The difficulty of this chapter lay in the fact that the first readers of the gospel had an entirely different understanding of “the son of man coming in the clouds” v26, than we do. If we could put ourselves in their place, it would help us see the twofold nature of this chapter’s interpretation. The key lay in the way they understood Daniel 7, and the fact that we live after the fall of Jerusalem in AD70. It gives us a different perspective than what they had. Therefore it can be hard to understand Mark 13 and also Matthew 24, which are almost a copy of one another, where the same phrase, “son of man coming in the clouds” occurs, Mt. 24:30. The background for what Jesus is saying here is in Daniel 7:13-18. Jews during the days of Jesus understood this passage to point to Israel’s world domination with their Messiah, the Son of Man. The apocalyptic language of Mk. 13:6-8 reminds us of the same prophetic language of Haggai 2:6-7, where global catastrophic events surround God’s government changing. The greatness of the change would be equal to the greatness of the Temple and it’s destruction. The 2nd Temple was greater than the first for 2 reasons, firstly, Jesus Christ, Immanuel visited it several times, and he is much greater than any temple. Secondly, it was indeed smaller in dimensions, but in time, Herod lavished huge amounts of decor, and precious metals to make it’s appearance grandiose and curry favor with the Jews. This made it economically more valuable than Solomon’s first temple.
The Temple during the days of Jesus was heralded by the Roman historian Tacitus, in his, “History 5.8”, calling it “immensely opulent.” The Jewish historian contemporary with the first century, Josephus, compared it to a beautiful snow capped mountain. So when Jesus said “not one stone will remain upon another”, he was prophesying destruction unimaginable to his generation. It would be a little like someone from a country village in Mississippi, living in 1971, to promise his closest friends that the Pentagon would be hit & the World Trade Center Twin Towers would be destroyed by a small group of terrorists. This claim would be total mockery in 1971, but when Jesus made the prophecy concerning Jerusalem, none of his disciples laughed but were filled with concern and questions. This reaction and historical consequences are one solid reason why everyone today should take the gospels very seriously indeed.
The persecution prophesied would begin with Jews “councils & synagogues”, v9, but grow to include Gentiles, “kings”, and the purpose was to be a “witness”. The word in Greek is “Martoreen” meaning “evidenced testimony”, but of course it is a root word that gave life to our English word Martyr. We see a fulfillment of this prophecy throughout Acts, but nowhere in the rest of the New Testament does it mention the destruction of the Temple and Jerusalem. Why?
v14 has the phrase, “the abomination of desolation”, is an allusion to Dan. 9:27. Some have seen the fulfillment of Daniel’s prophecy in the actions of Antiochus IV in 167BC but the words of Jesus indicate that Antiochus was not the final fulfillment, but that there was (from Jesus’ perspective) still another fulfillment yet to come. It is historically true that the Roman General Titus desecrated the Temple by posting the “Roman Eagle” inside the Temple grounds to be honored as an idol. Then later destroyed it in AD70. Today the Arch of Titus is celebrating his triumph over Jerusalem. Still reminding the world of God’s fulfilled prophecy Jesus made, as he wept, Luke 19:41-44.
v32 “but”, may indeed mark the change in thought by Jesus, away from Jerusalem and Israel’s demise, and onto the world’s judgment day that we ourselves have yet to meet. The command for everyone to stay alert is reminiscent of The parable of the 10 virgins, Matthew 25:1-11, Do you have enough oil?