Formations 03.01.2015: Prepare for the Worst

Daniel 11:21, 30-35; Mark 13:5-13

Jules Guérin, The Mount of Olives as Seen from Jerusalem, 1910

Jules Guérin, The Mount of Olives as Seen from Jerusalem, 1910

Jesus delivers his so-called Olivet Discourse in Mark 13 in response to questions about the end of the age and the signs that are to accompany it. It may be tempting to get lost in the maze of end-times teachings that often accompany a text like this. For you and your class, it may be just as easy to dismiss the entire thing as irrelevant speculations with no clear application to the world in which Christians live.

From the proper perspective, however, this passage is highly relevant. Christians in every age have contended with people who spread lies about God and God’s plans for the world—and often make grandiose claims for their own role in the unfolding of history! Christians in every age have had to contend with social strife, violence, and tragedy.

In Mark 13, Jesus warns his disciples about false prophets and coming persecution. Believers can’t prevent such tragedies, but we can at least be prepared for them. Rather than wringing our hands in defeat, our job, even in difficult times, is to proclaim the good news of Jesus to the world.

Discussion

• How does this text address the evil and suffering we face in our world today?
• What can Christians do when it seems we are powerless to stop the forces of evil arrayed against God and God’s kingdom of love and truth?
• How can we find the courage to proclaim the good news to a world that often does not want to hear it?

Reference Shelf

The Antichrist

The Antichrist is an evil individual of apocalyptic eschatology who is to arise in the last days as an opponent of Christ. Whereas the term “antichrist” appears only in four passages in the NT (1 John 2: 18. 22; 4:3; 2 John 7), the concept of an antichrist is present in several NT texts. The Antichrist will appear prior to the return of Christ and will lead a campaign of persecution and deception against

Christ’s followers. His power will end when Christ returns to earth and defeats the Antichrist and his forces.

Jewish thought seems to provide the rudiments of the antichrist concept, for the idea of a great adversary of God and his people is present in several Jewish writings. The oracles in Ezek 38–39 describe in apocalyptic language the attack against the people of God by Gog of Magog “in the latter years” and the defeat of Gog and his forces by God. Dan 7–8 describe a “little horn,” Antiochus IV, who will come as an oppressor of God’s faithful. The evil of this wicked ruler will be great and he will be successful initially. In the end, however, God will prevail. Noncanonical Jewish writings mention similar opponents under the name of Beliar or Belial.

All of these ideas are reflected in various places in the NT. Gog and Magog from Ezekiel reappear in Rev 20:8. The visions of Daniel also influenced the writing of Revelation (esp. chap. 13). Paul mentions Belial/Beliar in 2 Cor 6:15. The final opponent of God has become in the NT the final opponent of Christ.

Mitchell G. Reddish, “Antichrist34 ,” Mercer Dictionary of the Bible, ed. Watson E. Mills et al. (Macon GA: Mercer University Press, 1990), 197.

Prepare for Persecution

Verse 9 [of Mark 13] shifts from warning the disciples to beware of the false prophets (vv. 5-6) to a warning to prepare themselves for persecution. Verses 9 and 11 are the Markan parallel to the Q saying in Luke 12:11- 12. However one reconstructs the history of this saying, it is clear that Mark has inserted v. 10 in this context. Mark has subtly developed the pattern of preaching, arrest, martyrdom. John the Baptist preached and was “handed over” (1:4-8, 14-15; 6:14-29). Jesus will soon be “handed over” (1:14-15; 8:31; 9:31; 10:32-34). Now it becomes clear that the disciples too will be “handed over” for their preaching (1:16- 20; 6:7-13; 8:34-35; 10:29-30, 38-39). They will share Jesus’ fate. In the time of persecution, the disciples should steel themselves to be ready to carry out their mission of bearing witness to the gospel. Mark 13, therefore, also serves as an introduction to the Passion Narrative that follows, where some of the same terms and themes recur: “hand you over” (paradidomi: 14:10, 11, 18, 21, 41, 42, 44; 15:1, 10, 15), “councils” (synedria: 14:55; 15:1).

The early believers would be persecuted by both Jewish (councils and synagogues) and Gentile authorities (governors and kings). The book of Acts records just such experiences of persecution, and Paul reports, “Five times I have received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I received a stoning” (2 Cor 11:24-25; cf. Acts 5:40; 16:19-23, 37). In order to inflict a lashing, three (or twenty-three) judges were required according to later Jewish law (m. Sanhedrin 1.2). The reference to “councils” (synedria) in v. 9 refers generally to local courts or councils. The pattern of Paul’s mission in Acts reveals that he always made contact with the synagogue in every new city or town he entered (Acts 13:5, 14; 14:1; 17:1-2, 10, 17; 18:4, 19, 26; 19:8), and he often met opposition there. In this verse, to “stand before” is an idiom meaning to be brought to trial or to be called to answer charges before an official (see Acts 24:20; 25:10). John the Baptist was imprisoned by Herod Antipas (6:14-29). Jesus was interrogated by the Jewish authorities (14:53-65) before being tried by Pilate, the Roman prefect or governor (15:1-15). The book of Acts records that Paul was tried before the Sanhedrin (Acts 22:30-23:10), before governors (Felix and Festus—Acts 24:10-27; 25:1-12; and 26:24-32), and before King Agrippa (Acts 25:23–26:32) before appealing his case to Caesar.

Like Paul, the disciples would be brought to trial precisely because they were preaching the gospel of Jesus Christ. Mark 13:9-13 is closely connected to 8:34–9:1.22 Mark 8:35 promises salvation to those who lose their lives “for my sake and for the sake of the gospel” (heneken emou kai tou euangeliou), and the same phrase recurs in 10:29. The reference to persecution “because of me” (heneken emou) in 13:9 prepares the way, therefore, for the command to preach the gospel (to euangelion) in v. 10. The last phrase in v. 9, “as a testimony to them” (eis martyrion autois), occurred earlier in 1:44, where Jesus instructed the leper to show himself to the priests “as a testimony to them.” In Mark 1:44 and 6:11 the phrase may be read negatively, i.e., as testimony against them, but Beasley-Murray cautions that the phrase should be allowed to carry the positive sense in 13:9, saying, “Mark’s addition of v. 10 shows that he must have viewed the martyrion as having positive as well as negative import, depending on the response of the hearers.”

R. Alan Culpepper, Mark, Smyth & Helwys Bible Commentary (Macon GA: Smyth & Helwys, 2007) 453–56.

Darrell Pursiful is the editor of Formations. He is an adjunct professor at Mercer University and an active member of the First Baptist Church of Christ in Macon, Georgia.

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