Mark 13:1-8 (see also Matthew 24:1-7; Luke 21:5-11)
The most confident and excited people on the planet should be followers of Jesus. The Bible tells us how everything is going to end. We are told that Jesus Christ will return, God wins and we win. Everything will be made right. Today, we are going to begin looking at what Jesus says about the Tribulation, end times, and His return. More specifically, we are going to learn how Jesus expects His followers to respond and react to what is happening and what will happen as His return draws closer.
With that said, let’s dive into Mark 13.
As Jesus was leaving the Temple that day, one of his disciples said, “Teacher, look at these magnificent buildings! Look at the impressive stones in the walls.” 2 Jesus replied, “Yes, look at these great buildings. But they will be completely demolished. Not one stone will be left on top of another!” 3 Later, Jesus sat on the Mount of Olives across the valley from the Temple. Peter, James, John, and Andrew came to him privately and asked him, 4 “Tell us, when will all this happen? What sign will show us that these things are about to be fulfilled?” 5 Jesus replied, “Don’t let anyone mislead you, 6 for many will come in my name, claiming, ‘I am the Messiah.’ They will deceive many. 7 And you will hear of wars and threats of wars, but don’t panic. Yes, these things must take place, but the end won’t follow immediately. 8 Nation will go to war against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be earthquakes in many parts of the world, as well as famines. But this is only the first of the birth pains, with more to come. (Mark 13:1-8, NLT)
Jesus uses the question about the Temple to begin a significant lesson on the end times and His return.
When you study prophetic passages like Mark 13 you need to keep several things in mind.
- First, you must compare scripture with scripture to help understand it. We are going to focus our attention on Mark 13, but we will need to bring in others statements from the Bible to help us understand what Jesus is saying. That’s exactly what Jesus wants us to do. If you are taking notes write down Matthew 24 and Luke 21 those are the parallel passages. They will give you further insight into what Jesus is saying.
- Second, when you study end time passages you must look for the practical application. When you study end times you will encounter a lot of interesting and fascinating information, but prophetic passages are not meant to be fascinating, but transforming. The question you have to ask yourself is, “What does God want me to do with this information about the future? What should be my reaction to this information and truth about the return of Christ and the activities of the end times?” This moves us from being a hearer of God’s Word to a doer of God’s Word (James 1:22-25).
- Third, when you study Mark 13 you must keep in mind that this involves the time before and during The Tribulation. We call it The Tribulation because Jesus describes this as a time of “great tribulation” in Matthew 24:21. (Mark 13:19, 24; also see Matt. 24:21, 29; NASB).
In Mark 13, Jesus described three stages in this Tribulation period: (1) the beginning (Mark 13:5-13), (2) the middle (Mark 13:14-18), and (3) the events that lead to the end (Mark 13:19-27). He then closes with two object lessons that urge believers to watch and take heed (Mark 13:28-37). [i]
Without question, this chapter is the hardest chapter in the Gospel of Mark to teach. Before we dive into this, let me say a word to those who are serious students of God’s Word. You have studied prophecy, the end times, and what scholars call eschatology. As a result of your study, you may have a different view of this chapter and the timeline that I present. I ask for your grace and understanding. This chapter is not easy. If you disagree with me and I disagree with you about something in the Scripture let that be a motivation for both of us to dig deeper into God’s Word and learn more. We should not let our disagreements, especially on matters as complex as this chapter, drive us apart.
To help us through this, we are going to focus on what Mark wrote but we will pull from Matthew and Luke as well. They all three have something to say about this.
In verse 1, Mark tells us, As Jesus was leaving the Temple that day…. Let’s stop there. This Temple – also known as Herod’s Temple, because it was built under his reign – was considered one of the wonders of the ancient world. There were no temples in the world that could compare to its size and magnificence. The best way to understand its size is to look at a model that was created by Alec Garrard. He built this detailed replica of Herod’s Temple and it took him about 30 years to do it. He was trying to give us an idea of the size of the temple. Since everything is to scale, look at the size of the people in the temple complex. They look like ants or little black dots. The Temple was enormous. I need to describe the Temple to you because of what Jesus is about to say.
- The Temple Complex covered 35 acres.
- The circumference of the Temple was more than 1 mile around.
- Josephus, an ancient historian, said some of the stones used in the base of the Temple were longer than 67 feet. They weighed more than a million pounds. I have no idea how they did it.
- There were 162 pillars holding up the exterior roof around the outer court of the temple. Each pillar was so large that three men could barely touch hands and wrap their arms around one of them.
- The Temple itself rose 150 feet higher than the rest of the city, making the temple complex a literal mountain in the center of Jerusalem.
- The walls of the temple were covered in gold. There was so much gold that Josephus wrote that travelers looking at the temple from a distance often couldn’t look at it because they were blinded when the gold so brilliantly reflected the sun.
- The blocks of the temple were white marble, so from a distance, if it was overcast and you weren’t blinded by the reflection of the sun off the gold, the temple looked like a snow-covered mountain because it was so white.
- The walls of the temple were immense. The southern wall was 210 feet high. That is as high a 15 story building (in our town the highest structure is the water tower and it is about 150 feet tall).
By the time Jesus leaves the Temple that day, it had been under construction for about 40 years. Herod was proud of the Temple and so were the religious leaders. It was a national treasure.
So, you can see why one of Jesus’ disciples said, “Teacher, look at these magnificent buildings! Look at the impressive stones in the walls.” The disciples, like so many others, were simply blown away and astonished at the majesty and glory and wonder of the Temple!
So what does Jesus have to say about this glorious building that was supposed to be for God’s glory? Mark tells us in verse 2, Jesus replied, “Yes, look at these great buildings. But they will be completely demolished. Not one stone will be left on top of another!” The disciples were impressed by the Temple, but Jesus was not. He said the whole thing was coming down. It would be completely demolished.
Because of all the corruption by the Temple’s religious leaders and all the corruption that was happening within it and around it and God would destroy it. Keep in mind, this is God’s Temple. This was a temple erected for the purpose of worship and honoring and learning about God, but God would bring it down. The destruction of this Temple would also serve as a symbol that Jesus had come to fulfill all those sacrifices and offerings in the Temple and that Temple was not needed any more.
When did God’s judgment upon the city of Jerusalem and the Temple occur? It took place 40 years later in 70 A.D. when the Roman General Titus attacked Jerusalem, leaving not one stone of the temple upon another. That’s exactly what Jesus said would happen. Jesus said that not one stone will be left on top of another.
Why did every stone of the temple end up overturned? Remember, I told you the temple was covered in gold. When the Romans set out to destroy the temple, they burned it with fire. The problem with burning a temple covered in gold is the gold melts and drips between the stones and the cracks. To get to the melted gold that went between the stones, the Roman army tore every stone of the temple apart to dig out the gold from between them.
Mark goes on to say in verse 3, Later, Jesus sat on the Mount of Olives across the valley from the Temple. Peter, James, John, and Andrew came to him privately and asked him, 4 “Tell us, when will all this happen? What sign will show us that these things are about to be fulfilled?”
As Jesus and the disciples left the Temple they headed over to the Mount of Olives. The Mount of Olives was about 150 feet higher than the Temple. From there you could sit and look over the valley and see the entire Temple Complex.
Once they got there Jesus sat down. On their way from the Temple to the Mount of Olives, some of the disciples must have had a conversation about Jesus’ statement regarding the Temple being demolished. Mark tells us that Peter, James, John, and Andrew came to Jesus privately and asked him two questions about the destruction of the Temple.
- When will all this happen? When will the Temple be destroyed?
- What sign will show us that these things are about to be fulfilled? What do we need to look for as evidence this is about to happen?
For the next several versus Jesus is answering those two questions. Let me be clear, everything Jesus is about to say to the disciples will happen in the next 40 years, from 30 A.D. to 70 A.D. Don’t think that what Jesus is saying is just for that time period. It also serves as an object lesson for believers today and the same things they were to look for and told how to respond is true for us today regarding the second coming of Christ.
The reason why I say that is because of what we are told in Matthew 24:3, the disciples said, “Tell us, when will all this happen? What sign will signal your return and the end of the world?” Now we have three questions. A question about the timing of the temple’s destruction, another question about the signs for when the temple will be destroyed, and a question about the signs of His return and the end of the world? I believe Jesus is answering all those questions at the same time. The answer to the temple question is the same answer regarding His return.
