In verses 1-23 Jesus predicts the destruction of the temple and describes the signs of the end of the age. The disciples ask the obvious question – when will this happen, and what will be the signs beforehand so that we can be prepared? In a parallel passage in Matt 24, the disciples ask more specifically regarding the sign of Jesus’ coming and the end of the age. It may be that the disciples considered these things closely related. In Jesus’ response, he indicates that the destruction of the temple will be one of the signs of the end times, along with natural disasters and political events such as wars. Another sign is the persecution of Christians as the gospel is preached to all nations. The destruction of Jerusalem and the desecration of the temple, which occurred at least in one form in AD 70 (see also Luke 21:20), is another significant sign not only because it was a period of unequaled distress, but because it represents a decisive end to the Jewish temple period. Jesus cleared the temple in Mark 11, foreshadowing the significance of his once-for-all sacrificial death for our sins replacing the role of the temple in mediating our relationship with God. And now, the physical temple itself is removed by Roman powers. Another significant sign of the end times that brackets Jesus’ discourse is that of false prophets (5, 22). Perhaps it’s not actually that surprising that within the visible church, those looking for to Christ’ return might be susceptible to believing in false prophets. Significantly, all the signs of the end times have occurred, and had already occurred, at least once, within the generation after Jesus.
Verses 24-17 describe the end of the end times, when Jesus returns. These verses concern Christ’s future public visible return at end of human history. From the earthly physical birth pains (7-9) to the heavenly reality of the son of Man coming in clouds with great power and glory. There will be a sudden gathering of the elect (cf. Luke 21:28 which adds a distinctly uplifting feel as the elect lift their heads because redemption is drawing near).
Verses 28-37 form the conclusion and summary. The main application that Jesus appears to want to impart to the disciples is to watch out, be alert, and be ready for not only the end times, but the end itself. Whilst the timing of these things is unknown, the signs have already all happened (the twigs are tender), the Son of Man will return and what Jesus has spoken of will surely come to pass (v31). Matt 24-25 graphically fleshes out the tragic consequences for not being ready (Matt 24:51, 25:30, 25:46). I’m reminded of Jesus words in Rev 22 where four times he says that he is coming soon – clearly this is an important truth meant to guide how we live now. The idea of being alert and keeping watch is quite active. That is, we are to keep working at our assigned tasks (v34), which is preaching and living out the gospel.
Finally, it is helpful to consider the overall purpose of Mark in including this discourse of Jesus. Whether Mark wrote before or after the siege of Jerusalem took place, the world for Jewish Christians was not a pleasant place to be. This passage does not incite idle speculation about the end times. Instead, it teaches the plain reality of the end times experience and encourages the believer to stand firm till the end, watching out and living expectantly of Christ’s return.
- David Wenham and Steve Walton, Exploring the New Testament: The Gospels and Acts. Vol. 1. Second Edition. (London: Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, 2011), 118–120 and 173
- Craig L Blomberg, Jesus and the Gospels: An Introduction and Survey. 2nd Edition. (Nashville, TN: B&H Academic, 2009), 375–381
- Larry W. Hurtado, Mark, NIBC 2. (Peabody: Hendrickson, 2989), 211-220Garland, David E. Mark. The NIV Application Commentary. (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House), 1996.