Graduate student in mathematics at the University of Iowa who also gets excited about theology
User since 2013
Alexander's published pages
view all (2 total)
The Day of the Son
Mark 13
"But be on guard; keep awake. For you do not know when the time will come."
Published June 28th, 2017; Updated June 29th, 2017
Share / Groups / About Author
Context: Jesus has been teaching in the temple since Mark 11:27 , and he is just now getting out. He gave some really hard-hitting teachings. When his authority was questioned in Mark 11:28 , he responds back with a question, "Was the baptism of John from heaven or from man?", which the chief priests and scribes were unable to answer. He told the parable of the tenants, but the chief priests and the scribes "perceived that he had told the parable against them" (Mk 12:12 ). He told them (probably contrary to their intuitions) that they ought to pay taxes. When questioned by the Sadducees about the Resurrection, he tells them twice that they are wrong, once citing the fact that they "know neither the Scriptures nor the power of God" ( 12:24 , 27 ). When a scribe asks him which commandment in the Law is the greatest, he tells him both the first and second most important (more than he bargained for), both of which consisted in the loves. He asks controversial (and confusing) questions ( 12:35-37 ), he has some critical words for the scribes ( 12:38-40 ), and tells his disciples that it was not those who gave large sums of money who gave most, but the widow who gave two copper coins- all that she had ( 12:44 ). This brings us to the current text. Keep in mind that Jesus is going to enter into his Passion in the next chapter. As Jesus came out of the temple, one of his disciples said to him, "Look, Teacher, what wonderful stones and what wonderful buildings!" We don't know what disciple said this. It could have been one of the apostles, or just one of his vanilla followers. We also don't know why they said it. But it is clear that, whoever they are, they are marveling at what they can see directly in front of them. Jesus responds to this disciple, "Do you see these great buildings? There will not be left here one stone upon another that will not be thrown down." Yes, Jesus can see the buildings, too. He's not so hyper-spiritual that he "sees a deeper reality behind the buildings, man ". But he does know what will happen to them, and he tells them this. Still, the apostles are curious, so Peter, James, John and Andrew ask him in vv. 3-4 when the things he is predicting will happen, or what will be the sign of their coming. Not that it is ultra-important, but these will become distinguished men among the apostles, the first three going on to write (collectively) a significant percentage of the New Testament. Jesus's first words to them are, "See that no one leads you astray." I like that. There has been an obscene amount of false teaching concerning the end times, and many have been led astray by their error. Some have even come in Jesus's name saying 'I am he!', but they have been proven to be false Christs and false prophets. Jesus himself is telling us what will happen, and I think it is imperative that we pay attention to what he says so that we are not led astray. First, Jesus says that many will come in his name, saying, 'I am he!'. He repeats this in verses 21-23. His coming will not be heralded by man, but he says, "after that tribulation, the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will be falling from heaven, and the powers in the heavens will be shaken. And then they will see the Son of Man coming in clouds with great power and glory " (emphasis mine). What I have said before somewhat carelessly is actually true. That is, when he comes, you won't be able to miss it. Also notice that it is not some who will come in Jesus's name, nor a few , but many . There will be many that come in Jesus's name, and so we shouldn't be surprised if false Christs and false prophets keep popping up in the last days. Second, Jesus says that we need not be alarmed when we hear of wars and rumors of wars. "This must take place," he says, "but the end is not yet." What I surmise from this is that no human war can ever be the herald of Christ's coming. No human war that ever has been nor will be can ever be so catastrophic that Jesus has to come back and be like, "Okay, y'all forced my hand with this one. I think it's high time I set things aright." Our response when North Korea does nuclear missile testing shouldn't be, "The world is ending!", but rather, "Jesus told us this would happen." That is, the wars must take place. As to why they must take place, I do not know, but Jesus says that "nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be earthquakes in various places; there will be famines. These are but the beginning of the birth pains." Let's take a second to focus on "birth pains". What it seems to me is that Jesus is likening his coming to a birth. He will not come forth from the earth, but from above, but it is the world that will feel anticipatory pain at his coming. Something better is coming, but just as birth pains are a necessary condition of a baby's coming, so too wars and earthquakes and famines are necessary conditions for the second coming of Christ. Now, Jesus says, "Be on your guard" (v. 9). To be sure, he is speaking not to us but to the apostles, for he then goes on to foretell their witness (Gk. marturion ) to councils, synagogues, governors and kings. Perhaps Christ has not appointed for us this type of suffering for his name's sake, but it would seem to me a strange thing for Jesus to tell his apostles to be on their guard and let us just throw caution to the wind. Verse 10 is sitting, apparently, out-of-place in the paragraph of vv. 9-13. Why is it that Jesus says that "the gospel must first be proclaimed