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Mark 13:1-8

Leader Guide

Participant Guide

Lesson Focus Jesus warns us to be on guard against those who claim to bring salvation but to trust that all things will be made right.

Lesson Outcomes Through this lesson, students should:

  1. Understand that Jesus desires us to be on guard against those who would claim to come in Jesus’ name.

  2. Understand that wars and natural disasters are not signs that the end of the world is near.

  3. Be encouraged to focus on our participation in the mission of God.

Catching Up on the Story Over the last few chapters, Jesus and his followers have been making their way toward Jerusalem. Many times Jesus has warned them of his impending arrest, torture, and execution. Understandably so, this has caused much consternation among the disciples. At times the disciples seem to be catching on to what Jesus is doing. They know he’s bringing God’s kingdom, but they’re still a bit confused about how that kingdom operates.

Their confusion has led to some interesting conversations and disputes. Jesus’ followers have argued about who will be the greatest in the kingdom Jesus is bringing. Not only that but James and John have asked Jesus to elevate their status above the rest of the disciples by placing the two on his right and left in the divine throne room.

The conversations and teaching moments, along with the healings and exorcisms, all take place on the road to Jerusalem. In Mark’s gospel, there is only one road, and that road leads to Israel’s capital city. As well as being a physical road that Jesus and his followers must travel, it is also a spiritual road representing the long journey of discipleship. Jesus has been taking his followers with him, not just to Jerusalem, but into God’s coming kingdom.

Both the physical and spiritual roads that Jesus and his disciples travel don’t end with the suffering that takes place in Jerusalem but continue after the events of the Easter weekend. After Jesus’ departs in the ascension, the disciples will continue to journey on the road to God’s kingdom. Like they have to this point, the disciples will need to continue to rely on God to instruct them and lead them to where they should go.

This week’s story is intended to help Jesus’ followers continue to navigate the uncertain road ahead of them.

The Temple The last several scenes in Mark’s gospel have taken place in the Temple area. Time has come, however, for Jesus to leave the Temple area for the last time. Jesus will not return to the Temple before he is crucified. As Jesus and his disciples are exiting the Temple, one of his followers turns back to admire the grand structure. “Look, Teacher, what large stones and what large buildings!”

Marveling at a structure like the Temple was not out of place. The Temple in Jerusalem was the largest and most spectacular building in the country, if not the region. Nothing could compare to its grandeur. The Temple’s splendor was partly thanks to Herod and his work enlarging and completing it. Most of those who would visit the Temple on any given day would be spellbound by its size and beauty.

Jesus responds to his disciple, “Do you see these great buildings? Not one stone will be left here upon another; all will be thrown down.” To this point in the disciples’ journey, they have heard and witnessed some outlandish things. On more than one occasion, they’ve listened to Jesus predict his death. They’ve watched as he’s cast out demons and healed the sick. Rationally, they should believe Jesus and his prediction.

At the same time, Jesus’ statement would have been a shock. The Temple was the sign of Israel. For so long, the Temple was the place where God’s presence dwelt among creation and God’s people specifically. In their collective memory, the disciples remember when the Temple had been destroyed before at the hands of the Assyrians. Exile and the Temple’s destruction had radically altered Israel’s existence. There’s no doubt that the disciples think that the destruction of the Temple now would produce similar changes.

On the Mount of Olives Mark’s narrative leaves out any immediate response the disciples might have had. It isn’t until the group arrives on the Mount of Olives that questions are raised. The Mount of Olives is not far outside of Jerusalem, and it is said that a beautiful view of the Temple was available from that vantage point.

Then, Peter, James, John, and Andrew draw Jesus way and privately ask him, “Tell us, when will this be, and what will be the sign that all these things are about to be accomplished.”

Two specific questions are being asked here, when will this be, and how will we know?

Rather than give his disciples a direct answer to their question, Jesus gives them a warning. “Beware that no one leads you astray.” Beware, while a correct translation is a bit mild. A better translation might be, “What out! So that no one leads you astray.”[1] Jesus warns his disciples to be vigilant not for foreign invaders or evil men bent on Israel’s destruction but for false teachers/messiahs.

Jesus counsels the disciples to be on guard against those who will “come in my name and say, ‘I am he!’” The phrase “come in my name” does not mean “coming with the authority or approval of” as the disciples and first apostles will do as they take the gospel around the known world. Instead, crafty men will come in Jesus’ name, claiming to be the Christ.[2] Many will come who say, “I am he!” The phrase “I am” is a dead giveaway. At the burning bush, when Moses asks who he is to say has sent him to Pharaoh, God answers, “The I am sends you.” Vigilance is needed to ensure that the disciples don’t lose faith in the true and real “I am,” Jesus.

