2 Thess 2:3-4 and Early Christian Eschatology

As previously noted in the studies on the eschatology of 1 and 2 Thessalonians, Paul appears to have shared, with other first-century believers, a traditional outlook on the end times. In his letters he does not go much beyond this, and only offers a presentation of this eschatology in any real detail in 1 and 2 Thessalonians. In my view, Paul held to an eschatological framework similar to that of the Synoptic “Eschatological Discourse” (cf. my earlier 4-part study on the Discourse). Even though the Eschatological Discourse likely represents an early Christian (traditional-literary) arrangement of Jesus’ teaching, this does not mean that the basic framework was not shared by Jesus himself. In fact, there is every reason to think that it was, in general, shared by many Jews and Christians of the time.

The simplest form of the Synoptic Discourse is the Markan version (chap. 13), which has the following framework:

    • A single period of “distress” which precedes the coming of the end, presented from three different points of view:
      (1) The world and humankind generally (vv. 5-8)
      (2) The disciples of Jesus (vv. 9-13)
      (3) The people of Judea specifically (vv. 14-22)
      [Probably the destruction of the Temple signifies the end/climax of this period]
    • The end of the current Age, marked by the appearance of the Son of Man and the gathering/deliverance of the Elect [i.e. the final Judgment] (vv. 24-27)

The Matthean and Lukan versions develop and expand this somewhat. It is worth noting that Paul, in 1 and 2 Thessalonians (assuming the latter is genuinely Pauline), was writing c. 50 A.D., only 20 or so years after Jesus’ own teaching, and well before any of the Synoptic Gospels were written. The points of correspondence between the eschatology of 1-2 Thessalonians and the underlying traditions of the Discourse are:

    • He seems to believe (and affirm) that the suffering and persecution believers are experiencing at the time is part of the end-time period of distress (1 Thess 1:6ff; 2:14ff; 2 Thess 1:4-12). This corresponds with Jesus’ teaching in Mk 13:9-13 par. Paul uses the key term qli/yi$ (“distress”) in 2 Thess 1:4, 6 (also 1 Thess 1:6; cf. Mk 13:19, 24 par; Rev 7:14 etc.
    • Paul’s controversial words in 1 Thess 2:14-16, regarding the judgment facing Jewish opponents of the Gospel, likely reflects the idea of specific suffering that is to come upon the people of Judea (and Jerusalem) as part of the end-time period of distress (Mk 13:14-22 par). I discussed this in an earlier note.
    • The teaching in 1 Thess 4:13-17 (cf. the discussion in Part 2) is said to derive from Jesus’ own words (“word/account of the Lord”, v. 15), that is, transmitted through early Gospel tradition. It is essentially an expanded form of Mk 13:26-27 par, naturally identifying the coming of the “Son of Man” with the return of Jesus (cf. also 1 Thess 1:10; 2:19; 3:13; 2 Thess 1:7; 2:1).
    • The instruction in 1 Thess 5:1-3ff also echoes Jesus’ proverbial teaching in Mk 13:32-37 par, esp. Matt 24:42-44).
    • 2 Thess 2:1-12 contains much detail in common with Jesus’ description of the end-time period of distress (Mk 13:5ff, 14, 19-22 par).

It is the last point, in particular, that I wish to discuss here. Having already examined 2 Thess 2:1-12 in Part 3 of the article on 1-2 Thessalonians, it is necessary to look at verses 3-4 in a bit more detail, and in light of the framework of the Eschatological Discourse.

2 Thessalonians 2:3-4

One of the events which, according to Paul, must occur before the final Judgment of God (against the wicked) arrives, is the appearance of a person called “the man of lawlessness” (o( a&nqrwpo$ th=$ a)nomi/a$, v. 3) or “the lawless (one)” (o( a&nomo$, v. 8). While this descriptive title could be understood in a general sense, Paul’s exposition in vv. 3-10 strongly suggests that it refers to a political leader of some sort. At the time of writing (c. 50 A.D., assuming Pauline authorship), this likely would have meant a Roman emperor. We would have a clearer sense of what Paul had in mind, and the passage would be easier to interpret, were it not for two factors: (1) the difficult language/syntax in vv. 6-7, and (2) the role of the Temple in verse 4. I discuss the meaning of the Greek of vv. 6-7 in Part 3 and earlier notes (cf. also below). Here it is necessary to look specifically at the role of the Temple, since it marks a defining act by the “man of lawlessness”. Verse 4:

“…the (one) stretching himself out against, and lifting himself over, all (thing)s being counted as God or reverenced, even as to his sitting in the shrine [nao/$] of God, showing himself from (this) that he is God.”

Most commentators are in agreement that Paul here is drawing upon an early Christian use of the prophecies in the book of Daniel, of a wicked foreign ruler who would come and desecrate the Temple (9:26-27; 11:31-39; 12:11). The original context of these prophecies is as a reference to the Seleucid ruler Antiochus IV Epiphanes and the events of 167-164 B.C., in which the sacrificial ritual in the Jerusalem Temple was halted/abolished, being replaced by a form of pagan worship. This act of desecration was specifically identified with the difficult Hebrew wording of 9:27 — “and upon the wing [[nk] of despicable (thing)s he lays waste”, or, perhaps: “and upon the wing of despicable (thing)s (the one) laying waste (comes)”. In Greek, this phrase was translated as “and upon the Temple there will be a stinking (thing) of desolations [bde/lugma tw=n e)rhmw/sewn]”. The earliest interpretation is found in 1 Maccabees 1:54, following the Greek rendering—the “stinking thing of desolations” [bde/lugma tw=n e)rhmw/sewn] is identified with a pagan altar that Antiochus IV had set upon the altar in the Temple (v. 59, also 4:43), and upon which, it would seem, unlawful/unclean pagan sacrifices were offered (cf. 2 Macc 6:5). In his Commentary on Daniel (11:31), Jerome states that Antiochus IV had set up an image of Jupiter (Zeus) Olympius in the Jerusalem Temple; however, the source and basis for this tradition is unclear.

Both Jews and Christians in the 1st century B.C./A.D. had cause to re-interpret the Daniel prophecy, applying it to their own time (a century or two later). Since no definitive judgment/defeat of the wicked occurred in the years immediately following 164 B.C., his meant that the prophecy still had to be fulfilled in some manner. The Dan 9:27 tradition, with a variation of the same Greek expression “stinking thing of desolation” (bde/lugma th=$ e)rhmw/sew$), is used in the Synoptic Eschatological Discourse (Mark 13:14):

“But when you should see the stinking thing of desolation having stood where it is necessary (that it should) not [i.e. where it ought not to be]…”

The aside which follows, coming either from the Gospel writer or an earlier traditional notice, suggests an interpretation, unstated in the text, that is presumed to be understood by Christians of the time (c. 60 A.D.?). Matthew’s version preserves the same cryptic notice but otherwise makes the Daniel reference (24:15) more clear (differences/additions in italics):

Therefore when you should see ‘the stinking thing of desolation’ that was uttered through Danîyel the Foreteller (now) having stood in the holy place…”

Jesus’ disciples, along with other Christians of the time, c. 35-60 A.D., are warned that the appearance of “the stinking thing of desolation” standing in the Temple sanctuary marks the beginning of a time of terrible distress for the people of Judea. While the original reference in the Synoptic Discourse (Mark/Matthew) may have been well-understood by the first readers, its precise interpretation is unclear for us today. However, the idea of something standing in the Temple suggests perhaps a statue or similar (pagan) construction. The tradition preserved in Jerome’s commentary on Daniel (cf. above) indicated that Antiochus IV had set up an image of Jupiter (Zeus) Olympius in the Temple. This was echoed c. 40 A.D. by the emperor Gaius’ (Caligula), as part of his establishment of the imperial cult, intending that his statue was to be placed in the Jerusalem Temple, transforming it into an imperial shrine (Josephus, Antiquities 18.256-307). Jesus’ use of Dan 9:27 indicates that he is predicting something similar to happen at the end-time, and it could conceivably relate to the historical actions/intentions of the emperor (c. 40 A.D.).

However, in Luke’s version of the Discourse, the Dan 9:27 reference has been completely recast as a reference to the (Roman) invasion of Jerusalem, in which the presence of a pagan army would both desecrate and destroy the Temple:

“And when you shall see Jerusalem encircled by foot-soldiers, then you should know that her desolation [e)rh/mwsi$] has come near.” (Lk 21:20; cf. also 19:41-44)

This of course was accurately fulfilled in 70 A.D. The Lukan version of the Discourse expands the chronological scope somewhat, allowing for a period during which Jerusalem (and the Temple) would be “trampled under (the feet of) the nations”. The length of time involved is not clear, though from the author’s standpoint (probably writing c. 70-80) it would have to be at least a number of years (though scarcely the 1,900+ years looked at from our vantage point today).

Returning to 2 Thessalonians 2:4, Paul seems to accept a rather different interpretation of the Dan 9:27 / Mk 13:14 tradition—what stands in the Temple sanctuary is not a statue, but a person; it is not a pagan army, rather, it is a wicked pagan ruler. Almost certainly, Paul would have understood this as Roman emperor, perhaps one fulfilling the pattern of the wicked Gaius (Caligula) who had intended his own image to be set up in the Temple (cf. above). This would have occurred just ten years or so (c. 40 A.D.) before 2 Thessalonians was written. It would not have been difficult to see it as a foreshadowing of something that would be done by an even more wicked ruler.

There are actually a number of foreign (Greco-Roman) figures whose lives and actions fed into the idea of a wicked end-time ruler along the lines of this “man of lawlessness”. In addition to Antiochus IV and Gaius (Caligula), we may note the Roman general Pompey (106-48 B.C.). It was he who first subjugated Judea to Roman rule (64/63 B.C.), placing it as a tributary under the governorship of Syria. According to many scholars, the so-called “Psalms of Solomon” were written not long after Pompey’s conquest, and that he is the pattern for the wicked/foreign ruler of the end-time envisioned in several of the Psalms. There are some interesting parallels between 17:11-22 and 2 Thess 2:3-4, both conceptually and in the Greek wording used. The Pompey figure is also called “the lawless one” (o( a&nomo$) and his rule is characterized as an especially wicked time of sin and turning of the people away from God. The book of Revelation, written some time after 2 Thessalonians, appears to contain similar allusions to Nero, and, perhaps, other emperors as well (Vespasian?, Domitian?).

In summary, we may note the following points:

    • Paul predicts the rise of a wicked ruler who would stand/sit in the Temple sanctuary, as a fulfillment of the Dan 9:26-27 prophecy (as understood through the Eschatological Discourse [Mk 13:14 par], etc).
    • This wicked ruler would appear toward the end of the period of distress (qli/yi$) in which Paul and his readers were already living (c. 50 A.D.). This may correspond with the conjunction of the time of persecution of believers (13:9-13) and suffering in Judea (13:14-22) outlined in the framework of the Discourse.
    • The reign of this wicked ruler, though relatively brief, would be one of intense wickedness and evil, with supernatural signs and miracles that would deceive people and lead them astray. This also echoes the description of the end-time distress for Judea in Mk 13:14-22, though Paul does not seem to limit the geographic extent so narrowly (in spite of the Temple reference).
    • The destruction of this wicked ruler is described in traditional Messianic language (allusion to Isa 11:4, etc), transferred to the Christian idea of Jesus’ return.
    • From a chronological standpoint, Paul is speaking of something he expects to happen soon, i.e. not long after 50 A.D., when the letter was written. This would generally fit the time frame (of approx. 20 years) before the destruction of the Temple in 70 A.D. In this regard, Paul is fully in accord with the earliest Christian eschatology as expressed in the New Testament—i.e. of the “last days” as a period more or less corresponding to the first generation of believers (30-40 years after Jesus’ death and resurrection).

The fundamental problem with this Pauline chronology is the same as that which we have seen already with the Synoptic Eschatological Discourse and the eschatology of the New Testament as a whole. While many of the expected/predicted events and details were accurately fulfilled in the 1st century A.D., the end—i.e. the return of Jesus and final Judgment—did not occur at that time. Paul’s apparent predictions in 2 Thess 2:3ff involve the Jerusalem Temple, as do those of Jesus in the Eschatological Discourse. The Temple was destroyed in 70 A.D. which makes it impossible for the event described in 2:4 to be fulfilled—at least not in a concrete historical sense. This has led many traditional-conservative (and Evangelical) commentators to interpret and apply the passage in a more figurative or symbolic sense; this may be done several different ways:

    • as a conflict with the “antichristian” forces of evil, etc, without any specific eschatological significance for the believer today; while this may be a valid application, it effectively negates the clear eschatological context of the passage.
    • as a similar conflict, but an eschatological setting (of sorts) is preserved by viewing the “last days” broadly as the entire period (of nearly 2,000 years) from the time of the apostles to the present day.
    • the specific Temple setting, etc, is figurative but the passage does refer to an actual person who will appear at some point yet in the future (i.e. after 2020 A.D.); as predicted, this ruler will stand in direct opposition to God and Christ and will deceive the world (part of the wider Antichrist tradition).
    • [Some Christians would preserve a literal fulfillment by relying upon the idea that the actual Jerusalem Temple will be rebuilt in the future. While a rebuilding of the Temple does feature in Jewish eschatology to some extent, the idea is almost entirely absent from the New Testament; there is no suggestion, either in 2 Thess 2:3ff or in the Eschatological Discourse, that a rebuilt Temple is in view.]

Only the third approach does justice to the eschatology of the passage, but it founders in the general disregard (admittedly out of practical necessity) for the imminence of Paul’s eschatology clearly expressed throughout 1-2 Thessalonians. As discussed at many points in this series, the basic conflict between the imminent eschatology of the New Testament and the 1,900+ years (and counting) that have since passed, is a problem for which there is no easy solution. It will be addressed more extensively as the series draws to a close.

For more on the Temple in Jewish and early Christian eschatology, see my earlier article on the subject. On the prophecy of Daniel 9:25-27, in particular, consult my note in the series “Yeshua the Anointed”, as well as the article here on the Eschatological Discourse.

The “man of lawlessness” of 2 Thess 2:3-11 will be discussed further in an upcoming special article in this series on the “Antichrist” tradition.

Special Note on 1 Thess 4:17: the “Rapture”

This note is supplemental to the series “Prophecy and Eschatology in the New Testament”, and, in particular, to Part 2 of the article on Paul’s eschatology in 1-2 Thessalonians (1 Thess 4:13-5:11). In 4:16-17, Paul vividly describes the coming of Jesus down to earth at the end-time Judgment, almost certainly drawing upon the same tradition of Jesus’ teaching found in Mark 13:26-27 par. It is, however, the specific image in 4:17, of believers being caught up (“seized”, vb a(rpa/zw) into clouds to meet Jesus in the air, that has especially captured the imagination of Christians, being referred to as “the rapture“, from Latin rapio—the Latin Vulgate translates the Greek a(rpaghso/meqa (“we will be seized”) with rapiemur. This idea of “the rapture” is so commonplace and well-established in modern eschatological discussion that many Christians today might be surprised to realize that it is scarcely to be found anywhere else in the New Testament. It does, of course, involve three distinct eschatological components, associated with the tradition of Jesus’ end-time return:

    • The gathering together of (all) believers—already featured as part of several key eschatological “Son of Man” sayings by Jesus (Mark 13:27 par; Matt 13:41-43, 49; 25:32-34ff, etc). Paul refers to this basic idea, generally, in a number of places (see esp. 2 Thess 2:1-2), but it is only described in any detail here in 1 Thess 4:16-17. He includes the idea of believers who have died being raised to join those living, but this likely only makes explicit what would have been assumed in the common tradition.
    • The motif of Jesus appearing in the clouds—this would seem to derive from the key Gospel traditions of Jesus’ Son of Man sayings in Mark 13:26 par and 14:62 par, and which are ultimately based on the language and imagery in Daniel 7:13-14. This same traditional imagery is utilized in the book of Revelation (esp. 1:7), and is implied in the narration of Jesus’ ascension in the book of Acts (1:9-11). Paul is drawing upon the same basic tradition.
    • The image of Jesus’ ascension—while this is described visually only in Acts 1:9ff, it would have been understood, as a common point of reference, by virtually all believers in the 1st century. Only in more recent times have Christians found difficulty in the concrete localization of heaven spatially as up in the sky. Moreover, there is an ideal of ascension for the righteous (while still alive) which is part of an important line of Israelite and Jewish tradition. The notice of Enoch in Gen 5:24, however brief and enigmatic, is usually understood as a living ascension to heaven, part of a more expansive Enoch tradition. Elijah’s is the most famous such ascension, described vividly in 2 Kings 2:11-12. Jesus’ own ascension would have served as a kind of pattern for believers—just as Jesus ascended alive to heaven, it was only natural for believers to see themselves, at the time his return, ascending in a similar manner.

However, if the specific detail of believers rising up in to the sky to meet Jesus was widespread as part of the early Christian expectation, it is surprising that there is no other clear evidence for it in the New Testament. In particular, in the book of Revelation, that treasury of eschatological tradition and imagery, we would well expect to find it. Yet there can be no doubt of the wide acceptance of the basic underlying idea—that believers will be gathered together to face/meet Jesus when he appears.

Unfortunately, the relatively simple notion of Christians meeting Jesus and being taken with him to heaven has been obscured by the use of the expression “the Rapture” as a kind of shorthand point of reference relating to a whole range of eschatological issues and speculation among Christians today. Some of this valuable and important, some idle and unhelpful, but nearly all of it, I should say, is rather far removed from the thought-world of the New Testament and 1st century Christian eschatology. In this series, I have tried to focus exclusively on the original context and background of the relevant New Testament passages—that is to say, on the eschatological expectation of the author and his audience in the 1st century A.D., as expressed in the text. It has been necessary, at times, to mention various modern-day theories and eschatological schema, but I have sought to keep this to a minimum. Here, however, it is worth pointing out several key aspects of much modern eschatological thought, relating to “the Rapture”, since they are so widely referenced, often without much regard to the soundness of their basis in Scripture. Three aspects, in particular, should be mentioned:

    • The question of when the “Rapture” will occur, in relation to other end-time events.
    • Whether it means that believers will be kept from the end-time period of distress (qli/yi$) that is to come upon humankind, or will have to endure it, either in whole or in part.
    • According to some lines of interpretation, this “Rapture” will be secret—that is to say, it will not correspond with the general idea of Jesus coming to earth (visibly) to bring the Judgment. Rather, the visible return of Jesus will occur at a later time, following the period of distress on earth. Those who hold this view believe the “Rapture” will take place prior to the completion of the period of distress (i.e. pre- or mid-Tribulation Rapture view).

It must be pointed out that all three aspects are specifically a product of modern eschatology. I find little or no evidence to indicate that any of them were of real concern to believers in the 1st century. To begin with the third item above, the idea of a “secret” appearance by Jesus, for the purpose of gathering the Elect, which is separate from his coming to usher in the Judgment, runs contrary to all such references to Jesus’ return in the New Testament (cf. the various passages cited above). There is only one coming of Jesus, and it occurs at the moment of the end when the Judgment is realized. Believers are saved/rescued from this Judgment. The two-appearance scheme (and “secret” rapture) came to be introduced into modern eschatology, it would seem, out of the need to support the particular belief that believers would be rescued from the period of distress that precedes the Judgment.

However, early Christians appear to have taken for granted that they would have to endure the period of distress, which brings us to the second aspect mentioned above. We may note, in particular, the numerous passages expressing the view of believers in the first century, that they were already living in the “last days”, and that, as such, the suffering they were experiencing was part of this end-time period of distress. For example, in the Synoptic Eschatological Discourse, the persecution of Jesus’ disciples (believers) is set clearly within the period of distress that precedes the coming of the “Son of Man” (Mark 13:5-23 par, vv. 9-13). For other clear instances of this view, cf. Parts 1 and 2 of the article on 1-2 Thessalonians, the article on “Imminent Eschatology in the New Testament”, as well as in my current series of daily notes on the Book of Revelation.

Finally, with regard to modern views concerning the return of Jesus and coming of the Judgment, they are complicated by the (modern) tendency of attempting to assemble the various eschatological passages in the New Testament into a coherent and systematic framework. The book of Revelation is especially problematic, even though, on the surface at least, it may seem to provide the very framework needed to assemble the pieces. The sequence of visions, and vision-cycles, appear to describe a chronological order of events; however, as a careful reading and study of the book (being undertaken in the current series of daily notes) will show, the symbolism of the visions defies such systematization. Many, if not most, of the symbols are multivalent, with various possible associations and levels of meaning.