to all nations"? I believe because of what Jesus says in Matthew 24, a parallel text to this one; he says in v. 14, "And this gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come." For Jesus to come back, it is necessary (Gk. dei ) that the gospel first be preached to all nations (Gk. "all the ethne"), and the apostles (Gk. "the sent out") will have a special role in that as the groundbreakers for worship among all nations. So, if we want to see Jesus return, we must follow the command, "Go therefore, and make disciples of all nations..." (Matthew 28:19). Notice the word "when" of verse 11. It is assumed in Jesus's mind that the apostles will be brought to trial and delivered over. He says to them, "do not be anxious beforehand what you are to say". Why should they not be anxious? Well, the first thing is that we are commanded from Scripture to not be anxious about anything (Philippians 4:6), and in particular our lives (Matthew 6:25). Coupled with this, we are commanded from the Old Testament, "Trust in the LORD with all your heart, / and do not lean on your own understanding. / In all your ways acknowledge him, / and he will make straight your paths" (Proverbs 3:5-6). So, if the apostles were to be anxious about what they were to say beforehand, it would be sin for them. And Jesus isn't about sin. Is he therefore against premeditated discourse or defense? Does he just want the apostles to shoot their mouths off? Not quite. For what he tells them to say is "whatever is given you in that hour, for it is not you who speak, but the Holy Spirit." He knows that the Holy Spirit will bring about a special provision for them when they are to "stand before governors and kings... to bear witness before them" (v. 9), and he doesn't want their premeditated thoughts to interfere with what the Holy Spirit will have them say. It is not they who will speak, but the Holy Spirit. It is a legitimate and fair question as to whether this command is given to us as well, and was not only meant for the apostles. Let's say we're working as missionaries and we get captured by a hostile authority and are told we will have to give a defense. Should we pray and ask that the Holy Spirit would bring words, or should we prepare our defense beforehand? It's a hard question, and not one that I'm prepared to answer at this juncture. However, there are a couple considerations to be had. First, the words that are recorded here are not words that Jesus spoke to the disciples at large but only to a select few of his apostles. We ought not take the words that he spoke to a certain group of people at a certain time and directly apply them to ourselves (like reading someone else's mail and thinking it's our own). So, I cannot see such a command given without it being corroborated by other texts (such as in the epistles). Second, our job should we ever be thrown into prison for our faith should not be primarily to find a way out. Primarily, we should be concerned with glorifying God in every area of life (1 Cor 10:31, cf. Philippians 1:20), including whatever sentence we may have, however temporary. If, however, we can escape without in the slightest way denying Christ (viz. denying him in words, or in actions by illegal means), we should certainly avail ourselves of the opportunity. But the question remains of whether we should premeditate our defense or leave it up to the Holy Spirit at the last minute. I find no reason in Scripture why, in light of the fact that verse 10 was given expressly to the apostles, we cannot give a premeditated defense in the power of the Spirit . It may not be an either-or but a both-and . But I could be wrong. If anything, the fact that the Holy Spirit spoke through the apostles in such powerful ways should lead us to wonder and glory in the fact that the same Spirit that spoke through the prophets, apostles and even Christ himself is still at work and alive in us today. The same Spirit that empowered Peter to give his sermon at Pentecost and embolden Stephen as he was on trial is at work every time we preach the gospel to another person. The same Spirit shows up in corporate worship through the prayers and praises of the saints as well as the preaching of God's word. God's word never returns to him void because it is empowered and given life by his own Spirit, for wherever God is, there his word is, and vice-versa. But now Jesus tells us who will do the "delivering over". He says that "brother will deliver brother over to death, and the father his child, and children will rise against parents and have them put to death" (v. 13). Why will family members be doing this to one another? Because they have hated Jesus, for he says in John 15:18, "If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you." Ultimately, they love the darkness rather than the light because their works are evil (John 3:19). In other words, their allegiances are anti-Christ, and sin will so sickeningly twist them that they would rather their own flesh and blood be put to death than witness them pursue what is contrary to their sin. We have to ask ourselves the question as to whether this family-on-family rejection is something that Jesus is foretelling in some distant end-times or in the common era. Now, this entire paragraph has been instruction to the apostles about what is going to happen very soon. But Jesus said in verse 10 that "the gospel must first be proclaimed to all nations", which, if "all nations" means "ethnolinguistic people groups", to this day has not happened. But the intra-family persecution that Jesus speaks of has happened since Jesus's day and continues in some parts of the world. Back to the original question: As of today, April 24th, 2017, it is my belief that there are two categories of "end times" that the Bible speaks of. The first is a general "last hour" (see 1 