“So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that he is near, at the very gates. Truly I tell you, this generation will not pass away until all these things have taken place. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away. But about that day or hour no one knows, neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.” Mark 13:29-32
Dear Friends, We have now been back in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia for almost 6 weeks. We are grateful to be here and able to teach for St. Paul’s Theological College. I (Rich) am also teaching a course for another school here and a leader training program in China. I am also teaching in various settings in India, and would like to share about a striking session last night (Saturday).
I have been going through Mark with one group of pastors and church planters in the state of Odisha, India. Lisa and I visited them in early July during our time in India, and now I am back to weekly Zoom sessions with them. Last night, we were looking at “The Little Apocalypse,” Mark 13. It is a widely misunderstood passage, as the question he is answering for most of the chapter is “When will the temple be destroyed, and what will be the signs?” But during his answer, he says things like, “But in those days, after that suffering, the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will be falling from heaven, and the powers in the heavens will be shaken. Then they will see ‘the Son of Man coming in clouds’ with great power and glory.” So of course, it is easy to take this as language describing the end of time. But, in context, with some Biblical background and understanding, Jesus is using apocalyptic language. Strip that away, and Jesus is saying “during those days, after the suffering [of the siege of Jerusalem in 70 AD], the temple will be destroyed. The Jewish establishment’s verdict of “blasphemy!” will be overturned, as the Son of Man goes before God to receive divine authority.” (If you would like more background and insights about this passage, please consider reading my Sketch 107, “Birth Pangs and Death Throes”.)
So, Jesus was not answering the question, “When will the world end?” He does bring up the topic, when he says (13:31), “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.” But of the timing for the end of time he knows nothing because not even he knows when it will come. Jesus only mentions the end of time to stress that everything that we see on this planet is less durable than are the words and promises of Jesus. The words of Jesus—they are what is solid, not buildings, or organizations, or even governments and nations.
As we neared the end of the Bible study last night, I mentioned hearing many Christian leaders and authors interpreting the “signs of the times” indicating that we are in the final days, and that this or that political leader was going to usher in the age of the anti-Christ, the rapture, the final battle and end of time. I wondered aloud if they were familiar with similar leaders coming along with prophecies about the end of the age. They all quickly agreed that they too had heard similar prophecies, and they mentioned specific dates and signs that had been given. But Jesus is clear about the difference between “those days” and his extensive knowledge about the timing and signs of the destruction of the temple, and “that day” of which he has no knowledge (and no signs to be given); in fact only the Father knows.
But my point in the class, and in fact a meta-point in all the teaching I do, is that Jesus’ words are reliable, as is seen when you see all the prophecies in Mark 13 in light of the 40 years after the death of Jesus, culminating in the destruction of the temple, within one generation of his prediction. As he says, when we see these things having taken place just as he said, we can see that he is “near, at the very gates,” that he is in control and his words did indeed come to pass.
Jesus’ words are unshakable, and they, beyond all else, will endure. Building a life, a ministry, a family, a church, or a legacy on the words of Jesus is the only thing that will ultimately last, because any other foundation will one day pass away. Currently I am Zoom teaching 3 weekly groups in Orissa state, 2 in Tamil Nadu, one group of IFES-India student ministry staff, 2 groups of women leaders in Madya Pradesh, and one group in Maharashtra, with new groups starting up next month as well. My goal with each of the 20 hours per week I spend leading Bible studies with pastors, seminarians, and student ministry workers in India, Malaysia and China is to help them build this kind of lasting ministry, with rock solid confidence in the word of God and the promises of Jesus.
I share this story as a small glimpse of what I love about what I do: the pastors and students learn about particular passages but they also gain confidence in the insights we find there together. Greater confidence in God’s word and Jesus’ timeless promises yields fruit as they then teach and train others. It is immensely satisfying work, as you all know if you have led others into life-giving Bible study.
We have less than 2 months here before we must leave Malaysia, as we are still on 90-day tourist visas. Please pray for God to open doors for us to be able to stay long-term here, as we continue to see many opportunities for us to invest here and elsewhere in Asia, but cannot fully make plans until we settle our visa problem.
Rich and Lisa Lamb