When we speak of the Gospel, in one major sense, we are talking about Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection. There may be more to the Gospel than this, but there cannot be any less. All of Christian doctrine and practice hinge upon this. This week, we are going to see a picture of why Jesus says he came. Opinions abound on why Jesus came, but unless those opinions are also stated in Jesus’ words in the pages of Scripture, they have no authority or merit. Make plans to be at church this week and invite someone to come with you so we can see the reason Jesus came.
As part of the celebration of the Passover, there was a special meal prepared and shared that told the story of how God acted to deliver Israel from Egypt. The day when everyone ate this meal had arrived, and in Mark 14:12-26, Jesus is going to share it with his followers. In verses 13-15, Jesus tells his disciples where to go to prepare the meal. It doesn’t say whether Jesus made these preparations ahead of time or not, but it is meant for us to understand in the context of Jesus’ authority. Remember how in chapter 11 Jesus sent his disciples to get the colt and to say “the Lord needs it and will return it”? Well this is similar here. The owner of the house responded to Jesus’ authority and gave him use of the room. Verse 17 says that as evening came, Jesus joined them in the room for the meal. Jesus knew what Judas had done back in verse 10, and he tells all of the disciples that one will betray him. In verses 18-20, Jesus says, this one who will betray me is one of you, eating this meal, sharing life with me.
Judas has always been presented in a terrible light, but he was one of Jesus’ closest friends. He travelled with him and worked with him for roughly 3 years before he betrayed him. That is what makes his betrayal all the more tragic. Jesus was betrayed by someone he loved deeply. But even in this terrible betrayal, the plan of God was going to be accomplished, and would not be hindered. Then in verses 22-25, Jesus shares the Passover meal with his followers. We have read that Jesus’ message was that the Kingdom of God has come close enough to experience and that the promised Time is fulfilled. We have seen throughout this Gospel that Jesus continually teaches that the reason this is happening is because he is the King and he is fulfilling the promises. Jesus fulfills the promises of Kingship passed down from David. He fulfills the law passed down from Moses. He fulfills the sacrificial system and the Temple with its religious expressions. He has re-oriented all of the promises and worship of God’s people upon himself. And here in verses 22-25, he now re-orients the Passover toward and upon himself. He says the cup that all drink of now represents his blood. He says that the bread that is broken and is passed out to everyone now represents his body. God delivered Israel from Egypt by killing the firstborn. Now God is going to deliver humanity from slavery to sin and bondage to death through the death of his own son. In Egypt, those who killed the lamb and applied the blood were passed over by death. Jesus is now showing that those who apply his blood to their lives will also be passed over by eternal death. He is the lamb who brings deliverance to the people of God and he is the lamb who takes away the sins of the world. This is a primary reason why since the first days of the church, church gatherings all over the world and throughout history have participated in Communion, Eucharist, or the Lord’s Supper. We remember our Lamb who is also our King. He rules over the world and he died to take away our sins. He gives his church this meal to share to remember what he has done for us.
Mark 13 is focused around Jesus’ response to the disciples’ question in verse 4 about when the Temple will be destroyed. In Jesus’ day, all of Jewish religion was focused on the Temple, but Jesus has been teaching throughout Mark’s Gospel that religion is changing because the time is fulfilled and God’s kingdom had come. As Israel’s situation became more and more desperate under Roman oppression in the 1st century, there was increasing expectation that God was coming to intervene and correct what was happening. Many Jewish people were awaiting a Messiah to come and overthrow Rome and bring in a golden age for Israel much like David had done. In this period of history there were many so-called messiahs who attempted to do this only to be violently defeated. But people continued to follow these types men who would arise with some measure of influence and military aptitude. The people thought God was coming at any moment to vindicate Israel.
In many ways, Mark 13 is a message contradicting this. Jesus is teaching against the man standing on the side of the street in a sandwich sign which reads “The End is Near!” In fact, Jesus is teaching that rather than being freed by military might, Israel is going to be overcome and the temple destroyed. Jesus is teaching that the time of this end is coming for Israel, but not as soon as they thought. He is telling them to get ready for the long struggle before them.
Historically, people have interpreted Jesus’ answer here in Mark 13 in various ways. Some say that the entirety is referring to the Temple being destroyed in 70 AD during the First Jewish-Roman War. Others say that it is partially speaking about this and partially speaking about the end of all things or “End Times”. Still others interpret this passage with only the End Times in mind focusing on what it may or may not teach about the future.
