The end of the world and the second coming; this entire chapter tells us how to live while we wait for Christ’s return: 1. We are not to be misled by confusing claims or speculative interpretations of what will happen (Mark 13:5,6). 2. We should not be afraid to tell people about Christ, despite what they might say or do to us (Mark 13:9-11). 3. We must stand firm by faith and not be surprised by persecutions (Mark 13:13). 4. We must be morally alert, obedient to the commands for living found in God’s Word. This chapter was not given to promote discussions on prophetic timetables, but to stimulate right living for God in a world where he is largely ignored.
Jesus Tells about the Future / 13:1-23
13:1 Jesus and the disciples were leaving the Temple (this may have been either Tuesday or Wednesday evening of the week before the Crucifixion). This was Jesus’ last visit to the Temple area. He would do no more preaching or public teaching. One of the disciples remarked on the incredible beauty of the Temple. Although no one knows exactly what this Temple looked like, it must have been magnificent, for in its time it was considered one of the architectural wonders of the world. This was not Solomon’s Temple—it had been destroyed by the Babylonians in the seventh century b.c. (2 Kings 25:8-10). This Temple had been built by Ezra after the return from exile in the sixth century b.c. (Ezra 6:14-15), desecrated by the Seleucids in the second century b.c., reconsecrated by the Maccabees soon afterward, and enormously expanded by Herod the Great.
The Temple was impressive, covering about one-sixth of the land area of the ancient city of Jerusalem. It was not one building, but a majestic mixture of porches, colonnades, separate small edifices, and courts surrounding the Temple proper—hence the comment about the tremendous buildings. Outside these courts were long porches. Solomon’s porch was 1,562 feet long; the royal porch was decorated with 160 columns stretching along its 921-foot length. The Temple’s foundation was so solid that it is believed that some of the original footings remain to this day. The Jews were convinced of the permanence of this magnificent structure, not only because of the stability of construction, but also because it represented God’s presence among them. The massive stones the disciple mentioned were huge white stones, some of them measuring twenty-five by eight by twelve feet and weighing more than one hundred tons.
13:2 Jesus made a startling statement: These magnificent buildings would be completely demolished. The destruction of the Jews’ beloved Temple would be God’s judgment against them for turning away from him. This happened only a few decades later when the Romans sacked Jerusalem in a.d. 70. Gazing at the massive stones, the disciples surely found it difficult to believe that not one of the stones would be left on top of another. Because the Temple symbolized God’s presence among them, the Jews would be horrified to see it destroyed.
13:3-4 The Mount of Olives rises above Jerusalem to the east. As Jesus left the city to return to Bethany for the night, he would have crossed the Kidron Valley and then headed up the slopes of the Mount of Olives. From this slope, he and the disciples could look down into the city and see the Temple, with the sun setting behind it to the west. Four disciples came to Jesus privately because they wanted to understand what Jesus meant and when this terrible destruction would happen. Their question had two parts: (1) They wanted to know when this would happen (especially the destruction of the Temple), and (2) what sign would show that Jesus’ words will be fulfilled. The second part of their question referred to the end of the age. In the disciples’ minds, one event would occur immediately after the other. They expected the Messiah to inaugurate his Kingdom soon, and they wanted to know the sign that it was about to arrive.
Jesus gave them a prophetic picture of that time, including events leading up to it. He also talked about far future events connected with the last days and his Second Coming, when he would return to earth to judge all people. Like much of Old Testament prophecy, Jesus predicted both near and distant events without putting them in chronological order. The coming destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple only foreshadowed a future destruction that would ultimately usher in God’s Kingdom. Jesus was predicting the destruction of Jerusalem and the end times.
13:5-6 Jesus first answered the disciples’ second question about the end of the age and the coming Kingdom. The disciples wondered what sign would reveal these things, but Jesus warned them against seeking signs, “Don’t let anyone mislead you.” Jesus knew that if the disciples looked for signs, they would be susceptible to being deceived. There would be many who would come claiming to be the Messiah. Jesus predicted that before his return, many believers would be led astray by false teachers claiming to be Christ.
In every generation since Christ’s resurrection, certain individuals have claimed to be the Christ or to know exactly when Jesus would return. Obviously, no one else has been Christ, and no one has been right about the timing of the Second Coming. According to Scripture, the one clear sign of Christ’s return will be his unmistakable appearance in the clouds, which will be seen by all people (13:26; Revelation 1:7). In other words, believers never have to wonder whether a certain person is the Messiah.
