Bible prophecy is not designed to satisfy our curiosity about tomorrow, next week, or next year. Bible prophecy is not designed to fill our heads with information so we can get together and debate the details of God’s plan. Gaining information has its place in the study of prophecy. It’s important that we understand as fully as we can what God is saying to us. But at the heart of God’s purpose for prophecy is changing our hearts and affecting the way we live our lives.
When you study Biblical prophecy it should motive you to live for God. The more aware we are of the Lord’s return, and of the fact that we could be standing face-to-face with Him at any moment, the more this knowledge will affect us. But if we forget that Jesus is coming back, we will start living like He’s not coming back.
John says something about the effects of anticipating the Lord’s return in 1 John 3:2, “Dear friends, we are already God’s children, but he has not yet shown us what we will be like when Christ appears. But we do know that we will be like him, for we will see him as he really is. And all who have this eager expectation will keep themselves pure, just as he is pure” (1 John 3:2-3, NLT). There is something about looking forward to the Lord’s return that causes you to live for Him now.
With that said, let’s take continue our look at what Jesus has to say about His return. We are going to pick up in verse 9, but I would encourage you to read the entire chapter at some point.
“When these things begin to happen, watch out! You will be handed over to the local councils and beaten in the synagogues. You will stand trial before governors and kings because you are my followers. But this will be your opportunity to tell them about me. 10 For the Good News must first be preached to all nations. 11 But when you are arrested and stand trial, don’t worry in advance about what to say. Just say what God tells you at that time, for it is not you who will be speaking, but the Holy Spirit. 12 “A brother will betray his brother to death, a father will betray his own child, and children will rebel against their parents and cause them to be killed. 13 And everyone will hate you because you are my followers. But the one who endures to the end will be saved. (NLT)
Jesus gives us five things to expect while we wait on His return. Before we get into those five things let’s take a closer look at the beginning of verse 9 which says, “When these things begin to happen, watch out!
When Jesus says these things, what is He referring to? He is referring back to verse 5-8, where He talks about spiritual disasters, human disasters, and natural disasters. Let’s review.
- The spiritual disasters come from people who claim they are the Messiah, a prophet of God with a new message, or a false teacher with some new insight from God that’s never been heard before. This can take the form of a false religion or a cult that appears to be Christian, but not. Jesus said don’t be misled by any of these (Mark 13:5-6). Don’t think because you see the rise of these that Jesus is about to return. It’s a false sign.
- The human disasters deal with the “wars and threats of wars.” Because of the sinful world we live in there will always be wars and rumors of wars. This is another false sign that Jesus is about to return. We you hear of these things, Jesus said don’t panic (Mark 13:7). Stay aware, calm, and present.
- The natural disasters refer to earthquakes, droughts, famines, and the like (Mark 13:8).
When Jesus refers to these things, He is referring to those things. Jesus is telling us there are things we can expect to happen while we wait on His return. We should expect false messiahs, false prophets and false teachers. He says we should expect wars and rumors of wars. We should expect natural disasters like earthquakes, droughts, famines, volcanoes, and hurricanes. Jesus is not saying those things are signs that He is about to return. He is saying those are the kinds of things you should expect to be happening because we live in a sinful and fallen world. Don’t be misled, don’t panic, and don’t be surprised by it.
Jesus says, When these things begin to happen, watch out! When Jesus says, Watch out! (blepo), He is not urging the disciples or us to seek safety and go hide. He is telling us to be alert and be on guard. To be on guard means to be alert to various dangers, be steadfast in your faith, act like a spiritual adult ready for any attack from any direction. God’s Word says in 1 Corinthians 16:13, “Be on guard. Stand firm in the faith. Be courageous. Be strong. And do everything with love” (NLT). In the midst of all the spiritual, human, and natural disasters happening around you and around the world, Jesus says He wants you to be on guard and ready to be personally attacked for believing in Him, His Word, and following Him.
Jesus gives us five things to expect when following Him.
Expect opportunities to explain why you follow Jesus
Number one, expect opportunities to explain why you follow Jesus. Until Jesus returns, there is going to be hostility toward Christians. That opposition will vary in intensity. However, it will create opportunities to share the gospel of Jesus. Jesus said it this way in verse 9, You will be handed over to the local councils and beaten in the synagogues. You will stand trial before governors and kings because you are my followers. But this will be your opportunity to tell them about me.
