Mark 13:5-31 Predicts Destruction of Jerusalem and Temple

We must look at these verses in their textual and historical contexts. And we must not skip over the most stubborn verse in the synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke); then we can interpret this Scripture more clearly. Please view the photos at the end.

This long section of Scripture is called the Olivet Discourse because Jesus was sitting on the Mount of Olives, just outside of Jerusalem proper, overlooking the temple (Matt. 24:3; Mark 13:3).

The method here is to clarify Mark 13:5-31 by an outline. What this lacks in beauty, it makes up for in clarity. Then I offer an exegesis (close reading) of the passage, still following the outline.

It is unrealistic to believe that Jesus would not prophesy or predict the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple. It shattered the nation of Israel where he ministered. And in fact he did predict the destruction. Not everything Jesus said in Mark 13:5-31 is about us today (but some basic lessons are).

All translations are mine, unless otherwise noted. Readers are invited to see other translations at biblegateway.com.

Let’s first look at one potentially troubling verse.

The Most “Stubborn” Verse in the Synoptic Gospels

The one verse that causes the most headaches for certain interpreters appears in all three Gospels and in the same context.

Matthew:

I tell you the truth: this generation shall not pass away until all these things take place. (Matt. 24:34)

Mark:

I tell you the truth: this generation shall not pass away until all these things take place (Mark 13:30)

Luke:

I tell you the truth: this generation shall not pass away until all these things take place. (Luke 21:32)

If “generation” were to be translated as “race,” as some propose, then Jesus was declaring something vapid. Of course Jews would not pass away at the time he spoke. Instead, his prediction is about the timing, so “generation” is the right translation, as it is in nearly all other verses where the noun appears.

Now, what are “all these things”? Everything that Jesus had predicted up to that verse. Luke 21:20-24 even says that armies will surround Jerusalem. This happened in A.D. 70, when the Roman armies sacked the city and destroyed the temple. The Roman pagans stomped all over the sacred place. committing the abomination of desolation. Those three synoptic verses are capstones about the destruction of the temple and Jerusalem. Jesus’s prediction came true–this (or his) generation, though he died young.

So, that one repeated verse in the synoptics seems stubborn only to those who insist that most or all of the verses before the one verse are about our times–their distant future. No, they are about the destruction of the temple in AD 70, as the rest of this post claims to demonstrate.

Time Markers in vv. 5-31

This section is important because it spells out many time markers before the destruction of the temple, but in v. 32, where he now talks about the Second Coming or Parousia, Mark uses none. Jesus even says that neither angels nor the Son knows the day or the hour of the Second Coming. It could come at any time (v. 33). The contrast between the two long pericopes (sections) is clear. Mark transitions from the destruction pericope (vv. 5-31) to the Second Coming pericope (vv. 32-36).

With that introduction, let’s look at the time markers.

When (4) This verse is about the introductory questions by Peter, James, John and Andrew.

Now we can move forward into Jesus’s long answer.

It is not yet (7b)

Only the beginning (8)

It is not yet (9)

Good news to all nations first (10)

He who endures to the end … (13)

But when (14), as opposed to not yet (vv. 5-13)

In those days (17)

In those days (19)

At that time (21)

But in those days following distress (24), referring back to 19

And this an unbroken sequence from when of v. 14

And then (26) } Answers when of v. 4

And then (27) } Answers when of v. 4

Fig tree, a necessary chronological sequence indicating that these things are near (28-29)

All these things must occur within this generation (30)

So v. 30, the “stubborn” verse, is the clearest time marker of all.

Now we transition to the Second Coming (32-36)

But concerning that day or hour (32), and the rest of the pericope says it could happen at any time. So watch!

So let’s see the contrast:

In vv. 5-31: Not yet, but when, then, those days, within this generation–all clear time markers.

In vv. 32-36 there are no time markers. In fact, Jesus says we don’t even know when the season (kairos) of his coming is (v. 33).

Jesus knew approximately when the destruction of the temple would occur: in this (his) generation (v. 32). In contrast, he did not know the day or hour of his Return (vv. 32-36). It could happen at any time. Therefore there are no time markers.

Therefore, we are dealing with two sections of Scripture about two different comings. Verses 5-31 are about his coming in judgment on Jerusalem and the temple. Verse 32-36 are about the Second Coming or Parousia, when he closes out the entire age.

Matthew’s Gospel expands on these two sections much more thoroughly than Mark’s Gospel does, so please click on these two posts:

Matthew 24:4-35 Predicts Destruction of Jerusalem and Temple

Matt. 24:36 to 25:46–From Second Coming to New Messianic Age

My comments are much fuller in those two posts.

Source of the time markers: R. T. France, The Gospel of Mark: The New International Greek Testament Commentary, Eerdmans, 2002, p. 504, but modified)

Now let’s look at Mark 13:5-31, organized by an outline, for clarity.

