An Obsolete Temple, An Obsolete Earth


Mark 13

In this chapter, Jesus foretells the destruction of the temple as an end to the Mosaic economy. He then moves without pause to a discussion of the sudden end of the present gospel economy that is designed for the calling of the elect. When Christ comes in triumph, there will be no more generations of humanity. All from created Adam to the lastborn person will appear before the coming righteous Judge. The earth itself will be altered and judgment of each person in their appointed place according to God’s word will end this present age.

I. Jesus proclaimed the end of the temple’s relevance (13:1–4).

While seated in the temple just prior to this proclamation, Jesus made an observation about true worship in the giving of offerings (12:41–44).

A. The temple was indeed a magnificent structure, some of the stones measuring 37’ x 12’ x 18’.

Some of these stones were of spotted green and white marble. It was not complete, in fact, until a few years before its destruction. As Jesus went out, one of the disciples remarked about its appearance. Jesus would never enter the earthly temple again but would perform the high priestly work in the “more perfect tabernacle not made with hands, that is, not of this creation” (Hebrews 9:11).

B. In John 2, Jesus had talked about the destruction and raising up of the temple in terms of his body (John 2:17–22).

When the true temple, the body of his flesh, was given over to death, by virtue of his sinless life and absolutely perfected righteousness, he was raised again by the glory of the Father. Now in him alone may sinners find the place and acceptability of true worship. In John 4, he spoke to a woman of Samaria about the irrelevance of a physically isolated place of worship, implying the temple in Jerusalem, but the importance of Spiritually–energized worship according to truth (John 4:20–26). By implication, he identified himself as the place of worship by the Sprit in accordance with truth (John 4:25, 26).

C. Jesus predicted its total destruction with not one stone left on top of another. This took place in AD 70 as a tour de force of the Roman suppression of a Jewish uprising that had begun in AD 66. The burning of the temple had melted its gold accoutrements, the molten metal flowing between the stones. Soldiers had all the stones dislodged in order to retrieve the gold; so, with virtual literal exactness not one stone was left on top of another.

D. It was not just the destruction of the temple that made the disciples so inquisitive but the apparent lack of remorse over it on the part of Jesus.

Jesus himself was to fulfill all that took place in the temple and its sacrifices; he was the priest, the altar, and the sacrifice. Jesus alone would enter the most holy place with his own blood. The standing of the temple perpetuated types, shadows, mere prophecies, and the repetition of vanities—things that could not do what they depicted. “We have an altar,” so noted the writer of Hebrews, “from which those who serve the tabernacle have no right to eat.” For, “every priest stands ministering daily and offering repeatedly the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins.” Jesus, however, suffered outside the gate (where the bodies of the sacrificed animals were burned) “that he might sanctify the people with his own blood,” and in so doing he would offer “one sacrifice for sins forever.” Having accomplished that, he would be seated “at the right hand of God” (Hebrews 13:10, 12; 10:11, 12).

E. The question of the disciples showed that they interpreted Jesus’ words as pointing to two aspects of this one event.

When the temple was destroyed would this mean that the messianic kingdom would be established? They did not doubt that Jesus was the Messiah. They had not yet grasped the significance of his work of redemption by his death. Even with all the teaching of Jesus about his rejection, his death, his resurrection and the consequent necessity of their humility, service, and willingness to suffer, deliverance still carried overtones of political dominance. Messiahship still meant freedom for the people under an unparalleled wise and beneficent ruler.


II. Jesus’ completion of the gospel work and his ascension to heaven will offer opportunity for deceivers and pervasive opposition (5–13).

A. In verses 5 and 6 Jesus assumes his absence physically, a reality the disciples had not absorbed from his teaching (cf. John 16:16–24).

In his absence, the opportunity would come for others to present themselves as messiah, denying that messiah could die. These false claims apparently did occur on more than one occasion before AD 70. John and Paul and Peter point this out in the form of warning during the time of their ministry (2 Corinthians 11:4–6; 2 Peter 2:1:1, 2; 1 John 2:18, 19; 5:6–12; Jude 4).

B. Both military conflict and natural disaster will also occur, giving an apocalyptic feel to the time, but “the end is not yet” (7).

Jesus meant that the destruction of Jerusalem would be preceded by some years of conflict and uncertainty; in addition, they were not to identify his coming visible reign with these things.

C. Now the shocker! An element of their being his followers that they were not anticipating at all was that, in his absence, they would be flogged, brought before powerful earthly courts, and all of this in service to the gospel (cf 10:29, 30, 38, 39).

Their mission would not be to Jews only, but they would proclaim the gospel to the world (10). They would be under the immediate inspiration of the Holy Spirit so that, in all these situations, they would preach the gospel (11). This promise of inspiration Jesus had given them in John 14:25–28, to be accompanied by a peace that was not a peace of this world. He would give them the peace of God, the peace of conscience in the throes of earthly trouble (Philippians 4:6, 7; 1 Timothy 2:7; Hebrews 13:20, 21).

D. The gospel will be of such a nature that the world will hate it and enemies to its adherents will arise even from their own families (12, 13a). Even with this opposition, some of it fatal, enduring grace will be given to the elect so that those who persevere to the end will be saved (13b).

A confession of the apostolic church included the articles, “If we have died with him, we will also live with him; if we endure, we will reign with him; if we deny him he also will deny us” (2 Timothy 2:11, 12). All of this is included in his own faithfulness to his covenantal intentions, “He cannot deny himself.”


III. The destruction of Jerusalem and the temple is not the end (14–23).

A. Those of you who are still living when the end of the temple comes, will know precisely what is going to happen, Jesus informed them. Its environs will be invaded by those who, in the ceremonial law, are prohibited.

They will profane it even as in the day of the Babylonians’ ransacking of the city and when Antiochus Epiphanes destroyed the second temple and offered a pig on its altar. Romans, provoked by the Jewish uprising, when they finally overcome the resistance in the city, will have no mercy.

B. Those who have opportunity to escape, must leave then without delay, for the wrath of Rome, unleashed in the midst of an infuriated and outraged sense of betrayal will not spare even the pregnant or nursing woman, nor the child (15–17).

C. The fury of a mighty Rome will bring to consummation a tragedy of slaughter in such proportions that all other such acts of horror, all other pogroms, will not match the brutality, rage, and scope of this one (19).

This brutal and thorough assault on the Jewish rebellion put an end to the sacrifices and all temple activity.

D. Only God’s intervention will keep the slaughter from being virtually complete.

His elective purpose, unknown of course to the Romans or any of those who are under the threat of quick elimination, will put an end to the destruction (20). God’s eternal purpose, radiating from the eternal covenant of redemption, is the determining force behind all the providential acts of God (Ephesians 1:11).

E. In the panic that surrounds such an event, many will arise claiming to be the ultimate deliverer.

They will assume that such a time calls for the Messiah [Recall “Fiddler on the Roof” and the question, “Wouldn’t this be a good time for Messiah to come?”] Jesus warns against being fooled by the desperation involved in the circumstance.

F. On that subject, Jesus gave as full amount of detail as could be given.

They should be thoroughly aware of what would precede it, what constituted its nature, what their activity would be in the meantime, and why it would cease suddenly.


IV. Jesus will return with a power that dwarfs all the pomp and power of mere men (24–27). These false Christ’s should not be any temptation to Christians.

A. Jesus now tells them what to expect when he does return.

It will not happen with the desperate whimper of the wannabe rescuers from tribulation but will be with an immediate and mighty display of perfect power and unmistakable glory. The natural world will begin to fail in the presence of the coming of its creator with uncreated glory and power. What is presented symbolically in Isaiah 13:10 and Ezekiel 32:7 and Joel 2:31 as fearsome displays of judgment on nations are likely literal when Christ returns. The coming of God in power to judge sinful nations described in terms of natural disaster and the cessation of the balancing spheres in the natural order (sun, moon, and stars), seemingly will receive a literal fulfillment in the physical appearance of the Creator and sustainer of the universe. There will be no need of sun, moon, or stars to shed light and fair beauty in the heavens, for the source of all power, heat, light, and beauty will descend. He was received by a cloud in his ascension (Acts 1:9). The angel said that when he returned, he “will so come in like manner” (Acts 1:11). The fact that clouds (cf. Revelation 1:7) are involved show that this is a manifestation of independent and intrinsic power, for clouds do not support solid objects descending through them just as they do not lift a body in their ascension.

B. Again, Jesus’ concern for the gathering of all his elect is the determining factor of his providential intervention and now of his final return (27; Look at 2 Peter 3: 8–13 in this light).

