Be On Guard!
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Be On Guard!

From Series: The Gospel According to Mark, Volume 6

Mark 13:14-23  (ID: 2898)

When we consider prophetic passages like Mark 13, it helps to look at the practical relevance of what is being said. The Lord Jesus took this approach by focusing on principles like "God reigns," "Be watchful," and "Have peace." Alistair Begg encourages us with the fact that behind all the chaos and carnage of the world is the story of Christ conquering evil once and for all.


Sermon Transcript:

Mark 13:14. And Jesus is speaking:

“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. Let the one who is on the housetop not go down, nor enter his house, to take anything out, and let the one who is in the field not turn back to take his cloak.”

In other words, this is what they say to you on the airline: “If you find yourself in a crisis, don’t be fiddling around looking for your favorite toothbrush. Just get off the plane. Leave your personal belongings behind.” Because the extreme nature of the circumstance demands that; that’s what’s being said here.

“And alas for women who are pregnant and for those who are nursing infants in those days! Pray that it may not happen in winter. 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. 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. And then if anyone says to you, ‘Look, here is the Christ!’ or ‘Look, there he is!’ do not believe it. For false christs and false prophets will arise and perform signs and wonders, to lead astray, if possible, the elect. But be on guard; I have told you all [these] things beforehand.”

Amen.

Lord God, again we cry to you for help as we turn to the Bible. We look away to you, the living God. Come and meet with us by the Holy Spirit, we pray. For Jesus’ sake. Amen.

Well, it’s a fairly common expression; we hear it almost on a weekly basis, I would assume, it being said of someone that “they can’t see the forest for the trees.” Or, in Britain, we say, “They can’t see the wood for the trees.” The idiom is the same. It is an indication of the fact that the individual has become so involved with the details and with the significance of the details that he or she has lost sight of the larger issue. And that, of course, is a significant problem in studying the chapter that we’re studying now. I think we’ve already identified that. This thirteenth chapter of Mark, and the correlative chapters in the twenty-fourth of Matthew and the twenty-first of Luke, hold all kinds of potential for missing the forest for the trees. That’s why we’ve been trying to be as careful as we can.

Those of you who are joining us for this study now will want to realize that at the beginning of chapter 13, a passing comment by one of the disciples has given rise to this instruction by Jesus. They had made a comment about the temple; Jesus has said to them quite dramatically, “In fact, this whole temple structure is going to come toppling down.”[1]

And as we’ve worked our way through and we’ve reached verse 14, I wonder if you, like me, are becoming increasingly convinced that by paying attention to the punch lines, if you like, we will be helped to get the big picture. Because we need help to see the big picture before we endeavor to explain the details. And most of the trouble that lies in Mark 13 is found because we are tempted to immediately delve into the details and give our explanation of them—especially if it is a cherished explanation that we’ve held for a long time—without ever having stood far enough back from the whole event itself as described to realize what Jesus is saying. Let’s keep in mind that our focus in studying the Bible must always be upon Jesus—upon his life and his death, his resurrection, his ascension, and his return, so that we don’t lose our way, that we keep our eyes on Christ. He is the focus of it all.

And I was helped this week, as I read and reread the verses that we have just read together now, by imagining an interjection by one of the disciples at the end of verse 22. So if you look at the text all the way through to verse 22, Jesus says, “When you see the abomination of desolation,” and then he says, “The tribulation will be as it is now, and there will be false christs and prophets and signs and wonders, and people could be led astray”—I just imagine that one of the disciples interjected in between 22 and 23 with a question like, “Well, what do you want us to do with all this? What do you expect us to do? We hear what you’re saying…” Or, “Why are you telling us all this?” That would be a legitimate question, wouldn’t it? “This abomination of desolation, and tribulation, and all these things going on… all right. What are we supposed to do with this?”