Mark 13:5-31 in Translation and Outline

I.. Introduction to the Prediction

A.. Disciple Admires Temple

1 And as he leaving the temple, one of the disciples said to him, “Teacher, look at such stones and such buildings!”

B.. Jesus Shocks Them with the Prediction

2 Jesus said to him, “Do you see these great buildings? In no way will one stone be left on another stone which shall not be thrown down!”

C.. Disciples Ask Two Questions

3 While he was sitting on the Mount of Olives, opposite the temple, Peter and James and John and Andrew asked him privately:

1.. When shall these things be? (4a)

4 “Tell us: When shall these things be …

2.. What shall be the signs of their completion? (4b)

… and what shall be the sign when all these things are to be completed?”

II. Jesus Answers the Questions (5-33)

A.. Do Not Be Deceived (5-6)

1.. Watch (5)

5 Jesus began to say to them, “See to it that no one deceives you.

2.. Many deceivers shall come (6)

6 Many shall come in my name, saying, ‘I am he!’ And they shall deceive many.

B.. Reports of Wars and Political Rivalries (7-8a)

1.. Don’t be troubled, hearing about wars and reports of wars

7 When you hear of wars of reports of wars, do not be troubled;

2.. These things are not the end (7b)

these things must be, but the end is not yet,

3.. Political rivalries (8a)

8 for nation shall rise against nation and kingdom against kingdom;

C.. Natural Disasters (8b-d)

1.. Earthquakes (8b)

there shall be earthquakes in various places,

2.. Famines (8c)

and there shall be famines.

3.. These are just the beginning of birth pains (8d)

These are the beginning of birth pangs.

D.. Persecution and Betrayals (9-13)

9 “You see to yourselves! They shall hand you over to local courts, and you shall be beaten in the synagogues, and you shall stand before governors and kings, for my sake, for a testimony to them.

1.. The gospel must first be preached to all nations (10)

10 And the gospel of the kingdom must first shall be proclaimed to all nations.

2. Don’t worry ahead of time about what you shall say at trial (11)

11 And when they arrest you to hand you over, do not worry ahead of time about what you should say, but speak the thing which is given you at that time, for you are not the ones speaking, but the Holy Spirit.

3. Family Betrayals (12-13a)

12 Brother shall brother to death and father a child and children shall rise up defiantly against parents and have them put to death. 13 You shall be hated by everyone because of my name …

4.. But endure to the end, to be saved (13b)

but the one who endures to the end—this one shall be saved.

E.. Abomination of Desolation and Fleeing (14-23)

1.. Abomination of Desolation (14a)

14 “When you see the abomination of desolation standing where it must not”—let the reader understand—

2. Flee! (14b-18)

“then those in Judea must flee to the mountains. 15 And the one on the housetop must not go back down nor go back in to pick up anything from his house! 16 And the one in the field should not return towards the things behind to pick up his cloak! 17 But woe to pregnant women and to those nursing in those days! 18 Pray that it may not happen in the winter,

3.. Unprecedented tribulation (19)

19 for there shall be tribulation in those days such as has not happened from the beginning of creation which God created until now and shall never be.

4.. The Lord shall shorten the days (20)

20 And unless the Lord shorten the days, no flesh shall be saved, but because of the elect which has been elected, he shall shorten the days.

5.. More false messiahs and false prophets (21-22)

21 And then if anyone says, ‘Look! The Christ is over here! Look! There!’ Do not believe him, 22 for false christs and false prophets shall arise and shall produce signs and wonders to deceive, if possible, the elect.

6.. Be watchful, for you have been forewarned (23)

23 But you watch! I have told you all these things in advance.

F.. Jesus Ascends to the Throne and then Comes in Judgment (24-26)

1.. Apocalyptic imagery for judgment on a nation (24-25)

24 But in those days, after that tribulation,

The sun shall be darkened,

And the moon shall not give its light

25 And stars shall fall from the sky

And the powers in the sky shall be shaken.

2.. Jesus “comes” to God and sits enthroned to judge (26)

26 And then they shall see ‘the son of Man coming in clouds’ with much power and glory.

3.. Angels gather his elect–all of his people (27)

27 And then he shall send the angels and gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of the earth to the end of heaven.

G.. Certainty of Jesus’s Prediction (29-33)

1.. Foliage on fig tree predicts summer (28-29)

28 From the fig tree, learn this illustration: when it branch has become tender and it is sprouting leaves, 29 in this way, when you see these things happening, you also know that summer is near, at the door. 

2.. This generation is the clearest time marker (30)

30 I tell you the truth: This generation shall not pay away until all these things take place.

3.. You can absolutely trust my words (31)

31 Heaven and earth shall pass away, but my words shall never pass away.”

Commentary or Exegesis

I offer my comments and exegesis, following the outline. Since Matthew presents the fullest picture of Jesus’s coming in judgment on Jerusalem and the temple and then his final Second Coming or Parousia, I borrow heavily from my commentary on Matthew, for Mark here.

