Let the Word Speak!

Prelude: Teachings of Jesus

Since one theme in Revelation is that Jesus is coming again soon, it is important to establish a grounding in what the gospel accounts tell us that Jesus said about the last days and the second coming. In this way, we can make certain that our interpretations of Revelation and its apocalyptic teachings are consistent with the gospel accounts.

John 21:17-23

17 He saith unto him the third time, Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou me? Peter was grieved because he said unto him the third time, Lovest thou me? And he said unto him, Lord, thou knowest all things; thou knowest that I love thee. Jesus saith unto him, Feed my sheep.
18 Verily, verily, I say unto thee, When thou wast young, thou girdedst thyself, and walkedst whither thou wouldest: but when thou shalt be old, thou shalt stretch forth thy hands, and another shall gird thee, and carry thee whither thou wouldest not.
19 This spake he, signifying by what death he should glorify God. And when he had spoken this, he saith unto him, Follow me.
20 Then Peter, turning about, seeth the disciple whom Jesus loved following; which also leaned on his breast at supper, and said, Lord, which is he that betrayeth thee?
21 Peter seeing him saith to Jesus, Lord, and what shall this man do?
22 Jesus saith unto him, If I will that he tarry till I come, what is that to thee? follow thou me.
23 Then went this saying abroad among the brethren, that that disciple should not die: yet Jesus said not unto him, He shall not die; but, If I will that he tarry till I come, what is that to thee?

This is the account of the discussion between Peter and Jesus after His resurrection. Jesus challenges Peter three times to follow him, then cautions Peter that following him will take him “where he does not wish to go.” Peter, upset by this foretelling, points to John and asks, “what about him?” Jesus replies, “What is it to you if he remains until I come? Follow me.”

I like the philosophy of this story as it relates to scripture, especially in regard to those who would obsess over the second coming. Jesus challenges us — what is it that I need to do here and now? That is the same theme that John records as God’s challenge to believers each time they ask how much longer they must wait for Jesus’ return.

As a side story, it was this same John that is commonly identified as the writer of Revelation, and at that time, he had outlived the rest of the Apostles. There are even some that say that the appearance of Jesus to John in the Revelation account fulfills this reference in John 21.

Matthew 25:31-46

31 When the Son of man shall come in his glory, and all the holy angels with him, then shall he sit upon the throne of his glory:
32 And before him shall be gathered all nations: and he shall separate them one from another, as a shepherd divideth his sheep from the goats:
33 And he shall set the sheep on his right hand, but the goats on the left.
34 Then shall the King say unto them on his right hand, Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world:
35 For I was an hungred, and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me in:
36 Naked, and ye clothed me: I was sick, and ye visited me: I was in prison, and ye came unto me.
37 Then shall the righteous answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungred, and fed thee? or thirsty, and gave thee drink?
38 When saw we thee a stranger, and took thee in? or naked, and clothed thee?
39 Or when saw we thee sick, or in prison, and came unto thee?
40 And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.
41 Then shall he say also unto them on the left hand, Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels:
42 For I was an hungred, and ye gave me no meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me no drink:
43 I was a stranger, and ye took me not in: naked, and ye clothed me not: sick, and in prison, and ye visited me not.
44 Then shall they also answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungred, or athirst, or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison, and did not minister unto thee?
45 Then shall he answer them, saying, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye did it not to one of the least of these, ye did it not to me.
46 And these shall go away into everlasting punishment: but the righteous into life eternal.

Jesus presents the end time and the gathering of all people before him. This follows a sequence of parables (”the Kingdom of Heaven will be like this”), but this account does not have this preface identifying it as an analogy, so it would seem to be presented as fact and received by the disciples as literally what would take place at the final judgement as told to them by the Judge.

The people are gathered and divided. To those on the right, Jesus praises their service of Him, which surprises them — note their humility in verses 37-39. To those on the left, Jesus condemns their failed opportunities to serve Him. Max Lucado asks his readers to notice the people’s response in verse 44, the arrogance and pride, arguing before Jesus of their own “goodness.” They are not condemned as being wicked or evil, but instead, for defining “goodness” in their own human terms both in life and at the Judgement.

