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An Exegesis of "The Olivet Discourse" in Mark 13 Based On A Novel Chiastic Reconfiguration Of The Text

Kuruvilla Thomas K.
Bangalore (2/3/2017)



Abstract

This study treats Mark 13 as a "Functional Chiasmus" in order to arrive at a coherent reconfiguration of the text. Text that is arranged in the form of a functional chiasmus must be rearranged based on certain logical principles to be correctly interpreted. A functional chiasmus is a new concept; see definition here [1] or see the paper on the 70 weeks of Daniel [2] for a simpler example. This chiasmus is very similar to the one we saw in Matthew 24 [6] with a few minor differences and a little additional information.

This study also contains an exegesis of the rearranged text. If you wish to skip the technicalities of a chiastic parse, you may read starting from Part 4 of the Discussion section, which has the reconfigured text.




Mark 13 Timeline

Fig. 1


Introduction

Many scholars have come to the conclusion that the "Olivet Discourse" is an interweaving of several prophecies into one narrative, and we concur. We show how these prophecies can be unravelled by treating the text as a functional chiasm and in doing so we can solve many a confusion with the text including the "this generation will not pass..." problem. It appears that the chiasmus is one of the techniques used in the Bible to obfuscate prophecy until the time of its revelation comes.



Discussion

1. Presuppositions

One of the difficulties in parsing a functional chiasmus is that you need to have a rough idea of its contents to be able to parse it correctly which is a bit of a catch-22. In the case of this rather complex prophecy we based our parse on the assumption that it refers to 3 periods because another Olivet passage Matthew 24:3 hints at 3 periods with 3 questions: when will this happen? (where "this" is the destruction of the temple alluded to in verse 2), what will be the sign of your coming, and of the end of the age? All three periods have tribulations of various degrees and the signs heralding the each period take different forms.

  1. The First Jewish–Roman War (circa 66AD–74AD) and the destruction of temple in Jerusalem in the summer of 70AD. The sign of this period is the abomination that causes desolation. The tribulations of this period are localized to one geographical area-Jerusalem and its surroundings, and to one people-the Judahites living in the area who did not believe in Jesus. The seven year tribulation period applies only to this time.
  2. The advent of Christ's millennial reign (circa 2000AD). The tribulations of this period appear to be designed to test the faithful through persecution and tend to be less severe in nature - more climatic or man-made than astronomical. Our position is that Christ's 1000 year reign will be enforced on earth by a human representative in the same way that Satan's present reign is through humans; so there will be no glorious return of Christ at this time and because of that, many false messiahs will arise. There are signs indicating the start of this period in this passage and elsewhere in the Bible. The proverbs about the fig tree and the vultures apply to this period because it is possible to guess at the time and place arrival of the Messiah based on signs. In this period, the gospel will reach all nations.
  3. The "End of the Age" or the last days (circa 3000AD). The return of Christ in all His glory and the rapture happen in this period. This is the event for which no one knows the day or the hour - when Christ returns unexpectedly like a thief in the night. The tribulations of the period tend to be more apocalyptic involving the sun, moon and stars - the "end of the world" kind of tribulation from which there is no recovery.


2. Parsing the chiasmus

We will be using the NIV Bible for this parse.

Parsing this chiasmus involves dividing portions of the text into three categories as above. We will call the period of the First Jewish-Roman war Period 1, the Advent of Christ's reign Period 2 and the End-of-the-world time Period 3

Categorizing vs 5-37

Vs 5-13 appear to belong to Period 2. We have in these verses false messiahs, wars and rumors of wars, famines, earthquakes and persecution, betrayal by loved one. The gospel will be preached to all nations.

Vs 14-20 belong to Period 1. The "abomination" is a reference to Roman soldiers who destroyed Jerusalem and its inhabitants. These verses seem to refer to a localized event in Judea because only the resident of Judea are warned to flee to the mountains. The mention of winter indicates that this refers to only one portion of the globe and fleeing on the Sabbath is a problem that only affects Jews. So these warnings are addressed to the Jews living in Judea at the time.

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

Vs 24-27 belong to Period 3. The events are astronomical and apocalyptic. Christ appears in all His glory and the rapture takes place.

Vs 28-29 belong to Period 2. The proverb of the fig tree indicates that we should be able to discern when this event is at hand based on signs.

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

Vs 31 belongs to Period 2. The text "my words will never pass away" is a reference to the Gospel that is preached to all nations by this period, connecting this verse to verse 10. See Luke 16:16,17.

Vs 32-37 belong to Period 3. No one knows the hour of the coming of Christ in glory. Christ will return unexpectedly just as the owner of a house may return at any time without warning.


3. Build the reconfigured text

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

A1   5-13 Period 2. False messiahs, wars, and rumors of 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. Apocalypse. astronomical events, Christ in glory, rapture
    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 functional chiasmus [1].

We lead with central pivot point 'X'. The corresponding subunits (For example; subunit A1 corresponds to A2) are placed contiguously to form units (For example, 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

We still have text for the periods in a non-contiguous form. We can treat this as a regular chiasmus and leave it as is or we can treat this as a doubly applied functional chiasmus as below. Doing so will make the text easier to read and neatly solve the "this generation" confusion.


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: We placed [N1,N2] before [M1,M2] in order to get the time periods in temporal sequence and also to get it to flow with the rest of thee chapter. The rules of functional chiasmus allow this and 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 in Mark 13 outside the chiasmus are included for completeness.


Note: There may be a simpler more elegant way to reconfigure this passage but this is the best we have so far.


