Lecture: Mark 13
In this lesson, we’re going to deal with a topic called Eschatology, which means the study of last things. We will focus specifically on Mark 13. We left off last time was at Mark 11. Jesus had been traveling to Jerusalem. He finally gets there in chapter 11, and we start what is called the Passion Week, the week before his Passion, or death. The triumphal entry is the conclusion of the travel ministry and the beginning of this Passion Week.
Cursing the Fig Tree
First, you have this story of the cursing of the fig tree and then the cleansing of the temple and then more discussion about the cursed fig tree—I’ll mention a couple of things in passing about that. The text says that it wasn’t the season for figs, but that Jesus saw a fig tree in leaf and he went over to see if there were any figs on it. Then when it didn’t have any figs, he said, “May no one ever eat fruit from you again.” In other words, he cursed this poor little helpless fig tree that didn’t have fruit because it was out of season. This always struck me as a strange story when I was a kid. It turns out there are fig trees that do have fruit out of season, and so it wasn’t a completely unrealistic thing for him to do.
The story’s not in there because he’s against fig trees. He goes into the temple and he cleanses it. The court of the Gentiles is the only place that a non-Jew, a Gentile, could go. The Jews, because of the lack of concern for the Gentiles, had turned it into a market place. Jesus went and cleansed it, he overturned tables, he chased the animals out. What he was doing was pronouncing judgment on the Jewish nation. The next day when they come back into Jerusalem, in Mark 11, we see the fig tree is dead, and the disciples say, “Look, Rabbi, the fig tree that you cursed is withered.” That is interesting. What on earth is going on with this poor little fig tree? What’s going on is that this is called an enacted parable—he’s acting out a parable. Usually he would say the parable, but in this case he was acting it out. The important piece of background information is that the fig tree in the Old Testament is a metaphor for Israel. So he’s looking at a fig tree that’s fruitless, then he goes into the city of Jerusalem and it too was fruitless. So just as he cursed the fig tree, so also he was in the process of cursing Israel. He was going to pronounce condemnation on it, and turn to the Gentiles. In other words, if you’re going to give the appearance of fruit, like having leaves, you’d better have the fruit. That typifies this whole Passion Week. Most of it is conflict, most of it is Jesus arguing with the religious leaders and so at the very beginning of this Passion Week he lays out the fact that they are fruitless and that he is going to curse them for their lack of fruit because they should have produced fruit for God. He’s acting out the spiritual condition of Israel.
This story goes on for a while, then there are some conflict stories. In chapter 12, he tells the parable of the talents, which is another parable of the rejection of Judaism, you can see that they’re trying to trick him up with questions about taxes and the resurrection and the greatest commandment, and so forth and so on. Jesus turns the tables on them and says, “Beware of the scribes,” and enters into a continued condemnation.
Mark 13: The Olivet Discourse
We get to chapter 13. Chapter 13 is called the Olivet Discourse because he was on the Mount of Olives when he spoke it. It’s also called the Apocalyptic Discourse. If you know your geography of Israel, when you come out of the Kidron Valley, and at the bottom of the valley is the Garden of Gethsemane and then up the other side is the Mount of Olives. He’s gone down in the valley, and he’s back up on the other side. That’s why they call it the Olivet Discourse. They also call it the Apocalyptic Discourse because this is an apocalyptic passage. Let me give you some background to apocalyptic literature before we jump into what is going on in Mark 13.
Apocalyptic literature is a genre of literature. As is true of any genre, apocalyptic literature has its own rules for interpretation. If I were, for example to say, “Once upon a time in a far, far away land, lived a fairy princess,” what genre am I in? I’m in the fairy tale genre. Am I claiming that there actually is a little pixie with translucent wings somewhere? No, I’m not. Because you understand that one of the rules of interpretation of fairy tales is that there is no attempt to say this actually is true. The genre of fairy tales is for a different purpose; they are not historical or scientific. If I were to tell you one of Aesop’s fable would you get mad at me that it may not be historically accurate? No. It’s a different genre, it has a different set of rules of interpretation it doesn’t claim, in this case, to be historical.
What genre did Jesus use a lot of that was misunderstood frequently? Parables. Parable is just another genre, it’s just another type of literature. When Jesus says, “There once was a man going from Jerusalem to Jericho and he fell among thieves,” if there actually wasn’t a historical figure who went from Jerusalem to Jericho and got beat up on the road, would you be mad at Jesus? No. These are all genres, different kinds of literature. They all have their own rules of interpretation. Because we are familiar with the genre, we know those rules of interpretation for the most part. So for example, we don’t assume then that they are historical.
The problem with apocalyptic literature is that it’s not a genre that we use any more. People just don’t write apocalyptic literature. The problem is that when we come to this genre, it’s hard to know the rules of interpretation. In Jesus’s day, they understood it. What other books in the Bible re apocalyptic? Daniel and Revelation, both of them have pieces of apocalyptic literature. There were many other examples in Judaism and non-Judaism of apocalyptic literature. It was a common genre, so, for example, when Revelation says that Jesus is coming on a horse with a sword out of his mouth, they would have instinctively have known what that picture was meant to convey. For you and for me if we have no background apocalyptic literature it’s a little more difficult.
Let me tell you some of the characteristics of apocalyptic literature. First, it deals with end times. Apocalyptic literature was the hope of the beaten down nation; when Israel was under someone else’s thumb they started writing Apocalyptic literature. It was their way of talking about at the end of time and being freed from the tyranny of Rome or of Egypt or of whoever was controlling them. Apocalyptic literature tends to deal with end times. Second, it uses very strange pictures. I’m being interpretive in saying that—I don’t think that Jesus is literally going to be on a horse with a Wilkinson sword coming out of his mouth. This literature uses bizarre, weird images like beasts with feet made out of one thing and legs made out of bronze. This genre teaches by using all these strange images. Third, apocalyptic literature has to do with supernatural intervention. Apocalyptic literature is when God’s decides to force his way into history and he’s going to act. Fourth, Apocalyptic literature doesn’t claim to be sequential or orderly. It doesn’t claim to tell the whole picture. Apocalyptic literature is visionary, we see one thing, then another. It’s not sequential; it doesn’t go from event A to event B to event C. For example, one of the interpretations of Revelation is that it represents three or four cycles through history. It’s the same story over and over and over again, and it’s a consistent way to look at the Book of Revelation.
