This is the fourth post in a series titled: Earthquakes… Signs of the Times? I invite you to read the rest of the series here to catch up, so to speak. This is a series exploring whether or not we can say that natural disasters are indicators of the imminent return of Christ/ end times/ rapture. My argument is no, but I’ll let you be the judge to see if the following argument holds up. Let’s continue…
One of the biggest questions that comes up that I think can determine how we interpret this passage is the word, “end.” As people who have been conditioned by apocalyptic books (Left Behind, Late Great Planet Earth) and movies (End of Days, Armageddon, Terminator, 2012, etc), it is easy for us to read the word “end” to mean the end of the space-time universe. But, if we jump to this conclusion too quickly we may impose our ideas on a text that is two thousand years old. What I am attempting to do is to look at the first century and read forward from there rather than reading from our context backwards (although that I realize that this is not possible in a pure way). So, to what end was Jesus speaking?
This second unit of Mark 13 (v 5-27) contains Jesus’ response to the disciples’ questions. In the previous post, I argued that the questions the disciples asked have to do with ‘their’ future and not ‘ours.’ We can imagine that they (the disciples) would have liked a clear response to these questions, but Jesus denies them of such. It is full of ambiguity and tension throughout. This is probably why there is such a divergence of approaches to this passage. Nevertheless, Jesus does give them an answer that is loaded with significance.
Jesus begins by warning them about the various calamities that will come their way. There will be: deceivers (5-6), wars, rumors of wars, earthquakes (7-8), and persecution (9-13). These however, are not to be looked at as signs that the “end” is here, but rather are the very things that the disciples must endure as they await the “end.” Jesus calls his disciples to faithfulness in spite of the difficulties to come, not as a ‘last minute resort’ to escape the coming hardships. This is a call to godly discernment in the midst of “birth pains,” in order to be able to navigate a faithful life of witness after Jesus is himself no longer with them. The temptation will be for Jesus’ disciples to panic when they observe these various ‘signs’ and when they hear the rumors and speculations from false teachers. But, the “end,” meaning in this context the “end” of the Temple, will not arrive just because these things are taking place.  And in spite of whatever the disciples came to endure, their call to proclaim the gospel to all nations remained. Such proclamation would be the reason that they would have to stand before courts and governing officials. There is one main clue (or sign) that is given regarding the “end” that is to come. Everything mentioned thus far in the discourse was inevitable because of their circumstances, whereas verse 14 speaks of an actual sign or signal that it is time to “flee.” This is not a war or earthquake, but is “the abomination that causes desolation.”
So, to summarize: Calamities, earthquakes, wars, and deceivers will come (or rather came during the Jewish War of the first century), but the clue that the “end is now” takes place only in verse 14 with the introduction of the “abomination of desolation” (which will be the next discussion point we deal with in this series). When this happens, the disciples are to flee from Jerusalem to save themselves from the coming destruction upon Jerusalem and her temple (again, all happened in 70 AD).
A lingering question will remain for those who are not convinced that all of this passage belongs to the past: what about the cosmic signs, the angels, and the coming of the Son of Man? This all seems to be about “our” future because none of these things have happened yet. Well, we will get there in the next couple of posts :-) Thoughts about our potential to import our ideas about the “end” into the text? Other Ideas?
. Timothy J. Geddert, Mark, Believers Church Bible Commentary (Scottdale, PA: Herald Press, 2001), 305-306.
. Wright, Mark for Everyone, 178-179, 181.
 A majority of the commentators I am interacting with see a link between the “end” of space-time history and the return of the “Son of Man.”
. Michael Bird, “Mission As an Apocalyptic Event: Reflections On Luke 10:18 and Mark 13:10,” Evangelical Quarterly 76, no. 2 (April 2004), 126.