What does Mark chapter 13 mean?Jesus' teaching recorded in Mark 13 is called "The Olivet Discourse" because He and the disciples are on the Mount of Olives, east of the temple. In the discourse, Jesus prophesies about the fate of the temple, Jerusalem, and the end times.
The religious and civil officials have categorically rejected Jesus. As leaders of the people, their decision closes the door on God's continued work through the Jews. Judaism will cease being the primary avenue through which God reaches the world. Jerusalem and the temple, which were designed to be the center of God-worship and have become the nationalistic symbol of the Jews, are no longer needed. The disciples will spread the gospel to the world. Jerusalem and the temple will be burned to the ground in AD 70.
The worldwide church agrees on this, but theologians disagree on the less concrete prophetic parts of Jesus' teaching. The interpretation of biblical prophecy depends on the reader's view of the end times. The two primary ways of interpreting Mark 13 try to answer a question: what is the timing of the fulfillment of the prophecies? Were they fulfilled with the siege of Jerusalem in AD 70? Or do they refer to the tribulation, yet in our future? Or perhaps to a mix of both?
Preterism—from praeter, the Latin word for "past"—teaches that all biblical prophecy has been fulfilled. The more moderate partial-preterism allows that there may be some prophecies yet to come to fruition. Both rely on Jesus' words in Mark 13:30: "Truly, I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things take place." Many of the prophecies in Mark 13 do appear to have been "completely" fulfilled by the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple in AD 70. The rest, such as earthquakes and famines (Mark 13:8), the defilement of the temple (Mark 13:14), and Jesus' dramatic return (Mark 13:24–27) have not. Preterists "spiritualize" these verses, saying for example, that the "abomination of desolation" was the disrespect with which the Roman army treated Jerusalem. Or, they indicate that the common-level incidents of war and famine prior to 70 AD are the entire fulfillment of these ideas.
Futurism teaches that many of the prophecies in Daniel, Revelation, and the Olivet Discourse have yet to come true, even though the vast majority still reference Israel. The church did not permanently take the place of Israel in God's plan. After the members of the church are raptured, God will again use Israel to reach the world with His truth. Although some prophecies such as war (Mark 13:8) and false teachers (Mark 13:5–6, 21–22) do have other fulfillments, the prophecies directed at Israel will happen to Israel during the seven-year tribulation and later. As for Mark 13:30, futurists explain that "this generation" refers to the generation in the future that will experience the events of the tribulation: the horrors that are to come will come quickly and not last long. This is the view of Got Questions Ministries, the parent company of BibleRef.com.
Jesus starts with a soon-to-be-fulfilled prophecy (Mark 13:1–2). Herod's temple, which the disciples so admire, will be torn stone from stone in AD 70. Although other end-times prophecies mention that the as-yet-un-rebuilt temple will be defiled, there's no mention that it will be destroyed again.
The next section starts the discourse. Matthew mentions that the four disciples not only ask when the temple will be destroyed, they ask when Jesus will return (Matthew 24:3). Jesus follows with a long list of signs that do not point to His return. The signs include false teachers, natural disasters, famine, and persecution (Mark 13:3–13).
Jesus follows with a defining event of the tribulation: the "abomination of desolation." At the midpoint of the tribulation, the Antichrist will defile the temple. Believers must maintain awareness that the end is coming, but not yet here, and realize that any human guru who claims to be the Christ is lying (Mark 13:14–23).
At the end of the tribulation, Jesus' return will be unmistakable. He will come with power and glory and gather His followers to Him (Mark 13:24–27). The parable of the fig tree will remind the tribulation saints that they have all the information they need. Even though they will not know the exact moment of Jesus' return, they can rest that He will come quickly. They should live their lives accordingly (Matthew 13:28–37).
The center of Mark 13 forms a chiasm. A chiasm is a poem of ideas in a forwards-backwards pattern, visualized as A B C B A. In Mark 13:5–6, Jesus says to watch for deceivers. In 13:7–8, He tells them what to do when they hear of international war and disaster. In 13:9–13, He speaks of the more personal persecution of Christians. Mark 13:14–21 speaks of a great disaster and conflict. And in 13:21–23, He tells them again to watch for deceivers.