Christianity 201

March 8, 2018

Signs of the End: Mark 13

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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by Clarke Dixon

Should we expect the world to end soon? Are the signs that the end is near lining up? Some take Jesus’ words in Mark chapter 13 to refer to the end times and the signs to watch for. However, others think it has nothing to do with the end of the world and everything to do with the destruction of Jerusalem long ago in the first century. How are we to know? Let us dig into Mark 13 and see what we can learn:

1 As he came out of the temple, one of his disciples said to him, “Look, Teacher, what large stones and what large buildings!” 2 Then Jesus asked him, “Do you see these great buildings? Not one stone will be left here upon another; all will be thrown down.”
3 When he was sitting on the Mount of Olives opposite the temple, Peter, James, John, and Andrew asked him privately, 4 “Tell us, when will this be, and what will be the sign that all these things are about to be accomplished?” Then Jesus began to say to them, . . .  Mark 13:1-5

Let us first consider that we have a statement, a question, an answer, and a fact.

  • First the statement: Jesus says the Temple will be destroyed.
  • Then the question: The disciples ask when the Temple will be destroyed.
  • Let us jump now to the fact: Forty years later the Temple indeed lay in ruins.

Given that Jesus tells the disciples the Temple will be destroyed, the disciple ask when, and the Temple is in fact destroyed within forty years, it is reasonable to expect that at least some of Jesus’ answer has something to do with that destruction of the Temple. But is Jesus only speaking about the destruction of the Temple? Let’s take a look and think about how it affects us today.

Verses 5-13 can be understood to refer to either the first century or to the end times. The followers of Jesus did experience persecution then, and have continued to experience persecution at various times and places ever since. But let us dig deeper into the rest of the chapter.

14 “But when you see the desolating sacrilege set up where it ought not to be (let the reader understand), then those in Judea must flee to the mountains; 15 the one on the housetop must not go down or enter the house to take anything away; 16 the one in the field must not turn back to get a coat. 17 Woe to those who are pregnant and to those who are nursing infants in those days! 18 Pray that it may not be in winter. 19 For in those days there will be suffering, such as has not been from the beginning of the creation that God created until now, no, and never will be. 20 And if the Lord had not cut short those days, no one would be saved; but for the sake of the elect, whom he chose, he has cut short those days. 21 And if anyone says to you at that time, ‘Look! Here is the Messiah!’ or ‘Look! There he is!’—do not believe it. 22 False messiahs and false prophets will appear and produce signs and omens, to lead astray, if possible, the elect. 23 But be alert; I have already told you everything. Mark 13:14-23

Ironically, in our day it is so easy for the reader to not understand what the “desolating sacrilege” refers to in verse 14. But in the first century, the typical Jew and Jewish Christian would have understood the reference to the book of Daniel as pointing to previous sieges against  Jerusalem by foreign armies. Jesus is teaching the disciples here to watch for signs of another siege. When it happens, do not fight, but flee. Some will point to verses 19 and 20 and declare that such intense suffering can only refer to the end times. However, Jesus is using the common literary device called “hyperbole” and Bible scholars point out that the Jewish historian refers to this same destruction of Jerusalem in a similar way. We should also point out that under a siege in the first century, many Jews would have been watching for a Messiah to rescue them from the enemy. Hence Jesus’ instruction to watch out for false Messiahs. By the time Jerusalem falls Jesus has already effected a much grander rescue.

24“But in those days, after that suffering,
the sun will be darkened,
and the moon will not give its light,
25 and the stars will be falling from heaven,
and the powers in the heavens will be shaken.
26 Then they will see ‘the Son of Man coming in clouds’ with great power and glory. 27 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. Mark 13:24-27

Some think these verses continue to refer to the destruction of the Temple in the first century. However, many many think this refers to the return of Jesus that we still await sometime “after” (verse24) the suffering of the destruction of Jerusalem. We ought not to get too caught up in expecting stars to literally fall. This is poetry here and just as we might call an event of great significance an “earth shaking event”, the stars falling and the powers shaking alert us to a very significant event. The destruction of the Temple in the first century was a significant event as it signalled a new era. However the return of Jesus will be even more significant, signalling the beginning of a new “age“.

28 “From the fig tree learn its lesson: as soon as its branch becomes tender and puts forth its leaves, you know that summer is near. 29 So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that he is near, at the very gates. 30 Truly I tell you, this generation will not pass away until all these things have taken place. 31 Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away. Mark 13:28-31

Those who understand all of Mark 13 as referring only to the end times tend to trip over verse 30 since that generation certainly has passed away and we are still waiting. However, there is no problem when we understand that Jesus is referring here to the destruction of the Temple. In fact while many translations tell us, like our NRSV here, that “he is near” in verse 29, the “he” is supplied and some translations go with “it is near”, that is, the destruction of the Temple. Jesus is now answering the original question of the disciples. Verse 29, “when you see these things” refers back to verse 14, “when you see the desolating sacrilege set up where it ought not to be”.  So to answer the question of the disciples, watch for the armies approaching (and run for the safety!).

32 “But about that day or hour no one knows, neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. 33 Beware, keep alert; for you do not know when the time will come. 34 It is like a man going on a journey, when he leaves home and puts his slaves in charge, each with his work, and commands the doorkeeper to be on the watch. 35 Therefore, keep awake—for you do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or at cockcrow, or at dawn, 36 or else he may find you asleep when he comes suddenly. 37 And what I say to you I say to all: Keep awake.” 13:32-37

Here we have a contrast. The signs of the destruction of Jerusalem are clear, and you need to act on those signs. However “that day”, that is, the day of the Lord’s return as spoken of in verses 24-27, will come suddenly and without warning. There are no signs to watch for, one just needs to be always ready.


  1. Take to heart that Jesus was correct about the destruction of the temple. Mark, along with most of the NT was written prior to the destruction of the Temple. Jesus’ prophetic words of judgement against the Temple did come about. He is to be trusted.
  2. Take Jesus seriously. With regard to his return, there are no signs to watch for. We do well to keep this in mind when people try to sell us books about when we can expect Christ’s return. They don’t know.
  3. Look Forward with Hope and Anticipation. In verse 7 the Greek word telos is not just “end”, but “goal”. It really is not the end, but a milestone, and a new beginning. We can also think of the “birth pains” of verse 8. No one asks a pregnant woman “when does your pregnancy end?”. We ask when the baby is to be born. What begins is worthy of greater excitement than what will come to an end.
  4. Be ready. How do we get ready? We look to the One who gets us ready. Within a week of speaking of the destruction of the Temple and his Second Coming, Jesus gave his life for us on the cross. Are you ready?

Should we expect the end to come soon? No one knows but God alone, but we should be ready for Christ could arrive at any moment.

All Scripture references are taken from the NRSV

Listen to the audio of the full sermon on which this based (26 minutes).