The Gospel text for this Sunday [Mark 13:24-37], as with last Sunday, deals with the end times. And this Sunday is usually called the Last Sunday of the Church year. And this is also the last Sunday to hear from the Gospel according to Mark, at least for a little while.
When will the Last Day be? I should make this clear that no one knows except God the Father. Not even the Son knows. And when the sun darkens as predicted, I am imagining it being already too late to make a change. The end is coming, sometime, and when that is belongs to God. In other words, it is not important.
What we do know about God and the end IS important. And the things that have to do with that are wonderful things. The end is, in its proper context, a wonderful thing, just like getting to the end of a race. In this case, you do not know when the end will come, but when you get there, it will certainly be wonderful.
A lot of things happen in this world that are not good news. A lot of bad things happen within this world full of sin. That is normal. And just the simple fact that people in this world like to measure things can also add to the frustration; many things that are measurable are not good news.
A lot of bad things were happening to the early Christians in Rome. They were probably measuring their difficulties to the difficulties of the followers of Jesus when he was roaming around Israel. This gospel account, the Gospel according to Mark, helped to regain their perspective.
It was a short gospel account. The Christians undergoing persecution were in a difficult situation and did not have the time to sit through the minor details of Jesus’ life. This gospel account had a certain, comforting focus. They were given the life that Jesus lived for them; he was their sacrifice. Things are going to be good in the end—whenever that is.
Those persecuted Christians had the words of the Gospel account. They had Jesus' words to trust. And he was certainly trustworthy.
Even though this gospel account is short, the gospel message contained within it gives gifts that are immeasurable and endless. That certainly makes it good news.
The Gospel text for this Sunday [Mark 13:1-13] has Jesus sitting opposite the temple. That is certainly a significant location.
The temple is a significant place, where God and man come together. But the extent of its significance was brought out by a chapter I read recently in the book, Christian Origins and the Establishment of the Early Jesus Movement (Brill, 2018). I know that seems like a long title with a big topic, but the title of the chapter gets more to the heart of the issue: “’No Stone Left upon Another’: Considering Mark’s Temple Motif in Narrative and History”. The author of this chapter is Adam Winn.
In other words, the temple is a significant topic in Mark, although it is not mentioned at all in its first ten chapters. Winn shows that the importance of the temple goes back to the beginning of Mark eleven, when Jesus enters Jerusalem. Little differences that are within this gospel account from early on show that the temple is indeed an important place.
I had not thought of the poor widow who puts the two mites into the treasury as an example of the religious leaders devouring the houses of the widows [See Mark 12:40]. That is certainly turning a positive thing into a negative one. There are other fine examples of the problems that were going on in that place.
More importantly is that God was also in charge of the destruction of that place. Given what happened, especially when the Roman army won the war over the Jews in 70 A.D. and the temple was destroyed (and the way this was portrayed), one might think that the Romans were to blame or, even worse, their Roman gods!
After all the evidence is pulled together, Winn concludes: ‘[Mark] assures them that the destruction of [the] Jerusalem temple was not evidence of Rome’s power over the God of Israel, but that it was instead of the God of Israel judging a corrupt and defunct institution, one God had already replaced [p. 310].’
Given that this gospel account was written by a Jew (John Mark) in a very Gentile place (Rome), I would think that it would be easy to focus too much on the cultures involved. Too often people focus on a man when a much better focus is on God. But what kind of God?
This is another example of how the connections between the four gospel accounts and the four living creatures could be beneficial. In Mark, Jesus is as a lion—a powerful symbol of God’s authority—and he is in charge of his own territory. He stakes out the situation on the first day, when he comes into his area. And he attacks on the second day—although other accounts have him attacking on the first day—it probably was both! He continues to stake out his territory, makes his enemies suitably mad at him, and then sits opposite the temple for a while (dismissing its importance), to help his followers regain their perspective, while his enemies regroup and attack. Jesus lets them, and then he essentially takes on the even bigger enemies of sin, death, and the devil. And, thankfully, he wins.
There is a great point to be made regarding a ‘great crowd’ in the Gospel according to Mark. The Gospel text for this Sunday begins with Mark 12:38, and the previous sentence [the last verse of the text from last Sunday—if the 24th Sunday after Pentecost was celebrated] is as follows in the ESV: ‘And the great throng [i.e., crowd] heard him gladly.’
