‘And as he went forth out of the Temple, one of his disciples says to him, “Teacher, look, what manner of stones, and what manner of buildings!’
As they left the Temple His disciples said to Jesus ‘What manner of stones, and what manner of buildings.’ They were drawing attention here to what this chapter is to be mainly about, the Temple and its destruction. Indeed in Mark 13:3-4 Mark will restrict his words to indicating this remarkable fact.
But first, before we go on, let us consider the Temple, with its stones and buildings. It was a huge edifice built on top of the Temple mount. Its building commenced in 19 BC and the main structure was completed as a result of ten years hard labour, but the finishing touches went on and were still in progress at this time, not being finished until 64 AD, just in time for its destruction. It was enclosed by a wall of massive stone blocks, each block on average about 1 metre high and five metres long. And there were stones in the Temple measuring 20 metres by Mark 2:5 metres by Mark 2:25 metres (68 feet by 9 feet by Mark 7:5 feet). The Temple area was about 450 metres by 300 metres. All was on a vast scale. The large outer court, the Court of the Gentiles, was surrounded by porticoes built on huge pillars. It was in these colonnades that Rabbis held their schools and debates (Luke 2:46), and the Temple trading took place (Mark 11:15).
The inner area within that outer court was raised slightly above it and was surrounded by a balustrade on which were posted the signs warning death to any Gentile who trespassed within. (Two of these inscriptions have been discovered). The first court beyond this balustrade, accessed by steps, was the Court of the Women in which were found the thirteen trumpets for collection of funds for the Treasury. A further court, raised above the court of the women and accessed by further steps, was the Court of Israel, and beyond that, and even higher, was the Priests’ Court which contained the great Altar built of unhewn stone.
Within the Priests’ Court, raised above all, was the holy shrine itself, entered through a porch that was 100 cubits high and 100 cubits wide (a cubit was 44.45 centimetres or 17.5 inches). Theoretically it was entered through a first curtain as it had been in the Tabernacle, although in fact doors had been introduced over which the curtain hung. The doorway that gave entry was 40 cubits high and 20 cubits wide, and then another door, half the size, led into the Holy Place. The Holy Place was 40 cubits long and 20 cubits wide, and separated from the Most Holy Place by further doors over which hung another curtain (the inner veil). The Most Holy Place was 20 cubits square and 40 cubits high. But the height of the sanctuary was increased by an additional empty room above it which raised the height of the whole to 100 cubits.
But it was not only large, it was magnificent. Josephus described the holy shrine and its magnificence in this way. ‘Now the outward face of the Temple in its front wanted nothing that was likely to surprise men’s minds or their eyes, for it was covered all over with plates of gold of great weight, and, at the first rising of the sun, reflected back a very fiery splendour, and made those who forced themselves to look on it turn their eyes away, just as they would have done at the sun’s own rays. But this Temple appeared to strangers, when they were at a distance, like a mountain covered with snow, for as to those parts of it which were not gold they were exceeding white.’ Some of these great white stones have in fact been unearthed within the last few decades.
This then was the magnificence that so drew the attention of the disciples. While they had seen it before they never ceased to marvel at its massiveness. No wonder then that the widow’s mite seemed unimportant to all but Jesus, and God.
The Disciples Express Their Admiration of the Temple And Receive Some Astonishing News (13:1-2).
The disciples had just been called on to consider the widow who gave her two mites and now they were confronted by this magnificent sight, this splendid Temple, still incomplete and yet majestic in its splendour and hugeness and seemingly everlastingly permanent. And the disciples were awestruck enough to draw Jesus’ attention to it. The two mites were forgotten. But Jesus looked at it with calm indifference for He knew its destiny. He was still awestruck at the giving of the poor widow, by which they appear not to have been impressed, and dismissed the Temple with a few succint words. To Him it was her gift which was everlastingly permanent. The Temple was under the judgment of God.
a And as He went forth out of the Temple, one of His disciples says to Him, “Teacher, behold, what manner of stones” (Mark 13:1 a).
b “And what manner of buildings!” (Mark 13:1 b).
b And Jesus said to him, “Do you see these great buildings?” (Mark 13:2 a).
a “There will not be left here one stone upon another, which will not be thrown down” (Mark 13:2).
Note that in ‘a’ reference is to the stones, and in the parallel the stones will be thrown down. In ‘b’ reference is and to the buildings, and in the parallel Jesus draws their attention to the buildings.
The Advancement of the Kingly Rule of God In The Midst Of The Battering of History: Preliminary Troubles - The Good News Proclaimed Among All Nations - The Coming Destruction of Jerusalem - The Coming of the Son of Man in Glory. The Temple Is To Be Replaced By God’s Elect - All Are Therefore To Watch (13:1-37).
Having provided a glimpse through the withering of the fig tree of what God was going to do, Jesus announces that the time is coming when the great Temple of Jerusalem will be torn down stone by stone. This results in questions from His disciples, as a result of which goes on to describe the events which will follow and will lead up to the destruction of the Temple in the way that He has described, but alongside this the Good News of the Kingly Rule of God will go out to all nations, in readiness for the coming of the Son of Man in glory. For His elect will survive all that occurs. But they need ever to ready for most of what He describes (‘these things’ which will portend His coming) will occur within their generation, although He then explains that He does not have knowledge of when that actual coming will be.
a One day unexpectedly the wonderful stones of the Temple will be torn down (Mark 13:1-2).
b The question is, When will these things be (the tearing down of the stones and the destruction of the Temple) and what signs will precede them? (Mark 13:3-4).
c False Messiahs will arise, and there will be devastating wars, earthquakes, and famines which will be the beginning of the birth pangs on earth (Mark 13:5-8).
d They must expect widespread persecution and to be delivered up to judicial authorities for His sake as a testimony to them (Mark 13:9).
e The Good News will be preached to all nations (Mark 13:10).
d The Holy Spirit will be their Advocate when they are brought to judgment and they will suffer persecution from their nearest and dearest for His sake. Those who endure to the end (in their testimony) will be saved (Mark 13:11-13).
c The desolating horror will introduce the incomparable tribulation of the Jews, and unless the days had been shortened no one would be saved, but for the elect’s sake they will be shortened, and there will be false Messiahs and false prophets seeking to deceive even the elect, together with signs in the heavens which will be followed by the final coming of the Son of Man, the true Messiah, to gather His own, the final fruit of the earth’s birthpangs (Mark 13:14-27).
b When they see what He has described (in Mark 13:5-20) they will know that ‘summer’ is approaching when ‘these things’ will come to their fruition. ‘These things’ will happen within that generation. But no one knows the time of their fruition, for no one apart from the Father knows the time of His coming, not even Himself (Mark 13:28-32).
a So they need to watch. They need to be like a servants whom a householder leaves to serve and watch for when their Lord unexpectedly comes (Mark 13:33-37).
Note that in ‘a’ the sudden and unexpected is to happen when the stones of the Temple will be torn down, and in the parallel they are to watch for when their Lord suddenly and unexpectedly comes. In ‘b’ the question arises as to signs and when these things will be, and in the parallel the signs when these things will happen are illustrated. In ‘c’ we have the indications on earth of what is coming in terms of false Messiahs, and wars and devastations, and in the parallel we have indications of what is coming in terms of terrible tribulation and false Messiahs, followed by heavenly events and the coming of the true Messiah. In ‘d’ there will be heavy persecution which will result in a testimony before kings and governors, and in the parallel there will be heavy persecution, help from the Holy Spirit in their testimony when under judgment, and those who endure in their testimony will be saved. Centrally in ‘e’ the Good News of the Kingly Rule of God will be preached among all nations.
Excursus on the Background to the Chapter.
There has been much discussion about this chapter. On one extreme it is used to bolster up certain theories about the second coming by manipulating what is there to fit in with whatever views are held, on the other it is said to be a composite production of which only part is the teaching of Jesus, and turned into ‘a little Apocalypse’, even though it actually contains little of apocalyptic language and ideas. The former views at least accept the words as the words of Jesus. But the latter argue for their own position by pointing out on the one hand the stress in parts on the suddenness and unexpectedness of the coming of Christ, which they contrast on the other with the signs that indicate that much is to occur before that coming.
The fact, however, is that this tension between imminence and delay is a tension that continues throughout the New Testament. The Book of Revelation is a prime example. On the one hand the churches are to watch expectantly in anticipation of Christ’s coming, on the other there is to be an outworking of history that is essential before His coming. And the same is true in Paul’s letters. On the one hand, we have expectancy and imminency, and on the other, the description of events which must occur before the end, including eventually his own death. So this discourse is really no different in the problems that it presents from the remainder of the New Testament, although they are not really problems, for the aim in all cases is to produce alertness, while at the same time warning that the time may not be yet.
It is true there was a great deal of ‘apocalyptic’ teaching around in the time of Jesus, insomuch that many far fetched ideas were introduced, but it is a mistake just to read those in here. For the fact is that Jesus did not just blandly accept apocalyptic ideas that He had heard. Rather He simply thought about them, as He thought about many things, and occasionally used some of the thought forms to convey the message that He wanted to convey.
The Gospels indeed reveal that Jesus was a deep thinker, second to none. He was not someone to be swept along by dreams and visions. We must not therefore interpret Jesus by apocalyptic. Rather the case is the other way round. He took from it what He thought was applicable, moulded it, and used it in order to proclaim His particular message.
So as we consider the chapter step by step, seeking to interpret it in its own terms rather than to fit in with any theory, we believe that its internal consistency will be revealed, and its differing paradoxes will fall into place. But we must tread lightly, for we are dealing with the mystery of the future.
End of Excursus.
