many dwelling places; if it were not so, I would have told you; for I go to prepare a place for you.
3 “If I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself, that where I am, there you may be also.”
One of the last things He told them on His last Thursday was this: I’m coming back. Don’t lose sight of that truth. Be prepared. You see, it seems Jesus was fully aware of the distractions of this life, and the pull of sin and self. Don’t be distracted – keep your eyes fully fixed on the hope to be revealed – the glorious appearing of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ.
The Olivet Discourse was precipitated by the disciples’ questions – namely, when is it going to happen, that is, the destruction of the Temple, and what will be the sign of Your coming? Remember, they thought those one event. And they were excited. They had spent time with Jesus – they had seen His miracles, heard His teaching – they were beginning to understand who He was. They were excited about His coming, when He would come and reveal Himself to the world. We know who You are, Jesus, when are you going tell everyone else, when’s it going be?
They were excited. Much like when we first came to faith in Christ. Remember that? The joy, the excitement of what the Christian life held, the anticipation of things to come? But it’s a been a few years now, hasn’t it? Just like it would be for the disciples. Where is this coming He promised? Jesus says, don’t lose track of the promise. My question for you this morning is have you been lured by the attraction of sin and self? Have you been distracted by the demands of life? The attractions of life? Have you believed the lie, there is no hurry? The big question – do you live like you believe Jesus is coming back?
When will these things be, Jesus? He answered their questions through Mark 13. There will be signs prior to the destruction of the Temple and through the church age to make you long for My coming – false christs, wars and rumors of wars, earthquakes, famines, pestilences, tribulation and persecution. But the end is not yet – these are just the beginning of birth pains.
So don’t be deceived – don’t believe it when you hear of false christs. Don’t be deceived by any great signs and wonders they’ll perform to mislead you. You will know My coming when you see it, and so will everyone else. Just like lightning comes from the east and flashes to the west, so will the coming of the Son of Man be. The sign of the Son of Man will appear in the sky, and they will see Him coming on the clouds of the sky with power and great glory. Then will come that long anticipated event when the trumpet will sound, and His angels will gather the elect from the four winds – from one end of heaven to the other – not one will be missing. The day is coming. Even if we’re dead when it happens, the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then those who are alive and remain will be gathered together in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. The day is coming – are you ready, or are you distracted?
He wants us to be ready. That is the purpose of the Olivet Discourse. But we’ve even been distracted from its main purpose. Let me remind you of the outline of the chapter – which, by the way, follows rather closely a number of my commentaries. They don’t agree with each other on some of the minor divisions, but after careful study of the text, the following outline emerges:
- The Coming Destruction of the Temple (1-23)
- The Coming of Christ (24-27)
- A Parable Concerning the Coming Destruction (28-31)
- A Parable Concerning the Coming of Christ (32-27)
Last week, we looked at the parable of the fig tree, which stressed the importance of watching the road signs, being alert and prepared for the coming destruction. Now, I and most others think Jesus switches back to being prepared for His return in the last few verses of the chapter. Let’s read it – Mark 13:32-37.
This is our sixth sermon on the Olivet Discourse, where Jesus prophesied the destruction of the Temple and His Second Coming. And you might be getting antsy, you might be getting downright irritable. You might think, come on, enough is enough – we get it already. And you feel like we’re on one of those Southern Gospel music stations where every song is about crossing the Jordan, the sweet by and by, and Beulah land. Heaven, grandma and streets of gold.
And when those feelings of frustration overwhelm you, can I encourage you to look around at the lives of people – your coworkers, your neighbors, maybe even your family members – do they look ready? Or is there no hurry? Look around at the lives of people in the church – do they look ready? Do they live like they believe Jesus is coming back? Then, take a look inward – do you look ready? Do you live your life in such a way that demonstrates you’re looking for, even longing for the coming of Christ? Are you in a hurry? I hope so. While we’ve not been in a hurry in these sermons, I want us to be eager, in a hurry for the return of Jesus Christ.
Now again, most see a significant change in topic in verse 32. The first two words, but of or but concerning that day or hour. You see, those words are quite frequently used to signal a change in subject. And that day or that hour often speaks of the Day of the Lord and His return. Most then would have understood that – it’s actually more clear in the Greek. Most agree, regardless of whether you’re preterist or futurist, these verses are about the return of Christ. We need to be watchful for His return for a couple of very important reasons, which forms our outline:
- First, Watchfulness is Required because we don’t know when Jesus is Coming, and by the way, watchfulness is required because of our propensity toward distraction.
- Secondly, Watchfulness is Required because of the Certainty of His Coming.
First, Watchfulness is required because we don’t know the timing of His return. As we’ve seen over the last several weeks, despite the proliferation of end times prognosticators and date setters, we don’t know when Jesus is coming back. Even all of those so-called signs that get date setters excited, Jesus said were not signs – simply events which must happen prior to the destruction, and perhaps His return. They are birth pangs to remind us something is coming. He has said this over and over:
Vs. 7 – That is not yet the end.
