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A Chiastic Reconfiguration Of "The Olivet Discourse" in Mark 13

Kuruvilla Thomas
Bangalore
Published on 3 October 2017




Mark 13 Timeline

Fig. 1


Introduction

This study treats the "Olivet Discourse" in Mark 13 as a cryptochiasmus in order to arrive at a coherent reconfiguration of the text. Text that is structured as a cryptochiasmus must be rearranged based on certain principles to be correctly interpreted. A cryptochiasmus is a new concept; see definition in [1]. If you wish to skip the technicalities of a chiastic parse, you may read starting from Section 4 of the Discussion section, which has the reconfigured text.

Many scholars have come to the conclusion that the "Olivet Discourse" is an interweaving of several prophecies into one narrative, and we concur. With this chiastic reconstruction, we will show that this prophecy from Jesus makes predictions about three distinct Periods, and we will address some of the confusion regarding this text, including the "this generation will not pass..." problem. The chiastic structure and content of this passage is very similar to the one in Matthew 24 [6].


Note:
We will use the term "Judahite" to refer to the Israelites - primarily those of the tribe of Judah and their descendants - that remained after the Assyrian exile of the Northern Tribes; we will try to avoid the term "Jew" to avoid the confusion it introduces.


Discussion

1. Presuppositions

In the Olivet passage in Matthew 24:3, the disciples ask Jesus three questions: when will this happen? (the destruction of the temple predicted in vs. 2), what will be the sign of your coming?, and of the end of the age? Jesus' prophetic reply, we believe, is regarding the three Periods listed below:

  1. The attack on Jerusalem (70AD) during the The First Jewish–Roman War (66AD–73AD).
  2. The tribulation period before Christ's millennial reign (from 2017AD). The tribulation and persecution of this Period seem to come from Satan through his human worshippers. We get the 2017AD date for the start of this Period from our parse of Revelation 12 [9].
  3. The Start of the End Times Tribulation (unknown date before 2967AD). Christ returns in all his glory and the faithful are gathered up. We get the c. 2967AD date for the End of the Age from our parse of Daniel 10-12 [8].

2. Parsing the chiasmus

We will use the NIV translation for this parse.

Parsing this chiasmus involves dividing the text into three categories as above. We will call the period of the First Jewish-Roman war Period 1, the period of the pre-millennial tribulation Period 2 and the "End of the Age" or the last days Period 3.

Categorizing vs 5-37

Vs 5-13 belong to Period 2. False messiahs, wars and rumors of wars, famines, earthquakes and persecution, betrayal by family. The gospel will be preached to all nations.

Vs 14-20 belong to Period 1. The Judahites are warned to flee as soon as they saw the Roman army ("the abomination") in Jerusalem. Note that these verses refer to a localized event in Judea: only the residents of Judea are warned to flee to the mountains; the mention of "winter" implies that this does not apply to the whole world.

Vs 21-23 belong to Period 2. False messiahs and prophets. The "vulture" adage in Matthew 24:28 is omitted here.

Vs 24-27 belong to Period 3. Signs in the heavens. Christ appears in all his glory and the elect are gathered.

Vs 28-29 belong to Period 2. The proverb of the fig tree indicates that the coming of the Millennial reign can be discerned by the signs of this Period.

Vs 30 belongs to Period 1. The text "this generation will not pass away..." points to a period within one generation of Jesus' time.

Vs 31 belongs to Period 2.The phrase "my words will never pass away" refers to the eternal Gospel that is preached to all nations by this Period, so connecting this verse to vs 10. (See Luke 16:16,17 and the "everlasting gospel" in Revelation 14:6.)

Vs 32-37 belong to Period 3. No one knows the hour of Christ's coming in glory.


Original text

We color-code the chiastic units of the original text (NIV) below for easy visual identification using: red for Period 1, blue for Period 2, green for Period 3, and black for text outside the chiasmus


Chapter 13 1 As Jesus was leaving the temple, one of his disciples said to him, “Look, Teacher! What massive stones! What magnificent buildings!” 2 “Do you see all these great buildings?” replied Jesus. “Not one stone here will be left on another; every one will be thrown down.”
3 As Jesus was sitting on the Mount of Olives opposite the temple, Peter, James, John and Andrew asked him privately, 4 “Tell us, when will these things happen? And what will be the sign that they are all about to be fulfilled?”


