When You Feel Overwhelmed

Explore the Bible Series

February 14, 2010


Background Passage: Mark 13:1-37

Lesson Passage: Mark 13:9-13; 21-27; 32-37




Our previous lesson found Jesus and the Twelve in the Temple confines during Passover Week.  After commending the generosity of a poor widow, Jesus left the Temple complex and, crossing the Kidron Valley, led his disciples to the Mount of Olives about three hundred yards from the temple.  As they began their brief journey, the disciples commented on the majestic grandeur of Herod’s Temple.


Herod the Great assumed power in 37 B.C., and he immediately sought to ingratiate himself to his reluctant subjects by erecting a grand Temple, more magnificent than the buildings constructed by Solomon or Zerubbabel.  The Herod’s imposing stonework was surrounded by majestic porches and gates.  The whole edifice, easily visible from the Mount of Olives, must have overwhelmed the rustic disciples, and the “Inner Circle” asked Jesus about his prediction about the utter destruction of the Temple. 


Jesus clearly anticipated the demolition of Jerusalem and the Temple (I think this was the primary reason for the confrontation with the money-changers in Mark 11:15-19), and Chapter Thirteen provides more detail of Jesus’ prophecy.  All that the Jewish religious leaders held so dear would come to a violent end, and these things would happen within a generation (70 A.D.). These predictions obviously stunned and troubled the disciples.  Like their co-religionists, these men placed great importance on this impressive edifice, and they could not imagine the establishment of the Kingdom of God without the grand Temple. 


This chapter, like Matthew 24-25, proves very difficult to interpret.  Many scholars believe this passage has primary reference to the Final Return of Jesus, but the context seems to indicate that it pertains to the destruction of Jerusalem, by the Romans, in 70 A.D.  I do not claim to have any unique insight into the meaning of the passage, but it seems that the opening verses point primarily to the destruction of Jerusalem.


The years preceding the Jewish Rebellion (66-70 A.D.) were fraught with difficulty and instability for Roman governance in Judea.  Caesar Nero committed suicide in 68 A.D. and three emperors followed in quick succession (Galba, Otho, and Vitellius).  Moreover, the governance of Albinus and Gessius Florus, governors of Judea, led to an intensification of Jewish nationalism.  Finally, the political unrest erupted in violence. Nero sent General Vespasian to suppress the revolt, and for more than three years the bloody warfare continued. In July, 69, Vespasian was named emperor, Judean command of Roman troops fell to the general’s son Titus Flavius. In August, 70 A.D., Titus finally subdued the rebels, and the Temple was torched.  Josephus claimed Titus wanted to spare the Temple, but historians remain uncertain who burned the building.  Jewish Zealots may have burned the Temple to keep the Romans from desecrating the sacred building.  Whatever the case, the Temple was completely destroyed, the Jewish population was decimated, and many of the surviving Judeans dispersed throughout the known world. 


Lesson Passage:


I.                   Jesus’ Departure from the Temple (vv. 1-2)

A.    The amazement of the disciples (v. 1): The Gospel of Mark connects the discourse in Chapter Thirteen with the events that concluded the previous chapter, particularly the generosity of the poor widow.  The scribes relished the affluence and status afforded them by the Temple system, and the impressive stonework of the edifice still amazed the disciples.  The Twelve did not marvel at the selfless openhandedness of the widow; rather, they were enamored with the majesty of Herod’s Temple. 

B.     Jesus’ response to the disciples (v. 2): The Lord did not share the Twelve’s wonder with the stonework of the Temple; indeed, he predicted a time when the stones would lay in ruins.  I think Jesus here anticipated the razing of Jerusalem by Titus Flavius, during the Jewish Rebellion (66-70 A.D.).  Jesus’ words clearly startled the disciples.


II.                Jesus’ discourse on the Mount of Olives (vv. 3-37)

A.    Predictions of events leading up to the destruction of Jerusalem (vv. 3-8): Jesus and the Twelve, by this point in the narrative, had crossed the Kidron Valley and had taken some respite on the Mount of Olives, a position that afforded them a splendid view of the Temple Mount.  The Inner Circle approached the Lord with some questions about his words regarding the Temple.  To their credit, they did not doubt Jesus’ prediction; instead, they asked about the timing of this catastrophic event. Jesus highlighted several markers that would characterize the period leading up to the destruction.

1.      “Many will come in my name” (vv. 5b-6): In times of social crisis false prophets commonly arose, and they led many gullible followers astray.  The Lord warned his followers to heed the dangers of these false “Messiahs.”

2.      “wars and rumors of wars” (vv. 7-8a): The political instability of Judea made the possibility of war a daily concern for God’s people.  In fact, the period from 30-70 A.D. was fraught with violence and insurrection.  Jesus expressed concern that his disciples would experience a lengthy period of convulsive violence, a violent world they would face without his comforting presence.

3.      “earthquakes and famines” (v. 8b): In addition to political uprisings, the disciples would encounter natural disasters like earthquakes and famines, already quite common in the ancient Middle East.  The Lord’s followers, however, were not to panic in the face of violence or natural disaster.

B.     The persecution of the Lord’s followers (vv. 9-23)

1.      Persecution by the synagogue leaders and civil (secular) authorities (vv. 9-13): Jesus anticipated severe persecutions that would accompany profession of faith in Christ, and he specified that this maltreatment would come both from religious and civil authorities.  The Book of Acts catalogs the relentlessness of this persecution: beatings, imprisonment, exile, and death.

2.      The “abomination of desolation” (vv. 14-23): Daniel 11: 31-35 and 12:11 anticipated a moment when pagan armies would invade Jerusalem and desecrate the Temple, bringing an end to the sacrificial system of the Mosaic Law.  As I read Jesus’ words, it seems that Daniel’s prophecy relates, at least in part, to the defilement of Jerusalem by the Roman army under the command of Vespasian and Titus Flavius.  The Lord encouraged his followers to flee from Jerusalem, to the mountains, to escape the utter annihilation of the city.  Even these catastrophic events, Jesus said, were under the restraining hand of God, and he would shorten the days of this catechism for the sake of the elect.  False teachers, also, will take advantage of the confusion by claiming to be the Messiah, using signs and wonders to deceive, if possible, even the people of God.

3.      The judgment of God against the Temple system (vv. 24-27): The prophecies, it seems, should be interpreted in light of two passages in Isaiah (Isaiah 13:10 and 34:4). The Old Testament prophet foreshadowed a time of great judgment on Judah, a judgment characterized by a blotting out of the sun, moon, and stars.  The prophet used figurative language to portray the catastrophic consequences of divine judgment. The Inner Circle, no doubt, thought of these familiar images when they heard Jesus’ words.

C.     The coming of the Son of Man (vv. 24-27): This paragraph proves difficult to interpret.  It seems, as I see it, that Jesus redirects the focus of his discourse. To this point he centered attention on the destruction of the Temple, but here the Lord seems to refer to his final return at the end of the age. The “tribulation” relates to the previous paragraph about the horrible circumstances leading to the destruction of Jerusalem, but the Lord does not indicate how long after this tribulation he will return.  Jesus predicted several particulars about the parousia.

1.      The sun and moon will be darkened  and the heavens shaken (vv. 24-25): Again, these images may be symbolic.

2.      The Son of Man will appear in clouds of glory, accompanied by angels (v. 27a).

3.      The angels will gather the elect from the corners of the earth (v. 27).

D.    Two parables concerning the destruction of Jerusalem and the Lord’s return (vv. 28-37)

1.      Parable of the fig tree (vv. 28-31): This analogy relates to the demise of the Temple, an event that would occur within a generation of Jesus’ pronouncement.

2.      Parable of the landowner (vv. 32-37): In this brief parable Jesus cautioned his disciples to remain spiritually alert.  Like the doorman of the landowner’s estate, followers of Christ must maintain careful attention to the signs of the times.


Personal Note: I have really wrestled with Mark 13:1-36 and its parallel passage in Matthew 23-24, and I still need to mull over these things carefully.  Perhaps like many of you, I grew up in dispensational premillennialism, and I still have great compassion for those who hold to that interpretive model, though I no longer hold to this view myself (and haven’t for many years).  These folks tend to interpret Mark Thirteen as primarily predictive of the Second Coming, and, because of my upbringing, that tends to be my default position as well.  However, careful reading has convinced me that this chapter primarily refers to the destruction of Jerusalem, in 70 A.D.  I do not deny that some of the material has eschatological implications, but the Mark seems clear about the Lord’s intent in these words (See particularly vv. 1-2).