STUDY SEVENTEEN: MARK 13

© Rosemary Bardsley 2013

The whole of Mark 13 is focused on ‘the end of the age’. This focus was triggered by a comment made by the disciples about the magnificence of the temple.

Jesus responded by predicting the temple’s destruction [verse 2] which prompted the disciples to ask two questions:

When will these things happen?
What will be the sign that they are about to be fulfilled?

Jesus’ lengthy answer includes references to two distinct events: the destruction of Jerusalem [which occurred in AD70], and the final judgement. Each in their own way could be defined as the end of an age or era. The destruction of the Jerusalem [including the temple] in AD70 brought Judaism as it was then to an end; without the temple, without the holy city, the ability of the Jews to offer sacrifices and keep the feast days was ended. As to the final judgement, that is quite clearly the end of an age – the end of the age in which grace, repentance and salvation are available, and the end of ‘the heavens and the earth’ as they are now.

It is, however, difficult to distinguish which of Jesus’ statements apply to the former and which to the latter, and which were intended to refer to both.

Leon Morris, commenting on the parallel passage in Matthew states:

‘We may well argue that there is a theological unity between the two judgments, and that some of what Jesus says could apply equally well to both. The first of these is a judgment that followed the rejection of Jesus in his earthly ministry, and the second is the judgment that will follow the preaching of the gospel throughout the world. But we should not approach these chapters with the conviction that everything in them applies to only one of these judgments. The intermingling of prophecies referring to the events leading up to A.D. 70 with those applying to the end of all things makes this discourse particularly difficult to interpret.’ [p.593f The Gospel According to Matthew, IVP, Leicester, 1992.]

A. ON-GOING PRELIMINARY SIGNS – Mark 13:5-13

There are some ‘signs’ that will be present throughout the period leading up the ‘the end’. These signs have been in evidence throughout the Christian era. This era, which began with the first coming of Jesus Christ, is referred to as ‘these last days’ in Hebrews 1:2. We are in ‘the last days’, but not yet at ‘the last day’.

Task #1: Make a list of these continuing preliminary signs from Mark 13:5-8

 

 

 

 


In this first group of ‘signs’ we find:

Multiple instances of on-going and spiritual deception.
Perpetual wars between nations.
On-going natural disasters.

In our contemporary world of worldwide electronic communication the first of these is facilitated, and the second and third instantly and globally publicised. We are all very vulnerable to the first and well informed of the other two.

A.1 The persecution, betrayal and hatred of Christians – Mark 13:9-13
Included in these on-going preliminary signs is the official persecution [both political and religious] of those who follow Jesus Christ.

Task #2: List the expression of this persecution in verses 9-11.

 

 

 

 

 

We find here:

Persecution by religious leaders, in the immediate context this meant persecution by the Jewish leaders – ‘local councils and synagogues’.

Persecution by political leaders – ‘governors and kings’.

Arrests and trials.

That all of this is ‘on account of’ Jesus.

This persecution has its human cause in the world’s hatred of Jesus Christ. But from the sovereign divine perspective, which we saw in Mark 12, the subjection of followers of Christ to this persecution, arrest and trial, had a purpose quite contrary:

Christians will stand before kings and governors ‘as witnesses to them’. In other words, because of their arrest, when they stand on trial they will witness to people in authority about the Lord Jesus Christ.

The gospel must be preached to all nations. This hatred and persecution of Christians, and their witness, will continue until the gospel has been preached to all nations.

Notes: [1] Jesus’ instructions to his disciples when he first sent them out on mission was to move on to the next town or village when the village they were in rejected them and their message. [2] That this kind of practice continued is evident in Paul’s missionary journeys where persecution in one town meant that he moved on to the next and preached there.

 

Task #3: How did Jesus describe the betrayal and hatred of Christians [verses 12,13]?

 

 

 

 

Jesus taught that this on-going persecution by religious and political authorities was not the only rejection that Christians would face during the church age. Such hatred and rejection of Christians would arise within families that those who were believers would be betrayed by their own family – their brothers, their parents, their children. So great would this hatred be that family members would hand their Christian relatives over to the authorities and to death. ‘All men’ would hate Christians because of Jesus.

We see evidence of this gross hatred of Christians in the actions of Saul of Tarsus, who was determined to exterminate all who named the name of Jesus.  

Task #4: Study these scriptures.
How do they describe Paul’s hatred of Jesus and his followers?

Acts 9:1-2:

Acts 9:21:

Acts 22:1-5:

Acts 26:9-11:


This persecution and hatred of Christians has continued throughout the two millennia since Christ. Indeed, statistically, there are more Christians being persecuted for their faith today than in any previous generation.


B. THE DESTRUCTION OF JERUSALEM – Mark 13:14-20

In Mark 13:14-20 Jesus predicts the destruction of Jerusalem in AD70, and the difficulty that will be experienced at that time. However, some of his warnings have universal and on-going relevance and application.

Task #5: Read Mark 13:14-23 and answer these questions:

[1] What does Jesus mean by ‘the abomination of desolation’?

 

[2] How does Jesus communicate the urgent need to flee?

 

[3] How does Jesus communicate the horror of what will happen?

 

[4] What evidence is there of God’s grace and love in the midst of this judgement?

 

[5] How does Jesus refer to the powerful spiritual deception that will occur?

 

[6] Suggest which of these signs is specific to the fall of Jerusalem, and which have broader application.

 


B.1 The abomination of desolation – Mark 13:14
The ‘abomination of desolation’ is sometimes interpreted as ‘the idol that profanes’. [Old Testament references to ‘abomination’ are references to idolatry.] There would be something in Jerusalem, or more specifically, in the temple, that should not be there, that is out of place in the city of God and the house of God. [Note that Matthew reports that this abomination is ‘in the holy place’, that is, within the temple (Matthew 24:15).]

The phrase refers back to Daniel where it is mentioned three times. Daniel, like Revelation, is written in apocalyptic style – the real message disguised behind symbolic imagery because prevailing persecution made clearly stated teaching a dangerous thing. The context of Daniel’s description of the abomination includes:

The destruction of Jerusalem and the temple [9:26].
An extended war [9:26; 11:33].
The end of sacrifice and offering [9:27; 11:31; 12:11].
The desecration of the temple [11:31].
The violation of the covenant [11:32].

This was first fulfilled by the actions of the Greek [Seleucid] King Antiochus Epiphanes in and around 168BC. He outlawed the practice of Jewish religion, making participation in certain Jewish rituals punishable by death; he erected a pagan idol in the temple and sacrificed unclean animals on the altar; he burned and pillaged a large section of Jerusalem, and killed many of its inhabitants; he robbed the temple of various items of sacred furniture used in the Jewish rituals.

However, the temple itself was not destroyed at that time. The final destruction of the temple occurred when it was burnt in AD70 by the Roman army under Titus who led the attack against Jerusalem. At the same time much of Jerusalem was destroyed and over a million of its inhabitants killed. Almost one hundred thousand others were made slaves. Others fled to the surrounding countries. Here, as with the previous assault in 168BC, we see the fulfilment of the Daniel prophecies. While no idol was set up in the temple at this time, the holy place and the most holy place were profaned by the entry of the pagan Gentile Romans, carrying their images on their staves, and seeking, handling and taking the golden objects dedicated to the worship of the LORD.

In both attacks sacrifices are stopped: in the first by the decree outlawing the practice of the Jewish religion; in the second by the complete destruction of the temple. It resumed in the interim between the two, but because the temple has not been rebuilt since the AD70 destruction, sacrifices and other Jewish religious practices dependent on the temple and its sacred objects have never been resumed.

B.2 The urgency and the horror – Mark 13:14-20
Jesus expresses terribly urgent need for immediate escape. There is no time to do anything except to immediately run in order to barely escape with one’s life. The impending calamity is horrendous – it will mean exposure to the elements; it will mean having to flee on foot and in haste; it will mean great distress and hardship. This is true of both Antiochus Epiphanes’ and Titus’ attacks, but more so of Titus’.  It is fairly safe to say that Jesus is here predicting the second fulfilment of Daniel’s prophecies. He told the disciples that the temple would be destroyed [13:2] and they asked him when it would happen and what would be the signs.

B.3 Something to think about
We have seen that there are two distinct fulfilments of Daniel’s prophecies. One before Jesus, and one after Jesus. It is obvious that Jesus was indeed referring to the fall of Jerusalem in AD70 when he responded to the disciples’ questions. His answers are reported in Matthew 24, Mark 13 and Luke 21. Luke specifically mentions Jerusalem and its destruction [Luke 21:20,24], and Mark includes reference to ‘all who are in Judea’ fleeing to the mountains. This tribulation is clearly something local in Judea.

