“If the Lord had not cut short those days, no one would survive. But for the sake of the elect, whom he has chosen, he has shortened them. At that time if anyone says to you, ‘Look, here is the Messiah!’ or, ‘Look, there he is!’ do not believe it. For false messiahs and false prophets will appear and perform signs and wonders to deceive, if possible, even the elect. So be on your guard; I have told you everything ahead of time.
“But in those days, following that distress,
“‘the sun will be darkened,
and the moon will not give its light;
the stars will fall from the sky,
and the heavenly bodies will be shaken.’
“At that time people will see the Son of Man coming in clouds with great power and glory. And 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.”
You may remember from yesterday we articulated the difference between apocalyptic anxiety and eschatological hope. Those are definitely some twenty-five-dollar words, and probably not suitable for casual conversation, but we need them for the sake of our conversation.
What’s important to note here is that Jesus is giving us a sequence of events, but no time line. Here’s where all the apocalyptic confusion comes into play. Do you see the difference? When leaders take the sequence Jesus offers and turn it into an actual time line, we get into trouble. With respect to time lines, Jesus made it abundantly clear. Just a few verses later he says this: “But about that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father” (Mark 13:32).
Following his resurrection and just prior to his ascension he put it this way: “Then they gathered around him and asked him, ‘Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?’ He said to them: ‘It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority’” (Acts 1:6–7).
In Mark 13, when Jesus speaks about the coming tribulation and impending disaster, he is prophesying concerning the destruction of the temple, which would happen some forty years later. The best I can understand, he did not intend to connect his return to that event. The destruction of the temple would signify in a final way that the presence of the Lord had left the building. The location of the presence of the Lord in the world would be in the body of Christ, with Jesus as its head.
That Jesus Christ will return to the earth is an irrefutable fact of our faith. When he will return is an unknowable reality. In the scheme and sequence of things, while we can’t know the timing, we can know that when the things listed below begin to happen, his return is imminent.
“But in those days, following that distress, ‘the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light; the stars will fall from the sky, and the heavenly bodies will be shaken.’ At that time people will see the Son of Man coming in clouds with great power and glory.”
Until that time, we will see all sorts of tribulation and trials. We will see many versions of false prophets and would-be messianic leaders. People will insist on reading these signs as direct proof of the impending return of Jesus. It will stir up all sorts of unnecessary apocalyptic anxiety. Meanwhile, we can stand firm in our faith, filled with the hope of the gospel, and bank on the certainty of his return. And when the sun and the moon go dark and stars start falling from the skies, then we can start looking to the clouds and getting ready for the great celebration of the wedding of the Lamb.
“The sky is falling!” That’s the essence of apocalyptic anxiety. But the truth is, the sky will one day fall. We don’t need to fear that. We only need to be ready and to help as many people as we possibly can to be ready with us. When the sky does fall, it will not be something someone has to announce. It will be apparent. In the end, the beauty of the falling sky will be the coming of Jesus on the descending clouds. It will be a good day.
This is my best wisdom on the text, and while I stand by it without adding any disclaimers, I may be wrong.
Spirit of the living God, fall afresh on me.
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