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Coffman Commentaries on the Old and New Testament

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Mark 13

Topics appearing in this chapter are: Jesus' prophecy of the destruction of the temple (Mark 13:1-2); four disciples inquire as to the time of it and the sign preceding it (Mark 13:3-4); Jesus answers their compound question with (a) a special charge to the apostles (Mark 13:5-13); (b) a specific sign of the destruction of the temple (Mark 13:14-23); and (c) a prophecy of the Second Advent scheduled "after that tribulation" (Mark 13:14-27); (d) a lesson from the fig tree (Mark 13:28-29); (e) the promise that "this generation shall not pass away until all these things shall be accomplished" (Mark 13:30-32); and (f) a strong exhortation to watchfulness (Mark 13:33-37).

An astounding thing in this chapter, found also in the parallel accounts (Matt. 24 and Luke 21), is the mingling of Jesus' prophecies of the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple and the event of his second coming (after the tribulation) in such a manner as to reveal the first event as a type of the second. The total corpus of these extremely interesting prophecies appears in the sum total of all three synoptics, which like the independent legs of a tripod are each necessary, in order to have a full understanding of them.

Whatever this chapter is, acknowledged by all as "difficult and controversial," F1 it is not "a little apocalypse," as falsely alleged by a certain school of scholars since the theory was first invented by T. Colani in 1864, F2 the late date of it being alone sufficient grounds for rejecting it. McMillan is obviously in error when he writes that "It is correct to think of this chapter as a part of this broad literary phenomenon (that of apocalyptic writing)." F3 Turlington declared that "The burden of the chapter is not apocalyptic ... unlike other apocalyptic writing, there is no reference to Satan, no dwelling on the destruction of evil forces, no drawn-out description of final judgment. F4 Moreover, Cranfield wrote:

This discourse differs radically from typical Jewish apocalyptic. While the language of apocalyptic is indeed used, the purpose for which it is used and even the form of the discourse are different. It is, in fact, exhortation, not ordinary apocalyptic. Its purpose is not to impart esoteric information but to sustain faith and obedience. F5

We agree with Sanner who wrote, "It is heartening to read comments of scholars like Barclay and Cranfield, who take the chapter as genuine." F6 Of course, the whole purpose of the "Little Apocalypse" theory is to soften, or eliminate, reference in this chapter to the final judgment in which "heaven and earth shall pass away" and the cataclysmic appearance of the Son of God in the Second Advent shall take place. Again, as Cranfield said, "the signs are reminders in the midst of history of the coming of the Lord." F7

Regarding the unity of this chapter, McMillan has a scholarly summary, stressing the relevance of this chapter to the primitive church, then confronting difficulties both in Rome and in Jerusalem (soon to be destroyed). The generation which first received Mark were on the threshold of the great persecutions against the church; and, as McMillan said, "One finds Mark 13 to offer hope of the most profound kind." F8


 
Verse 1
And as he went forth out of the temple, one of his disciples saith unto him, Teacher, Behold, what manner of stones and what manner of buildings.

Mark had just recorded, at the first of the preceding chapter, one of the three denunciatory parables in which Christ had categorically predicted that God would send his "armies," destroy "those murderers," and burn "their city," prophecies which, in context, cannot refer to anything other than the city of Jerusalem. The pall of that dire prophecy was still upon the disciples here who proudly pointed out the glory of the temple, implying two things, perhaps three: (1) what a shame it would be to destroy so grand a building., (2) how difficult it would be to destroy so great an edifice, and hinting, perhaps, that (3) God might spare the glorious temple dedicated to his name, the pride of every Hebrew, including the apostles. The sentiment of this exclamation by the four apostles proves that Matthew's account of the three parables is accurate; for, if only the single parable recorded by Mark (that of the wicked husbandmen) had been spoken, it would not have prompted this emphasis on the temple by the apostles. (See 22:7).

Jesus and his apostles had just passed through the temple for the last time and were ascending the mount of Olives, which eminence afforded a most impressive view. Hailed as one of the wonders of the world, the Jewish temple was a building of exceedingly great magnificence; the wealth of the nation had been lavished upon it for a full fifty years (see John 2:20,; 2:20, adding four ).

What manner of stones ...
Such stones were indeed a marvel. Josephus described them thus:

Now the temple was built of stones that were white and strong, and each of their length was twenty-five cubits, their height was eight, and their breadth about twelve; and the whole structure, and that of the royal cloister, were visible to all who dwelt in the country for a great many furlongs. F9

Stones of such immensity are hard to imagine. A check with manufacturers of concrete in Houston, Texas, revealed that concrete weighs 120 to 150 pounds per cubic foot; and allowing any kind of building stone to have a density of at least 4,000 pounds per cubic yard, and taking the cubit, as used by Josephus for eighteen inches, the result is exactly 300 cubic yards in each stone, and the weight 1,200,000 pounds each! What manner of stones indeed!

And what manner of buildings ...
Not the temple, merely, but the royal cloisters, and the great tower of Antonio, adjacent to it, combined to form a most impressive building complex.


 
Verse 2
And Jesus said unto him, Seest thou these great buildings? there shall not be left here one stone upon another, which shall not be thrown down.

The questioner (and presumably all the apostles) were wrong. The temple would not be spared. The impending wreck of Jerusalem would be total and complete; even the great stones would be broken up and the entire structure demolished. This astounding prophecy was not a mere clever prediction of Jesus, based upon political considerations, and the probabilities indicated by the rebellious nature of Israel and the character of the Roman authority. As a matter of fact, Rome would never have destroyed the temple of its own volition; and when Titus who had charge of the siege (A.D. 70) drew his armies around the city, he gave a specific commandment to his entire army forbidding its demolition, intending to preserve it as a "monument to the empire." F10 Therefore, Christ was here stating the purpose and intention of Almighty God.

