Book Review: Robert H. Stein, Jesus, the Temple and the Coming Son of Man

Stein, Robert H. Jesus, the Temple and the Coming Son of Man: A Commentary on Mark 13. Downers Grover, Ill.: InterVarsity, 2014. 155 pp. Pc; $18.00.   Link to IVP

This short book is an extension of Robert Stein’s work on the Gospel of Mark in the Baker Exegetical Commentary series. I have frequently thought a monograph on the Olivet Discourse would make a good contribution to scholarship, Stein provides good introduction to Mark’s version of Jesus’ discourse on his return which attempts to solve many of the interpretive difficulties of Mark 13.

Stein, Jesus and the TempleIn Chapter 1 Stein introduces the reader to the basics of historical Jesus research including a brief history of the field. He provides a summary of the criterion of authenticity, although he the authenticity of the Jesus sayings in Mark 13 is not the main theme of the book. His goal in this book is to understand what the Evangelist Mark meant when he wrote Mark 13, in essence a “traditional, author-based hermeneutic” (p. 38). While the Gospel of Mark is an accurate, reliable account of the life and teaching of Jesus” most likely written by John Mark (p. 39), proving these assumptions are not the goal of the book.

Chapter 2 describes the main problems the interpreter faces when reading Mark chapter 13. For example he compares several suggested outlines for the chapter. He does not assume Mark created stories out of nothing and put them in the mouth of Jesus, nor is he interested in this book in determining Mark’s sources. At best, Mark is a “conservative editor of the Jesus Traditions” (p. 47).

Chapter 3 examines the first four verses of chapter in order to show the whole chapter is concerned with the destruction of the temple. The disciples observe the magnificence of the Temple buildings, leading Jesus to predict the temple will be destroyed. Stein thinks the key to understanding Mark 13 is the two-part question asked by Jesus’ disciples. They first asked when will “these things” be and then they ask “what will be the sign that “all these things” are about to be accomplished?” Jesus gives his answer to the first question as a prediction of the destruction of the temple (“these things”). The second question refers to the future coming of the Son of Man (“all these things”).

Chapter 4 concerns the destruction of the Temple of Jerusalem and the signs of that coming distraction. Stein demonstrates that Mark 13:5-23 is a unit concerned with the immediate future and the destruction of Jerusalem in the disciples’ lifetime. The unit is a chiasm: the appearance of false messiahs function as inclusio (13:5-6 and 21-23). The coming of the Son of Man (13:24-27) is in the next section outside of this clear unit. But from the perspective of Mark and his readers, there are two horizons present. First, Jesus answers the first part of the disciples’ question about the destruction of the Temple and warns them to flee when they see these things happening. The second horizon is Mark’s collection of these predictions in order to teach his readers something about Jesus (p. 100-1).

Chapter 5 is brief but concerns in the future aspect of this chapter the coming of the Son of Man. There is a temporal gap between the destruction of Jerusalem and the coming of the Son of Man “in those days” and “after that tribulation” (p. 105). Stein shows that this description of the coming of the Son of Man is consistent with the Hebrew Bible and do refer to a real, visible return of Jesus (p. 113). Stein is not interested in overly literal interpretations of these events nor interpretations which demythologize them (p.114). Here he seems to be trying to chart a course between popular dispensationalism and some of the equally popular dismissals of any predictions of a future return of Jesus in Mark 13 (N. T. Wright, for example). In many ways his observation of a gap between the fall of Jerusalem and the Coming of the Son of Man resonates with premillennialism, but he stops well short of making this point since his goal is Mark’s purpose (not our interpretation of Mark’s Gospel, a “third horizon”).

Chapter 6 is a short examination of the parable of the fig tree in Mark 13:28-31. Since Stein has already argued there is a difference between “these things” and “all these things,” he has less exegetical problems with “this generation” in Mark 13:29-30 than other expositors do. Finally chapter 7 examines the parable of the watchmen as an exhortation to be alert for the coming of the Son of Man. This parable reflects Mark’s pastoral interest in encouraging his readers to remain awake and look forward to the soon appearance of the Son of Man.

