Tuesday, February 28, 2017

“Watch”, A Closer Look by Reggie Koop

This week we will be looking at Mark 13:24-37 and particularly the word “watch” in verse 37.

“Take ye heed, watch and pray: for ye know not when the time is. For the Son of Man is 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. 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: Lest coming suddenly he find you sleeping. And what I say unto you I say unto all, Watch.” – Mark 13:37

What other words or thoughts come to mind when you think about “watch?”  Look after, guard, watch over, take care of, protect, keep, oversee, patrol, police, superintend, tend, be on alert, be on look out, be vigilant, be way, be watchful, care for, keep eyes open, keep eyes peeled, keep watch over, look out, pick up on, take heed.  Some of these are used in other verses:

23: “But take ye heed: behold, I have foretold you all things.”
33: “Take ye heed, watch and pray: for ye know not when the time is.”

If you look at the NIV,
23: “So be on your guard;”
33: “Be on guard! Be alert!”

Most people will probably take the meaning of “watch” to mean watch for the return of Jesus or watch for the signs, but we are to be busy going about our assigned tasks. When the Jewish people and the disciples heard the word “watch” they would have been familiar with night watches. The Jewish people divided the night watches into three four-hour periods. The Romans introduced four three-hour watch periods beginning at sundown (6:00 pm) and ending at sunrise (6:00 am).

  • 1st Watch: 6:00 pm – 9:00 pm (Called Evening)
  • 2nd Watch: 9:00 pm – 12:00 am (Called Midnight)
  • 3rd Watch: 12:00 am – 3:00 am (Called Cock Crowing)
  • 4th Watch: 3:00 am – 6:00 am (Called Morning)

These watch periods help clarify verse 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.”

Additionally, it was the practice to place sentinels as guards around the cities or the camp, in times of war. Mark uses the concept of “watch” back in 6:48: “And he saw them toiling in rowing; for the wind was contrary unto them: and about the fourth watch of night he cometh unto them, walking upon the sea, and would have passed by them.” Luke also uses this idea but with the Jewish three watch division. “And if he shall come in the second watch, or come in the third watch, and find them so, blessed are those servants.” – Luke 12:38

The opposite of being on guard, being alert, and watching is sleeping. The underlying theme that Mark is referring to is our spirituality. This goes back to our assigned task: be prepared. Don’t become lazy, sluggish, listless, unenergetic, apathetic, or indifferent toward your spirituality. Instead, read the Word, study the Word, memorize the Word, meditate on the Word, pray, participate in corporate worship, and evangelize the world. Look once more at verse 37: “And what I say unto you I say unto all, Watch.” This is a command to all Christians of all times.

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

“Follow Me”...and Endure to the End (Part 2)

Nearly every person values something highly. Not someone – something. Perhaps it is a family heirloom. Or perhaps it is gift that was given by someone you hold dear. Perhaps your something was something you made. Any number of items can fit this idea. But the thing you hold special may mean nothing to me, and what I hold special may mean nothing to you.

It is also true that some things are valued by a multitude of people while others are considered rather inconsequential by most. For instance, consider a towel. It is just a piece of cloth. If I cut it or tear it, no one cares. Or what about a piece of paper. I could cut this paper and no one would think anything of it. Or ripping apart a booklet or tearing up junk mail. Again, no big deal to most people.

But what if I were to cut a piece of cloth like the US flag? Or what if I were to cut a page in the Bible or rip a page from the Bible. That would get your attention. Right? Well, I am not going to do that (nor am I a proponent of either)…but hold any anger in your mind for a moment.

When we read in the Bible about the temple being destroyed, we really don’t care. If you have studied the Bible much over any period of time, you have heard the temple was destroyed in the past (twice) and that the body is now the true temple of God (1 Cor 3.16-17). So, like the paper or the towel, we hear that the temple WAS important, but we don’t really think about it any more than that.

But it wasn’t just that the temple was important to some. It was important to every person who claimed any allegiance to God. It was God’s house, so to speak. It signified God’s presence. Jesus said He would build the church – and that is not a building – it is you and I. But the temple, the building, was what God had built. To talk about the temple in derogatory fashion was almost the equivalent of blaspheming God.

And Jesus begins Mark 13, as we saw last week, by saying the temple would be destroyed. He says this in response to a disciple who is enamored by the structure of the temple. And from eyewitness accounts, he should have been awestruck. But after Jesus makes this prediction, four disciples (James, John, Peter, and Andrew, the first four Jesus called – Mk 1.16-20) asked Jesus for a sign that the temple would be destroyed.

Again, as we saw last week, Jesus initially responds with a series of “signs” that do not signal this destruction. But, as we pick up the teaching this week, we see Jesus addresses their question directly by stating, “But when.”


Just as we don’t get offended by talking about the destruction of the temple, we don’t get offended by this statement about the abomination of desolation. First, most do not understand it. Second, even if we do understand, it does not resonate in our hearts the way it did a Jew. Let me define these words for us from dictionary.com.

  • Greatly disliked or abhorred
  • Intense aversion or loathing; detestation
  • A vile, shameful, or detestable action, condition, habit, etc.

