Mark 13:24–37 (ESV)
24 “But in those days, after that tribulation, the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, 25 and the stars will be falling from heaven, and the powers in the heavens will be shaken. 26 And then they will see the Son of Man coming in clouds with great power and glory. 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. 28 “From the fig tree learn its lesson: as soon as its branch becomes tender and puts out its leaves, you know that summer is near. 29 So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that he is near, at the very gates. 30 Truly, I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things take place. 31 Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away. 32 “But concerning that day or that hour, no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. 33 Be on guard, keep awake. For you do not know when the time will come. 34 It is like a man going on a journey, when he leaves home and puts his servants in charge, each with his work, and commands the doorkeeper to stay awake. 35 Therefore stay awake—for you do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or when the rooster crows, or in the morning— 36 lest he come suddenly and find you asleep. 37 And what I say to you I say to all: Stay awake.”
As I was reading this passage, I was thinking about an NCAA regional cross-country race that took place several years ago in Pennsylvania. The race was going off without a hitch and the runners were completely focused on their pace and the trail in front of them. Then, without any warning, a herd of deer suddenly bolted through a pack of runners catching everyone off guard with one young runner paying a heavy price as a deer struck him and took him clean off his feet! Fortunately, neither the deer nor the runner was injured in the collision.
What struck me about that incident was that every runner was so focused on the race that they were completely caught off guard when deer broke through their ranks.
In our passage, Jesus issues a strong warning to His disciples to stay awake and be ready. Three times Jesus tells them to “stay awake” but for what?
On the one hand, some interpret this passage to be speaking about Jesus’ return to earth. That fits with other passages in Scripture where we are promised that Jesus will come again. That promise is expressed in Acts 1 and 1 Thessalonians 4. In addition, both Paul and John tell us that Jesus will appear again in Colossians 3:4 and 1 John 3:23. However we don’t know when that will happen, but we do know that we need to be ready for that day.
On the other hand, some interpret this passage to be warning Christians to be ready for the day of their own death, for that time when they will see Jesus face to face, and again the encouragement is for people to be ready to meet their Lord. Either way, Jesus warns, no one knows the day or hour this will happen.
But here’s the thing, if we’re to understand Scripture correctly and not get carried away by our own presuppositions, then we need to understand how the first readers of Mark’s Gospel would have understood these words of Jesus.
If you remember at the start of the passage in Mark 13.1 the focus of the conversation is on a time of great cultural and social upheaval that would sweep through Jerusalem and culminate with the destruction of the Temple.
The first readers of Mark’s Gospel would have understood Jesus to be saying three things in this passage.
First, no one knows when this upheaval will happen.
Second, life will go on as normal right up to the point that it happens.
Third, it will devastate families and relationships.
When that devastation comes upon Jerusalem and the Temple, the invaders will sweep some people away as slaves, others to their deaths, and leave others behind and untouched. And remember, all of this does take place in 70 AD when the Romans invaded Jerusalem.
All of what Jesus is saying would be very troubling and confusing for His disciples which is why He repeatedly encourages them to “stay awake” and to “be on guard” throughout Mark 13.1-37.
“Stay awake…, be on guard.” It’s a good word for us today. We live in very difficult and challenging times; a pandemic, disunity, polarized politics, and so much more that has created an unsettledness in our culture and in the hearts of people. The world is a mess and people are struggling and hurting. Hate, violence, corruption, wickedness, and all things evil seem to have a free reign.
And yet. We know that God is patient with us. He is not slow to keep His promises, for He does not wish for anyone to perish (2 Peter 3:9). God’s patience with us gives you and me the great opportunity, privilege to be found faithful, to grow in knowledge and love for the Lord, and to share God’s love, grace, forgiveness, and truth to our lost and broken world.
He is coming back. Stay awake, be on guard, make the most of the opportunity as His faithful missional disciple.
God bless you and know that you are constantly in my prayers!