4. Mark 13 Reconfigured

Introduction (vs. 1-4)

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 First Jewish–Roman War (circa 66AD–74AD) (vs. 14-20, 30)

14 “When you see ‘the abomination that causes desolation’ 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 advent of Christ's millennial reign (circa 2000AD) (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 "End of the Age" or the last days (circa 3000AD) (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. An exegesis of the reconfigured text.

The passage has been split into 4 sections for analysis: The introductory statement and the 3 periods.

5.1 Introductory statements (vs. 1-4)

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 temple at Jerusalem that Herod built when Jesus predicts that the temple will be completely destroyed. From history we know this prediction of "not one stone here will be left on another" came true, quite literally, circa 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 a sign for when Jesus' prophecies will take place.



5.2 Period 1 First Jewish–Roman War (circa 66AD–74AD) (vs. 14-20, 30)

5.2.1 A Brief history of the First Jewish–Roman War (circa 66AD–74AD)

We go into detail on this war in our paper on "The 70 weeks of Daniel" [2] but here is a short summary condensed [3] from as relevant to this passage:

The Roman General Vespasian and his son Titus began the campaign to crush a Jewish revolt by attacking the Judahite centres surrounding Jerusalem in 67AD. A large number of Judahites in these towns fled Roman punishment to take refuge in the fortified city of Jerusalem. According to fourth-century church fathers Eusebius and Epiphanius, Jerusalem's Judahite Christians fled to Pella before the beginning of the war, so escaping the carnage that befell the rest of the population.

Titus moved to besiege the centre of rebel resistance in Jerusalem in early 70AD. The Roman armies established a permanent camp just outside the city, digging a trench around the circumference of its walls and building a wall as high as the city walls themselves around Jerusalem.

By the summer of 70, the Romans had breached the walls of Jerusalem, ransacking and burning nearly the entire city. The Second Temple (the renovated Herod's Temple), was destroyed on Tisha B'Av (29 or 30 July 70). According to Josephus, in a city of 1.1 million, 1 million Judahites were killed and 100,000 taken captive; it was almost the entire population of the Judahites in the area.

During the spring of 71, the Romans started "mopping-up" operations in Judea to besiege and capture the few remaining fortresses that still resisted. In the autumn of 73, they moved against the last Judean stronghold, Masada. When the Romans finally broke through the walls of this citadel in 74, they discovered that 960 of the 967 defenders had committed suicide.


5.2.2 An analysis of vs. 14-20, 30

14a “When you see ‘the abomination that causes desolation’ standing where it does not belong—let the reader understand—"


The "abomination that causes desolation" is the Roman army (see Luke 21:20, 21) that killed the Jews and destroyed the city of Jerusalem and the temple. The "abomination that causes desolation" is mentioned in several place is Daniel, most notably Daniel 9 [2]. It is the sure sign indicating the start of this period of tribulation.



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 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 Jews and destroy their city. This level of comprehensive destruction of a people and their city has never been equaled.



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 see in the paper on "The 70 weeks of Daniel" [2] the Romans were set a time limit of 7 years for the destruction of the Jews. After that the protection of the Jews was reinstated by God for the sake of the "elect" who are the Judahites who believed in Jesus, listened to his word and 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 are the only people who moved from the old covenant to the new without a break-within one generation-and those that did not were killed . This spiritual continuity is one possible meaning of the phrase "the sceptre will not depart from Judah" - if we take it to mean a kind of spiritual sceptre.




5.3 Period 2 The advent of Christ's millennial reign (circa 2000AD) (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.


Jesus outlines some of the signs of the this period: False messiahs, wars, rumors of wars, famines and earthquakes.



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.


The time of tribulation comes in the form of persecution but the faithful will have the Holy Spirit to guide them. The gospel will be preached to the remaining nations and especially to the Israelites.



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.


This passage appears to expand on the phrase in Matthew 24 that "the love of most will go cold". Many will fail the test of tribulation but those who patiently endure will be saved.



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.


More warnings against false messiahs and false prophets.



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, pestilences, earthquakes etc. ) indicate the Messiah will come soon.




5.4 Period 3 The "End of the Age" or the last days (circa 3000AD) (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.’


It is not clear what the "following that distress" refers to from this parse. It could be a reference to a period of tribulation during the last days mentioned elsewhere in the Bible. Extreme astronomical events take place after the distress.



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.


Here in the last days we will see the Son of Man in all his glory. The "gathering of elect" may be a reference to the 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 says that there will be no sign at all for the glorious return of Christ. The coming of the Son of Man and the rapture will happen at a completely unexpected time. The "thief in the night" parable of Matthew 24 is replaced here by the "returning owner" parable.




Conclusion

The main idea this paper introduces is the chiastic reconstruction of the text. We hope that we have shown that this allows a far more coherent and straightforward interpretation of this otherwise frustrating passage.

For those who accept this interpretation, there are several implications that are relevant today: .


References

[1] A Definition of Functional Chiasmus - by Kuruvilla Thomas K.
[2] An Exegesis Of "The 70 Weeks Of Daniel" Based On A Novel Chiastic Reconfiguration - by Kuruvilla Thomas K.
[3] First Jewish–Roman War (66–73 CE) by Wikipedia.
[4] Flight to Pella
[5] Jewish Christian by Wikipedia
[6] An Exegesis of "The Olivet Discourse" in Matthew 24 Based On A Novel Chiastic Reconfiguration - by Kuruvilla Thomas




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