The reason Biblical prophecy is important and the reason why you should understand what God says about the future and end times is because of how it impacts your life.
Let me show you what I mean with 2 Peter 3:10 which says,
But the day of the Lord will come as unexpectedly as a thief. Then the heavens will pass away with a terrible noise, and the very elements themselves will disappear in fire, and the earth and everything on it will be found to deserve judgment. 11 Since everything around us is going to be destroyed like this, what holy and godly lives you should live, 12 looking forward to the day of God and hurrying it along. On that day, he will set the heavens on fire, and the elements will melt away in the flames. 13 But we are looking forward to the new heavens and new earth he has promised, a world filled with God’s righteousness. 14 And so, dear friends, while you are waiting for these things to happen, make every effort to be found living peaceful lives that are pure and blameless in his sight (2 Peter 3:10-14, NLT).
Studying God’s Word about the future should motivate you to live a holy and godly life, cause you to look forward to the day when the Lord returns, and drive you to live a peaceful life that is marked by purity and integrity in God’s sight. That is the power of biblical prophecy.
For the past few weeks, we have been looking at biblical prophecy and the return of Jesus. We have been going through the gospel of Mark and when we came to Mark 13, we encountered Jesus teaching the disciples and us about what to expect before He returns.
We pick up where we left off in verse 14.
The day is coming when you will see the sacrilegious object that causes desecration standing where he should not be.” (Reader, pay attention!) “Then those in Judea must flee to the hills. 15 A person out on the deck of a roof must not go down into the house to pack. 16 A person out in the field must not return even to get a coat. 17 How terrible it will be for pregnant women and for nursing mothers in those days. 18 And pray that your flight will not be in winter. 19 For there will be greater anguish in those days than at any time since God created the world. And it will never be so great again. 20 In fact, unless the Lord shortens that time of calamity, not a single person will survive. But for the sake of his chosen ones he has shortened those days. 21 “Then if anyone tells you, ‘Look, here is the Messiah,’ or ‘There he is,’ don’t believe it. 22 For false messiahs and false prophets will rise up and perform signs and wonders so as to deceive, if possible, even God’s chosen ones. 23 Watch out! I have warned you about this ahead of time! (Mark 13:14-20, NLT)
Here is what I want to do today. I want you to pretend that you will be one of the believers alive during the days when all this will happen, because that is who Jesus is talking too. We do not know when all this will happen, but for the sake of application and understanding let’s pretend that you are about to go through the great tribulation. What does Jesus have to say to you? Even if you don’t go through the great tribulation, we need to apply the lessons Jesus mentions.
First, Jesus tells you to be attentive. He wants you to pay close attention to the spiritual environment and atmosphere around you and in the world. Jesus says in verse 14, The day is coming when you will see the sacrilegious object that causes desecration standing where he should not be.” (Reader, pay attention!)
Last time we dissected this verse in detail. Most of the translations refer to the sacrilegious object that causes desecration as an abomination of desolation. It refers to both the destruction of God’s Temple in A.D. 70 and to the Great Tribulation that will occur in the future. Jesus is using what happened in A.D. 70 as an object lesson of what will happen in the future.
Jesus is saying that in the future the Antichrist will set up his throne in a rebuilt Temple in Jerusalem. Declaring himself God and defiling the Temple and demanding worship. Jesus is saying, “When this happens, I’m about to return, but it is about to get real bad first.” This abomination of desolation by the Antichrist will be visible, definite, and comprehendible. You will not miss this. It will not be hard to see, but you must be attentive. God’s Word says, pay attention![i] That abomination of desolation will set off a chain of horrific events prior to the Lord’s return.
Second, Jesus tells you to be ready. Jesus says at the end of verse 14, “Then those in Judea must flee to the hills. 15 A person out on the deck of a roof must not go down into the house to pack. 16 A person out in the field must not return even to get a coat. 17 How terrible it will be for pregnant women and for nursing mothers in those days. 18 And pray that your flight will not be in winter.
If you are a believer in Jerusalem or the surrounding area of Judea, Jesus’ advice to you is to flee! This word flee refers to a fugitive. It means to run for your life. The moment the Antichrist’s takes over the temple, his police will move to seal off all the exit routes from the city, and his army will patrol the roads and highways. Once he has secured Jerusalem, posted his guards at the intersections, and sealed off the passes, it will be too late to escape. To go back into the house to grab anything will be fatal. Minutes and seconds count.
During this time as a follower of Jesus, you will be targeted for assault and assassination. Jesus says flee because there is coming a severe massacre. The Antichrist’s dominance will not be just in Jerusalem and Judea, but it will be worldwide. However, if you live in or around Jerusalem you will need to flee!
For clarity and to help us take Him seriously, Jesus gives some examples of what He means by flee.
