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Mark 13

Scripture: Mark 13:1-37

Overview:

  • Jesus and his disciples are leaving Jerusalem when someone says, “That there Temple we have is awesome, right?”
  • Jesus says, “Get a good look now, because that there Temple is going to be destroyed. Destroyed, destroyed. All gone. Nothing left.”
  • Later, on the Mount of Olives, Peter, James and John ask Jesus, “When is the Temple going to be destroyed?”
  • Jesus says, “Lots o people will come along claiming they’re the messiah. Don’t be fooled.”
  • “There will also be wars and earthquakes and famines, things that look like God is mad, but don’t be fooled. These are just indications that God is using Israel to produce something new.”
  • “And that new thing won’t be well received. Because of me [Jesus] you [disciples] will get beat up and prosecuted as you spread the good news about me all around the known world.”
  • “But don’t worry about what to say. I’ve got your back. The Holy Spirit will give you the right things to say.”
  • “Everyone will hate you when you do this, even your own family, but stay strong and you’ll make it.”
  • “And when you see the Roman armies about to destroy Jerusalem, get out of town. Don’t hesitate. Don’t pack up. Just run!”
  • “Pray that there’s not many nursing mothers or pregnant women at that time, and hope that this doesn’t happen in the winter, because it will be as bad a day as ever happened.”
  • “God has been nice to cut short Jerusalem’s doom, because it will be baaaad.”
  • “Don’t be fooled by people who aren’t me that say they will save you at this time, they can’t.”
  • “The result of the coming destruction will shake up everything you know. The world will be turned upside-down. Governments will fall. Kings will die.”
  • “Then you will see that I am in control. That I am in charge. People from all over the world will be united together under my name.”
  • “Just like the fig tree ripens late and quickly, so too will the Temple’s destruction come. And it will happen in your lifetime.”
  • “Everything else can fall apart, but my words never fail–this is going to happen.”
  • “When? Only God knows when. Your job is to be alert. Just like if you were left in charge of your master’s house without any idea of when he was coming back, you’d keep doing your job, expecting him back at any moment. You don’t want to be caught slacking.”
  • “Stay alert. Keep watch!”

Historical Context:

Herod’s Temple

First century Jewish historian, Josephus,  describes the magnificence of the temple, “Now the temple was built of stones that were white and strong, and each of their length was twenty-five cubits, their height was eight, and their breadth about twelve [15′ x 24′ x 16]; and the whole structure… were visible to all who dwelt in the country for a great many furlongs… the outward face of the temple in its front wanted nothing… 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 splendor, and made those who forced themselves to look upon it to 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 coming to it at a distance, like a mountain covered with snow; for as to those parts of it that were not gilt, they were exceeding white. On its top it had spikes with sharp points, to prevent any pollution of it by birds sitting upon it…. It was formed without any iron tool, nor did any such iron tool so much as touch it at any time.”1

The temple referred to in Mark 13 stood on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem between 516 BC and 70 AD. It replaced the First Temple which was destroyed in 586 BC, when the Jews of the Kingdom of Judah went into exile, known as the Babylonian captivity.6

Herod the Great completely rebuilt the Temple in 20-18 BC, even going so far as to replace the foundation stones and to smooth off the surface of the Temple Mount. This Temple became known as Herod’s Temple.7

Mt. Moriah (the Temple Mount) had a plateau at the northern end, and steeply declined on the southern slope. Herod intended to turn the entire mountain into a giant square platform. The Temple Mount was to be 1,600 feet wide by 900 feet broad by 9 stories high, with walls up to 16 feet thick. To complete it, a trench was dug around the mountain, and huge stone “bricks” were laid. Some of these weighed well over 100 tons, the largest measuring 44.6 feet by 11 feet by 16.5 feet and weighing approximately 567 to 628 tons,while most were in the range of 2.5 by 3.5 by 15 feet (approximately 28 tons).7

The Temple was the undisputed economic and spiritual center of Israel. It was the great Jewish hope, a symbol of God’s exclusive love for Israel.10

Destruction of Jerusalem (70 AD)

The First Jewish-Roman war started in Caesarea in 66 AD when Greeks of a certain merchant house started sacrificing birds in front of a local synagogue. The Roman garrison did not intervene and the long-standing Hellenistic and Jewish religious tensions took a downward spiral. In reaction, one of the Jewish Temple clerks, Eliezar ben Hanania, ceased prayers and sacrifices for the Roman Emperor at the Temple. Protests over taxation joined the list of grievances and random attacks on Roman citizens and perceived ‘traitors’ occurred in Jerusalem. The Roman army was sent to crush the rebellion, culminating in the siege of Jerusalem in 70 AD.9

Unable to breach Jerusalem’s defenses, the Roman armies established a permanent camp just outside the city, digging a trench around the circumference of its walls and building a wall as high as the city walls themselves around the city. Anyone caught in the trench, attempting to flee the city would be captured, crucified, and placed in lines on top of the dirt wall facing into Jerusalem. As man as five hundred crucifixions occurred in a single day.