Now, look, then, at verse 23. Here’s the punch line: “Be on your guard; I have told you all [these] things beforehand.” Now, that is almost a recurring statement by Jesus. It comes out far more clearly in the Gospel of John. In other words, Jesus is saying to his disciples again and again, so that they will be able to remember afterwards, “I’m telling you this now so that afterwards you will get it. You’re not necessarily getting it now, but later on you will get it. I am forewarning you so that you may be forearmed. I want you to have this picture in your mind so that when this eventuality confronts you, you will not be completely at sea—that you won’t judge the Lord, if you like, ‘by feeble sense,’ but you’ll ‘trust him for his grace,’ that in these devastating providences, which seem so dark and so inexplicable, you will realize that behind them is the very ‘smiling face’ of a God who loves you and has purposes for you.”[2] That’s why we sang that hymn.

Our focus in studying the Bible must always be upon Jesus—upon his life and his death, his resurrection, his ascension, and his return, so that we don’t lose our way.

If you turn to John just for a moment, let me drive this home for us. The notion of Jesus saying, “I’ve told you this, so that…” comes with frequency in the Gospel of John. And you can go and look for it on your own. It will be a useful study. You’ll enjoy that, and every one you find will be another reminder of the principle. John 13:19—choosing this somewhat arbitrarily—and Jesus, in the context of the washing of the disciples’ feet in the gathering for eating together, he says to them, “[The one] who ate my bread has lifted his heel against me”[3]—which, of course, is a quote. And then verse 19: “I[’m] telling you this now, before it takes place, that when it does take place you may believe that I am he.” All right? So, “Here’s information for you now that you will get then, and when you get it then, it will cause you to believe.”

If you go forward to chapter—we could go to 14, but we’ll jump that and go to 16:1. You have the same thing. Jesus says, “I have said all these things to you to keep you from falling away. They will put you out of the synagogues.” That sounds a bit like Mark 13, doesn’t it? “You will be brought before the synagogue rulers. You’ll have to give an answer there. You will be condemned by them.” “They will put you out of the synagogues. Indeed, the hour is coming when whoever kills you will think he is offering service to God. And they will do these things because they have not known the Father, nor me.” Here we go: “But I have said these things to you, that when their hour comes you may remember that I told them to you.”[4] And in fact, 16 ends with a similar statement, down in verse—well, let’s look at 32: “Behold, the hour is coming, indeed it [is] come, when you will be scattered, each to his own home, and will leave me alone. Yet I[’m] not alone, for the Father is with me.” And again, “I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.”

What a patient, kind, faithful friend is Jesus. “Here is this instruction for you.” They’re not the brightest bunch, and neither are we. They’re not going to be able to interpret these things in the immediacy of their circumstances in a way that allows all the pieces of the jigsaw to fit together, because there are elements of it that are beyond them, and there are elements of it that will be immediate to them. And so it is imperative that Jesus has given them these statements in order that later on, when they look back upon it, then it will fit in.

It’s a reminder to us of a principle, isn’t it? That the providences of God—in other words, the things that happen to us in our lives that may seem random—the providences of God are not self-interpreting. If we try in the immediacy—particularly of difficulty, or disappointment, or disease, or hardship, or even of extreme success and encouragement—if we try immediately to interpret those events in our lives in terms of “what it means to me now” and “why this has happened to me” and so on, we will almost inevitably be wrong. It will take time for us to be able to look back on the unfolding drama of things and say, “Aha! Now, that does make sense to me.” And incidentally, loved ones, some of those “aha!” moments will only happen in eternity—will only happen when we no longer “see through a glass, darkly,” but then we see “face to face,” when we are known, when he is known by us.[5]

Now, I belabor that point, and purposefully, because the early readers of the Gospel—and remember, this Gospel was written for people who were now living in the first century. They are the early readers of the Gospel. And the readers of the Gospel needed to be assured, as do we, that, to quote Townend, “When the world has plunged” them “in its deepest pit,” that they “find the Savior there!”[6] They needed to have this assurance in light of all that was about to unfold. So Jesus is telling them these things beforehand, warning them. “I’ve given you sufficient advice on this,” he’s saying. “I’m telling you this that you might believe. I’m telling you this that you might have peace. I’m telling you this that you might have security in a world that is increasingly insecure.”

