In those days, I, Daniel, heard this word of the Lord: "At that time there shall arise Michael, the great prince, guardian of your people; it shall be a time unsurpassed in distress since nations began until that time. At that time your people shall escape, everyone who is found written in the book. Many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake; some shall live forever, others shall be an everlasting horror and disgrace. But the wise shall shine brightly like the splendor of the firmament, and those who lead the many to justice the splendor of the firmament, and those who lead the many to justice shall be like the stars forever."(P) The word of the Lord.
O Lord, my allotted portion and my cup, you it is who hold fast my lot. I set the Lord ever before me; with him at my right hand I shall not be disturbed. (R)
Therefore my heart is glad and my soul rejoices, my body, too, abides in confidence; because you will not abandon my soul to the netherworld, nor will you suffer your faithful one to undergo corruption. (R)
You will show me the path of life, fullness of joys in your presence, the delights at your right hand forever. (R)
Brothers and sisters: Every priest stands daily at his ministry, offering frequently those same sacrifices that can never take away sins. But this one offered one sacrifice for sins, and took his seat forever at the right hand of God; now he waits until his enemies are made his footstool. For by one offering he has made perfect forever those who are being consecrated.
Where there is forgiveness of these, there is no longer offering for sin.(P) The word of the Lord.
Jesus said to his disciples: "In those days, after that tribulation, the sun will be darkened, the moon will not give its light, the stars will be falling from the sky, and the powers in the heavens will be shaken."
And then they will see the Son of Man coming in the clouds with great power and glory; then too he will send out the angels and gather his elect from the four winds, from the end of the earth to the end of the sky."
"Learn a lesson from the fig tree. When its branch becomes tender and sprouts leaves, you know that summer is near. In the same way, when you see these things happening, know that he is near, at the gates. Amen, I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things have taken place. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away."
"But of that day or hour, no one knows, neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father."(P) The Gospel of the Lord.
The 19th century Danish philosopher Soren Kierkegaard describes his vision of the end of the world this way: Imagine a theatre, in which a variety show is playing, including songs, dances, dramas, comedies and so on. Each show is better than the last, and applauded by the audience. Suddenly, the show is interrupted and the theatre manager steps onstage. Speaking calmly, and not wanting to panic the audience, the manager announces, "Ladies and gentlemen, I regret to inform you that a fire has broken out backstage. Please get up and move in an orderly fashion to the exits. There is plenty of time for you all to leave safely, but please do so at once". There is a moment of stunned silence, and then the audience breaks out in laughter and applause.
For they believe that it is just an act, and the manager is playing the clown. The manager says once again, "There really is a fire. You must get up and leave immediately". The audience applaud and cheer even more loudly. The manager tries again to warn the people, but they do not believe him. He runs off the stage and out of the building. The audience, meanwhile, cheer and clap in appreciation of the manager's performance. Seconds later, the fire races through the building, killing everyone inside. And so our age, Kierkegaard concludes, will go down in fiery destruction to the applause of a packed house of cheering spectators.
Predictions and visions regarding the end of the world is not new. For thousands of years, a lot of people have foretold about it, but the end has failed to come so far. We can recall that in the lead-up to year 2000, some people predicted that computer failures, power disruptions and, electronic malfunctions would cause widespread chaos and destruction in the world. But these never happened. Others had believed that the world would come to an end in 2012, according to predictions based on the Mayan calendar, but again nothing came out of it.
Both the Old and the New Testament of the Bible also contain many "end times prophesies". Take the 13th chapter of the gospel of Mark for example. Mark depicts Jesus as speaking to His followers about the "end times" by way of an "apocalypse". An "apocalypse", originally meant "uncovering", "disclosure of knowledge", or "revelation". It is a writing or literature that reveals the precise details of the end days. While apocalyptic writing might seem strange to us, it has been a part of Jewish and Christian religious thinking since the beginning.
