A few years ago, Liverpudlian Phil Howard was prevalent in the news for his street preaching on the corner of Oxford Circus, which had got him into trouble with the local council and found him the unwilling recipient of an ASBO. But he’s not the only street preacher in London; I’m sure we’re all familiar with them. Interrupting our leisurely shopping with announcements of damnation and the imminent return of Christ.
Amongst the general population, street preachers get a mixed response, but they are generally regarded as annoying, especially when they make wild claims that “the end is nigh” and try and get in your face. As Christians we can also be put off by their style, their approach, their seemingly fanatic message…
But that’s the topic of this week’s oft-feared passage in Mark. Mark 13 starts with a question about the destruction of the temple, and opens out into an apocalyptic prophecy of famines, tribulation, and the return of the Christ. What’s going on?
Jesus’ explicit prediction of the destruction of the temple (Mark 13:2) is clearly disturbing for the disciples, who are keen to know “when will these things be, and what will be the sign when all these things are about to be accomplished?” (13:4). Jesus’ response is to list a series of hardships that will befall all nations, but especially his disciples (e.g. vv9-13). These, it seems, prelude the aforementioned destruction of the temple, an event that occurred in 70AD, a few years after Mark’s account was written. The destruction was accompanied with an awful time of suffering within Jerusalem – just as Jesus predicted (v14-20).
But Jesus is keen to emphasise that this is not the end. If the disciples thought the temple’s destruction and the end of the world were to occur at the same time, they were mistaken. As Jesus makes clear, these times will be permeated by false christs, ‘to lead astray, if possible, the elect’ (v22). No, Jesus says, His return is afterwards.
But since it is afterwards, his disciples must be ready. Like a master leaving work for his servants while he goes away, so Jesus has left work for his followers to do – and which he expects to find his servants doing when he gets back. “Stay awake”, Jesus repeats, “endure” (e.g. v13). Keep going to the end.
As those reading this two thousand years later, it can be striking to check our list of each of the signs that Jesus predicted. Every one of them has happened. Every one except one. The last thing in Jesus’ list is His return; that’s the only thing that we’re still waiting for. “What will be the sign when all these things are about to be accomplished?” ask the disciples (v4). Well, they each point on to the next – the famines, disasters and persecutions pointed to the temple’s destruction; in the same way, the temple’s destruction pointed to Jesus’ return. We’ve had the temple destroyed, so what’s next?
With Jesus’ return imminent, perhaps we shouldn’t be so critical of those trying to make Him known.
Questions to ponder
- If you truly believed Jesus could come back at any moment, how would your life be different?
- What is “doing the master's work”? What answers have we got in the rest of Mark?
- What does “doing the master's work” look like in your workplace? How will Jesus' imminent return affect your approach on Monday?
- What could you do practically, now, to help your Christian brother/sister remember these things?