Mark 13:1-37

1 And as he went out of the temple, one of his disciples saith unto him, Master, see what manner of stones and what buildings are here!
2 And Jesus answering said unto him, Seest thou these great buildings? there shall not be left one stone upon another, that shall not be thrown down.
3 And as he sat upon the mount of Olives over against the temple, Peter and James and John and Andrew asked him privately,
4 Tell us, when shall these things be? and what shall be the sign when all these things shall be fulfilled?
5 And Jesus answering them began to say, Take heed lest any man deceive you:
6 For many shall come in my name, saying, I am Christ; and shall deceive many.
7 And when ye shall hear of wars and rumours of wars, be ye not troubled: for such things must needs be; but the end shall not be yet.
8 For nation shall rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom: and there shall be earthquakes in divers places, and there shall be famines and troubles: these are the beginnings of sorrows.
9 But take heed to yourselves: for they shall deliver you up to councils; and in the synagogues ye shall be beaten: and ye shall be brought before rulers and kings for my sake, for a testimony against them.
10 And the gospel must first be published among all nations.
11 But when they shall lead you, and deliver you up, take no thought beforehand what ye shall speak, neither do ye premeditate: but whatsoever shall be given you in that hour, that speak ye: for it is not ye that speak, but the Holy Ghost.
12 Now the brother shall betray the brother to death, and the father the son; and children shall rise up against their parents, and shall cause them to be put to death.
13 And ye shall be hated of all men for my name’s sake: but he that shall endure unto the end, the same shall be saved.
14 But when ye shall see the abomination of desolation, spoken of by Daniel the prophet, standing where it ought not, (let him that readeth understand,) then let them that be in Judaea flee to the mountains:
15 And let him that is on the housetop not go down into the house, neither enter therein, to take any thing out of his house:
16 And let him that is in the field not turn back again for to take up his garment.
17 But woe to them that are with child, and to them that give suck in those days!
18 And pray ye that your flight be not in the winter.
19 For in those days shall be affliction, such as was not from the beginning of the creation which God created unto this time, neither shall be.
20 And except that the Lord had shortened those days, no flesh should be saved: but for the elect’s sake, whom he hath chosen, he hath shortened the days.
21 And then if any man shall say to you, Lo, here is Christ; or, lo, he is there; believe him not:
22 For false Christs and false prophets shall rise, and shall shew signs and wonders, to seduce, if it were possible, even the elect.
23 But take ye heed: behold, I have foretold you all things.
24 But in those days, after that tribulation, the sun shall be darkened, and the moon shall not give her light,
25 And the stars of heaven shall fall, and the powers that are in heaven shall be shaken.
26 And then shall they see the Son of man coming in the clouds with great power and glory.
27 And then shall he send his angels, and shall gather together his elect from the four winds, from the uttermost part of the earth to the uttermost part of heaven.
28 Now learn a parable of the fig tree; When her branch is yet tender, and putteth forth leaves, ye know that summer is near:
29 So ye in like manner, when ye shall see these things come to pass, know that it is nigh, even at the doors.
30 Verily I say unto you, that this generation shall not pass, till all these things be done.
31 Heaven and earth shall pass away: but my words shall not pass away.
32 But of that day and that hour knoweth no man, no, not the angels which are in heaven, neither the Son, but the Father.
33 Take ye heed, watch and pray: for ye know not when the time is.
34 For the Son of man is as a man taking a far journey, who left his house, and gave authority to his servants, and to every man his work, and commanded the porter to watch.
35 Watch ye therefore: for ye know not when the master of the house cometh, at even, or at midnight, or at the cockcrowing, or in the morning:
36 Lest coming suddenly he find you sleeping.
37 And what I say unto you I say unto all, Watch.

Mark’s gospel was written in haste, by a young man trying to record the memories of Simon Peter and the other Apostles before those memories were lost in death. In such a “cut to the chase” gospel, the inclusion of this apocalyptic teaching from Jesus emphasizes how important this teaching was to the Apostles, and so for us.

The books of Ezekiel and Daniel in the Old Testament contain apocalyptic references (as in the spiritual song “Ezekiel saw de wheel…”). The writings in both these books dates to the time of the fall of Judah and the exile to Babylon (606 BC). These teachings were given by God to encourage the people of God when their faith and culture was under direct attack — attack both by those who would extinguish it and by those who would lure the Israelites with a “better” life in Babylon.

At the time of Jesus, these apocalyptic teachings were recognized as being in the specific context of the national trauma of the Exile. It was exactly because the earlier apocalyptic literature was written at that national crisis that many self-proclaimed Hebrew prophets between 200 BC and 200 AD chose to express their revolutionary dogmas for the overthrow of Rome in apocalyptic terms. This means that for the readers of John’s Revelation, apocalyptic imagery was familiar and colloquial, appealing to the masses rather than being a cloistered topic of study reserved for the scholars. (For that matter, the use of parables, as Jesus did often, was considered “common” and unbecoming of a scholar.)

