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Bible Commentaries

Benson's Commentary of the Old and New Testaments

Mark 13

A.M. 4037. A.D. 33.

In this chapter, which coincides with Matthew 24:0 . and Luke 21:0 ., we have the substance of the prophetical discourse which our Lord delivered, on quitting the temple for the last time, concerning the destruction of Jerusalem, and the unparalleled calamities to be brought on the Jews for crucifying their Messiah, and rejecting his gospel. Here is,

(1,) The occasion of his predictions, viz., his disciples admiring the buildings of the temple, and their inquiry concerning the time of the desolation of them, Mark 13:1-4 .

(2,) The predictions themselves: 1. Of the rise of deceivers, Mark 13:5 , Mark 13:6 , Mar 13:21-23: 2. Of the wars of the nations, Mar 13:7-8: 3. Of the persecution of Christ’s followers, Mar 13:9-13: 4. Of the destruction of Jerusalem, Mar 13:14-20: 5. Of the dissolution of the Jewish state, civil and ecclesiastical, emblematical of the end of the world, Mark 13:24-27 .

(3,) Some general intimations concerning the time of these calamities, Mark 13:28-32 .

(4,) Some practical inferences from the whole, Mark 13:33-37 .

Verses 1-2

Mark 13:1-2. See what manner of stones, &c. Our Lord, in the conclusion of his lamentation over Jerusalem, (Matthew 23:38-39,) had declared that the temple should never be favoured with his presence any more; a declaration which, doubtless, appeared very strange to the disciples, and affected them much. For which reason they stopped him as he was going away, and desired him to see what a fine, sumptuous building the temple was: insinuating, probably, that they were surprised to hear him talk of leaving it desolate, for that so rich and glorious a fabric ought not to be deserted rashly. Jesus said, There shall not be left one stone upon another This superb building, which you behold, adorned with huge stones of great beauty, shall be razed to the very foundation. It seemed exceedingly improbable that any thing like this should happen in that age, considering the peace of the Jews with the Romans, and the strength of their citadel, which forced Titus himself to acknowledge that it was the singular hand of God which compelled them to relinquish fortifications which no human power could have conquered. Bishop Chandler justly observes, “That no impostor would have foretold an event so unlikely and so disagreeable.” Defence of Christianity, pp. 472, 473. Add to this, that it was not usual with the Romans to destroy either the cities or the temples of the countries they conquered. And with regard to this temple, Josephus tells us, ( Bell., Mark 7:9,) that Titus having held a council of his generals, who were for burning the temple, declared that he would by all means save that edifice as an ornament to the empire. But God had determined and declared that it should be destroyed. Accordingly, the soldiers burned it without paying any regard to Titus’s orders. See notes on Matthew 24:42.

Verses 3-8

Mark 13:3-8. As he sat upon the mount of Olives, over against the temple As this mountain stood eastward from the city, it must have been the eastern wall of the temple, fronting that mountain, which the disciples desired their Master to look at, and which, being built from the bottom of the valley to a prodigious height with stones of incredible bulk, firmly compacted together, made a very grand appearance at a distance. (Josephus Antiq., Mark 15:14; Bell., Mark 6:6.) And in Mr. Mede’s opinion, this eastern wall was the only part of Solomon’s structure that remained after the Chaldeans burned the temple. Hence the portico, built on the top of it, obtained the name of Solomon’s porch, or portico, John 10:23. Peter, James, &c., asked him privately When Jesus was come to the mount of Olives, and had taken a seat on some eminence, from whence the temple and a part of the city could be seen, these disciples, while the rest were at a distance on the road, or absent on some occasion or other, drew near to him and inquired privately, when these things should be, and what should be the sign when they should be fulfilled? See notes on Matthew 24:3-8. Many shall come in my name, &c. Christian writers have always, with great reason, represented Josephus’s History of the Jewish War as the best commentary on this chapter; and many have justly remarked it, as a wonderful instance of the care of Providence for the Christian Church, that he, an eye-witness, and in these things of so great credit, should (especially in such an extraordinary manner) be preserved, to transmit to us a collection of important facts, which so exactly illustrate this noble prophecy in almost every circumstance. Compare Bell., Mark 3:8, Revelation 14:0. There shall be famines and troubles Matthew says, famines and pestilences. Concerning these Josephus writes thus: ( Bell., Mark 7:17:) “Being assembled together from all parts to the feast of unleavened bread, presently and on a sudden they were environed with war. And first of all a plague fell among them, by reason of the straitness of the place, and immediately after a famine worse than it.” Besides, in the progress of the siege, the number of the dead, and the stench arising from their unburied carcasses, must have infected the air, and occasioned pestilence. For Josephus tells us, ( Bell., 6. fine,) that there were no fewer than six hundred thousand dead bodies carried out of the city, and suffered to lie unburied. All these are the beginning of sorrows Greek, ωδινων . The expression properly signifies the pains of child-bearing, which at the beginning are but light in comparison of what they become afterward. Therefore our Lord’s meaning was, that the evils which he mentioned were but small in comparison of those which were yet to fall upon the nation.

