Mark tells his story on three levels and we have to keep our eyes on these while going through his book:
- Jesus' ministry to the masses.
- Jesus' ministry to the disciples.
- Jesus' confrontation with the Jewish religious leaders.
Jesus' triumphant entry into Jerusalem, which declared His true identity to the masses, is followed by His final confrontation and rebuke of the leaders. There remains one last opportunity for ministry to His disciples during which He will instruct them concerning three issues:
- The judgment on the nation of Israel for rejecting its Messiah.
- What will happen to Him in the near future.
- How they will commemorate His life, death and resurrection.
Judgment on the Nation — 13:1-37
Many who read chapter 13 are not exactly sure what Jesus is talking about: the final end of the world or the destruction of Jerusalem which occurred in 70 AD. The key to understanding His teaching is found in the first four verses which then set the rest of the passage into context.
1As He was going out of the temple, one of His disciples said to Him, "Teacher, behold what wonderful stones and what wonderful buildings!" 2And Jesus said to him, "Do you see these great buildings? Not one stone will be left upon another which will not be torn down."
- Mark 13:1-2
The Apostles are referring to the temple, a structure that was restored after 40 years of on-going construction. Jesus tells them that the temple is going to be destroyed. For the people of that time the temple represented and embodied the Jewish religion and nation. The Apostles do not yet understand that Christianity will supersede Judaism, and the total destruction of the temple and the city where it stood will be a sign of this.
3As He was sitting on the Mount of Olives opposite the temple, Peter and James and John and Andrew were questioning Him privately, 4"Tell us, when will these things be, and what will be the sign when all these things are going to be fulfilled?"
- Mark 13:3-4
Several of the Apostles were distressed about this idea, and questioned Jesus specifically about it. They wanted to know when this would happen and what signs would accompany this event. The response that Jesus gave was in answer to their questions.
The Lord's answer was difficult to understand because He used "apocalyptic" language (similar to the language used in the book of Revelation). This meant that only those who were familiar with this cryptic style, and knew the original question by the Apostles along with Jesus' answer, would be able to discern the meaning of the entire passage. The key, however, was that His answer described the events surrounding the future destruction of Jerusalem.
Jesus began, therefore, by mentioning the several phases that led up to this terrible end:
The False Prophet and Rumor Stage
5And Jesus began to say to them, "See to it that no one misleads you. 6Many will come in My name, saying, 'I am He!' and will mislead many. 7When you hear of wars and rumors of wars, do not be frightened; those things must take place; but that is not yet the end. 8For nation will rise up against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; there will be earthquakes in various places; there will also be famines. These things are merely the beginning of birth pangs.
- Mark 13:5-8
After Jesus' ascension (Acts 1:9-11), many false prophets did arise and preach "end of the world" scenarios. Josephus (a Jewish historian of that period) writes about these and how they were killed or faded away. In addition to this, the Jewish nation was often at odds with King Herod and Rome, and there were many upheavals (political and military) going on all of the time. Jesus warns them not to panic when these type of things occurred.
The Persecution Stage
9"But be on your guard; for they will deliver you to the courts, and you will be flogged in the synagogues, and you will stand before governors and kings for My sake, as a testimony to them. 10The gospel must first be preached to all the nations. 11When they arrest you and hand you over, do not worry beforehand about what you are to say, but say whatever is given you in that hour; for it is not you who speak, but it is the Holy Spirit. 12Brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child; and children will rise up against parents and have them put to death. 13You will be hated by all because of My name, but the one who endures to the end, he will be saved.
- Mark 13:9-13
Soon after Pentecost some of the Apostles were imprisoned by Jewish authorities (Acts 4) and later on Paul and his associates were persecuted by both Jews and the Romans (Acts 17; 23; 26). We also know that Paul and Peter were both martyred in the city of Rome (between 62-67 AD) as a general persecution of Christianity occured throughout the Roman Empire. Jesus tells His Apostles that even these terrible events would not fulfill the judgment that He was talking about.
