Bible Commentaries

Dr. Constable's Expository NotesConstable's Expository Notes

Mark 13

Search for…
Enter query below:
Additional Authors


C. Jesus’ teaching on Mt. Olivet ch. 13

The Olivet Discourse is the longest section of Jesus’ teaching that Mark recorded (cf. Mark 4:1-34; Mark 7:1-23). Mark used this discourse as a bridge between Jesus’ controversies with Israel’s leaders (Mark 11:27 to Mark 12:44) and the account of His passion (chs. 14-15). It provides assurance that the leaders who had plotted against Jesus would suffer God’s judgment.

Matthew and Mark both stressed Jesus’ teaching that focused on His second coming. Matthew and Mark also recorded more about Jesus’ answer to the disciples’ second question, "What will be the sign when all these things are going to be fulfilled?" (Mark 13:4 b). Luke concentrated more on His answer to their first question, "When will these things be?" (Mark 13:4 a). Matthew wrote to answer the questions of Jewish unbelievers. Mark wrote primarily to respond to those of Gentile Christians living under Roman persecution and in a hostile world. Mark stressed Jesus’ exhortations to watchfulness and His preparation of the disciples for future hardships.

Verse 1

This discourse evidently followed Jesus’ departure from the temple on Wednesday with His disciples. The stones that caught the disciple’s eye were probably those above the floor of the temple courtyard. Herod the Great had enlarged the temple esplanade and supported it with huge foundation stones. At the southeast corner, the temple complex rose about 200 feet above the Kidron Valley below. Some of these stones are still in place. In view of what Jesus predicted and what happened, the disciples apparently referred to the stones of the buildings and porches, not the foundation stones. The colonnades that surrounded the temple courtyard were also very beautiful. The whole temple complex was magnificent. [Note: See Josephus, Antiquities of . . ., 15:11:3-7; and Alfred Edersheim, The Temple: Its Ministry and Services, ch. 2.] Mark probably called attention to the stones in view of what Jesus would say about them (Mark 13:2).

Verses 1-4

1. The setting 13:1-4 (cf. Matthew 24:1-3; Luke 21:5-7)

Verse 2

Jesus predicted the complete destruction of the temple buildings (cf. Jeremiah 7:11-14). This happened in A.D. 70 when Titus the Roman destroyed the city of Jerusalem. He razed the buildings and porches on the temple esplanade so thoroughly that no trace of them remains today. Not even their exact location on the temple mount is certain.

"Up to this point during this day, Jesus had acted as God’s Forthteller, applying the truth of God to the scene before Him; with this statement, He turned to predictive prophecy, declaring the near future." [Note: Hiebert, pp. 315-16.]

However this prophecy has not yet attained complete fulfillment. There are still many stones still standing on one another in the temple complex, specifically in its foundations. What Jesus proceeded to predict shows that complete fulfillment would not come until the future (i.e., the Tribulation).

Verses 3-4

Evidently the disciples pondered Jesus’ prophecy as they crossed the Kidron Valley that separated the temple complex from Mt. Olivet to the east. When they sat down on the mountain and looked west into the temple courtyard, Jesus’ first four disciples (Mark 1:16-20) asked two questions.

The first question dealt with the time of the temple’s destruction. Matthew’s account shows that their second question had two parts. They asked what the sign of Jesus’ coming and of the end of the present age would be. Mark combined these two parts into one simple question about the sign of "all these things" being fulfilled. The disciples viewed the destruction of the temple and the end of the present age as occurring together. In His answer Jesus taught them that these events would not happen at the same time. Again a question from the disciples led to a teaching session (cf. Mark 4:10-32; Mark 7:17-23; Mark 9:11-13; Mark 9:28-29; Mark 10:10-12).

Verses 5-6

The first word of the discourse proper means "take heed" (Gr. blepete). This word occurs four times in the following verses indicating that warning is an important theme (Mark 13:9; Mark 13:23; Mark 13:33). Here Jesus warned the disciples about people who would claim to be the Messiah. There would be many of them before He would return. Mark’s "I am" is a divine name (cf. Exodus 3:14; John 8:58). Jesus said these false Messiahs would claim to be God as well as Messiah.

Verses 5-8

2. Warnings against deceptions 13:5-8 (Matthew 24:4-8; Luke 21:8-11)

Jesus first answered the disciples’ second question about the sign of the end of the present age. He did so negatively by warning them of false signs (Mark 13:5-13). Then He gave them positive information about the event that will signal great tribulation followed by His second coming (Mark 13:14-27). Finally Jesus answered their first question about the destruction of Jerusalem with a parable (Mark 13:28-32). The central part of this revelation is eschatological (Mark 13:14-27) flanked by moral exhortations. Mark 13:5-37 contain 19 imperative verbs in the Greek text. This discourse is a good example of the practical nature of biblical prophecy.