There are some things that should guide us in our understanding of Mark 13. First, we should focus on what the passage clearly says before we move to speculation on future events. Allow the biblical text to drive our system of thinking rather than trying to fit a text into our system. The Bible is not a crystal ball so there’s no clear and decisive picture of how the future events are going to unfold. There are elements of future events recorded in the scriptures, but only enough to drive us to a proper response. That response is hope that God will bring justice and restoration to his world and proper fear of God that directs our behavior so we are ready to meet him at any moment. A second idea that should guide our understanding of Mark 13 is that we should consider how Jesus’ answer fits into the message of the Gospel of Mark before we think about how it fits into our understanding of unknown future events. And third, we should consider how this might impact us now and today rather than in some theoretical future. So our task is not to speculate about when the end of the world may be, but to consider what Jesus is teaching us about the Gospel, or Good News of God in Mark 13.
There are many passages to study when it comes to “End Times” studies, but the focus here is on Mark 13. This is not an attempt at an exhaustive discussion on Mark 13 (that would be exhausting!). In light of the three ideas proposed above, there will be two points argued in this approach to Mark 13:
- Here, the Bible is teaching that Temple religion is being replaced by Jesus religion.
- Applying what is read here out to teach us to live properly with watchfulness and expectation.
Jesus has spent the last few days in the Temple arguing with Israel’s religious teachers and leaders and teaching the crowds of people who had come to Jerusalem for Passover. In Mark 13:1-7, he now leaves the Temple with his disciples. As they are leaving one of the 12 remarks on the magnificence of the Temple structure. And in verse 2 Jesus says the Temple is going to be completely destroyed. His disciples reply in verse 4 with a question about the timing of this destruction. The remainder of chapter 13 is primarily concerned with answering this question. There are two parts to their question: 1) When will this happen? And 2) what will be the sign of the destruction.
The disciples want to be prepared for this, so they ask Jesus to teach them about when the Temple will be destroyed. Whatever your view is of the Bible’s teaching of the End Times, it makes no sense to think of Jesus not answering the disciples question in Mark 13. Verse 4 frames the entire chapter around the subject of the Temple being destroyed. Mark 13 is not centered around the End Times, it is centered around answering this question. This is not to say that End Times elements are not found here, but they are not the center or focus of Jesus’ answer to this question.
Jesus warns them in verse 5 of those who would deceive them about these matters. In verses 6-7 he says false messiahs will come and there will constantly be news about wars local and throughout the Empire. He says the disciples are to respond to these things calmly because the end of the Temple will not have arrived quite yet. Verse 7 says, “do not be alarmed”. Why? Because “the end is still to come”. In other words, history will go on as always. There will be turmoil and problems. This doesn’t mean the end.
This would be the period in between Jesus’ resurrection and when the temple was destroyed in 70 AD, around 37 years. A lot happened during that time and Jesus was telling his disciples not to worry about the political upheaval and false teachers that would arise during this time.
In Mark 13:8-13, Jesus teaches that all of the problems the disciples were going to face should be expected. There will always be nations jockeying for power. There will be earthquakes and famines just as there has always been. Verse 8 says these things are birth pains. There is no doubt that you are going to have a baby when you have birth pains, but just because you have them, doesn’t mean labor has begun. Jesus moves from political turmoil and natural disasters to speaking about the preaching of the Gospel. The task of preaching the Gospel to all nations wasn’t going to be an easy one, so when his disciples do it they should expect to be opposed. Jesus says there will continue to be turmoil and upheaval all around them. They will be persecuted and it is through this persecution that the Gospel will be preached to the nations. This is what happens with Paul in the book of Acts when he goes before a Governor named Felix, before certain rulers, and ultimately he goes to Caesar himself and shares the Gospel. Verse 10 refers back to the question of verse 4. “What are the signs that the Temple will be destroyed?” is the question of verse 4. And verse 10 says, First, or before that happens, the Gospel will be preached to all nations. The nature of Gospel includes a missionary component from the beginning. It’s automatic that those who believe it will teach it everywhere they go. In the generation of believers after the resurrection, the Gospel spreads like wildfire all over the world. This is seen in the book of Acts: Paul and his entourage takes it throughout the Roman Empire. Church history holds that Thomas went to India. Philip preaches to an Ethiopian who believes and takes the Gospel to Africa. That generation after the resurrection takes the Gospel to the whole world. So, why was this necessary before the Temple would be destroyed?
