Text: Mark 13:24-37
So we have a nice, light topic today: The end of the world. Just the sort of thing to brighten our spirits and warm our hearts on what has suddenly become a cold, Michigan-wintry day. To teach/inform us about Judgment Day/the end of the world, we turn to Mark 13:24-37. And it’s a good place to turn. This is one of the important passages about that day. It’s Jesus Himself speaking and He has a fair amount to say about it. But it’s a passage that we need to wade into rather carefully. I’m going to approach it a little differently than I approach most texts. Usually I pull out a single thought from the text and try to apply it to us, our circumstances. In this case, we’re going to wrestle with the whole thing, start wading through it. But in the end I promise I’ll pull everything back together and put a ‘bow’ on it. Ok? Please follow along in the readings on back of your bulletin. First, we need to notice that there are really two distinct parts: vv. 24-31 and vv. 32-37. In fact, if you have a pencil, circle that first block of text from “But in those days… to “Heaven and earth will pass away but my words will not pass away.” Then circle the rest, from “But concerning that day or that hour, no one knows…” to “I say to all: ‘Stay awake’.” Now, lets take a closer look at both of them.
“Mark 13:24- starts off with a tremendously important phrase: “But in those days.” That phrase, there, is a mirror piece to [the first line of the second half, which I had you circle] v. 32, “But concerning that day and that hour…” where we see that Jesus is talking about two separate realities, both connected to the question that was asked by His disciples which start(s) this entire process of Him preaching. That question is asked in vv. 3-4 in the chapter when the disciples respond to His statement that the stones that make up the temple mount are going to be entirely torn down. And so they ask Him, “When will these things be <comma> and what will be the sign of your coming?” And they ask this, like most of us would ask it, thinking it’s going to be the same thing. But Jesus says no, it’s not the same thing. There are some things that are going to happen “in those days” when the temple gets torn down and then there’s “that day” (in) which I’m coming, which is really the focus of our text.” There are, as I said, two parts to this reading, this answer from Jesus to the question the disciples asked. In the second part, vv. 32-37, He does talk about His second coming, His return, Judgment Day. But first He answers the first part of their question about when the temple would be destroyed— when He talks about “those days.” Notice that the second part, vv. 32-37 talks about “that day”— the Last Day, Judgment Day. But this first part is about the destruction of the temple, it’s about “‘those days’ and the tribulation that [would] take place (and did take place in A.D. 70 when the temple was trashed by God, from heaven, through Caesar). Jesus promised that the early Christians would be persecuted heavily, possibly killed. He also promised something called the “Abomination of Desolation,” (13:14-23) which Daniel had written about….” Now He turns to what would happen when the temple was destroyed and what the signs of the coming of that event would be. In some respects it sounds like He’s talking about the end of the world. “But in those days,” He says, “The sun will be darkened and the moon will no longer give it’s glimmering gleam” (v. 24-25). Sounds like the end of the world, doesn’t it? Jesus is quoting Old Testament prophets. Those Old Testament prophets were not talking about the end of the world. They were talking about what they called “the day of the Lord’s wrath.” That day took place, those prophecies were fulfilled “when God destroyed Jerusalem the first time [by the Babylonians] and sent people into exile.” It’s true that “these things do have a sort of symbolic pointing forward to the end of the world, that on the Last Day [too] there will be this sort of rolling up of heaven and earth like a scroll and great destruction and cataclysm. …But that’s not what Jesus is getting at here. [But, first and foremost, it’s about that day of the Lord’s wrath, that day of judgment that God brought against His holy city and His people at the hands of the Babylonians.] What He’s saying is what they were saying then, that when Jerusalem gets destroyed everything is going to get turned on its head. There will be left behind no old covenant, no security, as if you saw the stars fall out of the sky.” That’s how cataclysmic the loss of the temple, the loss of that whole system established through Moses was for them. Let the sun be darkened, let it not rise again tomorrow, as long as the temple is still standing. As long as we still have that, we will be ok. They prophets were telling them that on the day of the Lord’s wrath that is precisely what was going to happen. They would loose Jerusalem. They would loose the temple. The sun would be darkened, the moon would not give it’s light, the stars would fall from the sky— everything they trusted in (and not without good reason) would be gone. Jesus is telling the disciples the same thing. The temple will be destroyed. Everything that they took such pride in, that they trusted in, would be gone. “…And, as a result of this, the powers of the heavens will be shaken. This is a direct reference to the angelic and demonic heavenly beings—and I think it really is talking about both of them because the shaking part is the taking back of headship from the devil to Jesus Himself, the Christ— and the result of this shaking of the heavens is that “they will see the Son of Man coming in the clouds with much power and glory.” And who’s the ‘they’? (Notice our tendency to read ‘me’ into it, or at least the humans who are there at the end of the world. But who are ‘they’ in the context?) It’s the powers in the heavens, right? So Jesus ascending into heaven is perceived by the powers in the heavens and this changes everything, particularly as He ends the old covenant and begins the new— begins the new at Golgotha and when He destroys the temple once and for all so that there can be no mistaking that it’s done for. And then He, the Son of Man, will send… His messengers to the four winds of the earth, to every single corner of heaven and earth, in order to, it says ‘gather’, ‘synagogue’ them…. Rather than assuming that this text is about Jesus coming back at the end of time, why don’t you let the cues in the text saying this is about ‘those days’ and the destruction of the temple inform you that this is about Jesus’ ascension into heaven and His sending of His church into the world to preach the gospel while He rules with an iron scepter— things we know are certainly true.”