Please see this post for a more complete exegesis:

Matthew 24:4-35 Predicts Destruction of Jerusalem and Temple

Now let’s look at Mark more closely.

I.. Introduction to the Prediction

A.. Disciple Admires Temple

B.. Jesus Shocks them with the Prediction

Evidently, one of the disciples wanted Jesus to admire the temple as much as the disciple did. (Matthew 24:1 says “disciples” admire the temple.) These Galileans must have seen it before on a pilgrimage, even as children. It is natural that they admire it. However, Jesus is about to teach some disciples that the temple will soon become a massive irrelevance. It’s going to be destroyed.

C.. Disciples Ask Two Questions

1.. When shall these things be? (4a)

2.. What shall be the signs of their completion? (4b)

The context of these two questions is about the destruction. Mark confines and streamlines the entire discourse in vv. 5-31 to that topic. To go off topic, as modern interpreters are prone to do, is to take the entire discourse out of context. Context, context, context!

In his introduction to eschatology, Matthew, in contrast, teaches the destruction (24:3-35) and then presents a very long discourse on the Second Coming (24:36-25:46). He clearly uses the word Parousia and close-out of the age with synteleia (13:39, 40, 49; 24:3; 28:20; cf. Heb. 9:26), a specialized noun in his Gospel that differs from the telos end of the temple. In contrast, Mark uses the verb synteleō, which does not have a specialized sense in his Gospel or throughout the NT. I translated it as “completion.” Mark’s treatment of the Second Coming is much shorter (vv. 32-36), but he still provides the launching pad for Matthew’s expansive teaching.

See my post:

What Does ‘Parousia’ Mean?

II. Jesus Answers the Questions (5-33)

A.. Do Not Be Deceived (5-6)

1.. Watch (5)

2.. Many deceivers shall come (6)

Messiahs will arise and claim to be The One. Jewish historian Josephus mentions a Samaritan, Theudas, the sons of Judas of Galilee, the “Egyptian” and various other “imposters.” Whether they claimed to be the Messiah or prophets, they said of themselves that they were divinely inspired and empowered (France, p. 902).

Could they deceive many?

Gamaliel’s speech (he was Saul / Paul’s mentor):

For some time ago Theudas, claiming to be somebody, followed by about 400 men, was killed, and everyone who was convinced by him was dispersed and came to nothing. 37 After this Judas the Galilean during the census led the people in a revolt after him. He too was destroyed, and everyone who was convinced by him was scattered. (Acts 5:36-37)

Paul was arrested, and the centurion asked him:

37 When they were about to take him into the barracks, Paul said to the commander, “If it is permitted to me to say something to you?” He said, “Do you know Greek? 38 Then you are not the Egyptian who ignited a revolt and led four thousand men of the Assassins into the desert some time ago?” (Acts 21:37-38)

False prophets will arise in the Messianic communities. Their teachings will lead many astray. Here is Paul’s description of bad teachers and false prophets in Ephesus, Asia Minor:

29 I know that after my departure ferocious wolves shall come in to your midst, not sparing the flock. 30 And from among yourselves men shall arise, speaking seductive things so as to draw the disciples away for themselves. 31 Therefore, be alert, remembering that for three years, night and day, I did not stop warning each one of you with tears. (Acts 20:29-31)

B.. Reports of Wars and Political Rivalries (7-8a)

1.. Don’t be troubled, hearing about wars and reports of wars

2.. These things are not the end (7b)

3.. Political rivalries (8a)

C.. Natural Disasters (8b-d)

1.. Earthquakes (8b)

2.. Famines (8c)

3.. These are just the beginning of birth pains (8d)

Let’s take Points B and C together,

Wars and reports of war: People would talk about wars and hear about them. This can be alarming for most people. From the 30s to the 60s times were peaceful in the Roman Empire, but there was a local war between Antipas and the Nabatean king Aretas, in which the Romans got involved in A.D. 36-37. In Judea the stirrings of revolts against Rome could be included in the reports or the talk of wars. The Romans suppressed the rebels listed in vv. 4-5, and this took some serious military effort. These were unsettling times for those who lived in Israel and neighboring regions (larger Palestine). The destruction of the temple will be the most devastating war of all.

When kingdom rises against kingdom, Mark is using the language that looks like that of Is. 19:2, which appears in the context of judgment on Egypt:

… and they will fight, each against another
and each against his neighbor,
city against city, kingdom against kingdom (Is. 19:2, ESV)

Jesus simply borrowed the phrasing to indicate that these are political rivalries.