Apocalyptic literature is like a dream world; it’s an image here and a saying there and a voice here. It’s strange literature. It deals with end times; it has strange images; it’s about God intervening in history; it’s not history. It’s not sequential; it doesn’t claim to tell the whole story. For example, in the Book of Joel, he makes a prophecy about the coming Day of the LORD. I’m going to use this as an illustration later, but it will give you an example here: “And the Day of the LORD is going to come when God is going to pour out his Spirit on all flesh.” When did the Day of the LORD come? It came at Pentecost, and that’s Acts 2. And yet there are multiple places in the New Testament that say the Day of the LORD is future. What happened on the Day of the LORD is that it began at Pentecost, the Spirit was poured out, but it turns out that the Day of the LORD, is at least two thousand years long to this point, because the culmination of the Day of the LORD is when Jesus comes back again. You can look at that and say, Joel you should have told us that’s what you were doing.” (This is actually prophecy and not apocalyptic, but they are very close). Joel does not give a detailed sequence of events. The Day of the LORD is going to come, and the Spirit is going to pour out on all people. Apocalyptic literature never claims to be historical, sequential, or to tell you the whole thing. That’s important because apocalyptic literature often has gaps in it—huge time gaps. You will see what I’m getting at in a second. They have overlaps—that’s how I view Revelation. I think it tells one story with a cycle of seven and then it tells the same thing again. So that’s a complete overlap. They are images and pictures of being in an ecstatic situation and vision.
As a result of the nature of Apocalyptic literature, it’s extremely controversial. For those of you who have been around the Christian block once or twice, you’ll know that. There’s a lot of controversy, and I’ve decided tonight instead of qualifying every single thing I say, because somebody would want to argue with almost everything I’m going to say, I’m just going to tell you what I think. That’s my disclaimer—this is what I think. I could be completely wrong, but I am taking a standard position that’s in every major commentary I’ve looked at. I’m not dispensational, and so there are going to be some differences there.
Some of the controversy comes due to ignorance about the genre. There are people that think there’s a physical sword that’s going to come out of Jesus’s mouth when he comes back. They don’t understand what the genre is; they think it’s history. But the real problem in apocalyptic literature is that it’s very nature is to not be precise, to not be clear. The speaker wants you to see the same thing they saw and the speaker wants you to mull over and come to your own conclusion to interpret it. It’s like Jesus’s parables. They weren’t meant to be nice precise, clean teaching tools. They were meant to make people reflect and to mull over. Apocalyptic literature does the same thing. It leaves a lot to the imagination, a lot to interpretation. So hence, there are a lot of interpretations and a lot of controversy in it.
As my final qualification of the night, is that I’ve never been drawn to apocalyptic literature and my preference would be to simply skip chapter 13. However, if you look at the history of the church, so much heresy and so much problem has come out of a misunderstanding of Eschatology, that I’ve got to cover it. Jehovah Witnesses and Seven Day Adventists both came out of movement in the late 1800’s that claimed that Jesus came and it was a secret return and they branched off. It’s all tied in with the mistake of Eschatology, so I have to do it.
The Destruction of the Temple, the Return of Jesus, and the End (Mark 13:1-8)
Let’s move on to Mark 13. Jesus makes a prophecy in verses 1 and 2, “And as he came out of the temple, one of his disciples said to him, ‘Look, Teacher, what wonderful stones and what wonderful buildings!’” And they were truly glorious buildings. If you read Josephus’s description even accounting for some exaggeration, they were amazing. One side of the building in the temple area was solid gold, and when the morning sun hit it, it would about blind you to look at it. It was a spectacular building. If you ever get a chance to go to Israel and you go to Jerusalem, the first place you have to go is called the Jerusalem Hotel or something like that. (If you go, ask me and I’ll figure out the name). They’ve got a monster model of the old city of Jerusalem. So you can see the temple, the court of the Gentiles, the Kidron Valley, and Gehenna. It’s a marvelous place to get organized, but anyway it was a marvelous building; the disciples weren’t exaggerating in other words. “And Jesus said to him, ‘Do you see these great buildings? There will not be left here one stone upon another that will not be thrown down.’” There’s nothing that could be more horrendous to the Jewish nation than the destruction of the temple. That’s as bad as it gets. It is interesting, when the Roman soldiers did destroy Jerusalem in AD 70, they used grappling hooks, and they did pull every single stone down from the temple. The temple is sitting on a mount and the wailing wall is the top part of that mount; about half of the mount is buried in dirt right now. All of the walls and all of the building got torn down. The entire temple is actually all underground, covered by dirt right now. The prophecy did come precisely true.
They go down the Kidron and they go back up to the Mount of Olives. Verses 3-4 say, “And as he sat on the Mount of Olives opposite the temple, Peter and James and John and Andrew asked him privately, ‘Tell us, when will these things be, and what will be the sign when all these things are about to be accomplished?’” Ok the whole key for chapter 13 is right here in these verses, so I’ve got to take a little bit of time to pull these questions apart. They asked the first question, “when will these things be,” in other words, when will the destruction of the temple occur. What they want are signs. They want to know what are going to be the signs when this is about to happen. In other words, they want to get ready for it. They don’t want to be caught unawares, they want to know the temple is about to be destroyed. But there actually is a second question. You have your notes, the back 4 pages are Matthew, Mark and Luke lined up parallel. You may want to pull those out and look at them because I’m going to pop back and forth between gospels a little. It will keep you from having to flip your Bible around a whole lot. The disciples actually asked two questions and you can see it here. You can’t see it at all in Mark, their question seems to be purely about the destruction of the temple. If you go to the same account in Matthew, Matthew fills out what the disciples asked. Remember all the discussion we did on the synoptic problem? Here’s a good example of it.
