As he was leaving the temple, one of his disciples said to him, “Look, Teacher! What massive stones! What magnificent buildings!” “Do you see all these great buildings?” replied Jesus. “Not one stone here will be left on another; every one will be thrown down”(Mark 13:1,2).
The Jerusalem temple described by Josephus, the 1st century Jewish historian: “The outward face of the temple in its front lacked nothing that was likely to surprise either 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 upon it to turn their eyes away, just as they would have done at the sun’s own rays. This temple appeared to strangers when they were at a distance, like a mountain covered with snow, for, as to those parts of it that were not gilt, they were exceedingly white.”
For 40 years King Herod had been rebuilding Solomon’s temple (destroyed by the Babylonians, 586 B.C.—Jeremiah 52), more stunning and secure than ever. Magnificently ornate, it occupied 1/6 of Jerusalem’s land area. Here sacrifices for sin were made. Here God’s presence dwelt among his covenant people. From here his blessings flowed. The temple was the religious center and capital of the nation. Its destruction was as unthinkable as terrorists taking down the towers. Were it to happen, it would mark a life-change for Israel too dreadful to contemplate.
As Jesus was sitting on the Mount of Olives opposite the temple, Peter, James, John and Andrew asked him privately, “Tell us, when will these things happen? And what will be the sign that they are all about to be fulfilled?” (13:3,4).
Jesus with his disciples had walked east-southeast out of the city through the narrow Kidron Valley and up the Mount of Olives where they enjoyed a panoramic view of Jerusalem and the temple.
Four of them pulled Jesus aside and whispered anxiously, “When will this happen and what signs will show they’re about to happen?” Jesus’ answer challenges correct interpretation because, like all biblical prophets, he mingles the immediate future with the distant, so we have what scholars call “double fulfillment.”
I hold the view that Mark 13:5-23 applies to the first century believers. Within that segment, Mark 13:14-23 predicts the fall of Jerusalem to the Romans in 70 A.D. (about 40 years after Christ). And Mark 5-13 describes events characteristic of the time leading up to that fall and after. Here are those three paragraphs . . .
Jesus said to them: “Watch out that no one deceives you. Many will come in my name, claiming, ‘I am he,’ and will deceive many. When you hear of wars and rumors of wars, do not be alarmed. Such things must happen, but the end is still to come. Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be earthquakes in various places, and famines. These are the beginning of birth pains (13:5-8).
“You must be on your guard. You will be handed over to the local councils and flogged in the synagogues. On account of me you will stand before governors and kings as witnesses to them. And the gospel must first be preached to all nations. When you are arrested and brought to trial, do not worry beforehand about what to say. Just say whatever is given you at the time, for it is not you speaking, but the Holy Spirit. ‘Brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child. Children will rebel against their parents and have them put to death. All men will hate you because of me, but he who stands firm to the end will be saved ()13:9-13).
The Fall. “When you see ‘the abomination that causes desolation’ standing where it does not belong– let the reader understand– then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains. Let no one on the roof of his house go down or enter the house to take anything out. Let no one in the field go back to get his cloak. How dreadful it will be in those days for pregnant women and nursing mothers! Pray that this will not take place in winter, because those will be days of distress unequaled from the beginning, when God created the world, until now– and never to be equaled again. If the Lord had not cut short those days, no one would survive. But for the sake of the elect, whom he has chosen, he has shortened them. At that time if anyone says to you, ‘Look, here is the Christ!’ or, ‘Look, there he is!’ do not believe it. For false Christs and false prophets will appear and perform signs and miracles to deceive the elect– if that were possible. So be on your guard; I have told you everything ahead of time” (13:14-23).
At the same time, I believe in Mark 13:5-8 and Mark 13:9-13 Jesus gives signs that indicate all history’s movement toward its end. Signs: (1) false Christ’s (or spreaders of false “truth”), (2) wars, (3) earthquakes and famines, (4) Christians’ persecution; (5) the spread of the Gospel toward the end of all nations’ hearing.
In view of those signs, Jesus gives his disciples and us these exhortations:
“See that no one leads you astray” (13:5). The spirit of antichrist is in the world. False worldviews, false philosophies and false “truths” abound. The media pound them into our minds. The only objective truth we can trust is the Bible, God’s Word. We must not be misled from it however popular the alternative and however few hold to it.
“Do not be alarmed” (13:7). America’s main security threat is terrorism. We drift between assuming it can’t happen here again to fearing it will happen to me. Jesus tells us not to be alarmed, because the worst they can do is kill our bodies.
“Be on your guard” (13:9). I don’t think I’m being fanatical when I say Christianity is being less and less tolerated in America. By this warning Jesus doesn’t mean, “Keep your faith a secret”, but, “Know that going public may get you in trouble.”
“Don’t be anxious . . . what you are to say” (13:10b). We may be questioned, interrogated even. The questions may be honest or hostile. In any case, Jesus couples his encouragement with this assurance:
” . . . say whatever is given you in that hour, for it is not you who speak, but the Holy Spirit” (13:11b).
” . . . the one who endures to the end will be saved” (13:13b). This is an eye-opening warning—endurance may be required. “Endurance” is “the ability to deal with pain or suffering that continues for a long time.” This is also an eye-opening promise—the consummation of God’s saving work through Christ awaits those who endure!
Finally, Jesus makes a compelling statement at the end of 13:8—“These (false Christs, wars, etc.) are but the beginning of the birth pains.” By this Jesus cautions us not to look at world conditions, then grab our white robes and stand waiting on the highest hill for his imminent coming. At the same time “birth pains” is a glorious term. Every mother knows labor pains are excruciating. It’s the one time I say, “Thank God I wasn’t born a woman!” I haven’t felt your pain, but I’ve heard your screams. However . . .
“A woman giving birth to a child has pain because her time has come; but when her baby is born she forgets the anguish because of her joy that a child is born into the world” (Jesus, John 16:21).
So Jesus’ caution contains a full-of-wonder expectation. Breaking into the darkness and death of this age’s last days ” . . . they will see the Son of Man coming in clouds with power and great glory. And then he will send out the angels and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of heaven” (13:26,27).
The new creation will be born!