Is Mark 13 about the end of the world and the return of Jesus?

The Sunday lectionary reading for the Second Sunday before Advent in Year B is Mark 13.1–8. This feels a little odd, in that we last visited Mark 13 all the way back last Advent, when this lectionary year was just beginning, and the reading is quite truncated and only really makes sense when the chapter is read as a whole.

This chapter, and its parallel in Matt 24.1–42, and often known as the ‘Olivet Discourse’, being given as Jesus sat (in the teaching position) on the Mount of Olives, or the ‘Little Apocalypse’, because of the similarities of language with the Book of Revelation, in particular the mention of ‘tribulation’ or suffering (thlipsis) and the parallels with, for example, the four horsemen of Rev 6.

The big question concerning this section is whether it is about the fall of the temple, and the suffering and disruption associated with it—bringing the Jewish world to an end and ushering in a new era—or whether it is about The End of the World, and the return of Jesus. There is a strong interpretive tradition that it is the latter; this is communicated by the headings in many English translations, which often liberally scatter the term ‘parousia’ around or refer to ‘Jesus’ return’, guiding the reader into this interpretive approach. And there are good reasons for this.

Firstly, there is a close association between the events in the first section and language of ‘the end.’ Mark 13.7 mentions that ‘the end is yet to come’ and Mark 13.13 talks of standing firm ‘to the end.’ Secondly, in Mark 13.10 Jesus talks of the gospel being preached ‘to all nations’ before the end comes. Thirdly, Mark 13.19 talks of great distress ‘that will never be equalled.’ Then in Mark 13.24–25, we are told of cosmic signs of the end of the age, after which in Mark 13.26 we read of the ‘coming of the Son of Man’. Finally, in Mark 13.27, there is a trumpet call, and the angels gather the elect from the ends of the earth. (One issue that is raised here is whether Jesus can be speaking hyperbolically, for example in talking of distress ‘unequalled since the beginning’; some talk about the need to read this ‘literally’ because Jesus speaks the truth, as if the truth can never be poetic, metaphorical or hyperbolic.)

But this approach founders on the emphatic saying of Jesus at the end of this section:

Amen I say to you, this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened. (Mark 13.30)

Jesus’ saying here is quite emphatic in form, including the emphatic form of the negative, mentioning ‘all’ these things clearly, and opening with the ‘Amen’ formula; this is characteristic of Matthew’s record of Jesus’ teaching, occurring 32 times and suggesting recollection of Jesus’ actual words in Aramaic, but it is much less common in Mark, coming only 14 times.

This is very difficult to evade. Some people suggest that the word ‘generation’ genea could be translated as ‘nation’ or ‘race’ rather than ‘generation’. But there is only one other occurrence in the gospels where this could be the reading—in Luke 16.8. Even here, the contrast is between people of this age and those ‘of the light’, so there is a temporal sense here. But in all other cases, the word clearly has the sense of ‘the people alive at this time.’ The clearest examples are in the genealogy in Matt 1.17 ‘fourteen generations’, and in the Magnificat in Luke 1.48 and Luke 1.50 ‘his mercy extends to those who fear him, from one generation to another.’ Along with this, the verse itself has a clear temporal sense in talking of it ‘not passing away.’

(A minority reading argues that ‘this generation’ refers not to the generation Jesus is addressing, but the ‘end times’ generation of some time in the future to whom all these things will happen. Apart from making this saying completely tautologous, such a reading has the minor disadvantage of making the term mean whatever the reader wants it to mean, rather than what Jesus actually said. If he is looking around at his disciples and uses the word ‘this’, then he is referring to them!)

This all makes the first approach problematic, and led C S Lewis to comment:

It is certainly the most embarrassing verse in the Bible. (in “The World’s Last Night” (1960), The Essential C.S. Lewis, p. 385)

Such a view also proposes that, in these verses, we have a confused mixture of predictions about the near and the distant future, which suggests Jesus didn’t really know what he was talking about, or the disciples didn’t, or the gospel writers didn’t—or all three. More seriously, it has made not a few scholars conclude that Jesus thought his return would be within a generation, and that he was clearly wrong—he was a failed apocalyptic prophet, and the writers of the NT tried (unsuccessfully) to cover up the fact.

The difficulty with this last conclusion is that Matthew, Mark and Luke all record Jesus saying this. Unless you think that all three gospels were written before the destruction of the temple in 70 AD, then you have to conclude that they also believed Jesus expected his return within the generation and that subsequent generations of copyists believed this, but somehow ignored it. This seems altogether implausible. All the evidence points to the gospel writers taking Jesus seriously, and thinking that their contemporaries needed to know what Jesus said.

20070429174630!Jerusalem_from_mt_olives-croppedHow can we make sense of this? A first massive clue comes in comparing the parallel passage in Mark 13 with Matthew. The first section of Matt 24 equates to Mark 13.1–31; if you look in a Synopsis (which puts the passages from the different gospels in parallel with one another) you can see that Matthew and Mark are almost identical (with the exception of Matt 24.10–12). But in the second section, Mark has just 6 verses, whereas Matthew continues with 16 more, and then in chapter 25 records a series of Jesus’ eschatological parables about final judgement (the bridesmaids, the parable of the ‘talents’, and the sheep and the goats).

A second massive clue comes in noticing Matthew’s distinction between ‘this’ and ‘that’. In Mark 13.4 the disciples ask Jesus a single, compound question about the temple, prompted by his comment that ‘not a single stone will be left on another’:

“Tell us, when will these things happen? And what will be the sign that they are all about to be fulfilled?”

But in Matthew, the compound question has become two questions:

“Tell us,” they said, “when will this happen, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?”

For some reason, Matthew appears to want to distinguish more clearly between the question of the destruction of the temple, and the question about Jesus’ coming and the end of the age. Matthew continues the distinction, by being clear that in the first section, Jesus is talking about ‘this’, but at Matt 24.36 he introduces a marked change of focus: ‘But about that day or hour, no-one knows…’ The most obvious explanation of this is that Matthew is writing after the temple’s destruction in 70AD, but Mark was writing before it. So for Mark, the impending fate of the temple looms large; for Matthew, this has now passed, and the question of Jesus’ coming deserves more attention.

What, then, do we make of all the material in the first section which looks as though it is referring to ‘the end’? It doesn’t need to be read in this way at all.

Note first that emphasis of Mark 13.7 is not to associate these events with ‘the end’, but to distinguish them. ‘The end is not yet.’ And in Mark 13.7 and 13, the word ‘end’ is not the (semi-technical) term eschatos (as in ‘the last days’) but the more general term telos. Secondly, the reference to ‘preaching to all nations’ functions not to refer to the coming of the ‘end’, but to encourage the disciples to persist in their task, despite serious opposition. Thirdly, the distress of the siege of Jerusalem was indeed terrible; Josephus recounts a story of a woman killing her baby and eating half of it, offering the other half to rebel fighters (Jewish War chapter 6), and more Jews were killed by other Jews than by the Romans.

But a key observation is to note the language of the ‘coming of the Son of Man.’ The word for Jesus’ second coming to earth, parousia, meaning ‘royal presence’, does not occur in Mark 13.26—in fact, it occurs nowhere in Mark’s gospel! It is used in the slightly expanded account in Matthew, at Matt 24.3 (where it forms the second of the disciples’ questions), in Matt 24.27 (where Jesus says that all the rumours having nothing to do with his parousia), and then in the parallel with the days of Noah in Matt 24.37 and 39, signalling the change of focus to answer the disciples’ second question.