Since the destruction of the temple must then be viewed as contrary to the will of both the Jews and the Romans, being accomplished by providential circumstances utterly beyond the power of either to alter them, it is fitting to inquire as to God's reasons for determining that it should be destroyed.

WHY GOD DESTROYED THE TEMPLE

  1. It had served its purpose, having pertained to a system that was about to be terminated. One greater than the temple had already appeared (Matthew 12:6).

  2. The daily sacrifices, which were the center of temple functions, would no longer be needed, after the Great Sacrifice would be offered upon Calvary, thus rendering the temple useless in its major function.

  3. It was in the way of the holy apostles themselves, who were so obviously awed in the account before us. It tended to blind them to the truly spiritual nature of the kingdom of God.

  4. All Israel loved the temple; and it would be a great stumblingblock, preventing many of them from accepting Christ. They loved it, along with the dazzling ritual and exceedingly impressive ceremonial - they loved it too much.

  5. Its official custodians rejected and murdered the rightful heir of the temple, who was Christ, bringing upon them and the temple a weight of guilt that could not be forgiven. Divine justice required that the "den of thieves and robbers" be demolished.

  6. Its destruction would prove an effective symbol of God's "taking away the old" and establishing a new system. "He taketh away the first, that he may establish the second" (Hebrews 10:3).

  7. The temple, through abuse by its custodians, failed of its highest purpose, which was to have recognized the King when he came, and to take the lead in accepting him and advocating his acceptance by the whole world. Having failed in that, it was no longer God's house. It became, therefore, a house merely of Israel. "Behold your house is left unto you desolate" (Matthew 23:38).

  8. Any further use of the temple, after the coming of Christ, for any truly spiritual purpose, being thereafter impossible, God could not allow a building of such hallowed associations to be made a vehicle of shameful and unworthy enterprises. See under (10) below.

  9. The destruction of the temple and Jerusalem was a part of the divine sentence of hardening pronounced against Israel by Christ, as prophesied by Isaiah (Matthew 13:14). Judicial hardening always was followed by the destruction of those hardened, with a consequence of their total removal from any historical progression; but in the case of Israel, the historical removal of those hardened was altered, a fact prophetically declared by the apostle Paul (Romans 11:25). See extensive discussion of this in my Commentary on Romans, Rom. 11. However, the repeated hardening of Israel by themselves was at last followed by God's execution upon them of the sentence of judicial hardening; and the demolition of the temple and ruin of Jerusalem were definitely a part of that sentence. That Israel should indeed escape total annihilation, thus enabling their "generation" to continue, was the will of God; but it was not the will of God that the most summary execution of destruction upon the temple and city should be avoided. Christ loved the city and wept over it upon the occasion of his sentencing her to destruction (Matthew 23:37-39).

  10. Before that week was out, the high priests and the temple hierarchy would demand of Pilate that he "release Barabbas unto them" (Mark 15:11), and it was appropriate that the consequences of such a choice should be received by them making it. Josephus devoted twenty pages to the details of how the most sordid and reprobate "robbers" took charge of the whole city, along with the sacred temple (long before the Romans came), and who "omitted no kind of barbarity, rapines, plunderings, and murderings," over twelve thousand of the nobility alone perishing in blood. F11 They filled up the Holy of Holies itself with dead bodies. Countless thousands of the common people were killed. "The robbers fell upon the people as upon a flock of profane animals and cut their throats ... in what place soever they caught them." F12 All of the nobility were destroyed; and Josephus said, "I cannot but think that it was because God had doomed this city to destruction, as a polluted city, ... that he cut off those great defenders (that is, the nobility)." F13 How tragic was it that the priests demanded Barabbas; and what a fulfillment of their request was this horrible rule of robbers that sacked the city far in advance of the Roman legions! This has been mentioned in some detail here, because of its bearing upon Mark 13:14, which see.

There shall not be left here one stone upon another ...
In view of the size of the stones, this must have seemed a most unreasonable prophecy, even to the Twelve. The stones weighed over one million pounds each! The manner of fulfilling it was spectacular. Many of the temple furnishings, and even the roof within, were overlaid with pure gold; and the fire which broke out melted the yellow metal, causing it to run down in crevices of the great stones. Defying the order of their commander, the soldiers, using the military engines available to them, broke up and dismantled the masonry, seeking the gold. The temple was never rebuilt, but it seems that a little work was done on the walls. "One of the foundation stones measured in recent times proved to be twenty-four by about four feet," F14 only a fraction of the size of the originals. "Modern investigation shows that the present wall has been rebuilt, probably on the foundation of the older one." F15 This "rebuilt" wall never attained any status except that of a futile attempt at starting construction.


 
Verses 3, 4
And as he sat on the mount of Olives over against the temple, Peter, and James, and John, and Andrew asked him privately, Tell us, when shall these things be? and what shall be the sign when these things are all about to be accomplished?

"Mark, going more into detail, gives the names of those who asked him." F16 Here is another example of the illogical and erroneous attribution to Mark of "more detail." Amazingly, this instance of it comes in the very context where Mark left out the most important details of all, namely that the disciples also asked Jesus what would be the sign of his coming and of the end of the world (Matthew 24:3). Of course, it is impossible to understand the chapter unless the other two questions are taken into consideration. If Mark wrote after Matthew, he might have thought mention of the first question sufficient. Scholars certainly need to re-examine the Markan theory. Besides that, most, if not all, of the apostles at that time believed that all three events: (1) the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple; (2) the sign of Jesus' coming; and (3) the end of the world would be simultaneous events.

