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David S. Clark -The Message From Patmos: A Postmillennial Commentary on the Book of Revelation (1921) "This early twentieth-century Postmillennial commentary on the Book of Revelation, written by the father of theologian Gordon Clark, offers an easy-to-read alternative to the popular Pre-millennial/Dispensational views of the best-selling Scofield Reference Bible and a multitude of other dissertations on end-time prophecy that litter the shelves of Christian bookstores. "
Preaching Fulfilled Apocalyptic to a Skeptical Generation
By Ron Clark
Harding University Graduate School of Religion
With the close of the twentieth century drawing near, biblical studies have been subject to an intense emphasis concerning the millennium and apocalyptic literature. A simple trip to a religious bookstore will enlighten you to this fact. Whole sections of a store have been devoted to topics such as the return of Jesus, Armageddon, or discovering the new beast of Revelation. It seems that with the end of the millennium comes the hope or expected return of Christ. This expectation has also become a motivation for writers to focus their thoughts on apocalyptic passages in the Bible.
The availability of these books has affected preaching to the modern Christian. Many who sit in the pews have either read or been exposed to the various authors, television shows, or popular teachings on the millennium. A US News survey, in 1997, indicated that sixty-six percent of Americans, one-third who never attend church, believe that Jesus will return to earth some day.
There is no denying the fact that the mood of the times seems to have created an enormous receptivity to sermons, films, and books devoted to the subject of apocalypticism. Unfortunately, the scriptural reliability of such products seems to have little bearing on their popularity or lack thereof. In fact the authors and speakers who enjoy the widest audiences are frequently those who show the least respect for the historical meaning of the texts, as they draw the apocalyptic writings into their precise countdown of the worldís demise, with vivid descriptions of the accompanying cataclysmic destruction and bloodshed.
This exposure has encouraged some preachers to become concerned about the millennium and apocalypticism. It has also discouraged preachers from preaching apocalyptic texts. When preaching from apocalyptic passages the speaker may be torn between the true context of the message and the expectations of the "exposed audience." How should we approach apocalyptic texts? How may we present sermons from these texts in order to strengthen a modern generation? Will proclaiming apocalyptic historically motivate the hearers as it did in the early centuries? Will relevance determine the choice in these texts?
In this paper I will suggest a model for preaching an apocalyptic passage known as the "Olivet Discourse," Mark 13, to an audience influenced by millennial authors. This model will build upon determining the characteristics and themes of apocalyptic literature, as well as their presence in the selected scripture. Once these themes have been determined the application to a modern audience will be discussed.
Apocalyptic literature has a unique style when compared to other forms of literature in the Bible and in the ancient Near East. The style of the genre has been classified as prophetic, eschatological, or literary. Because of its uniqueness apocalyptic has become difficult to interpret and preach. I think that the questions in biblical studies concern the genre of this literature and how we understand it. I have noticed that there are three qualities that have caused apocalyptic literature to be unique.
First, apocalyptic literature does not have a consistent motif. Modern writers have attempted to categorize this genre as eschatological, mystical, mythical, prophetic, or even sapiential. In Jewish/Christian use this form of literature had a wide variety of themes such as Qumramís restorative eschatology, Isaiahís divine judgment, Danielís resurrection, Johnís revelation of suffering, and Hermasí and Enochís mythical language and symbolism. Apocalyptic literature in many of the biblical writings transfers motifs from one context to another. This makes the style of genre flexible.
One temptation that the interpreter may face is that of categorizing apocalyptic as eschatological. Apocalyptic passages in the Bible are usually interpreted as describing the end of the world and the last times. Collins indicates that apocalyptic literature has no consistent eschatology since judgment of the dead and the end of history was not peculiar to all apocalypses. It is very difficult to define the genre because it is flexible and adapts to various motifs. Context plays an important factor in determining the goal and method of the writer.
