Some the building blocks of Herod’s Temple were more than 12 metres long and 6 metres wide and 4 metres high. It was an immense feat of construction and an awesome piece of architecture. However, as Jesus prophesied, it would all be torn down and destroyed – by the Romans in 70 AD. This is Mark’s account of Jesus’ talk to his disciples on the Mount of Olives. Inevitably, the disciples were curious about the timing of this and asked for signs of when it will all begin. Jesus then described a very similar sequence of events as we might read in Luke 21, with one or two interesting differences in emphasis.
Being flogged in the synagogues was permissible by law for breaking Jewish religious regulations – up to a maximum of 39 strokes (leaving one in reserve to avoid accidently breaching the absolute limit of 40 laid down in the Law of Moses: Deuteronomy 25:3). Jesus’ disciples will also be brought up against rulers and governors and should not worry beforehand what they would say, since “…it is not you speaking, but the Holy Spirit” (Mark 13:11). It is interesting to compare gospels here, since Luke 21:15 says “…I (Jesus) will give you words and wisdom…”. In Matthew 10:20, the quote is: “…it will not be you speaking, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you”. Deliberately, yet subtly, the scriptures reinforce the doctrine of the Trinity in these three gospels – stressing by implication that the Holy Spirit, Jesus, and God the Father are one God.
Mark 13 is a good example of ‘compressed prophecy’, with some events occurring relatively soon, some in the far, far distance, and some perhaps being fulfilled more than once at different points in time. This is analogous to a pocket telescope that has been closed up (the prophecy) and where each section is very near to the next one. The fulfilment of such prophecies in real time is analogous to a pocket telescope when extended, where the sections are much further apart from one another. (Illustration: Pocket Telescope image ).
Here in Mark, we listen to predictions about the AD 70 fall of Jerusalem, coupled with the very end of this age, when Jesus returns. Nations will fight and there will be earthquakes and famines; but these are not distinctive enough on their own. In addition, there will be large-scale persecutions of Christian believers, fuelled by betrayals and hatred within families. The “Abomination that causes Desolation” would have referred to the desecration of the Temple in AD 70, when the Romans deliberately placed idols in the Holy Place and sacrificed pigs on the altars. But it may also point forward to a truly last-age event too.
For then, and for a time in the future, God will moderate the duration of that period of persecution to a fairly short time, “for the sake of the elect” – his chosen ones; looking ahead, that must refer to us too. And if we are eagerly awaiting the Messiah’s return (as we will be), we must not be deceived by false messiahs and false prophets, even if they do perform real miracles (but from a very different power source!). There will be cosmic distress and signs in the stars and planets just before the real coming of Christ.
And then we will see him as He truly is, coming in the clouds with his power and glory (just as he ascended after his Resurrection). At that time, we will be gathered in by his angels and we will at last learn to fly without mechanical help! As we who are left alive are raised from the earth, we will meet those in Christ who have already died, raised up from the grave. And looking around at ourselves and one another, we will notice with great joy that our bodies have been transformed to be like His glorious body.
Some of these things will be completed before that generation passes away (they have now!) and some will be completed before that race passes away (they are still around today). But no-one except the Father knows that exact timing of these momentous events. The gospel will have had to be preached to all people groups on earth (literally: ‘ethnic groups’) before his return.
What now? Be on guard. Be alert. Since we don’t know the exact time, we must ready ourselves all the time. Be prepared, by living as we would want Him to find us when he does return. Keep watch to see the signs of his imminent arrival. You might be physically asleep when he comes, but will he find you ready, alive, and alert?