Stein’s final chapter is an interpretive translation of Mark 13. This is really more of an appendix to the book, and in the introduction he recommends some readers may want to start with this chapter before reading his exegetical discussion.

Conclusion. I found this short book to be a good introduction to the problems an exegete faces when attempting to interpret Mark 13. This is not a comprehensive exegetical study; Stein offers a framework for interpretation which, in his view, solves many problems. But many of the exegetical details are left for more technical commentaries. He intends to point the way for further study and reflection on Mark’s goals when he collected and edited the material in Mark 13. A pastor or teacher working through the Gospel of Mark should consider reading the book and wrestling the two horizons Stein suggests.

I would have liked one additional chapter, and I think Stein is well-qualified to write it: How was this material developed by Matthew and Luke? Assuming Markan priority, the other two Synoptic gospels appear to use Mark 13 in different ways. Tracing the trajectory of their interpretations might clarify some of Mark’s goals as well. I would also suggest it is possible Mark 13 is the framework for Revelation 6, although this is less accepted. This shortcoming of the book is not critical; it is simply beyond Stein’s stated purpose.

 

NB: Thanks to InterVarsity Press for kindly providing me with a review copy of this book. This did not influence my thoughts regarding the work.

Published on November 19, 2014 on Reading Acts.

7 thoughts on “Book Review: Robert H. Stein, Jesus, the Temple and the Coming Son of Man

  1. Hi. A friend shared this review with me, and I found it interesting, though I can’t say I agree. I have a question about the gap you see between verse 23 and verse 24 of Mark 13. I understand that you believe that gap represents the time period between 70 AD and 2014 (and counting). In other words, we currently live “after that tribulation” (of the first century AD) and the darkening of the sun, the falling of the stars, the coming of the Son of Man in the clouds, the angels gathering the elect, etc. (Mark 13:24-27).

    However, in Matthew’s account, which is very much parallel to Mark’s at this point, Matthew says, “IMMEDIATELY after the tribulation of those days the sun will be darkened…the stars will fall from heaven…the sign of the Son of Man will appear in heaven…they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven… And He will send His angels…and they will gather together His elect…” (Matthew 24:29-31). How can we reconcile an allegedly long gap in Mark’s account with Matthew’s parallel account showing the impossibility of a gap there? Thank you.

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    • Thank you for your comment Adam. I would point out that this is my review of Robert Stein’s book not my own ideas. So I can’t really answer for him other than to say he is following a fairly common approach of seeing part of the prophecy has fulfilled immediately and part of the prophecy filled in the distant future. I think that this phenomenon could be illustrated with Old Testament examples.

      Perhaps part of the problem is the assumption Mark wrote first followed by Matthew. Matthew’s Gospel is often thought to be written after the fall of Jerusalem, so he is hearing the words of Jesus through the lens of what happened in A.D. 70. Stein does see the warning passages and Mark 13 as the reason why most Christians left Jerusalem prior to the revolution, probably after the death of James.

      I happen to agree Mark wrote first so this is less of a problem for me but Matthew does highlight the delay of the Parousia more than Mark does. I’m thinking primarily of the parable of the 10 virgins in the placement of the parable of the talents and the sheep and goats as a kind of conclusion to the Olivet discourse. Obviously Stein doesn’t comment on the these parables because his goal is to write on Mark 13 not Matthew.

      So from Mathew’s perspective the gap is the time when the church needs to be productive as they wait for the return of the Lord. In Marks Gospel there is nothing filling the gap so to speak (parables or other teaching.)

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  2. Enjoyed this post. I also love the name of your blog site. A couple of years ago I read through the book of Acts, ten times in a row! Wow! It was life changing.

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