Mark 13 – Signs of the End of This Age & The Imperial Cult

In chapter 14 Jesus prepares for the Last Supper, so tomorrow we’re going to look at…

Mark 13
Signs of the End of This Age

Venus and Mars sculpture group reworked to portray an Imperial couple (created 120–140 AD, reworked 170–175).
The Imperial cult of ancient Rome identified emperors and some members of their families with the divinely sanctioned authority of the Roman State. The framework for the Imperial cult was formulated during the early Principate of Augustus, and was rapidly established throughout the Empire and its provinces, with marked local variations in its reception and expression.

Augustus’ reforms transformed Rome’s Republican system of government to a de facto monarchy, couched in traditional Roman practices and Republican values.

1 And as he went out of the temple, one of his disciples saith unto him, Master, see what manner of stones and what buildings are here!

13:1-37 – the Olivet discourse, as this chapter of Mark is commonly called, falls into five sections:

1. Jesus’ prophecy of the destruction of the temple and the questions of the disciples (vv. 1-4).

2. Warnings against deceivers and false signs of the end (vv. 5-23).

3. The coming of the Son of man (vv. 24-27).

4. The lesson of the fig tree (vv. 28:31).

5. Exhortation to watchfulness (vv. 32-37).

“What manner of stones” – according to Josephus (Antiquities, 15.11.3), they were 37 feet long, 12 feet high and 18 feet wide.

2.And Jesus answering said unto him, Seest thou these great buildings? there shall not be left one stone upon another, that shall not be thrown down.

3 And as he sat upon the mount of Olives over against the temple, Peter and James and John and Andrew asked him privately,

4 Tell us, when shall these things be? and what shall be the sign when all these things shall be fulfilled?

The disciples thought that the destruction of the temple would be one of the events that ushered in the end times (see Matt 24:3).

5 And Jesus answering them began to say, Take heed lest any man deceive you:

6 For many shall come in my name, saying, I am Christ; and shall deceive many.

7 And when ye shall hear of wars and rumors of wars, be ye not troubled: for such things must needs be; but the end shall not be yet.

8 For nation shall rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom: and there shall be earthquakes in divers places, and there shall be famines and troubles: these are the beginnings of sorrows.

9 But take heed to yourselves: for they shall deliver you up to councils; and in the synagogues ye shall be beaten: and ye shall be brought before rulers and kings for my sake, for a testimony against them.

Repoussé pendant of Alexander the Great, horned and diademed like Zeus Ammon: images of Alexander were worn as magic charms (4th-century Roman).
When the Romans began to dominate large parts of the Greek world, Rome’s senior representatives there were given the same divine honours as were Hellenistic rulers. This was a well-established method for Greek city-states to declare their allegiance to an outside power; such a cult committed the city to obey and respect the king as they obeyed and respected Apollo or any of the other gods.

“Beaten” – infraction of Jewish regulations was punishable by flogging, the maximum penalty being 39 strokes with the whip (see 2 Cor 11:23-24).

10 And the gospel must first be published among all nations.

11 But when they shall lead you, and deliver you up, take no thought beforehand what ye shall speak, neither do ye premeditate: but whatsoever shall be given you in that hour, that speak ye: for it is not ye that speak, but the Holy Ghost.

12 Now the brother shall betray the brother to death, and the father the son; and children shall rise up against their parents, and shall cause them to be put to death.

13 And ye shall be hated of all men for my name’s sake: but he that shall endure unto the end, the same shall be saved.

14 But when ye shall see the abomination of desolation, spoken of by Daniel the prophet, standing where it ought not, (let him that readeth understand,) then let them that be in Judaea flee to the mountains:

“The abomination of desolation – see  Dan 9:25-27; and see the notes in Matt 24:15.

“Standing where it ought not” – see 2 Thess 2:4.

“Let them that be in Judea flee to the mountain” – see note on Matt 24:16.

15 And let him that is on the housetop not go down into the house, neither enter therein, to take anything out of his house:

Augustus as Jove, holding scepter and orb (first half of 1st century A.D.).
In 30/29 BC, the koina of Asia and Bithynia requested permission to worship Octavian as their “deliverer” or “saviour”. This was by no means a novel request but it placed Octavian in a difficult position. He must satisfy popularist and traditionalist expectations and these could be notoriously incompatible.

