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Mark 13 & the Fall of Jerusalem
Mark 13 is rife with material that forms part of the popular Christian imagination about “the end times.” By “the end times,” of course, I mean, the vision of the future era that will precede the coming of Jesus from heaven to earth.
But the passage is set up so that readers will view it as a prophetic warning about being a follower of Jesus in the face of the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple as occurred in AD 70.
Mark 13:1 reads, “As Jesus left the temple one of his disciples said to him, “Teacher look! What awesome stones and buildings.” Jesus replies to this awe-struck observation of the temple by saying that not one stone will be left on another.
This is not the first time Jesus has had something to say (or do) about the temple. The temple-clearing incident in ch. 11 is sandwiched within the story of Jesus’ cursing the fig tree. The point? Jesus is enacting judgment. The fruitless temple will go the way of the fruitless temple: it will be destroyed.
When the religious leaders subsequently approach Jesus and ask by what authority he does such things, he shrugs off their question–but then tells the parable of the vineyard, which speaks of God visiting destruction on those left in charge of the vineyard and then handing it over to others.
Moving into a series of debates, Mark 12 culminates with Jesus speaking words of judgment on the religious leadership of Israel–including the fact that they devour widows houses. This devouring is made manifest in the final story of ch. 12, in which a widow puts her whole life in the temple coffers.
So when Jesus speaks a word of judgment on the temple in ch. 13, it is not out of the blue, but part of the prophetic ministry he enacts throughout his time in Jerusalem. The leadership of Israel is lacking; they are about to reject the son of God who was sent to bring near the reign of God, and the result will be judgment on the leadership and concomitant destruction of the temple and city.
The disciples point to the great Temple, Jesus says not one stone will be left on another. This is how ch. 13 begins. Then, from the Mount of Olives, the disciples ask, “When will these things happen, and what what sign will show that all things are at an end?”