And surely, loved ones, that is a word for today as well, isn’t it? “In the world you will have tribulation.” He’s not just talking about one century. He’s talking about the totality of the earthly pilgrimage. There will always be tribulation. There will always be these challenges. “In the world, you will have tribulation. But be of good cheer. This hasn’t taken me by surprise. And by the way, I have overcome the world. The victory that I have accomplished at Calvary is a real and a true victory. It will ultimately be expressed in all of its fullness, but now it is no less true.” You might want to ponder that for a little bit.

No, these dear folks that were reading this needed to know that “the Lord … God the Almighty reigns.”[7] That God reigns. So when we tackle this section, as in all of the sections, let’s keep in mind what we’ve said already: that what Jesus is doing here is practical and it is pastoral. It’s not theoretical, okay? He’s giving practical and pastoral encouragement to his disciples, and through his disciples to all then who will be the beneficiaries of this Gospel—to us. Pastoral, practical.

Secondly, we have to keep in mind that the events that are described here are, if you like, at least two-dimensional. And I’ve tried to say this every time—that there is both a historical and there is an eschatological dimension to what is being said. The word eschatological, you understand, just means the study of the end things, the way that the world will end, the judgment of God, his plans. That is the eschaton; that is the noun, eschatological being the adjective. Okay? So when we read this, we’re saying there is a dimension to this that has an obvious and immediate application, as we’ll see now, but there is also clearly a dimension to it that pushes it forward, pushes it beyond the centuries in which these people are living and probably beyond the century in which we ourselves are living. Okay? So if you keep that in mind, it will help. This is practical; this is pastoral. This has a historical dimension to it; this has an eschatological dimension to it.

Now, I say all of that so that, once again, we don’t immediately get ourselves completely tied up in knots by delving into the details. That is not an attempt on my part to avoid the details, and we’re gonna have to, in this section, say something about the abomination of desolation, about the tribulation, and about all these imitation Jesuses. So let’s get at it right now and start.

The Abomination of Desolation

First of all, “When you see the abomination of desolation…” You’ll be helped by Matthew’s statement in this regard, which is Matthew 24:15. He says, “So when you see the abomination of desolation spoken … by the prophet Daniel, standing in the holy place…” Now, that is very helpful to us, because here Mark says, “When you see the abomination of desolation standing where he ought not to be…” Now, we go, “Well, where ought he not to be?” Matthew tells us where he ought not to be: he ought not to be in the holy place. He ought not to be desecrating the place where God is meeting with his people in the temple. So we got that part. And also, if we find ourselves saying, “Where does the abomination of desolation come from?” Matthew helps us by telling us, “You’re gonna have to read the book of Daniel if you want to understand about that.” So let’s just jump into Daniel for a moment. And we’ll jump back out very quickly, I can assure you. Those of you who want to spend a long time in that particular swimming pool can do so later on today. But we must just make a quick dip and then exit posthaste.

Okay. Daniel chapter 11. What Jesus is doing here is he is conflating—conflating—a number of statements that appear in the book of Daniel that reference this. And I’m choosing just to look at one of them. Verse 31: “Forces from him shall appear”—that is this king, evil—“forces from him shall appear and profane the temple and fortress, and shall take away the regular burnt offering. And they shall set up the abomination that makes desolate. He shall seduce with flattery those who violate the covenant, but the people who know their God shall stand firm and take action.” Now, it is here in Daniel’s prophecy that you have this notion of this abomination that is to take place in the context of that which God has said must not be profaned.

‘In the world you will have tribulation.’ Surely that is a word for today, isn’t it? Jesus is not just talking about one century. He’s talking about the totality of the earthly pilgrimage.

So, Daniel prophesies in this way. By the time that the Gospel is being read, the Jewish people had had at least one illustration of that taking place. Because in 168 BC, Antiochus Epiphanes, who you may remember from school—he made a brief visit in most of our schools—he had attempted, 168 years before, to not only subvert but to stamp out the Jewish religion. He actually went as far as sacrificing pig’s flesh on the great altar, he set up a statue of Zeus, and he ordered the Jews to worship it. So the people, when they begin to read the Gospel for the first time about an “abomination of desolation,” have to their advantage two things that we don’t have until at least right now, unless you’ve been studying your Bible: one, an awareness of the fact that this phrase has not jumped out of the blue, but it is actually in the prophecy of Daniel; and two, that “our fathers in distress”—from our hymn, “Praise, My Soul, the King of Heaven”—“our fathers in distress”[8] have seen evidence of this kind of thing, as is recorded by the historians.