Vs. 8 – These things are merely the beginning of birth pangs.
Vs. 32 – But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father alone.
Vs. 33 – for you do not know when the appointed time will come.
Vs. 35 – for you do not know when the master of the house is coming, whether in the evening, etc.
Vs. 36 – in case he should come suddenly and find you asleep.
Do you think He’s trying to get a point across? We actually know three things from the Olivet Discourse: we don’t know when He’s coming, it could be a long time or any time, but, He is coming back. Further, He’s not giving these signs so you can be good sign watchers, good rapture predictors, but so we’ll be prepared. We’re not going to know the timing – the angels in heaven don’t know, Jesus doesn’t even know the day or the hour of His return.
Now stop right there. As we’ve talked about earlier, some have speculated we may not know the day or the hour, but we can know the month or the year. I think that’s ridiculous – it misses the point of Jesus’ teaching. The fact is, you’re not going to know when, so always be ready. Live your lives in such a way that if Jesus comes back, you won’t be caught unaware. The fact is, He could come in your lifetime – are you ready to see Him?
Notice something else: Jesus makes a clear statement of His Sonship here – which implies oneness with the Father. This is the only place in Mark where Jesus refers to Himself as the Son without qualification. Usually, it’s the Son of Man. He’s agreeing with the Father’s two statements – at the baptism and the transfiguration – this is My beloved Son. It’s why Mark began his gospel with, The beginning of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, and ends it with the centurion declaring, truly this was the Son of God.
But there is a challenge. How is it that Jesus, the Son of God and God in the flesh, didn’t know something – that is, the timing of His return? He seemed to know the timing of the destruction – just last week He said, this generation will not pass away until all is fulfilled – and I interpreted that as referring to the Temple. But now, He says, of that day and hour of My return – no one knows, not even Me. What?
You say, I thought He was God – I thought He was omniscient, He knew everything. That’s true. But remember at His incarnation, there was a self-emptying that Paul referenced in Philippians 2. He emptied Himself, that is, He voluntarily limited the use of His attributes, like His omnipresence, His omniscience, and the full display of His glory. Jesus didn’t know because He chose not to know. But listen, I don’t think that means He doesn’t know now – it’s not like Jesus asks His Father every day – is it today? Do I get to ride the white horse today?
I believe He has taken up once again the full use of His attributes, and He knows when He’s coming back. Interestingly, after the resurrection and before the ascension, the disciples asked Jesus again. “Lord, is it at this time that you’re going to restore the kingdom to Israel?” Is it now, Lord – is your coming about to happen? Jesus didn’t say, “I don’t know – don’t you remember I told you that no one knows the timing of my return except the Father?” No, He said, it is not for you to know the time set by My Father. Some speculate, and it is speculation, that He chose not to know in His incarnation, but He did after His resurrection. All that speculation misses the point, which is, it wasn’t for the disciples, and it isn’t for us to know. And speculation about His coming reduces the credibility of the gospel message.
And not only will we not know, but most will be unprepared. In fact, they won’t even care. That’s what Jesus is saying in verses 33-36. Everyone can see the road signs pointing to Christ’s return – everyone should see them. But most ignore them. Jesus describes this not knowing and unexpected coming in this short parable. Take heed, keep on the alert; for you do not know when the appointed time will come – remember, the time appointed by the Father.
Then He gives us this short parable – it’s like a man away on a journey, who upon leaving his house and putting his slaves in charge, assigning to each one his task, also commanded the doorkeeper to stay on the alert. Obviously in this parable, Jesus is the man who left on a journey when He returned to heaven. He’s left His followers in charge – notice, assigning to each one a task. In other words, He’s left us work to do. I’m reminded of the parable of the talents in Matthew 25 – which is actually part of the Olivet Discourse in Matthew. Most feel Mark just truncated the account with this short parable.
But we remember the parable of the talents from Matthew 25 – the master left on a journey and left his servants in charge – to one he gave 5 talents – a measure of money – to another two talents, to another one. And when he returns, there is a day of reckoning. To the one he gave five talents, the servant made five more. To the one he gave two talents, the servant made two more. But to the one who he gave one – the servant buried it – ignoring his responsibility to do something with the money, the task the master left him to do, and he was thrown out.
The point is, Jesus is the Master, and He will return – and to Him we will give an account. To those who prove the reality of their faith by being faithful, they will be rewarded – well done, good and faithful servant. In other words, we will give an account, and we want to be found faithful. Jesus goes on in our parable in Mark 13 to simply say, be on the alert. For, you don’t know when the master of the house will return – in the evening, at midnight, when the rooster crows, or in the morning.
Notice four time periods, and we remember Mark was writing to Roman believers, and for the Romans, there were four watches in the night – from 6 till 9, 9 till midnight, midnight till 3, and 3 till 6. Jesus names them all – suggesting He, the master, could come at any of those times – when least expected. There’s even a heightened unexpectancy here – most didn’t travel at night. They wouldn’t have expected Him then. But, if the slaves and the doorkeeper knew when He was coming, they would have been ready. But, they didn’t know, so it required watchfulness, alertness, preparedness through the night. Because you don’t want Him to come and be found sleeping. Unprepared. Not alert – not ready. He’s not telling us don’t sleep, He’s telling us I’ll come when least expected.
I find that interesting – He’s coming at a time when you don’t think He’ll come. You remember the Rapture Index I talked about a few weeks ago? It’s a numerical rating by which we can identify the times most likely for Jesus to come. The author described it as a Dow Jones Industrial average for end times prophecies to be fulfilled. It doesn’t predict the rapture, he said, but identifies the periods of time when Jesus is most likely to return. You remember the numerical ratings:
Rapture Index of 100 and Below: Slow prophetic activity
Rapture Index of 100 to 130: Moderate prophetic activity
Rapture Index of 130 to 160: Heavy prophetic activity
Rapture Index above 160: Fasten your seat belts
You might be interested to know this week, the rating hit a high for 2017 – 184 – we are at fasten you seat belt level – high alert – the level has been raised from orange to red. In fact, the all time high was 189 just last October! The problem is, Jesus says He’s coming at a time when we least expect Him. So maybe we should invert the numbers – a rating below 100 would be more likely for His return. But of course, He knows we’re thinking that, expecting Him then, so maybe – just maybe we should trash the Rapture Index and be ready all the time – that’s the point. In the parallel passage in Matthew, Jesus likens His coming to a thief in the night. Other New Testament passages use the analogy:
Paul said in 1 Thessalonians 5:2, For you yourselves know full well that the day of the Lord will come just like a thief in the night.
Peter said in 2 Peter 3:10, “But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, in which the heavens will pass away with a roar and the elements will be destroyed with intense heat, and the earth and its works will be burned up.”
Jesus Himself used the analogy again in Revelation 16:15, “‘Behold, I am coming like a thief. Blessed is the one who stays awake and keeps his clothes, so that he will not walk about naked and men will not see his shame.’” Don’t be caught with your clothes off.
Jesus will come like a thief in the night, I wish we’d all be ready. In fact, we should all be ready, which is what Jesus is encouraging us to do. That’s why Paul said in I Thessalonians 5:4, “But you, brethren, are not in darkness, that the day would overtake you like a thief;” We are supposed to be ready, prepared, so that we are not caught unaware.
But just how can we be ready? That’s the million dollar question. Are we supposed to just sit around and gaze toward the eastern sky? Maybe we should spend all our time going from prophecy conference to prophecy conference, keeping our eyes fixed on the end times and current events. Maybe we should sell everything we have, buy white rapture robes and sit on rooftops waiting for Him to come back.
No, that’s not it – Paul had some strong things to say to the Thessalonians who had adopted exactly that posture, “10 For even when we were with you, we used to give you this order: if anyone is not willing to work, then he is not to eat, either. 11 For we hear that some among you are leading an undisciplined life, doing no work at all, but acting like busybodies. 12 Now such persons we command and exhort in the Lord Jesus Christ to work in quiet fashion and eat their own bread.” (II Thessalonians 3)
The fact is, we have many God-given responsibilities as followers of Jesus Christ. That does include growing in the Word, it does include sharing the Word with others, believer and non-believer alike. But it also includes your responsibilities as a worker in your job, as a husband, as a father, as a wife, as a mother, as a student, as a child, as a neighbor, as a citizen, etc. The point is, we have many responsibilities God has given us to take care of His creation and His people. And the follower of Jesus Christ is the one who takes all those responsibilities seriously. He doesn’t live for sin and self.
Jesus wants us to get the message loud and clear – He’s coming back, and we better be ready. You say, wow, this almost sounds like a fire and brimstone message. Yeah, kind of. You see, for any unbelievers present here this morning, who think there’s no hurry, Jesus is coming back. You may think you have all the time in the world. You don’t. And I urge you to be ready, or you will be swept away in judgment.
And for believers, we must be ready. We prove the reality of our faith by our faithfulness, by faithfully fulfilling the responsibilities He has given us. “See how great a love the Father has bestowed on us, that we would be called children of God; and such we are. For this reason the world does not know us, because it did not know Him. Beloved, now we are children of God, and it has not appeared as yet what we will be. We know that when He appears, we will be like Him, because we will see Him just as He is. And everyone who has this hope fixed on Him purifies himself, just as He is pure.” Are you in a hurry for the return of Christ? I hope so.