“The housetop” – see note on 2:4 and Lk 17:31.

16 And let him that is in the field not turn back again for to take up his garment.

17 But woe to them that are with child, and to them that give suck in those days!

“Them that are with child, and to them that give suck” – representative of anyone forced to flee under especially difficult circumstances.  A nursing baby and its mother might perish under such conditions.

18 And pray ye that your flight be not in the winter.

19 For in those days shall be affliction, such as was not from the beginning of the creation which God created unto this time, neither shall be.

“Affliction, such as was not from the beginning” – see note on Matt 24:21.

20 And except that the Lord had shortened those days, no flesh should be saved: but for the elect’s sake, whom he hath chosen, he hath shortened the days.

21 And then if any man shall say to you, Lo, here is Christ; or, lo, he is there; believe him not:

22 For false Christs and false prophets shall rise, and shall shew signs and wonders, to seduce, if it were possible, even the elect.

23 But take ye heed: behold, I have foretold you all things.

24 But in those days, after that tribulation, the sun shall be darkened, and the moon shall not give her light,

“Tribulation” – see v. 19 and note on Matt 24:21.

25 And the stars of heaven shall fall, and the powers that are in heaven shall be shaken.

Augustus in Egyptian style, on the temple of Kalabsha in Egyptian Nubia.
In the Eastern provinces, cultural precedent ensured a rapid and geographically widespread dissemination of cult, extending as far as the Augustan military settlement at modern-day Najran.

The description in vv. 24-25 doesn’t necessarily refer to a complete breakup of the universe.  It was language commonly used to describe God’s awesome power and frightening judgment on a fallen world (Eze 32;7-8; Joel 2:10, 31, 3:15; Amos 8:9.

Yet, it doesn’t mean that God won’t tear up the entire universe.  He made it, He can certainly destroy it and create it.  As He said after the end He will create a new heaven and a new earth (Rev 21:1-2).

26 And then shall they see the Son of man coming in the clouds with great power and glory.

“Coming in the clouds with great power and glory” – a reference to Christ’s second coming (see 8:38; 2 Thess 1:6-10; Rev 19:11-16, 22:12-13).

27 And then shall he send his angels, and shall gather together his elect from the four winds, from the uttermost part of the earth to the uttermost part of heaven.

“Gather together his elect” – in the Old Testament God is spoken of as gathering His scattered people (Deut 30:3-4; Is 43:6; Jer 32:37; Eze 34:13, 36:24).  This post-tribulation even is probably the gathering of those who managed to be saved through the Great Tribulation.

It is debated whether Jesus’ second coming is before or after the Great Tribulation.

I believe that Jesus will come back before that Great Tribulation, which is the last 3½ years of the 7 years.  I believe this partly because:

And one of the elders answered, saying unto me, What are these which are arrayed in white robes? and whence came they?

And I said unto him, Sir, thou knowest. And he said to me, These are they which came out of great tribulation, and have washed their robes, and made them white in the blood of the Lamb (Rev 7:13-14).

I believe it is the non-believers/heathens/pagans that will experience the Great Tribulation.  Yet, Jesus may not come until after the 3½ years, but nobody but the Father knows (v. 32).

Temple of Augustus and Livia, Vienne (modern France). Originally dedicated to Augustus and Roma. Augustus was deified on his death in 14 A.D.: his widow Livia was deified in 42 A.D. by Claudius.

28 Now learn a parable of the fig tree; When her branch is yet tender, and putteth forth leaves, ye know that summer is near:

29 So ye in like manner, when ye shall see these things come to pass, know that it is nigh, even at the doors.

30 Verily I say unto you, that this generation shall not pass, till all these things be done.

31 Heaven and earth shall pass away: but my words shall not pass away.

32 But of that day and that hour knoweth no man, no, not the angels which are in heaven, neither the Son, but the Father.

33 Take ye heed, watch and pray: for ye know not when the time is.

34 For the Son of man is as a man taking a far journey, who left his house, and gave authority to his servants, and to every man his work, and commanded the porter to watch.