  • Devastation; ruin
  • Depravation or companionship; loneliness
  • Sorrow; grief; woe

Jesus puts these two words together in a phrase – abomination of desolation. Many think the translation should be abomination that causes desolation. This latter fits quite well. The vile, shameful act causes the ruin of the temple as well as deep sorrow and grief on the part of the Jews.

Again, this was the house of God. It is now destroyed. If the US flag is cut or mutilated, that may offend many, but America still exists. For the Jew, when the temple was destroyed, the nation of Israel basically ceased to exist for nearly 1900 years because their symbol for God, their religion, and even their nation had been destroyed.

(At this point, I would encourage you to review the Teaching Moment blog for the week. Rick takes a more detailed look at what I briefly mention next. You can read the information here.)

Having reviewed the phrase – the abomination that causes desolation – which is found in verse 14, let me now dig further into the text.

He will be standing.

In Daniel 9, the idea is about someone who makes something desolate. The focus is certainly on a person, but the desolation is not the person, it is what is caused. But Jesus doesn’t mention a thing being an abomination, He mentions a “he.”

In the three accounts Rick mentioned, each contains a he. Antiochus Epiphanes, Caligula, and in the case of the Zealots, a man named Phanni. In this prophetic statement, Jesus cannot mean Antiochus Epiphanies as that incident had occurred nearly 200 years before. (It is from this instance the Hanukkah (the Feast of Dedication) came to be celebrated. You can review my post here for more details.

So that leaves the next possibility as Caligula. As Rick said, this was the intent of the emperor – to erect a statue of his image in the temple. This was a mere ten years after Jesus made His prophetic statement, but it did not happen because a Roman general, Petronius, did not allow it. Shortly thereafter, the emperor was assassinated.

That leaves one more possibility. The time of the Zealots. In Luke’s account of this teaching, the idea of armies surrounding Jerusalem is present. Beginning in 66 AD, Roman soldiers were dispatched to Israel to put down any uprising. While they began in the countryside, they eventually made their way to Jerusalem and destroyed it and the temple in 70 AD. During that time, the Zealots had taken control of the temple, and shortly before the Romans sacked the temple, the Zealots had made a man named Phanni the high priest. As high priest, he not only would stand in the temple, but also “stood” over the religious affairs of the temple. And most recently, in that day, that included the slaying of priests and others within the temple.

Who is the he?

Could Phanni be the “he” to which Jesus mentioned? If we consider the context of the question the disciples asked Jesus – what sign will be given when the temple is destroyed (Mark 13.2-4), this last approach is most likely. Jesus says “but when you see” this happen, that is your sign. Shortly after Phanni stood where he ought not be (he was not the rightful high priest), the temple was destroyed and Jerusalem along with it.


A Local Warning (v. 14)

Many people view this passage (and the parallel passages in Matthew and Luke) strictly as a warning for the end of time. But remember, the question is about when the temple will be destroyed. And at the end of verse 14, Jesus says that this message pertains to those in Judea. This particular part of the warning does not concern America, or Europe, or even other parts of Asia. It concerns those in Judea. And if you are in Judea, get out while you still have a chance!

This leaving is called The Dispersion. In fact, James begins his letter by stating he is writing to those who have fled their homeland…to those who are a part of the Dispersion (James 1.1). This was a part of God’s plan because Jesus said His message was to be taken to Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and the ends of the earth (Acts 1.8). This Dispersion allowed the message of the gospel to go wherever the people fled – first to the mountains and eventually to other countries and around the world.
Hundreds of caves like this are evident
 in the mountains in Israel

Leave Instantly (vv. 15-18)

The promise of Jesus was that this would take place fast. And, again, according to Josephus, it did. Listen to Jesus warning:
  • If you are on your rooftop, don’t take time to go down and grab anything from your house – just leave! (Most Jewish homes had flat roofs on which they could sit, relax, and be cool.)
  • If you are working in the fields, don’t worry about picking up your coat – just leave! (Many areas of Israel are cooler in the morning when the workers arrived in the fields. As they began working, and/or the temperate began to increase, they would leave their coats at the edge of the field where they could pick it up at the end of the day.)
  • If you are pregnant or with newborn, heaven help you, because travel is not easy in such a condition.
  • If it is winter – the challenge will be great!  (The rivers and streams swell during the rainy season (the winter months in Israel. You will be trapped and unable to escape. Josephus actually writes of an instance where Jews were trying to escape and were unable because of the higher than usual water.)

Remain Faithful (vv. 21-23)

I am skipping past verses 19-20 for now. At the end of this set of verses, we see similarities to the verses we reviewed last week. Jesus said, in the preceding verses, “Be on guard” and “Do not be alarmed.” This week, He is recorded as saying, “Be on guard” again, now related to false messiahs. Imagine, you are a first century Jew and you see all of this calamity around you. Roman armies converging on Jerusalem, various factions within Israel (like the Zealots and the Pharisees) at war, etc. If someone came along and offered a political resolution, using God’s name, many would jump at the prospect. But Jesus says, all of these self-proclaimed saviors are not sent of God. They will have the ability to lead people astray by various signs and wonders, but they are not God’s messengers.