John 2:18, cf. 1 Cor 7:29), which I understand to mean the here-and-now, the time before Jesus's coming in which we can expect some of the persecutions that Jesus describes in the gospels. The second is a particular "last day" or "day of the Lord" (see 1 Thess 5:2) in which Jesus himself will return and some really crazy stuff is gonna happen (see 2 Peter 3:11-12) that I haven't gotten all worked out in my eschatology. So, insofar as it is "the last hour", I think we should not be surprised if we are rejected by our family for our faith in Christ (see 1 John 3:13, cf. 1 Peter 4:12). Let's stop here for a second. We aren't used to persecution from our family for our faith in North America. If anything, some of us feel pressure in the opposite direction, to be professing Christians. As far as I am aware, no one in U.S. history has been killed by a family member for being a Christian. At worst, we'll be shunned by our family, but we are profoundly blessed that the law protects us being able to openly practice our faith. God does not guarantee that this will always be so in America, but our instinct in this matter should not be religious self-preservation. Rather, I think we should shrewdly take advantage of this opportunity to "seek the salvation of our kindred and acquaintances" in this last hour until the coming day of the Lord. Lastly in this paragraph, Jesus says "you will be hated by all for my name's sake". If one's own family was to reject them for their faith, why would it not stand to reason that all would reject them? But why would "all" hate the believers? Jesus explains this in John 15:19-21 (emphasis mine), "If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you . Remember the word that I said to you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you. If they kept my word, they will also keep yours. But all these things they will do to you on account of my name, because they do not know him who sent me ." In particular, they hate us because 1) we are not of the same stripes as they are but have been chosen out of the world and 2) they do not know the Father. With regards to the first, as I have written above, the world's allegiances, affections, and actions are all directed at that which is anti-Christ. And if one is swimming against the current, toward that which is Christ, there will inevitably be friction- and more than friction. For the world would have us as its own, but Christ alone will have us as his own, which he himself will carry to completion. If the world could not pull us down by the ankles from being caught up into the glory of Christ, then it figures that the next best thing to do is to kill us. With regards to the second, the world does not know God. (No surprises here.) If they did, then they would certainly join us in our pursuit of Christ and of his glory. Those who persecute God's people for their faith in Christ, Jesus says, do not know the Father. With all of these things that Jesus foretells, he says "the one who endures (Gk. hupomeinas ) to the end will be saved". We must ask the question of what "saved" means in this context, specifically, what the endurers are being saved from . And indeed, there appears to be a lot they need saving from: councils, beatings, governors, kings (v. 9), legal trials (v. 11) hostile family (v. 12), and a hostile world (v. 13). But if their hope is to be saved in this life only, they are men most of all to be pitied (1 Corinthians 15:19). What will it gain them if they find salvation in this life and are loved by all, if only they come to the end and realize that they are hated by God? (Mark 8:36, Psalm 5:4-6) They (and we) need saving from the impending wrath of God (Rom 2:3,5). I therefore interpret Jesus to be saying that the one who endures to end will be saved both from the tribulations of this life and from the unending torment of hell as they are caught up to be with him. Now, why is it that the one who endures to the end will be saved and not the one who tapped out midway through? God desires worshipers, and those who worship him must do so in spirit and in truth (John 4:23-24). And so, those who perish midway through prove that they were not worshiping in truth to begin with. God will not accept anything less, and so he ordains trials to separate the wheat from the chaff. I have by no means understood nor studied Daniel in any depth, but the "abomination of desolation" referred to in verse 14 plays a role in the prophecies of the book of Daniel. It is not a thing but rather a person; he himself is an abomination that is "set up". Prior to his being set up, the temple will be profaned, and the regular burnt offering will be taken away (Daniel 11:31, 12:11). W ho is this abomination that makes desolate? Has he already come? If he has come, is the tribulation then over? If he has not come, how then can he have any role in the temple and the profaning of Jewish practices if Jewish practices are no longer in existence? I don't exactly know. From all the cross-referencing I've been doing (Matthew 24:15 , 2 Thess 2:1-11 ), it seems that this person referred to is the Antichrist. No, he has not come (2 Thessalonians 2:1-4 ) He has not come, and so the Great Tribulation has not yet occurred. This is the right question to ask. And if I can steal my pastors' answer, I think there is a sort of double prophecy in Daniel that Jesus picks up on. How I would interpret the matter is that the words of Daniel were fulfilled in the desecration of the temple by Antiochus IV Epiphanes. However, there is a later abomination of desolation coming that Jesus is picking up on in Daniel, namely, the Antichrist. It is the Antichrist that will profane God's temple, the people of God, and will take away the regular burnt offering in the sense that he will prevent the public, observable practice of the Christian