"The conditions associated with the impending local crisis of Jerusalem’s fall foreshadow those connected with the worldwide end-time crisis. Thus Jesus’ words, relevant to His first disciples, remain so for all disciples who face similar conditions throughout this Age." [Note: Grassmick, p. 167.]

Verses 7-8

Wars, rumors of wars, earthquakes, and famines will precede Jesus’ return, but they are not signs of the end of the age. There will be many of these things before the end comes. The messianic kingdom will appear in history similar to an infant who emerges from a very painful birth experience (cf. Isaiah 66:8; Jeremiah 22:23; Hosea 13:13; Micah 4:9-10). Jesus compared wars, rumors of war, earthquakes, and famines to the beginning of these pains. These phenomena show that the kingdom is coming, but they do not enable observers to date its arrival precisely. They are part of God’s program for the present age that includes judgment as well as salvation. They do not necessarily indicate that the Tribulation has begun. However these things will also mark the first part of the Tribulation (cf. Revelation 6). Mark 13:5-8 probably describe conditions before and during the first half of the Tribulation, and Mark 13:9-23 describe conditions during the second half. [Note: Cf. Bailey, p. 91.]

Verse 9

The disciples could anticipate persecution from the Jews and the Gentiles, from religious and secular courts. However such treatment would provide opportunity to bear witness for Jesus. This warning is appropriate for all disciples in the inter-advent era as are all the warnings in this discourse.

Verses 9-13

3. Warnings about personal danger during persecution 13:9-13 (cf. Matthew 24:9-13; Luke 21:12-19)

These warnings also occur in other contexts of Jesus’ ministry (cf. Matthew 10:17-22; Luke 12:11-12). Jesus evidently voiced them more than once.

Mark stressed the idea of persecution by recording the Greek word paradidomi three times in this pericope. The NASB translated this word "deliver up" in Mark 13:9; Mark 13:11-12. The NIV rendered it "handed over" in Mark 13:9, "arrested" in Mark 13:11, and "betray" in Mark 13:12.

Verse 10

"Unto all the nations" is in the emphatic first position in the Greek text. All the nations must hear the gospel before the end of the age (cf. Matthew 24:14). This is the responsibility of every generation of disciples (Matthew 28:19). The generation of believers alive during the Tribulation immediately preceding Jesus’ return will accomplish this task in their generation (Revelation 7). "Must" (Gr. dei) indicates divine necessity. God wants this to happen, and it will happen.

"It is part of God’s eschatological purpose that before the End [of this age] all nations shall have an opportunity to accept the gospel." [Note: Cranfield, p. 399.]

This verse is not a promise that if disciples will preach the gospel to all nations in a particular generation God will then begin the kingdom, as postmillennialists teach. Man cannot bring in the kingdom by the universal preaching of the gospel. God will bring it in at His appointed time. This is not a promise that everyone will become a believer in Jesus either.

Verse 11

Jesus promised that God will give special grace (help) to disciples who want to bear a good testimony when arrested and tried for their faith (Mark 13:9). The Holy Spirit will give such disciples the appropriate words to speak then. Jesus did not forbid thought but anxious care (cf. Luke 21:15). [Note: Taylor, p. 508.] This promise should give disciples in these situations freedom from unnecessary anxiety. However, Jesus did not promise release from suffering.

"History bears ample witness to the fact that Christians on trial for their faith have been amazed themselves at the aptness of the answers that flashed into their minds at the opportune moment." [Note: Hiebert, p. 321.]

Verses 12-13

Betrayal even by family members will be another trial disciples may have to bear (cf. Micah 7:2-6; Luke 12:51-53). Persecution would come through official channels but also from blood relatives. All kinds of people would hate them for their testimony.

"As there is nothing that excites such love as the gospel, when intelligently received, so there is nothing that occasions such hate as this same gospel, when passionately rejected." [Note: Morison, p. 359.]

The last part of Mark 13:13 states a general principle. Faithful endurance of persecution to its end results in deliverance. Disciples who endure their persecution faithfully to the end of that persecution will experience deliverance from it while they are alive. Disciples who endure their persecution faithfully to the end of their lives will experience deliverance from it by death. Disciples living just before Jesus returns who endure their persecution faithfully to the end of the present age will experience deliverance at Jesus’ second coming.