You may ask, “Well, didn’t Jesus do these types of things, so was He really God’s messenger?”
My answer, “Yes.”
And so you might respond, “What is the difference?”
My response: “Most people with these types of powers use them for manipulation. Something along the lines of, ‘You don’t believe me. Well, if I do this, will you believe me? Ok, I will prove it.’ After they “prove” what has been said, the audience is forced to follow and the person with the power has their ego fed.”

Notice Jesus efforts. Certainly, He healed others and some, like Bartimaeus (Mark 10.46-52) followed, but many did not. In fact, Jesus was known, on occasion, to tell others NOT to tell others what had happened (1.44, 8.26), and often withdrew from the crowds (1.35-37, 6.45-46) or with very few others (3.13, 4.35-36, 6.30-31, 9.2, 13.3, etc.) In fact, in the Mark’s account of the gospel, Mark usually treats the crowd a miracle mongers and more of a nuisance than something Jesus is seeking (though He certainly loved each one).

Getting back to the point, Jesus says many will come to deceive which echoes His words in 13.6. But Jesus informs His audience, I have given you the necessary warning – so do not fall away. Remain true to Me.

The Tribulation (vv. 19-20)

I am going to save the bulk of my comments of these verses until next week when we will wrap up chapter 13 and Jesus call to endure. As I mentioned in Point 1, the abomination of desolation is the key sign. Because Jesus is referring to an event that has yet to occur, that statement and most of this passage is in the present or future tense. When you see…the one who is on the housetop…pray that is may not happen. Verse 21, if anyone says. Verse 22 – false christs will arise. All of these statements refer to the future. But notice verse 20. “If the Lord had not cut short the days no human would have been saved.” All of that is past tense.

What do we make of that? Well, we will come back to that next week, and consider a future prospect for the abomination of desolation as well.

As for today, we have a man whom Jesus calls the abomination of desolation. We have a warning for the people in Judea to flee quickly. And we have a call to remain faithful because Jesus has given this warning beforehand.

What do we make of this?

Like last week, Jesus is providing His followers with information beforehand in order that they may stay true to Him during the period to come. He provides a series of exhortations to help His followers know that He will not be caught off guard by what is happening, and therefore we should not be paralyzed by fear when they happen.

Why does Jesus do this?

Because Jesus loves His followers. He wants the best for them – and the “them” includes us. And if we truly believe that, then we should take this same message to others as well. We have the opportunity to share Jesus’ words with others so they can have peace when their world crumbles just like the temple did.

JOURNEY: That is why our JOURNEY letter for the week is: EEngage.

We must engage with others to share not only what Jesus said, but who He is. Who else can make such bold predictions and have them fulfilled exactly as they were and/or will be?

Do you know Jesus well enough to trust Him? We may say we are saved but will you feel safe when your world falls apart? Where will you turn? To whom will you go? I hope that person is Jesus. And, if it is, I hope you will share your hope with others.

OPPORTUNITY: Embrace the truth of But God,” and then share it with others.
  • Tragedy and chaos may be all around us, “But God”…in on His throne.
  • Every friend and family member may betray us, “But God”…will never leave of forsake us.
  • We may fail far more than we succeed, “But God”…loves us anyway.
  • People will come to deceive us…“But God,” will reveal His truth to those who listen.

REMEMBRANCE: God is in control. We all face various types of trials, and those Jesus described were great, and the future will even be greater. But God is on His throne. But God is in control.

Learn: What more do you need to know, to learn, to believe so that you can trust God perfectly? Start by reading His Word and learn of His glorious nature and His steadfast love. Let His Spirit teach you what He wishes you to know and do.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

“A Warning to Flee” (Mark 13.14-23), A Closer Look by Rick Sons

This teaching moment was presented in the midst of the primary message. Therefore, some may feel the content is a bit disjointed and that it ends abruptly. To get the full context, I encourage you to review this post within the context of Follow Me...and Endure to the End (Part 2), which will be posted to this site tomorrow.


Prior to giving this warning to flee, Jesus said that the Temple was to be destroyed (Mark 13:1). Four of his disciples asked, “When?” (Mark 13:4). In verse 14 Jesus answers their “When?” with his “Then.” “But when you see the abomination of desolation standing where he ought not to be (let the reader understand), then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains.” (Mark 13:14)

The Romans set up their standards to worship and make sacrifices in the Temple while it burned. Religion in ancient Rome encompasses the ancestral ethnic religion of the city of Rome that the Romans used to define themselves as a people, as well as the adopted religious practices of people brought under Roman rule. The Romans thought of themselves as highly religious and attributed their success as a world power to their collective piety in maintaining good relations with the gods.

The Romans are known for the great number of deities they honored, a capacity that earned the mockery of early Christians. The presence of Greeks on the Italian peninsula from the beginning of the historical period influenced Romans culture, introducing some religious practices that became fundamental to their worship.

Three historical events shed light upon this passage:

In 167 BC Antiochus Epiphanes desecrated the Jerusalem Temple.

