Tag Archives: son of man

Apocalyptic Flying Humans

Is the “Son of Man” God?

Daniel Boyarin suggests that Daniel 7 (rightly deconstructed) provides us with a first affirmative answer, and then moves on to demonstrate that this affirmation is echoed in other early Jewish texts.

Chapter two of The Jewish Gospels provides his reading of the Son of Man in First Enoch and Fourth Ezra.

The material from First Enoch provides a much stronger basis for arguing that the “son of man” was considered some sort of divinity in early Judaism than Daniel does, in my opinion. This figure is clearly preexistent, one who becomes incarnate at a particular time in order to be messiah, redeemer, savior.

One indication that this figure is divine comes from the statement that his name is known before creation came to be:

Even before the sun and the constellations were created,
Before the stars of heaven were made,
His name was named before the Lord of Spirits. (cited from Boyarin, 78)

In addition to this figure’s preexistence, at the end (in what is perhaps a later addition to the vision), Enoch is revealed to be the son of man.

Boyarin reads the text as a whole, indicating, first, that Enoch on earth was an incarnation of this eternal son of man, and that he is then deified in his ascent into heaven.

Presumably, this means that Enoch will return in order to fill the role on earth of the Son of Man who is the saving messiah.

But this presumption raises a question for me: Is the text that precedes Enoch’s exaltation a description of Enoch before he comes to earth as Enoch? Or is it, instead, a description of the heavenly Enoch after his exaltation to heaven, who will come again as Messiah?

The idea that someone’s name is known from all eternity need not entail their actual existence. Compare Revelation, where people’s names are known and written in the books from all eternity.

Moreover, a significant theme of First Enoch is that the name of this son of man is revealed to God’s people–a revelation that happens at the end, when we discover that he is none other than Enoch.

Finally, there is the repeated use of “son of man.” This word means “human.” I want to see more from Boyarin about why this figure is called “human being” if he is not, in fact, human being throughout most of the apocalypse?

This ties into another general question I have, both from last time and this: to what extent does the fact that this is apocalyptic literature–literature that depicts earthly realities using heavenly visions, literature that is highly symbolic and stylized–influence how we read these descriptions? If sometimes feel that Boyarin is reading too literally.

In this case, however, most scholars agree with Boyarin that the Son of Man in 1 Enoch is a preexistent deity and not simply an exalted Enoch who comes back as a messiah. Here there is some good fodder for discussing the presence of a preexistent, perhaps even divine, messiah figure as present in non-Christian Judaism.

In the discussions of both 1 Enoch and 4 Ezra, however, I have a larger problem with Boyarin’s work. It’s not that there are not parallels between Jesus as son of man and these early figures. There certainly are. Even important dynamics of their life such as receiving worship are entailed across different texts.

But Boyarin has adopted Richard Bauckham’s heuristic of “divine identity Christology” as a measure for saying “here is a figure who is being described as God.” This is problematic.

Receiving worship does not make someone God. Not even in Judaism. Unless, of course, Solomon was God (1 Chro 29:20).

Controlling the waters of the sea does not make someone God. Not even in Judaism. Unless, of course, Moses is God (Exod 14).

Ruling the world does not make someone God. Not even in Judaism. Unless, of course, Adam is God (Gen 1).

Being called Lord does not make someone God. Not even in Judaism. Unless, of course, David is God (Ps 2).

I agree wholeheartedly with Boyarin that the Jesus tradition is participating in a larger Jewish tradition of exalted son of man figures redeeming, saving, coming as David’s seed, receiving worship, and riding on the clouds.

Where I am not yet convinced is that all of this entails divinity, as such, for an early Jewish audience. There is a whole tangle of unexplored possible implications that swirl around a very different possibility.

Perhaps “son of man” really intends to connote “human one.” Perhaps rather than a divine christology, this is all part of a larger Adam Christology in which the early Jewish people are envisioning human beings, or a Human Being, restored to the primal place of ‘adam: God’s son, ruling the world on God’s behalf.

Divine Son of Man? (Boyarin review, part 1)

Daniel Boyarin has come out with a short, readable book arguing a provocative thesis.

The Jewish Gospels, The Story of the Jewish Christ sets out to demonstrate that early Christian ideas about Jesus are all Jewish ideas about a coming messiah figure.

Many Jews, argues Boyarin, believed that a divine being would come to rescue them. This is not a development of the later church, an explanation of what had just happened with Jesus, but a thoroughly Jewish idea.

