An Audible Sermon
As we have been going slowly through Mark chapter 13, or as we have been referring to it as the perplexing chapter, we find ourselves at another difficult passage. I believe this chapter is perplexing because of the many layers which are found in it. It stems from Christ’s words to his disciples about the destruction of the temple (vs 3) and the disciples’ two questions about when it will happen and what are the signs it is about to happen (vs 4). However, Jesus does not tell them when it is going to happen. Jesus does not them a specific date. Jesus does tell them what signs they need to be looking for. However, Jesus also gives them pastoral advice on how they should act and how to be prepared for those days. There can be a wide view of interpretations. An example is two theologians who I respect deeply fall in both of those camps, RC Sproul and John MacArthur. RC Sproul focuses on a verse like, “This generation will not pass away” (Vs 30). John MacArthur focuses on a verse like “Let the reader understand” (vs 14). Now every interpretation has to answer these questions and that is what makes it a perplexing chapter, not because there is one challenging verse, but how do these verses fit together. Every person must ask does this speak of the past (70 AD) or the future? Can it be both? Should we read all or some literally or figuratively?
I. A Catch-22
Up to this point, we have been explaining that Jesus is speaking to the early church about the destruction of the temple. We have made this argument throughout the last few weeks. However, we see a change in this passage we are looking at today. Mainly, there comes a change in the way Jesus is explaining what is going to happen. Now people have differences of options of what the tribulation is. I explained last week this was the trying time before the destruction of the temple in 70 AD. Jesus calls them, “those days” (Cf. Mark 13:19a) However, Jesus explains after those days. Now someone might look at this and explain that those days happen and when Christ returns, they see this as a rapid set of events because they read the word after. So, they argue that the passages prior must be speaking of events that will happen in the future. Now, before studying this passage I would have said up to verse 23 would have been speaking about the destruction of the temple. Then in Mark 13:24, the word after is a period. However, as I studied Matthew 24:29, Jesus said, “Immediately after…” Mark uses this word frequently, and it is used as a change in a scene, not seconds later. However, almost every time Matthew uses this word it means, immediately (Matt 4:20, 8:3, 20:34). So, I found myself in a huge dilemma in how I understood these verses. I would either start having to become a biblical-gymnast twisting scripture to make it easier for my views to fit into the bible or study more to understand what the Bible teaches.
So for me, this made a major impact on how I understood this verse and passage. There are several reasons that I believe this speaks of the judgment upon Jerusalem not the days before Jesus second coming. Matthew’s use of the word Immediately. Within Mark, the disciples do not ask about the coming of the Son of Man, as in Matthew’s account. It would be strange that Mark would record an answer specific to Matthew’s Gospel. Mark also records “all these things” in verse 30, it seems strange for Mark to include a reference within this section with this al encompassing understanding in verse 30. So for me, I found myself seeking to understand the text, not trying to make the text come to my understanding.
Now, as I said before everybody has questions that need to be answered. The dilemma, that comes up is found in the terms and phrases used in verses 24-27. The language reads like apocalyptic language, “The Son of Man coming in clouds.” However, Matthew records that “immediately after the great tribulation of those days.” Liberal scholars point at this and explain that Jesus was a false teacher because he did not return before “this generation passed away.” Others have turned to historical accounts and tried to show that these things (darkness, visions, etc) occurred in the 1st Century. This again is why this is a perplexing passage. Because we believe that all of scripture is breathed out by God, and so we cannot just say that this means nothing, or it doesn’t matter. Jesus had to mean something, or else this would be that he, as C.S Lewis puts it, may as well walk around saying he was a ‘poached egg.’ So, what I want to explain is that this language is not apocalyptic on a universal level, but a local level. Or to put it another way what we term apocalyptic language is judgment language. Now I am not saying there is not a second coming, that apocalyptic language does not exist. I affirm with you every week in our confession of faith, “He will come to judge the quick and the dead.” What I am saying is that apocalyptic language as we think of it is speaking of the great judgment. It speaks of Christ coming to finally judge everything. So, when we use the term apocalyptic language we normally mean the final and universal judgment of the world. However, it is not always used that way in scripture, often it is used as judgment languages of a specific place, such as a city or a nation. So, we will look at verses 24-27, I want to show this is localized apocalyptic language or to put it another way, judgment language on a location, mainly the Temple and Jerusalem (which is what we have been explaining up to this point).
