Tuesday I started making the argument that Mark 13 should be read as a reference to the looming destruction of the Temple and Jerusalem rather than some still-future time of distress before Jesus comes back.
Tuesday I dealt with the objections pertaining to “cosmic imagery.” Yesterday we hit the “Son of Man” issue. Today we get to some of the “So what?” I want to explore what some of the broader ramifications might be for adopting this reading. What might it tell us about how Mark wants us to understand his story of Jesus?
The first thing I want to say is of broad importance. Whatever you end up thinking is going on in Mark 13, I do not think that Christians have, in general, paid sufficient attention to Jesus’ prophecies of the destruction of the Temple as an integral piece of his prophetic ministry. Even if the only glimpse of it is in Mark 13:1-2, Jesus anticipated that the temple would be destroyed. And it happened. Likely, we should see the temple clearing as a prophecy of destruction as well, though that’s debatable.
I should be quick to point out that recognizing such a thing does not make us anti-Semitic, anti-Jewish, or anything along those lines. This simply makes Jesus a Jewish prophet who, like a number of other Jewish prophets before him, spoke to the Jewish people about their failure to recognize what would be pleasing to the Jewish God.
Another important thing to be aware of is that Mark 13 uses language about the coming tribulation that is echoed throughout the passion narrative in Mark 14-15. We mentioned briefly that the darkened sun is something that happens on the cross. Also, we mentioned that the prophesy about the Jewish leaders seeing the son of man coming on the clouds of heaven is repeated in each.
Other important carry-overs include Jesus’ command to stay alert, Jesus’ own betrayal by someone whom he had previously identified as “brother,” bearing witness before both the nations and the Jewish leadership, and, of course, being handed over to death.
It seems that what Jesus anticipates for the community of his followers with respect to the temple and Jerusalem, he endures first with respect to himself. In fact, I think that these are both related to the larger question of how Jesus’ enthronement is related to “the end of the age.” It seems that there is a cosmic turning here, the sort of thing that made Christians denote our years “AD”, “Year of our Lord.” The “end” is not the end of the space-time continuum as we’ve experienced it, but an end to the world being ruled by someone other than the king of Israel enthroned to God’s right hand.
Recognizing the connections between Mark 13 and Jesus’ death helps us to underscore how this-worldly the scenario is. While being this-worldly, though, it also highlights that the events of this age are indications of the hand of God at work to enthrone, and vindicate, the Son.
When I started ruminating on this passage on Sunday, someone responded to a Twitter post by saying that, in his opinion, the resurrection and the destruction of Jerusalem are both, for the early church, proofs of Jesus’ authority. I think this is exactly correct.
The connections between the passion and the scenario laid out in Mark 13 help draw this together. Jesus’ death is prefigurement of the community’s suffering–that community that bears Jesus’ name into the world, and on whose behalf God will draw the time of tribulation to a close. This draws Jesus himself into closest possible connection to the destruction which happens 40 years after his own life and death: by persecuting his followers, the persecution of Jesus himself becomes part and parcel of the Temple’s own destruction.
Also, if the resurrection is God’s direct overturning of the judgment of Rome, confirming Jesus to be, in fact, King of the Jews and therefore the ruler of the kings of the earth, then the destruction of Jerusalem serves as God’s intervention to rule against the judgment of the religious establishment. They judged Jesus worthy of death, and for this they are judged by the God in whose name they acted. Once again, the parable of the vineyard comes into play. Killing the son arouses the ire of the Father, and the vineyard is given to others. No longer is the people of God under the rule of those entrusted with stewarding the Temple.
The destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70 is more important for the story of Jesus than we often realize. As the Gospels tell the story of Jesus, this was the way in which Israel’s God vindicated Jesus’ claim to be the son of man who would be seated at the right hand of the majesty on high. Though this claim brought Jesus a death sentence from the high priest, it was vindicated when that high priest’s seat was destroyed.
Mark 11-15 seems couched to draw us toward seeing Jesus as a Jewish prophet who spoke against the temple. He and his message were rejected but both were vindicated by the Jewish God who raised him from the dead, enthroned him at God’s right hand, and fulfilled the prophetic warning.