15 November 2015

Mark 13:1-8

“Tell us, when will this be, and what will be the sign that all these things are about to be accomplished?” (v. 4)

Psalm: Psalm 16


The disciples of Jesus came from small towns or the countryside, and so it is not surprising that they were impressed by the temple in Jerusalem. Building had begun in 20 BC, but there is a hint in John's Gospel that it was still not complete 46 years later (John 2:20). It was clearly an awesome place of worship in the time of Jesus.

The response of Jesus to the question by his unnamed disciple was to predict the destruction of the mighty building. This did in fact take place in AD 70, and it is possible that the readers of Mark's Gospel would have lived through the destruction of the city and would see the relevance of those comments. In the context of chapter 13, they serve to lead into the longest sustained passage of teaching by Jesus in Mark's Gospel. Mark sets this on the Mount of Olives, which rises above Jerusalem and gives a panoramic view of the city. As they looked down on the temple, could the disciples ever have imagined it as a pile of rubble?

Having made the disciples think with his comments, Jesus does not seem immediately to answer their question about when the destruction of the temple might happen. Instead, he both warns and encourages them about the future. They are not to take any notice of any false Messiahs who might lead them astray (verse 5). False prophets, like Simon Magus (Acts 8:9-10), did indeed arise in the early days of the Christian community. Furthermore, they are to recognise that wars, international tension and natural disasters are not in themselves the end of all things. Rather, they are described as the "birth pangs" (v. 8). The imagery of a woman in labour is used in the Old Testament as a symbol of the sufferings of the nation of Israel (Isaiah 26:17; Hosea 13:13). That suffering, just as the pain of childbirth leads to a new life, can have a positive conclusion. In the remainder of chapter 13, Jesus gives a vivid account of the sufferings and trials which will precede the last days.

To Ponder

  • How important to you are today's places of worship? How do they help you in your Christian discipleship?
  • The disciples of Jesus and the first readers of Mark's Gospel were aware of wars and natural disasters in the world, and saw the action of God in them. How do you see such things from the perspective of Christian faith?

Bible notes author

The Revd Richard Bielby

Richard is a supernumerary Methodist presbyter in Stockton on Tees. He is a part-time prison chaplain and also serves as a voluntary chaplain at Durham Cathedral.