The disciples’ pious wonder at the beauty and magnificence of the temple (13:1) leads Jesus to comment upon the temporal relative brevity of even such human religious magnificence (13:2). Not one stone left upon another. This prophecy was fulfilled in the fall of Jerusalem in AD 70.
But Jesus’ next discourse, in prompting from his disciples, appears to range farther afield unto “the end” (13:7). It is one of the hard-initially-to-grasp but distinctive peculiarities of biblical prophecy that it tends to view the future a bit like you view a mountain range from a distance: from a certain perspective, they are one event, but then when you get over one mountain, you find there is a valley before you get up to the next mountain. The Old Testament prophecies of the Messianic age sometimes seem to collide the first coming of Christ with the second coming (e.g. Isaiah 11:6), and this prophecy of the future now looks to the further horizon of when Jesus returns (13:6).
Jesus gives his disciples four specific instructions.
1) “See that no one leads you astray” (13:5). If only Christians had paid more careful attention to this first instruction. Many have come in his name pretending to be him, and they have led people astray. But all the earthquakes and famines are but “birth pains”; the end is still to come. About every ten years for the last two thousand years, someone or other has predicted the end. Don’t be gullible. Don’t be led astray.
2) “But be on your guard” (13:9). Not only must we not be gullible, we must also be careful. There will be opposition and persecution—sometimes more serious, sometimes less. Therefore, as Jesus said elsewhere, be as innocent as doves but as canny as a serpent. Don’t rush in where angels fear to tread. Don’t needlessly cause offense. We are like lambs among wolves. Watch out. Be on your guard.
3) “Do not be anxious” (13:11). When opposition comes, don’t worry beforehand what you are going to say. This promise is not an excuse for poor preparation for those who are called to preach (!), nor is it a command against appropriate legal preparation in defense of persecuted Christians. The point is that we are not to worry. The words will be given us at the time—there will, with all the planning beforehand (but not worrying), still be a special unction of God’s Spirit in the moment. It is not for no reason that the words of Christians under persecution become famous. They are a special ability given by God to speak in that hour. “Be of good cheer, Master Ridley, we this day shall light such a candle as, under God’s grace, I trust shall never be put out.” So said Latimer before he and Ridley were burnt at the stake, and so it has so far been proven true. God will give us special words for the purpose of special persecution.
4) “But the one who endures to the endure will be saved” (13:13). Endurance, here not a command but a prediction, is a watch word too. When the going gets tough, Christian, keep on going.
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