This week’s treatment of the International Sunday School Lesson (for February 27) is written by M. Y. Perkins, assistant professor of theology and society at Emmanuel School of Religion in Johnson City, Tennessee.
Jesus Is Coming Again (Mark 13:14-27)
By M. Y. Perkins
Your job is soon to be phased out. You have a terminal disease such as cancer. Your spouse is ending your marriage.
If you have ever received or been a close friend to someone who has faced difficult news about the future, you will understand the significance of Jesus’ words to his disciples in Mark 13. Jesus gives his disciples words of honesty and reassurance. We need honesty in order to survive the present, but we also need reassurance so we have hope for the future.
In Mark 13 Jesus shares some difficult and reassuring news about the near and distant future with four of his disciples. Almost everything the disciples know and trust about the world is about to be turned upside down. Their questions (in Mark 13:4) are the same ones we ask in times of distress: How long do I have? When will it happen? What signs should I look for? How should I live in the meantime? Rather than telling the disciples half-truths or giving them false comfort, Jesus speaks with honesty and reassurance about the future, even as the time for his own crucifixion draws near.
Honesty—Mark 13:14-19; 24, 25 (see also Mark 13:1-13; 32-37)
Honesty about the near future—Jesus has already told his disciples three times that, though he is the Messiah, he will be handed over to the authorities, tried, and crucified (Mark 8:31-33; 9:30-32; 10:32-34). In Mark 13, Jesus sits on the hillside of the Mount of Olives, overlooking the Jerusalem temple where he has just been teaching. He shares two pieces of news that must have seemed incomprehensible to his closest followers. First, he tells his disciples they will share his fate: they will be arrested, persecuted, and possibly even killed (Mark 13:9-13). Second, he tells them Jerusalem’s temple will be destroyed (Mark 13:1, 14-18). In the disciples’ world, the temple is the center of their political and religious universe. Jesus predicts a “desolating sacrilege” of the temple in Mark 13:14, and may have in mind the words of Daniel (Daniel 9:27; 11:31; 12:1) or the past profaning of the temple altar by the second century bc ruler Antiochus IV. Indeed, the temple is destroyed by Roman forces in 70 ad. In advance of this near-future event, Jesus counsels his disciples to abandon Jerusalem, and to take nothing and keep nothing (Mark 13:14, 15). Many of the disciples will live to see these events unfold (Mark 13:30).
Honesty about the distant future—Jesus’ prediction that the world organized around the temple will come crashing down amounts to a cataclysmic vision of the near and distant future. Without a temple, the Jewish people, the elect of God, will be without a central point of reference for worship. Jesus extends this vision to the end of time when all of creation will be in suffering. Even the sun, moon, stars, and heavenly powers will be shaken (Mark 13:19, 24, 25). “Heaven and earth will pass away” (Mark13:31). The disciples ask Jesus for signs and a timetable. Jesus describes creation in painful labor (political, geological, and economic upheaval; Mark 13:7, 8), but he tells them honestly, “No one knows about that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father” (Mark 13:32).
Reassurance—Mark 13:20-23; 31 (see also Mark 13:28, 29)
In the face of this difficult news about the future, Jesus identifies the foundation of our hope for the near and distant future. It is only in light of Jesus’ reassurance that his disciples understand that the trials are reason for hope.
Reassurance about Jesus—Jesus tells his disciples that when he is gone, other voices will offer salvation in his name. Many will distract the disciples with more certain predictions about the future. Jesus gives the disciples strong counsel: “Be on your guard” (Mark 13:23; also 13:32-37). He reminds them they already know everything they need to know: “I have told you everything ahead of time. . . . Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away” (Mark 13:23, 31). No matter how difficult the future, “he who stands firm to the end will be saved” (Mark 13:13). In fact, from the vantage point of eternity, Jesus says it will appear that the end times are “cut short” so that salvation is quickly brought near (Mark 13:20). With difficulties ahead, Jesus reminds us that his words are true and he will not abandon us.
Reassurance about creation—If all of creation is in labor with cataclysmic destruction, the hard labor will bring new birth. Jesus points his disciples to a young fig tree about to bloom. When they see new growth, he says, “you know that it is near, right at the door” (Mark 13:28, 29). There is reason to hope for a new heaven and a new earth. Indeed, the disciples are not only to seek signs of coming destruction, but also signs of new life.
Reassurance about being God’s people—The destruction of the temple does not mean the organizing principle for worshipping God and their identity as God’s people is lost. Jesus himself will be the new center of worship and life together. When Jesus comes, “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” (Mark 13:26, 27). From the vantage point of the New Testament, this predicted vision of gathering has already begun in the church at Pentecost (see Acts 2).
Questions for Discussion
1. In what areas of your life do you wish you had more information about the future?
2. What does it mean to place your hope for the future in Jesus?
3. How might your congregation or study group celebrate signs of new growth and hope for Jesus’ coming?
*Scripture quotations are from the New International Version, unless otherwise indicated.
|HOME DAILY BIBLE READINGS|
|Feb. 21: Isaiah 2:5-12|
|Feb. 22: 2 Timothy 3:1-9|
|Feb. 23: 2 Peter 3:3-10|
|Feb. 24: 2 Peter 3:11-18|
|Feb. 25: Mark 13:1-13|
|Feb. 26: Mark 13:28-37|
|Feb. 27: Mark 13:14-27|
ABOUT THE LESSON WRITER: Dr. M. Y. Perkins is assistant professor of theology and society at Emmanuel School of Religion in Johnson City, Tennessee. She teaches courses in Christian theology and attends Hopwood Christian Church, where she was ordained for Christian ministry in 1997.