As we saw in the previous post on Mark 13, it is difficult to see where Jesus switches from describing the destruction of the temple in AD70 to His return. What if the answer is that Mark 13 isn’t about His second coming at all?
“Mark 13 has been badly misunderstood by the importation into it of ideas concerning the ‘second coming’ of Jesus.”
— N. T. Wright, Jesus and the Victory of God (p341)
If Mark 13 is not focused on the “end of the world”, then what is it about? For N.T. Wright, R.T. France, and like-minded others, this chapter describes God’s judgment on unbelieving Israel for rejecting Christ and Christ’s vindication as a true prophet: “the Temple’s destruction would constitute [Christ’s] own vindication” (Wright: 342).
In this post, I will be drawing on N.T. Wright’s work in Jesus in the Victory of God and R.T. France’s Mark commentary in the New International Greek Testament series to outline this perspective that Mark 13 is describing the AD70 destruction and return from exile. For Wright, the Second Coming is not in this passage at all. For France, it is only at the very end of the chapter.
This is the second post in our Mark 13 series. Other posts in this series.
Mark 13:4 | The Two Questions
What are the disciples asking in Mk 13:4?
They are asking for more details regarding the destruction of the temple, and what this means for Jesus’ kingship and the apostate Jerusalem leadership.
Mark 13:5-23 | Destruction of the Temple & Signs Preceding It
What is the “abomination of desolation” in Mk 13:14?
Mark 13:14 draws from Daniel 9:24-27, which Wright says was originally about Antiochus Epiphanes and the Maccabaean revolt. Mark reapplies it to the coming activity of Israel’s current occupiers, the Romans. So Jesus’ followers are instructed to flee when they see signs of national devastation beginning to take place.
How should Mark 13:19 be interpreted? Is this language elsewhere in the Bible?
Wright doesn’t elaborate on this verse, but France says these are, apparently, stock expressions for unparalleled suffering, and are not to be pressed literally (e.g. Ex 9:18; 10:14; 11:6; Joel 2:2; Rev 16:18).
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?
Jesus takes Old Testament passages usually applied to the destruction of Israel’s enemies but now “designate[s] Jerusalem herself as Babylon, the enemy of the true people of the covenant god” (Wright: 354). Wright’s examples from Isaiah 13:6, 9-11, 19; 14:4, 12-15; 34:3-4; 48:20; 52:11-12 (and many others) lead him to conclude that “it is crass literalism, in view of the many prophetic passages in which this language denotes socio-political and military catastrophe, to insist that this time the words must refer to the physical collapse of the space-time world” (Wright: 361).
What is the “coming of the Son of Man”?
Rather than a descent to earth, the coming of the Son of Man in Daniel 7:13 as a coming “from earth to heaven” (p361). In Daniel 7, the Son of Man (symbolic of God’s people) is vindicated and exalted after a period of suffering. In other words, through the destruction of Jerusalem, Jesus is vindicated by God in the sight of His enemies.
To what does the “gathering” refer?
The “angels”, translated as “messengers”, will summon people to join in the kingdom of the vindicated Son. This is not the rapture, but missions.
Mark 13:28-37 | Parables of the Fig Tree & Watchman
Is the fig tree analogy referring to Jerusalem’s destruction or Son of Man?
When this generation of disciples see these things beginning, the kingdom of God will be right around the corner.
What about 13:32-37?
Wright has little more to say here other than it is a section on watchfulness, but for France, this is actually where one finds a reference to Jesus’ second coming. For France, “that day” begins a new topic that has not been discussed thus far.
I must admit that aside from the of foreignness of this reading in the AD70 “coming” and “missionary” ideas in Mk 13:26-27, this view does make sense of the entire passage. To me, it has at least two great strengths.
First, it reads the time references very naturally (Mk 13:19, 24, 30; and references to “you” throughout).
Second, it rightly notes that in Daniel 7:13-14, the Son of Man is coming from earth to heaven, not from heaven to earth. This seems a strong point in favor of thinking the “coming of the son of man” in Mark 13:26 is something other than His Second Coming.
My hesitation with this view lies in three areas:
- This reading claims to read the passage simply, but there are details that seem to point beyond an AD70 fulfillment or speak or appear more catastrophic. Though this is seen most clearly in Matthew 24-25, Mark 13:19-20 is an example.
- Are the “sun going dark” passages in the prophets really supposed to be taken symbolically? Could these being applied to near destruction of nations not foreshadow end-times destruction?
- I noted above that the reading of Daniel 7 makes good sense of the passage, but at the ascension in Acts 1:9-11, we are told that Christ will return the same way He left. Therefore, “coming in clouds” passages could apply either to the ascension or the second coming. This means the reference to Dan 7:13-14 is not conclusive.
- Most difficult for me is that New Testament eschatology appears to build upon the Olivet Discourse teaching. For example, 1 Thessalonians 4:13-5:11 parallels details in Olivet Discourse quite closely, with 1 Thess 4:15 implying that Paul is drawing from Jesus’s teaching (like 1 Cor 7:10, 25). However, if Jesus referred only to AD70 here, then does 1 Thess 4:13-5:11 get pulled into the past as well? Others try to sever the cord between the Olivet Discourse in 1 Thess 4:13-18 to overcome this difficulty, but I am not persuaded by it.
Check back soon for another view: what if Mark 13 wasn’t about the temple in His day at all, but is describing entirely future events around another temple?