But what is Jesus saying here? What he’s saying is that there’s more of this to come. “You’re going to see the abomination of desolation.” “When you see”—and it’s interesting, ’cause it doesn’t say, “when you see it” but “when you see he.” Okay? “The abomination of desolation standing where he ought not to be.” So, in other words, this abomination is actually personified, isn’t it? Luke says—in 21—he says, “When you see the Roman armies amassed against Jerusalem…”[9]

So you’ve got the combination of these pictures. You’ve got the encroaching forces of domination, you’ve got the expression of abomination which creates desolation, and you’ve got this notion in your mind that somehow or another, this very abomination will take on a physical, personal presence—somehow, somewhere. In other words, it is the very spirit of the antichrist— all that is opposed to God, all that profanes God, all that stands against God—therefore encouraging the reader to realize that, once again, the historical impact of this is set within the larger eschatological framework.

Now, we know that this has immediate application, because, in the balance of verse 14, the instructions for fleeing are given to those who are there: “Let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains.” In other words, this was expected in their lifetime. This was expected in their lifetime. And that’s why the graphic nature of 15, as I tried to point out to you in reading it, comes across to us: “Let the one who is on the housetop not go down, nor enter his house, to take anything out. Don’t go back to get your jacket, even if it’s cold. And don’t turn back to get your coat that you thought you would need later on in the evening. And it’s gonna be a real drag if you happen to be pregnant when that happens, or if you’re nursing infants, and you oughta pray that it doesn’t happen in the winter, because that will make it even worse.” And Luke, I think it is, says, “And pray that it doesn’t happen on the Sabbath.”[10] Why? Because they were committed to the Sabbath. And it would set up an immediate dilemma for them: “Well, wait a minute. Are we supposed to worship God—it’s the Sabbath—or are we supposed to make a run for it?” He says, “No, you’re going to have to make a run for it.”

Now, why is it that they’re to make a run for it, if he just told them that they’re supposed to endure, and that those who endure to the end will be saved, at the end of verse 13? So he wants them to be absolutely committed for the faith of the gospel, but he wants them to know that there’s no reason for them to be fanatical about buildings—namely, a temple—or about places—namely, Jerusalem: “You’re not tied to this building, and you’re not tied to this place; you’re tied to the gospel. Therefore, endure to the end for the gospel. But when this goes, you can make a run for it.” And Eusebius, the early church historian, records how, in AD 67, with the revolt of the Jews, the believers in Jerusalem did make a run for it and fled to the mountains of Pella.[11] You can find that for yourself with any good concordance.

So, you see, the immediacy of it is something that needs to be reckoned with. Josephus, the Jewish historian, in his book The War of the Jews—actually, in his fifth book of The War of the Jews—describes how ninety-seven thousand people in this event were taken captive and 1.1 million perished by slow starvation and the sword. Let me quote from it:

Then did the famine widen its progress and devoured the people by whole houses and families. The upper rooms were full of women and children dying of starvation.

This is a Jewish historian.

The lanes of the city were full of the dead bodies of the aged. The children and the young men wandered about the market places like shadows, all swelled with famine, and fell down dead wheresoever their misery seized them. As for burying them, those that were sick themselves were not able to do it. And those that were hearty and well were deterred by the great multitude of the dead, and the uncertainty when they would die themselves, for many died as they were burying others, and many went to their own coffins before the fatal hour. There was no lamentation made under these calamities … the famine confounded all natural passions .... A deep silence and a kind of deadly night had seized upon the city.[12]

And it gets actually worse from there, describing what they were forced to eat and describing the cannibalism that actually became the result of the devastation of the starvation.

