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Bible Commentaries

Cambridge Greek Testament Commentary for Schools and Colleges

Mark 13

Verses 1-99

Ch. 13:1 13 . Prophecies of the Destruction of Jerusalem

1. And as he went ] Leaving the Temple, He passed with His Apostles down the eastern steps toward the valley of the Kidron. As they were passing on,

one of his disciples ] invited His attention to the marvellous structure they were quitting, to the enormous size of its marble blocks, the grandeur of its buildings, and the gorgeous gifts with which, though still unfinished, it had been endowed (Luke 21:5 ). Josephus tells us that while some of the stones were forty-five feet, most were thirty-seven and a half feet long, twelve feet high, and eighteen broad. Jos. Bell. Jud . v. 6. 6; Ant . xv. 11. 3.

2. there shall not be left ] Though now they seem fixed in their places for eternity. And even as He said, less than forty years afterwards, “Zion was ploughed as a field , and Jerusalem became heaps, and the mountain of the House as the high places of the forest” (Micah 3:12 ). Titus himself was amazed at the massive buildings of Jerusalem, and traced in his triumph the hand of God (Jos. Bell. Jud . vi. 9. 1). At his departure after the capture of the city, he left the tenth legion under the command of Terentius Rufus to carry out the work of demolition, and Josephus tells us ( Bell. Jud . vii. 1. 1) that the whole inclosing walls and precincts of the Temple were “so thoroughly levelled and dug up that no one visiting the city would believe it had ever been inhabited.”

3. the mount of Olives ] Nothing more appears to have been said now, and crossing the valley of the Kidron, the little company ascended the steep footpath that leads over the mount of Olives in the direction of Bethany. When they had reached the summit, He sat down (Matthew 24:3 ; Mark 13:3 )

over against the temple ] Notice this minuteness as regards details of place peculiar to the second Evangelist, and see Introduction, p. 19.

Peter and James and John and Andrew ] Observe again these minute particulars as to persons , and see Introd. p. 18. These Apostles probably now sat nearest to their Master, and were the most favoured of the apostolic band.

4. what shall be the sign ] The question is given more fully by St Matthew, 24:3. It embraced three points: (i) the time of the destruction of the Temple; the sign (ii) of His Coming, and (iii) of the end of the world.

5. Take heed ] “The four moral key-notes of the Discourse on the Last Things are “ Beware ,” “ Watch ,” “ Endure ,” “ Pray .” Farrar, Life , ii. p. 258.

6. many shall come ] Five tokens are here given, to which the Lord directs the attention of His disciples: (i) the rise of false prophets; (ii) wars and rumours of wars; (iii) the rising of nation against nation; (iv) earthquakes; (v) famines (some MSS. omit troubles ); but the Apostles were not to be terrified, these things were

8. the beginnings of sorrows ] rather, of birth-pangs. The word only occurs in four places in the N. T. Here; in the parallel, Matthew 24:8 ; in Acts 2:24 , “having loosed the pains (rather the pangs ) of death;” and 1 Thessalonians 5:3 , “then sudden destruction cometh upon them, as travail (or birth-pangs ) upon a woman with child.” The occurrence of the expression here is remarkable, and recals other places of Scripture, where Creation is said to be “groaning and travailing ” (Romans 8:22 ), waiting for its regeneration (Matthew 19:28 ) or New Birth. For the fulfilment of these prophecies comp. Jos. Ant . xix. 1; Tac. Ann . xii. 38, xv. 22, xvi. 13; Sen. Ep . xci. Tacitus describing the epoch ( Hist . i. 2) calls it “opimum casibus, atrox præliis, discors seditionibus, ipsâ etiam pace sævum.” These “signs” then ushered in the epoch of the destruction of Jerusalem, but realized on a larger scale they are to herald the End of all things; comp. 1 Thessalonians 5:3 ; 2 Thessalonians 2:2 .

9. to councils ] Of the actual hearers of the Lord some were destined to find this true within little more than fifty days. Thus, in Acts 4:3 , we find all the Apostles brought before the Sanhedrim, and again in Acts 5:18 , Acts 5:27 . Similarly, St Paul was brought before the same Council, Acts 23:1 .

in the synagogues ye shall be beaten ] “Of the Jews,” says St Paul (2 Corinthians 11:24 ), “five times received I forty stripes save one;” “thrice was I beaten with rods .” It was part of the duties of the Chazzan, or minister in each synagogue, to maintain order, and scourge the condemned.

before rulers and kings ] Thus St Paul stood before Felix (Acts 24:10-22 ), before Festus (Acts 25:1-11 ), before Agrippa (Acts 26:1-23 ), before Nero (2 Timothy 4:16 ). Our Lord also, we may believe, alluded to the general persecutions of the Christians in later times, and especially to that of the emperor Nero, in which St Peter and St Paul suffered martyrdom.

