Suffering is caused by a variety of things, including our poor choices, the poor choices of others, and creation being out of sorts with its Creator. Ultimately all suffering is caused by the devil (Genesis 3) and overseen by a loving heavenly Father (2 Corinthians 12:7-10). All of this is why believers need to trust Jesus in suffering.
Jesus’ disciples needed to be warned of upcoming suffering. Mark 13 is the longest discourse in Mark’s Gospel (parallels in Matthew 24 and Luke 21). It is typically called the “Olivet Discourse.”
Our text takes place during the middle of the final week of Jesus’ life. Jesus had just upbraided the leaders of Jerusalem for their hypocrisy and their rejection (Matthew 23). As he left the temple area the disciples drew attention to the tremendous stones (i.e. their beauty and size). “Not one stone will be left on another” (Mark 13:2). This so stunned the disciples that they held their tongues until they got to the Mount of Olives. Then they mustered the courage to ask two questions. When will the temple be destroyed and what will be the sign when this will be accomplished? (Matthew 24:3 adds, “and the end of the age?”) While many God-loving, Bible-believing, Jesus-honoring people believe that Jesus is predicting the suffering at the end of time, the primary meaning (at least in this section of the discourse) refers to the suffering the disciples would endure prior to the destruction of Jerusalem.
Jesus called his disciples to “watch” (be on your guard). This is the key repeated word in Mark 13. Jesus even ends with it (13:37). Jesus did not want the twelve to be duped. In other words, “Do not be surprised when physical suffering comes along.” Jesus mentioned five types of physical suffering. They would be handed over (literally “betrayed”) to local “Sanhedrins.” They would be flogged (beaten to the point of taking skin off). They would have to stand and witness before governmental officials. They would be arrested. Finally, they would be brought to trial.
None of this would be comfortable. The book that records this physical suffering is Acts. All five types would come to them rather soon. The encouragement Jesus gave them to endure such physical suffering was trusting in the power of the Holy Spirit’s inspiration to ensure that the gospel would be preached to the nations.
Mark 13:12, 13
The family is your first church. The family is school district number 1. Jesus redefined family to include anyone who does his will (Mark 3:35). But what happens when familial relationships actually become the source of suffering? Jesus drew upon the language of Micah 7:6 to teach his disciples that the sword of the gospel sometimes divided the closet of earthly relationships. The promise in the text is that of hate. Everyone will hate the apostles because of their new familial relationship to Jesus. Jesus would promise this again (John 16:2) and Paul would later claim it for himself and others (Colossians 1:24; 2 Timothy 3:12).
Jesus tipped off the disciples as to when they could expect this suffering to get intense. It was when they saw “the abomination that causes desolation” in Jerusalem. The disciples had a reservoir from which to draw to understand this reference (Daniel 9:27; 11:31; 12:11). What would pollute the temple in Jerusalem? Anything unholy or impure. The primary meaning from the Old Testament would be the prediction of Antiochus Epiphanes offering swine’s flesh on the altar at the temple (1 Maccabees 1:41-64; 6:7; Jospehus, Antiquities of the Jews 12.5.4). In light of the parallel passage in Luke 21:20 we can understand this as a reference to Titus’s army coming to lay siege to Jerusalem in A.D. 70. Governmental oppression would cause religious suffering.
No wonder Jesus warned his listeners (and Mark’s readers) to get out of town. They did. They escaped to Pella and other places on the eastern side of the Jordan River. They were to leave quickly and take nothing. Jesus showed his mercy for nursing mothers when such suffering would come. It would really be a horrible, rotten, no-good day—maybe the worst in history.
As bad as the suffering was to be, each section gave a word of hope (13:11, 13, 20). The Disciples would be helped by the Holy Spirit, saved in the end, and their suffering cut short due to being his elect. No suffering seems light and momentary, but trusting Jesus to carry us through that suffering prepares for us an eternal weight of glory (2 Corinthians 4:17).
Dr. Mark Scott teaches Preaching and New Testament at Ozark Christian College in Joplin, Missouri.
Lesson study ©2018, Christian Standard Media. Lesson based on The Lookout’s Scope and Sequence ©2018. Scripture quotations are from the New International Version, ©2011, unless otherwise indicated.