This weekend my pastor and I were discussing the narrator’s cryptic statement “Let the reader understand” in Mark 13.14. We were wondering what he wanted the reader to understand. Let me give you my interpretation and then I’d like to hear from anyone willing to leave a comment.
The author wanted to grab the reader’s attention by using the phrase “the abomination of desolation” (τὸ βδέλυγμα τῆς ἐρημώσεως) which should bring to mind Daniel 9.27; 11.31 (βδέλυγμα ἐρημώσεως); and 12.11 (τὸ βδέλυγμα τῆς ἐρημώσεως). What the author of the Book of Daniel intended is secondary. The primary point is that it provides imagery of a pagan ruler corrupting the temple of God. Whether this was first Antiochus Epiphanes is relevant only in that it provides a physical example of such an event happening (and it may have been the event that inspired the writing of this part of Daniel depending on when you date the “final form” of the book).
I don’t know that Jesus or the evangelist intended hearers/readers to think of an event that “fulfilled’ the Book of Daniel (Matthew’s Gospel does connect this to the Danielic prophecy), but that they were concerned primarily with their audience being prepared to flee when they saw a Gentile ruler enter the temple or one could suggest even move toward the temple.
That said, I tend to see Jesus’ prophecy and the Mark’s recording as being fulfilled when Titus embodied the symbolism of the “Abomination of Desolation” by leading the Roman forces to devastate Jerusalem in 70 CE. I am very, very sure that this Luke understood this to be fulfilled in 70 CE because of the words he has Jesus say in 21.20-25. I think Luke realizes the tension of how the fall of Jerusalem seems to have been a single event that would result in the coming of the Son of Man in judgement which is why he provides the caveat that “Jerusalem will be trampled under foot by the Gentiles until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled.” He follows this statement with “cosmic collapse” language and then the Son of Man comes.
OK, your turn: What is Mark saying in 13.14?
I’ll take a stab at this, although I think our readings are quite similar. The “reader” in Mark’s version is almost certainly the reader of the Gospel, although we should probably not picture someone quietly sitting and reading Mark 13 but rather someone reading the text out loud to an audience. There may be an implicit suggestion that the public reader was also to be the public interpreter. Thus “let the reader understand” is Mark’s editorial aside, something which he does elsewhere in the Gospel (2:10, 3:30; 7:3-4, 19). As for what the reader is to understand by the reference to τὸ βδέλυγμα τῆς ἐρημώσεως, I tend to follow Luke’s interpretation. Luke 21:20 appears to flatten the apocalyptic imagery and abandon the Danielic allusion, turning Mark’s language into “But when you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies…”. The Gospel of Mark is one of mysteries, secrets, and veils, and I suspect that this is another example where Mark has maintained the cryptic, apocalyptic language of Jesus. This time, however, the issue is so crucial (it is literally a life or death situation) that he can’t help but interject a sense of interpretive urgency into the discourse. By his allusion to Daniel, Jesus warns that the coming events of AD 70 will be, in some way, a repetition of the events of 167 BC; by Mark’s editorial remark, he warns against expecting too exact of a repetition. That is to say, the imagery that Jesus has borrowed from Daniel in this apocalyptic discourse must be interpreted rightly if properly, not literally. For similar phrases (although with the noun νοῦς rather than the verb νοέω) see Rev 13:18 and 17:9.
Yeah, that sounds like how I understand it – and the “reader” is the one who reads this out loud to the church, so the aside, “let the reader understand” means that the one reading it out should sensitively explain this politically dangerous point to the congregation.
@Michael and @Matthew: Those are good and important extra details to mention. On a side note, do you think Mk is written before 70 so to serve as a warning or after as a reminder?
Hmmm…exactly what might the abomination of desolation be for us today? Surely the gospel accounts were for time and all eternity as words inspired by the Holy Spirit. I’ve meditated on this quite a lot.