Three Things to Ignore
What does Jesus tell them? He does something unique. He begins by giving them some signs to ignore regarding the destruction of the Temple and His second coming. He gives them some false signs that many believers will see and experience and think the Lord’s return is close, but it’s not. He told them about tragedies in this world that would leave many people thinking God’s judgment was about to fall, but in reality, those are just signs of how sinful the world is. These false signs of the Lord’s return are signs you may hear other people or Christians refer to when they are talking about the Lord’s return being near. They will say something like, “Jesus is getting ready to come back any day because of all the wars around the world, and because all the natural disasters I’m hearing about and because of all the false religions and cults that I’m hearing about that are growing.” Those are not signs that Jesus is about to return and Jesus wants us to ignore them. What are some signs to ignore?
Ignore the spiritual disasters
First, ignore spiritual disasters. Ignore all the false messiahs, false prophets and false teachers. Just because false religions or cults are spreading and growing does not mean Jesus is about to return. Mark says in verse 5, Jesus replied, “Don’t let anyone mislead you, 6 for many will come in my name, claiming, ‘I am the Messiah.’ They will deceive many. Later in verse 21 Jesus repeats this truth and says, If anyone tells you, “Look, here is the Messiah,” or “There he is,” don’t believe it. For false messiahs and false prophets will rise up and perform signs and wonders so as to deceive, if possible, even God’s chosen ones” (NLT). Luke tells us that some of these false messiahs will say, “The time has come!” and the end of the world is here (Luke 21:8, NLT).
Who is Jesus talking about? A false messiah is a pretender who claims to be the One sent from God to save humanity. The false messiah may actually believe he or she is from God and here to save people. A false prophet is someone who pretends to speak for God but actually doesn’t. These false prophets may or may not know they are false prophets.
Since the days of Christ there have been false Christ and false prophets and false teachers. They are as common was the wars and rumors of wars that Jesus will speak of later.
Remember, Jesus was answering two questions at once.
- Regarding the destruction of the Temple coming in 70 A.D. we find an abundance of false messiahs, prophets, and teachers. In Acts 5 we are told about a man named Theudas. In the years 44-47 A.D., he claimed to be a prophet of God with miraculous powers that could part the Jordan River at his command. He had a great following, until he and his followers were attacked and killed by the Romans. That proved he was a false messiah and had no power at all (Acts 5:35). In Acts 21 we are introduced to an Egyptian who led a group of 4000 into the wilderness. He claimed to have miraculous power and at his command the walls of Jerusalem would fall. He was also attacked by the Romans His followers scattered. He escaped with his life but was never heard from again. He was another false savior, false messiah, false prophet.
- Even in our day, false Christs have continued to make their appearance. Even within the last century, certain men such as Jim Jones, Sun Myung Moon, and David Koresh have risen to prominence by claiming to be God or His right-hand man. They often started with the Bible but then seized one verse or idea and built their own theology around it, turning their group into a self-affirming cult. Cult leaders often attract their victims by presenting themselves as Bible-believing Christians with a special word from God. Groups such as the Mormons, the Church of Scientology, and the Jehovah’s Witnesses all claim to be Christian, but they all deny the deity Jesus, the Son of God, as our only path to forgiveness and eternal life (see John 14:6). In addition to this they add works to salvation.
Jesus says Don’t let anyone mislead you. Don’t be misled by any of these types of people or groups that are a form of false Christs. Jesus said they will deceive many. Over the centuries and today thousands of people have been deceived to believe they are the real deal, but they are not. I call all this spiritual disasters.
Ignore the human disasters
The second thing Jesus said to ignore is human disasters. Jesus said in verse 7, And you will hear of wars and threats of wars, but don’t panic. Yes, these things must take place, but the end won’t follow immediately. Nation will go to war against nation, and kingdom against kingdom (vs. 7-8, NLT).
- Regarding the Temple, Jesus is saying that before it is demolished the disciples are going to hear of wars and threats of wars. They will witness one nation going to war against another nation and one kingdom against another kingdom. Between the time Jesus said this (about 30 A.D.) until the Temple fell 40 years later there was a war between the Parthians and the Romans. There were also constant minor wars in and around Israel. Jesus was saying that when the people heard of wars and rumors of wars that would not be a sign the destruction of Jerusalem was near. Wars and rumors of wars are a normal part of living in a fallen world filled with sin.