It will be noted that the whole chapter can be divided into two, Mark 13:1-27 which leads up the coming of the Son of Man in glory, and Mark 13:28-37 which stresses the need to take heed to what has been depicted. Mark 13:1-27 can be analysed as follows:
a And as He went forth out of the Temple, one of His disciples says to Him, “Teacher, behold, what manner of stones and what manner of buildings!” (Mark 13:1).
b And Jesus said to him, “Do you see these great buildings? There will not be left here one stone upon another, which will not be thrown down” (Mark 13:2).
c And as He sat on the mount of Olives opposite the Temple, Peter and James and John and Andrew asked Him privately, “Tell us, when will these things be? And what will be the sign when these things are all about to be accomplished?” (Mark 13:3-4).
d And Jesus began to say to them, “Take heed that no man lead you astray. Many will come in My name, saying, ‘I am he’, and will lead many astray” (Mark 13:5-6).
e “And when you shall hear of wars and rumours of wars, be not troubled, these things must necessarily happen, but the end is not yet. For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; there will be earthquakes in divers places; there will be famines: these things are the beginning of labour pains” (Mark 13:7-8).
f “But you, take heed to yourselves, for they will deliver you up to councils, and you will be beaten in synagogues, and you will stand before governors and kings for My sake, for a testimony to them” (Mark 13:9).
g “And the Good News must first be preached to all the nations (Mark 13:10).
f “And when they lead you to judgment, and deliver you up, do not be anxious beforehand what you will speak, but whatever shall be given you in that hour, that speak, for it is not you who speak, but the Holy Spirit”, and brother will deliver up brother to death, and the father his child, and children will rise up against parents, and cause them to be put to death. And you will be hated of all men for My name’s sake, but he who endures to the end, the same will be saved” (Mark 13:11-13).
e “But when you see the abomination of desolation standing where he ought not (let him who reads understand), then let those who are in Judaea flee to the mountains, and let him who is on the housetop not go down, nor enter in, to take anything out of his house, and let him who is in the field not return back to take his cloak. But woe to those who are with child and to those who breastfeed in those days! And pray that it be not in the winter. For those days will be tribulation, such as there has not been the like from the beginning of the creation which God created until now, and never shall be. And except the Lord had shortened the days, no flesh would have been saved, but for the elect’s sake, whom He chose, He shortened the days” (Mark 13:14-20).
d “And then if any man shall say to you, Lo, here is the Christ; or, Lo, there; do not believe it, for there will arise false Christs and false prophets, and they will show signs and wonders, so that they may lead astray, if possible, the elect” (Mark 13:21-22).
c “But take heed, behold, I have told you all things beforehand” (Mark 13:23).
b “But in those days, after that tribulation, the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give her light, and the stars will be falling from heaven, and the powers that are in the heavens will be shaken” (Mark 13:24-25).
a “And then they will see the Son of man coming in clouds with great power and glory. And then will He send forth the angels, and will gather together His elect from the four winds, from the uttermost part of the earth to the uttermost part of heaven” (Mark 13:26-27).
Note that in ‘a’ the disciples were looking at the glory of the Temple, and in the parallel it is the glory of the Son of Man Who has replaced the Temple that will finally be revealed. In ‘b’ the stones of the Temple are to be thrown down, and in the parallel it is the stars of Heaven. In ‘c’ they question Jesus and are to take heed lest they be led astray and in the parallel they are to take heed because they have been told beforehand in answer to their questions. In ‘d’ many will come in His name and will lead many astray, and in the parallel false Christs and false prophets will lead many astray. In ‘e’ are depicted wars and devastations, and in the parallel the great war against Jerusalem and the devastations from which they are to escape. In ‘f’ they will be delivered up to different judicial authorities for His sake, and in the parallel they will be delivered up by relatives and be hated by all men for His name’s sake. Centrally in ‘g’ the Good News will be preached among all nations, and the Holy Spirit will act as Advocate for His people.
‘And Jesus said to him, “Do you see these great buildings? There shall not be left here one stone on another that will not be thrown down.”
Jesus dismissed the magnificence of the Temple with a few words. Like Jeremiah before Him (Jeremiah 7:1-15; Jeremiah 26:1-24; compare Micah 3:10-12) He had recognised that the Temple could no longer be accepted as viable because of the behaviour and attitudes of the religious leaders and those who followed them. They could not be allowed to go on. He had pronounced woes on Chorazin and Bethsaida (Matthew 11:21; Luke 10:13). How much more was the Temple deserving of woe. And He had already made it clear in His actions with the fig tree, and within the Temple itself, that it was rejected by God. Only one thing could be done with ‘a brigand’s cave’ like this. It had to be visited and destroyed. Compare how He had elsewhere already declared the desolation of Jerusalem’s ‘house’ (Matthew 23:38).
The picture Jesus drew was one of total desolation. ‘Not one stone upon another’. While this was hyperbolic and was not intended to be taken absolutely literally, it was certainly intended to be a description of complete devastation, and today there is not a trace of that great building apart from a few remnants of the outer walls and what we occasionally dig up. But the thought must have been appalling to the disciples, and almost considered impossible, that is, if they could even begin to take it in at all. However, Jesus, Who had caused the fig tree to wither, had also by His words spoken to the fig tree basically prayed for this mountain to be ‘cast into the sea’, that is, to be judged and destroyed. (It is worthy of note to remember that this was written down well before the destruction occurred). Indeed the destruction of city and sanctuary after Messiah was cut off was prophetically necessary, as God’s judgment on them, in order to fulfil Scripture (Daniel 9:26).
The Temple had failed in its function, which was in any case approaching its end. Instead of lifting the nation up to God it had become to most of them a guarantee of their worldly security, leaving them to carry on as they liked. They thought that God would not allow the destruction of His house (even in its last moments they could not believe that God would not intervene, a belief which resulted in extreme fanaticism). So the Chief Priests were able to sit tight in their complacency, and even the disciples were impressed by its seeming permanence. But once Jesus had offered Himself as a sacrifice for sin its sacrificial function would in fact have ceased to have significance. Its end was therefore inevitable. By then it would have become simply a hindrance. ‘This mountain’ had to be got rid of that men may worship God in Spirit and in truth (John 4:20-24).
‘And as he sat on the mount of Olives opposite the Temple, Peter and James and John and Andrew asked him privately.’
The group had now left the Temple and returned to their camp on the slopes of the Mount of Olives. The view from the mount of Olives enabled the Temple to be seen clearly and reminded the disciples of what Jesus had said. Two things demonstrate the accuracy of the account. Firstly that the change in scene is described when, if it was not true, it was not necessary. They had moved to the Mount of Olives. In fact we could argue that there would have been more impact if His words had occurred on the spot with the great stones near at hand. And secondly in that Andrew has joined up with the Inner Three. There may be the thought here that these were the ones whom He had called first (that is, in Mark, see Mark 1:16-20) and that they now learned of their future, but if Mark had wanted us to see that he would surely have said ‘Peter and Andrew, and James and John’. Here Andrew was therefore an added extra to the Inner Three, tacked on the end simply because he was there.
On the other hand the mount of Olives was a good spot for such revelations for it was a spot which was seen as having an apocalyptic future. It was the place where God was going to reveal His powerful and personal activity on behalf of His people, ‘His feet will stand in that day on the Mount of Olives’ (Zechariah 14:4), and we should note that the feet of Jesus were undoubtedly there. But this may simply be one of those divine ‘coincidences’ which also occur elsewhere in the Bible, for Mark draws no attention to it, although he might well have expected those who knew their Scriptures thoroughly to draw their own conclusions. Others have connected it with the movement of YHWH from the Temple on to a mountain east of Jerusalem, from which point He would presumably watch the destruction of Jerusalem as found in Ezekiel 11:23. There may even have been a hint of that in Jesus making His camp there.
Jesus Begins His Response To The Disciples’ Questions By Describing The Dreadful Events Which Are Initially To Come (13:3-8).
Undoubtedly shaken by what Jesus had told them, but confident that what He had said must be true, the two sets of brothers, Peter and Andrew, and James and John, came to Him to ask for further details. Their main interest was in when this destruction of the Temple would take place, and what, if any, signs would precede it. But Jesus gave far more than they asked as He began to outline the future, and their part in it, beginning with the serious troubles that would occur in the world, which would be like labour pains, which would issue in the Temple’s destruction. The very seriousness of these labour pains serves to highlight how significant an event the destruction of the Temple was going to be.
a And as He sat on the mount of Olives opposite the Temple, Peter and James and John and Andrew asked him privately, “Tell us, when will these things be? And what will be the sign when these things are all about to be accomplished?” (Mark 13:3-4).
b And Jesus began to say to them, “Take care that no man leads you astray” (Mark 13:5).
c “Many will come in My name and say ‘I am the one’ and will lead many astray” (Mark 13:6).
d “And when you will hear of wars and rumours of wars, do not be troubled” (Mark 13:7 a).
e “These things must necessarily happen, but the end is not yet” (Mark 13:7 b).
d “For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom” (Mark 13:8 a).
c “There will be earthquakes in many places” (Mark 13:8 b).
b “There will be famines” (Mark 13:8 c).
a “These are the beginnings of birth pains” (8d).
Note that in ‘a’ they seek the signs of when the destruction of the Temple will take place, and in the parallel they are told that what He has said are the initial signs which are similar to the first birth pains of a woman in labour with still some time to go. In ‘b’ He is fearful lest in their spiritual hunger they are led astray, and in the parallel there will be famines. In ‘c’ He is concerned that false Messiahs will arise and like a spiritual earthquake in the church lead many astray, and in the parallel there will be earthquakes in many places. In ‘d’ there will be wars and rumours of wars, and in the parallel nation will rise against nation. Centrally in ‘e’ all this must necessarily happen, but it is not the sign of ‘the end’.
“Tell us, when shall these things be, and what will be the sign when these things are all about to be accomplished?”
The disciples then asked when all these things were to be, and what signs would warn of their approach. Certain points should be noted here.
'b7 Firstly that they were asking concerning the Temple that they were looking at, not some mythical Temple of the future.
'b7 Secondly that it was the destruction of that Temple that the disciples had in mind.
'b7 And thirdly that Mark does not mention any other question. He wants to concentrate attention on the destruction of the Temple and the events that lead up to it and surround it. And that, to Mark, is therefore what ‘these things’ refers to.
However it was such a devastating idea that both he and the disciples, with their limited insight, would undoubtedly think of it in the same terms as the coming final consummation. They had after all no conception at this stage of the many centuries still lying ahead before Christ’s second coming. But Jesus, although He dealt with both aspects, did not specifically differentiate them. They were two ‘mountains’ that lay ahead. The distance between them was irrelevant. He was also aware of the coming age of the Gentiles that would follow the destruction of the Temple (Luke 21:24) although He did not know how long it would be.
So in Mark there were two questions. Firstly, when will these things be? Jesus then went on to describe the events that would take place in the years that were coming, and then finally assured them that ‘this generation will not pass away until all these thing are accomplished’ (Mark 13:30).
Secondly, what will be the sign when all these things are to be accomplished? Jesus answered by outlining the events which would precede it and then depicted the final sign, that of ‘the Desolating Abomination’, a combination of destruction and blasphemous idolatry inflicted on the holy city itself, fulfilled when the Roman legions first surrounded and then poured into the city with their idolatrous standards (Luke 21:24) and Titus entered the Holy Place just before it was destroyed by fire (probably with his standard bearer). The Jews were appalled and infuriated, and fought fanatically but hopelessly. To them it was certainly the Desolating Abomination. (With regard to Titus we should remember when reading Josephus that he wanted to vindicate Titus. Other near contemporary historians were not so kind to him).
Then Jesus finally sealed off the matter by describing cataclysmic events as following this, which would lead up to His own return, the date of which He clearly stated that He did not know (Mark 13:32).
Now while it is true that Matthew opens up a wider field (Matthew 24:3), Mark deliberately does not do so. He thus made clear that, in his view as an inspired writer, the destruction of the Temple before their eyes was the main thing in Jesus’ mind. Luke agrees with Mark. Thus we do well to heed the words of Scripture.
