Mark 13:14, Pay Attention and Get Out Of Jerusalem!

“The day is coming when you will see the sacrilegious object that causes desecration standing where he should not be.” (Reader, pay attention!) “Then those in Judea must flee to the hills.”

//I’m sometimes accused of overstating the effect of the Jerusalem war of 66-70 CE on early Christianity and the writing of Christian scripture. Perhaps I do overstate the war, but I doubt it. Most of the New Testament was written in the shadow of this horrible war, including all four of the Gospels and certainly the book of Revelation. Most Christians of the first century were absolutely convinced that God was intervening in history, and that the end times had arrived.

I suspect the Gospel of Mark was written just before the end of the war. The gospels of Matthew and Luke followed a decade or so after the war. John’s Gospel was perhaps 20-30 years after the war, after the excitement of the first century died down a little, and as a result you won’t find the same emphasis in John’s Gospel about Jesus returning to set things right.

Of these four gospels, the most fascinating argument for dating is in regards to the book of Mark. Was it written just before, during, or just after the war? Most scholars fall into the “just after” category, sometimes pointing to Mark’s description of the Temple destruction. How, they reason, could Mark have possibly guessed it would fall?

My own opinion is that Mark did indeed see destruction coming! Perhaps Jesus did as well, forty years earlier! In today’s verse (quoted from the New Living Translation for its emphasis), Mark inserts a little parenthetical message, “Reader, pay attention!” Why would he do this, if he were not making a plea to Christians to abandon Jerusalem and head for the hills? Jesus said the temple would fall, Mark insists, and scripture tells us what to do about it! Get out of here while you can! Indeed, many Christians seem to have done just that, leaving Jerusalem and heading to Pella to survive the war.

This fulfilled prediction and the rescue of Judean Christians may have secured Mark’s reputation, sealing this gospel as perhaps the most influential book in the Bible for the emergence of Christianity. Later Christians, of course, came to appreciate other gospels more than the bare-bones Mark, but the timing and influence of this one book with its apocalyptic claim should not be underestimated.

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