“And, to you who are sitting here talking to me, disciples, from the fig tree learn this symbolism, this lesson, this reality: when you see on a tree buds appearing you know summer is near, when you see these things I just said happening— you know, me sending messengers into all the earth to preach the gospel, me gathering people into the church (you know, the day of Pentecost)— then you know that this destruction of Jerusalem, this thing you’ve asked me to tell you about, is near— yes, at the very gates! <Oh, the gates of Jerusalem!>. But, before we get to v. 32, though, where He says, “But concerning that day,” which is a different thing, He does make sure to emphasize that everything that He’s just said will take place before this generation passes away.” (By the way, this is why, if you’ve heard a Bible teacher say that they know the end of the world is near because of the modern nation of Israel, you know that he or she isn’t handling the word of God carefully. Flee from such false teachers.)
So in much of Mark 13 we have to understand 1) what Jesus is talking about— is it the destruction of the temple or the end of the world?— and 2) who Jesus is talking to and about— and in vv. 24-31 it really isn’t us. But in v. 32 we do come to what Jesus is saying about the end of the world. We do come to words addressed to us. What He says is: don’t worry about when. Not even I know when (speaking according to His humanity there). Don’t worry about when. Just “Be on guard. Keep awake.”
Before He was talking to the disciples specifically and talking about the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70. Here He’s talking about the end of the world. Here, “Jesus does say “What I say to you twelve [apostles] I say to everybody: “Stay awake!” “[The] duty of a Christian, the life of a Christian, in the vocation and authority in which we stand— whether that be the doorkeeper who is watching the house of God or whether that be any other servant who’s going about their task in their vocation— our task is, with that, watch for His return. That is, believe that He’s coming. This is why we say it in the creed every single week, “He will come to judge the living and the dead” and “I look for the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come,” right? That faith in Christ— who He is, what He’s done, and that we don’t know when it’s going to be, but we know He’s coming soon. Watch!”
The one who “sleeps” is not the one who hasn’t cleaned up his life adequately. The one who “falls asleep” is the one who lives as if this world were all there is. As if Jesus weren’t coming back.
Today, I tell you: “Watch, the end is near!” I say this, not because I know the day of Christ’s return. As Jesus said, “But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father” (Mark 13:32). I say the end is near because those things the Scriptures say will happen before Jesus returns have happened; and Jesus said, “when you see these things happening, know that it is near—at the doors!” (v. 29).
The four kingdoms in Daniel’s vision have risen and fallen. The little horn which comes out of the divided fourth kingdom has come and, though exposed at the time of the Reformation and losing much of his dominion, continues to speak pompous words and to war against the saints (cf. 2 Thess. 2:1ff). The tribulation described in the beginning of Mark 13 has come. The temple was destroyed and Christians have been and continue to be persecuted around the world. There have been wars, rumors of wars, earthquakes, famines and troubles – “the beginnings of sorrows.” And, of even greater significance, the Gospel has been preached to nations around the world (v 10; cf. Matt. 24:14).
Therefore, I tell you: “Watch, the end is near!” Jesus could come at any time to judge the living and the dead and establish His everlasting kingdom in which only those who have heeded His Word and turned from their sinful and rebellious ways to Him for mercy will dwell. Don’t be caught off-guard and continuing on in disobedience and sin. Don’t be found unprepared and faithless at His coming!
How can we be ready? How can we be prepared for that day when Christ suddenly appears in the clouds of glory? The answer is repentance – to acknowledge our sinfulness and rebellion and to look to Christ Jesus and His atoning sacrifice upon the cross for mercy (Acts 3:19ff.; Ps. 32:1ff; 1 John 1:7 – 2:2). It is to look to Jesus in faith that He died for our sins and rose again and that God, for Christ’s sake, forgives, cleanses and counts us forgiven and righteous in His sight through faith in Jesus’ name (Eph. 1:6-7; John 3:14f.; Rev. 7:14ff.).
O dearest Jesus, grant that we be ever watchful for Your return and always ready through faith in Your blood shed for our salvation. Amen.