The phrase in Mark 13.26 is instead the ‘erchomenos of the Son of Man’, not a noun but a present participle. This is an almost direct quotation of the Greek of Dan 7.13:

“In my vision at night I looked, and there before me was one like a son of man, coming with the clouds of heaven. He approached the Ancient of Days and was led into his presence. He was given authority, glory and sovereign power; all nations and peoples of every language worshiped him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that will not pass away, and his kingdom is one that will never be destroyed.”

In other words, this is not about the ‘Son of Man’ coming to earth, but his coming before God, receiving authority and being vindicated. Note that he exercises authority over ‘all nations and peoples’. Jesus also quotes this—in exactly the same words—to the High Priest in Mark 14.62. Here Jesus cannot be talking about his return—he refers to himself sitting at the right hand of God and exercising the power of the kingdom, which the priest believes to be blasphemy. And he says that the High Priest will witness Jesus’ vindication and authority; he will see Jesus raised from the dead and the Spirit coming to equip the disciples as witnesses not just to Israel but to all nations. (He does not see it literally with his own eyes, since the resurrection and ascension were witnessed only by a small group. But he would hear the testimony, and see for himself the evidence in the transformed band of disciples filled with the Holy Spirit proclaiming the resurrection and Lordship of Jesus with all boldness.)

Zemanta Related Posts ThumbnailThis also makes sense of the final parts of our puzzle. The ‘trumpet’ is not the ‘last trump’ of 1 Cor 15.52 and 1 Thess 4.16, but a metaphor for the proclamation of the gospel which we read about in Acts, and the ‘gathering of the elect’ is the entry into God’s people of the Gentile believers. But what of the cosmic language: ‘the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light; the stars will fall from the sky, and the heavenly bodies will be shaken.’? Note that this is to happen ‘immediately’ after the distress of those days. Well, these words from Isaiah 13.10, Isaiah 34.4 and Joel 2.31 are also quoted soon after—by Peter at Pentecost:

In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people…The sun will be turned to darkness and the moon to blood…And everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved. (Acts 2.17–21)

Peter appears to understand what is going on in front of him in exactly the same words that Jesus uses in Mark 13.24 and following—all happening within the life of that generation.

What, then, of our passage that we have set in the lectionary? What can we say about it?

At one level, we need to recognise that this is Jesus’ words to the disciples in the particular situation they will find themselves. Jesus will have gone to the Father; they are now entrusted with the task of preaching the message. As we learnt in chapter 6 and the execution of John the Baptist, those proclaiming the kingdom will face serious opposition; the fate of John will soon be the fate of Jesus, and the disciples will likewise need to ‘take up their cross’ and follow Jesus along the same path. Trouble and opposition has been a theme of this gospel from the beginning—but this means it is time to find courage, speak up, and stand firm.

Yet, though the situation they faced, with the destruction of the temple, the scattering by persecution, and the great upheavals of the Year of Three Emperors in 69, was unique, it was not untypical. As long as ‘the end is not yet’, we live in a world where, in every age, we hear of ‘wars and rumours of wars’. And Jesus’ message to them is the same as his message to us: ‘do not be afraid’. Many English translations lose the force of Mark 13.7, δεῖ γενέσθαι—not so much a general ‘these things will happen’, but a divine imperative, ‘this must take place.’ God has not deserted his world, despite all its tribulations, but he is working his purposes out, and we can trust him.

Thus it is that we live in the ‘overlap of the ages’. In one sense, the ‘end times’ have already come, marked by the longed-for resurrection of the dead (not all the dead, but the forerunner Jesus) so that when we turn to him we shared in the ‘new creation’ (2 Cor 5.17) which all the world will one day see (Rom 8.19). So Paul can confidently state to the Christians in Corinth that they are the ones ‘on whom the end of ages has come’ (1 Cor 10.11). And yet, this old age of sin, violence and injustice has not yet passed away; we still look for the full revelation of the kingdom of God of which we have had a foretaste—indeed, ‘your name be hallowed, your kingdom come, your will be done’ is our daily prayer.

Jesus’ charge to us is to live out the peace of the kingdom in a world of war; to live out the hope of the kingdom in a world of false hopes; and to live out the confidence of the kingdom in a world that is being shaken—until he comes again.

To learn more about the importance of eschatology/end times in our reading of the New Testament, join me for a morning Zoom seminar on Saturday 4th December—details and tickets here.

You can also read about it, and find more detail on this passage and its parallels, in my Grove booklet Kingdom, Hope, and the End of the World.)

Signup to get email updates of new posts
We promise not to spam you. Unsubscribe at any time.
Invalid email address

If you enjoyed this, do share it on social media (Facebook or Twitter) using the buttons on the left. Follow me on Twitter @psephizo. Like my page on Facebook.

Much of my work is done on a freelance basis. If you have valued this post, you can make a single or repeat donation through PayPal:

For other ways to support this ministry, visit my Support page.

Comments policy: Do engage with the subject. Please don't turn this into a private discussion board. Do challenge others in the debate; please don't attack them personally. I no longer allow anonymous comments; if there are very good reasons, you may publish under a pseudonym; otherwise please include your full name, both first and surnames.

59 thoughts on “Is Mark 13 about the end of the world and the return of Jesus?”

  1. Ian
    I think I have asked this before. What about Luke 21? What is your view of that passage? Sorry if I have missed it, but I don’t recall seeing your reply.
    Phil Almond

  2. Tangential:

    Just taught a bible study on Mark 13:35. Watch, because you don’t know whether the master returns at evening, midnight, cock-crowing, or morning.

    Then . . .
    Evening: Mark 14:17-21 – Judas betrays
    Midnight: Mark 14:32-52 – Disciples flee
    Cock-crowing: Mark 14:66-72 – Peter denies
    Morning: Mark 15:1-5 – Jesus stands alone

    Temptation to sin and fall away comes at anytime. Mark 13:35 is certainly speaking about Christ’s future physical return. They are celebrating the Passover, which is in the past. The way you watch for Christ’s return is by being faithful in the present moment. There is a past, present and future element of Christ’s return. We remember what he has done in the past, while remaining faithful in the present, while watching for his future return.

    • Yes, I entirely agree with you: Mark 13.35 is about being ready for Jesus’ return—not by looking for signs, but by living faithfully.

      And this verse comes in the second section, ‘concerning THAT day or hour’, which has quite a different focus from the first part of the chapter.

  3. There are many problems in this approach. One is that in Mark 13:26 the Son of Man comes “with power and great glory.” He already has the power and glory that in Dan 7:13 he comes to the Ancient of Days to receive. At least one early Jewish reader of Daniel 7 speaks of the humanlike figure of that vision coming “with the clouds of heaven” to earth for judgment (4 Ezra 13:3). So does Rev 1:7, which, as you know makes the same combination of OT texts that Matt 24:30 does. Also note that Dan 7:13 does not self-evident refer to a coming to God in heaven. That depends where the throne is set up (7:9). Arguably it is set up on earth for judgment and 7:22 means that God comes to earth to sit on the throne (as in 7:9). A majority of early Jewish readers read it in this way. So Jesus and John (Revelation) could have done. I am inclined to think that “coming with the clouds of heaven” is sometimes a way of identifying the figure as the one in Dan 7:13 rather than specifying the same journey as the one in Dan 7:13. In any case, simply appealing to Dan 7:13 does not settle the matter in the simple way that yo and Tom Wright claim. I could go on ….