Based on this cultural context, I have doubts about the validity of the work done by those who would painstakingly analyze Daniel, Mark 13, or the Revelation, just as I find it odd when collegiate doctoral dissertations are written analyzing the deeper meanings and influences of folk tunes.

Quickly scanning Mark 13, we will note a broad scope of time references jumping from time period to time period in something obviously not intended to be chronological. In verse 2, setting the stage for the rest of the chapter, Jesus foretells the destruction of the Temple, which literally was done by Roman soldiers in 70 AD, but Jesus also told this story as a timeless indication of how His followers’ faith would be tested. Verse 9 references what will happen to the disciples personally, many well before 70 AD, but this passage is also a timeless account of the risks accepted by all followers of Jesus. Verses 26-27, with Jesus appearing in the clouds, can only be interpreted as the end time, and is clearly meant by Jesus to be our only true sign of the end time.

Watch your cultural baggage! The interrelationship of our concepts of “history” being the equivalent of a “time line” of “proven facts” is a recent, industrial society concept, designed to suit the demands of engineers and scientists. Ironically, contemporary historians tell us that our faith in “history” as a single, factual, accurate record of what has happened before is sorely misplaced! Much of what we study as the “truth” of our past is so distorted by limited understanding, by the suppression of opposing viewpoints, and by the inadequacies of our own mental capabilities that we must challenge even our most recent “historical” accounts in order to learn from them.

In contrast, the ancient world — that is every culture from the Garden of Eden up through the 1700s — saw “history” as being “widely told stories with very relevant meanings.” It was not only tolerated but demanded that “historians” modify what we would perceive as “fact” to better describe the underlying truth. Many modern futurists see that the information society, dealing with data overload, soon will again value “story tellers” over “historical record keepers” to pass along “truth.”

The scriptures hold to this earlier purpose of history, as can be observed in the first chapter of Matthew. This genealogy presents the ancestry of Jesus in three sets of 14 generations each, linking Jesus by blood line to David and Abraham. There’s a “factual” problem here for our culture — the first 14 “generations” spanned 1000 years, the second 14 spanned 400 years, and the third 14 spanned 600 years. Matthew, in order to present Jesus more emphatically as the fulfillment of 2000 years of promises, intentionally skips generations! What Matthew does to make a critical point in his culture would be considered as deceitful and malicious in our culture.

Remember this: we cannot allow our cultural differences and biases to cloud our understanding of God’s Word!

Let’s take this concept of cultural differences back to Mark 13. Much of what is in this chapter parallels John’s Revelation. Some of it ties back to earlier apocalyptic literature, like verse 14’s “desolating sacrilege,” which references Daniel 9:27. However, the similarities in these passages match the “form” of apocalyptic literature, just like love ballads always talk about loved ones. Many writers misunderstand this form and tie the events in Mark 13, Revelation, Daniel, Ezekiel, and other places, to give a “comprehensive” time line of the end time. Their rigorous mental exercises obscure the “truth”and miss the message.

Another the challenge for Bible readers is understanding what is literal and what is figurative. Note “synagogues” in verse 9, “Judah” in verse 14 — if we’re being so literal, which one is it? To pick on one author’s struggles, a book I read interprets these passages as literally a Jewish reference, rather than figuratively referencing humanity. 1 Thessalonians 5:1-10 could be interpreted as saying that believers will be taken to heaven before an apocalypse, so that author believes that the Mark 13 tribulation is literally a “last chance” for the Jews to believe. But once any writer starts down the path of being compulsively literal, they always hit a point where they finally have to back off. Verse 30 clearly states that “this generation will not pass away until all these things have taken place.” Oops! Does it mean Jesus’ generation? Does it mean the generation alive at the reestablishment of Israel in 1948 – a “sign”? That same author said it really means that “the Jewish race” will be in existence at the end time — but that’s quite a stretch…

So what are truths can we take from Mark 13?

Jesus calls us to focus on things that are important, not the “unimportant” things like temple architecture, rulers, even earthquakes, famines, and your earthly life.

He cautions us to take heed, because difficulties, fears, rumors, and false teachings abound. Watch the big picture unfold, but with the approach you take to observing a tree producing leaves (verse 28) – you can’t stare at it and see the leaves grow, and you don’t know how they grow, but over time you can count on it doing so.

In all things, trust on the Holy Spirit to guide and protect you (verse 11). Don’t fool yourself that you can determine the end time (verses 32-33).

I believe this chapter is summarized in the final parable (verses 34-37) of the doorkeeper that must keep watch for the Master’s return. That is a consistent and effective writing style for that time and a critical lesson for our faith – hold true to whom you serve!

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