5 Jesus said to them: “Watch out that no one deceives you. 6 Many will come in my name, claiming, ‘I am he,’ and will deceive many. 7 When you hear of wars and rumors of wars, do not be alarmed. Such things must happen, but the end is still to come. 8 Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be earthquakes in various places, and famines. These are the beginning of birth pains.
9 “You must be on your guard. You will be handed over to the local councils and flogged in the synagogues. On account of me you will stand before governors and kings as witnesses to them. 10 And the gospel must first be preached to all nations. 11 Whenever you are arrested and brought to trial, do not worry beforehand about what to say. Just say whatever is given you at the time, for it is not you speaking, but the Holy Spirit.
12 “Brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child. Children will rebel against their parents and have them put to death. 13 Everyone will hate you because of me, but the one who stands firm to the end will be saved.

14 “When you see ‘the abomination that causes desolation’, [KJV spoken of by Daniel the prophet], standing where it does not belong—let the reader understand—then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains. 15 Let no one on the housetop go down or enter the house to take anything out. 16 Let no one in the field go back to get their cloak. 17 How dreadful it will be in those days for pregnant women and nursing mothers! 18 Pray that this will not take place in winter, 19 because those will be days of distress unequaled from the beginning, when God created the world, until now—and never to be equaled again.
20 “If the Lord had not cut short those days, no one would survive. But for the sake of the elect, whom he has chosen, he has shortened them.

21 At that time if anyone says to you, ‘Look, here is the Messiah!’ or, ‘Look, there he is!’ do not believe it. 22 For false messiahs and false prophets will appear and perform signs and wonders to deceive, if possible, even the elect. 23 So be on your guard; I have told you everything ahead of time.
24 “But in those days, following that distress,
“‘the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light;
25 the stars will fall from the sky, and the heavenly bodies will be shaken.’
26 “At that time people will see the Son of Man coming in clouds with great power and glory. 27 And he will send his angels and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of the heavens.

28 “Now learn this lesson from the fig tree: As soon as its twigs get tender and its leaves come out, you know that summer is near. 29 Even so, when you see these things happening, you know that it is near, right at the door.
30 Truly I tell you, this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened.
31 Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away.

32 “But about that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. 33 Be on guard! Be alert! You do not know when that time will come. 34 It’s like a man going away: He leaves his house and puts his servants in charge, each with their assigned task, and tells the one at the door to keep watch.
35 “Therefore keep watch because you do not know when the owner of the house will come back—whether in the evening, or at midnight, or when the rooster crows, or at dawn. 36 If he comes suddenly, do not let him find you sleeping. 37 What I say to you, I say to everyone: ‘Watch!’”



3. Building the reconfigured text

From this parse, it appears that verses 5-31 form a cryptochiasmus as below:

A1   5-13 Period 2. False messiahs, wars, persecution, betrayal.
  B1   14-20 Period 1. Abomination of desolation. Flee to the mountains.
    C1   21-23 Period 2. False messiahs and prophets.
      X   24-27 Period 3. Signs in the heavens, Christ in glory, faithful gathered.
    C2   28-29 Period 2. Fig tree parable.
  B2   30 Period 1. This generation will not pass away.
A2   31 Period 2. ...but my words will never pass away.


We now reconstruct the phrases in the right order based on the chiastic structure above and based on the ordering rules of a cryptochiasmus [1].

We lead with central pivot point 'X'. The corresponding subunits (For ex., subunit A1 corresponds to A2) are placed contiguously to form units (For ex., A1,A2 is a unit) so that we get a list of such units.


The sequence selected for rearrangement is:

X  [A1,A2]  [B1,B2]  [C1,C2]       (1)

We have the following sequence when we include verse 32-37:
X         - Period 3
[A1,A2] - Period 2
[B1,B2] - Period 1
[C1,C2] - Period 2
v 32-37 - Period 3. Christ's unexpected return.

We still have text for the Periods in a non-contiguous form. We treat this as multiply-applied cryptochiasmus as below:


M1   X Period 3
  N1   [A1,A2] Period 2
   XX   [B1,B2] Period 1
  N2   [C1,C2] Period 2
M2   v 32-37 Period 3

The sequence selected for rearrangement is:
XX  [N1,N2]  [M1,M2]        (2)

Note that we placed [N1,N2] before [M1,M2] in order to get the time Periods in chronological sequence. The rules of cryptochiasmus [1] allow this as there is no discernible change in meaning.