Verse 9

Mark 13:9. Take heed to yourselves Walk circumspectly, and arm yourselves both with patience and fortitude, that you may be able to perform your duty amid all the opposition and persecution which you shall meet with. For they shall deliver you up to councils, &c. See note on Matthew 10:17; Matthew 24:9. And in the synagogues ye shall be beaten “It is certain,” says Whitby, “both from Scripture and the Jewish writers, that whipping and beating were punishments used in the synagogues of the Jews. Thus Paul says, he punished the Christians oft in every synagogue, Acts 26:11; and that he did beat in the synagogue those that believed, Acts 22:19: and that it was usual to whip both their wise men and their disciples, when they had acted perversely, in their synagogues, is fully proved by Campegius Vitringa de Synag. Ver.” And ye shall be brought before rulers and kings Thus Peter and John were called before the sanhedrim; James and Peter before Herod; and Paul before Nero the emperor, as well as before the Roman governors, Gallio, Felix, and Festus; and some were beaten, as Peter and John, (Acts 5:40,) Paul and Silas. For a testimony against them The persecutions which you shall suffer shall become a glorious proof, both of your innocence, and of their guilt in rejecting the gospel. See note on Matthew 10:18.

Verse 10

Mark 13:10. The gospel must first be published among all nations “The fulfilment of this part of the prophecy we learn chiefly from the writings of the New Testament, which inform us that the gospel was preached by Paul in Arabia, and through the vast tract from Jerusalem to Iconium in Lycaonia, and in Galatia, and through all Asia Minor, and in Greece, and round about to Illyricum, and in Crete and Italy, probably also in Spain and Gaul. Besides, the gospel reached much farther than this apostle carried it; for we find him writing to Christians who had never seen his face. Also, we have still remaining Peter’s epistles to the converted Jews in Pontus, Asia, Cappadocia, and Bythynia. Probably the gospel was preached in these and many other countries by the Jews who sojourned there, and who, having come to Jerusalem to the passover, were converted on the day of pentecost. The Ethiopian eunuch, converted by Philip, would carry it likewise into his country. But whatever way it happened, the fact is certain, that in most of these countries churches were planted within thirty years after Christ’s death, or about ten years before the destruction of Jerusalem. Hence we find the apostle telling the Romans, (Romans 10:18,) that the sound of the gospel had gone forth into all the world, and that the faith of the Christians at Rome was spoken of throughout the world, chapter Mark 1:8. And hence, too, he tells the Colossians 1:23, that the truth of the gospel was come to all the world, and was preached to every creature. And when Mark wrote his gospel the apostles had gone forth, and preached everywhere, Mark 16:20. The preaching of the gospel, through the whole world, by twelve illiterate fishermen, and the destruction of Jerusalem, were events extremely improbable, and therefore the prediction and accomplishment of them deserve to be particularly taken notice of; and the rather, because they were both absolutely necessary for bringing about the conversion of the world to Christianity, and are mentioned in this prophecy as such.” Macknight.

