To continue the discussion here on the ”coming of the Son of Man”, the following is an edited repost from my older blog on Mk 13:26. The original post was particularly in response to Wright, so a full study must interact with the views of France, Hatina (article online) and Perriman (bibliography below) as well as their differences (e.g. France, pp 541-6, agrees with Wright up to Mk 13:32, but then sees a shift signalled by περὶ δὲ and change in subject from the temple destruction & vindication of the Son of Man in a generation to a future “that day or that hour” which includes the parousia though the timing is unknown)
N.T. Wright has both devoted followers and sharp critics throughout the blogosphere. I believe Wright deserves credit for his major scholarly contributions to the “New (or Fresh) Perspective on Paul” and what he coined as “Third Quest for the Historical Jesus” (but I have doubts that Jesus scholarship can be so neatly categorized into “quests”). Nevertheless, I have my disagreements, much more with his reconstruction of the historical Jesus than Paul, and one of those is his interpretation of the coming of the Son of Man. In his book Jesus and the Victory of God, Wright makes the case for the cosmic imagery of Mark 13:24-27 as metaphorical of the destruction of the Temple in 70 CE and the vindication of the Son of Man. He argues that cosmic imagery is used for the historical downfall of nations such as Babylon (Isa 13:6, 9-11; 14:4, 12-15; Jer 50:6, 8, 28; 51:6-10, 45-6, 50-1, 57; Zech 14:2-5, 9), Edom (Isa 34:4-6) or Egypt (Ezek 32:5-8) (Victory, 354-358). For Wright, Jerusalem and the temple establishment play the role of Babylon, the disciples are the faithful Israel and Rome is the instrument of divine judgment (Victory, 358-60). Second, opposition to the Temple elites is central in Mark and the disciples exclamation about the temple followed by Jesus’ response that every stone will be thrown down in13:1-2 seems to frame the discourse around the Temple destruction: “Jesus staked his prophetic reputation on his prediction of the Temple’s fall within a generation; if and when it fell, he would thereby be vindicated” (Victory, 363). Finally, Daniel 7:9 describes the vindication of the Son of Man over the beasts, which can be plausibly read as symbolizing the collective vindication of Israel over foreign empires (cf. the interpretation of the vision in Dan 7:17-18), and thus the “coming” (note Mark does not use the usual word for Jesus’ return, parousia, but the participle erchomenon [from erchomai]) of the Son of Man in 13:26 is his ascent to the Ancient of Days as he is vindicated by the historical events of 70 CE (Victory, 361).
However, there are some good criticisms of Wright’s view. First, there are strong arguments that Jewish (cf. intertestamental and pseudepigraphic literature), Christian (cf. Heb 12:25–28; 2 Pet 3:5–13; Rev 6:12–17; 21:1; Barn. 15:8) and Greco-Roman (Stoic, Epicurean) authors took such cosmic imagery quite literally as collected by Dale Allison, Millenarian Prophet, pp. 153-171; ”Victory of Apocalyptic“, pp 130-34; Edward Adams, The Stars will Fall From Heaven, pp. 52-126. This is natural as the ancients were as familiar as we are with solar eclipses and “falling stars.” Second, the earliest Christians seem to understand the tradition underlying Mark 13:26 as referring to the second coming: Paul has the Lord descend on clouds (1 Thess 4:15-17), Revelation 1:7 has the descent of ”one like a son of man” and Matthew’s eschatological discourse uses the technical terminology parousia (24:3, 27, 37, 39; cf. 1 Cor 15:23; 1 Thess 2:19; 3:13; 4:14-17; 5:23; 2 Thess 2:1; Jas 5:7-8; 2 Pet 3:4; 1 John 2:28 in reference to Christ’s predicted coming, thus I am less convinced by Wright’s attempt on p. 341 to downplay the significance by stating that the term itself only denotes “presence” as opposed to “absence”). Note also the “thief in the night” metaphor in the ”Q” eschatological discourse interpreted elsewhere in the NT for the “second coming” (Matt 24:43-44/Luke 12:39-40; 1 Thess 5:2; 2 Pet 3:10; Rev 3:3). Third, the coming of the Son of Man with the angels to usher in the eschaton in 13:26-27 seems to be spectacularly visible and have universal implications: clouds could be used for human (e.g. Moses, Abraham, the church) and divine transport (for divine theophanies see Exod 16:10; 19:9; 34:5; Ps 18:11-12; 97:2-5; 104:3; Isa 19:1; Nah 1:3) and 13:27 seems to envision the gathering of the elect throughout all the nations (I am not convinced by the argument that the angeloi of 13:27 are human messengers involved in the missionary spread of the gospel). Ironically, I think this gives better support to one of Wright’s main points that the (Markan) Jesus announced the “end of exile,” which would have been understood by the first hearers as the literal re-gathering of the dispersed tribes throughout the diaspora (cf. Deut 30:3-4; Isa 11:12; Jer 32:37-38; Ezek 34:11-16; Zech 2:6-10; Tobit 14:7; 2 Bar 78:1-7) and the righteous of the nations streaming to a renewed Zion in the last days. Finally, in the context of Mark 13, he warns of false Christs and false prophets who would claim “I am he” (ego eimi) and try to deceive with signs and wonders (13:5-6, 21-22), so would not a spectacular return of the Son of Man clear up who is the real Messiah and who are the messianic pretenders? So do you think Wright is right on Mark 13?
For more sources, see:
- Adams, Edward. “The Coming of the Son of Man in Mark’s Gospel” Tyndale Bulletin 56.1 (2005): 39-61
- . The Stars will Fall From Heaven: Cosmic Catastrophe in the New Testament and Its World. London: T&T Clark, 2007.
- Allison, Dale. Jesus of Nazareth: Millenarian Prophet. Minneapolis: Fortress, 1998.
- . “Jesus and the Victory of Apocalyptic” pp 126-141 in Jesus & the Restoration of Israel. Edited by Carey C. Newman; Downers Grove: InterVarsity, 1999.
- France, R.T. The Gospel of Mark. The New International Greek Testament Commentary. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2002.
- Hatina, Thomas R. “The Focus of Mark 13:24-27 – The Parousia, or the Destruction of the Temple?” Bulletin for Biblical Research 6 (1996): 43-66.
- Perriman, Andrew. The Coming of the Son of Man: New Testament Eschatology for an Emerging Church. Paternoster, 2006.
- Wright, N.T. Jesus and the Victory of God. Minneapolis: Fortress, 1996