Mark chapter thirteen is a unique chapter among the others within this Gospel. While each of the previous chapters of Mark have dealt with a number of different topics, Mark chapter thirteen deals exclusively with one subject: the future. It is here that Jesus will share some advance information with His disciples (and the readers of Mark’s Gospel by extension) concerning a number of important future events. In fact, the entirety of Jesus’ message within this chapter will involve things that are to come and how to prepare for them.
Because of this, we can say that Mark chapter thirteen is prophetic in nature. In a general sense, “prophecy” involves a declaration from God concerning a particular situation or future event. While that description accurately describes the content found within this chapter, its important to note that not all prophecy is the same. For example, Mark chapter thirteen (at least in part) features a prophetic form that is narrow in focus and refers to a number of events that will take place at the end of history. These portions of Mark thirteen relate to the subject of “eschatology” or the “the study of last things.”
This prophetic emphasis is valuable for a number of different reasons. For instance, anyone might choose to write a book and then go on to proclaim that work to be a “message from God.” In fact, many people have done just that. So how might God verify His message to humanity through the Scriptures? How could God certify His message (and His messengers) to be truthful and authentic? How might God demonstrate the authenticity of His message and those who are authorized to deliver it?
One way to answer to such questions involves the disclosure of future events before they occur- something that only God can accomplish with 100% accuracy. The fulfillment of predictive prophecy is one of the tools that we can use to determine that the Scriptures are what they claim to be- the Word of God. As we’ll go on to see, there are certain aspects of Jesus’ message in Mark thirteen that have been fulfilled in exacting detail. These fulfillments help to verify the certainty of those remaining events that have yet to take place.
Jesus’ prophetic message in Mark thirteen is also found in two parallel passages: Matthew chapter 24 and Luke 21:5-36. As we’ll see, it will be impossible to fully understand the breadth and depth of these prophetic statements without the details included within these parallel accounts. These additional insights will prove invaluable as we move through this portion of Mark’s Gospel.
In reading through Jesus’ prophetic statements in Mark chapter thirteen, a number of important conclusions should quickly emerge. For instance, Jesus will not provide us with a timetable that details the precise chronology of these future events. However, a number of clear and certain indicators will begin to materialize as we move closer to their fulfillment. Nevertheless, at least one (or more) of these occurrences are destined to take place without any advance warning. Finally, Jesus will repeatedly emphasize the need to be watchful, prayerful, discerning, and prepared for whatever occurs.
Given the imprecise nature and timing of these events, its important to keep a few things in mind when reading through this chapter. First, its important to read Mark thirteen contextually. The word “context” refers to “the part of a text or statement that surrounds a particular word or passage and determines its meaning.” (1) In other words, the Biblical material preceding and following this chapter will help to determine what it means. In this instance, some of the prophetic information found within the pages of the Old Testament will prove valuable in helping us properly understand the events that Jesus speaks about in Mark thirteen.
Next, it’s important to look at these events responsibly. While there are some who choose to place an emphasis on the eschatological (or “last days”) aspects of the Bible, we should remember that “end time” events only represent a limited portion of the prophetic material found within the Scriptures. For example, the events of Mark thirteen that have yet to occur and those that have already been fulfilled are open to much debate. Because of this, we should think twice before making an attempt to mold today’s news headlines around the prophetic framework of Mark chapter thirteen.
This is not to say that we should ignore current events for Jesus consistently warns us to be watchful within these verses. However, the imprecise timing of the events disclosed in this chapter should encourage us to be discerning, especially when dealing with those media outlets that seek to interpret daily news events through the lens of end times theology.
Finally, we should approach this portion of Scripture with a view towards application. As touched upon earlier, Jesus will continuously remind us to “take heed” within the pages of Mark chapter thirteen. This tells us that the question, “When will these events take place?” is really not the most important one. The more important question is, “How should I prepare for these events?”
(1) The American Heritage Dictionary third edition
Mark chapter thirteen has often been referred to as Jesus’ “Olivet Discourse” and is so named in recognition of the fact that this message was delivered while He was seated on the Mount of Olives. As mentioned previously in Mark chapter twelve, the Mount of Olives is a ridge situated about one mile (1.6 km) east of Jerusalem that rises to a height of 2700 feet (823 m). As the name implies, a large number of olive trees populate this area and it provides an excellent view of the city below.
Jesus’ Olivet Discourse began with the following observation from one of His disciples…
“Then as He went out of the temple, one of His disciples said to Him, “Teacher, see what manner of stones and what buildings are here!” (Mark 13:1).
While there are many examples of beautiful architecture today, it’s unlikely that many of us have ever come into contact with the type of structure that prompted the observation made here in the opening verse of Mark chapter thirteen. That’s because the Temple of Jesus’ day represented one of the most magnificent structures ever created.
History records that King Herod began work on a new, more elaborate Temple in 19 B.C. in an effort to gain favor with his Jewish subjects- the same Temple that Jesus’ disciple referenced here in Mark thirteen. According to a first century historian named Josephus, Herod removed the buildings that formerly comprised the Temple complex and erected new ones on a significantly larger scale. The main building was constructed from stone and gold and required a decade to complete. The Temple Mount covered an area that was roughly equivalent to 475,000 to 570,000 square feet (about 2750-3330m by 1225-1470m). The retaining walls rose to an approximate height of ten stories above street level. The smallest stones used in the Temple’s construction weighed between 2-5 tons (4000-10,000 lbs, or 1800-4500 kg). Josephus described the immensity of these stones in the following manner…
“…Herod took away the old foundations, and laid others, and erected the temple upon them, being in length a hundred cubits, and in height twenty additional cubits… Now the temple was built of stones that were white and strong, and each of their length was twenty-five cubits, their height was eight, and their breadth about twelve…” (1)
With these things in mind, one of Jesus’ disciples offered a seemingly innocent observation: “Teacher, look at the beautiful architecture and workmanship of Temple.” However, the disciples were surely unprepared for Jesus’ response to this apparently offhand comment- and we’ll look at that response next.
(1) Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews, 15.11.3 A cubit represented a measurement of length that varied from 18-24 inches (46-61 cm).
“Then as He went out of the temple, one of His disciples said to Him, ‘Teacher, see what manner of stones and what buildings are here!’ And Jesus answered and said to him, ‘Do you see these great buildings? Not one stone shall be left upon another, that shall not be thrown down'” (Mark 13:1-2).
The Temple in Jerusalem was an extraordinary piece of architecture and it was said that the sun reflected off the Temple with such intensity that one could not look directly upon it from a distance in the daytime. Yet Jesus predicted that this magnificent structure would be completely destroyed. With this in mind, let’s review a brief history lesson from Mark chapter twelve and return to the year AD 69.
Beginning in AD 69 and continuing on into AD 70, the Roman general Titus marched upon the city of Jerusalem with his armed forces. Titus commanded four Roman legions -an army of 30,000 soldiers- with a mandate to eliminate the remaining pockets of resistance against the Roman Empire in that area. Titus attacked the city of Jerusalem for five months and during this time, his army decimated the city and completely destroyed the Temple. Over one million men, women and children are reported to have lost their lives in this military action.
Although it is said that Titus had no desire to destroy the Temple, the ancient historian Josephus tells us, “…when Titus perceived that his endeavors to spare a foreign temple turned to the damage of his soldiers, and then be killed, he gave order to set the gates on fire.” (1) It was around this time that one or more Roman soldiers set the interior areas of the Temple on fire with flaming arrows and/or torches. As the Temple burned during this attack, the gold used in it’s construction began to melt and run down into the stone walls and foundation.
The Romans later returned to chip away whatever stone remained from the Temple to recover the melted gold that had found it’s way there. In doing so, the Romans destroyed the Temple so thoroughly that scholars and archaeologists are unsure of the precise location of certain aspects of the Temple today. In this manner, the words of Jesus came to pass just as He had spoken- “no stone will be left upon another.”
While this background information represents a historical reality for us, it represented a future event that had been yet to be fulfilled for Jesus’ disciples- and that will set the stage for the remainder of Jesus’ Olivet Discourse.
