How do I even dare to exposit such a holy and mysterious passage as Mark 13?
Only with earnest prayer, study, and caution.
I will share what is clear to me, and will be careful to say “this may portend, or may mean,” for much is mysterious. I will also provide a link to particularly helpful sermon from the Reformed site, Monergism, for those who wish to go deeper.
One of the first things that kept being repeated by trusted theologians and Scripture alike was that when Christ returns it will be in the clouds and not through the clouds.
Why does this matter?
When Christ returns, He will join heaven and earth, and His presence will fill both. When the LORD came to His Temple, a cloud FILLED the Temple, representing the presence and power of the Lord. So when Christ comes in the clouds, His presence and power will fill the new heaven and earth. So the glory of the sky on that great day is our symbol for the week, representing two clear truths in this chapter:
- That great day when “men will see the Son of Man coming in clouds with great power and glory.” (Mark 13:26)
- For us to live daily for His glory, so as to be ready for the day He comes suddenly. (Mark 13:35-37)
The second coming of Christ is very good news, especially for those in most of the world who are so oppressed. Right now most of in this pandemic are not starving or homeless — but many are, and are dying. Keller says we forget about those who are suffering, so we do not long for The Second Coming.
But we should not only long for it, but cling to its promise, for more intense suffering may be on the horizon for us. The suffering described in the opening of Mark 13 was fulfilled by the martyrdom of the disciples and early Christians, is being fulfilled by the continuing and escalating martyrdoms today, and may very well portend to suffering that will occur before the coming of the Lord.
Highlights From Last Week:
What I am seeing in this pandemic time that God has either brought or allowed, is that my sisters on this blog are drawing nearer to Him. (That seems to be true for believers and unbelievers alike.) But how I see it here! In your prayers, (Diane’s wonderful prayer to not pretend she is whole when she broken); I in your care for one another, (Nila and Rebecca expressing their love for one another, Lizzy continually bringing Mary’s needs to us and helping us remember birthdays…) and in the way you are digging in. (All of you!) I absolutely loved reading all your reflections on the widow’s mite. Yes, indeed, Jesus loved her heart and dependence.
The other thing I truly think is there, but would love your thoughts, is that the religious leaders have not been faithful and wise managers. They made God’s temple a den of thieves, cheating the poor, cheating widows. I see the widow, who has a good heart, like the poor woman giving all she has to a television evangelist. (Once, because of someone I love, I went to a gathering of people that watch a “Christian” station that I see as very corrupt. They were almost all very poor, and many from oppressed minority groups. These were the people supporting this corrupt station.) This widow is not being condemned, but praised, for Jesus sees her heart. And those in charge of the temple will be condemned, for He sees their hearts too. The misused temple will be torn down, and Jesus will come as the True Temple to live in the hearts of His people. I also believe this interpretation fits in this week’s lesson. Thoughts?
I was not familiar with this song Nila posted — but it is perfect for this time when what is transitory is being shaken so that we may remember what cannot be shaken:
- What stands out to you from the above and why?
Monday: The Temple and The Tower of Babel
I learned something new this week in listening to John Lin’s sermon on Mark 13. (Available for 2.50 at Gospel in Life). Click here: https://gospelinlife.com/downloads/this-world-won-t-last-forever-5474/
Buildings often show what is valued (worshipped) in a city: Paris has beautiful cultural museums, New York has enormous financial buildings, and Washington D. C. has magnificent political buildings. Herod had built this temple to show how great “his” city was — it took up a third of Jerusalem and was not just a religious center, but a spectacular center for economic, political, and social purposes. Like the Tower of Babel, it was built to glorify man. My friend Ann Dahl supplied me with this model, which is how the Temple looked in Herod’s Day. This is a replica that is outside of Jerusalem today.
Lin said Jerusalem was a city built around a temple. It should only have been built by the Lord’s King, but it was built by Herod. We know, from past chapters in Mark, how it was being abused.
2. What had distressed Jesus about the temple? (review Mark 11:17 and Mark 12:38-40)
3. Read Mark 13:1-2
A. What do the disciples say to Jesus?
B. What specific prophecy does He give them?
This was fulfilled in 70 A. D. — to the letter. Gold melted in the fire, so to get it, every stone was pried up, and “not one stone was not left upon another.”
Tuesday: First, Great Suffering
Brian Borgman has two very helpful sermons on this challenging passage, should you want to go deeper. Here is a link to the first:
I will summarize.
The near prophecy of the martyrdom that happened in the early church is intertwined with martyrdoms to come, and foreshadows the final judgment. It is often difficult to tell of which He is speaking. But it does seem that the “abomination of desolation” refers to the destruction of Jerusalem. Borgman quotes D. A. Carson who explains that though there has been more catastrophic suffering since the destruction of Jerusalem, never has an individual city seen such suffering.
4. Read Mark 13:3-13
A. What question do the disciples ask after hearing this shocking
B. What does He tell them in verses 5 through 8?
C. What does the metaphor of “birth pangs” tell you about the
nature of the impending judgment?
D. What kind of suffering does Jesus tell them to expect? What promise
does He give them in verse 13?
All of the disciples, except for John, history tells us, died martyrs’ deaths. They were betrayed, beaten, and put to death. They were given words when they needed them (consider Stephen!) And, as Tertullion said, “the blood of the martyrs became the seed of the church.” Christians have continued to be martyred, in increasingly greater numbers with each century. This prophecy was fulfilled and continues to be fulfilled.
5. Has the testimony of martyrs impacted you in any way? The disciples? More recent martyrs? If so, how?
Wednesday: The Abomination that Causes Desolation
This phrase has always mystified me, but both N. T. Wright and Brian Borgman say it refers to the abominable practices in the Temple, which included Temple prostitution, cheating the poor and the widows, and more. Those abominable practices may have been what led God to destroy the Temple. There seems to be evidence in the text that this is referring to this specific event that happened in 70 A.D.
6. Read Mark 13:14. One clue that this refers to the Temple is in verse 14. Do you see it?
7. A parallel passage in Luke 21:20 also seems to indicate that this prophecy referred, at least in part, to the destruction of the Temple and Jerusalem. Do you see it?
8. How does Jesus describe the distress in Mark 13:15-20?
This did occur at the destruction of Jerusalem — but may also foreshadow future suffering.
9. Read Mark 13:20-23 and list warnings and promises. (Again, this has happened and may foreshadow a final tribulation.)
Thursday: The Son of Man Coming In The Clouds
Children are often taught that heaven is way up high — but that is erroneous, according to N. T. Wright, in his book: “Surprised by Hope.” They have always been closely intertwined, and one day will be joined. It is a mystery — but I found this helpful:
Heaven and earth, it seems, are not after all poles apart, needing to be separated forever when all the children of heaven have been rescued from this wicked earth. …It is not we who go to heaven, it is heaven that comes to earth, indeed, it is the church itself, the heavenly Jerusalem, that comes down to earth. …Heaven and earth are made for each other in the same way (Revelation is suggesting) as male and female. And when they finally come together, that will be cause for rejoicing in the same way that a wedding is.
When will this happen? I think it will happen when Jesus comes in the clouds, and I think this passage teaches that, but I am not sure! The reason it is a mystery is because these prophecies of past, present, and future are so intertwined. But we know for certain it will happen and we should be ready.
10. Read Mark 13:24-31
A. What, according to verse 24-27 will follow that distress?
Keller, in his typical way, says the sun was darkened and the earth
shaken at the crucifixion, foreshadowing this great and terrible day.
B. What lesson should we learn from the fig tree?
Verse 30 is mysterious — but does show that some of these things
happened within the lifetime of the disciples — but that doesn’t
mean they will not happen again.
C. Read verse 30. What things happened within the lifetime of the
disciples in Mark 13:9-23? (This is also, probably, a foreshadowing
of future suffering.)
Friday: Be On Guard
11. Read Mark 13:32-37
A. What illustration does Jesus give to illustrate being on guard?
B. How would you pray for yourself in regard to this warning? For
your loved ones?
Dr. Halverson, the late chaplain of the U. S. Senate, said that his philosophy of life was “with Christ.” He imagined Christ with him every moment of the day, in every interaction, to help him live for His glory continually.
C. What helps you to live for His glory?
12. What will you remember from this chapter and why?