I have already described Titus‘s enormous impact on Judaeism when he sacked Jerusalem and scattered the Jews to the four corners of the earth. (70 C.E.) I also hinted at the the bewildering effect this had on the gospel writers who were busy in the area scribbling away with their quill pens. How could they not have been emotionally and intellectually scarred by the slaughter of hundreds of thousands of Jews all around them. How could this apocalypse not have impacted their understanding of the life of the Jew Jesus 35 years earlier? Conversely if there hadn’t been a Jewish uprising, if Gessius Florus hadn’t been such an insensitive, heavy handed Roman administrator, the gospels, especially the 3 Synoptics might have been very different! All the apocalyptic rubbish that has mislead people down the ages might never have been written! What a pity Bishop Irenaeus, who selected which books should go in the bible, binned the gospel of Thomas! (He already had the 4 we know and thought 4 was a sacred number, so he didn’t want any more!) It’s the one gospel telling the life of Jesus which is free of the blight of apocalypticism, because Thomas was living in a quiet backwater in Turkey and it all passed him by. Post on this coming up shortly! (i)
In this Post I want to look more closely at the 3 synoptic gospels. This is from Howard-Brook and Gwyther’s excellent book “Unveiling Empire” (1999) p. 81 “Christian apocalyptic branches in the N.T. in addition to Revelation.”
In Mark, the first canonical gospel to be written, Jesus responds to the disciples’ questions about the time and the signs surrounding the destruction of the Jerusalem Temple with an apocalyptic sermon. (Mk 13:5-37). The passage calls upon many of the images familiar from the apocalyptic tradition, including Daniel’s reference to the “desolating sacrilege” (Dan. 11:31; Mk 13;13) In Mark’s case this probably refers to a Roman eagle placed in the temple.This passage probably functions in Mark’s gospel to put Christians to the urgent test of how to respond to the approaching Roman troops on their way to destroy Jerusalem. Jesus uses this apocalyptic imagery and language to warn members of the Markan community not to defend Jerusalem, but rather to “flee to the mountains”. Don’t accommodate to Rome like Josephus did, nor take up arms like the Zealots; just resist to the end.
Matthew wrote later, after the destruction of Jerusalem, and reproduces Mark’s apocalyptic sermon in modified form. He is more concerned with the increase in lawlessness, and the decline in love in the community (Mt 24;12). Perhaps some had expected the immediate return of Jesus and were discouraged by the apparent delay (Mt 24:44-51). In other words, the joy of living the gospel has turned into a tiresome task of resistance to empire, one that can cause the most faithful disciple to grow weary. Matthew uses Mark’s sermon to restore a sense of joy while sternly warning about the consequences of letting down one’s guard.
Luke reveals that the “desolating sacrilege” is “When you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies” (Lk 21:20). His focus is on the threat that the disciples will be “Weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and the worries of this life” (21:34), and be unprepared for the advent of the Kingdom of God. Luke thus appeals to his largely hellenistic community in Stoic terms. the overall purpose is to keep the disciples awake in the midst of the temptations of empire.
Howard-Brook, Wes and Gwyther, Anthony “Unveiling Empire. Reading Revelation then and now” Orbis (1999)
Related Zingcreed Posts:
(i) Titus destroys Jerusalem
From Hebrew to Hellenist – how the church metamorphosed
Ebionites, the residual Hebrew Christians
Pagan influences on early Christianity
Jesus’ communist brother James (I) his life