The Siege Stage
14"But when you see the abomination of desolation standing where it should not be (let the reader understand), then those who are in Judea must flee to the mountains. 15The one who is on the housetop must not go down, or go in to get anything out of his house; 16and the one who is in the field must not turn back to get his coat. 17But woe to those who are pregnant and to those who are nursing babies in those days! 18But pray that it may not happen in the winter. 19For those days will be a time of tribulation such as has not occurred since the beginning of the creation which God created until now, and never will. 20Unless the Lord had shortened those days, no life would have been saved; but for the sake of the elect, whom He chose, He shortened the days. 21And then if anyone says to you, 'Behold, here is the Christ'; or, 'Behold, He is there'; do not believe him; 22for false Christs and false prophets will arise, and will show signs and wonders, in order to lead astray, if possible, the elect. 23But take heed; behold, I have told you everything in advance.
- Mark 13:14-23
The term, "the abomination of desolation" was used by Jesus to refer to the sign that would indicate that the final destruction of the city was at hand. In Luke 21:20, Luke says that the surrounding of Jerusalem by the Roman army with their idolatrous shields desecrated the city and temple, and was thus the fulfillment of this prophecy. Jerusalem remained under siege by the Roman army for four years with its final destruction coming in 70 AD. Jesus warns them that when they hear the news that the temple has been desecrated, it will be time for them to flee the city.
History records that the Christian community living in Jerusalem at that time did escape and fled to Pella (a city located across the Jordan River) during a lull in the siege when the Roman army pulled back for a short time. The historian, Josephus, reports that there were many "prophets" claiming victory or encouraging their followers to remain in the city during this period, but Jesus warns His Apostles and future Christians who would be living in Jerusalem in the future to avoid these and simply escape.
After the Roman army had starved out the inhabitants they then charged into Jerusalem and massacred everyone left in the worst recorded bloodbath in history. In order to retain a remnant of Jewish people alive through the ordeal, Jesus says that God "shortened" those days in the sense that He permitted some to survive.
Jesus warns the Apostles that these things will happen and they now know when to escape (when the temple is desecrated).
The Gospel Stage
24"But in those days, after that tribulation, the sun will be darkened and the moon will not give its light, 25and the stars will be falling from heaven, and the powers that are in the heavens will be shaken. 26Then they will see the Son of Man coming in clouds with great power and glory. 27And then He will send forth the angels, and will gather together His elect from the four winds, from the farthest end of the earth to the farthest end of heaven.
- Mark 13:24-27
In apocalyptic language (a literary style used to describe terrible wars, national tragedies and God's judgments) the idea of the heavenly bodies falling or changing meant that one period had ended and a new one had begun. Jesus was telling them that with the destruction of the city and temple, an era and a nation would come to an end. The time when the Jewish people were considered God's chosen people based on their relationship to Abraham would end with this destruction. After Jesus' resurrection and the preaching of the gospel, God's people would be those who believed and followed Him, regardless of their culture, gender or position in society (Galatians 3:28-29).
"The Son of Man coming" is Old Testament imagery (Isaiah 19:1) describing God's visitation upon a nation for the purpose of judgment. In the Bible we see this happen as God visits the Assyrians, Babylonians, the Medes, Greeks, and now the Jews for the purpose of judgment. John, in the book of Revelation, will describe how God will also visit the Romans in order to judge and punish them in the future.
Jesus also describes the new gospel age where the angels (messengers/apostles) will go preach to all people in order to bring them into the kingdom (His elect are those who respond to the gospel since the Jews are no longer His elect, having rejected Christ).
"The farthest ends of heaven" may refer to the martyrs who are part of the kingdom.
28"Now learn the parable from the fig tree: when its branch has already become tender and puts forth its leaves, you know that summer is near. 29Even so, you too, when you see these things happening, recognize that He is near, right at the door. 30Truly I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things take place. 31Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will not pass away. 32But of that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but the Father alone.
33"Take heed, keep on the alert; for you do not know when the appointed time will come. 34It is like a man away on a journey, who upon leaving his house and putting his slaves in charge, assigning to each one his task, also commanded the doorkeeper to stay on the alert. 35Therefore, be on the alert—for you do not know when the master of the house is coming, whether in the evening, at midnight, or when the rooster crows, or in the morning— 36in case he should come suddenly and find you asleep. 37What I say to you I say to all, 'Be on the alert!'"
- Mark 13:28-37
He has warned them, given them specifics and assured them of several things:
- All of these things are going to happen in their generation. He is referring to the end of Jerusalem, not the end of the world.
- Nothing can stop it. There will not be a prophet or another opportunity to repent.
