Friday, April 24, 2015

"The Olivet Discourse" (Mark 13)

In Mark the ‘Olivet Discourse’ (Mk 13) comes after the ‘Parable of the Tenants’ and after Jesus confront the ‘teachers of the law’ in the temple courts. Watch the story being told and then read the comments below.

One of Jesus’ disciples draws his attention to the ‘massive stones’ that made up the temple.  Jesus says that every stone of those ‘great buildings’ would be thrown down. The temple was one of the most impressive structures in the Ancient world. So when Jesus said it would be totally demolished the disciples were amazed. So they ask Jesus when ‘these things’ would happen and what would be ‘the sign’ it was about to be fulfilled (Mk 13:1-2). Jesus explains the coming destruction of the Temple—and what would happen to his disciples in days leading up to it.   

Jesus warns them that many deceivers would come. There would be political upheavals, earthquakes and famines but these were ‘birth pains’. The disciples would be handed over to local councils, flogged in the synagogues and have to testify before governors and kings. First the gospel would be preached to all nations (See Acts 2:5, Rom.1:8, Col. 1:6, 23). They would be hated for being Christians. All of this happened in history under the Roman Emperor Nero. One can read about how horrendous the days of the Jerusalem War were in the Jewish historian Josephus. People starved, fought over their food supply and even ate their own babies.  

In verse 14 Jesus tells them to flee Judea when they see the ‘abomination that causes desolation’ standing where it doesn’t belong. Remember Jesus is addressing the destruction of the temple. If this was about the end of the world, what would be the sense of fleeing? In Luke it talks about foreign armies surrounding Jerusalem which happened in ad 70 (Luke 21:20-21). The ‘desolating abomination’ in Daniel is about armies invading Jerusalem and the cessation of the sacrifices (Daniel 11:31, 12:11). These verses pointed to Antiochus IV and the events of the ‘Maccabean Revolt’. Here Jesus refers back to them to explain what was coming within a generation. When his disciples saw this ‘sign’ they were to flee Judea.

Jesus says that, “‘the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light; the stars will fall from the sky, and the heavens will be shaken.’ They would see the ‘Son of Man’ coming in the clouds with great power and glory. Then he would send his messengers to the ends of the earth to gather his elect. Jesus said that all ‘these things’ would happened to his contemporary generation and he confirmed this by saying that his ‘words would never pass away’.

According to Josephus the Romans completely destroyed the temple in AD 70 and not one stone was left on another. The Romans crucified thousands and over a million people died. In fact more Jews were killed in the infighting of the various Jewish factions than by the Romans. Mark speaks of the Temple’s demise in the language that Isaiah used to describe the fall of Babylon and Edom (Isaiah 13:10, 34:4). These events happened in real history in the past though the ‘cosmic upheaval’ described didn’t happen literally. The sun grows dark, the moon no longer shines and the stars fall from the sky (Mark 13:24-25). Israel refused to follow Jesus and chose a path of revolutionary violence against Rome only to be destroyed.

Jesus quotes Daniel 7:13, “They will see “the son of man coming on clouds with great power and glory”.  Here the ‘the son of man’ enters into the presence of the ‘ancient of days’ and sits at God’s right (Mark 12:35-37, Psalm 110). The fig tree in leaf signals the arrival of summer. Jesus was encouraging his disciples to watch for the approaching Roman armies (Luke 21:20). In the parable of the wicked tenants the vineyard owner brings destruction upon the generation that rejected his son. Mark 13 ends with the command to ‘keep awake and watch’ which is equally applicable for us today. We must be alert because the judgment upon the Temple is a foretaste of the judgment coming upon the world at Christ’s second coming. But it is not our business to look for signs. We are to stay awake and make disciples while we wait for our Lord’s return (Matthew 24:39, 48-50, 25:1-13, 14-30).

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