THE GOSPEL OF MARK
The Passion Narrative
So much violence is done to Mark 13 (and its parallel passages in Matthew and Luke) because Christians get so excited about the second coming of the Lord that they forget to read this chapter in light of its context. Chapter 13 does not stand alone but is part of a large block of material: Mark 11-16. One of the themes of this section is that God is reaching out to Israel one final time to bring her to repentance. He warned the religious leaders previously (12:1-12) that God was going to remove the kingdom from Israel unless they repented. Chapters 11-16 show us that Israel does not repent; instead she will try to do away with God once and for all by crucifying Him on the cross. Chapter 13 shows the judgment that God will bring upon Israel because she had rejected her God when He came to her in the person of Jesus.
PRELIMINARY QUESTIONS (13:1-4)
Jesus has just finished confronting the Jewish religious leaders. Although we see one religious leader expressing faith in Jesus (Nicodemus), for the most part the religious leaders and the nation reject Jesus. As Jesus and His disciples are leaving the city, some of the disciples remark on the Temple buildings and on the size of the marble stones which make up the Temple complex: "Teacher, behold what wonderful stones and what wonderful buildings!" Indeed, these were stones to marvel at. Josephus (the first-century Jewish historian) tells us that some of the stones measured 37 ft. long by 18 ft. wide by 12 ft. high. These are massive stones. Jesus, however, startles the disciples by telling them: "Do you see these great buildings? Not one stone shall be left upon another which will not be torn down." When the apostolic band reaches the Mt. of Olives 2 miles to the east of the city, Peter, James, John, and Andrew pull Jesus aside privately and basically ask Him when the destruction of the Temple will occur. In Matthew, we see that their question also involved the timing of the Lord's return. "When will these things be, and what will be the sign when all these things are going to be fulfilled?"
Now as you approach this chapter, you must let he disciples' questions determine the way you interpret the passage. Jesus is basically going to answer these 2 questions. He will give them more than what they asked for; however, He is basically responding to these 2 questions. The answer He gives revolves around the destruction of the Temple in 70 AD. In 66 AD, the Jews made a heroic stand against the Romans. In fact, one battle resulted in a decisive defeat of the Romans. Because of the might of the Roman Empire, though, the Jews were destined to lose. Finally, in 70 AD, Jerusalem, the ultimate prize of the war, fell to the Romans.
EVENTS WHICH DO NOT NECESSARILY PRECEDE THE FALL OF JERUSALEM (13:5-13)
Jesus, first, informs the disciples that contrary to popular expectation, not every negative event which occurs in Israel will point to the destruction of the Temple nor to an intervention of God in history. First of all, some will actually come presenting themselves as the Messiah or one of the Messiah's own representative, in order either to lead Israel into war against the Roman army or else simply to gain a religious following. These will not be the Messiah nor represent the Messiah (Christ) but their own political or selfish ambitions. Next, simply because there are wars or rumors of war does not mean that God's judgment upon Jerusalem is just around the corner. The same applies to earthquakes and famines. False leaders, wars, natural disasters, and famine are always present and do not necessarily point to an intervention of God in history. The same applies to AIDS, corrupt political officials, and wars in the Middle East.
For example, a lot of Christians started counting down the years for Christ's return right after Israel was reinstated as a nation in 1948. Many claimed that Christ had to return within the span of one generation in order for the prophecy to be fulfilled (a generation being 40 years). 1988, though, has come and gone. 1998 has come and gone also. Jesus does not claim, that the reinstatement of Israel is a sign of His return. Neither were Saddam Hussein's threats against Israel signs of His imminent return. We need to be careful in saying which signs will indicate Christ's return. Jesus will provide one sign which must occur before He will return. That sign, and that sign alone, is the one we should be looking for.