Jesus then outlined the coming dreadful cataclysms (Mark 13:5-8); the coming persecutions on the people of God and the success of the Gospel (Mark 13:9-13); the Desolating Abomination itself (Mark 13:14-20); followed by even more cataclysm (Mark 13:21-25); and then the coming of Christ in glory (Mark 13:26-27). As Jesus specifically stated in context that He did not know the time of His coming that is to clearly to be excluded from the ‘these things’ of Mark 13:30. Thus Jesus did go beyond answering their question, but only once He had answered it fully and in detail.
What follows is mainly general until we come to the destruction of Jerusalem itself. It happened in the days prior to that destruction, and it continued after that destruction for it is simply the outworking of history. It is mainly the result of what man is and of the effectiveness of the Gospel.
‘And Jesus began to say to them, “Take care that no man leads you astray. Many will come in my name and say ‘I am the one’ and will lead many astray. And when you will hear of wars and rumours of wars, do not be troubled. These things must necessarily happen, but the end is not yet.”
Jesus considered that they needed to be warned against two things, firstly, those falsely claiming to be Messiah, and secondly, being deceived by world events. The mention of false Christs coming ‘in His name’ may have in mind Jewish Messianic claimants, or it may refer to those who would later, after His resurrection, claim to be Jesus returned. They are to beware, and to teach others to beware, of any who make such claims. Even Christian Jews could be caught up in the fervour of a Messianic claimant against the Romans. But let them not be deceived. These claimants would be false and would simply lead them to captivity and death. For they must recognise that when Jesus does return His return will be unmistakable, it will be with great power and glory (Mark 13:26). Thus any other who might claim to be Jesus can be safely ignored and rejected.
This statement is further confirmation of His Messiahship. It is because Messiah has already come that they can be sure that there can be no future Messiah.
We do not know how many local leaders arose and made Messianic claims. Knowing human nature we can be sure that there were some, although they never made the headlines. But every rising in Palestine, every popular movement against the Romans, would have had Messianic connections and would almost certainly have engendered whispers about a Messiah. And there were always those who for a brief moment of fame would exalt themselves, or be exalted by others, above what they were. We can consider here those mentioned by Josephus such as another Theudas, and ‘an Egyptian’ (compare Acts 21:38), and his reference to those with ‘purer hands but more impious intentions (than the Sicarii) -- deceivers and impostors under the pretence of divine inspiration’. Barcochba certainly made the claim directly in 132 AD. Unfortunately we are dependent on Josephus for much of our knowledge of this period and he was not reliable on matters like this, for he appears mainly to have avoided reference to Messianic ideas (he wanted to appease the Romans).
In view of the words ‘in my name’ it is possible that this was also a warning against the rise of future heretics. The point being made finally about those whom Jesus was talking about, was that they pointed to themselves as having a unique and supreme position. There have always been such. There are still such around today. And we must equally beware of them.
The second warning is - not to be deceived by cataclysmic events in the world. They may hear of wars with their accompanying desolation, and rumours of wars which would sound even more desolating, but they should not be troubled into thinking that ‘the end’ was near. By ‘the end’ here Jesus may in context well be meaning the end of Jerusalem and the Temple, for that is what is primarily in mind in the discourse. Or He may have had the consummation of all things in mind. But one point being made is that it is only when theyseewar in Palestine that they must expect the end of Jerusalem and the Temple.
‘Saying, “I am the one”.’ Compare Simon Magus in Acts 8:9. History is filled with people who have said, ‘I am the one’.
‘Do not be troubled.’ Jesus quite recognised that even His disciples could be disturbed at the thought that days of trouble were approaching.
‘These things must necessarily happen.’ Why? Because of what man is and because it is within God’s purpose. The two ideas intertwine. It is regularly because of what man is that God so purposes, but in the end it is His purpose that triumphs.
The Coming Dreadful Cataclysms But The End Is Not Yet (13:5-8).
Tacitus, a first century Roman historian, after referring to the horrors, calamities, disasters and portents, of the period, went on to say ‘never has it been better proved, by such terrible disasters to Rome, or by such clear evidence, that the gods were concerned, not with our safety but with vengeance on our sins.’ It is clear from this that to a contemporary the first century AD was a time of terrible troubles, including dreadful wars, earthquakes and famines, for the Roman Empire of which Judaea was a part (although not necessarily moreso than some other centuries).
Jesus’ first warning is against His people being led astray by the devastating events that are to happen. They must not wrongly take them as signs of ‘the end’, even though many would wrongly take them as such.
“For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be earthquakes in many places. There will be famines. These are the beginnings of birth pains.”
Jesus then explained further. Wars between nations will necessarily come, for that is what man is like. Earthquakes and famines will occur, as they have throughout history, for that is what nature is like. But these will only introduce what is to follow. And certainly we know that in the first century there were a number of wars, devastating earthquakes and terrible famines. For the dreadful famine in the time of Claudius see Acts 11:27-30, and Jerusalem experienced a number of earthquakes, including one around the time of Jesus’ resurrection (Matthew 28:2). Laodicea, for example, was destroyed by a terrible earthquake which shook the whole of Phrygia in 61 AD. Pompeii and Herculaneum were destroyed by volcanic action not long after. But Jesus was warning that these must not be seen as direct portents. What He was basically saying was that the troubles of a troubled world, portentous though they may seem to those involved, should not cause excessive speculation about the future. They would simply be reminders that there will be yet more troubles to come.
‘Birth pains.’ A woman’s birth pains were a common illustration to suggest the introduction of further trouble. All were aware of the initial contractions which were an early signal of a coming birth. Jesus may have had in mind what the later Rabbis called the Messianic birthpangs which would precede the Messiah and introduce the end of the age, but probably not, for He stressed that these did not introduce anything, ‘the end is not yet’, and furthermore He knew that the Messiah had already come. Birth pains are regularly used as an illustration in Scripture (Isaiah 26:17; Isaiah 66:8; Jeremiah 22:23; Hosea 13:13; Micah 4:9-10) where they simply mean the start of trouble.
“But beware for yourselves. For they will deliver you up to councils and you will be beaten in synagogues, and you will stand before governors and kings for my sake, for a testimony to them.”
We should note by these words that Jesus was indicating how successful their work was going to be, (kings and governors only have drawn to their attention things that are important), but warning that it would be accompanied by constant censure. They were going to draw attention to themselves in the eyes of the authorities. Their ministry would be such that it would not only bring them to the attention of the local sanhedrins and the synagogues, resulting in the usual beating given to heretics, but would also disturb governors and kings. And this would all be part of their testimony. The descriptions give the idea of a widespread ministry reaching even to exalted circles. The book of Acts reveals how accurate Jesus’ words would prove to be.
‘A testimony to them.’ Through their trials even great men would hear the word of life. And that word would either begin to enlighten them or would testify against them at the Judgment.
These words parallel those spoken by Jesus in the passage where He sent His disciples out to preach (Matthew 10:17-22). There too they had been successful and had drawn attention to themselves and their message, and we need not doubt had been beaten in synagogues and brought before local councils (Luke 12:11-12). But in those words Jesus had also had in mind their later wider ministry, as depicted here, for they were to be ‘a testimony to the Gentiles’ (Matthew 10:18). Thus it seems that by this time if not before Jesus had recognised that there would be a ministry among Gentiles (but compare Matthew 8:11 which suggests a recognition long before). Matthew had very much in mind the gradual turning to the Gentiles.
His People will Be Successful But Persecuted (13:9-13).
Jesus now made clear to His disciples something of the future that awaited them amidst the tumults in the world. They had witnessed the opposition to Jesus and the powerful emotions that had been aroused against Him. They had seen what had happened to John the Baptiser. But now they were to recognise that the same would happen to them as well. And it would not be long before it was so. These words were as much preparatory for the future as John 14-16, which included similar thoughts (John 15:20-21; John 16:2-3).
a “But beware for yourselves” (Mark 13:9 a).
b “For they will deliver you up to councils and you will be beaten in synagogues” (Mark 13:9 b).
c “And you will stand before governors and kings for My sake, for a testimony to them” (Mark 13:9 c).
d “And the Good News must first be preached to all nations” (Mark 13:10).
c “And when they lead you and deliver you up, do not be anxious beforehand what you will say, but whatever is given to you in that hour, that speak, for it is not you who speak but the Holy Spirit” (Mark 13:11).
b “And brother will deliver up brother to death, and the father his child. And children will rise up against parents and cause them to be put to death. And you will be hated by all men, for My name’s sake” (Mark 13:12-13 a).
a “But he who endures to the end, the same will be saved” (Mark 13:13 b).
Note that in ‘a’ they are to beware for themselves, while in the parallel they are to ensure that they endure. In ‘b’ they will find that their fellow Jews persecute them, and in the parallel this will even be true of their close families. In ‘c’ they will be brought before governors and kings to give testimony, and in the parallel when they are delivered up they are not to fear, for the Holy Spirit will guide their testimony. Centrally in ‘d’ the Good News (of the Kingly Rule of God - Mark 1:14-15) will be proclaimed among all nations.
‘And the Gospel must first be preached to all nations.”
In spite of these tribulations the Gospel would reach out to all nations. (By this time the disciples must have been astounded at what they were hearing, and nothing more astounding than this. Their cosy lives were over). For the Good News was for the world. Probably at this stage the disciples with their prejudiced minds were thinking in terms of the Jews spread throughout the Roman world (compare ‘Jews, devout men, from every nation under heaven’ (Acts 2:5)) but Jesus had His eye on the Gentiles as well, as they would shortly learn. To the disciples at that stage ‘all nations’ would mean primarily Jews in all nations within their knowledge. To Jesus it was probably intended as an indication of the widespread success of the Gospel, without stress on the particular, but including the Gentiles. Compare how at Pentecost those present were seen as ‘from every nation under heaven’ (Acts 2:5), and Paul could tell the Romans that their faith was spoken of ‘throughout the whole world’ (Romans 1:8). To that extent this was well fulfilled long before the invasion of 70 AD.
However history has demonstrated that there was a wider meaning. That indeed literally the whole world as indicating a larger world was in God’s mind, as in fact the Old Testament had partly made clear. But to the disciples there was the Jewish world, and then the Roman world, and then a vague world outside without any notion of its extent, and their view would initially be limited.
‘To all nations.’ It was an axiom of the prophetic teaching that in the end all nations would be brought under God’s rule. The Servant was to ‘bring forth justice to the Gentiles’ (Isaiah 42:1) and indeed be ‘a light to the Gentiles, that you (the Servant) may be my salvation to the ends of the earth’ (Isaiah 49:6 compare Isaiah 42:6). ‘The nations’ would seek to the root of Jesse (i.e. a son of the Davidic line - Isaiah 11:10), and ‘will come from the ends of the earth -- and will know that My name is Yahweh’ (Jeremiah 16:19; Jeremiah 16:21). Compare also Malachi 1:11; Psalms 22:27-28; Psalms 96:10; Psalms 96:13 and many other references).