This appears to be the event referred to in Daniel 9:27, 11:31, and 12:11. Jesus’ words “the abomination of desolation” (an idol) are a direct quotation from Daniel. The phrase “abomination of desolation” is found in these three places in the book of Daniel:

  • “And he shall make a strong covenant with many for one week, and for half of the week he shall put an end to sacrifice and offering. And on the wing of abominations shall come one who makes desolate, until the decreed end is poured out on the desolator.” (Daniel 9:27)
  • “Forces from him shall appear and profane the temple and fortress, and shall take away the regular burnt offering. And they shall set up the abomination that makes desolate.” (Daniel 11:31)
  • “And from the time that the regular burnt offering is taken away and the abomination that makes desolate is set up, there shall be 1,290 days.” (Daniel 12:11)

Antiochus IV Epiphanes was a Hellenistic Greek king of the Seleucid Empire from 175 BC until his death in 164 BC. He was son of King Antiochus III the Great. His original name was Mithradates; he assumed the name Antiochus after he ascended the throne.

The old City of David was fortified anew by the Syrians and made into a very strong fortress, completely dominating the city. Having thus made Jerusalem a Greek colony, the king’s attention was next turned to the destruction of the national religion. A royal decree proclaimed the abolition of the Jewish mode of worship; Sabbaths and festivals were not to be observed; circumcision was not to be performed; the sacred books were to be surrendered and the Jews were compelled to offer sacrifices to the idols that had been erected. The officers charged with carrying out these commands did so with great rigor; a veritable inquisition was established with monthly sessions for investigation. The possession of a sacred book or the performance of the rite of circumcision was punished with death. On Kislev (Nov-Dec) 25, 168, the “abomination of desolation” (an idol) was set up on the altar of burnt offering in the Temple and the Jews required to make obeisance to it. This was probably the Olympian Zeus.

In 40 AD, the Roman emperor Caligula attempted to have his statue installed in the Temple and worshipped as god. However, his intention was never fulfilled.

Caligula, properly Gaius Julius Caesar Augustus Germanicus, was Roman emperor from AD 37–41. Caligula was a member of the house of rulers conventionally known as the Julio-Claudian dynasty. Caligula’s biological father was Germanicus, and he was the great-nephew and adopted son of Emperor Tiberius.

Caligula’s religious policy was a departure from that of his predecessors. According to Cassius Dio, living emperors could be worshipped as divine in the east and dead emperors could be worshipped as divine in Rome. Augustus had the public worship his spirit on occasion, but Dio describes this as an extreme act that emperors generally shied away from. Caligula took things a step further and had those in Rome, including senators, worship him as a tangible, living god. 

In 70 AD, Titus, who was at war with Jewish Zealots, destroyed the Temple, but not until it had been desecrated.

The Siege of Jerusalem in the year 70 was the decisive event of the First Jewish-Roman War. The Roman army, led by the future Emperor Titus, with Tiberius Julius Alexander as his second-in command, besieged and conquered the city of Jerusalem which had been occupied by its Jewish defenders in 66.

The siege ended with the sacking of the city and the destruction of its second Temple. The destruction of both the first and second Temples is still mourned annually as the Jewish fast, Tisha B’Av. The Arch of Titus, celebrating the Roman sack of Jerusalem and the Temple, still stands in Rome.

The account of Josephus described Titus as moderate in his approach and, after conferring with others, ordering that the 500-year-old Temple be spared. According to Josephus, it was the Jews who first used fire in the Northwest approach to the Temple to try and stop Roman advances. Only then did Roman soldiers set fire to an apartment adjacent to the Temple, a conflagration which the Jews subsequently made worse.

By August of 66 AD there were plenty of “armies encompassing Jerusalem” inside and outside (Luke 21:20). Jerusalem was a holy place where such armies ought not to be standing.

The Zealot leaders brought their armies right into the temple and camped there (where they definitely ought not to be). Josephus, a priest concerned for the sanctity of the temple, was horrified at this abomination, and even more so when the Zealot factions began killing each other, the priests, and the innocent worshippers right there inside the temple. This indeed was a horrific abomination which caused its desolation.

The Romans considered it abominable when blood of their countrymen was shed in their pagan temples. Josephus tells how the blood of priests and common people was shed inside the Temple. The masses murdered in the temple, thus polluting it.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

“Follow Me”...and Endure to the End (Part 1)

Many people want to know when the world will end. People peruse the newspapers daily to determine what events in our world might lead to an understanding that Jesus could soon return. Predictions of the antichrist, a single monetary system, the United Nations leading to a singular government, etc.

I have been there. I have done that. But I am becoming more and more convinced that our task is to live while we wait instead of calculating how long we must wait. Jesus command was, and is, to “Follow Me.” He didn’t put a condition of time (“Follow Me until February 15, 2017”). He didn’t include the condition of an event (“Follow Me until ___________ happens”). He didn’t include a condition of emotion (“Follow Me until you don’t feel like it anymore”). He simply said “Follow Me.” And that means to the end – as He defines it.

The problem is that following Jesus is hard. It requires sacrifice. But a greater challenge awaits those who do not choose Jesus. In the book, The Imitation of Christ, the author says it this way,

To many the saying, “Deny thyself, take up thy cross and follow Me,” seems hard, but it will be much harder to hear that final word: “Depart from Me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire.” (Thomas a Kempis, The Imitation of Christ, p. 40)

So what does Jesus say regarding the end of time? What does He want us to know regarding the end of time? Fortunately, the disciples asked Him a similar question. Let’s turn to Mark 13 to see what we can learn.

