Jesus, if the Jesus tradition contained in the synoptic gospels is at all a reliable witness to the Historical Jesus, proclaimed the arrival of the kingdom of God and also issued a warning of the judgement which would soon fall, on the nation, the city and the temple. We follow George Caird and Ben Meyers in stressing that Jesus’ message, like John the Baptist, and that of his disciples, differs considerably from contemporary evangelism.
‘The disciples [and we may add Jesus and John the Baptist] were not evangelistic preachers, sent out to save individual souls for some unearthly paradise. They were couriers proclaiming a national emergency and conducting a referendum of national survival. 1
‘ It is historically out of the question that John [and Jesus] conceived judgement along the individualistic lines characteristic of later Western thought. Rather, he conceived of judgement in collective, or better, ‘ecclesial terms’. ie. in terms of God’s people Israel. To miss this is to miss the context-a massive tradition- in which John [and Jesus] consciously and publicly situated himself and out of which came his every word and act.’ 2
All of this can be said without actually turning to the eschatological discourse of Mark 13. However, when we do, anticipating the interpretative task that follows, we see that Jesus announced that the coming destruction and downfall of Jerusalem and its temple would be followed by a time of blessing in which the Messiah, as the embodiment of YHWH, is vindicated (Mark 13:26-27) and the elect, arguably the exiled people of God, are gathered together. In other words, the cities destruction is part of the necessary tribulation which must take place before the arrival, in some sense, of the eschatological age.
In this last sentence I use the word ‘tribulation’3 deliberately to denote a second temple eschatological concept and not simply as a substitute for the words ‘suffering’ or ‘hardship’.
Brant Pitre’s recent doctoral thesis republished as Jesus, the Tribulation and the End of Exile4, demonstrates that this concept of tribulation is firmly established within the texts of late second temple Judaism and that it is plausible that Jesus, along with many of his contemporaries, shared such an eschatological view. Pitre reaches this position by studying a variety of texts composed between 200BC to 30AD such as Epistle of Enoch, Testament of Moses and several documents from the Dead Sea Scrolls5. From his analysis of these texts Pitre draws together a number of aspects of the concept of tribulation in late second temple Judaism.
1. The tribulation is tied to restoration of Israel and the End of Exile.
2 . A righteous remnant arises during the tribulation.
3. The righteous suffer and/or die during the tribulation. This sometimes includes the suffering and/or death of a
4. The tribulation is tied to the coming of the Messiah, sometimes referred to as the ‘Son of Man’
5. There is a tribulation which precedes the final judgement.
6. The tribulation is depicted as the eschatological climax of Israel’s exilic sufferings, often through the imagery of the
Deuteronomic covenant curses.
7. The tribulation has two stages (1) the preliminary stage, and (2) the Great tribulation.
8. The tribulation precedes the coming of the eschatological kingdom
9. An eschatological tyrant, opponent, or Anti-Messiah arises during the tribulation.
10. Typological images from the Old Testament are used to depict the tribulation
11. The tribulation is tied to the in gathering and/or conversion of the Gentiles.
12. .The tribulation has some kind of atoning or redemptive function.
13. The Jerusalem Temple is defiled and/or destroyed during the tribulation.
14. The tribulation precedes the resurrection of the dead and/or a new creation
Pitre is to be applauded for his significant study which offers contributions to both Second Temple scholarship and New Testament studies. However, it is problematic to sketch out a second temple view of ‘tribulation’ on texts from late second temple Judaism (200BC – 30 AD). Firstly, we do not not actually know how mainstream these non-canonical books were, and whether there content was known by the general population. However, we do know, with a relateviely high degree of confidence that signifcant parts of the Old Testament (Law, Prophets,) were widely read by the population at large. Would it not make more sense, therefore, to look, not only at texts from late second temple Judaism, but also at tribulation themes within the Old Testament? Secondly, and more positively, I suggest that a thorough study of ‘the day of the Lord’ should take place alongside an Old Testament study of tribulation6 for the concept of the day of the Lord has the potential of bringing together the bi-polar themes of judgement and blessing, and may be an appropriate tool, like that of tribulation, for bringing a coherency to Jesus’ proclamation of the kingdom and his warning of imminent catastrophe.7
It is my belief, alongside Pitre, that Mark 13 and Mark 10:35-45 are further examples of this tribulation theme and will be studied in this, and the following, chapter. In the light of Pitre’s study I want to suggest that the concept of tribulation, and the related theme of the ‘day of the Lord’ are part of Jesus’ narrative world, and that any attempt to understand Jesus’ kingdom proclamation or his forecast of the imminent catastrophe which is to befall the nation, without paying due attention to the eschatological narrative world of tribulation is a historiographical and exegetical mistake.
