Mark 13:1–37. Watch!
Key Notes: Two keys to prophecy. Trouble is coming. Multiple fulfillments. Undeniable distress. The hope of glory.
The topic of world events came up when the disciples remarked on the extravagant beauty of Herod’s temple in Jerusalem. It was not to be completely finished for another thirty years, but was nonetheless the site of much religious activity. Jesus proceeded from talk of the temple to a major teaching on the future of Israel and of the world. The teaching is called eschatology, the formal doctrine of the end times. In order to understand more about it, we would need to put together all the OT and NT texts on the subject, and the material is extensive. This study of Mark covers the material in simple outline. It is our task to understand Mark, and from it, to be able to branch out into other aspects of the doctrine of the future.
13:1–4 As they left the Temple, a disciple remarked on the glory of the temple, all dazzling white marble and gold. It was said that if you had not seen the temple, you had not seen a beautiful building. Jesus said it would be completely destroyed. That declaration was not impulsive. Jesus had warned the Jews: “Behold, your house is forsaken and desolate.” (Matt.23:38) because they not only refused Him, but all the prophets through the years. Luke tells us that Jesus wept over Jerusalem at His Triumphal Entry because they had rejected Him and would pay the penalty of their rejection. Lk.19:42–44
When they were settled on the Mount of Olives, overlooking the temple, Peter, James, John and Andrew asked for the details:
When will all this (destruction) happen?
What sign will warn us that it is coming?
There are two useful keys to understanding prophecy.
•One is the telescoping of future history, so that events that are far from each other appear close to the prophet’s eye. If you look at a mountain range such at the Tetons,you may realize that mountains which appear to touch each other when standing on the ground are many miles apart when viewed from the air. What we see as three-dimensional history now was two-dimensional prophecy then. Isa.11:1–5 describes Jesus’ human life; Isa.11:6–9 immediately following, describes biological transformations in the Millennial kingdom! They are more than 2000 years apart.
•The second key to interpreting prophecy is the wave effect. Some events happen repeatedly, and in waves, separated by decades or centuries. Each occurrence is more intense that the previous, but they may be separated by such long periods of time that the memory of the previous good event or catastrophe is lost. Jerusalem was captured in 586BC, 164BC and 70AD, and recaptured many time since. Even the world missionary movement is in waves, advancing and receding and advancing again.
13:5–8 Jesus’ answer was divided into six parts.
General trouble in the world.
Specific persecution of the believers.
Desecration of the temple, followed by terrible destruction.
Jesus’ Second Coming.
Fulfillments to be expected in their lifetime.
The time of His return is not known.
A key to Jesus’ teaching is to look for His instruction to His followers because the information is not abstract but practical. He uses repeated words for watchfulness.
13:5–8 General trouble in the world.
Wars and famine and earthquakes [and floods and fires, tornadoes, and plagues] are the basic troubles of the earth. These occur with mounting intensity, partly because there are millions more people in the world now than two thousand ago. Thus a tidal wave in Bangladesh a thousand years ago may have caused a few casualties. Now hundreds of thousands live on the shore. A war between Greek city-states ( the Iliad) would suffer casualties in the hundreds or thousands; modern world wars have casualties in the millions.
We have made the earth much more fragile with tunnels and mines, stores of chemicals, elaborate wiring systems and destructive weapons. Combustion of fuels has released millions of tons of water and carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. We can rain down destruction on ourselves through the air. There are now enough atomic weapons to destroy the human race. The crises create situations in which people cry out for answers and many wrong answers are available to them. Many of our problems have no solutions. People are easily led when they are frightened and demagogues are available. The demagogues may be false religious visionaries, mediums or political opportunists. We are not to follow anyone but Jesus' instructions.
13:9–13 Specific persecution of the believers.
He warned the disciples that they would face persecution, but that their testimony would be heard before kings and governors. In fact, the Gospel would be proclaimed in the whole world before the intense persecution began. (“And the Gospel must first be preached to all nations.”) The disciples would be mouth-pieces of the Holy Spirit in their trials. They must not be deterred by family betrayal. We know of cases where a child was killed by a parent for becoming a Christian, or forced into marriage with an unbeliever in order to neutralize a testimony. The policies of some nations exclude Christians completely on pain of death.