13:7-8 The key phrase in this verse comforts all believers, “Don’t panic.” As political situations worsen, as wars and rumors of wars ravage the world, Jesus instructed his disciples and all his followers not to be afraid that somehow God had lost control of his creation or that his promises would not come true. Just as false messiahs and religious frauds come and go, so do worldly crises. Even when the world’s situation gets worse, God is in control. These things must come as part of God’s divine plan. However, the wars and rumors of wars do not signal the end of the world. The disciples probably assumed that the Temple would only be destroyed at the end of the world as part of God establishing his new Kingdom. Jesus taught that horrible events would happen, but the end won’t follow immediately. Instead, this is only the beginning of the horrors to come; in other words, these would be preliminary sufferings. Jesus’ words subtly explained to the eager disciples that there would be a span of time before the end of the age and the coming Kingdom—it would not happen this week, or immediately upon Jesus’ resurrection, or even right after the destruction of Jerusalem. Instead, much suffering would occur as a part of life on earth, while history is moving toward a single, final, God-planned goal—the creation of a new earth and a new Kingdom (Revelation 21:1-3).
13:9 Jesus personalized his prophecy by explaining that the disciples themselves would face severe persecution; So, they must be on their guard in order to stay true to the faith. Being handed over to the courts referred to the local Jewish courts held in the synagogues. They would also find themselves standing trial before Gentile governors and kings. But such trials would have a purpose—the disciples were to tell them about Jesus.
13:10 Jesus said that before his return, the Good News of the Kingdom (the message of salvation) would be preached to every nation. This was the disciples’ mission—and it is ours. Jesus talked about the end times and final judgment to emphasize to his followers the urgency of spreading the gospel. By the time Mark’s readers would hear these words, Jesus’ prediction had already begun to happen. It occurred at Pentecost (Acts 2:5-11) and was spreading to all the world.
13:11 Not if the disciples would go on trial, but when they are arrested and stand trial, they were not to worry about defending themselves, but instead they were to concentrate on proclaiming the gospel. The Holy Spirit would give them God’s peace and the words to say. These words would help the disciples be bold witnesses as they made their defense before the rulers (13:9). Notice that Jesus did not guarantee acquittal. James, one of the disciples here listening to Jesus, would be killed because of his faith (Acts 12:1-2).
13:12 Jesus warned that in the coming persecutions his followers would be betrayed by their family members and friends, as well as by religious and civil authorities. Certainly this was a reality for the Roman believers to whom Mark was writing. The fear of being killed for one’s Christian faith would pit family members against one another.
13:13 Jesus’ followers will face the reality that everyone will hate them because of their allegiance to Christ. For a Jew to convert to Christianity would soon become very dangerous because it would lead to hatred and ostracism. And Jesus’ words looked forward to the time of the end when hatred of Christians would again occur. To believe in Jesus and endure to the end will take perseverance because our faith will be challenged and opposed. Severe trials will sift true Christians from fair-weather believers. Enduring to the end does not earn salvation for us; it marks us as already saved. The assurance of our salvation will keep us going through the times of persecution. While some will suffer and some will die, none of Jesus’ followers will suffer spiritual or eternal loss.
13:14-18 Jesus warned against seeking signs, but as a final part of his answer to the disciples’ second question (13:4), he gave them the ultimate event that would signal coming destruction. The sacrilegious object that causes desecration refers to the desecration of the Temple by God’s enemies. Mark’s phrase, reader, pay attention, may have been a sort of code for his Roman readers. A more precise explanation might have been dangerous for them if the Gospel fell into the wrong hands, so Mark urged them to understand Jesus’ words in light of the prophecy from the Old Testament prophet Daniel (see Daniel 9:27; 11:31; 12:11). The sacrilegious object refers to pagan idolatry and sacrifice (see Deuteronomy 29:16-18; 2 Kings 16:3-4; 23:12-14). The sacrilege would occur in the Temple itself (standing where it should not be) and cause it to be abandoned.
The first fulfillment of Daniel’s prophecy occurred in 168 b.c. by Antiochus Epiphanes. He sacrificed a pig to Zeus on the sacred Temple altar. This act incited the Maccabean wars. The second fulfillment occurred in a.d. 70 when the Roman army would destroy Jerusalem and desecrate the Temple. Some scholars say that the third fulfillment is yet to come. Jesus’ words may also look far forward to the end times when the Antichrist will commit the ultimate sacrilege by setting up an image of himself in the Temple and ordering everyone to worship it (2 Thessalonians 2:4; Revelation 13:14-15).
Many of Jesus’ followers (including Mark’s readers) would live during the time of the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple in a.d. 70. Jesus warned his followers to get out of Jerusalem and Judea and flee to the hills across the Jordan River when they saw the Temple being profaned. The Jewish historian Josephus wrote that from a.d. 66, Jewish Zealots clashed with the Romans. Many people realized that rebellion would bring the wrath of the Empire, so they fled to Pella, a town located in the mountains across the Jordan River. As Jesus had said, this proved to be their protection, for when the Roman army swept in, the nation and its capital city were destroyed.