Ancient Jewish historian, Josephus, records that those caught trying to escape, “were first whipped, then tormented with various kinds of tortures, and finally crucified; the Roman soldiers nailing them (out of the wrath and hatred they bore to the Jews), one after one way and another after another, to crosses, ‘by way of jest,’ until at length the multitude became so great that room was lacking for crosses, and crosses for the bodies.”2

Titus, the commander of the Roman army, put pressure on the food and water supplies of the inhabitants by allowing pilgrims to enter the city to celebrate Passover, and then refusing to allow them back out.6

Eusebius tells how the Christians fled from Jerusalem on the occasion when the Romans most unpredictably lifted the siege, without any apparent reason, how they fled to Pella, established the church there, and how not one of them lost his life during the awful siege.6

Meanwhile, there was much infighting amongst the Jews inside the city walls, and a stockpiled supply of dry food was intentionally burned by the Zealots to induce the defenders to fight against the siege, instead of negotiating peace; as a result many city dwellers and soldiers died of starvation during the siege.9

After several failed attempts to breach or scale the walls, the Romans finally launched a secret attack, overwhelming the sleeping Zealots, driving the defenders into the Temple. After much fighting, a Roman soldier threw a burning stick onto one of the Temple’s walls. The fire spread quickly and was soon out of control. The Temple was destroyed and the flames spread into the residential sections of the city.6

Many of the Temple furnishings, and even the roof within, were overlaid with pure gold; and the fire which broke out melted the precious metal, causing it to run down into the crevices of the great foundation stones, which in turn caused the Roman soldiers to destroy obliterate every stone of the Temple in an effort to recover the gold.1

As many as 1.1 million people were killed during the siege, of which a majority were Jewish, and up to 97,000 were captured and enslaved. Josephus records, “The slaughter within was even more dreadful than the spectacle from without. Men and women, old and young, insurgents and priests, those who fought and those who entreated mercy, were hewn down in indiscriminate carnage. The number of the slain exceeded that of the slayers. The legionaries had to clamber over heaps of dead to carry on the work of extermination.”And, the Romans, “slew whomsoever they found, without distinction, and burned the houses and all the people who had fled into them; and when they entered for the sake of plunder, they found whole families of dead persons, and houses full of carcasses destroyed by famine, then they came out with their hands empty. And though they thus pitied the dead, they had not the same emotion for the living, but killed all they met, whereby they filled the lanes with dead bodies. The whole city ran with blood, insomuch that many things which were burning were extinguished by the blood.”2

Titus reportedly refused to accept a wreath of victory, saying that the victory did not come through his own efforts but that he had merely served as an instrument of God’s wrath.6

When the Temple was destroyed, Judaism responded by fixating on the commandments of the Torah. Synagogues replaced the temple as a central meeting place, and the rabbis replaced high priests as Jewish community leaders.9

Maimonides, a Jewish writer, recorded that “Terentius Rufus, a [Roman] officer in the army of Titus, with a plowshare tore up the foundations of the temple, that the prophecy might be fulfilled, ‘Zion shall be plowed as a field.'” (Micah 3:12)2

Josephus records several signs that preceded the destruction of Jerusalem:

  • A star, resembling a sword, stood over the city.
  • A comet continued a whole year.
  • At the feast of unleavened bread, during the night, a bright light shone round the altar and the temple, so that it seemed to be bright day, for half an hour.
  • The eastern gate of the temple, of solid brass, fastened with strong bolts and bars, and which had been shut with difficulty by twenty men, opened in the night of its own accord.
  • A few days after Passover, chariots and troops of soldiers in their armor were seen running about among the clouds, and surrounding of cities.
  • A great noise, as of the sound of a multitude, was heard in the temple, saying, “Let us remove hence.”
  • Four years before the war began, Jesus, the son of Ananus, a plebeian and a husbandman, came to the feast of the tabernacles when the city was in peace and prosperity, and began to cry aloud, “A voice from the east, a voice from the west, a voice from the four winds, a voice against Jerusalem and the holy house, a voice against the bridegroom and the brides, and a voice against this whole people!” He was scourged, and at every stroke of the whip He cried, “Woe, woe to Jerusalem!” This cry, Josephus says, was continued every day for more than seven years, until He was killed in the siege of the city, exclaiming, “Woe, woe to myself also!” (Jewish Wars, b. 6 chapter 9, section 3. 2)