Translating this sequence (2) into the sub-units of the first chiasmus, we get:

[B1,B2]  [[A1, A2], [C1,C2]]   [X, v 32-37]        (3)

Further translating (3) into verse numbers, we get:

[14-20,30]  [[5-13,31], [21-23, 28-29]]   [24-27, 32-37]        (4)

We arrive at the reconfigured passage in the next section by rearranging the verses so they are in sequence (4). Verses 1-4 are included, though they fall outside the chiasmus, because they introduce the discourse.




4. Mark 13 Reconfigured

Introduction (vs. 1-4)

(Verses 1-4 lie outside the chiasmus but are included here because they introduce the prophecy.)


1 As Jesus was leaving the temple, one of his disciples said to him, “Look, Teacher! What massive stones! What magnificent buildings!” 2 “Do you see all these great buildings?” replied Jesus. “Not one stone here will be left on another; every one will be thrown down.”

3 As Jesus was sitting on the Mount of Olives opposite the temple, Peter, James, John and Andrew asked him privately, 4 “Tell us, when will these things happen? And what will be the sign that they are all about to be fulfilled?”


Period 1. The Destruction of Jerusalem in 70AD during the First Jewish–Roman War (66AD–73AD) (vs. 14-20, 30)

14 “When you see ‘the abomination that causes desolation’,[KJV spoken of by Daniel the prophet], standing where it does not belong—let the reader understand—then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains. 15 Let no one on the housetop go down or enter the house to take anything out. 16 Let no one in the field go back to get their cloak. 17 How dreadful it will be in those days for pregnant women and nursing mothers! 18 Pray that this will not take place in winter, 19 because those will be days of distress unequaled from the beginning, when God created the world, until now—and never to be equaled again. 20 “If the Lord had not cut short those days, no one would survive. But for the sake of the elect, whom he has chosen, he has shortened them.

30 Truly I tell you, this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened.


Period 2. The tribulation period before Christ's millennial reign (from 2017AD) (vs. 5-13, 31, 21-23, 28-29)

5 Jesus said to them: “Watch out that no one deceives you. 6 Many will come in my name, claiming, ‘I am he,’ and will deceive many. 7 When you hear of wars and rumors of wars, do not be alarmed. Such things must happen, but the end is still to come. 8 Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be earthquakes in various places, and famines. These are the beginning of birth pains.

9 “You must be on your guard. You will be handed over to the local councils and flogged in the synagogues. On account of me you will stand before governors and kings as witnesses to them. 10 And the gospel must first be preached to all nations. 11 Whenever you are arrested and brought to trial, do not worry beforehand about what to say. Just say whatever is given you at the time, for it is not you speaking, but the Holy Spirit.

12 “Brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child. Children will rebel against their parents and have them put to death. 13 Everyone will hate you because of me, but the one who stands firm to the end will be saved.

31 Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away.

21 At that time if anyone says to you, ‘Look, here is the Messiah!’ or, ‘Look, there he is!’ do not believe it. 22 For false messiahs and false prophets will appear and perform signs and wonders to deceive, if possible, even the elect. 23 So be on your guard; I have told you everything ahead of time.

28 “Now learn this lesson from the fig tree: As soon as its twigs get tender and its leaves come out, you know that summer is near. 29 Even so, when you see these things happening, you know that it is near, right at the door.


Period 3. The Start of the End Times Tribulation (unknown date before 2967AD) (vs. 24-27, 32-37)

24 “But in those days, following that distress, “‘the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light; 25 the stars will fall from the sky, and the heavenly bodies will be shaken.’

26 “At that time people will see the Son of Man coming in clouds with great power and glory. 27 And he will send his angels and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of the heavens.

32 “But about that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. 33 Be on guard! Be alert! You do not know when that time will come. 34 It’s like a man going away: He leaves his house and puts his servants in charge, each with their assigned task, and tells the one at the door to keep watch.

35 “Therefore keep watch because you do not know when the owner of the house will come back—whether in the evening, or at midnight, or when the rooster crows, or at dawn. 36 If he comes suddenly, do not let him find you sleeping. 37 What I say to you, I say to everyone: ‘Watch!’”






5. A Commentary on the Reconfigured Text

We split the passage into 4 sections as above for analysis: The introductory passage and the 3 Periods.