Jesus identifies two groups that will oppose His followers.
- Religious groups. Jesus said, You will be handed over to the local councils and beaten in the synagogues. Don’t miss the irony here. The synagogue, a house of worship will be turned into a house of whipping! There are going to be religious people, who think they are defending God and claim to be Christians, will persecute you, ridicule you, abuse you and challenge you. As strange as this may sound, don’t be surprised when this happens.
- Political groups. Jesus said, You will stand trial before governors and kings because you are my followers. Jesus is saying don’t be surprised when your government opposes you for your faith in Christ. Earlier Jesus had told His disciples, “Since they persecuted me, naturally they will persecute you. And if they had listened to me, they would listen to you. They will do all this to you because of me, for they have rejected the one who sent me” (John 15:20-21, NLT). Jesus is saying that its not you they are actually against, it’s God himself. They are opposing Him, you just happen to represent Him.
Paul says something similar in 2 Corinthians 2, “[God] uses us to spread the knowledge of Christ everywhere, like a sweet perfume. 15 Our lives are a Christ-like fragrance rising up to God. But this fragrance is perceived differently by those who are being saved and by those who are perishing. 16 To those who are perishing, we are a dreadful smell of death and doom. But to those who are being saved, we are a life-giving perfume” (2 Cor. 2:14-16, NLT). Jesus is saying that your belief in Jesus Christ as Lord, your obedience to the Lord, your values of purity, traditional marriage, Biblical manhood, Biblical womanhood, your Biblical view of when life begins, your view of creation, and your view of sin to name a few will be a dreadful smell of death and doom to non-believers. What do you do with something that stinks, you try to get rid of it. Jesus is saying that’s what is going to happen. These religious groups and political groups are going to try to get rid of the smell of Christ that’s coming from His people.
How does Jesus want us to see these attacks on us? He wants us to see them as a chance to tell our accusers about Him. Jesus said, This will be your opportunity to tell them about me. Instead of getting offended and angry, see this as an opportunity to tell your enemies, your accusers, or your persecutors about how Jesus saved you, loved you, blessed you, and is coming back for you. Instead of demanding your rights, demonstrate His righteousness.
Listen carefully, there is no suffering without a purpose. As God’s people we need to understand that every situation, every pain, every problem, every rejection, and every heartache has a divine purpose and is an opportunity for God to shine through your life. Until the Lord returns you will be given many opportunities to do that.
Here is what suffering and persecution does for us. When you face suffering and persecution, it is so God can move you to places you wouldn’t go, so you meet people you wouldn’t normally meet, so the gospel can be heard from our lips by people who wouldn’t normally hear
A good example of someone who was going through suffering and persecution and decided to share the gospel with his accuser is the apostle Paul in Acts 26. Paul was arrested for being a Christian. When he was taken through the Roman court system, he eventually was given the opportunity for his case to be heard before King Agrippa. What did Paul do when he stood before the king? He shared his testimony on how he became a follower of Jesus, then he invited King Agrippa to become a follower of Jesus as well. King Agrippa responded to Paul by saying, “Do you think you can persuade me to become a Christian so quickly?” Paul replied, “Whether quickly or not, I pray to God that both you and everyone here in this audience might become the same as I am, except for these chains” (Acts 26:28-29, NLT). When Paul was arrested for his faith, he knew it was all part of God’s plan to take him places he wouldn’t go, to share the gospel with people he wouldn’t meet, so the gospel would be heard by people that otherwise would never know it.
Nothing has changed. The same is still true for you and me today. God is large and in charge over all the suffering and persecution you will ever face, and He uses it to bring you into contact with people who need to hear the gospel from your lips.
Expect followers of Jesus to spread the gospel
Number two, expect followers of Jesus to spread the gospel. Jesus said in verse 10, For the Good News must first be preached to all nations. Despite all the attempts to stop the gospel of Jesus Christ, the attacks on His followers and their message actually helps spread it.[i] When you look at Christian history and the times Christians were persecuted that was when the gospel spread the fastest. That has got to irritate the devil. The more he attacks us and tries to get rid of us the faster the gospel spreads and the more of us there are.
When we began this journey through the gospel of Mark we started with Mark 1:1 and was introduced to the beginning of Good News, but here in Mark 13 we are introduced to the ending of the Good News. What I mean by that is, there is coming a day (don’t know when it is), when someone will share the gospel to an unbeliever and that will be the last time the gospel is shared before Jesus returns. It may be in a sermon or it may be in a conversation, but someone will preach the gospel somewhere and someday and that will be the last time.
