14 “But when you see the abomination of desolation standing where he ought not to be (let the reader understand), then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains. 15 Let the one who is on the housetop not go down, nor enter his house, to take anything out, 16 and let the one who is in the field not turn back to take his cloak. 17 And alas for women who are pregnant and for those who are nursing infants in those days! 18 Pray that it may not happen in winter. 19 For in those days there will be such tribulation as has not been from the beginning of the creation that God created until now, and never will be. 20 And if the Lord had not cut short the days, no human being would be saved. But for the sake of the elect, whom he chose, he shortened the days. 21 And then if anyone says to you, ‘Look, here is the Christ!’ or ‘Look, there he is!’ do not believe it. 22 For false christs and false prophets will arise and perform signs and wonders, to lead astray, if possible, the elect. 23 But be on guard; I have told you all things beforehand.” – Mark 13:14-23 ESV
The disciples had asked what they believed to be a simple question for which they hoped to get a simple answer.
“…when will these things be, and what will be the sign when all these things are about to be accomplished?” – Mark 13:4 ESV
But Jesus rarely, if ever, gave simple answers. The four disciples, who had posited their question to Jesus while sitting on the Mount of Olives overlooking Jerusalem, had been anxious to know the exact timing of the temple’s destruction. His earlier announcement of this event had left them stunned and more than a little bit concerned. But Jesus ended up providing them with a highly condensed overview of the eschatological future. He pieced together a host of end-times events that would culminate with His return to the earth.
The disciples believed Jesus to be their long-awaited Messiah, and they had fully expected Him to set up His Kingdom on earth in their lifetimes. That is why His repeated references to His death in Jerusalem had been so difficult for them to accept. And His mention of the destruction of the royal city of Jerusalem further frustrated their hopes of a restored and revitalized Israel. These men were living in the here-and-now, with their hopes fully focused on the immediate inauguration of His reign and their personal participation in His new Kingdom.
Yet, Jesus wanted them to know that there was far more going on they realized. He had not come to set up an earthly Kingdom – at least, not yet. There were other events that would have to occur before He took His rightful place on the throne of David in Jerusalem. And Jesus mentions one such event: “the abomination of desolation” Mark 13:14 ESV). Whether or not the disciples understood this reference is unclear. But Jesus, well acquainted with the Hebrew scriptures, reaches back into the book of Daniel and utilizes a prophecy from the book of Daniel.
“And after the sixty-two weeks, an anointed one shall be cut off and shall have nothing. And the people of the prince who is to come shall destroy the city and the sanctuary. Its end shall come with a flood, and to the end there shall be war. Desolations are decreed. And he shall make a strong covenant with many for one week, and for half of the week he shall put an end to sacrifice and offering. And on the wing of abominations shall come one who makes desolate, until the decreed end is poured out on the desolator.” – Daniel 9:26-27 ESV
This prophecy was partially fulfilled in 167 BC, when Antiochus Epiphanes, the king of the Seleucid Empire, profaned the temple in Jerusalem by erecting an altar to Zeus and slaughtering swine on it. This blatant desecration of the temple was followed by a series of other devasting decrees, including the criminalization of the rite of circumcision and the requirement of all Jews to offer sacrifices to Zeus. These unacceptable demands infuriated the Jews and ultimately led to the Maccabean revolt.
But like many Old Testament prophecies, this one had a now-not-yet aspect to it. While the actions of Antiochus had partially fulfilled Daniel’s predictions, Jesus was revealing that there was a future element to this prophecy that remained as yet unfulfilled. When Jesus had prophesied regarding the destruction of the temple, His words had also included a now-not-yet dimension. The temple in Jerusalem would be destroyed by Titus in 70 AD, but this would only be a partial fulfillment of Jesus’ words. The disciples were being given a glimpse into the distant future when the full scope of Jesus’ predictions would take place.
Jesus is revealing events that will take place in conjunction with His second coming. There will be another desecration of the temple, but it will not take place in the lifetimes of the disciples. This future event will precede His return and usher in a time of great tribulation on the earth. Jesus describes it as an unprecedented period of suffering, like nothing that has ever happened before.
“For there will be greater anguish in those days than at any time since God created the world. And it will never be so great again.” – Mark 13:19 NLT
He warns that those who are alive when it happens should do everything in their power to run for their lives.
“Then those in Judea must flee to the hills. A person out on the deck of a roof must not go down into the house to pack. A person out in the field must not return even to get a coat. How terrible it will be for pregnant women and for nursing mothers in those days. And pray that your flight will not be in winter.” – Mark 13:14-18 NLT
The Daniel passage to which Jesus refers speaks of “one who makes desolate” (Daniel 9:27 ESV). This individual will wield great power and become “the prince who is to come” who “shall destroy the city and the sanctuary” (Daniel 9:26 ESV). This future world leader will be the Antichrist, who will appear on the scene at the beginning of the seven years of Tribulation. He will rise to power, make a treaty with the nation of Israel, and use his great influence to coordinate the reconstruction of the temple in Jerusalem. For three-and-a-half years, things will appear to be going well, but then all hell will break loose. He will end up breaking his treaty with Israel, turning his wrath against God’s people, setting up an idol of himself in the temple in Jerusalem, and launching an all-out offensive against all those who refuse to worship him. And this will begin a period of great tribulation like nothing the world has ever seen before.
Knowing that this information has left His disciples stunned, Jesus assures them that God will have everything in full control.
“But for the sake of the elect, whom he chose, he shortened the days.” – Mark 13:20 ESV
Even during those dark days, God will be choosing to redeem a remnant from among His people, setting them aside as His own. The church, made up primarily of Gentile believers, will have been removed from the earth just before the period known as the Tribulation. With the Rapture of the church, the only ones remaining on earth will be God’s chosen people, the Jews, and all the unbelieving Gentiles. Yet God will continue to redeem and rescue, resulting in the salvation of many from every tribe, nation, and tongue, many of whom will become martyrs at the hands of the Antichrist.
But those days will come to an abrupt end. They will last only as long as God has ordained, and they will culminate with the return of His Son to the earth and with the establishment of His earthly Kingdom.
So, Jesus warns His disciples to be wary. In just a few days, He will offer His life as a sacrifice for the sins of mankind. He will die on a Roman cross and then be raised back to life and return to His Father’s side in heaven. But He will return one day. And Jesus wants His disciples to know that they will be rumors concerning His return. Along the way, there will be those who claim to be Him, but they are to be ignored as liars and deceivers. These charlatans may even be able to perform signs and wonders, giving credibility to their claims. But they are to be rejected because the Tribulation will be the final sign that must happen before Jesus returns again. And He tells James, John, Peter, and Andrew, “be on guard; I have told you all things beforehand” (Mark 13:23 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.