Mark 13 The Apocalyptic Discourse 1
1 And as he left the temple one of his disciples said to him, “Master, look how massive these stones and this structure are!” 2 Then Jesus told him, “Do you see this great structure? There won’t be a single stone left upon another that won’t collapse.”
3 Later, as he sat on the Mount of Olives looking out across to the temple Peter was questioning him in private along with James and John and Andrew.24 “Tell us, when will that happen and what portent will indicate the time when all these things are to culminate?356 Many will come forth in my name claiming to be me, and lots of people will be misled by them.47 When you hear of wars and talk of wars, don’t be anxious; that has to happen, but it’s not yet the end. 8 In fact their will be uprisings of nation against nation and one kingdom against another; there will be earthquakes in some areas, there will be times of famine5That will be the start of the ‘labor pains’ accompanying the birth of the new age. 6 Then Jesus proceeded to explain to them, “Be careful that nobody misleads you.
9 Watch out for yourselves! People will arrest you and bring you before councils and synagogues; you will be flogged and brought before governors and kings for my sake to witness to them– 10 the gospel proclamation must reach all nations.) 11 Now when they arrest you and bring you before these authorities, don’t think ahead of time what you should say — just say whatever you’re given to say at that time: it won’t be yourselves speaking but the Holy Spirit. 12 Brothers will dispatch their brothers to death, and fathers their children, and children will rebel against their parents and kill them. 13 You are going to be hated by everybody because of me; but the one who endures to the end will come through safely.7
14 And when you see that loathsome devastation set up where it has no business to stand (reader, take note!), then people in Judaea should take off for the hills.815 A man on his rooftop should not come down nor enter his house to get something out of it. 16 The man out in the field should not turn back to get his clothes. 17 Too bad for women who are pregnant or nursing babies when that time comes! 18 Pray that it doesn’t come in wintertime! 19 When the time comes there will be hardship never known since God made the world nor will there ever the like of it again! 20 If the Lord hadn’t decided to shorten those days, nobody would ever survive, but for the sake of those whom he has chosen he shortened the time.
21 When that time comes, if someone tells you, ‘Look, there’s the Messiah — over there!’ don’t you believe it. 22 In fact, false Messiahs will appear and false prophets as well, and they’ll show you signs and miracles to delude you. 23 But be careful! I’ve warned you of it all!9
24 Then when that time of hardship is over, the sun will darken; the moon won’t shine, 25 and the stars will plunge down from the sky and the mighty powers in the heavens will quake. 1026 That is when people will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds with mighty power and glory. 27 And that is when he will send messengers to gather up the chosen ones from the four corners of the world and from the far reaches of the earth to the farthest reaches of heaven.11
28 Take heed of the lesson that the fig tree teaches: When its branch grows tender and starts to sprout foliage, you know that the warm harvest-time is near; 29 even so, once you’ve seen these things happening, you must realize that it’s close, knocking on the door!12
32 But nobody knows exactly when it will be-not angels in heaven and not the Son, nobody at all except the Father.1533 Take heed, keep watch: 16 you don’t know when the time will be. 34 Think of a man who goes away, leaving his household behind and giving his servants responsibility, to each his own task, and he tells the doorman to keep watch. 35 You must be just as watchful: you don’t know when the master of the household is coming, whether late in the evening or at midnight or at cock-crow or at dawn. 36 You mustn’t let him come and catch you sleeping. 37 What I’m telling you all is that you must keep watch.”