‘Must first.’ That is, in context (although Matthew has a wider context), before the following events of the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple. It is clear that Jesus did therefore see that event as a turning point in history leading on to events that would follow of uncertain duration (Luke 21:24) resulting finally in the end of time and His second coming. To us that destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple is just a blip in history, only remembered because of what Jesus said. But to the Jews and the Jewish Christians in the first century it was an occurrence of vast proportions that turned their worlds upside down. And its significance was huge. To the non-Christian Jews it was a signal of God’s displeasure. To Jewish Christians it was an indication that the final break with the Temple had come. So Jesus knew that certain events must follow on the destruction of the Temple, but what He did not know was how long they would last.
“And when they lead you and deliver you up, do not be anxious beforehand what you will say, but whatever is given to you in that hour, that speak, for it is not you who speak but the Holy Spirit.”
Although they would be brought before powerful men they need not be anxious as to what they would say. For God would provide them with words. The Holy Spirit would be in them. Thus they must concentrate on their essential message even while detained, and trust God through His Holy Spirit to provide them with their defence when it was needed. Compare again Matthew 10:19-20 and Luke 12:11-12. This is ever true for His people. At the hour of their great need He will direct their words. Here we have a similar promise of the Holy Spirit as a Helper to that in John 14-16.
‘Whatever is given you.’ That is, ‘whatever God gives you’ but avoiding mentioning the divine name.
“And brother will deliver up brother to death, and the father his child. And children will rise up against parents and cause them to be put to death. And you will be hated by all men, for my name’s sake. But he who endures to the end, the same will be saved.”
These words surely bring a chill to the heart. Jesus did not hide from His disciples the intensity of feeling that being a believer might cause. It had already been spoken of in Micah 7:6. ‘For the son dishonours the father, the daughter rises up against her mother, the daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. A man’s enemies are they of his own house.’ Such would be the intensity of feeling aroused by the Gospel that blood relatives would feel bitterly towards their kin who had believed, to such an extent that they would be prepared to betray them and bring about their death either through anger or fear. That this was sadly true in 1st Century AD and has been sadly true throughout history is unquestionable. It is often literally true in Islamic countries today when a Muslim becomes a Christian and is baptised, and among many other religions as well. The pastor of a local church where I live is a former Hindu who has been cut off by his family.
See Matthew 10:21-22 where we find similar words. Jesus may well have been aware of disciples who had already received threats and family persecution, and have recognised from it the severity of the opposition that His disciples would have to face in the future, seeing it in terms of Micah 7:6. He did not want them to be in any doubt about the possible severity of such opposition. It is usually assumed that Matthew very much had in mind the future after Jesus’ death when He included these words in Jesus’ message there, and that they were hardly applicable to the mission of the Twelve at that time. But the truth is that we know almost nothing about the lives and background of most of His Apostles, some of whom might already have been threatened by their families, just as Jesus knew that they would be in the future. He had after all Himself experienced something of it in Nazareth (see Luke 4:28-29). So dogmatism is ruled out. The only history that we have of the Apostles and disciples of Jesus is in Acts, and in that there was persecution a-plenty.
The hatred that the Gospel aroused in men would be incredible (see Matthew 5:11; John 15:18-20; John 17:14; 1 John 3:13; Matthew 10:22). The message of Christ would make men uneasy, for it undermined their cherished and deeply held beliefs, and it pulled down much of what they had built their lives on, and this would especially be so in such a hotbed of fanaticism as Galilee. And later non-believers would not like the way that Christians kept themselves separate from the normal ‘joys of life’ such as the games and idolatrous feasts. And so they hated the message bearers. When Tacitus accused Christians of hatred of the human race he was really depicting the state of his own heart. He would call Christianity ‘an accursed superstition’. He never dreamed that one day it would irrevocably alter the Roman Empire.
‘But he who endures to the end, the same will be saved.’ Compare Matthew 10:22. This was further encouragement to endurance in faith and obedience that was going to be greatly needed. They could face all that came with the certainty that in the end they would triumph. Those who stood against them would face the judgment, but they themselves could anticipate deliverance and salvation (compare Mark 10:26), and would through it find eternal life (see Mark 8:35).
‘Enduring’ is necessary and is required (compare 2 Timothy 2:12), but it need not cause fear and despair. Elsewhere we are assured that they would endure because it would be God Himself Who would enable them to endure (1 Corinthians 1:8-9; Philippians 1:6; Philippians 2:12-13; Jude 1:24), and we may have the same confidence. The guarantee of endurance is an essential part of what it means to be ‘saved’. We rely on the faithfulness of the Saviour.
‘To the end.’ Not the end of time but the end of their need to endure, whenever that came.
“But when you see the Desolating Abomination standing where he ought not.”
The original Desolating Abomination (Abomination is the Jewish view of idolatry and the phrase in Hebrew can mean ‘the desecration that appals’) was when Antiochus Epiphanes (168 BC) raised an altar to Zeus in the Temple and slew a pig on it deliberately in order to offend the Jews, and thus caused the cessation of true sacrifices (Daniel 11:31). This was looked on as the sacrilege that it was, and as a ‘Desolating Abomination’, a desolation that appalled. But it became a phrase which could be applied to any such action and was expected to occur again in the then far future (Daniel 9:27). Thus the Desolating Abomination, the Temple and the cessation of sacrifice were closely connected in Jewish minds (see also Daniel 12:11), and if you were to say to a Jew of Jesus’ time ‘Desolating Abomination’ he would immediately think of sacrilege, the profaning of the holy city and the Temple and of cessation of sacrifice, with general desolation also included (Daniel 9:27).
Furthermore if he thought of it happening at that time he would have thought of Rome. Under its procurators Rome had already made attempts at such sacrilege. Pilate had introduced his troops’ Roman standards into Jerusalem by stealth at night. These were looked on as idolatrous because they often bore a representation of Caesar on them and soldiers offered sacrifices to them. But the sense of horror that this aroused comes out in that a huge crowds of Jews besieged Pilate day and night in his palace at Caesarea demanding their removal, and when he sent his soldiers with bared swords to threaten them they bared their necks and said they would rather die than allow what he had done. The people’s fierce resistance, and their fortitude to the point of offering to lay down their lives in passive resistance, was so great that Pilate at last withdrew. This brings out vividly their sense of the holiness of the whole city, not just of the Temple.
So the people were constantly on their guard against such attempts by Rome, and viewed them with great horror. Note also that it was not only the Temple’s sanctity that the people sought to preserve, it was also the sanctity of the city they saw as ‘the holy city’ (Nehemiah 11:1; Nehemiah 11:18; Isaiah 48:2; Isaiah 52:1; Daniel 9:24). (Later the mad Emperor Caligula would order the erection of his statue in the Temple at Jerusalem, and demand accompanying worship, and this was only forestalled by his death, something Mark’s readers would also have been very much aware of).
So the ‘Desolating Abomination standing where it ought not’ would indicate the actual preparation for the introduction into the holy city of idolatrous emblems and actions. Luke confirms this quite clearly. Instead of mention of the Desolating Abomination he wrote, ‘When you see Jerusalem compassed with armies then know that her desolation is at hand (Luke 21:20)’. This is found in exactly the same place in the discourse (note in both cases the previous and following verses - Mark 13:13 = Luke 21:17; Mark 13:14 b = Luke 21:21). The entry of these troops with their standards and idolatrous worship would be the Desolating Abomination. The holy city would be profaned. And once they approached the holy city they would be standing where they ought not. Furthermore Titus would enter the Holy Place itself, quite probably with his standardbearer who would follow close behind, thus profaning it also. Josephus claims that rather than see the Temple profaned it was the Jews themselves who set fire to it. But that may simply have been propaganda.
Some commentators are dissatisfied because Jesus did not actually mention the destruction of the Temple at this point. But we know that Jesus constantly said things and left the rest for the mind to think over. Those whose hearts were receptive would understand. The same is the case here. He was never prosaic. He was answering a question about the destruction of the Temple, and about not one stone being left on another, and therefore these words and their consequences would mean exactly that in the minds of those who considered His words. The coming of the Desolating Abomination (with its close connection with destruction of city and sanctuary in Daniel 9) and the resulting idea of great tribulation would be seen as including the destruction of the Temple. To have actually said it in so many words would have been to take away the mystery, and have been contrary to His habit of teaching in parables. It might also have opened the words to the charge of being accusatory against Rome, for although they were private words to the four disciples they were words which were intended to be passed on.
‘But when you see the Desolating Abomination standing where he ought not (let him who reads understand), then let those who are in Judaea flee to the mountains, and let him who is on the housetop not go down, or enter in to take anything out of his house, and let him that is in the field not return back to take his cloak.’
So dreadful would the subsequent events be when the Desolating Abomination was beginning his action against Jerusalem (the ‘he’ refers to their leader) that immediate action would be required. No delay should be considered. If they were on the roof of the house they should immediately take to their heels without even collecting their belongings from inside, speeding down the outside steps, or leaping across the roofs. If they were in the field they should flee as they were, not even going back to collect a cloak. The emphasis was one of extreme and over-exaggerated urgency. The situation was desperate, and was to be escaped from at all costs with no delay.
In reality the majority of the people did the opposite when the time came and fled into the city, there to endure unbelievable suffering, and finally to brutally perish. But some would no doubt escape, even at the last minute as the Roman standards approached Jerusalem, if they had heard and remembered Jesus’ words, and certainly tradition tells us that many in the Jerusalem church previously fled to Pella.
‘The Desolating Abomination’. That is, Titus and his Roman armies with their idolatrous standards. They brought sacrilege with them and would commit greater sacrilege on the holy city and Temple, introducing their standards and their gods and desolating the city and the sanctuary and laying them waste. And they above all claimed to represent a god, Roma, to whom they no doubt made their offerings in Jerusalem.
‘Standing where he ought not.’ The figure is personalised, probably in terms of the leader as so often in Daniel. The place was one where he should not be, for he was not only challenging the Jews, he was treating God with contempt. As the representative of the god emperor he was the ‘anti-God’ who had no right to be standing on the sacred ground around Jerusalem.
‘Let him who reads understand.’ These may be the words of Jesus referring His listeners to the Book of Daniel so that they may read it and understand what He was saying. Or it may be a comment by Mark conveying the fact that the meaning of the words was disguised but discernible to the spiritual eye. The reader might well have been reading it to a largely illiterate church, and it may be that the idea was that he should be able to explain what it meant.
