Mark 13:3-8 (NIV): As Jesus was sitting on the Mount of Olives opposite the temple, Peter, James, John and Andrew asked him privately, “Tell us, when will these things happen? And what will be the sign that they are all about to be fulfilled?” Jesus said to them: “Watch out that no one deceives you. Many will come in my name, claiming, ‘I am he,’ and will deceive many. When you hear of wars and rumors 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.”
Jesus’ brief prophecy about the looming destruction of Jerusalem was nothing short of earth-shattering in the minds of the disciples. They all knew the history of the city and the nation – that nearly 600 years before their day, God had allowed the city to be destroyed and the people carried off into exile in Babylon. But after the exiles returned 70 years later, rebuilt the temple, and reconstructed the walls, popular opinion was that God would never punish His people or reject His temple again. So when Jesus foretold the destruction of the temple (which implied the destruction of the city), the disciples were stunned. Two sets of brothers, Peter and Andrew, James and John, came to Jesus hungry for more information: when would those things happen, and what would be the signs that they could look for that would tell them that it would happen soon?
The first part of Jesus’ answer was that many things would happen in the near future: people would appear claiming to be the Messiah, or even claiming to be Jesus returned, and they would succeed in deceiving a lot of people; wars would come and go; earthquakes and famines would occur. For many people those kinds of confusing and frightening events would make people believe that the world was spinning out of control toward the end of all things. But Jesus cautioned that those things were merely the beginning of the birth pains; much else would happen before Jerusalem fell, let alone before the real end of the world.
Even today many people are looking for signs that the end of the world is near. And they can see plenty of things that convince them that it must be on track to happen very soon. There are still false Messiahs, claiming to be either Jesus or one better than Him. There are still wars and rumors of wars, all piped live into our homes through our televisions. And there are plenty of earthquakes and famines, and all kinds of other natural disasters. But the fall of Jerusalem and its timing were not dictated by man’s wars (even though the Lord used warriors to accomplish it in AD 70), or nature’s disasters. The destruction was God’s judgment on the people for refusing to receive God’s Son when He came. And, in the same way, the end of all things will not come by the decision of people to make war, nor will it come because of the natural occurrence of earthquakes or famines. Instead, Jesus’ return and the end of the world will come at a time that God Himself decides, and it will be His final judgment on those who have persisted in their rebellion against Him.
Father, we do freak out from time to time over the events and disasters that are constantly kept before us on our televisions and radios. But the time of the end will never be determined by those things, but by You alone. Help us, Lord, to never allow ourselves to get fixated on events, but to keep our eyes steadfastly on You, simply trusting You to choose the absolutely correct time to draw things to a close. Amen.