Earthquakes: in Asia Minor in A.D. 61; Italy A.D. 62; in Jerusalem in A.D. 67, and other serious earthquakes at an unspecified earlier date in Israel and the neighboring region (Palestine, as a whole). Local earthquakes are assumed in Matt. 27:51 and Acts 16:26

These natural disasters are part of normal experience; they are not the signs of the end of the age. Labor pains implies “not yet,” another time marker (“beginning” of birth pangs). These pains are used throughout Scripture to indicate the suffering of nations and cities (Is. 13:8; Jer. 6:24; 22:23; Mic. 4:9-10) in history, not eschatologically. Is. 26:17-18 seems, however, to be eschatological. The NT uses the term birth pang imagery as a live metaphor without a specific historical reference (John 16:21; Acts 2:24; Rom. 8:22; Gal. 4:19; 1 Thess. 5:3). So here the birth pang is the suffering of Jerusalem,

This whole environment from vv. 4-14, below, is described in historian Tacitus’s (lived A.D. 56-120) Histories:

The history which I am entering is that of a period rich in disasters, terrible with battles, torn by civil struggles, hostile even in peace. Four emperors fell by the sword, there were three civil wars, more foreign wars,, and often both at the same time … Italy was distressed by disasters unknown before or returning after the lapse of the ages … Beside the manifold misfortunes that befell mankind there were prodigies in the sky and on the earth, warnings given by thunderbolts, and prophecies of the future, both joyful and gloomy, uncertain and clear (Histories, 1.2, 3, qtd. in Garland, p. 242)

D.. Persecution and Betrayals (9-13)

1.. The gospel must first be preached to all nations (10)

Mark inserts this seemingly all-encompassing verse about the gospel going to all nations between disasters and persecution and uses the time marker first. So if we read the verse in its immediate context, we would have to conclude that the gospel would reach out to all nations before the disasters and ahead of persecution and family betrayals! That doesn’t fit. So the larger context has to clarify the placement of the verse. Mark is talking about the coming destruction on Jerusalem, because of all of the time markers and the clearest time marker of all: this generation, the “stubborn” verse (v. 30).

So what does the phrase panta ta ethna (all nations) mean? Do we take all literally? (The old quip that all means all is not quite right in some passages.) If so, when does it stop? It must take place before this generation passes away (the “stubborn” verse.) How should we translate ethna? Nations or people groups?

The standard interpretation is that this verse must be lifted out of its textual and historical context and applied to the global missionary effort. Some interpreters teach that bringing the gospel to the world will cause the “end.” Or the proclamation does not cause the end but is a preliminary to it.

In reply, however, as the first-century Christians understood “all nations,” they did not include North and South America or Australia, about which the first-century Christian communities knew nothing. The whole world encompassed the Romans Empire and the surrounding Mediterranean world and some points east of Israel. Matt. 24:14 uses the Greek noun, oikoumenē, which means the “inhabited world.” The term can describe the famine that impacted the oikoumenē or the world (Acts 11:28). The worship of Artemis is said to have spread around the oikoumenē (Acts 19:27). Further, Col. 1:6 says the gospel is bearing fruit around the whole world (see also Col. 1:23). Rom. 16:26 says the gospel has been known to all the nations (see Rom. 10:18). Paul was planning to go to Spain (Rom. 15:18-24). Mark was writing from Rome later, and no doubt he could see that the gospel had been proclaimed to all nations, as he understood them at his time.

So let’s not insist on a clunky, wooden interpretation of “all nations” in Mark 13:10, as if the right interpretation must include Australia and North and South America. The first point is that the gospel will go outside Jerusalem and Judea, where Jesus was speaking to their known world, and the gospel did. All the way back to Homer (a Greek poet whose poems were composed in late 8th to early 7th centuries, BC), Ethiopia was considered the end of the world. The gospel reached the Ethiopian eunuch, and later tradition says the nation was powerfully influenced by the gospel (Acts 8:26-40). The second point is that the gospel is not just for Jews but also for Gentiles (“all nations”).

However you may interpret this verse, the preaching to all nations must happen before Jesus’s (this) generation passes away (v. 30).

How does this interpretation deal with the Great Commission to go into all the world (Matt. 28:18-20)? Go to this post and find out:

Matt. 24:36 to 25:46–From Second Coming to New Messianic Age

Matthew’s Gospel is the fullest version of the end times, and he solves the issue in his chapters 24-25 and 28:20.

Now we come back around to persecution and betrayals and trials.

2. Don’t worry ahead of time about what you shall say at trial (11)

3. Family Betrayals (12-13a)

4.. But endure to the end, to be saved (13b)

Now Jesus repeats some of his teaching in Matt. 10:34-39 and Luke 12:51-53; 14:26-27. Betrayals will happen, and disciples will be brought into “tribulation” or difficult times. Therefore many will stumble or fall away because of Jesus and their conversion to him in Judea and other Jewish communities. They did not count the cost, even though he warned them.

