Earthquakes… Signs of the End Times? Part 2: Mark 13 as it Relates to the Rest of the Book

This is the second post in a series titled: Mark 13… Signs of the Times? I invite you to check out that first post to catch up, so to speak 🙂  More posts to come on this topic!

Read the rest of the series here.


We began this series by asking if we could look at natural disasters like earthquakes, as a sign that the so-called “end times” are coming all the more near.  In this post, lets explore the “literary context” of Mark 13 and continue to wrestle with the interpretive and practical implications of how we choose to read this well know biblical passage.  In doing so, perhaps the question in the back of our minds should be: Is the biblical story one that points toward hope for this world, or chaos and eventual destruction?

Mark 13 is a chapter that is often called a “little apocalypse,” although the whole of the book is gospel narrative.  That is because, this chapter is clearly written with apocalyptic tradition in mind. Jesus is speaking prophetically in this passage and is using apocalyptic language to explain the things that will mark the fulfillment of his words.  The question of “when” such a fulfillment will happen is not yet our task.

Our current task is to discern how this text relates to the rest of Mark.  In Mark 11, Jesus returns to Jerusalem and is ushered in as the true King.  Based on parallel accounts we know that this was “the first day of the week,” meaning that it was Sunday.  According to this chapter, singing broke out as Jesus rode in on a colt.  Some laid down their cloaks, while others began to wave palm branches.  Those who chose to lay down their cloaks on this dusty road and waved palm branches were acknowledging that Jesus was indeed a king.  This event has a clear connection with Zechariah 9.9 where this messianic moment is foretold.[1] The following day, “Jesus entered the temple courts and began driving out those who were buying and selling” (v. 15).  Jesus cleared the Temple which should rightfully be understood as an enacted parabolic moment in which Jesus was casting judgment on the whole of the Temple system.  This moment was what would lead to his death on the cross.[2] It is probably on Tuesday when Jesus continued to teach in parables and controversial sayings from the end of Mark 11.20 though chapter 13.[3] Following our chapter, 13, Mark’s narrative continues on to other significant events such as the last Passover on Thursday (Mk. 14.12-26), Good Friday’s crucifixion (Mk. 15), and then Sunday comes once again and Messiah is resurrected (Mk. 16).

There are some important literary issues that rise to the surface after placing this text in the larger context of the flow of the book of Mark.  For instance, Jesus rides into Jerusalem as king in chapter 11.  It is easy to imagine that those who were shouting “hosanna” on the road had no idea that another king would have him hung on a Roman cross by the end of the week.  Nevertheless, this theme of Jesus as king connects throughout his various trials and accusations.  Not only so, but a dominant image in our text sets up Jesus as being the “Son of Man.”  As will be demonstrated, this language has deep connections to Daniel 7 where the “one like a son of man” is vindicated and given the status of royalty.[4] Another literary issue that becomes evident in the broader context is the prominence of the “fig tree” in chapter 11 and again in 13.  Jesus curses the fig tree on his way to the temple, and the following day it is withered.  There may be something worth exploring to understand the illustration towards the end of the third textual unit of the chapter.  A third important connection that is made by placing our text within its broader literary context is the centrality of the Temple.  Jesus enters Jerusalem as king on Sunday and heads directly to the Temple.  The following day he returns and clears it out, enacting judgment on the system it represented.  He then leaves again and on Tuesday returns and gives various kingdom teachings.  It is on this day that he departs from the Temple and delivers the Olivet Discourse.  After enacting judgment on the Temple, one day later and two chapters later, Jesus tells his disciples that it will be destroyed.  This flow of events is significant to determining whose ‘signs of the times’ Jesus is trying to describe.  Are these signs for followers of Jesus in modern day to watch for his coming or were these signs that the first century disciples were to watch for?  After enacting judgment and then declaring destruction, could it be that all of the signs are linked to the Temple?  If so, what are the implications for how we live today?  Also, do you have any other thoughts on the “literary context” of Mark 13?  Other thoughts or ideas?  Counter-arguments so far?

[1]. N. T. Wright, Mark for Everyone(Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2004), 147.


[2]. See: Ibid., 149-54.

[3]. Zondervan TNIV Study Bible, ed. Kenneth L. Barker, John H. Stek, and Ronald Youngblood (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2006), 1702.  See this resource for helpful chart on this page.

[4]. Wright, Mark for Everyone, 241.


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  • Conrad

    I don’t have to much on this, but as far as “literary context”? maybe it’s like a telescopic thing where it had relevance to what they were going through in their day as well as the end times.

    • That is a common reading of this text, but my fear is that it imports our thoughts (ideas from Left Behind, popular readings, and 19th century rapture theologies) into the ancient text. I will be arguing against double fulfillment…

  • I think it would be fair to say that much of prophecy in the Bible has multiple fulfillments. Isaiah prophesies that a young woman will be with child, which was a contemporarily fulfilled in Hezekiah, and futuristically fulfilled in Jesus. Many of the prophesies Jesus claimed about himself were only partially fulfilled. There is the expectation that they will be fulfilled completely at his second coming.

    I have no particular difficulty with thinking about Jesus signs as pertaining both to the fall of Jerusalem and to some futuristic time. I find that much of the apocalyptic language is used by climatologists when describing the consequences of global warming. While no one is coming out and saying that the earthquakes in Chile and Haiti are part of global warming, there are earthquakes that are a result of glacial movement. It seems to me that if the earth is moving a lot in one place, it will eventually cause movement in other areas.

