The ‘coming’ of Jesus in Mark 13

With the turn of the lectionary year, next Sunday we are in the first Sunday of Advent in Year B, and our gospel reading of Mark 13.24–37 plunges us straight into the questions around the anticipation of Jesus’ return at The End. (It is worth noting that there is no compelling (theo)logical reason why this should be connected with Christmas. The incarnation is described in terms of God’s coming to his people in the person of Jesus, for example in the opening of Mark or the Benedictus in Luke 1; but the return of Jesus at the end to complete the work of the kingdom of God, and finally unite heaven and earth, is never described as the ‘Second Coming’ in the New Testament, and instead  is consistently paired with the Ascension rather than the incarnation.)

Our passage comprises the two closing sections of Mark 13, which is parallel to the first part of Matt 24 and is known as either the Olivet Discourse (since it is set on the Mount of Olives) or the Little Apocalypse, because there are connections in structure and language with parts of the Book of Revelation. It is striking that, where the parable of the sower in Mark 4 (which seems relatively straightforward to the modern reader) provokes expressions of puzzlement and prompts a request for explanation by the disciples, this teaching seems to be received with perfect comprehension—whilst it leaves us baffled and confused. This should sound a warning note to the contemporary reader!

There are three main ways this has been read:

1. The ‘traditional’ approach, which goes back at least as far as Jerome in the fourth century, that this is primarily about the ‘end of the world’ though with specific predictions about the destruction of the temple mixed in.

This has a number of problems to it:

  • The main one is Jesus stern saying in v 30 ‘Amen I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things have happened.’ There is some wriggling about the meaning of genea embedded in an NIV footnote as ‘race’—but all other uses of this in Mark (and the other gospels) make it clear that it really does mean ‘this generation’, that is, the people alive at the time Jesus was speaking. Mary Ann Beavis, in her 2011 Paideia commentary, say that this saying ’emphasises the authority of this discourse; the word of Jesus has the stature of the word of God, which is flawless and precedes the creation of the heavens and the earth’ (p 201).
  • To solve this, commentators for the last couple of hundred years have seen a Jewish ‘apocalypse’ embedded here and (clumsily) incorporated. So in fact in context what Jesus’ saying means is ‘Amen I say to you, this generation will not pass away until around three of the five things I have just mentioned have happened.’ This is very unsatisfactory since, like much source criticism, it suggests that neither Mark nor his first readers really understood what Mark himself had written, and had not understood what Jesus said. As Ben Witherington (The Gospel of Mark, p 341) points out, there is simply nothing grammatical which suggests either that this is using sources or that it is the words of a later prophet, since the ideas, themes and OT allusions are typical of Jesus in this gospel.
  • It fails to pay attention to Mark’s language. So Cranfield at one point comments on ‘Mark’s depiction of the Parousia’ without noticing that the word parousia is conspicuous by its absence in Mark 13.
  • Some have tried to avoid this by claiming that ‘this generation’ refers to the generation who are reading this text now, in the ‘end times’. This is a bit like saying that, if I send you an email saying ‘I am enjoying living in this house’, you could interpret that as a reference to the house you are sitting in as you read the email. If that is the case, then we are really ignoring the plain meaning of words!

This was the view I was brought up with, and it was explained by means of the ‘prophetic telescope’: when you are looking to the future, you see things in the near and distant future next to one another, so you might not explain things in order. This does make Jesus look like he does not really know what he is talking about! And it also suggests that Mark, who in earlier chapters has very carefully structured his material to make narrative theological points, appears to have lost the plot.


2. Tom Wright’s view is that this ‘whole chapter’ is about the destruction of the Temple (see Jesus and the Victory of God pp 339f and Mark for Everyone 176f). (However, he appears to have a different view when going to read the more extended version in Matthew 24–25; the ‘eschatological’ parables do in fact appear to be about ‘final judgement’.) A key to his argument is the language about the ‘coming of the Son of Man’:

  • ‘The Son of Man coming on the clouds’ is an exact citation of Dan 7.13 LXX, and of course the ‘coming’ is not a coming to earth but a coming to the Ancient of Days, the Power (meaning the God of Israel) for vindication as the one personifying the faithful people of God. This is the sense it is used in the trial scene in Mark 14.62, and makes most sense of being understood as referring to Jesus’ vindication in his resurrection and the subsequent preaching of the good news about him. Note that ‘coming’ in this saying is erchomenos, the participle of erchomai, to come or approach to, and not parousia meaning ‘presence’ and used of the Emperor’s coming to cities in the Empire.
  • The language of sun, moon and stars in Mark 13.24 comes from Isaiah 13 and 34, and refers to the fall and judgement of great empires and political powers (in this case, Assyria and Edom). It is also used in Joel 2, and strikingly is cited by Peter in Acts 2.17f. Peter appears to think that these ‘apocalyptic events’ are happening in his day.

