A Preview of Coming Attractions

And as he sat on the Mount of Olives opposite the temple, Peter and James and John and Andrew asked him privately, “Tell us, when will these things be, and what will be the sign when all these things are about to be accomplished?” And Jesus began to say to them, “See that no one leads you astray. Many will come in my name, saying, ‘I am he!’ and they will lead many astray. And when you hear of wars and rumors of wars, do not be alarmed. This must take place, but the end is not yet. For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be earthquakes in various places; there will be famines. These are but the beginning of the birth pains.

“But be on your guard. For they will deliver you over to councils, and you will be beaten in synagogues, and you will stand before governors and kings for my sake, to bear witness before them. 10 And the gospel must first be proclaimed to all nations. 11 And when they bring you to trial and deliver you over, do not be anxious beforehand what you are to say, but say whatever is given you in that hour, for it is not you who speak, but the Holy Spirit. 12 And brother will deliver brother over to death, and the father his child, and children will rise against parents and have them put to death. 13 And you will be hated by all for my name’s sake. But the one who endures to the end will be saved.” Mark 13:3-13 ESV

After delivering the shocking news that the beautiful temple would one day be destroyed, Jesus led His disciples out of the city of Jerusalem and up the Mount of Olives. This location, just across the Kidron Valley, provided an elevated vantage point from which the view the temple and the entire city of Jerusalem. From this secluded spot, Jesus continued to teach His disciples and prepare them for the fateful days that lie ahead. His address to these men has come to be known as the Olivet Discourse.

As usual, the disciples were wrestling with the stunning pronouncement by Jesus that the sacred house of God was going to be destroyed. This information would have been unfathomable to the disciples, and it would have caused them to consider the last time the temple of God had been destroyed. It had take place more than six centuries earlier, when the Babylonians had conquered Jerusalem, leaving a wake of death and destruction in their wake. In the process, they destroyed the majestic temple that Solomon had constructed. The city and its once-magnificent temple had sat abandoned for 70 years until God orchestrated the return of a remnant of the people from their exile in Babylonian. This ragtag group of former slaves, under the leadership of Nehemiah, were able to rebuild and restore the temple and the city. But it would be more than five centuries later before Herod the Great orchestrated a massive remodeling project that would greatly enhance and expand the temple.

As the disciples looked back across the Kidron Valley, they could see the facade of this beautiful structure gleaming in the afternoon sun. This sight, coupled with Jesus’ words, led four of the disciples to approach Him for more information. James, John, Peter, and Andrew wanted to know more, so these two sets of brothers asked Jesus for an explanation.

“Tell us, when will these things be, and what will be the sign when all these things are about to be accomplished?” – Mark 13:4 ESV

Their questions reveal that they were focused on the destruction of the temple. They wanted to know when this horrific act of judgment would take place and if there would be a warning sign. Basically, they were wanting to know if it was going to happen soon and if they would have ample warning so they could be out of the city when it took place. But their full attention appears to be on the city and the temple. Despite all of Jesus’ earlier announcements regarding His pending death in Jerusalem, these men are more concerned about the possible destruction of the temple.

In his gospel account, John records another Passover, three years earlier, when Jesus had cleared the temple of the moneychangers and vendors. The Jewish religious leaders had demanded that Jesus show them a sign that would prove His authority to do such a thing. And Jesus had responded:

“Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” – John 2:19 ESV

But these learned men failed to catch the symbolic nature of His answer. Instead, they took Him literally, viewing His answer as utterly ridiculous and impossible.

“It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and will you raise it up in three days?”  – John 2:20 ESV

But as John reveals in his gospel account, Jesus “was speaking about the temple of his body” (John 2:21 ESV). And John goes on to reveal that even the disciples would not connect the dots until after Jesus had died and been raised back to life. So, as they sat on the Mount of Olives watching the rays of the setting sun reflect off the gold of the temple, they were fixated on its destruction, but not on the fast-approaching death of their Lord and Master.

But Jesus, sensing their confusion and concern, provides them with a foretaste of things to come.