35 Watch ye therefore: for ye know not when the master of the house cometh, at even, or at midnight, or at the cockcrowing, or in the morning:

36 Lest coming suddenly he find you sleeping.

37 And what I say unto you I say unto all, Watch. 1 After two days was the feast of the passover, and of unleavened bread: and the chief priests and the scribes sought how they might take him by craft, and put him to death.

Cameo depicting the apotheosis of Claudius (mid-1st century CE).

The Imperial Cult

The Roman imperial cult was essentially a “religion” based upon the deification of Roman emperors. It had its origins in eastern and Greek practices, in which kings were often said to be gods.

Roman emperors were regularly deified after their deaths by an act of the Senate. 

The attribution of deity was seen as the highest possible manifestation of gratitude and honor, and participation in the imperial cult was a religious way of expressing gratitude for the benefits experienced during that emperor’s rule.

There was no expectation that the deified emperor would continue to intervene in human affairs, and sacrifices were also made to the “genius,” or spirit, embodied in his current, living successor.

The imperial cult had both a religious and a political function, serving as a unifying factor in the empire and as a test of loyalty. Refusal to participate in the cult by offering sacrifices In honor of the emperor could result in execution.

Temple to Caesar near the Cave of Pan at Caesarea Philippi

The New Testament’s central confession that “Jesus is Lord,” as well as references to Christ as “Savior” and the “Son of God,” while based upon Jewish and Christian theology, also served to undermine the lofty assertions of the imperial cult.

Emperor Marcus Aurelius (161-180 AD) and members of the Imperial family offer sacrifice in gratitude for success against Germanic tribes.

In the backgrounds stands the Temple of Jupiter on the Capitolium (this is the only extant portrayal of this roman temple). Bas-relief from the Arch of Marcus Aurelius.

The silver denariu mentioned in Mk 12:15 bore the image of the emperor Tiberius and the inscription “Augustus Tiberius Caesar, Son of the Divine Augustus,” reflecting both the deification of Augustus and Tiberius’s desire to highlight his filial relationship to his deified predecessor.

The imperial cult placed early Christians in the empire in a dilemma. On the one hand the cult was fundamentally a manifestation of the antichrist, while on the other, Christians were called upon to respect the institution and power of government (Rom 13).

This quandary was anticipated in the Jews’ question about paying taxes, and Jesus’ answer pointed to a paradox of the Christian life: Believers, though in the world, are not to be of it. 

…the Upper Room.

Matthew 24 – Signs of the End of this Age & Lost Cities of Africa: Introduction

The Lost City we’ll look at tomorrow is…

Matthew 24
Signs of the End of this Age

1 And Jesus went out, and departed from the temple: and his disciples came to him for to shew him the buildings of the temple.

2 And Jesus said unto them, See ye not all these things? verily I say unto you, There shall not be left here one stone upon another, that shall not be thrown down.

“There shall not be left here one stone upon another” – fulfilled literally in 70 A.D., when the Romans under Titus completely destroyed Jerusalem and the temple buildings.  Stones were even pried apart to collect the gold leaf that melted from the roof when the temple was set on fire.

“Thrown down” – excavations in 1968 uncovered large numbers of these stones, toppled from the walls by the invaders.

3 And as he sat upon the mount of Olives, the disciples came unto him privately, saying, Tell us, when shall these things be? and what shall be the sign of thy coming, and of the end of the world?

“Mount of Olives” – a ridge a little more than a mile long, beyond the Kidron Valley east of Jerusalem and rising about 200 feet above the city.

“When shall these things be?  And what shall be the sign of they coming, and of the end of the world?” –  Jesus doesn’t go into great detail, but He does tells us what to watch out for in this chapter.

4 And Jesus answered and said unto them, Take heed that no man deceive you.

In 70 A. D. the Romans burned the temple and destroyed the city. In the words of Jesus, “there shall not be left here one stone upon another that will not be thrown down.”

5 For many shall come in my name, saying, I am Christ; and shall deceive many.

6 And ye shall hear of wars and rumors of wars: see that ye be not troubled: for all these things must come to pass, but the end is not yet.

7 For nation shall rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom: and there shall be famines, and pestilences, and earthquakes, in divers places.

8 All these are the beginning of sorrows.

“Sorrows” – the rabbis, as well as the prophets, spoke of “birth pangs.”  They will lead into the “time of Jacob’s trouble” (Jer 30:7).

