The Olivet Discourse (Part 1 of 4) – Mark 13:1-8

by Roger McCay
28 October 2018
Sermon Passage: Mark 13:1-8
Link to Audio Version

You probably saw the videos or pictures of the incredible destruction that occurred a couple of weeks ago, on Oct. 10th, along the coast—particularly Mexico Beach. The Panama City News Herald reported that the devastation could very well signal the death of the town, as Hurricane Michael destroyed 85% of the homes of the town.[1] And, tragically, according to CNN, there were 19 dead as a result of the storm.[2] The devastation of the town was such that whole neighborhoods on the beach were just gone. Houses without foundations were completely gone, and those with foundations were left with just the foundation.

Despite how shocking, how our heart goes out to those who are suffering now, as a result of the hurricane, we know that such is nothing new. Even our own town suffered tremendous destruction back when Hurricane Ivan came through 14 years ago. These things happen. These things have always happened. And these things are not signs that the end is upon us. Which is why we prudently buy good insurance policies.

But, in times of calamity, it can really seem like the world is coming to an end. In persecution and hardship, we long for the return of the Lord. We long for his coming in judgment and the new heavens and new earth. We long for the promise of eternal peace and glory. Yet, in our longing, there is a tendency to succumb to various deceptions in our eagerness for the Lord’s return.

The Lord knew this. So, he graciously gave revelation and commands that would encourage us in such times of calamity and times of temptation. So, in our passage today, Jesus gives guidance: that we must not be over-awed by the false permanence of earthly monoliths; that we must avoid being led astray by false Christs; and that we recognize false signs that people might point to saying “The end is nigh,” for what they truly are.

So, verse 1.

13:1 And as he came out of the temple, one of his disciples said to him, “Look, Teacher, what wonderful stones and what wonderful buildings!”

Having finished up in the temple, Jesus left with his disciples heading back to Bethany. As they left Jerusalem and made their way up the Mount of Olives, some of the disciples looked back at the Temple. Perhaps they were pondering, thinking about the amazing things they had heard and witnessed there. As they looked back, they were struck by the solidity and beauty of the temple, sitting on Mt. Moriah, the place where they believed God dwelt.

It was a monolith of the Jewish society and religion and also, one of the great wonders of the ancient Roman World. Josephus, a Jewish historian who witnessed the temples destruction, describes the temple as it was:

Now the outward face of the temple in its front wanted nothing that was likely to surprise either men’s minds or their eyes, for it was covered all over with plates of gold of great weight, and, at the first rising of the sun, reflected back a very fiery splendor, and made those who forced themselves to look upon it to turn their eyes away, just as they would have done at the sun’s own rays. But this temple appeared to strangers, when they were at a distance, like a mountain covered with snow; for, as to those parts of it that were not gilt, they were exceeding white. … Of its stones, some of them were forty-five cubits in length, five in height, and six in breadth.[3]

The stones Josephus described were about as large as a boxcar on a train. They were huge, and their incorporation into the temple structure rivaled the feats of the building of the pyramids, about which people still scratch their heads, wondering how such were built with the primitive means available. The Temple was a wonder. And the disciples, from their earthly point of view, were in awe of the Temple just like pretty much everybody else at the time.

Now, Jesus found this to be a teaching moment. So, he used their comment as a lead-in to one of the most enigmatic discourses he gave in his entire ministry, what we call the Olivet Discourse, or the “little apocalypse.” He starts his discourse by telling them in v. 2, “Do you see these great buildings? There will not be left here one stone upon another that will not be thrown down.”

This was rightly shocking to the disciples. Jesus told them without preamble that this amazing, wonderful Temple would be completely and utterly destroyed. This had happened before in 586 BC when the Babylonians destroyed the temple built by Solomon and took the people into exile (2 Kings 25:8-21). Now, Jesus was saying such a thing would happen again.