    • Dear Richard, thanks for commenting.

      I don’t think Tom Wright’s articulation of this is very strong; the main work done here was by Dick France, and is laid out in his NIGTC on Mark and his NICNT on Matthew in some detail.

      In Dan 7.13 it seems clear that the Son of Man comes to the Ancient of Days. All the NT writers and speakers seem clear that, after the Ascension, Jesus *now* has power and is enthroned. isn’t that what the confession ‘Jesus is Lord’ means? No-one says ‘Jesus will be Lord’…!

      I don’t think Rev 1.7 is a reference to the parousia, and I explain why here: It is rather interesting that most commentators don’t consider the text carefully, but simply say ‘That is like Matt 24.30, and we all know that is about the parousia’!

      I agree that simply appealing to Dan 7.13 doesn’t settle the matter; I have been most struck by all the other things in the passage.

      I was struck afresh that the term parousia occurs nowhere in Mark. And it is instructive to see where Matthew adds it in—in turning the disciples’ question from one to two, in making it clear that all the events Jesus is describing are *not* the parousia in Matt 24.27, and in changing the focus from ‘these things’ to ‘that day’ in Matt 24.37 and 39.

      It is also very striking that, once we get to Matt 24.36f and the parables in Matt 25, all language of ‘looking for signs’ and ‘discerning the time’ fall away completely. Jesus says, again and again, that the *only* way to be ready for his coming is to go about the work of being a disciple faithfully day by day.

      I’d be interested in your view about two things:
      a. How do you account for the difference between Matthew and Mark in this section? Why does Matthew include all the additional material relating to the parousia?

      b. How do you read Mark 13.30? If this refers to his parousia, was he just wrong? And do Mark and Matthew simply record his mistake?


  4. Dear Ian

    Sadly I don’t think we can a long and detailed exegetical discussion here, as we would have to do to deal with all these issues. I thought that when I posted the comment, and thought nevertheless that it would be useful to indicate that there are some problems with your reading. I know Dick France’s work in his commentaries. I felt that especially in Matthew he struggled and had to do what seems to me some very special pleading, involving not just Matt 24 but other passages too. If I remember rightly he ends up saying that Jesus’s future coming refers variously to three or four different events.
    I think Matthew is doing what he does in his other big discourses: he’s compiling a discourse that brings all Jesus’s eschatological sayings together. I think that “parousia” was not used in the traditions of Jesus’s sayings, rather as “Son of Man” was not used outside Jesus’s sayings. So it appears only in Matthew’s redaction.
    Yes, of course, the exalted Jesus is seated on God’s throne in heaven and has already been given power and glory (Matt 28:18). Therefore his coming with power and glory (Mark 13:26) must be subsequent to that. In 4 Ezra 13, the “man” also seems to already have power and glory when he comes “on the clouds of heaven” to earth for judgment. If he first comes to God “with the clouds of heaven” to receive power and glory (Dan 7:13), it is not unnatural to suppose that he also comes “with the clouds of heaven” to earth to exercise that authority. In fact that is more or less what Acts 1:11 says. Because the phrase “with the clouds of heaven” is unique in the OT at Dan 7:13, it served to identify the humanlike figure in Dan 7:13, as the phrase “son of man” alone could not do.
    Of I think we have to do the exegesis before we ask: Did Jesus or Mark get it wrong? The issue relates to Mark 9:1 as well as 13:30. Part of my response is to say that such sayings are implicitly qualified by 13:32. Also to refer to my Tyndale Lecture “The Delay of the Parousia” from long ago!
    I have come to think that Matthew was written before 66 because 24:15-20 is actually not what happened. I do not think the attempts to identify the “desolating sacrilege” with something that actually occurred in 66-70 are successful. After 70, Matthew would have clarified that.


    • Yes, it would get long and complicated! But can I just offer a few short observations?

      I entirely agree with you that Matthew is compiling together teaching from elsewhere, since that is quite characteristic of his approach to the teaching of Jesus. What is then striking is that the parousia material from Matt 24.36 onwards has quite a different character from the teaching in Matt 24.4–35. The latter focuses on specific events and particular responses to that; the parousia material says there are no signs to watch for and no action to be taken, other than living faithfully, since you *will not know* the hour of the parousia and *will be given no signs or warning*.

      Secondly, and parallel with that, I agree with you about Matthew’s addition of ‘parousia’ as redactional element. I think this is interesting to note in the ‘Jewish’ Matthew, since the term seems to have arisen in a Graeco-Roman context with reference both the appearance of gods and the coming of a powerful ruler who is perhaps quasi-divine. In Paul it becomes a technical term for Jesus’ return. So Matthew is using this term to communicate Jesus’ teaching—but it is very striking that he uses is precisely to separate out the two implicit questions—when will the temple fall, and when will you return?—and emphasises that the first half of his material does *not* refer to Jesus’ return, not least by adding in Matt 24.26–28 to clarify these things are *not* the parousia, teaching which Luke has in chapter 17.

      I don’t find appeals to 4 Ezra 13 convincing, since this text rather mangles the Danielic material (in that the man comes out of the sea, which in Daniel is the origin of the beasts) and I am unclear why we should treat this as a hermeneutical key to the gospels. Different traditions can co-exist.

      I think Mark 9.1 is a pointer to the transfiguration as proleptic of Jesus’ ascension. I don’t think that is an uncommon view.

      I confess I am not sure I understand your comment about Matt 24.15–20 as ‘not what actually happened’. ISTM that here that Jesus in both Mark and Matthew is identifying the destruction of Jerusalem by Rome with the events of Dan 7, so connecting them with the giving of the kingdom to the Son of Man, and incidentally identifying Rome with the beasts, a tradition we of course find in Rev 13.

      And I think the argument that it didn’t happen in the way the gospels describe, therefore they must be early, is actually a circular argument.

      best regards

  5. It would be good and edifying, if you could both contribute, in a format of response, IP-RB in one or two, long form articles posted on this site.

  6. After years of thinking that Mark 13 did not add up, I am now convinced it does, and that its structure is simple and straightforward too. If that’s correct it means that there is, at any rate, a minimum of one consistent (and simultanously sensible) reading. That means nothing unless there is also a maximum of one.

    The structure is:
    INTRO: the temple-complex’s destruction is to the foreground, and provides the headline entree into the end-time scheme. The scheme itself is:
    A: a rehearsal of the things that are *not* the crucial sign that the temple’s destruction is nigh, followed by
    B: the thing that by contrast *is* that crucial sign (the bdelugma).
    C: The bdelugma heralds the thlipsis / tribulation. The thlipsis is effectively coterminous with the First Jewish War, which embraces the period of the Roman Civil War too.
    D: The coming of the Son of Man to harvest his elect is separate from the tribulation but is presented as being as closely contiguous to it as it can be under the circumstances that the temple has at the time of writing (estimated 71-73) been destroyed whereas the Son of Man has not come.

    I’ll be forgiven if I speak of Mark alone, since I think things are seen clearer that way.

