Mark 13 Commentary

vv.1-4

As Jesus and the disciples leave the Temple, the disciples are awestruck by the size and complexity of the Temple complex.  Josephus, a Jewish historian, described the Temple during Jesus’ time:

Now the outward face of the temple … was covered all over with plates of gold of great weight, and, at the first rising of the sun, reflected back a very fiery splendor, and made those who forced themselves to look upon it to turn away, just as they would have done at the sun’s own rays.  But this Temple appeared to strangers, when they were at a distance, like a mountain covered with snow; for, as to those parts of it that were not gilt, they were exceedingly white … Of its stones, some of them were forty-five cubits in length, five in height and six in breadth.[1]

These stones were gigantic, even by today’s standards: 40 feet long by 12 feet long by 18 feet wide.  Not only an imposing structure, the Temple was the very center of the Jewish religious system and a source of security as it represented God’s constant presence in the land.[2]

Jesus renounces all awe and admiration for the Temple and its striking features.  He knows that the temple has become corrupted and dysfunctional.  He foretells of its destruction by the Romans in AD 70 when it will be completely destroyed with such totality that archeologists have not been able to identify its location with certainty.  Jesus refers to this specific event in the near future, but his words are simply true from the perspective of our eternal God.  The temple would not stand forever, no matter how well built it may be.  Jesus “looks beyond appearance to reality.  No matter how secure buildings or institutions may appear, they can all be overthrown.”[3]

vv.9-13

Jesus reminds them of their task.  They are not to simply wait around, busy only speculating on and trying to decipher news of war, famine and earthquake, instead Jesus calls them again to be his disciples and to preach the gospel to all nations.  Jesus tells them that their days on earth are to be marked by active discipleship and faithfulness (v. 13 “he who stands firm to the end”)[4].  But in the face of such difficult and frightening times, Jesus pledges God’s own continuing faithfulness as the Holy Spirit would be present to direct their words.

vv.14-23

Jesus gives a sign here, not of the end times, but of Jerusalem’s destruction at the hands of an invading army by way of a reference to Daniel 9:27 “the abomination that causes desolation”. He is clearly not talking about the end of the world or else would not give such practical advice of fleeing to the mountains and not stopping to take any supplies.  Josephus, a Jewish historian, tells us that, tragically, Jesus’ advice and during the Roman siege of Jerusalem in AD 70, people flocked into the city where over 1 million people by his estimation died horrible deaths of slow starvation.  But judgment again gives way to mercy and the Lord will choose to “cut short those days” for the sake of God’s followers.

“Since Jesus specifically mentions Judea and uses a phrase from Daniel referring to an enemy’s desecration of the sanctuary, he is predicting some horrifying event in the temple. Therefore it applies to a time when the temple was still standing.

If it refers to something during the war, the heinous crimes of the Zealots who occupied the temple precincts during the last years of the war are prime candidates. Josephus writes:

For there was an ancient saying of inspired men that the city would be taken and the sanctuary burned to the ground by right of war, when it should be visited by sedition and native hands should be the first to defile God’s sacred precincts. This saying the Zealots did not disbelieve; yet they lent themselves as instruments of its accomplishments.

Jesus could also be referring to something that occurred after the destruction of the temple. Josephus reports that after the capture of Jerusalem the Roman soldiers set up their standards in the temple and sacrificed to them. The problem with this view is that when this happened, it was already too late to flee the city.

The allusion remains inside information that the original audience of the Gospel understood, but we are left only with guesses… Whatever that abomination was, Mark intended the audience to understand it as a fulfillment of Daniel’s prophecy and another sign of the beginning of the birth pains.

Jesus does not lament here over the temple’s desecration, but he does express compassion for those caught in the cataclysm. During the Jewish war, many people fled to the temple fortress for refuge (cf. Jer. 4:6). Jesus counsels flight away from the temple (cf. Jer. 6:1; Rev. 18:4). Jerusalem will not be a stronghold of saving help but will become a dragon’s lair, where people find only death and divine judgment. To stay in the vicinity because of some deceived allegiance to the temple or some mistaken belief that it will offer divine protection is to court disaster.”[5]

vv.24-27

Jesus finally gives some signs of the end times, a classic picture described in many places in the Old Testament of nature and the cosmos in tumult, but does not give any definite time.  “The ambiguity is deliberate, and Jesus does not intend for us to try to unravel it.  Otherwise, he would have given more definite clues.  He expects his disciples to be ready for anything anytime.”[6] The circumstances of the final end of the world will be visible to all, discernable by all.  But these are not signs one can use to rouse oneself to prepare to meet the Lord, rather, as one commentator puts it “the elements of creation go into confusion and fear because he appears, not as a sign that he is about do so.”[7] Jesus does not give the warning the disciples want.

“In contrast to most of the trees of Palestine (the olive, oak, evergreen, terebinth), the fig loses its leaves in the winter, and in contrast to the almond, which blossoms very early in the spring, the fig tree shows signs of life only later.  Jesus’ parable appeals to this particularity: when the branches of the fig become softened by the sap flowing through them and leaves begin to appear one can be certain that winter is past and the warm season is very near.  The parable relates the sprouting of the fig tree and the summer in terms of a beginning point and its inevitable sequence.  The accent falls not on immediacy but on proximity: when the fig tree becomes green, one is not only certain that summer is coming but that it is near… By calling the disciples to observe properly what was immediately at hand Jesus reinforced his exhortation to observe what was happening in Jerusalem and Judea and to recognize its significance.”[8]

vv.32-37

Jesus concludes this chapter with a strong exhortation to “Be on guard! Be alert!”, and again ends with a solemn “Watch!”.  Jesus says that we need to be attentive and vigilant.  Asked by the disciples in 13:4 to give a sign or definitive time of the end times, he chooses not to do so.  Rather, he talks about the attitude we ought to have – watchfulness.  This was surely an unwelcome answer because this would require a continual awareness, an intimate understanding of God’s heart and careful spiritual evaluation of all times, not merely the end time.  It would require one to be always ready, rather than being lax and then getting ready at the last moment prompted by the definitive sign or time of the end.


[1] David E. Garland, Mark, The NIV Application Commentary Series (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1996) 490.

[2] David E. Garland, Mark, The NIV Application Commentary Series (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1996) 490.

[3] Pheme Perkins, “The Gospel of Mark,” New Interpreter’s Bible, Vol. VIII (Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 1995) 686.

[4] Pheme Perkins, “The Gospel of Mark,” New Interpreter’s Bible, Vol. VIII (Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 1995) 688.

[5] Garland. “Warnings About the Destruction of the Temple (13:5 – 23)” In The NIV Application Commentary: Mark. By Garland, 495-497. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, © 1996.

[6] David E. Garland, Mark, The NIV Application Commentary Series (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1996) 500.

[7] David E. Garland, Mark, The NIV Application Commentary Series (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1996) 501.

[8] William L. Lane, The Gospel of Mark, The New International Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerman’s Publishing, 1974) 479.

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One Response to “Mark 13 Commentary”

  1. DK says:

    The passage on Tues was indeed very difficult, but I’m just glad for the DT help through the devotions download that has reflection questions that really help. Grateful for Gracepoint DT!

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