21 December 2007

Jesus, the Tribulation, and the End of Exile: pt. 4

Chapter Four: The Great Tribulation, the Coming of the Messiah, and the End of Exile
Turning his focus to the future expectations of tribulation and messiah within Jesus’ own mission and ministry Pitre now offers a reading of Mark 13, the Olivet Discourse. His approach is centered thematically around three main divisions of the text: The “Birth Pangs” of the Messiah and the Destruction of Jerusalem (Mark 13:5-8) (4.2), The Tribulation and the Ingathering of the Gentiles (Mark 13:9-13) (4.3), and The Temple Destruction, the Coming Son of Man, and the Ingathering of the Exiles (Mark 13:14-27) (4.4). The uniqueness of this chapter comes also with Pitre’s constant consideration of historical Jesus research throughout (222).

Mark 13:5-8
The first point of exegesis comes with Jesus’ warning against the coming of deceivers (v. 5) who will attempt to lead astray his disciples and others. Coming with what appears to be prophetic authority and claims to be the Messiah, these individuals will seek to capitalize on the increasing time of tribulation - a sign of the last days (226-227). Pitre suggests that there is also an allusion to Daniel’s prophecy with the refrain, “these things must take place; but it is not yet the end” (Mark 13:8) (227). This is connected to the “birth pangs,” a vivid use of apocalyptic imagery which closely aligns with Old Testament and Second Temple Jewish literature as a reference to the tribulation. This, according to Pitre, typically does one of two things: “accompanies the destruction of a city or nation or precedes the coming of the Messiah” (229, emphasis in original).
 It appears, then, that the false messiahs are a part of the “birth pangs” themselves which will ultimately bring about the destruction of the Temple and the coming of the Messiah (231).

Of the thorough and helpful interaction with historical Jesus research in this section, I will point out one which has to do with the fulfillment of Jesus’ words. It has often been claimed that this section of Mark was fabricated by the early church to account for the many false messiahs which emerged in the years between the death of Jesus and the Jewish war. However, as Pitre is right to point out, there is no actual evidence available which correlate with what is actually said by Jesus in this passage (242). 
Thus, there is good reason to believe this saying as authentic and solid historical ground on which to build a better understanding of Jesus’ own understanding.

Mark 13:9-13
Immediately following the reference to “birth pangs” is Jesus’ reference to persecutions which would come upon his disciples as well as the promise that they would receive the Holy Spirit. Pitre regards this passage as “salvation eschatologically conceived” through the threefold exhortation of 1) the good news being proclaimed to both Jew and Gentile, 2) the Holy Spirit speaking through the disciples during the trial, and 3) the salvation which would come upon the one who endured to the end (254-255).

The focus is once again directed to “all the nations” seems to be a clear eschatological idea, bound together with the end of Israel’s exile and the conversion of the Gentiles (258). Furthermore, Pitre demonstrates a close connection with such events and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit (reminiscent of Joel), which would occur only as part of the ushering in of the end times tribulation. The passage continues to point out the interfamilial strive (vv. 12-13) which heightens the amount of tension found in the tribulation. Pitre summarily states:

“In light of this Old Testament background, the message of Jesus is clarified: the disciples, in their universal proclamation of the good news of Israel’s deliverance, will face many trials and persecutions during the forecast time of strife, but they must not lose the hope that the Spirit would be poured out upon them and that they would indeed be saved” (261).
In what also builds upon Isaiah’s call of proclamation, Jesus envisages a mission to the Gentiles in which the good news would be shared. The result would be a gathering of the nations by going to them (263).

Two important questions (among others) arise from Pitre’s exegesis and his survey of historical issues: 1) who are the “lost sheep”? and 2) where are the “lost sheep? Although many answers are offered to these, Pitre’s own conclusions return again to that which finds its foundation in Second Temple literature. He defines the “lost sheep” as those who are found in the scattered and lost tribes of Israel (277), who are presently among the nations (278). If this is the basis for the text, then Pitre is on the right track when he asks, “if the disciples were indeed to follow Jesus [sic] command and go to ‘the lost sheep of the house of Israel,’ is there any way possible for them not to enact a mission among the nations?” (278, emphasis in original). There is thus a necessary link which Jesus has made of proclamation to the ingathering of the Gentiles and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit (286f.).
Mark 13:14-27
In examining the final section of the Olivet Discourse Pitre identifies four inclusios which show this to be a single unit, as well as four major themes which are at work throughout the section (290-301). It is the author’s position that “the coming of the Son of Man in Mark 13:24-27 cannot be properly understood apart from the material that precedes it” (301, emphasis in original).

Building upon the Danielic vision, Pitre demonstrates the probable presuppositions of the text itself, beginning with the reference to the abomination of desolation. The abomination is an event which centers around the Jerusalem Temple and precedes the Great Tribulation. Such echoes of Daniel (five which are specifically discussed in this section), Pitre concludes that Jesus is using the powerful imagery of Daniel to announce the arrival of the days of the Great Tribulation (309). He further highlights this reading by referring to Jesus’ words, “let he who reads understand.” This phrase is taken by the author to be Jesus’ own call to his disciples that they should recognize the prophecy of Daniel is coming to fulfillment (Daniel’s scroll being sealed “until the time of the end” in 12:9) in the present participation in the eschatological tribulation (312-313).

Among the texts which use similar imagery to Jesus’ words are many references to unparalleled tribulation which is tied to the exile and restoration of Israel. Thus, it appears to Pitre that these parallels also suggest that Jesus is identifying these events as “the final period of Israel’s exilic suffering” (321, emphasis in original). Throughout all of this, however, is an eschatological remnant which endures the Great Tribulation. The words in this passage describe a heightened state of emergency, the rises of false messiahs who parallel the activity of the Son of Man (329), and the messianic woes (vv. 14-24). The climax of the Great Tribulation is seen in the apocalyptic imagery of a darkened sun and moon and falling stars which accompany the coming Son of Man (332). Important to Pitre’s thesis is the observation that such is not a separate event, but that there is a strong connection between tribulation and the appearance of the Messiah.

In regards to historicity, Pitre notes that the language in this passage (specifically, “abomination to desolation”) is not utilized in the New Testament or any other early Christian literature (355). This variation of language holds much evidence regarding the dissimilarity of the passage to the early church community.

Summary and Conclusions
Pitre’s statements are once again well-summarized and reviewed in his concluding section. He gathers the implications of much of this chapter in his statement, “For Jesus, it appears that the messianic tribulation, the Great Tribulation, is nothing less than the climax of Israel’s exilic sufferings. It is the final period of suffering which would precede the Return from Exile, the restoration of the twelve tribes, and the coming of the Messiah” (379).

No comments: