The coming of the Son of Man: theology or history?

Thu, 04/04/2013 - 15:06

Here’s another example of how we can let theology or dogma get in the way of good biblical interpretation. Bill Mounce, whose mostly excellent exegetical notes I read from time to time, discusses the translation of Mark 13:29, which in the ESV reads:

So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that he is near, at the very gates.

The problem that Mounce addresses is the translation of the phrase engus estin (“is near”). There is no pronoun in the Greek. If we supply “he”, as in the ESV, it appears to make Jesus say that the Son of Man will return within a single generation, which “of course, he didn’t”. This would leave us with what Mounce calls “one of the great conundrums in the gospels”.

The NIV, however, supplies “it”—”it is near”, referring, as Mounce sees it, not to the coming of the Son of Man but to the destruction of the temple. So if the interpreter does not want to entertain the possibility that Jesus got the timing of the end-of-the-world badly wrong, he or she may simply uncouple the train of the second coming from the caboose of the war against Rome and allow history to pull them further and further apart.

Mounce argues that the disciples’ question in Mark 13:4 is really two questions: i) What are the signs that the temple will be destroyed? and ii) What will be the signs preceding Jesus’ return? He suggests that verses 5-23 narrate events leading up to the destruction of the temple. Then, “in typical prophetic telescoping, Jesus skips thousands of years” so that verses 24-27 describe his return, before jumping back thousands of years to the destruction of the temple in verses 28-31, which was to happen within a generation, only to jump forwards once more to the second coming in the last paragraph of the chapter.

Now Mounce knows far more about New Testament Greek than I do, but it seems to me that he has preserved the dogmatically required reading at the expense of the narrative-historical integrity of the text.

1. The disciples ask Jesus two questions: i) When will these things be? and ii) What will be the sign when all these things are about to be accomplished? In both questions “these things” can only refer to the events leading up to the destruction of the temple. In Matthew, it is true, the disciples distinguish between the destruction of the temple and the parousia of Jesus at the close of the age (Matt. 24:3). But Matthew emphatically connects the vision of the Son of Man coming on the clouds with the Roman invasion of Judea: “Immediately after the tribulation of those days…” (Matt. 24:29). Mark also has “in those days, after that tribulation” (13:24). The only reason to drive a massive temporal wedge into the text at this point is to protect the dogma that Jesus is still to return.

2. Luke makes explicit what is near—the kingdom of God:

And he told them a parable: “Look at the fig tree, and all the trees. As soon as they come out in leaf, you see for yourselves and know that the summer is already near. So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that the kingdom of God is near. Truly, I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all has taken place. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away. (Luke 21:29–33)

Would Mounce want to say that the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple constituted the coming of the kingdom of God and exclude from that the kingdom motif of the Son of Man coming on the clouds with power and glory? Notice that earlier Mark linked the coming of the Son of Man in the glory of his Father and the coming of the kingdom of God with power as events that would take place within a generation:

For whoever is ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him will the Son of Man also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels. … Truly, I say to you, there are some standing here who will not taste death until they see the kingdom of God after it has come with power. (Mk. 8:38–9:1)

3. We don’t find the sort of “prophetic telescoping” in the Old Testament that would provide a plausible precedent for Mounce’s interpretation of Jesus’ teaching here. Prophetic telescoping is an invention of Christian exegetes. The prophets describe future historical events—judgment on Israel, judgment on the nations. They may generate hopes that are not fulfilled in the actual historical circumstances, as things turn out, but that is not what we have with Mounce’s reading of Jesus’ apocalyptic discourse. Mounce argues that Jesus speaks in a very confusing manner about two distinct events, separated—as things turn out—by goodness knows how many thousands of years.

4. Mounce has to give a much better explanation of why the discourse is constructed in this chronologically chaotic fashion. The literary signals all work against it, and it removes the climax from the detailed and clearly important account of the tribulation of the coming years. Is it really plausible to argue that Mark’s readers would not have read it as a single, coherent apocalyptic narrative? It makes much better literary and theological sense to suppose that the coming of the Son of Man is conceived as an “event” of climactic significance for the communities of disciples that had to go through the tribulation described in 13:5-23.

5. The imagery of the Son of Man coming in clouds with great power and glory points to the expectation that at a time of national crisis for Israel a persecuted individual or community would be vindicated and given authority to rule. Jesus will make this point to Caiaphas: “you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of Power, and coming with the clouds of heaven” (Mk. 14:62). The destruction of the temple provides exactly the right historical context for the fulfilment of such an expectation. The coming of the Son of Man on the clouds of heaven is not an end-of-the-world event. The imagery of cosmic disorder—sun and moon darkened, stars falling, powers shaken—is standard prophetic-apocalyptic language for political crisis.

The final point to make, briefly, is that this is not a matter of taking away from traditional dogma. It is about recovering narrative-historical perspective. It is the same as with the Jesus is Lord / Jesus is God debate. Even if the orthodox affirmation is “correct” in some way, it too often diverts attention from the much more important and fundamental argument that the New Testament is attempting to put forward.

In this case, I don’t think that the orthodox affirmation is “correct” in some way. I don’t think that the New Testament presents the coming of the Son of Man in clouds as an end-of-the-world event—the final judgment and renewal of creation is stated in quite different terms. But that is not simply an argument for an alternative eschatological schema. It is an argument for grasping the concrete, historical grounding of the story of God’s people, for understanding the theological force of historical events, and for affirming the historical immediacy of God’s saving action on behalf of a faithful suffering community.

Image of The Coming of the Son of Man: New Testament Eschatology for an Emerging Church

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Andrew Perriman
Wipf & Stock Pub (2012), Paperback, 282 pages, $31.00

Comments

Thanks for this clear explanation. I think you are right. Have you compared this with what Dick France says helpfully on the parallel passage in Matthew? In effect he argues that Matthew is expanding what Mark is just hinting at (which would support a pre-70 date for Mark but a post-70 date for Matthew) in that the separation of the two questions ‘when will this…?’ and ‘when will that…?’ become clearer, and of course in this different context there is a much more extended answer to the second question…which Jesus in Mark hardly addresses at all.

