Read: Mark 13:1-36
- The Fate of the Temple (Mark 13:1-2) In Mark 13, Jesus speaks about the future in what it typically referred to as the Olivet Discourse. The discourse is introduced by the disciples. As they leave the temple with Jesus, they draw his attention to the majesty of the building. Jesus, however, says that all the buildings will be utterly destroyed. This was literally fulfilled in 70 C.E. when Roman forces (under Titus) burned and razed the temple. Stones were apparently even pried apart so as to retrieve gold that had melted from the fire.What would it have meant for the Jews to see the temple, the sacred place where God dwelt, destroyed? What would be a modern day equivalent to the destruction of the temple? Does God allow himself to be “punished” along with his people?
- Warnings About Deceivers and False Signs of the End (Mark 13:3-23) Naturally, the disciples wanted to know when the destruction of the temple would take place and what signs would indicate the imminent fulfillment of Jesus’ words. Did Jesus answer their question–or did he avoid it? Notice Jesus’ focus throughout this discourse. Is his emphasis on timing and signs, or on something else?The “signs” Jesus mentions are often presented today as indications of Jesus’ soon return. In this context in Mark, however, what is Jesus referring to–the end of the world, or the destruction of Jerusalem? Are these even signs of the end, or is Jesus explaining that these signs should NOT be seen as the end?
- The Coming of the Son of Man (Mark 13:24-28) Now Jesus moves to a new time, following the period of distress (13:24a). “In those days” is an Old Testament expression related to the end time (see Jer 3:16,18; Joel 3:1; Zech 8:23, for example).Is it helpful to label specific events in history as a fulfillment of 13:24b-25? Have these events (the darkening of the sun and moon, the falling stars, etc.) already occurred? Might they occur again?
- The Lesson of the Fig Tree (Mark 13:29-31) How near are we to the return of the Son of Man? What does 13:30 mean? Does this chapter help us construct a time line of last day events? Are we living between vs. 23 and 24, or between vs. 25 and 26? Finally, Jesus said to learn the lesson from the fig tree. What is the lesson from the fig tree?
- Exhortation to Watchfulness (Mark 13:32-37) Since Jesus is God, why does he not know about the “day or hour” of his own return? Why would the Father keep this secret?Jesus’ final appeal is essentially to “not worry” about the timing of his coming. “You want to know when it will happen? Even I don’t know,” Jesus says. He concludes, however with this appeal: “Keep watch.” In the parable of the Ten Virgins in Matthew, the foolish virgins and the wise virgins sleep as they wait for the bridegrooms arrival (Mt 25:5,7). Here, Jesus urges his disciples to “keep watch . . . do not let him find you sleeping” (Mark 13:36). In what way can both be true? In what way should we sleep? In what way should we not sleep? Which is the greater danger today–“sleep” or “sleeplessness”? How about two generations ago?
- Some Final Questions . . . Often, we read this chapter and highlight what we understand to be “signs”of the end. Notice, however, Jesus’ repeated words of counsel and warning: “watch out” (vs 5), “do not be alarmed” (vs 7), “be on your guard” (vs 9), “do not worry . . . just say whatever is given you” (vs 11), “he who stands firm to the end will be saved” (vs 13), “pray that this will not take place in winter” (vs 18), “do not believe it” (vs 21), “so be on your guard” (vs 23), “now learn this lesson” (vs 28), “Be on guard! Be alert!” (vs 33), “Therefore keep watch” (vs 35), “Do not let him find you sleeping” (vs 36), “Watch!” (vs 37).In light of this emphasis, is the purpose of Jesus’ Olivet Discourse to foretell future events, or is it a final, pastoral appeal to encourage faith and perseverance in the face of future troubles? Is it best to use this chapter to “warn the world that the end is near,” or should the message be directed at believers who must be encouraged to hang on in times of trial? What should our proclamation focus on–future events, or current faithfulness? Finally, what is the primary role of prophecy–to reveal future events, to inspire faithfulness and confidence in God, or is it something else entirely?