- Jesus says, A person out on the deck of a roof must not go down into the house to pack. The houses during Jesus’ day had flat roof tops. On the outside of the house were the stairs that led up to the living area on the roof. This rooftop living area was used for praying, eating, and relaxing. Jesus is saying that if you are a believer and you are sitting up on the rooftop of your house and hear about the abomination of desolation happening at the Temple you should get up immediately, run down the steps and leave. Do not go into the house to pack. Do not try to grab food, water, clothes, pictures, jewelry, pets, money, or anything else. Just go. Flee. Run.
- To drive home His point, Jesus goes on to say, A person out in the field must not return even to get a coat. Many people worked out in the fields. They would start early in the morning when it was cool, and they often would take a coat to work with them. As it warmed up, they would remove the coat and leave it at one end of the field. Jesus is saying that when you hear about the abomination of desolation and the armies beginning to surround the city, don’t bother going to get your coat. Run for the hills. Flee. You have a small window of time.
When the abomination of desolation occurred in A.D. 70, Josephus records the Christians as leaving the city “as swimmers deserting a sinking ship,”[ii] an image that connects very well with Jesus’ command to leave everything behind.
- In case you are not hearing what Jesus is saying, Jesus adds this statement, How terrible it will be for pregnant women and for nursing mothers in those days. To flee on foot immediately and to run into the hills is going to be difficult for pregnant women and mothers who must carry their babies to escape. Their inability to move rapidly will increase their risk of capture, torture, and death.
- Then Jesus adds in verse 18, And pray that your flight will not be in winter. If this abomination of desolation happens in good weather, it would still be extremely difficult for the believers. If this event happens during the winter, it makes everything worse and it would slow every believer down. Weather like cold, rain, or snow elevates the danger for the believers.
If you are a believer during the great tribulation, you live in Judea and you see this abomination of desolation occurring Jesus says run for your life. Get out of town. It’s about to become extremely bad. If you are a believer and you see this happening and you don’t live in Jerusalem, be ready because a severe attack on Christians worldwide is about to begin. Be ready!
Third, Jesus tells you to be prepared. What I mean by being prepared is to prepare yourself to see and experience the worst evil, pain, and slaughter of mankind that you have ever seen. Jesus says in verse 19, For there will be greater anguish in those days than at any time since God created the world. And it will never be so great again.
Remember, Jesus is answering two questions with one answer. He is answering the question about the destruction of the temple and His return. Also, the abomination of desolation at the Temple, and the siege of Jerusalem in A.D. 70 all serve as an object lesson for something greater and worse to come. The destruction of the Temple was a foreshadow of what was to come during the Great Tribulation. Let me explain.
How bad was the siege of Jerusalem in A.D. 70? The ancient historian, Josephus, gives us a glimpse into its horror.
- He tells us there were about 1.2 million people in Jerusalem when the Romans began the siege. During the siege, the Romans killed 1.1 million of people.
- They killed them by starvation, the sword or crucifixion.
- Every person that tried to escape the city was crucified. The Romans crucified so many people they ran out of wood for crosses. They started recycling crosses to accommodate the crucifixions.
- Josephus records there were starving mothers and starving babies slowly dying on the rooftops of homes. The reason the women stayed on the roof is because the streets were stacked with bodies of the dead who had starved to death.
- Those bodies were openly rotting. People were not buried when they died because there was no place to bury them, and the people were too weak from starvation to dig. Josephus points out the Romans had starved the people so much they had no strength to pick up a shovel let alone dig thousands of graves or even a mass grave. In some cases, some mothers in desperation ate their own children.
As horrible as that was, the Antichrist’s fury against God’s people will produce a holocaust far more severe than the Roman assault on Jerusalem in 70 A.D. The misery of that event was only a small taste of what was to come under the Antichrist.
Jesus said that since the time God created the world there has never been a time as horrible and more catastrophic than what will occur at the very end. What is about to happen will be more horrific than what occurs with the flood in Genesis 6.
So, what is going to happen at the end? John tells us in Revelation 6-16. He tells us of the terrible events that mark the latter half of the tribulation. I’m not going to try to explain these, I’m simply going to list them.
- A great earthquake will devastate the earth (Rev. 6:12-17);
- Hail and fire will consume a third of earth’s vegetation (8:6-7); a third of the ocean will be turned to blood (8:8-9);
- a third of the freshwater will be poisoned (8:10-11);
- a third of the sun, moon, and stars will be darkened (8:12);
- countless demons will be released from bondage to terrorize mankind (9:1-12); a third of earth’s population will be killed (9:13-21);
- another great earthquake will kill thousands of people (11:13);
- incurable sores will cause people great pain (16:2);
- the entire sea will turn to blood and all sea creatures will die (16:2); the rivers will turn to blood (16:4);
- the earth will experience extreme heat (16:8-9);
- darkness will engulf the world (16:10-11); the Euphrates River will dry up (16:12);
- and a final, global earthquake will cause massive changes to earth’s appearance (16:17-21).
