Notes and readings (for the week commencing 19th March, 2012) are shown below, with a PDF version available here. The sermon topic this Sunday (25/03/2012) will be Watch!”.
Chapter 13 is all at the same time, difficult to understand, fascinating, disturbing and thrilling. Because it is the longest uninterrupted portion of Jesus’ teaching in Mark’s gospel, I wonder whether you would be willing to read the whole chapter in one sitting?
But first, here are some interpretative keys. Two catastrophic events are referred to by Jesus. The first is the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem. This was anticipated in chapter 11 – both by the cursing of the fig tree and the clearing of the temple. Historically, we know this took place in AD70, after a long and difficult four year war between the Jewish people and occupying Roman forces (with another three to follow). The second dramatic event referred to, is the return of the Lord Jesus and the final judgement. It’s not immediately obvious on first read, which parts of the chapter refer to which of these two events, so an outline of the chapter will be useful to have in mind as you read it
- vv1-23 – all refer to the frightening and dramatic events of Roman-Jewish war and the destruction of the temple. These events happened in history and were very dark days indeed!
- vv24-27 – refer to the dramatic events associated with Jesus’ return. We still wait for these days!
- vv28-31 – tell the disciples that there willbe discernible signs of the destruction of the temple.
- Vv32-37 – tell us that there will be no discernible signs of Jesus’ return.
Now I’d love you to read the whole chapter through with that outline in mind – and I’ll offer no more notes then these. And tomorrow or when you next return, I will take you through a little more detail.
Day 1: Read Mark 13:1-37
Day 2: Re-read Mark 13:1-23
The whole chapter is an exhortation to believers to stay true to the Lord Jesus in the face of the worst of times. You will recall that since arriving in Jerusalem on a donkey, Jesus has spent a lot of time in the temple. Now his public discussions with the religious leaders are over and he leaves the temple. The disciples comment on the beauty of the temple as they leave. And it was amazing! It was constructed on a marble platform of about 35 acres in area! The platform was supported by massive walls of carefully chiselled masonry, some stones being 13 metres in length. This great marble podium was enclosed on all sides by roofed porticos and within this enclosed space, occupying less than ¼ of the whole, was the temple itself. According to historian Josephus, the whole complex was ‘more noteworthy than any under the sun’.
For the Jews, the greatness of the temple was not only its size, but its significance for the people of God. It was the place on earth where God dwelt! Along with the law, it was the great reminder that the Jews were God’s chosen and special people. So for Jesus now to say ‘not one stone here will be left on another, every one will be thrown down’ would have been a very great shock on a number of fronts.
Jesus and the Twelve now walk down into the Kidron ravine to the east of the temple and up the steep slopes of the Mount of Olives. There Jesus sits with Peter, James, John and Andrew, looking across the ravine to the radiant marble temple which must have presented a dazzling sight. Jesus would love to tell them why this was going to happen but the disciples are keen to know when.
He doesn’t answer their question directly. His key word? “Watch”. And in v9, ‘be on your guard’ actually translates the same word translated ‘watch’ in v5. So they are to ‘watch’ that no one deceives them by claiming to be him. They are to ‘watch’ when there are rumours of wars, because they will come, but the destruction of the temple will not be immediate. They are to watch when there are earthquakes and famines, as these will indicate a beginning of birth pains. Birth pains? Yes because theologically speaking, the painful destruction of the temple will signal that the sacrificial and ritual system under the old covenant has come to an end and God is bringing to birth something new.
They are to ‘watch’ and remain faithful when arrested and flogged, trusting God for right words (vv9-11). They are to ‘watch’ when the gospel will bring division in families. They are to ‘watch’ when the temple is desecrated (v14) – probably referring to when the temple was burning in August AD30 and the Roman general Titus entered the Holy of Holies. (This was anticipated in the Old Testament – see Daniel 9:27, 11:31 and 12:11). These would be terrible days, so graphically portrayed. Note that the section ends again in v23 with ‘watch’, ‘be on your guard’.
Note that in the midst of God’s judgement, there is mercy and kindness: not only because of the warnings to flee, but also because God will shorten the days – not the hours in a day – but shorten the overall time that Jerusalem would face such destruction. God’s judgement is always tempered by his mercy. Thank the Lord for his mercy and that we did not have to face these terrible 1st century days!
Day 3: Read Mark 13:28-27
If you refer again to the outline above, you will recall that these verses are best understood to refer not to the destruction of the temple, but to the return of the Lord Jesus. The clue is in v24 – “but in those days following that distress” – referring to a time after the fall of city. He describes a time in the graphic picture language known as apocalyptic, where such dramatic things occur in such amazing ways, that we cannot properly describe them in our ordinary language. Half of the prophet Daniel and a lot of the book of the Revelation uses this graphic imagery. The key here though is that despite the shake-up in the universe we will see the Son of Man – Jesus – return with great power and glory (if we’re still around at the time). And God’s people – his elect, will be safe because we will be gathered from the all the corners of the earth to meet with Jesus. What a great day that will be!!
Day 4: Read Mark 13:28-37
Remember there are two sections here – one that tells us the signs of the destruction of the temple (vv28-31) and the second which tells are there are no signs for Jesus’ return (vv32-37).
Just as you can tell seasons from what trees and plants are doing, so the disciples will be able to discern when the end is near when they see ‘these things’. What things? The rise of the false Messiahs, the spread of the gospel and the persecution of believers. These are the ‘tender twig’ and the ‘budding leaf’ that will have told them of the nearness of those catastrophic AD70 events. Jesus expected these events to take place within the lifetime of those to whom he was speaking. Note the permanence of his words, when everything else in the universe is only temporary!
And yet for the return of the Lord Jesus there are no such signs, and won’t be any! As not even Jesus himself knows the moment, it would be foolish for us to spend any time trying to work out when it will be. So the key again? Keep watch! Like a classroom of students keeping watch for the teacher to return, or workers looking out for the boss’ return, so we as God’s people must keep watch and be ready and not be found sleeping. How do we keep watch? We surrender ourselves in trust and love to Jesus, we love with all our heart, soul, strength and mind and we give all have and are over to him!