Archive for October 2007

Mark 13

October 13, 2007

This chapter deals with the apocalypse. Jesus tells His disciples that the the glorious Temple, with its massive stones and magnificent buildings, will be utterly destroyed. Considerable time went by as the group walked to the Mt. of Olives, at which point four disciples (Peter, James, John and Andrew) asked Him when this would happen and how they would know the apocalypse. Jesus begins by telling the four what the false signs are:

  • people claiming to be Jesus
  • wars
  • earthquakes and famines

Then he warns the four about what will happen to them. They will be arrested, punished, and required to testify to governors and kings about Jesus, and will need to rely on the Holy Spirit to speak through them. In the middle of this list, He says, “And the gospel must first be preached to all nations.” Perhaps this should be rendered, “Before the apocalypse, the gospel must be preached to all nations.” As it is rendered, it sounds like an incorrect prediction that they will preach to all nations before being forced to testify. Then He says that there will be betrayal of brother by brother, child by father, and father by child.

At last, He comes to the unmistakable sign of the apocalypse: the presence of “the abomination that causes desolation standing where it does not belong” (*). He says that this will herald great distress in Judea, so great that people should abandon their possessions and flee to the mountains. There will be no future generation, so nursing and pregnant mothers will face the despair of watching their children die. Only God’s chosen ones will be spared. At that time, false messiahs will be plentiful, but Christ will not be present.

Quoting Isaiah’s prophecy against Babylon in 13:10 and against Edom (but editors title the chapter to be directed against “the nations”) in 34:4, He says the sun and moon will be dark, stars will fall from the sky and heavenly bodies will be perturbed. Only then, He says, will the Son of Man return and the Elect be gathered by angels from the ends of the earth to the ends of heaven. But, He adds, even He does not know when this will be, only that it will be and that the signs will be as evident as the ripening of the fig tree in spring, and that–here the text is ambiguous– either this generation or this race will see the apocalypse. Therefore, He says, “Watch!”

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(*). The reference of “the abomination that causes desolation” is to Daniel 11:31, in which it is prophesied that the King of the North will desecrate the Temple, abolish the daily sacrifice, and install the abomination, presumably in the Temple. The prophecy is generally understood to refer to 1 Maccabees 1:54 of the Apocrypha, in which the Seleucid King Antiochus Epiphanus desecrated the Temple with the flesh of swine and by installation of a statue of his god, Zeus. In this understanding, the passage in Daniel was written contemporaneously with the invasion of Antiochus, not as a prediction of the future but as a prophetic statement of the present. However Jesus has re-interpreted the prophecy to refer to some future event.
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Is this a description of the final apocalypse, or only of the destruction of Jerusalem? The quotations from Isaiah refer very specifically to the destruction of Babylon and Edom, representing the descendants of Esau. The first prophecy probably has been fulfilled, since in 539 BC, the Persians under Cyrus captured it, with the city gradually being abandoned by 141 BC. The latter prophecy cannot already have been fulfilled, since it describes the land being turned into burning sulfur and pitch. Does Jesus cite these passages simply as examples of the signs of great destruction?
Is there a contradiction in Jesus calling the appearance of false messiahs a false sign and his description of the apocalypse?
Is there a significance to the selection of disciples with whom Jesus shared His vision of the apocalypse?
The specification of the gathering of the Elect is puzzling.
Are they gathered from both earth and heaven, or are they gathered from earth and placed in heaven?

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