Now, when we read this this morning, and we say to ourselves, you know, “abomination, desolation, tribulation,” we haven’t got a clue. We haven’t got a clue. The worst that some of us can think of wouldn’t even register on the scale of terror and horror and grimness that unfolded when this abomination of desolation took hold in that immediate historical context.

But here’s the point. Here’s the question. Here’s a question for you to wrestle with as well: Are we, then, to assume that the events, as devastating as they were in AD 70, exhaustively fulfill Jesus’ prophecy here? And the answer is clearly no. Because when we read the balance of our Bibles—when we read, for example, 1 John, and what he has to say about the antichrists that are in the world and the final embodiment of that;[13] when you read Paul writing to the Thessalonians—you realize, again, this dimension that pushes out and beyond.

The history of the world cannot be understood apart from Christ, apart from God’s revelation of himself.

And if you want, for your homework you can read 2 Thessalonians and chapter 2. I don’t have time to read it all now, but Paul writes to the people, he says, “Now concerning the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our being gathered together to him, we ask you, brothers, not to be quickly shaken in mind or alarmed, either by a spirit or a spoken word, or a letter seeming to [come] from us, to the effect that the day of the Lord has come.” There were always people doing this—first century, twenty-first century, and so on. “Let no one deceive you in any way”—same as what Jesus was saying. “For that day will not come, unless the rebellion comes first, and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the son of destruction, who opposes and exalts himself against every so-called god or object of worship, so that he takes his seat in the temple of God, proclaiming himself to be God.”[14] It’s the very same thing that you have in the prophecy of Daniel. That is exactly what this person will do.

So, I think you get the point, don’t you? If you try and argue for the historical fulfillment of it exhausting what Jesus is saying, you’re probably left with an aftertaste. If you try and push it out to some remote future and pay no attention to the immediacy of it, then, of course, I think you’ve gone immediately wrong.

I was greatly helped this week when I found a quote from my good friend Sinclair Ferguson, where he said—this was an “aha!” moment for me; I just came on this, I was reading something else—and he said, “A confession of ignorance about the precise significance of some of these statements is nothing of which to be ashamed.” “Oh,” I said, “this is my kind of literature!” “A profession of ignorance about the precise significance of some of these statements is nothing of which to be ashamed.” And then he goes on to say, “Adding a dogmatic assurance to one’s interpretation of a passage of Scripture is no guarantee that the interpretation is correct.”[15] I think we’ve got that point, don’t you?

The Tribulation, False Christs, and False Prophets

Well, let’s just say a word about the tribulation that is mentioned here, because it goes on as part of it, doesn’t it? When I say “the tribulation,” I just mean as it unfolds for us here. Where are we? Verse 19: “In those days there will be such tribulation as … not been from the beginning of the creation that God created until now, and never will be.” Well, don’t let’s be too quick to say, “Well, that couldn’t possibly be in the historic context,” because, listen to what I just read you. Do you think when those people read this and said, “There couldn’t be anything worse than this, ever,” they said to one another, “I agree with that entirely.” When they reflected on what had happened, with 1.1 million people butchered and left for dead—when they realized the extent of things, and then they read their Bibles?

And frankly, the quote from Josephus only mentioned the physical suffering, didn’t it? The physical suffering. What about the mental anguish? What about the theological significance? What about the fact that these people, who had had the promises of God from of old, found themselves standing now in the middle of this carnage and saying to one another, “Where’s God now? Where is God now? Can there really be a God in heaven, that we eat our own children? Can there really be a God in heaven when these people are out to butcher us in this way? Have the prophets told us lies? Is there no salvation? Is there no liberation? Are we simply to live in this dimension?”

If you want a little sidebar for your own study, ponder this in relationship to the unbelief of the Jewish people, in terms of what Paul writes in Romans chapter 11. In many ways, the events as they unfolded were the judgment of God on unbelief: “We don’t believe, and we don’t care. We will find our own way. We will find our own messiah. We will find our own god.” And once again, if you think immediately that that then finalizes any notion of tribulation, then you fail to read the rest of your Bible and fail to understand that the Bible makes it perfectly clear that the closer we come to the return of Jesus Christ, the greater will be these things.

