Mark 13:11 promises that followers of Jesus will be given words by the Spirit to speak when they stand before civil and religious authorities in the context of persecution. Below is but a brief theological explanation as to why this promise is not for us today but for those in the Tribulation, a time of judgment that ends this age. A practical note is given at the end.
Jesus promised the apostles that “the Spirit of truth” would “guide you into all the truth” (John 16:13). In Revelation, the last book of the Bible (chronologically and canonically), John warned that God would judge the one who “takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy” (Rev 22:19), and he also warned that God would judge the one who “adds to them,” that is, “the words of the prophecy of this book” (Rev 22:18). God thus effectively commanded through John that no additional prophecies were to be given, now that the canon was complete with the book of Revelation. In terms of John 16:13, “all the truth” had been given. It follows that, as the book of Revelation circulated to all the churches with its command to add no more words to its prophecy, so also did any valid claim to the reception and communication of special revelation (a.k.a., prophecy).
Dismissed by the view above are two contemporary views of “non-normative” prophecy (i.e., prophecy binding for those who receive it but not the church at large). One is that prophecy exists today, but is something less in quality than prophecy by OT prophets or the apostles. This revelation could be received without error but then errantly delivered to others. The fault here is that the end result is not revelation if it is something errant but yet from God. Another view is that the gift of tongues carries on today, whether in congregational worship (assumedly alongside the gift of interpretation), evangelism, or private prayer. But if the Spirit is at work to control the language, so also is He involved in giving the words, which is tantamount to prophecy. But if prophecy has ceased, then all gifts pertaining to tongues have ceased as well.
Concerning the Tribulation, a seven-year period of judgment that precedes the millennial reign of Christ on earth, this period is marked by prophecy throughout, an expression of God’s mercy and grace since the church and pillar of truth will have just been raptured into the presence of the Lord Jesus Christ (cf. 1 Thess 4:13–5:11). Among other instances of prophecy that could be noted, it begins with the arrival of two prophets who prophesy (Rev 11:3). Followers of Jesus who are called before the authorities will be given words by the Spirit to speak at that time (Matt 10:20; Mark 13:11; Luke 12:12). The Spirit is poured out on sons and daughters who shall prophesy as well (Joel 2:28).
If a word from God is verbal or written, the authority is the same because these words are from God. A disagreement over the above, then, is to disagree on the matter of authority. Either God speaks today through His written Word, or He speaks through His written word and words He gives to others. If His Word indicates that others do not receive revelation today (as explained above), then we should not believe any claims that God has spoken beyond His written Word.
Jesus foretold the destruction of the temple (13:1–2), provoking two questions by four of the disciples about the timing of the final judgment: “when will these things be, and what will be the sign when all these things are about to be accomplished?” (13:4). In 13:5–37, Jesus explained when the judgment would be and what sign would precede this end.
In 13:5–8, Jesus stated that “the beginning of the birth pains” would include many saying, “I am he!” (i.e., the Christ). There would be wars, rumors of wars, earthquakes, and famines. Concerning the false christs, Jesus admonished, “See that no one leads you astray” (13:5). Of the catastrophes, “Do not be alarmed” (13:7).
In 13:9–13, Jesus prophesied that the world would hate His followers, arrest them, beat them, and that the Spirit would give them the words to say at this time. The gospel would thus be proclaimed to the nations. In light of such danger, Jesus admonished, “Be on your guard” (13:9). Concerning the Spirit’s help, He commanded, “Do not be anxious beforehand what you are to say, but say whatever is given you in that hour” (13:11).
In 13:14–23, the sight of “the abomination of desolation” would indicate increased danger at this time. Jesus described this time as “in those days” (13:17, 19) and “the days” (13:20, 2x) marked by “such tribulation” (13:19), that is, “that tribulation” after which other events occur (13:24; cf. 13:24–31). The commands given here tell of a time of great urgency: “let those . . . flee” (13:14); “Let the one . . . not go down, nor enter” (13:15); “let the one . . . not turn back” (13:16); “Pray that it may not happen in winter” (13:18); “do not believe it” (when someone claims to be Christ; 13:21); and “be on guard” (13:23).
In 13:24–31, after “that tribulation,” judgment “in those days” continues (13:24). The sun, moon, and stars are affected, and the Son of Man comes in the clouds and sends His angels to gather the elect. Just as the fig tree’s tender, leafy branch indicates summer is near, so also do these specific events indicate that Jesus “is near, at the very gates” (13:29) and will come once and for all (cf. 13:26, 35, 36). The generation of unbelieving Jews in Jesus day continues on today until His final coming takes place (13:30). No commands are given here. Jesus simply notes that “when you see these things taking place, you know that he is near” (13:29).
