The Discourse opens with warnings about coming deceivers who propagate false expectations about the end – Mark 13:5-13.
Jesus began his Olivet Discourse with an ominous warning about coming deceivers, men who will claim his authority and spread rumors about calamities, thereby “deceiving many.” This warning is repeated at pivotal points in the discourse. For example, prior to the coming of the Son of Man, “many false prophets will arise and deceive many,” including the employment of signs and wonders.
DECEIVERS. No subject receives more stress in the discourse than the repeated warning about coming deceivers and “false prophets.” Their purpose is to mislead the followers of Jesus – “even the elect.”
- (Mark 13:5-8) – “And Jesus began to say to 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 rumors of wars, be not alarmed; it must 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. These things are a beginning of birth-pangs.”
He provided a list of natural and manmade calamities that are said explicitly NOT to signal the arrival of the “end.” Yet these events are the very “evidence” offered by the deceivers to point to the rapidly approaching end of the age. And in the passage, the emphasis is on what the disciples will “hear,” presumably, from these very same “deceivers.”
His point was not that disasters do not and will not occur, but that they ARE NOT signs of the “end,” events that cannot be used to calculate the time of the end and the return of Christ.
This warning is at the very start of the discourse for emphasis. Deceivers have plagued the church since its inception, and there is a long history of heightened end-time expectations caused by false teachers who have pointed to these very kinds of disasters as harbingers of the onrushing end. And very often, these false expectations have been based on the very sorts of incidents that Jesus declared were NOT signs of the “end” and his soon return.
“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; that is, they claim his authority for their words and deeds.
“Moreover, you will hear of wars and reports of wars.” The Greek conjunction de or “moreover” signifies the further development of the subject. The Greek word rendered “rumors” points to something that is heard. The stress is on the content of what disciples hear, and “reports of wars” reiterates the point. The issue was not whether wars will occur. However, these deceivers spread “rumors of wars” to raise false expectations about the immediate future.
Paul dealt with this same type of situation in the church at Thessalonica when false information about the “Day of the Lord” was causing consternation within the church:
- (2 Thessalonians 2:1-2) – “Now we beseech you, brethren, touching the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, and our gathering together to him; to the end, you 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” by them. Chaos and violence have characterized every era of human history, and therefore, they cannot be used to calculate the time of the end – (“The end is not yet”).
At most, calamities of this sort constitute a “beginning of birth-pangs,” harbingers pointing to the eventual consummation of this age, evidence that the present world order cannot continue forever. Jesus acknowledged such things will continue to occur, but he never called them “signs” or chronological keys for determining the nearness of his return.
In Scripture, the analogy of “birth-pains” is common for the suddenness and inevitability of judgment and destruction. But nowhere did Jesus predict any increase in the frequency or intensity of the calamities listed by him – (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. These very things occur in the world with regularity. What distinguishes one war or earthquake from another in its prophetic importance?
In the version of the Discourse recorded in Luke, an interesting element is added to the list: “Many will come in my name, saying, I am he, and the season is at hand.” That clause confirms that these deceivers will point to wars, earthquakes, and famines as evidence that the final “season” (kairos) is at hand – (Luke 21:8-9).
And what “season” did he mean? Jesus warned that no one “knows the 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. He did not provide “signs of the times” by which disciples can ascertain the nearness of the end, but instead, warned them NOT to heed claims by deceivers who would point to manmade and natural catastrophes as evidence of its imminence – (Matthew 24:36, Mark 13:32-33).
And rather ironically, the presence of the very deceivers who engage in these activities is indisputable proof that the “last days” are underway.
OPPOSITION. This next paragraph expands on the same warning about deceivers. Disciples also will experience betrayal and persecution. They will be “delivered up to councils and flogged in synagogues.”
- (Mark 13:9-13) – “But take 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 to all the nations. And when they lead you to judgment and deliver you up, be not anxious beforehand what you shall speak: but whatsoever shall be given you in that hour, that speak; for it is not you that speak, but the Holy Spirit. And the 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 you shall be hated of all men for the sake of my name: but he that endures to the end shall be saved.”
“Councils.” The plural form indicates local Jewish authorities that punish Jews who deviate from doctrinal norms, which points to persecution within Jewish contexts. And Acts provides examples of early Christians flogged 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. Thus, both Jewish and secular authorities will persecute disciples. But believers must not despair. Such incidents will become opportunities to testify before governing authorities – (Matthew 24:10, Mark 13:12, Luke 12:11-12, 21:12-16).
Jesus repeated his earlier warning. During troublesome times, “many false prophets shall arise and deceive many.” And in the Greek clause, “many” has the definite article or “the, and it refers to the same group, “the many,” that will be deceived by the “false prophets” – (Matthew 24:11-12, Mark 13:9-13).
What counts is faithful endurance in 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.” Persecution and tribulation are not aberrations but are integral to the way of discipleship.