What do I think of Robert Stein’s book? Let’s talk about it on Deeper Waters.
There are many secondary debates in Christianity that I just don’t care for at all. I have no desire to touch a debate on Calvinism with a ten-foot pole for instance. Eschatology, however, is an exception. I’m not sure why that is, but I just happen to really enjoy eschatology. It could be in our culture if we live in America, we grow up in a culture that has what Gary Demar calls “End Times Madness” and we have to find our place in it.
When I started my journey, I was a pre-trib, pre-mill dispensationalist. I was a full supporter of the rapture and just couldn’t see why people couldn’t see that in the Bible. Now I’m pretty much opposite. I have reached the conclusion where I am an orthodox Preterist and wonder how it is that anyone can see a rapture in the Bible.
That’s one reason I was curious to see a book such as Robert Stein’s on Jesus and the Olivet Discourse, that is Mark 13. What was his view on the little apocalypse that Jesus gives in this chapter? Would he match up with my Preterist understanding or would he challenge it or would he fall somewhere in between?
Right off, any reader who is thinking he will affirm a view that is more in line with Left Behind will be sadly disappointed. In fact, that position is largely argued against in the footnotes. There really aren’t many people in the scholarly world, even those who are Christians, who take such a position any more. It’s largely also an American phenomenon.
I happened to agree with many of Stein’s viewpoints and interestingly, he places them in the context of historical Jesus studies not only showing what he thinks that they mean, but showing also how they fit in with the quest for the historical Jesus, which largely sought to remove much of the eschatology from Jesus or else totally redefine it with something that would fit in more with an Enlightenment point of view.
I also liked that he did say much of the discourse has to apply to 1st century Judea. It would not make sense otherwise and it would only apply to those who were living in Judea. There is no general command for all Christians to flee to the mountains. There is only the command to do so when you are in Jerusalem and you see what you will know as the abomination that causes desolation. (To which, his candidate for that is entirely plausible.)
I did disagree on some points. For instance, when it comes to the coming of the Son of Man, I do see that as a coming that is heavenly. It is the sign that Jesus has been vindicated. I base this largely on Daniel 7 where Jesus approaches the Ancient of Days. If He is doing that, then it is clear that He is going up. He is not coming down.
I also would have liked to have seen a bit more on the passage that no man knows the day or hour but only the Father. It would have been good to have seen how this would reflect the high Christology that Stein says is in Mark, especially when it says that the Son of Man will send forth His angels. (note the use of His.) This is indeed something the church would not have made up as it would be embarrassing, but how are Christians to understand it?
The book does have several helpful references in it including pointing out the hyperbole that is often used and the constant comparison to Old Testament language. If we are to understand Jesus, we must understand him in the cultural matrix He spoke in, which included a culture that was saturated with the Old Testament and the thinking of Second Temple Judaism. Much of our misunderstanding in eschatology comes because we do not make this distinction.
The points that I disagree with are not primary to eschatological understanding and overall, I agree with the bulk of Stein’s approach. I also find it interesting that he chooses Mark to focus on since so much of even the early church just didn’t seem to care too much for Mark. It’s good there is a scholar who does really appreciate this Gospel and wants to bring out all the gems we might have missed.
Therefore, if you want a good look at the eschatology of Jesus with some historical Jesus studies thrown in, I think this is one you should add to your library.