Matthew tells us there actually was a second question they asked: “What will be the sign of your coming and the close of the age?” Grammatically, this second question is really only one, in their mind Jesus is coming and the close of the age were going to happen at one time. What had happened was that Jesus had hinted that he was going to go away. He hinted it in the triumphal entry when he says, “You’re not going to see me again until you say I’m welcome.” So the disciples were starting to understand that Jesus was going to go away and in their mind they were linking the destruction of the temple with Jesus coming back from wherever he was going and the end of the age. Judaism thinks of history as ages, wherein the current age was going to come to an end. That end would be brought about by the Messiah, the coming of the kingdom of God, and then we would start the Messianic age. So when the New Testament talks about the end of the age, it’s the end of this time period in which we live and then that becomes the beginning of the next time period when the Messiah rules. In their minds, Israel was going to be number 1.
There are actually three things going on, and that’s the key to Mark 13. There’s the destruction of the temple, and they want to know the signs that are going to warn them that it’s about to happen. They’re also wanting to know about Jesus’s return and the signs that are going to warn them that he’s about to return. Thirdly, they want to know the signs about when the end of the age was going to happen. Most likely, when the disciples asked these two questions about three different things, they probably thought this was all going to happen at the same time. The disciples never showed any awareness of any other position. The destruction of the temple would have been such a horrendous event that in their minds that could only happen when Jesus was going to return from where ever he was going to, and that was going to be the end of the age. Jesus as the Messiah is coming back to bring about the Messianic Age. In their mind, this is all wrapped up in one major event. But Jesus is going to make it very clear, right away, that in fact it is more than one event. That’s what is confusing about Mark 13 in my interpretation. Mark has one question, but since we believe the Bible doesn’t contradict itself, we also believe that Matthew is right, and that there were actually two questions that were asked.
In verse 5, Jesus starts to answer their question: “And Jesus began to say to them, ‘See that no one leads you astray. 6 Many will come in my name, saying, “I am he!“ and they will lead many astray. 7And when you hear of wars and rumors of wars, do not be alarmed. This must take place, (the wars), but the end is not yet. 8For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be earthquakes in various places; there will be famines. These are, but the beginning of the birth pains.’” The Jews often talked about the beginning of the Messianic Age as a time of birth pain, giving birth to the Messianic Age. That’s what Jesus is referring to. All of these things: wars, rumors of wars, earthquake and famines, these are, but the beginning of the process. Now what is interesting, and I’m sure you’ve run across this, is that you’ll find people who say, “Look at all the wars and earthquake and famine, surely God is ready to return, these are signs of his return.” Have you heard that? It’s the exact opposite of what Jesus says. This is one of those oddities that is strange. The whole point that Jesus is making is that the temple is not going to be destroyed right away. They are going to hear about all of these cataclysmic events of earthquakes and famines and wars, and he’s saying that’s just the beginning. That doesn’t signal the temple is about to be destroyed, those aren’t the signs that you’re looking for. It’s just so interesting how, in many people minds, since there’s famine, Jesus must be ready to come and it’s the exact opposite of what Jesus says.
What he’s saying is that it’s not going to happen right away. There’s going to be time for things to happen first. It’s interesting that if you look historically at the time period from Jesus’s death around 27 AD, up until 70 AD, when the Romans destroyed Jerusalem, this is exactly what was happening all during this time. There wars and rumors of wars, famines and earthquakes. In Craig Blomberg’s commentary on Matthew, he documents the famines and the earthquakes and the wars. It is very beautifully done. I should say, by the way, the New American Commentary is an excellent series for you all to read. If you’re looking for a commentary on a book, that whole series is written for lay people. It’s not technical, but it’s good and it’s written by very good scholars. Craig is one of the top of gospel scholars in the English speaking world today. It’s a very good commentary. Dad wrote the book on Romans in this series. If you want the documentation for all the wars and rumors of wars, Craig has them on page 356.
So the whole gist of this paragraph is: Don’t be deceived. These cosmic signs, these cataclysmic events are going to happen, those aren’t the sign you’re looking for.
Persecution and the Ethics of Eschatology (Mark 13:9-13)
Then in verses 9-13 he starts talking about persecution, “But be on your guard. For they will deliver you over to councils, and you will be beaten in synagogues, and you will stand before governors and kings for my sake, to bear witness before them (9).” See how quickly this happened? You’ve got the persecution of the Jerusalem church, the Jewish church, you have Paul before Festus and Felix and the emperor. He says, “And the gospel must first be proclaimed to all nations (10). And when they bring you to trial and deliver you over, do not be anxious beforehand what you are to say, but say whatever is given you in that hour, for it is not you who speak, but the Holy Spirit (11).” That would almost be worth the persecution, to know that the Holy Spirit had control of your mouth and the words that were flowing out in this court were really what God wanted said.
A. Mark 13:1 : For Mark 13:1-37, Matt 24:1-51; Luke 21:5-36
B. Mark 13:2 : Luke 19:44
“And brother will deliver brother over to death, and the father his child, and children will rise against parents and have them put to death.” We know those stories from the stories about Jerusalem, recently Nazi Germany or Stalin’s Russia, these things happen all the time. “And you will be hated by all for my name’s sake. But the one who endures to the end will be saved.” he’s still not giving them the signs they want. He’s saying, “By the way, with all these cataclysmic events, so also all the persecution is going to come. The temple is not going to be destroyed, because I want the Gospel preached to the whole world.” That’s exactly what Paul says is happening in Romans 10:18. The word that is used to describe the nations was a common word to describe the whole Roman Empire. It doesn’t necessarily, at least historically, have to refer to North America. There needed to be a proclamation to the then known civilized world. That’s precisely what Paul said had happened.