Jesus is also warning his communities in larger Palestine through Mark’s Gospel. The only way to survive is to endure to the end (telos). Disciples endure by remaining true to the kingdom. Salvation comes to those who remain faithful and stand firm in their discipleship to Jesus. No, people under duress don’t have to fret about what to say during a trial. But this does not give a license to be lazy and not study to preachers who live an easy life in unpersecuted lands!

E.. Abomination of Desolation and Fleeing (14-23)

1.. Abomination of Desolation (14a)

2. Flee! (14b-18)

3.. Unprecedented tribulation (19)

4.. The Lord shall shorten the days (20)

Here is an exegesis of those four points under E.

The devastating pollution standing in the holy place is a reference to Daniel 8:13; 9:27, 11:31, 12:11, which further referred to events in 167 B.C., when Antiochus Epiphanes conquered Jerusalem and stopped Jewish sacrificial worship and set up an altar for pagan sacrifices (pigs included). However, Jesus applied this imagery to the Roman military. Here is Luke’s Gospel linking the abomination of desolation with the Roman armies:

20 When you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies, then you know that its desolation is near. 21 Then those in Judea must flee to the mountains and those inside it must get out and those in the countryside must not enter it, 22 because these are the days of judgment, fulfilling everything that has been written. 23 Woe to those who are pregnant and are nursing in those days! For there shall be great distress upon the country and wrath upon this people. 24 And they shall fall by the edge of the sword and be taken captive into all nations, and Jerusalem shall be trampled on by the nations until the times of the nations shall be completed. (Luke 21:20-24)

Some interpreters say that since Mark 13:14a (abomination) comes before Jesus’s coming in judgment on Jerusalem (vv. 24-26), it must have taken place even before Rome came in, to conquer Jerusalem. However, it took Rome four years, on and off, to take the city. And when the Romans stomped all over the temple, that was the moment when Jesus came in judgment on the city and his ascension and enthronement was vindicated. Call it the fog of war, even in victory. Working out minute by minute timelines is not quite on target and misunderstands the spirit of the passage: judgment and vindication. (See the photos of the Arch of Titus, below.)

The refugee crisis of any time is horrible, as we have seen in the people fleeing war-torn Syria. In a few years, however, these events will seem like a distant memory and forgotten. For Jesus’s time, people back then suffered, and Jesus warns the Judeans to flee. As for fleeing on the Sabbath, it would be difficult for scrupulous Messianic Jews or unconverted Jews. It may refer to the buying of food as one left Jerusalem, en route.

This urgent call to flee can only refer to the destruction of the temple, not the Second Coming and final judgment, from which no one can escape.

Jesus called it tribulation, which will never happen like this ever again. This phrase demonstrates that this tribulation is an historical event that must not be transferred to the distant future. It was indeed a horrendous “tribulation” because Judaism stopped, as it had been practiced from Moses until then. And from then to right now, Judaism has thoroughly been transformed. An epic and epochal overthrow.

Those days were cut short, because the war ended. The actual overthrow of Jerusalem took five months. Who are the chosen or elect people? Recall that thousands of Jews converted to the Messiah (Acts 2:41; 4:4; 6:7; 21:20). Here, they are the Christian Jews who lived in Judea. If they don’t flee, they will suffer. Church historian Eusebius says that they did flee to Pella, beyond the Jordan River, and northward (Church History, 3.5.3). Therefore, in 24:24, 31, the elect refers to the people who belong to the son of Man.

5.. More false messiahs and false prophets (21-22)

6.. Be watchful, for you have been forewarned (23)

Once again, Jesus warns his disciples (and the larger, later Jesus communities) against false prophets and Messiahs who will perform great signs and wonders. Josephus records people who claimed to work miracles: parting the Jordan River; the collapse of the city walls, the uncovering of Moses’ sacred vessels and other visible signs and wonders. They are counterfeits, because NT writers expect true signs and wonders (Acts 2:43; 4:16, 30; 5:12 and so on) and recognize that miracles can be false (Acts 8:9-11; 2 Thess. 2:9; Rev. 13:13-14; 16:14; cf. Deut. 13:1-3).

F.. Jesus Ascends to His Throne and Comes in Judgment (24-26)

1.. Apocalyptic imagery for judgment on a nation (24-25)

2.. Jesus “comes” to God and sits enthroned to judge (26)

Here in vv. 24-26 Jesus takes back up the theme leading to the destruction of the temple. The following clause cannot refer to the days of the parousia: And “those days” does not mean the parousia (Second Coming) because Jesus will say of the parousia “that day.” “Those days” refers to the capture of Jerusalem, from a natural reading of the text. There should be no forcing a template or grid on the normal flow of the text. Jesus did not expect the parousia to take place in his century, so he does not give a timeframe because the Son of God does not know that day or even the hour. He does predict, in contrast, that the destruction of the temple will happen in his generation (though he died young). It is better, then, to take temporal connection at face value.