But we need to ask: is anything more than that intended? Are there more levels at which at least some of Jesus’ teaching in Mark 13:14-20 that is already fulfilled but is also yet to be fulfilled? It is fairly common to also apply Mark 13:14-20 to the ‘end of the world’ – that is, to the return of Jesus Christ when he comes to judge the world, and to the intense suffering that will precede that final event. The geographically limited micro fulfilment of Jesus’ teaching in the destruction of Jerusalem is a foretaste, a foreshadowing, of the ultimate, macro, global fulfilment that will occur at the end of all things.

How does Jesus’ teaching in verses 14 to 20 relate to that final event?

[1] The abomination of desolation in the holy place. The ‘holy place’ within the temple does not presently exist. There is no temple. An Islamic shrine, the Dome of the Rock, occupies the temple site. Some view this shrine as ‘the abomination of desolation’. Others anticipate the destruction of this shrine and the rebuilding of the temple before the second coming of Christ. Neither interpretation is necessary, unless we understand Jesus to be speaking here of a further profanation of the temple that will occur prior to his second coming.

But let us consider another possibility: the New Testament teaches that the church corporately, and Christians individually, are the temple of God. It is, sadly, possible, and not uncommon, for both to be profaned. When the church takes on the characteristics of the world is not this temple of God profaned? When a Christian engages in godlessness is not the temple of God profaned? When the church or an individual Christian embraces error at the expense of truth, is not the temple profaned? When the church is apostate the temple is profaned. And the New Testament warns us repeatedly that there will be widespread apostasy in the time leading up to the end.

2Thessalonians 2:3-4 speaks of the ‘man of lawlessness’, ‘the man doomed to destruction’, who ‘sets himself up in God’s temple, proclaiming himself to be God’. Again we are confronted by questions: is Paul teaching about the temple as a physical building – a rebuilt temple in Jerusalem? Or is he speaking about God’s spiritual temple, the church? [Note that the physical temple was still there when Paul wrote this letter.]

[2] The urgency to flee assumes the possibility of escaping the destruction. At his second coming it will not be possible for any to escape. Even the ‘great tribulation’ immediately prior to his return will be so pervasive as to make escape impossible.

[3] The horrific nature of the suffering. The intensity and extent of the suffering described in verses 17 to 20 is great. Jesus describes the distress generated as ‘unequalled from the beginning when God created the world’.  So great that this suffering was shortened ‘for the sake of the elect’ – so that they could survive it. The Old Testament records times of intense suffering and hardship: for example, at the time of the flood, and in Sodom and Gomorrah … where the cry of the inhabitants rose up to God. Was the suffering inflicted by the Romans when they sacked Jerusalem that intense? Or is Jesus here using the suffering that would occur at that time as a prophetic picture of the even greater suffering at the end?


C. ON-GOING SPIRITUAL DECEPTION – Mark 13:21-23

Jesus twice warned about the presence of false Christs – firstly in verse 5-6 as part of the preliminary and on-going signs, then again in verses 21-23 as part of the trouble when Jerusalem was destroyed, and also as something that will occur in the days following that distress and right up to the cosmic signs that will usher in the coming of the Son of Man [verse 24].

That this spiritual deception will persist between the two comings of Christ is evident in multiple references throughout the New Testament. Here in Mark 13 it includes the following:

It is very powerful – many are deceived.
Its messengers claim either to be the Christ or to know that the Christ has returned and where he is.
It has its own false Christs and false prophets.
It is engaged in powerful and deceptive signs and miracles.


D. AT THE END – Mark 13:24-27

The return of the Son of Man at the very end of the age will be:

Accompanied by signs in the heavens [verses 24,25]
In the clouds with great power and glory [26]

At that time he will send his angels and gather his elect from the everywhere [verse 27]. Matthew 24:37-41 includes additional details of Jesus’ teaching at this point.


E. FOCUS ON GOD’S ELECT IN MARK 13

It is important to remember that Jesus was speaking to his disciples when he gave this teaching. Indeed Mark tells us that it was given in response to a question from Peter, James, John and Andrew [13:3]. [Matthew simply says ‘the disciples’, while Luke says ‘some of the disciples’.] The teaching and the warnings were given to disciples. It is not public teaching warning everyone about the things to come.