I haven’t come across France’s argument. Where? The point would then be that although he stresses the immediacy of the appearance of the sign of the Son of Man (Matt. 24:29), he also goes to much greater lengths to prepare the disciples for a period of waiting before they actually experience deliverance and vindication at a judgment of the nations (25:31-46)? This would provide a bridge, then, to the parousia belief of the early churches, which probably had more to do with Rome than Jerusalem.

Yes, absolutely. He has an extensive section on it in his recent NICNT commentary. We used to talk about this quite a lot when we met up, the last time not long before he died.

Oh and he used to point out that his understanding of these passages were the ones that influenced Tom Wright, and certainly not the other way around! He has been teaching this for years.

Another minor exegetical observation: in debating what is ‘near, at the very gates’, there is something rather obvious that perhaps Mounce has passed over. What would you normally described as being ‘at the very gates’? Since the phrase assumes that the gates are shut, this is the kind of language you’d use of the besieging army.

If the son of man is ‘coming on the clouds’, he won’t be entering Jerusalem through the gates! So this phrase really makes no sense as a reference to the son of man.

To place all your theological eggs in the basket of the destruction of the temple (which is what you are doing) is plainly misguided. The temple’s destruction does not provide a universal template for the meaning of ‘the kingdom’. It is not the axis around which the teaching of the gospels revolve. It is a significant part of Jesus’s teaching, but it is misleading, and untrue, to say that in the destruction of the temple “a persecuted individual or community would be vindicated and given authority to rule”.

It is misleading because the weight of all four gospels is tilted towards the cross as the event of significance which unlocks their meaning, not the destruction of the temple. The structure of the gospels makes this plain: the first 30 years of Jesus’s life is almost ignored; the final three years are given more attention; immense attention is given to the final week of his life; proportionately the greatest attention is given to his final hours.

It is misleading because the primary vindication of Jesus was in his resurrection, not the destruction of the temple. Hence the almost unanimous silence on the latter following the gospels, and the contrasting universal acclamation of the former.

It is also misleading because persecution of the church by Judaism did not cease after the destruction of the temple. It possibly increased, if expulsions of Christians from synagogues because of their ‘treachory’ are to be believed.

The destruction of the temple did vindicate Jesus’s prophecy about its destruction, but that has never been in question. More care needs to be taken over the use of the word ‘vindication’ in relation to Jesus, his mission, and what the NT actually says about him, in contrast, say, with the relatively little that is said about the destruction of the temple, especially as a kind of template for understanding Jesus, the kingdom, and his prophetic destiny.

This is not putting all my theological eggs in the one basket of the destruction of the temple. This is a reading of one specific passage. If you think that reading is wrong, then give your reasons. It seems to me an inescapable conclusion that Jesus here connects the vision of the coming of the Son of Man with a sequence of events that culminates in the desolation or destruction of the temple, understood within the frame of his teaching in the Gospels as an act of divine judgment against Israel. Clearly the destruction of the temple is not the only significant event in the process. I have no problem in highlighting the importance of Jesus’ death and resurrection, but neither death nor resurrection are mentioned in this passage. It would help some times if you could focus on the issue at hand and not use it as an excuse to push your own wider interpretation.

You have misread me. I’m not here disagreeing with your interpretation of Mark 13, or your reasons for rebutting Mounce (which I think are justifiable). I’m actually addressing the issues which come into your post, almost unnoticed, supporting what is, to me, an unsustainable exegetical or theological hypothesis - for the reasons I outline.

You are not simply exegeting a passage. You are proposing an entirely new theological system, whilst aserting it is not theological. I have suggested why I think it is untenable to associate the destruction of the temple with the system you are proposing, based on what is to me a skewed reading of Daniel 7.

Please read my comment more carefully. (I did not appreciate the gratuitous comment in the final paragraph of your response).

I’m actually addressing the issues which come into your post, almost unnoticed, supporting what is, to me, an unsustainable exegetical or theological hypothesis - for the reasons I outline.

The problem is, Peter, that the reasons you outline all seem to be based on a blatant misrepresentation of my argument. It’s really very difficult to pursue this conversation with you when every time I have to correct the basic premise of your analysis. You have not addressed the actual content of the post, which focuses on the coherence of Jesus’ teaching in Mark 13, but instead have made sweeping, unsupported, and incorrect generalizations about how this passage fits into my overall understanding the Gospels. The issues that you address, that you think have come into the post unnoticed, are not my issues, they are yours—they are your distortions of my argument. Let me explain….

To place all your theological eggs in the basket of the destruction of the temple (which is what you are doing) is plainly misguided.

I’ve stated many times that this is not the case. Since The Coming of the Son of Man: New Testament Eschatology for an Emerging Church I’ve worked with a simple three horizons model: judgment on Jerusalem, judgment on Rome, judgment on all humanity and the renewal of heaven and earth.

The temple’s destruction does not provide a universal template for the meaning of ‘the kingdom’.

I have never made the destruction of the temple a “universal template” for the meaning of “kingdom”. The coming of the kingdom, as I understand it, is the coming of God to transform the status of his people in the ancient world and claim authority over the nations. Have you read this piece, for example:

…I would suggest that the kingdom of God came—that is, it’s not still coming—through a sequence of events by which the status of the family of Abraham amongst the nations of the ancient world was dramatically transformed. Jesus told Israel that God was about to save his people. When Paul became convinced that God had raised Jesus from the dead, he took this good news about what God was doing for Israel to the nations—not least because he believed that through the transformation of his people God would at long last “judge” the world of pagan imperialism. That is the story of the coming of the kingdom of God.

We now live with the consequences of the establishment of that rule. The destruction of the temple was an important part of the process, but not the whole story. There is plenty of scope for disagreement with my reconstruction of the whole story, but it would be helpful if you critiqued what I do say rather than what I don’t say.

…it is misleading, and untrue, to say that in the destruction of the temple “a persecuted individual or community would be vindicated and given authority to rule”.

That’s not quite what I said. What I said was: “The destruction of the temple provides exactly the right historical context for the fulfilment of such an expectation.” That seems to me a perfectly reasonable conclusion to draw from the fact that Jesus closely associates the coming of the Son of Man with the events surrounding the destruction of the temple. It’s what Mark 13 says. If you can see a better reason than Mounce offers for detaching the saying about the Son of Man from the immediate historical context, i would be happy to consider it.