Next, still in v. 24, the contrasting conjunction “but” (alla in Greek) is used. So some interpreters say that Jesus is leaving behind his larger context (vv. 5-33) and is talking about his Second Coming. However, in reply, this interpretation makes too much of a word that he had already used before in vv. 7, 11 (twice), and 20. No usage of the conjunction in those verses presents a major shift that permits taking v. 24 out of context. All the word means here in v. 24 is that the discourse on the destruction is reaching its climax and enlarging the scale of the judgment. We have gone from prediction, to the abomination of desolation, to vindication of the coming of the son of Man, first to the Ancient of Days, and second in judgment, to vindicate his Son.

Verse 24 is taken from Is. 13:10. This verse refers to the overthrow of Babylon:

For the stars of the heavens and their constellations
will not give their light;
the sun will be dark at its rising,
and the moon will not shed its light. (Is. 13:10, ESV)

And this verse refers to the judgment on Edom:

All the host of heaven shall rot away,
and the skies roll up like a scroll.
All their host shall fall …. (Is. 34:4. ESV)

Since they are about judgment on a nation, it is natural to conclude that Jesus’s words in v. 24 likewise refer to judgment on Jerusalem and by extension Israel. Those cosmic disasters symbolize political and national disasters here on earth. If those cosmic disasters happened literally, then nature would not be the same from then to now. Jesus’s words about these cosmic reactions are not literal, either.

See my post for many other Scriptures about cosmic disasters in the context of national judgment:

Cosmic Disasters = Apocalyptic Imagery for Judgment and Major Change

Verse 26 explains. Jesus is enthroned after his resurrection, and this fits Dan. 7:13-14.

13 “In my vision at night I looked, and there before me was one like a son of Man, coming with the clouds of heaven. He approached the Ancient of Days and was led into his presence. 14 He was given authority, glory and sovereign power; all nations and peoples of every language worshiped him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that will not pass away, and his kingdom is one that will never be destroyed. (Dan. 7:13-14, NIV)

The Ancient of Days is God. Jesus was about to ascend and be enthroned on high, sitting next to God. So his coming here in this long passage refers to his ascension and then coming back (invisibly) in judgment over Jerusalem, which happened, on or off, from 66-70 A.D. In that latter year, the Romans sacked the city and destroyed the temple (see my photos, below).

The coming here is not the parousia (Second Coming), but erchomenos (pronounced air-kho-meh-noss), which is the standard word for coming.

3.. Angels gather his elect–all of his people (27)

The son of Man will send out his angels to gather the elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to another. How can this mean a local judgment on Jerusalem?

This verse refers back to Deut. 30:4, which speaks of the ingathering of the scattered people:

If your outcasts are in the uttermost parts of heaven, from there the Lord your God will gather you, and from there he will take you.  (Deut. 30:4, ESV)

For I have spread you abroad as the four winds of the heavens, declares the Lord.  (Zech 2:6, ESV; LXX 2:10)

Angels undergird and participate in the evangelization process (Heb. 1:14). They help those who shall inherit salvation. Gathering the elect does not have to be done literally into Israel, but it can be accomplished as evangelism gathers people everywhere into his church, which is the new temple.

Here’s just one verse about the Church = the Temple

For we are the temple of God, as God has said, “I will make my dwelling among them and walk among them, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people” (2 Cor. 6:16, ESV; Lev. 26:12; Jer. 32:38; Ezek. 37:27)

See also 1 Cor. 3:17; Eph. 2:21-22; 1 Pet. 2:5, which clearly teach the new temple is the church, and the church is the new temple.

So the “elect” is all of God’s people, both Jewish and Gentile believers.

So the church / temple brings the gospel to the “the four winds, from one end of the earth to the end of heaven” and has succeeded as far as the first-century believers knew, with their limited perspective of global geography.

Objection: But that’s replacement theology! Yes, the church replaces the temple. Objection: Then that’s the replacement of Israel! No, God still has a plan for Israel. He has regathered this nation in 1948, so they can hear the gospel in one location and in modern Hebrew (Rom. 11:25-27). God still has his eye on this nation because his gifts and calling on it are irrevocable (can’t be re-called) (Rom. 11:29).

See my post The Church Fulfills and Replaces Old Testament Temple

G.. Certainty of Jesus’s Prediction (29-33)

1.. Foliage on fig tree predicts summer (28-29)

 2.. This generation is the time marker (30)

30 I tell you the truth: This generation shall not pay away until all these things take place.

I repeat the most “stubborn” verse here.

3.. You can absolutely trust my words (31)

Jesus summarizes his answer to the disciples’ first question (destruction of the temple) in three ways:

(1). As the fig tree in foliage is a harbinger of summer, so also the preliminary events that result in the “telos end” are harbingers (vv. 28-29).

(2). All of these events will happen before this generation passes away (v. 30).