Glad you asked!
If you recall, at places in several previous posts on Mark’s Gospel, we have talked about how Jesus was changing the way God’s people would worship him. No longer do the people of God need to go to a Temple and approach God through sacrifices, but now they can come to God face-to-face and approach him boldly through Jesus’ sacrifice. In order for Temple to be fully replaced, the Gospel needed to be fully established. We can think of it another way too: in order for the former Temple-and-Law-Religion to be replaced, the new Jesus-religion had to be established. So after the resurrection, the disciples proclaim the Gospel all over the world. All the nations of the earth now see how they may approach God through Jesus. They are no longer required to travel to a temple to offer sacrifice, because Jesus is their sacrifice and their temple. Here verses 8-13 talk about this task of taking the Gospel to all nations. It is not an easy task but it is a task that remains with us today and all Christians are called to it. Verses 12 and 13 speak about betrayal and death being results of participating in this mission. This has undoubtedly been the case for many throughout history from the apostles until today.
Mark 13:14-23 make reference to Daniel 11-12 and verse 14 refers to the” Abomination that causes Desolation”. It also appears in Matthew 24. Daniel’s prophecy was fulfilled around 167 BC when a Roman ruler named Antiochus Epiphanes set up a statue of Zeus in the Temple and sacrificed a pig on the altar in Jerusalem. Jesus borrows this same imagery when he foretells the temple destruction in 70 AD. The Jews revolted against the Romans in 66 and three and a half years later the Roman General Titus destroys the Temple in 70 AD. Jesus is warning his followers to be prepared and ready when they see this happen. In verses 21-22, he says false messiahs will continue to try to gain followers and Jesus says in verse 23 that his elect needs to be on their guard.
After this the language changes in Mark 13:24-31. The language becomes more stylized and figurative. Jesus is likely quoting Isaiah 13:10, but there are other similar passages to verses 24-25. Whether this is referring to AD 70, future events, or both is difficult to tell. One reason to interpret it as referring to 70 AD is because of the term “This Generation” in verse 30. Jesus is referring to the disciples and those following him at this point. Many of them lived long enough to see the Gospel expand worldwide and also for the Temple to be destroyed. This passage says that there will be no debate when this time comes. Jesus uses the fig tree again as an illustration. He says in verse 28 that when you see the fig tree covered with leaves there is not a doubt that it is summertime. Like this, Jesus says when all of these things happen, the end will be near. In other words, by the time you can tell it’s that close, it will be too late to prepare for it.
Moving on to Mark 13:32-37, there is another shift in the wording. Verses 17, 19, 20, and 24 refer to “Days” when speaking about the time surrounding the destruction of the Temple. Then in verse 32 it switches to “day”. There is a change of language that points to a change of subject. I view this as a change from Jesus speaking about 70 AD to talking about future events because of the change of wording in the text. Jesus changes the subject from answering the question in verse 4 about the sign of the destruction of the Temple, to the last Day or what we call the Second Coming of Christ. In verse 32 he says that although he has knowledge about the coming “days” of trouble in verses 17, 19, 20, and 24, about “that day” in verse 32, only the Father has knowledge. So the “days” of trouble are different from the coming “day”. He uses the example of a man leaving his house in charge of his servants in verse 34. This is pointing to Jesus’ resurrection and return to his heavenly throne. And he ends his answer with a challenge in verses 35-37 to “Watch” or be prepared.