The view that the whole of this passage is about events in the first century, with no anticipation of a more distant end to this age, is usually called ‘preterist‘ (from the Latin praeter, a prefix denoting that something is “past” or “beyond”) and is a quite well-developed minority view in scholarship. Andrew Perriman writes a blog from this perspective, in which he interacts with me and view three below—but I have never been convinced by his narrative readings in this direction.

3. Dick France sets out a third position, which agrees with much of Tom Wright’s revision of the traditional understanding of this passage—though (as Dick pointed out to me on several occasions before he died of pancreatic cancer) he was proposing this some years earlier, and so might well have influenced Wright’s own thinking. France was, in turn, influenced by that great scholar of a previous generation, George B Caird. Contra Wright, he believes that the last part (from v 32) is about Jesus’ return, for several reasons:

  • Although there is quite a strong alla (‘but’) at v 24, the much stronger break comes in v 32 (though this is obscured in NIV and other English translations). This is the phrase peri de ‘Now concerning…’ which indicates quite strongly a change in subject. (Paul uses this phrase in 1 Corinthians to introduce a new subject in 7.1, 7.25, 8.1, 12.1, 16.1 and elsewhere in his letters).
  • The sign of the fig tree in v 28 closes an inclusio in relation to the Temple, matching the example of the withered fig tree as an enacted parable in chapter 11.
  • ‘That day or hour’ in v 32 is introduced without an antecedent; such a ‘day’ has not been mentioned before (the distress in the earlier verses is referred to as ‘those days’ in the plural).
  • The idea of a long time of waiting is in marked contrast to the previous language of an intensity of specific ‘signs’.

France also notes that the disciples’ initial question to Jesus, whilst focussed on when ‘all these things will be fulfilled’ in Mark, in Matthew is more explicitly made a double question: ‘When will this [the destruction of the Temple] happen, and what will be the sign of your coming and the end of the age?’ This is then given a double answer, in Matt 24.4–35 about ‘these things’ and then in 24.36f about that day.

It is also interesting to note that the focus in Mark is on the Temple events, but in Matthew there is a more extended interest in the signs of ‘the end’ following the Temple. This would make good sense if Mark was written in the 60s, possibly during the Jewish War, and Matthew was written post-70, so that the main interest in Jesus’ depiction of the fall of the Temple is in his words coming true, rather than as immediate advice. (France himself actually believed that both gospels were written prior to AD 70.)

Both these last two views leave the real problem for most readers of how to make sense of Mark 13.27: ‘He will send his angels [messengers?] and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of the heavens’, and this is a cause of stumbling to those encountering these readings for the first time. Some things to note:

  • Jesus has already inserted language of the good news being preached to ‘all the nations’ prior to the destruction of the Temple in 13.10. This is, arguably, a key theological point behind the narrative of Acts, with Peter then Paul preaching to the known world prior to AD70. Indeed, it could be argued that knowing this saying of Jesus was part of Paul’s motivation in writing Romans to get support to fulfil this goal.
  • It is clear elsewhere in the NT that the OT promise to ‘gather the elect’ from the nations has now been fulfilled in the preaching to the Gentiles, for example in 1 Peter and in the seven-fold phrase ‘every tribe, language, people and nation’ in Revelation.
  • In the Matthew parallel, there is a ‘loud trumpet call’ (Matt 24.31) which we usually read in parallel with the ‘last trump’ of 1 Thess 4.16. But in fact the shofar, the ram’s horn, was used to call people to worship at the start of the Sabbath, an invitation to enter the rest of the seventh day, both in imitation of God’s resting at the end of creation, and the invitation to enter the promised ‘rest’ of the coming kingdom (Hebrews 4).

