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Mark XXIII: The Destruction of the Temple - Mark 13:1-37

It’s ironic that one of the places in all the Bible where people have most frequently been led astray has been Mark 13, where Jesus told His disciples not to be led astray. Many false prophets and misled teachers have taught that Mark 13 was about the future end of the world, when Jesus said that the things He was telling His disciples about, especially the utter destruction of the temple, would take place before their generation passed away. And so in order not to be led astray, we need to pay careful attention to what Jesus says in Mark 13.

In v.1-2, as they leave the temple, a disciple praises the temple, which all the ancient world, even the Romans, heralded as one of the most glorious buildings in the world, built of white marble and covered with gold. But Jesus says that not one stone will be left upon another.

Those verses set the context. V.3-4 contain the follow-up questions of the core group of disciples. They ask a two-fold question: when will it happen? How will we know it’s about to happen? What’s the sign? Verses 5-31 contain Jesus’ answer, and verses 32-37 contain His application.

The first part of Jesus’ answer in v.5-8 is a negative answer, couched in all sorts of warning: Don’t be led astray! There are all sorts of troubles and world events that are not the sign, just birth pangs. It’s coming, but you can’t tell just when yet. Vv. 9-13 contain a second level of this negative answer, with more cautions: Be on guard! Persecution and hard times for Jesus’ followers are not the sign; these are simply occasions for witness, because the gospel must be proclaimed to all nations before the temple is destroyed.

Having cleared away wrong ideas, Jesus now gives the disciples a clear sign in v.14 that will let them know to flee from Jerusalem: when they see “the abomination of desolation” standing where he ought not to be, then it’s time for immediate flight. Don’t stop, don’t be like Lot’s wife and turn back, just go. The phrase “abomination of desolation” comes from the book of Daniel, and speaks of a time when the temple will be profaned, sacrifice interrupted, and something so corrupting will happen that it will put an end to temple worship during a time of great tribulation and suffering, culminating in the destruction of the temple itself.

When the tribulation is complete, an earth-shattering transition happens (v. 24-25), and kingdoms and nations will be turned upside down. The old order, the old creation, is passing away, and the new creation is at the door. V. 26 draws on Daniel 7 to describe not Christ’s descent to earth, but His ascent to heaven. Christ’s exaltation is seen in heaven when He comes before God’s throne on the clouds, and the consequences of His ascension and rule are seen on earth in the fulfillment of His prophetic judgment against Jerusalem. How do we know that Jesus has ascended to heaven’s throne? Because the temple was destroyed, just like He predicted.

And this is the main point: Mark 13 is not given so that we can make charts and graphs about the end of the world. Mark 13 is a prophecy of the destruction of the temple that establishes Jesus’ authority. Because these events are in our past, the application for us is not “worry about the future;” the application is “worship Jesus!”

Really, v. 30 is the key to interpreting the whole passage. Jesus says as strongly as He possibly can that all these things will take place within the disciples’ generation. With the destruction of the temple in 70ad, this prophecy came true. And so if someone interprets the events of Mark 13:1-31 as still being in our future, they have been led astray, because they didn’t listen to Jesus.

But even though the events of Mark 13 were fulfilled in 70ad, every one of us still has an unknown day and hour in which we will stand before God our Master and give account for our service. This means that we still have good reason to stay awake, which is what Jesus charges His disciples to do in the final six verses. Every one of us needs to live each day in a manner worthy of the gospel, so that when your Master comes back, He finds you awake and hard at work.

Jesus is coming back in judgment. We know this is true because He told us. But if you doubt His Word, then look to the fate of the temple. If it were still standing one generation after Jesus’ words, then you shouldn’t listen to Him or follow Him. But since not one stone was left upon another, then you can know for certain that the same Jesus who spoke these words of prophecy now sits enthroned in great power and glory in heaven, from whence He shall come to judge the quick and dead. So stay awake.

Posted on Wednesday, September 05, 2018 by CJ Bowen