Faithful endurance of persecution also results in the privilege of reigning with Jesus in His kingdom (cf. 2 Timothy 2:12). Note that Jesus did not teach that all will endure to the end faithfully. Unfortunately some disciples do not (2 Timothy 2). Notwithstanding, our ultimate salvation does not depend on enduring persecution faithfully but on God’s faithfulness to His promises to keep us secure (2 Timothy 2:13; cf. John 10:27-28; Romans 8:31-39; et al.).

This pericope should be a special encouragement for disciples undergoing persecution for their faith, including Mark’s original readers. It is easier to endure suffering for our faith when we view it in the context of God’s plan for the future. This perspective gives us hope.

Verse 14

"But" identifies the contrast between the false and true signs. The true sign was the appearance of the abomination of desolation (cf. Daniel 9:27; Daniel 11:31; Daniel 12:11; Matthew 24:15).

The abomination of desolation is something abominable associated with idolatry that would defile the temple resulting in its desertion by the godly. [Note: Cf. C. E. B. Cranfield, "St. Mark 13," Scottish Journal of Theology 6 (July 1953):298-99.] The ultimate abomination would be the Antichrist, the abomination in view primarily in Matthew and Mark’s accounts. The immediate abomination would be the polluting of the temple preceding its destruction in A.D. 70. A former abomination was the Syrian Antiochus Epiphanes who erected a pagan altar over the brazen altar and sacrificed a pig on it to Zeus in 167 B.C. (1 Maccabees 1:41-64; 1 Maccabees 6:7). [Note: Cf. Josephus, Antiquities of . . ., 12:5:4.]

The abomination would be standing where it did not belong. Mark described Jesus saying that the abomination (Gr. bdelygma, a neuter noun) would stand (estekota, a masculine participle) as a person who set himself up as God in the temple. The fact that Jesus used a masculine participle to modify a neuter noun suggests that the abomination is a man.

Mark avoided referring specifically to the temple sanctuary, though Matthew did refer to it (Matthew 24:15). Perhaps Mark did this to avoid planting the idea of polluting the temple in any Roman reader’s mind. His parenthetic instruction to the reader would have encouraged Roman Christians to seek the identity of the place in Daniel’s prophecy (Daniel 9:25-27).

When the Zealots occupied the temple in A.D. 67-68 and installed a usurper, Phanni, as high priest, Jewish Christians fled from Jerusalem to Pella, a transjordanian mountain town. [Note: Idem, The Wars . . ., 4:3:7-10; 4:6:3; Eusebius, 3:5:3.] This flight prefigured the one that will take place in the future (i.e., the Tribulation).

Verses 14-23

4. The coming crisis 13:14-23 (cf. Matthew 24:14-28)

Having clarified what the sign of the coming destruction would not be, Jesus now explained what it would be. Matthew and Mark both described the destruction preceding Jesus’ second coming. Luke recorded Jesus’ teaching about the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70 (Luke 21:20-24).

Verses 15-18

The point of these instructions is that the appearance of the abomination of desolation will require immediate flight from Jerusalem. The situation will be urgent.

Verse 19

This verse clarifies the time of the appearance of the abomination as in the Tribulation (Gr. thlipsis, Daniel 12:1; Jeremiah 30:7). Jesus looked beyond the destruction of Jerusalem to a much greater Tribulation. [Note: Cf. Taylor, p. 514.]

Verse 20

God will not shorten the Tribulation to a period less than the seven years He has already announced (Daniel 9:26-27). He has already chosen to shorten it to a period of seven years. [Note: See Renald E. Showers, Maranatha: Our Lord, Come! A Definitive Study of the Rapture of the Church, pp. 50-54.] If he did not limit the Tribulation to this relatively brief duration, no one would survive. God’s special love for believers led Him to shorten His judgment on the world then to only seven years.

Verses 21-23

Jesus repeated His warning about people who will claim to be the Messiah (cf. Mark 13:5-6) so His disciples would not believe them. "If possible" (Mark 13:22) does not imply that the elect will inevitably continue to believe in Jesus and follow Him faithfully. If that were so, Jesus’ repeated warnings would be meaningless. It means that the false Messiahs will do miracles with the intent of leading the elect into error if they, the false Messiahs, can (cf. 2 Timothy 3:1-15). In view of this possibility, Jesus’ disciples need to be discerning (Gr. blepete, Mark 13:23).

