The Beginning of Birth Pangs (Mark 13:1-8)

The Beginning of Birth Pangs (Mark 13:1-8)

I.) The Day of Vengeance

We are diving in this morning to the Olivet Discourse of Jesus Christ. This is the longest recorded answer of Jesus in the gospel of Mark. As we recall, it is also a highly debated sermon of Christ. The skeptics claim it proves Jesus is not who He says He is, but we will discover through our study of this entire text, that it validates Jesus Christ as God in the flesh, for only God knows the beginning from the end. His discourse warns us of the things to come.

He enters this discourse “as He was sitting on the Mount of Olives opposite the temple.”[1] They undoubtedly would have been staring at the temple from where they were. Peter, James, John, and Andrew surly would have been confused and grieved as they stared at it, because Jesus had just told them not only that the temple, which they admired would be destroyed, but that the city which they loved would be as well by saying in Mark 13:2, “Do you see these great buildings? Not one stone shall be left upon another which will not be torn down.” Jerusalem would be destroyed.

This is not what they expected to happen with the Messiah. They anticipated Him to come once to establish His kingdom. They had no idea God’s intention was for the Christ to come first as a Suffering Servant to bear the sins of His people, suffer under the penalty they deserve, die in their place, be buried, rise again the third day,  ascend to the Father forty days later, and come back a conquering King.[2]

The disciples did not realize that the coming they looked forward to was actually the Second Coming of The Christ and not the first. The reason for this is simple, the prophets did not speak of the Messiah’s work in two distinct phases. They reveal all the work of the Christ happening in one phase. Meaning they spoke the Messiah coming, preaching the gospel, and bringing the vengeance of the Day of the Lord at the same time without any prolonged lapse of time, and certainly without His death, burial, resurrection, ascension, and return to establish His everlasting Kingdom. We can see why they would believe this when we read Isaiah 61:1-2a, which speaks of the Messiah coming with both the gospel and vengeance of God:

1 The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord anointed me to bring good news to the humble; He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim release to captives and freedom to prisoners; To proclaim the favorable year of the Lord and the day of vengeance of our God…”

At the beginning of His earthly ministry, Jesus attributes this prophecy to Himself in Luke 4:16-21:

16 And He came to Nazareth, where He had been brought up; and as was His custom, He entered the synagogue on the Sabbath, and stood up to read. 17 And the scroll of Isaiah the prophet was handed to Him. And He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written: 18 “The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me, Because He anointed Me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent Me to proclaim release to captives, And recovery of sight to the blind, To set free those who are oppressed, 19 To proclaim the favorable year of the Lord.” 20 And He rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant, and sat down; and the eyes of all the people in the synagogue were intently directed at Him. 21 Now He began to say to them, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”

Now Jesus claims the Messianic title in this portion of Scripture, but He does something else of great importance. He quotes part of what Isaiah said, but not all of it. He does not speak of “the day of vengeance of our God.” The first part of what Isaiah says finds its fulfillment in what Christ accomplished in His first coming. The second part speaks of what He will accomplish at His second coming. He came first to save people from His wrath, but when He comes again He will judge people with His wrath. He came first to seek and to save that which was lost, and when He returns He will come to seek and to destroy those who do not know God and those who do not obey His gospel.[3]

The gospel is the message of how a holy and righteous God saves unholy and unrighteous sinners from the eternal wrath they rightly deserve while maintaining His righteousness and upholding justice. God is holy, and He reveals His holiness to us through His Law, and says, “You shall be holy, for I AM holy.” The Law reveals the standard we need to meet in order to be right with God; utter perfection. Only perfect and righteous people can live with God. The Law reveals that to achieve that we must flawlessly love God with all of our heart, soul, mind, and strength; and we must faultlessly love our neighbors as ourselves. The entirety of the Law hangs upon these two commands. The Law demands this be done from our birth until our death, and if we falter at one point we will fall short of His glory, thus incurring His just wrath upon us.