So, after taking all of our time this morning to offer a brief explanation of Mark 13, let’s return to the two ways we need to apply it:
1. The Bible is teaching us that Temple religion is being replaced by Jesus religion. This first application is related to our thoughts and how we read the Bible and understand Jesus. Mark 13 continues to teach Jesus’ Gospel that the Kingdom has come and the time is fulfilled. Jesus says the Temple is going to be destroyed because he has fulfilled anything and everything the Temple was meant to do. We now go to Jesus and through Jesus for worship. We worship him and he makes worship possible by his life, death, and resurrection. Jesus fulfills the sacrificial system that was practiced in the Temple. Animal sacrifice could never take away man’s sin. So Jesus becomes man, lives perfectly, and gives his own life as the perfect sacrifice for the sin he never committed. This passage is about the period of time from when the Temple religion changed to the Jesus religion and the latter was decisively established when the Temple was destroyed. The book of Acts and much of the New Testament describes this in between time. There are lots of questions about how Jews who believed in Jesus are to live. Jesus speaks beforehand showing that once the Temple is destroyed a lot of their problems were going to be resolved. He also makes a way for the whole world to be brought into God’s plan of redemption. There was an outer court to the Temple so non-Jews or Gentiles could come to worship, but Jesus tears the innermost curtain of the Temple so that now there is no more separation between Jew and Gentile. All who come to Jesus are God’s people regardless of race. Verse 10 points to the inclusion of all races in the plan of God because everyone can come to God through the Good News of Jesus, or what we also call the Gospel. In light of this, if you are attempting to come to God on your own terms then you are mistaken. God doesn’t require us to clean up our act before he’ll accept us. In fact, even if we do that, it doesn’t mean he will. He will accept all who come to him believing in Jesus and repenting or aligning their life with him. Attempting to be reconciled to God in any other way is not enough. Only Jesus can make a way for us to come to God. Not only does Jesus fulfill and replace the Temple, but he demonstrates that any attempts to reach God on our own are deficient. Only Jesus gets us forgiveness and eternal life.
2. Living properly includes a watchfulness and expectation. This second application of Mark 13 is related to our thoughts and our actions. “Be on guard” is mentioned 4 times in v 5, 9, 23, 33. Verses 35-37 summarized the point of the whole passage with one word “Watch!” Jesus leaves his followers and us with a responsibility to prepare for whatever following him might invite into our lives. He says watch in such a way that you endure persecution, aren’t led astray, have hope, and do not fear his return. The Christian life is one of continual preparation. We are called to regularly evaluate the way we think about life and the way we conduct our lives and be sure they are honoring to God. The Christian church has always believed that Jesus could return at any moment and if we should meet the grave before he does, then for those who believe, we understand to be a peaceful sleep. We are to live our lives in light of this.
This week in Small Group Bible Study, we read and discussed 1 Thessalonians 3. Here are the major points which we discussed:
1 Thessalonians 3
(1) What does this passage teach about God?
- If we cannot help someone in our presence, God has given us prayer to aid others (verse 10).
- God will work in his church through prayer. There are other ways that God works in his church, but a primary and essential way is with and through the prayers of those in the church (verses 10-13).
- God is the one who makes our love for one another increase (verse 12).
- Jesus is coming again(verse 13).
(2) What does it teach about me?
- Trials and suffering can cause us to be unsettled in our faith if we aren’t encouraged through them by other believers (verses 2-3).
- We will face trials without a doubt because we follow Jesus (verse 3 “we were destined for them” (NIV)).
- God can use my faith to encourage someone who is enduring trial, distress, and persecution (verse 7).
3) How must I believe or obey to align my life with God’s Word?
- Paul was facing persecution for preaching the Gospel, how does this give perspective to our trials? Do I endure suffering for a worldly gain that I will not endure to further the Gospel? Do I give time and energy to everything except the Lord’s work?
- Is my life enhanced by my work to help other stand firm in the Lord? (verse 8)
- Do we pray for other this way: to supply what is lacking in the other’s faith, to increase their love for others, so their hearts would be blameless in holiness? (verses 10-13)
- Does our church have overflowing love for each other? (verse 12)
- Am I praying for fellow believers? (verses 10-13) This is how God will grow the love for one another within our church. If I’m not experiencing the deep and authentic love within the church body, is it because I have neglected to pray for it?
What insights do you have into this passage that aren’t mentioned above?
Jesus was on his way to Jerusalem with his followers. This wasn’t such a big deal because lots of people were heading that way, because it was almost time for the great feast known as Passover. People from all over came to Jerusalem for Passover. But on his way, Jesus passes through Jericho and heals a blind man. As the crowds going to Jerusalem are increasing, more people are recognizing Jesus and not only going to Jerusalem, but going with him. His reputation as a healer and teacher with great authority was everywhere. Everyone knew him. So now that he was headed to Jerusalem, he heals a blind man who was calling him the Son of David.
