Mark 13:9-13 (NIV): “You must be on your guard. You will be handed over to the local councils and flogged in the synagogues. On account of me you will stand before governors and kings as witnesses to them. And the gospel must first be preached to all nations. Whenever you are arrested and brought to trial, do not worry beforehand about what to say. Just say whatever is given you at the time, for it is not you speaking, but the Holy Spirit. 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.”
The disciples were consumed with curiosity about the events that would lead up to the destruction of Jerusalem that Jesus had just foretold (v2). They wanted to be told about events that they would be able to see and identify, that would tell them that it was approaching, so that they could be ready. But Jesus began by sharing with them things that would not only happen to them personally, but that would also be true for followers of Jesus all through the ages, far beyond Jerusalem’s fall, all the way to the time of Jesus’ return.
The “time between” would be a time of great power in the lives of Jesus’ followers as the gospel spread out and was preached all over the known world. But it would also be a time of great trial for them as well. They will be handed over to courts and councils, and flogged in the synagogues, treated as blasphemers and renegades. They will even be betrayed by their own family members, and sentenced to death. They will be hated by all people because they bear the name of Jesus.
This is a pretty dark picture. And it is strikingly accurate, as the disciples themselves would be able to attest to in just a few short weeks. All of the apostles except John suffered death by martyrdom. And even John was persecuted and imprisoned. It’s accuracy can also be attested to by many modern day disciples, who are persecuted for the sake of the gospel.
But into that dark scene, several rays of bright light shine. Jesus urges all of His followers to not buckle under the pain and stress of persecution. Instead, “he who stands firm to the end will be saved” (v13b). But the disciples do not have to stand firm in their own strengh. Just as Jesus promised that as they go and make disciples of all nations, that “surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age” (Matthew 28:20 NIV); just as he promised that the Father “will give you another Counselor to be with you forever” (John 14:16 NIV); Jesus now promises that even when they are on trial for their lives, they will not be alone: “do not worry beforehand about what to say. Just say whatever is given you at the time, for it is not you speaking, but the Holy Spirit.”
Even though the times will appear very dark, Jesus will still be working. Even though it looks like the end of the world is very near, the work of the kingdom must go on in the power of the Holy Spirit until Jesus returns. Today, as 2000 years ago, it is very tempting for followers of Jesus to take our eyes off of the vital work that He calls us to, and begin to spend time and energy focusing on and discussing the signs of the times, to worry beforehand about what to say, instead of trusting in the Holy Spirit to give us all that we need at the time. God will provide us as His people with all that we need to do the work He has called us to, no matter when we live, no matter where we are, no matter how dark things appear. The vital thing for all of God’s people, then and now, is to keep our focus on the work of God’s kingdom, and leave the future in His hands.
Father, it does sometimes feel like things are spinning out of control in our world. We see persecution increasing in other parts of the world, oppression of Christians happening in our own nation, and it is so easy in times like that to get our eyes off of our assigned kingdom work, and to get fixated instead on these events, wondering how they relate to the end of the world. Help us, Lord, to always stay on task for You, to keep Your agenda at the forefront of our lives, and to just trust that You are still in control. Amen.