The people were to leave immediately, without trying to pack bags or even to return from the field to the city to get a coat (a most basic necessity). They should leave everything behind as they fled from the coming crisis. Jesus expressed sympathy for those who will have difficulty fleeing because they are pregnant or have small children. Jesus told the disciples to pray that the crisis would not break in winter. Swollen rivers would make passage difficult across the usually small streams, as well as across the Jordan River.
13:19 Jesus gave this warning to get out quickly for these will be days of greater horror than at any time since God created the world. This language, while sounding like an exaggeration, is not unusual in Scripture when describing an impending disaster. The Jewish historian Josephus recorded that when the Romans sacked Jerusalem and devastated Judea, one hundred thousand Jews were taken prisoner and another 1.1 million died by slaughter and starvation. So many Jews were crucified that the hills were emptied of trees in order to build enough crosses.
While Jesus’ words could be taken as referring to the coming destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans in a.d. 70, they are so emphatic and clear that they must point ultimately to the final period of tribulation at the end of the age, because, as he stated, it will never happen again.
13:20 Many interpreters conclude that Jesus, talking about the end times, was telescoping near future and far future events, as the Old Testament prophets had done. Many of these persecutions have already occurred; more are yet to come. While a certain amount of persecution happened in the destruction of Jerusalem, Jesus may also have envisioned the persecution of believers throughout history. The persecution will be so severe that unless the Lord shortens that time, that is, if it had not had a specific ending time, no one would survive. This refers to physical survival (as opposed to 13:13, which speaks of spiritual survival). The time would be cut short for the sake of his chosen, the believers. The shortening of the time will limit their duration so that the destruction will not wipe out God’s people or their mission. God is ultimately in charge of history and will not allow evil to exceed the bounds he has set.
When the time of suffering comes, the important point for the disciples and all believers to remember is that God is in control. Persecution will occur, but God knows about it and controls how long it will take place. He will not forget his people.
13:21-23 The Old Testament frequently mentions false prophets (see 2 Kings 3:13; Isaiah 44:25; Jeremiah 23:16; Ezekiel 13:2-3; Micah 3:5; Zechariah 13:2) who claimed to receive messages from God, but they preached what the people wanted to hear, even when the nation was not following God as it should. There were false prophets in Jesus’ day, and we have them today. They are the popular leaders who tell people what they want to hear—such as “God wants you to be rich,” “Do whatever your desires tell you,” or “There is no such thing as sin or hell.” Jesus also said that false messiahs would come, and he warned his disciples, as he warns us, not to be deceived by whatever signs and wonders they might produce. They will be able to perform miracles designed to convince people that their claims are true. But their “power” will be by trickery or from Satan, not from God. Both false and true prophets can work miracles (see Deuteronomy 13:1-5; 2 Thessalonians 2:1-12; 1 John 4:1-3; Revelation 13:11-18).
Yet will they be so convincing that they might even lead God’s chosen ones astray? Is it possible for Christians to be deceived? Yes, and Jesus pointed out the danger (see also Galatians 3:1). The arguments and proofs from deceivers in the end times will be so convincing that it will be difficult to be faithful. If we are prepared, Jesus says, we can remain faithful. With the Holy Spirit’s help, believers will not give in and will be able to discern what the deceivers say as false.
Spiritual vigilance is a major theme of Jesus’ teaching here. Spiritual alertness and moral preparation are taught by Jesus and portrayed by Mark throughout chapters 13 and 14: Beware that no one misleads you (13:5); watch out (13:9, 23, 33); keep a sharp lookout (13:35); do not be found asleep (13:36); keep watch (14:34); keep alert and pray (14:38).
Jesus Tells about His Return / 13:24-31
In the previous paragraphs, Jesus painted a picture of hardship, confusion, and waiting. But when it seems as though things can’t possibly get any worse, they will. Heaven and earth will be irreversibly changed. There will be a sunset, but no sunrise. That completely dark stage will make the arrival of the Son of Man visible to all.
13:24-26 The phrase, at that time, signaled that Jesus was talking specifically about the end times. After the time of tribulation, nature itself would experience change. As taught in Romans 8 and 2 Peter 3, the entire universe became involved in humanity’s sin predicament; so, the entire universe will be changed when humanity is changed. The changes in the heavens will be an intended contrast to the pseudo “signs and omens” (13:22) of the false messiahs. These words also recall the words of the prophets (Isaiah 13:10; Joel 2:10-11) and what John saw in his vision (Revelation 6:12-14).
