Today we face a difficult passage with many points ripe for conversation. The passage can be divided into two sections. First, Jesus predicts the destruction of the temple (13:1-23). Second, he predicts his own second coming (13:24-37). In a future Wednesday night Bible study (we are currently walking passage by passage through the Gospel of Mark on Wednesday nights at Immanuel Baptist Church), we will focus on this passage in detail, so I will leave much of the heavier discussion for that time. Here, I would simply like to comment on Christian fascination with the end times.
In one sense, we should be fascinated by God’s having the last say in history. Revelation 21 speaks of a new heaven and new earth that will have no place for death, mourning, crying, or pain. This should capture our imagination and be the object of our hope. God will speak the last word! At the same time, we sometimes see a deeper fascination as Christians of different quarters seek to outline the timetable of the end and even sometimes predict the date of Jesus’ return. While timetables are interesting for speculation, I’m not sure how helpful they really are. The thrust of today’s passage is to be ready for the second coming rather than knowing how events will unfold. And seeking to predict times and dates stands as a blatant disregard for the words of Jesus himself, “But about that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. Be on guard! Be alert! You do not know when that time will come.” (13:32-33, NIV) Here we see Jesus saying quite clearly that even he does not know the time or date, and neither do we. Once again, the directive is to be ready; “Be on guard! Be alert!”
In the past few years, a couple of songs have come out that talk about living as if we were dying (think Kris Allen and Tim McGraw), the idea being that we would live differently if we lived in light of our mortality. This isn’t far from what Jesus is saying in today’s passage, but Christians have a different emphasis. Instead of living in view of death, we live in view of the return of Jesus. As with the songs already mentioned, the point is not to know exact times or dates. Instead, it is to take into account a coming reality and to live accordingly. The second coming is our coming reality, and to live accordingly is to live faithfully, ready for the coming of Christ.
Once again, we don’t want to forget grace that meets us when we fail, but we also don’t want to discount Jesus’ directive for readiness, which I will close with now:
“But about that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. Be on guard! Be alert. You do not know when that time will come. It’s like a man going away: He leaves his house and puts his servants in charge, each with their assigned task, and tells the one at the door to keep watch.
“Therefore keep watch because you do not know when the owner of the house will come back—whether in the evening, or at midnight, or when the rooster crows, or at dawn. If he comes suddenly, do not let him find you sleeping. What I say to you, I say to everyone: ‘Watch!’” (13:35-37, NIV)