Sundays in Mark (48) The Destruction of the Temple (4)

Continuing our simple Sunday reflections in the Gospel of Mark. This week 13:24-27 and the vision of the Son of Man coming in the clouds with great glory and power.

A lot of ink has been spilled over these verses. Is Jesus switching from the immediate to the future?; from local and specific events soon to happen in Jerusalem to events of global significance at the end of the age?

To even begin to answer that question is to get into the OT imagery in which the text is soaked.

– Joel 2:10 and 3:15 talk of the coming Day of Yahweh when the sun and moon are darkened, as do Is 13:10; 34:4; Ezek 32:7-8 and Amos 8:9

– The gathering of the people of God in the OT is done by God himself (Deut 30:3f; Ps 50:3-5; Is 43:6; Jer 32:37; Ezek 34:13, 36:24; Zech 2:6, 10). Here it is by the Son of Man. The imagery is of a royal celestial figure celebrating a triumph, in full public view before all.

– The gathering of the elect by angels combines Deut 30:4 and Zech 2:10.

– The ‘four winds’ and ‘ends of earth and ends of the heavens’ are also familiar expressions from OT texts (Deut 30:3-4; Is 11:12, 27:13, 56:8; Jer 23:3, 29:12, 31:8; Ezek 11:17, 20:34, 28:25, 34:13. This is the gathering of Israel as a sign of eschatological hope.

So what’s going on here?

Jesus is using future ‘Day of the Lord’ imagery well known to the disciples. Imagery that would speak of the triumph of God, a restored, purified and united Israel at one with her God.

What is so astonishing (and so often missed by our reading of this text) is how profoundly Jesus reinterprets Israel’s eschatological hope in light of the Son of Man.

It is the Son of Man who comes in glory and power. It is he who sends the angels to gather the elect. Until this point the hope of Israel rested in the visible presence of the Temple – it was where Israel would gather in the Day of the Lord. The coming destruction of the Temple will show that hope to have been misplaced.

According to Jesus, it is around the Son of Man [Jesus] that Israel will gather. Jesus replaces the Temple as the locus of Israel’s hope and identity. As one commentator [William L Lane] says …

“The remnant of Israel will recover their lost unity through Jesus, the triumphant Son of Man. To be gathered by the Son of Man is to participate in the eschatological community and to experience the messianic blessing.”

And such blessing will be open to all – the elect will be gathered from everywhere (v.27).

So I’m open to correction, but yes, I think that these verses are talking of future hope. But their main thrust is pastoral and Christological rather than a detailed literal description of the last days. Jesus is encouraging the disciples that the there is hope beyond the terrible events to come. That the destruction of the Temple is not the end of hope, but that they should put their hope in the triumphant Son of Man [Jesus], God’s Messiah. It is in him that the presence and glory of God is displayed.

The paradox, of course, is that he has also been telling them that this Son of Man is about to suffer and die …..

Reflection

Perhaps, for good reason, you fear the future. It is full of darkness and uncertainty. Perhaps your world has been coming apart. Perhaps hope is but a distant memory. These verses tell us that Christian hope is forged in the fires of adversity. It is hard won. And it rests on the triumph of the Son of Man who has defeated evil, sin and death and has risen to new life. It is only in him that hope is found. As another Christian wrote, seeking to encourage those in need of hope in hard times, “Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith.” {Heb 12:2}

The Triumph of the Son of Man

24 “But in those days, following that distress,

“‘the sun will be darkened,
and the moon will not give its light;
25 the stars will fall from the sky,
and the heavenly bodies will be shaken.’

26 “At that time people will see the Son of Man coming in clouds with great power and glory. 27 And he will send his angels and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of the heavens.

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