As it happens, there is one relatively clear and consistent eschatological framework in the New Testament—the Synoptic Eschatological Discourse. For first-century Christians, this represented the closest thing to a systematic presentation of eschatology that we will find. The teaching goes back to the words of Jesus himself, but, in all likelihood, the “Discourse” as we have it reflects a traditional and literary arrangement of material. I have given a relatively simple outline of the chronology of the Discourse (in Part 4 of the prior article); here it may be worth presenting it again:

The Markan version is the shortest and simplest and may safely be considered as closer to the core Synoptic tradition and arrangement (generally followed by Matthew, though with development and inclusion of additional material):

    • A single period of “distress” which precedes the coming of the end, presented from three different points of view:
      (1) The world and humankind generally (vv. 5-8)
      (2) The disciples of Jesus (vv. 9-13)
      (3) The people of Judea specifically (vv. 14-22)
      [Probably the destruction of the Temple signifies the end/climax of this period]
    • The end of the current Age, marked by the appearance of the Son of Man and the gathering/deliverance of the Elect [i.e. the final Judgment] (vv. 24-27)

The Lukan version demonstrates a more precise sequence:

    • A period of mission work (and persecution) for Jesus’ disciples prior to the destruction of the Temple [c. 35-65? A.D.] (vv. 12-19)
    • A period of distress for Judea and Jerusalem, characterized by warfare/uprising (i.e. in the Roman Empire), the appearance of false prophets and false Messiahs, as well as signs in heaven indicating the coming suffering. The central event of this period (c. 66-70) is the (Roman) siege of Jerusalem, culminating in the destruction of the city and the Temple [70 A.D.] (vv. 8-11, 20-24)
    • (An intervening period during which Jerusalem is “trampled” by the Gentiles [Romans], i.e. the “times of the nations”, of unspecified length, v. 24)
    • A time of distress for all the Nations, again marked by signs in heaven, etc (vv. 25-26)
    • The coming of the Son of Man—the end of the current Age and the manifestation/realization of the Kingdom of God (vv. 27-28, 31)

The “Rapture” of 1 Thess 4:17 corresponds with the coming of the Son of Man (understood as the return of Jesus), and the gathering of the Elect (believers), at the conclusion of this chronology (Mk 13:27 par). The coming of the Son of Man (Jesus) also ushers in the final Judgment, though this is only implied in the Discourse (Mk 13:24-25, 32ff par); Matthew’s version expounds it more clearly (the parables in chap. 25, esp. verses 31-46), as does Paul in 2 Thess 1:6-10 (cf. Part 1).

Prophecy & Eschatology in the New Testament: 1 and 2 Thessalonians (Pt 2)

Part 2: “Day of the Lord”: 1 Thessalonians 4:13-5:11

Having discussed five key eschatological references in 1 and 2 Thessalonians—1 Thess 1:10; 2:19; 3:13; 5:23; 2 Thess 1:6-10—in Part 1, along with 1 Thess 2:14-16 (in a special note), we must now examine the main eschatological portion of 1 Thessalonians: the two related sections, 4:13-18 and 5:1-11. These are central to the primary instruction given in the letter—the probatio, using the terminology of rhetorical analysis—in which a main proposition (propositio) is stated, and then expounded through various arguments and illustrations meant to convince (or exhort) the audience. The propositio occurs in 4:1-2, in which Paul urges the Thessalonians to continue in the tradition and instruction given to them, living in a manner worthy of their identity as believers in Christ. The probatio (proving) follows in 4:3-22, and may be divided into six sections:

    • 4:3-8—Ethical instruction: the need to live in a manner befitting believers
    • 4:9-12—Instruction on filadelfi/a: on expressing one’s care for brothers (and sisters) in Christ in daily life
    • 4:13-18—Eschatological instruction: exhortation for believers in light of the end-time
    • 5:1-11—Eschatological instruction: on how believers should conduct themselves in the end-time
    • 5:12-14—Practical instruction: on the need for believers to be engaged in honest work
    • 5:15-22—Miscellaneous instruction, ethical and practical

The two eschatological sections are closely connected, and are at the heart of Paul’s teaching.

1 Thessalonians 4:13-18

In this first eschatological section, Paul appears to be addressing a specific question or concern, introduced in verse 13:

“But we do not wish you to be without knowledge, brothers, about the (one)s lying down (to sleep), (and) that you should not be in sorrow, even as the (one)s remaining (are), the (one)s not holding hope.”

The verb koima/w (“lie down [to sleep]”) often serves as an idiom for a person dying (i.e. death as “sleep”), and so is used here. The exact issue Paul is addressing has been variously understood. I believe that a proper understanding is based on identifying the two things he wishes would not be so for the Thessalonian believers: (1) to be without knowledge (vb a)gnoe/w), and (2) to be in sorrow (vb lupe/w) over those who have died. In other words, their sorrowing reflects a lack of knowledge. Sadness about those who have died is characteristic of the “remainder” (loipoi/) of humankind—that is, those who are not believers. Such non-believers are said to be “not holding hope”. The word hope (e)lpi/$) occurs frequently in Paul’s letters (36 in the corpus, out of 53 in the NT), and may be understood in a three-fold sense which is fundamentally eschatological:

    • our union with Christ gives us hope for salvation and (eternal) life at the end-time
    • this hope is specifically defined in terms of resurrection from the dead
    • it will soon be realized at the (end-time) appearance of Jesus

All three aspects are involved in establishing the reason why the Thessalonians should not be in sorrow regarding others (i.e. other believers) who have died: (a) they have the promise of salvation and life, (b) they will be raised from the dead, and (c) this will soon occur when Jesus appears. In my view, it is not simply a question of a belief in the resurrection, but that this all will take place very soon. What point is there of being sad over those who have died when their resurrection will soon occur? The three aspects noted above are joined together in Paul’s statement in verse 14:

“For if we trust that Yeshua died away and stood up (again), so also will God bring the (one)s (hav)ing lain down (to sleep), through Yeshua, (together) with him.”

The place of expression “through Yeshua” (dia\  )Ihsou=) is a bit unclear—whether it belongs with “the ones (hav)ing lain down (to sleep)” or “will bring…with him”, or both. I prefer to view it as a semi-independent phrase, expressing the idea of believers’ union with Jesus—in particular, their/our dying and rising with him (cf. Romans 6:3-4, etc). Both our death and resurrection takes place “through Jesus”. Also somewhat ambiguous is the central clause “God will bring…with him”. While this may relate to the idea, further on in vv. 16-17 (cf. below), of believers meeting Jesus in the air, I believe it is better understood in the more fundamental sense of participation in the death and resurrection of Jesus. God himself brings/leads (vb a&gw) believers through death and into new life, even as he did for Jesus.

The eschatological setting of the resurrection, which Paul connects with the end-time appearance (parousia) of Jesus, is established in verses 15-16 by what Paul says is “a word/account of the Lord” (lo/go$ kuri/ou). We cannot be certain precisely what that means, other than it seems to refer to a tradition that goes back to the words of Jesus himself. There are a number of eschatological sayings and teachings of Jesus preserved in the Gospels, but the most prominent collection is found in the Synoptic “Eschatological Discourse” (Mark 13 par), which I have discussed at length earlier in this series. There is some evidence, seen especially in 1 and 2 Thessalonians, that Paul—probably in common with many early believers—accepted an eschatological framework that is at least roughly similar to that of the Discourse. If so, then the notice here in verse 15 may be an indication that he inherited this from the early Gospel Tradition, identifying it with preserved sayings/teachings by Jesus. In vv. 15-17, Paul is likely paraphrasing or summarizing this traditional teaching for the Thessalonians:

“For this we relate to you, in a word/account of the Lord, that we—the (one)s living (and) remaining about unto [i.e. until] the Lord’s (com)ing to be alongside (us) [parousi/a]—we shall (certainly) not go first (ahead) of the (one)s (hav)ing lain down (to sleep); (for it is) that the Lord (him)self, in (the) shout (to begin), in (the) voice of (the) chief Messenger and in (the sounding of the) trumpet of God, he will step down from heaven, and the dead in (the) Anointed will stand up first, and then at (this) we, the (one)s living (and) remaining about, together (at the same time) with them, we will be seized up in (the) clouds, into a (go)ing away to meet the Lord, into (the) air…”

Some commentators would claim that the issue for the Thessalonians had to do with a concern that believers who died would not meet the returning Jesus at the same time as those who are living. This reads too much into the wording, and, in my view, is not correct. I tend to think that Paul, here, is giving a more detailed explanation of what he may have previously conveyed to the Thessalonians only through more general eschatological statements (cf. the examples from 1-2 Thessalonians in Part 1). Now, in vv. 15-17, he offers a fuller presentation of the tradition, one which reads almost like an exposition of the words of Jesus in the Eschatological Discourse (Mark 13:26-27 par). In this ‘exposition’, I believe Paul is emphasizing several points:

    • That all believers—both living and dead—will be gathered together at the coming of Jesus.
    • That this will essentially happen at the same time, priority being given to the dead only in that they are not alive, and need to be raised before they can join the living believers.
    • For Paul, this is fundamental symbol of our unity—both with Christ and with each other—to be realized fully at the moment of Jesus’ appearance.
    • And, finally, the dramatic narration of this tradition, in the context of 1 Thessalonians, emphasizes again that the coming of Jesus (and, with it, the resurrection) is imminent.

Verse 17 closes with the following declaration: “…and so we will be with the Lord always [pa/ntote]”. Paul gives no indication of anything that is to take place following the meeting of believers with Jesus in the clouds, but the wording generally suggests that they will be taken with him into heaven—the statement concludes with the words “into the air”, without any indication at all of a return back to earth.

This “taking up” of believers into the sky is commonly referred to as “the rapture, from the Latin raptio and the Latin (Vulgate) translation of 1 Thess 4:17. It has come to be a regular part of modern eschatological parlance, often to the point where the original background (and Scriptural basis) for the idea is often ignored, the term having by now taken on a life of its own (“the Rapture”). Modern eschatological discussion is frequently dominated by speculation as to just when this event will occur within various (and often elaborate) end-time schema. Much of this is far removed from the thought world of the New Testament, and early Christian eschatology in general; however, due to its prominence in modern-day eschatology, I have decided to devote a special note to the subject as part of this series.

Paul certainly understood that the coming of Jesus would bring about the great (final) Judgment on humankind, but that aspect of his eschatology is not described here, rather it is the gathering together of believers that is emphasized, as in Mark 13:27 par. The section ends with a final word of exhortation: “As (this is so), you must (also) call one another alongside in [i.e. by/with] these words”.

1 Thessalonians 5:1-11

If the eschatological instruction in 4:13-18 was meant to encourage believers, that in 5:1-11 has the purpose of exhorting them regarding how they should conduct themselves in this end-time. The imminence of the end, seen throughout the letter (cf. discussion in Part 1), and emphasized again in the previous section, now takes on greater urgency and importance. Paul begins with a question of chronology—an aspect of eschatology that seems to be of perennial concern for Christians. On this point, the relationship between 1 and 2 Thessalonians is of some significance, as to whether: (a) 2 Thessalonians was indeed written by Paul, and (b) if was written prior to 1 Thessalonians or after. This will be discussed in more detail in Part 3 (on 2 Thess 2:1-12), but it must be noted here that, according to 2 Thess 2:1-2, there would seem to have been some confusion, on the part of the Thessalonians, on the relationship between the end-time generally and the specific event/moment known by the expression “the day of the Lord”. Here, in 1 Thess 5:1, Paul refers generally to the chronological dimension of the end-time events:

“But about the periods and moments (of time), brothers, you hold no occasion [i.e. there is no need] (for me) to write to you…”

He pairs together the plural nouns xro/noi and kairoi/; both xro/no$ and kairo/$ essentially refer to “time”, but with a slight difference—xro/no$ tends to indicate a period of time, and kairo/$ a point in time. Probably the words used in tandem here represent a hendiadys (i.e. two terms for one thing), and refer generally to any chronological questions about exactly when the end will come. This “end” more or less corresponds to the “day of the Lord” in 2 Thess 2:1ff—that is, the moment when Jesus appears and the final Judgment comes upon humankind. Paul uses the same expression (“day of the Lord”, h(me/ra kuri/ou) here in verse 2:

“…for you (your)selves have seen [i.e. known] precisely that ‘the day of the Lord so comes as a stealer in (the) night’.”

I think it quite possible that Paul is quoting a proverbial saying (perhaps coming from Jesus, cf. Matt 24:43; Lk 12:39). Clearly the thrust of the saying is that the “day of the Lord” will come at a time when people are, or may be, caught unaware. The middle of the night is a time when people are asleep, but it also reflects a period of darkness. Paul plays on both of these aspects in the exhortation that follows; as such, he cleverly shifts the discussion from interest over when the end will occur, to how the Thessalonian believers ought to think and act while living in the end-time. However, the traditional imagery of the unexpectedness of the end continues to be brought out in verse 3:

“(And) when they should say, ‘peace and security’, then (it is that), without (any) shining forth [a)fni/dio$], destruction [o&leqro$] will stand upon them, just as the pain (that comes) for the (woman) holding (a child) in the womb, and they shall not flee out (of it).”

The comparison with the pains of a woman in giving birth is traditional, symbolic of the suffering of the human condition—especially in association with the coming Judgment at the end-time (Mark 13:8, 17 par), which, in the Gospel narrative is set generally in the context of Jesus’ own suffering and death (cf. Luke 23:28-29; John 16:21). The characteristic of the destruction (esp. of the wicked) at the time of the Judgment, using the adjective a)fni/dio$, is difficult to translate properly in English syntax. Literally, a)fni/dio$ means “without (any) shining forth”, i.e. without anything appearing to indicate that it is about to happen, etc. It is often rendered by the adjective “sudden” or “unexpected”. A more literal translation here brings out the motif of the fire of Judgment, corresponding to the glorious and fiery appearance of Jesus when he comes to earth accompanied by heavenly Messengers (Angels)—cf. 2 Thess 1:7-8 (discussed in Part 1). This fire of destruction will hit suddenly, without any glow or light to warn of its coming. The noun o&leqro$ (“destruction, ruin”) also reflects traditional Judgment-language, and is used, in a similar (but more graphic) context, in 2 Thess 1:9.

It is in verse 4, that Paul shifts the focus to the situation of believers, who, as believers, will be saved from the destructive anger of God in the great Judgment. Here, however, the emphasis is on the identity of believers in Christ, who are not to be characterized by the slumber and darkness (cf. above) of the end time:

“But you, brothers, are not in darkness, (so) that the day should take you down as a stealer (does); for you are sons of light and sons of (the) day, and we are not of (the) night and not of darkness—so then, we should not go down to sleep, as the (one)s remaining (do), but we should keep awake and should stay sober.” (vv. 4-6)

Paul’s shift in mid-sentence from 2nd person to 1st person is most effective, including himself (and all other ministers) with the Thessalonians to whom he is writing. This expresses the theme of unity for believers in Christ in a different manner than he does in the previous section (cf. above). The motif of wakefulness, while natural enough as an extension of the “thief coming at night” illustration, is also traditional, and can be seen in several eschatological parables of Jesus. Indeed, Paul’s entire discussion in 5:1-11 could be seen as an exposition of Mark 13:32-37 par, just as that in 4:13-18 expounds Mk 13:26-27. The thrust of the warning here is, not that believers might end up falling away and face the Judgment, but, rather, that they ought to live according to their identity—as those who belong to the light and who will not be “taken down” (vb katalamba/nw) in the time of darkness. Jesus’ words to his disciples in the Gethsemane scene of the Synoptic Passion narrative (Mk 14:38 par) make much the same point, but with a greater sense of the danger that the disciples could fall away during the time of “testing” (peirasmo/$); on this, compare Mk 13:13b par.

In verses 7-8, Paul applies this traditional language of watchfulness/sobriety more directly to the religious identity of believers:

“For the (one)s going down to sleep go down to sleep at night, and the (one)s getting drunk get drunk at night; but we, being of the day, should stay sober, sinking ourselves in(to) (the) chest-armor of trust and love and (the) (protection) about the head (that is the) hope of salvation.”

This “hope of salvation” is the same “hope” (e)lpi/$) mentioned in 4:13 (cf. above). For the believer in Christ, trust, love, and hope—the same triad emphasized by Paul in 1 Cor 13:13—serve as the protective armor we wear. This armor-imagery is developed more extensively in Ephesians 6:11-17; here there are only two protective pieces mentioned:

    • the qw/rac, “chest-guard”, primarily protecting the heart, from which stem our trust (pi/sti$) in Jesus and love (a)ga/ph) for our fellow believers
    • the perikefalai/a, protection “around the head”, representing the uppermost part of our person, and that which point upward, the direction from which our salvation comes, at the end-time

This “salvation” (swthri/a) is given more precise definition in vv. 9-10, emphasizing again the eschatological aspect:

“(for it is) that God did not set us into (His) anger, but (rather) into the making of salvation around (us) through our Lord Yeshua (the) Anointed, the (one hav)ing died away over us, (so) that, if we should be awake (or) if we should go down to sleep, we would live together with him.”

This statement repeats much of the same language from earlier in 4:14-17 (cf. above); in particular, we may note:

    • the salvation of believers comes “through [dia/] Jesus”
    • the idea of believers going down to sleep (using different verbs), and still living
    • that believers will come to be “together with him” (su\n au)tw=|)
    • and that this unity, with Jesus and with (all) other believers, is understood as being complete and simultaneous (“at once”), expressed by the particle a%ma.

Since the verb kaqeu/dw (“go down to sleep”), earlier in vv. 6-7, was used to characterize unbelievers in the time of darkness, its application to believers here needs to be explained. There are two possibilities:

    • Paul is shifting the meaning of both grhgoreu/w and kaqeu/dw to the ordinary human experience of being awake and sleeping
    • He is telling believers that, even if they should lapse into moments of “sleep”, during this time of darkness, they still live (and have life/salvation) in Christ

Probably Paul intends the former, though the latter idea could be justified, for example, by the situation of the disciples in the Synoptic Passion narrative (Mark 14:37-41 par). I would say, however, that Paul is here retaining the eschatological nuance of believers living (i.e. their daily Christian lives) during the end-time of darkness.

The section concludes (in verse 11) much as the prior section did (4:18), following a basic formula, with a message for believers to exhort one another (using the verb parakale/w, “call alongside” [i.e. for help, comfort, etc]):

“Therefore, you must call one another alongside and build (each other up) one by one, even as you also do (now).”

The closing phrase, with the conjunction kai/ (“and”), serves as an important part of the exhortation—and the rhetoric Paul is using—framing it in terms of what the Thessalonians are already doing. From the standpoint of rhetorical analysis, 1 Thessalonians can be characterized as paraenetic rather than deliberative rhetoric—that is to say, its chief purpose is to instruct and exhort, rather than to persuade the audience of the correctness of a particular position. Unlike in Galatians or the Corinthian letters, Paul is not addressing any particular conflict or problem facing the congregations; instead, he is simply encouraging the Thessalonians to continue in the faith.

Taken together, the two sections 1 Thess 4:13-5:11, represent the clearest and most specific summary of Paul’s eschatology that has come down to us in any of his letters. There is virtually nothing in it which goes beyond the traditional belief (and mode of expression) common to Christians at the time (c. 50 A.D.). It is actually highly instructive in providing us a snapshot of the early Christian eschatology in its relation to the Gospel Tradition and the (historical) sayings of Jesus. As noted above, Paul appears to have held an eschatological framework that generally corresponds with that of the Synoptic Eschatological Discourse. This will be seen in greater detail, as we examine 2 Thessalonians 2:1-12 in the next part of this study.

Prophecy & Eschatology in the New Testament: The “Eschatological Discourse” (Part 4)

The “Eschatological Discourse” (Part 4)

Having studied each Gospel’s version of the “Eschatological Discourse” (Parts 1, 2, 3), it now remains to summarize the results and consider how best to approach the Discourse in light of the Synoptic Tradition as a whole. Many critical scholars would hold that the Discourse itself—the structure and arrangement of it—is original to the Gospel of Mark. I tend to think, however, that the basic outline of it pre-dates Mark, even if one accepts the premise that it represents a traditional (and literary) arrangement of Jesus’ teaching, rather than a self-contained sermon spoken by Jesus on a single occasion. The critical premise would seem to be confirmed by the way that Matthew’s version includes sayings found in an entirely different location in Luke, as well as certain internal evidence (of catch-word bonding, etc) which we examined. The very fact of such editing and arrangement of material, however, strongly indicates to me that the Discourse, at its core, represents a collection of eschatological teaching by Jesus that was assembled together at an early point. The basic similarity in outline with portions of the book of Revelation (such as the first six seal-visions) also argues for an early and authoritative arrangement.