So I now find option 3 the most persuasive, since on the one hand it takes seriously the form of Mark 13 as we have it, and its first-century context, but addresses the criticisms of option 2 as underplaying the role of Jesus’ second coming within both Mark and Matthew. Without this, we really cannot make sense of Jesus’ serious statement in Mark 13.30, which (under the assumption of view 1), C S Lewis called ‘the most embarrassing verse in the New Testament’.

There are three things to note in conclusion.

First, it seems to me that almost all our confusions in this passage and others like it are caused by English translators using the same word, ‘coming’, to translate two quite different ideas in the Greek text. (I am sorry to go Greek-geek on you, and I would never recommend using this language in preaching, but it is important, so hear me out.)

Firstly, this word is used to translate the term erchomenos, which is the present participle of erchomai, to come or approach to, and in some sense this is fair, since ‘coming’ can also be a present participle of the English verb ‘to come.’ (It can also function as a gerund, an active verbal noun.) But the problem here is that, in English, we most often use this verb to describe motion towards us, and much less often motion toward something else. And the ‘coming of Jesus’ is inextricably linked to the idea of ‘the second coming’, which as I noted above is not New Testament language! And the real issue is that, in most places in the NT, the language of ‘coming on the clouds’ is an allusion to Dan 7.13, and so refers to Jesus ‘coming’ to the throne of God, that is, his Ascension—which we would normally describe as ‘going’!

Alongside that, the term ‘coming’ is also used to translate the (slightly technical term) parousia, which is a noun meaning ‘presence’; it has little sense of motion in it, and BDAG (one of the most commonly consulted Greek lexicons) gives its meanings as:

  1. the state of being present at a place, presence
  2. arrival as the first stage in presence

It has much more a sense of sudden presence than the journeying implied by the term ‘coming’, and I wish that ETs would change and translate this term as ‘presence’, not least so we could see what was being referred to.

Secondly, if you have been, as I was, raised in the first of these three views, then you might be feeling very uncomfortable just now! I remember, when I was confronted with this view (in a seminar), I experienced a dizzying sense of disorientation, and expressed my incredulity in no uncertain terms! But I was wrong, and once I had a chance to consider the evidence, needed to change my position—but it took time. It might take you time, and if you are in a position to teach this to others, it will take them time as well.

Thirdly, I think this passage, with its bridging from one part of Jesus’ teaching at the end of Mark 13 to the final element, has important things to teach us. The material in Mark 13.24–31 takes us into the horrors of the First Jewish War and the cataclysmic destruction of the Temple; as Ben Witherington comments, it wasn’t the end of the world, but it was the end of world, and led to the Jews being once more a people in exile for nearly 2,000 years, which accounts for the use of cosmic language. In that kind of context—and in the practicalities of the personal and nation disasters we face—we too need to ‘read the signs’, and ‘look up’ as we seek to trust God despite the chaos around us.

But once we reach Mark 13.32 and its orientation away from whatever chaos there is in our present world, and towards the promised sudden presence of Jesus with us at the end of time (the parousia), then the guidance is completely different. There will be no warning signs; you will not be able to predict the arrival of Jesus, just as you cannot predict where lightning will strike (Matt 24.27). There is only one way to be ready for his return—to watch and pray, living each day as faithful disciples. That is the lesson of these closing verses, just as it is the lesson of the sequence of parables in Matt 24 and 25 that develop this idea, which we have been reading in the last few weeks.

It is a clarion call, not to endless speculation about the imminent future, but to faithful witness in the immediate present.

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23 thoughts on “The ‘coming’ of Jesus in Mark 13”

  1. Thanks…

    It’s a small point /question…. Do the clouds “indicate” the presence of God or, also, something about the nature of Jesus himself?

    (“This does make Jesus look like he does not really know what he is talking about!”) as if anyone would suggest this… ;—) >

  2. If I had been one of the outlier disciples listening to Jesus discourse and had found myself wondering what to do when he was arrested and crucified. I would imagine that the temple destroyed would be a reference to him being crucified. The crucifixion, the abomination of desolation. The darkness at the ninth hour would have me running to the hills. It would take me a long time to believe that Jesus was alive again and seen ‘coming’ in his glory. That his warning of false Messiahs did not apply to him post resurrection.
    The whole of Mark 13 seems a mixture of a foretelling of Jesus’ passion more than the fall of Jerusalem or the end of this age.
    The references to sleeping and cockcrow seem to hint strongly that he was trying to put thoughts into their minds that they would remember when he was arrested.

      • Ian in that case I can suggest a very sustained argument for just that view? It’s by Peter Bolt and called The Cross from a distance, IVP, 2004, chapter 3. I can’t find him cited in any of the commentaries I’ve dipped into, but his argument is both detailed and to some extent persuasive. Part of my hesitation to embrace it is simply that I haven’t come across it elsewhere. But I’d love to hear your take on Bolt’s exegesis, which is quite detailed.

        • The book ‘Jesus Through Middle Eastern Eyes’ by Kenneth E. Bailey got me thinking how Jesus’ audience understood his teaching. I was trying to do the same. Thanks for the reference.

        • Thanks Rick, very interesting! I have just read it, and I don’t find it at all persuasive, since he appeals not to the text and Mark’s use of language, but on his own construction.

          For example, the period of suffering ‘unlike anything since the beginning of the world’ ‘unless hyperbole, must refer to Jesus own suffering’. Except that there is plenty of hyperbole in the whole narrative, and I cannot think of anywhere where this kind of language is used about Jesus himself.

          Again, the ‘abomination of desolation’ he takes to refer to Jesus’ own death, since he is ‘the temple’. But anyone reading this with any proximity to the destruction of the temple would naturally see it as a reference to that.

          • Doh, my copy has not arrived yet. But from what you say he seems to take a very similar view to myself. For instance the Bowls of Wrath in Revelation read poetically reminiscent of Jesus trial and crucifixion. It reads as if it is the the Holy Spirit’s telling of the events. I think I said this before, so I wont go on. Just read it as The Holy Spirit’s version of events and let the poetry do it’s work. Not everything in scripture can be boiled down into dogma. If it could there would be no need for the Spirit to bring it to life and apply it in new ways. Oh dear, I’m going to get into trouble…

  3. Thank you,
    I confess I find these passages very difficult, very dense, and not easy to pick out the various time references- whether to the crucifixion / resurrection, to the Roman destruction of Jerusalem, and the parallel with the Babylonian destruction, or to the “that day” which is indeterminately later.
    It is helpful to have the three views spelled out, but I find the third view still leaves verses 24-27 quite difficult unless they are a sort of “prophetic-overlay” where the images from the OT of catastrophe are re-worked and bundled. The destruction of the city must have been a massive event for the people there, even if it was less of an “event” for Jews in other parts of the Empire.
    As with all our reading, we are trying to hear what Jesus was saying to the people around him, and what the gospel writer is shaping for the first hearers and readers whose vantage point is different, and for whom the gospel is written. It probably makes a difference if we think Mark (and Matthew) predate the destruction of the Temple, and to whom we think Mark was originally written.

    • The reason I think view 3 is the ‘most persuasive’ is that, though it is not without its difficulties, the other two have insuperable obstacles.

      View 1 simply cannot account for Jesus’ emphatic, authoritative saying ‘all this will happen within a generation’.

      View 2 appears to ignore the reference to ‘that day’ of final judgement and Jesus’ parousia, expanded in Matt 24.36 to Matt 25.

    • I suspect Mark was written no later than around AD 55, probably earlier. I find it interesting that he does not name, despite knowing, the specific High Priest under whom Jesus was sentenced to death. Caiaphas was the son-in-law of Ananias whose sons all took the High Priest’s office during the time of Jesus and up to around AD 45. Such a family would therefore have had significant influence on the persecution of Jesus’ followers during that time, so Mark thought it unwise to specifically name him in a document being circulated. Naming Caiaphas personally in such a written document if intercepted could have stirred up real hatred from the High Priest’s family. So Mark was wise. I have added a few years after AD 45 as it would have taken some time for the family’s influence to wane. Noone connected with Ananias was made High Priest again for about another 2 decades.

      John, of course, writing significantly later includes the specific reference to Caiaphas, long after any possible threat to the believing community. This reminds us that the authors were concerned about their readers at the time of distribution.


  4. The idea that the sending and gathering refers to the apostles (and other missionaries) going out from Jerusalem, I think is one of those ideas that is just so simple but shifts things over. Would the angels therefore be the apostles? Does that work in Greek – as spoken by a Jew, of course (‘Hebrew for Dummies (a reference for the rest of us)’ says it would work in Hebrew) ?

