“Brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child. Children will rebel against their parents and have them put to death. All men will hate you because of me, but he who stands firm to the end will be saved.”
Darrell Johnson, a few years ago at the CBOQ Assembly meetings told a group of us at a preaching workshop about how one of the crucial tasks we must engage in is to soak in specific Biblical texts so that we can begin to really understand what our text is teaching us. For about two years I spent time soaking in the Gospel of Mark, seeking to understand its message. One of the perspectives that seeped into my understanding over that time is that Mark’s Gospel is a description of the steps by which the Lord Jesus Christ leads His followers into a deepening experience of Discipleship. It almost seems as if Mark, as Peter’s interpreter, is telling us about the crisis of faith that the Disciples are led through so that we can be confronted with the same issues that they faced. The Gospel really describes the road to the cross which Jesus and His disciples were treading. The true disciple is a person who “denies themselves, picks up their cross, and follows Jesus.”(Luke 9:23)
Why do I focus on this today? The reason is on account of the fact that when we reach the thirteenth chapter which contains the Olivet Discourse, Jesus answers questions that His disciples have about the coming of the Kingdom of God. This text challenges us. It is so easy to look into this text for answers to questions which we might have regarding the timing and details of the coming of the Kingdom of God. In doing so we fall into the danger of missing the focus which the Lord Jesus Christ gave to the subject of the Kingdom’s coming by failing to really hear what He is saying to His disciples.
What does Mark tell us here as He gives us the teaching of the Lord Jesus Christ? I want to reflect upon a number of brief points that will hopefully lead to some real Biblical thinking about the teaching of this chapter within the context of the gospel.
1) One of my preliminary thoughts here is that Jesus is telling His disciples that they are about to be thrust into an Apocalyptic crisis that will shake the whole world. It will lead to the covenant judgement of the people of Israel in 70 AD with the destruction of the city of Jerusalem and the Temple, and the dispersal of the Hebrew nation. Craig A. Evans in his chapter in Porter’s Hearing the Old Testament in the New Testament, (The Beginning of the Good News and the Fulfillment of Scripture in the Gospel of Mark), points out that this crisis extended into the Roman world and their crisis over the death of three emperors over a very brief period of years. Such was the crisis that they even began to hijack some of the Hebrew Messianic Scriptures applying them to specific Roman individuals. It could be that this is one of the ways we respond to times of crisis by looking for the coming of a messiah. Jesus’ point is that we must carefully watch and wait for Him to come.
2) Jesus uses the phrase “birth pains” in this text. The thing about birth pains is that they come repeatedly, one after another, leading ultimately to the birth of a child. Mark tells us, “When you hear of wars and rumours of wars, do not be alarmed. Such things must happen, but the end is still to come. Nation will rise against nation, and Kingdom against Kingdom. There will be earthquakes in various places, and famines. These are the beginning of birth pains.” (13:7-8) Paul echoes this in Romans 8:22 when he writes, “We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time.” What the Scripture seems to be telling us is that there will be regular and repeated contractions of trial which Christians will have to endure as we patiently await the coming of our Lord.
3) Jesus calls us to stand firm in our faith in these times. To maintain a life of witness to the Good News of the Lord Jesus Christ in the middle of the crisis of our times is our calling. This calls us to prayerful consideration and assistance of one another.
4) Jesus also calls to a lifestyle of mission. The Gospel is to be preached to all nations while we are awaiting the coming of the Lord. Mark 13 tells us that the Disciples, as well as every believer will be thrust out into the world as those who give testimony to the Lord Jesus Christ. This is to be our life.
These are just a few preliminary thoughts intended to help us to focus upon the answer that Jesus gives to His disciples so that we will follow Him on the road to the cross.