- No one but God the Father knows when these things will take place. Their task is simply to be ready.
The Passover Meal — 14:1-42
Jesus was a Jew, and as a Jew He observed the Passover. The Passover commemorated the time when the angel of death destroyed every firstborn in Egypt but spared the Jews who were in captivity there (Exodus 12:1-14). They were spared because they obeyed God's instruction to sprinkle the blood of a lamb on their doorposts and remain in their homes to partake of a special meal. Since that time, each year (in the spring) the Jews would offer a sacrificial lamb and share a special ritual meal in order to commemorate their freedom from Egyptian slavery. This was the meal that Jesus was preparing to share with His Apostles.
Normally, the father, the head of the household or the teacher would be the one who would preside over the Passover meal. As the scene opens in chapter 14 Jesus is with His disciples, two days before the Passover, visiting Simon the leper.
1Now the Passover and Unleavened Bread were two days away; and the chief priests and the scribes were seeking how to seize Him by stealth and kill Him; 2for they were saying, "Not during the festival, otherwise there might be a riot of the people."
- Mark 14:1-2
Mark notes that He was in danger, but His attackers would leave Him alone during the Passover festival for fear of the people.
3While He was in Bethany at the home of Simon the leper, and reclining at the table, there came a woman with an alabaster vial of very costly perfume of pure nard; and she broke the vial and poured it over His head. 4But some were indignantly remarking to one another, "Why has this perfume been wasted? 5For this perfume might have been sold for over three hundred denarii, and the money given to the poor." And they were scolding her. 6But Jesus said, "Let her alone; why do you bother her? She has done a good deed to Me. 7For you always have the poor with you, and whenever you wish you can do good to them; but you do not always have Me. 8She has done what she could; she has anointed My body beforehand for the burial. 9Truly I say to you, wherever the gospel is preached in the whole world, what this woman has done will also be spoken of in memory of her."
- Mark 14:3-9
Mark also tells the story of the woman who anointed Him with costly oil. Many who were there complained that this was a waste (especially Judas who saw a lost opportunity to sell the perfume and pocket the money). Jesus put her action into context, saying that it was not just a waste of oil poured on His head to make Him smell good, she was actually anointing His body in preparation for His death. The Jewish custom was to cover dead bodies with perfumed oil in order to cancel out the smell, and out of respect for the deceased. The difference here was that the anointing was being performed before He died as an act of prophecy, not respect. Jesus commended the woman's act and used it to alert His disciples of His death which was to happen very soon.
12On the first day of Unleavened Bread, when the Passover lamb was being sacrificed, His disciples said to Him, "Where do You want us to go and prepare for You to eat the Passover?" 13And He sent two of His disciples and said to them, "Go into the city, and a man will meet you carrying a pitcher of water; follow him; 14and wherever he enters, say to the owner of the house, 'The Teacher says, "Where is My guest room in which I may eat the Passover with My disciples?"' 15And he himself will show you a large upper room furnished and ready; prepare for us there." 16The disciples went out and came to the city, and found it just as He had told them; and they prepared the Passover.
- Mark 14:12-16
During the time of Jesus, the Passover had grown into a week long celebration which began with the eating of the sacrificial Passover lamb. This particular year, the Passover fell on a Thursday. Two Apostles were sent into the city to purchase and sacrifice a lamb at the temple and make ready the room where they would eat the meal. No name was given concerning the owner of the room or its location in order to maintain security (Jesus knew of Judas' intention to betray Him).
17When it was evening He came with the twelve. 18As they were reclining at the table and eating, Jesus said, "Truly I say to you that one of you will betray Me—one who is eating with Me." 19They began to be grieved and to say to Him one by one, "Surely not I?" 20And He said to them, "It is one of the twelve, one who dips with Me in the bowl. 21For the Son of Man is to go just as it is written of Him; but woe to that man by whom the Son of Man is betrayed! It would have been good for that man if he had not been born."
- Mark 14:17-21
Judas was with them at the meal when Jesus announced that there was a traitor among them. For all those who speculate about what happened to Judas, if he was saved or not, note what Jesus said about the one who betrayed Him.
22While they were eating, He took some bread, and after a blessing He broke it, and gave it to them, and said, "Take it; this is My body." 23And when He had taken a cup and given thanks, He gave it to them, and they all drank from it. 24And He said to them, "This is My blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many. 25Truly I say to you, I will never again drink of the fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new in the kingdom of God."