The other thing that is really worth pointing out is that last verse: “But the one who endures to the end will be saved.” This is, I think, the most important. Eschatology is primarily ethical. Eschatology just means the study of last things, eschatos (last), logos (the study of). Eschatology was not designed primarily to give us the detailed road map to the future. Of that was its intention, then they did a really bad job. Every generation has their antichrist, every generation has their Great Tribulation, it seems. It is certainly to tell us something about the future, but the primary gist of Eschatology is to tell us how we live in light of what we know is going to happen. Dad wrote several commentaries on Revelation. He wrote a shorter one called, “What Are We Waiting For,” pretty good title, I thought, and in the introduction to that commentary he says a most astounding thing, “Revelation is the easiest book in the New Testament to understand.” And he’s absolutely right. Here’s why. If you sat down and read straight through Revelation, (it takes twenty-five minutes), what do you come away with? God wins—that’s Eschatology. It’s going to get bad, God wins in the end so hang in there.
Almost anybody; dispensationalists, non-dispensationalists, liberal, conservative, if they were to just whip through the Book of Revelation, they would summarize in three points: (1) It’s going to get bad, (2) God wins, (3) So hang in there. In other words, don’t abandon the faith. Hang in there. As you look at the Eschatology or apocalyptic passages, you see this all over the place. “But the one who endures to the end will be saved.” Persevere, hang in there, Jesus says. That’s why I’m telling you all this is going to happen, so you won’t give up hope, so you won’t think I forgot about you, so you won’t think that I’m unable to do this. You’ve got to hang in there because we’re going to win at the end.
Luke 21:13 says, “This will be your opportunity to bear witness.” That’s the advantage of bad times, it give us a chance to witness. In Mark 13:13, and in Luke 21:18, there’s a promise of God’s perseverance: “But not a hair of your head will perish.” Now obviously, he can’t mean perish in the sense that you’re not going to die, but it means that you’re not ultimately going to perish because you’re going to end up in Heaven. God’s in control, he’s got a hold of his children. This is always why I’m a little suspicious of prophecy conferences. I guess they are okay, but I’ve never heard anyone coming out of a prophecy conference and saying, “I’m really encouraged to hold to my faith.” They usually come out arguing about the third seal or the fourth seal. I guess prophecy conferences are okay, but if they’re not talking about ethics they’re not talking about the main thing. That’s what Eschatology is about.
Student Question: Going back to verse 10, do you think then that it’s bad that a lot of missionaries’ motivation is for the purpose of bringing the Gospel to all the nations?
Response: Do I think that verse 10 is being misapplied by modern mission organizations by saying we have to get the Gospel to all nations? No. I think it’s exactly the right act of Jesus, but you’re going to find out why in about 30 minutes. When I tie everything together, you’ll see why I think that’s a valid act of Jesus.
The “Abomination of Desolation (Mark 13:14-20)
We’re down to verse 14 and the story of the abomination of desolation. Verses 14-20 talk about this thing called the abomination of desolation. The disciples asked for a sign, a warning that it was about to happen, here it is. “But when you see the abomination of desolation standing where he ought not to be (14)” (I’ll come back and explain that in a second) “then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains (14). Let the one who is on the housetop not go down, nor enter his house, to take anything out (15), and let the one who is in the field not turn back to take his cloak (16). And alas for women who are pregnant and for those who are nursing infants in those days (17)! Pray that it may not happen in winter (18).” (The Jordan River is overflowing the banks and it’s hard to get across). “For in those days there will be such tribulation as has not been from the beginning of the creation that God created until now, and never will be (19). And if the Lord had not cut short the days, no human being would be saved. But for the sake of the elect, whom he chose, he shortened the days.” Does anyone not believe in election? This is one of those verses where you want to make sure you do believe in election because it’s for your sake he shortened the day.
He says in verse 14, “But when you see the abomination,” he doesn’t tell us how much time there is between verse 13 and 14. We know historically that there were about 50 years, because the Romans destroyed the temple AD 70. So again you have a huge time beak between verses 13 and 14. “But when you see the abomination,” then run, because that’s the sign you’re looking for. Get out fast. What he’s referring to is a prophecy in Daniel 9:27 about someone who is going to come in, it says, “And on the wing of abominations shall come one who makes desolate,” that’s where the phrase comes from, in Daniel. Now the interesting thing is that if you read the Jewish literature, they thought Daniel’s prophecy was fulfilled in 168 BC. A man named Antiochus Epiphanes set up an altar to Zeus in the Jerusalem temple and then he sacrificed a pig on it. You know, you don’t do that in a Jewish temple. So that was the beginning of the Maccabean revolt, you can read about it in the Old Testament Apocrypha, First Maccabees 1. They thought that Antiochus Epiphanes was the fulfillment of that prophecy. Jesus is saying, evidently, no it wasn’t, or there’s a double fulfillment or something like that going on. He’s saying it’s going to happen again. There are a lot of guesses about what in AD 70 constituted the abomination of desolations. The temple was destroyed, but by that time you could escape from Jerusalem, there was a siege before it was destroyed. One of the guesses is that it refers to the Roman standards with the image of the Emperor on it; that was the symbol of the coming abominations of desolations. We’re not sure exactly what it is, but it was clear that when the Romans were invading Jerusalem in AD 70 the people knew to get out of town.
Here’s the interesting thing, my little correction here. The word “abomination” in Greek is neuter. “Standing where it ought not to be” is masculine. That’s bad grammar. You’re not supposed to mix like that. What the commentaries say is, the abomination of desolation as a concept is neither male nor female, hence neuter. But Mark knew that the abomination of desolation was a man, and so he breaks the grammar and then he adds, “let the reader understand.” Back then there were not a lot of copies of Mark. People would have read this thing and it’s his way of saying, don’t fix my grammar, I know what I’m talking about. The abomination of desolation is not an it, it’s a he, that’s why the ESV is wrong here. We’ll see if we can fix it.
I believe that the abomination of desolation is what Paul talks about in 2 Thessalonians 2 as the man of lawlessness. The man of lawlessness, Paul tells the Thessalonian church, will be a human being who will claim to be God and will demand to be worshiped. That’s what Roman Emperor worship was—the Emperor was proclaimed to be God, and he claimed that you had to worship him, and that’s why the Christians were called atheists—not because they didn’t believe in a god, but they didn’t believe in the Roman gods, especially the Emperor. During the later persecutions of the first century, one of the reasons they were killed is because they wouldn’t believe that the Emperor was god. Who Paul calls the man of lawlessness in 2 Thessalonians, I believe is the same person that John refers to, and elsewhere is called the Antichrist. I think these are all the same person. That’s why changing it to he is so important.