13:14–23 Desecration of the temple, followed by terrible destruction.
“…the desolating sacrilege set up where it ought not to be…. “ is undoubtedly a reference to polluting the Temple with an idol. Such a sacrilege had been done by a Greek king, Antiochus Epiphanes, in 164BC when he offered sacrifice to Jupiter on the altar of the temple in Jerusalem. He decreed that the Jews must renounce their religion and its laws. The event was foretold in Dan. 8:21–14 where the sacrilege is called “the transgression that makes desolate”. The struggle is described in the II Maccabees, with the Jews finally rescuing the temple from the Greeks.
The sacrilege was repeated by Titus' Roman armies in 70AD, when he sacked Jerusalem, burned the temple and slaughtered hundreds of thousands of Jews. Jesus called it the “desolating sacrilege spoken of by the prophet Daniel.” (Matt.24:15). If such a desecration were to occur yet a third time, it would require a rebuilding of the temple in Jerusalem. There are hints of a restored temple as a conclusion to the prophecy of Israel’s restoration in Ezek.36–48.
Donald Bloesch quotes Robert Mounce with approval on the question of multiple fulfillments.
"Biblical prophecy is capable of multiple fulfillment. In the immediate context, the 'abomination of desolation' (v.15) [Matt. 24] builds on the defilement of the temple by Antiochus Epiphanes, is repeated when the sacred temple in Jerusalem is destroyed by the Roman army in A.D.70, and has yet a more complete fulfillment when the eschatological Antichrist exalts himself by taking his seat in the 'temple of God' proclaiming himself to be God. (2Thess. 2:3–4). In a similar way, the events of the immediate period leading up to the destruction of Jerusalem portend a greater and more universal catastrophe when Christ returns in judgment at the end of time."
(The Last Things. D. G. Bloesch; IVP. 2004, p.81)
Jesus said that if they saw the temple being desecrated, they should head for the hills. Mercifully, it did not occur in winter, but in August, the same month the first temple was destroyed by the Babylonians in 587 BC. The disciples remembered what Jesus said about fleeing Jerusalem when they saw the threat of Roman invasion, and the city of Pella, east of Israel, became a haven for the tiny early Church. The Jews who huddled in the citadel of Jerusalem were slaughtered. (See the article on “Pella” in Int. Stand. Bibl. Encyclo.)
The final catastrophic loss of life is the prelude to Christ’s return. “For the sake of the “elect” tells us that believers will be in this catastrophe, and even “the elect” will be tempted to go astray.
13:24–27. The good news is that Jesus is going to come back in the clouds with great power and glory. He will gather His elect from all over the earth and “to the ends of heaven”. This suggests the resurrected saints from ages past will be joined to the living believers, as Paul teaches in IThes.4:13–18.
13:28–31. Fulfillments in their lifetime.
The disciples will be able to tell when to react to trouble just as one can tell the season by looking at the fig tree. It was going to happen in that generation, as we know it did.
13:32–37 The time of His return, however, is not known. He concluded by informing them that the day and the hour of His Return was not known by anyone except God the Father. Thus we conclude that He warned them adequately so that they are able to escape from the siege of Jerusalem by the Roman, but that the hour of His return remained hidden. He pulled out the time of His return from the rest of the prophecy and assured them of its otherwise near fulfillment.
We can separate the material in this chapter into the bad news and the good news. The bad news is that the world will continue to experience natural disasters and eventually, even astrological disturbances. (13:24–25). There will be wars, persecution and incredible loss of life. We may fairly ask why such destruction is forecast.
The history of Israel is the history of repeated episodes of national moral failure and political disaster. Moses in Deuteronomy 28–30 taught the people that righteousness would lead to prosperity but idolatry would be their downfall. The book of Judges is a record of 7–8 cycles of spiritual decay, followed by wars and recovery by the hand of a God-appointed leader. Israel's final political destruction is explained in IIK.17:7–20: "And this was so because the people of Israel had sinned against the Lord their God...." Paul tells us that those things happened to them as a warning for us. (ICor.10:6–13). A clear understanding of God's teaching through the history of Israel will enable us to apply the lessons of their history to us, and give us therefore an understanding of the meaning of the history of civilization. The good news is that Jesus will rescue the situation in the end and gather His saints from everywhere.
