Because I get around a good bit in travel, I often am sitting in places where travelers gripe about the things that go wrong on trips. There is the usual fare of “This airline is never on time!” or “I can’t believe the poor service I got in the restaurant last night!” Occasionally, the complaints slip over to hotel rooms. One of the most common complaints with luxury travelers arises when they book an expensive room in a hotel at some exotic destination, and are deeply disappointed with their view of a trash dumpster instead of the beautiful surroundings! They understandably feel robbed! Even though little time is spent in the room during the day, the inspiring views of the morning sunrise can enliven the whole day’s itinerary!
Imagine being with Jesus during the last week of His ministry. We cannot know how disappointed He was at the response – not only of the Jewish leadership in the Temple – but even of His own Disciples. He had to shake His holy head at least a few times and wonder if the boys were ever going to understand what He was doing. Because He knew the hearts of men (as John reminded), I am quite sure He concluded that the only hope was the indwelling of God’s Spirit to get our hard hearts and equally stubborn spirits to yield and understand. Our text today seems to present one of the most enduring problems Jesus had with the Disciples. They could SEE with their physical eyes, but their SPIRITUAL SIGHT was quite limited. They could measure buildings, budgets and bodies in the physical world, but seemed unable to recognize that wasn’t a gauge of obedience and surrender.
Let me put it this way: When believers measure success or impact in ministry by “buildings, budgets and bodies” they miss what God is really all about – spiritually surrendered hearts that show up in mundane daily choices made in holy ways. The same can be said of how God views rewards. When believers have eyes set on the rewards of the physical world and not on God’s way of seeing reward, we may feel disappointed when we see the truth. The problem isn’t that God won’t take care of us – it is that we focus on the wrong part of the coming events in prophetic rewards. God has rewards planned for those who surrender their heart to Him – but the rewards are set in the context of God telling His story – not just affirming us and making us feel good.
Key Principle: Jesus changes the way I view impact, success and reward. Sometimes what the world will call LOSS is actually a spiritual GAIN.
The Problem: Two Examples of the “Wrong View” (Mark 12:41-13:2)
There is a logic behind placing the story of the widow’s mite just ahead of the celebration of the Temple – both focused on the wrong view. Both emphasized the physical and outward appearances of worship, but missed the spiritual realities behind those appearances. Very often the view that we see is not the one we anticipated. We don’t see things the way they are, and we aren’t quick to notice that we don’t see the way things really are!
Look carefully at the two settings in these familiar stories:
Example One: “The poor woman with the coin” (Mark 12:41-44):
Mark 12: 41 And He sat down opposite the treasury, and began observing how the people were putting money into the treasury; and many rich people were putting in large sums. 42 A poor widow came and put in two small copper coins, which amount to a cent. 43 Calling His disciples to Him, He said to them, “Truly I say to you, this poor widow put in more than all the contributors to the treasury; 44 for they all put in out of their surplus, but she, out of her poverty, put in all she owned, all she had to live on.”
Note that Jesus was sitting where it was possible to watch people offer their tithes in the Women’s Court of the Temple (12:41). Jesus began watching HOW MUCH people were giving (12:41b). Along came a “poor widow”, the words likely denoting a woman without a male heir – the Hebrew equivalent for DESTITUTE with the implication of HOPELESSNESS (though this woman was still worshipping and looking forward). Jesus was clear that the woman gave “All that she had to live on.” (12:44). What an act of deep passion. It was not a slight thing – it was a powerful pouring out of the last cent to God. This was a “Hagar moment”, where she was placing the baby to die, giving to God all that she had to give (Genesis 21:15). This was a “woman of Zarephath” story – collecting her sticks to make a fire for a final meal (1 Kings 17:12). This was a powerful story of deep surrender, barely noticed by the rulers of the Temple, overlooked by the Disciples of Jesus – and focused on by God in human skin. God saw it. He recognized the surrendered heart – it cried out to worship and trust Him against all human odds.
The unnamed widow wasn’t like me today. I gave to the Lord in my regular giving – but I kept MOST of what I was given by God to fill my daily requirements. He got SOME, but I got MOST. Look at her offering – He GOT IT ALL! Can you imagine giving the last of your checking, the last of your savings, the last of your retirement, the last of your stocks and bonds, the last of your IRA… ALL of it? Here is a truth I want you to really think about… All of it IS HIS, and all of it MUST BE GIVEN – even if He decides to let us use it in this life. If it is NOT HIS, than I have no right to say that He is my Lord. He is NOT.