The physical sign the disciples were looking for may have been the coming of the Roman armies. But what they represented was a human being, human power, who claimed to be God, who claimed to be an object of worship and that is the abomination of desolation. That interpretation will become very important later. I think that’s what is going on here.
The question is, down to verse 20, what question is being answered? It can’t be the second question because if this were the second question of “when is the end of the age,” what’s the point of fleeing from Jerusalem? If this is talking about when Jesus comes back again, and the end of time and the end of the age, there’s no reason to flee is there. You can’t get away from that. I think everything up through verse 20 is dealing with the first question, “when is the temple going to be destroyed.” If you read Josephus and the stories of what it was like to be in Jerusalem during the siege, a million Jews were slaughtered; children were killed so they wouldn’t be taken as slaves; people were thrown off the cliffs, out of the caves; there was cannibalism. It was a horrible siege, a mass slaughter, according to Josephus, a million people. Now the language in verses 19 -20 is still pretty strong. Was that really the worst tribulation that ever happened? Well, I’ll come back to that too. It was a horrible siege. I think we’re still dealing with the first question, and that’s what you would expect, especially in Mark, since he only gives us one question.
False Christs (Mark 13:21-23)
In verses 21-23, Jesus says don’t be deceived, “And then if anyone says to you, ‘Look, here is the Christ! (21)’ or ‘Look, there he is!’ do not believe it. For false christs and false prophets will arise and perform signs and wonders, to lead astray, if possible, the elect (22). But be on guard; I have told you all things beforehand (23).” Miracles do not prove authenticity. Don’t be deceived, there are going to be miracle workers that claim to be Christians, they are doing to claim to be going it in the name of Christ or they are going to claim to be Christ. You know from Revelation that the Antichrist has Satan’s power so he’s going to come and he’s going to do these amazing miraculous things. Don’t be deceived, Jesus says, don’t get tricked. In verse 23, there’s nothing yet that makes me think that we’re beyond the story of the destruction of Jerusalem.
Signs of the Coming of the Son of Man (Mark 13:24-27)
Now it gets controversial. People’s opinion starts kicking in at verses 24-27, “But in those days, after that tribulation, the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light (24), and the stars will be falling from Heaven, and the powers in the Heavens will be shaken (25). And then they will see the Son of Man coming in clouds,” (you can hear the Daniel prophecy can’t you), “with great power and glory (26). 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 (27).” This is another passage where you want to believe in election, that he’s going to gather them.
What of the two questions that Jesus was asked is he answering? What I’m going to argue is that the first has already been answered. The first was answered at the end of verse 23, the second question Jesus is starting to answer in verse 24. Again, remember, we know something that the disciples don’t know. We know that first of all, this was all an accurate description of AD 70 and the destruction of the temple. We also know that Jesus didn’t come back in AD 70. When we look at this, we have a little advantage over the disciples. So we can start suspecting at verse 24 that something’s up. Again, remember, the disciples saw all this as one big thing, and Jesus isn’t taking a lot of pains to clear up their misconceptions. He’s not making it especially easy for them. But he liked doing that. That’s why he talked in parables. I think that there is a huge time gap between verses 23 and 24.
“In those days,” when are those days? After the tribulation, I think that is the only thing we can know for absolute sure, that we have to be after the tribulation. Again, remember the nature of Apocalyptic language, Jesus is being less than precise, it’s just the nature of apocalyptic literature and Jesus. He says, in those days, this will make more sense as we get further into this, what’s going to happen is all these cosmic signs are going to take place—the sun’s going to be darkened, the moon’s not going to give its light, the stars are going to be falling from Heaven—this is typical Apocalyptic language. For example, we talk about an earth shaking event, and unless you live in Southern California you’re probably meaning that metaphorically. It is possible to interpret these as metaphors for great and cataclysmic events. (I’m not completely sure they are metaphors, but this is just an aside. 2 Peter 3 talks about the burning up of the universe; Revelation talks about the destruction of the old Heavens and earth and the building of the new ones. It may or may not be metaphorical, I’m not sure). But the point is these are the signs that accompany the coming of Jesus, the coming of the Son of Man, so we have to be into the second question at this point. We’re beyond Jerusalem.
There is something different with these signs, and that’s the key in this particular paragraph. These signs are doing something a little different. Let me show you what I mean. In Luke 21:28 he says, “Now when these things begin to take place, straighten up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.” Now what’s wrong with that answer? It’s the exact opposite of the answer that he gave for the destruction of the temple isn’t it. In the destruction of the temple he says, “when you see these things happen, get out of Jerusalem.” That’s not what is going on in this part of the story. “Pick up your head, your redemption is near.” It is a totally different answer. In Matthew 24:30, “Then it will appear in Heaven, the sign of the Son of Man, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of Heaven with power and great glory.” They are saying that when people see these signs they are going to mourn, and the question is why? Why not repent really fast. That’s precisely the answer. The answer is that when you see these signs, it’s too late. It’s all over. I think that’s what the parables in Matthew 25 are getting at as well: it’s like a thief in the night; it’s as in the days of Noah, when the Son of Man comes; suddenly, he’s going to be there. There’s not going to be time to repent, that’s why they are mourning. So I think what you have with these cosmic signs is that they are not warning signs, they’re not signs saying, hey the end’s almost here you better repent, you better get your house in order. I think that these signs are announcing that it’s all over. All you can do is mourn; there is no time to repent; pick up your head, stop running, your redemption is here.