religion in the last days. Jesus says that when the apostles see this one standing where he ought not to be, then those who are in Judea are to flee to the mountains, for there is a tribulation coming (v. 19). Jesus is serious about the immediacy of the flight that should happen, for he says "Let the one who is on the housetop not go down, nor enter his house, to take anything out, and let the one who is in the field not turn back to take his cloak." (vv. 16-17) He is telling the hearers, 'Do not delay, just get out of there!' He says something interesting in v. 17: "alas for women who are pregnant and for those who are nursing infants in those days!" Why would he say this? Well, a tribulation is coming, wherein an "abomination of desolation" will assail the people of God for some time. Women who are pregnant are particularly vulnerable; they cannot run from an adversary, and they are weakened from their childbearing. Similarly, those who are nursing infants must take time to, well, nurse said infants. He then adds, "Pray that it may not happen in winter." Again, we don't want the tribulation to happen in winter because that would suuuuuck. But there's something interesting here; Jesus tells us to pray that it would not happen in winter. How can he say this? Is it not the case that the Father has fixed certain times and seasons (in particular the end times) by his own authority? (see Acts 1:7) Who are we then that Jesus could tell us, "Pray that it may not happen in winter"? Who are we that we should engage what is apparently a static reality with the dynamic force of prayer? Well, we shouldn't argue with the command itself, because Jesus himself is commanding it. We should do this. But I think there's a side lesson here in that it's okay to pray for things to happen that God is the ultimate decider on, even when he's going to bring about the end times. Perhaps one of the most biblical prayers I can think of is, "Come quickly, Lord Jesus." But we can also pray, "God, save Johnny Unbeliever" (though election is fixed) or "Don't let my aunt die from cancer" (though he is sovereign over sickness). But we should be careful if, at base, we do not have a mentality of "Your kingdom come, and your will be done". Jesus then explains what I have been hinting at; "For in those days there will be such tribulation as has not been from the beginning of the creation that God created until now, and never will be." (v. 19) The words "those days" I take to mean the days that Jesus has been describing, the days starting from when the abomination of desolation can be seen standing where he ought not to be. Notice that Jesus does not leave any room for doubt about what the experience of this tribulation will be. There has been no tribulation like the one to come, and there will be none like it after. This is remarkable considering all the tribulations that the people of God throughout time have experienced. We could speak of Hebrew slavery in Egypt, the 40 years in the wilderness, the exile to Assyria, the exile to Babylon, Roman occupation, the martyrdom of thousands of Christians in the first couple centuries after Christ, and the martyrdom of Christians today. With all this to go off of, Jesus says that the tribulation to come is such as has not been, and never will be. It's a finer point, but there's almost a certain redundancy to the words "the creation that God created", but I think Jesus is trying to implicitly point us back to the fact that in all tribulations that the creation experiences, the creation is God's creation . Since it is his, he is going to take good care of it, even if things go a little haywire for a time. He will not let the evil go unchecked or outside of the parameters that he has assigned. As his creation, it will be restored at the proper time. Fortunately, in v. 20, Jesus says that the Lord has cut short the days of the tribulation. They have an appointed and fixed end. But it is interesting that Jesus says that if God had not shortened the days, no human being would be saved. Since he has already said that "the one who endures to the end will be saved", I interpret him to be saying here that the tribulation will be of such a nature that if God had not shortened the days, no one would have the capacity to endure to the end. But in fact God the Father in his mercy has shortened those days, doing so, Jesus says, "for the sake of the elect". Let's hang out here for a minute. Jesus doesn't say who the elect are, and Mark never defines this term, but these are certainly the ones "whom he chose". We could further infer from the Greek that they are ones God chose to be partakers of salvation through Christ. Jesus says that it was for the sake of these elect that God shortened the days, otherwise "no human being would be saved". How does this square with the doctrine of Perseverance of the Saints? Much in every respect. For the doctrine does not mean that the saints, in and of themselves will necessarily persevere, but that God, in accordance with his divine purposes in election, will himself preserve and carry his saints to the end. And indeed, if God did not preserve the saints, then all would fall away, no matter how sure their election seemed. I infer then that this doctrine has less to do with me and my 'making it' and way more to do with God. He's the one who is ultimately making sure I don't go off the rails and make shipwreck of my faith. With humbleness I confess that I believe myself to be one of the elect, but this alone is not enough to keep me from stumbling; God has to be actively preserving me and my faith, otherwise I would be gone quickly. My spiritual life is upheld by God's word alone. For these reasons, I find the name "Perseverance of the Saints" to be misleading and would much prefer the term " Preservation of the Saints". Verse 20 of this