Expect supernatural help in telling others about Jesus
Number three, expect supernatural help in telling others about Jesus. As things heat up around the world with false Christ, false religions, wars and rumors of wars, natural disasters, and attacks on followers of Jesus you can have complete confidence that the Holy Spirit is going to help you and other followers of Jesus spread the gospel about Jesus in whatever context you find yourself in. Jesus put it this way in verse 11, But when you are arrested and stand trial, don’t worry in advance about what to say. Just say what God tells you at that time, for it is not you who will be speaking, but the Holy Spirit. Let’s break that down.
Jesus said, But when, not IF, but when, indicating some believers will be arrested and stand trial. Jesus is saying this is going to happen. There will be Christians who are arrested and stand trial simply because they are followers of Jesus. If that’s you, then what you are supposed to do?
Jesus says, don’t worry in advance about what to say. Don’t get all nervous and anxious about what you are going to say if you are arrested, persecuted, or challenged regarding your faith in Christ. The phrase worry in advance is another way to describe anxiety. What if they ask me a question that I can’t answer? Don’t worry about it. What if they bring up all the bad things I’ve done in my past? Don’t worry about it. What if I can’t explain my relationship with Jesus good enough? Don’t worry about it. What if I have an opportunity to share the gospel of Jesus but don’t know how? Don’t worry about it. Jesus clearly said, don’t worry in advance about what to say.
Jesus gives us the reason why we don’t need to worry about it. Jesus goes on to say, Just say what God tells you at that time…. Some translations say, “but say whatever is given you at that time” (NASB). The implication is that God is going to give you thoughts, words, or images that will guide what you say. God is more concerned about His Good News than you are and He will help you at the moment you need it to share what He wants you to share.[ii]
The reason why you don’t have to worry and the reason why you can be confident in what you will say is because of what Jesus says next. He says, For it is not you who will be speaking, but the Holy Spirit. We see an example of this in Acts 4 when Peter and John were arrested for their faith and teaching about Jesus. After a night in prison, Peter and John were brought before the religious leaders and they asked Peter and John, “By what power, or in whose name, have you done this?” Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, answered their question by explaining who Jesus was. Then we are told the council members were “amazed” at them and their answer (Acts 4:13). The reason why they were able to do such a great job is because Jesus promised them the Holy Spirit would help them to say what they needed to say.
I need to clear something up at this point. There are some well-meaning Christians who misuse this statement by Jesus. They read it and assume it means there is no need to study, read, or prepare. They think all they need to do is speak what comes to mind when sharing for Christ. That is not true. The context is talking about times when Christians are arrested and thrown in jail without the ability or time to prepare. Right now is the time you prepare for that time when you are put on the spot to explain your faith in Christ. Whether its in the context of persecution or peace you need to prepare now to be able to share the gospel, explain Christ, and defend your faith when that opportunity arises. When you are asked about Jesus and your relationship with Him the Holy Spirit will guide you in what to say from the reservoir of knowledge based on God’s Word that’s within you. The Holy Spirit will bring up a scripture to your mind or an illustration or an experience that God has brought you through. It will just come to you and you will know what to say and how to say it.
This statement by Jesus was a great comfort for the first Christians who were unexpectedly arrested, thrown in jail, and had to quickly defend themselves and share the gospel. This verse should also be a great comfort to us. When we are unexpectedly put in situations where we do not have time to prepare to be a good witness for Christ, the Holy Spirit will work in us to help us.
This reminds me of 1 Peter 3 which says, “But even if you suffer for doing what is right, God will reward you for it. So don’t worry or be afraid of their threats. Instead, you must worship Christ as Lord of your life. And if someone asks about your hope as a believer, always be ready to explain it. But do this in a gentle and respectful way” (vs. 14-16, NLT).
Expect to be hated because you follow Jesus
Number four, expect to be hated because you follow Jesus. Followers of Jesus throughout history and around the world have experienced extreme hatred because of their faith in Christ. Here in the United States we have been blessed to avoid a lot of the persecution that many believers have had to endure. Generally speaking, every believer should expect some level of hatred, rejection, or betrayal by others sometime in their life. Jesus put it this way in verse 12, A brother will betray his brother to death, a father will betray his own child, and children will rebel against their parents and cause them to be killed. Jesus has just said something very disturbing.