The inherent conclusion demanded by the statement of the three questions at one time (Matthew 24:3) mandates the understanding of most scholars that Jesus' answer commingles the reply to all three. Sanner said, "At least two themes are interwoven: prophecies concerning the destruction of Jerusalem, and warnings concerning the second coming of Christ." F17 In fact, Jesus did far more than commingle the replies; he actually made the reply applicable to both of the two major events in view, requiring us to understand that the destruction of Jerusalem is a type of the destruction of the cosmos, the "coming of Christ" being an essential element in both. First, he came in judgment upon Jerusalem; finally, he will appear in the Second Advent at the end of all things. No adequate understanding of this prophecy is possible without taking this into consideration.

THE FIRST AND SECOND FULFILLMENTS

Divine prophecies often combine type and anti-type in the same word. Boles cited two examples of this as follows:

Jehovah told Adam that he would die in the day that he ate the forbidden fruit (Genesis 2:17); yet Adam lived 930 years. There was a primary fulfillment of this when Adam was separated from the garden of Eden, and a secondary fulfillment in his death (Romans 5:12). Isaiah foretold the birth of a son by a virgin, yet added a prophecy which confined it to his own generation (Isaiah 7:14-17). The prophet combined type and antitype in the same words. F18

There are many examples of this in the word of God. Rachel's weeping for her children (Jeremiah 31:15) was fulfilled primarily by the captivity, and secondarily by the slaughter of the innocents by Herod (Matthew 2:13). Likewise, Hosea 11:1, "Out of Egypt have I called my son," has its first fulfillment in the deliverance of the whole nation from Egypt, and secondarily in the coming of the Saviour out of Egypt when "they that sought the young child's life" were dead (Matthew 2:18).

The rainbow, to which repeated reference has been made in this series, is a natural phenomenon suggesting the nature of prophecy. There are often TWO BOWS, the secondary and the primary, with a reversal of the colors. See a specific elaboration of this in my Commentary of John, regarding the "bread from heaven" (John 6).


 
Verses 5, 6
And Jesus began to say unto them, Take heed that no man lead you astray. Many shall come in my name, saying, I am he; and shall lead many astray.

Although primarily addressed to the apostles, there are nevertheless overtones in this extending to eternity.

Many shall come in my name ...
Matthew quoted Christ as saying that these imposters shall claim to be the Christ. Bickersteth said, "Such (false Christs) were Theudas (Acts 5:36) and Simon Magus (Acts 8:10)." F19 The latter, according to Jerome, claimed to be Almighty God in the flesh, clearly an example of a false Christ. The apostles were admonished not to be led astray by such claims; and the admonition is binding upon Christians of all generations who are continually tempted by all kinds of imposters and charlatans pretending divine honors.

I am he ...
There is a variation in Mark's record that should be noted. The Greek text omits "he," evidently supplied by the translators with respect to Matthew's account. However, it is not necessary to "reconcile" the two by any such device, for the Lord made both statements. Mark's quotation of the Lord refers to imposters claiming to be "God," that being the meaning of "I AM," as in Exodus 3:6,14, Matthew 22:32; John 8:58, etc. The current era has had several such.


 
Verse 7
And when ye shall hear of wars and rumors of wars, these things must needs come to pass; but the end is not yet.

The sign of the end of time is not to be found in the ordinary progression of human calamities, but rather in the state of the people of God themselves. "The end is not yet" comes as a repeated caution in this chapter.


 
Verse 8
For nation shall rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; and there shall be earthquakes in divers places; there shall be famines: these things are the beginning of travail.

Not merely wars and conflicts between kingdoms, but natural disorders, are not to be understood as signs of the end, these things being more or less the natural order of things upon the earth which was cursed for Adam's sake, and among the unregenerated populations of Adam's posterity. The true sign shall be something within "themselves."


 
Verse 9
But take ye heed to yourselves: for they shall deliver you up to councils; and in synagogues shall ye be beaten; and before governors and kings shalt ye stand for my sake, as a testimony unto them.

This paragraph (here and through Mark 13:13) is particularly addressed to the apostles themselves, as indicated by the prophecy of their being beaten in synagogues (tying it to that generation), and the further promise of direct inspiration of the Holy Spirit promised in Mark 13:11, a promise nowhere made to any except apostles. These things foretold here were circumstantially fulfilled, as abundantly testified by the book of Acts.


 
Verse 10
And the gospel must first be preached unto all the nations.
  1. The primary fulfillment of this was in the apostolical age, whereof Paul affirmed that it had indeed been done (Colossians 1:23), and that well ahead of the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple.

  2. the secondary fulfillment will take place before the Second Advent of Christ. As Crain accurately declared:

    The meaning of this verse is that it is part of God's eschatological purpose that before the End all nations shall have an opportunity to hear the gospel ... It is a promise that the gospel will be preached, not that it will necessarily be believed. F20

Bickersteth noted that "The whole face of the earth is now laid open to us; and there is now hardly any part of the world which has not at some time or another received the message of salvation." F21 The great increase of missionary activity over the whole earth today provides a strong suggestion that the world is hastening to the End.

Thus, in the two fulfillments of this verse, the relative scope of the two events (the destruction of Jerusalem, and the end of this dispensation) appears. The apostles' preaching the gospel to all the nations was restricted to the nations known at that time; but the preaching of the gospel to all nations now is a complete and total thing, even including the reading of Genesis from the other side of the moon to everyone on earth!


