Jesus, The Temple, and the Coming Son of Man, Robert H. Stein. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2014.
Summary: This commentary on Mark 13 sorts through the complex interpretive issues concerning the fall of the temple, apocalyptic events, and the return of the Son of Man.
Perhaps the greatest interpretive challenge in the gospel of Mark concerns the predictions of chapter 13, beginning with the questions the disciples ask in response to Jesus’ statement, “Not one stone will be left here upon another; all will be thrown down” (v. 2). The disciples ask, “When will these things be and what will be the sign that all these things are about to be accomplished?” (v. 4).
Robert H. Stein provides one of the best explanations that takes seriously the question of Mark’s readers as well as the original context of Jesus’ words. He deals with one of the thorniest parts of the passage, who “this generation” is in verse 30 and whether this applies to the fall of the temple, or the return of the Son of Man. If it is the latter, it is hard to explain how this could be true.
First of all, Stein surveys the various ways the different “quests” for the historical Jesus have shaped readings of Mark 13 before arguing for his own approach of considering what the author of Mark intended his readers to grasp. Then he turns to the first four verses of Mark which he sees as key to the whole. He would argue that the parallel phrases of the disciples question are both concerned only with the fall of the temple and that the second concerns the sign to be looked for to warn when the time of the temple (and Jerusalem’s fall) was imminent. Their question did not envision any events beyond this including the Son of Man’s return.
He then argues that the rest of the chapter follows an A-B-A-B pattern:
A. Verses 5-23 are Jesus’ immediate response to the questions. He first warns them of what will not be signs of the temple’s fall–false messiahs, wars and rumors of wars, and persecution. The sign will be the “abomination of desolation” that Jesus’ original hearers would have understood as those who defiled the temple, probably fulfilled in 67 AD when Zealots and their leaders performed sacrilegious acts in the temple. It was at this time that Christians fled the city to Pella and escaped its destruction, heeding the warnings Jesus gave.
B. Verses 24-27 speak of events in some subsequent time, “in those days, after that tribulation” when there will be signs in the heavens and the Son of Man comes on the clouds. Stein understands this occurring at some indefinite time in the future after the fall of Jerusalem, but not necessarily close in time.
A1. Verses 28-31 focus again on “these things” which Stein understands as the abomination of desolation (which is likened to the blossoming of the fig tree) and the ensuing fall of Jerusalem, and sees “this generation” as the generation that will still have living members when these events in 70 AD occur.
B1. Verses 32-37 speak of no one knowing the time and refers not to the fall of the temple but to the return of the Son of Man, and concludes with exhortations to be watchful and ready at any time.
One benefit of this explanation is that his inclusion of the sign of Jerusalem’s fall encourages the believers to trust the other predictions, particularly post 70 AD. Also, the exhortations to faithfulness in the face of persecution and watchfulness are relevant to their situation (and indeed for believers in subsequent generations).
What I most appreciated about this work was the clarity and concision of writing (138 pages, excluding bibliography and indices), and the close textual work that supported his arguments, providing an explanation of this text that demonstrates that neither Jesus nor Mark were mistaken in what was said or written, as would be the case of those who believed that Jesus thought that the Son of Man’s return would be within the apostles’ generation. Stein concludes this lucid explanation of Mark 13 with his own interpretive translation consistent with his reading. A useful resource for anyone teaching or leading a study of Mark.