The Great Tribulation
Jesus finished His final days of public ministry in the temple, His Father’s house. He gave His people, the nation of Israel, one last chance to accept Him as their Messiah.
How heavy His heart must have been as He walked away! Matthew gives us a detail that Mark omits. As Jesus walked out of the temple for the last time, He said:
Matthew 23:37–39 (NKJV) 37“O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the one who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing! 38See! Your house is left to you desolate; 39for I say to you, you shall see Me no more till you say, ‘Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!’”
Even after suffering their rejection, Jesus expressed God’s love for the nation of Israel and mourned their coming hardships.
As He went out of the temple, His disciples observed how majestic the temple was. Impressive stones and buildings caught their attention. This gave Jesus a teaching moment. He said:
Mark 13:2 (NKJV) Do you see these great buildings? Not one stone shall be left upon another, that shall not be thrown down.”
The same is true of all our buildings. Time and nature will break them down. But Jesus was not speaking of time and nature. He was speaking of the consequences of their rejection of the Messiah. He was speaking of the fulfillment of the prophecy given by Moses just before He died.
Deuteronomy 4:26–27 (NKJV) 26I call heaven and earth to witness against you this day, that you will soon utterly perish from the land which you cross over the Jordan to possess; you will not prolong your days in it, but will be utterly destroyed. 27And the Lord will scatter you among the peoples, and you will be left few in number among the nations where the Lord will drive you.
When the disciples heard Jesus say the temple would be destroyed, they did not connect it withMoses’ prophecy. Most likely, they thought that Nebuchadnezzar fulfilled Moses’ prophecy.
Here is an excellent opportunity for us to be reminded that prophecies often have foreshadowing fulfillments. The nation’s dispersion under the Babylonians looked a little like the nation’s dispersion after the country’s crushing under Hadrian in 132 A.D. They were not the same, yet there were similarities. Keep this in mind as we go through Mark 13. It will be helpful.
Having heard Jesus predict the temple’s destruction, the disciples wanted to know when these events would occur. In answer, Jesus gave them an outline of future events up to the time of His return. We can see the importance of His message because Matthew, Mark, and Luke all report this talk.
The first point Jesus makes is that there will be many hardships. But hardships, wars, natural disasters, famines, and plagues are not signals of the end. According to Jesus, these are only the beginnings of sorrows. (Mark 13:8)
Jesus takes special care to explain that His followers will suffer much, but this does not signal the end.
He is describing the Church age of which we are part. The Church age started with the events reported in Acts and continues to this day. In Mark chapter 13 verse 13, Jesus tells what will signal the end of the Church age.
Mark 13:13 (NKJV) And you will be hated by all for My name’s sake. But he who endures to the end shall be saved.
Pay close attention here! The primary meaning of the word translated “endures” in the passage is “to remain.” Technically Jesus is saying, “Those that remain in the end shall be saved.” (The primary meaning of the word translated “to” is “in,” so I believe it to be consistent to render the phrase “Those that remain in the end.”)
What He says about those who remain is critical. They will be saved.
The next verse addresses the “one reading” to understand. This is because it will be necessary because the one experiencing the events of verses 14 through 27 will not have been part of the Church. The Church will have been “saved.”
The events described in verses 14 through 27 are the Great Tribulation, which is also called the Day of Wrath, and Jacob’s trouble, along with a number of such names. I wish to point out two important details. The events described have to do with the temple, Judaea, and all flesh suffering tribulation. This tribulation will be the worst the world will ever see. The New Testament is clear that the Church will be delivered from the wrath to come. Thessalonians and Revelation specifically attach deliverance from wrath to the events of the Tribulation.
Another mark of the Tribulation is false christs. Both before the Tribulation and during the Tribulation, Jesus says there will be many false christs. Look at the differences between Mark 13:5 and Mark 13:22. The difference is that during the Tribulation, the false christs will show signs and wonders to increase deception.
Many translators and commentators have interpreted Mark 13:14-27 as speaking of the suffering of the Jews at the hands of the Romans. However, several issues make this untenable.
First, the abomination of desolation spoken of by Daniel would most resemble the statue of Zeus installed in the temple by Antiochus Epiphanes. The name Antiochus gave himself, “Epiphanes,” means “God manifest.” So, just like the prophesied antichrist, he called himself “God.” This is why I pointed out that prophecies often have “foreshadowing” fulfillments. Jesus was talking about events still future, but Antiochus died more than one hundred years before Jesus was born. So, those interpreting Jesus as speaking of Jewish suffering under Rome say the abomination is Rome itself, or the symbols on their flags, or the Roman gods. But the Scripture is clear that the abomination of desolation will be an image set up in the temple.