    WHAT WILL BE THE SIGN? – (a) But there doesn’t have to be a sign, (b) even if there did, there would not have to be precisely one. So the question is unnatural and a non sequitur. Christians were well used to the ‘thief in the night’ no-warning scenario. This sign-centred way of looking at things is therefore probably shaped by the facts that there not only was historically an event that was a perceived sign but also that there inevitably would be in times of extremity; and the abomination is the only thing, scripturally, that sets the terminal clock ticking; and the Daniel scripture is (as Josephus shows) the one that would first spring to mind. Being the best candidate for a clearly numerical scriptural ‘prediction’, it was a given that it would be uppermost.

    LET THOSE IN JUDEA… (a) Why, from the Twelve’s perspective c28-30, would any *not* be in Judea? (b) Why the otherwise unnatural shift from second person to third (when you see…let those in Judea), unless 2 separate groups are in view? (c) This suggests that the prime location of the church c66 is not Judea, since only in one location could people see the abomination, so neither ‘you’ nor ‘those in Judea’ can be the totality of Christians. (d) Hence, the abomination is not in Judea. (e) Given that it is in one location only, and that location can be taken to be the main location of Christians, there are few candidates, with Rome the foremost. (f) This fits with the very possibly Roman provenance of Mk, and with chs 11-16’s strong interest in matters Roman (Incigneri, Schmidt NTS 1995, et al.).

    THE ABOMINATION – There are certain things about the abomination that are not at all demanded scripturally, yet still appear in the text, and it is these which most merit our attention: (a) HESTEKOTOS, (b) HOPOU OU DEI, (c) ‘Let the reader understand’, (d) interplay of masculine and neuter as in 2 Thess. (a) suggests ‘standing’ more than simply ‘set up’, and standing in a masculine manner; in Roman context at this date, the prime candidate is the colossal statue of Nero (seen by van Kooten in Rev 13 et passim), whose initial construction was roughly 64-68. Nero was in a standing pose. (b) could imply any of about 10 things, but note that if the statue of Nero is in view then the only thing the colossus has in common with Antiochus’s abomination, location-wise, is that both were hopou ou dei. In other words, precious little. The colossus was a major phenomenon which naturally will have had Christians thinking of the abomination given Nero’s treatment of them; and in order to make the colossus be the abomination the matter of location had to be minimised until hopou ou dei was all that was left. (c) The cageyness reminds us of 2 Thess 2 and of Rev 13 – emperor-talk, in other words. (d) The gender ambiguity further cements the 2 Thess link and is especially suitable for a lifeless statue that is nevertheless supremely representative of a male.

    THE FLIGHT OF THE CHURCH – Rev 12 has one main flight selected as a major event (one of the main 3 or 4) of the tribulation period. Mark 13 has it selected as perhaps the major event of all of that period. Yet neither mentions another flight at all. And both have the destination as a deserted one. So we are on safe ground in viewing both as the same thing. Rev sees the church’s relocation as more or less coterminous with the war; and also as beginning around the time the war began (cf. Eusebius – who also mentions an oracle that caused the flight, which is precisely what we see in Mark 13, where the news of the apparent appearance of the scriptural abomination is what sparks the flight).

    OTHER MESSIAHS – Josephus encouraged the view of Vespasian that he was the world-king that would arise from Judea (the Messiah in other words). This idea was current when Mark was written. And of course, the prophecy of Josephus had seemed to be fulfilled when Vespasian later claimed the throne. All of Mark shows Jesus to be in competition with Vespasian for this role (at an unprecedented time when anyone could potentially become world emperor regardless of descent, and several did in 68-9, merely by virtue of military acclamation etc – the path to the throne had never been so open), and Jesus to have a prior claim at every point. Jesus healed a withered hand and a blind man with spittle long before Vespasian did. He won military victories in Galilee (over a ‘legion’; and cf. his ‘shepherding’ of the crowd into quasi-military units before the first feeding) earlier. He achieved the destruction of the temple and nation by his curse sandwiched round the portent of destruction. Nero had caused the death of Romulus’s figtree in 59, so this was a standard portent of doom on a nation from a Roman perspective. At his accession (he is robed as king in early ch15) he has preempted Vespasian’s own by the accession being heralded by the ear-severing of the high priest’s servant; by a naked flight; and by a rooster – all of which colourful themes figured in the death of Vitellius. His journey to the Cross preempts point by point Vespasian’s ceremonial Triumph over Judea of 71 (see Schmidt NTS 1995). He is enthroned (with royal plaque and crown) and flanked by two in his ‘kingdom’ (cf Mk 10) before ever Vespasian was flanked on that occasion by his sons. He splits the temple veil before Titus did (entered Holy of Holies – anecdotally perhaps by slashing the veil with his sword??). He is acclaimed King by the military (as Vespasian later was in 69). And his time in Jerusalem is bookended by two triumphal entries – on horse not donkey the first time – the first only of the prospective king, but the second (matching Vespasian’s belated coming to Rome as Emperor) taking up rule in Galilee (16.7) away from the old seat of power in Jerusalem: Galilee being a territory which Vespasian may have thought he had conquered and ruled at the time of writing, but in truth only did what he did there much later than Jesus.

    WHY IS THE TEMPLE DESTRUCTION NOT MENTIONED WITHIN THE REHEARSAL OF EVENTS, BUT ONLY AT THE START? (a) It is mentioned at the start, because then it seems it all happens by Jesus’s fiat. Chs 11, 14 (trial witnesses), 15 (veil) all put Jesus in charge of temple matters. (b) Any mention of it at the climax of the tribulation would only suggest Flavian agency, and would detract from Jesus’s agency. (c) Because there is a theodicy hereabouts (the thrice-mentioned elect whom God prioritises in the way that events develop), the agency is again divine not Flavian – the temple destruction brings the tribulation to an end so that the elect can be preserved – hence it is a good thing not a disaster.

    WHY IS THE SON OF MAN’S COMING MENTIONED, WHEN THE DISCIPLES’ QUESTION HAD NO CONNECTION TO IT? In Mark it is clear that the concept of the Son of Man’s coming would be off the disciples’ radar – they do not know even that Jesus is going to go away this time, nor that he would ever return even if he did (what could be less likely?), nor why someone so very much in control would ever need to go off the scene once, since such a one could simply not go away in the first place rather than having to go away and then return. Because the countdown in Revelation, which likewise involved the church wilderness period, but was at that point linked to Daniel’s 3 and a half years, as would always be more natural while it remained possible, was expected to climax at Hanukkah 69 after 3 and a half years of war (and of church exile), and the climax was not unnaturally expected to take the Danielic form of the Saints of the Most High inheriting the kingdom, which certainly in Daniel is encapsulated by the Son of Man coming to the throne with the clouds of heaven. Hence the coming of the Son of Man was the expected climax of the tribulation period and could not be left out of Mark’s scenario. The temple destruction, which might have seemed a reversal of the optimistic Dan/Rev view of the three and a half years, is not mentioned here and is overshadowed by the coming of the Son of Man which the disciples had not asked about. Whereas it is good for the drama for the disciples in a Jerusalem setting to be made aware (together with the readers) of the 70 catastrophe, the readers already know that the temple is destroyed so they are more interested in when the hoped-for and long predicted climax of the rapture would come.