(3). You can absolutely trust my prediction (v. 31).

These three points merely clarify the apocalyptic language drawn from the OT and reinforce the tight timeline that spans Jesus’s words here to the actual end of the temple.

The fig tree may refer to Jerusalem and the temple (see Mark 11:12-14), but more likely the imagery is used in order to prove a basic point. As summer follows spring, so also the destruction follows the build-up of events, with the clearest sign being irreversible and too late for permanent restoration: the devastating pollution standing in the holy place. This happened when the Romans stomped all over the temple (see the photos, below)

“it is near”: some translations say “he is near,” but the subject of the verb is unclear and does not suggest a personal pronoun, so the clause is best translated as “it is near,” which I do, because the entire context tells me that the pronoun refers to “the end.”

In “this generation”: Jesus uses this phrase to indicate a timeframe, not an ethnic group, and speaks that judgment is coming on it (cf. Matt. 11:16; 12:39, 41-42, 45; 16:14; 17:17). This is true here in Mark. In addition, it’s kind of obvious: of course the ethnic group won’t die off until judgment comes! And even then the ethnic group won’t die off! This generation (Jesus’s generation) will experience judgment of the most real kind—the destruction of the temple that will forever change Judaism. It is only a “stubborn verse” if interpreters insist that any or all of vv. 5-31 are about the distant future, even our days. No, but they are about the near future, before AD 70 (inclusively counted).

In v. 31, Jesus uses a double negative for emphasis: “My words shall not—not!—pass away.”  Jesus proclaims that his prediction can be relied on; and sure enough, the events happened before his generation passed away because the temple was sacked in A.D. 70. He died young, but some people of his generation were alive during the unthinkable devastation inflicted by the Roman army.

Photos Depicting the Destruction of the Temple

I took these photos in June 2001, while in Rome.

The judgment on Jerusalem happened in A.D. 70 when the Romans sacked the city and destroyed the temple. They stomped all over it; therefore, the abomination of desolation prophesied in Matthew 24, Mark 13 and Luke 21 actually happened within the generation living at the time of Jesus’s prophecy.

Luke 21:20-22:

20 When you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies, then you know that its desolation is near. 21 Then those in Judea must flee to the mountains and those inside it must get out and those in the countryside must not enter it, 22 because these are the days of judgment, fulfilling everything that has been written. (emphasis added)

Matt. 24:15-16:

15 Then, when you see the abomination of desolation spoken through Daniel the prophet, standing in the holy place—let the reader understand— 16 then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains ….

Mark 13:14:

14 “When you see the abomination of desolation standing where it must not”—let the reader understand—“then those in Judea must flee to the mountains.”

Luke clearly connects the abomination of desolation prophesied in Daniel 9:21, 11:31, 12:11 with the Roman armies surrounding Jerusalem. Matthew and Mark add that the abomination of desolation will happen when the Gentiles (Roman army) stand in the Holy Place of the temple, which they did.

The Arch of Titus was built in A.D. 81 by Domitian (ruled 81-96), to honor his deceased brother Titus and their father Vespasian’s victory over the Jews and Jerusalem in A.D. 70.

Crowds of tourists, but at least we can now get the scale of the arch.

It is made of Pentelic marble from Mt. Pentelicon in Attica, near Athens, Greece. High quality marble!

It is difficult to read, but it says: “The Senate and the Roman People, to the Divine Titus, Son of Vespasian, and to Vespasian Augustus.

Note the Menorah and the other implements or tools of the temple.

From a slightly different angle. History come to life! Real places. Real people. Real lives.

The Roman army really did stand in the Holy Place in the temple, where the Menorah and other tools were kept. The abomination of desolation already happened within Jesus’s generation, just as he had predicted.

Change of Subject to Second Coming in Mark 13:32-36

32 “But concerning that day or hour—no one knows, neither the angels of heaven nor the Son, except the Father. 33 Watch! Stay alert! For you do not know when the time is.

I am only briefly introducing this change of topic in this post. I cover it in more detail and an extended treatment of this Second Coming; go to this link:

Matt. 24:36 to 25:46–From Second Coming to New Messianic Age

The Greek preposition translated concerning is peri (pronounced pair-ee), and it is often used to introduce a new topic, when peri begins the sentence or clause (Matt. 22:31; Mark 12:26; 13:32; John 16:9, 10, 11; 17:20; Acts 21:25; 25:18, 26; 1 Cor. 7:25; 8:1, 4; 12:1; 16:1, 12; 2 Cor. 9:1; 1 Thess. 4:9; 5:1; Heb. 5:11; 1 Pet. 1:10). This use of peri is also reinforced with the tiny connector de (pronounced deh). It is an elusive particle, but in this case, “but” is used to contrast this topic with the previously long one.

