Your decoder ring for Mark’s Gospel “…(let the reader understand)…” (Mark 13:14) requires you appreciate two historical factors regarding the time frame in which this recruiter’s pamphlet was written. Otherwise, you will constantly find yourself nagged with little details always pulling your attention off to the bunny trails, kinda like when the bank robbers blow up the church down the street as a diversionary tactic to draw attention away from the real crime! Those two factors in a nutshell? 1) Recruits instead of draftees and 2) “What wonderful and marvelous stones!” (Mark 13:1) bulk up Herod’s temple.
There! Clear as mud, right?
Okay, just stay with me… ask questions if you need to at the comments.
Yeah. Recruits: Modern America has gotten fat, slow, and lazy. This is true about most aspects of American life, but no less true of our Bible study too. Long gone is the idea that you might be enlisting into God’s Army – that you had better work out your allegiance to your One Lord and this Army will not tolerate traitors. Discipline, spiritual or otherwise, isn’t too high on your list of Christian devotions. You think you just need to “let go and let God,” and that settles it.
Does that seem familiar?
Then that temple: There are some American Christians who want to send tithes and offerings to Israel and hopefully see the temple rebuilt one day. Never mind the things Jesus says about Herod’s temple (things that come to pass right about the time Mark writes his Gospel, by the way), and never mind the things St. Paul says about the Temple Jesus is building in our midst as Christians. (Ephesians 2:18-20, anyone?) The vast majority of us modern American “Christians,” in my experience, either have practically no appreciation for the importance of Herod’s temple looming behind everything depicted in the Gospels or we have the mistaken idea that redundant monstrosity should be brought back so we can … so we can… can… can what? Indulge in a whole new idolatry???
Yeah. We will clear this stuff up as we go. But now you are tipped off about what to look for in this post. Keep your decoder ring handy, and filter your information through this decoder from here on.
Let me tell you a story. If you are a Queensryche fan, you might recall the Operation: Mindcrime album. (Google it if you need to.) Yeah. That was almost my story too. It’s almost a cryptic story, but maybe that is more because it is about cryptic stuff than it being encrypted itself. Either way, it goes so well with conspiracy, you should probably have the red wine with the red pill.
I have told this story before, maybe even on the blog (I think), and so if you look it up and find discrepancies in my retelling, well… that is part of the drama, I guess. I really must change some names and dates and a few other details to protect the guilty. So here it is again… in a new version.
I was about 20 years old (that’s fightin’ age for you recruiters), and working in the mom-n-pop record store (innocently minding my own (well, actually someone else’s) business) when one morning before any other customers came in, the stranger looking like a rugged mountain man, ambled over to the counter where I was working and slid a pamphlet across the glass suggesting I give it my attention. I had never seen the man before. He didn’t look like a regular in our store, not there for the new Van Halen album or the Tupac cd. No. He looked more like he mighta rode his horse into town than that.
I casually opened the pamphlet there before me as he turned and thumbed through the Bon Jovi records.
I saw things I never dreamed in that little booklet, not more than ten or sixteen pages, held together with staples in the spine, and small enough to fit in your back pocket. I don’t recall the name of it on the front, and I cannot, all these years later quote a single line from it, but I do recall that it was full of images of Hitler and swastikas, of assault rifles, and cultic symbols I never saw before. The rhetoric of the thing was forceful and fast. As I recall it now, it informed me in no uncertain terms that not only do I have a right, but a duty – an obligation – to protect myself, my family, and my property with firearms and special tactics. Society, it threatened, is about to take the big plunge, and if I am not ready, I should be ashamed of myself. This man’s little club would be the last best hope for America and American values.
I should give a bit more context to my experience before applying it all the Mark, because even though I had never been exposed to anything like that encounter or that pamphlet before, I had heard rumors, and I did live in a particular area of the US that might be considered “ripe” for this kind of thing.
My home town is located in the Four Corners, where Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado, and Utah all meet at a single point on a map. If you go look at a map now, you will quickly discern that area is some of the most remote and most rugged, underdeveloped part of “the lower 48.” If you are standing on that spot, the nearest big city is Albuquerque (not exactly big), and it’s almost a four hour drive away. It takes twice that long to get to Denver, Phoenix, or Salt Lake.
I had often heard whispers over the years about farmers and ranchers over in the Mancos Valley that kept arsenals, Gatlin Guns, even Sherman tanks, and the like in bunkers beneath barns. I heard that they had little militia clubs and would practice their war games and all in the mountains or in the deserts nearby. I really didn’t believe any of it, but I had to admit it seemed plausible. I did a lot of camping and hiking and snowmobiling and so forth in the area for years, yet never encountered anything of the sort. But…
Then Walmart came to town in the mid 80s. It was the biggest store in the county. And one night a friend of mine told me a strange rumor. Supposedly, a truck from the Walmart distribution center in Plainview, Texas would arrive at our local Walmart every Thursday afternoon, and on that truck would be a full shipment of ammunition. As the story went, by Friday night every week, the store would be sold out.
Wow! I had family in Texas, and I had driven past that distribution center many times in my travels, so that part sure seemed accurate. But the rest? It was still speculation. Right?
So, anyway, the stranger entered the mom-n-pop shop, finding me alone there early in the day before the regular clientele generally got around. I looked like a prospect! This man was placing a call on my life! He even burdened me with words of obligation and shame! War is coming! I need to be prepared. This man would guide me in the right direction.
What can I say, just seven years later, a local cop pulled over a box truck at the edge of town about midday, and as he sat in his patrol car calling in the tags on the radio, two young men hopped out of the truck armed with fully automatic assault rifles and opened fire on that officer as he spoke to dispatch. It being policy for back up to come support even routine traffic stops anyway, it only took seconds, really, for other officers to arrive, and a chase ensued.
