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Jesus Predicts the Destruction of the Temple (Mark 13: 1-4)

Analysis and Commentary


Jesus Teaches his Apostles

Jesus Teaches his Apostles

    1 And as he went out of the temple, one of his disciples saith unto him, Master, see what manner of stones and what buildings are here! 2 And Jesus answering said unto him, Seest thou these great buildings? there shall not be left one stone upon another, that shall not be thrown down.
    3 And as he sat upon the mount of Olives over against the temple, Peter and James and John and Andrew asked him privately, 4 Tell us, when shall these things be? and what shall be the sign when all these things shall be fulfilled?

Jesus and the End Times

Jesus’ prediction of the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem is one of the most important features in Mark’s gospel. Scholars have been sharply divided on how to deal with it: was it a genuine prediction, demonstrating Jesus’ power, or is it evidence that Mark was written after the Temple was destroyed in 70 CE?

Predictions about the Temple’s destruction were not original or unique to Jesus. Earlier prophets had said much the same thing as part of their standard litany of how God would punish the corruption of Israel, for example:

    “Therefore shall Zion for your sake be plowed as a field, and Jerusalem shall become heaps, and the mountain of the house as the high places of the forest.” (Micah 3:12)

Jesus, however, goes further by describing how all the world will be put in flames as part of an apocalyptic battle between good and evil. The site for this discourse, the Mount of Olives, is picked for its association with apocalyptic prophets in Jewish tradition.

It’s interesting that this conversation occurs with just four of his disciples: Peter, James, John, and Andrew. Why were they picked out over all the others, especially after Jesus’ extensive admonitions that they not try to think of themselves as better than the others?

It’s also worth wondering whom, exactly, Jesus is supposed to be speaking to here: these four disciples, all of his disciples, or all Christians generally? The context might suggest that he is only addressing these four disciples, but it is more likely that Mark intends his audience to think of themselves as being addressed, including the warnings about many trying to deceive them.

We must always keep Mark’s audience and community in mind when reading Jesus’ predictions of the future. For them, the destruction of the Temple was already history, thus ensuring that the rest of the predictions would be heeded on the assumption that they would prove to be just as accurate. Because it was addressed to them and their needs, a close reading of this chapter can help reveal what the community was going through.

Mark’s community was likely a persecuted one, not respected by either Gentiles or Jews, and as such it would have been difficult to keep members from falling away simply because of the social pressures involved. Jesus’ apocalyptic tale reassured them that they would be vindicated in the end: God would judge their oppressors, and they themselves would be rewarded precisely because they managed to hold together despite the violence and persecution.

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