(1) Josephus, Wars of the Jews, 6.4.1
“Now as He sat on the Mount of Olives opposite the temple, Peter, James, John, and Andrew asked Him privately” (Mark 13:3).
Following His disturbing message regarding the future of the Temple, Jesus departed to the Mount of Olives, the gently rolling hillside filled with trees and olive groves that overlooked the Temple. It is against this backdrop, with the beautiful, shining Temple situated below, that Jesus’ disciples asked Him to expand on His earlier statement…
“Tell us, when will these things be? And what will be the sign when all these things will be fulfilled?” (Mark 13:4)
As mentioned previously, it will prove impossible to fully understand Jesus’ answer to these questions without the details that are provided to us in the parallel Gospel accounts. For instance, compare Mark’s account of these questions with the parallel accounts found in Matthew chapter 24 and Luke 21…
“Now as He sat on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to Him privately, saying, ‘Tell us, when will these things be? And what will be the sign of Your coming, and of the end of the age?'” (Matthew 24:3).
“So they asked Him, saying, ‘Teacher, but when will these things be? And what sign will there be when these things are about to take place?'” (Luke 21:7).
While the accounts found in Mark and Luke are quite similar, we should note that Matthew records a critical question from the disciples that is not found in either of these other Gospels: “What will be the sign that You are returning? How will we know that the end of the age is upon us?” (Voice). For this reason, it’s important to read each of these accounts closely for they help establish a proper understanding of everything that Jesus will go on to say in His Olivet Discourse.
For instance, we should keep in mind that the disciples asked Jesus to answer two separate and distinct questions:
- When will this destruction of the Temple occur and what sign(s) will precede it?
- What events will serve to signal your return and the end of the world as we know it today?
The difficulty in understanding the remainder of this passage can be found in the fact that Jesus will go on to answer both of these questions simultaneously in His response. The challenge is found in determining which parts of His answer apply to the destruction of the Temple, which parts apply to His return, and which parts can be said to apply to both. We’ll look at one way to approach these challenges next.
“Later, Jesus sat on the Mount of Olives across the valley from the Temple. Peter, James, John, and Andrew came to him privately and asked him, ‘Tell us, when will all this happen? What sign will show us that these things are about to be fulfilled?'” (Mark 13:3-4 NLT).
In addition to these questions regarding the Temple, Matthew 24:3 tells us that Jesus was also asked, “What events will signal your return and the end of the world?” (TLB). One way to understand Jesus’ response is to approach it with the understanding that His answer will encompass both questions. In other words, we can say that Jesus will address both the destruction of the Temple and His second advent as part of His response. The first of these events has already taken place while the other is still to come.
While this “have it both ways” solution may seem like a compromise, there is a precedent for this type of approach within the Scriptures. For example, Biblical prophecies (like the kind that Jesus will go on to share in the remainder of Mark chapter thirteen) may sometimes exhibit a kind of duality. In other words, a prophetic statement may encompass a primary fulfillment that takes place in a relatively short term period and a secondary (or more complete) fulfillment that occurs at a later date.
The Old Testament prophet Joel provides us with an example of this type of prophetic statement…
“And it shall come to pass afterward That I will pour out My Spirit on all flesh; Your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, Your old men shall dream dreams, Your young men shall see visions. And also on My menservants and on My maidservants I will pour out My Spirit in those days. And I will show wonders in the heavens and in the earth: Blood and fire and pillars of smoke. The sun shall be turned into darkness, And the moon into blood, Before the coming of the great and awesome day of the Lord” (Joel 2:28-31).
Joel’s prophecy was initially fulfilled as recorded within Acts chapter two. In fact, the Apostle Peter referenced this prophecy to explain the supernatural events that had taken place within that chapter. But a comparison of Acts chapter two with Joel 2:28-31 indicates that Joel’s prophecy was not fulfilled in it’s complete entirety. This means that certain aspects of his prophetic message still await a secondary (and future) fulfillment. (1) We can approach the Olivet Discourse in a similar manner by applying Jesus’ response to certain events that have already taken place as well as His future return wherever warranted.
(1) God’s message to Adam in Genesis chapter two provides us with another example. God said to Adam, “…of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die” (Genesis 2:17). Yet Adam lived on for hundreds of years after he ate the forbidden fruit. In this instance, Adam experienced immediate spiritual death (or separation from God) as a consequence of his disobedience. His physical death represented a secondary (and future) fulfillment of God’s prophetic message to him.
“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?'” (Mark 13:3-4 ESV).
It’s understandable that Jesus’ disciples would combine their question regarding the Temple’s destruction with the “end of the age” as recorded in Matthew 24:3. After all, any event that would result in the destruction of a magnificent structure like the Temple was sure to be catastrophic- perhaps catastrophic enough to encompass events that would signal the end of the world.
Jesus responded to these questions with an answer that was both historic and apocalyptic, yet highly applicable for Christians of every generation on an individual level…
“And Jesus, answering them, began to say: ‘Take heed that no one deceives you. For many will come in My name, saying, ‘I am He,’ and will deceive many” (Mark 13:5-6).
While the final thirty two verses of Mark chapter thirteen provide us with a historic overview of epic proportions, Jesus began His response with a matter of more immediate concern: “Be careful not to let anyone deceive you” (GW). Similar cautionary statements appear in both Matthew and Luke’s account of this passage where we’re told, “Take heed that no one deceives you. For many will come in My name, saying, ‘I am the Christ,’ and will deceive many” (Matthew 24:4-5) and, “Take heed that you not be deceived. For many will come in My name, saying, ‘I am He,’ and, ‘The time has drawn near.’ Therefore do not go after them” (Luke 21:8).
This is the first of four prominent warnings that appear within the text of Jesus’ Olivet Discourse. The others are: “watch out” (Mark 13:9), “take heed” (a second time in Mark 13:23), and, “watch” (Mark 13: 35, 37). In this instance, the danger stems from those, “…claiming to speak for me, (who) will come and say, ‘I am he!…'” The result is that “…they will fool many people” (GNB).
In advising His followers to take heed, Jesus used a word that means, “to turn the thoughts or direct the mind to a thing, to consider, contemplate, look to.” (1) While it is important to pay attention to the events preceding Jesus’ return, it is equally important to be on guard against the false teachings (and teachers) that Jesus warns of here in these verses. We’ll look at some strategies to help put these warnings into practice next.
(1) NT:991 blepoo Thayer’s Greek Lexicon, Electronic Database. Copyright © 2000, 2003, 2006 by Biblesoft, Inc. All rights reserved.
“So Jesus began to tell them: ‘Be very careful that no one deceives you. Many are going to come in my name and say, ‘I am he’, and will lead many astray'” (Mark 13:5-6 Phillips).
One of the best ways to apply Jesus’ warning regarding those who falsely claim to be (or represent) Him is to examine a passage from the New Testament book of 2 Peter…
“But there were also false prophets among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you. They will secretly introduce destructive heresies, even denying the sovereign Lord who bought them– bringing swift destruction on themselves.
Many will follow their shameful ways and will bring the way of truth into disrepute. In their greed these teachers will exploit you with stories they have made up. Their condemnation has long been hanging over them, and their destruction has not been sleeping” (2 Peter 2:1-3 NIV).
These five sentences provide a wealth of information that can help us attend to Jesus’ warning concerning false teachers and false teachings. First we’re told, “…there were also false prophets among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you.” This tells us that false teachers represent an unfortunate, but continuing reality for God’s people for Peter specifically says that there will be false teachers among the members of his original audience and the readers of this letter today by extension.
2 Peter 2:1 then goes on to say, “They will secretly introduce destructive heresies…” A “heresy” is a belief or teaching that does not correspond with genuine Biblical truth. For example, God may not be identified as the eternal, all-powerful Creator that the Scriptures declare Him to be, but as a being that has simply achieved a higher state of consciousness or as a life-force or spirit that encompasses everything and everyone (a belief known as “pantheism”).
Heretical teachings also tend to give greater (or equal) authority to a source or book other than the Bible. This would be representative of organizations such as the Jehovah’s Witnesses, Christian Science, or the various divisions of Mormonism. Each of these organizations claim to be “Christian” but base many of their teachings on sources other than the Bible.