Notes to Chapter 13
1 Jesus and his disciples leave the temple precinct; an unnamed disciple comments on the striking stature of the building, evoking from Jesus an unqualified assurance that it’s destruction will be devastating. Immediately thereafter the four members of the “inner circle” of Jesus’ disciples are with him on the Mount of Olives and evidently looking out across the valley toward the Temple mount; they question Jesus about the prophecy he has just delivered, thereby evoking a sequence of warnings and exhortations concerned with the sure and imminent destruction of Temple and of Jerusalem and the soon-to-follow catastrophic events constituting the “birth-pangs” of the dawning of the Age-to-Come. Whatever may be the traditions employed by the evangelist in the construction of this chapter-long discourse of Jesus, there can be no doubt that the expectations here voiced are critical for the understanding of Mark’s gospel as a whole. Clearly the message here delivered is conceived in terms of the devastating conclusion of the Jewish War and the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70 and it is a very-commonly-held view that Mark’s gospel has been composed in the immediate aftermath of that event and in expectation of the imminent return of Jesus as Son of Man to inaugurate the Reign of God. The destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple and the interim, undefined but presumably relatively short, between that event and the return of Jesus as Son of Man is the context of the mission challenging the disciples following upon Jesus’ death and resurrection ahead. Hitherto it has been hinted at that the disciples must face the same persecution, witness before judicial authorities, and death as previously John the Baptist and then Jesus himself will have faced. All this is now spelled out in terms that the four disciples who hear it could not fail to understand.
2 Context of the Synoptic discourse: While much in the parallel Matthaean and Lucan (Mt 24-25, Lk 21) formulations of this discourse corresponds closely to the Marcan formulation, one who is concerned to understand any one of the three gospels needs to be aware of some differences between them that are profound. One aspect of this is where the discourse takes place: Mark states explicitly that Jesus and the four are facing the Temple mount across the valley from where they sit atop the Mount of Olives. In Matthew (24:3) the discourse does also take place on the Mount of Olives, but the whole group of disciples hears Jesus and there is no indication of the vista of the Temple Mount; in Luke (21:7) the Jesus’ prophecy of the Temple’s destruction responds to a comment by bystanders and the question of when that is to be is put to Jesus by them immediately outside the Temple precinct.
3 It should be noted that there are two questions posed here: the first “when will that happen” refers to the destruction of the Temple that Jesus has foretold in verse 2; the second, “what portent will indicate the time when all these things are to culminate.” In what follows Jesus speaks of several “signs” or “portents” to be observed in the imminent future: these will inaugurate a severe time of troubles and will culminate in the return of Jesus as Son of Man on the clouds. Evidently the destruction of the temple is one critical event in this time of troubles, but the consummation, the “Parousia” will not ensue immediately.
4 Messianic pretenders certainly did arise and accumulate followers frequently during the period of the Roman occupation of Palestine. According to Luke’s account in Acts (5:36-37), Gamaliel referred specifically to Theudas and Judas of Galilee, but there were in fact several others also.
5 While it may not be wise to seek exact correspondence between what is here foretold and specific events of the years following the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus, verse 7 certainly describes the turmoil in the Mediterranean world ensuing upon the assassination of the Emperor Nero: successive emperors replacing each other within a few short months, armies advancing from the ends of the empire toward Rome, including the ultimately successful Vespasian, who at the time was conducting the siege of Jerusalem at the culmination of the Jewish War of 66-70.
6 A common image in Jewish Apocalyptic literature for the “time of troubles” or “great tribulation” of the era immediately preceding the arrival of the Age-to-come is the labor pains suffered by a mother giving birth to a child. Apart from this usage in the Synoptic Apocalyptic discourse, the image is found elsewhere in the New Testament in 1 Thessalonians 5:3. Paul in Romans 8:18-22 speaks of the sufferings to which Christian believers are subject as associated with the labor pains of creation (οἴδαμεν γὰρ ὅτι πᾶσα ἡ κτίσις συνωδίνει ἄχρι τοῦ νῦν). In John’s gospel where the eschatological focus has been altered so that the resurrection of Jesus is itself equated with eschatological consummation, the same image is used (John 16:21) of the grief suffered by the disciples at Jesus’ “departure” in death that will give way to their joy at his return.