David was Israel’s great King. He was a great warrior defeating giants and taking on God’s enemies. In allowing this man to refer to him as the Son of David, Jesus was no longer keeping quiet the fact that he is Israel’s Messiah. In fact, the crowd had tried to keep the man quiet, but it was Jesus who told him to speak, asking him “What do you want me to do for you?” There had been subtle hints and murmurs about Jesus being the Christ, the Messiah, the anointed one, but nothing this explicit or public until blind Bartimaeus is given his sight. And once the crowd hears this, the momentum of his ministry grows and Jesus continues to Jerusalem.
Jesus had been teaching around Israel for nearly 3 years by now. He has been teaching that the time is fulfilled and God’s Kingly authority was coming close enough to experience. The time is fulfilled and the Kingdom has come. And Jesus has not only taught this, but acted it out in his compassion healing people and feeding people. Now he is bringing this teaching and this action to Jerusalem. This is where we pick up the Story in Mark 11:1-10.
This scene has traditionally been called the Triumphal Entry and is often preached on Palm Sunday, the week before Easter. Mark’s version differs slightly from the other 3 Gospel accounts because they are emphasizing different aspects. Mark is using this story to bring together the message Jesus has been proclaiming which he calls the Gospel, or the Good News – The Time is fulfilled and the Kingdom has come. In this story we see this same message, this Gospel, presented in another way. Here, Jesus is acting out the Gospel that he is fulfilling the promises of God to Israel and through Israel to humanity.
God is coming to live with his people and rule his people himself. In these few verses, there are a number of Old Testament allusions and references that all point to this one specific truth: Jesus comes to fulfill the promised Time and he does this as the King bringing his Kingdom with him.
Jesus connects his own story with the Old Testament story in several ways. The first reference has to do with where Jesus is, before coming into Jerusalem. Verse 1 says that he was on the “Mount of Olives” which is to the east of Jerusalem. Zechariah 14:4 is a prophetic passage about God rescuing Israel from her exile and her oppressors and doing so from the Mount of Olives. There’s significance in the details here. Jesus is intentional about what he is doing because what he does and what he says are teaching the same thing. He is bringing together in himself all of the promises of God.
A second Old Testament reference can be seen in verse 2-7. In verses 2-6, Jesus sends his disciples to get a donkey or a colt. Perhaps this was pre-arranged so the people knew that Jesus would be sending his followers to get it. But, kings had the right to commandeer whatever they wanted. So this is meant to be a demonstration of Jesus’ authority to take the colt, use it, and return it. In verse 7 they bring the colt to Jesus and place their cloths upon it for him, and he rides on it. A King demonstrated the position of being a servant of the people by riding on a donkey or a colt during a royal demonstration. This practice is seen around 900 years earlier with Solomon in 1 Kings 1:38-40. Here Solomon rides on the royal mule to demonstrate his claim to the throne of Israel. The people see this and begin shouting and cheering. The scene in Jesus’ day was not so different from Solomon’s.
Matthew includes Zechariah 9:9 in his retelling of this event in Jesus’ ministry, but Mark only alludes to it. Jesus rides into Jerusalem on a colt or a donkey to demonstrate that he is Israel’s King. Just like Solomon and others did, Jesus is showing he is Israel’s King. As Jesus rides this humble animal into Jerusalem, the people lay down their coats and palm branches and other things as a covering for the road.
This is a third Old Testament allusion seen here in Mark 11. In 2 Kings 9 a man named Jehu is made King over Israel by the prophet Elisha. Jehu is talking with some of the officers of the army he’s commanding and Elisha takes him inside a house to speak with him. Elisha tells Jehu that God has selected him as King and he pours oil on him which was the practice of anointing someone as King. Then, in a kind of funny way, Elisha takes off running out of the house and down the road. Then Jehu comes out of the house back to his officers and we read in 2 Kings 9:11-13 that Jehu’s men take off their coats and spread them on the ground before their King.
So, when the people do this on the day Jesus rides into Jerusalem, they aren’t just honoring him as a prophet or religious teacher, the crowd is hailing him as their King. With his actions, Jesus is making claims to being the King of Israel. In verses 9-10, we see the people singing and cheering in response to what Jesus is doing. These phrases they are shouting are also references to Old Testament passages. In verse 9 their words come from Psalm 118:25-26. The word “Hosanna”, means “Save us”, but many translations don’t translate it because it can also be simply a word of celebration or excitement. Kind of like when something good happens, some people say “thank God” but they don’t mean it in the literal sense of thanking God, it’s simply an exclamation. However, this is the reason that Jesus came. He came to save his people. So whether they are simply shouting a word, or not, they are shouting the purpose of their King. God had come to save them.