Finally, after detailing the many signs that would precede “when all these things are about to be accomplished” (13:4), Jesus specifically describes the timing of “these things” in 13:32–37. They take place in “that day,” “that hour,” which “no one knows” and “you do not know” (13:32, 33, 35). Because we do not know, we are commanded to “Be on guard” (13:33), “keep awake” (13:33), and “stay awake” (13:35, 37).
Mark 12:41–44 is an interesting passage to interpret. Jesus calls the disciples to Himself and points out a widow who has given the last of her money to the temple. What the reader is left to assume is the implicit lesson that Jesus was teaching to His disciples.
Jesus first points out that the widow’s contribution is proportionally higher than others that He had observed giving. She gave “more than all those” who had been giving as well (Mark 12:43). The sense of “more” was not that of amount, as seen in Jesus’ words to follow. They gave “out of their abundance” and had plenty to live on thereafter; the widow gave seemingly little but “everything she had, all she had to live on” (Mark 12:44).
From this episode, many conclude that the widow is being held up as an example in some way. Some assume she has faith for God to provide when she gave her last away. Others see her as an example of giving until it hurts. From the context, it seems she was actually giving out of desperation and a victim of a religion of corruption.
Jesus never actually gives an explicit commendation of this woman. In fact, the text itself seems to be an example of what Jesus was teaching in the temple in Mark 12:38–40. He spoke of scribes who “devour widow’s houses” (Mark 12:40), an action obviously in contradiction to their pretended religiosity (cf. Mark 12:38–40). Mark then records Jesus watching a widow indeed giving the last of her house, hoping perhaps for some miraculous provision in return. It seems that the scribes had taught her to do just as they wished – to give everything, even what is essential to one’s basic needs. These were rapacious men who cared nothing for those from whom they stole. On the outside, however, they appeared to be praying, important men. For this woman, she seems to giving the last of her house to the temple, a victim of these villainous men.
Mark 3:1–6 shows leaders who cared nothing for the needy. Mark 7:10–13 shows that they kept their goods from their aging parents when they could. It seems fitting that Jesus’ teaching in Mark 12:38—40 should be followed in Mark 12:41–44 by an example of a widow being more or less robbed of her last coins. It would also seem abruptly out of place for something good to be seen on a day when Jesus has repeatedly condemned and silence Israel’s leaders, only to be followed by a prophecy of the destruction of the temple as well (Mark 13:1–2).
We learn a simple lesson from Jesus’ teaching about the scribes and His observation of this widow. Those who want your money will often make themselves out to be the most sincere people you could meet. However, they will exploit your weaknesses and rob you blind. As Jesus said of the scribes then, beware of such people today!
Charles Hodge, a systematic theologian from days gone by, defined the phrase the means of grace in this way: “The phrase is intended to indicate those institutions which God has ordained to be the ordinary channels of grace, i.e., of the supernatural influences of the Holy Spirit, to the souls of men.” Because grace is imparted by the Spirit through the means below, the Spirit may be characterized as “the Spirit of grace” (Hebrews 10:29). What are these means of grace?
The first is God’s Word. Acts 20:32 states, “I commend you . . . to the word of His grace, which is able to build you up and to give you the inheritance among all those who are sanctified. 2 Peter 3:18 states, “But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. The normal means whereby we are built up through God’s Word are through reading, preaching, and its focus in the Lord’s Supper and baptism.
The second is prayer. In prayer we “draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Hebrews 4:16). The normal means whereby we avail ourselves to grace in prayer are in personal times of prayer, prayer with other Christians, and when the church prays together.
The third is one another. “But grace was given to each one of us according to the measure of Christ’s gift” (Eph 4:7) for the purpose of building up one another (Eph 4:16). This grace is imparted through speaking God’s Word to one another or serving one another in some way: “As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace” (1 Peter 4:10; cf. 4:11). The normal means whereby we give and receive grace to and from one another can be in both personal and corporate settings (i.e., the gathering of the church).
Eliminate or deprive yourself of these means of grace on an occasional or frequent basis, and you’ll find yourself missing the God-given means of being sustained by and growing in His grace. How will better avail yourself to His Word, prayer, and God’s people this year? Do so and grow in grace!
Join us each Sunday at 11:15 AM as we walk through each statement in our church’s Declaration of Faith.
We will consider the historical reasons for why some statements are made and look at the passages that allow us to make our conclusions.
Topics to be covered are the Scriptures, God, Jesus Christ, the Holy Spirit, Angels and Satan, Man, Salvation, Justification, the Security and Perseverance of Believers, the Church, Baptism and the Lord’s Supper, Holiness as a Local Church, Holiness in Lifestyle, Civil Government, and Future Events.
We hope to see you there!
Pastor David Huffstutler
Pastor Huffstutler regularly writes articles for our Sunday bulletin. See his bio on our pastoral bio page.