Mark 13 (verses 1-13) is a pain in the .... So many people love end times passages, and skew it so bad. There's been no shortage in the past of people giving dates for the end of the world. But is that what this passage is about?
The discussion starts with the disciple's marveling at Herod's Temple. It was pretty impressive, his attempt to legitimate his kingship (he wasn't a Jew). Surely this is part of the background to Jesus saying it would be torn down - Jesus is really Israel's king, and as God's presence among his people, the new temple.
Jews didn't expect the end of the world in Hollywood movie style, but in terms of a new world order with Israel in her rightful place. When Jesus says many will come saying they are he, well they did before Jesus and they did afterward - many men claimed to be Israel's true king. I'm not sure any other Jew claimed in deed and somewhat cryptically in word to be God come in the flesh though.
The language is of the scary apocalyptic kind - dramatic imagery to describe historical event. I wonder if the earthquakes Jesus speaks of are those that are said to have occurred when he was crucified?
Certainly the promise of persecution is fulfilled very early on, being handed over to governors and kings. We see this for Paul particularly. This doesn't mean this doesn't hold for believers today, and I think the church in the West needs to be far more mindful of and vocal about persecution in other parts of the world, and probably whine less about supposed persecution here!
But, by the time we get to verse 14, we are still firmly in the first century with the destruction of the temple. The 'let the reader understand' may be a note by Mark that the temple's end was close (and hence the book written not long before AD 70?). Certainly John Robinson in Redating the New Testament sees no evidence of anything that smacks of post-temple destruction in the entire New Testament, suggesting it was all written before AD 70.
So why did Jesus see the temple as inevitably going to be destroyed? Firstly, because now he was here and soon to die for sins, the temple was redundant. But secondly, violent resistance to Rome would inevitably lead to a military campaign. Jesus' way is that of peace and non-violent resistance.
So what do we take from this? Well firstly if you want to obsess about the 'end of the world', do it from another passage. Secondly, all of this is taken up elsewhere in the NT to talk about Jesus return, and in the context of not knowing when the end will come. Our business is to be faithful and patient, not to forecast and be impatient. In the mean time, we may be persecuted. But currently, our hearts go out to those who really suffer for their faith. We should pray that even the way that suffer will be a witness to Christ, as well as praying that they won't suffer.