9 Then shall they deliver you up to be afflicted, and shall kill you: and ye shall be hated of all nations for my name’s sake.

10 And then shall many be offended, and shall betray one another, and shall hate one another.

11 And many false prophets shall rise, and shall deceive many.

12 And because iniquity shall abound, the love of many shall wax cold.

13 But he that shall endure unto the end, the same shall be saved.

Ancient rock-cut tombs on the lower slope of the Mount of Olives. The rectangular openings to the tombs have been enlarged, probably when the tombs were used as dwellings by Christian monks.

14 And this gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in all the world for a witness unto all nations; and then shall the end come.

15 When ye therefore shall see the abomination of desolation, spoken of by Daniel the prophet, stand in the holy place, (whoso readeth, let him understand:)

“The abomination of desolation” – the detestable thing causing the desolation of the holy place.  The primary reference in Daniel (9:27, 11:31, 12:11) was to 168 B.C., when Antiochus Epiphanes erected a pagan altar to Zeus on the sacred altar in the temple of Jerusalem.

There are two more stages in the progressive fulfillment of the predictions in Daniel and Matthew: (1) the Roman destruction of the temple in 70 A.D. and (2) the setting up of an image of the antichrist in Jerusalem (see Thess 2:4; Rev 13:14-15).

16 Then let them which be in Judaea flee into the mountains:

“The Mountains” – the Transjordan mountains, where Pella was located.  Christians in Jerusalem fled to that area during the Roman siege during shortly before 70 A.D.  a similar fleeing will occur during the future great tribulation period (identified with Daniel’s 70th “week,” Dan 9:27).

17 Let him which is on the housetop not come down to take anything out of his house:

18 Neither let him which is in the field return back to take his clothes.

19 And woe unto them that are with child, and to them that give suck in those days!

20 But pray ye that your flight be not in the winter, neither on the Sabbath day:

“Neither on the Sabbath” – only Matthew includes this because he was writing to Jews, who were forbidden to travel more than about half a mile on the Sabbath.

21 For then shall be great tribulation, such as was not since the beginning of the world to this time, no, nor ever shall be.

“Great tribulation” – Josephus, the Jewish historian who was there, describes the destruction of Jerusalem in almost identical language.  Many believe that reference is also to a future period of great tribulation (see Dan 12:1).

22 And except those days should be shortened, there should no flesh be saved: but for the elect’s sake those days shall be shortened.

“Days should be shortened” – some hold that t

The Prophet Daniel Described The New World Order This Way.
Dan 7:7-8, 7:23-25

his statement means that the tribulation will be of such intensity that, if allowed to continue, it would destroy everyone.  Other believe that Christ is referring to the cutting short of a previously determined time period (such as the 70th “seven” of Dan 9:27 or the 42 months of Rev 11:2, 13:5).

I believe we are in the tribulation at this time, but not the Great Tribulation.  The Bible doesn’t tell us when the tribulation begins.  I believe the “shorting of days” is being done now because it seems to me that the days go by quickly, and that is what I believe Jesus was talking. 

God is making the time go quicker so we can get out of here and be with Him forever.

“The elect’s sake” – the people God, during the tribulation, including some Jews and Gentiles.

23 Then if any man shall say unto you, Lo, here is Christ, or there; believe it not.

24 For there shall arise false Christ’s, and false prophets, and shall shew great signs and wonders; insomuch that, if it were possible, they shall deceive the very elect.

25 Behold, I have told you before.

26 Wherefore if they shall say unto you, Behold, he is in the desert; go not forth: behold, he is in the secret chambers; believe it not.

27 For as the lightning cometh out of the east, and shineth even unto the west; so shall also the coming of the Son of man be.

The abomination of desolation is definitely one of the most interesting and misunderstood prophecies found in the Bible.

The element that makes this prophecy especially intriguing is that Jesus identifies it as a specific sign that the end is near. A careful study of Matthew 24 reveals that it is one of the many Bible passages that has a dual application.

It speaks not only of the abomination of desolation that warns of the imminent destruction of the temple and Jerusalem but it also parallels this with the end of this world as we know it and the second coming of Jesus.