    The big ‘but’ in verse 31 and the contrast that comes afterwards regarding following signs certainly stands out once it has been pointed out.

    One issue is that if verse 26 refers to the ascension (or the resurrection) then the ‘predictive telescope’ still seems to be in affect since the ascension happens before the stuff in verse 26. One could say that there were false Christs before and false-Christs after so that is sort of in the present tense. But verses 9-13 are surely post-ascension.

  5. The passage ‘ought’ to be about the timing of the temple’s destruction (after all, that was the question that was asked); but in the event it is about the timing of the coming of the Son of Man instead.

    This is seen (a) in the orientation of the passage as a whole towards the coming of the Son of Man and (b) in Jesus’s immediate answer at the beginning of his discourse.

    It looks like the expectation of the coming of the Son of Man overshadowed the temple’s destruction in Christians’ eyes. The destruction was seen as inevitable (hence the flight to Pella), and the more important question was the timing of their vindication, as expected from both Daniel and Revelation.

    Verse 20 summarises this perspective. The distress/tribulation caused by the Roman invasion of the Holy Land is awful but is trumped by a greater consideration: the vindication of the elect, namely those harvested by the Son of Man.

    The coming of the Son of Man is equivalent to ‘the end’ (v7) – the deus ex machina finally setting everything to rights – but then again so is the temple’s destruction equivalent to ‘the end’, since Jesus understands his disciples to be asking about the timing of the end when they ask about the temple’s destruction.

    So if both the destruction of the temple and the coming of the Son of Man are included in ‘the end’, then they are thereby united: both are ultimate cataclysm and/or eschatological event par excellence (v24-25 cosmos shaken). It is because of this that a question about one of these two things can be answered by an answer that addresses the other one.

    (Intriguingly it is never suggested here that specifically the Romans or any other invading power destroy the temple – one might think from reading that the temple simply got destroyed in the cosmic shaking of 24-25. However, it is beyond coincidence that the historical period in view is the same one where the Romans have the temple in their sights. I think that the emphasis is not on the Romans but on the fulfilment of God’s plan in history, in the face of which even cosmic destruction pales into insignificance (31). The destruction of the former state of things achieves God’s chosen scenario.)

    One always thinks (20) that the trajectories of history one is living within will simply continue (things will go from bad to worse) rather than righting themselves or swinging like a pendulum; this thought is unjustified. Up till and particularly including spring 68 (a dreadful time that could be reflected in 14-18), following the appearance of Eleazar’s regime in the temple or of Vespasian’s army in Judea (14), we have intense tribulation in the Holy Land (19). But this is cut short in the succeeding 2 summers because of the Roman army’s need to wait at HQ for the instructions of successive emperors, whose demise precedes said instructions. By mid-69 (the time of the Sitz im Leben of Revelation under Nero’s priest Vitellius: see van Kooten 2007) it will even have seemed that the good side was winning. The kingdom is shortly to be delivered, amidst blood, to the saints of the most high (Daniel; period of the 7th Rev trumpet). Simon not Vespasian becomes master of Jerusalem. Rev anticipates a consummation in Nov-Dec 69, in chs 16-19 eliding Enkainia (Hanukkah) with its bowls into the final funeral/wedding – since this completes the period of 3.5 years at the end of which Daniel says the kingdom will be delivered to the saints.

    By 70 the year when Mark was written (and Mark employs Rev’s image of the gathering of the elect from the 4 winds, and also combines in 24-9 the same 2 scriptures that Rev’s 6th seal combined) the writing is understood to be on the wall for the temple. Summer (28: the season of battle) is pretty much upon us, and that summer of 70 is expected to see the consummation or ‘end’ which encompasses both temple-destruction and (very much more in the foreground) the coming of the Son of Man in vindication, glory, victory. As to whether his ingathering of the elect constitutes the new temple: yes, but that thought is not necessarily apparent in the text of Mark.

      • Yes: I think that the topic of Jesus’s discourse according to Mark (faithfully respecting yet also typically reorienting the original question he was asked) is: when will the cataclysmic end come, and which particular sign is the sign that shows that the cataclysmic end is imminent, as opposed to signs that are just the beginning of birth pangs. The eschaton in view is that which the readers are interested in: the imminent one, beyond which time they have no investment or interest.