Another event which does not necessarily precede the destruction of Jerusalem (and the second coming of Christ) is the persecution of the church. Persecution is a horrible reality. Jesus warned those 1st- century Christians that they were going to be delivered over to the courts, flogged (with probably 39 lashes) in the synagogues. They would stand before governors and kings in court, just like Paul had stood before the governors Sergius Paulus and Gallio, and before the kings, Agrippa II and most likely Caesar Nero. They are not being persecuted because Jerusalem is about to fall or because Jesus is about to return; they are suffering persecution because of their identification with Jesus. Satan continues his attack against Jesus by having the Jews attack Jesus' followers. (The very words Mark uses to describe Jesus' being delivered up are used here with reference ot the persecution of Christians—"deliver you up." Mark is saying: "Don't take persecution personally; the attack is really directed against Jesus, not you.")
One of the results of this persecution will be that the gospel will be preached throughout the world—a necessary prerequisite before the Fall of Jerusalem and God's great intervention in history. Jesus simply will not return before the world has been evangelized—a great motivation for Christians to evangelize! If the Jews had not prosecuted Paul in the Roman courts, he would have never been able to preach to the political segment of the world—the Roman hierarchy. Paul claimed that by having preached the gospel to the Roman judges in Rome (most likely Caesar himself), he had fulfilled his responsibility of preaching to the entire world (see 2 Tim. 4:17).
How this must have alarmed those 4 disciples; Jesus, however, reassures them that when they do stand before the courts, they will not have to rely upon their own ingenuity in order to defend themselves. Instead, the Spirit Himself will give them the words to defend the gospel. Note that Jesus does not promise them that the Holy Spirit will help them get acquitted. The only promise of full acquittal for the Christian is the acquittal the Christian will receive on judgment day from the Lord.
Jesus returns to the severity of the persecution. Family member will turn against family member during times of persecution. Brother will inform against brother, parent against child and child against parent. Why? They may feel that if they "rat" on their family members, the persecutors will look favorably upon them and not persecute them. It may be, though, that the family member is so opposed to Christ that s/he feels like they've done right by turning in the family member who professes Christ.
The truth, though, is that regardless of the severity of the persecution, Jesus still expects His followers to remain faithful to Him. Your and my response to persecution determines our eternal destiny: "the one who endures to the end, he shall be saved" (13:13). We who believe in the eternal security of the believer will put it this way: "the true Christian will not deny Christ but will be faithful to Him even during the severest times of persecution."
THE ABOMINATION OF DESOLATION AND THE CHRISTIAN RESPONSE TO IT (13:14-23)
Jesus has basically told those Jewish Christians which events were not necessarily signs of the Fall of Jerusalem: wars, famine, persecution, etc. What will be the sign, then, that the Temple is about to be destroyed? When you see "the ABOMINATION OF DESOLATION standing where he should not be (let the reader understand) , then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains" (13:14). The sign that Jerusalem and the Temple were about to fall was the Abomination of Desolation. An event was going to happen in the Temple (especially in the Holy of Holies) which was going to be so abominable to God that God was going to pour out great desolation upon the earth.
Now the Temple area had suffered similar events in the past. For example, when the Greek king Antiochus IV Epiphanes sacrificed a pig in the Holy of Holies in 168 BC, the Jews were so horrified that they rose up in rebellion against the Greeks and eventually expelled them from Israel in 165 BC. On Dec. 25, 165 BC, the Jews cleansed and rededicated the Temple. This event was the basis for the Jewish festival called Hanukkah.
The Temple was desecrated again in 67 AD after the Jews had driven the Romans from Jerusalem. This time, though, the culprits were none other than the Jews. Josephus informs us that the radical Jewish extremists (the Zealots and Sicarri) ran roughshod throughout the Temple. They even took a simpleton by the name of Phanni and proclaimed him to be the high priest, dressing him up in the garb of the high priest. One of the former high priests—Ananus—broke into tears when he saw all this happening and lamented that it would have been better for him to have died than to have witnessed "such abominations" and to have seen "the hallowed places crowded with the feet of murderers" (Josephus, The Jewish War IV, iii, 10). When the Jewish Christians living in Jerusalem saw this, they knew that Jesus' prophecy regarding the abomination of desolations was being fulfilled. All that was left was the desolation of the Temple and Jerusalem itself. This occurred in 70 AD when the Romans completely leveled the city and the Temple. They even sowed salt on the ground to keep anything from growing there. (Note, though, that the Romans had intended to save the Temple after they had conquered Jerusalem; however, fire broke out in the Temple, leaving it unsafe. As a result the Roman general (and later emperor) Titus ordered the Temple to be torn down in accordance with Jesus' prophecy.