28 For wheresoever the carcass is, there will the eagles be gathered together.

“There will the eagles be gathered together” – the coming of Christ will be as obvious as the gathering of vultures around a carcass.

29 Immediately after the tribulation of those days shall the sun be darkened, and the moon shall not give her light, and the stars shall fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens shall be shaken:

30 And then shall appear the sign of the Son of man in heaven: and then shall all the tribes of the earth mourn, and they shall see the Son of man coming in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory.

31 And he shall send his angels with a great sound of a trumpet, and they shall gather together his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other.

32 Now learn a parable of the fig tree; When his branch is yet tender, and putteth forth leaves, ye know that summer is nigh:

33 So likewise ye, when ye shall see all these things, know that it is near, even at the doors.

34 Verily I say unto you, This generation shall not pass, till all these things be fulfilled.

35 Heaven and earth shall pass away, but my words shall not pass away.

Jesus’ words are more certain than the existence of the universe, i.e., “verily.”

36 But of that day and hour knoweth no man, no, not the angels of heaven, but my Father only.

37 But as the days of Noe were, so shall also the coming of the Son of man be.

38 For as in the days that were before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day that Noe entered into the ark,

39 And knew not until the flood came, and took them all away; so shall also the coming of the Son of man be.

40 Then shall two be in the field; the one shall be taken, and the other left.

41 Two women shall be grinding at the mill; the one shall be taken, and the other left.

Sun Shining Down on the Clouds

42 Watch therefore: for ye know not what hour your Lord doth come.

43 But know this, that if the Goodman of the house had known in what watch the thief would come, he would have watched, and would not have suffered his house to be broken up.

44 Therefore be ye also ready: for in such an hour as ye think not the Son of man cometh.

45 Who then is a faithful and wise servant, whom his lord hath made ruler over his household, to give them meat in due season?

46 Blessed is that servant, whom his lord when he cometh shall find so doing.

47 Verily I say unto you, That he shall make him ruler over all his goods.

48 But and if that evil servant shall say in his heart, My lord delayeth his coming;

49 And shall begin to smite his fellow servants, and to eat and drink with the drunken;

50 The lord of that servant shall come in a day when he looketh not for him, and in an hour that he is not aware of,

51 And shall cut him asunder, and appoint him his portion with the hypocrites: there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth.

Lost Cities of Africa: Introduction

The five cities in this review span a vast gulf of history, from the 11th century B.C. to the 15th century CE. But they also span a cultural gulf, between the super-Saharan world of the famous civilizations of antiquity and the sub-Saharan world that remains little known and poorly understood.

Corinthian columns at Leptis Magna, in Libya, one of the best preserved Roman cities.

The former is the familiar world of the ancient Egyptians, Greeks and Romans, in which the extraordinarily long narrative of Egyptian history, represented here through the tale of the lost city of Tanis, gives way to the Classical world, and the famous names of Alexandria, a Greek city with an Egyptian flavor, and Leptis Magna, one of the best preserved of all Roman cities.

The sub-Saharan world has its own rich history, with its own narrative of the rise and fall of empires, but the lack of written sources, combined with the relative paucity of archaeological research, means that this narrative is largely unknown.

The haunting site of Great Zimbabwe offers a rare window on this untold history, although it took the efforts of unbiased and professional archaeologists to start to unravel its mystery.  It has been subject to interpretation (or misinterpretation) through ideologically rather than scientifically motivated research.

Great Zimbabwe is a ruined city in the southeastern hills of Zimbabwe near Lake Mutirikwe and the town of Masvingo, close to the Chimanimani Mountains and the Chipinge District.

t was the capital of the Kingdom of Zimbabwe during the country’s Late Iron Age.

The two worlds are bridged by the ancient city of Meroe and the venerable Kushite civilization of which it was capital. The Kushites are rarely seen as much more than adjuncts to their more famous neighbor to the north, Egypt, but in practice they represent a coming together of the super- and sub-Saharan worlds.

Initially they developed in imitation of the Egyptians, but the establishment of Meroe signaled a geopolitical shift towards the sub-Saharan world and the development of a new, uniquely sub-Saharan culture.

Corinthian columns at Lepti) Magna, in Libya, one of the be.it preserved Roman cities.

…the Great Zimbabwe.