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Jesus Explains the Signs of the End Times: Persecution & Betrayal (Mark 13:9-13)

Analysis and Commentary

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Jesus Teaches

Jesus Teaches

    9 But take heed to yourselves: for they shall deliver you up to councils; and in the synagogues ye shall be beaten: and ye shall be brought before rulers and kings for my sake, for a testimony against them. 10 And the gospel must first be published among all nations.
    11 But when they shall lead you, and deliver you up, take no thought beforehand what ye shall speak, neither do ye premeditate: but whatsoever shall be given you in that hour, that speak ye: for it is not ye that speak, but the Holy Ghost.
    12 Now the brother shall betray the brother to death, and the father the son; and children shall rise up against their parents, and shall cause them to be put to death. 13 And ye shall be hated of all men for my name's sake: but he that shall endure unto the end, the same shall be saved.

Jesus, Persecution, and Betrayal

After warning four of his disciples about the coming troubles that would afflict the world, Jesus now turns to the troubles that would soon afflict them personally. Although the narrative portrays Jesus warning just these four followers, Mark intended his audience to regard themselves as also being addressed by Jesus and for his warnings to resonate with their own experiences.

First they should expect to be persecuted by Jewish authorities. If Mark’s audience were primarily Hellenized Jews who had joined the Christian community, then after the destruction of the Jewish Temple in Jerusalem and the increased crackdown by Rome, Jewish leaders would have been in no mood to tolerate a movement like this which, in their eyes, only divided the Jewish community and attracted unwanted attention.

Then they could expect to be persecuted by political authorities as well. Christians experienced widespread persecution under various Roman rulers, the most recent of which for Mark’s audience probably would have been Nero around 64 CE. Believers should not be afraid, however, because when they are brought before officials they will have the Holy Spirit to guide their words. Once again, Mark’s audience is being advised to be calm in the face of persecution.

Jesus further predicts that there would be widespread betrayal within the Christian community during the persecutions. This is attested to by numerous sources. Tacitus writes that when Christians were arrested, many would indict a large number of their fellow believers. Clement of Rome wrote to the Christians in Corinth that “jealousy and envy” allowed Christian leaders in Rome to be more easily identified and arrested by the Romans.

At every step, the fate of Jesus’ followers is aligned with that of Jesus himself. First he was betrayed by his “family” (Judas), then brought before Jewish leaders, who in turn take him to the Romans in charge. Both the suffering of Jesus and the suffering of his followers are described as necessary steps in God’s plan for humanity. All destined to suffer must accept it as the will of God rather than seek to avoid it.

Still, none of this is supposed to be read as a “sign” of the End Times. All of this is part of God’s ultimate plan, but Christians shouldn’t assume simply because they are being betrayed and persecuted that the apocalypse is just around the corner. For one thing, it is necessary for Jesus’ message to be taken to “all nations” before the End can occur. So long as there are parts of the world where the message has not been carried, the End cannot take place — regardless of how extreme the unrest may seem to be.

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