Let us now consider each of the fundamental components of the Discourse, in turn, much as we did in the first three studies.

1. The Destruction of the Temple

The starting point of the Synoptic Discourse is Jesus’ prediction of the Temple’s destruction (Mk 13:1-2 par). The shadow of the Temple hangs over the entire discourse (v. 3 par), and Luke’s version, in particular, makes the destruction of the Temple the central event announced by Jesus in the discourse. This is an authentic prophecy, which was fulfilled in the great war of 66-70 A.D.; as such, it establishes the only certain chronological marker for the eschatological narrative Jesus presents. As an historical setting, it admirably fits much of what is predicted—war and uprising, false Messiahs, a time of great distress for Judea, the desecration of the Temple and a horrible siege of Jerusalem by a foreign (pagan) power. Moreover, it took place within the lifetime of at least some of Jesus’ first disciples (v. 30 par; cf. also Mk 9:1 par; Matt 10:23).

2. Signs preceding the coming destruction

If we accept the context of vv. 3-4 at face value, then verses 5-8 represent the signs asked for by the disciples. Recall that their question was two-fold:

    • “When will these things be?”
    • “What is the sign when all these things are about to be completed together?”

“These things” (tau=ta) must include, first, the destruction of the Temple, and, second, the other things mentioned by Jesus in his eschatological teaching (such as that which follows in the discourse). Again, if we take the narrative context seriously, the things mentioned by Jesus in vv. 5-8 will take place before the destruction of the Temple. Admittedly, there is some confusion in the Gospel tradition at this point, as we saw when examining the form of the disciples’ question in the different versions. Luke and Mark are very close, differing only slighting in the wording; however, the use of gi/nomai (“come to be”) by Luke instead of suntele/w (“complete [all]together”) softens the eschatological impact, and may serve to separate the destruction of the Temple from other end-time events preceding the coming of the Son of Man. The (second) question in Matthew’s version is quite different, and moves in the opposite direction—giving greater emphasis to the eschatological context:

“what is the sign of your coming alongside [parousi/a] and the completion together of th(is) Age?” (24:3)

The question more bluntly refers to the return of Jesus and the end of the Age; indeed, only Matthew uses the noun parousi/a (also in vv. 27, 37, 39) which came to be a technical term among early Christians for the return of Jesus. Phrased this way, it reflects the early Christian viewpoint, rather than the understanding of the disciples themselves at the point in time indicated by the narrative. The framework in Mark/Luke is unquestionably more original, with the Matthean version likely representing an early Christian gloss.

Let us consider briefly, again, each of the “signs” mentioned by Jesus here:

    • The appearance of false prophets and false Messiahs (and/or persons claiming to be Jesus), who will lead many people astray
    • Wars/battles and various reports/rumors; these include specifically uprisings, one nation or people against another (superior/ruling power)
    • Natural disasters—earthquakes (lit. shakings) and times of hunger (famine); Luke’s version also mentions plague/pestilence and “great & fearful signs from heaven”

Two important statements position these “signs” within a general chronological framework:

    • “the completion [te/lo$] is not yet (here)” (Mk 13:7b par)—i.e. the end of the Age will not come immediately with these signs; a period of some length(?) is still to follow.
    • “these (thing)s (are) the beginning of (birth) pains” (v. 8b par; Luke does not have this)—these signs mark the beginning (or first part) of a period of intense suffering.

Both statements make clear that, while such signs mark the end-time, the end itself will only come after a period of suffering/distress. The length of this period is indicated at the end of the discourse (vv. 28-30 par), but only with some ambiguity, leading to questions of interpretation which remain under debate by commentators today (cf. below).

Central to the “signs” mentioned by Jesus is a period of war and uprising; it is possible that one may view the occurrences of hunger and pestilence as a natural result of this warfare, as seems to be the case in the third and fourth seal-visions in Revelation (6:5-8). Certainly, war, hunger, and plague/disease are found in all times and places, and really cannot be used to determine a specific location or period of history. However, if we keep in mind the context of the destruction of the Temple, it is reasonable to refer this to warfare and uprising within the Roman Empire (in the 1st century A.D.). For people in Judea and Jerusalem (Jesus’ audience), the uprising and war of 66-70 would be most terrible, and a natural extension of Rome’s brutal wars with dozens of nations and races. The Judean context is emphasized in vv. 14-22; here, it is the world and humankind more generally that is in view.

If we seek to relate these signs more precisely to the destruction of the Temple (i.e. the coming war of 66-70), the following details, as reported/recorded by Josephus, are worth noting:

    • Reference to a number of would-be prophets and quasi-Messianic figures in the 1st century, most notably Theudas (c. 45 A.D., Antiquities 20.97-8; Acts 5:36) and the person known as “the Egyptian” (50s A.D., Antiquities 20.169-71; War 2.261-2). Messianic beliefs and expectations appear to have played a significant role in the war of 66-70 (War 2.433-44; 4.503ff; 6.285, 312-3; 7.29, etc), as it did in the later Jewish revolts of 115-117 and 132-135 A.D. Matthew’s version of the Discourse (24:23-28) indicates that these “false prophets” take advantage of the time of war and distress to mislead and influence the populace, much as Josephus describes.
    • Descriptions of miraculous signs and omens indicating the coming destruction of Jerusalem (see esp. War 6.285-9ff). Even if one does not accept the factuality of these reports, they certainly fit the characterization in Lk 21:11 of “fearful things and great signs from heaven”.

There is a particular difficulty in verse 6 which needs to be considered again. Jesus refers to certain deceivers: “Many will come upon my name, saying that ‘I am (he)'”. This can be taken several ways:

    • False Christians who prophesy/speak falsely in Jesus’ name
    • People claiming to be Jesus himself (having returned?)
    • People claiming to be the Messiah

The first two are difficult to maintain, at the historical level, though they would make sense for early Christians. The last option is much more likely, given the similar references to false Messiahs later on in vv. 21-22 par. For early Christians, of course, a claim to be the Messiah was effectively the same as claiming to stand in place of Jesus himself. Matthew here (24:5) clarifies what was almost certainly the original meaning—that there would be false Messiahs who would lead people astray, as in the examples reported by Josephus.

3. A period of persecution and mission work for the disciples

The next section of the discourse (Mk 13:9-13 par) relates more directly to Jesus’ disciples (and the earliest Christians). It describes a time of persecution and suffering for them which is parallel to the distress coming upon Judea and the nations. It implies a period of mission work, in which the disciples continue Jesus’ ministry, proclaiming the Gospel (the “good message” of the Kingdom) throughout Judea and even into the surrounding nations. What Jesus describes here was fulfilled (in virtually every detail) in the period prior to the war of 66-70, as narrated throughout the book of Acts, the same being recorded (less reliably) in other sources of Apostolic tradition (such as the various deutero-canonical “Acts”). Only in regard to the extent of the mission is there any room for question. The general statement in Mk 13:10 is given a rather wider scope in Matthew 24:14, possibly indicating a period extending beyond the lifetime of the first disciples.

4. The period of “great distress” for Judea and Jerusalem

The expression “great distress” (more commonly rendered “great tribulation”) is best known from Rev 7:14, where we have the broader scope of a world-wide period of distress. Ultimately, this terminology is derived from Daniel 12:1, and, while the reference in Mk 13:19 par clearly reflects the same tradition, the “distress” (qli/yi$) mentioned in the Discourse is localized specifically in Judea and Jerusalem (v. 14). It relates primarily, if not entirely, to the people of Jerusalem (and Judea) whom Jesus is addressing (including his disciples). In the Markan version, generally followed by Matthew, the time of distress for Judea/Jerusalem is marked by four signs or details:

    • An event/episode, viewed as a fulfillment of Dan 9:27, which marks the onset of the distress (v. 14)
    • The suffering will be intense and will affect virtually the entire population, resulting in many deaths (vv. 14b-20; cf. also Matt 24:28)
    • Claims that the Messiah has come or is present (v. 21)
    • The appearance of miracle-working false prophets and false Messiahs (v. 22, cf. above)

The difficulty of interpretation involves the allusion to Dan 9:27 (also 11:31; 12:11), with the editorial aside (“the one reading must have it in mind”), suggesting an application to the present/current situation of the Gospel readers (c. 60 A.D.). Matthew’s version (24:15) makes this more clear—i.e. that the “stinking thing of desolation” (to\ bde/lugma th=$ e)rhmw/sew$) will be standing in the Temple sanctuary (“holy place”). The parallel with the action of Antiochus IV Epiphanes in c. 167 B.C. (the immediate point of reference in Daniel, as presumed by most commentators), could indicate a pagan altar or image that has been set up in the sanctuary (1 Macc 1:54; 2 Macc 6:2). Just as likely is a more general reference to a pagan presence and desecration of the Temple, which could include Roman standards and the like. Paul almost certainly draws on this same basic tradition in 2 Thess 2:4-5 (to be discussed later in this series).

If the allusion to Dan 9:27 (in Mark/Matthew) remains somewhat obscure to us today, the Lukan version is unmistakably clear—it refers to the siege and destruction of Jerusalem by a foreign army. If we accept the authenticity and accuracy of this, it means that the “stinking thing of desolation” is fulfilled by the presence of the (pagan) Romans who overrun the city (and the Temple), destroying it. There is no need to look beyond the obvious context of the war in 66-70 for fulfillment. Josephus gives a vivid account of the siege (and subsequent destruction) with the resultant horrors and suffering experienced by the people (War 5.47-97; 6.93, 149-56, 201-11, etc). To anyone caught in the middle of that terror, it would have seemed like the end of the world, and very much a fulfillment of what Jesus describes in Mk 13:14b-20 par. The final “desolation” of the city—its ruins and the captivity of its people/leaders—is also portrayed by Josephus (War 6.271-3, 420; 7.112-5, 118, 138, etc; cf. also Tacitus Histories 5.8-13).

Thus, if we use the Lukan version of this section as our guide, we can state that what Jesus predicted was fulfilled (more or less accurately) in the war of 66-70. Some commentators would also interpret the exhortation to flee the city (Lk 21:21 par) in light of the tradition regarding the flight of the Jerusalem Christians to Pella in Perea (Eusebius Church History 3.5.3), but this is questionable at best.

(For more on the background and interpretation of Daniel 9:24-27, see the earlier study on that passage [part of the series “Yeshua the Anointed”]).

5. The coming of the Son of Man

The final section of prophecy in the Discourse involves the conclusion of the period of distress—the appearance of the Son of Man, marking the end of the current Age and the final Judgment. This is one of the core “Son of Man” sayings by Jesus in the Synoptic Gospels. Like that which is set during his interrogation before the Council (Mk 14:62 par), the declaration here in the Discourse (13:26f par) is derived from Daniel 7:13-14. For other Son of Man sayings with a similar eschatological context, cf. Mk 8:38 par; Matt 10:23; 13:37ff; 16:28; 25:31ff; Lk 9:26; 12:8; 17:22ff par; 18:8; 21:36. These were discussed in the prior studies in this series on the eschatological sayings of Jesus.

Three distinct strands make up this section (Mk 13:24-27 par):

    • Vv. 24-25: Old Testament allusions (Isa 13:10; 24:23; Joel 2:10, 31; 3:15; Ezek 32:7, etc) using the language of theophany, referring to the “day of YHWH” and the (end-time) Judgment upon humankind
    • V. 26: The image of the Son of Man coming on/with the clouds (Dan 7:13-14)
    • V. 27: The heavenly/angelic deliverance of God’s people (the elect) at the end-time (cf. Dan 12:1ff, etc)

Luke’s version brings out the Judgment context more clearly (21:25-26), including different Scriptural allusions (Ps 65:7; Isa 34:4). The time of distress for Judea/Jerusalem is paralleled here with a time of stress (suno/xh) for all the nations (on this point, cf. below). Moreover, at the end of the Lukan discourse there is a definite reference to humankind standing before the Son of Man (i.e. in the heavenly court) at the final Judgment (21:36, cp. Matt 25:31-46).

For believers today, this section represents the interpretive crux of the Discourse. While all (or nearly all) of the previous statements by Jesus (Mk 13:5-23 par) can be seen as having been fulfilled in the 1st century A.D., the references to the coming of the Son of Man (vv. 24-27) cannot. This is a major discrepancy which requires some sort of explanation. I outline here three different solutions, or approaches, to the problem:

1. The section dealing with the Son of Man is secondary, or intrusive, to the Discourse in its original/earliest form. This would be by far the simplest solution; indeed, without vv. 24-27 par, virtually the entire Discourse could be understood as having a first century fulfillment, even within the lifetime of the disciples, and the otherwise problematic saying in v. 30 par could be taken in its obvious sense (i.e. “this generation” = those alive when Jesus spoke), with no need for special or forced interpretations. Unfortunately, there is little, if any, sound basis for excising vv. 24-27 from the Discourse. More importantly, even if those sayings by Jesus were originally uttered in a different context, there are plenty of other “Son of Man” sayings which evince an imminent eschatology, and would naturally apply here in the Discourse (as a collection of Jesus’ eschatological teaching) as well.

2. The image of the Son of Man “coming on the clouds” properly refers to his coming toward the Father (in Heaven), not an appearance on earth. In other words, from an early Christian standpoint, it refers to Jesus’ exaltation and enthronement at God’s right hand, not to his (future) return to earth. This interpretation of the original meaning of Mk 13:26 par is advocated strongly by W. F. Albright and C. S. Mann in their commentary on Matthew (Anchor Bible Vol. ), but it must be regarded as untenable. While faithful to the original context of Daniel 7:13-14, it ignores the wider scope of the book, especially that of chapter 12, which was of enormous influence for the thought and language of the Discourse. A combination of Dan 7:13-14 and 12:1ff yields the precise matrix we find here in the Discourse—the Son of Man, given divine authority to rule and judge, appears to deliver the people of God at the end-time. The very idea of Jesus’ future return makes little sense without the tradition from Dan 12:1ff etc. Jesus would not be able to fulfill this heavenly/Messianic role, until his (future) return in glory, and that is what is essentially being described in Mk 13:26-27 par.

3. A division of two periods (or gap in time) between Mk 13:5-23 and vv. 24-27. In favor of this approach is the arrangement of the Lukan version, which does seem to indicate, however slightly, two distinct (parallel) periods of distress and judgment:

    • The Distress (qli/yi$) coming upon Judea and its people (21:20-24)
    • The Distress (suno/xh) coming upon all the Nations (21:25-26)

If the first period was fulfilled in the first century A.D. (and perhaps some years thereafter, v. 24), the second period likely is understood as occurring after the first (the “time of the nations”) has been completed. The Judgment upon the Nations cannot take place until the time of their dominance/control over Jerusalem comes to an end. On the (reasonable) assumption that the Gospel of Luke was written shortly after 70 A.D., it would seem that the author understands that there is at least a short period after the destruction of the Temple, during which Christians continue their mission work, before the final Judgment (and end of the Age) occurs. Extending such a period to cover more than 1,900 years remains highly problematic—a problem for which there is no easy solution.

Many readers and commentators today would, I think, tend to prefer a different solution, one which might be labeled the “dual-fulfillment” approach. This line of interpretation would be summarized as follows:

    • The primary fulfillment of Mk 13:5-23 par occurred in the 1st century A.D., with the destruction of the Temple, etc.
    • However, this was only a partial fulfillment, which awaits completion at a future time—when many of the events and phenomena predicted by Jesus will, in a sense, be repeated.

In support of such an approach is the way the New Testament handles the very traditions from Daniel 9:24-27 and 12:1ff—i.e., they had an original fulfillment in the time of Antiochus IV (2nd century B.C.), but receive their completion in the time of the Romans (1st century A.D.). Jesus’ own predictions in the Discourse could be treated in a similar way. This still does not explain or account for a gap of 1,900+ years, but it does at least allow for a working interpretive model within which one might grapple with the difficulties.

6. The Time of the End

The popular modern interpretations, attempting to account for a ‘gap’ of 1,900+ years, are complicated considerably by the sayings of Jesus in Mk 13:28-31 par, especially the famous saying in v. 30 (cf. the study on “imminent eschatology” in the Gospels). The obvious and ordinary sense of the expression “this generation”, based on the evidence in the Gospels (and elsewhere in the New Testament), is that Jesus is referring to his audience—i.e. the people alive at the time he is speaking. Any other interpretation seems quite forced, out of the (admittedly real) need to avoid the implication that Jesus (and/or the Gospel writer) was in error about the time of the end. As noted above, except for the coming of the Son of Man (and the actual end of the current Age), nearly everything in the Discourse could be understood as having been fulfilled in the 1st century A.D., and within the lifetime of Jesus’ disciples. Thus, the responsible commentator today must deal with two basic, and seemingly irreconcilable, facts:

    • Jesus is speaking to his disciples (and Jewish contemporaries) in the 1st century, referring to things that they will see and experience (i.e. in their lifetimes)
    • The end did not come in the 1st century, and we today continue to await the coming of the Son of Man, much as did Jesus’ first disciples

There is no easy answer as to how the faithful student of Scripture may reconcile these points. I offer an initial approach in the article on “imminent eschatology”, and will address the subject again in more detail at the conclusion of this series.

7. The exhortation(s) to remain vigilant

Theological concerns have exaggerated the importance of the saying in Mk 13:32 par; its main purpose is to emphasize that no person can know precisely when the end-time Judgment will occur (or begin). It will come upon people suddenly and unexpectedly, overwhelming them, as in the Old Testament illustrations of Noah and Lot—i.e., the Flood and the fiery judgment on Sodom & Gomorrah (Matt 24:37-39ff; par Lk 17:26-35). Only the faithful and obedient (i.e. sober and vigilant) disciple will survive the coming Judgment. This is framed through the parable format, used frequently by Jesus, of servants who work while their Master is away—those who act irresponsibly or wickedly will be punished when the Master returns (unexpectedly!). This sort of illustration naturally led to an early Christian interpretation in terms of Jesus’ end-time return (already beginning here in Matthew’s version, vv. 37, 39, 42, 44); however, this may not have been the original meaning by Jesus—the Lord/Master (Mk 13:35) who comes is God appearing to bring Judgment (i.e. the “day of YHWH” tradition). We can, I think, trace this development of thought in the Gospel tradition:

    • The coming of God to bring Judgment
    • The coming of God’s appointed representative—the divine/heavenly being who possesses His authority (i.e. the Danielic “Son of Man”)
    • Jesus is identified with this “Son of Man” figure—i.e., it is the exalted Jesus who comes (or returns) at the time of Judgment

The Chronology of the Discourse

Finally, a word must be said about the chronology of the Eschatological Discourse. Chronological systems of eschatology have been (and continue to be) extremely popular among Christians, though most of them are questionable at best in terms of their assumptions and basic approach. It must be admitted, however, that one finds a certain amount of systematization within the Synoptic tradition itself, as it developed. This began, we may assume, with the initial formation of the Discourse, especially if it represents a traditional (literary) arrangement of eschatological sayings and teachings of Jesus. Beyond this, it is possible to discern chronological aspects to the uniquely Matthean and Lukan developments of the Discourse material. Luke, in particular, provides a more systematic arrangement of this material. On the basis of the principle of “progressive revelation”, one might choose to use Luke’s version as a guide for interpretation in this respect. Let us begin first, however, with the Markan version, which I would outline (chronologically) as follows:

    • A single period of “distress” which precedes the coming of the end, presented from three different points of view:
      (1) The world and humankind generally (vv. 5-8)
      (2) The disciples of Jesus (vv. 9-13)
      (3) The people of Judea specifically (vv. 14-22)
      [Probably the destruction of the Temple signifies the end/climax of this period]
    • The end of the current Age, marked by the appearance of the Son of Man and the gathering/deliverance of the Elect [i.e. the final Judgment] (vv. 24-27)

The Lukan version demonstrates a more precise sequence:

    • A period of mission work (and persecution) for Jesus’ disciples prior to the destruction of the Temple [c. 35-65? A.D.] (vv. 12-19)
    • A period of distress for Judea and Jerusalem, characterized by warfare/uprising (i.e. in the Roman Empire), the appearance of false prophets and false Messiahs, as well as signs in heaven indicating the coming suffering. The central event of this period (c. 66-70) is the (Roman) siege of Jerusalem, culminating in the destruction of the city and the Temple [70 A.D.] (vv. 8-11, 20-24)
    • (An intervening period during which Jerusalem is “trampled” by the Gentiles [Romans], i.e. the “times of the nations”, of unspecified length, v. 24)
    • A time of distress for all the Nations, again marked by signs in heaven, etc (vv. 25-26)
    • The coming of the Son of Man—the end of the current Age and the manifestation/realization of the Kingdom of God (vv. 27-28, 31)

Everything up to verse 24 was fulfilled by 70 A.D.; the remainder (vv. 24b-28), from the standpoint of the Gospel writer, probably was expected to occur within a relatively short time (a few years or decades?) after c. 70 A.D.

