Historical Culture Context
Planning For The End
Mark’s Jesus is absolutely convinced that everything he has announced will occur during the lifetime of his audience. We know Jesus died around 30 C.E and the Temple was destroyed in 70 C.E.
That Jesus survived birth, and lived approximately to the age of thirty, places him in a very select 10 percent of the population of his time and place. A large portion of Jesus’ audience would have been considerably younger than he, severely disease-ridden, and facing ten or fewer years of life-expectancy.
In the light of this data from paleopathology (the study of ancient disease), it would seem Jesus expected the political end of Israel much sooner than it actually occurred.
He is so positive that he gives his word of honor: “Truly, I tell you” and “Heaven and earth will pass away but my words will not pass away” (Mk 13:30-31). Secrecy, lying, and deception are so integral a part of safeguarding Mediterranean honor that people are at a loss to know when someone is telling the truth. To guarantee the truth of what one says, a person swears an oath: “By my life;” “As I live,” “Truly, Truly I say to you,” and the like.
Another way to guarantee the truth of one’s statement is to say, “even if the impossible should happen, what I tell you is impossible not to happen. Heaven and earth are God’s good creation and will last forever. Even if you can imagine the impossible (that they will disappear), my impossible sounding statement is definitely going to occur.”
Westerners love to plan for the future. They invented future planning, believing they can estimate and cause events to take place within the next five to twenty-five years. Like the disciples, they too would like to know and try to calculate when “the end” will happen. As the year 2000 approached, many Christians (attempted) to make a similar guess-timate.
Everyone needs to re-read Jesus’ final words: “No one knows, neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father” (Mk 13:32). And he’s not telling!
John J. Pilch
**From Saint Louis University