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Jesus Explains Signs of the End Times: Tribulation, False Prophets (Mark 13:5-8)

Analysis and Commentary

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Jesus Teaches

Jesus Teaches

    5 And Jesus answering them began to say, Take heed lest any man deceive you: 6 For many shall come in my name, saying, I am Christ; and shall deceive many. 7 And when ye shall hear of wars and rumours of wars, be ye not troubled: for such things must needs be; but the end shall not be yet. 8 For nation shall rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom: and there shall be earthquakes in divers places, and there shall be famines and troubles: these are the beginnings of sorrows.

Jesus on Wars and Rumors of Wars

This, the first section of Jesus’ apocalyptic prediction, likely consists of events that were ongoing issues for Mark’s community: deception, false prophets, persecution, betrayals, and death. The words Mark attributes to Jesus would have served to reassure listeners that however awful these experiences, Jesus knew all about them and they were necessary for the fulfillment of God’s will.

Mark’s audience of primarily Hellenized Jews outside of Palestine was likely faced with any number of “deceivers” who used the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem as a reason to claim that the End of the World had come. For traditionalist Jews of the time, it certainly must have seemed that way: the center of their religious rites had been torn down and the Jewish population expelled from their capital city.

It’s not clear, however, what exactly these deceivers might be claiming. The King James translation of “I am Christ” is not really accurate. The original Greek literally means “I am” and might be rendered “I am he.” Because Jesus is speaking, does this really mean that they are claiming to be Jesus come again? That would be odd, given that the prediction of Jesus’ return does not appear until the end of this chapter. Are they simply claiming some sort of semi-divine status in using the same phrasing used by God to describe himself?

In contrast to this, Jesus advises calm and caution: as bad as things may seem, none of it actually constitutes the apocalypse. Instead, it is all simply the beginning of the sorrows — things will get far, far worse before the end arrives. Readers should note the return of apocalyptic determinism here: war, rumors of war, earthquakes, and more all need to happen. There will be tremendous death and destruction, all of which is planned out and desired by God.

Many scholars have argued that the “prediction” of war reflects the actual civil unrest occurring throughout the Roman empire at the end of the reign of emperor Nero, in 68 and 69 CE. Although this may be true, it must also be remembered that predictions of war and natural disasters were standard in apocalyptic literature — it would have been remarkable had no mention of them been made.

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