Keep watch and recognise the signs

Wednesday, Nov 29: Mark 13:24-37

Keep watch, as those who expect Christ’s return at any time.

24 “But in those days, following that distress,

  • “In those days” was a common expression by the prophets of the end times, or a time of judgment. “That distress, unequalled from the beginning of the world until now” is also an expression used by Matthew Matt. 24:21, and also the description used by Roman historian Josephus who witnessed the brutal destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70 after a long siege. Many scholars consider that this also points to a future time in history — see Daniel 12:1 and vv. 26-27 below.

‘the sun will be darkened,
and the moon will not give its light;

25 the stars will fall from the sky,
and the heavenly bodies will be shaken.’

26   “At that time people will see the Son of Man coming in clouds with great power and glory.

27 And He will send his angels and gather His elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of the heavens.

28 “Now learn this lesson from the fig tree: As soon as its twigs get tender and its leaves come out, you know that summer is near.

  • We learn to recognise the signs of the different seasons. Similarly we should be able to read the signs of changing spiritual ‘seasons’.

29 Even so, when you see these things happening, you know that it is near, right at the door.

30 Truly I tell you, this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened.

  • The siege and destruction of Jerusalem occurred less than 40 years later – within a literal generation and perhaps shortly after Mark’s gospel began to circulate.
  • This still leaves us with a problem. The Early Church had a bigger picture than Jerusalem, and exhorted members to live with an expectation of the imminent return of the Lord, and there was concern when some members died before His return, 2 Pet. 3:4.
  • For a Bible study on Christ’s imminent return, see 1 Peter 4:7; 1 John 2:18; James 5:8-9 (also Rom 13:12; 1 Cor 7:29; Philippians 4:5; Heb 10:25; Rev 22:20).
  • However “generation” could have a different meaning. In the Qumran writings the term ‘last generation’ apparently included several lifetimes. According to this interpretation, “this generation” is the final period before the End, however long it may be.

31 Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away. * The word endures — 1 Peter 1:23-25

32 “But about that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. * “Only the Father” — while on earth Jesus lived by faith

33 Be on guard! Be alert! You do not know when that time will come. * For a Bible study on the expectation of Jesus’ imminent return in the Early Church, see 1 Peter 4:7; 1 John 2:18;James 5:8-9 (also Rom 13:12; 1 Cor 7:29; Philippians 4:5; Heb 10:25; Rev 22:20).

34 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.

35 “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.

  • Living in the expectation that the return of Jesus (parousia) is at hand is difficult in a science-aware age which values what is evidence-based. But this was not a mistake on the part of Jesus, or a misunderstanding by the Early Church. Ever since Jesus was born in Bethlehem, we have been living in the Last Days. The challenge is to live with the urgency and reality of that when history pushes for a more reasonable explanation.

36 If he comes suddenly, do not let him find you sleeping.

37 What I say to you, I say to everyone: ‘Watch!’ ”

Application

The return of the Messiah has been promised, and we are to live in daily expectation of that, even nearly 2,000 years later. There is a clear teaching to remember Jesus as if He has only just gone, and to be aware of His coming again at any time.
Without diminishing that at all, there are frequent encounters with the Lord through history. Some are big and matters of historical record — the First Great Awakening of the 1700s that brought to prominence Whitfield and Wesley and Charles Simeon, and a century later the Second Great Awakening, the time of the great Victorian pastors and preachers and a move of church attendance and church building in both affluent areas and slums. Then the Welsh Revival of 1904-5 and the Pentecostal Revival that come out it in 1907, the Hebrides Revival of the early 1950s and we might mention the charismatic renewal that started in the 1960s. In among them, innumerable more personal or more local renewal and encounter experiences where the Lord has taken His church and given it new direction and energy in response to the prayer and praise of His faithful people. How is He poised for a new encounter, of local or global scale, and are we prayerfully watchful?

Discussion starters

  1. What does keeping watch involve, for us personally or as a group or congregation?

  2. We cannot know the day or time, and many attempts to do so through history have shown themselves to misdirected. However, will the Lord alert his watching, faithful, expectant people to what He is doing?

 

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