Mark 13 is focused around Jesus’ response to the disciples’ question in verse 4 about when the Temple will be destroyed. In Jesus’ day, all of Jewish religion was focused on the Temple, but Jesus has been teaching throughout Mark’s Gospel that religion is changing because the time is fulfilled and God’s kingdom had come. As Israel’s situation became more and more desperate under Roman oppression in the 1st century, there was increasing expectation that God was coming to intervene and correct what was happening. Many Jewish people were awaiting a Messiah to come and overthrow Rome and bring in a golden age for Israel much like David had done. In this period of history there were many so-called messiahs who attempted to do this only to be violently defeated. But people continued to follow these types men who would arise with some measure of influence and military aptitude. The people thought God was coming at any moment to vindicate Israel.
In many ways, Mark 13 is a message contradicting this. Jesus is teaching against the man standing on the side of the street in a sandwich sign which reads “The End is Near!” In fact, Jesus is teaching that rather than being freed by military might, Israel is going to be overcome and the temple destroyed. Jesus is teaching that the time of this end is coming for Israel, but not as soon as they thought. He is telling them to get ready for the long struggle before them.
Historically, people have interpreted Jesus’ answer here in Mark 13 in various ways. Some say that the entirety is referring to the Temple being destroyed in 70 AD during the First Jewish-Roman War. Others say that it is partially speaking about this and partially speaking about the end of all things or “End Times”. Still others interpret this passage with only the End Times in mind focusing on what it may or may not teach about the future.
There are some things that should guide us in our understanding of Mark 13. First, we should focus on what the passage clearly says before we move to speculation on future events. Allow the biblical text to drive our system of thinking rather than trying to fit a text into our system. The Bible is not a crystal ball so there’s no clear and decisive picture of how the future events are going to unfold. There are elements of future events recorded in the scriptures, but only enough to drive us to a proper response. That response is hope that God will bring justice and restoration to his world and proper fear of God that directs our behavior so we are ready to meet him at any moment. A second idea that should guide our understanding of Mark 13 is that we should consider how Jesus’ answer fits into the message of the Gospel of Mark before we think about how it fits into our understanding of unknown future events. And third, we should consider how this might impact us now and today rather than in some theoretical future. So our task is not to speculate about when the end of the world may be, but to consider what Jesus is teaching us about the Gospel, or Good News of God in Mark 13.
There are many passages to study when it comes to “End Times” studies, but the focus here is on Mark 13. This is not an attempt at an exhaustive discussion on Mark 13 (that would be exhausting!). In light of the three ideas proposed above, there will be two points argued in this approach to Mark 13:
- Here, the Bible is teaching that Temple religion is being replaced by Jesus religion.
- Applying what is read here out to teach us to live properly with watchfulness and expectation.
Jesus has spent the last few days in the Temple arguing with Israel’s religious teachers and leaders and teaching the crowds of people who had come to Jerusalem for Passover. In Mark 13:1-7, he now leaves the Temple with his disciples. As they are leaving one of the 12 remarks on the magnificence of the Temple structure. And in verse 2 Jesus says the Temple is going to be completely destroyed. His disciples reply in verse 4 with a question about the timing of this destruction. The remainder of chapter 13 is primarily concerned with answering this question. There are two parts to their question: 1) When will this happen? And 2) what will be the sign of the destruction.
The disciples want to be prepared for this, so they ask Jesus to teach them about when the Temple will be destroyed. Whatever your view is of the Bible’s teaching of the End Times, it makes no sense to think of Jesus not answering the disciples question in Mark 13. Verse 4 frames the entire chapter around the subject of the Temple being destroyed. Mark 13 is not centered around the End Times, it is centered around answering this question. This is not to say that End Times elements are not found here, but they are not the center or focus of Jesus’ answer to this question.
Jesus warns them in verse 5 of those who would deceive them about these matters. In verses 6-7 he says false messiahs will come and there will constantly be news about wars local and throughout the Empire. He says the disciples are to respond to these things calmly because the end of the Temple will not have arrived quite yet. Verse 7 says, “do not be alarmed”. Why? Because “the end is still to come”. In other words, history will go on as always. There will be turmoil and problems. This doesn’t mean the end.
This would be the period in between Jesus’ resurrection and when the temple was destroyed in 70 AD, around 37 years. A lot happened during that time and Jesus was telling his disciples not to worry about the political upheaval and false teachers that would arise during this time.
In Mark 13:8-13, Jesus teaches that all of the problems the disciples were going to face should be expected. There will always be nations jockeying for power. There will be earthquakes and famines just as there has always been. Verse 8 says these things are birth pains. There is no doubt that you are going to have a baby when you have birth pains, but just because you have them, doesn’t mean labor has begun. Jesus moves from political turmoil and natural disasters to speaking about the preaching of the Gospel. The task of preaching the Gospel to all nations wasn’t going to be an easy one, so when his disciples do it they should expect to be opposed. Jesus says there will continue to be turmoil and upheaval all around them. They will be persecuted and it is through this persecution that the Gospel will be preached to the nations. This is what happens with Paul in the book of Acts when he goes before a Governor named Felix, before certain rulers, and ultimately he goes to Caesar himself and shares the Gospel. Verse 10 refers back to the question of verse 4. “What are the signs that the Temple will be destroyed?” is the question of verse 4. And verse 10 says, First, or before that happens, the Gospel will be preached to all nations. The nature of Gospel includes a missionary component from the beginning. It’s automatic that those who believe it will teach it everywhere they go. In the generation of believers after the resurrection, the Gospel spreads like wildfire all over the world. This is seen in the book of Acts: Paul and his entourage takes it throughout the Roman Empire. Church history holds that Thomas went to India. Philip preaches to an Ethiopian who believes and takes the Gospel to Africa. That generation after the resurrection takes the Gospel to the whole world. So, why was this necessary before the Temple would be destroyed?
Glad you asked!
If you recall, at places in several previous posts on Mark’s Gospel, we have talked about how Jesus was changing the way God’s people would worship him. No longer do the people of God need to go to a Temple and approach God through sacrifices, but now they can come to God face-to-face and approach him boldly through Jesus’ sacrifice. In order for Temple to be fully replaced, the Gospel needed to be fully established. We can think of it another way too: in order for the former Temple-and-Law-Religion to be replaced, the new Jesus-religion had to be established. So after the resurrection, the disciples proclaim the Gospel all over the world. All the nations of the earth now see how they may approach God through Jesus. They are no longer required to travel to a temple to offer sacrifice, because Jesus is their sacrifice and their temple. Here verses 8-13 talk about this task of taking the Gospel to all nations. It is not an easy task but it is a task that remains with us today and all Christians are called to it. Verses 12 and 13 speak about betrayal and death being results of participating in this mission. This has undoubtedly been the case for many throughout history from the apostles until today.
Mark 13:14-23 make reference to Daniel 11-12 and verse 14 refers to the” Abomination that causes Desolation”. It also appears in Matthew 24. Daniel’s prophecy was fulfilled around 167 BC when a Roman ruler named Antiochus Epiphanes set up a statue of Zeus in the Temple and sacrificed a pig on the altar in Jerusalem. Jesus borrows this same imagery when he foretells the temple destruction in 70 AD. The Jews revolted against the Romans in 66 and three and a half years later the Roman General Titus destroys the Temple in 70 AD. Jesus is warning his followers to be prepared and ready when they see this happen. In verses 21-22, he says false messiahs will continue to try to gain followers and Jesus says in verse 23 that his elect needs to be on their guard.
After this the language changes in Mark 13:24-31. The language becomes more stylized and figurative. Jesus is likely quoting Isaiah 13:10, but there are other similar passages to verses 24-25. Whether this is referring to AD 70, future events, or both is difficult to tell. One reason to interpret it as referring to 70 AD is because of the term “This Generation” in verse 30. Jesus is referring to the disciples and those following him at this point. Many of them lived long enough to see the Gospel expand worldwide and also for the Temple to be destroyed. This passage says that there will be no debate when this time comes. Jesus uses the fig tree again as an illustration. He says in verse 28 that when you see the fig tree covered with leaves there is not a doubt that it is summertime. Like this, Jesus says when all of these things happen, the end will be near. In other words, by the time you can tell it’s that close, it will be too late to prepare for it.
Moving on to Mark 13:32-37, there is another shift in the wording. Verses 17, 19, 20, and 24 refer to “Days” when speaking about the time surrounding the destruction of the Temple. Then in verse 32 it switches to “day”. There is a change of language that points to a change of subject. I view this as a change from Jesus speaking about 70 AD to talking about future events because of the change of wording in the text. Jesus changes the subject from answering the question in verse 4 about the sign of the destruction of the Temple, to the last Day or what we call the Second Coming of Christ. In verse 32 he says that although he has knowledge about the coming “days” of trouble in verses 17, 19, 20, and 24, about “that day” in verse 32, only the Father has knowledge. So the “days” of trouble are different from the coming “day”. He uses the example of a man leaving his house in charge of his servants in verse 34. This is pointing to Jesus’ resurrection and return to his heavenly throne. And he ends his answer with a challenge in verses 35-37 to “Watch” or be prepared.
So, after taking all of our time this morning to offer a brief explanation of Mark 13, let’s return to the two ways we need to apply it:
1. The Bible is teaching us that Temple religion is being replaced by Jesus religion. This first application is related to our thoughts and how we read the Bible and understand Jesus. Mark 13 continues to teach Jesus’ Gospel that the Kingdom has come and the time is fulfilled. Jesus says the Temple is going to be destroyed because he has fulfilled anything and everything the Temple was meant to do. We now go to Jesus and through Jesus for worship. We worship him and he makes worship possible by his life, death, and resurrection. Jesus fulfills the sacrificial system that was practiced in the Temple. Animal sacrifice could never take away man’s sin. So Jesus becomes man, lives perfectly, and gives his own life as the perfect sacrifice for the sin he never committed. This passage is about the period of time from when the Temple religion changed to the Jesus religion and the latter was decisively established when the Temple was destroyed. The book of Acts and much of the New Testament describes this in between time. There are lots of questions about how Jews who believed in Jesus are to live. Jesus speaks beforehand showing that once the Temple is destroyed a lot of their problems were going to be resolved. He also makes a way for the whole world to be brought into God’s plan of redemption. There was an outer court to the Temple so non-Jews or Gentiles could come to worship, but Jesus tears the innermost curtain of the Temple so that now there is no more separation between Jew and Gentile. All who come to Jesus are God’s people regardless of race. Verse 10 points to the inclusion of all races in the plan of God because everyone can come to God through the Good News of Jesus, or what we also call the Gospel. In light of this, if you are attempting to come to God on your own terms then you are mistaken. God doesn’t require us to clean up our act before he’ll accept us. In fact, even if we do that, it doesn’t mean he will. He will accept all who come to him believing in Jesus and repenting or aligning their life with him. Attempting to be reconciled to God in any other way is not enough. Only Jesus can make a way for us to come to God. Not only does Jesus fulfill and replace the Temple, but he demonstrates that any attempts to reach God on our own are deficient. Only Jesus gets us forgiveness and eternal life.
2. Living properly includes a watchfulness and expectation. This second application of Mark 13 is related to our thoughts and our actions. “Be on guard” is mentioned 4 times in v 5, 9, 23, 33. Verses 35-37 summarized the point of the whole passage with one word “Watch!” Jesus leaves his followers and us with a responsibility to prepare for whatever following him might invite into our lives. He says watch in such a way that you endure persecution, aren’t led astray, have hope, and do not fear his return. The Christian life is one of continual preparation. We are called to regularly evaluate the way we think about life and the way we conduct our lives and be sure they are honoring to God. The Christian church has always believed that Jesus could return at any moment and if we should meet the grave before he does, then for those who believe, we understand to be a peaceful sleep. We are to live our lives in light of this.