When you read what Matthew says about this it becomes a little more disturbing because he adds that Jesus said, “And many will turn away from me and betray and hate each other” (Matt. 24:10, NLT). This is referring to those who had an appearance to be followers of Jesus, but weren’t. There will be “many” of them and they will “betray” the true believers and even “hate” the followers of Jesus.
Luke addresses the same thing and says, “Even those closest to you – your parents, brothers, relatives, and friends – will betray you. They will even kill some of you!” (Luke 21:16, NLT).
- In extreme examples during the first century here is what happened. Roman leaders would arrest Christians, torture them until they gave up the names of other Christians, even their own family members. Then those Christians were arrested and tortured to gain more names. So you would have a brother betraying his brother to death and a father betraying his own children to death.
- Another form of this would be a non-Christian brother turning in the location of his Christian brother to the authorities or a father who would betray his Christian children and hand them over to the authorities. You would also have children turning in their Christian parents.
These are disturbing words coming from Jesus for the disciples then and for us today. There are Christians experiencing these today around the world, but for us we have it pretty easy for now. Jesus wants His disciples to understand there is a cost to following Him. Jesus wants you to be forewarned so you can be forearmed – in the sense that you will not be shocked or surprised when you are attacked or rejected by your government or by the people close to you.
In a milder version of what Jesus is talking about you still have a wife who becomes a believer, but the husband does not. Her lifestyle changes. Her values change. Her purpose changes. Because of this there is tension between the husband and wife. In some cases, the husband says, “You are no longer the woman I married and I don’t want anything to do with you if you are going to be a follower of Jesus. So he leaves her.” This kind of thing happens with friends and other relatives.
At the end of verse 13 Jesus summarizes all of this by saying, And everyone will hate you because you are my followers. Being a Christian does not necessarily mean your popularity increases. As a follower of Jesus you are going to agree and accept the authority of His Word. Here is what’s going to happen. Your Biblical view on creation is going to create some problems. Your view on marriage and sexual purity are going to create some issues for some people in your life. Your Biblical view that God created male and female is going to create some issues in a gender sensitive society. Your Biblical view that there is only one way to heaven and salvation and that is through Jesus Christ who is God in the flesh is going to create problems for you with some people. There are going to be people who hate you because you follow Jesus.
Listen to what Jesus said in John 15, “If the world hates you, remember that it hated me first. The world would love you as one of its own if you belonged to it, but you are no longer part of the world. I chose you to come out of the world, so it hates you” (vs. 18-19, NLT).
Paul said something similar in 2 Timothy 3:12, “Everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution” (NLT).
At the minimum, we need to expect what I call petty persecution. This comes in the form of laughter, mockery, slander, etc.
Expect to be rewarded for following Jesus
Until Jesus returns…
- You should expect opportunities to explain why you are a follower of Jesus.
- You can expect the followers of Jesus to spread the gospel throughout the world.
- You can expect supernatural help in telling others about Jesus.
- You can expect to be disliked, betrayed and hated by others because you follow Jesus.
Number five, expect to be rewarded for following Jesus. Jesus ended this section by saying in verse 13, But the one who endures to the end will be saved.
This word endures (hupomeno), also translated perseveres, means to remain under. The idea of enduring is not just to “grin and bear it” but to remain under trials in such a way that you glorify God as you learn the lessons the trials are meant to teach you, instead of seeking ways to get out from under the trials and be relieved of the pressure.
Listen carefully, genuine Christian endurance is not tied to tenacity. It is rather the work of God through the Holy Spirit in a believer’s life. Endurance and perseverance as a follower of Jesus is the fruit of the Holy Spirit working in your life. It is evidence that you are truly a follower of Christ. So let me be clear, endurance does not produce salvation, but salvation produces endurance. You are not saved because you endure, you endure because you are saved.
Jesus did not say that a person is saved because they endure. Jesus is not saying we earn our salvation by endurance. He is saying we prove our salvation by enduring persecution and suffering for following Jesus.
Earlier, in Mark 4, Jesus was teaching about a farmer who scattered some seed. The seed fell on four different types ground:
- the footpath where the surface was hard as a rock,
- the rocky soil where there was a thin layer of dirt with solid rock just underneath the surface,
- the thorny ground,
- and finally good soil.