‘Then let those who are in Judaea flee to the mountains.’ All in the surrounding area, in Judaea, are advised to flee. The thought may well be that they should do so as soon as the threat became apparent. There was in fact plenty of warning as there was an earlier assault on Jerusalem which failed. And when later Roman reconquest of the land began it began in Galilee. But even at that stage all were aware that Jerusalem would be the main target, and it was in order to defend it with their dying breath that all the bloodiest insurgents of the day finally gathered there.
‘Flee to the mountains.’ Mountains were always a hiding place in times of trouble. David and his men fled to the mountains away from Saul. Compare also Ezekiel 7:16; 1 Maccabees 2:28. And there were mountains on the far side of Jordan away from the central troublespots. According to Eusebius the Christian church in Jerusalem did in fact flee to Pella in Decapolis, guided by ‘a prophet’ who may well have heeded these words, although that was not in the mountains. It was, however, following the principle behind the words.
‘The housetop.’ The reference is to the flat roof of the house where a man could find quiet. But suddenly he is roused by the news and must flee immediately and urgently by the outside staircase, or by jumping from roof to roof. The point, however, is to stress urgency, not in order to indicate a particular way of escape.
‘To take his cloak.’ This is the cloak that he would need to keep him warm at night. But the urgency would be so great that he must not return for it to wherever he had left it.
The Destruction of Jerusalem and the Sacrilege in the Temple (13:14-19).
What the following words mean are made clear firstly by reference to what Jesus said at the beginning of the chapter (Mark 13:2) with the resulting question (Mark 13:3), and secondly by comparison with the book of Daniel. It is from there that the idea of the Desolating Abomination comes in the same passage that speaks of the coming destruction of ‘the city and the sanctuary’ (Mark 9:26) (Daniel 9:27 LXX has the same phrase except that ‘desolation’ is in the plural. Compare Daniel 11:31). And the original ‘Abomination of Desolation’ involved the capture of the city and the desecration of the Temple (Daniel 11:31).
a “But when you see the Desolating Abomination standing where he ought not (let him who reads understand)” (Mark 13:14 a).
b “Then let those who are in Judaea flee to the mountains” (Mark 13:14 b).
c “And let him who is on the housetop not go down, or enter in to take anything out of his house” (Mark 13:15).
d “And let him who is in the field not return back to take his cloak” (Mark 13:16).
c “But woe to those who are well gone in pregnancy and to those who are breastfeeding in those days” (Mark 13:17).
b “And pray that your flight be not in the winter” (Mark 13:18).
a “For those days will be tribulation such as there has not been the like from the beginning of the creation which God created until now, and never shall be” (Mark 13:19).
Note that in ‘a’ we have the one who is called the Sacrilegious Desolater, and in the parallel the result of his desolating actions as he stands against the God of creation. In ‘b’ those in Judaea are to flee to the mountains, and in the parallel they are to pray that the flight is not in the winter. In ‘c’ men are to flee the roofs of their houses without waiting to collect anything, and in the parallel women involved in child birth and child nurturing are to flee their homes just as they are. Centrally in ‘d’ those working in the fields are not even to bother about their cloaks because of the urgent need to escape.
“But woe to those who are well gone in pregnancy and to those who are breastfeeding in those days.”
The reasons were because it would be so much harder for them to flee quickly, and because living conditions would become so terrible, and because of what it would involve for their babes (see Luke 23:29).
‘And pray that your flight be not in the winter.’
The winter was a time when there might be flooding preventing their escape, when the mountain paths would be a sea of mud, and when the night cold could be piercing. At such times living rough would be more difficult.
“For those days will be tribulation such as there has not been the like from the beginning of the creation which God created until now, and never shall be.”
Here is the reason for fleeing. For to be caught up in what was to happen would be to suffer the unimaginable. This both limits the tribulation (they can escape from it by fleeing) and stresses its intensity. This was not worldwide tribulation but tribulation restricted to a particular locality. It was initially restricted to in and around Jerusalem and Judaea. Note the phrase ‘and never shall be’. This demonstrates that the tribulation was not to be an indication of the end, and that there was still to be a future following this. The impression is in fact given that time will go on for a considerable period. This is in contrast with Daniel 12:1 where there was to be no future. Then it was ‘even to that same time’, with no reference beyond that. There the ‘time of trouble’ is also excessive and the worst ever of its kind, but it is of a different kind. It is not one restricted to a doomed city like this. We cannot just equate the two. This tribulation is not specifically the same as that one.
Jesus was here emphasising the dreadfulness of the suffering of those who would be caught up in the final invasion in extreme terms. And the actual accounts given of the siege and capture of Jerusalem, which because of its nature had to be stormed section by section, including the final resistance within the Upper City and the Temple itself, and including the starvation, the sufferings of the people and their dreadful cruelty even to each other, the crucifixions and mutilations of any caught by the Romans, the earlier internecine fighting, and the final decimation, do convey a picture so awful that they are unimaginable, made even worse by the hopeless recognition of the desecration that was coming on their holy city. They were a people doomed by man’s inhumanity to man and because of their own sin and their final rejection of God in the crucifixion of Jesus. But it should be noted that they brought it on themselves by their own fanaticism. If only they had listened to Jesus it would never have happened.
Comparison with Daniel 12 and Jeremiah 30:6-7 suggests that Jesus is using the idea of ‘the time of trouble’ to come at the end of time as a pattern on which to mould His description of the destruction of Jerusalem here. But compare also Exodus 9:18; Exodus 10:14; Exodus 11:6; Joel 2:2; Revelation 6:18 which demonstrate the hyperbolic nature of the description.
It should perhaps be pointed out at this stage that things were in reality not even quite as simple as this. It sounds incredible but in the three years in which the final war raged the worst fighting took place between Jewish factions fighting each other without mercy, including in Jerusalem where, even while the enemy were approaching, the inhabitants were busy slaughtering each other. They even destroyed the enormous stores of grain in the city in case a rival party got hold of them which explains why starvation began to take over so quickly. Only the final attack partly united them. It was a case of fanaticism gone mad.
‘From the beginning of the creation which God created until now, and never shall be.” Note the stress on the fact that it was God Who ‘created His creation’. He had created it as good, but now this had happened, the culmination of all the evil that had come on the world. Such is the final result of the fall of man.
“For those days will be tribulation such as there has not been the like from the beginning of the creation which God created until now, and never shall be.” Initially the tribulation refers to what will happen during the siege itself, and then to the tribulation that will fall on those who survive the siege and are crucified, or are taken into captivity to be sold as slaves or to be led in chains into Jerusalem in the triumph of the victors, but it then includes the tribulation that will continue on after the siege is over, and the initial punishments have been meted out, for all the survivors. Matthew calls it ‘great tribulation’.
Luke amplifies on it in more detail. For he sums up the days following the destruction as follows. ‘And they will fall by the edge of the sword, and will be led captive into all the nations, and Jerusalem will be trodden down of the Gentiles until the times of the Gentiles be fulfilled’ (Luke 21:24). According to Luke, then, Jesus forecast the future that lay ahead after the destruction of the Jerusalem (after the Abomination of Desolation) in terms reminiscent of the previous destruction of the Temple in 587 BC, the carrying away of the Jews captive among the nations, the treading down (ruling by force) of Jerusalem by the Gentiles, and the period of Gentile domination following. Thus their tribulation will continue into exile. These events would all again follow the destruction of Jerusalem and, by implication from the questions asked at the beginning, the destruction of the Temple. This all followed the pattern of the first Exile on which Jesus’ words appear to have been based, and would result in a second, permanent exile.
These ‘times of the Gentiles’, then of unknown duration, we now know would last 2000 years, but, as far as the disciples listening were concerned, it could have indicated a fairly short period like the ‘seventy years’ following the destruction of the Temple in 587 BC (Jeremiah 29:10), although the ‘seventy sevens’ of Daniel 9 would have been a reminder that it could be far longer in God’s timing. This full glory of this period, and the wonderful truths on which it was based, were unknown to the prophets, a mystery made known to the Christian church (Romans 16:26; 1 Corinthians 2:7). They saw the shadow, but could not appreciate the sun.
Accompanying the times of the Gentiles would come signs in the heavens ‘and on the earth distress of nations, in perplexity for the roaring of the sea and the billows, men fainting for fear and for expectation of the things which are coming on the world, for the powers of the heavens will be shaken’ (Luke 21:26). This may be referring to events taking place during the times of the Gentiles, a description of history as a whole, or to the ending of the times of the Gentiles which would result in the final days of the age, when there would be the time of trouble as depicted in Daniel 12:1, or both. Zechariah 10:11 refers similarly to ‘the sea of affliction’ (compare Psalms 65:7; Isaiah 5:30; Isaiah 54:11; Jeremiah 51:42).
Mark on the other hand sums all this up in typical Old Testament apocalyptic language, ‘the sun will be darkened and the moon will not give her light, and the stars will be falling from heaven and the powers that are in the heavens will be shaken’. So Mark’s language here is covering even more briefly the same events as outlined by Luke. It is saying briefly that for the Jews especially, and for the nations as a whole, there would be extremely eventful times, the length of which is unknown.
To the Jews taken into captivity, and it did happen to them in large numbers, or to those led out to be crucified, the sun would indeed become dark and the moon would not give her light, for they would be living in a darkness so appalling that nothing could bring relief. All that they had hoped and lived for had collapsed. This would be part of ‘the great tribulation’ of Matthew 24:21, begun in the battle for Jerusalem and continuing on through time to the present day. The idea of ‘stars falling from heaven’ combine with these pictures, and seemingly indicate as well the same as the distress of nations in Luke, unless they are intended to indicate supernatural activity resulting from the downfall of Satan through the cross (Revelation 12:4).
This language is typical of language used in the Old Testament of times of crisis. Compare the parallel in Isaiah 13:10, ‘the sun will be darkened in his going forth, and the moon will not cause her light to shine’, which depicts the earth shaking events when the Medes conquered Babylon (Isaiah 13:17-19). So again at this time there will be earth shaking events, the kind of which history has been full.
The falling of the stars from heaven probably refers to Isaiah 34:4 which in LXX reads ‘all the stars will fall as the leaf falls from the vine and as a leaf from the fig tree’, which may represent a slightly different Hebrew text from the Massoretic. Again it was metaphorical language, in this case describing God’s judgment on Edom and the nations round about. For them there was not even a glimmer of light.
Otherwise there is no real parallel in Scripture to the stars falling from heaven apart from in Revelation 12:4. Compare Revelation 9:1 and see Luke 10:18. The idea here therefore may alternatively be of the activities of heavenly visitants of the worst kind producing the tumult on earth described by Luke as a result of their defeat on the cross. Compare Daniel 10:12-13; Daniel 10:20.
Note that Luke 21:26 and Mark 13:24-25 both end in ‘the powers of the heavens will be shaken’ demonstrating that their content up to that point refers to the same events. This phrase too might indicate the activity of heavenly visitants affecting events on earth, or may refer to general tumult which men would see as resulting from portents in the heavens. Having put the ideas in context we will now consider this section in Mark verse by verse.