Part two of Jesus’ warning calls the disciples to patience. As their question has already shown, the disciples long to know when exactly the end will come, and God’s kingdom will be fully established. Jesus doesn’t give them an exact time. He doesn’t even give them general signs. Instead, he tells them not to get too uptight about events that others would interpret as “signs of the times.”

“When you hear of wars and rumors of wars, do not be alarmed: this must take place, but the end is still to come.” Wars and rumors of war are as commonplace now as they were in Jesus’ day. So are nations rising against other nations. Earthquakes abound, and so do famines.

The apocalyptic thought of the time sought in the events of the day signs that might predict what is to come. Jesus is instructing his followers not to get caught up in speculations about the impending end. Instead, the end is not yet. Keep in mind that Christians who would read this gospel which Mark writes were experiencing persecutions and troubles of their own. Amid such trouble, they naturally would long for Christ to return to set things right.

Today’s passage ends with the statement that events like wars and natural disasters are but the beginning of the birth pangs and delivery is a long way off. The rest of the chapter will continue to outline the future, with its dangers, which lie ahead. Before the narrative moves on to relate Jesus’ arrest and execution, the last words of the chapter are, “Keep awake.”

So What? Jesus’ warning to his disciples is as relevant to us as it was to them. Then, as now, there will be women and men who claim to come in Jesus’ name.  It’s unlikely that anyone today will seriously claim to be the Messiah and be believed by any significant amount of people, that is. But the church in America is not immune from the temptation to follow anyone who says, “I know the way. I’m the only one that can fix the issues we’re facing today.” We’re quick to pledge allegiance to those who claim they can help us avoid persecution or who will place us in a position of power relative to those around us.

At the same time, Jesus’ concern for his followers is not that they know the times and signs of the end but that they are constantly prepared to participate in God’s coming kingdom fully. Focusing on wars and rumors of wars will serve only as a distraction and a temptation.

Persecutions and disasters will serve as a distraction because we will spend more time thinking about how to avoid them than we will think about how best to love our neighbor during those disasters.

Persecutions and disasters will serve as a temptation because we will be tempted to greet those dangers head-on with our own authority and power instead of trusting that the God who created the universe is coming to set all things right. The temptation to exert our power in the face of evil has been the greatest temptation of the church since the beginning. Humanity has a strong propensity to take things into our own hands rather than trusting that the ultimate victory belongs to the Lord.

Instead of being fearful about the world around us, we should place ourselves in the hands of God, believing all the while that a new and better future awaits.

Specific Discussion Questions Read the text aloud. Then, read the text to yourself quietly.  Read it slowly, as if you were very unfamiliar with the story.

  1. Have you ever observed a man-made wonder and been in awe of its grandeur or immensity?

  2. Imagine you lived in Jesus’ day and were from a small town in Israel. How would you have reacted to seeing the Temple in Jerusalem?

  3. Israel believed that the Temple is where God’s presence dwelled among them. What do you think the disciple’s initial reaction might have been to Jesus’ statement about the Temple’s destruction? How would you have reacted?

  4. Some disciples corner Jesus and ask for a timetable and a sign for when these things might happen. Would you have asked the same question? Why?

  5. Jesus doesn’t give us a clear answer to the disciple’s question. Instead, Jesus gives a warning. What are the two warnings that Jesus gives?

  6. Have you ever heard someone say that they are the Messiah? What did you think about that person and why? Did you believe them?

  7. Have you ever heard anyone, specifically a public figure, declare that they were the only one who could fist the problem that faced the town/city/country? Did you believe them? Why or why not?

  8. Is Jesus warning to beware of those who might come claiming to be the Messiah relevant to us today? What makes you think that way?

  9. Have you ever heard or said yourself that certain events were signs that the end was near and Jesus was soon to come back? Why would you think that way? What might Jesus say about saying such things?

  10. Jesus is calling not to be alarmed when wars, disasters, or even persecutions arise. What might Jesus want us to focus on in those situations?

  11. What is Jesus calling us to do? Who is Jesus calling us to be? 


[1] M. Eugene Boring, Mark: A Commentary, ed. C. Clifton Black, John T. Carroll, and M. Eugene Boring, The New Testament Library (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2012), 362.

[2] Ibid.


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