Studying the Gospels Together: Mark Thirteen

As part of the ReMarkAble series at First Baptist Church, I will be releasing weekly posts with my notes for those who are using the Studying the Gospels Together (STGT) method in their Adult Community Group. You can read more about the STGT Method here and how this site is integrating the ReMarkAble series here.

Introductory Comments

The Thirteenth chapter of Mark's Gospel is an extremely important chapter, and also one of the most difficult chapters to interpret. The chapter begins with a question from the disciples, and what follows is Jesus' answer, which has come to be known as the Olivet Discourse or the Eschatological Discourse. The portion of the chapter with the most clear and direct application is Jesus' exhortation at the end to "stay awake (Mk 13:35)."

I have modified my Studying the Gospels Together post this week, because Mark 13 does not lend itself well to that particular method. Instead, I will provide a somewhat brief interpretative outline of the chapter and also direct you to listen to Matt's sermon from Sunday, if you have not already had a chance. He provides some great teaching on the chapter. Then I will end with a few thoughts on the questions for reflection.

Overview of Mark 13

The question

Jesus' disciples ask him a question at the beginning of this chapter, which launches into Jesus' discourse. Their question is prompted by Jesus' statement regarding the destruction of the temple. They ask, "when will these things be, and what will be the sign when all these things are about to be accomplished (13:4)." Jesus gives a two part answer. He first answers when the temple will be destroyed, and he also explains what the sign of the end will be. The disciples may or may not have initially intended it to be a two part question - they may anticipated the answer to both questions would be the same. Jesus' answer does seem to indicate that there were two different and distinct future events that needed to be considered.

 The destruction of the temple and beyond (Mark 13:5-23)

The initial part of Jesus' answer points to the destruction of the temple in 70 AD. The series of five events listed in Jesus' answer (see 13:6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 13) all take place between Jesus' crucifixion and the destruction of the temple. These events are: 1) many will come claiming to be Jesus (13:6), 2) wars and rumors of wars (13:7), 3) earthquakes and famines (13:8), 4) persecution (13:9), and 5) proclaimed to all the nations (13:10). Again, each of these events can be seen in the historical accounts between Christ's crucifixion and the destruction of the temple, but also amongst any time period since the destruction of the temple. There are interpretive challenges with limiting these events to just pre-70 AD, so we must be open to an understanding which allows for a double-fulfillment of Jesus' words. What follows in versus 14-23 can generally be seen as the events immediately surrounding the destruction of the temple.

There is so much more that could be said about how we can accurately interpret this passage. Whole books have been written about this chapter alone (Robert Stein's is an excellent one to read if you want more high level discussion). Here is what I would exhort you to consider - the things Jesus lists in 13:5-23 could all be understood to have happened before the temple was destroyed in 70 AD, but they could also nearly all be understood to be happening at almost anytime throughout history since 70 AD. We must all see these signs as a reason to "stay awake!"

The signs of the end of the age (Mark 13:24-32)

Jesus transitions his discourse by saying "But in those days, after the tribulation." This transitional phrase suggests that a second event will happen - the return of Jesus and the end of the age. Jesus essentially says that we will not have any conclusive sign that signals the end. Although, when it happens, we will know. We "will see the Son of Man coming in clouds with great power and glory (13:26)." Regarding the exact time of that event, Jesus says, "But concerning that day or that hour, no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father (13:32)." We don't know when Jesus will return, it is impossible to predict his return, and I would argue prideful to claim that anyone might know the exact time or hour. Jesus didn't even know the exact time or hour, how can we claim to know?

The exhortation - stay awake!

In the end, Jesus gives a strong exhortation to stay awake. He uses a parable of servants whose master goes on a journey. The servants do not know exactly when he will return, so they ought to stay awake in order to be prepared for their master's return. In the same way, we must also be prepared at all times for Jesus to return. We must be awake. Are we ready for Jesus' return? Are we staying awake?


Questions for Reflection

What does this passage tell us about who Jesus is?

Jesus is the Son of God, who will return again. Jesus is coming back again. When Jesus hung on the cross, I can only imagine how his band of disciples felt. They thought they were following the messiah, and then he is crucified. They eventually get to see the risen Jesus, and the Holy Spirit inhabits their bodies empowering them to be witnesses. But at the moment of the crucifixion, it must have been difficult. In this chapter, Jesus is telling his disciples that hard times are yet to come, but that he will return one day, and it will be majestic and powerful. Jesus is the Son of God, who will come again.


What does this passage tell us about why Jesus came?

This passage doesn't necessarily address this question. Although, we do get a better understanding of the trajectory of Jesus' mission. Reading only the Old Testament, it isn't always clear that Jesus would come twice. Once to die on the cross and rise again, and a second time at the end of the age. We live in the time between Jesus' first and second coming. We live within an already but not yet existence. It is helpful to remember that Jesus' first coming will not be his last.

What does it say about what it means to follow Jesus?

This has a very straight-forward answer. Stay awake. Be ready. We anticipate Jesus' second coming, just like first century Jews anticipated Jesus' first coming. We must always live in light of the reality that Jesus will return, and his return is imminent. Are we ready?


Questions for Application

In response to what you have read, what is one action step you believe God is calling you to make this week?

(1) Are you ready for Jesus to return? Is there something in your life that needs to change in light of Jesus' imminent return? Or said another way, if Jesus returned today, is there something in your life that you may be too embarrassed to share with Jesus? Take steps to make the appropriate changes, so that you are ready for your masters return.

(2) Like every chapter, there are a variety of applications that could be made. I would love to invite you to make comments regarding applications that you see for your own life. Please share with one another in the comments section below, and encourage one another as we seek to apply God's Word to our lives.

What is one thing you learned this week you could share with someone else? Who do you plan to share it with?

This question is meant to simply help us learn how to share what we are learning from Jesus. We see in this chapter that Jesus wants his message to spread. When we follow him, we become conduit of that message. We do not need to feel the burden of sharing everything we know about Jesus in every conversation we have, but it can be more natural to share something we are learning. What is something you learned that you could share with someone else? Think about who you might want to share it with.