Deceivers, Tumults, Opposition

The Olivet Discourse opens with warnings about deceivers who will propagate false expectations about the end, along with opposition – Mark 13:5-13

Wolves - Photo by Tom Pottiger on Unsplash
Jesus began his Discourse with an ominous warning about coming deceivers, men who would claim his authority and spread rumors about calamities to “
deceive many.” This warning is repeated at pivotal points in the Discourse. For example, “many false prophets will arise and deceive many,” and false messiahs and prophets will show signs and wonders in order to “deceive even the very elect” of God - [Photo by Tom Pottiger on Unsplash].

DECEIVERS. No prediction receives more stress than the repeated warning about deceivers and “false prophets” who would strive to mislead the followers of Jesus, “even the very 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 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. These things are a beginning of birth-pangs.
He provided a list of natural and man-made calamities that are NOT signs of the “end,” the very “evidence” offered by the deceivers for the rapid approach of the “end.” The emphasis is on what the disciples would “hear,” presumably, from the “deceivers.”

His point was not that disasters would not occur, but that they DID NOT themselves constitute signs of the “end.” Such events were not keys with which the disciple could decode prophetic chronologies or calculate when the “Son of Man” would return.

The warning is at the 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 followed by disappointment because deceivers disseminated false information about the future, often pointing to the very sorts of events Jesus declared were NOT portends of the “end.”

For many will come on the basis of my name.” The Greek conjunction gar or “for” introduces the explanation. Many would be deceived because false prophets made claims “on” (epi) Christ’s name; that is, they claimed 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 would hear, and “reports of wars” reiterates the point.

The issue was not whether wars would occur. However, the deceivers would spread “rumors of wars” to raise expectations about the future. Paul dealt with this same type 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 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, 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, and 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 for determining the nearness of his return.

These things must come to pass.” The 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 did so with the help 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).

In Scripture, the analogy of “birth-pains” is common for the suddenness and inevitability of judgment and destruction. 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 – they occur with regularity. What distinguishes one war or earthquake from another one in its prophetic importance? Jesus did exhort his disciples NOT to be alarmed when disasters of this sort inevitably occurred.

The version of the Discourse 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 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? 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.” He 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 disciples could ascertain the nearness of the end, but instead, to warn them NOT to heed claims by deceivers who would point to man-made 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.

OPPOSITIONThis 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 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 my names sake: but he that endures to the end shall be saved.
Councils” translates synedrion, the term rendered “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 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, he predicted persecution by both Jewish and secular authorities. To give testimony before “governors and kings” is part of the church’s mission to proclaim the gospel to all nations. The warning anticipated the broader Gentile context of 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 before authorities - (Matthew 24:10, Mark 13:12Luke 12:11-12, 21:12-16).

Jesus went on to repeat his earlier warning. During times of trouble, “many false prophets shall arise and deceive many (pollōn).” The Greek sentence connects the false prophets to “lawlessness.” In the Greek clause, “many” has the definite article or “the, referring to the same group, “the many,” that were 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 instead, integral to the way of discipleship. Persecution is the fertile ground in which the gospel flourishes, for it creates gospel opportunity.

Jesus portrayed a people persecuted by BOTH Jewish and Gentile authorities. His disciples constituted a people distinct from Jews and Gentiles. The greatest danger to the Church would not be persecuting authorities, but deceivers among its congregations who would cause disciples to turn on one another, and “lawlessness” to run amok.


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