How should the Jewish Christians respond to this? Jesus warned them to flee to the mountains. Since Jerusalem is located in a mountain range, Jesus was not referring to the mountains surrounding Jerusalem. The early Christians understood this to mean that they were to flee to another set of mountains. They did so by fleeing to the city of Pella located in the foothills of another mountain range to the east of the Jordan River.
Moreover, the Christians were not to delay. The one at rest on the roof of his house was not to take the time to go into his house and get provisions for the journey. He needed to flee immediately. The person working out in the field should not go get his outer garment which was needed to protect him from the cold night air and yet was removed for work. He needed to flee. Jesus also mentioned some obstacles which could hinder their flight—pregnancy and winter. Jesus told them that they needed to hope they were not pregnant because pregnancy could hinder a person's flight. [When Paul writes about “this present distress,” he seems to be alluding to the same thing here. Because of that great distress, he urges Christians not to marry (1 Cor. 7:26).] They were to hope it was not during winter because winter is the rainy season in which the rivers in Israel are swollen and are hard to cross, thereby making escape even more difficult. Why flee Jerusalem? Jesus promised that the tribulation which the Romans would bring upon Jerusalem would be far greater than any tribulation before it or after it. In fact, if Jesus had not stopped the tribulation, none of the Jews would have been spared; however, for the sake of the elect—the Jewish Christians, Christ put an end to the Roman tribulation.
Jesus warns the Jewish Christians about one more danger—the emergence of false messiahs who arise after the Romans come and start laying waste to the nation of Israel. Apparently, men would claim to be the Messiah and promise protection or even deliverance from the Romans. They will appear in the wilderness and perform miracles to try to validate their claims that they are the Messiah. Following these false messiahs would be disastrous for these Jewish Christians because instead of fleeing to the mountains for safety, they will follow the false messiahs and face inevitable destruction. Jesus warns them not to follow these false messiahs. (Actually, this command is probably the main reason Christ gave this sermon: do not follow false messiahs!)
THE COMING OF THE REAL MESSIAH (13:23-27)
But how could the Jewish Christians be certain that these men really were not the true Messiah? How could they be for sure it was Jesus who was returning and not an impostor? Many of the Jewish Christians living during the fall of Jerusalem would have never seen Jesus since it was going to occur 40 years after Jesus’ time here on earth. Jesus then describes how He will return. He will return in a way in which there will be no mistake that it is He who is returning:
But in those days after the tribulation . . . then they will see the Son of Man coming in clouds with
great power and glory. And then He will send forth he angels and will gather together His elect
from the four winds, from the farthest end of the earth to the farthest end of heaven.
As you read this description, you can see that there will be no mistaking it when He returns. The passage teaches that only at this time—after the tribulation of God's people—Christ will return and rapture His people.
HOW THIS APPLIES TO YOU AND ME TODAY
At first glance, it appears that this passage has no application for modern Christians since it seems to refer only to the Roman destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD; however, other passages in the Bible claim specifically that an abomination of desolation will occur before Jesus returns and saves His people (2 Thess. 2:3-10). Throughout history, God has given us examples of an abomination of desolation occurring, the tribulation of God's people, the rise of an Antichrist in order to teach us that one final ultimate time of tribulation of God's people will occur, that there will be one final abomination resulting in desolation, that there will be a final ultimate Antichrist—and then all these activities will be brought to an end by the second coming of Jesus and the ultimate salvation of God's people. What happened in Jerusalem was not the ultimate expression of these activities; however, what happened in Jerusalem was a real taste of what is yet to come.