Verse 11

Mark 13:11. Take no thought what ye shall speak Be not solicitous beforehand what ye shall say in your defence, to vindicate yourselves and your religion from the unrighteous charges and aspersions of your enemies. But whatsoever shall be given you And strongly suggested to your minds; in that hour, that speak ye Boldly and resolutely; for it is not you that speak, but the Holy Ghost Who shall assuredly direct, and even dictate to you what you shall say at such times. For, as it is really my cause in which you are engaged, therefore, though you are ignorant and unlearned men, and so may be apprehensive you shall be confounded in the presence of persons who are, in rank and education, so much your superiors; yet depend upon it, I will give you such wisdom and eloquence, that your persecutors shall be even astonished at the freedom and propriety with which you shall express yourselves, according to the various occasions which arise. See notes on Matthew 10:19; Luke 21:14-18.

Verses 12-13

Mark 13:12-13. The brother shall betray the brother to death The unbelieving Jews and heathen shall discover, betray, and deliver to be imprisoned, tortured, and put to death, their believing relatives, even their brethren, fathers, or children. With respect to the Jews in particular, their known zeal and cruelty render it abundantly credible that, in the persecution of the Christians, the bigots to the law of Moses, overlooking the ties of nature, would be instrumental in putting their own relations to death, who followed the standard of Christ. And ye shall be hated of all men for my name’s sake That the disciples of Christ were hated of all men in the first ages of Christianity, is well known. Their opposition to idolatry was the cause of the ill-will which the heathen bore toward them; their preaching that the law of Moses was abrogated, enraged the Jews: and in this temper both Jews and heathen continued during the first three centuries, till Constantine, declaring himself a Christian, put an end to the cruelties that had been so long exercised upon the disciples of Christ. “That not only the apostles,” says Dr. Doddridge, “but all the primitive Christians, were in general more hated and persecuted than any other religious sect of men, is most notorious to all who are at all acquainted with ecclesiastical history: a fact which might seem unaccountable, when we consider how inoffensive and benevolent their temper and conduct was, and how friendly an aspect their tenets had on the security of any government under which they lived. The true reason of this opposition was, that while the different pagan religions, like the confederated demons honoured by them, sociably agreed with each other, the gospel taught Christians, not only, like Jews, to bear their testimony to the falsehood of them all; but also with the most fervent zeal to urge the renunciation of them, as a point of absolute necessity, requiring all men, on the most tremendous penalties, to believe on Christ, and in all things to submit themselves to his authority: a demand which bore so hard, especially on the pride and licentiousness of their princes, and the secular interests of their priests, that it is no wonder they raised so violent a storm against it; which, considering the character and prejudices of the populace, it must be very easy to do.” But he that shall endure unto the end, the same shall be saved He who is neither made to apostatize by the persecutions I have described, nor led astray by the seduction of unbelieving Jews or false Christians, shall escape out of the destruction that is about to fall on this land; and, persevering in faith and piety to the end of his life, shall be saved eternally.

Verses 14-20

Mark 13:14-20. When ye shall see the abomination, &c. Our Lord, having foretold both the more remote and more immediate signs of the end of the Jewish economy, proceeds to describe the siege and destruction of Jerusalem. The abomination which caused the desolation, whereof Daniel prophesied, (Daniel 9:27,) signifies the Roman armies, with their standards, whereon the images of their idols were painted; which armies were an abomination to the Jews, on account of their idolatry, and caused desolation wherever they came. Standing where it ought not That is, in the territory of Jerusalem, generally termed holy ground. Let him that readeth understand Let him who readeth Daniel’s prophecy (for these seem to be the words of our Lord, and not of the evangelist) understand, that the end of the city and sanctuary, with the ceasing of the sacrifice and oblation there predicted, is come. Then let them, that be in Judea flee to the mountains By Judea, here, we are to understand all the southern parts of Palestine, both the plain and the hill-countries, which, at this time, went by the name of Judea. By the mountains, we are to understand the countries on the east side of Jordan, especially those which, in the time of the war, were under the government of the younger Agrippa, to whom Claudius gave Batanea and Trachonitis, the tetrarchy of Philip, and Abilene, the tetrarchy of Lysanias. All these countries remaining in their obedience to the Romans, the people who fled into them were safe. Besides, being mountainous countries, they seem to have been the very place of refuge pointed out to the Christians of those times by their Master. But see this whole paragraph explained at large in the notes on Matthew 24:15-22. Except the Lord had shortened those days The destruction of the nation shall go on so fast in those days of vengeance, that, unless God had made them fewer in number than the sins of the nation deserved, not one Jew should remain alive. The truth is, so fierce and so obstinate were the quarrels which, during the siege, raged among the Jews, both within the walls of Jerusalem and abroad in the country, that the whole land became a scene of desolation and bloodshed; and had the siege continued much longer, the whole nation had been destroyed, according to what our Lord here declares. But for the elect’s sake, whom he hath chosen That is, hath taken out of, or separated from, the world, through sanctification of the Spirit and belief of the truth; he hath shortened the days The elect, here, are such of the Jews as were already converted, or should be converted, to the faith of Christ; and particularly the Jews that should be brought in with the fulness of the Gentiles, as the apostle speaks. The elect are those Gentiles also who should be convinced and converted, as by all the other proofs of Christianity, so more especially by the argument arising from the preservation of the Jews. The meaning, therefore, is, that for the sake of those who should be converted to Christianity, and made true disciples of Christ in that and after ages, God had determined that the days of vengeance should be fewer in number than the iniquity of the nation deserved.