10. the gospel must first be published ] And even so while many of His hearers were yet alive, the Gospel was proclaimed throughout the Roman Empire, from Arabia to Damascus, from Jerusalem to Illyricum, in Italy and in Spain. Comp. Romans 15:19 , Romans 15:24 , Romans 15:28 ; Colossians 1:6 , Colossians 1:23 .

11. take no thought beforehand ] Rather, be not anxious beforehand , or distracted beforehand with anxiety. “Nyle þe penke what ye schulen speke,” Wyclif. “ Thought ,” when our translation was made, signified undue care or anxiety . Thus Bishop Ridley in the Account of the Disputation at Oxford , 1544, says, “No person of any honesty, without thinking , could abide to hear the like spoken by a most vile varlet;” and Shakespeare, Jul, Cæs . ii. 1. 186, says,

“If he love Cæsar, all that he can do

Is to himself, take thought and die for Cæsar,”

and Hamlet iii. 1. 84,

“And thus the native hue of resolution

Is sicklied o’er with the pale cast of thought ,”

and Ant. and Cleop . iii. 13. 1,

Cleo . What shall we do, Enobarbus?

Eno . Think , and die.”

See the Bible Word-Book , sub loc.; and Davies, Bible English , pp. 99, 100.

but whatsoever shall be given you ] Comp. Matthew 10:19 , Matthew 10:20 , where the words occur as a portion of our Lord’s charge to His Twelve Apostles. “These were very weighty words for the Roman Christians, at a time when the martyrdom of the Apostles Peter and Paul, in Rome, was about to take place.” Lange.

13. he that shall endure ] “he þat schol susteyne in to þe ende,” Wyclif. The endurance here spoken of is the brave and persistent endurance of the Christian in faith and love. In this noble word, the “queen of virtues,” as Chrysostom does not fear to call it, “there always appears in the New Testament a background of manliness; it does not mark merely the endurance , the ‘sustinentiam,’ or even the ‘patientiam,’ but the ‘ perseverantiam ,’ the ‘brave patience’ with which the Christian contends against the various hindrances, persecutions, and temptations, that befall him in his conflict with the inward and outward world.” Bp Ellicott on 1 Thessalonians 1:3 . The verb occurs twice in St Matthew, once in St Mark, eight times in St Paul’s Epistles, twice in St James, and is twice used by St Peter in the striking passage 1 Peter 2:20 , “if when ye be buffeted for your faults, ye shall take it patiently; ” … “if when ye do well, and suffer, ye take it patiently .”

14 23. Immediate Tokens of the Downfall of Jerusalem

14. But when ye shall see ] Hitherto He had distinctly foretold the destruction of the Holy City, now He gives them tokens which should forewarn them of its approach, and tells them how they may secure their own safety.

the abomination of desolation ] The reference here is to Daniel 9:27 , “and for the overspreading of abominations he shall make it desolate ,” or, as it is rendered in the margin, “and upon the battlements shall be the idols of the desolator .” The LXX. render it, “and upon the temple the abomination of desolations;” comp. 1 Macc. 1:54; 2 Macc. 6:2. Hengstenberg would translate it, “and over the top of abomination comes the desolation.”

i. The verb from which the Greek word rendered “abomination” comes means to cause disgust by bad smell or otherwise . Hence it is translated by Tertullian “abominamentum.”

ii. In the Septuagint it is specially applied to ( a ) idols, and ( b ) things pertaining to idols. Thus in 1 Kings 11:5 “Milcom” (= Molech) is called “ the abomination of the Ammonites,” and in 1 Kings 11:7 “Chemosh” is called “ the abomination of Moab.” Again Ahab is said (1 Kings 21:26 ) “to have done very abominably in following idols,” and Ahaz (2 Kings 16:3 ) to have made “his son to pass through the fire according to the abominations of the heathen.” Comp. also 2 Kings 21:2 .

iii. Thus the word passes into the New Testament, where it occurs 6 times. ( a ) Here; ( b ) in the parallel, Matthew 24:15 ; ( c ) Luke 16:15 , “that which is highly esteemed among men is abomination in the sight of God;” and ( d ) Revelation 17:4 , “having a golden cup in her hand full of abominations .” Comp. also Revelation 17:5 , Revelation 21:27 .

