Re: [XTalk] The Little Apocalypse--Part II
- Post # 2 in a series of 6
THE BIRTH PANGS (13:5-8
The Little Apocalypse thusly continues in Mark 13:5-8, where Jesus states,
"Take heed lest anyone mislead you. For many will come in my name, saying,
'I am.', and they will mislead many. But when you shall hear of wars and
rumors of wars, don't be disturbed, it must needs come to pass, for not yet
is the End. For nation shall rise against nation and kingdom against
kingdom; and there shall be earthquakes in diverse places; and there shall
be famines and troubles. These are the beginnings of the birth pangs."
Here, Jesus begins his response to the disciples' dual question of: (1) when
will all the buildings in Jerusalem be destroyed? And (2) what will be the
sign (singular) that will precede this total destruction. What he does is to
enumerate some of the initial "birth pangs" that will precede the total
destrution of Jerusalem.
Regarding this passage, the Jesus Seminar (The Five Gospels, p. 109) states,
"There is a striking correspondence between this passage and the description
of the events preceding the Judean-Roman war of 66-70 C.E. By the Jewish
historian Josephus, who wrote after the fall of Jerusalem. In his Jewish War
(6.285-87, 300-309, and in 5.21-26) he tells of phony prophets who led many
astray, and he depicts the famine that beset Jerusalem when the storehouses
If their intepretation is correct, then they are justified in claiming that
Mark was written c. 70 CE or later. However, their interpretation is
implauible for two reasons.
First, a single famine in Jerusalem hardly fits the prophecy of famines.
Coser to the prophecy was a period of wide-spread famine thoughout the Roman
Empire, including Palestine, c. 47 CE. This horrible period is mentioned by
Luke in Acts 11:27-28, "And in these days, prophets came down from Jerusalem
in Antioch. And one, by name Agabus, rose up from among them. He signified
by the Spirit, 'A great famine is about to be over the whole habitable
earth'--which also came to pass under Caesar Claudius." This horrible period
is also mentioned by Josephus in The Antiquities of the Jews (Book XX,
Chapt. II, Sect. 5), "Now her (Queen Helena's) coming was of very great
advantage to the people of Jerusalem; for whereas a famine did oppress them
at that time, and many people died for want of what was necessary to procure
food whithal, Queen Helena sent some of her servants to Alexandria with
money to buy a great quantity of corn, and others of them to cyprus, to
bring a cargo of dried figs."
The second, and fatal, weakness to thir intepretation of Mark 13:5-8 is
their identifiction of the deceivers with the false prophets who according
to Josephus, plagued Palestine before the revolt.
First of all, the deceivers in Mark 13:5-8 come in the name of Jesus (i.e.,
are Christians), while the phony prophets who plagued Palestine were not
Christians. In The Method and Message of Mark (p. 7), Augustine Stock
states, "Jesus first warns against imposters who 'come in my name' (v. 6)
which shows that these men worked within the fellowship of Jesus. Mark is
thinking primarily of Christian false teachers; Eusebius reports that Peter
came to Rome in the time of Claudius to combat Simon Magus there."
This Simon Magus is mentioned in Acts 8:9-24. He was a Samaritan who claimed
to be a divine being and he was converted to Christianity by Philip c. 38
CE. Even though he became a Christian, he continued to claim to be a divine
Secondly, the deceivers mentioned in Mark 13:5-8 are not prophets. Instead,
they are people who declare, "I am (ego eimi)!" That is to say, they are
people who claim to be gods. In The Five Gospels (p. 419), the Jesus Seminar
asserts that "the emphatic phrase I AM (Greek: ego eimi)....was widely used
in the Greco-Roman world and would have been recognized...as an established
formula in speech attributed to one of the gods." So, it is clear, the
deceivers in Mark 13:5-8, rather than being the phony prophets described by
Josephus, are Christians who claim to be gods, i.e., divine beings.
THESE CHRISTIANS ARE SIMON MAGUS AND HIS FOLLOWERS
These Christians claiming to be gods are Simon Magus and his followers: for
he not only continued to claim to be a god, but claimed that his followers
became gods as well. So, according to The Clementine Homilies (Homily II,
Chap. XXVII), Simon told his followers, "We should be thought to be gods,
and should be worshipped by the multitude."
Apparently, Simon taught that there are two categories of humans who are
gods. First, there are those humans who are gods because they are the
earthly incarnations of pre-existing gods. He claimed to be a god in this
sense. Second, there are those human beings who have become gods through the
gaining of special knowledge: the prime example being Adam. So, according to
The Clementine Homilies (Homily XVI, Chaps. V-VI), Simon declared, "But I
maintain that the scriptures believed in amongst the Jews say that there are
many gods, and that God Himself is not angry at this, because He has Himself
spoken of many gods in His scriptures. For instance, in the very first words
of the Law, He evidently speaks of them as being like unto Himself. For thus
it is written, that, when the first man received a commandment from God to
eat of every tree that was in the garden, but not to eat of the tree of the
knowledge of good and evil, the sepent having peruaded them by means of the
woman, through the promise that they would become gods, made them look up;
and when they had thus looked up, God said, 'Behold, Adam is become as one
of us.' When, then, the serpent said, 'Ye shall be as gods,' he plainly
speaks in the belief that gods exist; all the more as God also added His
testimony, saying, 'Behold, Adam is become as one of us.'
As far as I know, most of Simon's followers believed themselves to be gods
in this second sense, i.e., in the sense of having become gods through the
learning of a specia knowledge .
