Study Guide

Gospel of Mark Chapter 13

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Chapter 13

Apocalypse Now 

  • Jesus departs from the temple, and one of his disciples admires this incredible structure. We're talking Manhattan here for guys who grew up in West Virginia.
  • For all of you history buffs out there you'll be excited to know that when this story takes place, the temple precinct was undergoing major renovations, which Herod the Great had started several years earlier. The famous Wailing Wall is part of the remains of this Herodian reconstruction and provides a definite idea of the "large stones" (13:1) this disciple mentions.
  • Jesus is not impressed, and he foretells the temple's imminent destruction. Many ancient readers, and likely Mark himself, knew full well that the Romans did indeed set fire to the temple in 70 CE, an event that marked their victory in the Jewish War, which began in 66.
  • While Jesus sits on the Mount of Olives, which gives him a stunning view of the temple precinct, select disciples want more deets about the precise timing of the temple's destruction, which Jesus had mentioned in 13:2.
  • In response, Jesus jumps into the so-called "Synoptic" or "Mini" Apocalypse (13:5-37).
  • Jesus warns of imposters, who will claim the Messianic title, as several Jewish leaders had in fact done prior to the Jewish War.
  • Likewise, the disciples should not be too disturbed when they hear reports of wars, which must happen, but do not yet signal the end.
  • This period, which Jesus describes as only the start of "birth pangs" (13:8), will witness other fairly standard apocalyptic fare: wars, earthquakes, and famines.
  • The disciples really should brace themselves, because this will be a time of severe persecution. They will stand trial in courts of law, will be beaten in synagogues, and governors and kings (some of weightiest brass in the empire) will demand that they give account.
  • Such trials, however, will in reality serve as a means of spreading the good news, to which all non-Jewish nations must have access.
  • Do you think the disciples are scared yet? Probably. But Jesus instructs them not to worry about what they will say as they stand before their accusers. The Holy Spirit will do the work for them. Phew.
  • Still, the disciples will be facing conditions reminiscent for us of the Gestapo-era, including inter-familial informants.
  • General hatred will prevail against them, but whoever has the wherewithal will reach the promised end.
  • Jesus underlines that a very important signpost during this time is "the desolating sacrilege" standing where it shouldn't. This veiled phrase is an allusion to the book of Daniel (11:31, 12:11), where it refers to the pollution of the temple by the Seleucid King Antiochus Epiphanes in 167 BCE, who erected a statue of Zeus there. That's a very big no-no and extremely offensive to Jews, for whom there is one God and icons are off-limits.
  • In a rare aside, the author interrupts the narrative and instructs "the reader" to decipher this phrase.
  • Want a million bucks? Discover a theory that explains this reference to the majority's satisfaction. Here are a few of many options that circulate among historians: the desolation refers to the destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans or to the erection of a Roman standard or a statue of some kind within the temple precinct.
  • Want a million more? Solve the related problem of whether Mark assumes that this event occurred in his past or is still yet to come. Good luck!
  • Whatever the desolation may be, Jesus advises that they get out of Dodge when they see it and avoid doing anything that will slow their exit.
  • These are far from ideal conditions for pregnant women and new mothers nursing their children, who will have a particularly hard time.
  • Winter will also make this experience more harrowing, and that's yet another reason to pray for summer.
  • The afflictions in these days will be the most severe the world's ever seen.
  • If not for the Lord's intervention on behalf of the "elect" (13:20), not a single person would survive.
  • Imposter Messiahs will appear and will even do miracles, but the "elect" really should not fall for them, because Jesus has already warned them.
  • The return of the Son of Man in the clouds (taking up the promise of Daniel 7:13) will be obvious. This is certainly nothing an imposter can conjure up: the sun and moon will darken, stars will fall from heaven, and other celestial shake-ups will occur. Really, you cannot miss it.
  • Then the Son of Man will send forth his angels who will gather the "elect" throughout all earth and heaven. Is "heaven" intended to include deceased members of the elect?
  • It's easy to recognize the approach of summer because leaves grow on fig trees. Apply the same principle here.
  • Jesus emphatically states that this generation will not pass away until all these events occur.
  • Got guts? Here's a big problem. Obviously, Jesus and the disciples' generation is long gone, but the events of 13:24-27 have not yet occurred. What's up with that?
  • The words of Jesus will outlive even heaven and earth.
  • Only God knows the day and hour—not even Jesus knows. So don't even try to calculate it.
  • Jesus urges the disciples to stay vigilant, because they can't know the exact timing of the Son of Man's return.
  • It's like when your boss leaves. You still have to do your job even if you feel like taking a snooze. Employees don't want their boss to find them sleeping.
  • Jesus clarifies that the things he's telling them are not only for Peter, James, John, and Andrew (remember 13:3), but are valid beyond the storytime listeners for everyone.

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