There are two questions that Jesus’ begs from his teachings in Mark 13: What will the end of the world look like and When will this end come? Since the dawn of the church, these two questions have been debated in unhealthy and unhelpful ways and have spawned controversies that have led many to the extremes of over-zealousness and apathetic ruin. For some have claimed that Jesus has already returned since the Temple was destroyed in A.D. 70 and that there is little to worry about in terms of judgment. Others insist that modern day events are the direct fulfillment of Jesus’ apocalyptic teachings in the Gospels and the Book of Revelation and that bomb shelters and supply hoarder is in order. But the Author of Life and the Creator of all things urges caution right on the heels of his most terrifying predictions. Only the Father knows the day, and as we have seen, his legendary patience endures as his Gospel continues to be carried to the nations of the world.
The sober approach to Jesus’ prophecies is to first admit that though we do not know the day or the hour of his return we can rest assured that he will return. For even now we have earthquakes in various places, wars and rumor of wars from every part of the globe. We have false messiahs rise claiming that they are the Christ with usual regularity. Christians are being murdered in increasing numbers for their faith around the globe and persecutions are rising even in countries that were formerly friendly to Christ. Even more noteworthy is that in just a few generations, America has not only grown more evil, but indifferently depraved to gratuitous violence and sexual immorality – even to the point where the celebration of evil acts that were once thought abhorrent even behind closed doors are now encouraged and sought after. Since these signs persist it is reasonable then to conclude that Jesus Christ will no doubt one day return to judge the earth according to his holiness and righteousness.
When considering the celestial prophetic signs foretelling God’s judgments to come, we do well to remember that God does not judge in a corner. For some have attempted to explain recently that certain lunar and solar eclipses point to this fulfillment or that and others have taken the entirety of prophecy and attempted to force-fit God’s timing into historical events. However, neither approach aligns with Scripture. For on numerous occasions we have God’s direct, visible and unmistakable interventions on the earth, the first being his destruction of the entire world through a global flood. Additionally, we have several other examples where God judged human beings openly and on a massive scale. Consider the fire and brimstone rained down on Sodom and Gomorrah, the 10 plagues that brought terror, horror and death upon the stubborn Egyptians and the Red Sea waters that ended her great army. Consider the 185,000 slain Assyrians at the gates of Jerusalem and the 70,000 Israelites who were struck down by plague for David’s evil census taking.
If God did not act covertly when he unleashed his wrath in ages past, why would we assume that he will quietly go about the business of executing his judgment, particularly when the Son of God warns such as this: “How dreadful it will be in those days for pregnant women and nursing mothers!Pray that this will not take place in winter,because those will be days of distress unequaled from the beginning, when God created the world, until now—and never to be equaled again.” If the horrors that found the Jewish people under the invasion of the Romans in A.D. 70 were exceeded by the European starvations, Pacific brutalism and the Jewish holocaust that occurred during World War II, then we have great reason to reflect on the implications. For if Jesus’ warnings were not intended for the destruction of the Temple, but the end of the age, then it means that humankind will not only endure such a coming atrocity but will see the worst of all-time. And if both of these awful ages were insufficient to equal the horrors to come at the end of the age, should this not give us pause for the great and gratuitous sufferings to come? For Jesus’ prediction that the distress to come will be worse than the worst of atrocities the come before – and it will be a time that will come quickly and on a day that we do not know. Jesus tells us to watch, but we must watch with Christ’s sense of urgency to drive ourselves and others from our sin and into the arms of the Savior who will save his people from their sins.