II. Celestial upheaval (24-25)
Jesus explains that after the days of tribulation there will be celestial upheaval. Jesus explains four things; 1) the sun will be darkened; 2) the moon will not give its light; 3) the stars will be falling from heaven, and 4) the powers in the heavens will be shaken. Now, this sounds like the end of time. I believe it sounds like the end times, because of judgment. But I do believe we are Bible verse Christians, and if we were, to be honest, many Christians only read the New Testament (If at all). However, in the Old Testament, this language is used as the language of God bringing judgment upon a city or nation. One example of this is found in Isaiah 13:9-10, 13;
“Behold, the day of the Lord comes, cruel, with wrath and fierce anger, to make the land a desolation and to destroy its sinners from it. For the stars of the heavens and their constellations will not give their light; the sun will be dark at its rising, and the moon will not shed its light. … Therefore I will make the heavens tremble, and the earth will be shaken out of its place, at the wrath of the Lord of hosts in the day of his fierce anger.”
This prophecy is used for the judgment upon Babylon, not the world. In this passage, we see the four points Jesus makes in Mark 13:24-25. Isaiah is writing about the judgment upon a particular nation in history (Is 13:1). These judgment concepts are used in other places of Scripture as well (Is 34:4; Ezek 32:7; Joel 2:10, 31). Peter uses the Joel passage in his sermon at Pentecost (Acts 2:14-36). Jesus is pronouncing judgment upon the fruitless fig tree of the temple, the den of robbers, he is casting out the wicked tenants. This is the judgment language of the temple.
III. Cloud watching (26)
Jesus then explains, “Then they will see the Son of Man coming in clouds with great power and glory” (Mark 13:26). So, what does this mean that they will see the Son of Man coming in the clouds? We will turn back to the Old Testament, but Jesus uses this phrase again in the next chapter. When Jesus is before the council the high priest asks Jesus, “Are you the Christ, the Son of the Blessed?” Jesus responds and said, “I am, and you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of Power, and coming with the clouds of heaven” (Mark 14:62). Now we study this passage when we get to Mark 14, but I want to show you something that Jesus explains as Jesus is seated at the right hand of power, he also explains that the Son of man is coming with the clouds of heaven. We often separate the two, Jesus is sitting on the right hand of God the Father almighty or he is coming to earth for a second time. But Jesus in Mark 14 explains that during his session (seated in heaven) he is also coming with the clouds of heaven. The Session of Christ (the period of him sitting on his throne in heaven) is not a passive time in Christ’s rule. Jesus sitting in heaven waiting until he can come again. He is actively ruling during this time.
Now back to the Old Testament, where this reference comes from Daniel chapter 7:13;
“I saw in the night visions, and behold, with the clouds of heaven there came one like a son of man, and he came to the Ancient of Days and was presented before him.”
We have looked at this passage briefly a couple of times before (Sermons on Mark 1:40-2:17 and 8:31-38). When we have shown this verse it speaks of Jesus’ current earthly ministry such as Jesus’ authority over the unclean spirits (Mark 2:2-12), and Christ’s victory as the suffering servant (Mark 8:31-33). Both times we see these not as future events but as current in the earthly ministry of Jesus. Sometimes we can come to the scripture with a sense of false assumption that we know exactly what a phrase or word means. I believe this is what we can do when we hear, the Son of Man coming in clouds. Jesus will use it in chapter 14 to explain his ruling from heaven. Jesus has used this Daniel chapter 7 reference to explain his earthly ministry and his humiliation.
However, Jesus also explains that The Son of Man will come with great power and glory. Again, this is not the first time Jesus has explained this to his disciples. Jesus on the mount of transfiguration told his disciples (Peter, James, and John), “there are some standing here who will not taste death until they see the kingdom of God after it has come with power” (Mark 9:1). Again, we discussed this briefly when we studied Mark 8:38. However, if we look back on that passage, we can see many similar themes to Mark 13:26:
“For whoever is ashamed of me and my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him will the Son of Man also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels” (Mark 8:38).
