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November 29, 2020

First Sunday of Advent

Isaiah 64:1-9

1 Corinthians 1:3-9

Mark 13:24-37

Psalm 80:1-18

But in those days, after that tribulation… ESV Verse 24 opens with questions for us; what days? To do justice to the reading we need to look at all of chapter 13.

As Jesus and his followers were leaving the Temple (for the last time) someone said to him, “Look, Teacher! What massive stones! What magnificent buildings! NIV This is what we schoolteachers now call a ‘teaching moment’. Jesus could have expanded on the collapse of the whole Temple worship system to explain how he and the Holy Spirit would replace the Temple. Instead, he said, “They will be totally destroyed — not a single stone will be left standing!” CJB Only when they were resting on the Mount of Olives did Jesus add detail, and then only to the inner four.

Andrew, Peter, James, and John wanted to know what signs to look for. They understood the importance of the destruction of the Temple, so they wanted to know what to expect. But Jesus did not give them a sign. “Take care that no one deceives you.” NJB

There is a tendency to read verses 6-8 as prophecy about the end times, but I think that does a disservice to the whole chapter. In verse 9 Jesus warns them that they will personally suffer soon, even as the Temple remains standing. Just to name one, James died decades before the destruction of the Temple. The suffering of the disciples is the focus of Jesus’ words here.

There was a terrible crisis that struck the early church in 155 CE. Polycarp was 90 years old when he was executed, and his death shook the church because he was the last leader to have received the Gospel from one of the Apostles (John). From that year onward we have had to rely on the written Word. Imagine if you could pick up the phone and call the last person to talk personally with John and ask him what John said about Jesus.

Jesus had this time in mind, as well as the more immediate death of James and the destruction of the Temple. Indeed, the Church has struggled through hard times for two thousand years.

That is where today’s reading begins. But in those days, after that tribulation…  Tribulation is probably the best translation of the Greek, but today it is loaded with so much apocalyptic baggage that it may mislead us in understanding what Jesus has to say to us.

This verse introduces a quotation from Isaiah 13:10: The stars and constellations of heaven shall not give off their light; the sun shall be dark when it rises, and the moon shall diffuse no glowJSB Isaiah was commenting on the tribulation of the Babylon captivity.

Jesus, though, goes on with a quote from Daniel 7:13: As I looked on, in the night vision, one like a human being came with the clouds of heaven; he reached the Ancient of Days and was presented to himJSB

(As always, NT quotes from the OT were either made from the Greek translation called the Septuagint or from paraphrases now called Targums. In either case, they were from memory.)

Remember in verse 4 the disciples asked when ‘will these things happen?’ Jesus gives his answer in verse 32-33. But the exact day and hour? No one knows that, not even heaven’s angels, not even the Son. Only the Father. So keep a sharp lookout, for you don’t know the timetableMSG

If you read through chapter 13 you will notice that Jesus, through Mark, has given us 19 clues about what to expect. Here is a quick list from the NIV to help you find them all, starting in verse 5. Watch; do not be alarmed; be on your guard; do not worry; he who stands firm; let those who are in Judea flee; let no one on the roof go down; let no one in the field go back; pray; do not believe it; be on your guard; learn this lesson; be on guard; be alert; pray; keep watch; do not let him find you sleeping; watch!

If we keep ourselves close to God and stay alert, we need not worry.

I have read many efforts to explain all the end of times references in the Bible, but it seems to me that Jesus did not stress it. That suggest that eschatology may be less important than many of us make it out to be.

The Greek word, eschaton meaning the ‘last thing’, occurs 53 times in various forms in the NT, but mostly like this from Matthew 5:26: Truly I tell you, you will not get out until you have paid the last pennyNIV GJohn uses it more regarding the end times, though not in Revelation.

Chapter 13 is sometimes called the Little Apocalypse. For the four disciples, the message was: Watch!

Be righteous and do good.

Mike Lawrence

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