Jesus the Temple and the Coming Son of ManOne of the factors that makes Mark 13 so difficult to interpret is that some verses seem to refer to a soon destruction of the temple, while other verses seem to present His second coming. What’s more, these texts are not divided nicely in the middle, but are scattered throughout the chapter. How are we to understand the flow of the passage, then? In Jesus, The Temple and the Coming Son of Man, Robert Stein presents his solution.

This is the first post in our Mark 13 series. Other posts in this series.

The Fall of Jerusalem and Jesus’ Return

Stein breaks down Mark 13 with the following outline:

  • 13:1-4        |   Prediction of destruction
  • 13:5-23     |   A. Destruction of the temple and signs preceding it
  • 13:24-27   |   B. Coming of the Son of Man
  • 13:28-31   |   A. Parable of the fig tree & coming destruction of the temple
  • 13:32-37   |   B. Parable of the watchman & exhortation to be alert for the Son of Man

For Stein, Jesus switches back and forth between describing the temple’s soon destruction in AD70 (the “A” above), and His more distant second coming (the “B” above).

Mark 13:4 | The Two Questions

What are the disciples asking in Mk 13:4?

Both questions are about the destruction of the temple, one focused on “when” it will happen, and the other asking for the preceding sign. The questions are virtually synonymous, as seen by the reuse of both “these things” and “all these things” Mk 13:4 in Mk 13:29-30. Also, Luke’s version of the questions (Luke 21:7) reveal that he considered the questions as synonymous.

How do the questions relate to Mk 13:5-37?

Jesus’ answer is broken into two major parts. An inclusio bracketing off Mk 13:5 and Mk 13:23 “indicates that Jesus’ answer to the disciples’ two-part question in 13:4 ends at 13:23”. This means that Mark 13:24-27, describing the coming of the Son of Man, “introduces a new theme” (p67).

Mark 13:5-23 | Destruction of the Temple & Signs Preceding It

What is the “abomination of desolation” in Mk 13:14?

According to Stein, the abomination of desolation was “the actions of the Zealots and their leaders, John of Gischala and Eleazar in A.D. 67-68, who were involved in numerous sacrilegious actions within the temple” (p92). Stein identifies the specific action (the “he” in Mk 13:14) as their investing Phanni as high priest, despite him being mentally deficient and lacking priestly ancestry.

How should Mark 13:19 be interpreted? Is this language elsewhere in the Bible?

This line is not to be taken literally, as if one could quantify the worst event in history. Rather, it is hyperbolic language used elsewhere to describe horrific events beyond description (Ex 9:18; 11:6; Joel 2:1-2; Dan 12:1).

Mark 13:24-27 | Coming of the Son of Man

How should the cosmic destruction language be understood (Mk 13:24-25)? Is it used elsewhere in Scripture?

Such cosmic language can be symbolic of the destruction of nations by Yahweh’s judgment, such as Isa 13:9-11 for the judgment on Babylon by the Medes (Isa 13:17-18) and numerous examples elsewhere. That said, rather than describing the destruction of the temple in AD70, here it is used to the events described in the second coming. This is established by recognizing that the signs take place “after” the destruction in Mk 13:5-23, so the symbolic language refers to the coming of Christ.

What is the “coming of the Son of Man”?

This is the second coming of Jesus, which fits the other references to the Son of Man in Mark (Mk 8:38 and 14:62)

Is “in those days, after that suffering” near or far?

Stein recognizes this as the “biggest problem encountered” (p120) in this section, as it appears to join the temple destruction with the coming of the Son of Man. This would require us seeing either the coming of the Son of Man as happening immediately after AD70, or that Jesus is not interested in AD70 here, but predicts another temple destruction immediately before His return. Stein offers a third view that, though “not thoroughly convincing”, these two events are not sequential, but are seen with “prophetic perspective”, where near and far events are blended together.

Mark 13:28-37 | Parables of the Fig Tree & Watchman

Is the fig tree analogy referring to Jerusalem’s destruction or Son of Man?

This passage returns to Jesus’ description of Jerusalem, as “these things” and “all these things” in Mark 13:29-30 recall the disciples’ questions in Mk 13:4.

What is Mark 13:32-37 describing?

While Mk 13:28-31 referred to AD70, this section turn to the second coming of Christ, since “that day” is a standard Old Testament expression for the coming of Yahweh (Zech 9:16; 14:1-21; 1 Thess 5:2, 4; 2 Thess 2:2, 3).

My Thoughts

Stein makes good use of literary devices within Mark 13, such as inclusio and personal pronouns, to build his case. This means he is paying close attention to the text itself in order to reach his conclusions. That said, I see some difficulties:

  1. The weakest point for his view is having thousands of years separating Mk 13:23 and Mk 13:24 (although it begins with “in those days, after that tribulation”). Matthew’s version only makes things worse by timing the coming of the Son of Man to “immediately” after the tribulation (Matt 24:29). Stein’s appeal to “prophetic perspective” as blurring the gap between AD70 and the second coming only seems to concede the difficulty of his conclusion. Rather than jumping from an AD70 tribulation to His return, could Jesus not be referring to a tribulation period that spans the gap between AD70 and His return?
  2. Stein argues for Mk 13:4 and Mk 29-30 forming an inclusio, with everything in between focusing on Jesus’ answer to the disciples questions, but doesn’t this work against his view? Wouldn’t this mean that everything in between refers to AD70, including the “second coming” in Mk 13:24-27?
  3. Since the AD70 events entirely answer His disciples’ questions, Stein’s view doesn’t account for why Jesus even raises the issue of His second coming. How are these related?
  4. Stein notes the importance of personal pronouns throughout Mark 13 and argues that the “you” refers to the disciples’ generation, and that sections lacking this pronoun are referring to the future (Mk 13:24-27). This is insightful, except that Stein holds that Mk 13:32-37 speaks to the second coming despite the fact that it is addressed to “you”.

These points keep me from wholeheartedly embracing his otherwise very compelling view. I will need to keep thinking on this one. Comments are very welcome!

Check back soon for another view: what if Mark 13 doesn’t refer to Jesus’ second coming, but is restricted to the temple’s destruction in AD70?