    Craig Robinson above is quite right that an actual return of Jesus is referred to. Although I suppose the incorporative rapture does replace a Temple made with hands with one united Temple not made with hands, this renewal/revolution (unlike the Resurrection) does not take place in 3 days, and there is no particular evidence that Mark expected us to make this connection. The watches of the night (evening, midnight, cockcrow, dawn) mentioned here are indeed linked to the cautionary tales of those who deserted Jesus at each point, prefiguring eschatological possibilities. Judas at evening (and ‘You will all fall away’); Peter, James, John, all fell asleep and all but Peter fled, young man in white at midnight fell foul of the Rev 16 cautionary oracle. Peter was more faithful than the others but even he still fell away at cockcrow, not making it till dawn.

  7. Two observations: First, I find it very significant that in general terms, apart from references to Daniel (and that limited to a particular passage/ verse) , there is little or nothing that incorporates Jesus’ profound grasp on the wider OT. For example, has Mark 13:31 no bearing on what Jesus was proclaiming in verse 30? And has this in turn no bearing on such passages as Isaiah 40 : 6 – 8 and 55:1 which set his salvation and righteousness over against created things – including the temple?
    Secondly, and in the light of this, are we not doing Jesus a disservice in our attempts to project his teaching through a lens of “either/or” rather than allowing for the possibility of “both/and”?
    By way of illustration, consider Luke 1:67 ff ( the Song of Zechariah). In his IVP commentary, Leon Morris (yes!I show my age) speaks of “God as visiting and redeeming [his people] . Nowhere does Morris allow for the fact that God is presented as having already accomplished visitation and fulfilled redemption “through the mouth of his holy prophets from of old”. And yet we know that only through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ is salvation accomplished.
    However, with reference to the present topic: whilst all is fulfilled in Christ, the total fulfilment of the Father’s purposes outlined in the Law, Prophets and Writings await there consummation at the close of this age. All has been accomplished. All has yet to be accomplished!

  8. Dear Ian

    There are so many interesting and difficult issues here and it’s great that others are now joining in.

    I’ll just respond to some of your points:

    (1) Although the word parousia would certainly have that resonance for many readers (though recall Paul also speaks of his own parousia), but I wonder if it may have originated in Christian usage from Mal 3:2, where it would be a quite natural translation of the Hebrew.
    (2) I certainly don’t think 4 Ezra 13 should control our reading of the Gospels. I just use it to illustrate that there were various possibilities for reading Daniel 7 available. I’m very opposed to Tom Wright’s method of identifying OT allusions in Mark 13 and then saying: The OT text means this and so Jesus must mean this. The way NT writers use OT texts simply does not conform to the way we, doing historical exegesis of the OT, read them. (And, in any case, there is plenty of room discussion about what Daniel 7 did “originally” mean: see the commentaries!) Presumably Psalm 2 “originally” referred to the reigning Davidic king being adopted by God as his “son,” but the NT writers ignore such a meaning (and probably never thought of it).
    (3) I think Matthew does distinguish the fall of Jerusalem from the parousia but he connects them with “immediately” (24:29).
    (4) I agree that in Mark and Matthew the future is being portrayed in Danielic terms, especially Daniel 12. Therefore the events do not have to be entirely literal. But the “desolating sacrifice” is something the disciples are to “see,” and Matthew actually clarifies Mark’s more cryptic reference. I am reacting against a way of dating Mark (Adela Collins, Joel Marcus) by closely correlating these verses with the course of the Jewish war, identifying the “desolating sacrifice” with a known event, and concluding that Mark was written at that point in the war. Jesus says “when you see” and Mark’s readers have now seen it. But no one can agree what the event was that could plausibly be seen in that way. Prophecy written after the event is usually clearer than that, whereas (genuine) prophecy before the event is often more symbolic than literal. So Mark 13:14 is more plausibly written before the Jewish War and the same argument has then to apply to Matthew.
    (5) I find it hard to imagine Matthew writing 24:27 after 70. He would have known whether it did or did not happen in winter.
    (6) There is the relationship with 1-2 Thessalonians. I’m fairly convinced that Paul has a version of Mark 13:26-27 in mind when he wrote 1 These 3:13-17 and 2 Thess 2:1.

    • 1. Yes, Paul uses parousia; it has a non-technical as well as technical use. I suppose Mal 3.2 *could* have been rendered with parousia, but in fact in the LXX it isn’t. καὶ τίς ὑπομενεῖ ἡμέραν εἰσόδου αὐτοῦ; ἢ τίς ὑποστήσεται ἐν τῇ ὀπτασίᾳ αὐτοῦ;

      2. Yes, I agree: Tom is rather too certain. I think my only point is that the use in 4 Ezra 13 shows one way that the Son of Man *could* be used, but the connections with New Testament use in Matthew 24 and Revelation 13 are weak, if not actually contrary.

      3. Great to see our agreement on the separation of the two events. But if Matt 24.29 ‘immediately’ then leads into the parousia,
      a. why does Matthew *avoid* parousia language here, but introduce it after the ‘Περὶ δὲ’ of Matt 24.36?
      b. More generally, from a narrative/structural point of view, why the major shift at v 29 rather than v 36?
      c. Why does Jesus bracket the events ‘immediately after’ with the fall of Jerusalem by ‘all these things will take place in this generation’, but then Matthew has him talk extensively about the parousia for another chapter and a half outside this temporal bracketing?
      d. How do you account for the parallel of cosmic signs in Acts 2.20?

      Overall, it seems to me that you need to assume that both Jesus and Matthew are mistaken, *and* that the whole section is narratively incoherent. In my reading, they are actually both right, and the text has coherence. Isn’t that then a better explanation of the data of the text…?

      4. I agree with you on the problems of tying Mark and his dating to specific events in the war. But I don’t think that is necessary in my reading. Part of the problem here is seeing all the ‘prophecies’ by Jesus in the gospels as vaticinium ex eventu, in which case we would expect them to be right. But the problems seem to me to fall away if we allow a. that Jesus is speaking in general, metaphorical and often hyperbolic language and b. that Mark and Matthew are being faithful to his ipsissima Vox, even if not his ipsissima verba.

      5. This is another example of my last comment above. He doe not have to have got it right if he is being faithful to the sense of Jesus’ words, rather then offering vaticinium ex eventu. This is just the same problem as Jesus’ ignorance of the day or the hour in Matt 24.36.

      6. See the comment below on the connections between Paul and Mark.

      • I don’t understand why you think Matthew would have to use the word parousia in vv 29-31. The sequence of thought from vv 27-28 to what follows is clear. The parousia is going to be unmistakable, visible to all. So he then describes the parousia such that it is precisely that, adding to Mark “the sign of the Son of Man in the sky” and “all the tribes of the earth will see him coming.” (I guess you would prefer “tribes of the land” but “tribes of the earth” fits the cosmic context that continues in v 31.)
        What Matthew does is to substitute the word parousia for the rather confusingly various other terms used in Luke 17:22-37, which he is redacting.
        V 33 (Mark 13:29) is echoed with reference to the parousia in James 5:8-9.

        By the way, you are right about my computer. My desk top behaves as it should, my laptop does not.

  9. During these hectic years there were several sacrileges to choose from. I therefore sometimes wonder whether the problem in identifying the correct one is not simply the embarras de richesse.