The other phrase they were shouting in verse 10 points to Jesus’ fulfillment and Kingship as well. In verse 10 they are saying “Blessed is the coming Kingdom of our Father David”. God told David that he would have an heir on the throne of Israel forever. The people are proclaiming that Jesus is that heir who would once again rule Israel and bring in Israel’s golden age of peace and prosperity. In 2 Samuel 7 God tells David “Your house and your kingdom will endure forever before me; your throne will be established forever. ’” This is repeated in 1 Kings 2; 1 Kings 8, and 2 Chronicles 6. In Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Zechariah and other places, there is an idea that someone like David, descended from David, is going to do God’s work in rescuing Israel from her oppression and establish a Kingdom like David’s. So, when they say this in verse 10 they are proclaiming that Jesus is the one like David who is establishing God’s Kingdom. They are saying that the Time is fulfilled and the Kingdom has come.
There are 5 or 6 allusions to the Old Testament in these 10 verses as Mark tells the story of Jesus riding a colt into Jerusalem. Jesus does this as a way of illustrating that the promised Time is fulfilled and he is fulfilling it. The promises God made to Israel are coming true in him. The Kingdom of God was coming because he is the King and he is bringing it with him. Jesus brings together the Old Testament themes in his teaching and actions. Jesus brings together the promises to God made to Israel. This is what fulfillment is.
It’s important to understand this if we are to understand we mean when we call him “Messiah” or “Christ”. He is the one who is “anointed” in the sense that he receives and fulfills God’s promises to his people. It’s also important to understand this in order to get the most out of reading the Old Testament. We read it in light of who Jesus is and what he has done.
Now, some of us may fail to see how this affects our lives on a day-to-day basis. There are a bunch of random verses, some with funny names and you are wondering how in the world this helps you with the struggles you are facing in your life, your work, your health, your family, or any number of other places. An Old Testament history lesson doesn’t do a lot for you. You’re still stressed and worried. But have you considered how God orchestrates history so that Jesus enters into it at just the right time?
And what do they do? They kill him. He ties all of history up into a neat little bow and they crucify him. But he rises. It looks tragic, but it was his plan all along. He came to fulfill God’s promises to Israel and humanity and it cost him dearly. He suffered and died, but he rose again. So whatever you are dealing with, whatever struggles you are up against, you can find rest and hope in our Sovereign God who is guiding history to its end. We look around and we see some crazy things, some messed up things. We know it’s not the way it’s supposed to be. Our world is broken. It’s sad and it’s tragic at times. But Jesus has risen. It’s only a matter of time before our King restores his kingdom. It won’t always be like this, one day he will set everything right and we will only see love, and justice, and mercy. He says he’ll never leave us nor forsake us, he says that we can cast all our cares on him for he cares for us. He gives us promises and we know he will keep them, because we can look back for thousands of years even to the promises he made to Abraham and see that he keeps his promises. He keeps his promises to the point of the cross, and he will keep his promises until the resurrection when we see him face to face.
So, maybe Old Testament history isn’t that exciting or relevant to you, but it demonstrates that God keeps his promises. Jesus fulfills God’s promises to Israel and through him, we are promised eternal life.
After Jesus rides into Jerusalem amid the cheers of the crowd, he goes to the Temple. In Matthew and Luke’s accounts, he cleanses the Temple here, but in Mark, he looks around and then leaves. Why does Mark separate the Entry and the Temple cleansing?
Jesus comes to the Temple and sees commerce and manipulation rather than worship. Here in Mark’s Gospel, his response isn’t rash or abrupt, he takes the night to sleep on it and returns in the morning to set things right in the Temple. Jesus takes the time to inspect the Temple, and observes all that is happening.
There is separation because of what is being emphasized in the passage. Jesus is fulfilling the promises God made to Israel for a King who sits on David’s throne forever. This is the point of verses 1-10. Jesus is also restoring the Temple, this is what will happen next.
The disciples are cast in the light of continually misunderstanding and misinterpreting what Jesus has been doing and teaching. But Jesus continues with them, not abandoning them, rather he teaches them and leads them. At this point in Mark’s Gospel, they have travelled to the Northern Region of Israel to proclaim the Gospel there.
