Last week I prattled on too long about Mark 13 and the destruction of Jerusalem.
One of the most challenging parts of Mark 13 (and parallels) for those who want to see it as a prophecy of AD 70 is the cosmic imagery of the coming Son of Man, with the clouds, in great power and glory.
I suggested that the trial of Jesus is a place to look for some indication that this might not be the physical return of Jesus from heaven, but instead a final consummation of his enthronement with the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70. The trial that takes its crucial turn with an accusation that Jesus said he would destroy the temple comes to its conclusion when Jesus says that he is the son of the blessed, and that the Jewish leaders will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of Power and “coming with the clouds of heaven.”
The connection between the enthroned Son of Man and the destruction of the temple is paralleled in the trial that leads to the first Christian martyrdom: Stephen’s trial in Acts 7. (Sorry, I know I should use Luke’s trial, etc., rather than Mark’s for the lead-in, but Mark was last week’s focus. So sue me.)
The charges at Stephen’s trial are that he speaks against “this holy place and the law;” specifically, they accuse him of saying that Jesus of Nazareth will destroy the holy place and change the customs Moses handed down.
The speech of Stephen is a complex retelling of Israel’s story–right up through the building of the temple. After culminating with the words of the prophet that human hands cannot build a house that will contain God, Stephen turns to direct accusation.
The first is that those who are heirs to Israel’s story are heirs to, and perpetrators of, Israel’s disobedience. They have received the law as ordained through angles, but they have not kept it.
Note that this corresponds to the second part of the accusation against Stephen. He and Jesus are not the ones who are guilty of setting aside the law, it is the religious leaders who show themselves guilty of setting aside the law by killing God’s righteous one.
Then, as they grow in their fury, Stephen looks to heaven and sees the glory of God and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. He says, “Look, I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God!”
They then drive him out and stone him, and as he dies Stephen plays the part of Jesus: he entrusts his spirit to God and prays for forgiveness for his persecutors.
I argued last week that the destruction of the Temple is tied to the rejection of Jesus as a prophet sent from God. And I wonder if this doesn’t help make that case, with its tie-in of the enthroned son of God.
Here Stephen is charged with the same thing Jesus is: prophesying that Jesus will destroy the temple; and, what Jesus says the leaders will see in the future, Stephen sees in the present–the Son of Man is at the right hand of God.
Could this, too, be a way of imputing to the Jewish leadership what they would accuse the Christian movement of? They accused Stephen of changing the law, and his speech turns the tables on them. They accuse Stephen of saying Jesus is going to destroy the holy place, and he says, in essence, that they are responsible for destroying the holy place because they have rejected the Righteous One sent by God.
Where God really dwells is in heaven, and the one who is in God’s presence and acting in the world on God’s behalf is not the Jerusalem leadership, but the resurrected Son of Man.
The age has turned.
And the destruction of the Temple will prove it.