In any event, since Simon apparently preached that one can become a god
through the learning of a special knowledge (Gnosis), he likely was the
founder of Gnosticism: a branch of early Christianity whose members believed
that one is not saved by the Law nor by faith but by the learning of special
RECAP ON MARK 13:5-8
To conclude: Mark 13:5-8 regards the initial "birth pangs" that will precede
the destruction of Jerusalem. The Jesus Seminar claims that Mark 15:5-8
regards events leading up to the siege of Jerusalem in the late 60s.
However, they misinterpret this passage. The deceivers, who are Christians
claiming to be gods, are Simon Magus and his followers: who were a problem
to the early Church by c. 38 CE. Further, the prophecy of famines apparently
refers to a period of wide-spread famine c. 47 CE. Hence, Mark 13:5-8
probably regards a time period from c. 38 CE to c. 47 CE.
PERSECUTION (MARK 13:9-11)
The Little Apocalypse thusly continues in Mark 13:9-13, where Jesus states,
"But you! Take heed to yourselves. For they will deliver you up to
sanheidris and to synagogues. You will be beaten. And you will be brought
before governors and kings, for my sake, for a testimony to them. And to all
the nations must first be proclaimed the Gospel. But whenever they may lead
you away, delivering (you) up, be not careful beforehand what you should
say, nor meditate. But, whatever may be given to you in that hour: that (you
should) speak! For you are not they who speak, but the Holy Spirit. And
brother will deliver up brother to death, and father child: and children
will rise up against parents and will put them to death. And you will be
hated by all on account of my name. But he who endures to the End will be
In this passage, Jesus continues his response to the dual question of: (1)
when will the buildings in Jerusalem be totally destroyed? and (2) what will
be the sign that will precede this total destruction? What he lists is what
will be happening to his followers during the period of the "birth pangs"
that will precede the destruction of Jerusalem.
It is well to remember, in interpreting this passage, that Jesus is speaking
to these three disciples: Peter, John, and James. So, when he speaks of
"you", the meaning of "you" switches back and forth between "you" as these
three disciples and "you" as all the followers of Jesus.
Indeed, much of this passage finds fulfillment in what, according to Acts,
happened to Peter, James, and John at Jerusalem in the period from the early
thirties to 44 CE. In Acts 4:1-23, Peter and John are arrested and brought
before the Jerusalem Sanheidrin: where Peter speaks while inspired by the
Holy Spirit. In Acts 5:17-41, they and the other disciples of Jesus are
arrested, brought before the Jerusalem Sanheidrin, and beaten. At their
trial, Peter mentions "the Holy Spirit whom God has given to those who obey
him." In Acts 12:1-11, Herod Agrippa I, a king, executes James and imprisons
Peter: who escapes from the prison and flees Jerusalem.
The most striking feature of Mark 13:9-13 is its prophecy of a time when,
occasion, one family member will betray another family member to death. In
this prophecy, Jesus is thinking of "you" in a generic sense and, so, it
regards a general persecution against Christians.
In The Five Gospels (p. 110), the Jesus Seminar declares, "The note about
the children betraying their parents may be an allusion to the terrible
calamities that took place fuing the siege of Jerusalem (66-70 C.E.)."
Indeed, Josephus describes civil warfare between the Jews in Jerusalem at
that time, so inter-family betrayals undoubtedly took place. Howerver, (and
his is fatal to their interpretation,) 13:9-13 describes the betrayal of
Christians to death by fellow family members and there is no evidence that a
persecution of Christians occurred during the siege of Jerusalem.
More likely, the reference is to a great persecution of Christians, centered
in Jerusalem in the late 30s that is narrated in Acts 6:8-9:2. It began with
the trial and execution of Stephen by the Jerusalem Sanheidrin. Next,
outside of the Twelve, Christians in Jerusalem were hunted down and
imprisoned. Life tended to be brutal and short in the prisons of the Roman
Empire, so many must have died. Most, to avoid imprisonment and the almost
certain death that would ensue from the brutalities of prison existence,
fled Jerusalem. Some even fled Judea, preaching the Gospel to many nations
and, in Antioch, Syria, even to Gentiles.
Paul was a participant in this persecution and he began a journey to
Damascus, Syria for the purpose of arresting Christians there and bringing
them back, bound, to Jerusalem. He carried letters from the High Priest to
be read in the synagogues there. Clearly, then, synagogues played a key role
in this persecution of Christians: with the people in them being asked to
betray the Christians in their midst to the authorities.
This explains the prophecy, in 13:9-13, of inter-family betrayals of
Christians to death: for the people in a synagogue who betrayed those
Christians in their midst to imprisonment and, so, almost certain death,
must have involved, at times, family members of Christians attending the
synagogue. Further, the prophecy, in this passage, of the Gospel being
preached to the nations likely regards how, during this great persecution,
some of the Christians in Jeusalem fled abroad and began preaching the
gospel to many nations.
To conclude: Mark 13:9-13 regards what will happen to followers of Jesus
during the initial "birth" pangs that will precede the sign that, in turn,
will precede the destruction of Jerusalem. The main focus is on the
persecution of three disciples of Jesus, i.e., Peter, James, and John, by
the Jewish authorities in Jerusalem in the period from the early 30s to the
mid forties. It also has a secondary focus on a major persecution of
Christians, centered in Jerusalem, in the late 30s. It does not, as claimed
by the Jesus Seminar, have anything to do with the siege of Jerusalem in
1809 N. English Apt. 17
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