The abomination of desolation is one issue that tells us that this time of trouble is yet in the future. Another is the statement in verse 20 that if the Lord hadn’t shortened those days, “no flesh” would be saved. Although important in God’s plan, the Jewish nation cannot be said to be “all flesh.”
The last issue I will point out is that the suffering is said to be the greatest the world will ever see. Simply put, I think the suffering of the Jews at the hands of Hitler’s Germany was as bad as the Jews suffered in 70 and 132 A.D. And the suffering of the Cambodians under Pol Pot was probably as great as well. We have not yet seen the greatest suffering the world will ever see.
The Great Tribulation is called the day of God’s wrath for good reason. It will be more horrible than anything the world has ever seen. That has not happened yet.
After describing the Tribulation, Mark 13:24 says that the sun and the moon will be darkened after the tribulation. Then verses 26 and 27 say:
Mark 13:26–27 (NKJV) 26Then they will see the Son of Man coming in the clouds with great power and glory. 27And then He will send His angels, and gather together His elect from the four winds, from the farthest part of earth to the farthest part of heaven.
Some have interpreted this as the same event as described in 1 Thessalonians 4 that we call the rapture. However, a significant difference is that there is no mention of angels being sent out in Thessalonians. Instead, 1 Thessalonians speaks specifically of those who believe in Jesus, both dead and alive, meeting Him in the air.
When Jesus speaks of the angels gathering His elect from the farthest part of the earth, He is speaking of Tribulation saints and the end of the Tribulation. At that time, He will return with power and great glory to destroy His enemies and establish His kingdom.
This is the outline of the age to come as presented to the disciples. The Church age and then the Tribulation were to come. Then after giving this outline, Jesus tells the disciples what the sign will be.
They are to watch the fig tree. Jesus said:
Mark 13:28–29 (NKJV) 28“Now learn this parable from the fig tree: When its branch has already become tender, and puts forth leaves, you know that summer is near. 29So you also, when you see these things happening, know that it is near—at the doors!
In Scripture, the fig tree is used to signify Israel (not always or exclusively). And this is how Jesus is using the fig tree in this parable.
In Daniel 9:24, the Scriptures say:
Daniel 9:24 (NKJV) “Seventy weeks are determined
For your people and for your holy city,
To finish the transgression,
To make an end of sins,
To make reconciliation for iniquity,
To bring in everlasting righteousness,
To seal up vision and prophecy,
And to anoint the Most Holy.
In this passage, the seventy weeks are determined for Daniel’s people and the holy city. Daniel’s people were the Jews, and the holy city is Jerusalem. The events prophesied were specifically prophesied concerning the Jews and Jerusalem. Now, look at what these weeks are supposed to accomplish. These weeks are determined to make an end to sin and to bring in everlasting righteousness. Some say these weeks have already been completed, and Israel’s part in these prophecies has been fulfilled. However, this is not consistent with the rest of Scripture, and sin has not yet ended, nor do we see everlasting righteousness on earth. The Church is not going to usher in the kingdom age. Jesus is going to return in power and great glory and establish His kingdom on earth.
In the meantime, we are to watch. Jesus closed His explanation of the sign of the end of the age with a parable. The parable is about a king who went away with the promise of returning. Listen to how Jesus ended His parable.
Mark 13:35–37 (NKJV) 35Watch therefore, for you do not know when the master of the house is coming—in the evening, at midnight, at the crowing of the rooster, or in the morning—36lest, coming suddenly, he finds you sleeping. 37And what I say to you, I say to all: Watch!”
Look again at that last verse. “And what I say to you, I say to all: Watch!”
Jesus tells us all to watch.
The danger He warns against is sleeping. Much of the Church is sleeping. Thinking that things will continue as they always have and the error of amillennialism have lulled us to sleep. I fear that I am not as zealous or awake as I should be, as I want to be.
There are seven letters to churches in the book of Revelation. Those churches can represent the stages the Church has gone through. Throughout the Church age, the people of God have moved through these stages. The last letter is written to the Church in Laodicea: the lukewarm church, neither hot nor cold.
Somehow we must wake up. Look at the fig tree. It is budding. This is the season of which Jesus spoke.
Are we going about the Master’s business? Are we watching?