Verses 24-25

In contrast to the appearance of false Messiahs, the true Messiah will appear after the predicted Tribulation. [Note: Bruce, 1:431.] This is, of course, a reference to the Second Coming, not the Rapture. The Rapture terminates the church age, a period of time within the inter-advent age. The Olivet Discourse deals with the larger period, the inter-advent age, and does not refer to the church, though the church exists during most of the inter-advent age. The Book of Revelation gives further information about the celestial phenomena that will happen then (Revelation 6-18; cf. 2 Peter 3:10). However the Old Testament prophets also predicted these things (Isaiah 13:10; Isaiah 24:23; Isaiah 34:4; Ezekiel 32:7-8; Joel 2:10; Joel 2:30-31; Joel 3:15; Amos 8:9). If we take the wars, earthquakes, and famines of Mark 13:7-8 literally, and I think we should, we should probably understand these phenomena literally too.

Verses 24-27

5. The Second Coming of the Son of Man 13:24-27 (cf. Matthew 24:29-31; Luke 21:25-28)

These verses do not describe the destruction of Jerusalem but the Tribulation at the end of the present age and the Second Coming that will follow it. The Second Coming is the climax of the Olivet Discourse. It is also the climax of the Book of Revelation, especially chapters 6-19, that is an expanded revelation of the Olivet Discourse.

Verse 26

Jesus described His return by referring to Old Testament prophecies of it (Daniel 7:13; Deuteronomy 30:4; Zechariah 2:6). The disclosure and triumph of Jesus are major emphases (cf. Revelation 19:11-16). [Note: Wessel, p. 750.] Jesus will no longer appear primarily as the Suffering Servant but as the glorified Son of Man.

Verse 27

Evidently Jesus will bring all the elect together. This implies the resurrection of Old Testament saints (Daniel 12:2) and Tribulation saints who have died (Revelation 6:9-11). Probably Christians, saints of the church age who have gone to heaven at the Rapture or death, will return with Him (1 Thessalonians 4:17). Saints living on the earth when Jesus returns will also assemble to Him (cf. Matthew 25). Jesus pictured all believers converging to Him at His second coming whether alive or dead, on earth or in heaven. He will become the universal center of attention, and then He will begin reigning. Unbelievers will not experience resurrection until the end of Jesus’ millennial reign (Revelation 20:7-15).

Verses 28-29

The parable of the fig tree appears in all the synoptic versions of the Olivet Discourse. Jesus had previously used a fig tree to illustrate the generation of Israelites that failed to believe in Him at His first advent (Mark 11:14). Here He used it to illustrate the fact that perceptive people can anticipate coming events by the signs that precede those events. Persecution (Mark 13:9-13) culminating in the Tribulation (Mark 13:14-25) pointed to the commencement of Jesus’ kingdom (Mark 13:26-27; cf. Luke 21:31).

Verses 28-32

6. The time of Jesus’ return 13:28-32 (cf. Matthew 24:32-41; Luke 21:29-33)

Jesus began this discourse with exhortation (Mark 13:4-13), and He ended it the same way (Mark 13:28-37).

Verse 30

Jesus probably meant that the fulfillment of "all these things" (Mark 13:4 b) would begin in the generation of His present disciples, but complete fulfillment would not come until later. [Note: E.g., C. E. Stowe, "The Eschatology of Christ, With Special Reference to the Discourse in Matt. XXIV. and XXV.," Bibliotheca Sacra 7 (July 1850):471.] Another view is that by "generation" Jesus meant the entire Jewish race. [Note: E.g., Wiersbe, 1:158.] "All" those things began during that generation if one interprets "all those things" as the signs as a whole (Mark 13:9-25). The Greek word genetai translated "take place" (NASB) or "have happened" (NIV) means "have come into existence" and permits this interpretation. One could translate this Greek verb "have begun to come into existence."

Verse 31

"Heaven and earth" is a figure of speech (merism) for all creation (cf. Genesis 1:1). The universe as we know it will end one day (Revelation 21:1), but Jesus’ word will remain. Jesus was referring specifically to His predictions in this chapter, but His statement was general and includes all His words. By saying this about His Word Jesus was implying that He was God (cf. Psalms 102:25-27; Isaiah 40:6-8; Isaiah 51:6). The fulfillment of this prophecy is certain.

Verse 32

"That day" is the day of Jesus’ return contrasted with "those days" preceding it (Mark 13:17; Mark 13:19; Mark 13:24). Jesus was distinguishing knowing that an event was approaching and near at hand (Mark 13:28-29) from knowing the exact time of its arrival. God the Father alone knows the day and the hour of the Son’s return (cf. Acts 1:7). Jesus’ ignorance of this information was a result of His incarnation (Philippians 2:6-8). [Note: See Harold F. Carl, "Only the Father Knows: Historical and Evangelical Responses to Jesus’ Eschatological Ignorance in Mark 13:32," a paper presented at the Annual Meeting of the Evangelical Theological Society, Nov. 16, 2000, Nashville, Tenn.] Jesus may not have known this information when He made this statement, but He probably knows the time of His return now.

