Read the Passage: Mark 13
Suffering of Believers (13:1–20)
Mark 13 contains what has become known as the Olivet Discourse. This chapter records Jesus’ response, while sitting on the Mount of Olives, to His disciples’ questions about: (1) the timing of the destruction of Jerusalem, which they errantly understood to be the end of the age, and (2) the signs of this event (cf. Mark 13:1–4). Christ addresses the disciples’ first question in Mark 13:5–20. In His reply, Jesus speaks about the destruction of Jerusalem, but also Christ describes the state of the world between His first and second comings. Thus, this chapter gives details about the destruction of Jerusalem, which occurred in AD 70, as well as information about world history. Jesus notes that in the present age the effects of sin will be constantly seen in the created order (cf. Mark 13:5–8). This includes the presence of religious heresies, international warfare, and all manner of natural disasters.
In Mark 13:9–13 Christ teaches that in the present age the gospel will go forth into all the world and will be rejected by many. As the gospel is shared, many believers will be persecuted (some to their death), false religions will arise to deceive mankind, and the love of many people will grow cold. Jesus also notes that as sin affects the created order we must remember God governs the world and He will protect His church (cf. Mark 13:14–20). As persecution ebbs and flows in the present world, then, we must not forget that God is sovereign. While Christians will suffer and die, salvation is assured, divine love is unending, and nothing happens apart from God’s purview. Note the “abomination of desolation” (Mark 13:14; cf. Dan. 8:13; 9:27; 11:31; 12:11) is likely referring to the Roman commander Titus’ army offering Temple sacrifices at the fall of Jerusalem in AD 70.
Coming of Jesus (13:21–27)
In Mark 13:21–27, Jesus addresses His disciples’ second question about the signs of the end of the age (cf. Mark 13:4). Whereas there are many protracted signs that will precede the destruction of Jerusalem and that mark the sinful condition of the present age—such as false Christs, warfare, natural disasters, etc.—in Mark 13:21–27 Jesus teaches that His second coming will not be marked by prolonged signs, but will be unmistakable, sudden, and public. In this passage Christ exhorts His hearers not to listen to reports about false messiahs who will inevitably arise prior to His arrival. Indeed, Jesus teaches that His second coming will be plainly evident and marked by sudden, obvious, cosmic, and universal disturbances. These signs will include the sun being darkened, the moon ceasing to shine, the stars falling, and the shaking of the heavens (cf. Mark 13:24–25).
Illustrations of Imminence (13:28–37)
In Mark 13:28–37 Jesus gave several illustrations to help His readers understand His teaching. First, in Mark 13:28–31 Christ gave the Parable of the Fig Tree to illustrate His answer to the disciples’ first question about the timing of the destruction of the Temple. Fig trees were common on the Mount of Olives, so this was a natural and present object lesson. Recall that Jesus had previously cursed a fig tree (cf. Mark 13:12–14, 20–24), which actually occurred on the day before He spoke this parable. In this parable Christ teaches just as the leaves on a fig tree indicate that the arrival of summer is imminent, so the signs He cited in Mark. 13:5–20 will indicate the time of the destruction of the Temple is imminent. It is clear Jesus is especially focusing on the destruction of the Temple here, as He teaches, “This generation will by no means pass away till all these things take place” (Mark 13:30).
In Mark 13:32–37 Jesus gives an illustration to explain His answer to the disciples’ second question about the signs of the end of the age (cf. Mark 13:4). In this passage Christ gives what has become known as the Parable of the Absentee Landlord. This illustration highlights the idea of imminence—that is, the teaching that Jesus could return at any moment. Christ’s repeated exhortation in this short passage is to “watch” (cf. Mark 13:33, 34, 35, 37), not to try and figure out the exact hour of His return. The idea of watching carries with it the idea of being prepared and being ready. Of course, in regard to Jesus’ second coming, it is natural for believers to be curious about the chronology of the event; however, Jesus teaches that it is impossible to know the day and hour of His return, as this is “not even [known by] the angels in heaven, nor the Son” (Mark 13:32).
- Amid personal suffering, are you ever tempted to think that God is not sovereign? If God loves us and is sovereign, how can we explain our suffering and trials?
- In asking Jesus about His second coming, the disciples likely wanted a specific answer; therefore, why is Christ’s answer lengthy and vague?
- Are you ready for Jesus’ return? How ought our readiness for Christ’s second coming affect the way in which we interact with the present world?
- While believers must live with an awareness of Christ’s eventual return, is it possible to focus too much on the signs that precede Jesus’ second coming?
- If there are signs that accompany Christ’s second coming, how can Jesus’ return be imminent and occur at a time that no one expects?