14 “When you see ‘the abomination that causes desolation’ standing where it does not belong—let the reader understand—then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains. 15 Let no one on the housetop go down or enter the house to take anything out. 16 Let no one in the field go back to get their cloak. 17 How dreadful it will be in those days for pregnant women and nursing mothers! 18 Pray that this will not take place in winter, 19 because those will be days of distress unequaled from the beginning, when God created the world, until now—and never to be equaled again.
20 “If the Lord had not cut short those days, no one would survive. But for the sake of the elect, whom he has chosen, he has shortened them.21 At that time if anyone says to you, ‘Look, here is the Messiah!’ or, ‘Look, there he is!’ do not believe it. 22 For false messiahs and false prophets will appear and perform signs and wonders to deceive, if possible, even the elect. 23 So be on your guard; I have told you everything ahead of time.
(Mark 13:14-23 NIV)
As a quick review, Jesus told His disciples that the Temple would be destroyed; four of His disciples asked when this would take place, and what signs would precede this apocalyptic event. Jesus warned His disciples to pay attention, and not to be misled or to fear what was to come. Jesus also told His disciples that they would be persecuted for their association with Him, from both the outside (via the religious officials) as well as the inside (betrayed by their own family members). Jesus tells His disciples to not give up their faith, even when betrayed by their loved ones.
In today’s text, Jesus continues to answer the disciples’ questions, moving from general statements to specifics. Jesus warns the disciples that one of the signs preceding this event would be the fulfillment of the Abomination of Desolation described in Daniel 9:27, 11:31, and 12:11. Whatever was going to happen would be so terrible, so appalling that it would cause them to leave the Temple and Jerusalem in total disgust.
This could refer to any number of events that would take place, the most likely being the desecration of the temple and appointment of a clown as the high priest. Many Christians saw this as Jesus’ sign and fled Jerusalem and went to the trans-Jordan city of Pella before the Romans cut off access to and from Jerusalem.
Jesus said that when the sign came, they were to flee Jerusalem quickly, not even stopping to pick up their personal belongings. This would be an extremely difficult time, especially for pregnant women and nursing mothers. In fact, Jesus says, except for God’s intervening grace and love, this would be a total annihilation of His followers. God’s judgment would come swiftly, and they were to get out before it started.
Jesus then finishes where He had started – telling His disciples to be on their guard, to pay attention and not be misled by false prophets and those pretending to be the Messiah in order to lead people astray. Jesus was telling them ahead of time so they would not be caught unaware.
History tells us that the time right before the fall of Jerusalem and the destruction of the Temple was, in fact, a horrible period of history. With Titus and his Roman army coming to overtake Jerusalem, the majority of the Jewish people (those not following Christ) fled to Jerusalem instead of leaving the city as Jesus had instructed His disciples to do. The historian Josephus wrote that 97,000 Jews were captured, and 1.1 million people died of starvation inside the city walls before Titus finally conquered the city and destroyed the Temple in AD 70.
While we may not face catastrophic, even apocalyptic events like Jesus’ disciples faced, Jesus’ command to pay attention and not be misled are certainly true for us today. Many events, circumstances, and people vie for our attention and seek to mislead us into following them or devoting our time, attention, money, or allegiance to them.
May we pay attention and heed the clarion call of the writer of Hebrews:
Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, 2 fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.
(Hebrews 12:1-2 NIV, underlines mine)