We see terms like, “this… generation,” and “Son of Man” coming in glory. Without spending a large amount of time, we see these fit into the passage today addressing the judgment language. That Mark shows in Mark 9, with Jesus’ transfiguration that they saw the Kingdom of God coming in power. This is not end times terminology but through the suffering servant, Christ who is victorious over sin, Satan, and death. This is not something that will happen in the future but has started to happen when Christ conquered sin, Satan, and death on the cross. All of this is to say that Mark 13:26 speaks of Christ, the Son of Man in his power and glory ruling from the heavens. Christ was ruling when his judgment came down on the temple and Jerusalem.
IV. Corners of the world (27)
Finally, Jesus says he will send out the angels. Now we need to notice that Christ is the one doing the sending, and the gathering. He is sending out angels that he is gathering. Christ, seated on the right hand of the Father ruling his kingdom, is the one sending his angels. Now when we read the word angels it sounds again like apocalyptic terminology. I do not think this is a helpful translation, the reason is that the word can mean angels (celestial beings), however, it does not have to mean angels. Mark does use it to mean angels (Cf. Mark 12:25), however, Mark also uses the term to speak of a messenger, John the Baptist (Mark 1:2). This term can mean a messenger sent by God to deliver a message. This is exactly what Jesus did before he ascended into heaven, “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth” (Acts 1:8). Jesus sends his disciples to be His witnesses to the ends of the earth. The word ‘angel’ could also be translated as ‘messenger,’ That Christ sends his messengers out to the four corners of the globe. This is what Christ did in the great commission, he sends them out because of his authority given to him on heaven and earth (Cf. Dan 7:13-14), and tells them to go into all nations…
Now, what I want to point out is that this is how I understand this word should be translated. But I need to point out that this word more frequently is translated as angels. But even if it is translated as angels, it does not make this a future event. Angels often do appear in the bible during times of judgment for example Sodom and Gomorrah (Gen 18-19). The judgment following David’s sinful census (2 Sam 24). So even if this was to mean angels it also would fit within the context of this passage speaking of judgment.
Christ not only sends his angels, but he also will gather his elect. We sometimes (I know I have) read this to mean Christ sends the angels and they gather the elect. However, this is not what the passage says, a wooden translation would read; He will send out the messengers (or angels) and he will gather his elect (singular, not they will gather). Christ’s rule of his kingdom includes his building of his church (Matt 16:18). Christ as he lamented over Jerusalem said, “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!” (Matthew 23:37). He wants to gather his elect from the four winds (a common phrase to mean the four cardinal points on a compass), from the ends of the earth to the ends of the heaven.
We see in this passage that language of judgment, which in the context speaks of Jerusalem and the destruction of the temple. Throughout the bible we see the judgment of God come upon cities and nations. However, none of them were universal or final. However, Christ will return, and he will come and judge the quick and the dead. When he returns the judgment is final, and eternity will begin. Christ had given the warning to the religious leaders; he had warned them of the coming judgment. Christ is gracious in sending those who tell of this coming destruction. We should seek to be able to hear the warning of the Lord. John Howe speaking of the great London fire explained,
“The judgments of God are audible sermons. They have a voice. The Lord’s voice crieth to the city, “Hear ye the rod, and who hath appointed it” (Mic 6:9). Divine judgments are loudly audible; they have a crying voice, and, strangely, the voice of such a cry should be forgotten that so dreadful an event of providence should be but as a nine-days wonder!”
Judgments of God in the Bible are just that an audible sermon, a great warning of that great and final day of judgment. Where Christ will return and there will be no more chances to repent.
However, that day is not yet. Christ has not returned. We still have this moment God has given us to repent and seek God’s forgiveness. To hear the glorious message of grace that Christ has bore our sins and the judgment of that sin on the cross. That Christ is victorious, reigning in heaven at the right hand of the Father. Sending and gathering. The question is are you listening? Will you turn from your ways and turn to Christ? Will you give an account for your sins on that final day, or has Christ already paid your account?