Second, the matrix of apocalyptic literature is a factor in understanding its use. The matrix varied according to the culture where it was discussed. Ugaritic and Akkadian apocalypses seemed to indicate a festival setting. The apocalyptic language toward Baal, Enuma Elish, and Ahiquat may have been written as epics for singing and worshipping during yearly festivals. Akkadian literature was also propagandistic. The writings were designed to give honor and hope to a new king concerning the future of his reign. Babylonian literature had a strong emphasis on mantic wisdom. Those apocalypses indicated that wisdom was revealed from the divine. This was necessary since the king was viewed as one who used his god given wisdom to maintain order or ME. In this ancient Near Eastern context apocalyptic did not explain or reveal the end of the world but used images and metaphors to praise a god and the future of the king.
Hellenistic and Egyptian apocalyptic placed an emphasis on history and relating the past. It was a glorification of the older and faithful days. This culture also used prophetic literature as a form of propaganda in persuading the hearers to become loyal to the state. This was especially true in Egypt. The king was considered the son of Re, who established order or maat. Since the king was the incarnation of Re it was his role to establish and administer his maat. Prophetic activity did not challenge the king but supported him. Greek and Egyptian apocalyptic prophetic literature was designed to glorify the earthly king and view the future with hope.
Early Christian apocalyptic messages mirrored this matrix in Hermas and the Apocalypse of Peter. This literature supported the doctrine of the early church and attempted to persuade the Christians to stay loyal to the basic teachings of Christ and the church. While the past was glorified the future was viewed with hope and expectation.
Judeo/Christian matrices were also diverse. Qumramic literature looked for the restorative community (1QS IV, CD II). The Teacher of Righteousness became the mediator and interpreter. The Hebrew scriptures indicated judgment (Is. 33:1-12; Ezek. 21), restoration (Is. 65:17-25; Jer. 31:27-40, 33:14-18; Joel 3:1-5 [MT]), prophecy (Nahum 14), or vindication (Is. 13-23). Christian literature was also diverse with Markís judgment matrix (Mark 13), Johnís revelation of persecution (Rev. 13:10), and Paulís eschatology (1 Thess. 4:13-5:7).
Finally, apocalyptic literature was picturesque. It used visions, mythology, biblical allusions, symbols, otherworldly journeys, and divine beings to accentuate the writerís main points. The language was designed to captivate the audience and build analogies and associations to enrich communication. The revelations were couched in contemporary pictures to illustrate the horror or happiness associated with the theme of the text. Apocalyptic literature functioned to legitimate the message, create a literary surrogate of revelatory experience for hearers or readers, and to motivate or modify their views and behaviors.
These three qualities (flexible motifs, variety of matrices, and picturesque language) should be understood when translating apocalyptic texts. It is wrong to assume that all apocalypses fit an established model or motif. The historical critical method can be used to uncover the context and culture of these texts, but one must be flexible in applying strict guidelines when preaching these sections of scripture. Application will involve past and present cultural studies as well as literary analysis. The interpreter must discover the underlying questions and determine the way that the writer was using the traditions.
Common Themes in Apocalyptic Literature
Biblical apocalypses are also as varied as the matrices in which they exist. The interpreter must translate the texts and see that they fit into the major themes and context of the book. An example of this is Daniel 12. The Hebrew scriptures were nearly silent on the resurrection of the faithful. While earlier writings indicated that death meant being "gathered to ones fathers" the idea of rising to a new life was not mentioned in the pre-exilic Hebrew scriptures (1 Kings 14:29, 15:38). With the destruction of Jerusalem and the Babylonian captivity of the righteous remnant, the question of vindication for the faithful became an important issue. In captivity the Jews asked for Godís salvation (Lam. 5; Psalm 42-43; 137). Daniel understood that all suffered together (Dan. 9:5-16) but the vindication of Godís people was a desired response (9:17-19).
The promise of resurrection (Dan 12:2) occurred after the suffering of the elect. While the belief in a resurrection was common in the ancient Near East, the theology of this issue was not discussed in the Bible until it became a prevalent question. Intertestamental texts also indicated a resurrection while set in the context of the persecution of the righteous man. Resurrection passages provided a hope of vindication to the oppressed righteous poor (Ps. Sol. 3:11,13,14,15; En. 22; 4 Ez. 7). The resurrection of the just was a theme delivered to a people struggling with their faith in a hostile environment. It is not a doctrine to be explained by any Paradise or heaven passage, but a theme of hope given to suffering people.