Finally, heretical doctrines have a tendency to represent Jesus as someone other than who He truly is. He may be seen as a “created being” or someone who attained the so-called “Christ consciousness” or simply as another messianic figure among many. A key characteristic of many heretical teachings is a denial of Jesus’ divinity.
“Watch out and don’t let anyone fool you! Many will come and claim to be me. They will use my name and fool many people” (Mark 13:5-6 CEV).
In 2 Peter 2:1-3, the Apostle Peter provides us with a warning regarding those “…who will secretly introduce destructive heresies” (NASB). These heresies are destructive in the sense that they misrepresent the truth about God and in doing so, they prevent people from establishing a genuine relationship with their Creator. Such false teachings often remain secret in the sense that their destructive content is cleverly disguised by a veneer of spirituality.
This passage also tells us that such false teachers will deny “…the sovereign Lord who bought them.” This helps us identify another distinguishing characteristic that is generally found among false teachers: such leaders really don’t tell the truth about Jesus. For instance, there are some self-professed “Christian” organizations that believe that Jesus was “a” God or that He was simply a messenger for God. Such beliefs often sound religiously convincing (and may sometimes contain an element of truth), but they don’t correspond to what we find in the Scriptures when we stop to examine them closely. Remember Jesus’ warning from Mark chapter thirteen: “Many will come in my name, claiming, ‘I am he,’ and will deceive many” (NIV). Those who don’t know what the Scriptures teach about Jesus are especially susceptible to this kind of spiritual deceit.
2 Peter 2:2 goes on to tell us that “Many will follow (the) shameful ways (of these false teachers) and will bring the way of truth into disrepute.” This should serve to remind us that a popular teaching is not always synonymous with a Biblically accurate teaching. For instance, its possible to observe a well-attended religious service and naturally assume that God is blessing that assembly. While that may be true (and hopefully is true), the reality is that virtually any congregation can grow if the minister is a charismatic leader or dynamic speaker. The question is really one of truth- is that person faithfully communicating the Word of God or has that person “turned away from the truth and turned aside to fables” as we’re told in 2nd Timothy 4:3-4?
Unfortunately, this situation is really nothing new. Even in the days of the Old Testament, people sometimes preferred to avoid the truth and embrace spiritual deceit rather than accept the realities of God’s Word and change their lives accordingly. The book of the prophet Hosea addresses this unfortunate situation and we’ll look at a warning from the pen of this Old Testament prophet next.
“Jesus said to them, ‘Be careful! Don’t let anyone fool you. Many people will come and use my name. They will say, ‘I am the Messiah,’ and they will fool many people” (Mark 13:5-6 ERV).
The challenges associated with spiritual deception are really nothing new. For example, listen to God’s message through the words of the Old Testament prophet Hosea…
“The more my people multiplied, the more they sinned against me. They exchanged the glory of God for the disgrace of idols. The priests rejoice in the sins of the people; they lap it up and lick their lips for more! And thus it is: ‘Like priests, like people’– because the priests are wicked, the people are too. Therefore, I will punish both priests and people for all their wicked deeds” (Hosea 4:7-9 TLB).
Rather than pursue a God-honoring lifestyle, many among the spiritual leadership and general population of Hosea’s day preferred to accept the easy path of spiritual deception. While the prophet Hosea and the Apostle Peter were separated by many generations, Peter identified a natural consequence that is certain to result from such a decision when he wrote under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, “…many will follow their destructive ways, because of whom the way of truth will be blasphemed” (2 Peter 2:2). In other words, many are often inspired in their efforts to discredit the truth of Christianity in light of the way that some choose to represent Christ.
2nd Peter 2:3 then goes on to say, “In their greed these teachers will exploit you with stories they have made up.” This indicates that false teachers are often motivated by a desire to accumulate financial riches and/or possessions at the expense of others. The Living Bible paraphrases this idea by saying, “These teachers in their greed will tell you anything to get hold of your money.” So instead of ministering to others, false teachers often take advantage of the individuals or congregations entrusted to their care and manipulate those people for their own personal gain.
This concept of “exploitation” refers to the use of someone (or something) in a selfish or unethical manner. As used in 2nd Peter 2:3, the word “exploit” means “to make merchandise of.” (1) Remember that a genuine, authentic spiritual leader will always point people to Jesus by way of the Scriptures. If there is a focus on someone or something else, then its important to be alert to the potential for exploitation.
(1) NT:1710 emporeuomai from Vine’s Expository Dictionary of Biblical Words, Copyright © 1985, Thomas Nelson Publishers.
“Jesus began to say to them, ‘Watch out that no one misleads you. Many will come in my name, saying, ‘I am he,’ and they will mislead many'” (Mark 13:5-6 NET).
An effective method of guarding against spiritual deception can be found within the New Testament book of 1 Thessalonians where we’re told, “Test all things; hold fast what is good” (1 Thessalonians 5:21). This brief but powerful message reminds us of our responsibility to measure the ideas and beliefs we encounter against the teachings of the Scriptures to confirm their truthfulness and accuracy, even if those beliefs are said to be “Christian” in nature.
The New Testament letter of 1 John also emphasizes this idea when it says, “Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world” (1 John 4:1 NIV). This verse serves to remind us that every spiritual experience or alleged demonstration of supernatural power does not necessarily come from God. This same idea holds true for individuals as well, for every person who purports to be a spiritual leader may not be someone who is communicating spiritual truth.
Spiritual deception is always a possibility if we choose to accept a spiritual phenomenon as Scriptural truth without checking the Scriptures to verify if that is actually the case. Fortunately, God provides us a useful method by which we may authenticate a spiritual teaching or experience in the following verses of 1 John…
“This is how you can recognize the Spirit of God: Every spirit that acknowledges that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, but every spirit that does not acknowledge Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you have heard is coming and even now is already in the world” (1 John 4:2-3 NIV).
So a person who presents an alternative Jesus or a Jesus that is not seen within the Scriptures is someone who is not teaching the truth. In such instances we can safely assume that such a person is therefore not of God. Of course, “Every spirit that acknowledges that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God” may seem to present something of a difficulty. After all, anyone can say the words, “Jesus Christ has come in the flesh” right? So how can we really know if he or she is truthful and authentic? We’ll look at the answer to that question next.
“And Jesus answering them began to say, Take heed lest any man deceive you: For many shall come in my name, saying, I am Christ; and shall deceive many” (Mark 13:5-6 KJV).
It can be dangerous to assume that every outward display of spiritual enthusiasm or demonstration of alleged supernatural power is naturally ordained of God. Jesus will go on to punctuate this reality a little later in His Olivet Discourse by saying, “…false christs and false prophets will rise and show signs and wonders to deceive, if possible, even the elect” (Mark 13:22). This admonition is critically important for every generation for the potential for spiritual deception always exists whenever we fail to examine the spiritual beliefs behind those who engage in such demonstrations.
1 John 4:2-3 tells us, “By this you know the Spirit of God: Every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is of God, and every spirit that does not confess that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is not of God…” Yet how can we know if such a confession is genuine and sincere? Well, there may be a tendency is read these verses and understand them to mean that “everyone” who acknowledges that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God. But notice that this is not what this passage actually says- it says, “Every spirit that acknowledges that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is of God…” One key that can help us successfully apply 1 John 4:2-3 is found when we look at this word “spirit” as used in this passage.
The word translated “spirit” is the Greek word pneuma and it forms the basis for such modern-day terms as pneumatic tire or pneumatic air tool. “Pneuma” has a few different shades of meaning but in the context that John uses it here, it refers to that power by which a human being feels, thinks or decides. It also represents the disposition or influence which fills and governs the soul of anyone. (1)
These definitions tell us that an authentic representative of God is someone who does more than simply state that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh. A genuine spiritual leader’s life should demonstrate that he or she is fully convinced of this truth. It also implies that any teaching, spiritual experience, or demonstration of supernatural power should be influenced, directed, and governed by the Scriptural truth about Jesus.
Keeping these important Biblical admonitions from 2 Peter and 1 John in mind can help us follow Jesus’ admonition to “Watch out (so) that no one deceives you” (NIV).