September 28: Revelation 6:12-17

Revelation 6:9-17 (continued)

Rev 6:12-17

The vision coming from the sixth seal moves us closer to the actual appearance of God’s end-time Judgment. As I noted previously, there is a similar sequence in the “Eschatological Discourse” of Jesus, which continues here:

On the last item, the parallel can be extended to include:

    • Similar allusions to the Old Testament Prophets (cf. below)
    • An illustration involving the fig-tree (v. 13, cp. Mark 13:28f)

The signs of severe disruption in nature, here in the vision, begin:

“…and there came to be a great shaking [i.e. earthquake], and the sun came to be black as a cloth of hair (for mourning), and the whole moon came to be as blood, and the stars of the heaven fell unto the earth, (even) as the fig-tree casts (down) her unripe (fig)s (when) being shaken under a great wind…” (vv. 12-13)

The language and imagery is similar to certain passages from the Prophets—cf. Joel 2:10, 31; Isa 13:10; 24:18b ff; 34:4; 50:3. It has ancient roots in the language used to express the idea of nature being affected by the appearance / manifestation of the Deity (theophany, esp. the storm-theophany motif). The earth is said to shake and tremble at God’s approach, affecting all areas of nature (Judg 5:4-5; Nah 1:5-6; Hab 3:5-6ff, etc); this became part of the imagery associated with the “day of YHWH”, a time of Judgment to come against the wicked nations, etc (Isa 13:13; Jer 51:29; Ezek 38:19-23). The darkening of sun and moon was a common motif in this regard (Joel 2:31; 3:15; Amos 5:20; 8:9; Zeph 1:15; Isa 13:10; 24:13; Ezek 32:7-8). This came to be traditional eschatological language, referring to the end-time Judgment, in Jewish apocalyptic literature (Testament of Moses 10:4-6; Sibylline Oracles 5:512ff, etc), and Jesus utilizes it in the Eschatological Discourse (Mark 13:24-25 par). Such natural phenomena were, of course, depicted and interpreted as signs of divine wrath, etc, in many cultures (see, e.g., Ovid Metamorphoses 15.785; Lucan Pharsalia 1.536ff; Koester, p. 402).

The destructive signs in nature continue:

“…and the heaven made space away [i.e. separated] as a paper-roll [i.e. scroll] being coiled up, and every mountain and island was moved out of their places.” (v. 14)

The motif of the heaven/sky “rolling up” like a scroll is found in Isa 34:4, being repeated a number of times in apocalyptic writings (Sibylline Oracles 3:83; 8:233, etc). This could mean that the sky is no longer visible, though the verb a)poxwri/zw literally indicates a separation—i.e. the sky/heaven becoming detached out of its place—which is in keeping with the idea that the mountains and islands are “moved out of their places”. Clearly, this reflects an extraordinary disruption of the natural order. The point of it all is as a sign that the end-time Judgment by God is beginning:

“And the kings of the earth and the greatest (one)s and the (leader)s of a thousand [i.e. military commanders], and the rich (one)s and the strong (one)s, and every slave and free (person alike), hid themselves into the caves and into the rocks of the mountains, and said to the mountains and the rocks: ‘Fall upon us, and hide us from the face of the (One) sitting upon the ruling-seat, and from the anger of the Lamb!…'” (vv. 15-16)

The call of frightened humanity for the hills and rocks to bury them is an echo of Hos 10:8, and is also used by Jesus (in an eschatological context) in Luke 23:30. Death within the very rocks were they are hiding would be preferable to facing God Himself. That this involves the manifestation and appearance of God is clear from the phrase “hide us from the face [pro/swpon] of the One sitting upon the throne”. At once the people on earth recognize the presence of God, and that he is the true Ruler of all. This, of course, relates most definitely to the vision of chapters 4-5, and demonstrates an example of how this central theme is developed and applied in the remainder of the book. While all of humanity is affected (“slave and free”), it is the rich and powerful who face the brunt of the Judgment—their positions of earthly/worldly power are reduced to nothing. This is all the more appropriate, since it is the powerful ones who played leading roles in both the destructive period of warfare (vv. 1-8) and the persecution of believers (vv. 9-11). Readers of the book would immediately have recognized that the Roman imperial government, and the rich and influential in society who chiefly benefited from it, were primarily in view.

Verse 17, in the context of the vision, continues the declaration of humankind, yet it actually functions as an objective statement (by the author/seer), announcing

“that the great day of His anger came [i.e. has come], and who is able to stand?”

A fundamental tenet of early Christian belief was that trust in Jesus, following him faithfully, would enable believers to “stand” in the Judgment. Paul alludes to this a number of times—cf. Rom 5:2; 14:4, 10; 1 Cor 10:12; 15:1, etc. Ephesians 6:11-14 seems to extend this idea, naturally enough, to the faithful endurance of believers, during the time(s) of testing as the end approaches (cf. Mark 13:13 par, etc). Only through faith in Christ can human beings be saved from the coming Judgment; otherwise, as the Scriptures indicate in many places, it is impossible to stand before the presence of God (1 Sam 6:20; Psalm 76:7; Job 41:10; Nah 1:6; Jer 49:19; 1 Chron 5:14; Ezra 9:15); the declaration here in v. 17 is perhaps closest in tone to Malachi 3:2.

It is also interesting to note that, here again, Jesus Christ (the Lamb) has been included alongside of God (cf. the discussion on chapters 4-5), being embedded within the declaration:

    • “the face of the One sitting upon the throne”
      —”the anger of the Lamb”
    • “the great day of His anger”

Early Christian tradition held firmly to the idea that Jesus, as God’s representative (His Anointed One), would judge the earth, when he appeared/returned at the end-time. This is indicated by Jesus himself through the identification with the heavenly/divine Son of Man figure (Dan 7:13-14, cf. Part 10 of the series “Yeshua the Anointed”) in Mark 13:26; 14:62 pars. At best, this is only alluded to here in Rev 6:17; it will be expressed more directly later on in the book.

This brings up the observation that, based on a comparison with the sequence of events in Jesus’ “Eschatological Discourse” (cf. above), we would expect, at this point in the book of Revelation, a description of Jesus’ return (Mk 13:26-27 par). After all, when nature itself is falling apart, and humankind realizes that God’s Judgment has come, what is left to narrate? Indeed, the first readers/hearers of the book would doubtless have been expecting this as well; and yet much more is recorded before that moment is reached, building considerable suspense. This is a powerful dramatic (and literary) device, but it also reflects the inspired artistry of the visions of the book. The three great vision-cycles do not simply narrate a straightforward linear sequence of events, but function in parallel, with overlapping elements and details. This will be discussed as we proceed through the remaining chapters.

Prophecy & Eschatology in the New Testament: The “Eschatological Discourse” (Part 3)

The “Eschatological Discourse” (Part 3)

We have already examined the Synoptic “Eschatological Discourse” as presented in Mark (Part 1) and Matthew (Part 2); now it is time to complete the picture with a study of the version in the Gospel of Luke. It was seen how the Matthean version followed the Markan version rather closely, with relatively minor differences in wording, but, at the same time, including additional material which significantly expanded the Discourse. The Lukan version also follows Mark, preserving the (original) scope of the Discourse, but with a simpler and more streamlined structure, as well as a distinctive historical emphasis and context. In many ways, the Lukan Discourse is most instructive for an understanding of the eschatology of the New Testament.

Luke 21:5-36

Lk 21:5-7—Introduction

The literary treatment of the material in Luke is smoother and more elegant, as is typically the case. Consider how the corresponding narrative in Mk 13:1 is summarized:

“And as some (were) relating about the sacred (place) [i.e. Temple], that (it was built) with (such) fine stones and arranged (with gift)s set up (for God), he [i.e. Jesus] said…” (v. 5)

A specific statement by the disciples has been turned into a generalized reference to the beauty and splendor of the Temple complex. The actual saying by Jesus predicting the Temple’s destruction (v. 6), though tailored to fit this syntax, remains close to the Synoptic/Markan form, but with two significant differences:

    • Jesus provides a time setting for the Temple’s destruction: “(the) days will come in which…”
    • The key verbs are given in future indicative, rather than aorist subjunctive, forms; this removes any sense of a threat by Jesus, making it a simple prediction of what will occur. This may relate to the Lukan omission of any reference to the reported saying that Jesus would destroy (and rebuild) the Temple (Mk 14:58 par), though the author surely was aware of the tradition (cf. Acts 6:14).

More substantial is the difference in the wording of the question by the disciples which follows (v. 7); here is a comparison of the three Synoptic versions:

    • “When will these (thing)s be, and what (is) the sign when all these (thing)s shall be about to be completed together [suntelei=sqai]?” (Mk 13:4)
    • “When will these (thing)s be, and what (is) the sign of your coming to be alongside [parousi/a] and of the completion (all) together [sunte/leia] of th(is) Age?” (Matt 24:3b)
    • “So when will these (thing)s be, and what (is) the sign when these (thing)s shall be about to come to be [gi/nesqai]?” (Lk 21:7)

This seems strong evidence in favor of the common Synoptic theory that Matthew and Luke each made use of Mark, adapting the Gospel material in various ways. Clearly, Matthew’s version expounds/explains the eschatological phrase “when all these things are about to be completed together” as “the completion of th(is) Age” marked by Jesus’ return (the noun parousi/a in its technical Christian sense). Luke follows the Markan form of the question much more closely, with two small differences: (a) “these things” instead of “all these things”, and (b) the simple verb gi/nomai (“come to be”) instead of the more technical suntele/w. Both changes appear to soften the eschatological impact of the question, and also limiting its scope to the more immediate issue of the fate of the Temple.

Lk 21:8-11—The sign(s) of what is to come

In this section, the same set of signs is given, as in Mk 13:5-8, and much of the wording is the same as well. The differences are relatively minor, but again rather significant:

    • In the reference to persons who come falsely in Jesus’ name (or claiming to be Jesus himself), verse 8 is almost identical with Mk 13:5-6, but has a different conclusion: “…saying ‘I am (he)’ and ‘the time has come near!’ You should not travel behind [i.e. follow after] them”. The claim “I am he” is paired with “the time has come near”, indicating the false message which might otherwise deceive Jesus’ disciples. The implications are that the period of trouble, prior to the destruction of the Temple, does not represent the actual coming of the end itself (cp. 2 Thess 2:2ff). Note the interesting parallel in wording (“the time has come near”) with the (eschatological) proclamation by Jesus himself in Mk 1:15 par (“the time has been fulfilled and the kingdom of God has come near”); significantly, Luke does not record this (but cf. 10:9-11).
    • When referring to the period of warfare among the nations, the Lukan form of Jesus’ explanation differs slightly:
      “…it is necessary (that these things) come to be, but the completion (is) not yet (here)” (Mk 13:7b)
      “…for it is necessary (that) these (thing)s first come to be, but the completion (does) not (come) straightaway” (Lk 21:9b)
      Luke’s version here establishes, in a subtle way, a more precise sequence of events.
    • The description of natural disasters/phenomena (Mk 13:8b) is expanded in Luke’s version: “…and there will be great shakings and (time)s of hunger and pestilence down (in many) places, and there will be fearful (thing)s and great signs from heaven” (v. 11). These serve, in large measure, to enhance the (eschatological) significance of the coming destruction of the Temple (cf. below).
    • Luke omits, or does not include, the final statement in Mark that “these are the beginning of (the birth) pains”
Lk 21:12-19—The persecution (of the disciples) which is to come

Compared with Matthew (cf. Part 2), the Lukan version follows Mark (13:9-13) quite closely in this section. Again, however, there are some important differences, beginning with the opening words of verse 12: “But before all these (thing)s (occur)…”. This makes clear what otherwise has to be inferred in Mark, that persecution of the disciples will take place even before the destruction of the Temple (and the signs preceding it). Obviously, this corresponds completely with the record in the book of Acts, all of which takes place prior to the war in 66-70. Luke also identifies the arrest/interrogation of believers in terms of the persecution of believers (“and they will pursue [diw/cousin] [you]”). There is an interesting shift in emphasis as well, regarding the purpose and effect of this persecution:

    • In Mark (13:9b), the arrest/interrogation of the disciples was allowed (by God) for the purpose of providing a witness to people on behalf of Jesus (i.e. proclamation of the Gospel)—”…unto a witness for/to them”
    • In Luke (v. 13), by contrast, this persecution serves as a witness for the disciples, i.e. their role as witnesses of Christ—”…it will step away [i.e. come out] for you unto a witness”

There is some question as to why Luke does not include the statement in Mk 13:10, given its obvious application to the narrative of the early Christian mission in the book of Acts. Fitzmyer, in his classic commentary (p. 1340) claims that this simply reflects the Lukan tendency to avoid using the noun eu)agge/lion, and does not have any eschatological significance per se. This is certainly possible; however, if the Gospel was composed after 70 A.D., it may also have been omitted to avoid any suggestion that the Christian mission would be completed entirely before the destruction of the Temple.

Most intriguing is the difference between verse 15 and Mk 13:11. The Markan form of the promise/exhortation to the disciples emphasizes the role of the Spirit, whereas in Luke it is the personal work of Jesus—”For I will give you a mouth and wisdom…”. This difference may be due to the fact that a similar statement, involving the Spirit, had already been presented earlier in the Gospel (12:11-12, par Matt 10:9-10). There are also a couple of differences in the concluding words of this section:

    • The addition of the proverbial saying in verse 18: “And (yet) a (single) hair out of your head shall not suffer loss from (this)”.
    • The wording of the final promise:
      “(It is) in your remaining under (that) you must acquire your souls” (v. 19)
      “…but the (one) remaining under unto the completion—this (one) will be saved!” (Mk 13:13b)

Given the reference to the disciples enduring persecution (and death), the saying in v. 18 seems somewhat out of place. In its proverbial sense (cf. 1 Sam 14:45; 2 Sam 14:11; 1 Kings 1:52; Acts 27:34), it is a generalized saying reflecting God’s care and protection for believers. However, the context of the parallel saying in 12:7 (par Matt 10:30), suggests that here it refers to the soul of the disciple/believer—though the body may be harmed, the soul will suffer no loss. The following statement in v. 19 would certainly confirm this. The same sentiment is expressed beautifully in the deutero-canonical book of Wisdom:

“But the souls of the just (one)s are in the hand of God,
and the torment [ba/sano$] shall (certainly) not touch them” (3:1)

The wording of verse 19 would appear to be another example of the Lukan softening of the eschatological implications for the disciples. The Markan form clearly indicates that the disciples are expected to continue faithfully, enduring persecution and the time of distress, until the end comes. In Luke, by contrast, it takes the form of a more general exhortation applicable to all believers. Both versions, however, emphasize the necessity for remaining faithful—it is only the faithful disciple who will be saved (i.e. “acquire [thei]r souls”) in the end.

Lk 21:20-24—The period of great distress before the end

It is here in this section that the Lukan version differs most noticeably from Mark and the Synoptic Discourse as a whole. The differences, compared with Mark-Matthew, may be summarized as follows:

    • The allusion to Dan 9:27 (Mk 13:14 par) has been replaced/explained entirely in terms of the coming military siege of Jerusalem (v. 20)
    • The statement regarding the “(great) distress [qli/yi$]” in Mk 13:19 par has similarly been ‘replaced’ by a more specific reference to the suffering and judgment to be faced by the people of Judea (v. 23b), mirrored by the additional saying in v. 22.
    • The references to the coming of false Messiahs/prophets and the role of the Elect in the time of distress (Mk 13:20-23 par) have all been omitted, or are otherwise not included.
    • Instead, the section concludes with a distinctive prophecy regarding the siege/destruction of Jerusalem (v. 24), following upon the initial warning in v. 20.

Thus, in Luke, the “time of distress” is made more precise and localized—it refers specifically to the judgment which will come upon Judea, centered in the form of a military siege of Jerusalem, leading to its conquest/destruction, and, with it, the destruction of the Temple. This naturally brings about a number of critical questions in terms of the relation of this Lukan version to the Synoptic Tradition.

First, we must consider v. 20 in relation to the Daniel allusion in Mk 13:14 par, discussed in Parts 1 & 2, the supplemental study on the influence of the book of Daniel on New Testament eschatology, as well as the earlier study on Dan 9:24-27. There are several possibilities:

    • Jesus made two different statements together, and the Gospel writers (Mark/Matt and Luke, respectively) each record only one. This would be a strict harmonization, perhaps favored/required by some traditional-critical commentators; it is, however, most unlikely. Three other options remain:
    • Luke has inserted a somewhat similar eschatological prediction (by Jesus) in place of the Synoptic (Mark/Matt) reference to Dan 9:27
    • Luke is explaining/interpreting an original saying by Jesus
    • Luke has the original saying by Jesus (in context), which the Synoptic tradition (in Mark/Matthew) has couched within a cryptic allusion to Dan 9:27

The second and third options are, in my view, the only viable alternatives. Both receive confirmation from the earlier words of Jesus in 19:41-44, located at the fateful moment of his approach to Jerusalem. If we accept vv. 43-44 as authentic, then Jesus, on at least one occasion, prophesied a horrific military siege of the city. The wording is similar to both the prediction of the Temple’s destruction (21:6 par), as well as that here in v. 20. And yet, the evidence cuts both ways; on the one hand, it supports the authenticity of such a prediction by Jesus, but, at the same time, it demonstrates the Gospel writer’s interest for including such detail (regarding the siege of Jerusalem) not found in any of the other Gospels. While the destruction of Jerusalem is certainly implied in the framework of the Eschatological Discourse, as well as in Lk 13:34-35 / Matt 23:37-39 (“Q” tradition), only in Luke do we find detail describing a specific military siege. The best explanation for this remains the critical assumption that the Lukan Gospel was written (shortly) after 70 A.D. This does not, by any means, invalidate the authenticity of the sayings; it does, however, explain why the Gospel writer chose to include them as he did.

The use of the word e)rh/mwsi$ (“desolation”) certainly derives from the LXX of Dan 9:27; 11:31; 12:11 and the Hebrew expression <m@v) JWQv! (“detestable [thing] causing devastation”), rendered in Greek as to\ bde/lugma th=$ e)rhmw/sew$ (“stinking [thing] of desolation”). The idea of causing (or intending to cause) desolation certainly fits well with the Roman siege/destruction of Jerusalem; even Josephus uses this sort of language, referring to the “desolation” (e)rhmi/a) coming upon the city and its people (War 6.288-96). As for the expression “days of (work)ing out justice” (h(me/rai e)kdikh/sew$), it may be drawn from Hos 9:7 LXX, with “justice” in the sense of punishment or retribution. In Hosea it refers to the judgment which is about to come upon Israel, and that is precisely the same context here in the Eschatological discourse—punishment upon Judea and Jerusalem. For similar language, cf. Deut 32:35; Jer 46:10 [LXX 26:10], and note the various oracles prophesying Jerusalem’s earlier destruction (Mic 3:12; Jer 6:1-8; 26:1-9).

The expression of woe in verse 23 is similar in theme to the prophecy by Jesus in 23:27-31, almost certainly referring to the same ‘time of distress’—the siege and destruction of Jerusalem (“the days are coming…”). For the language used by Jesus in that latter prophecy, cf. Isa 37:22; 54:1ff; Zeph 3:14; Zech 9:9. The idea of people calling to the mountains to cover them and put an end to their suffering, comes from Hos 10:8; its eschatological significance, as a reference to the end-time Judgment, is found in Rev 6:16. The setting in Lk 23:27-31 also makes clear a connection between the death of Jesus and the destruction of Jerusalem, however uncomfortable this might be for Christians today. The kindling/burning of the dry wood is a traditional symbol of judgment (Isa 10:16-19; Ezek 20:47, etc). Again, the suffering/judgment in the Lukan version of the Discourse is focused specifically on Judea (“this land” / “this people”).

The nature and reason for this punishment is explained by the allusions to Deut 28:64 (cf. also Sir 28:18) in verse 24. The context in Deuteronomy involves the curse/punishment which will come upon the people for disobedience (i.e. violating the covenant), as expressed similarly in Ezek 32:9; Ezra 9:7, etc. In the original historical tradition, siege/destruction led to exile among the nations; however, Zechariah 12:2-3ff describes things in the reverse direction—the nations gathering together for a siege of Jerusalem, in an eschatological setting. This language likely influenced the description in verse 24 of Jerusalem being “trampled under the nations” (cf. also Rev 11:2, and the [upcoming] daily note that verse). The closing phrase “until the [moment] at which the times of the nations should be fulfilled” gives a distinctive chronological setting to the Discourse which is unique to Luke’s version, and one which depends entirely on the destruction of the Temple in 70 A.D. as a point of reference. This will be discussed further in the conclusion to our study on the Discourse (Part 4). There is a reasonably close parallel to this language in Tob 14:5, and Paul uses a similar manner of speaking (Rom 11:25), though in terms of the early Christian mission to the Gentiles.