Here’s Paul using peri de in 1 Cor. 8:1, in his change of subject from marriage in 1 Cor. 7 to food sacrificed to idols in 1 Cor. 8: “Now about [peri de] food sacrificed to idols … (NIV). Similarly, using peri de, Jesus is shifting topics from the destruction of Jerusalem to his Second Coming–two distinct events at widely different times.

Bottom line: clearly in v. 32 Mark is changing the topic from the coming-in-judgment on the temple to the parousia or Second Coming or visitation to judge the world and put things right (cf. Matt. 24:36-25:46). In vv. 3-31 the temporal connections were clear: “then,” “in those days,” “immediately after,” and “it is near” (and so on). In contrast, in this second eschatological section there is no such temporal connections. In fact Jesus said that the disciples did not know when the time was. It will come when people don’t expect it. This absence of time markers in vv. 32-36 stands in stark contrast to the conspicuous time markers in vv. 3-31.

Not even the Son knew when his return would happen, but he predicted when the destruction would happen–within his generation.

For an answer to the question of why Jesus did not know the day or the hour, click on this post:

Why Didn’t Jesus Know the Day or the Hour of His Return?

“that day”: it is often used in both the OT and NT of the final day leading to judgment: you can look up the verses online but here are some references: Is. 10:20; Joel 1:15; 3:18; Amos 8:9; 9:11; Zeph. 1:10, 14; Zech. 14:4; Mal. 3:17-18. This is the first mention of a singular day or hour, in contrast to “those days” (vv. 17, 19, and 24) or the timeframe of the Roman war.

Summary and Conclusion

It is unrealistic to believe that Jesus would not make a major prediction of the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple. This shattered Israel, where he ministered. And in fact, I hope post has proven that he did make such a prediction.

Jesus was answering two questions about the destruction of the temple in vv. 5-31. The most “stubborn” verse in the synoptic Gospel (v. 30) won’t allow interpreters to claim that some verses before v. 30 are about the Second Coming. No, it is about the coming-in-judgment on Jerusalem and the temple, which happened in Jesus’s generation. Though he died young, many who were alive when he was experienced the judgment in A.D. 70.

For clarity, here’s a short diagram to illustrate the questions and answer in vv. 5-31 and the flow of the whole Gospel:

First Coming Resurrection Coming to His Throne and then Judgment End of the Old Temple

The end happened in A.D. 70, the generation that was living when Jesus taught in vv. 5-31. His prediction came true.

For a fuller perspective from the beginning of Mark’s Gospel, here’s a diagram that lays out the Second Coming (not discussed in detail in this post):

________________←  This Age → End of This Age

First Coming ⸻⸻⸻⸻ Second Coming → New Messianic Age

In the second diagram, the First Coming (Jesus’s birth and ministry and crucifixion and resurrection begins the movement towards the parousia or Second Coming. At the Second Coming the end of This Age occurs and the New Messianic or Kingdom Age begins in full manifestation. And you can certainly insert the judgment on the temple in This Age, shortly after the First Coming.

One additional point: There is simply no verse in in all of Mark 13 that supports the rapture of the church, distinct from the Second Coming. In fact, all the signs listed in 13:5-31 have already been fulfilled.

See my post:

Rapture = Second Coming and Happen at Same Time on Last Day

However, I would like to point out that the micro-judgment on the temple in his coming-in-judgment on it prefigures the macro-judgment on the world at the closing of the age. The first and smaller judgment is a paradigm or pattern of the second and global one. But the two are not identical. The micro-judgment happened two thousand years ago; the truly global one has not yet happened for the past two thousand years (and counting). Therefore some signs are perennial or repeatable over the centuries, like false prophets and messiahs and ravenous wolves lurking on the edges of the Christian community and then entering. But it is wrongheaded to look for specific signs, unless a moral climate is a sign (of sorts), as it was in the days of Noah.

Once again, this interpretation enjoys the beauty of simplicity by eliminating all (or nearly all) the complications that popular Bible prophecy teachers have been imposing on the Olivet Discourse for decades—over a century. Since this tradition has deep roots—not to say entrenched—in the conservative sectors of American Evangelicalism (broadly defined to incorporate the Renewal Movements), these teachers won’t give up their complicated interpretation. So I hope to reach and teach the younger generations in the church–and all other open-minded people of all generations. They need to prepare for tough times ahead. I’m not a pastor, but I can still have a teacher’s pastoral heart.

RELATED

Matthew 24:4-35 Predicts Destruction of Jerusalem and Temple (see the companion post, next)

Matt. 24:36 to 25:46–From Second Coming to New Messianic Age (see the companion post, above)

Cosmic Disasters = Apocalyptic Imagery for Judgment and Major Change

Three Options for Interpreting Matthew 24, Mark 13, Luke 21

Luke 17:22-37: Taken Away = Secret Rapture?

Rapture = Second Coming and Happen at Same Time on Last Day

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