Mark 13: Hypothesis, Dialogue and Verification8
Those familiar with the exegetical and hermeneutical landscape of Mark 13 will no doubt realise the serious challenges which are to be faced by the interpreter. The literature is vast, the issues are complex, the battle lines have been drawn,and, of top of all this, it cannot be studied in isolation from other biblical minefields9. However, the complexity and length of this study is curtailed by focussing our attention on an overarching hypothesis10. Our hypothesis is,
Hypothesis: ‘In Mark 13 Jesus prophecies, amongst other things, the coming destruction and downfall of the Temple and the city of Jerusalem. This suffering is part of the eschatological tribulation—the negative side of the Day of the Lord—which precedes the arrival, in some sense, of the eschaton, in which the messianic Son of Man, as the embodiment of YHWH, is vindicated and the exiled people of God are gathered in’.
This hypothesis does not take place in a scholarly vacuum but is in dialogue with a number of scholars. In agreement with R.T France11 and N.T Wright12, who emphasise the prophecy has its focus on the destruction of the temple and Jerusalem, I reject the interpretation of Mark 13, followed by Edward Adams13, Beasley-Murray14 , the modern day Schweitzer, Dale Allison15, and the historical Schweitzer16, in which Jesus is predicting a global apocalyptic cosmic catastrophe and his own literal parousia. However, I part company with Wright and France in their understanding of the ‘coming of the son of man’. They are right,in my opinion, to reject the mainline scholarly ‘visible parousia’ interpretation but are misguided, in my opinion, to simply interpret it as vindication. In contrast to both of these positions, I seek to put forward and defend the view that Jesus believes that after the destruction of the temple he will re-visit the nation, in some sense, as the embodiment of YHWH—for the Day of the Lord has arrived!
It is now time, given we have a hypothesis and suitable dialogue partners, to wade into the exegetical waters of Mark 13, with the hope that we may emerge with a fish or two, namely plausibility and coherency, as verification. To be continuued…..
1 Caird, G. B. “Jesus and the Jewish Nation.” Athlone, London (1965). also Wright JVOG 320-339,
2Caird, “Jesus And The Jewish Nation,”also see N. T Wright, Jesus and the Victory of God (London: SPCK, 1996), 320-339.
3 Within Biblical Scholarship this concept has lacked some conceptual and terminological clarity. It is referred to in various ways such as ‘the final ordeal and confusion’(Emil Schurer), ‘Messianic Woes’ (R.H Charles), ‘prelude to the messianic age’ (Joseph Klausner), ‘preliminary time of Evil’ (Hartman). It is Brant Pitre, Jesus, the Tribulation, and the End of the Exile: Restoration Eschatology and the Origin of the Atonement (Baker Academic, 2006)., and to a lesser extent Dale C. Allison, End of the Ages Has Come: Early Interpretation of the Passion and Resurrection of Jesus (Fortress P.,U.S, 1985)., who bring precision and conceptual clarification to such scholarly disorder. See JTEE 1-31
4Pitre, Jesus, the Tribulation, and the End of the Exile.
5 The full list is 1 Enoch 93:1-10;91:11-17, 1 Enoch 91-107, The Book of Daniel, The Book of Dreams , The book of Jubilees, The Third Sibylline Oracle, the Psalms of Solomon, The Testament of Moses, 1QH, 4Q171, 4Q174 & 4Q177, 1QS, CD, 1 QM, 4Q246, 1 Enoch 37-71
6For our current interests of Mark 13 we may note in the judgement oracle against Babylon found in Isaiah 13:6,9 makes reference to the day of the Lord ( éåÉí éäåä,? ?μέρα κυρίου LXX) On this day, which will come upon people like a woman in labour, the Lord will come and strike Babylon with his wrath and fierce anger, on this day the stars will not give light and the sun will be dark, (Is 13:10). Similarly, in Mark 13 the destruction of the city will is described in terms of a cosmic catastrophe (Mark 13:24-25) and of birthpangs (Mark 13:8). This will be discussed again later in this chapter, but for now I simply want to make the point that the concept of the day of the Lord may prove a fruitful a area as the distinct but interrelated study of tribulation by Brant Pitre. We may also note, as a supportive argument, that Mark, in his prologue brings together Ex 23:20, Is 40:3 and Malachi 3:1 with the introduction ‘As is is written in the prophet Isaiah’. Joel Marcus and Rikki E Watts have demonstrated that this is not a error but the author of Mark is trying to make a theological point, namely, that the gospel, and Jesus’ ministry, are to be understood against the backdrop of ‘the way of the Lord’. We simply note in passing, whilst agreeing with the thrust of Watts and Marcus, that the ‘way of the Lord’ (Marcus) or Isaiah’s new exodus(Watts) is tightly related tot he concept of the day of the Lord. Malachi 3:1 is set in the context of the day of the Lord (Mal 3:2) and YHWH’s comign in judgement against his temple, whereas Is 40:3 is also about YHWH coming to his people in mercy and restoration (Is 40:9-11). We see that Mark, like Jesus’ kingdom proclamation and warning of imminent catastrophe, has brought together the twin themes of YHWH’s return, that of judgement and restoration. See R. E. Watts, Isaiah’s new Exodus and Mark (Mohr Siebeck, 1997), 4; Joel Marcus, The Way of the Lord (T.& T.Clark Ltd, 2004), 2.