A Symbol of the Past

Anyone who saw the temple was reportedly in awe of it. The temple was, indeed, a sign of God’s presence among the people of Israel. While the new temple was as much a political statement by Herod the Great as it was a testament to God, it’s magnificence as a building was apparently without question. I can only imagine the awe of the pilgrims who came to Jerusalem three times each year. I still recall when we came out from a tunnel and saw the golden dome off to the south shining in the sun when we were there last January. How much more the Jews of yesteryear must have felt as they crested a nearby mountain from any direction and saw the gold and marble shining in the distance. The object certainly caught the attention of an unnamed disciple who marvels at it in 13.1. But Jesus is not concerned with the grandeur of the temple; His focus is on the greatness of God. Jesus is not concerned about the appearance of the temple, He is concerned with its effect on the people.

The day is still Tuesday, and as we have seen over the last several weeks as we have reviewed the end of Chapter 11 and all of Chapter 12, Jesus has been involved in a series of confrontations with the religious leaders while on the temple grounds – mostly in the Court of the Gentiles, although for the last few verses, He had moved into the Court of the Women, where the offerings were given.

Beginning in Chapter 13, He leaves the temple, and as far as we know, He never returned. In verse 3, Mark tells us that Jesus is on the Mount of Olives which is east of Jerusalem. This likely means that Jesus left through the East Gate, which provides a strong parallel to Ezekiel 10.18-19 and 11.22-23, written before the first temple was destroyed.

Mark 13.3 says that Jesus sat on the Mount of Olives – opposite the temple. Mark has created a wonderful word play here. First, the Mount of Olives is on the opposite side of the Kidron Valley from Jerusalem.

A modern day view of Jerusalem from the Mount of Olives.
The green vegetation is the Kidron Valley.

Jesus is seated (a sign of authoritative teaching in His day) opposite the temple. In Mark 12.41, He sat opposite the treasury after He pronounced judgement on the scribes. Here, Jesus has just pronounced the destruction of the temple. Again, in proximity, Jesus is on the other side of the valley. But in truth, Jesus was fully opposite (opposed) to the usual proceedings in the temple.

His opposition was seen earlier in Mark 11. Further, you may recall that Jesus cursed the fig tree causing it to wither to its roots (Mark 11.12-14; 20-21), you can read the post here)! The act was symbolic of what would happen to the temple – a prophetic parable in Mark 11 followed by a prophetic word here. And 40 years later, it would happen.

But His words intrigued the first disciples. As we continue in the text, notice that four disciples ask Jesus a question. The four – Peter, James, and John (Jesus inner three) plus Andrew. This was a private conversation. It was not meant for everyone. First, Jesus had withdrawn from the crowds where all could hear His teaching. We know the other disciples must be nearby because of the unnamed disciple in 13.1. But some disciples truly want to know Jesus. Some truly desire to be with Him more than others. These four – again, the first four Jesus called on the shores of the Sea of Galilee – were eager to learn more, even if they were not yet ready to understand.

A Question in the Present

The four disciples come to inquire about Jesus statement of the temple’s doom. Their curiosity is found in two questions:
  • When will these things be?
  • What will be THE sign when all these things are about to be accomplished?

Now, as we read these questions today, we are prone to consider them as relating to the end of the world? But that is not what the disciples meant. This is most evident because of the word “these.” The question that the disciples wanted to know was about the destruction of the temple. And subsequently, if the temple was to be destroyed, what did that mean for everyone? Effectively, the question is: If the temple is to be destroyed, does that mean you will be the king and restore Israel?”

You may question my interpretation and that is ok. But let me remind you that the latter part of the paraphrased question I just suggested is what the disciples DID ASK in Acts 1.6 after the resurrection and just before Jesus ascended into heaven.

Acts 1.6 says, “Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” And Jesus answered (paraphrased), “You are not supposed to know when. But you are supposed to tell others about Me until that day comes.”

A Sign for the Future

It is important to remember that the disciples question comes just after Jesus has encountered a series of questions from the religious leaders who were seeking to discredit Jesus because they did not understand who He really was. The disciples question Jesus, not to trip Him up, but because they earnestly seek to understand, but they still do not fully understand Jesus’ purpose. The disciples were seeking a sign to understand the times…to understand when Jesus would be king. After all, that is why He came to Jerusalem, right? That is why we are following Him, right? If this was their mindset, and Scripture gives us many clues that is was, then Jesus answer had to create even more confusion. Instead of giving them THE sign, He begins by given them a series of warnings about a number of items which He says are not really a sign at all.

So, what did Jesus answer?

1. Be aware. (vv. 5-6)
  • Make sure you are not led astray.
  • Many will come IN MY NAME – many will fall away.
  • Many will say, “I am he” – that is, they will claim to be Jesus or Messiah or Lord. They are wrong! Do not turn to another; stay true to me.

