By Pastor Glenn Pease
There is a difference between sin and error. It I say 2 2=5 I am in error, but I am not sinning. That is, if my motive is to come to a right answer I am not sinning. If my human fallibility leads me to a wrong answer it is not sin. If I say 2 2=5 in order to confuse a young person so that they will make a mistake and get a problem wrong then it becomes a sin, for it is a deliberate attempt to deceive. It is no longer an error but a lie, and, therefore, a sin. The motive determines the difference between a sin and an error.
When it comes to matters of Biblical doctrine we find the same distinction. If I had believed that Jesus was to come in 1988, I have been proven wrong. I was in error to believe that, but I was not sinning in believing that. That was an error in calculation and interpretation. Christians have been wrong about a good many things because they did not properly understand God's Word. This is not sin, but the natural result of the inadequacy of human knowledge. However, if my error is the direct result of disobeying, or of paying no heed to the clear words of Christ, then it becomes sin, for it is error due to willful negligence. Whenever we can avoid error easily and do not do so because of laziness and indifference, it becomes a sin to be wrong. To be in error about the obscure or unrevealed is perfectly normal, but to be in error about the clearly revealed is to be guilty of sinful negligence.
Jesus predicted that error would be successful, and false prophets would lead many astray just because people will refuse to give heed to His warning. They will allow themselves to be frightened, and led into unstable emotionalism over the very things He clearly stated were no cause for alarm. G. Campbell Morgan wrote, "Observe...that in this prophecy we have the definite declaration that wars and rumors of wars are not the sign of the end of the age." Yet every crisis and international conflict will bring many false prophets out of the darkness to confuse and frighten.
Whenever you find Christians being alarmists and acting like chicken little scampering around the barnyard screaming that the sky is falling, you know they have missed the purpose of Christ's teaching on last things. His key word is watch. Do not be alarmed He urges. Don't go off half cocked. Don't lose control of your emotional stability. Be steady, be alert, be watchful. A few minutes of calm reflection upon the evidence would have saved chicken little from his emotional blunder and premature warning that caused so much chaos. So also a few moments of calm reflection on the clear teaching of Jesus will help us avoid confusing the end with the beginning. Jesus said that all these things are the beginning of sufferings. Let us not be guilty of willful error by saying these things are signs of the end.
In verse 9 Jesus goes on to tell the disciples some of the very specific forms of suffering they will have to endure. Let us keep in mind that Jesus answered their question primarily to give them understanding. The first application of His teaching is to the immediate future of the disciples, and not to the 20th century, or any other century. For example, Jesus says they will be beaten in synagogues, and taken before governors and kings. This is obviously a picture of law enforcement and persecution which fits what the Apostles faced, but would not apply after 70 A. D. After that the Jews no longer had the power or authority. It was not long before the picture was reversed completely and Christians were persecuting Jews and beating them.
The point is, Jesus is not describing what is going to happen all through history, though similar things have always happened. He is telling them what they must endure as the first proclaimers of the Gospel. Both Jews and the Romans would arrest them because of all the trouble Christianity would stir up. The Romans would have to intervene because of the dangerous tension between the old Israel and new Israel. It was a civil war within Judaism that the Gospel caused, and as verse 12 shows, it was a conflict unto death. The Romans had to step in to maintain order. You will notice that the beatings are to take place in the synagogue at the hands of the Jews, but the being brought before the governors and kings was for the purpose of bearing testimony. Of course, no beatings have been allowed in synagogues for many centuries, and so this passage obviously refers to the immediate future of the disciples.
Jesus indicates that one of the key ways of getting the Gospel spread would be through the courts. The persecution would lead to opportunities to defend the Gospel before high officials and leaders in high places. This would give the Gospel a world wide sounding board. Just as today an obscure matter known only to a few people can become the talk of the nation if it comes before the Supreme Court. Some people break a law on purpose just to get the matter before the courts, and to get their voice heard. This is what was going to happen in the early church. Old Israel was dying, but it was going to take down the new Israel with it, but their very efforts to destroy it were the cause for its becoming a world wide movement. God makes even the wrath of man to praise Him.