    The Caligula affair gave a framework for what to expect when it came to the crunch (Yarbro Collins). It (and Antiochus, and even Pompey) may lie behind Hengel’s idea that the reference is to Suetonius’s record that Nero was expected to enthrone himself in an eastern city like Jerusalem. Markus gives a well documented apologia for the idea that Eleazar is in view, and this has gained support – yet there are difficulties with viewing it as a living breathing human being moving from place to place (whether Vespasian appearing in Judea, or Menahem, or another). Although I do not know that anyone shares my perspective that it is the colossal statue of Nero (though van Kooten sees this in Rev), that could be primarily because it (together with the various exegetical points in its favour) has not occurred to them, so all these things would need a period of reflection. And maybe its not being in Judea at all is partly what prevents people thinking of it, though the text seems to my mind positively to suggest it is not in Judea (see above).

    • I think all such detailed speculations are a bit fruitless. We just cannot know, and I think these theories are highly speculative. I found van Kooten’s argument forced and unconvincing.

      • My policy is to list pros and cons so that we can somehow begin to weigh options in however imperfect a way rather than in no organised way, else quite different options of quite different worth will end up being lumped together, and conclusions (whether positive or negative) will end up being jumped to rather than weighed. The options I forgot were Titus himself and the Roman standards breaching the holy of holies – as both occurred on the day of the sack I think any Judean who waited till that point and suddenly thought that now seemed a good time to run away would have been slow on the uptake. The times when people were able to run from Jerusalem are surprisingly many, however.

        At least the colossus ticks the box of being a notable statue event at precisely the right date; and at least (secondly) Rev confirms that there was an event of that sort involving a single statue that stood out in such as way as to render other statues superfluous. People do underestimate the importance through the ages of this colossus. The Colosseum is to this day about Rome’s most famous building, yet it was named not after itself but after the colossus statue. And Bede writes (or preserves an oracle to the effect that) when the colossus falls, Rome falls. Plus it helps us understand why Rev is so full of anti-Apollo imagery, as listed at length. Its construction owes much to the Rhodes colossus, whose distinctive arms-arrangement is mirrored not only by the Nero colossus but relatedly by the Rev 10 angel, a feature otherwise unexplained. And all 3 span (or evince dominion over) both sea and land simultanously. I didn’t end up being convinced by George van Kooten’s perspective on 2 Thess, albeit I am a great advocate of his Rev article. It slightly surprises me that what is posited of the Rev statue has not seemingly also been posited of the Mark abomination, given that both authors speak of the church’s flight, of the rapture from the four winds, and so on.

          • I suppose the Nero statue is no more a non-speaking statue than any other statue one could name. Statues can’t eat or speak, but the classic international tropes of priestcraft involve making it seem as though they are doing these things – together with another Revelation staple, calling fire from heaven (something that to this day features in the traditional Hindu marriage ceremony). Vitellius was priest of Nero and revived his cult, and was primarily a devoted longterm leading member of the prophetic guild that guarded the Sibyllines and ate perpetual banquets but of no godly status himself; his coins sport ravens as symbol of this guild, which sound a bit like the frogs from his mouth in Rev 16: ‘korax’/’ko-ax’/onomatopoeic ‘croak’. Therefore he could well be called a false prophet. And of course, as excellently documented, 69 was a year where ‘Nero is actually alive’ was on the cards, and vividly apparent to our author. But then I set Rev at that time (together with many) and most don’t.

          • Ventriloquism and the use of automata were very well known in the imperial cult and other religious practice. See Steven J. Scherrer, “Signs and Wonders in the Imperial Cult: A New Look at a Roman Religious Institution in the Light of Rev 13:13-15,” JBL 103 (1984)

    • I do think that a statue is the most likely meaning of the abomination in both Mark and Matthew. But also certainly in the temple. That never happened but it was threatened under Caligula. Theissen thinks Mark’s source was written at that date. I think it more likely that the Caligula incident supplied the image Mark uses. But it is also striking that Mark encrypts the reference (“where it ought not”) while Matthew feels able to spell it out. Mark’s secrecy here resembles the “protective anonymity” which he give to so many people in the passion narrative. Theissen thinks that reflects a situation in which there was danger and dates the source to Jerusalem in 40s (I took up and extended that argument in my Eyewitnesses). But why, in both cases, sources? Why not date Mark itself in the 40s? I keep asking people: Why couldn’t Mark be as early as the 40s? I have received no answers that I find at all compelling. D does Pau show knowledge of Mark is a good question. I think maybe if we look more closely he may do so.

      (Ian: Why is it that, although I always tick the box for “Save my name …”, it won’t accept my comments without all the details in the 3 boxes every time?}

      • Richard, were you aware of the discussion here? James Crossley argues that Mark influenced Paul; Mike Bird takes the opposite view.

        But the volume here assesses Paulinisms in Mark, whichever way you see the influence. (And the question here is: is there a method, between two texts which share ideas, to definitively argue that the influence was one way or another? Is this actually possible?)

        • Thanks, Ian, I must look at that discussion.

          But on Mark 13 and 1 Thess 3 I was presuming no more than Paul’s knowledge of oral tradition that Mark also preserves.

          On speaking statues etc., it seems to me the whole of that passage in Rev 13 makes most sense in relation to the temples of the imperial cult in the eastern empire, which is where it really flourished. It was there too that the return of Nero was something to be desired.

          On Mal 3:2, yes of course I know that’s not the LXX version. But there are plenty of examples of independent translation of OT quotations and allusions to OT in the NT. I think terms like parousia are likely to go back to the Jerusalem church, which accounts for James’s use of the word and Matthew’s too (since Paul hardly influenced Matthew.

          I can’t answer all your points now!!

          • Hi Richard

            Let me take this opportunity to thank you for your Theology on Revelation which i read many years ago and found helpful. I also read to benefit your book on politics.

            Re the statue, I have difficulty in seeing Rev 6-18 as other than the years preceding Christ’s return. It seems to me the 31/2 years or 42 months is likely to be literal since they seem literal in Daniel and in Revelation are contained within the reign of the beat from the sea. Since it is a precise manifestation of the beast in view it seems located in one leader. Daniel seems to tie in with this (Dan 7).

            I will take the opportunity to say that both you and Ian seem to believe in a millennial kingdom but its not clear to me what the nature of this kingdom is. I say this not having read your book for some years and simply relying on an impression left. Who or what the camp of the saints refers to interests me at the moment. Is the millennium a historical reality or something other.

        • This is not really relevant to the substance of the discussion of your excellent as well as provocative essay. But for a date for Mark in the 40s, written as a gospel for the Gentile mission, it would be possible for Mark to be influenced by Paul. I would expect Paul to have his own traditions about Jesus and formulations of the Gospel already and independently of Mark. What I have in mind as confirming an early date for Mark would be specific verbal allusions to Mark’s text, like “I am not ashamed of the Gospel” (which has been suggested).

  10. Daniel 9:27
    He will confirm a covenant with many for one ‘seven.’ In the middle of the ‘seven’ he will put an end to sacrifice and offering. And at the temple he will set up an abomination that causes desolation, until the end that is decreed is poured out on him.”
    Come down on me like a ton of bricks but references to the ‘abomination’ seem to be prophetic of Jesus crucifixion. He became the abomination for us, did he not?

    • Steve

      The time sequence in Mark wouldn’t allow it. It comes after 13:1-12 … where the disciples face false messiahs, preach gospel throughout the world etc. Further it is closely accompanied by great tribulation and the need to urgently flee Jerusalem. This does not fit with the abomination being the cross. Also for myself I don’t think Daniel’s abomination is the cross but that’s another question.