This, says Boyarin, is what we find in texts looking for a coming Son of Man. This is a title indicating divinity.

Furthermore, early Jewish people were looking for a coming a king, a messiah. This is what “son of God” means: a human being anointed by God.

Today, I want to engage his chapter on Jesus as son of man.

Boyarin’s argument is this: the son of man in Daniel 7 is God. Therefore, early Christian depictions of Jesus as son of man indicate that the Gospel writers saw Jesus filling this role, expected by many Jews.

This leads Boyarin to make a couple of exegetical moves that I think are important: interpreting Mark 2, he says that Jesus is claiming to be the son of man figure from Daniel, the one who rules the world for God.

Yes!

But I take considerable issue with Boyarin’s reading of Daniel 7. He argues that the son of man in Daniel 7 is “part of God” (p. 26), or a second God. A divine figure.

It is crucial that we realize what the reader has to agree to in order to arrive at such a conclusion. Three pillars uphold his argument.

First, Boyarin recognizes that his interpretation runs counter to the interpretation given by the author of Daniel. In Daniel, the explanation of the vision of the son of man is that the human figure represents the holy ones of the most high, or, the people of the holy ones of the most high–in context, the Maccabean martyrs.

Boyarin sees this interpretation as a later interpretation by the author of Daniel in which the redactor is attempting to silence the clear meaning of the vision by giving a contradictory meaning. Thus, for Boyarin, Daniel 7 itself embodies the question of whether a redeemer figure can be God or not as an intramural Jewish debate.

The idea that the visions and the explanation are from different redactional layers strikes me as special pleading. It is quite common in apocalyptic literature to have a confusion vision explained to the seer. Was this particular apocalyptic vision not interpreted in some non-extant older strand?

Questions of apocalyptic genre and the age of the vision persist in the other two planks of Boyarin’s argument.

Boyarin says that the human one being divine, and the interpretation being secondary, represent the clear and obvious reading of the vision as it stands.

But this is apocalyptic literature. In apocalyptic literature, the “clear” reading is a clear picture that points to something else.

Are we to assume that Daniel 7 teaches that the world is or has been run by lions with wings, man-eating bears, flying leopards, and iron-toothed monsters?

The son of man figure is the last in a series of rulers, of kingdoms, that exercise power over the earth, and over God’s people in particular.

Does all of this end when we get to the Son of Man and the vision suddenly shift into a “clear” vision telling us literally what happens? Such an argument depends upon a genre mistake, akin to many that Christians make in attempting to make sense of Revelation.

Third, Boyarin argues that we have here the remnants of an ancient Canaanite tradition in which there were two gods ruling the earth: El and Ba’al, who came into Israelite religion as El and YHWH before the latter two were joined into one.

Without questioning the evolutionary picture outlined by Boyarin, are we still to believe that a second century, post-exilic, post-Josianic, apocalyptic text reflects a genealogical antecedent from which it was separated by hundreds of years? This seems highly unlikely. What year would Daniel’s vision have had to be written to make such a Canaanite influence viable?

It is important for readers of Boyarin’s argument to recognize that the argument concerning Dan 7 is not an interpretation of the passage, but an interpretation of an alleged prehistory of the passage that stands in direct tension with Dan 7 as it now stands. Moreover, it is worthy of scrutiny even as offered.

To claim that the Gospels depict Jesus as the Danielic Son of Man is important. And, it is important for showing that Jesus occupies a special place of authority not generically given to all people. Boyarin makes these points well.

But the argument as offered in ch. 1 does not go very far toward demonstrating that Jewish people were looking for a divine messiah, and that this is the claim of the Gospels.

The book suffers from a bit of equivocation in terms of what Boyarin intends to demonstrate with respect to the son of man’s divinity. In a curious footnote, Boyarin says that one might distinguish between functional divinity–someone exercising divine activities such as ruling or judging human begins at the end times– and ontological divinity.

After exerting 55 pages of ink affirming Jewish people’s expectation of something that could only be construed as the latter, Boyarin inexplicably indicates in this note that he intends the former: functional divinity is what he means by someone “being” God. The remainder of the chapter is spent discussing how, in light of Daniel 7, we know some Jews anticipated a divine messiah.

Throughout, Boyain does not mean someone like Adam, ruling the world on God’s behalf (a functional divine christology) but someone like the early Christian confessions indicate: a preexistent God (ontological christology).