I think that the themes of hope and perseverance are common to all apocalypses. Collins defines apocalypse as:
A genre of revelatory literature with a narrative framework in which a revelation is mediated by an other-worldly being to a human recipient, disclosing a transcendent reality, which is both temporal, insofar as it envisages eschatological salvation, and spatial insofar as it involves another supernatural worldÖ[It is] intended for a group in crisis with the purpose of exhortation and or consolation by means of divine authority.
According to Collins apocalyptic literature involves crisis, consolation, and authority. The images and metaphors of hope, vindication, and judgment were used to encourage the hearer to continue to be faithful to God.
How blessed is he who keeps waiting and attains to the 1335 days. Dan. 12:12
If anyone is destined for captivity, to captivity he goes; if anyone kills with the sword, with the sword he must be killed. Here is the perseverance and faith of the saints. Rev. 13:10
Therefore comfort one another with these words. 1 Thess. 4:18
In order to understand the apocalyptic themes of the text one must determine the three emphases of the writer. First, the interpreter must determine the crisis of the people. Questions concerning the writerís audience and their place in biblical history are important in understanding the text. Rather than making our crisis the basis of the text, the crisis of Godís people must be seen. In the apocalyptic sections of the Hebrew and Greek scriptures, Godís people were trying to be faithful in devastating environments. God was punishing either the world or Judah (Jer. 43-51; Ezek. 21). Both were punished for idolatry and other sins of rebellion. The children of God, known as the remnant, were to stand firm during this judgment.
This crisis became more intense as the judgment fell closer to home. With the destruction of Jerusalem by Nebuchadnezzar many faithful Jews were killed. The rest lived in captivity (Dan. 1:1-3; Ezek. 1:1-3) or the ruins of Jerusalem (Jer. 40:1-6). During this crisis the remnant were to "wait" for the Lordís redemption (Is. 1:9, 29:9, 30:15, 33:2, 40:31; Jer. 32:6-15; Lam. 3:25-26). Apocalyptic literature spoke to a people in the midst of Godís judgment on the rebellious Jews and Gentiles (2 Thess. 2:15; Rev. 7:3).
Second, consolation was necessary to enable those in crisis to continue in their faith. Constant appeals to faithfulness, perseverance, and loyalty were seen in this section. This consolation came as comfort and encouragement. The people of God were comforted and given the hope of restoration and vindication in the midst of destruction. Even though they suffered the people of God were comforted by the hope of forgiveness and mercy (Is. 14:1, 40:1-2, 54:7; Lam. 3:21-25).
God also encouraged the faithful during this crisis. They were exhorted to stay faithful and loyal because God was faithful (Dan. 3:17-18). God promised to restore His people and empower them to once again be a mighty nation (Is. 44:1-5, 54:1-3; Ezek. 37; Hab. 3:16-19). His people were also encouraged to continue in the faith (1 Thess. 5:5-11; 2 Thess. 2:13; 2 Pet. 3:13-14).
Finally, divine authority was an important theme in apocalyptic literature. Pseudonymous writings were given under authoritative names to enhance their authority. In biblical apocalyptic the vision or message was from God (Is. 1:2; Jer. 1:2, Ezek. 1:3, Ob. 1:1; Zech. 1:1; Rev. 1:1) or one approved by God to reveal this message (Dan. 10:11; 1 Thess. 1:5; 2 Thess. 2:5; 2 Peter 1:20-21). The writers were careful to express the divine authority in these revelations. Phrases such as neíum Yahweh and yom Yahweh occur as divine statements.
The writers emphasized the crisis, consolation, and authority in their apocalypses. These emphases were given to motivate the hearer to react to the warnings of judgment. The result of this reaction was hope and perseverance. This perseverance and hope can be found in an apocalyptic section such as Mark 13.
The Apocalyptic Themes in Mark 13
The passage traditionally viewed as the second coming of Christ is an apocalyptic text, which has been misapplied for centuries. The picture of the Son of Man coming on the clouds, the abomination of desolation, the phrase "in those days," and the saving of the elect are passages that have been used to refer to the end of the world. As our media and churches focus on the apparent moral decay of our country an increasing awareness of a modern crisis is growing in our society. Prophecy and apocalyptic provide a way of escape from the current problems.
