Mark 13:5–37comment (0)
February 11, 2010
By Cecil Taylor
Related Scripture: Mark 13:5–37
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Dean, School of Christian Studies, University of Mobile
WHEN YOU FEEL OVERWHELMED
Course of World History (5–13)
This chapter, commonly called the Olivet Discourse, is clearly an important one. It is one of only two long addresses in Mark (cf 4:1–34) and stands at the end of Jesus’ ministry just before the story of the cross. The implication is that to understand Jesus’ identity and mission, His followers must look beyond His death to His glorious return. The discourse aims not so much to give information about the future as to provide assurance about the return and — by implication — the true identity of Jesus.
First-century Jews thought of false messiahs, wars, natural disasters and persecution as signs of the end of the world. Far from being “signs of the end,” however, Jesus insisted they were signs that “the end is not yet.” They simply described the course of world history. At worst, they were “birth pains,” i.e., woes that precede the end, not the end itself.
Jesus warned of hard times to come for His disciples. Persecution would be religious (beatings before sanhedrins and in synagogues), political (governors and kings) and domestic (betrayed by relatives).
In tough times, Jesus’ disciples must continue to bear witness because the gospel must be preached to all nations. This is the only sign of the end Jesus gave. Jesus promised the Spirit’s help as they witnessed. Mark 13:11 was never meant to discourage speakers from preparing, depending instead of the sudden illumination of the Spirit. Disciples must persevere in faith. Everyone agrees it is only those who endure to the end who are saved. A faith that fizzles had a fatal flaw from the first.
Rise of Antichrist and Coming of the Great Tribulation (14–23)
“The abomination that causes desolation” was a term taken over from Daniel (9:27; 11:31; 12:11). Probably Jesus had in mind the Antichrist of the end time (2 Thess. 2:3–10). Likewise “days of distress unequaled from the beginning … until now — and never to be equaled again” deserve the title “the Great Tribulation” clearly placed near the end of the age. Jesus said nothing of a pre-tribulation rapture that removes the Church from the horrors of tribulation. There is only one reappearing of Christ after the tribulation.
Day of the Son of Man (24–27)
Immediately after that tribulation, the Son of Man (Jesus’ favorite name for Himself) returns for two purposes, among others. First, He suffered humiliation and death at His first coming but returns to reveal His full glory. “Clouds … great power and glory” are divine attributes. “Clouds” are not natural clouds but something like “the cloud of the Presence” that descended on the tabernacle in the wilderness and led Israel in its desert wandering. Second, He returns to gather His people from all over the earth (Deut. 30:4; Zech. 2:6) to enjoy His salvation.
Exhortations to Watch (28–37)
The time is near. The fig tree is not identified as the nation of Israel. It should be understood as a literal tree that teaches a lesson to anyone who pays attention. When leaves appear on a fig, summer is near. Anyone who sees “these things” — if in Mark 13:4 this expression referred to the destruction of the temple, then surely it does in Mark 13:29–30 as well — take place can know “it,” the end, is near. The temple will fall in “this generation,” namely, the one alive in Jesus’ day.
No one knows the date of the end. The exact time of His return even Jesus did not know in His earthly days (although surely He knows now). Date-setters pretend to know more than Jesus knew. And all date-setters have one thing in common — they have all been wrong. Setting dates is always dangerous and never dependable. Disciples must be ready. Because the time of Christ’s return is uncertain, His disciples must watch, i.e., be prepared. Jesus’ followers must be on constant alert for the Master’s return but not in an excited or impatient way that would keep them from carrying out the “assigned task.”
Jesus meant His words not for the Twelve alone but for His followers in every age: “What I say to you, I say to everyone!”