Phil Almond raised what I think is a valid criticism of what I’ve posted about the Temple and the Second Coming in his comment on my Re-placing the Temple. He wrote,
Mark 13 and Matthew 24 have material in common. Mark 13 is in answer to the some of the disciples’ question, ‘Tell us, when these things will be, and what the sign when all these things are about to be completed?’ In Matthew the question is expressed as, ‘Tell us, when these things will be, and what the sign of thy presence and of the completion of the age?’ Mark 13:27 has the Son of Man sending the angels to assemble the chosen. Matthew 13:40-41 says at the completion of the age the Son of Man will send his angels to gather and cast those doing lawlessness into a furnace of fire and then the righteous will shine forth. In the light of this your statement that Mark 13:26 is not a reference to the Second Coming seems over-dogmatic.
With reference to his conclusion, though I would not use the word ‘dogmatic’, I do think an interpretation and application of Mark 13:26 which excludes the Second Coming is overly restrictive.
Both the Mark passage itself, and the parallels in Matthew (24:1-44) and Luke (21:5-36), make it clear that the return of the Son of Man is in view. Yet it seems to me that a reference to the Son of Man entering the heavenly Temple is also more or less required by the language and the overall biblical context.
I would argue that we need to take into account that the disciples have asked a valid question, which demands an answer, but also that they are starting from assumptions (about Israel and the nations) which make a simple answer elusive (rather, I would suggest, like the child who asks, “Mummy, how did I get into the cabbage patch?”). Their question (I would hold) assumes a straightforward sequence in which the Glory returns to the Temple, followed by the establishment of God’s dominion over the world with Israel as its geo-political centre. This assumes a direct connection of Temple-restoration with the End of the Age, which both Jesus' words and subsequent experience deny.
Jesus’ answer embraces three things: (1) the fact that this scenario is wrong, (2) his actual entry into the heavenly Temple-presence of God and (3) the eventual ‘End of the Age’.
The wrongness of the disciples’ scenario is born out by predictions that the earthly Temple will be destroyed and rendered inoperable (the Abomination which causes Desolation). Incidentally, I do not think this is a reference to the crucifixion (contra Peter Bolt) unless there is also a double-reference here.
The entry into the heavenly Temple is referred to in the Son of Man coming with the clouds of heaven, following the parallel in Daniel 7. Stephen’s vision in Acts 8:56 ( “I see heaven open and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God”) is a practical consequence of this, but so is the theology of Hebrews 8:1-2 (“We do have such a high priest, who sat down at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in heaven, and who serves in the sanctuary, the true tabernacle set up by the Lord, not by man”) and Revelation 5:1-14 (see also 11:19, “Then God’s temple in heaven was opened, and within his temple was seen the ark of his covenant”).
Christ’s presence in the heavenly Temple is thus not only an accomplished fact but an ongoing reality.
However, this is a reality which is hidden from sight. Thus what happens (I suggest) when Christ returns is not that we move on to another stage, but that this reality is revealed (see, eg, 2 Thess 1:7; 1 Pet 1:7,13; 4:13).
We have to bear in mind that the Temple is not a place of ‘worship’ in the sense that its focus is on praise, but is the house and palace of God — his dwelling place from which he extends his rule. Thus when Christ’s reign is finally established, it is appropriate to describe it (symbolically) in ‘Temple’ language:
I did not see a temple in the city, because the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are its temple. 23The city does not need the sun or the moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and the Lamb is its lamp. 24 The nations will walk by its light, and the kings of the earth will bring their splendour into it. (Rev 19:22-24)
Thus the narrative in Mark 13 and parallels embraces both the forthcoming reality of Christ entering into the heavenly Temple and the future reality of his reigning in the heavenly Temple being revealed at the End of the Age.
As to the angels, the translation may sometimes appropriately be ‘messengers’, as in evangelists, but will (obviously) sometimes be ‘angels’ as in heavenly beings.
I hope this may help.
30 September 2008
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