  11. The early dating of Mark has a noble history (Guenther Zuntz, Nicholas Taylor are among those who do so because of Caligula; also Casey and Crossley). Daniel has the abomination on a wing of the temple, yet most interpreters of Mark assume it must be in the very centre of the temple, which the text of Mark does not say. Of course in strict fact it never mentions the temple at all in relation to the abomination, and distinguishes between ‘you’ who see the abomination and ‘those in Judea’ who react to it.

    The arguments for its being a statue are good. The alternative generally posited is:
    (a) that it is a human being (who has not appeared as a sign out of the blue but has been around for many prior years)
    (b) …who walks around from place to place (so is not much like Daniel’s abomination)
    (c) …and merely does something dreadful (whereas an abomination does not do anything at all).

  12. If Jesus was in the line of OT prophets (who knew in part and prophesied in part), then I don’t have a problem with him conflating chronologically different events into one prophecy. I think the OT prophets did. It just takes some unpicking.
    And I don’t see an orthodoxy issue here either. Only the Father knew the exact details. Jesus was not God in disguise, but fully human, not omniscient, but subject to the same limitations in revelation as us.
    I think prophecy is like looking at hills and mountains on the horizon – some are close and some are a lot further away than you thought because they turn out to be huge mountains. Anyway, thanks for the article…

    • Yes, I agree that there were things that Jesus did not know, as we see (to the embarrassment of early copyists) in Matt 24.26.

      But the idea that the first part of the chapter involves Jesus mixing up two completely different events not only assumes that Jesus does not know, but that what he says is incoherent, and that Matthew records this incoherence.

      This treats the words of Jesus more like a magic code, which we have to disentangle, and that we now know better than him or Matthew.

      My reading actually treats the whole text coherently. Why isn’t that a more convincing reading?

      • But Ian, Jesus words are often enigmatic (never incoherent). They invite the serious enquirer to think. The reason we puzzle over them is because they were often puzzling even to his disciples.

        Wouldn’t it make sense for Jesus the Prophet to employ OT methods?

    • Julian – Thank you for that contribution; particularly in relation to your portrayal of the prophetic antecedents of Jesus’ self understanding and not least your illustration of one aspect of the dynamic nature of that OT prophetic manifestation.
      Yes Jesus , though designated and anointed as Son of God and yes, as you say, was fully human ; nevertheless he was also Jewish; signifying among other things that this fact ought to be taken on board when we attempt to comprehend the nature of his teaching, not least in relation to the future. I have previously made the point that any understanding of Jesus’mission surely demands more from the OT than a trickle of “proof texts”. Furthermore, we have three passages in Luke (the Magnificat and the Benedictus and the Nunc Dimittis) which in the words of one biblical scholar are “a mosaic of Old Testament texts” and which therefore are not necessarily susceptible to the “linear logic” of some contemporary scholastic studies. OT study requires much more than more than a “pick-n-mix” approach in order to act as a feeder into the NT or even, incidentally, to satisfy the dietary demands of contemporary Christian appetites. And the study of OT prophecy in particular cries out for a comprehensive, holistisic grasp of its historic and theological contents.

  13. OK, bearing in mind this is the reading for remembrance Sunday, just how would it be preached, applied, assuming, of course, that some attempt to to make a link will be made? (This is particularly for…?).
    I would not be loking for good advice, or good information, but Good News. That is how I’d assess the efficacy of the sermon.

  14. Hopou ou dei can mea a lot of things, but some are much less likely than others:

    -where it is sacrilegious to stand (implying: in the Holiest)
    -in a place where it would not be safe for us to mention – but the reader can put two and two together and thereby understand (this cagey language is found precisely at the emperor passages of 2 Thes 2, Rev 13, Mk 13)
    -in an inopportune place (the phrase being used because the actual overlap with the Daniel scenario is limited to precisely this)
    -in the unmentionably bad place (e.g. the Domus Aurea, site of Christian torture)
    -where it has no right to be
    (either (a) because its presence is unwelcome anywhere, or (b) because it symbolises the alive and active presence of someone who by rights should be dead).

  15. When Jesus wept he expressed the Father’s heart. When he was moved “in his bowels “ the Spirit moved him. Could it be that when he mentioned the “abomination” the Spirit was speaking prophetically through him? In the same way he spoke of being “lifted up” he was speaking of his coming crucifixion. Sometimes he spoke on his own authority and sometimes the Father gives a message through the Holy Spirit.
    It seems to me that by grinding his words through the theological mill one can miss the beauty of the dialogue of the trinity in action.

  16. Ian

    Re Mk 13 and other parallel passages I would have thought the most natural reading from v24-37 would be the Second Coming unless there were compelling reasons against it.

    I agree the ‘this generation will not pass away’ raises questions, however different arguments have been mounted to offset this difficulty. For instance understanding ‘this generation’ as ‘this kind of generation’ , an unbelieving generation, is not unreasonable.

    Another involves removing the actual coming from ‘all these things’ (v30). This is not some form of special pleading. The fig tree represents the various signs of his coming and not the coming itself. When ‘these things’ (the various preceding signs of his coming) are complete his coming is very near.

    Well of course all the signs including the destruction of Jerusalem were accomplished by AD 70. (Allowing for a more figurative reading of the sun darkened).

    Yet Jesus did not come. We should remember he was very clear – he did not know the day or hour of his coming. He only knew of events surrounding it.

    Yet Jesus did not come. At this point I ask whether the double vista comes into play. It is a perspective regularly used in the OT where a mini day of the lord had imposed upon it an ultimate day of the Lord.

    Is this not how we must understand the destruction of Jerusalem. What was immediate (the destruction of Jerusalem) modelled what was ultimate.

    Certainly in this way the ‘this generation’ issues are answered. Also allowing for an ultimate ‘tribulation’ the Second Coming does immediately follow.

    It seems too that much of what Jesus says is echoed in Revelation. You mention the horsemen (Ch 6). We also have ‘great tribulation’’ (ch 7). We have the virtual annihilation of the people of God and the reign of the beast from the sea who blasphemes God and has a statue to his divinity (13). His reign immediately precedes the coming of Christ.

    It seems to me that whatever weaknesses a view like this is perceived to have these are preferable to the preterist reading which at this juncture at least I see as unnatural.

      • Hi Richard
        I looked up every instance of ‘thousand’ in the Bible. All of them speak symbolically to one degree or another. Therefore, when finally we get to Revelation it seems sensible enough, given that Revelation is full of symbolisms, the millennium is symbolic too. John was in the Spirit on the Lord’s day. This is the same as ‘the day of the Lord’. The millennium is therefore the same thing. We too are in the Day of the Lord.

      • Thanks Richard. Saves me going back to check. It would solve a lot of problems if there were no temporal millennium for elsewhere it often seems that the day of the Lord or the Second Coming events bring everything to a final and settled climax. Rev 20, especially, the final apostasy seems to make the Day of the Lord a bit of an anticlimax.

        Having said that I cannot see an amil ‘spiritual’ resurrection. However, I confess I’m not sure what to make of your view either. In a book which although highly symbolic is nevertheless grounded in historical events how does a 1000 year symbol work.

