Jesus has come to announce the last days, so stay alert (Mark 13:32–37)

Well, May 21 came and went, and it turns out that Harold Camping was wrong. Jesus didn’t come back on that day. And no, he didn’t come back “spiritually” and secretly either, as Camping now claims (in yet another statement which contradicts Jesus’ words; see Matthew 24:26–27).

When you hear arrogant preachers like Camping announce that they have cracked a secret Bible code to unlock the date on which the end will come, you can know at once that they are either liars or fools. Jesus said so.

Jesus now shifts to a question that is a hot topic even today: what is “that day and that hour” in which he will return to the earth? Some commentators believe he is still talking about the destruction of the Jerusalem temple that would occur in 70 A.D., but there seems to be a transition away from that topic (Jesus begins by saying “but concerning…”). Remember, after he predicted the destruction of the temple (a singular event), his disciples asked him, “When will these things be?” (plural). They had more in mind than just the temple. Throughout Mark’s account of Jesus’ life, he has announced that God’s kingdom is coming. His disciples expect Jesus to set up this kingdom and rule over Israel, placing them in positions of power (Mark 10:37). When he announces that the temple will be destroyed, they’re probably assuming that this is part of the process in which he sets up his kingdom.

In a way, they’re right. When the temple is destroyed, it is an act of judgment on the religious leaders of the Jews and their failure to recognize the Messiah whom God has sent. Jesus will be vindicated in his claim to be Messiah, and his reign as God’s anointed King will be firmly established. This is part of what’s going on in Mark 13:24–27.

However, Jesus will not return to set up an earthly kingdom when the temple is destroyed. That will not take place until long afterward; in fact, we are still waiting for it. When Jesus talks about the destruction of the temple, he promises it will be within a few decades (Mark 13:30), and he tells his disciples that it will be preceded by a sign—the “abomination of desolation” (13:14). But now, when describing “that day or that hour” when he will return, Jesus doesn’t give any specifics at all! “Concerning that day or that hour, no one knows,” he tells them, “not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.” Not even the angels know when it will be. And during his earthly ministry, not even Jesus knows! God the Father is the only one who knows when the time will be.

Why is this? Why has God revealed so much to us yet hidden from us this important piece of information? I think the answer is revealed in the next few verses as Jesus tells us how to respond.

His message is absolutely clear: “be on guard, keep awake…stay awake…stay awake…stay awake!” Why? “No one knows…you do not know…you do not know.” He tells a parable about a man who goes away on a journey and leaves his servants in charge of his house. Apparently the man forgot to bring his cell phone, because the servants have no way of knowing when he’ll get back. So they need to stay awake, because he could return in the middle of the night, and they need to be ready for his arrival.

What does it mean to “stay awake”? It means to be on alert. You fall asleep when you think things will okay for the next few hours. You don’t fall asleep when you think that at any moment, everything around you will change.

To fall asleep means that you’ve bought into the lie that the world is going to keep on going as it always has. It means that you’ve bought into the lie that Christ won’t come back, that human institutions and banks and businesses and governments are permanent fixtures, that everything around you is stable and your future plans are all but certain (James 4:13–17). It means that you have bought into the values of your culture—its emphasis on human wisdom or careers or family or money or entertainment or comfort or food or sex—thinking that these values are an eternal standard for what’s really important. You are groggy, sedated, asleep.

To stay awake means that you recognize that all of this could be undone at any moment. Christ could return, and you don’t know when. This means that every day is the last day. By withholding from us the exact date when Christ will return, God the Father has shown us that we are already in the last days, and that we cannot count on anyone or anything other than himself. “All is vanity” (Ecclesiastes 1:2).

I don’t know about you, but for me, this is really hard. I settle naturally into the mindset that things will keep going like they always have. My life really isn’t going to change all that much in the coming years. Frankly, I find it depressing. I see how broken and unrighteous the world is; I see the sin that grips me; I see many reasons to lose hope. But Christ’s return is a game-changer. Everything will be upended when he overthrows all human kingdoms and sets up his own eternal kingdom in their place.