Now here’s the interesting question. Remember the disciples’ questions. Are there any specific signs that warn you that Jesus is about to return? I know we’re in controversial areas, but I think the answer is no. The only signs that warn are the signs of the destruction of Jerusalem. The only signs that will precede Jesus’s return are those when he comes, when it’s too late. This is what Matthew is going to get into in chapter 25. What does this mean? It means you have to live ready. Eschatology is ethical. You have to be a good steward; you have to be a good servant. You can’t be like the five bridesmaids that didn’t have enough oil to wait for the groom. All these things are saying you have to be ready, because there is not going to be an indication prior to Jesus’s coming such that you can get ready. Now, where it gets tricky is when you go into 2 Thessalonians 2. In 2 Thessalonians 2, the Thessalonians were being taught that Jesus had already come back again and Paul says, no, that’s impossible. Jesus can’t come back again until two things happen: (1) the revelation of the man of lawlessness, the great Antichrist, the person who is empowered by Satan who will rule the earth and (2) the great apostasy has to happen. There has to be a great falling away, that’s what apostasy means, a great falling away from the church. Paul says those things haven’t happened ergo, therefore, Jesus hasn’t come back again.
Those two things sound like signs to me. It sounds like we have to have the Antichrist come, we have to have the great tribulation, the great apostasy, and so those are warnings that Jesus is about to come back. But wait a minute, he just said there are not going to be any warnings, there are only going to be announcements. Here’s the key I think to all this. I believe that AD 70 Jerusalem and Nero were a type—that’s the technical word. For example, Romans 5 says that Adam was a type of Christ, in other words, he prefigured, he was a Christ, he resembled Christ, there were things about him that were the same as Christ as a type, and I’ll talk more about that in a second. I think what is going to happen is that everything led up to AD 70 and anyone in AD 70 who was reading this would have thought that Jesus was about to come back, because you had the persecutions, you had the wars and rumors of wars, and all of that. The temple was destroyed, the abomination of desolation came, but Jesus didn’t. Every generation that has lived since then believes they are in the last days, which I think is good biblical theology, because almost every generation has had massive tribulations and has had people who appeared as the Antichrist: Hitler, Mussolini, the European Union for some people. It seems like in every generation there are massive persecutions going on. In America, we don’t feel that because we are so insulated, but if you were to tell a Christian in Indonesia no we’re not in the last days, we’re not in the great tribulation, he’d say, “What are you talking about? We are being slaughtered.” I’ve been reading some stories of what happened in Russia in the early 1900’s and the millions of Christians that were slaughtered. It’s been documented that more Christian martyrs have died in the last century than all centuries combined.
I think what is happening, and this is typical of prophecy, is that there are cycles, and each cycle looks like the previous cycle. Now the names are different, what once was Nero is now Hitler or whoever, and John says that there are many antichrists. I think what you have is this series of cycles, and so that cycle by the time that Paul wrote to the Thessalonians hadn’t started yet. The massive persecutions hadn’t come in yet; they were probably in the late 40’s. What he’s talking about there by the persecutions and elsewhere by the eschatology literature are all cycles of heading towards what is going to be the final great tribulation with the final greatest antichrist at which point Jesus will come back again. That’s a mouthful, and if this isn’t how you think, it’s going to take some time to process, but I needed to let you know up front that this is what I think.
I see a gap between verses 23 and 24, but not really, because the wars and rumors of wars, and earthquakes and famines and the persecutions and the jailing and the martyrdom and the call to persevere has been going on through all the centuries. It’s hitting its apex, as far as we know, right now in this century with the most martyrs ever killed. In those days, at some point in time after the tribulation (and it’s going to be right at it I would assume), then you’ll have the cosmic announcement that God’s has had his fill with human sin, and he says enough is enough, and tells Christ go get them. I think that’s the cycle of what’s going to happen. So yes I do believe in the final antichrist, I do believe in a final tribulation, I think that it’s modeled on AD 70 and typified all the way through human history.
One of the really important characteristics of his coming is that, everyone sees the Son of Man coming, his great power and glory. It’s global; it’s going to be everywhere, as lighting from the east to the west, you’re going to see it. It’s going to be visible; it’s going to be unmistakable. There’s not going to be any confusion at this point, because time has ended, the end of this age has come. It will be unmistakable. I got into an argument once, but when I was in college with someone who was arguing that Jesus had already come. I said, “that is impossible.” They said that was arrogant, and asked I say that. “Because I don’t believe it.” They said, “So what?” I said, “No, that’s the whole point. The fact that I don’t believe it, proves that he couldn’t have come, because when he comes it will be globally visible, unmistakable, loud and public.” Other passages talk about trumpets blowing. In Matthew it says that the ones who see are all the tribes of the earth. Revelation 1:7 says, “Behold, he is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see him, even those who pierced him, and all tribes of the earth will wail on account of him. Even so. Amen.” Now that’s what I call a global coming, that even people in Hell, evidently, are going to see the return (those who pierced him, I’m assuming, are in Hell). The fact that the angels are out there gathering the elect pretty much confirms this is the end of time.
This is really important because a lot of the problems in Eschatology are built upon the concept of a private return. Seventh Day Adventists, Jehovah Witnesses and the latest incarnation involved called Preterism, all teach that Jesus came back secretly at one time or another. Preterists believe that Jesus came back in AD 70 and that it was a secret return. The other groups date it back in 1880 or so. It’s not possible in the text. It’s visible; everyone’s there.
Parable of the Fig Tree (Mark 13:28-31)
Jesus then tells the parable of the fig tree starting in verse 28, “From the fig tree, learn its lesson: as soon as its branch becomes tender and puts out its leaves, you know that summer is near (28). So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that he is near, at the very gates (29). Truly, I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things take place (30). Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away (31).” What is Jesus talking about in these verses? To say it the way I’ve been saying it, what question is he dealing with?
He’s saying look at the fig tree. The fig tree puts out it’s leaves in late spring. Summer is harvest time, so when the fig trees leaf, you know that harvest time is right around the corner. The fig tree indicates the coming of harvest. This is a different use of the fig tree than what Jesus did earlier. In verse 29, what does “these things” refer to? The signs of his coming, but which of the two questions is being addressed? I think it’s the temple, and here’s why. “So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that he is near, at the very gates. (29)” They can’t be signs of his coming, because he is not there, he’s only near, he’s at the gate. You’ve got to think on this one for a bit; it’s a little frustrating. Remember there are no warning signs for Jesus’s return, there’s only announcement signs. The whole point of the fig tree is that you look at the signs. The signs you can look at to be warned are the signs of the coming of the destruction of the temple. I think what Jesus is doing is he’s going back to the first question, and he says that there are signs—you can watch the fig tree, and when you see these things taking place (or you can translate it as beginning to take place) you know that he is near at the gates. Those are, I believe, the signs of the coming of the destruction of the temple.