After these cosmic events, all the people on earth will see the Son of Man arrive on the clouds. Jesus’ return will be unmistakable; no one will wonder about his identity. Jesus’ Second Coming will not be as a humble, human carpenter, but as God’s Son with great power and glory.
13:27 Upon his return to earth, Jesus will send out his angels to gather together his chosen ones from all over the world. The angels’ gathering of the elect signifies the triumphant enthronement of the Son of Man, who will be revealed in all his power and glory. When he comes, the whole world will know that Jesus is Lord, and Christians’ hope and faith will be vindicated.
13:28-29 In the form of a parable, Jesus answered the disciples’ question regarding when the events he spoke about would happen (13:4). So far in this lengthy discourse, Jesus has traced two key themes: (1) the disciples’ suffering and (2) their need to be watchful.
The disciples, like anyone living in Palestine, knew how to interpret the coming of summer from the buds and leaves of the fig trees. In the same way, when the disciples see the events (described in 13:5-23), they would know that his return is very near. The fulfillment of Jesus’ prophecy would assure the disciples that the other prophecies he had given regarding the end times would also come true.
13:30-31 There are three views of the meaning of this verse: (1) It refers only to those alive at this time who would be alive also at the destruction of Jerusalem; (2) it refers to the end times only; (3) it refers both to the destruction of Jerusalem and the end times.
Jesus singled out this generation, using the Greek word genea, which can refer both to those living at a given time as well as to race or lineage (therefore, he was speaking of the Jewish race). That makes the third view above most likely. Jesus used “generation” here to mean that the events of 13:5-23 would occur initially within the lifetime of Jesus’ contemporaries. Jesus explained that many of those alive at that time would witness the destruction of Jerusalem. In addition, the Jewish nation would be preserved and remain on earth, so Jews also would witness the end-time events.
There could be no doubt in these disciples’ minds about the certainty of these prophecies. While heaven and earth as we know them would eventually disappear, Jesus’ words (including all his teachings during his time on earth) will remain forever.
Jesus Tells about Remaining Watchful / 13:32-37
Regarding the “when,” of his Second Coming, Jesus’ answer was blunt. He then pointed out that the mark of a disciple was not having inside information, but serving Christ faithfully. Spiritual vigilance becomes the essential theme of the entire chapter. *Jesus’ servants must be so busy that they have no time to speculate about his schedule.
13:32-33 While Jesus had given general “signs” to observe regarding the coming of the end, he clearly explained to the disciples that the exact day or hour was not known by the angels or the Son (Jesus himself). When Jesus said that even he did not know the time of the end, he was affirming his humanity (see Philippians 2:5-8). Of course, God the Father knows the time, and Jesus and the Father are one. But when Jesus became a man, he voluntarily gave up the unlimited use of his divine attributes. On earth, Jesus laid aside his divine prerogatives and submitted to the Father’s will. So, only the Father knows the exact time of Jesus’ return. The emphasis of this verse is not on Jesus’ lack of knowledge, but rather on the fact that no one knows. It is God the Father’s secret to be revealed when he wills. No one can predict by Scripture or science the exact day of Jesus’ return. Jesus was teaching that preparation, not calculation, was needed.
Because no one except the Father knows when Christ will return, Jesus explained that believers must stay alert and keep watch, ready for his return to happen at any moment. Christ’s Second Coming will be swift and sudden. There will be no opportunity for last-minute repentance or bargaining. The choice that people have already made will determine their eternal destiny.
13:34-36 In this parable of watchfulness, Jesus described himself as a man who left home to go on a trip (Jesus would be returning to heaven). The disciples are the employees left behind to carry on their work. The gatekeeper is commanded to keep watch for the master’s return. The employees understand that they are in charge of themselves, had their own work to do, and would not want the homeowner to return suddenly and find them being lazy. Because they do not know when the homeowner will return, these employees must keep a sharp lookout so as not to be found sleeping.
Jesus’ followers would want to be found spiritually lax, but instead conscientiously going about the work given by God for them to do. Each of us has enough assigned work to do that we shouldn’t be neutralized or paralyzed by fear or doubt. We do not need to worry about how other employees compare to us; instead, we should devote ourselves to doing what God has given us to do.
13:37 Jesus had spoken this discourse to only four of his disciples (13:3). Here he instructed them to carry these words to the rest of the disciples, for their truth was of vital importance. By extension, the words were meant for all believers. Even today, we do well to watch for his return—watching out for false teaching and watching expectantly for Christ’s return as we do his work in the world.
Only 3 days left. Tomorrow, we’ll look at chapter 14. Praying that you will GROW more like Christ,
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Life Application Concise New Testament Commentary
Life Application Bible Notes
New American Commentary
Preacher’s Outline and Sermon Bible – Commentary
Preaching the Word Commentary