On Mark 13

So, this Sunday I'm supposed to lead the Bible Study. We are at 3rd study of the topic "End Times" now, and the topic is about "Signs of the Times". The passage is taken from Mark 13 (which is parallel to Luke 21 and Matthew 24, the similarities are striking, so I guess this is why they think Luke and Matthew referred to Mark's account when writing theirs).

Usually, I prepared it on Friday or Saturday. However, I wanted to be more prepared so I do it today (Wednesday). Little that I know, my decision to prepare it on Wednesday was a really big help. The passage was very hard for me to understand. It's like a cocktail of imagery, prophecy and sayings about past, Jesus' present, our present (reflectories), and the future. In short, my head is filled with things jumbled up together. Hence, I try to write this post. Just to help me sort out things. If you feel that this post is not written systematically, then please do understand that the writer is really dazed. Haha.


So let's start with the context. Mark 11 talks about Jesus going to the Temple in Jerusalem after the Palm Sunday. So He went to the temple on Monday (Mark 11:12), 'cursing' the fig tree in the way to the temple, cleansed it, taught the people (Mark 11:18, Luke 19:47) and went back on the evening (Mark 11:19). He came back the next day to teach (Mark 11:27, Luke 19:47) and here He told various parables, and amongst them are the hard critics to the state of Judaism and the Pharisee's hypocrisy (Mark 11 and 12). Mark 13 comes when Jesus is going back from the Temple (13:1) when one of his disciple (unnamed) talk about the temple.

And as he came out of the temple, one of his disciples said to him, "Look, Teacher, what wonderful stones and what wonderful buildings!" (13:1)

Now, the temple at that time is built by Herod (thus nicknamed Herod's temple), most likely to win the hearts of the Jews. It was said that the temple was indeed enourmous, Josephus account told that the stones measured 12 ft high and 18 ft wide (4x6 metres - larger than my room.. man, that's huge) and it was filled with white marbles and gold. Some says that at this point, the construction is still going, some also said that it only takes 3 years to complete (from 20 B.C.). Jesus' answer to that statement was this:

Do you not see these great buildings? There will not be left one stone upon another that will not be thrown down (13:2)

And that is what happened in history. In 70 AD, this temple was brough down by Titus when the Siege of Jerusalem ended. The siege was done because of the Great Revolts of the Judah Province (there are a lot of revolts going on there, the Zealots are one of them - refer to my post on the twelve: simon the zealot). The temple was pillaged by the Romans, and there were nothing left of the marbles and the golds. Up until this part, not much problem.

So He walk out of Jerusalem, and they went to Mount Olives (13:3). This temple is located just outside Jerusalem, and with an elevation level such that they can see the temple and its glory clearly - see the map.

Then Jesus' four closest disciples (Peter, Andrew, John and James) came to Him privately and asked him: "Tell us, when will these things be, and what will be the sign when all these things are about to be accomplished?" (13:4, ESV) and this triggers the sermon.

Now, two things piqued my interest here:

  1. Why did Jesus went to Mount Olives? Was it a routine, or was it because He is preparing to make a reinforcement to what He is going to tell?
  2. Mark and Luke state that the disciples said "when all these things are about to be accomplished" (13:4 and Luke 21:7) interestingly, Matthew said that the disciple said that "of Thy coming and the end of the world" (Matthew 24:3, the Indonesian translation to Mark 13:4 also refers to end of the world). It seems that the disciples equates the destruction of the temple with the end of the world! They are actually asking about the destruction of the temple.

Ok, moving on. Then Jesus said about these things:

  1. To be careful as not to be deceived (13:5)
  2. Many will say that they are Christ (13:6)
  3. War and rumors of war will take place, and it needs to be, but it is not yet the end (13:7)
  4. Nations will rise against nations (13:8a)
  5. Earthquake and famines (13:8b)
  6. But all those are only just the beginning (13:8c)

Now, was Jesus talking about the destruction of the temple or the end of the world? I mean, it is easy for us to come into conclusion that Jesus is actually talking about the actual end of the world and is trying to tell the disciples that destruction of the temple is not the end of the world. But if we are to be objective, it is still inconclusive. (1) and (2) is more reasonable if it is talking about the end of the world, but does not mean that the otherwise is an impossibility. (3) and (4) is acceptable for both, as in the timespan from 30 A.D. to 70 A.D. there's got to be much war. (5) is actually happening today, and I'm not sure whether it happened between 30 to 70 A.D.

So I began to ask myself: what is Jesus talking about, really? Does He answer according to the context of the questions raised by the disciples? Or does He talks about the actual end of the world?

Or, maybe He is talking in parallel. Both about the destruction of the Temple (as a prelude) and the end of the world (as the real deal). As all five points are progressive, and is 'not yet the end'. Whatever it is, let's call this part as "Signs 1: The beginning of the end"

Now comes the confusing one, Jesus told the disciple that:

  1. They need to be on guard, as they will be prosecuted and questioned (13:9)
  2. The Gospel need to be told to all nations (13:10)
  3. When those happens, speak according to the Holy Spirit (13:11)
  4. Betrayal by brothers and parents (13:12)
  5. The disciples will be hated (13:13a)
  6. Those who perseveres until the end will be saved (13:13b)

If "Signs 1" are more suited if we think that Jesus is talking about the end of the world. However, these next points are sayings to the disciples on what will happen to them after His ascension. If we want to be consistent with the context, we need to conclude that Jesus must be talking in the context of the destruction of the temples in this part.

Well, to be fair, the other also fits if you apply it to our time/end of the world context. But consider the fact that Jesus is talking to Peter, Andrew, John and James in private, and the 'you' in verses 9 to 13 refers to them, it would be more natural if Jesus is talking about what the first disciple are going to face, which means, He is talking in their context.

Again, these part can also be regarded as talking in parallel, the near future and the future. As these points are also progressive, and it is a fact that disciples, be it the first or now, are facing all of the above. So let's leave it there for the time being, and call it "Signs 2: Persecutions"

It wouldn't make sense if "Signs 1" talk about "End of the world" and "Signs 2" talk about "End of the Temple". It's either both are talking the same thing, or both are talking in parallel. And now you see why I am confused. Haha...

I guess I'll stop here for today and continue tommorow ;)

To Be Continued =P


Stephanie Haile Google Me August 2, 2011 at 11:53 PM  

This is an awesome debate, well thought out and explained. Your supporting examples are very helpful and your conclusion seems to be "all of the above" I agree, Jesus spoke so that many would see =)


There was a time when I lost my desire to write and to share. There was a time when I didn't see the point of doing a blog to express my thought. I am who I am though, inconsistent as I am in doing this blog, but I do want to share and I do long to write. Today I'm giving it another go. Fingers crossed. But I still wish that "Let there be light" is the message that I convey.
  • January 1st 2012, Kristo