(1) NT:4150 pneuma Thayer’s Greek Definitions
“But when you hear of wars and rumors of wars, do not be troubled; for such things must happen, but the end is not yet. For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. And there will be earthquakes in various places, and there will be famines and troubles. These are the beginnings of sorrows” (Mark 13:7-8).
It seems that every report of a new military engagement brings fresh speculation that such hostilities might potentially signal a war that could lead to the end of the world. But when looking at such encounters within the context of Mark chapter thirteen, its important to make some distinctions.
On one hand, Jesus tells us that “…news of wars and talk of wars” (BBE) are essentially “non-signs.” In other words, armed conflicts do not necessarily serve as a precursor to the events of Mark thirteen for such hostilities are an unfortunate fact of life in virtually every generation. This should help to remind God’s people of the need to act responsibly and avoid speculating upon every rumor of war as a potential harbinger of Jesus’ return, no matter how much we might desire to see that return take place. Nevertheless, these verses can serve as an excellent starting point to help discuss the need for repentance and commitment to Christ with those who may be anxious about such possibilities.
On the other hand, wars and rumors of wars will definitely be a characteristic of the political landscape that precedes Jesus’ second advent. In addition to these things, Jesus went on to name a few additional precursors: “There will be earthquakes in various places; there will be famines. These are but the beginning of the birth pains” (ESV). Just as the contractions that accompany the birth of a child increase in pain and frequency as the moment of birth approaches, this implies that we may expect to see an increase in such natural calamities as we draw closer to the time of Jesus’ return.
In recent years there have been a number of technological advancements that allow for the measurement of earthquake frequency with great accuracy. Any increase in earthquake activity as reflected in the hard data that accompanies such measurements can help serve as an indicator for the “last days” events that Jesus will speak of here in this chapter.
Finally, Jesus spoke of pestilences in Matthew 24:7 in addition to the famines and troubles mentioned here in Mark thirteen. A famine is an extended depletion in the supply of food and water while a pestilence is a contagious disease of epidemic proportions, both of which are likely to escalate as we approach the time of Jesus’ return.
“For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. And there will be earthquakes in various places, and there will be famines and troubles. These are the beginnings of sorrows” (Mark 13:8).
To the list of events mentioned here in Mark thirteen, Luke 21:11 adds, “…there will be fearful sights and great signs from heaven.” In commenting on the use of the term “sights” in this passage, one source offers the following observation: “This term… occurs only here in the NT. It could refer to an object, event, or condition that causes fear…” (1)
Jesus then went on to say this…
“But watch out for yourselves, for they will deliver you up to councils, and you will be beaten in the synagogues. You will be brought before rulers and kings for My sake, for a testimony to them. And the gospel must first be preached to all the nations. But when they arrest you and deliver you up, do not worry beforehand, or premeditate what you will speak. But whatever is given you in that hour, speak that; for it is not you who speak, but the Holy Spirit” (Mark 13:9-11).
While these verses may potentially apply to anyone who follows Jesus (and especially for those who live in nations that are hostile to Christianity), it seems likely that Jesus was speaking directly to His disciples in saying, “You yourselves must watch out. You will be arrested and taken to court. You will be beaten in the synagogues; you will stand before rulers and kings for my sake to tell them the Good News” (Mark 13:9 GNB, emphasis added). The use of terms such as councils, synagogues, rulers, and kings indicates that such persecutions will be both religious and civil in nature, and this was certainly the case for the Apostles in the period following Jesus’ death and resurrection.
For example, the Scriptures recount the experience of Peter and John as they were placed under arrest by a number of religious authorities as recorded in Acts 4:1-22. Acts 5:29-41 also relates the beatings endured by Peter and the other Apostles for their commitment to Jesus. King Herod subsequently went on to execute the Apostle James and place Peter under arrest as detailed in Acts 12:1-4. Later on, the Apostle Paul stood trial before a number of other civil authorities as well. (2)
While many charges and accusations were leveled against the Apostles in connection with these actions, these events took place primarily as a result of their commitment to Christ- or as Jesus Himself foretold, “…you will stand before governors and kings for My sake” (NASU).
(1) NET notes on Luke 21:11, ©1996 Bible.org https://net.bible.org/#!bible/Luke+21
(2) See Acts 24-26
“Now brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child; and children will rise up against parents and cause them to be put to death. And you will be hated by all for My name’s sake. But he who endures to the end shall be saved” (Mark 13:12-13).
As mentioned earlier, Biblical prophecies may sometimes encompass a primary fulfillment that takes place during a relatively short term period and a secondary (or more complete) fulfillment that occurs at a later date. Jesus’ message here in Mark 13:12-13 can be seen as an example of this kind of duality. The primary (or initial) fulfillment of this prophetic message might be found in what is historically known as “The Neronian Persecutions,” the first large scale persecution ever experienced by the church. As the name implies, these persecutions were initiated by the Roman Emperor Nero who ruled from about A.D. 54 until A.D. 68.
These persecutions began following the events of July 14th, A.D. 64 when a devastating fire broke out within the city of Rome. Ancient historians tell us that this fire burned out of control within the city for almost a week. It then stopped for a period of time but later broke out again in other areas and destroyed large sections of the city. Although no one has ever been able to determine the cause of this fire with certainty, many among the population of that time seemed to believe that Nero himself was somehow responsible, having been been motivated in a misguided attempt to clear the way for a large building program that he had been planning.
Whatever the cause, the fire placed Nero in a politically difficult position and made it necessary for him to deflect the responsibility for it’s destruction upon some other individual or group. In response, the Emperor shifted responsibility for the fire to the Christian community. In claiming that the Christians of that area had been responsible for this disaster, the Emperor effectively turned the general population against a minority group that was virtually defenseless.
The results were both horrible and tragic. According to one ancient historian, those who admitted to being Christians during this period were forced to wear animal skins so they could be torn apart by ravenous dogs. Others were crucified. Some were burned to death and at night, their burning bodies served as torches to light Nero’s gardens. Tradition tells us that the Apostle Peter also met his death during this period by being crucified upside-down.
While these persecutions certainly fit the prophetic framework of Mark 13:12-13, the question is this: is there a further fulfillment yet to come? We’ll consider that possibility next.
“Brothers and sisters will betray each other and have each other put to death. Parents will betray their own children, and children will turn against their parents and have them killed. Everyone will hate you because of me. But if you keep on being faithful right to the end, you will be saved” (Mark 13:12-13 CEV).
While many families typically experience difficulties in getting along from time to time, the idea that one or more family members might actually seek to execute another family member in response to his or her Christian beliefs is something that can be difficult to contemplate in modern-day society. While such examples are not unheard of in nations that are traditionally hostile to Christianity, the Scriptures tell us that a similar mindset will represent a cultural characteristic of the last days as well…
“But mark this: There will be terrible times in the last days. People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God– having a form of godliness but denying its power. Have nothing to do with them” (2 Timothy 3:1-5 NIV).
In the book of 2nd Timothy, the Apostle Paul provides us with a number of distinctive attributes that will characterize the general cultural attitude in the period preceding Christ’s return. He begins by explaining that the conditions during this period will be extremely threatening. Other Biblical translations tell us that this period of time will be “perilous” (NKJV), “grievous” (ASV), “difficult” (GNB), or “violent” (GW). These words help communicate the idea of threat, menace, danger, and a general environment of hostility towards Jesus and those who follow Him. Paul identifies the reason behind these conditions as he describes a world that has turned against it’s Creator and displays little interest in emulating His character.
In identifying the personality traits that will mark this period, Paul begins with the observation that people will first be lovers of themselves and lovers of money. These are important characteristics to note, for whenever someone begins to place a love for self and a love for money above his or her love for God, bad things are sure to follow. What kinds of things? Well, Paul will continue to add to this list of characteristics that will be seen among people in the last days- and we’ll examine that list next.
“Brothers will turn against their own brothers and hand them over to be killed. Fathers will hand over their own children to be killed. Children will fight against their own parents and have them killed. All people will hate you because you follow me. But those who remain faithful to the end will be saved” (Mark 13:12-13 ERV).
