CHRISTIANS HAVE OFTEN DISAGREED over the precise interpretation of Mark 13. But whatever disagreements prevail, we cannot fail to note the stunning contrast between the perspectives of the disciples when they look around the temple complex and the perspectives of Jesus himself.
The disciples are impressed by the “massive stones” and by the “magnificent buildings” (13:1). What draws their attention is the architecture, the product of human creativity and ingenuity. But Jesus thinks on another plane. He evaluates the patterns of evil in this world, the false religious pretensions, the persecution of his disciples, the judgment that will fall. As for the stones and the buildings, he foresees judgment: “Not one stone here will be left on another; every one will be thrown down” (13:2). A mere forty years elapse before this prediction is literally fulfilled.
This passage is reminiscent of another. In Acts 17:16ff., Paul finds himself in Athens. What is striking is his reaction to the city. Luke does not say that Paul was impressed by the spectacular architecture, by the history of sheer learning, by the literature that its citizens had produced, or by the glory of her heritage. Far from it. Paul looked around this venerable old city and was “greatly distressed to see that the city was full of idols” (17:16).
In neither case, then – neither in Jesus’ estimate of Jerusalem, nor in Paul’s estimate of Athens – was the analysis superficial. In both cases, the evaluation looked at things from God’s perspective. Those who are impressed by mighty buildings and spectacular human accomplishments could profitably think through the account of the tower of Babel (Gen. 11). Doubtless there were some then who were impressed by the edifice. But God, looking at the human heart and the reasons for the building, saw it as one more evidence of insufferable hubris.
In much the same way, we too are called to understand and evaluate our culture from God’s perspective. Because human beings are made in the image of God, there is much that we can do that is worthy and admirable. Theologically speaking, this is the product of “common grace.” But it is possible to be far too impressed by wealth, power, architecture, fame, learning, physical prowess, and technology, with the result that we do not think through the moral and spiritual dimensions of the world around us. We may see the glory, and overlook the shame; we may detect human accomplishments, and neglect the undergirding idolatry; in short, we may be impressed by all that impresses God’s fallen image-bearers, but fail to assess these realities in the light of the cross and in the light of eternity. We would do far better to follow the examples of Jesus and Paul.