Gospel: Mark 13:24-32
When, Lord? When?
What anxieties do people have about the so-called "end times?"
Distress over the future again weaves itself through popular culture. After all, one wants to be left behind! (My apologies to Tim LaHaye). Uncertainty engulfs those on the fringe with paranoia and colors the majority with cynicism.
So, what's new? For the past two millennia, Christians have looked to the future and asked, "When, Lord, when?" To this question, Jesus had an answer.
Jesus told his followers:
24 "In the time after the Great Testing,
'the sun will be dark,
and the moon will not reflect the sun's light.
25 The stars will fall from the sky,
and everything in the sky will be shaken up.'
26 Then people will see the Son of Man come in the clouds with great power. 27 He will send his messengers and gather all believers from every corner of the earth.
28 Look at the fig tree. When you see its branches are green and spouting leaves, you know summer will come soon. 29 When you see everything I described happen, you will know it is near, even at the door to your house. 30 Listen! This generation will definitely not die until all these things happen! 31 Heaven and earth may die away, but my words will never die away.
32 Nobody, not even the angels in heaven or the Son, knows exactly when these things will happen. Only the Father really knows."
In Mark's gospel, Jesus addressed the coming day of the Lord in two ways: active anticipation and faith. Look for signs, Jesus told his followers, but trust in the Lord's time, not your own.
Jesus said to his disciples:
24 "In those days after the time of affliction,
'the sun will be darkened,
and the moon will not give off its light
25 and the stars will be falling out of the heaven,
and the powers in heaven will be shaken.'
26 Then they will see 'the Son of Man coming in the clouds' with great power and glory. 27 Then he will send his messengers and he will gather together [his] chosen from the four winds, from the edge of earth to the edge of heaven.
28 From the fig tree learn its lesson; when its branches already become tender and sprout leaves, you know that summer is near. 29 Thus when you see these (things) happening, you also know it is near, at the door. 30 Amen, I say to you that, in no way, this generation will not pass (on) until which (time) these (things) might happen. 31 Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.
32 But no one knows about that day or hour, not the angels in heaven, not the Son, but only the Father."
13:24-25 These verses were taken from Isaiah 13:10: "For the stars of the heavens and their constellations will not give their light; the sun will be dark at its rising and the moon will not shed its light." (RSV) The loss of light from the sun and moon were caused eclipses. The fall of the stars were meteor showers. These events were unpredictable for the common person in the time of Jesus. Since ancients believed events in the night sky predicted those on earth, they certainly would view the night sky in chaos as signs of a coming tribulation.
13:25 "the powers in heaven will be shaken" The powers could either be the stars themselves (making 25b a mirror of 25a) or minor spirits that controlled the heavenly bodies. Jews in the time of Jesus thought these spirits (which stood above them in the hierarchy of being) were evil. If God shook up the spirits that controlled the sky, certainly he intended the same on earth.
13:26 'the Son of Man coming in the clouds' This verse was taken from Daniel 7:13. Scholars debate whether the Son of Man himself or the event of his coming have great power and glory. If taken in the later sense, the clouds themselves become symbolic for the presence of God (see Ex. 34:5, Lev. 16:2, and Num. 11:25). Daniel foresaw the Son of Man's arrival as a deliverance for the faithful remnant, just as God delivered his people from slavery through the desert in the Exodus.
13:27 "messengers" is literally "angels."
"from the four winds" referred to the four points on the compass (north, south, east, and west).
"from the edge of earth to the edge of heaven." Ancient people thought the earth was flat plate and the sky was an upside down bowl that covered the earth plate. At some point, the ancients thought, the edge of the earth would touch the edge of "bowl" heaven. Even the people who lived in these distant lands would be gathered for the Kingdom.
13:29 "you also know it is near" "It" referred to the interpretation of 13:26 (see note above). Is the event (the "it") of coming to be known? Or is it the Son of Man to be recognized? (Then the phrase should be translated "you know he is near.")
13:30 "Amen, I say to you that, in no way, this generation will not pass (on)" Mark introduced another very emphatic statement. "Amen, I say to you" was re-enforced with a double negative ("in no way" and "not"). Mark truly believed the second coming would occur in the apostolic generation.
Viewing the end of time, Jesus saw the event as the visit of the divine King. God would prepare the visit with cosmic signs and events [24-25] as a means of announcement. The King would arrive in a way that reflected his power and reputation (on the clouds); his messengers-criers ("angels") would go throughout the known world to gather all the faithful [26-27]. Remember that the Jewish people had been displaced throughout the known world because of economic opportunity or oppression. Jesus implied that the injustice of Jews living on foreign soil would be corrected during his lifetime .
How did his disciples know Jesus spoke the truth? Jesus gave a farming analogy of the fig tree (green before the summer ) to support his belief in God's immanent judgement. Then he compared God's creation to his words. Nature changed, but his words would not; they were eternal and, so, trustworthy 31].
After all that, Jesus said that only God knew the day (the time frame) or the hour (the exact moment) of these events . Doesn't this contradict his preaching and assurance? To the impatient Westerner, the answer would seem to be "yes." But Jesus challenged his disciples to see the process through God's eyes. These things would happen in God's time, not ours. The teaching of Jesus challenged both his audience and our uncertain time to trust God with the future. Anxiety and paranoia were futile responses to a situation that requires faith.
What themes in popular culture remind you of the Second Coming? What is your response to them as a Christian?
When are you coming, Lord? When!? While we might not be consumed with the question of the end time, personal anxiety in life will cause us to ask the question. Jesus' answer to us is the same one he gave his followers two thousand years ago. Look for signs of his coming in the chaos of life. And trust in his time of your deliverance. Rest assured, he will come at the right time!
What makes you anxious about the future? How can God help you with your anxieties this week?