‘And unless the Lord had shortened the days no flesh would have been saved. But for the elect’s sake, whom he chose, he shortened the days.”
The destruction and killing would be so bad that if the Lord did not intervene none would remain alive. But we are told that He would shorten the days ‘for His elect’s sake’. Even though many of the Jerusalem church had fled there would still be in Jerusalem those given by the Father to Jesus, and the idea is that many of them would be preserved, and others would therefore be spared with them. We can compare how God marked off His own in Ezekiel 9 at a time when the previous city and Temple were to be destroyed. The thought may even be that God stayed the hand of Rome to some extent so that some would survive and become Christians as a result, having awoken spiritually during the siege. Thus would good come from this final destruction. The parallel with Mark 13:13 suggests that we are to see in this more than just physical survival. ‘When God’s judgments are in the earth, the inhabitants of the earth learn righteousness’ (Isaiah 26:9). It must, however, also include physical survival.
The idea of ‘the elect’ is prominent in this passage (Mark 13:20; Mark 13:22; Mark 13:27). It does not occur elsewhere in Mark. But here they are those whom He chose, and it therefore clearly refers to those who have been ‘given to Him’ by His Father (John 6:37; John 6:39; John 6:44). They are those who behold the Son and believe on Him (John 6:40). They are His new nation (Matthew 21:43), His new ‘congregation’ (Matthew 16:18), living branches of the true Vine (John 15:1-6). For the idea of God ‘shortening the days’ of His judgment compare 2 Samuel 24:16, where He stays the hand of the avenging angel; Isaiah 65:8 where He declares that He will not destroy all for His servants’ sake.
“And then if any man will say to you, ‘Look, here is the Messiah’, or ‘Look, there’, do not believe it. For there will arise false Messiahs and false prophets and they will show signs and wonders so that they may lead astray, if possible, even the elect. But beware, see, I have told you all things beforehand.”
The warning now was that during and after the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple there would arise false claimants to religious status, whether as Messiahs or prophets. It must be seen as quite possible that some of the fanatical leaders in Jerusalem at the time of the siege, or their followers, did indicate their Messianic status. They certainly feigned ‘kingship’, And history has later been full of such. This was inevitable. The vacuum left by the end of the Temple and the aspirations of the Jews, once they were over the first disaster, could be expected to result in such activity, while the world is always looking for some superman to fulfil its own aspirations.
The most obvious from the Jewish point of view was Barcochba who raised a rebellion against the Romans and specifically claimed to be the Messiah in 132 AD. Others did not raise the same public interest, but there would no doubt have been many. (We must remember that we actually know very little of the detailed general history of that time, and indeed of much of the time since, for the sources are few and limited. History is written by the few books and monuments that survive as well as by the victors). And they had to be warned against, for they would lead many astray. History reveals how false prophets did continually disturb the Christian church right from the beginning and John had to warn against many antichrists (1 John 2:18-23).
‘They will show signs and wonders.’ Just as the Egyptian magicians did in the time of Moses (Exodus 7:11; Exodus 7:22). Magic and trickery have ever been a source of signs and wonders and by them many have been deceived. Compare Revelation 13:13-14 of the activities of Roman priests on behalf of the Emperor. And some do at times seem to have mysterious gifts of healing which can be wisely used or can be exploited. By this means the false Messiahs reveal their falsehood, and they will be the sign of Antichrist (2 Thessalonians 2:9) whoever he may be. The word means someone who sets himself up as a rival to Christ. The true Messiah did not use such means to vindicate His claims. It is interesting that John did not consider that Antichrist need be just one person but was an idea that could be fulfilled by the many. Antichrist was a symbolic representation rather than one person (1 John 2:18).
‘Deceive -- the elect.’ They would be so deceptive that if it had been possible they might even have deceived God’s chosen. But fortunately that is not permanently possible.
‘The elect.’ The defining verses for this description are Luke 18:7; John 6:37; John 6:39; John 10:26; John 10:29; John 17:6; John 17:9; John 17:24. It is those who cry to God constantly, those whose prayer and action reveal their love and trust in Him, and those who are given to Him by the Father and therefore believe in Him.
‘But beware, see, I have told you all things beforehand.’ The ‘you’ is emphasised. The disciples are to be the guides of the new movement.
“But in those days, after that tribulation, the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give her light, and the stars will be falling from heaven and the powers that are in the heavens will be shaken.”
As we have seen above this briefly summarises what Luke gives in more detail and includes or concludes the scattering of the Jews, the times of the Gentiles and the periods of tumult and fear that he describes, based on the words of Jesus.
We must remember that to Mark, who specifically draws attention to the fact that ‘these things’ were said about the Temple and its destruction, the destruction of the Temple was still in the future, although how far in the future he did not know. And to him what would follow that earth shaking event could await the future. His next main concern would be with the second coming of Christ.
This is the first real example we have of apocalyptic language in the passage (as opposed to apocalyptic ideas) apart from the Desolating Abomination, and we do well to note that Jesus’ words in this respect are firmly rooted in the Old Testament. His words have suffered much from the application to them of ideas which were probably far from His mind, as is evident in many commentaries. But He was not an enthusiastic Apocalyptic even though He did occasionally borrow its language, and that mainly from Daniel and the prophets.
To repeat what we have said above, the words about the sun and moon are taken from Isaiah 13 describing the cataclysm of a Medan invasion of Babylon, and the description of the stars falling from heaven may come from Isaiah 34:4 LXX describing God’s judgment on Edom and its neighbours which took place in history, or from Daniel 8:10 referring to political activity. They thus speak of great political events and how they are seen in men’s eyes, and the effect that they have on them. At such times it seems as though the heavens are falling in. The stars falling from heaven may, however, indicate supernatural activity behind the affairs of the world, as may the shaking of the powers of the heavens (compare Revelation 12:4; Revelation 12:9; Luke 10:18). Alternately they too may indicate similar events to the sun and moon. What they are certainly saying is that there will be events beyond the power of man to control which will be devastating for man.
Following The Siege And The Destruction of the Temple Will Come Continuing Tribulation And Political Tumult Until Finally The Son Of Man Will Be Revealed In Glory In Order To Gather In His Elect (13:24-27).
The tribulation of the Jews would continue on during the times of the Gentiles, eventually leading up to periods of political disturbance and unrest which He describes in apocalyptic language taken from the Scriptures. The darkening of sun and moon, and disappearance from the heavens of the stars are symbolic of the awfulness of what is being described, although whether the heavenly bodies will actually be affected is open to question. It may just be that they will seem to be affected as a result of savage warfare causing atmospheric effects, earthquakes and volcanic action. But it would be foolish to exclude the possibility of the effects of climatic changes resulting from such things as global warming. All this, however, will be preliminary, leading up to the glorious appearing of the Son of Man, with His angels, to gather His elect.
a “But in those days, after that tribulation, the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give her light”
b “And the stars will be falling from heaven and the powers that are in the heavens will be shaken”
c “And then will they see the Son of Man coming in clouds with power and great glory”
b “And then will he send forth the angels and will gather together his elect from the four winds”
a “From the uttermost part of the earth to the uttermost part of heaven”
Note that in ‘a’ there will be both earthly and heavenly effects, and in the parallel reference is made to both earth and heaven. In ‘b’ there are strange happenings in the heavens, which may include the supernatural activity of angels (compare Revelation 12:4; Revelation 12:9), while in the parallel we have the supernatural activity of Christ’s angels fulfilling His purpose of gathering the elect. Centrally in ‘c’ we have the picture of the Son of Man coming in the clouds of Heaven with power and great glory.
“And then will they see the Son of Man coming in clouds with power and great glory, and then will he send forth the angels and will gather together his elect from the four winds, from the uttermost part of the earth to the uttermost part of heaven.”
‘And then they will see --.’ While on earth the Son of Man had been as it were veiled. The few had recognised Him, the remainder had ignored or rejected Him. But now they will have no choice. They will see Him, even those who pierced Him (Revelation 1:7), and will cry to the mountains and hills to hide them from His wrath (Revelation 6:16).
‘The Son of Man coming in clouds’ undoubtedly has in mind Daniel 7:13 where the Son of Man comes on the clouds of heaven (without glory) into the presence of God to receive dominion and authority and glory. But the idea is extended, for now, having received that dominion and authority and glory, and His rule having earlier been revealed in power on the earth (Mark 9:1) from Pentecost onwards, He will come to earth ‘with power and great glory’ accompanied by heavenly attendants for the final consummation (compare Mark 8:38). The clouds stress that this is a heavenly visitation, not a further incarnation. The glory stresses the visibility of His appearing. In the Old Testament the appearance of the ‘glory of God’ regularly represented a theophany in which His glory was visibly apparent to His people.
His first act on ‘coming’ is, through His angels, to gather together His own from all parts of the world (compare 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 - where they will be caught up to meet the Lord in the air). For ‘from the four winds’ compare Zechariah 2:6 where it refers to the fact that God had spread them abroad widely; for gathering from the uttermost part of heaven compare Deuteronomy 30:4 where it means from the furthest extent possible. None will be omitted. This idea of His gathering His own is a fulfilment of the old promises of the gathering and restoring of His people (Deuteronomy 30:4; Zechariah 2:10; and often) but now it is to a ‘better land’ and a ‘heavenly Jerusalem’ (compare the similar inference in Hebrews 11:10; Hebrews 11:16; Hebrews 12:22-23; Galatians 4:25-26).
‘He will send forth the angels.’ They have accompanied Him and do His bidding, for He is Lord of all. Here they are seen as gathering together His chosen ones. The usual stress is on their activities as instruments of judgment (2 Thessalonians 1:7; Matthew 13:30; Matthew 13:41). But they are also ministering spirits who serve the heirs of salvation (Hebrews 1:14).
So the question of the destruction of the Temple has led on to the glorious appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ. The connection is in fact a very important one. The destruction of the holy city and the Temple was not just something that happened in history, it was a unique event in the history of the world. It could be seen as finally closing the period when the old age, and the new which began with the coming of Jesus, existed alongside each other. Certainly for the Jews it was earth shattering. But along with the resurrection of Christ it was a necessary event before His coming. What lay between that destruction and His coming was the continuation of what He had previously described, war, earthquake and famine, Christian testimony and persecution, (the powers of Heaven being shaken), and then the end.