Clearly, cataclysmic events of that magnitude and succession have never occurred in human history. They await fulfillment in the final days, just prior to Christ’s return and the establishment of His kingdom.
Many savage persecutions have been committed throughout history, but the Great Tribulation holocaust will dwarf all of them. Satan and the Antichrist will try to make a clean sweep of every believer and follower of Jesus. Scenes of carnage and cruelty will be global in extent and horrific in nature.
If you are a believer during this time, Jesus is saying prepare yourself for this. It will not be easy.
Fourth, in the middle of all this death, torture, disease, persecution, worldwide disasters and assault by the Antichrist, Jesus tells you to be encouraged. You can be encouraged because when the Devil is unleashing his worse, God is about to unleash His best. Sometimes God will let the Devil, the world, and sin take a person so far into the darkness that it seems like God has forgotten them, but God is in the darkness waiting for them.
- God was already in the lion’s den waiting for Daniel to show up.
- He was already in the fiery furnace when the three Hebrew men were thrown into it.
- When Paul and Silas were arrested, beaten, put in prison, and locked down with shackles, God was waiting on them and had a plan.
No matter what Satan and his Antichrist unleash on God’s people, God is ready and when God says that’s enough, it’s over. Jesus put it this way in verse 20, In fact, unless the Lord shortens that time of calamity, not a single person will survive. But for the sake of his chosen ones he has shortened those days.
I don’t know why God will allow the Devil and His Antichrist to wreak evil and wicked havoc on the followers of Jesus during this time, but I do know that God’s plan is bigger than the Devil, greater than the Antichrist, and larger than me. God has a plan, and that plan is holy, loving, wise, merciful, gracious, and full of justice and righteousness. Whatever God allows or doesn’t allow, does or doesn’t do, it fits perfectly into His perfect character and nature. It may not make sense to us at the time, but it makes sense in eternity. This is when and where you must trust God’s wisdom, God’s plan, God’s power, and God’s sovereignty. This is where it’s about His glory and not yours. It’s about Him, not you.
With that said, the reason why the Lord is going to shorten this time of calamity is for the sake of his chosen ones.[iii] There are two great lessons from this.
- First, God is in charge and merciful. This period will be so unbearable that God Himself will cut it short. The verb shorten (a form of the Greek word koloboo) means “to end abruptly” or “to stop instantly.” Rather than subjecting the earth to a prolonged period of either divine judgment or satanic torture, God has predetermined to put a halt to the devastation before the entire human race is destroyed. Consequently, he will limit the great tribulation to a period of three and a half years (Dan. 7:25; 12;7; Rev. 11;2; 12:14; 13:5).
- Secondly, you are loved and chosen. The reason God shortens those evil and horrible days is for the sake of his chosen ones. The chosen ones refer to God’s people. In 1 Peter 2:9, Peter is writing to some believers and says, “You are a chosen people. You are royal priests, a holy nation, God’s very own possession. As a result, you can show others the goodness of God, for he called you out of the darkness into his wonderful light” (NLT). As a follower of Jesus, you have the unique opportunity to put God’s goodness on display in your life while living in a fallen and dark world. You are loved by God. Chosen by God. Given an opportunity by God to demonstrate His grace and mercy in your life to those around you. So, be encouraged.
Fifth, Jesus tells us to be alert. Due to the chaos and catastrophes that will characterize the great tribulation, religious liars and deceivers will take advantage of people’s fear and desperation. Jesus says in verse 21, “Then if anyone tells you, ‘Look, here is the Messiah,’ or ‘There he is,’ don’t believe it. 22 For false messiahs and false prophets will rise up and perform signs and wonders so as to deceive, if possible, even God’s chosen ones. Jesus has already mentioned the false messiahs and false prophets back in verse 6. But this time these false messiahs and false prophets have been given supernatural power by the kingdom of darkness to perform signs and wonders. The purpose behind these signs and wonders is to deceive people and if possible, even God’s chosen ones.
We are told that these false messiahs and false prophets will be able to perform signs and wonders. What are signs and wonders? Generally speaking, signs and wonders are used to point to God and gives evidence of God. But there are differences between the two.
- A sign (semeion) is a miracle that serves as evidence of divine authority. Jesus performed many signs during His time of ministry. Some of them included turning water into wine (John 2:1-12), feeding the 5,000 (John 6:1-15), walking on water (John 6:16-21) and resurrecting Lazarus from the dead (John 11). Nicodemus, a religious leader, came to Jesus privately one night and he said, “We all know that God has sent you to teach us. Your miraculous signs are evidence that God is with you” (John 3:2). Nicodemus was recognizing Jesus’ divine authority based on the signs Jesus had done.