The enduring attraction of apocalyptic prophecy is its promise that human existence and history have a purpose and that an imminent golden age will soon put an end to evil and justice.
Mark 13, and its parallels (Matt. 24; Luke 21), provides the modern hope of the Messianic return to save the elect. When preaching this text one must realize that the modern audience may have already drawn their conclusions concerning its interpretation.
First, the many writers who are concerned about the millennium, end of the world, or political issues will use Mark 13:24-27, or its parallels, to illustrate their doctrine of the second coming. Hal Lindsey is one of these writers who claim that the appearance of the Son of Man will be at the end of the world as a gigantic celestial image. Other writers seem to place a large amount of hope on the literal fulfillment of this passage along with the physical appearance of Jesus (1 Thess. 4-5; Rev. 1:7). This misunderstanding of apocalyptic literature has caused the authors and modern readers to view the "coming" of the Messiah literally. All "coming" passages are grouped together to create a millennial concept of the return of Christ. There are two errors created by this type of exegesis.
The phrase "second coming" is not in scripture. The Hebrew writer discusses a "second appearing" (deutero ophthesetai) but this is different from a second coming (Heb. 9:28). Christ was seen (emphanisthenai) by the Father in the holy place on behalf of us (9:24). As the high priest appeared to the congregation bringing forgiveness, so Christ is seen (ophthesetai) by the church as one who has completed the atonement ceremony. The second appearance of Christ was not eschatological but a theological act concerning atonement and forgiveness. This paralelled the appearing of the High Priest to the congregation of Israel to indicate atonement (Lev. 16:17).
The traditional understanding of the second coming is influenced by the phrase coming on the clouds. The coming passages (Mark 13:24-27; Rev. 1:7; Is. 39:1-6) are generally assumed to be describing the same event and period of time. The Lord came many times in the scriptures upon Egypt (Is. 39), Edom (Is. 34:6-10), Jerusalem (Ezek 20:33, 21:3), in the flesh to Israel (Matt. 1:23; Gal. 4:4), to Paul (Acts 22:7-8), and to Abraham (Gen. 18:1). The coming of the Lord and Day of Yahweh were apocalyptic images of divine interaction with man through redemption, judgment, or salvation.
The language that is used in Mark 13:24-27 is common ancient Near Eastern apocalyptic. In the Akkadian and Ugaritic texts Baal is called the "rider of the clouds". This term illustrated the godís divine power and judgment. In the Hebrew texts the same language is used concerning Yahweh. God came on the clouds to judge Egypt (Isaiah 39:1-6). He also came to judge Jerusalem during the Babylonian invasion of Judah (Ezek. 21:3). The apocalyptic imagery of Jesus on the clouds was figurative rather than literal. In Mark 13:24-27 the terminology indicated that Jesus was the divine judge over Jerusalem.
A second error concerns past teaching. Many of those in the audience have their beliefs about Mark 13 and Matt. 24-25 based on former teaching. Our traditional songs "Jesus is coming Soon," "Stepping on a Cloud," "When the Roll is Called Up Yonder," and others have helped to form our image of Christís coming. In the churches of Christ the literal interpretation has become such a common method of our hermeneutic that apocalyptic passages have been treated the same way. Our hermeneutic has caused the Olivet Discourse to become an exposition of the disciplesí two questions: When will these happen? and When will these be fulfilled? By understanding Mark 13 (Matt. 24; Luke 21) as an explanation of two questions the interpreters have found a convenient way to divide the text, which may be easier to preach to a modern audience expecting an answer to the millennial issues. The Spiritual Sword journal has divided Matt. 24-25 on the verse: heaven and earth will pass away but my words shall not pass away (24:35). This verse divides the discussion between the destruction of Jerusalem and the end of the world.
Emphatic distinction must be made between the destruction of Jerusalem, which he has been discussing, and, the end of the world or second coming. Even if the disciples had not asked about "the end of the world," it would have been appropriate for Jesus to have dealt with such since he would not want the two to be confused.