Do you see where I’m going? Here’s my problem: I think the text says that there are no warning signs for Jesus’s return, so what am I going to do with the fig tree? It has to be about signs of the coming of the destruction of the temple. If that’s true, then when you get down to verse 30, “Truly, I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things take place,” What are “these things?” Grammatically they have to be the same things as in verse 29. I know that some people want to translate generation as race, it’s possible, but it’s very awkward Greek to do so. All the way through the gospels, “this generation” is Jesus’s sinful contemporaries. What he’s saying is that the destruction of Jerusalem is within one generation. It’s going to be a while—there’s going to be time for wars and famines and earthquakes and persecution—but within a generation, within approximately forty years, these things are going to happen, so watch for the signs.
This is probably really different from what you are probably used to hearing. What you need to do is find a way to say that there are warning signs, like the fig tree, it’s going to happen within a generation, and there’s no warning signs for Jesus’s return. The best solution to verses 28-31 is that they refer back to the destruction of the temple.
Final Warnings (Mark 13:32-37)
Then you get into final warnings in verse 32: “But concerning that day or that hour, no one knows, not even the angels in Heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.” You think, “Wait a minute, he just said there’s a fig tree lesson that there are signs; what do you mean no one knows?” You’re back to the second question. No one does know the day or the hour of the return of Jesus Christ.
It is possible to understand day and hour in larger units. Some of the commentaries argue for this position. Most commentaries argue that by saying day and hour he’s referring to the specific time. Remember the book 88 Reasons Why the Rapture will be in 1988? I remember it was supposed to be October 28, I believe. I remember hearing an ad on the radio on October 27 to buy the book, and then it said, “Allow three weeks for delivery.” There are people who claim to know precise dates of Jesus’s return—they are called false prophets and should be stoned, according to the Old Testament. I think by saying hour and day he’s talking about exact specifics. It could also be saying nobody knows the general timing in which he’s coming back.
Is it not interesting that God the Son doesn’t know something that God the Father does know? Most of the theologies, if not all of them that I’ve read, say that this is a limitation due to incarnation. In the incarnation, Jesus set aside the independent exercise of his divinity. He relied on the Spirit, and so in the incarnate state he did not know this or perhaps other things. I don’t agree with that. I think that it means that God the Father has kept back for himself some information and that it’s his decision. When you look at how God the Father and God the Son and God the Spirit act, it’s God the Father who plans, it’s God the Son who accomplishes, and it is God the Spirit who completes. So it makes sense to me that this final decision belongs to God the Father alone. I think what Jesus is saying is that while God knows everything, this particular information belongs to God the Father. It could be a limitation of the incarnation as well.
Other Passages on Jesus’s Return
This is what is going on in Acts 1. Jesus appears and they say, “Is not now that you return to the Kingdom of Israel?” They’re still thinking of an earthly kingdom. Jesus says, “It is not for you to know times or seasons that the Father has fixed by his own authority (7). But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth (8).” Eschatology is ethical. He’s saying, don’t you worry about the dates and times; don’t you try to guess exactly. Rather, what’s important is that you go out and you do the work that I called you to do. In other words, go do your work of being a disciple and be ready for the coming. Be ready for my return. There are not going to be any signs; I’m not going to give you any warning, so go out and get ready. That’s what he’s saying in Acts 1:7-8.
If you read the parallel accounts in Matthew, you’ll see that that’s exactly what chapter 25 of Matthew is all about, it says, “So as in the days of Noah, so it will be at the end of times.” People were marrying and giving in marriage and suddenly the flood came. It’s going to be sudden. He says, “Your job is not to know the dates and times; your job is to be ready. As in the days of Noah it’s going to come quickly and unexpectedly; I may come sooner than you think.”
he tells the parable of the wicked servant who beats the other servants. The Master comes back before he thinks he’s coming back and he gets punished by the Master. Jesus says, “Or I may come back later than you think.” It’s like the ten virgins (bridesmaids), who were waiting for the wedding procession to come out of the woman’s home to go to the men’s home, and five of them don’t have enough oil. They run out to get more oil and while they are gone, the bridegroom and the party comes. He takes the other five bridesmaids and they go into his house and the won’t let the other five in after they come back from getting oil. Jesus says, “I may come later than you think, you get ready for it, make sure you have plenty of oil.”
he tells the story of the parable of the talents. “I’m going to give you certain things. Until I come back you are to use them, my wealth for my purposes. And when I come back I’m going to hold you accountable for them.” And then he tells a horrible story of judgment of people who did not care for the poor, and God says, “I don’t even know you.” For those who did take care of the poor, Jesus said you were taking care of me and they get to go into Heaven.
All of these parables in Matthew 25 are designed for this one purpose, to say don’t worry about the dates and times, get ready. I may come sooner, I may come later, but make sure you’re ready for me. You get ready for me by being a steward and doing the things that I called you to do as a Christian, caring for the poor, among other things.
Let me cover two other things about prophecy in general, and then I’ll tie it all together.
