This part of the Gospel of Mark includes the prediction of the destruction of the temple (Matthew 24:1-3; Mark 13:1-4; Luke 21:5-7) and the so-called "synoptic apocalypse" (Matthew 24:4-36; Mark 13:5-37; and Luke 21:8-36). There is extensive overlap in the way these Synoptic Gospel texts are stated. For those of you studying the apocalypse in these gospels you will note some differences that point up the way the three gospels are portraying this period in Jesus life.
For Mark it is clear that this testamentary activity of Jesus drives home the point that despite all of the current persecution the Markan community is experiencing, there is hope. The dire predictions from the past are set in a context of admonitions. Later in Mark 13:24-27 we hear of the return of the Son of man and the future vindication of Jesus followers. There is no specific indication that any historical event will signal the return of Jesus, merely that the coming is assured.
It is easy to find dire predictions of the end of the world. In fact we are in the midst of one of those times. Supposedly on December 21,2012, everything will come to an end given a certain interpretation of the Mayan calendar. Despite Mayan scholars thinking this is a misreading many have a tendency to want to think of it as talk of the end.
Look at these predictions and you get the drift of complications regarding predictions.
- Frank Knox, US secretary of the Navy on December 4, 1941: "Whatever happens, the US Navy is not going to be caught off guard.
- Thomas Watson, IBM chairman, 1943: "I think there is a world market for maybe five computers."
- Decca records rejection of a request for a recording contract with the Beatles in 1962: "We don't like their sound. Groups of guitars are on the way out.
I am drawn to two points in Jesus response.
First, "Beware that no one leads you astray" (Mark 13:5). In the midst of chaos and crisis we have a tendency to listen to almost anything that comes our way in the anticipation that there is a simple solution to whatever we are facing. Simple solutions usually are what they are, "simple." So this warning presents us today, as well as to Mark's community, a warning to be attentive to actions and values that will be sustaining and not merely easy answers.
Second, "This is but the beginning of the birth pangs" (Mark 13:8). Certainly when this kind of image is used in the Old Testament/Hebrew Bible it is in the context of distress (Exodus 15:14; Deuteronomy 2:25; Isaiah 13:8; 21:3; 26:17; Jeremiah 4:31; 6:24; Hosea 13:13; Micah 4:9), just as with real childbirth. Paul also uses the image (1 Thessalonians 5:3). Part of the point we can take from this Markan text is that finally with the birth (child or the coming of the Son of man) there is a firm confidence and faith being assured us.
As one interpreter said, "When the world is out of joint, when people's minds are disordered and their hearts are failing them for fear, when it seems as though not one stone is left on another, then the thing of supreme importance is the living church, with all of her sanctuaries of worship and her avenues of service, where women and men come to have their faith strengthened, their thoughts clarified, their ideas uplifted, their convictions born, and their characters created" (Leininger).