Summary: There is a lot of excitement generated in the Christian community around the return of Jesus. Jesus' men were excited too, but what Jesus tells them is not a timeline or series of events, but how they should act while waiting. It's good advise for us too
There’s one thing that is pretty clear—no one understood Jesus’ mission as the ultimate action hero. The people that followed Him closely were starting to get that He was the Messiah—but what did that mean? As I’ve mentioned several times in our journey through Mark, the people’s idea of a Messiah was a political figure that would bring Israel back to prominence and throw off the yoke of Rome. When Jesus came riding into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday some of them might have thought that this was the start of that takeover—and especially when Jesus began overturning the tables in the Temple and arguing with the religious leaders. So at their first opportunity, Jesus’ men begin asking the Lord when He was going to fulfill all of the stuff they believed about Messiah. Here in Mark 13, Jesus lets them know what to expect before the military aspect of the Messiah comes about—and that for them, it isn’t about focusing on fighting or ruling but on being ready, being patient, sharing something He called “good news”, and that the intervening time would not be easy.
13:1 – 2
This was either Tuesday or Wednesday evening as they left the Temple. Jesus would not teach in the Temple any more. One of His disciples remarked at how incredible the Temple was…and it was a pretty impressive structure. This was actually a rebuilt Temple that Ezra had started upon Israel’s return from Babylon in the sixth century A.D. Herod had started a massive remodeling project which saw the Temple cover a sixth of the land area of the entire city. It wasn’t just one building but a series of buildings, colonnades, porches and court yards. The “massive stones” were probably the footings of the Temple, which remain to this day—weighing in at more than a hundred tons apiece and measuring 25x8x12.
Jesus isn’t impressed by man’s structures, whether a magnificent temple or an impressive religious system. It was the presence of God that mattered. His answer would have floored the disciples who felt that because God was on Israel’s side the temple would never be destroyed. Interestingly, Herod finished his project in 64 A.D., just a few years before the Romans destroyed it, but it got Jesus’ men to thinking as they walked across the Kidron Valley and up the Mount of Olives towards Bethany where they spent the nights.
3 – 4
Jesus’ inner circle (with Andrew, Peter’s brother added) wanted to know two things, but they were related. First they wanted to know about the destruction of the Temple, which apparently they thought would happen at the same time as the Messiah’s takeover. They sat on the Mount of Olives, most likely watching the sun set to the west over Jerusalem. Interestingly, this is the very spot that Zechariah the prophet tells us Jesus will return to in power at the second coming (Zechariah 14:1-4).
Jesus answers them in typical prophetic fashion—giving them the events that refer both to the Temple’s destruction and His return—but NOT in chronological order. It’s like looking through a telescope at a series of mountain ranges. You see the peaks and they all look so close, but as you walk towards them there are large valleys in between. So too, there are large spaces of time in between the events Jesus predicts.
There are four primary views on this chapter: 1) that it is about both Christ’s return and the destruction of the Temple; 2) that the first part is only about the Temple and the last part is about the Second Coming; and 3) that it is only about the destruction of Jerusalem. 4) is that verses 1-13 and 28-31 refer to the fall and the rest refer to the end times. Remember, though, as with many prophecies, there can be more than one fulfillment so it’s not that cut and dried.
5 – 6
The first thing that Jesus warns against is seeking signs. The problem with signs is that we are easily fooled by them. In fact, in the final period prior to the return of the Messiah, a man will arise who “deceives those who live on the earth because of the signs that he is permitted to perform on behalf of the beast” (Revelation 13:14). The only sign that matters is the sign of Jesus death, burial and resurrection. As we’ll see, no signs are needed for the coming of Jesus because it will be completely obvious to everyone (verse 26)! But they (and we) are to be aware that many will come claiming to be Messiah.
The word to focus on is: “Watch out.” There is only one Jesus—ever.
7 – 8
The disciples may have thought that destruction of the temple would be part of the end of the world and the establishment of the Messiah’s kingdom. Jesus’ words here tell them that disasters and major bad things will continue to happen but it doesn’t mean the end has come. In fact, He says they are “birth pains” which signify that the inevitable is coming—it’s just not here yet.