passage also illustrates (albeit not directly) a principle similar to the doctrine of Perseverance of the Saints (calling it by its proper name), namely, that God ordains not only the end of salvation, but also the means thereof. For he has ordained that the saints would reach final glory (cf. Romans 8:29-30), but he has also ordained the means in the sense that those saints who must undergo the Great Tribulation will only undergo it for a short time. God has cut short the days of the Tribulation so that some (but not all) human beings would be saved. Also illustrated indirectly is the Lord's compassionate care for the elect. He wants them to make it, and so he shortens the days of the tribulation. Jesus continues, "And then if anyone says to you, 'Look, here is the Christ!' or 'Look, there he is!' do not believe it." This is pretty cut and dry - the coming of Christ will not be heralded by men, "For false christs and false prophets will arise and perform signs and wonders, to lead astray, if possible, the elect." If someone is saying that Christ has returned and is really here among us, we can be absolutely, 100% sure that it is not the case. (See also 2 Thess 2:1-4.) This is one instance in the Bible where God commands unbelief, but unbelief in that which is not true; for false christs and false prophets are a waste of time at best and lead people astray at worst. They may even perform signs and wonders in an attempt to verify their 'ministry', but Jesus commands us not to follow such people. Notice too that Jesus doesn't say "if false christs and false prophets arise", but "false christs and false prophets will arise" (emphasis mine). People who claim to be Christ in the flesh will naturally just come up, as will false prophets, that is, those who claim to be speaking the words of God but are filled with all manner of falsity, error, and deceit. There's this interesting clause at the end of v. 22: "if possible, the elect". The words I want to focus on are "if possible". Is Jesus necessarily i mplying that the elect cannot be led astray? First, let's define what we mean by "led astray". The Greek verb for leading astray is planaō , which has connotations of either being led off the correct path or just wandering about in open space. Metaphorically, it could also mea n being deceived by or led into error. Can this happen of born-again Christians? I think so. Like sheep, we can go astray for a time, but the Master will eventually bring us back ( Matthew 18:12 ). Therefore, I see Jesus's words, "if possible", taken with this meaning of "lead astray", as expressing an actual potentiality. But what does Jesus say immediately thereafter? "But be on guard; I have told you all things beforehand." (v. 23) In light of the fact that the elect can be led astray by false teaching, we must be on guard against it, for Jesus has told us that these things will happen. We are not left without a warning. And now, in vv. 24-27, Jesus gives a description of his return. He says that it is "in those days," but "after that tribulation". In other words, the Tribulation will precede the coming of Christ. But how will the coming of Christ be heralded (according to this text)? First, "the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will be falling from heaven". This particular prophecy is meant to highlight the wrath of Christ's coming. In Revelation 6, this is what happens when the sixth seal is broken on the scroll (see Rev 5:1) - "the sun became black as sackcloth, and the full moon became like blood, and the stars of the sky fell to the earth" (Rev 6:12-13). But what is the result of this? "Then the kings of the earth and the great ones and the generals and the rich and the powerful, and everyone, slave and free, hid themselves in the caves and among the rocks of the mountains, calling to the mountains and rocks, 'Fall on us and hide us from the face of him who is seated on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb, for the great day of their wrath has come, and who can stand?'" (Revelation 6:15-17, see also Joel 2:31) I find it interesting that the same sun and moon and stars God created and called 'good' (Gen 1:16-18) which were to give light (which he also called 'good' - Gen 1:3-4) to the whole earth will be darkened on the day of Christ's coming. Why would God do this? I can only speculate, but God will eventually make a new heavens and a new earth, a necessary condition of which is that the former heavens and the former earth pass away (Rev 21:1). Now seems as good a time as any to get rid of that sun and moon and the stars. But it is worth noting that in the new heavens and new earth, there won't be "a lesser light to rule the night" because there won't be night there (Rev 21:25, cf. Rev 22:5). And I think there won't be a sun, because the Lord will be our light there forever (Isaiah 60:19-20). One implication of this is that God intentionally created the sun and moon with an expiration date. I think everyone would agree to this fact, that these bodies will not last forever, but God never intended them to be our light forever. Instead, in accordance with his eternal purposes, he intended that the sun and moon be our light for a time, but that he himself would eventually be our light forever. But back to the original question: Why would the day of wrath also be a day of darkness and not, as we might expect, a day of intense and piercing light? Well, in a sense, it will be a day of light, insofar as God in Christ is light (John 1:9). But (as my intuition tells me), it will also be a day of darkness so that the Lamb may shine his light on that which is darkness without any intrusion from other lights. What does the stars falling from heaven signify? How does this make astronomical sense? Well, let's step back for a second. Jesus is quoting indirectly from