"Now brother will condemn brother to die and a father his child; and children will rise up against parents – having them put to death. And you will be hated by everyone on account of me. But he who stands firm to the end will be saved. But when you see the detestable things of desolation become established where they shouldn’t, those who recognize this should understand that those in Judea should flee to the mountains. And those on the housetops should not go into the house – even to go in to take anything out of the house; And those in the fields should not return again to fetch their coats. How dreadful for those who are pregnant and for those who are nursing a baby at that time. And pray this won’t occur during the wintertime." (Mark 13:12-18)
Is this about the end of the world?
Is Jesus speaking of the "end of days" as many preach? The doomsday scenario that so many have predicted over the past two thousand years but have been consistently wrong?
The clear answer is no. Jesus' statement here is a clear and practical warning about events to come for his followers in the coming years.
Jesus is speaking about the Jewish-Roman Wars, which occurred from about 66 AD to 117 AD. For about a half-century, the Romans brutally struck down the Judean people as they protested and rebelled against the Romans' violent rulership of Judea. Each time the Judean people revolted, the Romans responded by slaughtering thousands of Judean people.
Over the whole period of the Jewish-Roman Wars, hundreds of thousands - possibly a half-million Romans were killed by the Judean rebels. At the same time, it has been estimated that up to a million Judean people were killed by the Romans. Some were rebels, but many were also women, children, and religious people.
The Romans also burnt down and decimated Jerusalem. Many people were killed. Others were persecuted. The Romans then rewarded anyone who reported a Judean rebel.
This is what Jesus is referring to as he says, "brother will condemn brother." Because family members and fellow students were so afraid of being persecuted that they often reported on others who seemed to be part of the rebellion.
Did some flee to the mountains?
Jesus is clearly instructing his followers, and everyone who wanted to escape the slaughter of the Romans, to flee Jerusalem and other Judean towns and go to the mountains. In the mountains, they could hide out among the caves and wait out the violence.
We find, in fact, that many of Jesus' followers did this. The Nazarenes, the Ebionites, and the Nasaraeans are included among those who fled Jerusalem and other Judean towns around 70 AD and later to escape the persecutions of the Romans.
These people took heed of the violent times that Jesus was predicting.
Did Jesus know the exact date?
Note that Jesus says to pray this doesn't happen during the wintertime. This means that Jesus didn't know the precise date that this would happen.
Rather, Jesus understood that the Judean rebels were going to revolt, and the Romans were going to ransack the Judean people as a result. He understood this because he saw the signs of rebellion around him and understood the violent nature of the Romans.
Even to this day, many people have confused Jesus' mission with that of the Zealots. And many scholars believe that the Zealots tried to enlist Jesus. The Zealots were armed rebels that were selectively fighting Roman rule even before Jesus' crucifixion. The Romans began to rule Judea around 6 AD. Jesus understood that the Zealots and the Romans were on the brink of war.
Why couldn't Jesus predict the precise time of this war? Because every person is given the freedom to act, and even change our ways. Because we are given these freedoms, we can make changes in our common future. This means that while trends can be seen among societies and populations, individuals may still be able to change our future.
Was Jesus wanting us to change our future?
Jesus was teaching that we can each learn, grow and change. This is why he often chastized and criticized some of his followers. If he didn't think they could improve he wouldn't have wasted his breath criticizing them.
At the same time, God always gives us the freedom not to grow, and not to make changes in our lives. God gives us the freedom to have a change of heart - or not. This can happen at any time, should we make those choices.
Here is a conversation that confirms this, as Jesus answered a question about becoming advanced:
“Truly I say to you, unless you have a change of heart and become like little children you will not enter the sanctuary of the spiritual realm." (Matthew 18:3 Lost Gospels)This also relates to the men of Nineveh in the time of Jonah. Here is how Jesus explains it:
"The men of Nineveh would rise in judgment of this society and would condemn it; because they had a change of heart after the preaching of Jonah – and there beheld the presence of the One who is greater than Jonah." (Matthew 12:41 Lost Gospels)