It is the disciples who are warned not to be deceived.
It is the disciples who are warned of coming persecution, betrayal and hatred.
It is the disciples who are warned not to worry what they will say when on trial.
It is the disciples who are warned to flee from Jerusalem.
It is the disciples who are warned to pray it won’t take place in winter.

But there is more than that here. Three times ‘the elect’ are mentioned:

[1] Jesus said that ‘no one would survive’ if the Lord had not cut short the days of suffering for the elect’s sake [Mark 13:20].

Morris comments:

‘God’s people bring a certain mercy to the people around them; while the unrepentant do not share in the ultimate salvation, yet something of good comes to them because of the presence of the elect in their communities’ [p606, ibid].

The concept of God sparing a community because of the presence of God’s elect is evident in Abraham’s intercession on behalf of Sodom and Gomorrah on the basis of Lot’s presence in Sodom [see Genesis 18:16-33].

God’s commitment to limit ‘temptation’ to what believers are able to bear [1Corinthians 10:11-13] is also relevant here. A key meaning in ‘temptation’ is the concept of ‘pressure’ – the pressure to give in and give up on God – something certainly present in persecution and suffering.

[2] Jesus also said that the spiritual deception is so powerful that it would ‘deceive the elect – if that were possible’ [verse 22]. This assures us that it is not possible for God’s ‘elect’ to be deceived in a final way. That the elect are deceived in a way that is not final is obvious from the many New Testament letters that were written because churches had been infiltrated by false teaching, and the writers call the believers away from those errors and back to the truth.

[3] The Son of Man will gather his elect [verse 26,27]. They are removed from the earth, not before the time of global suffering, but before the final end.


F. WARNINGS EMBEDDED IN JESUS’ TEACHING – Mark 13

Scattered throughout this teaching about the destruction of Jerusalem and the second coming are warnings to the disciples:

Task #6: Identify the warnings in these verses from Mark 13:

13:5-6

13:7:

13:9:

13:11:

13:13:

13:14-16:

13:18:

13:21-23:

13:28,29:

13:33-36:

Apart from those specifically relating to the destruction of Jerusalem and the urgent necessity to flee and to pray, most of these warnings are warnings to watch and to be on guard. The reason for this is twofold: the powerful and pervasive presence of spiritual deception, and the unknown time of the second coming.
 

G. THE UNANSWERED QUESTION

Jesus has answered the second part of the disciples’ question, the question about signs of the end. He has given a multi-layered answer, mentioning signs that are so continual that none of them can give any definite indication that the end in about to happen.

The one sign that Jesus did give that indicates the beginning of the end  - the disruption of heavenly bodies – is so much a part of the end that by the time it appears the end is already upon us.

This lack of specific information accessible via the signs is deliberate, because the actual time of the end is known and knowable only by the Father. It is useless for us to try to pin down the time of the end. Any attempt to do so, on the basis of the signs given by Christ, will result in disappointment.

Jesus did say a number of things that relate to the time of his return:

[1] ‘The gospel must be preached to all nations’ [verse 10]. This speaks of a divine necessity. The end will not come until this has happened. But this still leaves the end uncertain … for how can any human know when God considers that a nation has had adequate preaching of the gospel? Related to this we know that people from ‘every tribe and language and people and nation’ will be redeemed by the blood of the Lamb of God [Revelation 5:9]. This indicates that not only every ‘nation’, but every people group and every language group within the nations, must first hear the gospel preached, before the end will come.

[2] ‘… this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened’ [verse 30]. The phrase ‘this generation’ has several possible meanings:

The actual generation of people alive when Jesus spoke. If this is the meaning, then it is a reference only to the fall of Jerusalem in AD70.

The Jewish ‘race’ which has survived, and still survives, despite incredible odds. If this is the meaning, then Jesus is referring to his second coming, and the end of all things.

The godless and unbelieving – who rejected him and would continue to reject him until the end of all things.

The generation of the righteous – meaning that there will always be some believers right up to the end of all things.

Apart from the first, which would give a time limit to the fulfilment of Jesus’ words, none of the above help us to identify a specific time for the end.

[3] No one knows the day or the hour – except the Father [verse 32]. It is not our business to try to set the day.

[4] Given that we can never know the day of the end prior to its occurrence, the thing that we all have to do, the thing that is required of us, is not that we should try to identify the day, but that we should at all times be on guard, be alert, and keep watch [verses 32-37]. It could be any day. It could be today.