- A wonder (teras) refers to something supernaturally wonderful that causes the onlooker to marvel. A wonder would be when God delivered the Israelites from Egypt with the ten plagues (Deut. 7:19) or when the mighty walls of Jericho came crumbling to the ground at the shout of God’s people (Joshua 6).
A sign appeals to your mind and understanding, a wonder appeals to your emotions and imagination. The problem is that during the great tribulation false messiahs and false prophets will be able to perform signs and wonders. This will give the illusion that they are from God and done by God and point to God, but in reality, they are performed by Satan’s power pointing to His Antichrist as God. These signs and wonders will be so impressive that God’s people could almost be deceived by it. These signs and wonders done by Satan’s power will take some serious discernment to recognize they are not from God. So, Jesus is telling us to be alert.
Sixth, Jesus tells us to be watchful. Jesus says in verse 23, Watch out! I have warned you about this ahead of time!
Jesus says to watch out. This means to be on the lookout. Imagine yourself walking through a landmine. You are on the lookout for any sign of an explosive. They are going to be very well hidden. You will need to look carefully and need to know what to look for. This is what Jesus is saying. He is saying watch out, look out, pay close attention to what you see and hear. Evaluate it carefully. Everything you hear and see is not from God.
Jesus goes on to say that you can and should watch out because he has warned you about this ahead of time. Jesus is saying to keep your eyes open because He is giving us this warning before it happens. All these things should not take you by surprise.
Later, Paul would write about the return of the Lord saying, “But you aren’t in the dark about these things [the return of the Lord], dear brothers and sisters, and you won’t be surprised when the day of the Lord comes like a thief” (1 Thess. 5:4, NLT). The world will be surprised and shocked and bewildered about the Lord’s return and thousands and thousands of people suddenly disappear around the world. Because you trust God, you study and trust His Word, that day and the days leading up to it will not take you by surprise because you will be watchful, and you will be ready.
The terror of those final days, as horrific as they will be, will not last indefinitely. As the next passage reveals (Mark 13:24-27), the Lord Jesus continued by explaining that He will return to earth to defeat the Antichrist and rescue His people (cf. Rev. 19:11-21). Such is the substance of the Christian hope (Phil. 3:20; 1 Thess. 4:13-18; Titus 2:11-14). Though the Great Tribulation will occur, human history will not ultimately end in turmoil and calamity but in triumph and victory. When the Lord Jesus Christ returns, He will establish His glorious reign on the earth, where His people will be exalted with Him.
- Biblical prophecy and end time information in the Bible should motivate you to live godly and holy lives. Is this true for you, why or why not?
- Be Attentive (v. 14): Do you pay much attention to the spiritual atmosphere around you (in your home, nation, world)? What are you noticing?
- Be Ready (v. 14-18): Jesus talked about be ready to flee, what would that look like for you?
- Be Prepared (v. 19): How do you prepare yourself to live in a more sinful and painful world? How do you prepare yourself to watch more and more people give in to sin or be persecuted for being a follower of Jesus?
- Be Encouraged (v. 20): How does knowing God will shorten the days of calamity encourage you? What does this say about God?
- Be Alert (v.21-22): How can you tell if someone is from God or not? Why do you think people follow various spiritual leaders into cults and false religions?
- Be Watchful (v. 23): What responsibilities do you have regarding this information that Jesus told you about ahead of time?
[i] Matthew, Mark, and Luke all talk about this abomination of desolation that will take place. Each one gives us a little extra insight into what is happening. When Luke wrote his gospel of Jesus, he was writing to Gentiles who didn’t have a strong background in the Old Testament. So Luke doesn’t mention the prophecy of Daniel regarding the abomination of desolation. For the Gentiles, they would not care about the book of Daniel or what he had to say. This is why Luke said in Luke 21:20, “But when you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies, then know that its desolation has come near” (ESV). Luke kept the word desolation in his description so that we would know that he is talking about the same things as Mark and Matthew. Jesus said that when they saw Jerusalem surrounded by armies that would be a sign for the destruction of the Temple and abomination of desolation was about to occur. They were to get of town as fast as possible. When the Roman army first surrounded Jerusalem, there was a small window of time to run from the city. That window of time quickly closed because the Romans dug a trench around the city and erected a waterway around the city, cutting it off from the outside world, making it impossible for anyone to escape.
[ii] Josephus, War, II. 20.1.
[iii] The chosen ones may refer to believers in general (cf. Rev. 17:14) or to the nation of Israel specifically (cf. isa. 45:4), since God will preserve a remnant of both redeemed Jews and Gentiles. If He did not put a sudden end to the Antichrist’s savage assault on believers, none of the elect would survive. Yet, God has promised to protect his own. Though some will be martyred, many will be preserved as an earthly remnant. When Christ returns, they will be those who populate His earthly kingdom.