The Old Testament constantly drew attention to the significance of the Temple. When God’s anger against His people had reached its climax, the Temple was destroyed. This was the message of Jeremiah and Ezekiel. When He sought to restore them the Temple again gained prominence through the activities of Haggai and Zechariah. The Temple of Ezekiel (Ezekiel 40 onwards), which was metaphysical and indicated that God was invisibly there in Palestine awaiting His people, was in fact the archetype of the Temple in heaven (Hebrews 12:22; Revelation 11:19; Revelation 14:15; Revelation 15:6; compare Revelation 22:1-5 which parallels Ezekiel 47), the guarantee of God’s future mercy and compassion to His people. And the destruction of the Temple here signified that God was no longer to be approached on earth but in heaven itself (Hebrews 10:19-22; compare John 4:20-24). His people were no longer to be an earthly people but a heavenly people.
The importance of this cannot be overemphasised. The destruction of the Temple was a symbol of extreme importance which is why Jesus drew attention to it.
1). Its destruction released Christian Jews around the world, and especially the church in Jerusalem, from a great obligation and problem. While it was there they constantly had the quandary as to what their attitude to it should be. Should they continue to offer sacrifices? Should they pay their Temple dues? After all it was the Temple of God and of their forefathers, and the sacrifices had been initiated by Moses.
2). Its destruction revealed God’s wrath against the sins of Israel. It was the final evidence that they had been rejected by God. That was the significance of the ‘cursing’ of the fig tree.
3). Its destruction revealed God’s wrath at the commercialisation and misuse of the religion that was supposed to represent Him. Despite its claims He had been merely a peripheral figure on the outskirts of that religion. The cult had become central, man-controlled and totally misrepresentative of Him.
4). Its destruction revealed God’s wrath at the rejection of His Son, their Messiah, as prepared for in Daniel 9:25-26.
5). Its destruction confirmed that God had made a new covenant with His new people, replacing the old covenant represented by the Temple. It was necessary for the Apostles to be aware that it was to happen so that they could build the new faith with confidence and certainty, otherwise the shadow of the Temple would always be over them.
6). Its destruction confirmed the theology and doctrine of the Christian church that the Temple and priesthood had been replaced as a means of salvation and approach to God, that Jesus Christ Himself was the new High Priest eternal in the heavens (Hebrews 2:17; Hebrews 4:14; Hebrews 5:5; Hebrews 5:10; Hebrews 7:24; Hebrews 7:26; Hebrews 8:1; Hebrews 9:11; Hebrews 10:21); that His people were the new Temple (1 Corinthians 4:16; 2 Corinthians 6:16; Ephesians 2:19-22) and the new priesthood (1 Peter 2:5; 1 Peter 2:9; Revelation 1:6; Revelation 5:10); that the essential sacrifice was now that of Jesus Himself on the cross (John 1:29; 1 Corinthians 5:7; Ephesians 5:2; Hebrews 9:14; Hebrews 9:26; Hebrews 9:28; Hebrews 10:10; Hebrews 10:12); that approach to God was through the heavenly High Priest, Jesus Himself (Hebrews 10:19-22).
Thus when Jesus spoke of the certain destruction of the Temple He was issuing in a new age free from the trappings of the past, a new age which would be tumultuous but would finally lead up to His coming, of which the destruction of the Temple had to be a major part. It was because the temple was doomed that the new Temple of God which was His body, consisting of all who participated with Him in His body, could be established as its replacement. We should note in this regard that this time He does not come to re-establish the Temple and the holy city, but to gather together His elect.
We should perhaps also note that in fact once He had recognised, and indeed determined, that the destruction of the Temple was inevitable, there is nothing in this message of Jesus that could not have been worked out by a deep thinker such as He was from a combination of Scripture, knowledge of God and of the behaviour of men, and a deep insight into human nature. He was not a Nostradamus speaking mysteriously in a way that could be interpreted to suit the circumstances, He was a prophet, and more than a prophet, speaking of what He knew would be through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit.
EXCURSUS. What Does Jesus Mean When He Speaks Of ‘Coming In The Glory Of His Father With The Holy Angels’?
This passage raises the question as to what “And then will they see the Son of Man coming in clouds with power and great glory and then will He send forth the angels --”, refers to, and closely associated with it is the parallel verse ‘when He (the Son of Man) comes in the glory of His Father with the holy angels’ (Mark 8:38). In both verses there is a reference to a glorious appearing, and in both it is as accompanied by angels.
There are two possible main interpretations. The first, which is the majority one, is that it refers to the second coming of Christ. What then are the arguments in favour of that interpretation?
· In Zechariah 14:5 we read, ‘Then the Lord your God will come, and all the holy ones with Him’. Here most would feel that Zechariah clearly has in mind His coming with angels and establishing the final time of perfection, for it is speaking of the Day when the Lord will be king over all the earth (Mark 13:8), and when night will cease (Mark 13:7), and everlasting worship will have been established (Mark 13:16-21), all pictures of the eternal kingdom. That would then be an indication that here Jesus was paralleling Himself with ‘YHWH your God’, and was to be seen as coming in His Name with the holy angels in order to establish the everlasting Kingly Rule (compare Matthew 28:18-20 where ‘the Son’ shares ‘the Name’ with the Father and the Holy Spirit). Finally His oneness with the Father will be acknowledged by all (Zechariah 14:9).
· This might be seen as supported by Matthew 25:21 where we read, ‘when the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the angels with Him’, which all must admit is very similar to ‘when He comes in the glory of His Father with the holy angels’ and that too is certainly referring to a time when the final judgment is in mind.
A reference may also be made to Jude’s quotation from apocalyptic literature which was clearly prevalent at this time, which runs as follow: “Behold the Lord came with ten thousands of His holy ones, to execute judgment upon all, and to convict all the ungodly of all their works of ungodliness which they have ungodly wrought, and of all the hard things which ungodly sinners have spoken against Him” (Jude 1:14-15). Jude almost certainly has the second coming and the final judgment in mind, and thus sees His coming as being ‘with the holy ones’ (the holy angels). Strictly, however, in the Book of Enoch ‘the Lord’ indicated God.
'b7 It may certainly be agreed that in some way Daniel 7:13-14 is in mind. However, there the Son of Man did not come to God with glory, nor were the angels with Him when He came in the clouds of Heaven to the throne of God, they were round the throne of the Ancient of Days. Rather He received His glory on His heavenly enthronementaftercoming on the clouds of Heaven to the throne of God. That would suggest that the picture in Mark 13:26 must have in mind a time after His enthronement, details of which are drawn from the picture in Daniel 7, which favours a reference to the second coming.
· Strongly supportive of the idea of reference to the second coming is the similar verse in Luke’s Gospel which relates it to the time following ‘the times of the Gentiles’ a period which follows the destruction of Jerusalem and the scattering of the Jews (Luke 21:24 with 27).
· Additionally we should note the prominent part that the angels are to play at the consummation as found in Matthew 13:30; Matthew 13:41; Matthew 13:49-50.
· Finally we should note that the appearing of the glory of the Lord in the Old Testament regularly described a manifestation of His physical presence in a way which could be seen by all. The whole point of the ‘glory’ was His physical manifestation in a visible glory seen by men. Compare the later idea of the Shekinah. Thus the Son of Man being revealed in glory simply indicates that He appears visibly in glory in the same way as God did in the Old Testament when He manifested His glory.
Thus the nearest parallels clearly support the idea here that what is being referred to in Mark 13:24 is the second coming, although it must be admitted that none of these references actually refer to ‘the holy angels’, even though Zechariah 14:5 (‘the holy ones’) and Jude 1:14 might be seen as implying it. (On the other hand the failure to refer to ‘the holy angels’ is even more true in Daniel 7, for there the ‘holy ones’ are the people of God, and the angels are otherwise referred to. We cannot limit our interpretation to Daniel 7).
The second possible interpretation is that this refers to the ‘coming’ of the Son of Man to the Ancient of Days, Who in Heaven is surrounded by the innumerable company who minister to Him, in order that He, the Son of Man, might receive Kingly Rule, glory and dominion (Daniel 7:14), something which will be manifested to the world in what follows. In this regard it would parallel Mark 14:62 which does mean this (see on that verse). The idea then is that it refers to Jesus’ enthronement, followed by His gathering of His people through the witness of His servants, assisted by the angels in accordance with Hebrews 1:14. It could be argued that those in the crowd who knew their Scriptures would, if Jesus had said nothing further about it, probably have seen in Jesus’ words ‘when He comes in the glory of His Father with the holy angels’ as a reference to that Scripture in Daniel 7.
(But while there the Son of Man (Mark 7:13) would come into the presence of the innumerable company who minister to the Ancient of Days (Mark 7:10), and would be brought by them into the Presence of the Ancient of Days (Mark 7:13), and would then be given all glory, dominion and power (Mark 7:14), the glory there occurs after the coming on the clouds of Heaven. There is a totally different emphasis from the one here).
The claim then might be that to those in the crowd who knew the Scriptures these words would not therefore have been seen as speaking of ‘the second coming’ (of which they perhaps knew nothing), but of the coming of the Son of Man to be crowned in Heaven in the presence of the heavenly court, because judgment had been pronounced on those who opposed Him. The weakness in this argument, however, is that in Daniel the glory is only referred to after the coming in the clouds of Heaven, while the only verse in the Old Testament Scriptures which actually refers to ‘coming with holy ones’ is that in Zechariah 14:5, which must surely therefore be the one more likely to come to the minds of the crowd (especially as in Daniel 7 the ‘holy ones’ are not angels but are ‘the holy ones of the Most High’ who possess the kingdom, that is, the people of God). Thus we could argue that it is that Scripture in Zechariah that they would most likely have in mind, especially as boosted by apocalyptic ideas.
What conclusion then can we come to? The arguments in the latter case are undoubtedly attractive, and as we shall subsequently see have some truth in them. They almost certainly do apply, for example, to Mark 9:1 where the coming is not with the holy angels but with power, and in Mark 14:62 where again the angels are not mentioned. Neither mention glory. But in our view they fail in Mark 8:38 because of the mention of the holy angels and of the glory, and in Mark 13:26-27 because of the stress on His coming in power and great glory, clearly along with angels. In the Old Testament glory always spoke of specific outward visitations by God. Here then would be the final great visitation.
For it cannot be doubted that the prominent verse in the Old Testament Scriptures which speaks of ‘coming with the holy ones (as the angels)’ looks forward to the consummation (Zechariah 14:5), something confirmed by Matthew 25:31 where the glory is introduced, while the idea of a coming in glory does not obviously arise from Daniel 7.
(There is in fact a reference to YHWH coming from His holy ones in Deuteronomy 33:2, but it is very doubtful whether that is of relevance here except as providing general background)
End of Excursus.
“Now from the fig tree learn her parable. When her branch is now become tender and puts forth its leaves you know that the summer is near. Even so you also, when you see these things happening, know that He is near, even at the doors.”