2. Do not be alarmed. (vv. 7-8)
  • Bad things will happen. They must happen. But don’t worry. And by the way, the end is not yet.
  • Wars and rumors of wars will be commonplace. (Many believe that humanity has experienced more war since 1900 than in any other 100-year period.)
  • Earthquakes will be common. (Some claim the earth has experienced more earthquakes in the last 120 years than any time before.)

In the first 40 years after Jesus said this, the Bible speaks of earthquakes and famines. We know of the battle that began in 66 AD with the Jewish uprising. These situations have happened throughout history and people always get worked up. And I used to as well. But not anymore…why? Jesus said these are just the beginning.

3. Be on your guard. (vv. 9-11)
  • Don’t be anxious. Proclaim the gospel. The Spirit will give you what to say!
  • You will be betrayed, arrested, beaten, and stand trial before all levels of government.

Jesus is telling these four disciples what will happen to them (and the others) because the exact same thing was about to happen to Him. He was betrayed, arrested, beaten, and stood before the religious leaders (Roman governor, the Jewish King, and again before the Roman governor). And, indeed, Jesus words were fulfilled in short order. The book of Acts records story after story that fit these words perfectly. Each time those who were arrested and beaten were given the opportunity to share God’s message to not only the people, but the rulers as well.

4. Endure no matter what. (vv. 10-13)
  • Don’t worry! What is happening is part of the plan. The gospel must be preached.
  • Don’t worry! I will give you words to say. Be prepared, but trust me. (This is not an excuse for a lazy preacher…it is about witnessing for Jesus in hostile situations!)
  • Don’t worry! Your family will betray you, everyone will hate you, but you are ok if you trust Me.

The reality is that Jesus promises that a day is coming when people will turn on one another. This has happened for centuries. It happened in the first century. Imagine, living in the first century and you are arrested as a Christian. The judge (ruler) says, “You can be free if you give me the name of five Christians.” People gave up the names, and those people were arrested. Then the cycle repeated itself. Perhaps some were set free, but they would have soon been betrayed themselves.

Think of your friends and family. Think of other Christians with whom you worship. Will you betray them? Will they betray you? I am not the one saying this will happen – Jesus said it. It has happened throughout history (e.g., the Spanish Inquisition), and it will happen again. Jesus was betrayed by someone close to Him, and some of us may share the same experience by those who are close to us as well.

In the verses today, Jesus does not provide a direct answer to the question He was asked. As such, the disciples must have been confused. After all, if Jesus is the ruler, then why do they have any reason to fear going before other rulers? Is Jesus not going to be in charge? Like we have seen so often in this study, the disciples did not understand. They were not conditioned to understand. And apart from being on this side of the death and resurrection, we would have a very difficult time understanding as well.

What Jesus did do, in the passage we have studied today, was provide a pastoral warning to His followers to remain vigilant when these “signs” do begin. The signs mentioned today (wars, earthquakes, etc.) do not mean the end is near, but rather are a call to keep our focus on Jesus despite what may be going on around us.

In essence, Jesus is saying, “Don’t look to the signs of the times, keep your focus on Me.”

As we focus on Jesus, no matter what our situation, He promises to be there to guide us (through the Spirit). The whole purpose of Jesus’ words to His disciples then, and to us now, is to provide assurance for our faith. We do not need to fret when wars and earthquakes occur. We do not need to fret when we are arrested for being a follower of Jesus. Instead, we should turn each instance into an opportunity to share the message of Jesus.


Our JOURNEY letter for the week is: EEngage.

I mentioned Acts 1.6 earlier in this post. The disciples asked – after the resurrection – if Jesus was now ready to take His rightful place as king and restore Israel. Jesus said, it wasn’t for them to know the time. Instead they were to be His witnesses in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and the ends of the earth.

What was true for His followers then, is true for us as well. We need not be ignorant of the news, but we need not be paralyzed by it either. In every situation, we can find some reason to share the hope of Jesus, and that is what He expects His followers to do.

OPPORTUNITY: We must follow Jesus, not the news. People will always chase a news story, but the challenge today is #fakenews. And even if it isn’t fake, does it matter? Well, maybe it does today, but will it be remembered 100 years from now? If not, it doesn’t really matter. Jesus does matter and He will be remembered until the end of time and then for all of eternity!

REMEMBRANCE: Keep God first. What has to be destroyed in your life for you to keep God first? For the Jews it was the temple?

Live: Choose to live for Jesus regardless of whatever life may bring. Ultimately, nothing else matters anyway.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

“Will Your Temple Stand?” - A Closer Look, by Reggie Koop

And as he came out of the temple, one of his disciples said to him, “Look, Teacher, what wonderful stone and what wonderful buildings!” 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.” – Mark 13:1-2

Modern-day reconstruction of the temple built by Herod the Great

A Reconstruction of the Temple Complex

The disciples’ amazement is understandable. Josephus, a Roman-Jewish scholar and historian (born 37 AD) describes some of the stones as being thirty-seven feet long, twelve feet tall, and eighteen feet deep. The stones still standing in the Wailing Wall may not be that big, but some may have been. The entire complex covered thirty-four to thirty-five acres.