Abomination of Desolation

Daniel, the prophet, predicted that at the end of the age the “people of the ruler to come” will destroy the city (Jerusalem) and the sanctuary (the Temple), put an end to sacrifices, and at the temple, set up an “abomination that causes desolation.” (Dan. 9)

The abomination of desolation is a Hebrew expression meaning an abominable or hateful destroyer.2

Many believe that the abomination of desolation Daniel predicted occurred in 167 AD when Antiochus IV Epiphanes, the Hellenistic king who briefly overtook Israel, ordered an altar to Zeus erected in the Temple. He also banned circumcision and ordered pigs to be sacrificed at the altar of the Temple.

However, overlooking Jerusalem with his disciples, Jesus refers to the abomination of desolation as if it is still yet to happen. This predication likely came true during the fall of Jerusalem in 70 AD in one, or all of, the following ways:

  • Luke, in his gospel, does not even mention the “abomination of desolation,” Instead he interprets the event as, “And when you see Jerusalem compassed with armies, then know that her desolation is at hand” (Luke 21:20), thus the attack on Jerusalem by the Roman army is, itself, the abomination.
  • According to Josephus, the army of Zealots and Assassins filled the Temple with the dead bodies of their own fellow-citizens. Because the Jews had invited these marauders to defend them against the army of the Romans; and because these marauders committed such outrages against God, they were the abominations who caused the desolation of Jerusalem.11
  • After the Temple was destroyed, the Roman army set up images of the emperor, and their military standards (both regarded by the Romans with divine honors) at the Temple.2

Apocalyptic Idioms and Hyperbole

Use of exaggeration and metaphor is common to all languages. Difficulty in understanding idioms, particularly in Biblical prophecy, is likely due to 1) the distance between modern and ancient cultures and languages; 2) our belief that God can do, literally, anything; and 3) people can always imagine bigger, scarier and worse scenarios, especially if it is a prophecy regarding the end of time.

For example, if Jesus was present today and said, “at the end of the age it will rain cats and dogs,” someone several thousand years from now may interpret that as meaning A) cats and dogs will fall from the sky because “that is what the text says,” or B) cats and dogs will fall from the sky because God is God and can make anything happen, or C) even if it did just mean “rain heavily,” surely it would be the worst rainstorm of all time because God said it, and he said it about the end of time.

However, the Bible provides many examples of how apocalyptic idioms played out in reality.

Prophetic Idiom Prophetic Fulfillment 
Stars fall from the sky and heavenly bodies shaken Isaiah 13 and 34 – description of the fall of the kingdoms of Babylon and Edom. A shaking up of the heavens was a metaphor for the fall of mighty princes and rulers, overturning of kingdoms. In Mesopotamian beliefs the stars and planets where the gods who controlled mankind. Their fall meant a change in power from their gods to the one true God.10
Coming on the clouds Clouds are an indication of God’s presence (Exodus 13). Riding on the clouds is a sign of deity (Psalms 68) since they are his transport and covering. Coming on the clouds often indicates God’s judgment (Isaiah 19 – God “comes in the clouds” in judgment on Egypt) or God’s victory (2 Samuel 22 and Psalm 18 – David’s description of God’s help in overcoming Saul’s attacks).
The gospel preached to all the nations Paul, speaking about people hearing the good news, says “their sound is gone out into all lands, and their words unto the ends of the world” (Romans 10:18). Additonally he tells the Colossians that the gospel was come unto them, and was bearing fruit and increasing in all the world (Colossians 1:6).11

Old Testament Quotes and Allusions

Jesus’ speech on the Mount of Olives has many Old Testament allusions.