What does GIVING ALL look like in contemporary Christian practice? Do I sell all and give it away, living as a pauper? Maybe, but not likely. What it truly means is that you begin to allow the Spirit of God to answer the question, “Lord, since this is all yours, how can I best use these things to honor You?” The Spirit does not remain silent when a surrendered heart asks such a question. Don’t do it if you don’t want the answer – because God will meet those who say they want to meet Him. God will answer with clarity as you grow in faith (i.e. seeing the world as God says it is in His Word.)
Conversely, the Temple authorities were no doubt more impressed by the people of means. Even the Disciples probably barely noticed her until Jesus pointed out that the AMOUNT GIVEN was less significant than the AMOUNT SACRIFICED. Who says God doesn’t keep track? God is much less impressed with the amount that we give, than He is with the amount we keep for ourselves – that makes an impression on Him. Now look at the way this story links to the next…
Example Two: The disciples impressed with the Temple buildings (Mark 13:1-2):
Mark 13:1 As He was going out of the temple, one of His disciples said to Him, “Teacher, behold what wonderful stones and what wonderful buildings!” 2 And Jesus said to him, “Do you see these great buildings? Not one stone will be left upon another which will not be torn down.”
Look at how excited the Disciples were with the PHYSICAL example of THEIR OWN WORK and sacrifice. They were truly impressed with the human expression of love for God so eloquently offered by the work of a generation of Jews at the Second Temple. The pride exuded from their mouths fell flat in front of the Master. He saw an end to the glory of the Temple. He saw a coming day of destruction and it made Him sad. The same view that made the Disciple excited made the Savior sad – and therein is a significant lesson. We don’t see things the way God does much of the time. Years of sacrifice to build a great edifice was not the impressive thing to God. Offering all of what a poor woman had to live on was. God was on a different page than His followers.
When you step back and look at both of these stories – the woman at the treasury and the proud pilgrim disciples – it isn’t hard to see that men see things differently than God does. We get excited about BIGGER gifts – but God gets excited about more SACRIFICIAL gifts. We get excited by MONUMENTS to our God. He gets more excited about SURRENDERED HEARTS.
The Correction: Resetting the Focus (13:3-37)
When our crew is out shooting video, there is a need to constantly check both white balance and focus. If these are not corrected, the final product will either be unfocused (inaccurate) or off colored (shaded and jaded). Jesus knew that if He did not offer corrective refocus to the Disciples, they would be off focus and not recognize how God was going to move ahead in the coming days with the children of Israel.
Jesus was the consummate teacher. He just kept teaching and correcting, patiently explaining “Surrender 101” to the elite corps of future leaders – even when it seemed hopeless. How patient He was with them! He could at least in some small way, take solace that the coming of the Spirit into His followers would sort out the jumble that held their confused minds. He reset the truth in the story by correcting the view. Things for the Jewish people were about to change dramatically. A judicial blindness was about to fall on them. They were about to be spiritually spanked for a time, pass through a horrendous time, and eventually enjoy a national redemption (that is still on the way).
The Question: (Mark 13:3-4)
Mark 13:3 As He was sitting on the Mount of Olives opposite the temple, Peter and James and John and Andrew were questioning Him privately, 4 “Tell us, when will these things be, and what will be the sign when all these things are going to be fulfilled?”
Privately, John and Andrew sat beside the Master and wanted to know the answer to a question that was on the minds of Jewish people through the ages – “WHEN will the Jewish people gain the promises God has made to her?” This isn’t the only time the question came up. After the Resurrection, Jesus appeared on the same mountain to the Disciples in Acts 1, and the question was phrased this way: (Acts 1:6) “So when they had come together, they were asking Him, saying, “Lord, is it at this time You are restoring the kingdom to Israel?”
There was no question that the disciples thought anything other than the idea that God was not done with Israel, and that God WOULD LITERALLY FULFILL His promises to Israel at some point. They just wanted to know how long the wait was going to take. Paul spent considerable time addressing that same question in Romans 9-11. It was a central issue on the minds of Jewish believers of the early church. Those who argue that “the sons of Abraham by faith” are now a replacement for the “physical sons of Israel by Abraham’s loins” are not in sync with what the Disciples knew to be true – even after the Resurrection.
Note they asked two questions: WHEN and BY WHAT SIGN they will be exposed. The Disciples wanted to know more than a time line, they wanted a description of events. Jesus obliged and gave them a description of a future, in the context of the Jewish people.
The Description: (Mark 13:5-32)
Mark 13:5 And Jesus began to say to them, “See to it that no one misleads you. 6 “Many will come in My name, saying, ‘I am He!’ and will mislead many.
One of the difficulties of this passage is the simple word “YOU”. Is Jesus speaking to the Disciples as His followers, or as Jews? Replacement theologians (those who think God is DONE with genetic Israel and has replaced her with “spiritual Israel” after she “rejected her Messiah”) would argue that Jesus was warning believers of end times event. A careful look at Mark doesn’t really offer the necessary pieces to make a conclusion.