7 See the article in ABD 2:82 by Richard Heirs in which he breaks the ‘day of the Lord’ material into the following categories.
1) YHWH’s judgement of the foreign nations
YHWH’S judgement against Israel, Judah or the Jewish People
- Future deliverance or Blessing for Israel, Judah, other nations, and all creation.
8From a methodological point of view opt for a hypothesis-verification approach to historiography. I follow N.T Wright, contra to naïve or positivist realism, in seeing knowledge of the past is achieved through a method of hypothesis and verification. A hypothesis: ‘is essentially a construct, thought up by a human mind, which offers itself as a story about a particular set of phenomena, in which the story, which is bound to be an interpretation of those phenomena also offers an explanation of them.’
For a historical hypothesis to be a good hypothesis, and receive verification, it must
1. must include all the data [evidence]
2. must construct a basically simple and coherent overall picture
3. prove itself fruitful in other areas
N.T. Wright, The New Testament and the People of God: Christian Origins and the Question of God v. 1 (SPCK Publishing, 1992), 99-109.
9 A useful literature survey and history of scholarship has been provided by G.R. Beasley Murray. His latest book on this topic is George R.Beasley- Murray, Jesus and the Last Days: Interpretation of the Olivet Discourse (Paternoster P., 1994).which is based upon his earlier works, G. R. Beasley-Murray, A commentary on Mark thirteen (Macmillan, 1957); G. R. Beasley-Murray, Jesus and the Future (London: Macmillan, 1954).As scholarship does not stand still we must add to this the more recent contributions of R. T. France, The Gospel of Mark: a commentary on the Greek text (Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing, 2002); N.T. Wright, Jesus and the Victory of God: Christian Origins and the Question of God: v. 2 (SPCK Publishing, 1996), 339-367; E. Adams, “The Coming of the Son of Man in Mark’s Gospel,” TYNDALE BULLETIN 56, no. 2 (2005): 39; TR HATINA, “The Focus of Mark 13: 24-27: The Parousia, or the Destruction of the Temple?,” Bulletin for Biblical Research 6 (1996): 43-66; T.J. Geddert, Watchwords: St.Mark 13 in Markan Eschatology (Journal for the Study of the New Testament Supplement (Continuum International Publishing Group – Sheffie, 1989).
10I will not focus any attention on issues raised from either source or form criticism. I treat Mark 13 as a literary whole and seek to interact with it from a literary historical perspective. Questions of original form and composition history have been taken up by other scholars, including my research supervisor. D. Wenham, The rediscovery of Jesus’ eschatological discourse (JSOT Press, 1984). Lloyd Gaston, No Stone on Another: Studies in the Significance of the Fall (Supplements to Novum Testamentum; Leiden: Brill, 1970), 41-64.
11R. T. France, Jesus and the Old Testament: his application of Old Testament passages to himself and his mission (Regent College Publishing, 2000), Appendix A; R. T. France, Divine Government, 2003; France, The Gospel of Mark.
12Wright, Jesus and the Victory of God.
13Adams, “The Coming of the Son of Man in Mark’s Gospel”; Edward Adams, The Stars Will Fall from Heaven: Cosmic Catastrophe and the World’s End in the New Testament and Its World (Library of New Testament Studies): Cosmic Catastrophe … Its World (Continuum International Publishing Group – T & T C, 2007).
14Beasley-Murray, A commentary on Mark thirteen; Beasley-Murray, Jesus and the Future; Murray, Jesus and the Last Days.
15Dale C. Allison, The End of the Ages Has Come: Early Interpretation of the Passion and Resurrection of Jesus (New Ed.; T.& T.Clark Ltd, 1987); D. C. Allison, Jesus of Nazareth: millenarian prophet (Fortress Press, 1998); “A Plea for Thoroughgoing Eschatology,” http://www.jstor.org/stable/3266712.
16Albert Schweitzer and Walter Lowrie, The Mystery of the Kingdom of God: The Secret of Jesus’ Messiahship and Passion (London: A. & C. Black, 1925).