26After singing a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives.
- Mark 14:22-26
The normal Passover meal was a ritual where the leader ate the meal in stages and the others followed his lead: some unleavened bread (representing the haste that the people experienced in their departure from the land of captivity) was dipped into the bitter herbs (which represented their experience of suffering in Egypt) and eaten along with some of the meat from the lamb (representing the sacrifice made that spared their lives when the angel of death passed over their homes and took the life of every "firstborn" child and animal in Egypt).
Later on the people added wine to the meal which represented the blessings they enjoyed in the Promised Land that God gave them. The meal would proceed as the father would eat and drink each of these elements with the family following his lead. At one point someone (usually a child or a young person) would ask the father or teacher what all of these things meant, and this would provide an opportunity to recount, once again, the ancient story of God's liberation of the Jewish people from Egyptian captivity. Prayers and songs were interspersed between the courses until the commemorative meal was over.
At the point where there was only some bread and one last portion of wine remaining (there were usually two to three portions), Jesus changed the significance of the Passover meal and the significance of the elements. The bread would no longer represent their haste to leave Egypt, but would now represent His body and the pain He would endure on the cross. The wine would no longer represent the blessings of the Promised Land, but would now represent His blood (or His life) which would be sacrificed for the sins of mankind.
Jesus, after speaking of His death, tells them that He will once again drink wine with them when the kingdom (the church) will be established. This prophecy is fulfilled every time the church gathers to share the communion in remembrance of Christ.
The custom of the Passover was to sing the "Hallel," a series of Psalms (Psalms 113-118), which they do. After this they leave for the Mount of Olives and the Garden of Gethsemane which was a public park about a mile outside of the city often used for quiet meditation.
27And Jesus said to them, "You will all fall away, because it is written, 'I will strike down the shepherd, and the sheep shall be scattered.' 28But after I have been raised, I will go ahead of you to Galilee." 29But Peter said to Him, "Even though all may fall away, yet I will not." 30And Jesus said to him, "Truly I say to you, that this very night, before a rooster crows twice, you yourself will deny Me three times." 31But Peter kept saying insistently, "Even if I have to die with You, I will not deny You!" And they all were saying the same thing also.
- Mark 14:27-31
Once again, Jesus warns them that not only will one betray Him, but when it happens they will all run away. Peter insists that he will not and Jesus tells him that he will do so even before the day begins (when the cock crows). Note that all the Apostles join Peter in promising to be faithful.
32They came to a place named Gethsemane; and He said to His disciples, "Sit here until I have prayed." 33And He took with Him Peter and James and John, and began to be very distressed and troubled. 34And He said to them, "My soul is deeply grieved to the point of death; remain here and keep watch." 35And He went a little beyond them, and fell to the ground and began to pray that if it were possible, the hour might pass Him by. 36And He was saying, "Abba! Father! All things are possible for You; remove this cup from Me; yet not what I will, but what You will." 37And He came and found them sleeping, and said to Peter, "Simon, are you asleep? Could you not keep watch for one hour? 38Keep watching and praying that you may not come into temptation; the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak." 39Again He went away and prayed, saying the same words. 40And again He came and found them sleeping, for their eyes were very heavy; and they did not know what to answer Him. 41And He came the third time, and said to them, "Are you still sleeping and resting? It is enough; the hour has come; behold, the Son of Man is being betrayed into the hands of sinners. 42Get up, let us be going; behold, the one who betrays Me is at hand!"
- Mark 14:32-42
It was named the Mount of Olives because of the grove of olive trees on its slope. The adjacent park at the top of the hill was used by travelers to rest before going the last mile into the city of Jerusalem and was called Gethsemane (meaning "oil press") because a press was situated on its grounds. It is interesting to note that the Apostles slept during Jesus' period of agony here in the garden as well as His period of glory on the mountain during His transfiguration (Luke 9:32). Mark describes the struggle and final acceptance of the suffering that Jesus' human nature was trying to avoid (naturally).