Luke 21:25-28—The coming of the Son of Man

Here the Lukan version follows Mark fairly closely, though with a somewhat different emphasis. The celestial phenomena (and the Scriptural allusions to them, cf. Part 1) in vv. 25f are no longer simply an indication of the Son of Man’s appearance (theophany). Rather, they now represent an extension of the Judgment coming upon humankind—in vv. 25-26 the Synoptic tradition has been adapted to include humanity’s reaction (fear and astonishment), in traditional language from the Old Testament (Psalm 46:4; Isa 24:19; cf. also Ps 65:8; 89:10). This brings the scene close in tone and feel to the sixth-seal vision in the book of Revelation (6:12-17). Also important is the shift in location from Judea to the whole “inhabited world” (oi)kome/nh); if verses 20-24 refer the Judgment coming upon Judea, vv. 25ff describe that coming upon the whole world. It is possible that the omission of the phrase “in those days” (Mk 13:24) is meant to emphasize this distinction of two periods of Judgment—one for Judea (culminating in the destruction of the Temple), and one for all the nations.

Luke’s version also has quite different wording in reference to the deliverance which the Son of Man brings. In Mk 13:27 par, we have the traditional eschatological imagery of Angels gathering the elect from the ends of the earth; by contrast, here we find a more general promise of salvation, though one with Messianic implications:

“And (when) these (thing)s are beginning to come to be, you must bend (your necks) up and lift up your heads, for (the reason) that [i.e. because] your loosing from (bondage) [a)polu/trwsi$] comes near!” (v. 28)

We may recall that Luke earlier had omitted the proclamation by Jesus that “the time is fulfilled and the kingdom of God has come near” (Mk 1:15 par, but cp. Lk 10:11); similarly, the declaration “the time has come near” is the mark of false Messiahs (v. 8). It is only with the appearance of the Son of Man, at the end-time, that the Kingdom truly “comes near” (vb. e)ggi/zw). The Anointed One now brings the long-awaited deliverance (lit. “loosing from [bondage]”) for the faithful ones among God’s people (on this expectation, cf. 1:68-77; 2:25-26, 38; 23:51). For the word a)polu/trwsi$ in this sense, as adapted by early Christians, see Acts 3:19-21; Rom 8:23; Eph 4:30.

Luke 21:29-33—Illustrations regarding the time of the End

A small but significant difference in the Lukan version here is the reference to the “Kingdom of God” in v. 31: “when you see these (thing)s coming to be, (then) know that the kingdom of God is near” (Mk 13:29 par, simply, “…know that it is near”). This repeats the point noted above—that in Luke, the coming of the Kingdom is specifically linked to the end-time, and is defined in terms of the appearance of the Son of Man (i.e. the return of Jesus, for early Christians). The Kingdom will not be fully realized until that time (cf. Acts 1:6-8). Another small difference is in the saying of v. 33, where Luke has “all things [pa/nta]” instead of “all these things [tau=ta pa/nta]” (Mk 13:30). In a subtle way, this deflects away from the signs of the end to its actual fulfillment—the coming of the Kingdom. The difficult saying in v. 33 par itself will be discussed in a separate article on imminent eschatology in the Gospels.

Luke 21:34-36—Concluding exhortation

Here Luke demonstrates a simplification/modification of the Synoptic discourse in Mk 13:33-37 par, with two notable results: (1) it emphasizes the idea of the coming Judgment, and (2) it becomes a more direct ethical exhortation for believers. The first point is brought out especially in verse 34b-35, making clear that the end-time Judgment will begin suddenly, without warning:

“…and that day will stand upon you without shining (in advance) [i.e. unexpectedly], as a trap—for it will come (suddenly) upon all the (one)s sitting [i.e. dwelling] upon the face of all the earth!”

The Judgment scene is described even more clearly in verse 36, moving from the experience of humankind on earth, to the heavenly court: “…to stand in front of the Son of Man [i.e. as Judge]” (cf. Matt 25:31-46, etc). Only the faithful disciple (believer) will be able to stand in the final Judgment, and pass through it. For the earliest Christians, this was the fundamental context and meaning of salvation—being saved from the coming Judgment.

The exhortation for believers here also specifically involves prayer (a special emphasis in Luke): “And (so) you must be without sleep [i.e. awake/alert], making request [i.e. praying] (to God) in every time…” It is this combination of alertness and devotion to God (in prayer) which marks the faithful disciple. The closing words encompass the entire discourse, as instruction for believers on how to be prepared for “all these (thing)s th(at) are about to come to be”—i.e. all that Jesus has mentioned in the Discourse. The seriousness of this is indicated by the exhortation to stay awake and in prayer (as in subsequent Passion scene in the garden, 22:40, 45-46 par). The time of distress, including temptation and persecution for believers, will require “strength against” it (vb. katisxu/w), and believers must be prepared to “flee out of” it (vb. e)kfeu/gw). This is very much the sort of idea expressed famously by Jesus in the Lord’s Prayer (Matt 6:13; Lk 11:4b), and provides confirmation for scholars who see a definite eschatological dimension to the prayer—there, too, Jesus speaks of the coming of the Kingdom (Matt 6:10/Lk 11:2), as here in v. 31.

For a number of references and insights mentioned above, I am indebted to the fine commentary on Luke by J. A. Fitzmyer in the Anchor Bible series (Vol 28A: 1985); for the Lukan “Eschatological Discourse”, cf. pp. 1323-56.

Supplemental Study: New Testament Eschatology and the Book of Daniel

Supplemental Study:
New Testament Eschatology and the Book of Daniel

Apart from the book of Isaiah (esp. Deutero-Isaiah, chaps. 40-66), no Old Testament writing influenced Jewish and early Christian eschatology more than the book of Daniel. The exact nature of this influence depends on how one dates the book and its composition. According to the standard critical view, the book, in the form we have it, was written around the year 165 B.C., though it may contain earlier traditions. This allows for the possibility that eschatological/apocalyptic themes in the book, which are also found in, for example, the Book of Enoch and a number of the Qumran texts (written earlier or around the same time), are not directly dependent on Daniel, but on a set of common traditions. By contrast, the traditional-conservative view holds that essentially the book is an authentic composition from Daniel’s own time (6th cent. B.C.). This would greatly increase the likelihood that similarities in the Qumran texts, etc, are inspired/influenced primarily, if not entirely, by the book of Daniel.

In this brief study, supplemental to the current series Prophecy and Eschatology in the New Testament, I will be examining several specific areas, as they relate to the use of Daniel in the New Testament:

    1. The use of Daniel in the Qumran texts
    2. The “Seventy Weeks” oracle in Dan 9:24-27
    3. The “Son of Man” vision in Dan 7:13-14ff
    4. The influence of the concluding visions in chapters 10-12

1. The use of Daniel in the Qumran texts

The book of Daniel features prominently in the Qumran texts (Dead Sea Scrolls), in several ways: (a) manuscripts of the book, (b) apocalyptic works influenced by Daniel, and (c) imagery and beliefs drawn from Daniel. The way the Qumran Community interpreted and applied the visions of the book is quite instructive for how the earliest Christians would have understood them as well.

a. Copies of Daniel at Qumran

There are eight manuscript copies of the book of Daniel among the Qumran texts, making it one of the most frequently copied Scriptures (after the Pentateuch, Isaiah, and Psalms). All of the manuscripts are quite fragmentary, but together they cover nearly the entire book. The relatively large number of copies is an indication of the importance and popularity of the book in the Qumran community.

b. The Pseudo-Danielic Writings

There are four texts which are sometimes referred to by the label “Pseudo-Daniel”, due to the presence of Daniel as a central character, or based on similarities to the Old Testament book. Like Dan 2:4b-7:28, these texts were all written in Aramaic.

The first text is represented, it seems, by two manuscripts (4Q243-244). Based on a reconstruction of the surviving fragments, a likely outline of the text can be established. Daniel is standing before Belshazzar (cf. Dan 5), and, like Stephen in his Acts 7 speech, delivers a history of God’s people which turns into a ‘prophecy’ of events which will occur in the Hellenistic period (as in Dan 10-11), and which, in turn, leads into a description of the end-time—after a period of great oppression, God’s people will be delivered and the holy kingdom established (cf. Dan 12:1ff). A second text, apparently with a similar structure and orientation, is preserved in a couple of small fragments (4Q245). Also surviving in a few fragments is the “Prayer of Nabonidus” (4Q242), which records an episode similar to that experienced by Nebuchadnezzar in Daniel 4, only here the central figure is king Nabû-na’id (Nabonidus, 556-539 B.C.). Many critical scholars, based on historical parallels with the Babylonian “Nabonidus Chronicle”, believe that the more authentic tradition may indeed have involved Nabonidus, who was replaced by Nebuchadnezzar in the Biblical account.

Especially significant is the fourth text, the famous 4Q246, surviving in a large fragment with two columns. It also has many parallels and similarities to the book of Daniel, in which a king’s troubling vision is interpreted by a prophet/seer (unnamed in the text as we have it). The seer announces events to come—a period of great distress, involving warfare among the kings/nations of the Near East (col. 1, lines 4-6), culminating in the rise of a great ruler who will bring an end to the wars (lines 7-9). A time of war and upheaval is mentioned again in column 2, lines 2-3, followed by the rise of the “people of God” (line 4). This has led some scholars to posit that the great ruler is actually a kind of ‘Antichrist’ figure who brings a false peace. The language used to describe him, however, makes this most unlikely. He is best viewed as a Messianic figure (of the Davidic-ruler type); and there are surprising parallels with the announcement of Jesus’ birth in Luke 1:32-33, 35. It is said of this person that:

    • “he will be great” (col. 1, line 7; Lk 1:32)
    • “he will be hailed as Son of God” (col. 2, line 1; Lk 1:35)
    • “he will be called Son of the Highest” (col. 2, line 1; Lk 1:32)
    • there is also reference to an “everlasting kingdom” (col. 2, lines 5, 9; Lk 1:33)

The rise of this figure is parallel to the rise of the “people of God”, similar to the pattern and structure we see in Daniel 7. Overall in the text, we see possible allusions to Dan 3:33; 4:31; 7:14, 27, and other portions of the book as well.

All of these texts provide evidence for the extent to which the book of Daniel (and/or its underlying traditions) helped to shaped the eschatological and apocalyptic worldview of the Qumran Community.

c. Other signs of influence at Qumran

There are numerous references or allusions to the book of Daniel in the Qumran texts; I point out here the most prominent of these.

i. The expression <ym!Y`h^ tyr!j&a^ (“after the days”, “following the days”, “[in] the following days”) is a common Semitic (and Old Testament) idiom; however, its distinctive eschatological connotation (“end of the days”, end time, etc) is probably due primarily to its occurrence in Daniel 2:28 and 10:14 (cf. also 8:19, 23; 12:8). It appears a number of times in the Qumran texts, such as: the Florilegium (4Q174, cf. below), the Damascus Document (CD 4:4; 6:11), the so-called ‘Messianic Rule’ (1QSa 1:1), the ‘Halakhic Letter’ (4QMMT C [4Q398] 13-16), and the Commentaries (pesharim) on Isaiah (4QpIsaa fr. 5-6, line 10) and Habakkuk 1QpHab 2:5-6).

ii. The so-called Florilegium (4Q174), in its surviving portion, consists of a series of Scripture verses which are given an eschatological (and Messianic) interpretation, viewed as referring to end-time events which were about to occur in the time of the Qumran Community. At the end of our surviving fragment, Daniel 12:10 is cited as an eschatological prophecy. We do not have the entire explanation/commentary on this verse, but it contains an allusion to Dan 11:32, and almost certainly would have been understood as applying to the Community as embodying the faithful ones of Israel at the end-time.

iii. The Commentary (pesher) on Habakkuk (§7) treats Hab 2:3, a verse which some commentators believe was utilized in the book of Daniel (8:17; 10:14; 11:27, 35; 12:12). While Daniel is not specifically cited here in the pesher, the astute readers of Scripture in the Qumran community would certainly have seen the connection. The theme in these verses is that there may be a ‘delay’ in the fulfillment of the prophecies. This allows for an exhortation to faithfulness, but also for the possibility that the ancient predictions of the coming end are about to be fulfilled in the Community’s own time.

iv. The Qumran texts record perhaps the earliest known attempt to make a precise calculation of when the end will occur, based on the “Seventy Weeks” oracle in Daniel 9 (cf. below), along with other time indicators given in the book. Naturally, the Community, like most groups with a strong eschatological orientation, believed that theirs was the time in which these things would come to pass. In the Damascus Document, a precise application of the “Seventy Weeks” oracle is made, in relation to the Community’s own history. CD 20:14 mentions the “forty years” which are to pass—i.e. from a particular point in their own recent history—which, according to their method of calculation, would complete the period of 490 (70 x 7) years prophesied in the book of Daniel.

2. The “Seventy Weeks” oracle in Dan 9:24-27

I have already presented a detailed examination of the background of this passage, as well as an exegetical analysis and interpretation, in an earlier study (part of the series “Yeshua the Anointed One”), and I will not repeat that here. Instead, I wish to focus specifically on the use of the passage in the Eschatological Discourse of Jesus, along with a brief consideration of its influence on 2 Thessalonians 2 and the early Christians “Antichrist” tradition.

At the beginning of vv. 14-23 in the Markan version of the Eschatological Discourse, Jesus states:

“And when you should see the ‘stinking thing of desolation’ [to\ bde/lugma th=$ e)rhmw/ew$] having stood where it is necessary (that it) not (be) [i.e. where it ought not to be]…then the (one)s in Yehudah must flee into the mountains…” (v. 14)

Matthew’s version here (24:15-16) is virtually identical, even including the same editorial aside (marked by the ellipsis above): “the (one) reading must put/keep (this) in mind”. The only difference is that in Matthew the allusion is made specific (“the [thing] uttered through Daniyyel the Foreteller”), and the phrase “where it is necessary (that it) not (be)” is explicitly identified with the Temple sanctuary: “…in the Holy Place”. Thus, in Matthew’s version, Jesus is describing a direct fulfillment of the thing prophesied in Dan 9:27—presumably meaning that some sort of idol/image is to be set up in the Temple, or that the holy place will be desecrated in a similar way. Luke’s version of this is radically different.

If we keep, for the moment, with the version in Mark/Matthew, we must ask what Jesus (and/or the Gospel writer) has in mind here. The editorial aside suggests that there is an accepted understanding or interpretation of this allusion, which the writer, at whatever point the aside was included (in Mark or an earlier source), would have assumed was known by his audience. Possibly Luke is clarifying this very interpretation, but there is no way of being certain on this point. The tradition in 2 Thessalonians 2 (cf. below), suggests that this is not the case; rather, a more literal kind of fulfillment of Dan 9:27 is in mind. The critical view, that the original passage refers to the actions of the Syrian ruler Antiochus IV (Epiphanes) c. 171-167 B.C., whether or not recognized by Jesus and his contemporaries, most likely serves as the pattern or model for what would take place in the great time of distress. As I mentioned in the earlier study on Dan 9:24-27, there are two possibilities which fit this pattern, and the historical context of the Eschatological Discourse (and the 1st century time frame of the Gospel tradition, c. 30-80 A.D.), reasonably well:

    • The emperor Gaius’ (Caligula) establishment of the imperial cult, including his statue which was to be placed in the Jerusalem Temple, transforming it into an imperial shrine (c. 40 A.D., Josephus, Antiquities 18.256-307). In his Commentary on Daniel (11:31), Jerome states that Antiochus IV had similarly set up an image of Jupiter (Zeus) Olympius in the Jerusalem Temple.
    • The transformation of Jerusalem into a (pagan) Roman city (Aelia Capitolina) in the reign of Hadrian, following the suppression of the Jewish (Bar-Kochba) revolt in 132-135 A.D.

If we wish to keep to the 1st century and the lifetime of the first disciples (Mark 13:30 par, etc) as a time frame, the first option is by far the closest fit, likely occurring less than 10 years after the end of Jesus’ ministry. Luke’s version (cf. Part 3 of the study on the Eschatological Discourse) more obviously relates to the siege and destruction of Jerusalem in 70 A.D., including the destruction and despoiling of the Temple. That interpretation also would generally fit within the lifetime of the disciples.

Many Christians today, under the realization that events described in the Discourse were not all fulfilled in the 1st century, naturally assume that much of it—including the allusion to Dan 9:27—still awaits fulfillment at a future time (and/or our own time). While this is an obvious solution to the problem, it tends to negate the significance of the passage for the first disciples and Jesus’ original audience. A solution which attempts to respect both sides of the equation—complete/accurate fulfillment without ignoring the original historical setting—usually involves a two-layer interpretation: partial fulfillment in the disciples’ own time (1st century) and complete fulfillment at a time yet to come.

The same difficulty arises when we turn to Paul’s own “eschatological discourse” in 2 Thessalonians 2 (to be discussed in an upcoming study in this series). In verses 3-4, Paul seems to be drawing upon the same Dan 9:27 tradition, as interpreted by early Christians—perhaps even referring to the exact Gospel tradition in Mark 13:14ff par. However, here it is not an image/statue of the ruler, but the ruler himself who “sits in the shrine of God”, indicating that he is God. If 2 Thessalonians is genuinely Pauline (as the text claims), then it was likely written around 50 A.D., or perhaps a bit earlier. The actions and policies of the emperor Gaius, c. 40 (cf. above) would have still been fresh in the minds of many Jewish and Christians; Paul may be envisioning and describing a similar sort of action, only on a more extreme scale of wickedness. Obviously there is a problem here in considering Paul’s discourse as authentic prophecy, since, by all accounts, nothing of the sort took place in the Jerusalem Temple while it stood. This has led commentators to adopt various solutions, none of which are entirely satisfactory. One option is to assume that the Temple setting should be understood figuratively, in terms of a wicked ruler desecrating the holy things of God (in a more general sense); this allows the prophecy still to apply to a future end-time ruler. A more literal interpretation would require that the Temple be rebuilt at a future time (a dubious proposition itself); yet, there is nothing at all in the text to indicate that Paul is speaking of any other Temple than the one standing in his day.

The Gospel tradition surrounding the reference to Dan 9:27 certainly played a role in the development of the early Christian “Antichrist” tradition, though it is not possible to trace this in detail. Roughly speaking, Paul’s account in 2 Thessalonians 2 appears to stand halfway between the saying in Mark 13:14 par and the Beast-vision(s) in the book of Revelation (esp. chapter 13). Revelation 13:11-18 describes a great world-ruler, along the lines of the Roman Empire/Emperor, who controls all of society and requires that all people worship him. This figure is typically referred to as “Antichrist”, though the word itself is never used in the book of Revelation, occurring only in the Letters of John (1 Jn 2:18, 22; 4:3; 2 Jn 7), where it refers both to a spirit of false belief and to false believers who act/speak according to this spirit. Many commentators assume that 1 Jn 2:18 also refers to an early form of the “Antichrist” tradition similar to the “man of sin/lawlessness” in 2 Thess 2, but I am by no means convinced of this. It does, however, reflect the common worldview that, as the end-time approaches, wicked leaders and rulers, false Christs and false prophets, etc, would arise and exercise baleful power/influence over people at large. There is every reason to think that much of this expectation goes back to Jesus’ own teaching, such as is preserved in the Eschatological Discourse.

3. The “Son of Man” vision in Dan 7:13-14ff

I have also examined this particular passage in considerable detail as part of the series “Yeshua the Anointed”, and will here limit the discussion to its influence on the New Testament and early Christian tradition. Three areas will be dealt with: (a) the sayings of Jesus in Mark 13:26-27; 14:62, etc; (b) the references in Revelation 1:7, 13; 14:14; and (c) its relation to the early Christian expectation of Jesus’ future return.

a. Mark 13:26-27; 14:62 par

I discussed the background of the title “Son of Man”, and its use to designate a Messianic figure-type, in Part 10 of the series “Yeshua the Anointed”. This eschatological use of the title comes primarily, if not exclusively, from Daniel 7:13-14. Taken together with the references to Michael (10:13ff; 12:1ff), who is identified with the “one like a son of man” in Dan 7 by many commentators, we have the portrait of a divine/heavenly figure who functions as God’s appointed representative to deliver His people, bring about the Judgment, and establish the Kingdom of God at the end-time. This, indeed, is the very sort of picture we see in Jesus’ eschatological sayings involving the “Son of Man”. Nowhere is this stated to precisely as in the Eschatological discourse, where the appearance of the Son of Man is described (in the Markan version) as follows:

“And then they will look with (open) eyes at the Son of Man coming in/on (the) clouds with great power and splendor. And then he will set forth the Messengers and they will bring together upon (one place) the (chosen one)s gathered out, (from) out of the four winds, from (the farthest) point of earth unto (the farthest) point of heaven.” (13:26-27)

This clearly draws upon the image in Dan 7:13, where the “one like a son of man” is seen coming “with the clouds of heaven”. In Daniel, the heavenly/divine figure comes toward God (the ‘Ancient of Days’); but, according to the basic eschatological framework (based on Dan 12:1ff, etc), this has shifted to an appearance on earth at the end-time. The Son of Man comes to deliver the elect/chosen ones among God’s people, and to usher in the Judgment. There is some thought among (critical) commentators that Jesus here, and in other Son of Man sayings, is referring to a separate divine/heavenly figure and not to himself. While Mk 13:26 par, in its original context, could conceivably be interpreted this way, the subsequent saying in 14:62 par, during Jesus’ interrogation before the Jewish Council (Sanhedrin), cannot. The Synoptic tradition, despite some variation among the Gospels, is quite clear on this point. The Council (High Priest, in Mark/Matthew) asks Jesus specifically about his identity and self-understanding: “Are you the Anointed (One), the Son of the Blessed (One)?” (v. 61). This is the context for the Son of Man saying which follows:

“I am; and you will look with (open) eyes at the Son of Man sitting out of the giving (hand) [i.e. at the right hand] of the Power, and coming with the clouds of heaven.” (v. 62)

The phrase “with the clouds of heaven” is a more direct quote from Dan 7:13 than in Mk 13:26. It is joined with an allusion, almost certainly, to Psalm 110:1, reflecting (and introducing) the idea, which would become so prominent in the earliest Christian tradition, of Jesus’ exaltation to God’s right hand (in Heaven) following the resurrection. Since it is stated that the people in the Council will see the Son of Man coming, this is usually understood in terms of the Son of Man’s end-time appearance on earth. However, in light of the actual context of Dan 7:13-14, and traditional references such as in Acts 7:55-56, some commentators would interpret this differently. For example, W. F. Albright and C. S. Mann, in their commentary on Matthew in the Anchor Bible series, argued strongly that all these references to the Son of Man’s coming in glory originally referred to the exaltation of Jesus—his coming to God the Father in Heaven (as in Dan 7:13f); only secondarily did early Christians apply this in terms of Jesus’ future return. I do not agree with this interpretation, especially as it relates to the eschatological description in Mk 13:26-27, since it would ignore the rather clear tradition of the end-time deliverer’s appearance (from Dan 12:1ff), so central to much Jewish eschatology of the period.

b. Revelation 1:7, 13; 14:14

The book of Revelation cites or alludes to Daniel 7:13-14 several times as well. The first is the poetic utterance at the close of the introduction, which combines Zech 12:10 along with Dan 7:13:

“See, he comes with the clouds—and every eye will look on him, even the same (one)s who stabbed out (into) him, and all the offshoots [i.e. tribes/races] of the earth will beat (themselves) over him. Yes, amen.” (1:7)

Interestingly, the same two Scriptures are also brought together in Matthew’s version (24:30) of the Son of Man saying in Mk 13:26 (above). There can be no doubt that here Dan 7:13 refers to a visible appearance to the people on earth at the end-time. All of the book of Revelation emphasizes the status/position of the exalted Jesus—this traditional usage of Dan 7:13 brings out the motif, otherwise associated with the Son of Man figure in the Gospel tradition, of Jesus’ return in divine glory.

Verse 13 is part of the introductory vision (of the exalted Jesus), and it is an even more precise quotation from Dan 7:13. Strictly speaking, it is not the title “Son of Man”, as used by Jesus in the Gospel tradition; rather, the description goes back to the actual wording of the original Daniel vision:

“…and, in the middle of the lamp(stand)s, (one) like a son of man, sunk in [i.e. clothed with] (a garment down) to the feet, and having been girded about…with a golden girdle.” (v. 13)

This identifies the exalted Jesus precisely with the heavenly “Son of Man” figure in Dan 7. Much the same occurs in the visionary description of 14:14:

“And I saw [i.e. looked], and see!—a white cloud, and upon the cloud was sitting (one) like a son of man, holding upon his head a golden crown/wreath and in his hand a sharp tool (for) plucking [i.e. sickle].”

This brings together three distinct eschatological elements:

    • The exalted Jesus as the Son of Man figure in Daniel
    • His visible appearance in/on the clouds, and
    • The coming of the Son of Man figure to bring about the end-time Judgment

These last two references in the book of Revelation are, apart from Stephen’s vision in Acts 7:55-56 (which echoes Mk 14:62 par), the only occurrences of the title/expression “Son of Man” in the New Testament outside of the Gospels.

c. Jesus’ Return in early Christian Tradition

The extent to which Daniel 7:13-14 influenced early Christian eschatology, this appears to have taken place almost entirely through the Gospel tradition. I note several relevant examples:

    • The imagery of the Ascension narrative in Acts (1:9), where it is stated that Jesus was visibly “taken up” into a cloud, and it is announced to the disciples (v. 11) that Jesus will return just as he was taken up—i.e. in/on the clouds.
    • In Paul’s (only) description of Jesus’ future return, 1 Thess 4:17, believers will be snatched up into the clouds, where we/they will meet Jesus—i.e. his presence/appearance is in/on the clouds. This seems to reflect the basic tradition in Mk 13:26-27 par.
    • The frequent theme in early Christian preaching, of Jesus’ exaltation to Heaven, implies that he comes toward the Father, where he receives a position in glory at God’s right hand (Mk 12:36 par; [16:19]; Acts 2:33-34; 5:31; Rom 8:34; Phil 2:9; Heb 1:3, etc). Again, it is fair to say that this basic belief reflects the combination of Dan 7:13 and Psalm 110:1 expressed in Mk 14:62 par. It is from that position in Heaven, in glory, that Jesus will come to judge the world (Acts 17:31, etc).

4. The Influence of the Visions in Daniel 10-12

From the standpoint of the structure of the book of Daniel, chapters 7-12 should be taken together, as a collection of oracles and visions of events to come—covering the Hellenistic period (to at least the time c. 165-4 B.C.), and culminating in the eschatological period (time of the end), however this is to be defined (and interpretations differ widely). Since we have already discussed chapter 7 and 9, it is worth focusing here on the visions in chapters 10-11, and, especially, the concluding scene in chapter 12. These three chapters played a significant role in shaping Jewish and early Christian eschatology. There are several factors to be noted:

    • The presence of the heavenly being Michael as protector/deliverer of the faithful (10:13, 21; 12:1)
    • The period of warfare and persecution, detailed particularly in chaps. 10-11; there is a heavenly component to this warfare as well which suited eschatological and apocalyptic thinking.
    • The rise of wicked rulers and powers, who are described symbolically as animals/beasts (also in chapters 7-8); the descriptions in chaps. 10-11 build more readily upon the famous passage in 9:24-27.
    • The expression of a distinct eschatological/apocalyptic world view—history progressing, growing in violence and wickedness, to culminate in a sudden and intense period of suffering and distress before the appearance of the end.

In addition, there are a number of specific details in chapter 12, in particular, which are of tremendous importance:

    • The appearance of the heavenly savior-figure (Michael) at the end time (v. 1)
    • The reference to a period of great distress which will engulf all the nations (v. 1)
    • Association with the time of the resurrection, with the implied Judgment (v. 2)
    • The separation of the righteous and the wicked (v. 2-3, 10ff)
    • The heavenly/eternal reward of the righteous, following the Judgment (v. 3)
    • The events/time of the end as a secret or mystery hidden away (sealed) (v. 4, 9)
    • Daniel’s question of “when / how long?” (v. 6), with the visionary/heavenly answer (vv. 7ff)
    • A period of intense persecution of God’s people (vv. 7ff)
    • The time-indicators and connection back to 9:24-27 (vv. 7, 11-12)

We saw above (Section 1) the way in which Dan 12:1ff influenced the eschatology (and Messianism) of the Qumran texts. Similarly, a careful reading of the Synoptic Eschatological Discourse (Mark 13 par), especially in verses 14-27, shows that Jesus is drawing significantly upon Daniel 12. The statement in verse 19 is virtually a quotation from Dan 12:1:

“For (in) those days (there) will be distress of which there has not come to be such as this, from the beginning of the formation (of the world) which God formed until the (time) now, and (there certainly) would not come to be (so again)!”

The entire period of distress described in vv. 14-22, and beginning with the allusion to Dan 9:27 (cf. also 12:11), seems to have chapter 12 in mind. Moreover, the time of warfare mentioned in vv. 7-8 could easily refer to Dan 10-11. Given the similarity (and traditional association) between Michael and the heavenly “Son of Man” figure, Jesus’ description of the Son of Man’s sudden appearance (vv. 26-27) to deliver the elect fits well with the reference to Michael in Dan 12:1. Also, the time of persecution (of the disciples), with the climactic exhortation to endure until the end is reflected at several points in Dan 12.

Other (eschatological) sayings and teachings of Jesus may allude to these chapters as well. Cf. for example, Matt 10:22 (Dan 12:12-13); 13:43 (Dan 12:3); 25:46, also John 5:29 (Dan 12:2); Luke 10:21b (Dan 12:1). Their influence may be reflected variously at other points in the New Testament, such as in Paul’s description of the “man of sin/lawlessness” in 2 Thess 2:3ff (cf. Dan 11:36, etc), or in the numerous exhortation to be faithful and endure until the end (James 1:12, etc).

The book of Revelation is, of course, heavily influenced by the book of Daniel, and also these chapters in particular. These are being discussed throughout the current series of daily notes on Revelation, but we may highlight some of the more important themes and motifs here:

    • The important position of Michael, who engages in heavenly warfare with the wicked powers (as in Daniel 10, cf. above)—Rev 12:7-9ff
    • The sealing of the visionary book, only to be opened at the time of the end (Dan 12:4, 9; also 8:26; 9:24)—Rev 5-6; 8:1ff; also 10:4; 22:10
    • The period of “great distress”, and of the faithful believers who come through this time and receive heavenly/eternal reward (Dan 12:1ff)—Rev 1:9; 7:14 (cf. chap 6 and subsequent visions in the book)
    • The specific idiom “time, times, and half a time” (i.e. 3½ years) in Dan 12:7, 14 (cf. also 9:27 where the same period of time is indicated)—Rev 12:14
    • The Beast-visions in Revelation 13 (also subsequent chapters) are largely inspired by the book of Daniel—the famous visions in chapters 4 and 7, but also in the kings and powers at war in chapters 10-11 (cf. 11:36, etc)

Prophecy & Eschatology in the New Testament: The “Eschatological Discourse” (Part 2)

The “Eschatological Discourse” (Part 2)

In Part 1 of this study, I surveyed the Synoptic Eschatological Discourse as represented by Mark 13. According to the common hypothesis, held by many critical scholars, the Gospel of Mark was used as a source by both Matthew and Luke. Whatever the precise relationship between the Synoptic Gospels, it is clear that they draw upon a common line of tradition, in which the same material occurs in the same sequence and setting. This is certainly true of the Eschatological Discourse. It is part of the common Synoptic narrative, derived either from Mark, or from a Gospel framework with a similar outline and set of contents. In discussing the Matthean version of the Discourse, I will be focusing almost entirely on the elements or features which are distinct or different from the Markan version. These may be viewed either as Matthean additions and modifications, or in terms of a particular (literary) arrangement and emphasis which the writer has given to the material.

Matthew 24

Matt 24:1-3—Introduction

Matthew’s version follows Mark quite closely, as can be seen already in the introduction (vv. 1-3; comp. Mk 13:1-4). Matthew’s account differs here in two respects: (1) it has a simpler narrative, with less local color/detail, and (2) it evinces a more distinctly Christian perspective. On the first point, one simply notes the omission of the disciples’ words in Mk 13:1 commenting on the great stones and buildings of the Temple complex, as also the fact that the disciples who subsequently approach Jesus (v. 3) are left unnamed (in Mk 13:3 they are identified as Peter, James, John, and Andrew). The second point touches upon the most significant difference in these verses—the form of the question posed by the disciples to Jesus. Compare the question in Mark and Matthew, respectively:

    • “Say to us [i.e. tell us], when will these (thing)s be, and what (is) the sign when all these (thing)s are about to be completed (all) together [suntelei=sqai]?” (Mk 13:4)
    • “Say to us [i.e. tell us], when will these (thing)s be, and what (is) the sign of your (com)ing to be alongside [parousi/a] and (of) the completion together [sunte/leia] of th(is) Age?” (Matt 24:3b)

The first part is virtually identical, but the second portion differs considerably. In Mark the question refers, somewhat ambiguously, to “all these things”—in the present literary context, this must refer primarily to the time-frame of the Temple’s impending destruction; however, we may infer that other teaching regarding the end-time, especially the coming Judgment, may also be involved. The disciples ask for a sign (shmei=on) so they may known when these things will occur. The verb suntele/w, literally refers to “all these things” being completed together; an eschatological context is implied (i.e. the end of the current Age). Matthew’s version makes this context much more specific: “…the completion (all) together of th(is) Age“. The noun sunte/leia is related to the verb suntele/w, but functions as a distinct technical term (Dan [LXX] 8:17, 19; 11:27, 35, 40; 12:4, 6-7, 9; Matt 28:20; Heb 9:26; cf. also Testament of Zebulun 9:9; Benjamin 10:3, etc). More problematic is the way that this eschatological context is tied to the (early Christian) idea of Jesus’ future return, using the technical term parousi/a (parousia, “[com]ing to be alongside”). The actual disciples of Jesus, at this point, prior to his death and resurrection, would have had little or no sense of his future return. At best, they may have begun to connect his statements regarding the end-time appearance of the “Son of Man” with Jesus’ use of that expression as a self-designation. From the standpoint of historical accuracy, it is hard to see the disciples formulating the question this way. The Markan version is more realistic; Matthew here likely reflects a Christian gloss, or explanation, of the disciples’ words.

Matt 24:4-8—The sign(s) of what is to come

In Mark 13:5-8, Jesus gives an answer to the second question by the disciples (“what is the sign…?”), outlining several things which will occur before the coming of the end: (a) people coming falsely in Jesus’ name, (b) a period of warfare among the nations, and (c) shakings/earthquakes in various places. Matthew’s version is nearly identical in this description, with a number of small, but significant differences. Two may be noted:

i. In Mark 13:6 Jesus warns his disciples: “Many (people) will come upon my name, saying that ‘I am (he)’…”. This indicates that there will be persons who claim to speak for Jesus (prophetically), or, perhaps, claim to be Jesus himself. At the same time, later in the Discourse (vv. 21-22), Jesus warns of the coming of false Messiahs—lit. “false Anointed (One)s”, in Greek yeudo/xristoi (i.e. false Christs). Matthew’s version brings this association into the earlier saying as well:

“For many (people) will come upon my name, saying ‘I am the Anointed (One)'” (v. 5)

This appears to reflect a degree of confusion in the Gospel Tradition—a confusion which clears itself up instantly when we realize that, for early Christians, claiming to be the Messiah and claiming to be Jesus were effectively the same thing. From the standpoint of the historical Jesus’ teaching to his disciples, however, this simple identification is problematic. A warning against people claiming to be the Messiah is more realistic in a first-century eschatological setting; in this regard, Matthew’s version is perhaps closer to Jesus’ original intent.

ii. In Mark 13:7, Jesus says: “But when you hear of wars…”; Matthew (v. 6) phrases this a bit differently:

“And you are about to hear of wars…”

This has two subtle effects: (a) it enhances the passage as a prophetic declaration by Jesus, and (b) it distances the coming period of warfare from the present moment. This is perhaps significant in relation to Jesus’ statement in v. 6b (= Mk 13:7b) that “…the completion [te/lo$] is not yet (here)”.

Matt 24:9-14—The persecution (of the disciples) which is to come

Here Matthew’s version, while following the same outline as Mark, differs more substantially in the way the material is presented, as well as in the points of emphasis reflected in Jesus’ words. To begin with, the prediction in Mk 13:9 refers to the disciples being brought before the Jewish council(s), as well as the courts/tribunals of rulers (in the wider Greco-Roman world), enduring beatings and mistreatment during the process of interrogation. In Matthew, by contrast, the prediction is more general and harsher in nature:

“Then they will give you along into distress and will kill you off, and you will be (one)s being [i.e. who are] hated under [i.e. by] all (people) through [i.e. because of] my name.” (v. 9)

Another difference is that the statement in Mk 13:10 occurs in Matthew at the end of the section (v. 14, cf. below). It may be helpful to compare the Markan and Matthean versions, in outline (marked by letters to aid in comparison):

    • Mark 13:9-13:
      • [A] Interrogation and mistreatment of the disciples before ruling authorities (v. 9)
      • [B] Statement on the proclamation of the good message into all the nations (v. 10)
      • [C] Promise that the Holy Spirit will inspire the disciples when they speak (v. 11)
      • [D] Hostility and division within families (over the Gospel), leading to persecution and death (v. 12)
      • [E] Promise that the one who endures to the end will be saved (v. 13)
    • Matt 24:9-14:
      • [A*] Mistreatment of the disciples[, including being put to death; hatred by all people] (v. 9)
      • [**] Lack of faith and betrayal (i.e. abandoning the true/Christian faith) by many (v. 10)
      • [**] Rise of false prophets (v. 11, cf. v. 24)
      • [**] Increase in lawlessness and lack of love (v. 12)
      • [E] Promise that the one who endures to the end will be saved (v. 13)
      • [B*] Statement on the proclamation of the good message to all the nations (v. 14)
        Note: asterisks indicate sayings or details in Matthew not found in Mark

Matthew’s version thus differs from the Markan in three respects:

    • The suffering/persecution faced by the disciples (or believers) is made more general
    • The statements regarding the work of the Spirit and division within families (Mk 13:11-12) are replaced by a trio of statements describing the overall decline of both the (early Christian) Community and society in general; however, note the similar promise regarding the role of the Spirit in 10:9-10 (par Lk 12:11-12).
    • The statement on the proclamation of the Gospel to the nations occurs at the end of the section

Overall, in Matthew’s version, this section paints a more negative portrait of both the condition of the world (i.e. human society) and the difficulties faced by the disciples (believers) in this environment. On the one hand, the emphasis on a period of missionary work by the disciples, central to the Markan version of this section, is not present in Matthew’s version. At the same time, what remains of this mission (proclamation of the good message) is given a more robust formulation in the saying corresponding to Mk 13:10:

    • “And it is necessary first to proclaim the good message into all the nations.”
    • Matt 24:14:
      “And this good message of the Kingdom will be proclaimed in the whole inhabited (world) unto a witness for all the nations—and then the completion [te/lo$] will come/arrive!”

The context and significance of these two statements are dramatically different. In Mark, the Jesus’ words simply indicate that the disciples will not face the persecution mentioned in 13:9 until they first begin to proclaim the good message. In Matthew, it becomes a sign of what must first happen before the end comes! This Matthean formulation, while authentic enough in comparison with, e.g., Lk 24:47-49; Acts 1:8; Matt 28:19-20, appears out of place at this point in the Eschatological Discourse, when judged from an historical-critical standpoint. The Markan version is much more realistic within the overall context of this material. Again, Matt 24:14 may well be an early Christian gloss, reflecting (accurately) the belief that a period of extensive missionary work would have to occur before the end comes. This will be discussed further in Parts 3 and 4, as well as in the study on the eschatology in the book of Acts.

Matt 24:15-28—The period of great distress before the end

This section corresponds to Mark 13:14-23, and follows it relatively closely in outline and in much of the wording. However, Matthew has an expanded, developed form of this material, primarily in verses 26-28 which appear to have been added/appended to the Synoptic section (represented by Mark); their secondary character is confirmed by the fact that Luke has the same sayings as vv. 27-28, but in an entirely different location (17:24, 37). This does not mean that the sayings are inauthentic; on the contrary, it confirms that the Discourse itself is most likely a traditional/literary arrangement of (authentic) material on eschatological themes. Matthew simply has a more extensive arrangement at this point.

This first significant point of difference is in the allusion to Dan 9:27 in Mark 13:14, which Matthew (v. 15) makes specific and turns into a direct citation; compare (differences in italics):

    • But when you should see the stinking thing [bde/lugma] of desolation having stood where it is necessary (that it should) not—the one knowing this again (through reading) must put his mind (to it)—then the (one)s in Yehudah must flee into the mountains…” (Mk 13:14)
    • Therefore when you should see ‘the stinking thing of desolation’ that was uttered through Danîyel the Foreteller (now) having stood in the holy place—the one knowing this again (through reading) must put his mind (to it)—then the (one)s in Yehudah must flee into the mountains…” (Matt 24:15-16)

If the saying of Jesus in Mark is authentic (in that precise wording), then most likely Matthew has modified it to give clarity for his readers, making clear that: (a) the expression “the stinking thing of desolation” comes from Daniel (9:27), and (b) that the phrase “having stood where it is necessary (that it should) not” refers to a location in the Temple (“holy place”), that is, in the sanctuary, as indicated in Daniel. I have discussed Dan 9:24-27 in its original context in an earlier detailed study. Most commentators accept that v. 27 refers primarily to the desecration of the Temple by the Syrian/Seleucid ruler Antiochus IV Epiphanes, with a corresponding disruption of the Temple ritual, 167-164 B.C. According to 1 Maccabees 1:54, this involved a pagan altar that Antiochus IV had set upon the altar in the Temple (v. 59, also 4:43), and upon which, it would seem, unlawful/unclean pagan sacrifices were offered (cf. 2 Macc 6:5). In his Commentary on Daniel (11:31), Jerome states that Antiochus IV had set up an image of Jupiter (Zeus) Olympius in the Jerusalem Temple, a pattern which was to be repeated by the emperor Gaius (Caligula). Jesus’ use of Dan 9:27 indicates that he is predicting something similar to happen at the end-time, and it could conceivably relate to the historical actions/intentions of the emperor (c. 40 A.D.).

It is not clear what the editorial aside (in English idiom, something like “let the reader understand”) means specifically. The author who inserted it (whether the [Markan] Gospel writer or an earlier source) must have assumed his audience would have understood the context and significance of Jesus’ saying, and is thus referring to an early interpretation, perhaps tying it to the present circumstances related to Roman rule over Jerusalem. That is certainly how it is interpreted in the Lukan version (to be discussed in Part 3), where it is connected with the (Roman) siege of Jerusalem, fulfilled in 70 A.D. Matthew’s version, however, does not take that step, but follows the Synoptic/Markan form of the section closely. Whatever is to take place in the Temple, it marks the beginning of the brief but intense period of “great distress” for Judea described in vv. 17ff (par Mk 13:15-22). The summary statement utilizing the expression (“great distress”) is a citation/allusion from Dan 12:1; in Mark (13:19) it reads:

“For (in) those days there will be distress [qli/yi$], (and) of such (kind) as this (there) has not come to be, from the beginning of (the world’s) formation which God formed, until now, and (surely) will not (ever) come to be (again)!”

Matthew has a slightly different formulation, simpler and more pointed:

“For then there will be great distress, such as has not come to be, from the beginning of the world-order [ko/smo$] until now, and (so) will not (ever) come to be (again)!” (Matt 24:21)

The expression “great distress” suggests a development in the tradition (cf. Rev 7:14), echoed by the expanded version of the remainder of the section in Matthew, with the addition of the sayings in vv. 26-28. The effect of this expansion to enhance the role of believers (the elect) during this period. In Mark, the structure of the section may be outlined:

    • Allusion to Dan 9:27, marking the time of distress (13:14a)
    • Warnings and instruction regarding the severity of the coming distress, in traditional language and imagery (vv. 14b-18)
    • Statement on the time of distress (v. 19)
    • The Elect in the time of distress (vv. 20-22)
      —It will be cut short through the (presence/activity of the) Elect (v. 20)
      —False claims that the Messiah has appeared or is in a particular location (v. 21)
      —The appearance of miracle-working false Messiahs/prophets who might deceive the Elect (v. 22)
    • Final exhortation (v. 23)

Here is the portion corresponding to vv. 20-23 in Matthew:

    • The Elect in the time of distress (24:22-28)
      • Duration: It will be cut short through the (presence/activity of the) Elect (v. 22)
      • Character of it: A time of testing for the Elect—False signs and testimony:
        —Claims that the Messiah has appeared (v. 23)
        —Appearance of miracle-working false Messiahs/prophets (v. 24)
        —Importance of this: Jesus is warning them ahead of time (v. 25)
        —Claims that the Messiah has appeared in various locations, outdoor and inside (v. 26)
        —The true Messiah (Son of Man) will appear suddenly, in a manner visible and unmistakable to everyone (v. 27)
        —Proverb: The false prophets are like vultures circling around, taking advantage of the time of distress (v. 28)

The closing exhortation in Mark 13:23 thus serves a different purpose in Matthew: instead of being an assurance by Jesus to his disciples that they will be able to recognize the signs and events of the end-time when they come, it specifically relates to the appearance of false Messiahs and false prophets. This takes on much greater importance in Matthew’s version, and the three added sayings enhance and reinforce the message:

    • 26—Repeated warning regarding claims that the Messiah has appeared
    • 27—Contrast with the actual appearance of the true Messiah (Son of Man), that it will be clear and unmistakable to everyone
    • 28—Closing illustration: The false Messiahs/prophets are like vultures circling around a dead body, taking advantage of people in the time of distress

This is an altogether different sort of eschatological setting for the material than in the Gospel of Luke (17:23-24, 37); the way these sayings were adapted and included by each Gospel writer will be discussed in Part 3 on the Lukan version of the Discourse.

Matt 24:29-31—The appearance of the Son of Man at the end-time

In the outline of the Discourse, the section describing the time of distress is followed by a description of the Son of Man’s appearance, which contains three pieces:

    • Supernatural celestial phenomena—combination of Scripture allusions, drawing upon the language/imagery of theophany (manifestation of God) [Mk 13:24-25]
    • The appearance of the Son of Man (allusion to Dan 7:13) [Mk 13:26]
    • The gathering of the Elect by the Angels [Mk 13:27]

Matthew follows Mark closely here; the only real difference is in the actual description of the Son of Man’s appearance (Matt 24:30 / Mk 13:26), where the Markan saying is preceded by two additional statements (in italics), each beginning “and then…” (kai\ to/te):

And then the sign of the Son of Man will shine forth in heaven, and then all the offshoots [i.e. tribes/races] of the earth will beat (themselves), and they will look with (open) eyes at the Son of Man coming upon the clouds of heaven with much power and splendor.”

Let us consider each of these additions:

    • “the sign of the Son of Man will shine forth in (the) heaven”—On the one hand, this serves to distinguish the Son of Man’s actual appearance from the celestial phenomena which preceded it. These were signs that he (a divine/heavenly being who represents God himself) was about to appear, but now his presence, as he comes down from heaven, is marked by a special sign in the sky. At the same time, the context here suggests that the sign (shmei=on) is to be understood as the cross—symbol of the Son of Man’s (Jesus’) suffering and death.
    • “all the offshoots of the earth will beat (themselves)”—If there is a sign in the heaven of Jesus’ suffering and death, so there is also a corresponding sign on earth, which follows in response. The earth’s “offshoots” (i.e. the tribes and races of people) beat themselves in an act of collective mourning. This is an allusion to Zech 12:10, interpreted in light of Jesus’ death (cf. John 19:37). Revelation 1:7 also combines Dan 7:13 with Zech 12:10 in a similar eschatological context, referring to the exalted Jesus’ visible return to earth at the end time.

Both of these additions make more specific what would otherwise have to be inferred by early Christians in this, as in all the other, eschatological Son of Man sayings (cf. the earlier study)—that the Son of Man’s appearance is to be equated with Jesus’ future return. This is confirmed by the way that the Son of Man is specifically identified here with Jesus in his exalted state (in Heaven), following his death and resurrection. Again, it is easier to view these statements as explanatory additions by the Gospel writer, and that Mark (13:26) more closely approximates the original saying of Jesus.

Matt 24:32-25—Sayings and illustrations on when the end will occur

Matthew follows Mark in this section very closely, almost verbatim. One small, but possibly significant difference is in the application of the fig-tree parable. Mark (13:29) reads: “So also you, when you see these (thing)s coming to be [gino/mena]…” Matthew (24:33) does not include the participle “coming to be”, stating more flatly, “…when you see these (thing)s”. It is possible that this is intended to avoid the implication that all these things will, indeed, come to pass for the disciples, i.e. in their own lifetime. If so, then it might give a slightly different sense to the famous statement that follows in verse 34 (par Mk 13:30), distancing “this generation” from the current generation whom Jesus is addressing. This is possible, though rather unlikely, and is, in any case, untenable as the original meaning intended by Jesus. I discuss this difficult saying in a separate study on “Imminent Eschatology” in the Gospels.

Matt 24:36-44—Concluding exhortation and illustration(s)

This corresponding section in Mark (13:32-37) brings the Discourse to a conclusion; it has a relatively simple structure:

    • Declaration that no one knows the exact time (day and hour) of the end, though it is coming soon (v. 32)
    • Exhortation to stay awake/alert (vv. 33-37)
      • Initial warning/exhortation (v. 33)
      • Illustration of the Master who goes away (v. 34)
      • Application for disciples/believers (vv. 35-36)
      • Final exhortation (v. 37)

This has been modified/expanded significantly in Matthew’s version (24:36-44ff):

    • Declaration on knowing the day and hour (v. 36, nearly identical to Mark)
    • Illustrations on the sudden/unexpected coming of the Judgment (vv. 37-41)
    • Illustration on the coming of the Lord / Son of Man (vv. 42-44)
    • Illustration of the Faithful Servant (vv. 45-51)

Verses 42-44 generally correspond to Mk 13:33-37, but in simpler form and with a distinctive emphasis, which specifically interprets the core illustration in terms of the end-time coming of the Son of Man and the return of Jesus. The bracketing exhortations in vv. 42 and 44 make this abundantly clear (note the italicized words):

    • “(So) then, you must keep awake/alert, (in) that you do have not seen on what day your Lord comes!” (v. 42)
    • “Through this you must come to be (made) ready, (in) that (it is) in an hour which you do not consider (that) the Son of Man comes.” (v. 44)

The first statement could be understood in the traditional sense of the coming of God (YHWH, the Lord) at the end time (i.e. the day of YHWH); but, when paired with the similar saying involving the “Son of Man” (i.e. Jesus) in an early Christian context, it can only refer to the end-time return of Jesus. Again, Matthew makes specific what would otherwise have to be inferred in Mark’s version.

Matthew also includes significant additional material, in verses 37-41 and 45-51. The sayings in vv. 37-41 are part of the so-called “Q” material, common to Matthew and Luke, but not found in Mark. Luke has these sayings in a different location (Lk 17:26-27, 34-35), in a separate section of eschatological instruction (17:20-37). They will be discussed in more detail in Part 3 on the Lukan version of the Discourse. In the Matthean context, the sayings build upon the statement in verse 36 about knowing the day and hour; they are traditional (and proverbial) illustrations to the point that the end-time Judgment will come upon people unexpectedly—most of the population will be overcome and destroyed, while only the faithful ones will be saved. The detail of the illustration in vv. 40-41 is not entirely certain; there are two figure-types—one who is “taken along” and the other who is “released” or “left”. It clearly is meant to distinguish between those saved from the Judgment and those destroyed by it, but uncertainty remains among commentators as to which figure-type represents which category; there are two possibilities (I tend to prefer the latter):

    • “taken along”, i.e. into the ark (salvation); “left” (behind) to face the Judgment
    • “taken along”, i.e. by the flood (destruction); “left” (behind) to survive the Judgment
Matt 24:45-51—An additional (transitional) parable

The parable in vv. 45-51 is unique to Matthew here, and is not part of the Markan/Synoptic Discourse, though it corresponds to the pattern of a number of Jesus’ parables. It features the familiar idea of a Master who goes away, leaving his land/estate in the care of servants. The primary purpose of this parable type is as a vehicle for ethical instruction—i.e., whether the servant will be faithful diligent while the Master is away. The juxtaposition of the two servant types—one faithful, the other lazy/wicked—was a natural fit for the eschatological aspect of such parables. The end-time Judgment would separate the righteous from the wicked, a motif present in most of the eschatological parables, especially the Matthean parables of the Weeds (13:24-30, 36-43) and the Fish-net (13:47-50), as well as those which follow here in chapter 25 (cf. below). If the illustrations in vv. 37-41 build upon the saying in v. 36, the parable in vv. 45-51 builds upon the sayings/illustration of vv. 42-44, demonstrating the importance (and ultimate consequence) of believers acting and behaving faithfully which the Master (Jesus) is away.

Nearly all of the distinctive elements and characteristics of Matthew’s version of the Discourse seem to point in the direction of an early Christian interpretation of Jesus’ (original) sayings, as, for example, in identifying the “Son of Man” more precisely with Jesus himself (and his end-time/future return). At every point, Mark appears to have the more ‘primitive’ version of the material, closer to the context and setting of the authentic sayings. The inclusion of sayings, which Luke preserves in an entirely different location, as part of the Discourse, confirms a level of (secondary) development in Matthew’s version. This must not be misunderstood—it reflects an interpretive layer in addition to the Synoptic material which otherwise more closely reflects the authentic historical tradition. It does not, by any reasonable standard, contradict or invalidate the historicity of the tradition.

On Chapter 25

The expanded nature of Matthew’s version of the Discourse is made even more clear when one considers the place of the three parables in chapter 25. These were discussed already in the earlier study on the eschatological Parables. As I did in that study, those three parables are often treated separately from the Eschatological Discourse; however, the Gospel writer, by all accounts, regards them (and presents them) as part of the Discourse. There is no indication of any break in the narrative between chapters 24 and 25, indicating that, on the narrative and literary level, they represent a single Sermon-Discourse, much as chapters 5-7 are presented as a single “Sermon”. The parable in 24:45-51 is transitional to the three great parables in chapter 25. They all deal with the contrast between faithful and negligent servants, true and false disciples, in the (eschatological) framework of the coming end-time Judgment. The first two parables follow the pattern of the Master who has gone away and is about to return, just as in the illustrations which close the Discourse proper in chap. 24 (cf. above). When viewed in this light, taking chapters 24 and 25 together, it shows just how far, and to what extent, the Synoptic Discourse was adapted in the Gospel of Matthew. Only in Matthew’s version is the end-time Judgment and appearance of the Son of Man completed with a vision of the final Judgment taking place in the heavenly court (25:31-46), ending with the clearest possible description of the fate of the righteous and wicked respectively. In this regard, Matthew’s version of the Discourse is closer to the scope and vision of the book of Revelation, which moves between predictions (visions) of the end-time Judgment, and scenes set in Heaven before the throne of God (cf. the current series of daily notes on Revelation). Moreover, it is in Matthew’s version that the exalted position of Jesus (as Son of Man) is given greatest emphasis.

Prophecy & Eschatology in the New Testament: The “Eschatological Discourse” (Part 1)

The “Eschatological Discourse” (Part 1)

The most extensive eschatological teaching by Jesus in the Synoptic Gospels is found in the so-called “Eschatological Discourse” in Mark 13 (par Matthew 24 & Luke 21:5-36). Within the Synoptic framework, it is presented as a sermon or discourse by Jesus; however, many scholars feel that this arrangement is literary (and traditional) rather than historical. That is to say, it represents a collection of eschatological teaching by Jesus which may have originally been uttered on separate occasions. This view would seem to be confirmed by the evidence from Matthew and Luke, where eschatological sayings recorded in other locations (in Luke) are incorporated as part of the “discourse” (in Matthew). It is useful, however, to begin with the Gospel of Mark, as representing the core Synoptic Tradition. The distinctive features and elements of the Matthean and Lukan versions will be examined in Parts 2 and 3 of this study, respectively.

Mark 13

An outline of the Markan version of the Eschatological Discourse gives some indication, I think, of how different sayings or traditions might have been combined. This is not to say that Jesus might not have given a longer discourse, dealing with eschatological matters, which resembles the Synoptic Discourse; but the thematic arrangement of the sayings and parables of Jesus is, on the whole, better viewed as a result of the early collection and transmission of the material. On this basis alone, however, there is no (objective) reason to doubt the authenticity of any of the sayings. Here is an outline of the Markan Discourse:

    • Vv. 1-2—Narrative introduction, including:
      • Jesus’ prediction of the destruction of the Temple (v. 2)
    • Vv. 3-4—Introduction to the Discourse: Question by the disciples
    • Vv. 5-8—”Birth Pains”: Things which will occur before the end
      —Appearance of false Messiahs/Christs (v. 6)
      —Wars among the nations (vv. 7-8a)
      —Natural disasters and famine (v. 8b)
    • Vv. 9-13—Persecution of the Disciples which will occur before the end, reflecting missionary work among both Jews and Gentiles
    • Vv. 14-23—Sayings regarding the affliction which will come upon Judea
      —Saying concerning the “abomination of desolation” (v. 14)
      —Warning of the coming suffering (vv. 15-20)
      —Repeated reference to the appearance of false Messiahs/Christs (vv. 21-22)
      —Concluding exhortation (v. 23)
    • Vv. 24-27—The appearance of the Son of Man
    • Vv. 28-31—Sayings on the time when the end will come
      —Illustration of the fig-tree (vv. 28-29)
      —Two sayings with the verb pare/rxomai (vv. 30-31)
    • Vv. 32-37—Concluding Parable (and Sayings)
Mark 13:1-2

The narrative introduction provides the general setting for the discourse, in the vicinity of the Jerusalem Temple:

“And (at) his traveling out of the Sacred Place, one of his learners [i.e. disciples] says to him, ‘Teacher, (do you) see what sort of stones and what sort of buildings (these are)?'”

This expression of amazement reflects the grandeur of the Herodian Temple in Jesus’ day, which is described extensively by Josephus (Antiquities 15.380-425; Wars 5.184-227). The size and beauty of the building, and its great stones, would have been impressive indeed; Jesus, however, declares:

“(Are) you look(ing) at these great buildings? (Yet) there shall not be here (even one) stone left upon (another) stone which shall not be loosed down!” (v. 2)

This must be regarded as a prediction of the Temple’s destruction, which, of course, came to pass in 70 A.D. as a result of the Jewish revolt and Roman siege of Jerusalem. It is important as a general time-frame for the Eschatological Discourse. The Lukan version gives much greater emphasis to the Roman attack on the city.

For more on the eschatological aspects of the Temple—especially the Temple action and saying(s) by Jesus—cf. the supplemental article on this subject.

Mark 13:3-4

With these verses, the Discourse begins, though the introduction clearly continues from where the narrative introduction in vv. 1-2 leaves off—with its connection to the Temple (note the similar structure):

“And (at) his sitting (down near) unto the Mount of the Olive-trees, down opposite to the Sacred Place [i.e. Temple], on their own [i.e. privately]…they asked him…” (v. 3)

The introductory statement, as in verse 1, culminates with a question by the disciples—here the ones who ask are identified as Peter, James, John and Andrew. Their question must be understood, in context, in relation to Jesus’ prediction of the Temple’s destruction. It is actually a two-fold question which serves the (literary) purpose of joining Jesus’ Temple saying with the eschatological instruction which follows:

    • “when will these (thing)s be?”
    • “what (shall be) the sign when all these (thing)s are about to be completed together?”

In Matthew’s version, the disciples’ second question is more precisely eschatological, framed in more obvious Christian terms: “what is the sign of your (com)ing to be alongside [parousi/a] and (of) the completion (all) together of th(is) Age?”. In Mark, however, the question is more general and ambiguous—to what “things” exactly are the disciples referring? Is it simply to the destruction of the Temple, or does it imply other eschatological teaching by Jesus? The literary context of the Discourse requires the latter, and points to the very teaching which follows in vv. 5ff.

Mark 13:5-8

Jesus’ initial response deals more with the disciples’ second question (“what shall be the sign…?”) rather than the first (“when…?”). He offers three such “signs”, which are summarily described as “the beginning of the (birth) pains” (v. 8); these are:

1. Persons claiming to be Jesus and/or speak in his name, causing many to go astray (vv. 5-6). Here is how this is stated in Mark’s version:

And Yeshua began to say to them, “You must look (carefully so that) someone should not lead you astray—(for) many will come upon my name saying that ‘I am (he)’, and will lead many astray.”

There is some confusion in the Gospel tradition here as to whether Jesus is speaking of people claiming to be him (i.e. Jesus) and speak for him, or whether they are claiming to be the Anointed One (Messiah/Christ). Early Christians would have treated these essentially as identical situations, but it is not so clear how this might have been framed by (the historical) Jesus to his followers. This will be discussed further when we examine the Matthean and Lukan versions, and when we come to verses 21-22 below.