Jesus’ cautionary warning from Mark chapter thirteen describes the natural result of those characteristics that will identify the period of the last days…
“But know this: Difficult times will come in the last days. For people will be lovers of self, lovers of money, boastful, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, ungrateful, unholy, unloving, irreconcilable, slanderers, without self-control, brutal, without love for what is good, traitors, reckless, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, holding to the form of godliness but denying its power. Avoid these people!” (2 Timothy 3:1-5 HCSB).
In addition to the characteristics already mentioned, Paul goes on to tell us that the people of this period will generally be…
- boastful and proud.
- blasphemers or abusive (NIV). This literally refers to an “evil-speaker.”
- Disobedient to their parents.
- ungrateful, a description of someone who acts selfishly.
- unholy, a reference to someone who acts in a manner that is opposite to God and His character.
- without love, a term that indicates a lack of natural affection, such as the kind that should exist among family members.
- unforgiving, a natural result of a failure to recognize or appreciate how God has forgiven us in Christ.
- slanderous, referring to false statements that are designed to damage the reputations of others.
- without self-control, brutal. A person who is self-indulgent while holding others to a standard that he or she would never personally seek to attain.
- not lovers of the good, but just the opposite.
- treacherous. People who think nothing of selling one another out.
- rash, or those who act thoughtlessly.
- lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, referring to the existence of a prevailing, “if it feels good, do it” attitude.
Finally, we’re told that people will have “a form of Godliness but deny it’s power” (NIV). Such people effectively reject God by placing a love of money, a love of pleasure, and a love of self ahead of Him while still maintaining an external facade of spirituality. Because of this, Paul’s advice is simple: “Don’t have anything to do with such people” (CEV). You see, such characteristics have always existed, even among the people of Paul’s day. The difference is that in the last days, most people will be like this instead of a relative few.
“Brother will hand over brother to death; a father will hand over his child. Children will rebel against their parents and kill them. Everyone will hate you because you are committed to me. But the person who endures to the end will be saved” (Mark 13:12-13 GW).
For those who stop to consider the implications, Mark 13:12-13 represents one of the most difficult passages in all the Scriptures. Yet Jesus openly shared the realities of what was (and is) to come. Therefore, it is important to give careful attention to His warning in this passage.
One translation renders this passage, “Brothers will turn against their own brothers and hand them over to be killed. Fathers will hand over their own children to be killed. Children will fight against their own parents and have them killed” (ERV). The thought that a young child, nurtured and cared for through infancy, supported and sustained through childhood and adolescence by his or her parents, might then turn against those parents and cause them to be killed for their commitment to Christ is difficult to contemplate. In the same regard, the idea that a parent would seek to have his or her own child executed for that child’s relationship with Jesus is equally difficult to comprehend. Yet Jesus tells us that this will be the case.
One explanation for this type of response can be found in Matthew’s account of the Olivet Discourse where Jesus is quoted as saying, “At that time many will turn away from the faith and will betray and hate each other, and many false prophets will appear and deceive many people. Because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold (Matthew 24:10-12 NIV). The fact that “many will turn away from the faith” implies that a number of those responsible for such deaths may include those who had once claimed to be Christians.
This is disturbing to contemplate but may be easier understand if we consider that a large percentage of those who self-identify as “Christians” feel that they attend churches where the Scriptures are not taught clearly or often enough (1) or do not read the Scriptures regularly (if at all). (2) As a result, those who don’t know what the Scriptures teach are susceptible to being swept along the destructive path of a world that has no use for its Creator. However, the person who is guided by a set of core beliefs that find their origin within the pages of the Bible is someone who is best equipped to avoid such dangers.
(1) Barna Group, Six Reasons Young Christians Leave Church (Reason #2) https://www.barna.org/barna-update/millennials/528-six-reasons-young-christians-leave-church
(2) Barna Group, Barna Study of Religious Change Since 1991 Shows Significant Changes by Faith Group https://www.barna.org/barna-update/faith-spirituality/514-barna-study-of-religious-change-since-1991-shows-significant-changes-by-faith-group
“So when you see the ‘abomination of desolation,’ spoken of by Daniel the prophet, standing where it ought not” (let the reader understand), then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains. Let him who is on the housetop not go down into the house, nor enter to take anything out of his house. And let him who is in the field not go back to get his clothes.
But woe to those who are pregnant and to those who are nursing babies in those days! And pray that your flight may not be in winter. For in those days there will be tribulation, such as has not been since the beginning of the creation which God created until this time, nor ever shall be. And unless the Lord had shortened those days, no flesh would be saved; but for the elect’s sake, whom He chose, He shortened the days” (Mark 13:14-20).
The “Abomination of Desolation” mentioned in this passage involves an abhorrent misuse of the Temple resulting in an extreme offense against God. The Old Testament prophet Daniel used this terminology (1) in prophesying that the Temple would be desecrated in a manner that would make it unfit for use as a place of worship by the people of God. As a result, this act would become the “abomination that causes desolation.”
Scholars have identified two historic events that might be considered as a partial fulfillment of Daniel’s prophecy. One such event occurred around 165 B.C. when the Syrian leader Antiochus Epiphanes attempted to unite the people of his kingdom under Greek customs of law, religion, and culture. However, this initiative met with great resistance from among the Jewish people of that era. In an attempt to facilitate this cultural shift, Antiochus erected a statue of the Greek god Zeus in the Temple and sacrificed a pig on the altar, thereby polluting it.
This act eventually led to a revolt led by Judas Maccabeus that ultimately overthrew the Syrians and liberated the nation. This event, along with the cleansing and the re-dedication of the temple, is observed by Jews today as “The Feast of Lights” also known as “Hanukkah”
Others believe that the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple in A.D. 70 constituted “the Abomination of Desolation.” A number of commentators relate the account of some first century Christians who, having witnessed the city of Jerusalem surrounded by armies during this period, fled to the nearby city of Pella, thus saving them from being among the one million who were killed by the Roman military. (2)
(2) See Eusebius Pamphilius: Church History, Life of Constantine, Oration in Praise of Constantine Chapter V.—The Last Siege of the Jews after Christ. (5:3) http://www.ccel.org/ccel/schaff/npnf201.iii.viii.v.html
“But when you see ‘the abomination of desolation’ standing where it ought not—(let the reader take note of this)—then those who are in Judea must fly to the hills! The man on his house-top must not go down nor go into his house to fetch anything out of it, and the man in the field must not turn back to fetch his coat.
Alas for the women who are pregnant at that time, and alas for those with babies at their breasts! Pray God that it may not be winter when that time comes, for there will be such utter misery in those days as had never been from the creation until now—and never will be again. Indeed, if the Lord did not shorten those days, no human beings could survive. But for the sake of the people whom he has chosen he has shortened those days” (Mark 13:14-20 Phillips).
Was Jesus’ prophetic message from this passage completely fulfilled at an earlier point in history or is there a further fulfillment to come? Well, the New Testament book of 2 Thessalonians tells us this…
“Concerning the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our being gathered to him, we ask you, brothers, not to become easily unsettled or alarmed by some prophecy, report or letter supposed to have come from us, saying that the day of the Lord has already come.
Don’t let anyone deceive you in any way, for that day will not come until the rebellion occurs and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the man doomed to destruction. He will oppose and will exalt himself over everything that is called God or is worshiped, so that he sets himself up in God’s temple, proclaiming himself to be God” (2 Thessalonians 2:1-4 NIV).
This act would certainly constitute an “abomination that causes desolation” but what does it refer to with regard to the Temple? Well, this epistle to the Thessalonians was written sometime around the year 55 A.D., well after the time of Antiochus Epiphanes mentioned earlier. There is no record of an event like this between the time of Paul’s letter and the Temple’s destruction. Finally, this event could not have occurred over the last 1900+ years for there has been no Temple to defile.
The most likely explanation is that this passage refers to a future Temple -one yet to be built- in which a person referred to as “the man of lawlessness” will set himself up as an object of worship. As we’re told in this passage, “let the reader take note” (GW), a parenthetical statement that should encourage us pay close attention to the potential application of Jesus’ warning here in Mark 13.
“But when ye shall see the abomination of desolation, spoken of by Daniel the prophet, standing where it ought not, (let him that readeth understand,) then let them that be in Judaea flee to the mountains” (Mark 13:14 KJV).