So crucial was this in the plan of God that Jesus tells them in verse 11 not to be anxious about what to say, for the Holy Spirit was promised to make sure this opportunity would be used to the fullest extent. Under this unique situation the direct work of the Holy Spirit was essential for the success of the spread of the Gospel. If we go to the book of Acts, we discover that almost all of the great preaching, and all of the great defenses of the Gospel were delivered before official bodies, or men in high places. We find Peter and John before the Sanhedrin in Acts 4:8-21 and 5:29f. The seventh chapter is Stephen's great defense before his martyrdom. Paul is before the Sanhedrin in Acts 23; before Felix in Acts 24; before Festus in Acts 25; before Agrippa in Acts 26, and in a Roman prison in Acts 28. It is no less than fantastic when we see the role of the legal system of Rome in the spread of the Gospel. Had God not prepared the world through the development of the Roman legal system, the church would not have gotten off the ground to such a rapid start.
Freedom of speech and liberty to be heard, and to present your side of the case, was essential for the growth of Christianity. At other times and under other systems Christianity would have been denied this privilege. We see another explanation of the statement, "In the fullness of time God sent forth His Son." God knew all of these factors before time began. He is never too early or too late in His actions. It would be interesting to digress here, and consider the whole history of how the Gospel has spread through its conflicts within the courts of this world, but this would take us too far afield. Many of the great men of God and movements of God became that due to conflict with the law or official bodies. The Baptist General Conference began with the trial of F.O. Nielson in Sweden where his defense of the Baptist position was published all over the nation by reporters at his trial. This led to many believing and becoming followers. Never underestimate the value of the truth being brought before the courts.
Jesus wants to encourage His disciples with this knowledge that what they suffer will be worth while, for it is part of the necessary price to pay for the success of the church. In verse 10 He makes it clear that the persecution will not destroy the church. The Gospel will be preached in all nations before the end. This has both an immediate and ultimate application. The Gospel did reach all nations before 70 A. D., in the sense that through the synagogues Jews all over the world had a chance to choose Christ as their Messiah before Judaism was judged in the fall of Jerusalem. This is the primary application for the benefit of the disciples, and to comfort them as to the immediate success of the Gospel before the fall of old Israel.
If our assumption is valid that the judgment on Judaism is a type of the coming final judgment on the world, then we can see the application of this promise to our own day also. The end will not come until the great commission is fulfilled, and people of every nation have the chance to respond to the Gospel. Not knowing the precise definition of this means that this goal is certainly within sight in our day.
Mark's record of the statement clearly makes it a reference to the world of the disciples. It is put between verses 9 and 11 which are references to their own personal trials. In verse 11 Jesus tells them not to be anxious about what to say when they are brought to trial. This has nothing to do with their responsibility to expound the Word and their study habits. Paul said, "Bring me the books and the parchments." He was a student of the Word, but he did not have time to prepare speeches when he was brought before the courts. Jesus is saying, do not worry at such a time, for all you need to do is defend your right to believe, and the basis for your belief. All that is necessary is your love for and faith in Jesus. The Holy Spirit will do the rest. Anyone who gets a wide open opportunity to express their faith in Christ is able to do a good job of it, for the Holy Spirit continues to operate this way under such circumstances. When there is perfect liberty the Christian needs no preparation, but simply a living faith in Christ.
Verse 12 is the saddest part of this prophecy, for the tension will be so terrific in homes where some believe and others do not that there will be hatred unto death developed between loved ones. Here is clear civil war; not between Jews and Gentiles, but between believers and unbelievers. This is why Jesus said that if you love father or mother, or son or daughter, or brother or sister, more than me you are not worthy of me. He knew the day would come when men would have to choose between Him and family loyalty. This was true for both Jews and Gentiles. Emperor Domitian slew Flavius Clemens and his niece because they were Christians. Emperor Maximin killed Artemia his own sister. Diocletian killed his own wife and other relatives for being Christians. Only eternity will reveal how many Christians were killed by their own family.
In verse 13 Jesus indicates that men of all places will be hateful toward believers. There will be no sanctuary, for Christians will suffer universal persecution. Jesus promises no escape, but encourages them to endure to the end and be saved. He promises no cheap grace, but He says it is worth going through all the suffering, for all who do shall be saved. Be faithful unto death and you will receive the crown of life. This was true in the first century, and is true for Christians today who suffer all over the world.