30 November 2014

Mark 13:24-37

“And what I say to you, I say to all: Keep awake.” (v. 37)

Psalm: Psalm 80


Chapter 13 of Mark's Gospel is essentially a farewell speech by Jesus, set towards the end of the last week of his life. If the Gospel was written between AD 65 and 75, its early readers would have easily related these words to their own experiences. They would have lived through an uprising against the Roman occupying forces which had culminated in the destruction of Jerusalem with its temple, their most holy place, in 70 AD. They would be familiar too with persecution for their faith. Mark's Gospel may be drawing on earlier Jewish apocalyptic writings about the end of the world, and combining them with some words of Jesus, to help the early Christians make sense of their situation.

Verses 3 to 23 warn against the sort of things that might be seen to lead up to the end of all things and verses 24-27 describe in vivid terms the cosmic break up that precedes the coming of the Son of Man. This draws on the apocalyptic book of Daniel (Daniel 7:13-14). Daniel speaks of a mysterious figure 'like' a son of man, but in Mark it is clear that the one who comes in the clouds is Christ. The idea of an ingathering of the scattered people of God is found in the Old Testament (Isaiah 11:11-12), but here it refers to the dispersed Christian community. Apocalyptic writing is intended to strengthen those who are going through a time of trial and persecution and contains an element of judgement, but that is absent from verses 24-27. The early readers of the Gospel would have been greatly encouraged.

What follows is rather ambiguous. Jesus uses the way in which the changes in plant life herald the change of the seasons to refer back to the trials and tribulations earlier in the speech as signs that the end is coming. Verse 30 implies that it will be very soon. But the final sentences affirm that only God knows when the end will come, and that the appropriate attitude is one of readiness. The final parable (verses 34-37) underlines the importance of being ready.

To Ponder

  • Today is the first Sunday in Advent, and this Gospel passage highlights the Advent theme of the return of Christ. How important is this to you? What part of in your faith journey does it play?
  • Throughout history, people have seen signs in the world around them that 'the end is nigh'. What is your opinion of such ideas?
  • Does the story of the servants not knowing when their master will return relate to your expectation of the end, whether cosmic or personal? What do you do to keep awake? 


Bible notes author

The Revd Richard Bielby

Richard is a supernumerary Methodist presbyter in Stockton on Tees. He is a part-time prison chaplain and also serves as a voluntary chaplain at Durham Cathedral.