Mark 13 Old Testament Reference
Nation will rise up against nation… Brother will betray brother… Isaiah 19:2 – “I will stir up Egyptian against Egyptian – brother will fight against brother, neighbor against neighbor, city against city, kingdom against kingdom.”Micah 7:6 – “For a son dishonors his father, a daughter rises up against her mother, a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law- a man’s enemies are the members of his own household.”
These will be the beginning of birth pains… Micah 4:10 – “Writhe in agony, Daughter Zion, like a woman in labor…”
Abomination of desolation… Daniel 9:27 – “And at the temple, he will set up an abomination that brings desolation…”
 Son of Man coming with the clouds…  Daniel 7:13 – “…one like a son of man coming with the clouds of heaven. He approached the Ancient of Days…”
 False prophets will appear and perform signs and wonders…  Deuteronomy 13 – “If a prophet, or one who foretells by dreams, appears among you and announces to you a miraculous sign or wonder, and if the sign or wonder of which he has spoken takes place, and he says, ‘Let us follow other gods’ (gods you have not known) ‘and let us worship them,’  you must not listen to the words of that prophet or dreamer.”
 Sun will be darkened, the moon will not give its light…  Isaiah 13:10 – “…stars of heaven and their constellations will not show their light. The rising sun will be darkened and the moon will not give its light…”
 Stars will fall from the sky…  Isaiah 34:4 – “All the stars of the heavens will be dissolved and the sky rolled up like a scroll; all the starry host will fall like withered leaves from the vine, like shriveled figs from the fig tree.”
 Gather his elect from the four winds…  Zechariah 2:11 – “Many nations will be joined with the Lord in that day and will become my people.”
 Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away…  Isaiah 40: 8 – “The grass withers and the flowers fall, but the word of our God endures forever.”Isaiah 51:6 – “The heavens will vanish like smoke… But my salvation will last forever…”
 About that day or hour, no one knows… only the Father…  Zechariah 14:7 “…a day known only to the Lord…”

 Observations:

  • The relevance of this chapter to the early church, then confronting difficulties both in Rome and in Jerusalem (which was soon to be destroyed), was one of hope. The generation which first received Mark were on the threshold of the great persecutions against the church.1
  • Why did God want the Temple destroyed?  All Israel loved the temple; and it would be a great stumblingblock, preventing many of them from accepting Christ. They loved it, along with the dazzling ritual and exceedingly impressive ceremonial – they loved it too much. Its destruction would prove an effective symbol of God’s “taking away the old” and establishing a new system.1
  • Some of the false Messiahs who appeared in the First Century were Theudas (Acts 5:36) and Simon Magus (Acts 8:10).
  • God would give his servants “words to say” from the Holy Spirit when persecuted by local councils, governors and kings, as evidenced by Peter and John in front of the Sanhedrin (Acts 4); Stephen before the Sanhedrin (Acts 7); and with Paul on various occasions (Acts 23; Acts 24:24,25).2
  • The Mount of Olives is where the Messiah would traditionally begin his triumph and restoration of Israel (Zech 14:4). Mark has set the mountain and the Temple in opposition to each other, and, as God most often preferred, epiphany was delivered on a mountain. This opposition of Temple to mountain recalls the similar oppositions that occur in such eschatological texts as Zechariah 14, Joel 3, and Ezekiel 38-9, where Mt. Zion is opposed to the Temple and where God sits upon it to pass judgment on his enemies.3
  • Less than 40 years after Jesus’ prophecy, an earthquake destroyed Laodicea. In AD 62, Mount Vesuvius in Italy threw out hot melted rock that buried Pompeii. Additionally there was a famine during Claudius’ reign in Rome (Acts 11:28).4
  • Jews used picture language of a woman in pain because she was beginning to give birth to a new life. It was the sign of the troubles for the Jewish nation that would bring about a new beginning (Micah 4:9-10).4
  • The exalted Jesus coming into the presence of the Father (“the Son of Man coming on the clouds”) is not meant to be a return to earth, but a coming into heaven to receive the power renders conclusive judgment on the Temple–it is no longer needed. Jesus has replaced the temple. Further, the gathering of the elect can be seen not as gathering the dispersed Jews back to Jerusalem, but as the evangelistic gathering of people from all nations to the new Temple who is Jesus.5
  • The Jews believed in two ages: the current evil age, characterized by sin and rebellion against God, and the “age to come.” The New Age would be inaugurated by the coming of the Messiah (cf. Psalm 2). It would be a time of righteousness and fidelity to God.10
  • Then the fig tree does not flower after the ordinary manner; but produces flower and fruit at once from the tree, and rapidly matures the fruit. The fig tree serves to emphasize the speed of the end for the Temple.11

Discussion:

  • What do you think Jesus’ words meant to Mark’s original audience? What do you think Jesus’ words mean for us today? Is it the same message? Why? Why not?
  • How are we to apply Jesus’ words to our thinking about how we live today? Tomorrow? The long-term future?
  • Why do you think Jesus told his disciples to be ready, but not to prepare? Note how Jesus didn’t tell them to study up on the Old Testament to defend their beliefs, nor did he tell them to get them and all their friends to move out of Jerusalem, instead he simply told them to trust God and pay attention. What does this mean for us today?

References:

  1. Coffman’s commentary
  2. Barnes’ commentary
  3. Turton’s commentary
  4. Easy English commentary
  5. Christiview Ministries
  6. Siege of Jerusalem
  7. The Second Temple
  8. Olivet Discourse
  9. First Jewish-Roman War
  10. Utley’s commentary
  11. Pulpit commentary
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