iv. The key to the interpretation seems to be supplied by St Luke, who says (21:20), “And when ye shall see Jerusalem compassed with armies , then know that the desolation thereof is nigh,” and thus shews that it is to be explained in some connection with the Roman legions.

v. Hence ( a ) Some would understand it to denote the vile abominations practised by the Romans on the place where the Temple stood. ( b ) Others, the Eagles, the standards of the Roman army, which were held in abomination by the Jews, both on account of the representations of the Emperor which they bore, and because the soldiers were known to offer sacrifice to them. The Roman Eagles, therefore, rising over the site of the Temple, “ where they ought not ,” and “ compassing ” the city (Luke 21:20 ), was the sign that the Holy Place had fallen under the dominion of the idolaters, ( c ) Others again would refer the words not only to the Roman Eagles, but to the outrages of lust and murder perpetrated by the “Zealots,” which drove every worshipper in horror from the sacred Courts. See Jos. Bell. Jud . IV. 3. 7. But even this was in consequence of the compassing of the city by the Imperial Legions.

let him that readeth ] This of course is said parenthetically.

flee to the mountains ] Compare the flight of Lot from the doomed “cities of the plain” to “the mountains, Genesis 19:17 . In accordance with these warnings the Christian Jews fled from Jerusalem to the Peræan town of Pella, a distance of about 100 miles. “Somewhere on the slopes of Gilead, near the scene of Jacob’s first view of the land of his descendants, and of the capital of the exiled David, was Pella (identified with Tabathat Fakkil ), so called by the Macedonian Greeks from the springing fountain, which likened it to the birthplace of their own Alexander.… From these heights Abner in his flight from the Philistines, and David in his flight from Absalom, and the Israelites on their way to Babylon, and the Christian Jews of Pella, caught the last glimpse of their familiar mountains.” Stanley’s Sinai and Palestine , p. 330.

15. neither enter therein ] The houses of Palestine, as we have seen in the case of the “paralytic borne of four,” ch. 2:3 12, were furnished with a flight of steps outside, by which the housetop could be reached without actually entering the house. The Christians were thus warned by our Lord to flee along the flat roofs to the city wall, and so make their escape.

16. his garment ] i. e. his “outer garment.”

18. be not in the winter ] with its rains and storms and swollen torrents, “neither,” as St Matthew adds (24:20), “ on the Sabbath day .” We may well believe that the Christians made both these petitions theirs. At any rate we know what did take place. ( a ) The compassing of the city by the Roman armies spoken of by St Luke (24:20) took place at the commencement of October, a.d. 66, when the weather was yet mild and favourable for travelling, ( b ) The final siege, if any Christian Jews lingered on till then, took place in the still more open months of April or May. See Lewin’s Fasti Sacri , p. 344 and p. 358. The Jewish custom, which forbade travelling on the Sabbath beyond a distance of 2000 ells, would make the Christian Jews’ travelling on that day infinitely more difficult, even though they might themselves be possibly free from any scruple. “They would in addition to other embarrassments, expose themselves to the severest persecutions of fanaticism.” Lange.

19. in those days ] There is no “in” here properly. Those days shall be affliction , “þe ilke dayes of tribulacioun schulen be suche,” Wyclif.

such as was not from the beginning of the creation ] The unexampled atrocities of the siege of Jerusalem are fully described by Josephus. He declares that “the misfortunes of all men, from the beginning of the world , if they be compared to those of the Jews, are not so terrible as theirs were,” “nor did any age ever produce a generation more fruitful in wickedness from the beginning of the world .” The horrors of war and sedition, of famine and pestilence, were such as exceeded all example or conception. The city was densely crowded by the multitudes which had come up to the Passover. Pestilence ensued, and famine followed. The commonest instincts of humanity were forgotten. Acts of violence and cruelty were perpetrated without compunction or remorse, and barbarities enacted which cannot be described. Mothers snatched the food from the mouths of their husbands and children, and one actually killed, roasted, and devoured her infant son. (Comp. Leviticus 26:29 ; Deuteronomy 28:56 , Deuteronomy 28:57 ). Dead bodies filled the houses and streets of the city, while cruel assassins rifled and mangled with the exultation of fiends. The besieged devoured even the filth of the streets, and so excessive was the stench that it was necessary to hurl 600,000 corpses over the wall, while 97,000 captives were taken during the war, and more than 1,100,000 perished in the siege. See Josephus, Bell. Jud . vi. 9. 3; Tacitus, Hist . v. 13; Milman’s History of the Jews ii. 16; Merivale’s History of the Romans vi. 59.