Fortunately, Matthew included more detail to this sermon, and offered this note in Matthew 24:15 “Therefore when you see the ABOMINATION OF DESOLATION which was spoken of through Daniel the prophet, standing in the holy place (let the reader understand), 16 then those who are in Judea must flee to the mountains. …20 “But pray that your flight will not be in the winter, or on a Sabbath.” Both Matthew and Mark speak of Daniel’s prophetic announcement of the Abomination of Desolation, and we could show that the whole latter section of Daniel was written to explain to Daniel “what will be for YOUR PEOPLE” and “YOUR CITY” (Daniel 9:24-27), but that isn’t perhaps as clear as the simple statement, “..pray your flight is not on Sabbath.” – which seems to clearly indicate that Jesus was speaking to the men as JEWS.
Who will be tempted to defect:
Where did Jesus begin in his answer to the SIGNS they should watch out for? He started with concern that Jews would be MISLEAD by many other spiritual sounding promises. He warned them repeatedly (cp. Mk. 13:21-22) to be careful about following false redeemers and messiahs instead of staying on course when they found Him. Follow the description Jesus gave:
Mark 13:7 “When you hear of wars and rumors of wars, do not be frightened; those things must take place; but that is not yet the end. 8 “For nation will rise up against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; there will be earthquakes in various places; there will also be famines. These things are merely the beginning of birth pangs.
Jesus opened the subject of FEAR based on NEWS COVERAGE. They would HEAR ABOUT wars and the possibility of coming conflict. He moved from the coverage, to the actual description of real CONFLICTS. The first ones appear to be ETHNIC STRIFE related – as He said “nations” would rise against “nations – the term “ethnos” can refer to ethnic identities in the classical sense of nation. He then moved to a form of the word “basilea” – a “king” to denote strife between legal national entities. Jesus said Jews would HEAR of trouble, then see ETHNIC strife, and then NATIONAL BATTLES.
Mark 13:9 “But be on your guard; for they will deliver you to the courts, and you will be flogged in the synagogues, and you will stand before governors and kings for My sake, as a testimony to them. 10 “The gospel must first be preached to all the nations. 11 “When they arrest you and hand you over, do not worry beforehand about what you are to say, but say whatever is given you in that hour; for it is not you who speak, but it is the Holy Spirit. 12 “Brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child; and children will rise up against parents and have them put to death. 13 “You will be hated by all because of My name, but the one who endures to the end, he will be saved.
At a specific time in the future:
If the message Jesus was offering was to Jewish people, how could it be that THEY became witnesses to Jesus and were hated because of that message? How could that fit the secular and largely agnostic Jewish society that we see today? How could Orthodox Jews, fervent in their faith but resolutely against any discussion about Jesus, end up as witnesses to Him? The TIMING of this event seems to be the key to understanding what Jesus was saying. Bear in mind, we are studying this in the context of Daniel’s prophecy, and Daniel was clear that God spoke concerning Jerusalem, the Jewish people and THEIR COLLECTIVE future. The timing of these events are set in Daniel 9. We cannot avoid it because the verses recall Daniel’s words:
Daniel 9:24 “Seventy weeks have been decreed for your people and your holy city, to finish the transgression, to make an end of sin, to make atonement for iniquity, to bring in everlasting righteousness, to seal up vision and prophecy and to anoint the most holy place.
Daniel was told that the prophecy he was being given would end all other prophecy, and settle the account of sin for Israel, once and for all. It was clearly to Jews and referred to both Jerusalem and the Temple – any other reading strains the text. Keep reading:
Daniel 9:25 “So you are to know and discern that from the issuing of a decree to restore and rebuild Jerusalem until Messiah the Prince there will be seven weeks and sixty-two weeks; it will be built again, with plaza and moat, even in times of distress. 26 “Then after the sixty-two weeks the Messiah will be cut off and have nothing, and the people of the prince who is to come will destroy the city and the sanctuary. And its end will come with a flood; even to the end there will be war; desolations are determined.
No literal reading of the text can miss the fact that Daniel was offered the truth that Jerusalem would be rebuilt, and that would “start the clock” on the coming of Messiah. That coming would bring the Messiah’s DOWNFALL – He would be “cut off”. That “cut off” was linked in time to Jerusalem’s destruction. That destruction was linked to pain, suffering and desolation of the Jewish people and Jerusalem. Keep reading:
Daniel 9:27 “And he will make a firm covenant with the many for one week, but in the middle of the week he will put a stop to sacrifice and grain offering; and on the wing of abominations will come one who makes desolate, even until a complete destruction, one that is decreed, is poured out on the one who makes desolate.”
