Parallel Texts: Matthew 24-25; Luke 21:5-37
From the beginning of the book, Mark has taken us on the Kingdom Tour. He began with John’s announcement that the Kingdom is at hand, and then proceeded with Jesus preaching the Kingdom throughout the countryside. As we have gone through this process, we’ve seen how Jesus demonstrated, by both word and deed, what the coming Kingdom of Heaven would be all about, and how once the Kingdom came, nothing would ever be the same again. We’ve also seen that the powers and authorities within the Jewish establishment opposed the Kingdom at every opportunity, along with demonic forces, creating a formidable alliance. Now, Jesus has arrived in Jerusalem for the final climax of His ministry. He has just completed an entire day of battle in the Temple Court and has pronounced God’s judgment on the current corrupt system in the “seven woes” pronounced upon the Pharisees and teachers of the law in Matthew 23 and at the end of Mark 12.
Chapter 13 opens right after Jesus’ judgments were pronounced, as He and the disciples were once again leaving the Temple area. They walked across the Kidron Valley to the Mount of Olives overlooking the Temple Mount, and the disciples ask Him a question along the way: ‘As Jesus was leaving the temple, one of his disciples said to him, “Look, Teacher! What massive stones! What magnificent buildings!”’ (Verse 1) As you can clearly see, the subject is the Temple and magnificent buildings.
Jesus gave a curious reply: ‘“Do you see all these great buildings?” replied Jesus. “Not one stone here will be left on another; every one will be thrown down.”’ In giving His response, Jesus specifically told them the Temple itself will be destroyed. The Temple being destroyed would have been a shocking thing to any Jew of that time, for the Temple is the center of Jewish life, culture and even of the Nation itself, for it is the dwelling place of God Himself on earth; the disciples were concerned. Privately some of the disciples ask: ‘“Tell us, when will these things happen? And what will be the sign that they are all about to be fulfilled?”’ (verse 4) Did you catch that? They want to know when the Temple will be destroyed and what the signs will be when the time is near for this to happen. In Matthew’s account, they also ask what the signs of Jesus’ coming will be, but that isn’t asked here.
With all of this context set, the answer in verses 5-31 is the answer regarding the Temple, and not as some suggest, about the end of the world or the second coming. Verses 32 f.f. deal with the second coming, but we can only tell that by studying Matthew’s account.
Since this is only a general overview based upon context, we might ask ourselves if this fits in with Mark’s wider Kingdom context, and the answer to that is a strong and clear “Yes!” All along we’ve been seeing that everything was about to change entirely, but this change would not only be a theological or abstract change. The old Jewish kingdom was an earthly one, with earthly observances and physical manifestations, rules and observances. The new kingdom was to be a heavenly one that fulfills the illustrations and “types” of the old, bringing about an entirely new system, the New Covenant. You will recall that at the moment of Jesus’ death on the cross, the temple veil was torn in two. Remember also that this veil was the separation between Man and God, the separation that sealed off the Holy of holies, God’s dwelling place within the Temple into which no one could enter, except the High Priest once a year, and then only after following the prescribed protocols. That was torn open for by the blood of Christ there was no longer a separation between Man and God… you could say that the Spirit of God moved to a new address at that time, and that His new address would be within the hearts of His followers, by the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, an act that made the old physical Temple obsolete.
When the Spirit came on Pentecost, this gospel was first preached to the Jews, and later to the whole world, and after a reasonable time, the Temple itself was destroyed removing all vestiges of the old system.
Yes, I would have to conclude that this story is entirely consistent with Mark’s larger historical context, and central to Christian theology and understanding of our relationship with God in this age.