The Perfect Servant in Mark’s Gospel: His Destiny

We begin our consideration of the Olivet Discourse (13:1-37). The Lord’s Arguments with religious leaders (11:27-12:40) in the temple area are over. He exited that place (13:1) and “sat on the Mount of Olives opposite the temple” (v3 ESV). From this location He gave an extended Answer to some questions raised by His disciples (v4). The message given by the Lord here (see also Matthew 24 and Luke 21) has been called “the most important single passage of prophecy in all the Bible.”

The Prelude to the Answer (13:1-4)

One of the disciples exclaimed concerning the “wonderful stones and … wonderful buildings” of the temple (v1 ESV). The Lord had just left Herod’s temple for the last time, but this disciple, gazing at its splendour, could not help but exclaim at its beauty. Herod’s temple had been under construction for over 40 years but was still incomplete. Built of immense white marble stones and clad with gold, it was a dazzlingly glorious architectural wonder.

The Lord responded with a solemn prediction, “Seest thou these great buildings? There shall not be left one stone upon another, that shall not be thrown down” (v2).1 The Lord’s prediction would be literally fulfilled within a few decades. In A.D. 70 the Romans destroyed the temple by fire, and by the time they had managed to obtain all the gold, the temple had been razed to the ground. However, at the point of time when it was given, the Lord’s prediction must have seemed hard to believe.

The Lord and His disciples then crossed the Kidron valley, climbed a steep path up the Mount of Olives, and sat down looking back across the valley to the temple. Here a select group of the disciples, intrigued by what the Lord had said, “asked him privately, Tell us, when shall these things be? And what shall be the sign when all these things shall be fulfilled?” (vv3-4). A comparison with the other Synoptic Gospels shows that “all these things” referred to “thy coming, and … the end of the age” (Mat 24:3). The two-fold question of the disciples concerned the time and the sign of the temple destruction and the Lord’s return.

In the mind of the disciples at least, the destruction of the temple that the Lord predicted was closely linked with the Lord’s coming and the end of the age.

The Perils of the Age (13:5-13)

In this first part of His answer, the Lord interspersed His revelations about the future with warnings and exhortations to His disciples (vv5,7,9,11). The prophetic message was to have practical import on the lives of the disciples and, by extension, it should have a practical effect upon us. The lessons are as follows:

First, do not be seduced by counterfeits (vv5-6). The disciples are warned to beware of deception. False christs and fraudulent prophets or teachers claiming to be sent by Christ will proliferate. Paul would later write to Timothy, “Evil men and seducers will wax worse and worse, deceiving, and being deceived” (2Ti 3:13). Peter would also warn, “There shall be false teachers among you, who privily shall bring in damnable heresies … many shall follow their pernicious ways” (2Pe 2:1-2).

A leading feature of the age is falsehood, deception and lies. After the Rapture of the Church this deception will become even more sophisticated and widespread. The final iteration of counterfeit christs is undoubtedly the Antichrist himself (Rev 6:1-2; 13:1-10), but the Scriptures are clear that “even now are there many antichrists” (1Jn 2:18). The believer must not be taken in by “seducing spirits” (1Ti 4:1).

Second, do not be scared by catastrophes (vv7-8). There will be many catastrophic events before the end of the age – wars, earthquakes, famines. The disciples had asked concerning the “sign when all these things [i.e., the Lord’s coming and the end of the age] should be fulfilled,” and the Lord is at pains to point out that such catastrophic events do not signify the end, for “the end shall not be yet” (v7). These are the “beginnings of sorrows” (v8), the first birth-pangs of an expectant mother, anticipating much greater suffering in the future. Wars, earthquakes and famines will grow in intensity and frequency as the age progresses. These catastrophes will reach a climax following the Rapture (cf. Rev 6:4-7). Then there will be wars and “natural” disasters far greater than all that has preceded.

We should not be “troubled” or frightened. Such things “must needs be” (v7). They are the certain outcome of man’s sin and a groaning creation (Rom 5:12; 8:22), but God is in ultimate control and is working out His purpose through such events.

Third, do not be silent in the conflict (vv9-11). Animosity to the gospel will result in believers being delivered up to councils and beaten in synagogues (v9). Servants of God have always experienced such ill-treatment, including the Perfect Servant Himself (9:31; 10:33; Luk 22:63; Joh 18:23). All forms of physical abuse have been endured by His followers since. In the future, after the Church has gone, this persecution will escalate dramatically. The opening of the fifth seal presents John with the vision of souls under the altar “slain for the word of God, and for the testimony which they held” (Rev 6:9-11).

How should persecuted believers respond? They are not to be anxious ahead of time or to spend time thinking up clever ways to outwit their opponents. Rather, they should depend wholeheartedly on the Spirit of God to provide the necessary words in that hour of need. They must not then fail to “speak” (v11) in dependence upon Him. God will control the circumstances so that, in the worst of persecution, testimony will be given to “rulers and kings” (v9) and the gospel will be “published among all nations” (v10).

Finally, do not surrender in the crucible (vv12-13). Persecution will be extreme. It will be personal, maximal, universal and diabolical. Loved ones will call for the execution of their family members. Everyone will hate those who associate with the name of the Lord Jesus Christ.

The Lord does not soften the intensity of the hate-filled opposition which believers will experience throughout history, and particularly as the end approaches. However, He adds a tremendous encouragement: “He that shall endure unto the end, the same shall be saved” (v13). True believers (all of whom endure) can take comfort that the “end” will bring them into the fulness of salvation.

The introduction to the Olivet Discourse has lessons for us all in our service. We should prioritise truth in the midst of much falsehood; we should learn to trust while in an unstable world; we should testify to the Lord, even in persecution; we should keep in mind the triumph which will surely come.

1 Bible quotations in this article are from the KJV unless otherwise noted.