Mark 13 – Last Messiah Standing

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Today’s PassageMark 13

I’m having a bad post day today, so let’s scrap what I’ve written and start over. This is Mark’s take on the Olivet Discourse, Jesus’ private teaching to his disciples when one of them remarks on how dope the temple architecture is. In this passage, Jesus looks ahead prophetically to the AD 70 destruction of the Jerusalem temple, tells his disciples what to expect in their own future, and–depending on to what degree you embrace preterism–perhaps gives us a look into the end times as well.

And on that note, a particular verse struck me on this reading. Jesus warns his disciples, “And then if anyone says to you, ‘Behold, here is the Christ’; or, ‘Behold, He is there’; do not believe him; for false Christs and false prophets will arise…” (21-22). And in my decidedly American experiences with Christianity, I can’t help feeling like we may be too good at following his teaching here. We seem particularly vulnerable to getting swept up in apocalyptic fervor, conjecturing on what contemporary events may be signs of the times or which world leader is the antichrist.

But here’s the thing: whatever false claimants to divinity, messiahship, or Jesushood may spring up in the days to come, history has already seen an abundance of failed messiahs. Let me share a few of them with you.

First of all, let’s talk about the shepherd Athronges. While Jesus was learning to walk and getting visited by Persian scholars, Athronges was waging war on behalf of average Jewish Joes everywhere. Around 4 BC, Athronges got together his brothers and began a revolt against both Rome and the latest Herod to take the Judean throne, Herod Archelaus. Athronges wasn’t the only one to lead a revolt, but his was one of the most brutal. He and his brothers had muscles for days, and they were so consumed by their hatred for illegitimate powers that they apparently got pretty indiscriminate in their brutality toward the end of their unsuccessful campaign. Athronges tried to stake a claim on the title of king, but he knew better than to claim divinity. And Herod eventually put down his rebellion.

Next, how about Judas the Galilean? In 6 AD, Rome got sick of Herod Archelaus’ incompetence and installed their man Coponius as governor. The people were, of course, ecstatic to have a non-Jew leading their nation, and when he tried to levy new taxes, a man from Jesus’ own home district of Galilee named Judas called it (in so many words) “slavery with extra steps” and led an uprising. Although he made a messianic move for the independence of the Jewish nation, his movement nominally stood for no king but God and no laws but God’s. And we know what happened to him from Luke’s own book of Acts: “…Judas of Galilee rose up in the days of the census and drew away some people after him; he too perished, and all those who followed him were scattered” (Acts 5:37).

Then we’ve got big daddy Simon Bar Kokhba. Roughly a hundred years after Jesus, he and a united army of fed-up Jews revolted against Roman rule. His movement comprised hundreds of thousands and even had its own money with coins bearing his name. He could trace his lineage back to King David, a requirement for authentic messiahship, and “Bar Kokhba” means “son of the star,” suggesting a messianic interpretation of Numbers 24:17: “A star shall come forth from Jacob…and shall crush through the forehead of Moab.” He pushed for obedience to the Torah, fought against Roman impositions on Jewish political and religious autonomy, and punished Jewish Christians who would not deny Christ’s own messiahship. Bar Kokhba made possibly the strongest, most explicit claims to the messianic title in all the ancient world, but his defeat dealt a crushing blow to Jewish resistance. History wouldn’t see another major messianic claimant until Moses of Crete, who is another weird story entirely.

And I could go on. Jesus’ world was no stranger to messianic uprisings past and present, and Jesus wouldn’t be the last to wear the metaphorical crown of anointing oil. But here’s the point: these other guys are the might-have-been messiahs. They came, they saw, they fell to Roman counter-insurgency. Jesus failed too, if we’re being honest. He bit it at the hands of his enemies, fellow Jews who gladly handed him over to Rome. But to this day, no one considers any one of these other guys to be the Messiah. Jesus Christ is the only one still standing.

2 thoughts on “Mark 13 – Last Messiah Standing

  1. “Muscles for days”


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