7 For followers of Jesus the sufferings of the interim between Jesus’ resurrection and his Parousia will be the more severe because of their missionary endeavors to carry the gospel proclamation of Jesus to all nations (εἰς πάντα τὰ ἔθνη, verse 10). Prominent here is the recurring verb παραδίδωμι (παραδίδοντες in verse 11, παραδώσει in verse 12). Cf. the note on Mark 1:14: the fate to which John the Baptist was first destined, then Jesus also, is now that which followers of Jesus will confront in this interim period. Cf. also Mk 4:17 and 10:30 where this persecution has been prefigured previously. The alienation of Jesus’ followers from members of their own families as described here mirrors the alienation of Jesus from his own family as described in Mk 3:21, 31-35 and in the words of Jesus in Mk 6:4.
8It is commonly supposed that the “loathesome devastation” (Greek τὸ βδέλυγμα τῆς ἐρημώσεως)–what KJV converts into English “abomination of desolation”–is an apocalyptic descriptive term for the sacrilegious placement of a graven image of a human ruler in the Jewish Temple. This is what Antiochus Epiphanes, the Hellenistic ruler of Syria, did in 168 B.C., an act which triggered the rebellion led by Judas Maccabaeus; a similar project to place an image of the Roman emperor Gaius Caligula in the Jewish Temple never came to fruition, but it was feared and might have brought on sooner the devastation in which the Jewish War ended with the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple in the year 70. In verse 14 as earlier in the sequence on parables in chapter 4, the one who reads or hears read these monitory words is admonished to take them to heart as of paramount importance. What follows seems intended to portray vividly rather than precisely the terrors of the onset of the Time of Troubles. It is hard to take literally the admonition, “people in Judaea should take off for the hills,” inasmuch as people in Judaea are literally in the hills.
9 As in verse 5 above the appearance of false Messiahs was said to highlight the oncoming of the Time of Troubles, so it is indicated again here in verses 21-23, a sort of framing as is common in orally-transmitted text (cf. the “ring-composition” commonly discerned in Greek Homeric epics) encloses the section on the Time of Troubles prior to the Parousia proper.
10Here are clear signs that the end of This world-age is imminent.
11 The dead will be raised and the living who are chosen will be gathered together from the entire world.
12 The lesson of the fig-tree: as one of the first shrubs to bloom to herald the harvest season (in Greek the word θέρος means both “summer” and “harvest-season,” but “harvest” is another apocalyptic image for the coming of the end-time, of the Age-to-come), so must Jesus’ followers discern the portents of which he has spoken as harbingers of coming of the very end. I believe that Mark intended this saying of Jesus to illuminate the earlier episode of the Cursing of the Fig Tree in Mark 12:12-14 and 19-25; cf. note 4 on chapters 11-12.
13 The end is so imminent that some now living will witness it. This is a theme that is reiterated in Mark’s proclamation: cf. Mark 9:1 and note 13 to Mark 8-10; see also Jesus’ words to the High Priest in 14:62, the assurance that those listening to Jesus who are present as he speaks would witness him as Son of Man sitting at the right hand of Power and coming on the clouds of heaven.
14 I believe that the evangelist here intends to say that this world-age will indeed pass away, but that all that Jesus has said will surely come to fulfillment.
15 Evidently this added assertion is intended to guard against claims of sure knowledge of the exact day and hour of Jesus’ coming as Son of man, despite the portents previously listed as sure signs of the end. Even more than guarding against such claims of sure knowledge, this warning leads directly into the exhortation to be vigilant precisely because Jesus’ followers do not know the precise moment of his coming.
16 Verses 33-37 which close the Apocalyptic discourse are framed by the exhortation to be vigilant. Just as the saying on the leafing out of the Fig tree (verses 28-29 above) throws light backward upon episode of the Cursing of the Fig Tree in 12:12-14 and 19-25, so this exhortation to be vigilant will be echoed in the scene in the Garden of Gethsemane chapter 14:32-42, where Peter, James and John are told to wait and be vigilant while he prays (14:34), then three times finds them sleeping (14: 37, 49, 41). See the comment on that passage in the notes to chapters 14-15.