5.1 Introductory passage (vs. 1-4)

1 As Jesus was leaving the temple, one of his disciples said to him, “Look, Teacher! What massive stones! What magnificent buildings!” 2 “Do you see all these great buildings?” replied Jesus. “Not one stone here will be left on another; every one will be thrown down.”


The disciples were admiring the magnificent temple at Jerusalem that Herod built when Jesus predicted that the temple will be completely destroyed. This prediction that "not one stone here will be left on another" came true, quite literally, 70 AD.



3 As Jesus was sitting on the Mount of Olives opposite the temple, Peter, James, John and Andrew asked him privately, 4 “Tell us, when will these things happen? And what will be the sign that they are all about to be fulfilled?”


The disciples then ask for signs that indicate when Jesus' prophecies will take place.



5.2 Period 1. The Destruction of Jerusalem in 70AD during the First Jewish–Roman War (66AD–73AD) (vs. 14-20, 30)


14a “When you see ‘the abomination that causes desolation’, [KJV spoken of by Daniel the prophet], standing where it does not belong—let the reader understand—"


The "abomination" is the Roman army and its allies that laid siege to "the holy place", Jerusalem (see Luke 21:20). The Romans killed almost all the Judahites in the city and destroyed the city and its temple (they "caused desolation"). This "abomination " is mentioned in several places in Daniel (Dan. 9:27 [2], Dan. 11:31, 12:11 [8]), and it is the sure sign indicating the immediate arrival of this period of tribulation. The phrase "let the reader understand" may be an acknowledgement of the difficulty of understanding these prophecies in Daniel. (For more details on this Period, see our paper on "The 70 weeks of Daniel" [2] and a history of the war in [3].)



14b then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains. 15 Let no one on the housetop go down or enter the house to take anything out. 16 Let no one in the field go back to get their cloak. 17 How dreadful it will be in those days for pregnant women and nursing mothers! 18 Pray that this will not take place in winter,


Jesus exhorted his followers in Judea to flee immediately on seeing the Roman soldiers. According to some historians, the Judahites fled to Pella [4] which is located at the foothills of the Transjordanian Mountains.



19 because those will be days of distress unequaled from the beginning, when God created the world, until now—and never to be equaled again.


The Romans were completely ruthless and thorough in their efforts to annihilate the Judahites and destroy their city. This level of comprehensive destruction of a people and their city has never been equaled and will never happen again.



20 “If the Lord had not cut short those days, no one would survive. But for the sake of the elect, whom he has chosen, he has shortened them.


As we discussed in the paper on "The 70 weeks of Daniel" [2], through a covenant between God and Titus, the Romans were given a period of 7 years for the destruction of the Judahites. After that, the Roman assault was "cut short" and the protection of the Judahites was reinstated by God for the sake of the "elect" - the Christian Judahites who fled to the mountains.



30 Truly I tell you, this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened.


The events of 70 AD happened within a generation of Jesus' time. The Judahites who converted to Christianity were the only people who moved from the Old Covenant to the New without a break.




5.3 Period 2. The tribulation period before Christ's millennial reign (from 2017AD) (vs. 5-13, 31, 21-23, 28-29)

The narrative of this Period seems to be arranged in a chiastic structure (a regular chiasm and so no rearrangement is required). The first section (vs. 5-8) and the last (vs. 21-23, 28-29) seem to describe events before the start of the reign of the Antichrist and Beast system, and the central pivot section (vs. 9-13, 31) seems to describe the reign itself.



5 Jesus said to them: “Watch out that no one deceives you. 6 Many will come in my name, claiming, ‘I am he,’ and will deceive many. 7 When you hear of wars and rumors of wars, do not be alarmed. Such things must happen, but the end is still to come. 8 Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be earthquakes in various places, and famines. These are the beginning of birth pains.


Jesus outlines some of the signs and troubles of this Period: wars, rumors of wars, famine and earthquakes. The tribulations of this Period come from Satan and his worshippers, who rule the world at this time. False messiahs from Satan will try to lead people astray by claiming to be the Messiah.



9 “You must be on your guard. You will be handed over to the local councils and flogged in the synagogues. On account of me you will stand before governors and kings as witnesses to them. 10 And the gospel must first be preached to all nations. 11 Whenever you are arrested and brought to trial, do not worry beforehand about what to say. Just say whatever is given you at the time, for it is not you speaking, but the Holy Spirit.


For Christians, this time of tribulation comes in the form of persecution but the faithful will have the Holy Spirit to guide them. If we take "synagogue", which means "a place of assembly", to represent the Christian church, then it appears that the completely corrupt church of this time will participate in the persecution of the faithful.



