So far in our series on Mark 13, we have seen three different approaches. One is to switch back and forth from AD70 to the Second Coming, and the other two either push the text into the past or into the future. Each view has the same difficulty: verses don’t want to fit!
What if we need a fresh approach from left field? Enter Peter Bolt. Bolt has a very unique view: that Mark 13 refers not to AD70, nor the Second Coming, but to the death and resurrection of Jesus and the commissioning of the disciples. If this seems strange, read on, as it’s surprisingly compelling!
In this post I have drawn from Peter Bolt’s article Mark 13: An Apocalyptic Precursor to the Passion Narrative (PDF).
This is the fourth and final post in our Mark 13 series. Other posts in this series.
Mark 13 as Jesus’ Death and Resurrection
Bolt points out that common views of Mark 13 all assume an “extratextual referent for [Mark 13:24-27]” (p12). That is, they both require us to look outside of Mark in order to understand the passage. Neither AD70, nor the second coming are actually found within Mark. But what if Mark himself records the fulfilment of this passage?
Bolt believes we need to reread Mark 13 within its own literary context as being in the middle of a conflict between Jesus and the Jewish leaders in Mark 11-12 and 14-15. When we reclaim Mark 13 as being relevant here, it becomes an “apocalyptic precursor to [Christ’s] coming passion and resurrection/exaltation” (p26), and we find fulfillment in the remaining chapters of Mark!
To really understand Bolt’s view, it is best to read the article or his book in the NSBT series, The Cross at a Distance. In this post below I’ll summarize the article.
Mark 13:28-37 | Parable of the Watchman
What is the significance of Mark 13:32-37?
For Bolt, the most overlooked section of Mark 13 is the most important, so we will begin here.
Mk 13:35 refers to the four watches of the Roman night, and asks in which will the “hour” come: evening, midnight, the cock crow, or dawn? Interestingly, these same time references are found in Mark’s passion narrative in Mk 14-15.
- The last supper was held in the evening (Mk 14:17).
- Gethsemane took place at midnight (Mk 14:32-42) and shares numerous connections with Mark 13.
- Jesus prays about “the hour” (Mk 14:35, 41 = Mk 13:32)
- The disciples are urged to “watch and pray!” (Mk 14:34, 38 = Mk 13:33-37)
- Upon Jesus’ arrest, the disciples flee (Mk 14:50 = Mk 13:14)
- Peter failed at the cock crow (Mk 14:66-72)
- The crucifixion takes place in the morning (Mk 15:1) and time is slowed down to record the third, sixth and ninth hours (Mk 15:25, 33, 34).
So Bolt argues that Mark pays such special attention to the Roman watches because it is fulfilling Jesus’ prediction in Mark 13:32-37! So Jesus is not referring to the “hour” of His return, but the “hour” of His death!
Mark 13:4 | The Two Questions
What are the disciples asking in Mk 13:4?
They assume Jesus is speaking of “the end of everything” (p26), so they inquire about the timing and ask for a sign. Jesus rejects the disciple’s request for a sign, as He does elsewhere in Mark (Mk 8:11-12).
How does Jesus answer their questions?
In Mk 13:5-23, Jesus wants to prevent the disciples from being led astray by seeking after signs so he doesn’t give one. Rather, they need to protect themselves (Mk 13:9) and be about His mission (Mk 13:9-11).
What is the “abomination of desolation” in Mk 13:14?
The abomination of desolation “standing where he ought not to be” (Mk 13:14) is Jesus on the cross.
Should 13:19 be interpreted literally? Is it used elsewhere in the Bible?
The tribulation in Mk 13:19 is Jesus’ suffering on the cross (Mk 15:34), “the hour that had filled Jesus with so much anxiety” (p24).
Mark 13:24-27 | Coming of the Son of Man
Should Mk 13:24-25 be understood literally or symbolically?
This is not addressed in Bolt’s essay.
What is the “coming of the Son of Man”?
Jesus refers to the coming Son of Man as dying and rising throughout the book (Mk 8:31; 9:9-13, 31; 10:33-34), so it makes best sense to see His resurrection as the fulfillment. (Mk 16:2). With the resurrection, Son has received the kingdom and it has come in power (Mk 9:1; 13:29-30; Acts 2:33-36; Rom 1:4).
To what does the “gathering” refer?
The sending of Jesus’ messengers to preach the Gospel throughout the earth (Mk 16:7-8). Bolt distinguishes his view from that of France and Wright, who see this missionary work following the temple’s destruction in AD70, but “nowhere in the New Testament is the fall of Jerusalem made a condition for a fully effective Christian mission” (p25). Instead, the spread of the Gospel follows the cross and resurrection.
Mark 13:28-31 | Parable of the Fig Tree
To what does the fig tree analogy refer?
The death and resurrection of Jesus.
How should we interpret Jesus’ statement “this generation will not pass away…”? (13:30)
This is addressed to His disciples, who all saw His betrayal, death and resurrection within a short time.
Wow! Quite different, right? If this seems unlikely, in addition to the view being represented in Bolt’s article and his NSBT book, this view has followers in Australia and this blog post answers some linger questions I had:
- The coming of the Son of Man: when? (Part 1)
- The coming of the Son of Man: when? (Part 2)
- The coming of the Son of Man: A response to Sandy’s first post
- The coming of the Son of Man: A response to Sandy’s second post
What’s more, Bolt is producing the Mark commentary for the new B&H series, so that’s one to look out for!
I see the greatest strengths of Bolt’s argument as the literary connections between Mark 13:32-37 and the rest of the book. They are impossible to ignore. Other sections of Mark 13 make sense too. Bolt’s view makes so much sense of Mark 13’s placement within the book. However, I find other elements hard to swallow
For example, I’m not sure how Bolt’s reading of Mk 13:19 makes sense, given Mk 13:25 or Dan 12:1, for that matter. While Jesus’ disciples did flee at His arrest, not only was this before the abomination of desolation, but Mk 13:14-18 portrays this in much more drastic terms than this.
Of course the greater issue, one that Bolt notes: it seems very unlikely that the other Gospels have the same fulfillment. For example, Luke replaces the abomination of desolation with “Jerusalem surrounded by armies” (Luke 21:20), restricting the interpreter to a more traditional fulfillment. Matthew has the same exhortations of staying awake and watching (Matt 24:36-51) but casts it in light of the final judgment.
Whatever the conclusion, Bolt should be commended for thinking outside the box on this one!
This concludes my series on Mark 13. If you would like to see a series like this on another passage, let me know in the comments!