Verses 21-23

Mark 13:21-23. If any shall say to you, Lo, here is Christ See on Matthew 24:23-28. For there shall arise false Christs Grotius, and some others, think our Lord had Barchochebas in view here, because he expressly called himself Messiah, and pretended to work great miracles. But as the passage describes what was to happen about the time of the destruction of Jerusalem, it cannot be applied to Barchochebas, who arose in the reign of Adrian, about sixty years after. Josephus ( Antiq., 20:6) tells us, that under the government of Felix, “the whole country was full of magicians who deceived the people.” In the same chapter, he says, “The magicians and deceivers persuaded the common people to follow them into the wilderness, promising to show them evident signs and miracles.” It seems these impostors pretended that the miracles they were going to perform, were those which God had predicted the Messiah would perform; perhaps they assumed the title directly, though Josephus, after the destruction of his nation, was ashamed to make any mention of the Messiah at all, or of the prophecies relating to him. After the example of Moses, these false Christs appealed to the miracles which they promised to perform, in proof of their being sent to deliver the nation from slavery. This appears evidently from a passage of his Jewish War, (ii. 12,) where, speaking of the affairs under Felix, he says, “Impostors and deceivers, under pretence of inspiration, attempting innovations and changes, made the common people mad, and led them into the wilderness, promising that God would there show them, σημεια ελευθεριας , signs of liberty; ” that is, miracles in proof that they should be delivered from the Roman yoke, and obtain their liberty. This was the benefit the nation expected from the Messiah; and those deceivers who promised it to them were readily believed: for the common people daily expected that the Messiah would put them in possession of universal empire. Every impostor, therefore, who assumed that character, and promised them deliverance, was quickly followed and obeyed. Hence the propriety of Josephus’s observation. The same historian, Antiq., 20:6, mentions an Egyptian Jew, calling himself a prophet, who persuaded the people to go with him to the mount of Olives, promising to show them from that place the walls of Jerusalem falling down, and giving them an entrance into the city. He speaks of this deceiver likewise, Bell. Jud., 2:12, as “gathering together thirty thousand men on the mount of Olives, proposing to go thence and take Jerusalem by force, to drive out the Roman garrison, and rule over the people.” Here this impostor plainly acted the Messiah. But Felix, getting notice of his designs, came out and routed him. And shall show signs and wonders to seduce, if possible, even the elect This relates especially to those impostors who appeared during the time of the siege, of which see Josephus, Bell. Jud., 6:5; and Eusebius, Hist. Ecclesiastes, 4:6. As for the objection which is urged from this text against admitting miracles as a proof of doctrines, two things may be here transiently observed: “1st, That it cannot certainly be proved that the works here referred to were true miracles: they might be like the lying powers, signs, and wonders, mentioned 2 Thessalonians 2:9. Or, 2d, That if we should, for argument’s sake, grant them to be real miracles, yet they are supposed to be wrought at a time when there were in the Christian Church teachers endued with superior miraculous powers. But it can never be inferred from such a supposition in that case, that God will suffer miracles to be wrought in proof of falsehood, when there are none of his servants to perform greater miracles on the side of truth. And when such superior miracles on the side of truth do exist, the opposite miracles, at most, can only prove that some invisible beings of great power, who are the abetters of falsehood, are strongly engaged to support the contrary doctrine; the consideration of which must excite all wise and good men to receive a truth so opposed with greater readiness, and to endeavour to promote it with greater zeal; as they may be sure the excellence and importance of it is proportionable to the solicitude of these malignant spirits to prevent its progress.” Doddridge. But take ye heed Be cautiously upon your guard against so dangerous an imposition: Behold, I have foretold you all these things That, comparing the event with the prediction, your faith may be established by those very circumstances which, in another view, might have a tendency to shake it.