The early Jewish usage of the son of man figure might be more to Boyarin’s point than his reading of Daniel 7. We’ll discuss that next time.

Images Are For Worship

Before I jump into today’s post on The Life of Adam and Eve, I want to say a word to those of you who don’t live in the world of biblical studies.

Often, we use ancient parallel material as part of our research. Here’s the point: often when we read scripture we think we know exactly what it’s talking about. But an ancient reader might not have brought the same framework for interpretation to the text. So, studying ancient literature helps us step outside of our current cultural and religious context in an attempt to hear the Bible with fresh ears.

This means that when I look at a text like The Life of Adam and Eve, I’m not citing it because I think it’s “right,” necessarily, but because it opens up a door through which I might see how early Jewish people understood the cosmos and the place of people within it.

One ongoing puzzle in reading the OT, early Jewish literature, and the NT, has to do with what it means to be human; or, what it means to be God’s elect people.

One thing that I have been working out over the past couple of years is the thesis that humanity, as depicted in biblical and early Jewish traditions, occupies a higher place in the cosmic hierarchy than angels.

This means that people can share God’s sovereignty over the earth, and at times even receive worship, because of the role God has given to humanity: it is God’s image and likeness, ruling the world for God.

Enter, the Devil’s fall from glory according to the Jewish story, The Life of Adam and Eve.

The devil replied, “Adam, what do you have to say to me? It is for your sake that I have been hurled from heaven. When you were formed, I was hurled out of the presence of God and banished from the company of the angels.

“When God blew into you the breath of life and your face and likeness was made in the image of God, Michael also brought you and made (us) worship you in the sight of God; and God the Lord said: ‘Here is Adam. I have made you in our image and likeness.’

“And Michael went out and called all the angels saying: ‘Worship the image of God as the Lord God commanded.’ And Michael himself worshipped first; then he called me and said: ‘Worship the image of God the Lord.’ And I answered, ‘I have no (need) to worship Adam.’

“And since Michael kept urging me to worship, I said to him, ‘Why do you urge me? I will not worship an inferior and younger being. I am his senior in the Creation, before he was made was I already made. It is his duty to worship me.'” (LAE 13-14; modified Charles translation)

The image of God is made for worship: the worship of the heavenly host.

This opens up some interesting avenues for exploring the identity of Jesus as exalted and worthy of worship. What if the early Jewish followers of Jesus heard his claims to be “son of man,” “the Human One,” as the CEB rightly renders it, and understood that he was playing this role?

What if they thought, at least in part, that he was restoring humanity to that exalted place from which he fell? What if this embodiment of God’s image and rule accounts for his authority to cast out those fallen angelic host we meet under the rubric of “demons”?

One of the most popular explanations of Jesus’ exalted status, as put on display in the NT at various points, is “angelomorphic”: Jesus takes the form and glory of an angel.

There may be something to that.

But what if there’s another strand of Jewish teaching they’re drawing from? A strand in which “angel” is an insufficiently high category, a more exalted role is needed, and so, they depict Jesus as the idealized human being that Adam was created to be, and whose likeness God intends for all God’s children to one day reclaim?

Blasphemy!

Why is Jesus condemned to death by the Sanhedrin in Mark 14? The exchange goes like this:

Then the high priest stood up in the middle of the gathering and examined Jesus. “Aren’t you going to respond to the testimony these people have brought against you?” But Jesus was silent and didn’t answer. Again, the high priest asked, “Are you the Christ, the Son of the blessed one?”

Jesus said, “I am. And you will see the Human One sitting on the right side of the Almighty and coming on the heavenly clouds.”

Then the high priest tore his clothes and said, “Why do we need any more witnesses? 64 You’ve heard his insult against God. What do you think?”

They all condemned him. “He deserves to die!” (CEB)

What constitutes the “blasphemy” or “insult against God” that leads to Jesus’ condemnation?

First, although Jewish backgrounds are always important, I’m not sure that examining ancient standards for blasphemy is going to be entirely helpful. What I mean is this: the trial is set up in Mark 14 as a kangaroo court–false witnesses sought, conflicting testimony given. Thus, we won’t necessarily find a category of “blasphemy” into which Jesus’ confession fits. They may very well be condemning him without him being technically guilty of anything.

On the other hand, it is interesting that one way someone might incur a blasphemy charge is to speak the name of, or even say, “God.” It is therefore interesting that both Jesus and the High Priest are depicted as avoiding the word “God,” using circumlocutions instead. Maybe the point, in part, is that there is no reason for a blasphemy condemnation?