Man’s greatest dilemma is that we do not love God with all of our heart, soul, mind, and strength; and we do not love our neighbors as ourselves. We have all sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.[4] None of us are righteous, not even one; none of us understand; none of us seek for God; all of us have turned aside from Him and become useless; there is none who does good, there is not even one.[5] The just penalty for our sins against the One of eternal worth is eternal death under His wrath. We deserve to be forever crushed under His fury. The plight of man is that God will not forgive sin without satisfying His justice. This means that in order for God to show mercy to us and forgive our sins, He needs to judge our sins. The fair penalty is our everlasting death.

            The good news is that Father so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son;[6] and the Son so loved us that He willing humbled Himself by becoming a Man obedient to the point of death on the cross.[7] For thirty years He lived that life we could not live; a life of perfect obedience to His Father. He loved Him with all of His heart, soul, mind, and strength; and He loved His neighbor as Himself. He lived a sinless life and earned what we could not, righteousness according to the Law of God. He went to the cross to become our sin. He went to it an innocent and righteous Man, yet with our sin upon Him He hung as one who was guilty and unrighteous. He rendered Himself as a sacrifice for our sin by bearing the penalty that we deserve. The Father crushed the Son under His fury toward our sin and forsook Him. The Father treated His Son as if He had lived our lives. Christ shed His blood to cover our sins and to bear the wrath we are due, and before He died He said, “It is finished.” This means, with His blood and body, He satisfied the wrath of God completely for all who would turn away from their sins and trust in what He did on the cross as the Eternal Son of God.

            God proved Him to be His Son when He raised Him three days later never to die again. By resurrecting Jesus from the grave God also demonstrated that forgiveness of sins and the hope of eternal life will be freely given to all who repent and believe. Those who do so will be forgiven their sins, and given His righteousness. He became our sin that we might become the righteousness of God in Him. With our sin upon Him the Father judged Him as if He had lived our lives. With His righteousness upon us the Father will love us as if we had lived His life. God is just and justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus![8] Romans 5:6-11 says:

For while we were still helpless, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly.For one will hardly die for a righteous person;though perhaps for the good person someone would even dare to die. But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from the wrath of God through Him. 10 For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life. 11 And not only this, but we also celebrate in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received the reconciliation.”

We in Christ have been given by God the ministry of reconciliation.[9] The message “that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them…We are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were entreating through us” to the world saying, “Be reconciled to Me!”[10]

Before Jesus Christ ascended to the Father He commissioned His church to carry this gospel to all of creation.[11] He commands all people everywhere to repent and believe the good news of life in Christ “because He has set a day on which He will judge the world in righteousness through a Man whom He has appointed, having furnished proof to all people by raising Him from the dead.”[12] Jesus Christ, the Eternal Son of God, became a Man obedient to the point of death, was buried, was raised the third day, ascended to the Father forty days later, and will one day return. He is coming back for the day of vengeance of our God.

II.) The Beginning of Birth Pangs

Having just prophesied of the destruction of Jerusalem, Jesus sits on the Mount of Olives with Peter, James, John, and Andrew. Since this did not line up with their view of the end times, the text tells us that they “were questioning Him privately, ‘Tell us, when will these things be, and what will be the sign when all these things are going to be fulfilled?’” Matthew 24:3 gives more details as to what they mean when they says all these things, “Tell us, when will these things be, and what will be the sign of Your coming, and of theend of the age?” As we can see, they are not just asking about the destruction of Jerusalem. They want further details about what to expect about His coming and the end of the age.

Keep in mind that they still have no idea that the event they are looking to is His second coming and not His first. Since Jesus is with them as the declared and demonstrated Messiah they are expecting the day of His coming with the vengeance of God ushering in the consummation of the age.  Though Jesus repeatedly told them, there is no thought to His death, burial, resurrection, ascension, and subsequent years up to His return. They wonder “what will be the sign when all of these things are going to be fulfilled?” In other words, “Clearly You are here with us, so what should we expect to see after this destruction? What will be the sign of Your coming, and of the end of the age? When will we know that the vengeance of God will come, and Your kingdom will be established?” By the way, in Acts 1:6-7 they are still asking this after His resurrection and before He ascends to His Father:

“’Lord, is it at this time that You are restoring the kingdom to Israel?’ But He said to them, “It is not for you to know periods of time or appointed times which the Father has set by His own authority.”