And those things—and that’s my third and final word—and those events will also be marked by the presence of false christs and false prophets. And these individuals, unlike Jesus, will be doing their thing in order to lead people astray. Jesus didn’t do miracles in order to attract or to create followers; these were signs of the kingdom. But these individuals do what is spectacular to appeal to the natural cravings of folks.

And in the middle of all of this, you will notice where God’s focus lies. It lies on his people. They’re described there as “the elect,” aren’t they? “But for the sake of the elect, whom he chose, he shortened the days.” We don’t really know what that means. There’s not many indications of that that I could find in the Bible. All we know is that he intervened on behalf of his own. And also, he is the one who protects his own from succumbing to the seducing wonders of those who pretend to be the Messiah, who pretend to be Christ. And he then—Jesus—says, “And the impact of this is that you might be on your guard, and I’ve told you all of this beforehand.” In other words, “I’ve given you sufficient warning.”

Now, I must leave you then to finish this up for yourselves. But let’s end in this way. If you stand far enough back from this passage, you realize that the claim that the Bible is making is an immense claim: namely, that history—history—is truly “his story.” That the history of the world cannot be understood apart from Christ, apart from God’s revelation of himself. That’s why theologians refer to Genesis 3:15 as the protoevangelium—in other words, the gospel in embryo. In Genesis 3:15: “I will put enmity between you and the woman,” says God, “between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.”

In other words, at the very heart of the drama of history is this great battle, as it were, that Milton got for us, you know, in Paradise Lost and Paradise Regained. That the way to understand the story of the world is to understand that behind all the wars, behind all of the hatred, behind every broken-up marriage, behind every rebellious child, behind all that represents chaos and carnage and hell on earth is this amazing encounter described in Genesis 3. That Christ is the one who comes to vanquish the Evil One. His kingdom comes. He prevails. He triumphs over him in the cross. The Evil One is now chained, waiting for the day of destruction. He still engages in all of his skirmishes. The battle is not yet over, but victory is secure.

So the Christian must live in the light of that, must realize, “Ye fearful saints, fresh courage take: the skies ye so much dread are filled with mercy”—mercy!—“and will break with blessings on your head.”[16] No matter what! No matter who’s elected! No matter whether your freedoms go! No matter if you’re imprisoned for your faith! No matter if they remove your children from you! “Ye fearful saints, take fresh courage.” Jesus is saying this here, you see. “Be of good cheer. In the world you will have tribulation. I told you this beforehand. You can be absolutely sure: God reigns.”

I found myself in my study just yesterday afternoon, singing old choruses to myself out loud. I can do that ’cause no one’s listening; it doesn’t matter. And I was singing out, “Therefore the redeemed of the Lord shall return.” Remember that one? Isaiah something.

And come with singing unto Zion,
And everlasting joy will be upon their heads.
They will obtain gladness and joy,
And sighing and mourning will flee away.
Therefore the redeemed of the Lord shall return.[17]

Who are these people? Well, the picture is of the exodus. The picture is of them being restored to the promised land out of the exile in Babylon. But does that fulfill it in the history? Is that everything that is in mind there? “The redeemed of the Lord will return with singing and joy”? No! It pushes on beyond the history; it has an eschatological dimension to it.

There is a hope that stands the test of time. There is a hope that triumphs over the grave. There is a hope that is found in Jesus and in Jesus only.

This is the only hope. This is the only hope in the whole world. The gospel is the only story that doesn’t flame out. The gospel is the only story that gives freedom for the captives, sight for the blind, peace for the broken. This gospel story! And that is why, if you turn Mark chapter 13 into your favorite hobbyhorse for fiddling and piddling around with it, then shame on you! And you’ve missed the point. Jesus is declaring unequivocally, “No matter how it happens and when it happens, no matter if you get it in its entirety or you miss it in its obscurity, rest content in this: God reigns.” That’s why the feet of the mountaineer were beautiful: “How lovely on the mountain is the feet of him who brings good news, proclaiming peace, announcing news of happiness.”[18] This is what we go into the world with: news of peace and happiness! We’re supposed to be the happy ones! Have you seen yourself? Goodness gracious! Give me a smile, for crying out loud. Look at the thing. All right?