In the narrative itself, we have met accusations of blasphemy before.

In Jesus’ first conflict with the scribes, he is accused of blasphemy for forgiving the paralytic’s sins. “The fellow blasphemes! Who can forgive sins but God alone?!”

The charge of blasphemy is tied to arrogating to oneself the prerogatives that belong only to God.

But Jesus says that, as the Human One, he has authority on earth to forgive sins. If God has bestowed this authority upon Jesus, it is not blasphemy to perform the actions otherwise suitable to God alone.

I note with interest that both the first conflict and this final trial swirl around issues of blasphemy and Jesus’ identity as the Human One.

The other place where blasphemy comes up is when Jesus is accused of casting out demons by the prince of demons. In that case, he accuses the scribes of blasphemy against the Holy Spirit. In this case, it is not arrogating the authority to himself, but wrongly ascribing the work of the Spirit to an evil spirit that provokes the charge.

But the commonality is important: blasphemy charges derive from the question of the authority of God being wrongly ascribed (whether that be Jesus ascribing it to himself or the scribes ascribing it to an evil spirit).

Returning to the trial.

Jesus is claiming the position of the one whom God enthrones in the heavens to rule the entire cosmos. The same claim he had made in ch. 2 returns here: the Human One has authority given to him by God to act, to rule, in the name of God. And the same response of unbelief is leveled by the religious leaders: no, such a claim to be installed as the one who acts for God is blasphemy.

The blasphemy charge stands or falls with whether or not Jesus is correct about his identity.

The question is, what is Jesus claiming for himself that the religious leaders do not believe to be true?

It is something more than simply being a messiah as traditionally expected–a geopolitical, militaristic leader who would come to liberate Israel from its bondage. There were plenty of those going around, and such claims did not lead to blasphemy charges.

And yet, the way that Mark, and Jesus, have cultivated Jesus’ messianic identity, he has a power from heaven, an authority to command the entire cosmos, that must be ascribed to some ultimate, spiritual power.

Is the human one enacting the very reign of God Himself over the cosmos? Or is he casting out demons by the prince of demons? That’s the choice.

Suffering Servant?

The idea of a suffering servant may very well have come from Isa 53. But the idea that the Messiah had to suffer doesn’t come from there.

Well, it doesn’t come from there in Mark’s gospel, anyway.

For Mark, the invitation to discover that Jesus must suffer is tied to his self-designation as the son of man.

Now, I know that there are hundreds of theories and myriad details about what this term meant in Aramaic, how the historical Jesus is likely to have used the phrase, and the like. But that is, for the most part, irrelevant for interpreting Mark.

In Mark’s gospel, the phrase “son of Man” is clearly linked to the vision of Daniel 7 (Mark 13:26; 14:62). At least in these latter parts of Mark, the connotations of “the Human One” entail Jesus playing the role of Daniel’s enthroned Son of Man.

Earlier uses of the phrase also find explanation here: the Son of Man has unique authority–authority on earth to forgive sins; authority even over the sabbath.

The son of man in Daniel is enthroned and given an eternal kingdom. The power of that rule is at work, already, in Jesus’ earthly ministry, even though he has not yet come on the clouds to the right hand of God.

But can Daniel 7 also open up the door to understanding the third type of “son of man” saying, the passion predictions?

  • The human one must suffer many things and be rejected… (Mark 8:31)
  • Why was it written that the Human One must suffer many things and be rejected…(Mark 9:12)
  • The Human One goes to his death just as it is written about him…(Mark 14:21)

Perhaps it is not coincidental that the first time we hear a passion prediction, “The human one must suffer many things and be rejected” (Mark 8:31), the passage goes on to echo Daniel 7 in its promise that anyone ashamed of this suffering Human One will find that the Human One is ashamed of him when he comes in the glory of the father with the angels.

In other words, in the story of Mark’s gospel, Jesus as the enthroned and returning Human One is inseparable from Jesus as the suffering Human One.

So what does Daniel 7, the coming of the great and glorious Human One to be enthroned at God’s right hand, have to do with suffering?

In the final interpreting of Daniel’s dream, we discover that the last beast, and the last horn of the beast, that is finally put down and destroyed at the advent of the Son of Man, had oppressed the holy ones whom the Human One represents.