While this may be a convenient method of discussing the end of the world, the question of hermeneutic still hangs in the air. If the second coming is not a biblical phrase, do we then arrange apocalyptic passages to support this belief or do we keep the text in its apocalyptic context? Since the Hebrew and Greek scriptures speak of many comings of the Lord how does the fulfilled message affect the modern listener? When approaching this genre, how do we preach Mark 13 to a modern audience?
I believe that crisis, comfort, and authority can help us apply Mark 13 to our listeners and motivate them, as did the early writer. In Mark 13:4 the word semeion (sign) introduces a narrative, which is apocalyptic in nature. This common literary structure causes the narrative to build up to 13:14, the sign of the abomination of desolation. The abomination of desolation (Jerusalem surrounded by armies in Luke 21) is the sign to the disciples that the temple will be destroyed. They are to flee when they see the sign. This sign existed in a time of crisis.
Discovering the crisis is the first step in interpretation of the passage. Markís gospel seems to have a strong focus on discipleship. The main theme of the cross and Jerusalem began at 8:33-38, where Jesus told the disciples that his trip to Jerusalem would be the end of his earthly ministry. Three times he mentioned this concept to his disciples (9:31, 10:33-34, 14:27-28). As he drew near to Jerusalem the focus of the gospel became this city. Since Jesus was to be rejected at Jerusalem then the conflict would be between the Messiah and the religious city. Jesus confronted the religious leaders from Jerusalem (11:27-12:37), he sat opposite the treasury and city (12:38-44; 13:1), and he cleared the temple (12:15-18). Mark has set the stage for the showdown between Jesus and Jerusalem. This motif is similar to Godís opposition to Jerusalem in Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel; but different from Revelation and Zechariah.
The Major Prophets warned the Jews to stay away from idolatry and cleave to Yahweh. Since Israel disobeyed this warning Babylon was sent to destroy the city of Jerusalem. This pagan attack was a divine judgment by Yahweh to call the Jews to repentance (Ezek. 21:31-32). The destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans (Luke 22:24) was also a divine judgment by God to call Jews to repentance. This time Jesus fulfilled the role of divine warrior by opposing Jerusalemís sin.
The main crisis was the abomination of desolation. The to semeion narrative introduction, three repetitions of hotan (v7,11,14), imperative blepete (v5,9,23), and subjunctive warnings (not be frightened (v7), not worry (v11), and not believe them (v21)) indicate that a visible sign would be the signal for destruction. In Mark 13:14 the disciples were to flee when they saw (idete) the abomination where it should not be.
The coming of the Lord was always seen by the enemy (Is. 19:1, Mark 13:26, and Rev.1:7-9). While the disciples would see the abomination and flee, those of Jerusalem would see the Messiah coming in judgment. Jesusí warnings prepared the disciples to avoid the judgment of God upon Jerusalem.
This crisis affected the people of God in the Hebrew scriptures. In the Olivet Discourse the followers of Jesus also suffered during the judgment. They would face persecution (Mark 13:9-13), wars (7-8), and tribulation (19-20). The followers would also be subject to deception (5-6, 21-23, 33-35). The judgment on Jerusalem placed the community of faith in a crisis, as it did the remnant of exilic Jerusalem (Dan. 1:1-6).
In the second step, one must focus on consolation. The apocalyptic passages have a tremendous emphasis on perseverance and faithfulness. In the midst of tribulation the disciples were given comfort. The Holy Spirit was with them in their testimony (13:11). God promised to shorten the days to save His chosen (20). Jesus told them that they would be gathered during this judgment (27). There was also encouragement for the followers to persevere. Jesus encouraged them not to fear and to endure (7,9,13). Jesus also warned them to be mentally alert and prepared to flee (13:5,9,14,23,29,33,35,37). They were not to be deceived, as the rest of the people would be. This is indicated by the three repetitions of hotan (when).
when you hear = do not be alarmed
when you are delivered over = do not worry
when you see = then (tote) flee
The disciples were encouraged to persevere by being committed in persecution and aware about the crisis surrounding them. Jesus gave comfort and encouragement by preparing them to recognize the crisis and flee from disaster. This comfort and encouragement came as a promise for vindication: Then he will send out the angels, and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of heaven (13:27).
