Temple Setting of His Discourse

SYNOPSIS - The Olivet Discourse was given at the end of the public ministry of Jesus after his final departure from the Temple and several days of growing conflict with the Temple authorities.

Jerusalem - Photo by Sander Crombach on Unsplash
By Sander Crombach on Unsplash
The Olivet Discourse is found in Mark Chapter 13 (also, Matthew 24 and Luke 21), the last recorded block of teachings by Jesus. The Discourse resulted from the growing conflict between Jesus and the Temple authorities in Jerusalem during his final week, a conflict that culminated in his death on a Roman cross.

For example, in Mark 11:12-25, Jesus cursed an unfruitful fig tree in order to portray judgment on the Temple because of its rotten “fruit.” That same day he “cleansed” the Temple, an act that brought him into conflict with the Temple authorities, an act so “offensive” that the High Priests and Scribes then “began seeking to destroy him.”

The High Priests and other religious leaders also confronted Jesus, asking by what authority he was teaching and otherwise operating. He responded by asking whether John the Baptist’s baptism was from God or men. Since the Temple authorities could not answer this question, at least not publicly, Jesus refused to answer their query. This was followed by his Parable of the Vineyard, a pictorial story about how the religious leaders of Israel had continually rejected God’s prophetic messengers including His Son  (Mark 11:27-33Mark 12:1-12).

Because of their treachery, Jesus pronounced, “the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a nation producing the fruit thereof.” This was a clear announcement of the coming judgment on the nation of Israel (Matthew 21:43-44).

From the first hour after entering Jerusalem, Jesus experienced ever-increasing conflict with the religious authorities of Second Temple Judaism. This process resulted in the final rejection of him by the Temple authorities and his consequent pronouncement of coming destruction on the Temple and Jerusalem.

Temple Treasury and a Widow’s Mite

The last act of Jesus before leaving the Temple occurred while he was “seated over against” the Treasury. “Over against” translates the Greek preposition katenanti, which is used only eight times in the New Testament (three times in Mark). This rare preposition occurs a few verses later when Jesus was “sitting over against the Temple on the Mount of Olives,” a verbal link between the two paragraphs (Mark 13:3).

The story of the poor widow is, likewise, set in contrast to the preceding paragraph in which Jesus chastised the Scribes who for a pretense “devoured widows’ houses.” From his position “over against” the Treasury, he warned how the Scribes would receive a “more surpassing judgment,” just as previously while sitting “over against” the Temple, he pronounced the coming destruction of the Temple (Mark 12:41-44).

The story of the poor widow took place where thirteen trumpet-shaped receptacles or chests were employed to receive Temple offerings. They were located near the Court of Women. Jesus observed a poor widow donating two copper coins or lepta, small coins each worth about one sixty-fourth of a denarius. At the time one denarius was an average laborer’s daily wage. For all intents and purposes, the woman’s gift was worthless, infinitesimally small.

The widow gave a freewill offering. She was not obligated to contribute both of her lepta. She could have given half or just one of her two small coins and still would have given “more” than the rich men, for “they all out of their surplus gave, but she out of her deficiency, all as much as she had, the whole of her living.”

The Temple Judged
  • (Mark 13:1-4) - “And as he was leaving the temple one of his disciples said to him, ‘Teacher, see what manner of stones and what manner of buildings!’ And Jesus said to him, ‘Are you beholding these great buildings? In nowise shall there be left here stone upon stone, which shall in any wise not be thrown down.’ And as he was sitting on the mount of Olives over against the temple, Peter and James and John and Andrew were questioning him privately, Tell us, when these things shall be, and what [will be] the sign when all these things are going to be concluded?
Jesus was leaving the Temple or hieros (Greek) for the last time. This act symbolized his final break with the Temple. Hieros refers to the entire Temple complex that covered approximately one-sixth of the city, not just to the inner sanctuary itself or naos (and note the disciples’ reference to “buildings,” plural).

City Wall - hoto by Arno Smit on Unsplash
Photo by Arno Smit on Unsplash

The disciples were admiring the great stones, some reportedly measuring twenty-five by eight by twelve cubits and bright white in color. There is an irony in that Jesus had just praised the destitute widow who gave out of her deficiency in contrast to the rich who gave out of their abundance. The disciples were still judging according to the ways of man rather than God.

In Verse 2, Jesus responded to the disciples’ awe, “do you behold these great buildings? In nowise will there be left here a stone upon stone.” Mark has Jesus using the Greek demonstrative pronoun houtos or “these,” which is emphatic in the clause.

Jesus used his disciples’ own words, “buildings” (oikodomas) and “stone” (lithos), in his judgment pronouncement. The only antecedent in the paragraph for “these” is the Temple complex, thus, in this context, the Temple condemned by Jesus was Herod’s Temple, the one standing in his day. It cannot refer to another and yet to be built future Temple.

The summit of the Mount of Olives was higher than the walls of the city and would have afforded an excellent view of the Temple complex, including the inner sanctuary. Jesus’ posture of “sitting” as he made this pronouncement emphasizes his authority.
The prediction of coming destruction on the Temple prompted four of the disciples to ask, “when these things shall be, and what [will be] the sign when all these things are going to be concluded?”
These things” once again translates the Greek demonstrative houtos and, as before, can only refer to the predicted destruction of the Temple that was contemporary with Jesus and his companions. Thus, at least in part, what followed in Christ’s Olivet Discourse concerned events that preceded the destruction of Herod’s Temple, an event that took place in A.D. 70.

The four disciples asked two questions. First, when (pote) would the destruction of the Temple occur? Second, what would be the “sign” (sémeion) that all these things will be “completed.” The latter term translates the Greek suntelō, meaning “to complete, to bring to an end, to conclude.” This Greek word hints that the destruction of the Temple was a paradigm or portend of something greater, though the question and his answer included the destruction of the Temple.


The Olivet Discourse was given at the end of the public ministry of Jesus after his final departure from the Temple and several days of growing conflict with the Temple authorities. Jesus sat down on the Mount of Olives while overlooking the Temple and pronounced its coming destruction.

In the context of Mark 13:1-4, his pronouncement cannot refer to any temple other than the one standing in his day. Any attempt to make this a judicial pronouncement on a yet future Temple violates the literary context.

His pronouncement prompted four of the disciples to ask when the events would come to pass and what would be the sign when all things would be consummated.


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