2 Peter 1:3–11 gives the evidence of eternal election in the lives of believers. In light of that they strive to make plain and clear their election of God. Jesus is not willing that any of these elect ones shall perish and the end of the present age is dependent on the coming of all of them to salvation. After that, “the heavens will be set on fire and dissolved, and the heavenly bodies will melt as they burn.” A new heaven and a new earth of righteousness will replace this present fallen, iniquity-filled, groaning order (2 Peter 3:13).


V. Certainty and uncertainty. Jesus summarized what he had said on these two events.

The disciples initially had seen them as constituting one thing. Jesus divided their question into two events, verse 29 for he destruction of the temple and verse 32 for his return.

A. The destruction of the temple and the tribulation of Jerusalem is certain.

Verses 28–30 return to this event. Verse 28 encourages them to look at his description of that event as clear signs just like the presence of the vegetation of spring means that summer will surely follow. In verse 29, Jesus applied that with the words, “Even so,” just as surely as summer follows spring so will these things happen in the sequence in which I have described them. “Recognize that it [not He] is near, at the door.” Jesus even said that all these things will happen within the time frame of this, the then present, generation (30).

B. Jesus’ word is certain (31).

What Jesus has said on any occasion will certainly come to pass. Specifically, what he has said about the destruction of the temple, and the terrible trouble surrounding that time will come to pass. But also, though its details are more deeply hidden, what Jesus has said about his second appearing will certainly take place.

C. The time of Jesus’ return is hidden in the covenant of redemption (32).

In this verse, similar to the statement of Jesus in 10:40, Jesus stated that the time of his return was not a matter of his present knowledge as Son of Man, though it certainly was the joint knowledge of all three persons of the triune God established in the eternal covenant of redemption. Jesus in his incarnation responded to all that the Father told him and lived in perfect obedience to both the moral law and to the immediate revelation of the Father’s will as he lived from day to day and moment to moment. Neither the signs nor the time of his coming was a matter of his present knowledge in his state of humiliation as the one who emptied himself and took on the form of a servant.

D. All disciples of Christ should be pursuing their calling and ready for his return (33–37).

    1. On this part of their question, therefore, he gave them no signs by which they could increase in anticipation of his return. “You do not know when the appointed time will come” (33); “You do not know when the master of the house is coming” (35). In fact, we do not even have signs that give us an approximation—evening, midnight, rooster time, or morning.
    2. That meant, therefore, that every moment was to be a moment of hope, service, faithfulness and alertness. He would be with them always, even to the end of the age, he would never leave them nor forsake them, and he would be the same yesterday, today, and forever.
    3. It is for his servants to know only that he has given them a charge, he has given each a gift commensurate with his responsibility, has appointed a “doorkeeper” to give a constant reminder of the truth and calling we have received and that the master of the house wants the door always ready to receive him.


Earthly splendor, earthly crutches soon will pass away.
Stone from stone is separated, families join the fray.
False messiahs are perverse,
Shocking the whole universe.

Foes religious, foes civilian seek to squelch the truth.
Do not fear them, they are mortal, reprobate from youth.
Do not grope for words to say.
Spirit’s help will not delay.

Plunderers are merciless, ruining home and womb.
Mass confusion grips the soul; choose exile or tomb.
God’s elect have been assured
Both in soul and mind, secured.

Stars are falling, sun is darkened, fallen nature hides.
Jesus Savior comes in glory; on soft clouds he rides.
“Go you angels,” He commands,
“Gather mine from every land.”

Jesus spoke it, none can doubt it; certain is his word.
Fearsome presence, holy beauty, greater than we heard.
None can know the day or hour.
Stay alert; await his power.

Jesus comes in glorious judgment prompting joy or fright.
Both Redeemed and unbelievers, all stand in his sight.
Awed by justice, stand the lost.
Saved rejoice and laud the cross.

Tom has most recently served as the Professor of Historical Theology at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He previously taught at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School where he was Professor of Church History and Chair of the Department of Church History. Prior to that, he taught at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and Mid-America Baptist Theological Seminary. Along with numerous journal articles and scholarly papers, Dr. Nettles is the author and editor of fifteen books. Among his books are By His Grace and For His Glory; Baptists and the Bible, James Petigru Boyce: A Southern Baptist Statesman, and Living by Revealed Truth: The Life and Pastoral Theology of Charles H. Spurgeon.
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