The Western (Wailing) Wall

The disciples may have idolized these things because they were considered great and sacred. If you remember, one day earlier, on Monday, Jesus cast out the moneychangers and those that bought and sold. Many heard Jesus complain about those who made the Temple a den of thieves and the wickedness that remained. Maybe, they assumed Jesus loved the place as much as they did.

Look again at verse 1:
And as he came out of the temple, one of his disciples said to him, “Look, Teacher, what wonderful stone and what wonderful buildings!”

But Jesus doesn’t put any value in material things. In Mark 10:23 Jesus says: “How difficult it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!”

And in Luke 9:58 He says: “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.”

In Matthew 6:19-21, Jesus tells us what is most important about our riches: “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”

Back to Mark 13:2,
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.”

Here Jesus is prophesying the destroying of the Temple. The Romans destroyed the Temple and the whole city in 70 AD. The Temple was destroyed by fire and then after the fire the remaining walls were pulled down. In Mark 8:31, 9:31, and 10:33-34, Jesus foretells of the destruction of a more valuable Temple that would be rebuilt very quickly.

“See, we are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be delivered over to the chief priests and the scribes, and they will condemn him to death and deliver him over to the Gentiles. And they will mock him and spit on him, and flog him and kill him. And after three days he will rise.” – Mark 10:33-34

Much of the strength of the Temple was in the largeness of the stones. If these were to be thrown down, no remembrance of it would remain. If any part remained standing, there might be some hope of the repair of it. But what hope is there when not one stone is left upon another?

If you remember two weeks ago, I talked about the widow and the two pennies. What is most valuable to Jesus is you and your heart. He has paid it all for the most valuable commodity – you! Jesus overcame death and rose on the third day; that is our hope. Make sure that Jesus is dwelling in your Temple, your heart. Make sure your Temple remains standing.

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

“Follow Me”...An Opportunity to Truly Love (Part 2)

As a pastor, it is my responsibility to lead the church I serve, to guide the people, to serve them, and to love them. (The same might be said, to a lesser extent to others who read this blog.) It is then their (your) responsibility to lead others, guide others, serve others, and love others. But here is the challenge, what you just read is hard. Especially that love others part. And that is why we are going to take a second look at the passage of Mark 12.28-34. I unpacked the passage three weeks ago (read here or listen here), but if something is called The Greatest, we should probably take a second look at it, right? And this passage contains the Greatest Commandment.

Let me first take a moment to remind you of how we got to this particular moment in the story.

In the preceding verses, we have seen a master plan that was conceived by the religious leaders. Why did they need a plan? Because Jesus presented a threat – a great threat – to their power and prestige. So the leaders schemed to confront Jesus and ultimately to defraud Him. They do so with four questions:

  • By whose authority do you do what you do?
  • Should we pay taxes to Caesar?
  • What happens at the resurrection related to God’s law about marriage?
  • What is the greatest commandment?

This final question has a different tone to it, as does the response of the scribe towards Jesus after He responds. Because of this, many people believe that this encounter was not to trap Jesus – and perhaps it wasn’t. But I believe it was originally meant to be because Mark places it within the context of seven statements of conflict – this is number five. (Numbers 6 and 7 were covered during my vacation, but I do not have a post for them at this time.) Again, I think this man may have been a part of the plot originally, but likely changed his demeanor and became open to the teachings of Christ as he witnessed the previous exchanges between Jesus and the other religious leaders.

So, the scribe asked the question of the greatest commandment, and Jesus responds. The man agrees with Jesus assessment, and Jesus says the man is not far from the Kingdom of God. But, it is one thing to know the truth, it is another to live it. As for the love Jesus speaks of here, it requires us to choose. And it requires us to act.

Before we move forward with this post, I want you to do a little exercise.
1. I want you to write down some things you like to do for yourself. That is, if you do not have any responsibilities and had a few hours or even days to do something, what would it be?
2. What are some things you do not like to do?
3. What are some things others ask you to do that you wish you would not have to do?

Ok, with that complete, let’s move forward. In Part 1, I focused more on the love of God portion, today, we will focus more on the love of others.

The Response:  A Central Principle

The principle Jesus stated in response to the scribe’s question centered on love. But we should define love a bit. Because we use the word so superficially today. I love tacos. I love my wife. My wife should hope I don’t love her the same way I love tacos. I love God. I love dog. Again, this should be more than a re-arranging of the letters – a different type of love should be involved.

You may be aware that the Greek language (the language of the New Testament) has multiple words for the different types of love. Four different words exist, but two are prevalent in the New Testament. The first is phileo which is a brotherly type of love (from where we get the word Philadelphia). The second is agape – which is a full and complete love – like the kind God has for us. These are both healthy kinds of love and are frequently used in the NT. The opposite of agape is eros, from where we get our word – erotic. Let me briefly pit these two words against each other.

This may or may not surprise you, but the word eros is not in the NT? Agape and phileo are used throughout the NT, but not eros. (Storge is the fourth type of love, which is a familial type of love, and it is also not used in the Bible). Agape, the kind of love which is characterized by God (1 John 4.10), is present throughout the Bible. It is a love that finds value in others. It is a love that shows the worthy of others – even, and especially, when they do not deserve it.

Romans 8.35-39 says, “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? As it is written,

‘For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.’