It is misleading because the weight of all four gospels is tilted towards the cross as the event of significance which unlocks their meaning, not the destruction of the temple.

I have never suggested otherwise. Of course the cross is of critical significance. The story of the Son of Man is the story of one who suffers at the hands of both the Jewish leaders and of Rome, who dies, is raised, is exalted to the right hand of God, and who will be publicly vindicated. There is no other route to kingdom and glory than the narrow path of suffering.

But the kingdom statements in the Gospels refer not to Jesus’ death but to a future event beyond his death and resurrection closely associated with judgment on Israel and with the vindication of the Son of Man. You have simply ignored my point that Jesus makes no reference to his death and resurrection in the long answer that he gives to his disciples about the destruction of the. In Jesus’ mind he dies for the sake of the future victory of God over his enemies and reconstruction of his people.

It is also misleading because persecution of the church by Judaism did not cease after the destruction of the temple.

That’s splitting hairs. It’s not an issue in the context of the whole narrative, and it does not affect the central point, which is that Jesus believed that the destruction of the temple would constitute a massive public vindication of his claim that the bulk of Israel was on a broad path leading to destruction and that only a few would find a narrow path of suffering leading to life.

You are proposing an entirely new theological system, whilst aserting it is not theological.

You’ve missed the whole point of my argument about theology and history, though I accept that the word “theology” is used ambiguously. What the historical approach gives us—albeit imperfectly and approximately—is Jesus’ theology rather than the theology of the later church retrojected into the Gospels. My argument is that Jesus’ theology, like Paul’s theology, is at every point an engagement with history, not a universal system lifted out of history.

Andrew - first of all, I hope you are enjoying the Christian Associates conference.

I don’t find that your re-interpretation of Mark 13 leads to the conclusions which you draw from it. Mark 13 is a prophecy about the destruction of the temple. The prophecy was fulfilled. It was a momentous event, but in itself it hardly figures elsewhere in the ongoing story, either in what was preached or said in Acts, or in the teaching of the letters. I say ‘hardly’; the only possible references are indirect, so it could also be said that it doesn’t feature at all.

I’m aware of your three horizons argument, but the three horizons, or at least the first two (the third is very dim and distant to you) are chickens which hatch out of the eggs of the destruction of the temple. So it is fair and valid to say that that is where you have placed your theological eggs.

I am critiquing precisely what you do say about the temple’s destruction and the coming of the kingdom. It was in that event, according to you, that the status of God’s people was transformed. The transformation, according to you, was through judgment. When you say

When Paul became convinced that God had raised Jesus from the dead, he took this good news about what God was doing for Israel to the nations—not least because he believed that through the transformation of his people God would at long last “judge” the world of pagan imperialism.

it is not entirely clear what you mean, and seems to me to be confused. Taking what you have said elsewhere, I assume you are you saying that the resurrection of Jesus was the basis for Israel’s ‘tranformation’, which was more about her status in relation to the nations than a change of identity, and that this in itself would bring about judgment of paganism.

However, this does not connect very well with the destruction of the temple in Mark 13. For you, the temple’s destruction triggers judgment on the Roman Empire. But however you explain this, it does not change the matter at hand, which is what I was drawing attention to in my post. The destruction of the temple is for you the demonstration of the kingdom which leads to the other demonstration of the kingdom, inferred but not stated in the NT, which was the judgment on pagan imperialism. Thus the survival of the church as God’s people was guaranteed.

The whole point of this is that I’m describing exactly what you are saying, which is that the action of ‘kingdom’ is past, and we shouldn’t be looking for ‘kingdom’ actions any more (except in your re-interpreted meaning of 1 Corinthians 15:24, which is future). The major kingdom action in the NT, according to you, was in the destruction of the temple, followed by the destruction of Roman pagan imperialism, and we should not expect the kind of ‘kingdom’ interventions which we see in the gospels (and Acts, I presume) today, since they pointed to that event/those events only.

Your qualification of the statement “a persecuted individual or community would be vindicated and given authority to rule” with “The destruction of the temple provides exactly the right historical context for the fulfilment of such an expectation” only confuses thing more. If the “son of man”/Daniel 7 language was being reflected in the destruction of the temple, we have some wholesale reinterpretion to do as to what the Daniel prophecy was all about. It certainly does not support a straightforward unreconstructed recapitulation of OT prophecy, which is what you are consistently maintaining.

But the kingdom statements in the Gospels refer not to Jesus’ death but to a future event beyond his death and resurrection closely associated with judgment on Israel and with the vindication of the Son of Man.

So you say, but I can’t find any coherent basis for your argument. The more I probe it, the more it unravels. The kingdom statements in the gospels look to the time, straightforwardly enough, when Jesus will become King. The destruction of the temple fulfilled kingly prophecy, but by no means encompassed all that his kingly rule would entail - even with the supposedly connected judgment on Roman paganism thrown in. The kingly rule was demonstrated in Jesus’s so-called ministry on earth, and much more besides with the outpouring of the Spirit, which was also a demonstration of his kingship, and the executive power of that kingship given to his followers.

Your response to my comments on the cross also misses the point. I do not deny that you have something to say about the cross. The point was that the whole weighting of the gospels is towards the cross, and not to the temple’s destruction, as the focal point of Jesus’s mission. To be sure, the perilous times ahead, and the momentous event of the temple’s destruction, play a part in the future envisaged and prophesied by Jesus. This was never in question. But as those events unrolled, in the record of Acts, the letters, and Revelation, the destruction of the temple gets hardly, if at all, a mention.

Maybe it would help if you didn’t place ‘theology’ in contrast with ‘narrative history’. Narrative history as you present it is highly theological, and this should not be misrepresented.

Wrath against Israel is a major theme in Acts, Paul, Hebrews and Revelation. The obvious paradigm for wrath against Israel, in addition to Jesus’ teaching, is the Old Testament one of devastation by a foreign power.

It was in that event, according to you, that the status of God’s people was transformed. The transformation, according to you, was through judgment.

Look, I don’t see how I can make it any clearer: “The destruction of the temple was an important part of the process, but not the whole story.” Transformation came about through a “sequence of events”—including Pentecost, including the preaching of the early church both in Judea and across the empire, including the war against Rome, including the suffering and martyrdom of many believers, including the eventual “conversion” of the empire.

I didn’t say that the destruction of the temple “triggers judgment on the Roman Empire”. I don’t know what that would mean. Rome is judged either because it persecuted God’s people (cf. 2 Thess.1-2) or because, in fulfilment of Old Testament hopes, YHWH means to put an end to pagan idolatry and rule the nations (cf. Acts 17:22-31).

The major kingdom action in the NT, according to you, was in the destruction of the temple, followed by the destruction of Roman pagan imperialism, and we should not expect the kind of ‘kingdom’ interventions which we see in the gospels (and Acts, I presume) today, since they pointed to that event/those events only.

Yes and no. I would say that the kingdom interventions that we see in the Gospels and Acts point primarily to the impending kingdom events of judgment and restoration. But 1) we live with the consequences of that transformation, which are manifold and dynamic; and 2) I see no reason why God should not intervene today in similar ways to give notice of future realities, not least the future reality of new creation.

I think that Jesus uses Daniel 7 to speak of the future vindication of a community of faithful Israel that suffers because under conditions of pagan repression many Jews have become unfaithful. This is not exactly the same as the argument of Daniel 7-12 because Jesus is talking about first century AD Israel and not second century BC Israel, but as a symbolic borrowing it makes pretty good sense.

The kingly rule was demonstrated in Jesus’s so-called ministry on earth, and much more besides with the outpouring of the Spirit, which was also a demonstration of his kingship, and the executive power of that kingship given to his followers.

None of this is excluded from my argument. It looks as though you are simply disagreeing for the sake of disagreeing.

The point was that the whole weighting of the gospels is towards the cross, and not to the temple’s destruction, as the focal point of Jesus’s mission.

You overstate your point. Very little of Jesus’ teaching is about his death. A great deal of it is about judgment and kingdom. The central issue in his trial is not whether his death will save Israel but whether he will eventually be vindicated as Israel’s king, as the Son of Man, seated at the right hand of Power, coming in glory, etc. The only historical framework given for that prophecy is the destruction of the temple and the events associated with it.

The more damaging aspects of my criticisms are largely overlooked in this response, namely:

- there is no mention of the destruction of the temple in AD 70 beyond the gospels, in Acts, letters or Revelation (not even Revelation 11, if you read it carefully)

- significant mismatches of Daniel 7-12 with the Mark 13 description as you would have it

- the weight of all four gospels as a narrative journey of Jesus to the cross, being given proportionately the greatest attention of the entire narrative (the kingdom teaching therefore having to be understood in the light of this event)

Although you say “The destruction of the temple was an important part of the process, but not the whole story”, most of what you then describe as being “part of the process” is relative to the destruction of the temple, or as events leading up to the destruction of the temple, and having that destruction always in view.

I didn’t say that the destruction of the temple “triggers judgment on the Roman Empire”

I’m surprised then that you have never corrected this assumption before, as I have reflected back to you on a number of occasions that you describe judgment on Rome as part of a covenant pattern - YHWH’s use of an invading nation to judge Israel, that nation then being judged in turn for the invasion.

I would say that the kingdom interventions that we see in the Gospels and Acts point primarily to the impending kingdom events of judgment and restoration.

It may be what you would say, but it isn’t what you have said. Your qualifications - “1) we live with the consequences of that transformation” leave those “consequences” ambivalently wide open to interpretation, but have never been described by you as a continuation of the ministry of Jesus, and “2) I see no reason why God should not intervene today in similar ways to give notice of future realities” overlooks the fact that these “interventions” have been happening throughout history, to the present day.

I think that Jesus uses Daniel 7 to speak of the future vindication of a community of faithful Israel that suffers because under conditions of pagan repression many Jews have become unfaithful. This is not exactly the same as the argument of Daniel 7-12 because Jesus is talking about first century AD Israel and not second century BC Israel, but as a symbolic borrowing it makes pretty good sense.

The differences between the way you describe God’s vindication of this community, and how Daniel described it, are great enough for it not to make pretty good sense.

None of this (miraculous kingdom manifestations in Jesus’s ministry) is excluded from my argument. It looks as though you are simply disagreeing for the sake of disagreeing.

This is just being obtuse. The supernatural character of Jesus’s ministry is a prime argument for the kingdom being expressed in him and through him, then through his disciples, and then continuously throughout history until today. Your argument is that the kingdom was a past event, relating solely to the temple judgment and judgment on pagan Rome (apart from perhaps 1 Corinthians 15:24).

Your final paragraph dismisses my point (the weighting of the gospel narratives towards the cross as the focal point) without acknowledging it. I think there is a reference to the temple’s destruction in Jesus’s remark about the kingdom at his trial, but the remark is also loaded with much else. When Jesus wanted to explain his death to its fullest extent, he did so with a Passover meal, which indicated not simply a deliverance like the Passover, but the very fulfilment of the Passover narrative, which as yet had been a story in search of a conclusion. In other words the fulfilment of Israel’s entire story was about to take place with the cross: an event in which the kingdom was demonstrated to its greatest extent.

“-there is no mention of the destruction of the temple in AD 70 beyond the gospels, in Acts, letters or Revelation (not even Revelation 11, if you read it carefully)”

Peter, just to clarify, what do you mean by saying that there is no mention of the destruction of the temple in Revelation? If you mean what you seem to be saying, I find it astounding. God’s judgment on Jerusalem and the temple (and ultimately on Rome and the pagan world), using language and imagery that can hardly refer to anything other than the conflagration in AD 70, seem to be intricately woven into the entirety of Revelation.

As for the rest of the NT, it is hardly surprising that there are few mentions of the destruction of the temple. It had not yet happened when most of it was written. What sort of references would you expect?

And when you reply to this comment by Andrew…

I think that Jesus uses Daniel 7 to speak of the future vindication of a community of faithful Israel that suffers because under conditions of pagan repression many Jews have become unfaithful. This is not exactly the same as the argument of Daniel 7-12 because Jesus is talking about first century AD Israel and not second century BC Israel, but as a symbolic borrowing it makes pretty good sense.

…with this comment of your own…

- significant mismatches of Daniel 7-12 with the Mark 13 description as you would have it

Surely you see that you are completely missing his point?

As a scholar of Revelation, I think I need to comment that there is no consensus that the destruction of Jerusalem is a significant theme in the book. Commentators are equally divided about Rev 11, some saying it ‘proves’ Jerusalem has fallen, others that it ‘proves’ it hasn’t. ‘Preterists’ who believe that Jerusalem is Babylon need to rely on the idea that Jerusalem is the ‘great city’ to which all the trade of the world is brought, which I think is implausible.

It also seems odd to me to say that ‘ It [the fall of Jerusalem] had not yet happened when most of it [the NT] was written.’ I think it almost certain that Matthew, Luke-Acts and John were all post-70. Many would think Hebrews was, and I would go for a 90s date for Revelation. That’s 126 of the 260 chapters of the NT, or 4,700 of the 7,900 verses.

Nice article, I agree the telescoping is an apologist’s invention.but I disagree that the final judgment is unrelated to all the gospel and epistle talk of the soon return of the son of man or the soon return of The Lord.

For mine… I think it makes absolute perfect sense to view ‘the end-of-the-world’ and ‘the parousia’ as coupled together as the self-same event. The Temple and all that came attached with it in terms of Israel’s life was indeed their “entire world” – it was this world that was coming down, the end of the Mosaic age.

God’s various coming in judgement as meted out in the OT [Isa 13:9-13; Ezek 32:7-8 et al] were in like global and cosmic language, but none of it spelt the end of terra firma i.e., the time-space universe. Likewise I see the ‘new creation’ of the NT in such resplendent cosmic language relative to the covenant renewal wrought by Christ, and thus “if any man be in Christ he is a new creation”, that is, he is ‘new Israel’ – God’s servant to the world beyond.

This seems really odd to me…as you appear to be completely neglecting the significance of the NT’s ‘partially realised’ eschatology, which any introduction eg to Paul will spell out as a basic.

I do find it fascinating the way that, mention eschatology, and all sorts of schemes are brought up…without any support in the texts themselves. What happened to exegesis?!

Hi Ian, what I’m pointing to is this… “the coming of the Lord” as demonstrated in the OT, as per the passages I referenced, gives us the pattern as to what “the coming of the Lord” looks like, and thus would be in Jesus’ NT generation – it was national judgement. And so it was in NT times at the hands of the ravaging Roman armies of AD. 66-70, just as Jesus prophesied etc.

As to “partially realised eschatology” – again this is what was transpiring in Jesus’ “this generation” timeframe. “Eschatology” per se is ONLY applicable to the old covenant age, dare I say “world”. THIS was the age/world that Paul & Co said was “passing away” [2Cor 3:11; Heb 8:13; 1Jn 2:8] as covenant renewal took its foothold and grew; the new covenant ‘has no end’ i.e., it has no eschatology.

Nice try, Andrew, but i think this analysis fails.

On a textual level, Jesus is talking about the Son of Man coming, and there is nothing in the text that would indicate that he abruptly switched topics to the destruction of the temple.

On a larger critique, the discussion is about the ushering in of the Kingdom of God, and Jesus and his followers most certainly did not conflate that with the destruction of the temple. The kingdom was the earthly kingdom ruled by the Messiah, and apparently triggered by the coming of the Son of Man. Whatever exacrly that meant, it had something about the coming to earth by a heavenly being, and not the temple destruction.

As much as I like your approach, any big-picture analysis that tries to retain some sort of inspired framework has a difficult time harmonizing all of the details of all the patchwork collection of views held within the Bible. It must be tempting to come up with a theory that explains everything, but to do so you have to force square pegs into round holes.

The Occam’s Razor approach says this was an original tradition that demonstrates the apocalytptic teachings of Jesus. He was an apocalyptic prophet at a time of apocalyptic fervor. He thought the world would “end” soon, just as Paul and the other disciples did. Paul: “Don’t get married. The end is coming.” Peter: “The end is near.”

That’s why when the world didn’t end, it created a crisis. Paul became a pariah and was imprisoned alone without supporters. The author of 2 Peter has to answer all the scoffers who asked why the world didn’t end.

The kingdom was the earthly kingdom ruled by the Messiah, and apparently triggered by the coming of the Son of Man. Whatever exactly that meant, it had something about the coming to earth by a heavenly being, and not the temple destruction.

Well, that rather depends how we read the symbolic language of the parousia. Mark 13:26 is presumably Jesus’ extension of the symbolic drama of Daniel 7:13-27: the Son of Man who “comes on the clouds of heaven” to receive kingdom, dominion and glory from the Ancient of Days then “comes on the clouds of heaven” with power and glory perhaps to judge Israel but certainly to gather and vindicate his persecuted followers. Arguably Jesus does not mean this any more literally than Daniel meant his vision in the night to be taken literally. It is prophetic language intended to give meaning to future events.

…any big-picture analysis that tries to retain some sort of inspired framework has a difficult time harmonizing all of the details of all the patchwork collection of views held within the Bible. It must be tempting to come up with a theory that explains everything, but to do so you have to force square pegs into round holes.

This may be true, but it’s difficult to assess the point without considering particular texts. But I would also say that a “historical” reading of biblical prophecy and apocalyptic has to allow for a certain amount of untidiness and approximation in the construction of visions of the future. What I would stress is the coherence generated by the fact that Jesus and his followers had to deal with a particular historical context, a particular historical outlook. The concrete political-religious reality they faced must give some focus to the inherently kaleidoscopic material that they were working with.

He thought the world would “end” soon, just as Paul and the other disciples did. Paul: “Don’t get married. The end is coming.” Peter: “The end is near.”

I just don’t buy this argument. I don’t think Jesus says anything that suggests he believed that the world was about to end. Israel’s world was about to end, certainly, but he has no more to say about the end of the world than the Old Testament. Paul counsels against marriage because he believes that they will face disruption and suffering—persecution. He expects a “day of fire” to come that will test the churches—only those constructed from non-flammable materials will survive into the world to come.

Andrew,

Unless I am totally lost as to what you have been saying in the time that I have read your posts, you believe that Jesus ascended into heaven, right?

Then why in the world do you think it is only symbolic when it says he will return in the clouds? Acts 1:11 draws a direct parallel between the two. If one if literal, we have to accept the other as literal too. “….and said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into heaven? This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.”

©

Luke expresses the view at a number of points that at the time of the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple people will “see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory” (Lk. 21:27). The angels in Acts 1:11 reaffirm this belief. If for Jesus the coming of the Son of Man was symbolic, then it was symbolic for the angels: the physical ascension in a cloud prefigured the symbolic fulfilment of Jesus’ prophecy. If you want to maintain that the angels believed Jesus would literally return, then I think you have to accept that Jesus was wrong, because he did not literally return at the time of the destruction of the temple. It seems to me far more tolerable, for several reasons, that understand Jesus to have used the naturally symbolic language of prophecy to convey the profound theological meaning of future events.

If you believe that part of that prophecy was fulfilled with the destruction of the temple and that part of it refers to a future time–which is how a lot of people understand it, your objection doesn’t hold up.

Hi Andrew, If we were to discuss matters in-depth, and argue your preterist-like view vs. the view that Jesus and/or many NT writers held failed eschatological expectations (per Dunn, Allison, Ehrman and others), I’d probably begin by asking:

1) Do you agree that a paradigm did exist in second Temple Judaism that soon the whole earth would literally be judged in a final judgment? (The Community Rule and many other DSS writings anticipate that they are living in the “last days” and that within a “generation” a final battle will take place centered round Jerusalem between sons of light and darkness, leaving the world filled with light alone.) http://religiousstudies.uncc.edu/people/jtabor/deadmessiahs.html

2) Can’t such a paradigm explain John the Baptist’s message as well as that of early Christians when it comes to a belief in a soon coming final judgment? See “Parallels Between A New Dead Sea Scroll Fragment (4Q521) and the Early New Testament Gospel Tradition” http://religiousstudies.uncc.edu/people/jtabor/4q521.html

3) Can soon “coming of the Lord” passages all be explained as related to the destruction of the Temple/Jerualem? The vast majority of such passages do not mention the destruction of the Temple/Jerusalem, but do anticipate a worldwide judgment, including for people living far from Jerusalem (“be patient until he comes”). Some NT Letters anticipate being caught up into the air with the Lord when “he comes.” To try and interpret all such passages as related to the Jerusalem Temple seems more a work of ingenuity than exegesis. See all of these passages for instance: http://religiousstudies.uncc.edu/people/jtabor/apocalyptic.htmlor these http://www.infidels.org/kiosk/article86.html

4) How does your view attempts found in later NT writing to explain away the “delay of the parousia?” For instance, the Gospel of Luke is the first to insert a “time of the Gentiles,” and, “Age of the Spirit,” between the destruction of the Temple and the coming of the Son of Man. The alleged “Letters of Peter” add further excuses for such a delay.

5) On a side note, I do not think the alleged prediction put into Jesus’ mouth of the temple being destroyed proves anything about the Bible’s truth. Others made predictions of destruction prior to Jerusalem’s destruction, which Josephus relates, namely that the walls would fall down around Jerusalem, and another predicted that the city would be destroyed. And the Roman armies were crushing every town/city in their path on the way toward Jerusalem. So it’s destruction would be assumed by any first century author writing even a little before 70 AD.

6) Even if one were to conclude that there was some merit in the “failed apocalyptic prediction” point of view, and conclude that Mark 13 contained the authentic words of the historical Jesus, there are still some ingenious defenses of a moderate view of Scipture that one might resort to, instead of fighting to retain a preteristic point of view, such as those in the book, In God’s Time http://www.ingodstime.com/, and in this online piece by a BIOLA student, http://www.apologeticsinthechurch.com/58/post/2012/07/jesus-apocalyptic-… Dunn of course remains a Christian as well.

Well, guys, this seems to have turned into a very unhelpful exchange, and I’m not quite sure why.

I’ve just read read Andrew’s original post. As far as I can see, it is entirely exegetical, and Andrew is making particular points about Mark 13, in dialogue with Mounce. I would agree with all his comments, and I’m not clear that anything anyone has had it by way of comment contradicts this.

In this area, as in many others in Biblical theology, it seems to me to be vital that we start with the text and proper exegesis of that text, and only then build our theological landscape.

(Perhaps the final note has led people astray, referring to the other post.)

By the way, I think my observation about being ‘at the gates’ has remained unanswered. This would be really odd language to use about the coming of the son of man on the clouds.

Ye–read it. Interesting. Your last suggestion really makes the statement really metaphorical, which is not unlikely.

If the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple would “vindicate Jesus’ claim to kingship”, then is there any evidence that Jews noticed his supposed vindication? The Olivet Discourse speaks, “For as the lightning cometh out of the east, and shineth even unto the west; so shall also the coming of the Son of man be”, and “all the tribes of the earth mourn, and they shall see the Son of man coming”. Even if we imagine that this wasn’t supposed to be a bodily return to earth, it still says that people would witness it right? Where is the evidence that any Jews, or even Christians, noticed the “Son of man coming”? The church fathers that I’m aware of were still waiting for future fulfillment. Jesus suggests that people couldn’t miss the “coming”, and yet the early church managed to miss it?

Anyway, obviously the Olivet Discourse does mention the destruction of the temple, but there is also evidence of a worldwide concern, e.g.: “Then shall they deliver you up to be afflicted, and shall kill you: and ye shall be hated of all nations for my name’s sake” “And this gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in all the world for a witness unto all nations; and then shall the end come.”

And the material that connects with the “Son of man coming” doesn’t actually seem to deal with a judgement of a kind where a city is destroyed. Rather, it speaks of a judgement where individuals would be rewarded or punished, and a judgement on a worldwide scale. See: Matt. 25:31-46, Matt. 19:28-30, Matt. 13:36-43, Matt. 16:27-28.

I know preterists like to bring up Old Testament allusions, so here is an interesting one: the Olivet Discourse and a related text in Matt. 13 appear to allude to a resurrection, or the time of a resurrection: “For then shall be great tribulation, such as was not since the beginning of the world to this time, no, nor ever shall be” “Then shall the righteous shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father” Compare with Daniel 12:

[1] And at that time shall Michael stand up, the great prince which standeth for the children of thy people: and there shall be a time of trouble, such as never was since there was a nation even to that same time: and at that time thy people shall be delivered, every one that shall be found written in the book. [2] And many of them that sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt. [3] And they that be wise shall shine as the brightness of the firmament; and they that turn many to righteousness as the stars for ever and ever.

What resurrection happened in the first century along with the “coming of the Son of man”? Daniel 12 seems to be the text that scholars are most confident does speak of bodily resurrection in the Old Testament.

Also, look at the parallels between Matt. 24 and 1 Thess. 4/5–

1. Christ returns from heaven [may be question-begging to express in that way, but they both have a “coming” of some sort] (1 Thess. 4:16, Matt. 24:30).

2. Accompanied by angels (1 Thess. 4:16, Matt 24:31).

3. With a trumpet of God (1 Thess. 4:16, 24:31).

4. Believers gathered to Christ (1 Thess. 4:17, Matt. 24:31, 40-41)

5. In clouds (1 Thess. 4:17, Matt 24:30).

6. Time unknown (1 Thess. 5:1-2, Matt. 24:36).

7. Coming like a thief (1 Thess. 5:2,4, Matt. 24:43).

8. Unbelievers unaware of impending judgment (1 Thess. 5:3, Matt. 24:37-39).

9. Judgment comes as pain upon an expectant mother (1 Thess. 5:3, Matt. 24:8).

10. Believers not deceived (1 Thess. 5:4-5, Matt. 24:43).

11. Believers to be watchful (1 Thess. 5:6, Matt. 24:37-39).

12. Warning against drunkenness (1 Thess. 5:7, Matt. 24:49).

I take that as strong evidence that they are speaking of the same event, and it’s difficult to take 1 Thess. 4/5 as anything other than a literal bodily return of Jesus to earth. So therefore, Matt. 24 would seem to be speaking of a literal bodily return of Jesus to earth.

Although I said in an earlier comment that I didn’t disagree that Mark 13 was a prophecy about the destruction of the temple (and therefore not about a yet-to-occur return of Jesus), I’d like to suggest some reasons to the contrary, and to look more carefully at the critique of Mounce’s on-line article in Andrew’s post.

Mounce uses Matthew’s twofold question of the disciples (Matthew 24:3) to interpret the more limited twofold question of Mark. Taken by itself, Mark’s question (Mark 13:4) refers to nothing more than the destruction of the temple. I suppose the question then might be: why not use Mark’s more limited question to define the meaning of Matthew’s question? Especially as Luke also seems to imply no more than the limited question in Luke 21:6. These issues don’t have a huge bearing on things for me at this stage. Let’s take Mark 13 as a prophecy introduced by questions about the destruction of the temple.

Mounce then divides the whole passage into an alternating ABAB stucture, where A describes events preceding the temple’s destruction - Mark 13:5-23 (tumultuous events and the appearance of false Christs), Mark 13:28-30; and B describes an as yet unfulfilled return of Christ - Mark 13:24-27, Mark 13:32-37.

Mounce says of this ABAB pattern, in a throw-away comment, which might cast light on the interpretation if substantiated: “Typical jumping around of the apocalyptic genre”.

For Mounce, there is a serious problem if the pronoun presumed by the verb “engus estin (“is near”)” in Mark 13:29 is “he”. Mark 13:28-30 was supposed to be events falling into the A category, describing the destruction of the temple. “It” would be more appropriate than “he” because Jesus should not be coming personally into the picture here; that is reserved for his future coming. The serious problem (for Mounce) is resolved by substituting the impersonal “it” for “he” to introduce the verb, “it” meaning “the destruction of the temple”, which is presumed by the introductory questions of Mark 13:4 and the preceding tumultuous events of Mark 13:5-23.

I’m not sure this is such a serious problem for the ABAB understanding of the whole passage - which I basically support, but not with some qualifications. “He is near” then means he is near as the one fulfilling the destruction of the temple in judgment, which he himself had enacted in overturning the moneychangers’ tables, and as he also describes in Luke 21:22. He is also near to his followers, to reassure them of his nearness to them in protection and comfort at a time when this might have been doubted. “He is near” does not have to refer to a future return.

So why go for an ABAB pattern anyway - apart from having some theological presuppositions which require it?

Before addressing Andrew’s points more carefully, I’d like to make one or two observations. Mark 13 (and Matthew 24/Luke21) is sometimes described as a “Mini Apocalypse”. This has then been disputed, and it is said to be not apocalypse, but prophecy. Actually, Mark 13 is both, and has features of both. Mark 13:5-23 is starightforward descriptive prophecy, though we might say it describes ‘apocalyptic’ events. It is not written in the style of apocalypse however. This changes in Mark 13:24-27, when the language moves from prophetic description to apocalyptic prophecy. We are no longer in the realm of natural description, but highly figurative and symbolic language.

Gustavo Martin contributed a very interesting item on this shift of language in an earlier post, based on what he called ‘register analysis’. Simply put, this was referring to the same sudden shift of language. There was some discussion about whether this actually supported a case for separating out the events described into imminent and distant future periods, but there was no discussion about why the sudden shift from one type of description to another.

There might be different arguments about the reasons for this shift of language, but the significance of the change from natural description to highly figurative description merits some reflection - especially where the figurative language begins to suggest a wider geographic and temporal context, as in Mark 13:27.

Anothe reason for considering a temporal and geographic shift within the overall prophecy is that in Matthew, the parables following the same prophecy make much better sense when understood within a broader temporal and geographic context of Jesus’s ‘coming’ (or literal, physical return), than within a limited, Judean, 1st century setting.

To come then to Andrew’s specific points.

In Matthew, it is true, the disciples distinguish between the destruction of the temple and the parousia of Jesus at the close of the age (Matt. 24:3). But Matthew emphatically connects the vision of the Son of Man coming on the clouds with the Roman invasion of Judea: “Immediately after the tribulation of those days…” (Matt. 24:29)

Andrew assumes that the Son of Man vision relates exclusively to the Roman invasion of Judea and events immediately surrounding it. The “abomination of desolation” prophecy of Daniel is certainly used to refer to Roman desecration of the temple (it could also have been Zealot desecration, according to the accounts of Josephus). But these are parts of Daniel (Daniel 9:27, 11:31 and 12:11) not in themselves directly connected with the Son of Man vision, while the Son of Man vision is distinctly described in 7:13. It’s true that 7:13 has the same context of the suffering of God’s people, and their eventual vindication, but the parts of the prophecies connect in different ways, as I will describe.

Daniel’s Son of Man vision, as echoed in Mark’s prophecy, has significant disjunction with 1st century events, making it not a wholly appropriate template for the fulfilment of Jesus’s ministry in those events, at least, not in the sense of fulfilled prophecy, or prophecy associated with that time and place. Daniels’ Son of Man prophecy heralded the vindication of God’s suffering people. Jesus heralded the suffering of God’s people,the imminent destruction of Jerusalem and the temple, and then the gathering of God’s people worldwide. Daniel’s prophecy heralded the overthrow of pagan oppression, Jesus heralds the triumph of Rome. The comparisons are disconnected, and call for a less ‘joined up’ interpretation of the way Jesus is making the comparisons.

On the other hand, Jesus heralds the “son of man coming in clouds with great power and glory”, which “men will see”. This echoes in some ways his words in Matthew 26:64 to the Sanhedrin, and while this does seem to include a veiled reference to the temple, the destruction of which has been the subject of an accusation against him, it seems also to be breaking out of a purely limited prediction of this kind. If “see” here means natural vision, the same should be said of “see” in Matthew 24:30/Mark 13:26. We would be led to expect from the previous part of the discourse in Mark 13 a physical ‘seeing’ of Jesus in person - just like the false prophets. Execpt that there would be no possibility of deception when Jesus was seen; it would be “as the lightning flashes across the sky from est to west”, according to Matthew 24.

Likewise, and to be balanced, while Matthew 16:27 undoubtedly places a coming of the Son of Man and kingdom event within the historically limited context of the disciples’ lifetime, all this need mean is that historically, there is a continuum between one expression of the kingsom and another. The destruction of the temlpe was a kingdmo event. There were, and will be many others. The supreme kingdom event will be the return of the King. I’m doubtful if the destruction of the temple alone adequately fulfils the force of this prediction.

Power and glory are appropriately linked, even here, to the acts of power demonstrated through the outpouring of the Spirit, which was an even greater ‘kingdom’ manifestation because it spoke of the presence and power of God restored, but not within the Jerusalem temple. But even the Spirit’s demonstrations of power and glory were not the end in themselves, but precursors to the returning King.

3. We don’t find the sort of “prophetic telescoping” in the Old Testament that would provide a plausible precedent for Mounce’s interpretation of Jesus’ teaching here. Prophetic telescoping is an invention of Christian exegetes.

I simply think this is wrong. Andrew has to prove that Daniel 7:13, for instance, had a fulfilment in OT times. Otherwise it was waiting for a fulfilment in much later times. There may have been foreshadowings of its fulfilment - in the return from exile in Babylon, for instance, but the triumph implied in the wording of Daniel 7:13-14 and Daniel 7:27 don’t match up with anything described in post-exilic Israel. Prophecy has to be fulfilled for it to be prophecy. Does anybody anywhere think that Daniel 7:13 has an OT fulfilment? I ssuch a fulfilmetn implied anywhere by the OT itself? So was AD 70 the prophetic fulfilment? If it was, this is a prophetic telescoping of the kind that Andrew rejects, but Andrew is not saying this. There has to be some fulfilment of Daniel 7:13 in the OT for it to make sense of his statement above, and there is none.

I think it’s also true that there is prophetic telescoping in other places in the OT, about which there was discussion a long time ago in a different place.

4. Mounce has to give a much better explanation of why the discourse is constructed in this chronologically chaotic fashion. The literary signals all work against it, and it removes the climax from the detailed and clearly important account of the tribulation of the coming years. Is it really plausible to argue that Mark’s readers would not have read it as a single, coherent apocalyptic narrative?

The discourse is not chronologically chaotic if taken according to Mounce’s interpretation, but it is disjoined. But it is wrong to say “The literary signals all work against it”; the literary signals do support an alternating chronological pattern. Apocalyptic was designed to create mystery and provoke questions; that’s exactly what happens when Jesus reverts to that literary style within Mark 13.

5. The imagery of the Son of Man coming in clouds with great power and glory points to the expectation that at a time of national crisis for Israel a persecuted individual or community would be vindicated and given authority to rule. Jesus will make this point to Caiaphas: “you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of Power, and coming with the clouds of heaven” (Mk. 14:62).

I’ve already looked at this above. The following statement: “The destruction of the temple provides exactly the right historical context for the fulfilment of such an expectation” is overstated, in my opinion.

The final point to make, briefly, is that this is not a matter of taking away from traditional dogma. It is about recovering narrative-historical perspective. It is the same as with the Jesus is Lord / Jesus is God debate. Even if the orthodox affirmation is “correct” in some way, it too often diverts attention from the much more important and fundamental argument that the New Testament is attempting to put forward.

This is perhaps the heart of the issue. It’s as if there are only two positions, an undistorted, a-theological narrative historical interpretation, or a distorted theologically prejudiced position. I actually found Mounce’s on-line item full of theological assumptions which need questioning, but that does not mean that the deity of Jesus or his return/second coming as understood from Mark 13 (or Matthew 24/Luke 21) are later theological readings imposed on the narrative, and not within the narrative itself. On the contrary, they are present within the narrative, and emerge from it as integral and necessary parts of the narrative - even before we have got onto their ‘theological’ significance.

Andrew,

I think these words that you quoted from Dr. Mounce is very telling.

“one of the great conundrums in the gospels”

“one” of the great conundrums! Meaning there are many. Of course the only reason there are many, like this one, is because of the current theology of the Church is busy getting in the way of what the texts state, just as this recent blog post of yours demonstrates.

Thanks for you input.

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