12 “Brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child. Children will rebel against their parents and have them put to death. 13 Everyone will hate you because of me, but the one who stands firm to the end will be saved.
31 Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away.


The faithful will be betrayed by their own family for the benefits they receive from doing so. Christianity and its adherents will be vilified. Many Christians will fail the test of tribulation, but those who patiently endure will be saved. The everlasting Gospel of Christ will be preached to all the nations, notably to the Northern Tribes of Israel, who have been blinded by God to Christ's message because of the waywardness of their forefathers.



21 At that time if anyone says to you, ‘Look, here is the Messiah!’ or, ‘Look, there he is!’ do not believe it. 22 For false messiahs and false prophets will appear and perform signs and wonders to deceive, if possible, even the elect. 23 So be on your guard; I have told you everything ahead of time.


False messiahs and false prophets will especially target faithful Christians with their "wonders". We do not believe that Jesus will personally return in glory at this time, but a human representative will reign in his stead.



28 “Now learn this lesson from the fig tree: As soon as its twigs get tender and its leaves come out, you know that summer is near. 29 Even so, when you see these things happening, you know that it is near, right at the door.


Just as tender twigs and sprouting leaves on a fig tree indicate summer is here, so also the signs of this Period (wars, famines, earthquakes etc.) indicate the Messiah's reign will come soon.




5.4 Period 3. The Start of the End Times Tribulation (unknown date before 2967AD) (vs. 24-27, 32-37)

24 “But in those days, following that distress, “‘the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light; 25 the stars will fall from the sky, and the heavenly bodies will be shaken.’


The "distress" may refer to the earthly events - earthquakes (Rev 6:12) and anguish and perplexity at the at the roaring and tossing of the sea (Luke 21:25,26) - and signs in the heavens (Luke 21:25) that occur at this time. The stars and heavenly bodies seem to represent Satan's angels that control the nations outside Israel - their reign ends and they face judgement (see Isaiah 24:21-23, Psalm 82:6-8 and the opening of the 6th seal Rev 6:12-14).



26 “At that time people will see the Son of Man coming in clouds with great power and glory. 27 And he will send his angels and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of the heavens.


In these last days, we will see the Son of Man, Jesus Christ, in all his glory, returning to "gather the elect" (rapture).



32 “But about that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. 33 Be on guard! Be alert! You do not know when that time will come. 34 It’s like a man going away: He leaves his house and puts his servants in charge, each with their assigned task, and tells the one at the door to keep watch.

35 “Therefore keep watch because you do not know when the owner of the house will come back—whether in the evening, or at midnight, or when the rooster crows, or at dawn. 36 If he comes suddenly, do not let him find you sleeping. 37 What I say to you, I say to everyone: ‘Watch!’”


Jesus Christ will return at a completely unexpected time, so much so that not even Christ will know in advance the hour of his coming. The "thief in the night" parable of Matt. 24:43 is replaced here by the "returning owner" parable.




Conclusion

With this chiastic reconfiguration, we have shown that this passage contains three interwoven prophecies. While the First Jewish-Roman War appears in all prophetic chiastic reconfigurations, the common theme that connects the other two Periods seems to be the advent of Christ's reign and the associated tribulations (ie., the start of his earthly Millennial Reign, and the start of his Heavenly Reign).

The versions of the Olivet discourse in Matthew, Mark and Luke are all chiastically arranged in a similar manner. Although there are variations in the versions on the surface, remarkably, they all are the same at a deeper structural level. This, to us, is further evidence that the Bible ia divinely inspired and that every "jot and tittle" has been preserved in the text.





References

[1] A Definition of Cryptochiasmus
[2] A Chiastic Reconfiguration Of "The 70 Weeks Of Daniel"
[3] First Jewish–Roman War (66–73 CE) by Wikipedia.
[4] Flight to Pella by Wikipedia
[5] Jewish Christian by Wikipedia
[6] A Chiastic Reconfiguration Of "The Olivet Discourse" in Matthew 24
[7] A Chiastic Reconfiguration Of Daniel 8
[8] A Chiastic Reconfiguration Of Daniel 10-12. Part 3: Daniel 12.
[9] A Chiastic Reconfiguration Of Revelation 12








Related pages

Daniel 9
Mark 13
Luke 21
Luke 17:22-37
Cryptochiasmus