A “prince to come” is the “he” of verse 27 according to grammatical rules of the antecedent, and Daniel was informed that some future deceptive and temporary prince was coming that would give a respite to Jews for a time, then cause the Temple sacrifices to cease and will offer some open abomination to the Temple precincts – as he attempts to decimate Jewry yet again.
For the sake of time, let’s identify this period based on previous studies we have made in the Word. In 1 Thessalonians 4 and 5, we have previously studied an event that has been popularly named “The Rapture”. The text simply offers that at a time chosen by God, the believers of this time (we call them the church) will be “snatched away” by Jesus when He comes in the clouds – not to the earth – but to call His betrothed to her wedding. We noted that when this event takes place, God will turn His eyes back to His estranged wife, put away for a time to bring the spiritual “harvest of Gentiles” to completion (Luke 21:24; Romans 11:25-26). The times of Tribulation are well documented in Revelation 6-19, and we have studied them in detail, and will begin doing so again in the coming days this winter, Lord willing (stay tuned). The point is this: when the church is removed for her BEMA judgment (another subject we have discussed in 1 and 2 Corinthians) and her wedding feast, God will mark JEWISH PEOPLE that will know Jesus as Savior to share that message with the earth (see Rev. 7 and Rev. 14). Listen to the description of these witnesses as John offers it in Revelation:
Marked for witness to the lost world in the Tribulation:
Revelation 7:4 And I heard the number of those who were sealed, one hundred and forty-four thousand sealed from every tribe of the sons of Israel: 5 from the tribe of Judah, twelve thousand were sealed, from the tribe of Reuben twelve thousand, from the tribe of Gad twelve thousand, 6 from the tribe of Asher twelve thousand, from the tribe of Naphtali twelve thousand, from the tribe of Manasseh twelve thousand, 7 from the tribe of Simeon twelve thousand, from the tribe of Levi twelve thousand, from the tribe of Issachar twelve thousand, 8 from the tribe of Zebulun twelve thousand, from the tribe of Joseph twelve thousand, from the tribe of Benjamin, twelve thousand were sealed.
I simply mention this passage to show that those who believe God is done with Israel are forced to spiritualize even the clearest references to all things JEWISH: note “Israel” and the names of many sons. Revelation 14 offered a further description:
Revelation 14:1 “Then I looked, and behold, the Lamb was standing on Mount Zion, and with Him one hundred and forty-four thousand, having His name and the name of His Father written on their foreheads. … 3 And they sang a new song before the throne and before the four living creatures and the elders; and no one could learn the song except the one hundred and forty-four thousand who had been purchased from the earth. 4 … These are the ones who follow the Lamb wherever He goes. These have been purchased from among men as first fruits to God and to the Lamb.”
For those not sure it was an actual and specific time, note the character of Jesus’ words:
Mark 13:19 “For those days will be a time of tribulation such as has not occurred since the beginning of the creation which God created until now, and never will. 20 “Unless the Lord had shortened those days, no life would have been saved; but for the sake of the elect, whom He chose, He shortened the days.
What we can see from our study is simply this: The signs that Jesus gave to the Jewish men who were His Disciples – Peter, James and John – were clear. A group of Jewish men and women in some generation would be placed into a time of INTENSE persecution – worse than any previous event on earth. They would possess the belief in Messiah and be given a very special and intimate relationship with God during the earth’s darkest days. They would see the pummeling of the earth of a Tribulation Period, and would experience His protection for the first half of that time. They would be tempted to follow other voices, but God will use them to reach out to His estranged wife when the days of Gentile salvation were completed. Some would be martyred in their faith. Others would endure to the end, believing in the coming of the Son to save them. When He breaks through the clouds, they will see Him, and be saved.
The terror of the Tribulation will APPEAR to be Christ’s message overturned. It will appear as though Jews will be annihilated. It will appear as though the message of the witnesses is false. The Temple will be restored, but then overturned and defiled – and the nations will see it as just another false religion and hopeless God. THEY WILL BE WRONG because they have a physical view of the spiritual world – and it cannot be clearly seen in that way!
The Command: (Mark 13:33-37)
Mark 13:33 “Take heed, keep on the alert; … 35 “Therefore, be on the alert—for you do not know when the master of the house is coming, .. 37 “What I say to you I say to all, ‘Be on the alert!’”
Jesus called on the men to shout down through the ages – stay alert! Don’t give in! Don’t look at life by the physical appearances. Don’t judge the truth with physical eyes! My message is TRUE in the darkest hour. I will prevail. I will not leave My people – no matter how forsaken they feel or how rebellious they have become. See it the way I say it will be! Jesus changes the way I view impact, success and reward. Sometimes what the world will call LOSS is actually a spiritual GAIN.