20. except that the Lord had shortened ] The word rendered “ shortened ” only occurs here and in the parallel, Matthew 24:22 . It denotes to dock or curtail . It occurs in the LXX. version of 2 Samuel 4:12 , where we read that David “commanded his young men, and they cut off the hands and the feet” of the murderers of Ishbosheth. If in God’s pitying mercy the number of those awful days had not been shortened, no flesh could have been saved.

for the elect’s sake ] i. e. for the sake of the Christians.

he hath shortened ] Had the horrors within and without which accompanied the siege of Jerusalem been prolonged, the utter desolation of the country would have been the result. But in mercy they were shortened, (1) by the swift and energetic measures of the invading armies, and (2) by the infatuation of the besieged. On his part Titus encircled the city with a wall five miles in extent, and fortified it with thirteen strong garrisons in the almost incredibly short space of three days, and Josephus makes special mention of his eagerness to bring the siege to an end. On the other hand, the leaders of the factions within slew the men who would have taught them how the siege might be prolonged, burnt the corn which would have enabled them to hold out against the enemy, and abandoned the towers, which were in reality impregnable. Thus the city, which in the time of Zedekiah (2 Kings 25:1-6 ; Jeremiah 39:1 , Jeremiah 39:2 ) had resisted the forces of Nebuchadnezzar for sixteen months, was taken by the Romans in less than five.

22. for false Christs and false prophets ] Josephus tells us that false prophets and impostors prevailed on multitudes to follow them into the desert, promising there to display signs and wonders (comp. Acts 21:38 ); and even at the last, when the Temple was in flames, numbers of all ages flocked thither from the city upon the proclamation of a false prophet, and of six thousand assembled there on this occasion, not one escaped the fire or the sword. But such imposture is to be still more signally realized with “ signs and lying wonders ” before the final coming of Christ (2 Thessalonians 2:1-10 ).

23. But take ye heed ] Repeated and emphatic exhortation to watchfulness.

24 31. The Second Advent of the Lord

24. in those days ] He, to Whom “ a thousand years are as one day, and one day as a thousand years ” (2 Peter 3:8 ), to Whom there is no past or future but one eternal Present, passes from one chapter to another in the history of the world with the ease of One, Who seeth all things clearly revealed.

the sun shall be darkened ] Two of those then listening to the Lord, have themselves described the signs in the physical world which are to usher in the End; ( a ) St Peter, in his second Epistle, 3:1 13, and ( b ) St John, in Revelation 20:0 ; Revelation 21:0

26. shall they see the Son of man ] Even when speaking of the “glorious majesty” of His Second Advent, He calls Himself by the name which links Him to the Humanity He came to save. For the title see note on ch. 2:10, and compare John 5:22 , John 5:27 , “the Father judgeth no man, but hath committed all judgment unto the Son, and hath given him authority to execute judgment also, because he is the Son of man .”

in the clouds ] And so the Angels distinctly stated to the Apostles at the Ascension (Acts 1:11 ); and Daniel foresaw Him coming with the clouds of heaven (Daniel 7:13 , Daniel 7:14 ).

27. then shall he send his angels ] As the only begotten Son, who is in the bosom of the Father (John 1:18 ), alone ever declared or manifested Him to His creatures, so to Him God hath delegated the universal and ultimate judgment of mankind, that “as in our nature He performed all that was requisite to save us, as in our nature He was exalted to God’s right hand to rule and bless us, so He shall in our nature appear to judge us.” Barrow’s Sermons; comp. also Pearson On the Creed , Art. vii.

28. a parable ] Rather, Its parable , the lesson which in similitude it was meant to teach.

of the fig tree ] They had already been taught one lesson from the withered fig-tree, they are now bidden to learn another from the tree when her branch is yet tender .

29. it is nigh ] Rather, He is nigh , i. e. the Judge spoken of in verse 26. even at the doors ] There is no “ even ” in the original. So St James says, “Behold, the Judge standeth before the door ” (James 5:9 ). “There is something solemn in the brevity of the phrase, without the nominative expressed.” Bp Wordsworth.

