The reading for this week comes from Mark 13. This is a rather unusual text which has a distinct end-time flavour. I have copied out a helpful introduction from a commentary (Say to this Mountain, Mark's Story of Discipleship).
The Text in Context
Background: The Judean Revolt
Jesus’ second great sermon (13:5ff) alludes to events in Mark’s own historical moment: the Judean Revolt of 66-70 C.E. In June of 66, an insurrection against Roman rule began in Jerusalem, the culmination to decades of widespread social unrest and percolating armed insurgency. Temple sacrifices on behalf of the emperor were halted, both the Judean clerical aristocracy and Roman cohorts were driven out of the city, and the public archives (including records of debt) were burned. The rebellion spread to the surrounding provinces. In November, the Roman counterattack began under Gallus, the Roman Legate of Syria. But the imperil forces were successfully repelled by the nationalist fighters, and for a few short years many parts of Palestine were liberated from Roman rule.
A provisional government was set up, despite fierce internal power struggles, and the rebels began preparing for the next siege on Jerusalem that would surely come. A massive Roman counterinsurgency commenced the following summer, immediately retaking most of Galilee and moving south in a vicious scorched-earth campaign. Because of civil war in Rome, however, the military effort stalled, so that the final assault on Jerusalem was not begun until the spring of 70 under Titus. In the meantime there were internal coups and counter-coups between the radical anti-clerical and moderate rebel factions.
To those Palestinian Jews loyal to the Temple-state, the terrible social and political upheaval of the war with Rome no doubt portended “signs of the end” (see 13:4). But from Mark’s perspective, the rebellion merely represented the “beginning” of yet another cycle of violence (Mark 13:7f). With the Roman siege of Jerusalem imminent (13:14a), rebel recruiters were going throughout Palestine summoning patriotic Jews to Jerusalem’s defences (13:6,21f).
For Mark, only once voice could compete with their persuasive call to arms – that of Jesus. His apocalyptic sermon, with its cautionary refrain to “Watch out!” (13:5, 9, 23, 33) suggests that Mark’s community was critical of both imperial collaborators and nationalists. Its nonviolent stance, refusing to cooperate with either the Jewish guerrillas or the Roman counterinsurgency, earned it persecution from both sides of the war (13:9-13). The disciples, representing the anxious concern of a community caught in the war, pose a double question to Jesus (13:4)
When will this be
and what will be the sign
that these things are to be accomplished?
The sermon’s two parts provide Jesus’ response accordingly: The first half (13:5-22) addresses the “time” the second the “signs” (13:23-37). Both parts reiterate the counsel of the prophet Daniel, who two centuries earlier during the Maccabean revolt had urged the faithful to resist both the imperial beast and the delusions of militant nationalism (Daniel 7-11). At the heart of the sermon is Jesus’ call to abandon Jerusalem (Mark 13:14b-20) because of the apocalyptic conviction that a truly just social order cannot be established by the sword. The disciples are instructed to “wait and watch” for the fall of the powers (13:23-27) and a genuine transformation of the world (13:28ff).