The end of the world evokes strong emotions. Current books and movies play on the theme that the culture/world/civilization that we know is ending and a new one is replacing it, usually more horrific than our current culture/world/civilization. The roots of the transformation are in our current society and will bear fruit in the coming years. The fear of global nuclear war spurred such writings from 1950s through the 1990s. The book and movie Hunger Games is a contemporary expression of such apocalypses and their aftermath.
Mark 13 is also an expression of apocalyptic literature. Jesus and his disciples were in Jerusalem for the Passover festival. Jesus would be arrested and executed by the Roman officials in a few days. Jesus warned the disciples of coming tribulation and devastation. The magnificent temple that was central to Jewish worship would be destroyed in less than forty years by the Roman Empire. The early Christians would face frequent persecution for their faith. These trials might cause the new church to despair, yet Jesus said, “This is but the beginning of the birth pangs” (Mark 13:8).
Birth pangs, though painful in the moment, result in the beginning of a new life. Jesus was teaching his disciples to persevere, to stay hopeful, in spite of the troubles they face. He then goes on to say that to speculate on the exact day or time of this new birth is wasteful use of time. “But about that day or hour no one knows, neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son of Man, but only the Father” (Mark 13:32). Instead he says to be engaged in our daily tasks with a watchful heart, that God is near. “It is like a man going on a journey, when he leaves home and puts his slaves in charge, each with his work, and commands the doorkeeper to be on watch” (Mark 13:34). God has given us each tasks to do in this world, to love our neighbor in word and deed. We do not abandon those tasks to run and hide on some mountain because we fear the “world” is ending. Rather we continue to serve God and God’s world, knowing that someday the master will return and put things right for all people.
Tomorrow I will explore how the “world” has already ended for Christians (Mark 13:35-36).
Lord Jesus, help me not to slip into despair, but to be faithful in my service.