Jesus predicts the destruction of the temple, which prompts His disciples to ask Him for a time-table and warning signs for this event. Jesus does not really answer their request. He does mention some details about the coming destruction of Jerusalem, but He delves even more into signs and warnings about the ultimate end of the world and His second coming. Even more than that, however, He talks a lot more about a whole series of things that will happen in the world that are NOT signs of the end. Most of all, He calls for His followers to be alert in the world and the hard times to come.
That is something readers of Mark and Christians around the world throughout history have tended to miss. We make the mistake of thinking that Jesus’ discourse here is actually and answer to the disciples’ request for signs. We pour over this speech looking for clues, we look at current events and try to force them into Jesus’ predictions. We fail to hear and follow His real message. We think that is “being on guard” but it is really a case of us being distracted.
All you really need to take away from Mark 13 is the following list of truths: (1) Bad things will continually happen throughout history—wars, natural disasters, and famines. None of them are ever reason to suspect “the end” is nigh. (2) The world will hate and persecute real followers of Jesus. That is a part of God’s plan, our task as witnesses (read also martyrs) and we will be divinely assisted in playing our part. (3) No one but God the Father knows the time-table for these events and we have no need to worry about such things. Our only part is to remain alert, be on guard, and avoid being led astray from what we are really to be all about (the Gospel) through speculations on current political machinations and eschatology.