The bad news is so bad as to leave one shaken and distressed. To read the passage otherwise is to suppress the truth. Like the disciples hearing of the death and resurrection of Christ, the good news at the end does not to us compensate for the bad news that proceeds it. Daniel described how it felt to receive such revelations. The victory of the Son of Man and the establishment of His kingdom left him anxious and alarmed. (Dan.7:15). Then when he learned more about the Beast, he was greatly alarmed. (Dan.7:28). When Daniel was given the revelation of the desolation of the sanctuary, he fainted (Dan.8:17) and was sick for days. (Dan.8:27). When he had the second vision, he was in mourning for three weeks, and could not eat well. (Dan.10:2–3). At the start of the next revelation, he fainted and had to be helped up. (Dan.10:9,15,18.) We can imagine how the disciples felt when they heard the news, but they had no time to cope with it, with events rushing on around them.
The chapter is full of instruction. None of the information implies that we are responsible for the events. We have a mandate, and it is clearly to be watchful, with the first priority of preaching the Gospel to the whole world. (Mk.16:15)
“Let no one lead you astray.” (13:5, 9, 23, 33)
“And the Gospel must first be preached to all nations.” (13:10)
“Do not be anxious beforehand what you are to say.” (13:11)
“Do not be alarmed by wars and rumors of wars.” (13:7)
“He who endures to the end will be saved.” (13:13)
What should we watch for?
*Dangerous situations that we can escape from, like the Roman armies around Jerusalem. 13:14–18
*Our own behavior in the light of the return of the Lord, our Supervisor. See parables of surprised servants in Matt. 24:43–25:30.
A house-holder who slept while the burglar worked. 24:43–44
The steward who got drunk on the job. 24:45–51
The girls at the wedding who ran out of lamp oil. 25:1–13
A servant who refused to invest his master’s wealth. 25:14–3)
What He does not say is also important. He does not say that the Church will win the world and bring in the Kingdom so that He might become its head. That view is call “post-millennial”. It teaches that this is the Kingdom Age, and that the Church will prevail, with Christ coming to reign at the end of this period. That is romantic, and popular in our hymns. We would love to have the Church triumph and overcome the World, but Jesus did not teach that. He did say that the gates of Hell (or "the powers of death,” RSV) shall not prevail against it. (Matt. 16:18). He also did not say for certain that the saints will be taken out of the world before the Great Tribulation, although we can find some evidence to support the Rapture as a pre-tribulational event. Matt.24:40–41, IThes.4:16–18
Did Jesus offer consolation to his disciples? Although not much is found in Mark, we do find that kind of help in other Gospels.
“...When you see these things happening, recognize that He is near, right at the door.” (Mk.13:29)
“But when these things begin to take place, straighten up and lift up your head, because your redemption is drawing near.” (Lk.21:28)
“Then there shall be two men in the field; one will be taken and one will be left.” (Matt.24:40)
“Blessed is that servant whom His master finds so doing when He comes. Truly I say to you, that He will put him in charge of all His possessions.” (Matt.24:46,47)
“…Occupy until I come.” (Lk.19:13 KJV).
“…and lo, I am with you always, to the close of the age.” (Matt.28:20)
“For the Lord Himself will descend from Heaven with a cry of command with the archangel’s call…and the dead in Christ will rise first; then we who are alive, who are left, shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we shall always be with the Lord. Therefore comfort one another with these words.” (I Thes.4:16–18)
“For the grace of God has appeared for the salvation of all men, training us to renounce irreligion and worldly passions, and to live sober, upright, and godly lives in this world, awaiting our blessed hope, the appearing of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, awaiting our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave Himself for us to redeem us from all iniquity and to purify for Himself a people of His own who are zealous for good deeds.” (Tit.2:11–14)
JESUS IS OUR BLESSED HOPE.
P.S. Eschatology is well outlined in “Systematic Theology”. by Wayne Grudem. IVP,’94; p.1091–1671 .But even this is not without controversy, for example, on the relationship of Israel to the Church. For me, “The Gospel of the Kingdom” by G.E. Ladd (Eerdmans,’59) was a most helpful basis for eschatology.