Isaiah 34:4, and it is this text that John quotes (indirectly) from when describing the eschaton in Revelation 6:12-13. I don't think he's speaking figuratively in this instance because I see the sun being darkened and the moon not giving its light as a literal event that will take place, and it would seem strange for Jesus to switch from literal to figurative in the same sentence without some kind of transition. But if we interpret it literally, we must come to square with the astronomical, the issue at hand. But is it really so big a thing for God who is omnipotent to make the stars fall from the heavens to earth? I mean, the skies are going to "roll up like a scroll", and so that resolves the issue of the stars getting close enough to earth through spacetime to fall, and it would make sense for God to perhaps compress the stars (I'm only speculating) so that they can reasonably fall to earth without absorbing it. And perhaps, when Jesus says "stars", he means "stars", but not what they are made of. My mind goes back to Narnia: “In our world,” said Eustace, “a star is a huge ball of flaming gas.” “Even in your world, my son, that is not what a star is but only what it is made of.” Perhaps, as Joe Rigney thinks, the stars are more than what we think they're made of. This could be corroborated by what Jesus says following, that "the powers in the heavens will be shaken". What "powers in the heavens"? Well, "the prince of the power of the air" (Eph 2:2), that is, Satan, and also "the cosmic powers over this present darkness," and "the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places" (Eph 6:12). These forces, which have so long assailed the true church of God, will be shaken up, but only to be done away with. Jesus doesn't give it a lot of airtime, but the impending cosmic shakedown would have been great comfort to the 1st-century believers who were perhaps more conscious of "the cosmic powers over this present darkness"; in the 21st century, we simply don't talk like this. Now, it's important that we don't ascribe demonic or Satanic influence to every one of our problems, but it's also important to recognize that there are indeed "spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places" that seek the ill of the church (see 1 Peter 5:8, Eph 6:11, Acts 10:38, Lk 13:16). Even Satan himself holds unbelievers captive to do his will (2 Timothy 2:26, Rev 12:9) in order that they may not become disciples of Jesus. And I would wager a guess that one of Satan's biggest prerogatives is to hinder the spread of the gospel to all nations (1 Thess 2:18). Should we not find it comforting that eventually these great, assailing powers will be shaken and eventually thrown down? When Jesus went about his earthly ministry, one of his classic moves was to cast out demons. When he returns, we can take comfort in the fact that he will not cast them out , but cast them down - forever. "And then," at long last, "they will see the Son of Man coming in clouds with great power and glory." This coming in clouds is probably (as the cross-reference suggests) a reference to Daniel 7:13. But this is not the first place my mind went to (though that's not any big deal); the first place it went to was Acts 1:9-11 : "And when he had said these things, as they were looking on, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight. And while they were gazing into heaven as he went, behold, two men stood by them in white robes, and said, 'Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into heaven? This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.'" To put it plainly, just as he was lifted up and a cloud took him out of their sight, Jesus will return in the clouds. But that's not all; he will also come "with great power and glory". To be sure, he will have great power and glory at his coming, but I don't think this is what he's trying to stress. Instead, I think he's trying to stress that in his second coming, his power and glory will be immanent or evident, in contrast to his first coming in which "we esteemed him not" (see Isaiah 53:2-3). After the Son of Man has come, Jesus says in v. 27, "And then he will send out the angels and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of heaven". The angels, we learn in Matthew 13:40-41, are also meant to be "reapers" at the end of the age who will "gather out of his kingdom all causes of sin and all law-breakers". But are the angels also meant to gather the elect? The language is ambiguous in v. 27 as to whether it is Christ or the angels that will be doing the gathering of the elect, but fortunately Matthew 24:31 helps clear things up: "And he will send out his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other" (emphasis mine). So it is the angels who will both be gathering out the wicked and gathering in the righteous at the end of the age. It is worth noting that the word for "send out" in v. 27 comes from apostéllō , which is where we get the word "apostle". Jesus sent out the original apostles while on earth do do much the same thing as the angels at the end of the age: to gather into God's family those whom God has appointed to eternal life. We see again Christ's tender care for the elect illustrated in verse 27 : he is sending out the angels to gather his elect from everywhere they are scattered. The search is so wide ("from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of heaven") that none will be missing. However, this is predicated upon the assumption that the elect are already scattered - that they have obeyed Jesus's command to be witnesses to the ends of the earth (see Acts 1:8, Acts 13:47 cf. Isaiah 49:6, Matthew 28:19-20). And not only will the elect on earth be gathered, but the elect who are at "the ends of heaven"; all of God's people throughout all time are involved. In that day, the