“For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; there will be earthquakes in various places; there will be famines.” — Mark 13:8
The apocalyptic section of Mark in chapter thirteen is very different from other places where we read about the end of the world as we know it. It does not contain the story of God’s wrath being poured out, instead we see the world devolving into chaos and anarchy. Beginning in verse 24 the discussion finally turns back to end in the direction all Christian apocalyptic writing ends, Jesus returns as undisputed Lord. But in the lectionary reading today we only get the first section of Mark 13.It opens with Jesus and his disciples exiting the Temple and the disciples remarking to Jesus how impressed they are with the construction of the facility. It’s possible that there is something deeper going on here, some metaphorical or spiritual dimension that is lost to us, or this could be a response to something Jesus or someone else has said while they were visiting the Temple. But I tend to read this as just some yokel fisherman from the countryside being amazed by the size of the Temple. It would have been a truly amazing sight! Jesus finds their awe misplaced. He reminds them, not too subtly, that what matters is not buildings. We still fall into the trap of thinking buildings will likely stand forever, especially when they have spiritual significance to us, but Jesus knows better. Buildings can be exceedingly useful and important and Jesus knew this as evidenced by his many visits to the Temple, but to misplace our awe in the building instead of God is a dangerous road.Once they get out of town the disciples want to know when the destruction of the Temple will happen. It is somewhat surprising that this is the question they ask. They do not ask: ‘Who will do it? How will they do it? Why will they do it?’ Jesus launches into a warning about false leaders, and their role in misleading folks as to exact timing. The passage beginning in verse 24 shows that the confusion about false Messiahs is foolish because of the clarity of the event that marks his return. He also warns them not to assume that the return has come just because the world is in chaos. Instead, he shares with them that great trouble will continue to plague the earth (it is important to note that this is not new; wars, natural disasters, and famines were/are standard fare). In the midst of the statement he utters those words we find so often the Bible, ‘Do not be alarmed.’ Do not be afraid is a statement God’s people hear again and again from God, through prophets, psalms, and Jesus. This is the theme that runs throughout all apocalyptic in Scripture: terrible things are going to happen, but ultimately God will triumph.