(I have N.T. Wright to thank for this line of thought. While the work presented here is entirely mine, it was a comment Wright made about the parable of the wise man and fool building houses on either rock or sand in the Sermon on the Mount which I found many years ago that tipped me off to the larger significance that developed into this study of Mark.)
“The House of God.”
What makes a temple? The man who builds it and calls it “temple”? Or whether God is INSIDE it???
I will let you bake with that as we look into Mark’s Gospel again at yet another level. The level of temple.
Let’s go to Mark chapter 13; (let the reader understand).
This chapter is generally understood by the masses of modern Christians as a depiction of “Christ’s Return” at the end of time. The language in this chapter is definitely apocalyptic in nature. In fact, scholars have dubbed this chapter “The Little Apocalypse” since the language in it is so very much LIKE that of Revelation and other apocalyptic documents of the ancient church and of the Jews. And no doubt this language lends itself to the interpretation of END of TIMES.
If, and I use “IF” here emphatically, if Mark 13 is about the “end of times” and the “Return of Christ” and all that usual interpretation in some sense, then the chapter is doing double (maybe even triple) duty on meaning and levels of understanding. I will not argue against that, but I will play my cards and say, I am not convinced.
I know for sure, though, that it very much is all about the fall of the temple in Jerusalem. This I know just from reading the chapter sober mindedly. Jesus and his crew are leaving the temple in 13:1, and the boys are marveling over the fantastic building project going on there. Herod’s temple takes 70 years to build (as I said in a previous post). It is an enormous undertaking that stretches beyond the lifetime(s) of those who start it.
Like many major building projects of staggeringly huge undertaking, it is controversial – especially at the start. I will not discuss all the ways and reasons why. I likely don’t know all of them. But I will say this much, if it had been an American project, we would complain about tax money literally going down hole at the “big dig” for years and years.
We know that on the day Jesus and the boys come out of the temple for this little conversation, the project is roughly halfway done. Jerusalem has been orange-barrel city for the last 35 years or so, and will remain in that state another 30-35 years, but only recently, the stonework has begun going up. Herod literally moved a mountain and put the temple on it with massive stones like no one has ever seen before.
I don’t know this for sure. I am just spit balling here. But… I think when all the digging and surveying of the massive orange-barrel project begins giving way to massive stones like no one ever saw before, that all the griping and complaining about taxes and “big digs” and so forth begin to subside just a bit, and people start to catch the vision that the builders always were dreaming. A new reality is starting to take hold of hearts, dreams, imaginations.
And we are talking about The House of God here.
So, as the boys climb up from the Kidron Valley and find a resting spot midway up the switchbacks where they can catch their breath, the conversation about that temple picks up again, and they are at a particularly good vantage point from which to take in the view of it all. But Jesus had said that not one stone will be left atop another. It will all get torn down!
Sit with that a minute.
No. Really. Sit with that.
For a real minute.
I can wait…
Are you getting the real picture here?
That is The House of God Jesus is talking about!
This is the center of God’s universe. It is at the heart of God and country for Jews.
If I took an American flag in front of an American Legion Hall and set fire to it, what do you think the drunks inside are going to think and do?
And a flag is NOTHING next to this!
This is The House of God! There is only one. There is no separation of church and state for the Jews of Judea. This is the WHOLE enchilada. And not only that, but Herod, despite the fact that at least half our country hated him when he came into office, has managed to bequeath to us this marvelous monstrosity which will finally unite the Jews from all the sects and surely warm God’s heart. And right in Rome’s face! Surely God is behind this after all! There might have been SOME doubts whether Herod was God’s man at first (what with the pussy-grabbing controversies and all), but this is proof that God was behind his reign all along!
And Jesus says, “See these wonderful buildings and stones? It’s all coming down in a terrible crash!”
How is this not sour grapes???
Shouldn’t Jesus, God’s Son, be honored by this?
Well, apparently not. And the boys are once again baffled by this. Jesus’s closest disciples have been fumbling the ball a little more with each play ever since chapter 1, the last place they got this right. I’m thinking that when Peter, James, John, and the boys drop their nets and run off to follow him, they se themselves as revolutionaries who sign on with God’s special anointed One who will come now and lay claim to this temple! But here the “missiah” (yeah, that’s not a typo; it’s a nagging feeling that we are not really right with God) is basically rejecting this temple.
(Let the reader understand, cuz the “disciples” in this narrative sure don’t.)
It is part of my conspiracy theory that the church was rocking along for roughly 35 years after Jesus’s death, burial, and resurrection preaching, teaching, and, through interpersonal sharing, verbally telling the story of Jesus life without writing it down. Why? Why was verbal good enough and writing it down not?
Some think it is because the early church expected the “Return of Christ” to come soon, but as the first generation began to die they decided to preserve the story in writing for future generations in case he didn’t return for a long time. To my mind, that sounds like a theory in a vacuum – and a lame one at that. I don’t know why they were satisfied not writing it down, but I know Mark wrote first, and I know he wrote when Herod’s temple was demolished.
I also know that the temple was just a waaaaaaaaaaaaay bigger deal to the Jews (especially of that time) than we modern, American Protestants really know. In fact, I don’t think we are capable of grasping just how devastating a loss that was for them. And I think Mark writes this account AT THAT TIME as a way of presenting God’s real alternative to that shame of a temple. It wasn’t what they put in the brochures, not really.
