27 November 2011

Mark 13:24-27

"But in those days, after that suffering, 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. Then they will see 'the Son of Man coming in clouds' with great power and glory. 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." (vv. 24-27)


This section of the Gospels is known as Mark's 'little apocalypse'. Prior to this passage, Jesus had been speaking to his disciples about the future destruction of the temple in Jerusalem (from Mark 13:1). The disciples are understandably shaken by this frightening image and, a little later, when they're sitting up on the Mount of Olives with a good view of the temple, they ask him to explain. So Jesus begins to talk to them about the end times, what will happen and how they should judge the events to come. Some people see today's passage as relating specifically to the destruction of the temple, others to the return of Jesus.

In verses 3-23, Jesus warns his disciples that time of global suffering and distress is coming, with imminent wars, earthquakes and famine. And then (as today's passage records), Jesus will return to call his people home.

I really struggle with passages like this, passages that speak of God's cosmic power and otherness. Sometimes I think I'd prefer a meek and mild Jesus, one who looked after the status quo. I'd like the sun and moon to continue to give us light, and the stars to stay exactly where they are, thank you very much.

But there is something reassuring about this passage as well. The preceding verses paint a terrifying picture of a world on the brink of destruction and many of the signs Jesus mentions may seem familiar to us today. We don't know how long this world will continue to be broken, but in this passage, Jesus promises that the suffering will come to an end with his return.

This brings to mind the promise that we find at the end of the book of Revelation: "See, the home of God is among mortals. He will dwell with them; they will be his peoples, and God himself will be with them; he will wipe every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more, for the first things have passed away. And the one who was seated on the throne said, 'See, I am making all things new.'" (Revelation 21:3-5)

Whatever will come as this world draws to a close, one thing's clear: the future is in God's hands, not ours. 

To Ponder

Do we sometimes get so cosy with God that we forget how powerful and mighty God is?

Do you believe that 'the end times' are coming? What do you imagine they might look like?

How do you deal with Bible passages that make you feel uncomfortable? Is this one of them?

Bible notes author

Anna Drew

Anna Drew is Director of Communications for the Diocese of Canterbury. She is a regular contributor to BBC Radio 4's Daily Service and Prayer for the Day and a freelance writer on faith issues.