As he came out of the temple, one of his disciples said to him, “Look, Teacher, what large stones and what large buildings!” 2Then Jesus asked him, “Do you see these great buildings? Not one stone will be left here upon another; all will be thrown down.”
3When he was sitting on the Mount of Olives opposite the temple, Peter, James, John, and Andrew asked him privately, 4“Tell us, when will this be, and what will be the sign that all these things are about to be accomplished?” 5Then Jesus began to say to them, “Beware that no one leads you astray. 6Many will come in my name and say, ‘I am he!’ and they will lead many astray. 7When you hear of wars and rumors of wars, do not be alarmed; this must take place, but the end is still to come. 8For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; there will be earthquakes in various places; there will be famines. This is but the beginning of the birthpangs.
9“As for yourselves, beware; for they will hand you over to councils; and you will be beaten in synagogues; and you will stand before governors and kings because of me, as a testimony to them. 10And the good news must first be proclaimed to all nations. 11When they bring you to trial and hand you over, do not worry beforehand about what you are to say; but say whatever is given you at that time, for it is not you who speak, but the Holy Spirit. 12Brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child, and children will rise against parents and have them put to death; 13and you will be hated by all because of my name. But the one who endures to the end will be saved.
14“But when you see the desolating sacrilege set up where it ought not to be (let the reader understand), then those in Judea must flee to the mountains; 15the one on the housetop must not go down or enter the house to take anything away; 16the one in the field must not turn back to get a coat. 17Woe to those who are pregnant and to those who are nursing infants in those days! 18Pray that it may not be in winter. 19For in those days there will be suffering, such as has not been from the beginning of the creation that God created until now, no, and never will be. 20And if the Lord had not cut short those days, no one would be saved; but for the sake of the elect, whom he chose, he has cut short those days. 21And if anyone says to you at that time, ‘Look! Here is the Messiah!’ or ‘Look! There he is!’ —do not believe it. 22False messiahs and false prophets will appear and produce signs and omens, to lead astray, if possible, the elect. 23But be alert; I have already told you everything.
24“But in those days, after that suffering,
the sun will be darkened,
and the moon will not give its light,
25and the stars will be falling from heaven,
and the powers in the heavens will be shaken.
26Then they will see ‘the Son of Man coming in clouds’ with great power and glory. 27Then he will send out the angels, and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of heaven.
This is a difficult passage – it is in part apocalypse, in part prediction, and in part promise. Sorting out the different pieces is difficult, which is why I have given you the entire piece to begin, although we will take several days to try to understand it.
The passage begins as Jesus and his disciples leave the temple, for what will be the last time. Jesus knows this, but the disciples do not. They are, for a moment, simply acting like tourists, admiring the magnificence of the temple, the large stones that have been used to build it. They must have been startled by Jesus’ response, “Do you see these great buildings? Not one stone will be left here upon another; all will be thrown down.”
The temple would be completely destroyed in 70 CE. This was another 40 years away when Jesus spoke, but if we agree with scholars that Mark was written sometime between 60 and 75 CE, we see that Jesus has predicted something that Mark’s readers could certainly see coming, as the country fell into war with Rome, a war which ended with absolute defeat and total destruction of the temple. And so, the initial prediction is of the destruction of the temple by Rome.
Faithful Jews have gone for centuries to a portion of the Western Wall, actually a portion of the outer wall of the temple complex, to pray. It is a holy place, and today many Christians as well go there to pray. In recent years additional outer walls have been unearthed. We sat on steps that would have once led into the temple complex and heard Bishop Carter preach.
But then, Jesus and the disciples go out from the city, and sit on the Mount of Olives, overlooking Jerusalem, overlooking the temple. The four closest disciples, Peter, James, John, and Andrew, are with Jesus, and they are still thinking of the things he said about the temple. They are assuming that the temple will be destroyed at the end; they are asking questions about “end times” or “eschatology”, which refers to the end times. They do not conceive that Rome will, or can, destroy the temple. They ask 2 questions, when will this happen, and what signs can we look for. Here is where we get muddled, because we think of them as one question, and think Jesus answers both together. Jesus answers the second question, what are the signs? But he does not tell them what the signs are, not yet. He tells them what they are not! False Messiahs will try to lead them astray, and will succeed at leading many astray – that is not a sign. There will be wars and rumors of wars – that is not a sign. There will be earthquakes and other natural upheavals, drought and famine – that is not a sign. They must be cautious against being led astray by false predictions and false signs.
Jesus says none of these are signs, that we must be cautious against thinking of them as such – and yet, you will hear people use exactly the things that Jesus says are not signs, to make their dire predictions of the end of the world!
And so, let’s continue our discussion on Monday.
The picture is the steps leading into the temple, unearthed in recent years.