- In light of Jesus’ return the same is true. Before He returns there are going to be wars and threats of wars and nation will go to war against nation and kingdom against kingdom. We should not panic because those things are a normal part of living in a fallen world filled with sin. If we enter into another World War that does not mean that Jesus is about to return. We may want Jesus to hurry up and come back, but wars are not an indication that He is getting ready to return. In the last 3,400 years of recorded history, there were only about 300 years without war. War may leave you feeling like the end is near, but it is not necessarily a sign the end is near.
Jesus put it this way, Yes, these things must take place, but the end won’t follow immediately. The reason these wars must take place is because of mankind’s sin. Sin causes greed and selfishness of all kinds. We are never going to be rid of wars on this planet because of the human nature. The only place where there is no war will be in heaven.
Ignore the natural disasters
The third thing Jesus said to ignore are natural disasters. Jesus put it this way in verse 8, There will be earthquakes in many parts of the world, as well as famines. But this is only the first of the birth pains, with more to come. Luke adds there will be “plagues in many lands, and there will be terrifying things and great miraculous signs from heaven” (Luke 21:11, NLT). Jesus is saying don’t get caught up in thinking that because you are hearing about earthquakes, famines, and plagues and other terrifying things that Jesus is about to return. Those things do not mean that something significant is about to happen, it is simply a reflection of the fallen world we live in.
- Regarding the destruction of the Temple, there were numerous earthquakes before 70 A.D. one destroyed Laodicea, another one Philippi, another Corinth, and another Cyprus. If you were living in the first century and earthquakes were destroying your cities, what would be your normal response? You would think God was angry and the end was near. Jesus is saying don’t think that way.
Mount Vesuvius erupted around this time burying the city of Pompeii in lava and ashes. Jesus said earthquakes, famines, and erupting volcanoes are all a normal part of living a fallen sinful world where the curse of sin has infected creation.
- In regards to the Lord’s return the truth is the same. There has been, currently are, and will be earthquakes, volcanoes, and famines around the world. None of those are indicators that Jesus’ return is just around the corner. Don’t get caught up in the hype around those events.
Paul mentions some of this in Romans 8 when he writes, “Yet what we suffer now is nothing compared to the glory he will reveal to us later. For all creation is waiting eagerly for that future day when God will reveal who his children really are. Against its will, all creation was subjected to God’s curse. But with eager hope, the creation looks forward to the day when it will join God’s children in glorious freedom from death and decay. For we know that all creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time” (Romans 8:18-22, NLT). That is the same language Jesus uses in Mark 13. When creation is displaying earthquakes, volcanoes, famines, drought, tornadoes, hurricanes and the like, that is the earth groaning from the curse of sin. When sin entered mankind it not only changed us, but it changed mankind.
Jesus makes clear that these natural disasters are not signs indicating that He is about to return. Jesus puts it this way, But this is only the first of the birth pains, with more to come. Natural disasters only prove that sin is real and that we need Jesus. Natural disasters are not a sign Jesus is about to arrive. There are plenty more of the natural disasters on their way.
In spite of Jesus clearly claiming that there will be false Messiahs and false prophets resulting in all kinds of cults and false imitations of Christianity, and there will be disasters caused by humanity in the form of war and there will be natural disasters like earthquakes, volcanoes and famines around the world there still people who will react as though these things are signs that Jesus is about to return. Don’t do that.
Your Reaction to these Disasters
How should we, as followers of Jesus, react to spiritual disasters, human disasters, and natural disasters? Jesus tells us, whether its believers living in the first century or the current century the answer is the same. Jesus gives us three reactions for the believer.
First of all, you and I need to be informed. Jesus said in verse 5, “Don’t let anyone mislead you.” Specifically, Jesus is saying don’t let anyone mislead you into thinking they are the Messiah or a Messiah or deceiving you into believing something about Jesus that is not true. Don’t be misled into joining that cult or that group that does not acknowledge who the real Savior and true Messiah is. If they deny Jesus as the Son of God and deny that He is Lord and the only way to the Father then stay away from them.
If someone is telling you that Jesus is going to return in a particular year or a certain date, don’t believe it. Regardless of how great their argument is or even if they do miraculous signs do not accept what they say.
The best way to be informed and not be misled, misguided or deceived is to know the truth. This is why it’s important for you as a follower of Jesus to know God’s Word. God’s Word will equip you to evaluate every teaching, every prophecy, and every religious group that comes along. God Word helps you to determine if someone or a message is from God or not.
In addition, God’s Word will equip you to examine wars and rumors of war and all the natural disasters from an eternal and biblical perspective. In the midst of all the disasters and horrible things happening around the world God’s Word can act as an anchor to your soul so you don’t get dragged away. Jesus says don’t be misled.
We need to be informed with God’s Word, but we also need to be calm. Jesus says in verse 7, “Don’t panic.” Being informed deals with your mind, you are mentally ready. Being calm and not freaking out deals with your emotions.
The idea behind the phrase don’t panic (throeo) means to not let fear begin or stop fearing if you are already afraid. Jesus says don’t panic in the context of all the wars and rumors of wars. The reason why we shouldn’t panic is because you were expecting it. You don’t panic or are surprised by all this because you understand the depravity of mankind and sinful nature of people. Wars and rumors of wars is a natural result of the depravity of man.
I think we can carry this idea even into the political and social upheavals in our own country. Whether our country goes to war or not, don’t panic. Whether your candidate wins or not, don’t panic. Even while our country divides over many issues, don’t panic. You are not afraid. You don’t over-react. You are aware, calm, and present to be used by God in the middle of whatever mess is happening. As a Christian, you are already know how the story ends. It’s with the Lord’s triumphant return which means you win!
As the spiritual disasters, human disasters and natural disasters occur and keep happening you are to be informed with God’s Word, be calm by God’s Spirit, and finally, be ready for more. Jesus said in verse 8, “But this is only the first of the birth pains, with more to come.” Here we have an implied reaction to expect more of it. As these things happen and as they happen more often you should not be surprised or shocked.
Even though all these various types of disasters will occur and we are not to see them as signs of the Lord’s return is near, we still can see them as an indicator to remind us that the Lord’s return is getting closer. Jesus compares these disasters to birth pains. When birth pains begin they start out with a lower level of intensity and less frequently, but as the delivery date gets closer and closer the birth pains increase in both intensity and frequency. The implication is that Jesus’ figure of speech suggest that the birth pains (false messiahs, false prophets, wars, earthquakes, etc.) will increase in number and intensity as the delivery of Christ and His kingdom at the second coming approaches.[ii]
When I say be ready, I mean expect all this stuff to happen.
Jesus says to you and I, “Be informed, be calm, and be ready.” Aware, calm, and present.
- Before reading this, what signs had you been told to look for in regards to the return of Christ?
- What does the destruction of the Temple teach us about God and His plan through Christ?
- Why do you think so many people are deceived by false messiahs and false prophets?
- Do you know of any religions that are similar to Christianity and appear to be Christian but in reality are not? What makes them a form of a false messiah? What does the rise of various false religions teach us?
- What is the normal reaction of Christians to news about wars and rumors of wars? Why is the news about wars and rumors of war not a sign that Christ is about to return?
- How have you typically witnessed Christians responding to news about earthquakes, famines, and plagues around the world? Why is the news about natural disasters not a sign that Christ is about to return?
- In regards to the false messiahs and false prophets, Jesus said, “Don’t let anyone mislead you.” What can you do to protect yourself and keep yourself from being mislead by false religious leaders?
- In regards to human disasters like wars and rumors of war Jesus said, “Don’t panic.” What keeps you from being fearful and worried about the future? What does a calm Christian look like when there are wars and rumors of war being heard?
- In regards to natural disasters Jesus said we should expect them. What does that look like and how does that affect us as followers of Jesus?
- What is the one big thing that God said to you through this section of Scripture?
[i] I must point out that it is the conviction of many students of prophecy that believers in this present age of the church will be raptured by Christ and taken to heaven before the Tribulation begins (1 Thess. 4;13-5:11; Rev. 3:10-11). At the close of the Tribulation, they will return to earth with Christ and reign with Him (Rev. 19:11-20:6).
[ii] If you want to get a glimpse into what the birth pains will look like in their full force at the very end then read Revelation 6-19.