As I watched, this same horn waged war against the holy ones and defeated them, until the Ancient One came… The set time arrived, and the holy ones held the kingship securely. (Daniel 7:22, CEB)

25 He will say things against the Most High
and will exhaust the holy ones
of the Most High.
He will try to change times set by law.
And for a period of time,
periods of time,
and half a period of time,
they will be delivered into his power.
26 Then the court will sit in session.
His rule will be taken away—
ruined and wiped out for all time.
27 The kingship, authority, and power
of all kingdoms under heaven
will be given to the people,
the holy ones of the Most High. (Daniel 7:25-27, CEB)

The Son of Man who is enthroned is none other than the holy ones who suffered under the oppressive hand of the final king who would be destroyed. They were, first, delivered to suffering and death, and then afterward ushered into eternal kingship and power.

Interestingly, Daniel 12 contains the only widely recognized reference to resurrection in the OT. And that passage tells the same story as Daniel 7, only using different imagery. And there, with the defeat of the great enemy comes not only the exaltation of God’s people to rule, but even the resurrection of the righteous who have been put to death.

How is it written that the Human One must suffer at the hands of people and then rise again? It is written in the visions of the Human One beheld by the prophet Daniel. To be the Human One enthroned at the right hand of God means that one has, first, suffered and died at the hands of the unjust rulers who war against the people of God.

What Only God Can Do?

“If Jesus isn’t God, then we are worshiping God and a human being.”

“If Jesus isn’t God, then Christians are infringing on God’s right to sovereignty over everything in order to assign Lordship to Jesus.”

These are the sorts of claims that lie behind some attempts to prove that the NT presupposes the divinity of Jesus throughout. For example, Richard Bauckham argues that the way a Jewish person would express a high Christology would not be through the language of “being,” but instead through an identity of function with the God of Israel. If Jesus does what only YHWH can do, he is being so identified with him as to say that this is God directly at work. Jesus is written into the divine identity–therefore, Jesus is (as later theologians using different categories would say) God.

In response to these sorts of claims, I have a very simple litmus test that I am in the process of applying, and would invite you to do the same:

Do other Jews say these sorts of things about other people?

As theological outworkings, such claims are fine. You can say that our worship of Jesus is an expression of what we all (myself included) confess as traditional Christians about Jesus as preexistent God-the-Son.

But as historical claims these claims should be measured, as best as we possibly can, by the criteria of early Jewish ways of speaking about God and God’s agents.

If other Jews, who did not think of themselves, their hoped-for Messiahs, their teachers as God in any sense used this same sort of language to describe other humans, then we cannot claim that use of such language by first century Jews, in their descriptions of Jesus, intends to depict him as “divine.”

The Similitudes of Enoch are a great example.

In these, a figure known variously as the Elect One, the Son of Man, and the Messiah looms large.

This figure sits on God’s own throne, executes the final judgment on God’s behalf, receives worship, and is the agent of humanity’s salvation.

Sovereignty. Worship. Glory.

All things that belong to God, that God does not share–are shared with the Elect One in order that, in praising this Messiah, God Himself might receive glory and honor and praise.

The criterion of “participation in the divine identity” by playing the role of God in worship and rule, is insufficient to demarcate a figure in early Jewish literature as God Himself.

Instead, it demarcates the Human One who is restoring the world through judgment and salvation and thereby bringing all glory and praise to God.

Jesus, God, and Theologial Meandering

I love Jesus.

I even love singing Holy, Holy, Holy on Trinity Sunday.

And sometimes you’ll even catch me reflecting seriously on Colossians, and the Son’s involvement in creation–the preexistent One, through whom all things were made. And I’ll think it’s really, really cool.

But the more I listen to theologians work out issues of Christology, the more convinced I am that the profit to be had in studying Jesus is to be found in figuring out what it means that he was human, not trying to explain how it is that he is God.

I’ve had a couple of encounters with theological Christology this week. One was in listening to the most recent Homebrewed Christianity Podcast. This was a phenomenal overview of recent guests, many of whom are working on Christology as progressive theologians. The worst thing about that podcast was that it added about 8 books to my reading list! I recommend listening to it for an orientation in contemporary Christological study, if nothing else.

But like so many studies of Christology, I was struck, perhaps a bit surprised, by the way that Jesus as God somehow sits front and center in all of their work–even as progressive theologians. Perhaps the reason it made such an impression was in part due to the vast number of things we can then say about Jesus, God, and Christianity. In a sense, the game is much more open when Jesus is God than when Jesus was a first century Jewish Galilean.