        Mark has Jesus talk of historical events leading up to the temple-destruction and concomitant appearance of the Son of Man; at the time of writing, the former was imminent and the latter was expected to accompany and trump it. That is the eschaton in view, and I don’t see evidence for anything subsequent in Mark’s presentation.

        The gospel being preached to the ends of the earth not only (a) has (as has oft been noticed) some inconcinnity with its surrounds, but also (b) is spoken of in a throwaway manner when it is in fact something huge, as insertions need to be as brief as possible; and (c) is just the sort of thing that might be expected to be inserted by someone who wanted to forestall criticism that the end had not arrived as soon as expected. If it is an insertion it would need to be an extremely early one. (d) It is exactly the sort of way one might summarise Mt 24.14, which a scribe might notice was information missing from Mark.

        Such choice OT oracles as suggested themselves for moulding/adaptation to present/pressing need (Ps 110.1 is another classic example) were – not necessarily with regard for original context (‘Immanuel’ is another example). The ‘coming with the clouds’ oracle based on Dan 7 (and likely reproduced or at least reflected in Rev 1) reflects the pressing need for Jesus to come victoriously and save his elect. Just as the owner of the house (and indeed the Son of Man figure in Rev 14) arrives rather than departs, Jesus is expected, nay required, to do the same (since the alternative, his failure to intervene in victory at the present time, is unthinkable and unallowable); and that is the reason that ‘Son of Man’ suddenly enters into the portfolio of Christological titles in the crisis-time of the late 60s (as it might very well do on the basis of earlier reflection on Ps 8 found in 1 Cor 15.25-9 [which hints already at a combination with Dan 7] and Hebrews 2 – Ps 8 being yet another example of ‘tweaked’ OT context for present purposes). It is also the reason why Mark is so at pains to indicate that Jesus used that as a central title for himself passim. It is vital (for that generation’s present purposes) that Jesus’s self-understanding should have been as the powerful vindicator of the present 40-years-on generation.

        I treasure a single long chat I had with Dick France, a scholar of excellence (whose son was my Balliol contemporary) around the time his (longer) Mark and his Matthew commentaries came to fruition, autumn 2004.

  6. Specific treatment of Dick France’s points 1 to 4:

    (1) Paul does indeed, as might be expected, use ‘peri de’ to indicate clear change of subject, most notably at times when it is a point at dispute among the readers.
    The clearest parallel here is 1 Thess 5.1 ‘now concerning times and seasons’.
    This is so close, that not only is the topic (timing) the same but the event whose timing is in view is the same event.
    But neither Mark nor 1 Thess is here talking about one timing as opposed to another timing. They are just talking about the topic of timing. And it is the timing of one event, not more.

    Matthew by contrast distinguishes 2 different events/dates here, but then he would have to, because he unlike Mark is writing at a time when the temple destruction (which has happened) and the coming of the Son of Man (which has not happened) cannot possibly now be treated as 2 sides of the same end-time coin. Nor is it clear that Matt understands Mark’s reference to the flight to the region around Pella. A flight cannot be on a sabbath, because it takes an extended period of days. Finally, Matt’s notorious ‘immediately’ (24.29) refers only to the cosmic turmoil (29) which could refer to 69-70 that time of unparalleled unrest and cataclysm, not to the Son of Man event[s] which postdate[s] the turmoil (‘tote’). Further there may by now be two separate Son of Man events in view: the (precursor) ‘sign of the Son of Man’, something it was predictable that people would see at a time when they were so much lifting up their heads in expectation, as well as the later actual coming of the Son of Man.

    (2) Figtree – exactly. Which helps relieve the puzzle of why the temple destruction is at first glance not mentioned after the beginning of the chapter. (a) In fact it is mentioned, because the figtree is mentioned. (b) As the figtree event is allegorical, the same applies in Mark 13, hence no direct mention of the temple.
    If the figtree is cursed in spring in Mk 11, that suggests (Mk 13, ‘summer is near’) either of 2 scenarii:

    (i) The temple is prophetically cursed in spring and as a result is destroyed in ‘summer’ i.e. the battle-campaign season.

    (ii) Mark is writing in winter 69-70 and expects a swift end to the temple around passover time (to correspond with Jesus’s acted parable of destruction at passover); the coming of the Son of Man would then be expected for ‘summer’ 70. Two time-slots are indicated for the figtree: (a) late spring, the time of budding (Temple Destruction); and (b) summer (Coming of Son of Man).