 
Verse 11
And when they lead you to judgment, and deliver you up, be not anxious beforehand what ye shalt speak: but whatsoever shalt be given you in that hour, that speak ye; for it is not ye that speak, but the Holy Spirit.

Barnes understood this as directed to the Twelve, saying, "God gave them power; and they spake with wisdom, fearlessness, pungency, and ability which no other men have ever manifested." F22 The inspiration of the New Testament is also affirmed by this promise. That this promise pertains to any except the holy apostles is a false interpretation, proved to be so by the fact that it was never true for any EXCEPT THEM. Perversions of this text have persisted, however; and as Ryle put it:

A perversion of this consists in supposing that this passage warrants ministers in getting up to preach unprepared every Sunday, and expecting help of the Holy Ghost! F23


 
Verses 12, 13
And brother shall deliver up brother to death, and the father his child; and children shall rise up against parents, and cause them to be put to death. And ye shall be hated of all men for my name's sake: but he that endureth to the end shall be saved.

No one may doubt the literal fulfillment of such familial treachery against the Lord's disciples; for such would naturally have occurred: (1) because of craven hatred of the truth; (2) hope of saving one's own life; or even (3) from hope of sordid gain.

And ye shall be hated ...
As Sanner said,

Has our time forgotten the chilling words of Jesus, "Ye shall be hated of all ... for my name's sake"? Let a man of God disturb entrenched ignorance, prejudice, or evil, personal and social, and he will face the sinister, stolid face of hate. F24

He that endureth to the end ...
Sanner noted that this means "He who endures to the last degree," F25 or, as Bickersteth stated: "It means, not the end of the age, but the end of the moral probation of the individual." F26


 
Verse 14
And when ye see the abomination of desolation standing where he ought not (let him that readeth understand), then let them that are in Judea flee unto the mountains.

The abomination of desolation ...
This paragraph through Mark 13:23 has a double application to the approaching destruction of the Holy City and to the second coming of Christ. As Cranfield expressed it:

Neither an exclusively historical nor an exclusively eschatological interpretation is satisfactory; ... we must allow for a double reference, for a mingling of historical and eschatological. F27

We shall study the passage as it applies to both.

I. As applied to the approaching historical disaster to be wrought in the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple:

There is no way to avoid a reference here to the prophecy of Daniel, quoted here by the Son of God with the admonition "Let him that readeth understand." The scholar's assumption that these latter words were injected by Mark and interpolated by Matthew cannot be true (Matthew 24:15-17). Cranfield allowed this interpretation as altogether legitimate. Daniel 9:27 is the key to the synoptics on this point:

Abomination of desolation ...
This means "the abomination that maketh desolate," F28 and as noted above is quoted from this passage in the book of Daniel:

Therefore, UNDERSTAND THE MATTER and consider the vision. Seventy weeks are determined upon the people and upon the holy city, and to finish the transgression, and to make an end of sins, and to make reconciliation for iniquity, and to bring in everlasting righteousness, and to seal up the vision and prophecy, and to anoint the Most Holy. KNOW THEREFORE AND UNDERSTAND, that from the going forth of the commandment to restore and build Jerusalem unto the Messiah the Prince shall be seven weeks, and threescore and two weeks: the street shall be built again, and the wall, even in troublous times. And after threescore and two weeks shall Messiah be cut off, but not for himself: and the people of the prince that shall come shall destroy the city and the sanctuary; and the end thereof shall be with a flood and unto the end of the war desolations are determined. And he shall confirm the covenant with many for one week: and in the midst of the week he shall cause the sacrifice and the oblation to cease, and for the overspreading of abominations he shall make it desolate, even until the consummation, and that determined (wrath) shall be poured upon the desolate (Daniel 9:23-27,; 9:23-27, ).

Let him that readeth understand ...
See capitals in above quotation where the equivalent of these words appears twice, the same being sufficient grounds for the conclusion that they were spoken by Jesus Christ who indubitably referred to this passage by his use of this very admonition. Therefore, we reject the position of McMillan who thought that "It is Mark, not Jesus, who said, `Let the reader understand.'" F29 This prophecy from Daniel, and the Saviour's undeniable reference to it here, as also confirmed by the parallel in Matthew, requires that a little further attention be devoted to this remarkable passage from Daniel.

DANIEL'S PROPHECY OF THE END

It should not be lost on the student that by these words Christ placed the stamp of divine authority upon the prophecy of Daniel, nor should anyone be troubled by critical allegations to the contrary. As Tom U. Fauntleroy said, "Is it possible that men of wisdom and understanding should look to the devil for proof and confirmation of the Bible which pronounces the sentence of death upon him?" F30

This prophecy pinpointed the exact date of the crucifixion of Jesus Christ.

In the seventh year of Artaxerxes, Ezra and his companions left Babylon and came to Jerusalem (for the purpose of rebuilding it, with the undeniable implication that the king had given such an order). That was in B.C. 458. Starting with this date, the end of the 490 years is A.D. 32, and the end of the 69 weeks (equivalent to 483 years) is A.D. 25. F31

This means that Daniel prophesied the beginning of the ministry of the Messiah as 25 A.D. It was however, "in the midst of the week," that is, the week of Messiah's ministry, that Messiah would be cut off, thus pinpointing the length of Jesus' ministry as three and one-half years. Christ was crucified on April 6, A.D. 30 (see article in Mark 15), cutting short the projected week (seven years) of his ministry by some two years and nine months, making his death to have been "in the midst of the week."

To finish the transgression ...
refers to finishing of the apostasy of Israel, that they should "fill up the measure of their fathers" (Matthew 23:32).

To make an end of sins...
means to provide the remedy for them.

To make reconciliation for iniquity ...
refers to the atonement.