And in reading Barth on the eternal Son (§1.11), I again found myself slogging through material where the most compelling thing he seemed able to say was, “Well, the church said this, so even though it’s not really right, we all have to say it.”

The reason why I found the section so disheartening was that the obsession about how to articulate the son’s deity not only relegated Jesus’ humanness to the background, it also caused Barth to say some things about Jesus as redeemer that were wrong, and to misread any number of biblical passages.

When we’re convinced that the most basic thing there is to say about Jesus is that Jesus Christ is God, we render ourselves incapable of reading much of the New Testament (not to mention OT!), where this divine identity is neither argued for, nor indicated, nor assumed.

The history of Christological debate has framed the question like this: why does Jesus have to be God in order to redeem us? Or, what is the significance of Jesus’ deity for our salvation? The alternatives have been positions where Jesus’ heavenly status is not truly divine or the like.

Missing in all this is the absolutely crucial biblical notion that in order for God’s intentions for humanity, the earth, and the cosmos to be realized, all had to be done by a human entrusted by God to rule the world on God’s behalf.

The redeemer has to be Adam.

The redeemer has to be Israel.

The redeemer has to be David.

The redeemer has to be the son of man, the Human One.

Ignoring this prior necessity, we find ourselves saying foolish things such as, “To be lord, one must be none other than The Lord–the God worshiped by God’s people.” No, to be lord is to be entrusted by God to rule the world on behalf of The Lord: The Lord YHWH speaks to my lord the king saying, You are my son.”

Or, we find ourselves thinking someone is being profound, rather than abusing the text, when they say, “‘Today I have begotten you’ means an eternal generation where every day is today.” No, Psalm 2 means that the king becomes, at coronation, what he was not before–just like the human Jesus becomes at the resurrection ‘son of God’ in a sense that he was not before; i.e., as king of Israel.

In the podcast I listened to last night, one of the theologians they described was working on rearticulating what we need to say about Jesus if we want to say in the 21st century that Jesus is God. That route, it seems to me, is a better way to participate in the Nicene-Chalcedonian tradition than to say as Barth does, “Well, they used this word, nobody liked it then, we don’t know what it means now, but surely they were right in saying this!”

Barth is at his best when he is allowing the biblical narrative to infuse his theology with new life. That wasn’t what I read in his outworking of Jesus Christ (not only Christ, but Jesus!) as eternal son.

But then again, that’s my axe. How did you guys find this section?

SBL Precursor: Wright & Bird at IBR

SBL = Society of Biblical Literature. I’m at the annual meeting in Atlanta. (If blogging gets scarce, you may want to check out my Twitter feed or Facebook status.)

Each hear a number of other societies use the opportunity of having this group gathered to put on their own meetings. Institute for Biblical Research is one of those. And last night its meeting featured N. T. Wright and Michael Bird. Wright lectured on the cross and the kingdom, and Bird responded.

Wright’s talk was nothing you haven’t heard before if you’re a Wright fan, but it was nicely put together.

He discussed opposite errors.

There is the conservative error of a cross without a kingdom. Mike Bird, in responding, told of how he picked up an N. T. Wright book once upon a time and it hammered home to him that he knew why Jesus died, but had no idea why he lived! That was my experience as well.

On the liberal side, there is a kingdom without a cross: a theology of the reign of God in which Jesus the social revolutionary meets an unfortunate end that cut his program short just as it was getting off the ground.

Wright explored some texts in John in a gesture toward holding these together.

As usual, Wright took a couple of shots at the Creedal tradition of the church, which jumps straight from the virgin birth to the suffering under Pontius Pilate. I think his complaint is apt–we do not confess anything about the life of Jesus when we confess our faith together as a church. Others were less amused.

The call to keep cross and kingdom both in view is apt–and not just for holding together Mark 1-13 with the passion narrative in Mark 14-15. When teaching Mark last year, the larger question presented itself: how does Mark 1-8, the depiction of Jesus the wonder-working Son of Man, fit with Mark 9-16, the depiction of Jesus as the cruciform Son of Man?

To ask the question of how cross and kingdom fit together is to set ourselves on a journey of reimagining our atonement theology, our Kingdom of God theology, and our understanding of the Gospels themselves.

The Son of Man & Stephen’s Trial

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.

Narrative & Theological Ramifications of Mark 13 as AD 70

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.