Mark Study #29
Mark 13:1-37 concludes a section that began in chapter 11. The entire section occurs at the Temple. The disciples, as they were leaving, note the Temple’s magnificence. Jesus announced to the awe struck disciples, “Do you see these great buildings? There will not be left here one stone upon another that will not be thrown down.” What Jesus just revealed was the sequel to His earlier symbolic actions when He pronounced judgment on the Temple. Jesus then taught His disciples about the future.
On the Mount of Olives, which provided a clear view of the Temple, four of the disciples asked: “when will these things be, and what will be the sign when all these things are about to be accomplished?” The remainder of chapter 13 is Jesus’ answer to the disciples. But Jesus did not just inform them about the Temple, He added words about His return, which would mark the end of time. While Jesus had earlier mentioned His return in glory (8:38), He now linked it to the Temple’s destruction. However, while He linked these two events, Jesus suggested no timetable between the two.
A helpful observation for understanding verses 5-37 is to note the shift back and forth between an immediate event, the Temple’s destruction, and a remote event, the return of Christ. Pronouncements about the future often link near fulfillments with far ones. The destruction of the Temple occurred in 70 A.D. as Rome’s forces burned and leveled the Temple. The near fulfillment involving the Temple does not demand a near fulfillment of Christ’s return. However, the things described in the verses about the Temple’s destruction might find a fuller fulfillment in still future events and closer to Jesus’ return.
A further observation for understanding verses 5-37 is to notice a couple of important markers from the passage. Two phrases offer a way to grasp which event Jesus is referring. The phrase “these things,” from the original questions the disciples asked, refers to the Temple destruction. The phrase “those days” (or “that day”) refers to the return of Christ. Therefore, verses 5-23 and 28-31, which use the phrase “these things,” are associated with the Temple’s destruction. And verses 24-27 and 32-37, which uses the phrase “those days,” are associated with Christ’s return.
The disciples wanted to know what sign to look for that would precede the Temple’s destruction. Jesus first mentioned things that would NOT be signs (vv. 6-13). Natural calamities, international conflicts, the arrival of false christs, or even the intensification of persecution would have no sign value for deciphering the Temple’s destruction. But Jesus did reveal a sign that would indicate when the Temple was about to be destroyed (vv. 14-23). “When you see the abomination of desolation standing where he ought not to be,” it would be time to flee Jerusalem. “The abomination of desolation” is used in Daniel 9-12. It refers to a pagan desecrating the Temple. In the year 167 B.C. the Jewish Temple that existed at that time was defiled. The Syrian ruler, Antiochus IV profaned the Temple when he set up an altar to Zeus and sacrificed a pig there. Jesus was saying that something like what Antiochus did would happen again. The Temple present at that time, which took Herod over sixty years to build, would also be profaned.
Jumping over verses 24-27, verses 28-31 revisit the sign affiliated with the Temple’s destruction. Like a fig tree’s leafing out indicates summer is near, so the abomination of desolation would indicate the Temple’s demise was near. Notice the phrase that verse 30 uses: “this generation will not pass away until all these things take place. Within a generation of Jesus’ words, the Temple was gone. A siege around Jerusalem from A.D. 66-70 culminated in the city’s total destruction. Many had fled the city by that time.
Verses 24-27 as well as verses 32-37 set themselves apart from the description of the Temple’s destruction. This section opens with a strong contrast. It also uses the phrase “in those days.” This phrase is used in the Old Testament to refer to the events surrounding the end of time (Jeremiah 3:16-18; Joel 3:1; Zechariah 8:23). Here in these verses of Mark the subject shifts from the Temple to Christ’s return. In contrast to a sign preceding the Temple’s destruction, Christ’s return would have no prior sign: “But concerning that day or that hour, no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.” The Son of Man would come in glory and power to gather His people. And while Christ’s return will be unmistakable, it will have no prior warning.
Thus, as a house watchman’s duty is to stay alert until his master returns, so Christ called His disciples to remain faithful and vigilant. Leading up to the destruction of the Temple as well as the time in between the Temple’s destruction and Christ’s return, followers of Christ are called to advance the Gospel mission: “And the gospel must first be proclaimed to all nations.” But as Christ’s disciples spread the Gospel message before His return, they will face intense persecution as an attempt to thwart them.
So, Jesus’ real emphasis in chapter 13 is not sharing signs and secrets about the future. It completely misses the point to engage in speculation about the future by cracking so-called Bible codes. Jesus emphasizes how to faithfully live in the present. There are nineteen imperatives in verses 5-37. Followers of Christ are called to be on guard (vv. 5, 9, 23, 33), to keep awake (v. 33), and to stay awake (vv. 33, 35, 37). Jesus opened with a call to be on guard (v. 5) and closed with a call to stay awake (v. 37). With the future in view, Jesus calls His disciples to persevere as they faithfully carry out His mission of advancing the Gospel. For: “the one who endures to the end will be saved.”
The call for the mission to be carried out in the context of intense persecution is enjoined with clear assurances from God in this passage. The disciple’s comfort amid persecution is to be found in knowing that the timing of all things is controlled by the Father’s providences (v. 32). The disciple’s enablement for advancing their Gospel mission, even as persecution arises, is to be rooted in the Spirit’s presence (v. 11). And the disciple’s motivation for advancing the Gospel while being persecuted is found in the promise that when the Son of God returns in glory, He will unashamedly share His glory with those who are unashamed of Him (vv. 26-27).