In His Olivet Discourse He gave them what they needed to know about the things to come. This means He has also given us what we need to know in order to discern that He is near. The Greek word for sign is Semeion, which talks of that by which a person or thing is distinguished from others and is known.[13] A sign is clear and not illusive. Jesus takes up His discourse in response to their question and reveals what will occur before His coming. We should understand Jesus’ entire teaching in three parts:

1.) Verses 5-14 cover what to expect up to the tribulation period and into to.

2.) Verses 14-23 cover what to expect during the great tribulation, especially the latter half of it after the Abomination of Desolation has positioned himself where he should not be.

3.) Verses 24-37 cover the Second Coming of Christ and our needing to be ready for it.

As we turn our attention to Mark, we will see that this text is very straight forward. We will first look at what Jesus says to expect, and then we will examine how we should react to such events.

Jesus says in Mark 13:5-8 says:

“See to it that no one misleads you. Many will come in My name, saying, ‘I am He!’ and they will mislead many. 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. 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 pains.”

In other words, the time up to His coming will be marked by rampant spiritual deception and unceasing destruction:

1.) False teachers and false Christ’s will arise and mislead many.

2.) War will be a constant reality among kingdoms and nations.

3.) There will be significant natural disasters and famines, and in Luke 21:11 Jesus includes plagues, which should be literally understood as disease.

Jesus says when you see these things know that is “is not yet the end…These things are merely the beginning of birth pangs.” Take a moment to consider the contractions women experience when it is time to deliver a child. They gradually begin to increase in both frequency and intensity right before the end. These events indicate that His coming is near. Just as contractions warn a pregnant woman that the baby is coming, so will the increased frequency and intensity of these events indicate to us that Christ is on the horizon.

Knowing this is important because none of these events are new to human history. We live in a fallen world, so from the time of Adam to now, human history has suffered under the spiritual deception of false teachers, the devastation of war, and the destruction of natural disasters, famines, and disease. Jesus tells us as His coming draws near these things will rampantly occur.

III.) Spiritual Deception

Regarding spiritual deception, Jesus says, “Many will come in My name, saying, ‘I am He!’ and they will mislead many.” It is not just a few, it is many who will come in His name disguising themselves as the way, the truth, and the life and will draw people away from the truth and into error. Jesus tells us they will be successful. This should not surprise us, because Paul said to the Ephesian elders in Acts 20:28-30:

28 Be on guard for yourselves and for all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood. 29 I know that after my departure savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; 30 and from among your own selves men will arise, speaking perverse things to draw away the disciples after them.”

He warns of such men in 2 Corinthians 11:13-15,

13 For such men are false apostles, deceitful workers, disguising themselves as apostles of Christ. 14 No wonder, for even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light. 15 Therefore it is not surprising if his servants also disguise themselves as servants of righteousness…”

He says in 1 Tim 4:1, “But the Spirit explicitly says that in later times some will fall away from the faith, paying attention to deceitful spirits and teachings of demons…”

In 2 Timothy 3:13, he says, “evil people and impostors will proceed from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived.”

Jesus instruct us to “See to it that no one misleads you.” See to it is the Greek word Blepo.[14] It has a literal and metaphorical meaning, and both are to be employed in this text. Literally, it means to see and discern of the bodily eye, which is what we are to do with the other events Jesus has listed. Metaphorically, it means to see with the mind’s eye. To discern mentally, and observe, perceive, discover, and understand cognitively. To avoid being misled, Jesus commands people to be discerning.  John says in 1 John 2:18-19:

18 Children, it is the last hour; and just as you heard that antichrist is coming, even now many antichrists have appeared; from this we know that it is the last hour. 19 They went out from us, but they were not really of us…”

He goes on to say in 1 John 4:1:

“Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world.”

How do you test the Spirits? How do you guard yourself from being misled? How do you discern truth from error? You pour into the truth of the Word of the Living God! Jesus said that, “Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God.”[15] Jesus Christ prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane that His people would be sanctified in the Word of God, “I have given them Thy word…Sanctify them in the truth; Thy word is truth.”[16]

It is through the study of His Word that Christ takes those whom He has saved and sanctifies them into maturity.[17] We will grow in respect to their salvation and progress closer to the image of Christ. Hebrews 6:14 tells us this will result in our senses being “trained to discern good and evil.” Ephesians 4:13-14 tells us that because of our attaining:

“to the unity of the faith, and a knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature man…we are no longer to be children, tossed here and there by waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of people, by craftiness in deceitful scheming.”