Apocalypse usually comes out of difficult times, and reflects a strong dualism - good against evil. For example, the apocalypse of Daniel came about in 165 B.C. when the Greek King, Antiochus Epiphanes, profaned the temple in Jerusalem and tried to impose pagan religious practices on the Jews. The Apocalypse of John, the Apostle, often called the Book of Revelation came around 95 A.D. when Christians were being persecuted for their refusal to worship the Roman emperors and gods. So, apocalypse is a response to people who are facing hardship of any kind - emotional, spiritual, mental or physical. Its purpose is to bring comfort and hope to God's people, i.e. to assure them that God is firmly in control of their circumstances and that He will ultimately intervene to end their suffering.
Going back to today's gospel of the 13th chapter, the passage in verse 24 begins with Jesus saying to his disciples, "In those days, after that tribulation...". To understand the text, it is necessary to understand what "In those days, after that tribulation" refers to. At the beginning of the 11th chapter, we learn that Jesus arrived in Jerusalem for the last time by way of Jericho, where He had healed a blind man named Bartimaeus and had entered the temple courts, Mark (10:46-52). While He was in the temple, a few important things happened. In the last two Sundays, we had the chance to read and reflect on three of those things. One was about a scribe who had approached Jesus and inquired of Him what is the greatest commandment, Mark (12:28-34). Another was about Jesus' criticism of the scribes who used religion to exploit poor widows, Mark (12: 38-40). And the third event was about a poor widow's generous giving to the Temple treasury, Mark (12:41-44).
After these events, and as Jesus was leaving the Temple (about which we haven't read yet), the disciples admired the grandeur of the temple buildings. Jesus responded by telling them off hand that the whole place would be destroyed. Imagine, the temple was the centre of Jewish worship and life, and Jesus foretold its destruction!
According to the Old Testament, the First Temple was built in Jerusalem in the 10th century BC by David's son, Solomon, as a monument to God and as a permanent home for the Ark of the Covenant, 1 Kings (5-9). It was destroyed by the Babylonians under Nebuchadnezzar II of Babylon in 586 BC. Fifty years later, after the return from the Babylonian captivity, and on the orders of Persian King Cyrus, the construction of the Second Temple started on the same spot where the First Temple had stood. Completion of construction of the new Temple occurred around 515 BC. Thereafter, around 20 BC, Herod the Great began the expansion and refurbishment of the Temple, which did not yet reach completion at the time of Jesus but only in 63 AD. This Temple would be the one that Jesus said would be destroyed.
Upon hearing Jesus' prediction of the Temple's destruction, the disciples wanted to know when it would take place, and if there would be any sign before that. Jesus first answered their second question about signs. He knew that, if the disciples looked for signs, they would be susceptible to deceptions. So, before confirming that specific sign, Jesus spoke of misleading signs like wars and rumours of wars (v. 7); earthquakes, pestilences, plagues, and famines (v. 8); persecution of Christians (v. 9); betrayal by family members (v. 12); the abomination of desolation (v. 14); and false messiahs and false prophets (v. 22). Although these horrible things are going to happen, Jesus called on His followers to be vigilant and on guard, because the end would not yet come.
Furthermore, as written out in today's gospel, Jesus said, "The sun will be darkened, the moon will not give its light, the stars will be falling from the sky, and the powers in heavens will be shaken. And then they will see the Son of Man will come in the clouds of the sky, with power and glory; then too He will send out the angels to gather His elect from the four winds, from the end of the earth to the end of the sky, Mark (13:24-27). In other words, Jesus was saying to his followers that after their time of distress, misery, affliction and persecution, they would see strange things happening to the sun, the moon, and the stars, and simultaneously they would see the Son of Man coming in the clouds and sending the angel-reapers to harvest; to separate the wicked from the just. The phrase "four winds" is used principally to describe the whole of heaven and earth.
Some Biblical scholars hold "the coming of the Son of Man" as the Second Coming of Christ, and it had to do with bringing an end to the Jewish Age and the establishment of Christ's Kingdom or the Christian Era. Others believe that the Second Coming of Christ will mark the end of the present evil age and the commencement of a new glorious age ruled by Jesus Christ as King.