As mentioned earlier, this prophetic reference to the “abomination of desolation” is found in two places within the book of Daniel: Daniel 11:31 and Daniel 12:11. This second reference is especially interesting for just prior to the mention of this abomination of desolation in Daniel chapter 12, we read the following…
“But as for you, Daniel, conceal these words and seal up the book until the end of time; many will go back and forth, and knowledge will increase” (Daniel 12:4 NASB).
Daniel’s prophecy should encourage us to consider how this Scripture might be viewed in light of today’s age of technological advancement. For example, we may tend to view modern-day electronics as devices that have always existed- and indeed, for virtually everyone, they always have. Yet human advances in technology over the past few decades have been astonishing when you stop to consider it.
For instance, consider the experience of a person born at the beginning of the 20th century. Such a person entered a world where radio existed as a technology but largely took the form of Morse Code signals sent via spark gap transmitters. The following generation was born into a world where broadcast radio had become a reality while television technology was in its infancy. The next generation (the so-called “baby boomers” of the 1950’s-early 1960’s) grew up with analog television as an institution of everyday life, while the use of then-primitive computer technology was mainly limited to governments, corporations, and large educational institutions.
The generation born in the decade of the 1980’s entered a world where computer technology had begun to appear within private homes. While the Internet existed as an entity, the few who accessed it generally did so through the use of dial-up modems. Those born just a decade later saw the emergence of mobile phone technology with bulky phones and simple text messaging. Now, children born in the first decade of the 21st century enter a digital world of smartphones, HDTV, satellite radio, wi-fi, high-speed internet capability, and near-instantaneous communication capability.
For the vast majority of human history, the ability to travel was mostly limited to how far one could ride upon a horse. Yet today, many people routinely commute great distances and even the remotest portions of the globe are accessible from virtually anywhere in the world within a day or so. In the words of the prophet Daniel, humanity has clearly entered a period where, “Many will dash about, and knowledge will increase” (NET).
“Then if anyone says to you, ‘Look, here is the Christ!’ or, ‘Look, He is there!’ do not believe it. For false christs and false prophets will rise and show signs and wonders to deceive, if possible, even the elect” (Mark 13:21-22).
This briefing on the subject of false prophets and false messiahs must be important for this represents the second time that Jesus will address this topic within His Olivet Discourse. In Matthew’s account of this passage, Jesus also provided us with the following insight: “Therefore if they say to you, ‘Look, He is in the desert!’ do not go out; or ‘Look, He is in the inner rooms!’ do not believe it. For as the lightning comes from the east and flashes to the west, so also will the coming of the Son of Man be” (Matthew 24:26-27).
In light of these warnings, how can we recognize and protect against such risks? Well, here are three suggestions:
1) Test all things against the Scriptures. Prayerfully study the Bible to make sure that a particular message or doctrine lines up with God’s Word. We should always keep in mind that just because someone puts the word “Christian” on a book or message doesn’t necessarily mean that it is.
2) Remember that false prophets and false teachers are often untruthful. Consider this admonition from 1 Timothy 4:1-2: “The Spirit clearly says that in later times some will abandon the faith and follow deceiving spirits and things taught by demons. Such teachings come through hypocritical liars, whose consciences have been seared as with a hot iron” (NIV). The late Dr. Walter Martin once said something to the effect that “the devil will wrap one ounce of falsehood in ten pounds of truth if that’s what it will take to get you to believe it.” Remember that false prophets are often convincing liars and its easy to be fooled if we aren’t careful to be diligent in studying the Scriptures.
3) Recognize that false teachers are aggressive recruiters. In the New Testament epistle of 2nd Timothy we read the following description of such teachers: “For of this sort are those who creep into households and make captives of gullible women loaded down with sins, led away by various lusts, always learning and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth” (2 Timothy 3:6-7). While false teachers now have the advantage of 21st century technology to market and package their message in a highly effective manner, we can largely escape this vulnerability by reading God’s Word daily and prayerfully seeking to apply it in our daily lives.
“But take heed; behold, I have told you all things beforehand” (Mark 13:23 MKJV).
For those who are willing to listen, Jesus provides us with some “inside information” here in Mark 13:21-23. Specifically, Jesus presents us with three distinct warning signs that we should be alert for…
- “Then if anyone says to you, ‘Look, here is the Christ!’ or, ‘Look, He is there!’ do not believe it” (Mark 13:21). Remember that Jesus is the only genuine, authentic Agent of salvation, for as we’re told in Acts 4:12, “…there is salvation in no one else; for there is no other name under heaven that has been given among men, by which we must be saved” (NASB). Anyone else who claims or accepts such a designation is an impostor.
- “For false christs and false prophets will rise…” (Mark 13:22). A dynamic or charismatic speaker may sound convincing but that doesn’t necessarily mean that he or she is Biblically accurate or sincere- its important to measure his or her message against the Scriptures.
- “…and show signs and wonders to deceive, if possible, even the elect” (Mark 13:22). We should be careful in automatically associating the “miraculous” with an authentic work of God. As Jesus Himself once said, “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven. Many will say to Me in that day, ‘Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!’” (Matthew 7:21-23).
To help avoid such spiritual dangers, one commentary provides us with some useful and practical advice…
Is it possible for Christians to be deceived? Yes. So convincing will be the arguments and proofs from deceivers in the end times that it will be difficult not to fall away from Christ. If we are prepared, Jesus says, we can remain faithful. But if we are not prepared, we will turn away. To penetrate the disguises of false teachers we can ask:
(1) Have their predictions come true, or do they have to revise them to fit what’s already happened?
(2) Does any teaching utilize a small section of the Bible to the neglect of the whole?
(3) Does the teaching contradict what the Bible says about God?
(4) Are the practices meant to glorify the teacher or Christ?
(5) Do the teachings promote hostility toward other Christians? (1)
(1) Life Application Study Bible Copyright © 1988, 1989, 1991, 1993, 1996, 2004 by Tyndale House Publishers Inc., all rights reserved. Life Application® is a registered trademark of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc.
“But in those days, after that tribulation, the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light; the stars of heaven will fall, and the powers in the heavens will be shaken. Then they will see the Son of Man coming in the clouds with great power and glory. And then He will send His angels, and gather together His elect from the four winds, from the farthest part of earth to the farthest part of heaven” (Mark 13:24-27).
This passage (along with the parallel accounts found within the Gospels of Matthew and Luke) provides us with a list of cosmic and terrestrial events that will be associated with Jesus’ return. Among these events are:
- A darkening of the sun and of the moon (which is hardly surprising for there would be no moonlight without sunlight).
- Stars falling from the sky (Matthew 24:29).
- Signs (or “that which portends remarkable events soon to occur”) in the sun, moon, and stars (Luke 21:25). (1)
- Roaring and tossing of the seas (Luke 21:25).
- “…the powers of the heavens will be shaken” (Matthew 24:29).
Its also interesting to note that Jesus identified the presence of clouds as something that would accompany His return. As used in Mark 13:26, this word refers to the visible, airborne collection of water molecules that everyone is familiar with. However, anyone who is familiar with the Old Testament use of this word may also associate this imagery with the presence of God.
For instance, the appearance of a cloud signified the presence of God in the case of both Moses (Exodus 24:12-18) and Solomon (1 Kings 8:10-13). In addition, the prophet Isaiah associated a “swift cloud” with the arrival of the Lord in Isaiah 19:1. Of course, some of Jesus’ disciples had their own experience in this regard when a cloud overshadowed Peter, James, and John while they were alone with Jesus on the Mount of Transfiguration in Mark chapter nine. It was there that the voice of God spoke to them saying, “This is my Son, whom I love. Listen to him!” (Mark 9:7 NIV).
While clouds generally tend to obscure things from view, here they serve to reflect or illuminate Jesus’ power and glory. When used in this context, the word “glory” refers to “the kingly majesty which belongs to (God) as the supreme ruler” (2) and as we’re told in final book of the Bible, “Behold, He is coming with clouds, and every eye will see Him…” (Revelation 1:7).
(1) NT:4592 seemeia Thayer’s Greek Lexicon, Electronic Database. Copyright © 2000, 2003, 2006 by Biblesoft, Inc. All rights reserved.