Read Mark 8:27-30.
As they walked along the road, Jesus raises a question for his disciples. Several times so far in the book of Mark, we have heard the question “who is this?” asked. Having heard Jesus teach, or seeing him perform a miracle, people ask one another “who is this?” Who is Jesus? Finally, he comes out with it and asks his disciples about what people say. Wherever Jesus goes, his reputation has precedes him. Nearly everyone in Palestine has heard of him at this point. The disciples respond by saying that people believe he is someone like John the Baptist or Elijah. Others equate him with the great prophets. He is not just a prophet, but one of the prophets. People recognize Jesus is different from the other religious teachers and prophets that they have heard about because he has greater authority to perform miracles, to heal, and to cast out demons. Jesus brings the question close to home though, and asks his disciples, “who do you say I am?”
In verse 29, Peter speaks up, presumably as the representative of them all, and says, “You are the Christ”, “You are the Messiah”. They finally recognize that when Jesus has said the time is fulfilled and the Kingdom of God has come, that he was referring to his own identity as the one who would fulfill promise and demonstrate God’s authority on earth as King. As Jesus has healed people and cast out demons we have heard him tell them over and over to be quiet and not say anything. He even does it here with his disciples. They finally have a moment of clarity where they understand who Jesus is, and he says, be quiet about it.
Why does he do this?
Well, just because they understand Jesus to be the Messiah doesn’t mean they understand who the Messiah is. Just because you understand who Jesus is, doesn’t mean you know him. People have all kids of beliefs about God, but that doesn’t mean they know him, that doesn’t mean they walk with him or worship him. As I have mentioned before, there were lots of messianic notions and would-be Messiahs in the generations surrounding the time of Jesus (A great read on this is N.T. Wright’s book, “Simply Jesus“). However, there is nothing in the historical record, outside of the Bible, where anyone interprets who the Messiah would be the way Jesus does. Most conceptions of the Messiah involved political and military influence. Many if not most people thought the Messiah would be the King who would come like David, and overthrow the oppressive regime through military might.
Our day is no different. People have all kinds of beliefs about who Jesus is. These beliefs are affected by desires, politics, economics, suffering, oppression, health, and many other factors. We cannot control how our circumstances force our minds and hearts to interpret things. But, we can seek to align our beliefs with what Jesus says about himself, and what his earliest followers say about him. Beliefs we form about Jesus outside of the Scriptures have only our minds and circumstances as a foundation. Yet, with the Bible as a foundation for forming our beliefs, we have a fixed point of truth whereby our belief systems, though they vary greatly, may grow in their proper response to Jesus.
Jesus tells his disciples to be quiet about him being the Messiah because he had no intention of rousing a rebellion or raising an army. But, he certainly could have. Remember he had fed huge crowds of people – 5000 at one point and 4000 at another. Jesus could have raised an army of several thousand people had that been his intention. But it was not. So the disciples finally grasp who Jesus is, but they still only grasp it in part.
It will take time before they fully understand who Jesus is, but as they follow him they will grow in understanding. All of our theologies will be corrected in eternity, but as we follow Jesus, we will grow in our understanding of who he is. Our belief will be clarified and developed. But the disciples understood some basics. Jesus is the Messiah. How it affects our particular circumstances may change, but that fact remains. This is where belief and repentance join together properly. As we follow Jesus it will bring us to points of time where repentance is required. As we believe more adequately and our understanding of Jesus grows, so will our practice of repentance align our lives closer to him as we follow him. This in turn affects our hearts and our actions, our mind and our relationships. This is the road to restoration that will find it’s destination at the resurrection.
Knowing who Jesus is and knowing Jesus are two different things. The former requires historical and biblical knowledge, the latter requires belief and repentance. Knowing Jesus means following him.
Mark 4 consists of a number of Jesus’s teachings. In other places you can read about how the people reacted to his teaching. They were amazed at the authority with which Jesus taught and remarked on how much better his teaching was than the scribes. One of the major points of Jesus’ teaching here in chapter 4 is that since he has fulfilled the promised time and brought the Kingdom of God close enough to experience, we must respond with belief and repentance. Again, this echoes his initial summary of his teaching in Mark 1:14-15. This broad theme Jesus has been teaching we call the Gospel, or the Good News: the Time is fulfilled and the Kingdom has come which calls for the response of belief and repentance. Those who refuse to respond this way we remain outside of this Kingdom. Jesus teaches this truth in the form of Parables in Mark 4.
