Was Jesus' Eschatological Clock Out Of Sync? Studies in Mark, Pt. 58

For those who have even a simple understanding of how to read and interpret the Scriptures, it should go without saying that Mk. 13 is not about the end of the world. Yet, many act as if—and quite persistently—that it is indeed about the end of all things. The truth of the matter is, what Jesus says in Mk. 13 has nothing to do with what would happen thousands of years later (and maybe thousands of years from now). Jesus is not being terribly futuristic here. What is going on in Mk. 13 is that Jesus is talking about what was getting ready to happen to those He was talking to as well as—and this is often overlooked!—to Himself. To be certain—and it seems rather clear to me—everything Jesus says in Mk. 13 is quite temporal and correlates with the rest of Mark’s account, even if rather loosely at some points.

We might insist, as some have done, that Jesus’ predictions were wrong. Many people have argued that Jesus believed the end of the world was immanent (most recentlly Ehrman) but in reality, it wasn’t and thus, Jesus got it all wrong. I disagree with this view (not least because Jesus Himself, in chapter 13, goes on to say that even He does not know specific times!). I don’t disagree with this to try to force some theological presupposition upon Jesus either. I disagree with it because everything Jesus says in Mk. 13 actually plays out, to some degree, in the next three chapters (and this “playing out” is even clearer when the other Gospel accounts and the historical background are accessed; see for example the statements made in Mk. 13.8):

Chapter 13 / Fulfillment
13.5-13.......in.....14.9, 45, 53-72

In 13.2, Jesus speaks of the Temple’s impeding destruction. In 15.38, the Temple curtain (at the heart of the Temple) is destroyed from top to bottom. In 13.9-13, numerous things come to pass. Jesus makes another reference to the Gospel being preached in the world, two of Jesus’ own betray Him, Jesus Himself is brought before the courts and it was denied by the religious leaders (and the people) that Jesus was the Messiah. In 13.26 Jesus speaks about coming on the clouds (=judgment on the wicked/Temple, which plays out in the curtain’s tearing as well as Jesus’ own receiving the kingdom) and in 14.62, Jesus affirms, “I am” and that indeed, He is the one to come on the clouds (this also rails against the “I am” statements of others). In 13.34-5, Jesus tells the disciples to keep watch and not fall asleep as things will happen suddenly; in 14.37-40, the disciples fall asleep, do not keep watch, are not avid gatekeepers and things transpire quite rapidly (in the narrative).

We have to keep in mind that Mark’s account is a story. He does not have every detail of every one of Jesus’ words or every detail of every moment of Jesus’ life. So, where the correlates occur even loosely, they should still be acknowledged. Some, however, are strong fulfillments and give us no reason for pause. The point is: Jesus is speaking of things that were about ready to happen and eventually, they did. So, He didn’t get the end of the world thing wrong because He was never ever trying to talk about the end of the world. By the same token, His eschatalogical clock was not out of sync because it was never really set! What Jesus said, however, according to Mark, He certainly got right as Mark’s story (understood in context) shows us.


  1. I'm sorry, I just don't see it. The tearing of the curtain fulfills the prediction that no stone will be left upon another? [Even that latter prediction is technically wrong if it related to 70 CE, if one considers the Wailing Wall]. The prediction that he will come on the clouds is fulfilled by another prediction that those who condemn him will be among those who see him coming on the clouds? The latter seems to make claiming these predictions came true that much harder, and certainly not any easier.

    I hope you'll say more about your understanding here, because it sounds like you are claiming that your understanding of the text is obvious, and from my perspective, it isn't.

    Uh oh, I think I feel a bloggersation coming on...

  2. James,

    Excellent points. Let me see if I can clarify.

    You're right about the wailing wall and the entire Temple not being destroyed. I don't think Jesus was being wooden-literal here. He was employing a figure of speech; He was exagerrating to make His point--hyperbole.

    Given that He's being hyperbolic, I think one can certainly see the rending of the curtain (along with the other calamities such as darkness, earthquakes, etc.) as the beginning of the Temple's demise. Perhaps where my argument is a little fuzzy, and you've certainly picked up on it, is trying to date things. If the curtain was torn circa 30-33 etc. then how does 70 have anything to do with it? I guess one way to understand it is Jesus' comment in 13.8 about the beginning of birth pangs. The rending of the curtain, the calamaties, etc. are the beginning. The fires of 70 are the ending. Does that make my argument a little more clear? (Glad you called this out, by the way!)

    As for the "coming on the clouds" I do think that this was spoken against the religio-political leaders of the Temple, even those outside the Temple who would accuse and try Jesus. The Danielic phrase signals judgment on the leaders (thus, they would see and experience it) and as Wright has argued, it also signals Jesus' reception of the kingdom of God from the Father.

    I think what Mk. says in ch. 13 has correlates in the next 3 chapters. Sometimes his langauge is clearly fulfillment language while other times it is not. Just as well, when we draw on the other Gospel accts these fulfillments are very clear.

    James, does this make more sense? I appreciate your challenge and hope that I was able to answer with some cogency. Let me know what you think and what your take is.