The gospel writers would/should fully understand that Jesus was the final blood sacrifice. In His mercy God allowed the temple to be destroyed so the sacrifices would stop. When Jesus walks out of the temple for perhaps the last time He mourns over Jerusalem and proclaims their house is being left to them desolate. Would not a rebuilt temple with a re-established blood sacrifice be an abomination unto God? Understanding this would hold eternal implications.
@Nancy: I don’t see a place for a temple in the future, if that helps. I think the church saw the temple prophecies as figurative. They speak of the people of God as the temple.
My thinking is if Mark was written after the destruction of the temple and if his audience were displaced Jewish converts. This abomination of desolation could only be committed by restoration of the temple sacrifice in a re-built actual physical temple by the Jewish nation, because they reject Jesus as the final and perfect sacrifice. Thus the warning so Jewish converts wouldn’t be deceived and get drawn back into such a situation. Even if this scenario were to happen today, the warning would be applicable to Jewish converts who might find themselves confused and easily deceived.
Question: Do you think Israel won’t rebuilt the temple?
@Nancy : I’m not inclined to see another temple in the future. If so, it don’t imagine it being like many of our Dispensationalist friends depict it nor for the reasons they depict it.
I see it as pre-70 – and your explanation of how it relates to Luke seems to make good sense
Hi Brian, I think you’re right about the interpretation of the passage–that this is a prophecy about the downfall of Jerusalem which (v30) the present generation would witness first hand. However, that right interpretation doesn’t really account for the ‘let the reader understand’ bit. Maybe there are a couple of observations to make.
1) Obviously, the added remark draws our special attention to the passage. We’re supposed to look at this with closer intensity.
2) The first thing we’re supposed to attend to is the Daniel reference–which immediately precedes the attention getting phrase, and then of course comes up again in verse 26. So, in some sense, ‘let the reader understand’ seems to be a sign that we are attending, in watching the events that Jesus describes, to the fulfillment of broader prophetic elements (those of the OT). In other words, that the destruction of Jerusalem has cosmic, soteriological significance.
3) Furthermore, it serves to draw our attention to a specific prophecy of Jesus which would serve to vindicate him as a prophet (i.e., the actual destruction of Jerusalem serves as further proof of Jesus’ stature as a prophet). This is somewhat dissatisfying, however, because the greater vindication of Jesus as a prophet is his rising from the dead, of course. Still, the annihilation of a city was no small event.
Perhaps there’s a further element, and by linking Jerusalem to the abomination, Jesus is pronouncing a judgment on the city itself, which we might helpfully compare with Jeremiah 7:11 and the fig tree curse in Mark 11.
I suspect (and I’m more than happy to be proved wrong!) that Mark’s epexegetical remark is no more than a flag for our closer attention to this passage.
@Matthew: I think it is pre-70 as well.
@JMichael: The emphasis on Jesus’ vindication as a prophet does seem to be a very, very important part of this pericope and I think you’re right that he wanted the readers to think of the Book of Daniel, though like you said, “the fulfillment of broader prophetic elements”.
re: Mark 13:14. “let the reader understand”:
clue: THE READER
13:15-18, reference a map of the constellations
rooftop: Cepheus,upside down house
out in the field: Cassiopeia
13:17, woe to those who are pregnant(read, gamma rays)
13:18, and pray that your flight may not be in winter(it won’t be) , but first one must know the “city”
So, what do I mean? “It” comes out of the north( read, Andromeda)
Look at the right hand mirror on your car; what does it say?
I didn’t finish. Read 13:14 again, and think NOW!
“standing where it ought not”, don’t forget, God knows everything BEFORE it happens, and this can only come to pass, IF He makes it so. God willing? Oh. yes”! The big guestion is, why does He hide things in parables, and such?I ve given mucb thought to this, and I can only speculate that if EVERYONE knew the answers to everything beforehand,we would all be God, so whaf exactly is the interface between God’s will, and our will?????????????????And, tougher yet, how does God maintain tbe course of thr future. in spite of what we do? Or, do we really have a.y will at all, or do we just think we do?
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