The first point to be made is that the ‘the’ should definitely be there. It is the more difficult reading, especially since the crowd, no matter what size, was not mentioned before this. The only setting given in these verses is that Jesus is teaching in the temple (12:35). I think the use of the term ‘great crowd’ is very deliberate by the writer.
The phrase is first used at 5:21 and 24 when a great crowd around Jesus is important, and a miracle happens, and Jesus starts asking who was just healed. Then the phrase appears again at 6:34 and 8:1 when Jesus feeds the great crowds in the thousands by starting off with very little food. At 9:14, a great crowd is again important, and Jesus does a miracle so that it is not seen by that great crowd. The next time a ‘great crowd’ is mentioned, it is mentioned in this part of chapter twelve.
I can also visualize great crowds following Jesus during the book of Acts, eventually in many places of the Roman Empire. But things are not as simple as that. That is essentially TOO happy of an ending. A great crowd can have some great problems as well.
The text notes that a great crowd heard him GLADLY. That last word is used very rarely in the New Testament. The only other time it exists in the four gospel accounts is in this same gospel account with a description of Herod, that [6;20], although Herod was at a loss [or, in its ancient context, ‘without resources’; see BDAG, p. 119], yet he heard John the Baptist gladly.
I do not think it is so difficult to make a connection between Herod and this ‘great crowd’. Herod heard John the Baptist gladly, but he was about to come upon some great difficulties. And it will be the same for that great crowd who follows Jesus.
That great crowd does not show up at Jesus’ crucifixion, and that great crowd certainly does not show up at his resurrection. Generally speaking, great crowds do not show up too often in churches these days.
Some people are at a loss. Many people are losing their resources. Great crowds can have great problems. Even one person can have great problems! Yet, despite the difficulties, we continue to hear Jesus gladly. That is enough.
The word ‘blessed’ is a big word. It is so big that many times it is even pronounced as having two syllables! The Gospel text for this Sunday [Matthew 5:1-12], the Sunday when we observe All Saints Day, has Jesus saying that word many times. It is also the first word he says. And the text says that he even opens his mouth right before he says it, which brings even more emphasis to this extremely important word.
What is the meaning of the word in this situation? It is best to first look at the Old Testament situation, and this is especially true for words which occur within the Gospel according to Matthew.
It is not a coincidence that this word is also the first word of the Psalms; it is the first word in Psalm 1. The word is also most common in the Psalms and means ‘to consider fortunate’ or ‘to call happy’. Some translations (mostly paraphrases) even use the word ‘happy’ in their rendering of the Matthew text.
I thought it was interesting that, in other ancient languages, essentially the same word means ‘to march’ or ‘to look after’. It can also mean ‘footmark’ or ‘track’, as well as ‘to follow the track’ or ‘offspring’. In the Hebrew it means to ‘stride’ or ‘lead’ [HALOT, vol. 1, p. 97]. Now how could meanings like that be related to being happy?
There is also a very close word in the Hebrew which usually means ‘which’ or ‘that’. It is a connecting word, and it makes sense that the meaning leads the reader or listener in a slightly new direction.
The basic idea with all those meanings is that there are words which are to lead the reader or listener. Words lead, and people are to follow. That kind of thing has been happening since the beginning of time. In the creation account God leads, and things follow.
In one dictionary, as the author tries to give a good definition of the word, he states, ‘The desire for happiness is different from the blessing in that it demands that the believer do certain things… [TDOT, vol. 1, p. 446].’ Then a long list of things for the believer to do is given. And that is what we see a lot of time happening in the Old Testament. And some people today still follow that ‘rule’.
There is a hint of that farther along in the Sermon on the Mount, since Jesus also says, ‘You, therefore should be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.’ But he does not wish for us to end up focusing on that focus and on what WE do.
Jesus continues on, and he goes in a deliberately different direction. And the author of the dictionary does as well. Thankfully, and by quoting someone else, the article ends with this statement: ‘Blessing is praise of the grace of God which creates salvation for the man who is chosen [TDOT, vol. 1, p. 448].’
The best source of blessing or happiness does not come from within. It comes as a gift, along with all the other things that come to us. And it is the Lord Jesus Christ who leads us down a most wonderful way.