The five apocalyptic moments in the synoptic gospels.
Sudden revelations of the nature of Jesus.
Inspired by pages 392-395 of N. T. Wright, The New Testament and the
People of God.
The synoptic gospels (Matthew,
all contain five narrated events that serve to reveal,
suddenly and even perhaps inexplicably, the nature of Jesus to
the gospel reader. I call these five events apocalyptic moments.
The Greek term αποκαλυψις
gives us the English word apocalypse. When we hear this word we
often think of the future or of end of the world, but in reality it appears
frequently in the New Testament and is
usually translated as revelation. This Greek word derives from two Greek roots, απο (away) and
(to cover), and thus means something like the taking away of a cover,
an uncovering, or a revelation.
An apocalypse in the Bible can be the
revelation of the past, of the present, or of the future. Certain passages
and sometimes entire books in the Bible
are said to be written in an apocalyptic mode (if only a passage) or genre
(if an entire book).
An example of an apocalyptic passage that reveals the past would be
Son of man, take up a lamentation for the king of Tyre and say
to him: Thus says the Lord God: You were the seal of perfection, full of wisdom
and perfect in beauty. You were in Eden, the garden of God. Every precious
stone was your covering, the sardius, topaz, and diamond, beryl, onyx, and
jasper, sapphire, turquoise, and emerald with gold. The workmanship of your
timbrels and pipes was prepared for you on the day you were created. You were
the anointed cherub who covers. I established you. You were on the holy mountain
of God. You walked back and forth in the midst of fiery stones. You were perfect
in your ways from the day you were created, till iniquity was found in you.
By the abundance of your trading you became filled with violence within and
you sinned; therefore I cast you as a profane thing out of the mountain of God,
and I destroyed you, O covering cherub, from the midst of the fiery
This passage is apocalyptic because it reveals things that ordinary human
sight and insight could never see. The same holds for the passages below.
An example of an apocalyptic passage that reveals the present would
be 2 Kings 6.8-23:
Now the king of Syria was making war against Israel; and he
consulted with his servants, saying: My camp will be in such and such a place.
And the man of God sent to the king of Israel, saying: Beware that you do not
pass this place, for the Syrians are coming down there. Then the king of Israel
sent someone to the place of which the man of God had told him. Thus he warned
him, and he was watchful there, not just once or twice. Therefore the heart of
the king of Syria was greatly troubled by this thing; and he called his servants
and said to them: Will you not show me which of us is for the king of Israel?
And one of his servants said: None, my lord, O king; but Elisha, the prophet
who is in Israel, tells the king of Israel the words that you speak in your
bedroom. So he said: Go and see where he is, that I may send and get him.
And it was told him, saying: Surely he is in Dothan. Therefore he sent horses
and chariots and a great army there, and they came by night and surrounded the
city. And when the servant of the man of God arose early and went out, there
was an army, surrounding the city with horses and chariots. And his servant
said to him: Alas, my master! What shall we do? So he answered: Do not fear,
for those who are with us are more than those who are with them. And Elisha
prayed, and said: Lord, I pray, open his eyes that he may see. Then the Lord
opened the eyes of the young man, and he saw. And behold, the mountain was
full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha. So when the Syrians
came down to him, Elisha prayed to the Lord, and said: Strike this people,
I pray, with blindness. And he struck them with blindness according to the
word of Elisha. Now Elisha said to them: This is not the way, nor is this
the city. Follow me, and I will bring you to the man whom you seek. But he
led them to Samaria. So it was, when they had come to Samaria, that Elisha
said: Lord, open the eyes of these men, that they may see. And the Lord opened
their eyes, and they saw; and there they were, inside Samaria! Now when the
king of Israel saw them, he said to Elisha: My father, shall I kill them?
Shall I kill them? But he answered: You shall not kill them. Would you kill
those whom you have taken captive with your sword and your bow? Set food and
water before them, that they may eat and drink and go to their master. Then
he prepared a great feast for them; and, after they ate and drank, he sent
them away and they went to their master. So the bands of Syrian raiders came
no more into the land of Israel.
An example of an apocalyptic passage that purportedly reveals the
future would be most of the apocalypse
of John, of which 1.1-2 says:
The revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave him to show his
servants, things which must shortly take place. And he sent and signified it
by his angel to his servant John, who bore witness to the word of God, and to
the testimony of Jesus Christ, to all things that he saw.
Some students of the Bible believe that the synoptic gospels (Matthew, Mark,
and Luke) are somewhat apocalyptic, for in these three texts the true spiritual
identity of Jesus of Nazareth, physically just a carpenter from a backwater town
in Galilee, is revealed. These scholars identify five apocalyptic moments in
these three gospels, five events in the life of Jesus that revealed his sonship,
messianic status, and divinity.
What follows is the list of these five events from the
gospel of Mark; the parallels in the
gospel of Matthew and
that of Luke are also referenced.
First, the baptism, Mark 1.9-11 (refer also to Matthew 3.13-17;
It came to pass in those days that Jesus came from Nazareth of
Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. And immediately, coming up from
the water, he saw the heavens parting and the spirit descending upon him like a
dove. Then a voice came from heaven: You are my beloved son, in whom I am well
Second, the dialogue at Caesarea Philippi, Mark 8.27-29 (refer also to
Matthew 16.13-16; Luke 9.18-20):
Now Jesus and His disciples went out to the towns of Caesarea
Philippi; and on the road he asked his disciples, saying to them: Who do men say
that I am? So they answered: John the Baptist; but some say Elijah, and others say
one of the prophets. He said to them: But who do you say that I am? Peter
answered and said to him: You are the Christ [the
Third, the transfiguration, Mark 9.2-8 (refer also to Matthew 17.1-8;
Now after six days Jesus took Peter, James, and John, and he
led them up on a high mountain apart by themselves; and he was transfigured
before them. His clothes became shining, exceedingly white, like snow, such as
no launderer on earth can whiten them. And Elijah appeared to them, along with
Moses, and they were talking with Jesus. Then Peter answered and said to Jesus:
Rabbi, it is good for us to be here; and let us make three tabernacles, one for
you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah (because he did not know what to say,
for they were greatly afraid). And a cloud came and overshadowed them; and a
voice came out of the cloud, saying: This is my beloved son. Hear him!
Suddenly, when they had looked around, they saw no one anymore, but only
Jesus with themselves.
Fourth, the trial before the high priest, Mark 14.61b-62 (refer also to
Matthew 26.63b-64; Luke 22.66-70):
Again the high priest asked him, saying to him: Are you the
Christ, the son of the blessed one? Jesus said: I am. And you will see the
son of man sitting at the right hand of power and coming with the clouds of
Fifth, the crucifixion, Mark 15.37-39 (refer also to Matthew 27.50-54;
And Jesus cried out with a loud voice, and breathed his last.
Then the veil of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. So, when the
centurion who stood opposite him saw that he cried out like this and breathed
his last, he said: Truly this man was the son of God!
In texts in which Jesus is constantly concealing his true identity from
people, these five events stand out as Dothan moments, as it were, when his
divine nature is briefly uncovered and those around him can see who he is.