RT France on Mark 13

Wed, 24/10/2007 - 16:30 -- James Oakley

I’m hugely enjoying reading R T France’s commentary on Mark 13.

Reading this chapter (and more so it’s Lukan “parallel”) against the background of the Old Testament was making me think in the same general direction as France. But before I read France’s work I was worried that I was a little out on a limb. How refreshing to see the kinds of arguments I was reaching for put with a clarity I could not match, following thoroughness of reading and research that I would not have time for.

Here are a few little gems:

“The prediction of the destruction of the temple from which it takes its cue is plain enough, but as the discourse develops its language becomes increasingly allusive, drawing on themes of OT apocalyptic and political prophecy which are not as familiar to most modern readers as they would have been to at least a proportion of Mark’s original readers. As a result, widely divergent interpretations of the discourse have been proposed, and it remains the most disputed area in the study of Mark’s gospel. In the account which follows I intend to keep clearly in view the context in which it is set, and the questions to which therefore it may be expected to provide answer. The disciples’ question with which it begins seeks elucidation of Jesus’ pronouncement about the destruction of the temple, and it is this question which must set the agenda for our interpretation of the discourse which follows. It is about ‘the end of the old order.’” (498)

“For the crucial verses 24-27 this view corresponds with my own conviction that the apocalyptic language of these verses, drawn entirely from identifiable OT texts, relates, as did those texts in their own contexts, not to the collapse of the physical universe and the end of the world but to imminent and far-reaching political change, in the context of the predicted destruction of Jerusalem. On this view the ‘coming of the Son of Man’ is language not about an eschatological descent of Jesus to the earth but, as in the vision of Daniel from which it derives, about the vindication and enthronement of the Son of Man at the right hand of God, to receive and exercise supreme authority. In other words, what is being described in vv. 24-27, as in the OT passages from which their language is drawn, is a change of government: the temple, and all that it stood for is out, and the Son of Man is in.” (500-501)

So what’s going on in 24-25?

“The lights are going out in the centres of power and the way is being prepared for a new world order.” (530)

Which means that…

“From now on it will not be the national shrine which will be the focus of the people of God, but the Son of Man to whom has now been given, as Daniel 7:14 predicted, an everlasting and universal dominion which embraces all nations and languages.” (531)

But I never thought that was what was going on?!

“The key to this understanding in particular of verses 24-27 lies in our willingness and ability to hear the prophetic imagery as it would have been heard by those in Jesus’ day who were at home in OT prophetic language, rather than as it is ‘naturally’ heard by Christian readers for whom the ‘coming of the Son of Man’ has since gained a different connotation through its association with the idea of parousia (a word which is conspicuously absent from this discourse in Mark.)” (531)

Or, to put it differently:

“The natural sense of such language, used in a Jewish context, is surely clear. Mark 13:24b-27 is not about the collapse of the universe, but about drastic events on the world scene, interpreted in the light of the divine judgement and purpose. What is startling about the use of such language by Jesus in this context is not that he uses the same imagery as the prophets, but that he uses it with regard to the fate of Jerusalem and its temple. In most uses of such language in the prophets the target was a Gentile nation which posed a threat to Israel or Judah. But now the target is Jerusalem itself, and more specifically God’s house in Jerusalem.” (533)

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