At this point he is gathered with his disciples teaching only them, not the crowds of people who were following him. This first one has traditionally been called the Parable of the Lamp in Mark 4:21-25. The response to the Gospel is what Jesus talks about in the first part of chapter 4 with the Parable of the Sower, or Soils and the remaining parables of Mark 4 are in that same context. Jesus says in verse 21 (my paraphrase), “you don’t light a lamp to put it under a basket, you light it to put in on a table so that it will light up the room”. Then in verse 22 he almost explains it saying (my paraphrase), “you don’t hide something unless you plan to reveal it at a specific and certain moment.”
Now, this could mean almost anything you want it to mean if unless you agree that the rules of context govern interpretation. He has been talking about those who are inside and outside the Kingdom of God, and he is talking to his disciples, who are on the inside. So, in this context, what is it that is hidden that will be revealed? The reason why there is a division between those inside and outside the Kingdom of God. The reason why some will be in the Kingdom of God and some won’t is because the King has made this pronouncement. Jesus is this King and although at this point in the story of Mark’s book this knowledge is a secret, the time will come when everyone will know. The secret of Jesus’ true identity is going to be revealed in its proper time. The time will come when this “secret” will be revealed, but even then, people will respond in varying ways resulting in being either in our out of the Kingdom of God.
Then in verse 23, Jesus makes his famous remark, “if you have ears, use them to hear.” It is not hearing alone that is important, but how you hear, hear with belief and repentance. If the King has come with his Kingdom, we had better respond accordingly. If the King has come, this is nothing casual or ordinary, it demands that we change the way we are living in his Kingdom to be sure we don’t defy him. Then Jesus says the reason why it’s important to hear this way in verses 24 and 25, which say the same thing in two different ways:
Responding to the Gospel of the King through belief and repentance will result in a greater understanding of the Gospel. Rejecting it will result in further rejection. So be careful that you believe the Gospel, because doing so has tremendous benefits, but denying it has serious results. Jesus then moves onto another story.
The next story in Mark 4:26-29 is referred to in most bibles as The Parable of the Growing Seed, or the Seed Growing. The overall theme of this parable is the way that a farmer sows his crops and they simply grow without his involvement. Of course we know that the farmer must care for his crop, fertilize, irrigate and other things, but that’s not the point of this little story. It is a story of normal growth and harvest, nothing out of the ordinary. The farmer doesn’t determine the seeds growth, so the Kingdom of God is like this. The message (the Gospel) is proclaimed, but God causes the work to be accomplished. The Kingdom has come, and it will be brought to fruition and completion. This parable reminds us that the process in the middle is unknown by us but the hand of God oversees it. Since this is the case, we must respond personally, either through belief and repentance, or through rejection. The main point of this little story is that there is a time for the Kingdom of God to grow and spread, but there will be a time where that will end and the judgment will come. There is a period of planting, a period of growth, and a period of harvest. We don’t know why some people respond and others don’t but the point of this is that our personal response must be one of belief and repentance, so when the end comes to us or to time, we are prepared. This isn’t exactly a warm and touchy-feely story, but one that is important nonetheless. Jesus then tells another story about a different kind of seed.
This next story in Mark 4:30-34 is known as The Parable of the Mustard Seed. Surprise, surprise, Jesus continues to teach about the Kingdom of God. He is telling his disciples that the Kingdom may not look like much now, the time will come when everyone everywhere will know that it has come. Just like a mustard seed is tiny, after it is full-grown it’s big enough for birds to come and live in. This secret of the Kingdom of God that Jesus is teaching his disciples about now, will not stay with them, but will soon be proclaimed to every tribe and tongue. As he is teaching his disciples about the it, he is calling them to the response of belief and repentance.
If the Kingdom has come, this means the King has also come. Although his disciples don’t recognize that he is the King at this point, they soon will. This is one of the common points of all three of these parables he has taught. This is not a sage dispensing wise advice, he is no scribe expounding on ancient teachings. This Jesus who teaches is the King of heaven and earth. The response he calls us to is not suggestion, but truth. He leaves us no room for avoiding and procrastinating because he is the King and he calls us to belief and repentance now if we are to enter his Kingdom which he is proclaiming.