I think the other Gospel writers (Matthew, Luke, and John) were also motivated, in part, by this loss AND to tie up loose ends Mark left his readers to wrestle with. I think that as that first generation of disciples began to die out, those loose ends looked more and more troubling for the church, and the other writers were in position to resolve them faithfully with further accounts.
That’s a lot of my thinking – of what “I think” – alright. But this is my post, so… join the conspiracy, I guess….
So, this brings us back to the question I left you baking your noodle on before: What makes a place a temple? Is it Herod slathering gold on it, moving mountains and perching it atop, grand stones and buildings? Or is it a temple when God enters it – no matter the outward appearance???
Turn to Mark chapter 2.
Read verse one carefully. What do we find?
My English translation says, “When He had come back to Capernaum several days afterward, it was heard that He was at home.”
That is a good translation. The translators provided an excellent, conservative translation of the Greek words and phrases. There is nothing linguistically or stylistically wrong with this translation at all. But…
But you need a decoder ring to get this. And I really think that if the translators were super diligent, they would work out a way of highlighting things better. The word for “home” in this verse is oikos, which also, and perhaps more usually, is translated as “house.”
What makes a house a home? What makes a home a house? Is this just a matter of semantics?
“It was heard he was in the house,” would be a better translation, but even then we need to make some stipulation. “The House” (I will use caps for these words when referring to them in this special sense) is something of a shorthand reference even in the Old Testament for the temple (e.g. II Sam 7:5, 13; I Kings 3:1-2 & chapter 6). Sometimes it is called “The House of God” and sometimes just “The House.” So, if the Old Testament uses this kind of language in reference to the temple, why not Mark?
Only… and here is the conspiracy part … what if by “The House” Mark isn’t referring to Herod’s empty temple, but the fact that God just showed up in a fisherman’s hut in Capernaum transforming that humble abode into something that grand monstrosity in Jerusalem, despite all the large stones and marvelous buildings, only wishes it could be?
Do tell more!!!
Yeah. “It was heard that he was in The House.” I mean… this could go either way: somewhere OR nowhere. But that is the nature of conspiracy theories. They are either nothing or EVERYTHING – take your pick at your peril!!!
How about a bit of evidence? Is there any evidence to support this claim? Or is it like QAnon (XAnon’s evil twin) just baseless nonsense?
Well, keep reading the story? What happens while “he was in The House”?
Well, a number of things happen, actually, but if you are a sensitive reader, especially a young Jewish rebel wannabe having come to Jerusalem in 66 A.D. to defend the temple with Simon bar Giora, but you stumbled onto St. Mark’s little recruiter pamphlet, AND if as that reader you are going through it a second time for a closer look and to wrestle the Angel (so to speak), then probably the thing that jumps right out at you is the fact that Jesus engages in the business of FORGIVING SIN in this place!
Sure he heals a man. But even that healing, just listen to Jesus, is “so that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins….” That healing miracle seems a bit more flashy, I think, to modern Americans, but that forgiveness of sins bit has dimensions to it we are not apt to see. And one of those dimensions is, as the Scribes on the scene think to themselves (Jesus is reading their hearts and minds), only God can do this, and he lives in Jerusalem in Herod’s temple. This peasant/prophet in Capernaum is blaspheming! (2:7).
Unpack that all day long.
Oh… and notice the last remark made in 2:12 at the end of this pericope: all the people there that day who witness the healing are “amazed and glorify God” (contrast this against Jesus’s own disciples in chapter 13:1 being amazed by the stones and buildings) and exclaim, “We have never seen anything like this!”
Yeah. Let THAT bake your noodle.
Good, life-long, God-loving Jews have never seen anything like this! They make regular pilgrimages to the temple for all the festivals every year, but they have never seen anything like the remarkable forgiveness and healing miracle that just occurred in this fisherman’s hut way up in the North of Galilee, far removed from both Judea and the pride and arrogance of that temple Herod is building!
When Jesus is “IN THE HOUSE,” that house is temple!
When Jesus is in your heart, your body is temple! (I Cor 6:19).
When Jesus is in the church, the church is temple! (I Cor 3:16-17; Eph 2:19-22).
But thus far, Jesus is not in Herod’s temple, and when he ultimately goes there, he looks around the first day for a moment and then walks out, all uneventful like (11:11). When he returns the next day, he curses the fig tree on the way in and finds it withered on the way out, and in between these fig tree observations, he cleanses the corrupt temple our young rebel has come to defend (as a “rebel” a leistai (do a word study to get the idiomatic meaning here) in fact a “den of rebels”) which is exactly the terminology Jesus uses to describe what the Jews have reduced this Holy Place to in the end.
If you are a young rebel hoping to defend Herod’s temple from Titus and six legions, you had better get ironed out whether or not God is in there and wants this place defended. But if Jesus is God (and the Scribes in 2:7 actually raise the question), then that fisherman’s hut was temple, and this grand monstrosity with all the fancy stones and buildings in Jerusalem is not!
How’s that for conspiracy?
Take care dear reader (let the reader understand) that you don’t sign up to fight for the wrong messiah in the wrong war. Our fight is not against flesh and blood, but against powers and principalities in the heavenly places (Eph 6:12).