Jesus said something interesting about the rocky soil (a layer of thin dirt with a rock bed underneath). He said, “The seed on the rocky soil represents those who hear the message and immediately receive it with joy. But since they don’t have deep roots, they don’t last long. They fall away as soon as they have problems or are persecuted for believing God’s word” (Mark 4:16-17, NLT). But now, in Mark 13 Jesus says, the one who endures to the end will be saved.
There are people who come to church, hear the gospel of Jesus and get excited about it. They hear about the power of God and the call to follow Jesus. They hear about how Jesus conquered sin, Satan, and death. Emotionally, they are full of joy and excitement and enthusiasm about it. They get baptized. They start going to Bible studies. On surface they look and sound like good ground, but God’s Word cannot take root in their life because just underneath the emotion of joy is solid rock.
When their life is hit with “problems” or they are challenged and “persecuted” for “believing God’s Word” who they really are and what they really believe reveals itself. When they get challenged and attacked by the problems of life and persecuted by others they start denying God’s Word. This can go in many directions. They start denying that God created everything, that God made male and female, that God’s Word has all authority over their life, that God’s Word teaches about Jesus being God, resurrecting from the grave and that Jesus is the only way of salvation. Whatever it was that they were excited about regarding God’s Word, they no longer are. This doesn’t mean they lost their salvation, it means they never had it. Their response to God’s Word was emotion driven, rather than faith driven. Faith, real faith, will endure to the end. Persecution and problems has a way of separating imitation faith and genuine faith.
Listen carefully, denying Christ in tough times is evidence someone never knew him. Drawing closer to Jesus in tough times is evidence you have genuinely known him. The apostle John had something to say about this subject in 1 John 2:18, “Dear children, the last hour is here. You have heard that the Antichrist is coming, and already many such antichrists have appeared. From this we know that the last hour has come. These people left our churches, but they never really belonged with us; otherwise they would have stayed with us. When they left, it proved that they did not belong with us” (NLT).
But for the followers of Jesus who endure to the end they will prove their salvation, they will prove their faith. Genuine followers of Jesus will endure persecution, problems, trials, false messiahs, false prophets, false teachers, wars and rumors of war, earthquakes and famines, and rejection by those closest to them. But none of this will cause them to turn their back on Jesus, because they have been born again, the Spirit of God empowers them, they have a new heart, a new nature, a new mind, and a new purpose. When the follower of Jesus dies, regardless of how they die, they will receive all that God offers!
In Mark 13:1-13, Jesus has given us false signs of His return. He is saying do not get distracted by them. He has told us that wars, earthquakes, persecutions, false teachers, and even your own family betraying you are all a normal part of following Him in a fallen and sinful world.
Stay faithful! Stay strong! Be courageous!
- How do you know if you are studying Biblical prophecy correctly?
- What is your reaction and thoughts regarding the following statement? “If we forget that Jesus is coming back, we will start living like He’s not coming back.”
- As all the various disasters happen around you and around the world, Jesus says you are to “watch out.” What does that mean and what does that look like in your life right now?
- Explain why you follow Jesus.
- How does the gospel spread? What is your part in spreading the gospel?
- How does God help you tell others about Jesus?
- What type of persecution does Jesus warn us about? What does hatred or persecution look like in your life?
- What does Jesus mean when He says, “The one who endures to the end will be saved”?
- What is the main thing God wanted you to receive from this section of His word?
[i] Remember, Jesus is answering two questions: when will the destruction of the Temple be and when Jesus return? Jesus is answering both questions with one answer. His answer applies to both situations though some details of each event will be different. It sounds impossible to think the gospel would be proclaimed to all nations before 70 A.D., until you read this in its first century context. Nobody at that time knew about North America or South America. Nobody knew about Antartica. All nations, as far as they were concerned, was a much smaller portion of the world. Most of it was conquered by Rome. What we find is that by the year 70 A.D., the gospel had spread to all corners of the known world at that time. This Scripture was fulfilled by 70 A.D.
[ii] Let me address lazy preachers. Jesus is not telling preachers to just walk up before the congregation and start preaching whatever comes to your mind. God wants His people to study the word, mediate on the word, and think through what they are going to say. The context of Jesus’ statement is not Sunday morning church, but standing in front of rulers while on trial and being asked about their relationship with Jesus. So preacher, study the Word and prepare what you are going to say to help your people see its meaning, implications, and applications to their daily lives.