Mark 13:12–19 NRSV
“Brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child, and children will rise against parents and have them put to death; and you will be hated by all because of my name. But the one who endures to the end will be saved.
“But when you see the desolating sacrilege set up where it ought not to be (let the reader understand), then those in Judea must flee to the mountains; the one on the housetop must not go down or enter the house to take anything away; the one in the field must not turn back to get a coat. Woe to those who are pregnant and to those who are nursing infants in those days! Pray that it may not be in winter. For in those days there will be suffering, such as has not been from the beginning of the creation that God created until now, no, and never will be.”
This passage of Scripture we find ourselves in the midst of these past couple of days and the next couple to come is extremely challenging to understand.
As a result, I will not attempt to speak beyond my own understanding of the text at this point in my life and discipleship. I will handle such things as “the abomination that causes desolation” when I gain a better grasp on it.
Here’s what I understand and the kind of application I think the text of recent and future days has for us today. At the risk of overgeneralizing, I will be short and to the point.
From the first century to the twenty-first century and every year of every century in between, we have witnessed the people of God moving in one of two directions with respect to the future. They gravitate toward either an apocalyptic or an eschatological outlook on the future. So, what’s the difference?
Apocalypticism tends to focus on doom, destruction, and disaster. Eschatology tends to focus on ultimate outcomes and the framework of the last things. Apocalypticism breeds fear and anxiety. On the other hand, good eschatology fosters the fruit of hope. Let’s be clear. Good eschatology does not mean optimism. Eschatology must be truthful about the future. It will not be easy. There will be hardship and pain and difficulty, but there is a greater reality being born right in the midst of it all. Apocalypticism keeps our focus on all the signs of impending doom. Eschatology focuses our vision on God and the glorious things to come.
Jesus gives his disciples the truth about the challenges that lay ahead, but he paints a much bigger picture of the greater things in the making. In fact, he commands us to fix our eyes on the future in such a way that it impacts every decision we make in the present. He is leading us toward a future that inspires nobility, faith, courage, and love in the face of despairing conditions and seemingly impossible scenarios.
In every age, many God-fearing Christian voices spread their apocalyptic anxiety like a cancer among the people. It fosters fear-mongering and it brings out the worst in the church. They tend to be the louder voices. In every age, there are unfortunately fewer followers of Jesus who catch a glimpse of the beatific vision’the beautiful and glorious vision of the coming kingdom of God. These tend to be the quieter, yet more powerful leaders of the faith. Apocalyptic anxiety sells books and blockbuster movie tickets. Eschatological hope steels faith and emboldens holy love.
When I think about the great creeds of the church, they are filled with eschatological hope. Yes, we confess a final judgment but also the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting!
Spirit of the living God, fall afresh on me.
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