No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

Take a moment to process that! Nothing you can do, nothing I can do, nothing others can do can separate us from God’s agape-type love. Consider 1 John 3.1-3. It begins, “See what kind of love the Father has given to us…” The NIV gets this right. It says, the kind of love that is lavished on us.

Let’s say you are hungry and the food before you is not just good, but you know it will be great. It looks good, it smells good, and it will be good. Do you want to be given a little food? No, you want a heaping portion. Perhaps the food is mashed potatoes. Next to the potatoes is a bowl of gravy. If you like gravy then you do not want someone to put gravy on your potatoes with an eye dropper. No, you want someone to drown these potatoes in gravy. That is what lavished means. And that is the kind of love that God has for us. He lavishes us with love – even though we are not worthy. Nothing can separate us from that love. NOTHING! Look what John says next: He lavishes us so that “we should be called children of God; and so we are.”

Here is the key. God does not lavish His love on us just so that we can be loved. As His children, He wants us to spread His love. Let’s jump back to our primary text and see Jesus’ words.

A Combined Precept

Jesus response to the question begins with a call to love God and to do so with every part of our being. (Again, you can get more details in the previous post.) In Deuteronomy (6.5), the command includes heart, soul, and strength, but hereJesus includes the mind. Thus, our love should be with all of our heart (emotions), soul (spirit), mind (intelligence), and strength (will).

However, after answering with this statement, Jesus continues, which likely surprised most everyone there. He adds the element of loving our neighbor (Leviticus 19.18). The question was what is the greatest, but Jesus gives two answers and then combines the two into one concept. Notice the end of verse 31: There is no other commandment (singular) greater than these (plural).

This theme of love was carried throughout the rest of the New Testament. Reggie compiled a good list of verses related to loving others which can be found here.

A Challenging Practice

The reality is that it is very difficult to love others. How can we love others? Only through Christ. The reality, as one commentator mentioned, is that our “love for God releases the love of God.”(1)

The reality is that as difficult as it is to love certain others, it is not an option. We are commanded to do so. And then, John gives us a wake-up call by stating that our love for others is a reflection of our love for God. Listen to these words from 1 John 4.19-21:
“We love because he first loved us. If anyone says, ‘I love God,’ and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen. And this commandment we have from him: whoever loves God must also love his brother.”

Now, I know these verses are specifically talking about our brothers and sisters in Christ. It reflects the commandment Jesus gave His disciples on His last night as recorded in John 13.34-35:
“A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

But the overall idea of loving others is evidenced in the story of the good Samaritan. The truth is that by our love for one another in the church, people will know we are His disciples. But by our love for those apart from the church, others may give glory to God in heaven (Matthew 5.16), and seek to become a part of His church, and His Kingdom. Our love for one another does not mean that we will not have disagreements, but it does suggest that we seek to resolve them, not let them linger. And in our world today, we need to exhibit the kind of love that God has to bring about healing. Just consider the headlines today (especially the political one) and imagine what a difference it would make if love, not partisanship prevailed.

The fact is that the love of God is so profound, it can change us. It must change us. The truth is that God’s love will change us. If you haven’t been changed by God’s love, either you have forgotten how profound it is or you may not know God. But once we are changed by God’s love, then we must share God’s love. And all of this is only true and possible for those who know Jesus.

It doesn’t matter how much we love (heart), how much we care (soul), how much we know (mind), how much we serve (strength) if we don’t know Jesus. For those that know Jesus, you are a child of God. Again, 1 John 3.1 says that God has lavished His love on His children. It is the children of God that can change the world. But does the world know we are different?
  • How will the world know we are His children if we act like the world? 
  • How will the world know if we bash others because they have a different political view than us? 
  • How will the world know if we are not living in the world, even though we are not being of the world?

As we prepare to close, let me make this practical as we consider our JOURNEY letter.

JOURNEY: This week’s JOURNEY letter is: YYou.

You are the one that has to choose to love. You have to make a choice to love God and you have to make a choice to love others. As Jesus said, these two ideas are not mutually exclusive. The two ideas are merged into one command.

Earlier in this post, I asked you to write a few ideas down. Take a look at those ideas now. Now, consider this.
  • How can you do for others the things you wish to do?
  • How can you do for others things they might not like to do?
  • How can you not do to others the things you don’t like them doing to you?

Why? Because a part of loving others is doing unto others what you want them to do unto you – whether or not they do it to or for you. Jesus statement doesn’t promise others will do what you want, He simply says to do it for them because you would like it done to/for you. Again, that is one way to know if you love others – whether or not you personally know them. If we are to truly love God, then we must truly begin to love others!

OPPORTUNITY: We are to express our love to God. We are to share His love with others.

REMEMBRANCE: Jesus loves me this I know, for the Bible tells me so.


Love: The next step this week focuses exclusively on love. I encourage you to do three things as it relates to loving others.

1. Write down a name.
2. Pray about what you will do for that person.
3. Commit to do it – in February!

The details of who and how much are up to you. But whatever you do, do this knowing that by loving others you can express your love to God as well.

1. (Edwards, J. R. (2002). The Gospel according to Mark (p. 373). Grand Rapids, MI; Leicester, England: Eerdmans; Apollos.)