2. A period of warfare among the nations (vv. 7-8a). Syntactically, the second and third signs should be discussed together; however, thematically, it is useful to keep them distinct:

“And when you should hear of wars and the hearings [i.e. rumors] of wars, you must not be frightened (by these things)—they need to come to be, but the completion (of them) is not yet (here). For nation will rise upon nation and kingdom upon kingdom…”

This would seem to refer to a period of relatively widespread warfare, involving a number of different nations and kingdoms. The book of Revelation describes something similar in the visions of the first four seals (i.e. the four horses and riders) in 6:2-8—they represent an intense period of war which has a devastating effect upon society. For those eager to place these verses in a more precise time-frame, it is virtually impossible to do so, as there have been many periods of widespread warfare from the first century A.D. down to the present time in the 21st century. Also, it may be claimed that Jesus is here referring to a mindset and outlook, reflecting human wickedness and violence, and its effects, as much as to any specific events.

3. Natural disaster and famine (v. 8b). This continues from the description of the period of warfare:

“…(and) there will be shakings [i.e. earthquakes] down in (many) places, (and) there will (also) be (time)s of hunger [i.e. famine]…

In the seal visions of Revelation, famine and food-shortage also follows the period of warfare among the nations (6:5-6, 8b), as well as “shakings” of the earth (vv. 12-13ff). Interestingly, there is no real indication that the book of Revelation is consciously following the Eschatological Discourse, even though both passages express the same basic message and traditional sequence. Jesus describes all of these signs in vv. 5-8 with the declaration that “these (are the) beginning of (the birth) pains” (a)rxh\ w)di/nwn tau=ta). Childbirth was frequently used as a metaphor for human suffering, either in the negative sense of pain (and possible death) or the positive sense of the joy which replaces the pain when the child is delivered. Of the many relevant passages in Scripture, cf. Gen 3:16-17; Psalm 48:6; Mic 4:9-10; Isa 13:8; 21:3; 26:17-19; 42:14; 66:7-8; Jer 4:31; 22:23; 48:41; 49:22ff; John 16:21; Gal 4:19. Several other passages in the New Testament use the motif of childbirth, and the pains associated with it, in an eschatological sense or context:

    • The suffering of Judea/Jerusalem predicted by Jesus in Luke 23:28-31, which will be touched on briefly in the study on the Lukan version of the Eschatological discourse.
    • Paul’s statement in Romans 8:22: “we see that all creation groans together and is in pain together until now”.
    • The vision of the Woman and the Dragon in Revelation 12.

In fact, the eschatological motif is traditional; the time of suffering, marking the end of the current Age, came to be referred to as “the birth pains of the Messiah”.

Mark 13:9-13

Surely to be included among the “signs” of things which must occur before the end is the prediction of persecution and suffering of Jesus’ disciples, implying a period of missionary work which would extend outside the confines of Judea into the Gentile world. This idea was fundamental to New Testament eschatology at the time the Gospels were written (c. 60-80 A.D.), and especially so in the Gospel of Luke. It is less pronounced and developed in Mark, but it is still present (v. 10), as part of the Synoptic tradition. Verses 9-10 outline the missionary work and reflects the experience (narrated in the book of Acts) of a number of the disciples who were arrested and interrogated by government officials:

    • 9a: Among Jews (in Judea and beyond)—given over to the ruling bodies (“sitting together”, sune/drion, i.e. sanhedrin) & beaten in the places of gathering (“being brought together”, sunagwgh/, i.e. synagogue)
    • 9b: Into the wider world, which presumably include the Gentile kingdoms—made to stand before governors and kings, as a witness to them on behalf of Jesus

The period of early Christian mission is stated succinctly in verse 10:

“And first it is necessary to proclaim the good message into all the nations.”

It is easy to misunderstand the significance of this, as though it required an extensive worldwide mission (in the modern sense) before the end would come. Matthew’s version (24:14) does suggest something of the kind, but we must be cautious about reading that wording into Mark’s account. The use of the adverb prw=ton (“first”) here in Mark, I believe, is intended primarily to make clear what might seem obvious—before the disciples will experience these things, they must first begin to proclaim the Gospel (“good message”). It establishes the need for the early Christian mission, without any real indication of the time-period involved.

The persecution which Jesus’ disciples will experience is further summarized in three distinct sayings:

    • A promise that the Holy Spirit will inspire the disciples, giving them the ability to speak and offer a defense (v. 11)
    • Following Jesus will lead to violent splits within families (v. 12)
    • A declaration of the hatred believers will face from people, along with an exhortation to endure and remain faithful (v. 13)

This last saying involves an eschatological promise of salvation—i.e. the heavenly reward of (eternal) Life:

“But the one remaining under unto the completion, this (one) will be saved.”

We are accustomed to viewing this as a promise to all believers, and, indeed this is appropriate; however, if we consider it strictly in terms of the historical situation (i.e. the disciples whom Jesus was actually addressing at the time), it would tend to support the expectation that the end was to come within the lifetime of the first disciples.

It is interesting to note that the seal-visions in Revelation also include a reference to the persecution of believers (cf. the fifth seal, 6:9-11) in a roughly similar sequence.

Mark 13:14-23

Another intense period of suffering and distress is described in vv. 14-23, with certain similarities to what has gone before in the Discourse. This raises the question as to whether the three sections—vv. 5-8, 9-13, and 14-23—are meant to describe sequential events or are different ways of describing the same general period (i.e. of events to occur before the end). Verses 9-13, referring to the persecution of believers, presumably is not meant to be taken as a period of time separate from the suffering in vv. 5-8 and 14-23. If these various sayings were originally uttered in different settings, this can no longer be reconstructed; we must work from the arrangement in the Discourse as it has come down to us. I suspect that vv. 5-13 are meant to be taken together as referring to the same ‘stage’, if you will; the exact relationship to vv. 14-23 is less certain. From a literary standpoint, the wording in verse 14 is transitional, creating a point of contrast with the promise of salvation in v. 13 (“But when you see…”). The exact setting or scenario described in this section is rather vague and allusive, at least in the Markan version of the Discourse. Several points can be determined with certainty:

    • It involves an allusion to Daniel 9:27 (v. 14)
    • It refers to something which will be localized in Judea
    • It involves suffering and trauma which will upset much, or all, of society (vv. 14b-19)
    • It will be an especially intense, though brief, period of suffering (v. 20)
    • In the midst of it, there will be false Messiahs and false prophets (vv. 21-22)

In Luke’s version (to be discussed), this is all presented in terms of a military invasion of Jerusalem. However, it is poor method simply to read this into Mark’s version, which otherwise makes no clear reference to such an invasion (apart, possibly, from the allusion to Dan 9:27). Even so, it must be said that nearly all of vv. 14-22 could well fit the setting of the war of 66-70 A.D. and the ultimate siege and destruction of Jerusalem, according to the historical accounts narrated by Josephus. This will be discussed in the concluding part of our study.

In my view, all of verses 5-22 describe a single, intense (and relatively brief?) period of suffering and distress which precedes the coming of the end. It is the same period, with three different points of focus:

    • The effect on the world (nations) and people in general (vv. 5-8)
    • The effect on the disciples (believers) (vv. 9-13)
    • The effect on Judea (and Jerusalem) (vv. 14-22)

Jesus’ concluding words in verse 23 are often overlooked, but they are important in the way that they clearly summarize and mark off the events preceding the end from the end itself: “And (now) you must look (closely): (for) I have spoke all (thing)s to you before(hand)”. The disciples now have all they need to recognize the signs that the end is about to come.

Mark 13:24-27

The description of the end itself begins in verse 24, as indicated clearly by the opening words:

“But in those days after that (time of) distress [qli=yi$]…”

The period covered by vv. 5-22 is called qli=yi$ (“crushing [force], pressure, [dis]tress”), the same word used, in a very similar sense, in Revelation 1:9 and 7:14. In translation, the word has taken on a life of its own in modern eschatology as “the Great Tribulation” (from the phrase in Rev 7:14). It is important, however, to stay rooted to the Greek text, and remain focused, for the moment, on the Eschatological Discourse here in Mark. Nothing more is said about this “distress”, only what comes after it—namely, the appearance of the Son of Man. This appearance is accompanied by an upheaval of the natural order of things in the universe, drawing upon the ancient/traditional language of theophany—i.e. the manifestation of God within creation. Nature itself can not withstand the appearance of God, falling and submitting before him; moreover, the forces of nature and the heavens are obedient to God and work as servants on His behalf. This sort of imagery is expressed numerous times in the Old Testament, especially in Prophets, where it begins to take on an eschatological coloring. The description in vv. 24-26 by Jesus is taken from passages such as Isaiah 13:10; 14:12; 34:4; Joel 2:10, 31; 3:15; and Ezek 32:7. The sixth seal-vision in Revelation 6:12-14ff describes similar cosmic phenomena, but without culminating in the appearance of the Son of Man. That moment is described here as follows:

“Then they will look with (open) eyes at the Son of Man coming in/on (the) clouds with much power and splendor.” (v. 27)

This is largely drawn from Daniel 7:13-14, but apparently with a difference in orientation—instead of the Son of Man coming toward God (v. 13), he comes to earth as God’s representative to judge humankind and deliver the faithful ones among God’s people (more closely related to v. 14). It is the latter aspect of deliverance which is emphasized by Jesus in verse 28:

“And then he will send forth the Messengers and they will bring together upon (one place) [his] (chosen one)s gathered out, (from) out of the four winds, from the (farthest) point of earth unto the (farthest) point of heaven.”

This is salvation in the proper New Testament sense—deliverance from sin and wickedness at the end-time and being saved from the final Judgment. Only in the later strands of the New Testament do we see a definite shift from final (eschatological) salvation to the experience of believers in the present (i.e. ‘realized’ eschatology).

For more on the influence of Daniel in the Eschatological Discourse, cf. the supplemental study on 7:13-14 and 9:27.

Mark 13:28-31

Here we encounter two of the more controversial pieces in the Eschatological Discourse: (a) the illustration of the fig tree (vv. 28-29) and (b) the saying on “this generation” in v. 30.

On the surface the parable/illustration of the fig tree is simple and straightforward, being similar in style to the mustard seed/tree parable (Mk 4:30-32 par). It also resembles the illustration on interpreting the ‘signs of the time’ in Luke 12:54-56 / Matt 16:1-3. As in a number of Jesus’ parables, it uses an easily understandable observation from farming and the natural world to describe some aspect of the Kingdom. Though not specifically indicated here as a Kingdom-parable, it may fairly be characterized as relating to the end-time appearance of the Kingdom of God. The comparison is clear enough:

    • When the branch is soft and puts out leaves, you can tell that summer is near (v. 28)
    • When the disciples see “these things [tau=ta]” coming to pass, they will know that “it is near” (v. 29)

In context, “these (thing)s” can only refer to the signs Jesus has spoken of in vv. 5-22—the things which are to take place before the end comes. Similarly, the generic statement “it is near…”, refers to the coming of the end—specifically, the coming of the Son of Man which ushers in the final Judgment. The exact phrase used is “it is near upon the gates”, which could be an allusion to the gates of the city (Jerusalem), though it need not be taken that concretely.

It has become popular in some circles to identify the fig tree as a particular symbol of Israel (the people or nation/state). This, however, is misplaced. The fig tree and vine together serve as symbols of blessing and fruitfulness, but in a general, proverbial sense; it can, of course, be applied to Israel as God’s people, but only in Hosea 9:10 is there anything like a direct connection (fig tree = Israel). The blossoming fig branch here refers not to Israel, but to the coming of the end and the appearance of the Son of Man.

In verses 30-31 we have two seemingly unrelated sayings; they are connected by common use of the verb pare/rxomai (“come/go along[side]”). This is an example of what commentators call “catchword-bonding”, and serves as evidence in support of the view that the Discourse is a collection of sayings, etc, which may originally have been uttered by Jesus on different occasions. Early Christians brought this material together, arranging it by theme (eschatology) or on the basis of common words and phrases. This would have begun to occur at the level of oral tradition, helping the earliest believers to remember and transmit the teachings of Jesus, and continued as the first collections were written down. It is possible that Jesus did utter both sayings together, and that the wordplay is his own, but given the many examples of “catchword-bonding” in the Gospel tradition, the critical view seems more likely. Here are the two sayings taken together:

    • “Amen, I relate to you that this (period of) coming to be [genea/] shall (certainly) not go along [pare/lqh|] until the (time at) which all these (thing)s shall come to be.” (v. 30)
    • “The heaven and the earth will go along [pareleu/sontai], but my words [lo/goi] will not (ever) go along [pareleu/sontai].” (v. 31)

The first saying uses the verb in connection with the noun genea/, which fundamentally refers to something coming to be (born) [vb. gi/nomai], often in the sense of (1) a group of people from a common line of birth, or (2) an age or period when people were born (and lived). In both cases, the English word “generation” (itself related to the Greek) is typically used to translate. Here, for the first time in the Discourse, Jesus addresses the initial question posed by the disciples in verse 4: “When will these (thing)s be?” As the saying in verse 30 makes clear, “these things” will take place before “this generation” goes away. A more precise interpretation of the time indicated here is difficult and has proven controversial, for a variety of reasons (and cf. verse 32 as a word of caution). It will be discussed in more detail in the article on “imminent eschatology” in the sayings of Jesus.

The second saying (v. 31), in context, serves to reinforce the reliability of Jesus’ teaching regarding the coming of the end. His words will last longer than heaven and earth themselves (i.e. the created order), remaining after the physical universe has disappeared. There may be an allusion to Scriptures such as Isa 40:8; 51:6; Psalm 119:89; cf. also Jesus’ statement in Matt 5:18.

Mark 13:32-37

The Discourse concludes with a short block of material that centers around a parable by Jesus, utilizing the familiar setting of the master who goes away and the servants who work in his absence. Jesus used this story framework repeatedly, including a number of other parables (discussed earlier in Parts 2 and 3 of the study on the Parables) which have an eschatological orientation. The parable itself occurs in verses 34-36; we may outline this section as follows:

    • Saying on the day and hour when the end will come (v. 32)
    • Exhortation for the disciples to watch and stay alert (v. 33)
    • Parable of the Returning Master (vv. 34-36)
    • Second Exhortation to stay alert (v. 37)

On the whole, the section continues Jesus’ answer of the disciples’ question “When will these things be?” Beyond the basic declaration that they will occur before “this generation” goes away, Jesus makes clear in verse 32 that the disciples cannot know the time with any more precision: “About that day or th(at) hour, no one has seen [i.e. no one knows]”. Commentators and students can be tripped up by reading too much theological (and Christological) significance in the the second half of the saying, which states that neither the (heavenly) Messengers nor the Son (of Man) know the time, but only God the Father. It makes for interesting speculation, but all Jesus is really saying is that the disciples cannot know the exact time—it is one of the “secrets of the Kingdom” (4:11) which has not been revealed to them. Indeed, the overriding message of this section, driven home by the parable and the double-exhortation to stay awake, is that “these things” could occur at any time:

“(So) then you must keep awake—for you have not seen [i.e. do not know] when the lord of the house comes…” (v. 35a)

The figure of the returning master, can be interpreted at several levels, based on one’s view of the development of the Gospel tradition:

    • A general reference to God’s appearance to bring the end-time Judgment
    • This divine visitation as taking place through the Son of Man as God’s appointed/anointed representative
    • The return of Jesus, who is identified as the Son of Man

By the time the Gospels were written, among early Christians the latter would certainly have been in view. For more on the background of the expression and title “Son of Man”, and the identification of Jesus with this heavenly/Messianic figure, cf. Part 10 of the earlier series “Yeshua the Anointed”.

May 17: Mark 13:11; Matt 10:19-20; Lk 12:11-12

In discussing the saying on the Holy Spirit in Mark 3:28-29 par (cf. the previous days’ notes), I pointed out the distinctive setting of the Lukan version (Lk 12:10). It so happens that this section (Lk 12:8-12) contains another reference to the Holy Spirit (v. 12), which I will be examining today.

Mark 13:11; Matthew 10:19-20; Luke 12:11-12

This saying is part of instruction given by Jesus to his disciples, relating to the persecution that he declares (and predicts) that his followers will face. In Mark, it is part of the so-called Eschatological (“Olivet”) Discourse (Mk 13)—a collection of sayings and teachings with an eschatological theme and orientation, set during Jesus’ final days in Jerusalem. Mark 13:9-13 summarizes the persecution which will come upon believers; the corresponding section in Luke’s version of the ‘Discourse’ (Lk 21) is found in vv. 12-19, that of Matthew in Matt 24:9-14, both with a number of significant differences. Here are the three versions side by side (marked by ellipses):

Mark 13:9-13 Matt 24:9-14 Luke 21:12-19
“…they will give you along into (their place)s of sitting-together {sanhedrins} and (their place)s of gathering-together {synagogues} (and) you will be beaten, and upon [i.e. before] governors and you will be (made to) stand, for my sake, unto [i.e. as] a witness to them…and when they shall lead you, giving you along, do not be concerned before(hand) (about) what you should speak, but whatever should be given to you in that hour, this you should speak—for it is not you (who are) the (one)s speaking, but the holy Spirit. … And you will be hated under [i.e. by] all people through my name. But the (one) remaining under [i.e. enduring] unto completion, this (one) will be saved.” “Then they will give you along into distress/oppression and will kill you off, and you will be hated under [i.e. by] all the nations through my name. … but the (one) remaining under [i.e. enduring] unto completion, this (one) will be saved….” “…they will cast their hands upon you and pursue (you), giving (you) along into th(eir place)s of gathering-together {synagogues} and guard-rooms [i.e. prisons], leading (you) away upon [i.e. before] kings and governers, for my name’s sake—and it will step away [i.e. turn out] for you into a witness. Set then in your hearts not to have care [i.e. give thought] before(hand) to giving account of (yourselves), for I will give you (a) mouth and wisdom, for which all the (one)s stretched (out) against you will not have power to stand against or say (anything) against (you). …and you will be hated under [i.e. by] all through my name…(but) in your remaining under [i.e. enduring] you will acquire your souls.”

Matthew’s version effectively omits the italicized portion corresponding to the Holy Spirit saying (in Mark). However, a similar saying is found in Matt 10:17-20 with a parallel in Luke 12:11-12. It would appear that it has been preserved separately in two strands of tradition, presumably deriving from a single saying (or group of sayings) by Jesus. According to the standard critical view, Matt 10:17-20 / Lk 12:11-12 are part of the so-called “Q” material; Luke has made use of both Mark (with some modification) and Q, while Matthew has preserved only the Q version of the saying. The substantial differences between the version in Lk 21:14-15 and Mk 13:11 can be explained several ways:

    • Luke has reworked the Markan version, using his own wording (cf. Acts 6:10)
    • Luke has substituted in an entirely different (third) saying/version (“L”)
    • Mark has modified a saying corresponding to the Lukan version, substituting in a saying akin to Matt 10:17-20.
    • Luke and Mark (independently) preserve variant forms of the same Synoptic tradition

The most notable difference is that in Mark 13:11 the Holy Spirit is identified as the source of inspiration; in Luke 21:14-15, Jesus declares that he himself (“I” e)gw/ emphatic) will give his followers the ability to speak. Of course, Luke also preserves a version of the saying which emphasizes the role of the Spirit, Lk 12:11-12, which I here present in comparison with the ‘parallel’ in Matt 10:17-20:

Luke 12:11-12Matt 10:17-20
“And when they carry [i.e. bring] you in upon the(ir place)s of gathering-together {synagogues} and the(ir) chiefs and the(ir) authorities, do not be concerned (as to) how or (by) what you should give account of (yourselves), or what you should say—for the holy Spirit will teach you in that hour the (thing)s it is necessary (for you) to say.”“…they will give you along into (their place)s of sitting-together {sanhedrins} and in the(ir place)s of gathering-together {synagogues}…. but when they give you along, do not be concerned (as to) how or what you should speak, for you will be given in that hour what you should speak—for you are not the (one)s speaking, but the Spirit of your Father (is) the (one) speaking in you.”

Again there are a number of minor differences—Matthew’s version is quite close to Mk 13:11, and may represent the same saying/version set in a different location. Interestingly, Luke does not include here the specific idea of inspiration—that is, of the Spirit actually speaking through believers—even though we see this idea illustrated quite often throughout Luke-Acts. Instead, in Luke’s version here Jesus declares that the Holy Spirit will teach his followers what they are to say. This reflects a different theme in Luke-Acts—that of the guidance of the Spirit. Both of these themes will be discussed further in upcoming notes.