Jesus’s Farewell – Prelude to Betrayal

Mark 13; 14:1-26

Chapter thirteen contains Jesus’s longest uninterrupted discourse in the Gospel of Mark. This is Jesus’ farewell address to the disciples.  Jacob, Moses, Joshua, Samuel, and David all had farewell addresses recorded in the Old Testament.  Socrates had four such addresses in Plato’s Apology.  This section is often called “a little apocalypse”.  It touches on apocalyptic literature, but it is not quite the same genre as The Revelation.

After Jesus and his disciples left the temple, one of the disciples remarked on the size of the stones used to build the temple (Mark 13:1–2).  The temple mount was 164 feet high. The stones used to construct it ranged from two to ten tons (and probably much larger).  Jesus response to the disciple was, “Do you see these great buildings?  Not one stone will be left here upon another; all will be thrown down.”

After moving out of Jerusalem to the Mount of Olives, where the temple was still highly visible, some of the disciples asked him when this was going to happen, and what sign there would be (Mark 13:3–4).  Jesus answered them deliberately in a six-part discourse.  First, he described general earthy calamities that would be experienced by everyone – wars, rumors of wars, earthquakes, etc. (Mark 13:6–8).  These would not be signs of the end, but of the “beginning of the birth pangs”.  There is a warning to not be led astray.

Next, Jesus talked about the persecution to be experienced by believers (Mark 13:9–13).  First they must proclaim the good news of the kingdom to all nations.  But then, “Brother will betray brother …  you will all be hated because of my name.”  Believers are assured that they will not face persecution alone.  God will vindicate them.   Jesus then explained what people will do at the time of the great tribulation (Mark 13:14–23).  Jesus told his listeners to head for the hills.  Don’t look back.  False Messiah’s will appear to lead the elect astray.  Jesus prophecy discusses the ‘elect’, but not the ‘damned’ as standard apocalyptic writing often does.

In the next section of his farewell address (Mark 13:24–27) Jesus used Old Testament “Day of the Lord” language, “the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will be falling from heaven … “ The Son of Man will be seen coming in the clouds.”  (Even here, Jesus does not identify himself with “the Son of Man”.)  Jesus spoke of ingathering, but not of ‘sorting out’.  Jesus does not talk about random signs or troubles, but moves methodically from familiar disturbances, through personal suffering, and finally cosmic turbulence.  Yet followers of Christ need to remain calm.

Jesus spoke of the reliable fig tree that gives signs of summer (Mark 13:28–31).  God’s word is reliable as well.  This promise is enduring and dependable. But, while his followers have been given the signs, the time is still unknowable.  So stay alert (Mark 13:32–37).  The important issue is not when, but that you remain alert.  Stay calm, bear witness, and preach the good news to all nations.

German theologian Martin Kähler called the Gospel of Mark a “Passion Narrative with an extended introduction”.  Everything in Mark up to this point is clearly leading to Golgotha.  Paul tells us,“ … that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures, and that he was buried, and that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures …” (1 Corinthians 15:3–4).  Some writers suggest that Mark’s gospel reads as though he started with Paul’s proclamation, expanded on it, and then wrote backwards.

In chapters 14 – 16, Mark includes a little of every idea he has introduced earlier in the Gospel.  By following the last three chapters closely, it becomes easier to understand what Mark has tried to tell us.  Everything in the story has happened according to plan with God as the unseen agent.  However, it is only Jesus that seems to grasp what is happening.  The story is full of irony, with most of the characters rarely, if ever, understanding the significance.

Chapter fourteen begins with another intercalation:  conspiracy in the opening and closing frames, with the anointing of Jesus in the middle.  It is two days before Passover (Wednesday), and the chief priests are plotting how to arrest and execute Jesus (Mark 14:1–2).  But they don’t want to do it during the feast of the Passover (which of course, they end up doing).  Meanwhile, Jesus is at the dinner table of Simon the Leper (another of society’s outcasts).  An unknown woman breaks open a very costly jar of ointment and pours it on Jesus’ head to the consternation of the disciples who would have preferred to sell the ointment and use the money to help the poor (Mark 14:3–9).  The woman has anointed a king. She is preparing Jesus’ body for burial.  And the disciples are concerned about money.

In the closing frame (Mark 14:10–11), we return to the chief priests who conclude their conspiracy plans by promising to give Judas Iscariot money for betraying his master.  Inside and outside the frame we have money, and two people who will be remembered for what they did here – the unknown woman, and Judas Iscariot.  We contrast Simon the Leper with the chief priests, and anointing Jesus for burial, with plotting his death.

Jesus sent two of his disciples into the city to make arrangements for the Passover meal. (Mark 14:12–16).  In a prediction reminiscent of when he sent them to get the colt (Mark 11:1–7), Jesus gets all the details right.  Everything is according to plan.  Passover is celebrated as a reminder that God kept faith with Israel during captivity in Egypt.  As the meal is begun, Jesus announced that one of his disciples is going to betray him (Mark 14:17–21).  The disciples each realize that they are either capable of betrayal or perhaps have already done that which could be construed as such.

As with the feeding of the five thousand (and the four thousand), Jesus took the loaf of bread, blessed it, broke it, and gave it to them (Mark 14:22–26).  Jesus identified the bread with his body, and the cup – his blood – with the covenant.  The language here is nearly identical with that of Paul (1 Corinthians 11:23–25).  They sang the hymn and went out to the Mount of Olives.  Betrayal and arrest are at hand.

Throughout this study we have been comparing the Gospel of Mark with the Elijah-Elisha narratives in 1 and 2 Kings.   We have discussed four common narrative couplets:  Multiplication of the loaves (2 Kings 4:42-44 and Mark 6:30-44; 8:1-10); the Syrophoenician woman (1 Kings 7:8-16 and Mark 7:24-30); The Passion predictions (2 Kings 2:3-11 and Mark 8:31-10:40); and the parable of the wicked tenants (2 Kings 9:14-26 and Mark 12:1-12).

Three other similarities appear in the Passion and Resurrection narratives from the last three chapters of Mark.  Peter’s triple denial of Jesus (Mark 14:31) is similar to Elisha’s triple swearing an oath while refusing to leave Elijah (2 Kings 2).  The centrality of religious corruption in the temple (Mark 11:15 – 15:39) is similar to Queen Jezebel and Baal worship throughout the Elijah-Elisha narratives.  Finally, the resurrection at the tomb (Mark 16:8) is reminiscent of the Elisha tomb story (2 Kings 13).

Similarity of stories does not, in itself, constitute literary dependence.  In the next session, we will discuss Dr. Winn’s argument for suggesting the Elijah-Elisha narratives as source material for the Gospel of Mark.

Primary Text:  Mark (Abingdon New Testament Commentaries), by C. Clifton Black

Coming in Session 9:  Mark 14:27-72; Mark 15:1-41.  Jesus’s Final Suffering