(2) NT:1391 doxees Thayer’s Greek Lexicon, Electronic Database. Copyright © 2000, 2003, 2006 by Biblesoft, Inc. All rights reserved.
“Now learn this parable from the fig tree: When its branch has already become tender, and puts forth leaves, you know that summer is near. So you also, when you see these things happening, know that it is near—at the doors!” (Mark 13:28-29).
The final nine verses of Mark chapter thirteen end with a call to action in response to the “inside information” that Jesus provides for us within His Olivet Discourse. He began by using a fig tree as a kind of horticultural parable to illustrate the need to be alert to the social and cultural conditions that will precede His return. A fig tree was useful in this regard for such trees were common within the nation of Israel and had often been referenced in the pages of the Old Testament Scriptures either directly (as evidenced by the fig leaves mentioned in Genesis chapter three) or as part of another illustration.
When employed as part of an Old Testament illustration, the fig tree was used as a symbol of prosperity and blessing (Micah 4:3-4), physical attraction (Song of Solomon 2:13), or the nation of Israel itself (Hosea 9:10). But while the fig tree had found it’s way into a number of such Biblical applications, Luke’s account of this passage helps us set the right parameters for Jesus’ use of this particular illustration…
“Then He spoke to them a parable: ‘Look at the fig tree, and all the trees. When they are already budding, you see and know for yourselves that summer is now near” (Luke 21:29-30, emphasis added).
Jesus’ inclusion of “all the trees” in Luke’s Gospel tells us that this illustration best serves as a general representation regarding the time of His return. For instance, a leaf-bearing tree generally follows a regular and predictable growth cycle: leaves appear in the spring, fruit (depending on the type of tree) arrives in the summer, leaves fall in autumn, and a period of winter dormancy follows. While trees will never be suitable for use as clocks or daily calendars, they can provide us with an accurate measurement of seasonal time- and whenever new growth appears, it is a sure sign that the summer months are approaching.
In a similar manner, this illustration tells us that we should be alert to the cumulative elements that point to Jesus’ imminent return rather than seek to define one specific “trigger event” that definitively signals His second coming. Keeping these “seasonal conditions” in mind will help put us in the best position to responsibly interpret current events in relation to Mark chapter thirteen.
“Assuredly, I say to you, this generation will by no means pass away till all these things take place. Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will by no means pass away” (Mark 13:30-31).
For those with an interest in defining a potential timeline for the events of Mark chapter thirteen, the word “generation” represents an important consideration.
For most people, the idea of a generation encompasses the length of time between the birth of a child and the birth of that child’s own children, a period of perhaps 20-40 years. The word generation is also used to indicate the lifespan of a given person, a period that generally lasts for approximately seventy years. To this, the Bible adds a third definition: “A body of people who live at the same time in a given period of history… Applied in this way, generation is roughly synonymous with the word age…” (1)
With this in mind, we can say that this passage may be best understood to mean that the events of Mark chapter thirteen will rapidly converge upon a group of people who live at a specific (but as yet undetermined) point in history. One source captures this idea with the following explanation: “…once the movement to the return of Christ starts, all the events connected with it happen very quickly, in rapid succession.” (2) Another commentator observes, “Verse 30 may best be translated, ‘I tell you the truth, this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things begin to take place‘ (emphasis added).” (3)
Because of this, it is impossible to accurately predict the exact time of Jesus’ return with any degree of precision- and as we’ll see, even Jesus Himself was unaware of the exact date of His return as He spoke these words to His disciples. This limited amount of information allows us to speak in generalities regarding Christ’s return, but little more. However, Jesus repeatedly encouraged us to be watchful regarding the general course of human events to determine how those events may fit within the prophetic framework He established for us here in Mark thirteen as well as the other prophetic books of the Bible.
While the exact timing of Jesus’ return is unknown, Mark chapter thirteen provides us with a number of clear signs (or landmarks) to indicate that His return is drawing near- at least for those who are seriously interested in following Jesus’ counsel to “take heed” (Mark 13:23). The more frequently these landmarks appear, the closer we are to His return.
(1) “Generation” Nelson’s Illustrated Bible Dictionary, Copyright © 1986, Thomas Nelson Publishers
(2) NET notes on Matthew 24:34, Mark 13:30, Luke 21:32 ©1996 Bible.org http://classic.net.bible.org/passage.php?passage=matthew%2024:34;%20Mark%2013:30;%20Luke%2021:32
(3) Elwell, W. A. (1996, c1989). Evangelical Commentary on the Bible . (electronic ed.) (Mk 13:28). Grand Rapids: Baker Book House.
“But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. Take heed, watch and pray; for you do not know when the time is” (Mark 13:32-33).
While Jesus spoke openly in Mark chapter thirteen concerning the potential dangers associated with a decision to follow Him, there is perhaps a greater danger facing Christians and non-Christians alike: the danger of being unprepared.
You see, it may be easy to overlook the subtle, but important change that has taken place in the passage quoted above. While Jesus had previously spoken of “those days” (1) in identifying the cultural, political, spiritual, and environmental conditions preceding His return, the emphasis has now shifted to “that day” here in Mark 13:32. In the first sense, Jesus’ return had not yet taken place; in the second (or in “that day”), it was now a reality.
The importance of being watchful in regard to “that day” can be found in the final book of the Bible where Jesus is quoted as saying, “I am coming soon…” (Revelation 3:11 NIV). Of course, it’s possible to read this verse and think, “That was written more than 2000 years ago and Jesus still hasn’t returned. How can He say, ‘I am coming soon’?”
Well, a closer look at the language originally used to author this portion of Scripture tells that the word translated “soon” or “quickly” does mean “without delay.” However, this word can also mean “by surprise” or “suddenly” as well. (2) So when Jesus says, “I am coming soon” we might understand His meaning to be, “I will return without any warning.”
This becomes important when we stop to consider how easily we may become entangled in the problems and concerns of daily life and lose sight of the fact that this life does not comprise the totality of our existence. Whether Jesus suddenly returns to start a new chapter in human history or simply returns for someone at the end of his or her life (whenever that time may be), our responsibility is to “Take heed, watch and pray.”
Of course, its also true that Jesus is sure to return unexpectedly for those who assume that God doesn’t exist simply because such people aren’t looking for Him. The same may be said for the person who presumptuously assumes that he or she will enjoy many years of life ahead. While we may have the expectation of a long life, there are certainly no guarantees. Remember that there is a danger in being unprepared for Jesus’ return, whatever form that return may take.
(1) See Mark 13:17, 19, 20, 24<
(2) NT:5035 taxu/ tachu (takh-oo’); neuter singular of NT:5036 (as adverb); shortly, i.e. without delay, soon, or (by surprise) suddenly, or (by implication, of ease) readily: Biblesoft’s New Exhaustive Strong’s Numbers and Concordance with Expanded Greek-Hebrew Dictionary. Copyright © 1994, 2003, 2006 Biblesoft, Inc. and International Bible Translators, Inc.<
“But concerning that day or that hour, no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. Be on guard, keep awake. For you do not know when the time will come” (Mark 13:32-33 ESV).
This passage provides us with an opportunity to reconsider an important question from earlier in the Gospel of Mark. In this instance, the question revolves around Jesus’ statement that, “No one knows the day or the time. The angels in heaven don’t know, and the Son himself doesn’t know. Only the Father knows” (Mark 13:32 CEV). In light of this admission, we might ask the following question, “If Jesus is God, and God is all-knowing, then how could He not know the date of His return?”
As we said earlier, this type of question can be phrased in a number of different ways. For example…
- If Jesus was God, then why did He pray? (Matthew 14:23)
- If Jesus was God, then how could He learn anything? (Luke 2:52)
- If Jesus was God, then why didn’t He simply appear wherever He wanted to go?
We can start by saying that Jesus knew at least some things about the future at the time He shared this message with His disciples or He could not have spoken to them about what was still to come. So the issue does not revolve around Jesus’ lack of knowledge regarding the future- the question revolves around the fact that His knowledge was limited in this instance. This reality is something that should really be more of a comfort than a question when we stop to consider it.