“Don’t let anyone mislead you, for many will come in my name, claiming, ‘I am the Messiah.’ They will deceive many. And you will hear of wars and threats of wars, but don’t panic. Yes, these things must take place, but the end won’t follow immediately. Nation will go to war against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be earthquakes in many parts of the world, as well as famines. But this is only the first of the birth pains, with more to come.” – Mark 13:5-8 NLT

Jesus fast-forwards the narrative to a day in the far-distant future, when the end of the age will take place. Jesus is compressing and combining a great many events into a single answer, providing His disciples with an overview of things to come. They are fixated on the day in which they live. They are wanting to know when the temple will be destroyed and what will be the conditions under which it will happen. But Jesus is speaking of future events that will take place long after the disciples are dead and gone.

Roughly four decades later, the Romans would destroy the city of Jerusalem and its magnificent temple. Some of the disciples would live long enough to witness that fateful day. But Jesus was speaking of events that remain unfulfilled, even in our day. He describes those who will show up claiming to be Him, declaring themselves to be a messiah or savior, and offering to provide deliverance. He warns of a future marked by wars, civil unrest, and natural disasters. But these “signs” will be nothing but the “birth pains” that precede the birth of what is to come. They will merely preface the end of the age.

Jesus is providing James, John, Peter, and Andrew with a comprehensive overview of the end times. But He is not doing so in easy-to-understand terms that fall into a simple chronological order. The disciples have no idea what is about to happen. In just a matter of days, their world will be rocked by the death of Jesus. But then, three days later, He will rise again. Then, He will return to His Father in heaven, sending the Spirit to indwell and empower the disciples for the work He has given them to do. And they will play a major part in the decimation of the gospel and the subsequent growth of the church. But centuries will pass and, even as the church continues to grow, the spiritual state of the world will continue to decay. And it will do so until Jesus returns to the earth. The downward spiral of humanity’s spiritual condition will continue to accelerate and intensify, reaching its lowest point when the church is raptured from the scene. This mass exodus of all believers from the face of the earth will usher in a time of tribulation, “such as has not been from the beginning of the world until now, no, and never will be” (Matthew 24:21 ESV).

Jesus was giving these four men a crash course in eschatology or the study of end times. While their minds were fixated on the temple and its possible destruction, Jesus was trying to get them to see the bigger picture. There was far more going on than they realized. The temple was not as important and integral as they believed it to be. Jesus’ emphasis on nations and kingdoms subtly reveals that the people of Israel will no longer be the focal point of God’s redemptive story. It is not that He will abandon them, but that He will use their rejection of His Son and their subsequent role in His death, as an impetus for the inclusion of people of every tribe, nation, and tongue into His family.

And the apostle Paul reminds us that God has great plans in store for His chosen people. Their initial rejection of the Messiah did not permanently invalidate His covenant commitments to them. He will remain faithful and fulfill every promise He has made to them.

Did God’s people stumble and fall beyond recovery? Of course not! They were disobedient, so God made salvation available to the Gentiles. But he wanted his own people to become jealous and claim it for themselves. Now if the Gentiles were enriched because the people of Israel turned down God’s offer of salvation, think how much greater a blessing the world will share when they finally accept it. – Romans 11:11-12 NLT

But Jesus wanted these four men to understand that while much of what He just described was to take place in the distant future, they were to be on their guard. The days ahead were going to be filled with uncertainty and the very real threat of persecution. With His death, resurrection, and ascension, their lives were about to get much more complicated. In the process of taking the gospel to the nations, they would face trials and difficulties of all kinds. But they would have the indwelling Spirit of God to guide, protect, and empower them. They needed to stop worrying about the temple of God and begin thinking about the will of God. What was He doing in their midst? What did He have planned for them to do in the days ahead? And Jesus told them that. while things would get far worse before they got better, there was going to be a happy ending to this story.

“…you will be hated by all for my name’s sake. But the one who endures to the end will be saved.” – Mark 13:13 ESV

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson