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Who or what will see the Son of Man coming in clouds? And where?

But in those days, after that tribulation, the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will be falling from heaven, and the powers in the heavens will be shaken; and then they will see the Son of man coming in clouds with much power and glory.

According to Mark’s Gospel, Jesus tells his disciples that, as the apocalyptic storyline reaches its climax and the lights start going out over Jerusalem, “they” will see the Son of man coming in clouds (Mk. 13:24-26). But who—or what—are “they”? In A Peaceable Hope: Contesting Violent Eschatology in New Testament Narratives David Neville offers an interesting line of interpretation that has not often been considered.

Who or what will see?

The usual assumption is that “they will see” (opsontai) is an “impersonal plural”, meaning “people will see”, more or less equivalent to the passive: “the Son of man will be seen”. Alternatively—and more specifically—the reference could be to the “false messiahs and false prophets” who will attempt to lead astray the elect in 13:22, or it may anticipate ‘Jesus’ reply to Caiaphas and those who gathered to find evidence against him (Mk. 14:62): “you will see… the ‘son of man’”.1 Morna Hooker thinks that the reference is to the elect who have survived the tribulation, but we might then have expected “you will see” (cf. 13:29).2 In any case, the implication is that people on earth will see the Son of man coming to earth. Neville cites Eddie Adams to this effect:

Although the referent of ‘they will see’ is not made explicit, it does suggest an earthly vantage point, and thus a descent to earth, not an ascent to heaven.

He maintains, however, that the “obvious referent” of “they will see” is the “constellation of heavenly powers”, whose shaking accompanies the cosmic collapse: the powers will be shake, and then they will see….

The only reason for not accepting these heavenly powers as those who will see the Son of humanity’s coming in clouds is ideological, not grammatical. Most people today do not think of there being animate entities in the heavens or, if we do, we hardly imagine them to possess powers of perception. But Mark inhabited a different world with a different cosmology, and in his world the heavens were populated with animate powers. (68)

(Actually, many people today do think that there are unidentified “animate entities” in the heavens, with unearthly powers of perception… but that’s another story.)

If it is the powers in the heavens which see the “coming” of the Son of man, it can then be argued that this is not a coming to earth but, as in Daniel 7:13, a coming to the throne of God in heaven. The Son of man would then send out the angels from heaven to gather the elect.

One immediate argument against this is that Matthew and Luke more or less resolve the grammatical ambiguity in favour of people on earth:

Then will appear in heaven the sign of the Son of Man, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. (Matt. 24:30)

…people fainting with fear and with foreboding of what is coming on the world. For the powers of the heavens will be shaken. And then they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory. (Lk. 21:26–27)

This observation carries little weight for Neville because his general thesis is that Matthew (in particular) has added a retribution theme that is not found in Mark’s eschatology. Mark’s Jesus is much more “peaceable” than Matthew’s.

Perhaps more pertinent, however, is the fact that this is not the first indeterminate third person verb in Jesus’ apocalyptic discourse. Earlier we had: “they will deliver you over to councils”, “when they bring you to trial” (13:9, 11). This “they” is to be identified with those people who will turn against family members:

…brother will deliver brother over to death, and the father his child, and children will rise against parents and have them put to death. And you will be hated by all for my name’s sake. But the one who endures to the end will be saved. (Mk. 13:12–13)

The topos of familial conflict at a time of eschatological crisis for Israel is taken from Micah:

…the son treats the father with contempt, the daughter rises up against her mother, the daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; a man’s enemies are the men of his own house. But as for me, I will look to the LORD; I will wait for the God of my salvation; my God will hear me. (Mic. 7:5–7)

In this context, “they” are clearly the unrighteous and stiff-necked in Israel, from whom the disciples will eventually be saved if they endure to the end of the imminent period of tribulation. They are some way back in the narrative, but it makes very good sense to suppose that the “they” who will see the vindication of the Son of man are the “they” who persecuted his followers—better sense, I think, in the context of the whole discourse, than making heavenly powers the witnesses of this event. Evans’ suggestion that Caiaphas and his colleagues are in view seems less likely but is consistent with this understanding.

And where?

Neville’s suggestion, however, that Mark describes a coming to the throne of God rather than a coming to earth is worth considering a little further.

The first point I would make is that the judgment scene in Daniel 7 takes place on earth. Wheeled thrones have to be set in place precisely because the court is established on earth and not in heaven (7:9). God has come to judge earthly kingdoms: on the one hand, the ferocious empire represented by the fourth beast is destroyed; on the other, it is the “people of the saints of the Most High” who are brought to the throne of God to be vindicated and given power and authority to rule over the nations.

The beastly empire does not feature in Jesus’ account—he does not make use of the full narrative potential of Daniel’s vision; and he identifies himself with the Son of man figure who embodies the fate of the suffering saints of the Most High. Jesus does not press the political dimension of Daniel’s vision because his focus is initially on his own vindication, as the one raised to the right hand of the Father. So this coming of the Son of man could be taking place in heaven.

The real problem for Neville’s argument, however, is that Jesus speaks of the Son of man coming with much power and glory. Authority, glory and kingdom are given to the Son of man when he comes in the first instance to the throne of God (Dan. 7:14 LXX)—he doesn’t come in possession of them. So it appears that in Mark 13:26 Son of man comes with the power and glory that he has already received from God, and on the strength of that authority to judge and rule he will deliver his followers from the persecutors described in Mark 13:9-14.

That strongly suggests a descent motif: Jesus as the Son of man who has received glory and power will come eventually to deliver his followers from their enemies—to include them in the narrative of his own suffering and vindication. But the narrative is centred on the crisis of first century Israel. It is those who oppose the disciples in the period of turmoil leading up to the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple who will “see” the fulfilment of Jesus’ prophecy of vindication.

  • 1. C.A. Evans, Mark 8:27–16:20 (1989), 329.
  • 2. M.D. Hooker, The Gospel According to St Mark, 319.
Image of A Peaceable Hope: Contesting Violent Eschatology in New Testament Narratives

On Amazon (US):

David J Neville
Baker Academic (2013), Paperback, 288 pages, $28.00
Image of The Coming of the Son of Man: New Testament Eschatology for an Emerging Church

On Amazon (US):

Andrew Perriman
Wipf & Stock Pub (2012), Paperback, 282 pages, $33.00

Comments

Andrew,

As I started reading and got about a 1/3 of the way down, I must admit you started to worry me. I thought you were going to completely throw out your historical narrative. Good thing I kept reading. :) Once I read,

In this context, “they” are clearly the unrighteous and stiff-necked in Israel

I felt a whole lot better.

Concerning the “powers in the heavens” seeing the coming of Son of Man.

I think this is true too. The problem is, again, with what one thinks heaven refers to in the passage. What seems to be missing is the Heaven and Earth references are not about the physical earth and some place where God supposedly exist. Heaven and Earth are covenant references; Israel’s covenant world. Earth refers to the people of Israel. Heaven refers to the governmental structure/system. Under the Old Covenant the Law system represented heaven. This system was represented/embodied if you will by the temple. Josephus even refers to the inner court, where “God” resided as heaven and the outer court where the Jew could enter as the earth. He even goes on to refer to the gentile court as the “sea”. Hebrews 12 makes reference to the shaking of this earth and heaven. The first shaking of the earth was a passed judgment on Israel (the people), but notice the heavens were not shaken. Israel remained under their law system/old covenant. In AD 70 God was going to not only shake the earth, but heaven too; meaning a whole new system, both the heaven and earth. The writer even informs us the things that can be shaken are things that were created. This is what is being referenced in Rev. 21 too. The destruction of the first heaven and earth, the old covenant “world”, and the creation of a new covenant “world”, a new heaven and earth. Notice there is no more sea. The separation between Jew and Gentile does not exist in the new world.

So, the “powers” in the heavens is a reference to the unrighteous stiff-necked rulers in Israel who were to be shaken with the heavens. This also maintains your concerns about it not being “ a coming to earth but, as in Daniel 7:13, a coming to the throne of God in heaven”.

I know I’ve suggested the book Beyond Creation Science to you before, but I can’t help but refer it to you again.

I would also highly recommend Brian Godawa’s articles over at BioLogos too.

http://biologos.org/blog/series/the-collapsing-universe-in-the-bible

http://biologos.org/blog/series/godawa-cosmic-geography

Rich, a few things…

I don’t think you’ve established the identification of the Law/government with heaven—we certainly don’t get that from Josephus. Nor does it appear to be established in the numerous Old Testament passages that speak of the shaken god trembling of the heavens. Can you expand on this point?

If anything, it is the shaking of the earth in Hebrews 12:26 that is associated with the old covenant (cf. Ex. 19:18; Hag. 2:6).

I agree, though, that Hebrews 12:26-27 is not a description of literal cosmic destruction.

There is no “destruction” of the old earth and heaven in Revelation 20-21. They merely flee away (20:11), which is one reason why I think that John is not here speaking of the sort of historical event that is elsewhere spoken of in the idiom of cosmic disaster—and why I don’t think Godawa’s argument helps your case.

The argument about there being no more sea doesn’t make sense to me. Yes, Gentiles are included in the people of God. But not all Gentiles. If the sea is meant to represent those outside the covenant, which is dubious anyway, then it ought still to exist in the new covenant order.

I don’t know if Rich didn’t see your reply, and I would like to see him reply to your specific questions about whether there is any OT precident for understanding heavens and earth as non-cosmic terms relating to the covenant itself. I do think Joseph’s two dreams about his family being represented by the sun moon and stars (heavens) and sheaves of grain (earth), and Abraham’s decedents being described as like the stars of the sky (heaven) and sand of the shore (earth) are subtle texts pointing that way. Also Isaiah’s use of falling stars representing fallen leaders, and Daniel’s use of the heavenly host to represent the leaders of Israel in Dan. 8. In Dueteronomy 30-32 Moses calls on the heavens and earth as witness in one breath and in the next calls on Israel as witnesses as if there was a connection between the two.

Following Walton’s work on Genesis 1 being functional not material creation, and the new research into Sumerian and Akkadian creation epics, really all converge into this new but ancient understanding of heavens and earth being cosmic terms to represent people and covenants and the leaders of a people.

Anyway, regarding your question about there being no more sea in Rev 21, might it be seen as in contrast to the old covenant system where the Gentiles could approach God towards the Temple but from a distance compared to the Israelites, but under the New Covenant there is no dividing wall between Jew and Gentile (Eph 2) but one new man from the former two.

Thanks for all your posts, despite some of my disagreements I love reading them all and appreciate the work you do. The hermenuetic you are advancing is badly needed in the Evangelical church at large and that to me is the more pressing need right now.

The son of Man is never going to appear any where for he does not exist except in the corrupted English text. Jesus is the Son of Adam the only one who will be appearing the same way he left.

All the Adams have been removed from the biblical text, 6000 times and you will never understand the New Testament until they are restored in the Old Testament and the New Testament. Jesus came as the one of Adam and he will return as the one of Adam being the son of God.

Jesus came only for the divorce wife of Jeremiah 3 and no one else. He came to die willingly for the right to remarry her and buy back the wife and the children of her from the one who owned the ones of Adam.

Read about the wife and the children of her and then you will understand he came only for the ethnee and no one else. The gentiles have been rejected and unwanted from the foundation of the world. No record of them being mentioned as part of the family of God anywhere. Only the evil gentile church saves gentiles and makes christians of them.

http://tinyurl.com/y874saqg

http://tinyurl.com/yd5caow3

Jerry Collins

There are only two species of people in the biblical text the seed of Adam and athe seed of Satan Gen 3:15 The gentiles were the beast man who were on the ark along with the seed of Adam the family of Noah, See genis 6 in the Hebrew text

Jesus came only for the seed of Adam as he was also one of them. He as the near kinsman redeemer had to be the one of Adam to be able to rescue the ones of Adam. Jesus came to redeem the wife Isa 50 after he died and bought back the wife he says in Isa 54 Oh barren wife you have more children than the married wife. Ezek 24

He had to die willingly for the right to remarry the divorced wife of Jeremiah 3 he came to the children of the divorce wife in Isa 50 telling them what he would do.

In the new Testament he came as the one of Adam for those of Adam to have their transgressions removed. He send his leaners for the ethnee of Matthew 6:32 in the greek letter text being the children of God not the evil gentiles as the English says. He only dispatched his learners to the ethnee in Matthew 28:19, same word as matthew 6:32.

John 11 says he died only for those scattered and the only ones scattered were the children of the wife Aholah of Ezekiel 24

In hebrews n8:8 the new covenant is given only to the house of Judah and the house of Israel

In Joel 2 the out pouring is only to the whole house of Israel and no one else.

Revelation 21 God comes down and tabernacles with the ones being the ones made in the image and likeness of God being the one Adam James 3:9 and the ones are the ethnee being the ones of Adam the sons of God only.

http://tinyurl.com/y874saqg

http://tinyurl.com/yd5caow3

Jerry Collins

There are two things that do not exst in the Greek Letter text and that is the Son of man and the church. Both are the corruption of the corrupt English text.

The church was created for the evil gentiles, the ones rejected and unwanted from the foundation of the world. No record ever found of one being converted from being the seed of Satan to that of the seed of Adam. The evil church of the gentiles is in the process of saving all gentiles from their sins and all of them are the rejected trash and wild beast in the Old Testament.

The son of Man was another creation of the evil gentile translators for with their one-man theory they remove all the adams from both the old and new Testament with that they created the Son of Man who does not exist. Jesus is the son of anthroopoon and the meaning for the word is given in James 3:9.

Jesus came to save the family of him all at one time in one transaction for on the one family of Adam being the Hebrews for all others were rejected and unwanted from the foundation of the earth.

see my web page for all the details

http://tinyurl.com/y874saqg

http://tinyurl.com/yd5caow3

Jerry Collins