30. this generation shall not pass ] The word thus rendered denotes (1) birth, age , as in the phrases “younger,” “older in age; ” (2) descent; (3) a generation of men living at the same time; (4) in a wider sense, a race . He, Who surveys all things as an Eternal Present, “turns the thoughts of His disciples to two horizons, one near and one far off:”

(i) In reference to the destruction of Jerusalem , He declares that the generation of the literal Israel then living would not pass away before the judgments here predicted would fall upon Jerusalem, just as God had made their forefathers wander in the wilderness “until all the generation was consumed” that had come out of Egypt “and done evil in the sight of the Lord” (Numbers 32:13 );

(ii) In reference to His own Second Coming , and the world at large, He affirms that the race of men, and especially the generation of them that sought the Lord (Psalms 24:6 ), the faithful seed of Abraham, should not pass away until all these things should be fulfilled.

31. but my words shall not pass away ] Never did the Speaker seem to stand more utterly alone than when He uttered this majestic utterance. Never did it seem more improbable that it should be fulfilled. But as we look across the centuries we see how it has been realised. His words have passed into laws, they have passed into doctrines, they have passed into proverbs, they have passed into consolations, but they have never “passed away.” What human teacher ever dared to claim an eternity for his words?

32 37. Final Exhortation to Watchfulness

32. neither the Son ] As our Lord is said to have “increased in wisdom ” as well as “in stature” (Luke 2:52 ), to have prayed to the Father (Matthew 14:23 , Matthew 14:26 :39, 42 44, &c.); to have received commandment from the Father (John 14:31 ), even so it is here said by Himself that His knowledge is limited. But we may believe (i) that it is only as the Son of Man , that anything could be unknown to Him, Who said “ I and my Father are one; ” and (ii) that as the Eternal Word, the one Messenger of Divine Revelation, He did not know of that day and that hour so as to reveal them to man . “ In Patre Filius scit , though it is no part of His office to reveal it a Patre.” St Augustine, quoted by Bp Wordsworth.

33. Take ye heed, watch and pray ] “Se ze, wake ze, and preie ze,” Wyclif The word rendered “watch” only occurs 4 times in the New Testament: (1) here; (2) in the parallel, Luke 21:36 ; (3) Ephesians 6:18 , “Praying always … and watching thereunto with all perseverance;” (4) Hebrews 13:17 , “Obey them that have the rule over you, … for they watch for your souls.” It denotes (1) to be sleepless , (2) to be vigilant .

34. For the Son of man is ] These words do not occur in the original.

taking a far journey ] Literally, one who is absent from his people, who goes on foreign travel. “Which gon fer in pilgrimage,” Wyclif. The verb formed from it occurs in chap. 12:1, “A certain man planted a vineyard … and went into a far country.” Even so our Lord left His Church, gave authority to His servants the Apostles, and to those who should come after them, and to every man his work, and is now waiting for the consummation of all things.

35. at even, or at midnight ] On the night watches see above, ch. 6:48. In the Temple the priest, whose duty it was to superintend the night sentinels of the Levitical guard, might at any moment knock at the door and demand entrance. “He came suddenly and unexpectedly, no one knew when. The Rabbis use almost the very words in which Scripture describes the unexpected coming of the Master, when they say, Sometimes he came at the cockcrowing, sometimes a little earlier, sometimes a little later. He came and knocked, and they opened to him.” Mishnah, Tamid , 1. 1, 2, quoted in Edersheim’s The Temple and its Services , p. 120.

36. lest coming suddenly he find you sleeping ] “During the night the ‘captain of the Temple’ made his rounds. On his approach the guards had to rise and salute him in a particular manner. Any guard found asleep when on duty was beaten, or his garments were set on fire a punishment, as we know, actually awarded.” Edersheim, p. 120.

37. Watch ] Observe in this chapter the emphasis given to Christ’s exhortation, “ Watch! ” The Apostle, under whose eye St Mark wrote his Gospel, would seem to wish us to notice in spite of what frequent warnings he himself failed to watch and fell. St Matthew tells us how the Lord sought to impress these lessons of watchfulness and faithfulness still more deeply by the Parables of the “ Ten Virgins ” (Matthew 25:1-13 ), and the “ Talents ” (Matthew 25:14-30 ), and closed all with a picture of the Awful Day, when the Son of Man should separate all nations one from another as the shepherd divideth his sheep from the goats (Matthew 25:31-46 ). So ended the great discourse on the Mount of Olives, and the sun set, and the Wednesday of Holy Week had already begun before the little company entered the hamlet of Bethany.

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Bibliographical Information
"Commentary on Mark 13". "Cambridge Greek Testament for Schools and Colleges". 1896.