Weekly Bible Reflection
Mark's Alternative Economy
Second Sunday before Advent
Text: Mark 13. 1-8 "Signs of the Times"
Begin by using the Bible Study method as outlined
In recent times a number of prophecies have gained in popularity, in particular, those relating to the year 2012 when some say civilisation as we know it will come to an end in a great cataclysmic event (e.g. the Hopi Indian Prophecy), One can also call to mind the interest in Nostradamus’ predictions, self-proclaimed prophets, and various religious and cult leaders). What do you think about prophecies which foretell doom and gloom for the world? Does the Christian faith have anything to say about such predictions?
A Window on the Text
The setting is the Temple in Jerusalem. As Jesus and his followers leave the building one of his disciples comments on just how magnificent a building it was (v 1). The Temple had been under construction for many years, part of a massive building programme initiated by Herod the Great. In response Jesus predicts that not one stone of the Temple will be left standing on another when disaster strikes (v 2).
Jesus and his disciples reach the Mount of Olives where the Temple could be seen in all its gilded splendour. He is approached by members of his inner circle who want to know about the timing of this catastrophic event (v 4). Jesus warns them against various forms of deception that will lead disciples astray (v 5). He warns of wars, earthquakes and famines in the period leading up to the Temple’s destruction and predicts a time of great suffering for the Christian community (see v 9f). These events will be the beginning of the birth pangs of the great event (v 8).
There is strong evidence in support of this incredible prophetic insight of Jesus found in the writing of the Jewish historian Josephus. He writes about the wars that took place in those times, of the terrible famine in Judea from 47 – 49 AD, of a series of false prophets and false messiahs who came in the 40s, 50s and early 60s. The ‘desecrating sacrilege’ (v 14) did occur when Roman troops marched into the city of Jerusalem carrying their standards all the way into the holiest place in the Temple, which was then destroyed.
Down through the centuries, many Christians have experienced incredible pressure to abandon their faith in Christ under persecution. The Age of the kingdom is an age of tribulation begun at Calvary. The message to those who suffer is not to fear, not to be discouraged but to hold on to the person of Jesus and to continue to make him known. The task of the Christian community is to maintain a credible witness, watching and praying that no-one will fall into temptation and deny their allegiance to Jesus. Mark moves us away from any false triumphalism. True glory is found in the servants of God who hold fast to the gospel in season and out.
Responding as a community
- Who do you think might have wanted to lead the disciples astray? Where does the threat lie today? How might Christians be prepared for such people?
- Share together your thoughts about the ‘end of the world’ and/or second coming of Christ. How do you envision it happening? How might we help people who are fearful and pessimistic about the future?
- What does ‘birth pangs’ suggest to you? Is this a sign of hope or despair? What kind of new birth might we hope for in our society or in the war torn regions of the world like Afghanistan?
- What does it mean to live expectantly and wait patiently? What does God want us to be busy with in life? What does God want us to be concerned about?
Focus prayer today on those Christians suffering persecution for their faith. You may want to have a map at the ready and mark those places of known persecution.
Pray also for all who have lost hope.
- Mark 13 is frequently called "The Little Apocalypse."
- The story Josephus tells of the sixties is one of famine, social unrest, institutional deterioration, bitter internal conflicts, class warfare, banditry, insurrections, intrigues, betrayals, bloodshed, and the scattering of Judeans throughout Palestine.... During the years of siege (66-70 C.E.), stories spread of popular messiahs, prophets crying out woes on the city and temple, mock trials, and crowds creating tumults at the times of pilgrimage. There were wars and rumors of wars for the better part of ten years and Josephus reports portents, including a brilliant daylight in the middle of the night....Jesus' apocalyptic instruction follows this history closely, with one exception. Tucked into the middle of it there is mention of expulsions from the synagogue. These also, according to Mark's Jesus, belong to the signs of the woes that will take place before the coming of the Son of Man with power. If one reads Jesus' apocalyptic predictions in light of the histories actually experienced by Mark's community, one can imagine its effectiveness as a powerful rationalization of catastrophe.... [Mack, ‘A Myth of Innocence’ pp. 315-6]
- The years between Tiberius and Nero were relatively peaceful in the roman empire as a whole, but an inhabitant of Palestine might have heard, for instance, of the wars in Parthia in A.D. 36 and sporadically thereafter, or the war between Antipas and the Nabatean king Aretas, in which Rome also became involved in A.D. 36-37, long before Judaea itself was engulfed in war, not to mention the series of local uprisings which were ruthless put down by the Romans in the years before the war. ... First-century earthquakes might include one experienced at Jerusalem in A.D. 67 (Josephus, War 4.286-87; cf. 1. 370 for an earlier severe earthquake in Palestine), and further afield Acts 16:26 mentions an earthquake in Philippi, while news of the partial destruction of Pompeii by an earthquake in A.D. 62 or of a major earthquake in Asia Minor in A.D. 61 would probably have reached Palestine. There was a major famine in the reign of Cladius, c. A.D. 46 (Acts 11:28; Josephus, Ant. 3.320; 20.101; Schürer, 1.457 n. 8). (R. T. France, The Gospel of Mark, pp. 511-512).
Mark's Alternative Economy - Discussion