To bring in everlasting righteousness ...
This is the righteousness of Christ, brought in through his death on the cross.

And to anoint the Most Holy ...
refers to the setting forth of the Messiah and his universal recognition as the Christ of glory.

The people of the prince that shall come shall destroy the city and the sanctuary ...
A reference to the armies of Caesar who should destroy Jerusalem and the temple.

And the end thereof shall be with a flood ...
The end of Jerusalem shall be with a flood of terrors.

He shall confirm the covenant with many for one week ...
Christ shall confirm the new covenant by his teachings and vicarious death, not for a full week, but finishing it in the midst of the final week of the seventy.

And in the midst of the week he shall cause the sacrifice and the oblation to cease ...
The death of Christ nullified and abrogated the daily sacrifices and oblations (Hebrews 10:11).

For the overspreading of abominations he shall make it desolate ...
When the grossest of vile abominations should finally come into the Holy Place, God would make an end of it. (See article above in this chapter, re: "Why God Destroyed the Temple)."

Even until the consummation ...
refers to the same period of time as that mentioned in Luke 21:24 and Rom. 11:15, that is, "until the times of the Gentiles be fulfilled." "An end shall be set sometime to the desolation of Zion, although that end may coincide with the end of all things." F32

In view of the above, there is no wonder why Jesus referred to the passage, nor is there any wonder at the rage and screams of unbelievers who would like to deny the whole prophecy of Daniel if they could. We rest in the supreme assurance that Jesus believed it and here quoted from it! (See Matthew 24:25).

Luke did not mention "abomination of desolation," except by inference, saying, "And when ye see Jerusalem compassed with armies, then know that her desolation is at hand" (Luke 21:20). From this, it has often been concluded that the "abomination of desolation" referred to the Roman ruin of the city and temple; but from Daniel's prophecy it is clear that the armies were not primarily the abomination but rather the instrument of desolation that should follow the "overspreading abominations," the two being closely related of course. The Roman armies were a sign from without, but the abomination was a sign from within the temple itself. Josephus relates how:

There was a certain ancient oracle of those men (the Jews), that the city should be taken and the sanctuary burnt, by right of war, when a sedition should invade the Jews, and their own hand should pollute the temple of God. F33

That such a sedition and pollution actually occurred at the hand of Jews themselves is clear. See item (10) under "Why God Destroyed the Temple," above in this chapter. They filled the entire temple with dead bodies, and the sanctuary became a "refuge and shop of tyranny." F34 We agree with Bickersteth that "their outrages against God were the special cause of the desolation of Jerusalem ... the abomination that filled up the measure of their iniquities and caused the avenging power of Rome to come down upon them and crush them." F35

Thus there were two phases of the abomination that desolated Jerusalem: (1) the utter reprobacy of the Jews themselves in filling the Holy of Holies with dead bodies, etc.; and (2) the avenging wrath of the Roman armies. The Jews made the sanctuary desolate morally; the Romans made it desolate by their ruthless destruction of it. Therefore the New Testament writers warned both Jews and Christians concerning the approach of such a disaster.

Eusebius tells how the Christians fled from Jerusalem on the occasion when the Romans most unpredictably lifted the siege, without any apparent reason, how they fled to Pella, established the church there, and how not one of them lost his life during the awful siege. The army of Titus was commanded by Cestius Gallus, who for some unexplainable reason lifted the siege, providing the Christians a chance to flee. Josephus said, "Cestius removed his army, and having received no loss, very unadvisedly departed from the city." F36

Having now examined this remarkable verse (Mark 13:14) as it applied to the destruction of Jerusalem, we shall view it again in the larger context of its application to the End of all things.

II. Mark 13:14 as prophetic of the consummation of all things.

We have already noted the dual nature of this entire chapter as predicting on the one hand the historical overthrow of the Holy City, and also on the other hand predicting the Second Advent of Christ and the final judgment, the first event being also a type of the second.

The abomination that made the temple desolate is a prophecy of the "man of sin" (2 Thessalonians 2:3-10), or Antichrist; and, as, Cranfield said, "The curious use of the masculine is perhaps further support of this interpretation." F37 The teaching is that the church of Christ shall suffer a pollution from within, becoming within itself corrupted and evil; a great apostasy shall come. And, although the medieval church is there may indeed be a greater and more terrible fulfillment yet future. The sacrifice of a sow on the sacred altar by Antiochus Epiphanes was an "abomination that made desolate"; but Christ did not view that as the final fulfillment of Dan. 9:27; there was to be a final abomination that would result in the total destruction of the city and temple.

In the same manner, whatever "Antichrist" may have appeared in the historical church, the ultimate fulfillment might indeed be something far more terrible. As Sanner thought, "Jesus was seeing in the demise of the Holy City a picture of later judgments, and finally the end of all things." F38

Let him that readeth understand ...
This repeated admonition from the great passage in Daniel was not a statement by that prophet, but a statement of God through that prophet, and directed to him primarily that he should concentrate upon thoroughly understanding the vision and accurately reporting it. So here; these are not the words of Mark at all, but the words of Jesus paraphrasing Daniel's prophecy and indicating that careful concentration and study of the prophecy is demanded. Failure to obey this injunction has led to the mistaken view that Christ understood the overthrow of Jerusalem and the Second Advent to be simultaneous. Even in Jesus' words, as Mark recorded them, "There is discernible a certain restraint, which leaves room for the possibility that the impending ruin of Jerusalem may be followed by other crises before the End comes"; F39 but in Daniel a very long time, equivalent to the "times of the Gentiles," is plainly stated as following the abominations that accompanied the destruction of Jerusalem. Jesus' appeal to that prophecy, in context, shows clearly that he did not view the event of 70 A.D. and the final coming as simultaneous. The critical scholars could have seen this if they had not been blinded by the prejudice that these words "Let him that readeth, etc." are an exclamation by Mark, slavishly "copied" by Matthew! There has been nothing that ever came out of radical criticism quite as ridiculous as such a view. Christ thought of his hearers constantly as "readers" of God's word, another instance of it being found in the question he asked of a certain lawyer, "What is written in the law? how readest thou?" (Luke 10:26).