    However, option (ii) looks quite impossible, because ‘these things’ (29) does not include the temple-destruction: it only includes the events and portents listed, among which there is already a 2stage pattern in answer to the question in v4: ‘Abomination of desolation’ sets off a chain of events leading to ‘the end’. This drives us back to option (i). Though it might seem convenient to have the temple destroyed at Passover (because Jesus’s action had been at Passover and the figtree cursing could be the prophecy of it) there is nothing preventing both figtree-curse and temple-action being spring prophecies anticipating a ‘summer’ event (28). Moreover Mark could scarcely have thought that so massive an army could somehow swing into operation and destroy the entire fortified hill city at the beginning of the campaign season. Rather, summer was the time for battles, and with unerring regularity great campaigns would peak in high summer (month of Av, approx. August or July-August). So I stick by my previous model where temple-destruction and coming of Son of Man are 2 simultaneous sides of the same coin whose name is ‘to telos’.

    This also allows a simplicity to Mark’s scheme, since Daniel’s scheme also runs between the cessation of daily sacrifice (this happened in early Aug 66, but Mark may have the start of the war in mind, namely May 66, because that appears to be when the church’s flight commenced according to Rev) and the end-point wherein (just as in Dan and Rev) the saints are to be vindicated, in Mark’s case by being swept up by the Son of Man and thus being divinely rescued which counts as a victory (20, 27). Rev’s 3-and-a-half years also has a Daniel-inspired simplicity, and is coterminous with the war as it was, by John in mid69, predicted to pan out (it was expected to date from late May 66 to late Nov 69) – ending therefore conveniently with Hanukkah 69, again in accordance with Daniel’s Antiochus-persecution scheme. And both Rev and Mark include the church’s flight to the wilderness/mountains (Tabor’s scenario combines both: not the actual city of Pella but, as with ‘the region of the Gerasenes’ etc, a place far from any city but named after the nearest city) as central in dating the start of this period.
    But because Rev’s 3 and a half years had come and gone, Mark is now more cautious about dating – dating is now treated as so very out of bounds that not even Jesus knows.

    (3) There is an antecedent, because it is clear from what follows that the coming of the Son of Man is being referred to (sudden return of man from abroad after an extended absence). But that coming has already been referred to (26).

    (4) I don’t see a reference to a long wait. But there is a reference to an wait extended beyond expectation. This could be because the war had in fact (pace Rev’s previous dating-scheme) in the event extended beyond 3 and a half years. It is now more than 3 and a half years since the war on Jerusalem, the war on the saints, the flight of the church to the wilderness (the three things supposed to last 3 and a half years, since the 2 witnesses’ witness is 2 sets of one-and-three-quarters, ending at the midpoint Purim 68 (Rev 11.10), and allowing there to be a set of exactly 3 and a half events that last 3 and a half years: typical John) all began. There is no dating system of any clarity and economy that can replace that which had been adopted by Rev, hence a new agnosticism on dating. Because the figtree’s biological sequence picture suggests imminence, as also does ‘at the very gates’ (29), we are to think of a slight delay after the pattern of the main scriptural antecedent Dan 12.11-12.

  7. This is, I think, the most difficult chapter in Mark’s Gospel to understand. I take R. T. France’s view that it describes two different realities.

    Is it too simplistic to say that (a) it’s mostly about the far future from v24 onwards when Jesus refers to “that day” or “that time.” For example, “At *that time* people will see the Son of Man coming in clouds with great power and glory.” And (b) verses 1-23 are mostly about events up to and including AD70 and which are described as “these things.” For example, “Truly I tell you, this generation will certainly not pass away until all *these things* have happened.”

    This is the basic approach I have taken when preaching on Mark 13 in the past. And, yes, it probably is a bit too simplistic. Not least because there appear to be some words about the distant future in the first half of the chapter, and some words about the near future (past for us of course) in the second half.

    Perhaps they are slightly mixed up because the signs of the times leading to the destruction of the temple are strikingly similar to what the signs of the end will be when Jesus returns.

    In other words, at the parousia, history will repeat itself at many points and in many ways, so – and this is the main take away for me – we can learn a lot about the end of this present age, and be prepared for it, by studying and understanding what happened in the years leading up to the destruction of the temple.


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