words of Isaiah 43:5-7 will be fulfilled. Jesus transitions; there is a lesson, he is saying, to be learned from the fig tree. God did not create the fig tree to no purpose, and in fact Jesus has used fig trees in other places to instruct his disciples (see Matt 21:19-22, Luke 13:6-9). Here, he uses a similitude to show the immanence of this Son of Man's return. Apparently, when summer is approaching, the fig tree's branch becomes tender and it puts out its leaves. There's really almost nothing to it; you see the signs made manifest, and then you know from past experience that summer is coming. So too, Jesus says, when the disciples see the things that Jesus is foretelling taking place, they know that he is near - he's knocking on the door. What things has he foretold so far? Let's recap, just for thoroughness: False christs and false prophets will arise and lead many astray (vv. 5-6) They will hear of wars and rumors of wars (v. 7) "nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom" (v. 8) "There will be earthquakes in various places" "there will be famines" "they will deliver you over to councils, and you will be beaten in synagogues, and you will stand before governors and kings for my sake, to bear witness before them" (v. 9) the proclamation of the gospel to all nations (v. 10) "brother will deliver brother over to death, and the father his child, and children will rise against parents and have them put to death" (v. 12) "you will be hated by all for my name's sake" (v. 13) Some will endure to the end The abomination of desolation will be found standing where he ought not to be (v. 14) "there will be such tribulation as has not been from the beginning of the creation that God created until now, and never will be" (v. 19) The false christs and false prophets will perform signs and wonders, to lead astray, if possible, the elect. (v. 22) This is all that precedes the Son of Man's coming, the herald of what will take place. We're still waiting on the proclamation of the gospel to all nations, that is, to every ethnolinguistic people group. I don't think Christ meant us to not have that job finished by the year 2017; of all our sluggish non-acts of disobedience, perhaps the church's most glaring has been our failure to bring the gospel to all nations. But this shouldn't stop us from thinking he isn't near (see 2 Peter 3:3-4), for Scripture tells us repeatedly that the Day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night (2 Peter 3:10, Matt 24:43), when all are saying "peace, peace" (1 Thess 5:3). James seemed to think that he was at the door (James 5:9); if this was true then, is it not even more true now? All these things (see bullet points above), Jesus says, will take place before "this generation" has passed away. He's not joking; he even prefaces it by the word "Truly". But it is a hard matter to interpret. All of the apostles are dead, and Christ hasn't returned for almost 2000 years. After spending nearly a half hour trying to make the text fit some kind of timeline, I gave up. There is, at least for me, a real sense of mystery as to the timing of these last events with regards to "this generation" and what Jesus means by "all these things". Perhaps this would merit more study, but we continue. Now Jesus says something very plain and easy to interpret: "Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away." (13:31) We know even from the Old Testament that heaven and earth will pass away, for Isaiah writes, "Lift up your eyes to the heavens, / and look at the earth beneath; / for the heavens vanish like smoke, / the earth will wear out like a garment, / and they who dwell in it will die in like manner..." (Isaiah 51:6). But, by contrast, Jesus says that his words will not pass away. There are at least three implications of this. The first, given Matthew 5:18, is that Jesus could rightly be said to be giving his words the same authority (or at the very least, the same permanence) as all the Law. Second, Jesus's words, unlike ours, are sure , for my voice will not sound forever, and if I write books that outlive me to the end, they will be consumed at the last day. The fruit of my words will certainly remain, but not a single word that I have spoken or written will remain. Third, I see Jesus as making an indirect (and perhaps, in his humanity, an unintentional) claim to deity. For while the words of people certainly do pass away, the only words that do not pass away are the words of God (Isaiah 40:8). So, how do we apply this? My mind jumped to Matthew 7:24-27 ; given that Jesus's words do not pass away, we have a promise that if we build our lives on them, the rain can fall, the floods can come, and the winds beat against us, but we will not fall because we have been founded on the solid rock of his word. Of all the things that Jesus has foretold regarding the eschaton or end times, he makes it plain in v. 32 that no one knows the day or the hour when it will come except the Father. He has told us in great detail what will herald that end, but when it will happen he knows not. Does this text then imply that Jesus is not all-knowing or omniscient? I don't think it does. Jesus, when he lived among us, did so as one who had one essence but two natures: a human nature and a divine nature. He is vera Deus, vera homo. In his divine nature, he knew all things (Jn 21:17), but in his human nature he became subject to the various limitations of his humanity (Phil 2:6-7, see also John 4:6, John 19:28, Matthew 4:2, 8:24, 21:18). While he could at any moment know the things which only God could know (Luke 5:22), he still learned things from other people (Luke 2:46), and Luke records that Jesus "increased in wisdom" as he grew older, something that a divine nature which knows all things cannot do (Luke 2:52). So, when Jesus says here that not even he