    If these ‘signs of the end times’ are because of global warming, then it isn’t the Haitians or the New Orleanians aren’t necessarily the one’s to repent, but everyone else, particularly people living in industrialized countries, need to repent of how they have contributed to global warming. However, it does not seem like those calling for repentance are looking at how they are contributing to the destructive consequences that are hurting others. Revelations predicts this lack of repentance.

    As Jesus points out in his illustrations of the calamity of the Tower of Siloam and the Galileans who were killed in the Temple, that those who experience devastation are not necessarily any more guilty than those who do not. He warns his listeners to repent as well in order to avoid their own destruction. So if we were taking Jesus’ advice today, when we destruction in other places, it should motivate us to our own repentance.

    I have real problems with the idea that somehow Christians will be saved from experiencing the consequences of the Tribulation. Peter’s encouragement that Christians will be rewarded for enduring. The OT references to a remnant of Israel. And the idea that God is redeeming creation/fulfilling the law tend to push against the escapist mentality.

    It seems to me, and you are making it more clear in your analysis of Mark, that the defeat of evil, of the current powers, and ways of living, are in the cross. We join with Christ in redeeming the world through bearing up under the injustices that the world inflicts upon us. We confront evil (like cleansing the temple); we proclaim the better way, and we receive the world’s hate while returning only forgiveness. It is our belief in the resurrection that gives us the hope that through endurance, God gives us the victory.

    I would like to say one more thing about earthquakes: dead planets do not have earthquakes. The idea that the earth is alive and may be responding to evil that is being committed is not that far off. But it does require that one modify one’s concept of what is alive.

    • I am liking what you have said here, although in this particular passage, the idea of ‘double fulfillment’ doesn’t appeal to me. Your other thoughts about the Tower were great! However, I don’t know that I am comfortable reading the Bible as directing us toward a future “Tribulation” period or “End Times.” More to come in the next few posts… Blessings!

    • dead planets do not have earthquakes.

      Theologically I see your point, but geologically I’m afraid you’re missing the boat. There’s clear evidence of earthquakes on Mars, and for that matter on some of Jupiter’s moons. The dynamic processes that produce quakes seem related to still having a molten core and heat inside, as opposed to being a solid, cold rock like our moon.

      Don’t have time to search for citations right now, but growing up in the house of an astronomer I heard a lot about this stuff from the guys who were researching it. . . ;{)

      • Nice hot molten core are how astronomers distinguish between ‘live’ and ‘dead’ ones. Earthquakes could be described as how the rocks ‘cry out’.

  • So you would be more on the “preterist” side of things, correct?

    I’m reminded of my Revelation class with the late Dr. Scholer. He proposed (and I later agreed) that early Middle Eastern prophetic tradition tended to be to the immediate context, but with the intent of being reiterative to cover a certain historical period. In John’s case it could have been the whole of the history of the Church, once established by Christ. I can entertain the idea that Jesus’ case here is the whole of the establishment of the Church. This isn’t to say that Jesus’ speech could not be applied to different time periods, just that the immediate context should not be ignored in favor of a merely “futurist” perspective.

    Just thinking aloud. 🙂

    • thanks for you thoughts my friend. Interesting angle… not sure I am there, but interesting 🙂

  • Isn’t the notion of “preterism” versus the various eschatologies based upon what I suspect may be a flawed notion of prophecy in the first place? The idea that prophecy is primarily a prediction of the future, which either has been fulfilled or it hasn’t, seems to me to be one more Western superimposition over the text. Isaiah was calling Israel to faithfulness in his own day using prophetic language–that is language of God speaking to his people. The gospel writers quite correctly appropriated Isaiah’s (and others’) language and saw in Jesus its fulfillment, but that does not NECESSARILY mean that everything they quoted was (in Isaiah’s eyes) predicting Jesus.

    In the same way, Jesus’ Olivet Discourse was his teaching to his disciples, that things were about to get real ugly, but they should hang on in faith. Suffering believers in many eras since that have–again, rightly–appropriated Jesus’ teaching, as well as that of Isaiah, Daniel, John of Patmos, and others, to take courage in the face of their own calamities.

    But the notion that we have this collection of “unfulfilled prophecies” waiting to come true in some cataclysmic end of times, may or may not bear any resemblance at all to the intent of Jesus and the N.T. authors. To the extent it encourages faithfulness and Christlike living, it’s accomplishing its (God’s) goals of teaching, reproof, correction, instruction in rightousness…equipping us for every good work. To the extent we use it to generate dogmas to whack each other over the head, it’s not.

    An off-topic t-shirt about your dogma relieving itself on my karma comes to mind…not sure why…

    • I agree with you on this Dan. Preterism can suppose things about prophecy that are some of the same foundational flaws as other futurists views. If I recall correctly, most prophecy has to do with forth-telling as opposed to foretelling. There are some instances where foretelling is appropriate, but even there it is a foretelling of things that will happen within the generation of those hearing/reading the various texts. We can appropriate texts and discover new meanings or fresh interpretations as long as we don’t shove into the mouth of Jesus or the prophets something that wasn’t there in the first place… in this text’s case, the destruction of the planet after a 7 yr tribulation, etc…

  • “foretelling” vs. “forth-telling” … useful distinction.