Deceivers, Tumults, Opposition

SYNOPSIS - The Olivet Discourse opened with warnings about deceivers who propagate false expectations about the end – Mark 13:5-13

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Jesus began his discourse on the Mount of Olives with an ominous warning about coming deceivers who would claim his authority and spread rumors about various calamities to “deceive many.” This warning is repeated at pivotal points in his Discourse - “Many false prophets will arise and deceive many,” false messiahs and prophets will show signs and wonders in order to “deceive even the very elect” of God - (Matthew 24:4-14, Mark 13:5-8, Luke 21:8-11).

No prediction receives more stress in the ‘Olivet Discourse’ than this repeated warning about deceivers who would strive to mislead the followers of Jesus.
  • (Mark 13:5-8) – “And Jesus began to be saying unto them—Beware, lest anyone deceive you; For many will come on my name, saying, I am he! And will deceive many. And when ye shall hear of wars and rumours of wars, be not alarmed—it must needs come to pass, but not yet is the end. For there will arise—Nation against nation, and kingdom against kingdom,—there will be earthquakes in places, there will be famines:— A beginning of birth-pangs are these things.
Jesus provided a list of natural and manmade calamities that are NOT signs of the “end,” the very “evidence” offered by these deceivers as evidence of the rapid approach of the “end of the age.” The emphasis is on what the disciples would “hear,” presumably from the “deceivers.”

The point is not that disasters will not occur but that they DO NOT themselves constitute signs of the “end.” Such events are not keys with which one may decode prophetic chronologies or calculate when the “Son of Man” will arrive.

Jesus was responding to the questions of his disciples and employed the Greek plural pronoun for “you” when doing so (“ye” in the King James Version). He described things they would “hear.” His words were addressed to his followers, including those who lived in the first “Christian generation.”

In this context, the disciples represent a larger group; however, they remain members of it. Projecting this warning exclusively onto a “final generation” many centuries in the future ignores the literary setting.

The warning is placed at the start of the discourse due to its centrality. Deceivers have plagued the church since its inception. There is a long history of heightened end-time expectations followed by disappointment and apostasy because deceivers disseminated false information about the future, often pointing to the very sorts of events Jesus declared do NOT portend the “end.”

For many will come on the basis of my name.” The Greek conjunction gar or “for” introduces the explanation. Many are deceived because false prophets make claims “on” (epi) Christ’s name – They claim his authority. The targeted victims of their deceptions are believers, not unbelievers.

Moreover (de), you will hear of wars and reports of wars.” The conjunction de signifies the further development of a subject. The Greek word rendered “rumors” points to something that is heard. The stress is on the content of what disciples will hear from deceivers - “Reports of wars” reiterates the point. The issue is not whether wars occur – They do. However, deceivers spread rumors of wars to raise prophetic expectations. Paul dealt with this kind of situation in the church at Thessalonica:
  • (2 Thessalonians 2:1-2) – “Now we beseech you, brethren, touching the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, and our gathering together unto him; to the end that ye be not quickly shaken from your mind, nor yet be troubled, either by spirit, or by word, or by epistle as from us, as that the day of the Lord is just at hand.
Jesus affirmed that human and natural catastrophes will occur - Earthquakes, wars, political upheavals, famines, plagues, “terrors and great signs from heaven” – But disciples must “not be alarmed.” Chaos and violence characterize every era of history and, therefore, cannot be used to calculate the time of the end - (“The end is not yet”).

At most, such calamities constitute a “beginning of birth-pangs,” harbingers of the eventual consummation of this age - Evidence that the present age cannot continue forever. Jesus acknowledged such things would continue to occur, but he never called them “signs” or chronological keys to determine the nearness of his return.

These things must come to pass.” This clause alludes to a declaration by Daniel made to Nebuchadnezzar, the king of Babylon. After the Chaldean soothsayers failed to disclose and interpret the king’s dream, Daniel was able to do so by the intervention of Yahweh. He prefaced his remarks to Nebuchadnezzar - “There is a God in heaven who reveals mysteries; he has shown the king what things must come to pass in the latter days” (Septuagint version - Daniel 2:26-28).

The verbal allusion links the “beginning of labor pains” to the “latter days” from the book of Daniel. The Death and Resurrection of Jesus marked the commencement of the “last days,” the era of fulfillment. Two things were expected to occur in the “last days” - The rise of deceivers, and the resultant apostasy - (Acts 2:16-21, Thessalonians 2:1-4, 1 Timothy 4:1, 2 Timothy 3:1).

The analogy to “birth-pains” is common in Scripture for the suddenness and inevitability of destruction. It is not used to signify the frequency or intensity of an event. Nowhere did Jesus predict any increase in the frequency or the intensity of the calamities on his list, whether in his day, throughout the long history ahead, or during any “last generation” before his return - (Isaiah 26:17, 66:8, Jeremiah 6:24, 13:21, Hosea 13:13, 1 Thessalonians 5:1-3).
Attempts to calculate future dates by wars, earthquakes, and the like are problematic - Such catastrophes occur with regularity throughout history. What distinguishes one war or earthquake from another in its prophetic importance? But Jesus exhorted his disciples NOT to be alarmed when disasters of this sort inevitably occur.
The version of the Discourse in the gospel of Luke adds an interesting element to the list of “signs” - “Many will come in my name, saying, I am he, and, The season is at hand.” This confirms that the deceivers Jesus had in mind would point to wars, earthquakes, and famines as evidence that the final “season” (kairos) was at hand - (Luke 21:8-9).

What “season” did he mean? Several paragraphs later, Jesus warned that no one “knows of that day and hour” when the “Son of Man” will arrive, except “the Father ALONE.” Disciples must “watch and pray, for you know not when the season (kairos) is.” Jesus also alluded to a clause from the twelfth chapter of Daniel. The prophet was commanded to “seal up the words and the book, even until the season (kairos) of the end” - (Septuagint version - Matthew 24:36, Mark 13:32-33).

The point of his words was not to provide “signs of the times” by which the disciples could ascertain the nearness of the end but, instead, to warn them NOT to heed the claims by deceivers who would point to manmade and natural catastrophes as evidence of the “end.” Ironically, the very deceivers who engage in such activities are themselves indisputable proof that the “last days” are underway.

Opposition
  • (Mark 13:9-13) – “But take ye heed to yourselves: for they shall deliver you up to councils; and in synagogues shall ye be beaten; and before governors and kings shall ye stand for my sake, for a testimony unto them. And the gospel must first be preached unto all the nations. And when they lead you to judgment and deliver you up, be not anxious beforehand what ye shall speak: but whatsoever shall be given you in that hour, that speak ye; for it is not ye that speak, but the Holy Spirit. And brother shall deliver up brother to death, and the father his child; and children shall rise up against parents, and cause them to be put to death. And ye shall be hated of all men for my name's sake: but he that endureth to the end, the same shall be saved.
This next paragraph expands on the warning against deceivers. Disciples also will experience betrayal and persecution. They will be “delivered up to councils and flogged in synagogues.” “Councils” translates synedrion, the term for “Sanhedrin.” The plural form indicates local Jewish councils with the authority to punish Jews who deviated from doctrinal norms. This points to persecution within Jewish contexts. The book of Acts provides examples of early Christians flogged and otherwise punished by synagogue rulers - (Acts 4:1-21, 5:17-40, 6:11-15, 22:19, 23:1-2).

Disciples will be hated by all nations “for my name’s sake,” with some examined before pagan authorities - “Governors and kings.” Thus, Jesus predicted persecution by both Jewish and secular authorities - (Acts 16:20-24, 24:1, 25:1-26:32).
To give testimony before “governors and kings” is part of the church’s mission to proclaim the gospel to all nations. This warning points to a broader Gentile context for the early church as it expanded beyond Jewish populations.
Persecution will cause some disciples to turn against one another, outing fellow believers to persecuting authorities. But faithful believers must not despair; such events are opportunities to testify to governors and kings - (Matthew 24:10, Mark 13:12Luke 12:11-12, 21:12-16).

Jesus next repeated his earlier warning. During times of trouble “many false prophets shall arise and deceive many (poll┼Źn).” The Greek sentence connects these false prophets to “lawlessness.” In the Greek clause, “many” has by a definite article or “the” – It refers to the same group - “The many” - Deceived by the “false prophets” - (Matthew 24:11-12, Mark 13:9-13).

What counts is faithful endurance in gospel witness and tribulations. The activity of deceivers is part of the “tribulations” that disciples must endure, but only “he who endures throughout shall be saved.” Or, as Luke puts it, “in your patience, you will win your souls” - (Luke 21:12-19).

Persecution and tribulation are not aberrations but integral to the way of discipleship. Persecution is the fertile ground in which the gospel flourishes - It creates gospel opportunity.

Jesus portrayed a people persecuted by BOTH Jewish and Gentile authorities. His disciples constitute a people distinct in some ways from Jews and Gentiles. The greatest danger to the Church is not persecuting authorities but deceivers within it who cause disciples to turn on one another and “lawlessness” to run amok.

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