Mark 13: The Day of YHWH
Timothy Geddert, follows T.J Weeden in locating the ‘interpretative key’ to Mark 13 in a different pericope of Mark. Weeden asks the question,
‘Where one began looking in the Gospel for help in interpreting chapter 13 would be the key methodological issue. The soundest methodological procedure would be to seek help in understanding the concerns of chapter 13 in that section of the Gospel where the concerns are most likely clearly addressed.’1
Weeden answers his own question using 8:34-9:1 whereas, Geddert, due to the use of ‘sign language’ locates the interpretative key in 8:11-13. Whilst I would not deny that these passages (8:34-9:1, 8:11-13) are important, it is necessary, assuming that Mark is not a ‘clumsy writer’ and that there is a literary and theological unity to the gospel, to set Mark 13 in the context of Mark’s overall theological agenda and structure. A structure which, following Rikki Watts and Joel Marcus, is declared in Mark’s opening citation and prologue. For Rikki Watts the opening citation and in turn the prologue
‘indicate that the overall conceptual framework for his Gospel is the Isaianic NE [New Exodus]… This suggests that for Mark the long awaited coming of Yahweh as King and Warrior has begun’2
The Markan Jesus, if the implications of the prologue are worked out throughout the gospel3, inaugurates the coming of YHWH, for he is, in some sense, the embodiment of YHWH.4 Mark 13, when read in the light of this prologue, yields, as we shall see, high christological results.
According to the final form of the gospel of Mark the disciples, after leaving the temple, comment on the beauty of the Temple.5 Jesus responds by saying that these great building will be destroyed, and one stone will not be left upon another. Jesus leaves the temple and sits facing the Mount of Olives (v3), and in answer to the disciples question, seeks to explain, in verses 3-36 when this destruction will take place and what sign will be given for its arrival (v4)6. Several commentators recognise that the location of the Mount of Olives is often associated in prophetic literature with Jerusalem and the Temple (Ezek 11:23; 43:1ff; Zech. 14:1-11). Although these allusions are left relatively unexplored by some commentators, we note that they provide a link with the Markan theme of the arrival of YHWH established in the prologue. In Ezekiel YHWH abandons the temple, leaving it open for judgement,—‘the glory of the Lord went up from the midst of the city and stood on the mountain that is on the east side of the city’ (Ezek 11:23). It is also, for Ezekiel, the place from which YHWH will re-enter the city and fill it with his presence (Ezek 43:1ff). Similar, although different, themes are found in Zechariah. The prophet announces that a day is coming when Jerusalem is to be attacked by the nations. This battle which brings exile, rape and plunder for the inhabitants of Jerusalem (Zech 14:2) will be followed by a time when YHWH will battle against the nations. YHWH comes to the Mount of Olives which results in geographical disturbances which result in a valley being formed from which the inhabitants of Jerusalem can escape (Zech 14:4-5)7.
N.T Wright, amongst other scholars8, picks up the Zechariah allusion and stresses that it is Jesus who acts symbolically in choosing the Mount of Olives as a location,
‘The force of the setting then seems to be that this way Jesus’ paradoxical retelling of the great story found in Zechariah 14 in predicting Jerusalem’s last great struggle, the ‘coming of YHWH’, and the final arrival of the divine kingdom he was acting to fulfil, in his own reinterpreted fashion, the prophecy of Zechariah.’9
On the other hand, for R.T. France ‘the more obvious effect is to recall the the place where according to Ezekiel 11:23 God stopped after abandoning the temple.’10.
It is not necessary for the purpose of our study to choose between Zechariah and Ezekiel as possible Old Testament backgrounds. However, we may simply note that it is plausible that Mark 13:3 is providing a theo-geography in which we can say that Jesus fulfils and embodies, as with the prologue, the role of YHWH. As the embodiment of YHWH he has visited the temple and found it wanting, its destruction is certain (Ezek 11:23). The day of the Lord is coming, a time of tribulation will befall the city. Yet this will not be the end for God will act through the Son of Man to gather his people (Zech 14). This interpretation of the symbolic nature of the Mount of Olives is far from certain, but, as we shall see, in our analysis of Mark 13:24-27, it coheres well with other parts of the eschatological discourse, namely its climax in the ‘coming of the son of Man.’
1T. J. Weeden, Mark: traditions in conflict (Fortress Press, 1971).cited in Geddert, Watchwords, 29.
