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B461 Apocalyptic Literature

5. New Testament Apocalyptic

a. Mark 13 (and Parallels)

ASSIGNMENT: Read Mark 13 in your Bible, as well as Matthew 24-25.

The New Testament writers seem to have held the same apocalyptic world view as their Qumran contemporaries. The central passage of the New Testament which demonstrates this apocalyptic world view is Mark 13. All later New Testament apocalyptic passages (including Revelation) draw on the imagery that is found in this chapter. And this chapter has drawn its imagery from the Old Testament and intertestamental literature. We shall now turn to an examination of Mark 13. The text of the passage will be in bold print while my interspersed comments will be found in regular print.

Mark 13

As he came out of the temple, one of his disciples said to him, "Look, Teacher, what large stones and what large buildings!" 2 Then Jesus asked him, "Do you see these great buildings? Not one stone will be left here upon another; all will be thrown down." 3 When he was sitting on the Mount of Olives opposite the temple, Peter, James, John, and Andrew asked him privately, 4 "Tell us, when will this be, and what will be the sign that all these things are about to be accomplished?" 5 Then Jesus began to say to them, "Beware that no one leads you astray.

As in other apocalypses, the question is posed about the end of history and an answer is given by the heavenly guide. Usually, the guide is an angel, but here it is Jesus himself. This is unique and apparently signifies that for Mark, Jesus is the heavenly guide supreme.

6 Many will come in my name and say, 'I am he!' and they will lead many astray. 7 When you hear of wars and rumors of wars, do not be alarmed; this must take place, but the end is still to come. 8 For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; there will be earthquakes in various places; there will be famines. This is but th e beginning of the birlain

The imagery of the new age as a new birth is also a typical apocalyptic motif.

9 "As for yourselves, beware; for they will hand you over to councils; and you will be beaten in synagogues; and you will stand before governors and kings because of me, as a testimony to them. 10 And the good news must first be proclaimed to all nations. 11 When they bring you to trial and hand you over, do not worry beforehand about what you are to say; but say whatever is given you at that time, for it is not you who speak, but the Holy Spirit. 12 Brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child, and children will rise against parents and have them put to death; 13 and you will be hated by all because of my name. But the one who endures to the end will be saved.

These verses seem to me to be a later interpolation into the text. It interrupts the flow of thought and could quite easily be left out. Its purpose is not apocalyptic but practical and therefore is most likely secondary to the original context.

14 "But when you see the desolating sacrilege set up where it ought not to be (let the reader understand), then those in Judea must flee to the mountains; 15 the one on the housetop must not go down or enter the house to take anything away; 16 the one in the field must not turn back to get a coat. 17 Woe to those who are pregnant and to those who are nursing infants in those days! 18 Pray that it may not be i n winter. For in those days there will be suffering, such as has not been from the beginning of the creation that God created until now, no, and never will be. 20 And if the Lord had not cut short those days, no one would be saved; but for the sake of the elect, whom he chose, he has cut short those days.

Here is another typically apocalyptic segment, for it declares that the righteous need fear nothing in regards to the end of time. Comfort, then, is the overriding concern of this and every apocalyptic work.

21 And if anyone says to you at that time, 'Look! Here is the Messiah!' or 'Look! There he is!' -- do not believe it. 22 False messiahs and false prophets will appear and produce signs and omens, to lead astray, if possible, the elect. But be alert; I have already told you everything.

The apocalypticist here interpolates another secondary saying. The purpose of this segment is to serve as a warning to those who are prone to believe in every Messianic claim.

24 "But in those days, after that suffering,

the sun will be darkened,
and the moon will not give its light,
25 and the stars will be falling from heaven,
and the powers in the heavens will be shaken.

The reader will recognize this apocalyptic imagery from Daniel and other apocalypses. It serves to declare the cosmic dimensions of the appearance of God and is modeled on the Old Testament theophany texts.

26 Then they will see 'the Son of Man coming in clouds' with great power and glory.

Then he will send out the angels, and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of heaven. 28 "From the fig tree learn its lesson: as soon as its branch becomes tender and puts forth its leaves, you know that summer is near. 29 So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that he is near, at the very gates. 30 Truly I tell you, this generation will not pass away until all these things have taken place. 31 Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away. 32 "But about that day or hour no one knows, neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. 33 Beware, keep alert; for you do not know when the time will come. 34 It is like a man going on a journey, when he leaves home and puts his slaves in charge, each with his work, and commands the doorkeeper to be on the watch. 35 Therefore, keep awake-for you do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or at cockcrow, or at dawn, 36 or else he may find you asleep when he comes suddenly. 37 And what I say to you I say to all: Keep awake."

The last two words again encourage the community to remain faithful in spite of their difficult circumstances.

b. 2 Thessalonians

The second letter to Thessalonica was written by a student / disciple of Paul at the end of the first century. It has one passage in particular which is apocalyptic in nature. It is this passage which will be the object of our attention in this brief segment.

2 Thess 2

As to the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our being gathered together to him, we beg you, brothers and sisters, 2 not to be quickly shaken in mind or alarmed, either by spirit or by word or by letter, as though from us, to the effect that the day of the Lord is already here. 3 Let no one deceive you in any way; for that day will not come unless the rebellion comes first and the lawless one is revealed, the one destined for destruction. 4 He opposes and exalts himself above every so-called god or object of worship, so that he takes his seat in the temple of God, declaring himself to be God. 5 Do you not remember that I told you these things when I was still with you? 6 And you know what is now restraining him, so that he may be revealed when his time comes. 7 For the mystery of lawlessness is already at work, but only until the one who now restrains it is removed. 8 And then the lawless one will be revealed, whom the Lord Jesus will destroy with the breath of his mouth, annihilating him by the manifestation of his coming. 9 The coming of the lawless one is apparent in the working of Satan, who uses all power, signs, lying wonders, 10 and every kind of wicked deception for those who are perishing, because they refused to love the truth and so be saved. 11 For this reason God sends them a powerful delusion, leading them to believe what is false, 16 so that all who have not believed the truth but took pleasure in unrighteousness will be condemned.

As in the other apocalypses we have examined, this one too demonstrates an interest in the "end times" and offers words of comfort to those who experience difficulties. What is interesting here is that the author has clearly described certain "end time" events in connection with the enemy of God. This, too, is typical of Apocalyptic- but after Mark 13 it is unusual for a New Testament apocalypse. We will see this kind of description ONLY in the book of Revelation.

Our task continues with a rather thorough description and exposition of the book of Revelation, the best known apocalypse and the most complete New Testament document to offer words of hope in a historically hopeless situation.