In speaking of Jesus, Hebrews 2:17 tells us, “Therefore he had to be made like his brothers in every respect, so that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people” (ESV). (1) One characteristic of human existence is that human beings are limited in such things as knowledge, ability, and experience. As a perfect human being, Jesus also subjected Himself to such limitations while continuing to do everything that a perfect human should do. This included things like praying, accepting the limitations of human knowledge, trusting God with an unknown future, and acknowledging that God is supreme (John 20:17).
Jesus did not cease to be God at any time in accepting these human limitations (see Philippians 2:5-8). But in doing so, Jesus can completely identify with every human being who knows what it is like to face an unknown future.
(1) “Propitiation” refers to the act of paying the price necessary to satisfy God’s justice against sinful human beings who have broken His laws.
“Be on watch, be alert, for you do not know when the time will come” (Mark 13:33 GNB).
In Revelation 22:20 we find the final recorded words of Jesus in the Bible. So what did Jesus choose to say as His final message to humanity through the Scriptures? Well, Jesus’ very last words in the Bible were these: “Yes, I am coming soon” (NIV). This represented the third and last time that Jesus offered this type of admonition within the final chapter of the Bible’s final book (See Revelation 22:7, 22:12, and 22:20).
Whenever someone repeats something three times, it usually means that he or she is trying to make a point- and it seems that Jesus is attempting to deliver an important message both here in the Gospel of Mark as well as the book of Revelation. In considering this passage, one commentator observes, “Although the reality of the Second Coming will only be the experience of one generation, each generation lives in the constant hope of the any-moment return of the Lord. This explains why the Apostles and the early church thought the return was imminent” (1)
As mentioned earlier, its easy to forget the temporal nature of our physical lives as we attend to the details of our busy schedules. For this reason, it’s important to adopt a mindset that assumes that Jesus could return at any time. Remember that Jesus is sure to return unexpectedly for the person who is not watching for His return simply because he or she is not looking for Him. Its important to make certain that we’re living God-honoring lives as empowered by His Holy Spirit so we’ll be prepared for the possibility that Jesus may show up at a time when we don’t expect Him.
For example, Jesus provides us with an opportunity to do some real good in the world today. Time is a commodity that is always in limited supply and the opportunities available to us now won’t last forever. Since we don’t know what the future holds, it makes good sense to live as if Jesus was to return very soon and plan as if God is preparing to bless us with long, good lives.
The events of Mark thirteen represent a future reality that should impact the way we live in the world today. Anyone who is diligent to stay alert and keep watch is someone who is not likely to be taken by surprise. Its important to make sure that we are living God-honoring lives now so we will be prepared in the event that Jesus returns at a time when He is least expected.
(1) Dr. Bob Utley The Gospel According to Peter: Mark and 1 & 2 Peter http://www.freebiblecommentary.org/new_testament_studies/VOL02/VOL02A_13.html
“Take heed, watch and pray; for you do not know when the time is. It is like a man going to a far country, who left his house and gave authority to his servants, and to each his work, and commanded the doorkeeper to watch” (Mark 13:33-34).
In keeping with the overall theme of his Gospel, Mark provides us with the essence of Jesus’ message from this portion of His Olivet Discourse. The idea is that our lives on earth might be compared with the example of an employee who is working outside the direct presence of his or her supervisor. The statement, “to each his work” implies that every Christian has been given a specific set of tasks to accomplish while the Master is away, so to speak. These responsibilities are generally directed by the Holy Spirit through the time, talent, opportunities, and spiritual gifting that God provides for each of His people.
The Gospel of Luke’s account of this passage also provides us with some additional detail in this regard…
“But take heed to yourselves, lest your hearts be weighed down with carousing, drunkenness, and cares of this life, and that Day come on you unexpectedly. For it will come as a snare on all those who dwell on the face of the whole earth. Watch therefore, and pray always that you may be counted worthy to escape all these things that will come to pass, and to stand before the Son of Man” (Luke 21:34-36).
A similar admonition is found in the New Testament book of Romans where the Apostle Paul writes the following under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit…
“I say this because you know that we live in an important time. Yes, it is now time for you to wake up from your sleep. Our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed. The night is almost finished. The day is almost here. So we should stop doing whatever belongs to darkness.
We should prepare ourselves to fight evil with the weapons that belong to the light. We should live in a right way, like people who belong to the day. We should not have wild parties or be drunk. We should not be involved in sexual sin or any kind of immoral behavior. We should not cause arguments and trouble or be jealous. But be like the Lord Jesus Christ, so that when people see what you do, they will see Christ…” (Romans 13:11-14 ERV).
“Be on watch, be alert, for you do not know when the time will come. It will be like a man who goes away from home on a trip and leaves his servants in charge, after giving to each one his own work to do and after telling the doorkeeper to keep watch” (Mark 13:33-34 GNB).
To this brief but powerful illustration, Jesus added a second word-picture as recorded for us in Matthew 24:45-41…
“Who then is a faithful and wise servant, whom his master made ruler over his household, to give them food in due season? Blessed is that servant whom his master, when he comes, will find so doing. Assuredly, I say to you that he will make him ruler over all his goods.
But if that evil servant says in his heart, ‘My master is delaying his coming,’ and begins to beat his fellow servants, and to eat and drink with the drunkards, the master of that servant will come on a day when he is not looking for him and at an hour that he is not aware of, and will cut him in two and appoint him his portion with the hypocrites. There shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”
While this reference to a “faithful and wise servant” may specifically refer to those who are in positions of church leadership, the reality is everyone is a leader to some degree. You see, everyone has a sphere of influence or a “household” (to use Jesus’ terminology) of friends, co-workers, family members, acquaintances, or others with whom they have influence. The way in which we influence these other individuals is something that carries eternal significance.
Jesus also used the concept of food in relation to the work of God when He said, “My food… is to do the will of him who sent me and to finish his work” (John 4:34). With this in mind, we might ask what our lives “feed” those we interact with. Are we feeding others with the fruit that comes from a genuine relationship with Christ or are we feeding them with something else? If our lives produce the God-honoring equivalent of a good meal then Jesus says, “It will be good for that servant whose master finds him doing so when he returns. I tell you the truth, he will put him in charge of all his possessions” (NIV).
Remember, we never know when God is going to activate the “recall device” on our lives- the key is not to be ready “when” but to be ready “whenever.”
“Watch therefore, for you do not know when the master of the house is coming—in the evening, at midnight, at the crowing of the rooster, or in the morning— lest, coming suddenly, he find you sleeping. And what I say to you, I say to all: Watch!” (Mark 13:35-37).
Whether we’re willing to accept it or not, Jesus holds every human life in His hands; He is the “master of the house” and His message from Mark chapter thirteen is for everyone: “What I say to you I say to all, ‘ Be on the alert!'” (NASU). You see, we don’t know when the Master will return to examine the work we’ve done with our lives. Because of this, it can be dangerous to adopt the kind of mindset that assumes that death is a long way off.
Jesus once offered a parable to illustrate this stark reality…
“Then He spoke a parable to them, saying: ‘The ground of a certain rich man yielded plentifully. And he thought within himself, saying, ‘What shall I do, since I have no room to store my crops?’ So he said, ‘I will do this: I will pull down my barns and build greater, and there I will store all my crops and my goods. And I will say to my soul, “Soul, you have many goods laid up for many years; take your ease; eat, drink, and be merry.”’
But God said to him, ‘Fool! This night your soul will be required of you; then whose will those things be which you have provided?’ So is he who lays up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God” (Luke 12:16-21).
The man in this parable certainly did not expect to die. On the contrary, he looked forward to many years of leisure and prosperity. Because of this, he was not prepared when his life ended unexpectedly. Unfortunately, this example is reminiscent of the person who acknowledges the need to get right with God but wants to wait until he or she has had an opportunity to “enjoy life” first. To such people, the Bible says, “I tell you, now is the time of God’s favor, now is the day of salvation” (2 Corinthians 6:2 NIV emphasis added).
For those who act on their need for salvation by accepting Jesus’ sacrifice on their behalf, He makes this promise: “Most assuredly, I say to you, he who hears My word and believes in Him who sent Me has everlasting life, and shall not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life” (John 5:24 NKJV).