2R. E. Watts, Isaiah’s new Exodus and Mark (Delft Univ Pr, 1997), See chapter 3, citation from page 90.likewise and independently Joel Marcus makes the same basic point.
‘If, as we have contended, the larger Deutero-Isaian context is in view in Mark 1, John the Baptist and Jesus are set firmly within the context of Jewish apocalyptic eschatology by the citation of Isa. 40:3 in Mark 1:3. Their appearance on the scene fulfils the prophecies of old because it heralds eschatological events,because it is the preparation for and the beginning of the fulfilment of that end so eagerly yearned for since Old Testament times: the triumphant march of the holy warrior, Yahweh, leading his people through the wilderness to their true homeland in a mighty demonstration of saving power.’J. Marcus, Way of the Lord (Tamp; t Clark Ltd, 2004), 29.
3M.E. Boring brings together a number of texts which support a high Christology. These texts, which do not include an analysis of Mark 13, include Mark 1:11;1:16-20; 1:24,;1:23-27, 2:1-12; 4:35-41; 5:6; 6:48; 6:50; 7:1-23; 9:2-8; 9:37; 12:1-11; 12:35-37; 13:6,13; 13:31; 14:60-64; 15:39. He concludes his analysis,
‘ Mark should be located among those NT authors with a ‘high’ Christology who afﬁrm the ‘deity’ of Christ. While no one of the nineteen texts catalogued above is compelling in itself, in the aggregate they incline on toward the view that Mark affirmed what is now called the ‘deity of Christ’,though this was no this way of formulating the issue.’ 471 M. E. Boring, “Markan Christology: God-Language for Jesus?,” New Testament Studies 45, no. 04 (1999): 451-471.
4One struggles to find appropriate language to describe Markan Christology. It is inappropriate and anachronistic to see it as on par with the later dogmatic affirmations of later creedal formulations. Driggers, who explores the divine presence in Mark, although unfortunately leaves Mark 13 relaively unexplored, uses language of ‘possession’ rather than embodiment.
“There are of course no assertions of ontological sameness, as in the christological formulations of later church councils. God and Jesus are at one level different characters; but to the extent that God’s spirit possesses Jesus those character boundaries become, and remain, blurred.’ 232
I. B. Driggers, “The politics of divine presence: Temple as locus of conflict in the Gospel of Mark!,” Biblical Interpretation 15, no. 3 (2007): 227-247.
5The unnamed disciples comment on the magnificence of the temple is thoroughly understandable. This temple, commissioned by Herod, was a complete renovation of the Temple of Zerubbabel (Jos. Ant. 15:11.1-3, Jos. Jewish War 5.5.1-6). Work began in 20/19 B/C. It is sometimes mentioned that this rebuilding task did not finish till shortly before the Jewish War (John 2:20). However, the beauty of this building would have been readily evident during Jesus ministry as the bulk of the building task was completed within a decade. The disciples amazement may well have been at the size and beauty of the stones being used. (Ant. 15.391-402, War. 184-226)
6These two questions, of timing and accompanying signs have been understood in a number of different ways. Hooker, Joel Marcus and Beasley Murray, amongst others, see the second question ‘all these things‘(ταῦτα πάντα) as looking at eschatological events beyond ‘these things’ (ταῦτα).’ However, there is no textual reason to be confused about this, unless of course one assumes that the passage is actually about the second coming. The simplest reading is to assume that they are an example of synonymous parallelism, in which both questions relate to the same event of these things/all these things. We can be confident that this is how this would have been understood in the first century as Lukan parallel (Luke 21:7) , assuming here Markan priority, omits ‘all (πάντα)’ so that both questions refer to ‘these things’ (ταῦτα). In Mark 13:28-30 the terms ταῦτα and ταῦτα πάντα are reintroduced, this time at the end of the response which Jesus is giving. The disciples questions, which follow on from his announcement of the destruction of the temple, are about this event, an event which will be fulfilled within this generation. See the helpful discussion in Robert H. Stein, Mark (Baker Publishing Group, 2008), 590-591.
7James R. Edwards is incorrect in his commentary to state that in Zech 14:1-8 the mount of Olives is ‘ is the place from which God declares the capture, sacking, and devastation of Jerusalem.’ It is after the plunder of the city that God comes to the mount of Olives to bring rescue to his people. J. R. Edwards, The Gospel According to Mark (Apollos, 2002).
8Such as M. D. Hooker, Gospel According to St Mark (Continuum International Publishing Group, 2001), 305.
9Wright, Jesus and the Victory of God, 345.
10France, The Gospel of Mark.