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The little apocalypse and Christ’s great work of salvation

A Scriptural reflection on the Readings for Sunday, November 7, 2021

Detail from 'The Apocalypse' by Luca Signorelli
Detail from 'The Apocalypse' by Luca Signorelli [WikiArt.org]

Readings:
• 1 Kngs 17:10-16
• Ps 146:7, 8-9, 9-10
• Heb 9:24-28
• Mk 12:38-44

On the Solemnity of All Saints, the first reading was from The Apocalypse, the Book of Revelation. It described the saints from the perspective of heaven, showing them to be marked and sealed by God, set apart as holy. On the Solemnity of Christ the King, celebrated on November 21st, the Epistle reading is from the opening chapter of the same book. It describes Jesus Christ as the ruler of kings of the earth who “is coming amid the clouds” to judge all men at the end of time. 

Today’s reading from the Gospel of Mark is closely related. It is from the Olivet Discourse, sometimes called a “little apocalypse” (see Mt 24-25 and Lk 21) because it contains difficult teachings by Jesus about the destruction of the Jerusalem temple in A.D. 70 and the final day of judgment. Like The Apocalypse, the little apocalypse is filled with strong imagery and a complex web of allusions drawn from the Old Testament, especially from the prophets.

The challenge of making sense of today’s Gospel reading (and many related passages) is highlighted in Dr. Brant Pitre’s detailed Jesus, The Tribulation, and the End of the Exile (Baker Academic, 2006). Pitre’s impressive study draws together a host of interwoven themes rooted in the Old Testament and referred by Jesus in his discourse, including the exile, the tribulation, the elect, the temple, and the messiah. I’ve chosen three insights provided by Pitre that will, hopefully, help readers better understand today’s Gospel reading. 

The first is that the images of darkened sun and moon, falling stars, and the shaken powers of heaven were frequently used by Isaiah, Jeremiah, Joel, Amos, and other prophets. They referred to one or several of the following: a day of divine judgment, the destruction of a foreign city (Babylon, for example), the destruction of Jerusalem (Isa 24:10-23; Jer 4:11-31), the restoration of Israel from exile, and the coming of the Messiah (Isa 13:10-14:2).

Put simply, Jesus was not employing heavily coded language, but the heavenly language of the prophets. “A close study of the similar images of heavenly tumult,” writes Pitre, “shows that Jesus’ forecast stands directly in line with the oracles of the ancient Israelite prophets and early Jewish eschatological writings.”

Secondly, Jesus used this language to describe his approach Passion and death, through which he, the promised Messiah, would deliver his people from tribulation and inaugurate the restoration of Israel. The prophecies of Daniel are essential, for they speak of “the son of man coming in the clouds” (Dan 7:13), a figure Jesus clearly identifies with himself (Mk 13:26; 8:38). The Son of Man will “gather his elect” and lead a new exodus out of sin and death and form the new Israel, the Church, through the new covenant of his blood.

Finally, the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple are central events, both historically and theologically, in this epic plan of salvation. Recall that Jesus, in considering the spiritual state of Jerusalem, said, “Behold, your house is forsaken and desolate” (Mt 23:38). This desolation, Pitre argues, refers to the cessation of sacrifice, which is the “abomination of desolation” referred to by Daniel (Dan 9:27; 11:31; 12:11). The sacrifices of the temple, having ended in sacrilege, were fulfilled and replaced by the perfect sacrifice of the Lamb of God, which takes away the sins of the world. 

“Just as the first Exodus had been preceded and set in motion by a paschal sacrifice during a time of great trials and plagues,” Pitre explains, “so too Jesus saw his death as setting in motion the great paschal and eschatological trial that would bring about the restoration of Israel.”

This Sunday’s reading from Hebrews indicates this trial and restoration is still ongoing, as Jesus “waits until his enemies are made his footstool.” Meanwhile, we worship and serve a risen Lord and look to the return of the Son of Man.


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About Carl E. Olson 1165 Articles
Carl E. Olson is editor of Catholic World Report and Ignatius Insight. He is the author of Did Jesus Really Rise from the Dead?, Will Catholics Be "Left Behind"?, co-editor/contributor to Called To Be the Children of God, co-author of The Da Vinci Hoax (Ignatius), and author of the "Catholicism" and "Priest Prophet King" Study Guides for Bishop Robert Barron/Word on Fire. His recent books on Lent and Advent—Praying the Our Father in Lent (2021) and Prepare the Way of the Lord (2021)—are published by Catholic Truth Society. He is also a contributor to "Our Sunday Visitor" newspaper, "The Catholic Answer" magazine, "The Imaginative Conservative", "The Catholic Herald", "National Catholic Register", "Chronicles", and other publications.

3 Comments

  1. Little Apocalypse as we now understand it was thought by the Apostles as ‘the’ End Times. Related is the impending doom some of us have spoken to as if some action, word, omission by the Pontiff considered unprecedented and entirely unacceptable spells ‘the’ End Times. Until the next such end of time moment occurs and passes. Journalist Eugenio Scalfari provoked multiple end of time moments Pope Francis, his share abound the latest ‘watershed’, silence over President Biden’s allegation of Francis’ approval. A form of shell shock sets in [today’s PTSD] recurring nightmares, terrifying images of an indefatigable Pope leading an endless journey of endless gibberish. Faithful survivors of this extreme emotional duress are thankfully given moments of relief, a Radtrad Austrian youth attempting to assassinate Francis’ beloved pachamama by drowning. But such are rare. “Paul and Barnabas strengthened the souls of the disciples, encouraging them to continue in the faith saying, We must endure many hardships to enter the kingdom of God” (Acts 14: 21-22). Surely whether end times arrive we shall have endured sufficient hardship during Francis’ pontificate.

  2. “Jesus used this language to describe his approach[ing] Passion and death, through which he, the promised Messiah, would deliver his people from tribulation and inaugurate the restoration of Israel” (Carl Olson). Your quote draws attention to two deliverances, the second accomplished at End Times. A Church decimated and reduced to a remnant. Brant Pitre’s reference to restoration of true worship in the first is also as you’re aware implied to the second coming. Some scholars foresee an abolition of the sacrifice of the Mass at end times. That is indicated by the Apostle. Paul prophecy’s that the abomination of desolation installed in the Jerusalem Temple by Antiochus Epiphanes, foreseen by Daniel, will be repeated at End Times by the False Prophet [as the texts 2 Thess 2 are understood by me]. What is of interest is that it’s Christ who accomplishes restoration for his people in both instances [and whether that’s a question of circumstances and or justice]. The Church as said elsewhere [also in accord with the Catechism on end times] will not achieve final victory over the Antichrist, and Satan. Rather, Christus Vincit. Many of us have queries with such an event, one person asking what sort of relationship could be foreseen between a faithful remnant and a presumed apostate Church? What we glean from scripture, as indicated is martyrdom, others rising to meet Christ.

    • What emerges from this is unrequited love. That as in the first coming if we abandon Him [referencing Paul are unfaithful] so also in the second coming, if we again abandon Him He will not abandon us [He will remain faithful since he cannot deny Himself 2 Tim 2:13].

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