Twelve American football fields could fit within the first-century Jerusalem temple complex, and many of the stones used to construct the building weighed more than one million pounds. Thus, it was hard for any Jew of the time to believe that such a magnificent structure could be destroyed, as Jesus said it would be. So, to confirm such an improbable event, Peter, James, John, and Andrew asked our Lord what the signs of Jerusalem's fall would be (Mark 13:1–4).
Evidently, the disciples understood that the fall of the temple would be a world-changing event. The Greek word translated "accomplished" in verse 4 has eschatological overtones; it is a term usually associated with the end times, the last things, or the last phase of history before the final judgment. The disciples knew that the fall of the temple would mean that the end of the age was upon them.
Hebrews 8–10 says the death of Christ was the end of the sacrificial system and the dawn of the new covenant, a world-changing event if there ever was one. Thus, the fall of the temple would definitively and visibly confirm that God was done dealing with His people according to the Mosaic covenant. Redemption promised would give way to redemption accomplished. That the "last days" were inaugurated in the work of Christ and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:1–41) would be confirmed in the setting aside of the old temple in favor of the church, the new temple.
Today's passage shows that in the time leading up to the temple's destruction, many false messiahs would go about claiming to be Jesus. First-century historians testify that in Palestine, many people who proclaimed themselves to be the Messiah appeared (Mark 13:5–6). Jesus also warns of wars and rumors of wars (v. 7). Fears of war were widespread in the period between Jesus' resurrection and the fall of Jerusalem. For instance, revolt almost broke out in Jerusalem in AD 40 when Roman Emperor Caligula put a statue of himself in the Jewish temple. The earthquakes and famines of which Jesus speaks (v. 8b) also happened. Widespread famine broke out under the reign of Emperor Claudius, who followed Caligula on Rome's throne, and an earthquake destroyed the city of Pompeii in Italy in AD 63. Other instances of such natural disasters occurred as well.
These signs would precede the end, but they would only begin the tribulation (v. 8a). More trouble would be on the way.
That Jesus said false messiahs and natural disasters were only the beginning of the signs of Jerusalem's end cautions us about drawing too many conclusions when we see such things in our own day. Natural disasters and false prophets are not necessarily signs that the final judgment is around the corner. Let us not read too much into the events around us, but let us be faithful to proclaim the gospel, for we do not know when Christ's final return will be.