The signs Jesus had foretold are terrifying and dreadful when we think about them. This predictive approach, however, is nothing new and has had a long tradition in both Jewish and Christian circles. Prophesies of cosmic disturbances are abundantly illustrated in the Old Testament. For instance, prophets had predicted cosmic, seismic and meteorological upheavals prior to the destruction of Babylon by the Medes, when Jerusalem was destroyed by Babylon, when Pharaoh and his army were destroyed by Nebuchadnezzar, and when the Assyrians destroyed Samaria in 722 B.C. but nothing literally happened to darken the sun or moon in those instances, Isaiah (13:9-11); Jeremiah (4:23-26); Ezekiel (32:7-8); Amos (8:9-10).
The cosmic disturbances were only used metaphorically to indicate how God's judgment would be against the wicked. So, it is believed that Jesus simply employed the same apocalyptic language and pictures that the Jews had been using for centuries. However, since the disciples had asked for a sign, He gave one, and that is the sign of a fig tree, (v. 4).
Most of the trees in Palestine and surrounding places are evergreen, but the olive and the fig trees are deciduous, meaning they lose their leaves in autumn and grow new ones in the spring. The olive tree blossoms early, so it is not a trustworthy signal of summer. The fig tree, however, blossoms late, so its blossoming promises that summer is just around the corner. This would usually take place around the time of the Feast of Passover. It is worth recalling that, earlier, Jesus had cursed a fig tree and cleansed the Temple, and then gave the disciples a lesson about the need to have faith in God, Mark (11:12-14, 11:15-18, 11:20-24). The fig tree in today's gospel, however, does not wither, but blossoms - a hopeful sign. So, the withered tree is a sign of withered temple religion that will soon be destroyed, but the blossoming fig tree is the Son of Man, who would bring new life to humankind.
After listing all the tribulations that the disciples and the world must endure before He returned a second time, Jesus exclaimed, "Amen, I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things have taken place. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away", Mark (13:31). Some scholars believe that Jesus was directing this remark specifically to his contemporary generation - the men and women living at one and the same period, especially the Jews - rather than to some unknown future generation.
Others are of the opinion that "this generation" means the generation living at the time this prophecy comes to pass, which they believe is yet to occur. Although in a general sense, some of what Jesus said would apply to their age, He did not answer when this would happen. He told them that no one would know the hour or the day, and only God the Father, Mark (13:32). Here, Jesus is saying "Only the Father knows" does not mean that Jesus is ignorant, but rather submissive and respectful to His Father's authority. While He knows the hour, He defers to the Father's authority to determine the hour.
Jesus's predictions of the destruction of the Temple had already taken place indeed, shortly after His death and resurrection between 63 A.D. and 70 A.D. when the Roman army surrounded, besieged, and destroyed Jerusalem. Many other prophesies can be found in the events leading up to the end of the Jewish system. The wars, earthquakes, famines, pestilences, and other events that Jesus had foretold had occurred over a period of three decades throughout the Roman empire.
What is the message for us?
Jesus will certainly come again because He Himself has prophesied not only of His return but also the manner of His return. If we believe that the Bible is the inspired Word of God and Jesus is Christ, the Son of God, then we must also believe in His Second Coming. We can disregard the apocalyptic imagery behind the picture of Christ's second coming and, instead, prepare ourselves and look forward to His coming. Let our belief in His return motivate us to live our lives in a way that will be pleasing to Him, by being pure and obedient to His law, 1 John (3:1-4).
But today's gospel is a reminder that since the timing of Jesus' return is unknown, we should think about it all the time because it could be any day, any time: it could be today or tomorrow, this evening or at midnight, or when dawn breaks. Even those fortunate enough to have a life filled with joy and blessings should not be satisfied to the point of complacency. Instead, all of us, Christians, must faithfully do the work which He has given us to do, Mark (13:34); Ephesians (2:10). And we must do so, as if He were returning tomorrow, regardless of whether we believe in the return of Jesus at the end of the age or at the end of our journey on earth or in our daily life.(P) Amen.
God Bless You!