Finally, Mark 13 illustrates the apocalyptic theme of divine authority. The discourse was given directly by Jesus in all three synoptic accounts. The discourse comprises one of the longest messages in the gospels. The writers used this format to indicate the authority of these apocalyptic texts. The "riding on the clouds" metaphor (13:24-27) is an ancient Near Eastern motif indicating that Jesus was the divine warrior, Yahweh, coming to judge Jerusalem for its ungodliness. This was fulfilled when Titus sent his Roman army to destroy the city, as Nebuchadnezzaar had done centuries before (Luke 21:20). Not only has Jesus become the mediator of the revelation but he is also the judge of rebellious Jerusalem.
The Olivet discourse has the typical apocalyptic themes used by the writers to motivate and prepare the readers to persevere through the future judgment on Jerusalem. The themes of crisis, consolation, and divine authority were used motivate Christians to avoid the disaster and hold to their faith. If the destruction of Jerusalem is a fulfilled event, what value does Mark 13 have to those of us facing the twenty-first century? How does one use these themes to preach to a modern audience?
Are the people of God in a crisis today? While the apocalyptic crises may be more intense in countries of persecution, the United States is still a country under judgment. Our pride in religion and lack of commitment to Jesus is still seen in our cities, homes, and government. While we may not see the sins of the big city streets in our own backyard, the holiness of Yahweh still reminds us that we are in need of forgiveness. Ezekiel was not aware that the seventy elders were sinning in secret yet God exposed their wickedness (Ezek. 8:7-11). The fact remains that we are a people called out of darkness into the light of Godís love. The intensity of the crisis does not determine its existence neither does our failure to see sin.
We live in a world with good and evil. The parable of the wheat and weeds reminds us that the enemy is sowing evil seeds (Matt. 13:24-56). Because of this there will always be a crisis since God will always judge evil. We will always be subject to deception, we will always need to testify about Jesus, and there will always be fighting and fear. While the crisis may seem small Jesus says, in the world we have tribulation (John 16:33). Paul also reminds the church that, all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will be persecuted (2 Tim. 3:12). The judgment on Jerusalem, in Mark 13, was a judgment on disobedience. This judgment continues today.
While we may be a people in crisis we must remember that Jesus is the divine warrior. He alone will judge the wickedness in the world. He has not called us to judge but to stay faithful. Whether the world believes in Him or not, He is the Mighty King who has chosen us and called us to follow Him. His promise of forgiveness and vindication are as true today as they were in 70 CE. Yet we may live in a world that is judged by Jesus. Our presence in this crisis is not a sign of His neglect, but His desire to elect.
Finally, Mark 13 is a call to perseverance. Since we live in crisis and He has come to create a crisis we must remain on this earth to be faithful (Matt. 10:34-38). Jesus calls the church to be loyal in two ways. First we are committed. We refuse to be misled by those who seek an easy way out of the crisis. We refuse to be afraid of menís threats when we proclaim the gospel, testify of Jesus, and are hated. Second, we are prepared. Jesus warned us about the world. When we see the sin in the world (abominations of desolation) we flee and seek Jesus. We are not easily deceived because we are grounded in the words of Christ and His love. We know the power of Jesusí love and divine judgment on sin. We are prepared to die tomorrow knowing that we will not fear the sight of Him. We persevere because He has encouraged us and prepared us to succeed.
Mark 13 has a powerful message for the modern audience. Itís fulfillment during the destruction of Jerusalem has not diminished its meaning to those of us facing the twenty-first century. While modern millennial authors may focus on the fulfilling of signs and events, the text calls the hearer from both the ancient world and modern world to focus on faithfulness. Mark sought to motivate the ancient audience to persevere and he continues to motivate us to persevere today. The crisis, consolation, and divine authority of the apocalyptic texts remind us that we are called from darkness into light. They remind us that this brings a continual crisis in our world and lives which is fought daily through our faith and hope in the resurrection of Jesus Christ and the power of God.
And you will be hated by all on account of my name, yet the one who endures to the end will be saved. (Mark 13:13)
And what I say to you I say to all, be awake. (Mark 13:37)
What do YOU think ?
What do YOU think ?
Date: 09 Apr 2005
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