Let me finish with a story from Cuba. You know—well, I’m not gonna make a political statement about Cuba, ’cause I’ll get in trouble on that one as well. But, I mean, we’ve pretty well forgotten what Cuba was about: the domination of Communism and the people who were killed. And in a wonderful statement, in a wonderful book called Against All Hope, which is the prison memoirs of a guy called Armando Valladares, he describes being in the prison and the guards coming to take away the Christians to the firing squad. He says that his faith, his interest in God, was nominal until he saw these men going to their deaths. And they went to their deaths with shouts of “Viva Cristo Rey!” “Viva Cristo Rey!” And then he writes, “Those cries of the executed patriots—‘Long live Christ the King! …’—[had] awakened me to a new life,” and “they echoed through the two-hundred-year-old moats of the fortress. [Those] cries became such a potent and stirring symbol that by 1963 the men condemned to death were gagged before being carried down to be shot,” because “the jailers feared those shouts.”[19]

Why? The answer is in Philippians 1: “Do not,” says Paul, “be afraid of those who oppose you. Stay true to the faith. When you do so unashamed and unafraid, it is a clear sign to your captors of their destruction.”[20] “Shoot me if you will.” There is a hope that stands the test of time. There is a hope that triumphs over the grave. There is a hope that is found in Jesus and in Jesus only. And if you do not embrace that hope, if you do not know that hope, then I invite you today to bow where you are and ask Christ to forgive you, to save you, to make you a whole new person, to send you out with a shout and with joy.

O God our Father, look upon us in your grace, we pray. We are all learners from the one who knows the answers. Help us to stand far enough back from things to get the big picture, and where we miss the point, correct us, and where we overemphasize something, forgive us.

And may grace and mercy and peace from you, God the Father, and your Son the Lord Jesus Christ be ours by the Holy Spirit, today and forevermore. Amen.


[1] Mark 13:2 (paraphrased).

[2] William Cowper, “God Moves in a Mysterious Way” (1774).

[3] John 13:18 (ESV).

[4] John 16:2–4 (ESV).

[5] 1 Corinthians 13:12 (KJV).

[6] Stuart Townend and Mark Edwards, “There Is a Hope” (2007).

[7] Revelation 19:6 (ESV).

[8] Henry Francis Lyte, “Praise, My Soul, the King of Heaven” (1834).

[9] Luke 21:20 (paraphrased).

[10] Matthew 24:20 (paraphrased).

[11] Eusebius, Church History 3.5.3.

[12] Josephus, The Wars of the Jews 5.12.3, quoted in William Barclay, Daily Study Bible, Mark 13, https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/dsb/mark-13.html.

[13] See 1 John 2:18–27.

[14] 2 Thessalonians 2:1–4 (ESV).

[15] Sinclair B. Ferguson, Daniel, The Communicator’s Commentary, ed. Lloyd J. Ogilvie (Waco, TX: Word, 1988), 236.

[16] Cowper, “God Moves in a Mysterious Way.” Lyrics lightly altered.

[17] Ruth Lake, “Therefore the Redeemed of the Lord” (1972). Lyrics lightly altered. See also Isaiah 35:10; 51:11.

[18] Isaiah 52:7 (paraphrased).

[19] Armando Valladares, Against All Hope: A Memoir of Life in Castro’s Gulag (1986; repr., New York: Encounter, 2001), 15–16.

[20] Philippians 1:27–28 (paraphrased).

Copyright © 2020, Alistair Begg. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations for sermons preached on or after November 6, 2011 are taken from The ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

For sermons preached before November 6, 2011, unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are taken from The Holy Bible, New International Version® (NIV®), copyright © 1973 1978 1984 by Biblica, Inc.TM Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

Alistair Begg
Alistair Begg is Senior Pastor at Parkside Church in Cleveland, Ohio, and the Bible teacher on Truth For Life, which is heard on the radio and online around the world.