        Ian gives a helpful exegesis of Rev 20 but I have a suspicion he too may treat it as ahistorical. He sees it as about the reign of the martyrs (which of course the text says). I understand that if you limit those who reign to the martyrs a temporal millennium becomes less probable. However the first resurrection seems to involve all believers and reigning seems from other Scriptures to include all of God’s people.

        I happen to be doing some work on Revelation at the moment and find discussions around related topics helpful.

      • ‘I take the view (admittedly unusual) that it is a symbol of the victory of Christ and the martyrs.’

        Richard, I would agree in part. But it is not the partially realised victory, which is symbolised by 1,260, but the total victory as revealed when Jesus returns.

    • ‘I would have thought the most natural reading from v24-37 would be the Second Coming unless there were compelling reasons against it.’

      Only if you are reading in English. In Greek there is no obvious connection, since the phrase is practically a quotation from Dan 7.13 which is clearly used elsewhere to refer to Jesus’ exaltation.

      ‘For instance understanding ‘this generation’ as ‘this kind of generation’ , an unbelieving generation, is not unreasonable.’ No, that is not what Jesus is saying; he is quite clear this is a temporal reference.

      ‘Another involves removing the actual coming from ‘all these things’ (v30).’ Well, if you want to rule out what Jesus actually says here ‘all these things’ and say ‘although he said all, he didn’t mean all’, you can do all sorts of things!

      ‘We also have ‘great tribulation’’ (ch 7).’ John is clear in Rev 1.9 that he is *already* in tribulation. It isn’t something future, but something all followers of Jesus should expect. Acts 14.22

      ‘His reign immediately precedes the coming of Christ.’. The Beast in Rev 13.18 is Nero, as Richard Bauckham has clearly demonstrated!

  17. Ian

    I appreciate you taking the time to give me a point by point answer. I understand the symbolism of victory in the Millennium but what I can’t get my head around is that you seem to view it as only a symbol without any corresponding temporal reality. Does this happen elsewhere in the book?

    I can see that Nero may well have been a template for John’s beast but the problem with a fully preterist reading is that Jesu returns and the beast and false prophet are cast into the lake of fire. The climate of the book is the end of the age. I’m still very much of the view that 6-18 has a narrow time frame. I find the 42 months – the time the beast conquers the saints – hard to get by especially as I think we are looking at one defined manifestation of the beast.

    But again, thanks for input.

    • 42 is a symbolic reference to the desert wanderings, and so represents the time between our deliverance from bondage to sin and our entering the promised land of the New Jerusalem.

      Why do you want to take it as a literal time span?

      • It’s important to lay out why people would think 42 months is indeed 42 months.

        One problem with this not being the case is: If 42 is symbolic, what is it symbolic of? 58? 126?

        A second is: the 3 and a half years portion of Rev is the portion most often mined for contemporary references, and the portion most amenable to this. This would then need to be seen as a coincidence.

        A third is: ‘the time is near’. How did John calculate this?

        A fourth is: John’s belief in maths and numbers. Hence: ‘psephizo’.

  18. Because I think it is drawn mainly from Daniel where the time span seems literal in Dan 7 and other places in Daniel. Also because it seems to me that the beast from the sea is ultimately the final antichrist or opponent of God’s people and all the action of 6-18 seems to fall within the boundaries of his reign. I can see the desert wandering but see that reference as more tangential and symbolic. Actually, I’d rather see the 31/2 years as a symbol of the whole age but can’t get past the points I’ve raised. Having said that i do think John writes assuming that the things soon to come may well happen in his lifetime. I can see too that C1 Rome is the template for the End whenever it happens.

    Can you explain Ian how you and Richard can understand the millennium as purely symbolic and not representing anything temporal. I may be misunderstanding you in this. I’m assuming a preterist hermeneutical is involved. I hope this doesn’t come across censoriously. I’m keen to understand.

  19. I think that chap 19 depicts the parousia. That will be the final triumph of Christ and the martyrs over the forces of evil. The millennium is an imaginative way of depicting that triumph. Suppose the devil were allowed another chance to destroy the people of God? He wouldn’t even get within reach of them. Not a chance.
    I think John is using apocalyptic traditions that did expect a literal period of rule by the Messiah before the new creation (as in, e.g. 4 Ezra), but he transmutes them into something else, as he does so much else.
    All numbers in Revelation are symbolic, starting with 2:11, which no one takes literally even though it is in the part of the book where one would most expect literalness.
    I have a long discussion of 42 and 1260 and others in my Climax of Prophecy. Once you see the numerical characteristics of these numbers you can’t take them literally. Yes, the similar periods in Daniel are literal, but precisely because in Daniel they refer to a period of persecution of that length, John can use then to signify a period of persecution as such.

    • Revelation numbers that can comfortably be imprecise: ‘half an hour’, ‘ten days’, ‘one thousand years’, ‘7000’, ‘twice ten thousand times ten thousand’.

      Note that there is, however, not always anything for them to be imprecise in reference to. If their author’s universe is the universe they inhabit, they are the magnitude they are because their author chooses/sees that they should be that particular magnitude and not otherwise. So even here there is precision.

      If the ‘ten days’ refers to a real event, then there is less need to make it imprecise than to make it precise. Ditto (even more so) ‘five months’. There is no special resonance to ‘five’.

      Revelation numbers that are intended to be precise: ‘the first/second woe is past’, ‘666’, ‘two witnesses’, ‘an eighth who is of the seven’.

      As there are some numbers that are intended to be precise and others that need not be, then it is in that light that we examine 42 and 1260. Both are significant numbers in themselves – but then so is 666 which is nevertheless also precise.

      At this point we call on considerations like:
      (a) John somehow calculated that the time was near.
      (b) The first woe and second woe were time bound and had ended at particular precise times. John is keen to indicate to readers where precisely they are within this timetable.
      (c) The 42 month references are all within the woes section. The woes are a precise period. So if the 42 months are *not* a precise period we’re in danger of a muddle.
      (d) If we say (re the second woe) that ch 11 is not referring to the Idumaean massacre events (albeit also to other things), then we are saying it is more likely than not that the very specific fourfold complex of double-unburial-of-notables/sullying of outer courts in battle/earthquake/death of 7000 (or Josephus’s 8500) is *coincidentally* the same in Rev and Josephus – something very hard to hold to in the light of its being within 3 or 4 months of Nero’s death, an historical event in which John was clearly interested. We would then be at a loss to know why Rev had chosen these details (which are both specific and non traditional) in ch 11. But it is completely unnecessary to be at a loss given this historical event.
      (e) Daniel’s 42 months were indeed literal, which sets a precedent; also it is characteristic of the 42 months to lead up to the triumph of the saints of the most high, as represented by the manifestation of the Son of Man. Both of these things are *future* hopes for Rev. John cannot view them as decisively fulfilled in Dan’s timetable if he thinks they are about to be fulfilled within his own.

  20. Concerning the 31/2 years, if they were to be taken literally I would think dynamically they would function something like this. For the churches to whom John writes they would look out on their Roman world and see judgements, persecutions and emperors who may be harbingers of the end. The same process would apply to each generation in history and particularly where persecution was heavy the belief would grow that it may well be the end. For one generation it will be the end. Judgements and persecution will occur on a world-wide scale.

    Each generation looks at its world and sees the end is near. In this respect we simply reflect the perspective of the early apostles… it is the last hour… you have heard antichrist is to come and now there are many antichrists. .. the mystery of lawlessness is already at work.. the signs from the fig tree.


Leave a comment