Paul told Timothy in 2 Timothy 2:15,

“Be diligent to present yourself approved to God as a worker whodoes not need to be ashamed, accurately handling the word of truth.”

As we have already noted, he went on to tell him that evil men and imposters will proceed from bad to worse deceiving and being deceived. His instruction to Timothy considering the certainty of this is simple, “continue in the things you have learned and become convinced of, knowing from whom you have learned them.”[18] The instruction is to study the Scripture, and proclaim it even though:

The time will come when they will not tolerate sound doctrine; but wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance with their own desires, and they will turn their ears away from the truth and will turn aside to myths.”[19]

Paul says in 2 Corinthians 10:3-5:

For though we walk in the flesh, we do not wage battle according to the flesh, for the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh, but divinely powerful for the destruction of fortresses. We are destroying speculations and every lofty thing raised against the knowledge of God, and we are taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ…”

As the coming of Christ draws near spiritual deception will intensify to a higher degree then we are currently seeing. Jesus commands us to be discerning and to see to it no one misleads you.

V.) Physical Destruction

Regarding the devastation of war, and the destruction brought on by disasters, famines, and plagues, Jesus says in Mark 13:7-8:

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. For nation will arise 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 pains.”

Again these things are not new to human history, but as Christ’s return draws near more and more wars will be waged over economic or territorial gain. Wars will be ushered in by nationalism. Civil wars will irrupt, and revolutions will arise.

According to the World Population Review, there are currently 232 countries at war as we speak. This figure only includes countries whose conflicts have had 1,000 or more deaths. This does not include the wars that occur among the tribes in the remotest parts of the jungles such as Papua New Guinea, or Venezuela.

Not only will wars increase in frequency and intensity but so will natural disasters, famines, and plagues. When the tribulation hits these events will be like we have never seen them before. Much of the earth’s population will die as God uses these things to judge the earth in righteousness.

Jesus tells His people not to be frightened when we hear of these things, because “those things must take place.” This is all a part of the sovereign plan of God as He works towards the consummation of the age.

V.) Be Discerning and Dauntless

What will be the sign of His coming? What will be the sign of the end of the age? False teachers and false Christ’s will arise and mislead many. War will be a constant reality among kingdoms and nations. There will be significant natural disasters, famines, and plagues.

Jesus’ charge to His disciples provides us two points of application as we see the frequency and intensity of these events increasing: Do not be misled and do not be frightened. Rather be discerning and be dauntless, because these things must take place in fulfillment of the Word of our God and Savior, Jesus Christ. These are merely the beginning of birth pangs.

The more we see and hear of these increasing, we know that we are closer to the day when He will come back to receive us; we who know God and who have obeyed His gospel; we who have been saved by His grace through our faith in the Person and substitutionary work of the Christ and His cross.

If you do not know God and have not obeyed His gospel, understand that the more you see and hear of these events intensifying means that you too are closer to His coming. Know, however, that He is not coming to save you. He is coming to bring the vengeance of God upon. Turn from your sin. Turn from your works. Lose sight of yourself, and trust in Christ and be saved from the wrath to come. Call upon the name of the Lord will be saved. All who do so will not be disappointed.

[1] Mark 13:3a

[2] Isaiah 53; Acts 1-11; Revelation 19:11-19

[3] 2 Thessalonians 1:7-9

[4] Romans 3:23

[5] Romans 3:11-12

[6] John 3:16

[7] Philippians 2:5-8

[8] Romans 3:26

[9] 2 Corinthians 5:18

[10] 2 Corinthians 5:19-20

[11] Matthew 28:18-20; Mark 16:15; Luke

[12] Acts 17:30-31

[13] Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance, NT Number: G4592

[14] Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance; NT Number: G991

[15] Matthew 4:4

[16] John 17:14a,17

[17] 1 Peter 1:23-2:2

[18] 2 Timothy 3:14

[19] 2 Timothy 4:3-4

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