The fig tree had taught them one thing earlier (Mark 11:20-25), now it has another lesson to teach. When it turns from a seemingly dead tree to a tree with flourishing leaves it indicates that summer is approaching. So should the things He has described, when they occur, indicate to them that the time is drawing near for Him to come, that He is ‘near, even at the doors’. It was at the door that Jesus stood for the church of Laodicea (Revelation 3:20). But for most there He waited in vain. And He has been at that door for all who would respond ever since.
Luke 21:29 adds ‘all the trees’. This demonstrates quite clearly that the fig tree is not here to be seen directly as Israel, for all the trees will be bearing leaves. The fig tree was prominent because it was the most common non-evergreen tree in Palestine.
‘These things happening.’ Compare Mark 13:4. The main reference is to the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple, but includes the other aspects which Jesus has mentioned. It necessarily excludes what is directly connected with His coming for they are to point to that.
‘Near, even at the doors.’ Once ‘these things’ were fulfilled nothing would remain to prevent His coming, thus expectancy must increase. It will be as though He were at the very doors. The purpose of these signs was to remind them that He would come. But it is important to note that He did not mean that they were necessarily to see it as soon, only as imminent, with nothing further needed before He comes, for He stated quite firmly that He did not in fact know the time of His coming, which was known to the Father alone (Mark 13:32). The statement that He did not know when His coming would occur was so startling that it was clearly intended to indicate that the actual time of His coming was not necessarily included within ‘these things’ which must happen within a generation. Nothing could be more clear than ‘I do not know’. The idea of being ‘at the door’ occurs in Revelation 3:20 where it indicates a continuing process of unknown length resulting in continuous response from His true people.
Certainty and Uncertainty (13:28-32).
Jesus now points to what is certain and what is uncertain. Certain is the fulfilling of all that He has described in Mark 13:2-23 during that generation, uncertain is the time of all that is directly connected with His coming. They must therefore ever be on the alert, confident of the fulfilment of His final purposes, and of the words that He has spoken.
a “Now from the fig tree learn her parable. When her branch is now become tender and puts forth its leaves you know that the summer is near.
b “Even so you also, when you see these things happening, know that He is near, even at the doors” (Mark 13:28-29).
b “Truly I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things are accomplished. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away” (Mark 13:30-31).
a “But of that day or that hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father” (Mark 13:32).
Note that in ‘a’ summer is seen to be near, but in the parallel no one but the Father knows the day or the hour when summer will come (compare 2 Peter 3:8-9). In ‘b’ they will see ‘these things’ (the signs of summer) happening, for in the parallel they will happen within a generation, and are as certain as creation.
The Disciples Are To Watch For His Coming (13:28-37).
Jesus now stressed the inevitability of ‘these things’ that He has described as needing to happen before His return, and that they must thus observe these things as they occur, live in the light of His coming and be ready for His return, for all, apart from what is directly connected with His coming (the time of which He does not know), will occur within that generation.
a “Now from the fig tree learn her parable. When her branch is now become tender and puts forth its leaves you know that the summer is near. Even so you also, when you see these things happening, know that He is near, even at the doors” (Mark 13:28-29).
b “Truly I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things are accomplished. Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will not pass away” (Mark 13:30-31).
c “But of that day or that hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father” (Mark 13:32).
b “Take heed, watch and pray. For you do not know when the time is. It is as when a man, temporarily living in another country, having left his house and given authority to his servants, to each one his work, also commanded the porter to watch” (Mark 13:33-34).
a “Watch therefore for you do not know when the lord of the house comes, whether at twilight, or at midnight, or at cockcrowing, or in the morning, lest coming suddenly he find you sleeping. And what I say to you I say to all, watch” (Mark 13:35-37).
Note that in ‘a’ the occurrence of what is described in Mark 13:4-23 (‘these things’) is to be observed so that they will know when He is ‘at the doors’, and in the parallel they are to watch for His coming at whatever time it occurs whether it be sooner or later. In ‘b’ ‘these things’, including especially the destruction of the Temple (Mark 13:2; Mark 13:4), will occur within that generation, for they are based on His words which are more sure than the continuance of heaven and earth, and in the parallel they are therefore to watch and pray in His absence while He is gone from them, observing all that happens. Centrally in ‘c’ no one, apart from the Father, knows when that time will be, not even at this time Himself.
“Truly I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things are accomplished.”
Again ‘these things’ refer to the signs preparatory to His coming, the world troubles, the preaching, the persecution, the destruction of the Temple, distress of nations. And they did all happen to sufficient extent within that generation. Those who seek to turn all this into a prophecy of the end times take ‘generation’ either as referring to the generation which sees the final signs (but for that we would have expected him to write ‘that generation’), or translate as ‘this race’ meaning the Jews, but both are unnatural interpretations and a little forced. (Indeed we may ask ‘which race?’, for none has been mentioned in the context). The natural reference is to the generation of Jesus’ day.
For the significance of ‘these things’ see Mark 13:4, where it primarily refers to the destruction of the Temple, but also incorporating Mark 13:14-19 which are prior to that, and Mark 13:5-8 where it refers to the wars among nations and accompanying natural disasters. As Jesus states quite clearly that He did not know the time of His coming He could hardly have rationally included that, and anyway ‘these things’ are indicators of the imminence of His coming (Mark 13:29) and cannot therefore include that coming itself.
“Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.”
Once again we are pulled up with a jolt by what seems a simple statement. Who is this Who can claim that His words are so important that they are longer lasting than creation? That indeed they are more important than creation? By this we know that He is the Lord of glory. And what He was stressing was that what had just been outlined to them was more certain than the continuation of the world, because His words are eternal.
‘Heaven and earth will pass away.’ Once the Lord has returned eternity will take over from time. There will be a new Heaven and a new earth (see Revelation 21:1 and compare 2 Peter 3:7; 2 Peter 3:10; 2 Peter 3:12). This was in essence declared by Isaiah 65:17 although in his day he was unable to understand the full significance of what he was saying, for they had then no conception of anything beyond this life. Contrast Isaiah 51:6 where it is His salvation and righteousness that will not pass away (see also Isaiah 54:10), and Isaiah 40:7-8 where it is ‘the word of our God’ which stands for ever. But here it is what Jesus has said that will endure for ever.
“But of that day or that hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father.”
These words put the timing of the second coming into its proper light. It is unknown to all but the Father. It is only known in the secret councils of God Himself in eternity. Thus even the fulfilment of all the signs will be no guarantee that it will then soon come, for the One Who proclaimed the things that had to happen did not know the time of His own return. Placed where it is this is a clear warning that men must not be presumptious about His coming. All the warnings to be ready are because no one does know when it will happen. Nothing is therefore to be taken as certainly indicating the closeness of it.
Note that even the participants in the final events are kept in the dark about it. The angels of heaven will have their task to do then (Mark 13:27), but must await God’s timing and God’s instructions. Meanwhile they must carry on with their present responsibilities, not knowing when it will be. Even the Son while on earth has not been party to the information. Like all men He had to walk in faith depending on the Scriptures. It was an essential, if startling, part of the incarnation (compare Philippians 2:6-8). But it is known to the Father. For all is known to Him from beginning to end.
This verse is a key verse from a critical point of view for in it Jesus calls Himself ‘the Son’, unique and distinctive from all others, higher than the angels, and thus as the Son of the same being as the Father. And yet nothing can be more certain than that the phrase is genuine for no one would have invented the idea that Jesus did not know the time of His coming except for someone who wanted to degrade Him, and a degrader would never have introduced the title ‘the Son’. The more divine someone thought He was the less likely that they would say such a thing. Thus its genuineness is as sure as anything can be.
“Take heed, watch and pray. For you do not know when the time is. It is as when a man, temporarily living in another country, having left his house and given authority to his servants, to each one his work, also commanded the porter to watch. Watch therefore for you do not know when the lord of the house comes, whether at twilight, or at midnight, or at cockcrowing, or in the morning, lest coming suddenly he find you sleeping. And what I say to you I say to all, watch.”
This final exhortation seems at first to contradict what has gone before. But it is not so. It is a warning to be ready. The servants are not to gather at the door, they are to carry on with their work. It is the porter who must watch, for that is his job. It is all very practical.
But the man had gone to another country. Clearly certain events would have to take place before he returned. It was as time passed that expectancy would increase. And so it was with the signs Jesus had given. But most of them could have been seen as fulfilled in a comparatively short time, and only those living in the vicinity of Jerusalem would be sure of the situation there. Many events would arise that might indicate that an invasion could take place shortly and swiftly, such things for example as Caligula’s determination to erect a statue of himself in the Temple. And news took some time to filter through. So there was ever reason to be in sensible readiness. This sense of imminence continually exists alongside statements that indicate delay throughout the New Testament.
‘Take heed, watch and pray.’ Men’s prayers must be in the light of His coming. As they plan and pray they must remember that the time is short. They have but a little while. And they must watch continually. If only we would take this to heart. If we measured each prayer against the fact of His coming how different would be the things we prayed for. (‘Lord at your coming, how glad I shall be, that the lamp of my life has been blazed out for Thee’). And Jesus said, ‘beware, take heed!’ Make sure you do this. Watching means ever being ready for His return and doing all that will ensure that when He does return we will be ready and not be caught out (compare Philippians 4:5; Hebrews 10:25; James 5:8). It does not mean simply waiting and looking. Even the porter had his job to do. And one of the main things we must do in readiness is to pray (1 Peter 4:7), pray that His name may be hallowed by the fulfilling of His purposes (Ezekiel 36:23), pray that His Kingly Rule over men might come about, and pray that His will might be done on earth as it is in Heaven.
The parable tells us that the lord has left each servant his task to do and the authority to do it. They must therefore concentrate on that task to ensure that if he returns unexpectedly they will not be caught out. The porter, as is his job, will watch. This watching does not mean just for the returning lord, it also means for anyone who may come who requires attention. He too must do his job properly.
So there is no tension between working and watching. Indeed the one who is watching will demonstrate it by the way he works. For when the lord comes they want to be found working and in readiness (Luke 12:35-36), not peeking out of the window, or dallying (1 Corinthians 7:29), or asleep.
‘Twilight - midnight - cockcrowing - morning.’ These are the four watches of a Roman night. Once the time is approaching it could happen at any time. So there must be constant readiness. But if these words apply to the parable and are taken literally it would mean that no one in the household would ever be able to sleep. It therefore rather indicates that it may be soon or there may be delay. The night may drag on. But they may be sure that if He has not returned before, the morning will come and then He will return (compare Romans 13:12). So they are to watch by being ready at all times. That is the test of the loyal worker, he always works and lives so that if the Master comes he will not be ashamed. Note how the four alternatives make clear possible delay. The whole night may have to pass before He comes. No one knows, not even He. All He knows is that it will be before the Morning.
‘And what I say to you I say to all, watch.’ The message is for all, and is to be passed on at a suitable time. For all are to watch.
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Pett, Peter. "Commentary on Mark 13". "Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible ". https://www.studylight.org/
the Third Sunday after Epiphany