Abominations and Consolations


Biblical Text: Mark 13:14-37
Full Sermon Draft

This week we read the rest of Mark 13. The sermon is really divided into a macro and a micro part. The consolations are the macro. If you read Mark 13 as a whole there is a great rhythm to the sermons. The horrors seem to increase, but each increase ends with a promise. The point is not to stoke worry or even less rage as so much of the world’s narratives are designed to do. The point is to restore sanity. He’s got the whole world in his hands. He really does sit at the right hand of God. It’s going to be okay.

The micro part is when you start focusing on the words and tracing out what they mean in scripture and history. One part of that is listening carefully to Jesus’ time markers. When we listen carefully we can make the distinction between those times by which Jesus means the time around AD 70 and the destruction of the Temple and that day and that hour by which he means the last day. Those times have a specific sequence and will end within this generation. And they did. That day and that hour are unknown. That is necessary to set some ground rules, but the word that this sermon hones in on is abomination or more specifically the abomination of desolation. It is actually a well defined term or concept in the Old Testament and history. We can’t use it to make a timetable; that is foolishness, but we can think about endings of old orders. This sermon lays out that groundwork and does what a watchman does, it cries watch.

Musical Note: This morning was our matins week which I always realize when formatting is so defined by its music and continuous in one way it is difficult to cut pieces. But cut I did. I left in two musically bits. Our Choir sang “The King Shall Come When Morning Dawns” which is a great Last Sunday of the Church Year or Advent piece. And I left in the final hymn, Rise My Soul to Watch and Pray Lutheran Service Book 663, which is fast becoming one of my favorites and captures the key thought of Jesus’ sermon – watch. It is a great tune that you find yourself humming all day. The text is a typical Catherine Winkworth translation by which I mean crisply poetic and poignant if sometimes pietistic. (I’ve been told that her translations are often quite free. Nothing wrong with that because they work.)

Mark 13 – a deeper look – part 2

So, in part 1 we made two conclusions about Mark 13. First Mark 13:1-31 is talking about AD70 while Mark 13:32-37 is talking about the Last Day. Second, based on Mark 13:14 and specifically the authorial comment, we readers must be meant to get something out of Mark 13:1-31. Even though it is about AD70, it is not a dead letter. The way it is not a dead letter is to read it typologically.

First a note about typology, this is how the apostles thought. You can see Paul using it in Rom 5:12-21, Peter in 1 Peter 2:1-10, John in 1 John 3:11-24, and even the unknown author of Hebrews in Heb 3:1-6. There are a bunch of other examples. What I would assert is that this is exactly what Jesus taught them in Luke 24:44. All of scripture talks about Jesus. It is interpreted Christocentrically. At a more basic level what I mean by typology is that a person or event in the past has continuing relevance for the present and future by means of being fulfilled. A typology that Jesus refers to is the sign of Jonah. Jonah is a type of Christ in that his three days in the belly of the whale are fulfilled by Christ’s three days in the tomb. (Luke 11:29-30) If you want to read more about typology the Wikipedia entry isn’t bad.

So, the typology that I want to look at specifically is found in Mark 13:14, the verse that the author says “let the reader understand”. The phrase I want to look at is “The abomination of desolation”. This phrase has a well-defined OT history and a well-defined history in AD70. Because of that I think we can make safe typological statements. Not statements that I would bring into the pulpit simply because the background and depth necessary are just too much, but solid defend-able interpretation. For the OT background please read Daniel 11:31, Daniel 12:11, Daniel 9:27 and Mal 2:11. To be solidly grounded in that OT usage, which the original AD70 hearers would have understood, is necessary. That OT end of the type narrows and limits our usage for the fulfillment. I am going to paraphrase Dr. Robert Stein from his commentary on Mark. (The full citation would be: Stein, Robert H. “Mark.” In The Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament, edited by Yarbrough and Stein, 601-605. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2008.)

Paraphrasing, the 4 “rules” of the abomination of desolation would be:
1) It deals with the Altar and Rituals of the Temple
2) It is recognizable to serious adherent
3) Early enough that “fleeing” is meaningful
4) A person instead of a thing (reflecting the grammar of the phrase and Dan 9:27)
Dr. Stein puts forward Phanni, a high priest appointed by Zealots, as the fulfillment in AD70. The recognizable abomination was that Phanni: a) wasn’t qualified according to the law, b) allowed murder and division in the temple and c) profaned the Holy of Holies. All of that would have been easily recognizable by the common Judean Jew. He was appointed sometime in 67-68, so well before Rome encircled the city. And he is a person and not a thing.

I want to pause for a second to reflect on what this excludes. The abomination of desolation is not something in the political realm. Based on the original types we would not look for this in politics. What it really leads to is the end of a religious institution. The temple came down. It is the sign of impending judgment on a religious establishment. AD70 was a sign of the Lordship of Jesus. A religious establishment that has gone off the rails can be called to repentance, but if you see the abomination of desolation, it is too late, flee. We know from Acts and the letters that the Apostles continued to meet in the temple (Acts 3:1). They called for its repentance (Acts 3:17-19). They knew it would come down because Jesus predicted it, but it was still the center of religious life, and who knows maybe God would be merciful, until the abomination. When you see that, flee.

So, here is what I would say is the payoff. Looking at AD70 as a type, we might see its fulfillment among ourselves in divine judgment upon church bodies that are irredeemable. If you see a church body that has profaned the sacraments and altars what you are seeing is an abomination of desolation. If you see such a thing, that is the time to flee. The time for calls to repentance are over. The faithful can see that fall as proof of the Lordship of Jesus Christ. Jesus is the head of the church and he will not be mocked. None of this calls for or expects a perfect church. There is a lot of ruin in a church before you get to abomination.

The final jump is yours, let the reader understand. Do you see an abomination? If there is one, this generation will not pass away before the fall happens. I would be pretty sure that something like this might qualify. Altar and Ritual, check. Recognizable, should be. Early enough, yep. People instead of things, yep. Please note that I’m talking about the church here. I have made no comment about the political or even the social realm. The abomination of desolation and any judgment is reserved for religious institutions. I also want to re-iterate again that this is something extreme. I don’t think this happens “all the time”. Really what this amounts to is a final warning to any believers remaining in these church bodies. If all the calls to repent have been rebuffed and the institution is “damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead” into flagrant heresy then you might see this as the final sign, flee.