Dr. Charles Franklin DeVane, Jr., Pastor
Lake Hamilton Baptist Church
Hot Springs, Arkansas
February 10, 2013
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.
-- Mark 13:1-8, ESV
Mark 13 records the “Olivet Discourse” (paralleled in Matthew 24 and Luke 21) in which Jesus, sitting on the Mount of Olives with four of His closest disciples, speaks near the end about the end of time and the end of times. The Lord Himself was facing the end of His time on earth, for the cross awaited Him in less than two days’ time. The four disciples, Peter, James, John, and Andrew, devout Jews before becoming devout Christians, were about to discover clues concerning the end of the Jewish Temple and the Old Covenant. And as we read these words today, we are alerted to what to watch out for as we watch out for the second coming of Jesus Christ.
The key word in the sermon of Jesus, as recorded in New Testament Greek, is “blepo,” which means to “see” or “watch out” for something significant. It is used first in verse 2 in the interrogative, pointing to the great Second Temple built upon the site of Solomon’s Temple on the sacred Temple Mount in Jerusalem. The next four uses are in the imperative and are found in verses 5, 9, 23, and 33, respectively. In context each text commands us to “watch out” for something that is significantly linked to the end of the Old Covenant and, perhaps, the very end of time.
We will start our four watches in this chapter with the first “watch out” warning given in verse 5, taking in the context in verses 1-8. Watch out for the false messages from false messiahs.
False Messages from False Messiahs at the End of the Temple
It is clear from the first four verses of this chapter that the primary matter being discussed in this discourse is the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem. The disciples were overly impressed with the ornate construction of this place of worship. Jesus said not to be, for the day would come when it would be all torn down. This peeked the curiosity of Jesus’ closest friends.
The holy Temple has always been a holy place in the mind of the Jews. The original Temple was constructed under the vision of King David and supervision of King Solomon around 1000 BC. It stood for four centuries until it was destroyed by the Babylonians. This was a great shock to the Jews, because they had come to believe that as long as they had the Temple, they had God on their side and could never be defeated by their enemies. After the first temple’s destruction they seethed through seventy years of Babylonian captivity, then returned to the land to build the Second Temple. The Second Temple was not nearly as beautiful as the first and was a source of both pride and embarrassment to the Jewish people until shortly before that birth of Christ. That is when Herod the Great, in an effort to magnify himself and gain political favor with the Jews, called for an elaborate remodeling project which restored the Temple to its original glory. And once again, the Jews put their trust in their place of worship instead of the Person who alone should be worshiped.
Jesus’ words about false messiahs and false messages at the destruction of the Temple were fulfilled about a generation after His death and resurrection. In the AD 60’s, false messiahs such as Simon Ben Giora, Eleazar Ben Simon, and John of Giscala convinced the Jews that by defending the Temple they could defeat the Romans. Each one deceived the Jewish people into believing they needed a military or political messiah, rather than a spiritual and eternal one like Jesus. The Romans responded by dispatching General Titus, who would eventually become an Emperor, and 70,000 soldiers to crush the Jewish rebellion. In AD 70, after four years of hostilities and sieges, wars and famines, the Romans broke through and destroyed the Temple, most of the city, and estimates of from 100,000 to 1 million Jewish people.
Falsehood number one to watch out for: the place you worship is more important than the Person you worship. The Jews were guilty on multiple occasions, never more so than in Jesus’ day. There He was, God incarnate, walking through the Temple, and they never even saw Him for who He was, is, and always will be. They thought the stones and buildings of the Temple were “wonderful,” though.
I believe the buildings belonging to a local church should be beautiful, clean, functional, and safe. But these buildings are not why we are here. God is why we are here. And when God comes again to earth, these buildings, if they are not already gone by then, will become a heap of dust. So don’t put your trust in a church building, put your trust in the builder of the church, the Lord Jesus Christ!