I wasn’t living there at the time, but the way I heard it from my parents and friends, it was a wild-west style shootout at high speeds right through downtown. Lead flying to the four winds, and sirens in pursuit. It was a dangerous day to be out walking the dog or stopping at the drug store. The boys led the cops out of town and down into the desert southwest, AND they managed to get away!
It’s not likely that you remember this now, but I recall seeing the man-hunt story unfold for several nights on Peter Jennings news! Law enforcement from as far away as New York City, Los Angeles, and Montana descended on my hometown and hunted the deserts for months…. deep into the winter.
What can I say?
Maybe there was something to the rumors.
I am glad I turned down that stranger that day, but it was hard to do. To slide that pamphlet back across the countertop and tell this man that I didn’t think his little revolution was for me was like painting the word “PU**Y” across my forehead. His pamphlet left me no other choice.
But ohhhh, how I wish I had a copy of that pamphlet now! What a wonderful illustration it would be for my point here!
In the years since, I have come to see St. Mark’s Gospel counteracting that pamphlet and others like it. His Gospel is the shortest, fastest, and darkest of the four we have in our Bible, AND it came first. This Gospel is Mark’s version of that man’s pamphlet and aims at a similar goal – recruit young men of about fightin’ age!
We cannot know for certain if Mark wrote just before the Jews rebelled against Rome or just after, but almost certainly very, very close to that moment in history. It also came very soon after the temple Herod built was completed. To be honest, I don’t know exactly how soon, but depending on which part of the temple we are talking about, it could have been as little as four years after it was complete.
We absolutely MUST deepen our appreciation for that temple. Not for its own sake, but for the fervor it inspired in the Jews. It took more than 70 years to build. Herod did not live to see it completed. No one did. It took more than a lifetime for most people, and it was a monstrous undertaking. The temple itself was rebuilt to the specifications laid out when King Solomon built it, but Herod built up the mountain on which it sat and added outer courts and made a massive plaza of it such that some scholars today don’t speak of the CITY of Jerusalem, but rather the monstrous temple with a small village surrounding it.
The Jews hoped against hope that once it was complete, God would finally be pleased to return and enter it and make his dwelling there among his people. When that happened, so it was thought, THEN this little nation would throw off the Roman yoke! Like the shepherd boy against Goliath, Israel would cut off the head of this giant oppressor, and the people would be free.
NO ONE ELSE saw it that way, but if you were a Jew, you surely felt the pull. And so in just four years time, the Jews are revolting against Rome and the great general Titus surrounds Jerusalem with his legions and prepares to level the place to the ground, which ultimately he does. But in the meantime, little pamphlets are being written up and disseminated throughout the empire – the Diaspora – faster than a viral Facebook or Twitter post. Young Jews from far and wide would be expected to rush to Jerusalem and stand with God at the temple against the marauding hordes of pagans and legions. You really must have faith!
Sure enough, young Jews answer the call a plenty. They come from far and wide. Some don’t even speak the language anymore, but they feel the draw of their God, their heritage, their destiny, and they come to Jerusalem prepared to lay down their lives, if necessary, and stand with God when he comes and teaches those Romans a lesson in civics and in who the real Lord of the world is!
(Wow! Though you change the names and a few other details, if you talk about America today, the story is the same one!)
I faced such a call on my life when I was hardly 20 years old one day. There are no draftees in this army, only recruits. No double-minded, divided allegiance welcome here. You are either with us, or you are with the terrorists. That kind of thing.
There is just one problem with all of this.
Some 30-35 years before the revolt, before Titus, and before all the pamphlets, there was Jesus. And Jesus practically predicted all of this. Jesus showed up and took the crown of thorns long before the marauding hordes arrived. He already became king. And he said this temple was gonna get leveled. His disciples said, “Wow, Jesus! Look at all these marvelous stones! Herod’s building project must have just begun taking shape about the time Jesus and his disciples had that little visit. It was moving away from just being a big dig to being a real, honest to God, temple mount! But Jesus said, “…not one stone left atop another…”
If Jesus was the real Son of God, and if he was really crowned King of the Jews all those years before, then to stand with this temple would be a mistake.
Here’s a bit they didn’t put in the Bible, but it would have been in the headlines about the time Mark wrote his pamphlet: One rebel leader named Simon, Simon bar Giora specifically, and his closest lieutenants survived the rebellion by digging tunnels out of the city, but when they hit solid rock, they had to surface and give themselves up to the Romans. Legend has it that when Simon surfaced, he popped up out of the ground right at the spot where the temple had stood only the day before.
Simon donned a royal robe and summoned the victorious Titus for surrender claiming he was the king of these failed rebels. So, Titus sent him back to Rome where they paraded the victory with Simon in the procession and they ceremoniously executed him as “King of the Jews.”
That’s kinda right in Jesus’s face.
So, when Mark circulates his little pamphlet, he is recruiting young Jews come to Jerusalem to defend the temple and drawing them away from Simon bar Giora and others like him.
How does he do it?
With this pamphlet.
We call it “The Gospel According to St. Mark,” but he called it “The Beginning of the Gospel of Jesus Christ (the Son of God).”
All through the rest of our little conspiratorial study of Jesus in Mark’s Gospel, I will ask you to imagine you take the role of a young Jew of about fightin’ age, come to town ready to die in vain with men like bar Giora. But Mark tells a story about another young Jew who prophetically enacted God’s return to Jerusalem and being crowned King of the Jews a full generation before. This young prophet warned about the fall of this temple, and longed to draw people to him instead of that vain fight. No matter how important that temple might appear, it did not meet with God’s plans or expectations. No. This would be a call for young Jewish hotheads to repent.
Under the circumstances, both then and now, that is a pertinent call on your life.
But you need the XAnon decoder ring to see it.