Today is one of the last days. And then he will come.

Jesus has come to announce his reign, so don’t trust in human institutions (Mark 13:24–31)

Deluded evangelist Harold Camping has predicted that the end of the world will begin on May 21, 2011, which is two days away from the time I’m writing this. If you’ve been reading the last few installments of Four Minutes in Mark, you’re correct in guessing that I’m not too worried about “prophecies” like this.

Besides, just as Jesus predicted, the end of the world came in 70 A.D. Sort of.

Jesus has announced that the Jerusalem temple is going to be destroyed. His disciples are shocked that such an impressive monument and the religious institutions it shelters could be swept away. So they ask him, “Tell us, when will these things be, and what will be the sign when all these things are about to be accomplished?”

Now, we’ve seen that Jesus does answer their questions, but his answers are deeper than they anticipated. What his disciples don’t realize is that Jesus’ kingdom won’t fully arrive when the temple is destroyed. Rather, the destruction of the temple is a signal indicating the end of the Jewish priestly system; it indicates that Jesus’ reign has been inaugurated, that as the Messiah he has fulfilled the Old Testament “types”—the historical people, regulations, and events which pointed toward his coming. But his kingdom won’t fully arrive yet—and it still hasn’t to this day.

After a period of intense suffering during which the destruction of Jerusalem is imminent, Jesus tells his disciples, “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.” If this sounds like the end of the world, it’s supposed to! In fact, these powerful words would have been familiar to the disciples. Many of the Old Testament prophets used similar images to prophesy God’s judgment of Babylon, Egypt, Israel, or the world as a whole (see, for example, Isaiah 13:10; 24:21–23; Ezekiel 32:7–8; Joel 2:10; 3:15). Why? Because they wanted their audience to visualize the “de-creation” of the created order. God had appointed the sun, moon, and stars “to rule over the day and over the night, and to separate the light from the darkness” (Genesis 1:18). No matter how bad your life gets, you can always count on the sun rising tomorrow morning. But if you can’t trust the sun, moon, and stars, what can you trust? The prophets wanted to depict a time of chaos and destruction, a terrible judgment in which even the most reliable institutions around them would collapse. Each of these judgments was “the end of the world” on a smaller scale, a “Day of the Lord” event, and each pointed toward a final “Day of the Lord” in which heaven and earth itself would be dissolved.

So the destruction of the temple in 70 A.D. is yet another Day of the Lord. It is the end of an age. The temple institution which is the foundation for Jewish politics, commerce, and religion is about to be destroyed. Their world will come to an end.

Why will this take place? To establish the kingdom of Jesus, the Son of Man. Using imagery from Daniel 7:13–14, Jesus paints the picture of his reign being established by God as he comes “in clouds with great power and glory.” And then his kingdom grows and spreads, as his chosen people from all nations are gathered in, repenting and believing, extending his reign “from the ends of the earth to the ends of heaven.”

As wild as this promise may sound to his disciples, Jesus promises that “it is near, at the very gates.” Just like the budding of the fig tree indicates that summer is almost here, so the signs of Jerusalem’s destruction indicate that his kingdom is being established. In fact, Jesus tells his disciples, “This generation will not pass away until all these things take place.” Some of them will see it with their own eyes!

Then, Jesus tells them, “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.” There will come a final Day of the Lord in which “the heavens will be set on fire and dissolved, and the heavenly bodies will melt as they burn.” They must be replaced by “new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells” (2 Peter 3:12–13).

Don’t trust in your job security. Don’t trust in your bank account. Don’t trust in your retirement savings. Don’t trust in the stock market. Don’t trust in the government. Don’t trust in the American military. Don’t even trust in the sun, moon, and stars. They will all fail someday, without exception. Ground your faith in the promise of the Son of Man, that he is setting up “an everlasting dominion which shall not pass away” (Daniel 7:14).

And while we’re on the subject, definitely don’t trust in Harold Camping.