Be on Guard: The Point of Mark 13, with some thoughts on ‘this generation’

Mark 13 is not in the Bible to provoke debates about when all things will be consummated – what Jesus meant by “this generation.” Mark 13 is in the Bible to prepare disciples of Jesus against deception, fear, sleepy inattention, persecution, and uncertainty.

In Mark 11 Jesus entered Jerusalem on a colt to cries of Hosanna. He then cursed the fig tree and cleansed the temple. In Mark 12 he gave a narrative interpretation of Israel’s history in the parable of the wicked tenants, which culminated in the murder of the son of the owner of the vineyard. He escaped the traps set by Pharisees and Sadducees, answered an honest question about the greatest commandment, and then taught on the Christ, hypocrites, and sacrificial giving.

In Mark 13 Jesus teaches his disciples about the end of the world.

Jesus warns his disciples not to be deceived by those who will come claiming to be him (Mark 13:5–6).

All false religions and all mythological accountings for the world—from materialistic evolutionary darwinistic atheism to moralistic therapeutic deism—all of them—from the ancient Near Eastern fertility cults to the Greco Roman Pantheon, all forms of animism, Hinduism, Buddhism, and Islam—all are Satanic imitations of Christianity. All offer some other path to some other heaven under some other god.

As Paul says in 1 Tim 2:5, “there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus.”

Do not be deceived by gurus offering some snake-oil remedy for your problems. Do not deceived by politicians promising Utopia.

Jesus will bring in the Kingdom. He’s the only one who can. Hold out for him.

He tells his disciples that they will be persecuted in Mark 13:9.

Jesus spoke these things to those who follow him so that they would be able to tell the difference between the real gospel and satanic false promises made by those who want to “change the world” into a Utopia where Jesus is not Lord—a dream world where the good news is not that Jesus died and rose to bring us to God, but that people are now healthy because the messiahs have fixed the health care system, differences reconciled because the thought police enforce correct speech; peace in our time, world hunger ended, and third world debt relief accomplished: kingdom come without Jesus.

To all these false hopes Jesus says: don’t be deceived. These people are going to go on starting wars with each other; don’t be surprised when that happens (Mark 13:7). Further, the fact that you don’t worship the false messiahs is going to prompt them to persecute you. Be prepared for that (Mark 13:9).

Mark then presents what Jesus says about the rise of the antichrist and his own coming (Mark 13:14–27).

What does the coming of Jesus mean?

Here is the consummation of all pomp and circumstance. Here the realization of everything anticipated by armies marching in formation on the parade ground. Here the true arrival. Here the moment when all will rise to honor the one who comes, when the one to whom every knee will bow will make his entrance.

Every attempt at greatness eclipsed. Every notion of the meaning of the words conqueror, hero, deliverer, savior, messiah, king, lord enacted—all these words will then be understood.

Have you heard the word “doomsday”? Have you heard that the generals and the kings and the slaves and the captains will call for the mountains and rocks to fall on them to hide them from the wrath of the Lamb? Have you heard that there’s a glory to which our sufferings are not worth being compared?

Consider what we will feel on that day: we will wish we had loved more, given more, studied the Bible more closely, spoken more earnestly to those who will face the wrath. We will wish that we had thought of the glory of Christ when we were tempted. We will regret the cheap baubles that we took to please ourselves as we betrayed him. We will rue the harsh words we spoke, the days we gave up, quit, stopped hoping, believing, watching.

O lift up your eyes, church, your redemption draws nigh. O bride pledged to thine husband, he will come. With power and great glory he comes. He will gather all his own.

Mark 13:28–37 shows Jesus applying these things to his disciples lives, telling them how they should live.

Jesus says everything he has described will take place before “this generation” passes away. What does that mean?

Some take “this generation” to refer to the historical generation of people alive at the time of Jesus, and those who take this view are forced to one of two conclusions. One conclusion is that Jesus was wrong. He didn’t return during the lifetime of that generation. The other conclusion is to see the fulfillment of what Jesus describes in AD 70.

I think there’s a better solution. I think “this generation” should not be taken to refer to the historical generation alive at the time of Jesus. Rather, “this generation” refers to the generation of the end. Both the generation of the flood (Gen 7:1) and the generation of the wilderness (Num 32:13) are types of the end time generation on which God’s wrath will fall. And the biblical authors can also speak of “the generation of those who seek your face, O God of Jacob” (Ps 24:6).

So there is an evil end time generation that will face judgment, and there is a righteous generation that seeks God’s face. I take this statement of Jesus, then, to be typological. It does not deal with the next 20–40 years of a historical generation.

On Sunday, June 12, it was my privilege to preach Mark 13, “Be on Guard,” at Kenwood Baptist Church.

The whole block lost power near the end of my sermon, so the recording ends in the middle of my comments on “this generation.” Basically what I’m arguing is that Jesus is talking about the “end time generation” the same way that there’s a flood generation and a wilderness generation. There is a typological relationship between these earlier generations on which judgment fell, and the generation that will experience the typological fulfillment of those earlier judgments. Jesus means that the generation from which Peter urges people to be saved (Acts 2:40), “on whom the ends of the ages has come” (1 Cor 10:11), the “crooked and twisted generation” in which his followers will “shine as lights in the world” (Phil 2:15) is the one that will not pass away before all that he has prophesied comes to pass.

I learned this view from the excellent book by Evald Loevestam, Jesus and ‘this Generation': A New Testament Study.

6 Responses to Be on Guard: The Point of Mark 13, with some thoughts on ‘this generation’

  1. Chris Krycho June 15, 2011 at 1:52 pm #

    Nice post. I may have to take a listen to the sermon—it’ll be two in one week, if so! Last Sunday, I was at Sam Storms’ church in OKC, and he was preaching on the same passage. He’s an amillennial guy, which made for an interesting sermon of course, but I really appreciated one point he made: regardless of how you view the timing and particulars of the passage, one thing everyone should agree on is that Jesus’ vindication as the real, reigning Messiah of God is in view—his glorification over every man-made system and supposition and authority over every earthly power. I found your post and that point in his sermon helpful and complementary. Thanks!

  2. Joseph Justiss June 15, 2011 at 8:24 pm #

    I appreciate your giving this third option for “this generation”. It seems very helpful.

    Joe Justiss

  3. Andrew Cowan June 15, 2011 at 11:01 pm #

    Have you considered the view of this passage (or, technically, the parallel) in Carson’s EBC commentary on Matthew? Carson suggests that “this generation” does refer to Jesus’ contemporaries, but claims that “these things” refers to the period of tribulation about which Jesus has been speaking, not the parousia. According to Carson, Jesus’ claim is that his contemporaries will see the fulfillment of Jesus’ prophecy of tribulation for God’s people before his return, and he suggests that the use of “these things” in the previous verse supports his view of this phrase because there it refers to the tribulations that must take place before the Lord’s return and not the return itself. Thus, he holds that Jesus’ generation really saw “these things” happening, but does not identify the coming of the Son of Man with the events in Jerusalem in AD 70.

    • JMH June 16, 2011 at 8:03 am #

      I think the view I articulate above is simpler, more straightforward, and better at accounting for the details in the passages in a way that’s easy to comprehend and re-state.

      Blessings!

      JMH

  4. henrybish June 16, 2011 at 6:06 pm #

    Very helpful, thankyou. I’m glad there are people willing to preach on this verse.

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    [...] in 7:29. This is an interesting use of the word “generation,” and it supports the typological understanding of what Jesus says in Mark 13:30, “this generation will not pass away until all these things take [...]

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