Verses 24-31

Mark 13:24-31. But in those days Of vengeance; after that tribulation Attending the siege and taking of Jerusalem; the sun shall be darkened, &c. Our Lord having, in the preceding part of his discourse, given his disciples a particular account of the various circumstances which should precede and accompany the destruction of Jerusalem, proceeds now to describe the dissolution of the Jewish polity, and the abolition of the Mosiac economy, in all the pomp of language and imagery made use of by the ancient prophets, when they foretold the overthrow of cities and states. The expressions are highly figurative, and signify the passing away of all the glory, excellence, and prosperity of the nation: and the introduction of universal sadness, misery, and confusion; that the Jewish polity, both civil and religious, should be destroyed; that the Jews should be no more a people, united under a form of government administered by themselves, and possessing their own country. See notes on Matthew 24:29-35.

Verse 32

Mark 13:32. But of that day and hour knoweth no man See note on Matthew 24:36. Neither the Son, but the Father It must be observed here, that “the words ουδε ο υιος , neither the Son, have been omitted in some copies of Mark, as they are inserted in some copies of Matthew: but there is no sufficient authority for the omission in Mark, any more than for the insertion in Matthew. Erasmus, and some of the moderns, are of opinion, that the words were omitted in the text of Matthew, lest they should afford a handle to the Arians, for proving the Son to be inferior to the Father: but it was to little purpose to erase them out of Matthew, and to leave them standing in Mark. On the contrary, St. Ambrose, and some of the ancients, assert that they were inserted in the text of Mark by the Arians: but there is as little foundation or pretence for this assertion, as there is for the other. It is much more probable that they were omitted in some copies of Mark by some indiscreet orthodox, who thought them to bear too hard upon our Saviour’s dignity: for all the most ancient copies and translations extant retain them: the most ancient fathers quote them, and comment upon them. Admit the words, therefore, as the genuine words of Mark, we must, and we may, without any prejudice to our Saviour’s divinity. For Christ may be considered in two respects, in his human and divine nature; and what is said with regard only to the former, doth not at all affect the latter. As he was the great teacher and revealer of his Father’s will, he might know more than the angels, and yet he might not know all things. It is said in Luke 2:52, that Jesus increased in wisdom and stature, and in favour with God and man. He increased in wisdom, and consequently in his human nature he was not omniscient. In his human nature, he was the son of David; in his divine nature, he was the Lord of David. In his human nature, he was upon earth; in his divine nature, he was in heaven, John 3:13, even while upon earth. In like manner it may be said, that though as God he might know all things, yet he might be ignorant of some things as man. And of this particular the Messiah might be ignorant, because it was no part of his office or commission to reveal it. It is not for you to know the times or the seasons, which the Father hath put in his own power, as our Saviour said, Acts 1:7, when a like question was proposed to him. It might be proper for the disciples, and for the Jews too, by their means, to know the signs and circumstances of our Saviour’s coming, and the destruction of Jerusalem; but upon many accounts it might be unfit for them both to know the precise time.” Bishop Newton. But Dr. Macknight thinks the proper translation of the passage affords a better solution of the difficulty. “The word οιδεν here,” says he, “seems to have the force of the Hebrew conjugation hiphil, which, in verbs denoting action, makes that action, whatever it is, pass to another. Wherefore, ειδεω , which properly signifies, I know, used in the sense of the conjugation hiphil, signifies, I make another to know, I declare. The word has this meaning without dispute, 1 Corinthians 2:2, I determined ( ειδεναι ) to know nothing among you but Jesus Christ and him crucified; that is, I determined to make known, to preach nothing among you, but Jesus Christ. So likewise in the text, But of that day and that hour none maketh you to know, none hath power to make you know it; (just as the phrase, Matthew 20:23, is not mine to give, signifies, is not in my power to give;) no, not the angels, neither the Son, but the Father. Neither man nor angel, nor even the Son himself, can reveal the day and hour of the destruction of Jerusalem to you; because the Father hath determined that it should not be revealed. The divine wisdom saw fit to conceal from the apostles, and the other disciples of Jesus, the precise period of the destruction of Jerusalem, in order that they might be laid under a necessity of watching continually. And this vigilance was especially proper at that time, because the success of the gospel depended, in a great measure, upon the activity and exemplary lives of those who first professed and published it.” Most commentators, however, prefer the former interpretation. As God, who by his Son revealed to the apostles and first disciples of Jesus the destruction of Jerusalem and the Jewish state, and marked a variety of particulars which were to precede or accompany it, yet did not acquaint them with the day and hour when it should actually take place; so while he has warned us of the certainty of death and a future judgment, and discovered to us many circumstances which will attend, precede, or follow these solemn, and, to us, infinitely interesting events, he has seen fit to conceal from us the exact time when they shall happen, that we may be always expecting and preparing for them. And therefore the subsequent exhortation as much concerns every one of us, as it could possibly concern those to whom it was first given.

