Prepare Our Hearts – September 29th, 2021

A mid-week devotional from Central Presbyterian Church helping us to help prepare our hearts for the day ahead.  If you would like to receive these in your inbox, please let us know. Find the complete archive here.

Wednesday, September 29th, 2021
Mark 13:14-23

The Abomination of Desolation
14 “But when you see the abomination of desolation standing where he ought not to be (let the reader understand), then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains. 15 Let the one who is on the housetop not go down, nor enter his house, to take anything out, 16 and let the one who is in the field not turn back to take his cloak. 17 And alas for women who are pregnant and for those who are nursing infants in those days! 18 Pray that it may not happen in winter. 19 For in those days there will be such tribulation as has not been from the beginning of the creation that God created until now, and never will be. 20 And if the Lord had not cut short the days, no human being would be saved. But for the sake of the elect, whom he chose, he shortened the days. 21 And then if anyone says to you, ‘Look, here is the Christ!’ or ‘Look, there he is!’ do not believe it. 22 For false christs and false prophets will arise and perform signs and wonders, to lead astray, if possible, the elect. 23 But be on guard; I have told you all things beforehand.

Even though we’re probably not supposed to, we all have favorite Bible verses. Kind of like how it’s pretty much a no-no for a parent to pick a favorite child—unless they only have one—if we believe that the whole of Scripture is God’s infallible, inspired, and inerrant Word to us, then it is all sacred and special. And although that is true, even still some words seem to jump off the page and land right in our hearts. We all have verses or passages that have taken on a special meaning because of the hope or comfort it brought us in a particularly challenging season of life, or it reminds us of a special time with a now-gone loved one who shared it with us over the dinner table or at bed-time.

As we continue to look at what is known as Jesus’ “Olivet Discourse”, it is probably safe to say that none of us have a special relationship with Mark chapter 13. It is pretty unlikely that you could find a coffee mug or wall painting at the Christian bookstore with these apocalyptic-sounding words. But while many modern Christians have a tendency to either skip over these hard sayings or see them as curios anomalies in the life and teachings of Jesus, much as we would a jumbled pile of puzzle pieces with no picture to provide insight on how to put them together, history tells us that they were actually highly treasured by and valuable to believers in the first-century Jerusalem church, and for good reason.

We mentioned last week that some modern interpretations of Scripture tend to view these words of Jesus as reiterating the prophetic passages found in the Old Testament book of Daniel that will be fulfilled at a future date—still to be determined—at the very end of time. However many first-century Jews believed that the prophecy of the “abomination that makes desolate” had already been fully fulfilled in 168 BC when Greek ruler Antiochus Epiphanes IV captured Jerusalem, outlawed the practice of Judaism, and sacrificed a pig on an altar to Zeus that was built directly over the altar of burnt offerings.

Jesus is making sure that His followers understood that as abominable and abhorrent as Antiochus Epiphanes IV was, Daniel’s prophecy had only been partially fulfilled. By including the parenthetical note to his reading audience, Mark is emphatically highlighting this particular warning of Jesus, so that they would be prepared for what would soon take place.

History confirms that the imminent (but-not-yet-apparent) siege and destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans would prove even more barbaric and horrific than that wrought by the Greeks. Those who did not heed the warnings of Jesus and flee the city, which many thought to be impenetrable, would taste death by violence and/or starvation.

Many first-century Christians took these words of Jesus literally and escaped Jerusalem largely unharmed before Rome attacked. Writing in the fourth century, Christian historian Eusebius wrote of the Jerusalem siege: “Before the war, the people of the Church in Jerusalem were bidden in an oracle given by revelation to men worthy of it to depart from the city and to dwell in a city of Perea called Pella. To it those who believed in Christ migrated from Jerusalem. Once the holy men had completely left the Jews and all Judea, the justice of God at last overtook them, since they had committed such transgressions against Christ and his apostles. Divine justice completely blotted out that impious generation from among men.” Jerusalem Christians left all their belongings behind and fled to the welcoming arms of other believers who were likewise prepared to receive them.

Jewish historian Josephus, writing in the second century, provided additional detail of what transpired in Jerusalem. The Christians fled immediately after the Jewish Zealot victory over the Twelfth Roman Legion in November of 66 AD. Before the Roman reinforcements arrived en mass in spring of 68, at which time flooding made the escape to Pella impossible, the occupying Jewish Zealots desecrated the Temple by allowing convicted criminals to enter in to the sacrosanct Holy of Holies, and they even committed murder within the Temple walls itself. As horrifying as it had been to host a pork BBQ over the kosher altar, it was even infinitely more unconscionable to desecrate the image of God by taking another man’s life in God’s own house.

By heeding the prophetic words of Jesus and fleeing at the first sign of trouble, the early Jerusalem Christians were spared from the worst of the worst by. History tells us the Jerusalem Siege was an unimaginably intense period of pain and suffering for those who remained in the holy city. Yet even in the midst of well-deserved judgment and persecution, which rightly should have been complete and utter devastation, the grace of God was evident through the protective preservation of God’s foreordained remnant.
Not only was this a time of worldly combat, there was also a very real and dangerous spiritual component as well. Attempting to deceive believers and divide the church, false teachers and prophets arose with alleged “words from the Lord,” with some even claiming to be the second-coming of Christ Jesus Himself.

Jesus wanted His followers to not be deceived, but remain prepared and vigilant. In just a few days He would suffer a fate worse than any they could comprehend or imagine. By climbing that hill and submitting to the will of the Father on the cross, for a moment it would appear that the forces of evil had vanquished God’s beloved Son and thwarted the invasion of the Kingdom of Heaven on earth. But the truth was that Jesus’ indescribable pain would make way to His unsurpassable and unending glory. At the dawning of the third day, death and Satan would suffer a mortal wound as Jesus walked out of the grave in majestic triumph.

But the resurrection of Jesus would not put an immediate end to the chaos and suffering of the world. Satan continues to thrash and rage as the inevitable reality of his once-and-for-all destruction draws ever nearer. As a result, followers of Jesus should never be frightened or anxious, regardless of the ferocity of the storm around them. Rather they should hold fast to their faith in the risen Lord Jesus, drawing ever closer to the One who loves and gave Himself up for them.

Prayer for Today:
Father God, we take great comfort in knowing that You are the Creator and Sustainer of all that there is. Even in the midst of the chaos and disorder that we so often make of our own lives, You invite us to cling to Your Word. You know all of our fears and failures and yet You offer grace upon grace. Help us to understand that true life is found only in glorifying and enjoying You as You truly are. Empower us to exalt You all of our days, for You alone are worthy of praise. In the name of Jesus we pray, Amen.