 
Verses 15, 16
And let him that is on the housetop not go down, nor enter in, to take anything out of his house: and let him that is in the field not return back to take his coat.

These verses were primarily meant to stimulate haste in the Christian community who, upon seeing the armies about the city, were commanded to flee to the mountains.

Housetop not come down ...
This means that one on the housetop should not come down to take anything out, but that he should come down and flee without hesitation to the mountains.


 
Verses 17, 18
But woe unto them that are with child and to them that give suck in those days! And pray ye that it be not in the winter.

The compassion of the Saviour who foresaw the suffering and hardship, especially upon mothers, in the coming disaster, shines in his exclamation here.

And pray that it be not in winter ...
Their prayers in this were answered, for the siege reached its climax in the spring and summer, the fall of the city coming on August 10, 70 A.D.


 
Verse 19
For those days shall be tribulation, such as there hath not been the like from the beginning of the creation which God created until now, and never shall be.

The tribulation that befell Jerusalem was as great as any disaster ever known, some eleven hundred thousand of the population being butchered by the sword. F40 But even so great a disaster is only a prophecy of the far greater thing that shall come at the End. Cranfield agreed that "The thought here is eschatological, the final tribulation of history being in view." F41


 
Verse 20
And except the Lord had shortened the days, no flesh would have been saved; but for the elect's sake, whom he chose, he shortened the days.

The elect's sake ...
These were Christians, "whom he chose," not through some immutable decree, or capricious election before all time and eternity, but through the gospel. God chose and elected the people who would receive and adore the Christ, obey his gospel, and accept God's forgiveness. No one was excluded by such an election, each man deciding for himself whether he would come into the community of "the elect" or continue with the rebellious.

He shortened the days ...
The use of the past tense, both by Christ and by Mark, is prophetic, speaking of that which God has decreed for the future as being already done. How this shortening was accomplished is not exactly known. Sanner wrote, "Impelled by matters of pressing personal concern, the Roman generals hastened back to Italy." F42 Some of the events that might have entered into their breaking off of the Jewish war without the total destruction of the whole nation were: (1) disturbances in Gaul that interfered with the campaign of Vespasian; (2) the death of Nero plunged Rome into civil war as Otho and Vitellius each sought to be emperor; (3) Vespasian was declared emperor by his soldiers, their verdict being final, due to the might of the military; (4) Vespasian returned to Rome as emperor, and (5) his son Titus concluded the siege.


 
Verses 21, 22, 23
And then if any man shall say unto you, Lo, here is the Christ; or, Lo, there; believe it not: for there shall arise false Christs and false prophets, and shall show signs and wonders, that they may lead astray, if possible, the elect. But take ye heed: behold, I have told you all things beforehand.

Although Mark 13:14-23 are principally concerned with the predicted destruction of Jerusalem, Mark 13:14, particularly, has strong overtones applicable to the final judgment. Likewise here there are strong indications that the same prevalence of imposters and the deceptions perpetrated by the Lord's enemies will occur near the end of probation. False prophets and their lying miracles shall proliferate, requiring that "the elect" shall study to avoid deception. There was never more necessity for such an admonition than at the present time. And how shall "the elect" avoid being deceived? Their only hope is to accept and believe the Holy Bible, a hope made more difficult by the fulminations of the devil against it. Satan's emissaries are identified quite easily by their invariable efforts to discredit or destroy the word of God.


 
Verse 24
But in those days, after that tribulation, the sun shall be darkened, and the moon shall not give her light.

THE PROPHECY OF THE END

After that tribulation ...
Not "after THE tribulation," as if this had been an apocalypse, but after the destruction of Jerusalem.

The sun shall be darkened, and the moon ...
Some have construed these words as a metaphorical reference to the covering of the Sun of righteousness, so as to reduce and darken the light, accomplished by the devices of wicked men and to the failure of the church (the moon) to shine any more as God intended by reflecting the true Light that came into the world. Of course, such could be the meaning; but it seems to this interpreter that such an event would compromise the promise that "the gates of hell" shall not prevail against God's church. Therefore, the view here is that the center of our solar system will fail at the time of the end, involving as a result the failure also of the moon. If the sun was darkened at Calvary, why not again at the Second Coming?


 
Verse 25
And the stars shall be falling from heaven, and the powers that are in the heavens shall be shaken.

These words too are taken to be a strong metaphor for the fall of mighty princes and rulers; but, since it is a good rule of interpretation that the secondary fulfillment of prophecy greatly exceeds in scope and significance the first fulfillment; and since, in the first fulfillment of this chapter, many notable princes and rulers among both the Romans and the Jews fell, it is the conviction here that something far more is prophesied of the end of all things.

Regarding the quibble that "stars cannot fall," it need only be remarked that if our earth was suddenly blasted out of its orbit, they would certainly appear to fall. Moreover God has promised a second time to "shake" this earth in the sense of removing it (Hebrews 12:26). We should believe God's promise and construe the words here as a reference to cataclysmic future events incapable of description by finite men. In this connection, see 2 Pet. 3:8-13. Bickersteth's comment is pertinent:

The powers may here mean those great unseen forces of nature by which the universe is held in equipoise. When the Creator wills it, these powers shall be shaken. "The pillars of heaven tremble" (Job 26:1); "And all the host of heaven shall be dissolved, and the heavens shall be rolled together as a scroll" (Isaiah 34:4). As the end of the world approaches, the elements will quiver and tremble. F43


 
Verse 26
And then shall they see the Son of man coming in clouds with great power and glory.