False Messages from False Messiahs at the End of the Old Covenant
Falsehood number two to watch out for: practicing religion for God is more important than a personal, corporate, and covenant relationship with God. Consider some things the Jewish religious parties of the Pharisees, Sadducees, Herodians, and Zealots all had in common. They rejected Jesus Christ as the promised Messiah of Israel and the world. They hounded Christian Apostles and missionaries like the Paul and tried to prevent the spread of the gospel. And, they were champions of their versions of the old time religion.
For these reasons and more, God ordained the end to Old Testament worship and sacrifice at the end of the generation that rejected the true Messiah and His saving sacrifice. The destruction of the Temple and the end of the Old Covenant also flushed New Testament Christians out of Jerusalem and into the world to spread the gospel. From that point onward, the New Covenant would be established as the only way to God and the Old Covenant would be fulfilled, replaced, ceased, and desisted forever. This seems to be the plainest interpretation of the Lord Himself, of the Old Testament writers (especially Jeremiah), and the New Testament writers (especially the author of Hebrews). And, since its destruction in AD 70, the Temple and its religion has no relevancy whatsoever for God’s people in this world or the world to come.
For the record, let me state that I am by no means anti-semitic. I love the Old Testament, I love Jewish people, and I loved my trip to the “Holy Land.” I also love Christian dispensationalists, who claim that Scripture (especially Ezekiel, Daniel, and Revelation) and history (the restoration of Israel as a political nation in 1948) call for a rebuilding of the Temple and a restoration of Old Covenant religion.
It is just that I believe what Jesus was saying was that in the same way the Temple symbolized Old Testament religion, its destruction would signal the very end of the Old Covenant. Put your trust in Me, Jesus said, not in an old place of worship or an old practice of worship, but just worship Me, He said. For, “I am the way, the truth, and the life, and no once comes to the Father except through Me” (ref. John 14:6).
Which leads me to the last warning of what to watch out for when we are watching out for the second coming of Jesus Christ.
False Messages from False Messiahs at the End of Time
With Matthew’s insertion into Mark’s material (see Matthew 24:3), we realize there must be something a little more to this conversation than merely the destruction of the Jewish Temple in AD 70. Prophecy is like that. It is full of double entendre. It can speak literally about one thing and figuratively about another at the same time (see Hosea 11:1 and Matthew 2:15, the Exodus, the Passover, etc.). Therefore, while Jesus’ command to “watch out” concerned events foretelling the end of the Old Covenant, they also signal similar events which will occur at the dusk of the New Covenant, or the end of time, or the second coming of the Messiah, as well.
So what are we to watch out for as we watch out for the second coming of Jesus Christ? False messiahs with false messages mean to lead people “astray” (ref. vs. 5), which mean away from God to false gods, away from virtue to immorality, and away from gospel faith to heresy. Have you heard any of their voices lately?
Well, consider the religion-related messages of our day. No one is telling us that one place of worship, like some ancient Temple, is the only place to meet with God. They tell us any place will do. Hardly anyone is telling us there is a certain religion to follow in order to be right with God. Any religion will do. You rarely hear a voice say that a certain standard of morality is the practice preferred by God. Anything goes.
Now, do you recognize the deception? We live in a day when false messiahs preach a gospel of tolerance that totally trumps the truth of God. They say Christianity cannot be the only way to God, chastity and fidelity in marriage between a man and a woman cannot be the only way to live, and the only thing intolerable to these tolerant messiahs is the believe that Jesus is the only Messiah and that believing in Him affects the way you behave in this world.
Never before in our history has faith in God and the gospel been so ridiculed, and the day may come that it is even outlawed. Therefore, never before in our history have we been so close to the second coming of Jesus Christ. There have always been and always will be wars. There have always been and always will be famines. But the real birth pains are the extreme levels of tolerance for immorality and the rising intolerance for Christianity. Therefore, we’d better begin to “watch out” for the second coming of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ!