Gospels

Decoding the Synoptic Apocalypse part II: Mark 13:14-26 and parallels

In the first part of this blog post I made an attempt to decrypt the first half of the synoptic Apocalypse (Mark 13:1-12 and parallels). This is the second part. As was the case in the first part, less relevant verses have been omitted.

Section

Matthew 24

Mark 13

Luke 21

A

(15) So when you see the desolating sacrilege spoken of by the prophet Daniel, standing in the holy place (let the reader understand)

(14a) But when you see the desolating sacrilege set up where it ought not to be (let the reader understand)

(20) But when you see Jerusalem surrounded by legions, then know that its desolation has come near.

B

(16) then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains; (17) Let him who is on the housetop not go down to take what is in his house; (18) and let him who is in the field not turn back to take his mantle.

(14b) then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains (15) let him who is on the housetop not go down, nor enter his house, to take anything away; (16) and let him who is in the field not turn back to take his mantle.

(21) Then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains, and let those who are out in the country enter it.

C

(22) for these are days of vengeance, to fulfill all that is written.

D

(19) And alas for those who are with child and for those who suck in those days!

(23a) Alas for those who are with child and for those who suck in those days!

E

(20) Pray that your flight way not be in winter or on a Sabbath.

F

(21) For then there will be great tribulation, such as has not been from the beginning of the world until now, no, and never will be.

(19) For in those days there will be such tribulation as has not been from the beginning of the creation which God created until now, no, and never will be.

(23b) For great distress shall be upon the earth and wrath upon this people;

G

(22) And if those days had not been shortened, no human being would be saved

(20) And if the Lord had not shortened the days, no human being would be saved;

H

(23) Then if any one says to you, ‘Lo, here is the Christ!’ or ‘There he is!’ do not believe it. (24) For false Christs and false prophets will arise and show great signs and wonders, so as to lead astray, if possible, even the elect.

(21) And then if any one says to you, ‘Look, here is the Christ!’ or ‘Look, there he is!’ do not believe it. (22) False Christs and false prophets will arise and show signs and wonders, to lead astray, if possible, the elect.

I

(24) They will fall by the edge of the sword, and be led captive among all nations; and Jerusalem will be trodden down by the gentiles, until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled.

J

(29) Immediately after the tribulation of those days the sun will be darkened, the and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will fall from heaven

(24) But in those days, after the tribulation, the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, (25) and the stars will be falling from heaven

(25) And there will be signs in sun and moon and stars

K

(30) …and they will see the Son of man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory.

(26) And afterwards they will see the Son of man coming in clouds with great power and glory.

(27) And afterwards they will see the Son of man coming in a cloud with power and great glory.

Discussion

  1. Siege of Jerusalem and desolating sacrilege
    I won’t address the ‘desolating sacrilege’ phrase here. Luke mentions the chronological sequence of siege and destruction, and Matthew connects the desolating sacrilege to the τοπος ἅγιος (topos hagios) – the temple compound. Combined, this information points to the capture of the temple by the Romans and their celebration of this important victory. It is of little importance to which particular element of this humiliating event is referred.

  2. Flight
    This section obviously refers to a war situation.

  3. The ‘day of vengeance’
    The ‘day of vengeance’ is the Qumran wording for the ‘day of the Lord’, the climactic turning point between the present Roman and the future messianic era. The burning of the Temple and the destruction of Jerusalem turned out to be that climactic ‘day’. Luke clarifies that these events are the realization of Essene eschatology.

  4. The pitiable fate of the women
    The pitiable fate of the pregnant women and the young mothers is a veiled description of the famine during the siege. Pregnant women, young mothers and children were the most vulnerable part of the population. See the heartbreaking cannibalism story of Mary daughter of Eleazar in War VI:201-213. See also Luke 23:28-30.

  5. The flight theme once more

  6. (Great) tribulation / great distress
    Something of overwhelming importance and exceptionality is described here, something so extremely catastrophic that it had never happened before and would never happen again. Θλιψις (thlipsis) is generally understood as a period of oppression or tribulation, but I believe it is the code word for an oppressive event. It describes the greatest imaginable catastrophe for the Jews, the destruction of their Temple, which was the centre of their nation, their religion and their life. See also under section J below. The ‘earth’ (γη - gè) in Luke is to be understood territorially as the land of Israel. This catastrophe happens to the Jews in the land of Israel.

  7. A great massacre
    This section describes the slaughter of the survivors of the siege at the capture of the Upper City, see Josephus’s War VI:404a: They [the Roman soldiers] poured into the alleys, sword in hand, massacring indiscriminately all whom they met.

  8. Pseudo-Christs, pseudoprophets
    This section, which is missing in Luke, seems to be an elaboration of section B of the first half (Mt 24:4-5, Lk 13:5-6, Lk 21:8). The anti-Roman tenor of that section, which has already been discussed, seems to be affirmed and reinforced. The terms pseudo-Christ and pseudoprophet seem to be an encoded description of the Roman emperor. At first glance, this seems to be unlikely as ‘Christ’ is always used in a Christian and ‘prophet’ in a Jewish/Christian context. Nevertheless, numerous writings show the adversary of the Christ to be the Antichrist or, in this case, the pseudo-Christ, the Roman competitor for world dominion. The entry in BDAG (p. 890) for προφητης (profètès) allows us ‘a type of person common in polytheistic society’, giving Plutarch’s Numa 9:4 as an example. In Numa 9:4, the Roman pontifex maximus is called ‘exegete and prophet’. This seems also to be the case in this section of the synoptic Apocalypse: the combination of pseudo-Christ and pseudoprophet seems to point to the Roman emperor in his dual role of political and religious leader. In the first part of the synoptic Apocalypse there were many false Christs, pointing to the consecutive Roman emperors. Here we only see a plural without ‘many’. This could point to a more focussed description of Vespasian and his son Titus.

  9. War casualties
    This verse in Luke is quite explicit. We see war victims killed by the sword, survivors who are led into captivity, and the destruction of Jerusalem.

  10. A huge cloud of smoke
    After the catastrophe, in other words, as a consequence of the catastrophe, something happens in the air. Josephus describes the destruction of Jerusalem in a firestorm. The burning buildings produced a huge pillar of smoke that rose into the air and spread out over the greater area of Jerusalem. Sun, moon and starlight could not penetrate this immense cloud of smoke above the region.

  11. The arrival of the messiah
    This verse on the arrival of the messiah is the apotheosis of the synoptic Apocalypse. Although the synoptic Apocalypse is encrypted, the chronology of the key events is clear: the messiah arrives after the destruction of Jerusalem.

This approach to decrypting the synoptic Apocalypse has led us to the conclusion that – with the exception of a brief reference to hostility against Paul’s mission – the only theme discussed in this chapter of the synoptic gospels is the war of the Jews against the Romans. The gospel writers have inserted this apocalyptic chapter for a good reason. It speaks of the arrival of the messiah at the end of the war, and so it is the truthful counterweight of the forged chronology of the main part of the gospels. We can discern this real chronology also in other apocalyptic early Christian texts like the 11th chapter of Revelation and the final (16th) chapter of the Didache.