That this is a literal factual statement of what Christ promised and the holy apostles believed to be true is undeniable. Writing a full generation after the resurrection of Christ, Mark could not thus have quoted Jesus as referring to any ordinary spiritual event. The end of the age and the second coming of the Son of God are promised here.


 
Verse 27
And then shall he send forth the angels, and shall gather together his elect from the four winds, from the uttermost part of the earth to the uttermost part of heaven.

The angels ...
are always associated with the final judgment in the New Testament (13:41,49; 2 Thessalonians 1:7,; 1:7, ).

Elect from the four winds ...
This is an idiom meaning "from everywhere."

Uttermost part of earth ... heaven ...
That both earth and heaven are mentioned here as places from which God will gather the elect is remarkable, recalling Paul's words: "All things in Christ, the things in the heavens, and the things upon the earth" (Ephesians 1:10).


 
Verse 28
Now from the fig tree learn her parable: when her branch is now become tender, and putteth forth its leaves, ye know that the summer is nigh.

LESSON FROM THE FIG TREE

The conclusion to be drawn from observance of the fig tree is stated in the next verse. In the realm of nature, the budding of trees and the appearance of the foliage have the invariable meaning that the summer is not very far away.


 
Verse 29
Even so ye also, when ye see these things coming to pass, know ye that he (Greek, it) is nigh, even at the doors.

He is nigh ...
By this rendition the translators evidently understood this to be a reference to the Son of man, which is surely indicated by the masculine pronoun; but the Greek word in this place, as also in Matt. 24:33, is "it," not "he." This facilitates the application of the fig tree parallel to both events, the destruction of Jerusalem and the Second Advent. But just how can the latter event be "nigh"? Its near approach shall be indicated by the appearance of the conditions described in this chapter as being antecedent to it; and the application of the words "it is nigh" to both events does not mean they were to occur simultaneously. Of course there is a sense in which the Second Advent is always "nigh." As Cranfield put it:

If we realize that the Incarnation-Crucifixion-Resurrection-Ascension, on the one hand, and the Parousia (Second Coming), on the other, belong essentially together and are in a real sense one Event, one divine Act, being held apart only by the mercy of God who desires to give men opportunity for faith and repentance, then we can see that in a very real sense the latter is always imminent now that the former has happened. It was, and still is, true to say that the Parousia is at hand and indeed this, so far from being an embarrassing mistake on the part either of Jesus or of the early Church, is an essential part of the Christian faith. Ever since the Incarnation, men have been living in the last days. F44


 
Verse 30
Verily I say unto you, This generation shall not pass away, until all these things be accomplished.

This generation ...
has two meanings. First, it means that group of people alive at any given time on the earth; this first meaning, as should have been expected, applies to the first event of the prophecy of the destruction of the temple and the city, which, right on schedule, occurred while many who were alive when Christ uttered these words were still alive. Second, it means a strain of people, in this case the Jewish people (this understanding of the word going all the way back to Jerome). F45 Logically, this secondary meaning of the word applies to the second event predicted, namely the end of time. So understood, it simply means that the Jewish people shall not perish until the summation of all things, a fact also categorically affirmed by Paul in Rom. 11:25. The continued existence of Israel, therefore, despite the avowed efforts of mighty rulers to annihilate that people, is a fulfillment of this prophecy.


 
Verse 31
Heaven and earth shall pass away: but my words shall not pass away.

Heaven and earth shall pass away ...
This is an affirmation by Christ that the physical removal of heaven and earth was envisioned by the preceding prophecy. Christ was clearly talking about the cataclysmic destruction of the earth and its environment (at least), a fact properly understood by the apostles and mentioned in their writings, as for example, in 2 Pet. 3:8-13, etc. This is also a prophecy that the words of Christ "shall not pass away." Even the most diligent efforts of radical, unbelieving scholars to discredit the gospels have an opposite effect; because, if they truly believed that the words of Christ were not true, there is no power on earth that could induce them to waste a lifetime of employment on the study and criticism of his words. The wrath of man still praises God. The words of the Lord have not passed away, nor shall they ever pass away until all shall be fulfilled.


 
Verse 32
But of that day or that hour knoweth no one, not even the angels in heaven, neither the Son, but the Father.

Commenting on this verse, John Wesley said that as a man, "Christ was no more omniscient than omnipresent." F46 Such is an oversimplification, however, because there are many examples of Jesus' omniscience. From this, we conclude that when Christ "emptied himself" (Philippians 2:7); he emptied himself of some phases of omniscience and not of others. As Erdman expressed it, "Of that (the day and hour mentioned in this verse), he who became a man and emptied himself, is voluntarily ignorant." F47 Bickersteth, however, has the most satisfactory view of this, saying:

The eternal Son, as God, knows perfectly the day and hour; but as man, and as God's messenger to men, he did not know it so as to be able to reveal it to men. As an ambassador, he only communicated those things committed to him. F48

"The full reality of the incarnation involved such ignorance on the part of Jesus during his earthly life"; F49 and there is nothing any harder to understand here than in Luke 2:52, where it is written that Jesus advanced in "wisdom and stature." As Barnes said, "He had a human nature; and, as man, his knowledge must be finite, for the faculties of the human soul are not infinite." F50 That Christ did indeed know all the future had just been proved by the accurate prophecy of the destruction of a city, and this binds us to the conclusion that whatever was unknown to the Son was unknown to him by his own choice of not knowing.


 
Verse 33
Take ye heed, watch, and pray: for ye know not when the time is.

EXHORTATIONS TO WATCHFULNESS

This duty of watchfulness extends to all Christians of all ages. Mark's brief summary of this exhortation naturally leads one to think of the three parables on this topic recorded in Matt. 25.


 
Verse 34
It is as when a man, sojourning in another country, having left his house, and given authority to his servants, to each one his work, commanded also the porter to watch.

Nothing in this paragraph should be construed as a promise that the Lord would return within that lifetime; Jesus' words a moment earlier were a sufficient warning against such a view. The element of uncertainty on the part of the servants and the porter as to when the master of the house would return is the factor stressed.


 
Verse 35
Watch therefore: for ye know not when the lord of the house cometh, whether at even, or at midnight, or at cockcrowing, or in the morning.

The Jews had for long recognized three watches of the night, lasting from sundown to 10:00 P.M., and from then to 1:00 A.M., and from then until sunrise. But, with the establishment of the Roman empire in Judea, these had been changed to the four watches mentioned by Jesus in this admonition: even ending at nine; midnight ending at twelve; cock-crowing ending at three; and morning ending at six.


 
Verses 36, 37
Lest coming suddenly he find you sleeping. And what I say unto you I say unto all, Watch.

This is the order of the day for all ages of Christianity. The onward rush of mighty events, the sweep of earth's populations through history, the bloody conflicts as great nations make the sword the arbiter of their destinies, the confusion, bitterness, and struggle of disciples in all times, the terrible apostasy, the rule of materialism, the secularization of humanity, rampant wickedness of all kinds, increasing indifference, malignant unbelief the progression of the church through history will be one of continuing challenges and battles; and the constant need throughout time to the judgment is, for both the church and the Christian, WATCHFULNESS!


Footnotes for Mark 13
1: James Macknight, A Harmony of the Four Gospels (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Book House, 1950), p. 412.
2: C. E. B. Cranfield, The Gospel according to St. Mark (Cambridge: The University Press, 1966), p. 387).
3: Earle McMillan, The Gospel according to Mark (Austin, Texas: R. B. Sweet Publishing Company, 1973), p. 158.
4: Henry E. Turlington, op. cit., p. 371.
5: C. E. B. Cranfield, op. cit., p. 388.
6: A. Elwood Sanner, Beacon Bible Commentary (Kansas City: Beacon Hill Press, 1964), p. 379.
7: C. E. B. Cranfield, op. cit., p. 389.
8: Earle McMillan, op. cit., p. 156.
9: Josephus, Life and Works of, translated by William Whiston (New York: Holt, Rinehart, and Winston), p. 472.
10: Frederick C. Grant, Interpreter's Bible (New York: Abingdon Press, 1951), p. 845.
11: Josephus, op. cit., p. 745.
12: Ibid., p. 755.
13: Ibid.
14: E. Bickersteth, The Pulpit Commentary (Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1962), Vol. 16, p. 197.
15: Ibid.
16: Ibid.
17: A. Elwood Sanner, op. cit., p. 379.
18: H. Leo Boles, Commentary on Matthew (Nashville: The Gospel Advocate Company, 1936), p. 472.
19: E. Bickersteth, op. cit., p. 197.
20: C. E. B. Cranfield, op. cit., p. 399.
21: E. Bickersteth, op. cit., p. 198.
22: Albert Barnes, Notes on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Book House, 1955), p. 378.
23: J. C. Ryle, Expository Notes on the Gospels (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House), Matthew-Mark, II, p. 280.
24: A. Elwood Sanner, op. cit., p. 382.
25: Ibid.
26: E. Bickersteth, op. cit., p. 198.
27: C. E. B. Cranfield, op. cit., p. 402.
28: E. Bickersteth, op. cit., p. 198.
29: Earle McMillan, op. cit., p. 157.
30: Tom U. Fauntleroy, a private manuscript (Paducah, Kentucky, 1974).
31: J. E. H. Thompson, The Pulpit Commentary (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1962), p. 276.
32: Ibid., p. 269.
33: Josephus, op. cit., p. 758.
34: Ibid., p. 746.
35: E. Bickersteth, op. cit., p. 199.
36: Josephus, op. cit., p. 702.
37: C. E. B. Cranfield, op. cit., p. 402.
38: A. Elwood Sanner. op. cit., v. 383.
39: C. E. B. Cranfield, op. cit., p. 402.
40: J. R. Dummelow, Commentary on the Holy Bible (New York: The Macmillan Company, 1937), p. 704.
41: C. E. B. Cranfield, op cit., p. 404.
42: A. Elwood Sanner, op. cit., p. 384.
43: E. Bickersteth, op. cit., p. 201.
44: C. E. B. Cranfield, op. cit., p. 408.
45: Ibid., p. 409.
46: John Wesley, New Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Book House, 1972), en loco.
47: Charles R. Erdman, The Gospel according to Mark (Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1966), p. 197.
48: E. Bickersteth, op. cit., p. 202.
49: C. E. B. Cranfield, op. cit., p. 411.
50: Albert Barnes, Notes on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Book House, 1955), p. 379.

Copyright Statement
James Burton Coffman Commentaries reproduced by permission of Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. All other rights reserved.

Bibliography Information
Coffman, James Burton. "Commentary on Mark 13". "Coffman Commentaries on the Old and New Testament". <http://classic.studylight.org/com/bcc/view.cgi?book=mr&chapter=013>. Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. 1983-1999.  

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