knows the date of the day of the Lord, I take him to be saying this with regards to the limitations of his human nature. He will eventually know the proper date, but it is not for him, in his humanity, to know at this time. So why does he not include the Holy Spirit with the Father? I may not be able to give a full answer. First, the Gospel of Mark is not as preoccupied with the Holy Spirit as, say, the Gospel of John. Second, Mark is not as theologically rigorous as, say, Paul. Third, to be sure, the Spirit of God, being God, knows all things. But whenever he speaks, he speaks not on his own authority but speaks only what he hears (John 16:13). And so, it could be that the Spirit knows all things because the Father has revealed all things to the Spirit, but in this instance Jesus does not include the Spirit because because it suffices only to mention the Father. I could be a heretic, but this is my best guess. Jesus begins verse 33 with two imperatives: "Be on guard, keep awake." I think most people know what it's like to be "on guard", or perhaps, to have your guard up. You don't just sit easy; you're a bit more cautious around others, and you're very conscientious. You're on guard, but on guard against something. Specifically, Jesus has told us elsewhere to be on guard against all types of covetousness (Luke 12:15), and Peter tells us to be watchful since we have a powerful adversary, the devil (1 Peter 5:8). In this instance (back to Mark), a semi-parallel text (Luke 12:35-48) would seem to suggest that what Jesus is commanding us to guard against is unfaithfulness. But "keep awake"? Let's contrast it with sleeping (see v. 36). A sleeping servant (that is, one who is sleeping when he knows his master could return at any moment) is a negligent servant. This is most applicable to the doorkeeper, whom the master has expressly commanded to stay awake. So, I see "keep awake" as a command to be vigilant, to be watchful, and to eagerly (and actively) await the Master's coming. The two imperatives beginning verse 33 are connected to a reason: "you do not know when the time will come". And indeed, if the apostles didn't know when Christ would return, then we certainly don't. But they knew he was coming soon . So, we should also get a clue and realize that he's coming back soon (see 13:28-30). Notice that in the mini-parable that follows (see vv. 35-36), Jesus references a bunch of times when the master of the house could return: in the evening, or at midnight, or when the rooster crows, or in the morning. I do not believe these are suggestive of specific times or seasons that Jesus will come, but rather he uses these chunks or specific parts of a day to further demonstrate that his coming could be literally at any time. In verse 34, Jesus begins a mini-parable to illustrate his point; the principles he is teaching his disciples can be likened to a man going on a journey who leaves home, puts his servants in charge, and commands the doorkeeper to stay awake. The implication of this parable, coupled with Jesus's command to stay awake, is that he is the master of the house and of the servants. But who are the servants? And who is the doorkeeper? I see at least two possibilities of who the doorkeepr could be. He could be identified with the gatekeeper of the sheepfold of John 10:3 or not. If we do make this identification, then there is reason to believe that the doorkeeper is the Holy Spirit. If not, then the doorkeeper could be a representative for the local pastor. However, I take the servants to mean us, the servants of God, that is, the church. There is an interesting clause in verse 34 : "each with his work". In other words, the master has tasked each servant with his own work to do. Now, while it is true that God has tasked the church with one Great Commission, I infer from this clause in the context of the parable that he has also given us each our own work to do. We are not to be idlers nor busybodies (2 Thess 3:11), but earnestly pursue the good endeavors God has assigned to us for the building up of his kingdom until Christ returns. Mark 13 concludes with Jesus saying "Stay awake" to all. Jesus is not saying that we ought not to rest or literally not sleep, for the Bible elsewhere commends sleep, and one of the Ten Commandments is to have a Sabbath day to the Lord. Rather, what Jesus is commanding is that we conduct or lives in light of the immanence of his return. As we've now reached the end of Mark 13, there's a lot that could be said. I'd like to close with a summary. Verses 1-2 are a transition from the events of the last chapter to the discourse of this chapter. Jesus only launches into it because Peter, James, John and Andrew ask him, "Tell us, when will these things be," that is, among other things, the destruction of the temple, "and what will be the sign when all these things are about to be accomplished?" (Mark 13:4) And Jesus talks about antichrists (v. 6), global conflict and catastrophe (vv. 7-8), persecution of the saints (vv. 9, 12-13), the Great Tribulation (vv. 14-19) and antichrists revisited (v. 22). Then he talks about his coming, and he doesn't make it sound pretty (vv. 24-25), but he does say he'll gather the elect (v. 27). But he gets back to the original question, and the answer probably isn't all that satisfying: "But concerning that day or that hour, no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father." (Mark 13:32). So what is the implication? "Be on guard, keep awake. For you do not know when the time will come." (Mark 13:33) This is perhaps the best one-line summary of Mark 13 that I can imagine, and there is a wealth of meditation in that verse.
Disclaimer: The opinions and conclusions expressed on this page are those of the author and may or may not accord with the positions of Biblearc or Bethlehem College & Seminary.