Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Eschatology really matters.

clouds of glory

But in those days, after that tribulation, the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will be falling from heaven, and the powers in the heavens will be shaken. And then they will see the Son of Man coming in clouds with great power and glory.
And then he will send out the angels and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of heaven.

Mark 13:24-27

The longest discourse from Jesus in the book of Mark is found in chapter 13 as Jesus sat on the Mount of Olives in Jerusalem. It consists of Jesus giving His own prophecy of the destruction of the beautiful temple built by Herod in Jerusalem. (Mark 13:2)  Then Peter, James and John come to Him wanting to know just when that event would occur (Mark 13:4), because they know full well that nothing short of full-blown war could result in the temple’s destruction. Jesus warns them that they would suffer for proclaiming the gospel in the context of many false Messiahs also rising up in opposition, but that the gospel would advance to the world. (Mark 13:5-13).

Then Jesus goes on to reference an Old Testament prophecy that plays heavily in His teaching on the end times. He talks about the abomination of desolation. (See Daniel 9:27; 11:31; 12:11). Any Jew who had studied the prophets (quite a common practice in Jesus’ day) would understand the reference. And Jesus talks about a time period he refers to as “tribulation” unlike any time on earth that has ever happened or will ever happen. This is more than just a skirmish in the Middle East. And I have preterist friends who see Titus’ sack of Jerusalem in 70 AD as the focus of these words. But Jesus’ description would be full of hyperbole and not prophecy if this is the case. For Jesus, the tribulation time has worldwide and even universal effect. It is after this tribulation that the Son of Man returns with accompanying celestial signs.

Ultimately, Jesus does not give His disciples the kind of answer they were looking for. Instead, He hints that they would face some of it (Mark 13:30), but will not know exactly when He will return. The final word from Jesus on these things is to watch for Him and live expecting His return (Mark 13:37). Personally, I find this compelling and extremely motivating to find out more of what He meant by this.

It is very popular today among theologians young and old to have no settled opinion on eschatology. Some might think “It does not really matter.” “It is just too confusing.” But it meant enough to Jesus to spend this long sermon on the subject. It might do us well to delve into it, to compare scripture to scripture, to take up His suggestion to understand what Daniel is saying about future events, and live expecting His return as He commanded His disciples.

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