Verses 33-37

Mark 13:33-37. Take ye heed Of every thing that would unfit you for your Master’s coming, that might lull you into a fatal security, and render you negligent and slothful: watch and pray Let your minds be always awake to a sense of your danger, and be on your guard against it: watch for the coming of your Lord, that it may not surprise you, and pray for that grace which is necessary to qualify you for it, by enabling you to fulfil his will in all things. For ye know not when the time is And ought to be ready every day for that which may come any day. This he illustrates in the close by a parable. The Son of man is as a man taking a far journey, &c. Being about to leave this world and go to the Father; who left his house, and gave authority to his servants, &c. Gave authority to some that were to be overseers, and work to others that were to be labourers; and commanded the porter to watch To be ready to open to him at his return; and in the mean time to take care to whom he should open his gates, not to idle vagrants, thieves, and robbers, but only to his master’s friends and servants. Thus our Lord Jesus, when he ascended on high, left something to all his servants to do, expecting they should all serve his cause in his absence, and be ready to receive him at his return. All are appointed to work, and some are authorized to rule. See notes on Matthew 24:42-51. Watch ye therefore The advice is repeated and pressed upon them, because of its unspeakable importance, as it is also upon us. For ye know not when the master of the house cometh The builder, head, and ruler of his house, the church; the Son, presiding over his own house, or family, Hebrews 3:6: Ye know not when he will come to take account of his servants, and of their work, and of the improvement they have made; at even or at midnight, &c. Οψε , evening, answers to the first watch of the night, which began at sun-setting and ended at nine: μεσονυκτιον , or midnight, answers to the second watch, which ended at twelve: αλεκτοροφωνια , or the cock-crowing, answers to the third watch, which ended at three in the morning: πρωι , or the morning, answers to the fourth watch, which ended at six. As if he had said, Early and late, hold yourselves in a prepared state; lest, coming suddenly, he find you sleeping In a state of lukewarmness and sloth. Observe, reader! 1st, This is applicable to his coming to each of us in particular at death, as well as to his coming to us all in general at the final judgment. Our present life is a night, a dark night, compared with the other life; we know not in which watch of the night our Master will come; whether in the days of youth, or middle age, or old age; but as soon as we are born, we begin to die; and therefore, as soon as we are capable of expecting any thing, we must expect death. 2d, Our great care must be that, whenever our Lord comes, he do not find us sleeping secure in ourselves, off our guard, indulging ourselves in ease and sloth, mindless of our work and duty, and thoughtless of our Lord’s coming; ready to say, He will not come, and so being unprepared to meet him. 3d, His coming will indeed be a sudden coming; it will be a great surprise and terror to those that are careless and asleep: it will come upon them as a thief in the night. It is therefore, 4th, the indispensable duty of all Christ’s disciples to watch, to be awake, and keep awake. What I say unto you twelve, I say unto all My disciples and followers; what I say to you of this generation, I say to all that shall believe in me through your word: Watch Expect my second coming, and prepare for it, that you may be found in peace, without spot and blameless.

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Bibliographical Information
Benson, Joseph. "Commentary on Mark 13". Benson's Commentary. 1857.