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God’s Word for You

Mark 13:17-20 how terrible it will be

by Pastor Timothy Smith on Monday, August 21, 2023

17 “Oh how terrible it will be for those women who are pregnant and for nursing mothers in those days! 18 Pray that it will not happen in winter. 19 For in those days there will be such distress as has not taken place since the beginning of creation when God created the world until now, and it will never be the same again. 20 If the Lord had not cut those days short, no one would survive. But he has cut those days short for the sake of the elect whom he has chosen.

“Oh how terrible it will be,” Jesus says. This is the little Greek word “Woe” (ouai). Hebrew has the same term, Oy (Jeremiah 4:13, 10:19), an interjection of grief, pain, or despair.  The Lord is showing his compassion especially on the poor women who are pregnant or who have little ones and therefore cannot run quickly away. Of course, there will always be a woman who is pregnant; there will always be women with nursing infants. The Lord cannot hold off a dreadful day for their sake, because another will come along just weeks later. The destruction will fall. As long as there are men and women, there will be wars and children.

Winter, too, brings its special problems. In the winter in Palestine, the rains come, and roads were for the most part unusable. Running for one’s life in a bitterly cold rain would be a hardship on anyone, and God knows our troubles (Psalm 34:19; 1 John 3:20).

When the Lord says, “Such distress as has not taken place since the beginning of creation when God created the world until now,” we have a statement and we end up with a question. The statement is there in the redundancy of “creation when God created the world.” This is a statement from God himself, who was present and whose hand was at work in the creation (Genesis 1:1-2; John 1:1-3). The creation is the work of God himself. In ancient times, this was proof that the logic and reasoning of the Greeks was flawed and simply wrong, since they could not imagine a universe that had a beginning. They believed that the universe was infinite in time, without beginning or end. And this is also proof for us today against those who deny God’s hand in creation and want to leave the formation of the universe to mere chance. No, says Jesus Christ our Lord: “God created the world.” Let this be a proof passage for us and for our children to remember.

But the question we might ask is this: Does Jesus mean that there was a bigger distress at the time of the creation than there will be at the end, or does he mean that the distress at the end will be such that has never happened at all? To be sure, there was upheaval and distress when, for example, God brought the land heaving up from below the surface of the ocean on the third day of creation (Genesis 1:9). Like a vast whale, thousands of miles long, and made of rock, stone, and barren mud, the continents erupted from the depths and waters cascaded away back into the sea from whatever heights were there as it happened. The upheaval was so massive that the Lord did not touch the created land again for a few days, turning his creating hand to the heavens on the fourth day and to the forming of fish and birds from the dust of the ground on the fifth day (Genesis 2:19). Therefore man was not yet present to witness or experience the upheaval and calamities of those days of the formation, but was created in the quiet peace of the sixth day in the ideal Garden paradise. And so we come to the same conclusion by two different lines of thought: Jesus means that no disaster has been experienced by man that compares at all to the awful trauma of that day—for now he is speaking not only of the destruction of Jerusalem, but of the end of the world.

Jesus says, “If the Lord had not cut those days short, no one would survive. But he has cut those days short for the sake of the elect whom he has chosen.” The last days will be terrible, and they will seem interminably long, but an end will come at last, for God will finally cut them short. This will be out of love for those who survive to the end and who are part of his elect, the chosen church. Most of us will have fallen asleep in death, but some will remain, and his compassion will rest on them as well.

Jesus shows us in this discourse that the destruction of Jerusalem (verses 14-16) will be a sign and a reminder of the approach of the final judgment (verses 17-22). The Lord echoes the language of the prophet Daniel: “There will be a time of distress such as has not happened from the beginning of nations until then” (Daniel 12:1), and he does this to expose our sins. For if the end is drawing near—as it continues to do, day by day—the need for our repentance is always before us. The fear of punishment in hell is the only truly rational fear, because it is based on absolute, indisputable fact. Those who have sinned will suffer forever in hell on account of those sins: “My sins have overtaken me” (Psalm 40:12); “Our sins are higher than our heads and our guilt has reached to the heavens” (Ezra 9:6). But God promises, with his everlasting goodness: “If my people, the ones who are called by my name, humble themselves, pray, seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and I will forgive their sin” (2 Chronicles 7:14). And again: “I will forgive their guilt, and I will remember their sins no more” (Jeremiah 31:34).

This is the God who loves and who is compassionate on us. Whatever troubles and even disasters come our way, they are only little warnings about the approach of the absolute and final end. When our souls are prepared by baptism and a simple, childlike faith in Jesus, we are ready to stand before the judgment seat. And glory to God in the highest! We will not even be judged, for Christ’s righteousness and purity cover us, and we will simply be called home to our eternal rest.

In Christ,
Pastor Timothy Smith

Pastor Tim Smith
About Pastor Timothy Smith
Pastor Smith serves St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in New Ulm, Minnesota. To receive God’s Word for You via e-mail, please visit the St. Paul’s Lutheran Church website.


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