Typology or Double Fulfillment
I’ve been talking about this, but let me repeat it for clarity’s sake. In prophecy, you often have a typology, where one person or thing is a type of another. Let me give you a couple of examples. Matthew talks about Jesus’s virgin birth and quotes Isaiah 7:14. Now here’s the problem: In the Isaiah 7 context, Isaiah goes to Ahab and says, “You’ve got to believe God, he’s going to take care of this problem. And in fact, a young woman is going to have a child.” I don’t remember the wording, but it’s either before the child is born or before it’s very old, God will already have kept his promise. The birth of that child is the affirmation here that God is in control. I think the Isaiah 7 passage requires the birth of a child, which is probably Isaiah’s child, back in 700 BC. This is the nature of prophecy: that child’s birth is a type, a foreshadowing you want to call it, of Jesus’s birth, because the word “woman” also means “virgin.” So Matthew says, “a virgin shall conceive and bear a child.” So you have a double fulfillment. In another place, Matthew says, “When Jesus came up out of his two years or so in Egypt, “this is to fulfill” and he quotes Hosea 11:1, “Out of Egypt I called my son.” The son in Hosea is the nation of Israel coming out of Egypt, but there’s double fulfillment going on in the nature of prophecy, such that Jesus coming out of Egypt is also a fulfillment of Hosea 11:1.
Prophecy is not simple and you have these double fulfillments. That’s why I say I think the fall of Jerusalem prefigured the final destruction of things. The antichrist, the Nero, and the persecution have been repeated all the way through history and will continue to be repeated, probably with every generation somewhere in this world, but ultimately at the end of time. I see that same pattern in prophecy all over the place, so I’m not surprised by that.
Prophecy also experiences something called foreshortening—that was the word I was taught in seminary. Have you ever seen a picture of a lion in Africa lying on a tree, and the sun or moon is just huge behind it? If you know photography, if you have a long telephoto lens, it compresses things. Those pictures are all taken with 400/800 millimeter lenses to compress the foreground and background. That’s what foreshortening is, where the prophet sees what almost looks to be like one event. The lion and the sun are right there, but when you get into the event, there is a much greater space between the things than you realize.
The Day of the LORD is the best example of foreshortening. Joel probably thought the Day of the LORD as a single event. Peter understood that Pentecost was the Day of the LORD, that that was when it came. Yet, they realized also that it wasn’t just a single event, but extended over a long period of time. That’s why you can get literature like this where there are serious gaps of time between verses 13 and 14 and gaps of time, I would say, between verses 23 and 24. It’s just the nature of prophecy. A day of the LORD is a thousand years, a thousand years is as a day—2 Peter. Time isn’t for him what it is for us.
Summary of Mark 13
Let me tie it all together and walk through again what I think is going on, and you can mull over it and do what you want with it. The disciples asked what they thought was one question. They asked it as two questions, and we know that from Matthew. They thought the destruction of Jerusalem, Jesus’s return, and the end of this age and the beginning of the Messianic age were all wrapped up into one. Jesus doesn’t show any great concerns to say that these are all different events.
To answer the first question, Jesus wants to talk about the destruction of the temple. He says it’s not going to happen right away. There will be wars; there be earthquakes; it will be preceded by a time of intense persecution. When you see the abomination of desolation, when you see Daniel’s prophecy being fulfilled, that’s a clear sign that you are to flee. When you see those Roman standards coming over the hill, get out of Jerusalem. We know from historical sources that that’s exactly what people did. A million didn’t, but many did. People just took off for the hills when that happened. The temple was destroyed, the city was destroyed in AD 70, and probably much to the disciples’ surprise, Jesus didn’t come back. They thought, “Hmm…. I thought that was all one thing, I guess it wasn’t.” Hopefully they went back to the passage to see what we’ve seen.
Jesus is going to return. There was this tribulation in AD 70. It was a horrible time, but the language in verse 20 seems not to be fully fulfilled in AD 70. In the worst tribulation, nothing would have survived. As bad as the Jerusalem tribulation was, it was only one small part of the Roman Empire. Hence my comment that there have been more martyrs in this last century than all centuries preceding.
Jesus says as far as my return and the end of the age, which are going to happen at the same time, there is going to be no specific sign that would warn people I am returning. In other words, you’re not going to have any time to repent. In fact, you’re not even supposed to be concerned with the specific day and hour, rather, just be prepared. Live as a good servant, stay awake. Eschatology is ethical. Persevere. When I do come, there will be great signs, but they are merely going to be announcing that it’s all over. I have come back; the angels are going to go out and gather all of God’s elect; we’re at the end of time and all that remains, you learned this from the Book of Revelation, is that there will be a judgment, and some people will go to Hell and some to Heaven.
Now this is much more detail on one chapter than we’ll go into on any other book in the New Testament, but there are so many issues connected with Eschatology, I felt that we needed to do that.
I encourage you to read through chapter 13 and keep asking yourself, “What question is he answering?” The most important thing to remember is, Jesus is coming back, and it’s going to be from the east and the west. Can you imagine what that’s going to be like? If we die before Jesus comes back again and our bodies are in the ground, we will get reunited with our bodies. When Christ comes, 1 Thessalonians, we will be raised up in the air to meet him, and then those who are still alive get to come after us. I’m assuming what’s going to happen is that we’re going to be in Heaven, because when die you go to Heaven, and that we will get to come with him. And then at one point, we’re going to leave, get reunited with our bodies and be glorified, and we will get to go back up with him. That is really cool. It’s that picture and that of the glory of living in Heaven that is to be an encouragement to hang in there when times get tough—whether it’s tough living as a Christian or tough in terms of persecution.
A. Mark 13:9 : For Mark 13:9, 11-13, Matt 10:17-22; Luke 12:11, 12
B. Mark 13:9 : Mark 13:5; 2 John 8
C. Mark 13:9 : Matt 23:34
D. Mark 13:9 : Acts 17:6; 18:12; 24:1; 25:6
E. Mark 13:9 : Acts 27:24
F. Mark 13:9 : Matt 8:4
G. Mark 13:10 : Matt 28:19; Rom 10:18; Col 1:6, 23; Mark 14:9
H. Mark 13:11 : Matt 6:25
I. Mark 13:11 : Deut 18:18; Num 23:5; Exodus 4:12
J. Mark 13:11 : Acts 4:8; 6:10; 13:9; 1 Cor 15:10; 2 Cor 13:3; 1 Thess 2:13; Heb 1:1
K. Mark 13:12 : Matt 10:35, 36
L. Mark 13:13 : John 15:18-21; Luke 6:22
M. Mark 13:13 : Dan 12:12, 13; James 5:11; Rev 2:10; Heb 3:6