43Immediately while He was still speaking, Judas, one of the twelve, came up accompanied by a crowd with swords and clubs, who were from the chief priests and the scribes and the elders. 44Now he who was betraying Him had given them a signal, saying, "Whomever I kiss, He is the one; seize Him and lead Him away under guard." 45After coming, Judas immediately went to Him, saying, "Rabbi!" and kissed Him. 46They laid hands on Him and seized Him. 47But one of those who stood by drew his sword, and struck the slave of the high priest and cut off his ear. 48And Jesus said to them, "Have you come out with swords and clubs to arrest Me, as you would against a robber? 49Every day I was with you in the temple teaching, and you did not seize Me; but this has taken place to fulfill the Scriptures." 50And they all left Him and fled. 51A young man was following Him, wearing nothing but a linen sheet over his naked body; and they seized him. 52But he pulled free of the linen sheet and escaped naked.
- Mark 14:43-52
Judas leads a mob of temple guards and rabble rousers to arrest Him. One of Jesus' Apostles (Peter) raises his sword and cuts off the ear of the high priest's servant (Malchus). Luke says that Jesus then healed the man of this injury (Luke 22:50). Mark mentions a young man running away leaving his clothes behind. Scholars believe that this was Mark himself since he knew the Apostles and lived in Jerusalem at that time.
53They led Jesus away to the high priest; and all the chief priests and the elders and the scribes gathered together. 54Peter had followed Him at a distance, right into the courtyard of the high priest; and he was sitting with the officers and warming himself at the fire. 55Now the chief priests and the whole Council kept trying to obtain testimony against Jesus to put Him to death, and they were not finding any. 56For many were giving false testimony against Him, but their testimony was not consistent. 57Some stood up and began to give false testimony against Him, saying, 58"We heard Him say, 'I will destroy this temple made with hands, and in three days I will build another made without hands.'" 59Not even in this respect was their testimony consistent. 60The high priest stood up and came forward and questioned Jesus, saying, "Do You not answer? What is it that these men are testifying against You?" 61But He kept silent and did not answer. Again the high priest was questioning Him, and saying to Him, "Are You the Christ, the Son of the Blessed One?" 62And Jesus said, "I am; and you shall see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of Power, and coming with the clouds of heaven." 63Tearing his clothes, the high priest said, "What further need do we have of witnesses? 64You have heard the blasphemy; how does it seem to you?" And they all condemned Him to be deserving of death. 65Some began to spit at Him, and to blindfold Him, and to beat Him with their fists, and to say to Him, "Prophesy!" And the officers received Him with slaps in the face.
- Mark 14:53-65
The problem for the High Priest and the Sanhedrin was to find a serious enough charge against Jesus to warrant the death penalty. They wanted to kill Him themselves but were unable to do so because only the Roman government could order an execution. They settled on the charge of blasphemy which, according to Jewish law, was punishable by death but not according to Roman law. Note that they had nothing to accuse Him with until Jesus Himself acknowledged the truth about Himself. Note also that they had no legal reason to put Him to death but used political and mob pressure to do so.
66As Peter was below in the courtyard, one of the servant-girls of the high priest came, 67and seeing Peter warming himself, she looked at him and said, "You also were with Jesus the Nazarene." 68But he denied it, saying, "I neither know nor understand what you are talking about." And he went out onto the porch. 69The servant-girl saw him, and began once more to say to the bystanders, "This is one of them!" 70But again he denied it. And after a little while the bystanders were again saying to Peter, "Surely you are one of them, for you are a Galilean too." 71But he began to curse and swear, "I do not know this man you are talking about!" 72Immediately a rooster crowed a second time. And Peter remembered how Jesus had made the remark to him, "Before a rooster crows twice, you will deny Me three times." And he began to weep.
- Mark 14:66-72
Peter was in the court of the High Priest (the front yard) because he was with another disciple who was known by the High Priest's people and allowed in. Peter, when confronted by the servants of the High Priest and others about his association will Jesus, not only denies it but curses and swears that he did not even know the Lord. Perhaps Peter followed to see if Jesus would perform a miracle and confound the Jewish leaders once again. He may have thought that this was the beginning of the revolution, however, when He saw Jesus tied and tortured he became afraid, confused and discouraged.
People do awful things when they are under pressure or are afraid. Peter, who swore he would even die with Jesus, fell victim to his weak and sinful nature. As the cock crowed and the morning dawned, Peter realized what he had done and was immediately despondent. He had done something that he could not take back, could not fix nor could he pay for. Only Jesus could make this right and, as we will see, He did.