Verse 33

For the fourth time, Jesus urged His disciples to take heed (Gr. blepete, Mark 13:5; Mark 13:9; Mark 13:23). He underlined this warning by adding, "Be vigilant" (Gr. agrypneite). Watchfulness is necessary because we do not know the exact time of Jesus’ return.

In view of God’s revelations concerning the Rapture, the Tribulation, and the Second Coming, were Jesus’ exhortations to remain watchful unnecessarily urgent? Christians who know their Bibles are aware that many events will precede the Second Coming. Is it realistic or necessary to live as though Jesus’ return is imminent?

Jesus’ return was not less than seven years away from His departure from the earth because the Old Testament prophesied the Tribulation before the messianic kingdom (Daniel 9:24-27). Therefore the 12 disciples to whom Jesus gave this discourse could have been only a few years away from His return. They needed to be vigilant. That generation of disciples and all succeeding generations of disciples learned later that Jesus would return for His own at the Rapture before He comes at the Second Coming (1 Corinthians 15:51-58; 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18). Thus while His second coming is at least seven years away, His return at the Rapture will be sooner. Pretribulationists believe it could be at any moment. Therefore all that Jesus said about the importance of being vigilant anticipating His return is applicable to and relevant for us.

Verses 33-37

7. The concluding exhortation 13:33-37 (cf. Matthew 24:42; Luke 21:34-36)

Matthew recorded much more of what Jesus taught the disciples following His statement in Mark 13:32 than Mark or Luke did. They just included the essence of His exhortation to be vigilant.

Verses 34-36

Jesus told another parable about a doorkeeper. Mark is the only evangelist who recorded it. It is similar to the parable of the talents (Matthew 25:14-30) and the parable of the minas (Luke 19:12-27) though much shorter.

In this parable the doorkeeper is the focus of attention. A doorkeeper or porter was responsible to guard the entrance to his master’s house. Entrusted with his master’s goods this doorkeeper did not know when his master would return. However whenever the master returned the doorkeeper would have to be ready to admit him to a well-managed house. Evening, midnight, rooster crowing, and dawn were the names that the Romans gave the four watches of the night. [Note: Wessel, p. 753.] The porter had to remain watchful (Gr. gregore) at night, when the Light of the World was absent from His estate. The opposite of watchfulness is insensibility, lethargy, and inactivity, pictured here as sleep (cf. Romans 13:11; 1 Thessalonians 5:1-11). Likewise it is necessary for Jesus’ disciples to remain watchful (Gr. gregoreite, Mark 13:35).

"The element of surprise is ineradicable from the parousia expectation." [Note: G. R. Beasley-Murray, A Commentary on Mark Thirteen, p. 117.]

Verse 37

Jesus concluded this discourse as He began it with a final call to watchfulness (Gr. gregoreite, Mark 13:34-35). "You" may refer to the four disciples who asked Jesus the initial question (Mark 13:3-4), or it may refer to all the Twelve who sat before Him. "All" could refer to all the disciples present or to all disciples including those not present. In any case, the point is clear. What Jesus taught here is something every disciple of His needs to apply. We all need to be alert in view of the Lord’s return, like the doorkeeper in Jesus’ parable (Mark 13:34-36).

The previous parable of the fig tree (Mark 13:28-32) taught that disciples need to recognize the signs that the time of the Lord’s return is drawing near. This parable of the doorkeeper (Mark 13:33-37) clarified that they would not be able to tell exactly when He would return at His Second Coming. Even though Daniel’s prophecy specified the length of the Tribulation as seven years (Daniel 9:24-27), the exact day and hour of Christ’s return remains unknown (cf. Matthew 24:50).

The outstanding emphasis in Mark’s account of this discourse is clear. Disciples need to take heed (Gr. blepo, to be aware, to observe, to discern; Mark 13:5; Mark 13:9; Mark 13:23; Mark 13:33), to be vigilant (Gr. agrupneo, to be awake, to watch; Mark 13:33), and to be watchful (Gr. gregoreo, to be awake, attentive, vigilant, and circumspect; Mark 13:33; Mark 13:35; Mark 13:37).

Bibliographical Information
Constable, Thomas. DD. "Commentary on Mark 13". "Dr. Constable's Expository Notes". 2012.