Is the end near?

By Dr. Samuel M. Frost

Dedicated to Elton Hollon

As an academician I get to read “papers” and such, and have access to, that are not generally read by the public.  Academic writing, too, is often technical, or elaborate in verbiage.  The paper I read this morning, as per my usual routine, is by Jeffery B. Gibson (D. Phil. Oxford), a Faculty Member of the Harry S. Truman-City Colleges of Chicago.  Dr. Gibson, also, is the author of ‘Matthew 6:9–13//Luke 11:2–4: An Eschatological Prayer?’ (SAGE Publications, Biblical Theology Bulletin, 2001, Volume 31), wherein he argues the same issues in the paper I am now considering, ‘Mark 14:38 as a Key to the Markan Audience.’ 

Engaging with the ‘consensus’ reading of Mk 14.38, Gibson alerts us to an allusion to Ps 78 where the ‘same situation’ existed there for Mark’s audience.  The imperative verbs, ‘watch and pray’ is followed by a hina clause with the aorist subjunctive: watch and pray so that (hina) you enter not into testing.  Rather than read ‘testing’ (peirasmos) here as objective, Gibson convincingly argues for a subjective reading.  That is, Jesus is commanding his disciples to watch and pray as for “help to avoid their perpetrating a ‘testing of faithfulness’, and more specifically a particular ‘testing of faithfulness’ –namely, the one expressly forbidden to any who would be among the faithful of Israel: the ‘testing of the faithfulness of God’” (2).

This needs explanation.  Mark’s emphasis on ‘ the way of the cross’ as opposed to the Gentile ‘way of the sword’ and ‘authority over’ power-enforcement strategy (Rome) is Jesus’ model for how to ‘rule.’  One rule’s by becoming a servant.  Carrying the cross, washing feet, and sacrificial service are the ‘weapons’ of God’s love.  However, in the climate of religious zealotry, political power struggles, and a possible leveraging of who gets to ‘sit at the right hand’ of Messiah (as per James and John), denotes the current wind in the air that since the ‘son of man’ has arrived (Jesus), then the political structures would crumble.  This would require, of course, a host of government ‘aids’ for setting up God’s Kingdom on earth, and James and John were only too eager to “offer” their help.

Jesus rebukes such contests among his followers.  Rather, following the way of the cross is ‘the way’ of the Messiah’s advent and kingdom – which has come.  The arrival of the kingdom, and Messiah’s Advent, however, took on a ‘hidden’ or ‘veiled’ element that is hinted at in the Prophets.[1]  As the God of Abraham certainly ruled the nations and kings as depicted in the Hebrew Bible, yet without being ‘seen’, so Messiah’s rule would be of the same nature; Messiah, ruling at the right hand of God from heaven, would ensue for an indefinite period of time before the expulsion of the wicked from his Kingdom finally arrived.[2]  As God ‘put up with’ wickedness, and wicked people, Messiah-at-God’s-right-hand-where-God-is would (is), for an extended time, do(ing) the same.

This is not at all a denial of the finality of God’s pogrom against the wicked; his final, once and for all extermination of the wicked from his world, otherwise known as the eschatological Day of the Lord, but that as that Day was constantly threatened in the Prophets, yet never realized in toto (God is patient), the Messiah, being of the same character of God to a tee, would exercise the same constraints, even though, like God (as God), he could annihilate the wicked at the ‘blast of his nostrils.’  For right now, he chooses not to.  Little ‘flare ups’ of wrath in the world here and there suffice (see, Ps 2.12).[3]

The point of all of this brief explanation for Gibson’s paper is that he roots Mk 14.38 within the confines of the troubles of the Jewish war in 66-70 CE (and later, 135 CE under Simon Bar Kochba).  That is, the ‘audience’ of Mark’s readers, would have been ‘those professing loyalty to the God of Israel who were sufficiently caught up in the revolutionary fervor of the years 68-69 to be drawn over or severely attracted to the Zealot cause’ (11).  Since the ‘way of the cross’ promoted fleeing the city of Jerusalem (Mk 13.14), leaving behind possessions ‘where moth and rust destroy’ (Mt 6.20), the temptation would have been to stay and fight.  This, in turn, would be ‘putting God to the test’ since God has announced through Jesus and the ‘way of the cross’ the means by which his kingdom program is established.  ‘Fierce loyalty’, however, to the cultic-life and symbol of the temple – and a theological grip that firmly outlined the idea that God would save Israel through warfare, ‘coming down himself’ to rescue the Jews from Rome’s barbarity – persuaded many of those zealous for Israel (as Paul certainly was) to stay and fight.  The choice between hearing the Prophet, Jesus ben Miriam of Nazareth, and rejecting standing by fellow kinsmen for the battle perceived as ‘belonging to the Lord’ would have been an agonizing one.  What if Jesus were false?  What if God will deliver Jerusalem, and Jesus’ followers had fled the city?  How would they have been treated if victory were secured?

The fact of the matter is that Jesus clearly stated that ‘the end is not yet’ for which they hoped (Mk 13.7).  He told them to flee the city, and leave their belongings.  And this is where Gibson is spot on: ‘The background and occasion for all of this is surely the time and circumstances in which Zealot beliefs regarding the inviolability of the Temple, the righteousness of their cause, and the divine sanctioning of the means by which they sought to implement it seemed most assured even to those who had originally been skeptical of their truth. And this was only in late 68 or early 69 CE, when Jerusalem was basking in the glow of a third Sennacherib like salvation’ (11).  Further, ‘One notable thing about Mark 13 is that all of its characteristic exhortations – ostensibly given by Jesus to the disciples but more accurately given by Mark to his readers (cf. Mk. 13:14) – to ‘take care’ to avoid being deceived by the course of events that are outlined within 13:4-23 into thinking that the Day of the Lord and God’s deliverance of Jerusalem is at hand, is that they are set within a framework of an anti-Temple polemic that not only is contextualized by Jesus’ pronouncement in Mk 11:17 that the Temple had been turned into a den of thieves and therefore would be destroyed not saved, but is rife with language and imagery taken from Jeremiah‘s denunciations of his contemporaries’ declarations that the Temple guaranteed them safety from, and victory over, any pagan forces arrayed against it (cf. Jer. 7)’ (10).

In conclusion, the Day of the Lord, as pictured as when God himself would restore all things in creation through resurrection of the dead is ‘not yet.’  We find this sentiment in Luke 21.8, ‘And he said, “See that you are not led astray. For many will come in my name, saying, ‘I am he!’ and, ‘The time is at hand!’ Do not go after them.’  There are two sayings here, ‘I am he’ (false Messiahs), and ‘the time is at hand’, meaning God’s deliverance is now come to rescue the city: and Jesus tells them the exact opposite: ‘the end is not yet, and is not at hand.’  How, then, does this square with the announcement that ‘the time is at hand’ in Rev 1.3?  Either we have a contradiction (as the critical scholar suppose – that Luke later rewrote the original imminent message of Jesus to deal with the so called ‘delay of the parousia’), or we can plainly see that the apostles use of this phrasing, and the Zealots use of it as well, had two different meanings.  By saying, ‘the time is at hand’ coupled with, ‘the end is not yet’ allowed for a considerable space of time between Messiah’s ascension to heaven and resurrection.  For the Zealots, however, we find their sentiment in Luke 19.11, ‘As they heard these things, he proceeded to tell a parable, because he was near to Jerusalem, and because they supposed that the kingdom of God was to appear immediately.’  That is the language of imminence.  Jesus did not preach this idea of a ‘sudden’ appearance, and he instructed his disciples who would have heard others during the revolt in the sixties saying, ‘it is near’ (imminent), to ignore them.  The inauguration of God’s kingdom program started with Jesus’ ministry, already.  His exaltation to the right hand of the Father, sitting in David’s promised seat, had already come to fruition, and thus they were able to say, ‘the time has come near’ (perfect tense in Greek).  Jesus’ inaugural, interim reign ‘in the heavens’ was just beginning, and would continue ‘until the end’, in the last day, when God raises the dead and ushers in the new heavens and new earth.  Specifically, ‘no man knows’ that day or hour, which allows for the considerable amount of time to walk ‘the way of the cross’ until the end comes.  This was not only, then, a message for them, but a continuing message for us.  Ignore those who say, ‘the time is at hand’ – for in the apostolic message, His time is always at hand in terms of his exaltation, and the NT deliberately shifts focus from ‘when’, to ‘who’.  ‘Who’ is Jesus Christ, who is at the right hand of the Father until he descends from heaven to raise all who the Father has given to him.  Therefore, ‘Today! If you hear his voice, repent, for the kingdom of heaven has drawn nigh.’

[1] Mt 11.25 notes that the kingdom has arrived, but is ‘hidden’ from the world.  The understanding of Messiah’s exaltation-through-death which secures the resurrection of the dead to come, must be received through ‘revelation knowledge’ by a direct act of the Spirit.  This will not be the case when the reality of ‘things not seen’ are made to ‘be seen’, obviously.

[2] Mt 13.35 also denotes the ‘hidden’ things of God, in the same way that they were to those during the times before Messiah’s arrival.  They have to be grasped by faith.  The Parables, then, tell us that ‘the world’ is God’s ‘kingdom’, or ‘the field’ in Mt 13.38; where in verse 41 ‘they will gather out of his kingdom’ is parallel with ‘the world’.  The world has always been God’s created kingdom, wherein he rules over the just and the unjust.  The mystery, and indeed the perennial ‘problem of evil’ in the world, is how and why God ‘allows’ such evil acts done by evil people.  We know that he has the power over all things to carry out mass extermination of the wicked, and that there is the constant threat of doing so in the OT.  Jesus, in the parable of the Wheat and the Tares, declares that ‘at the end of the age’ such a pogrom will happen – but until then, ‘let both the evil and the good grow together’ (Mt 13.30). 

[3] Psalm 2 is heavily alluded to and quoted in the NT, particularly Revelation.  It is often missed that verse 12 contains the familiar phrasing, ‘en tachei’ – ‘lest his wrath flare up en tachei’ or ‘quickly.’  The son of man in John’s visions uses this phrase repeatedly, in that he ‘comes (present active, often times) quickly’.  That is, he comes in judgment often and occasionally to immediately render a verdict in time and space.  As Yahweh ‘quickly’ rendered judgements over Israel’s enemies through plague, famine, extermination, what have you, yet never entirely eradicated their problems, so we should understand in Revelation that John’s use of the phrase, en tachei carries the same semantical meaning as it does in the OT.  That is, he was shown ‘things’ (plural – a multiple amount of things) ‘that must take place in speed’ (en tachei, Rv 1.2).  That is, each ‘thing’ that must take place, will take place ‘with quickness’ (adverbially).  Several commentaries have made the mistake of taking this phrase as an indicator of the Second Coming being expected as ‘shortly’ to happen (which, these same commentaries would deny happened).  These scholars labor under the delusion of the Critical School of thought that the early disciples expected the so called Second Coming to take place within their lifetime (imminently).  A growing wave of scholars, however, are coming to strongly reject this claim.   We should not expect the wrath of the Lamb of God to be an only, once for all time act, but rather a series of acts (as exactly Yahweh acts in the OT) within the world, before God decides to utterly change the world. 

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