What if I said, “Everyone reading this will have a car accident today. Some of you, most in fact, will escape or evade the accident as long as you pay absolute attention to your driving. Keep an eye on the sides of the road, especially side streets where a car may pull out (who knows maybe they read this too). Decelerate a little early as you approach intersections, and keep back from the car in front of you. In this way, many of you will be spared an auto accident.”
Reading this, you know that I am not a prophet, fortune-teller, or skilled magician. However, I bet all of you will pay a little bit better attention as you drive today. Also, in the off chance that one of you actually has an accident, you will most likely think, “Well, I was told this would happen.”
Here is my point, if you knew with certainty that at one moment driving today, the decision you make would be the difference between life or death (and you had to go driving) you would pay 100% attention. That is the point of Mark 13, also known as the Olivet Discourse.
Mark 13 gives a picture of the “end times,” what we call eschatology (the theological term for the study of the end times). Jesus, in the vein of the Old Testament, prophesied a near event, the destruction of the Temple in 70 A.D., and a far event, the return of the Son of Man, that 2,000 years later has not yet happened.
This passage has two warnings—do not be deceived, and maintain steady obedience. Several times throughout this passage the reader is admonished to “Be on guard.” Verse 37 is a grim echo of this warning, “And what I say to you I say to all: Stay awake.” This relates back to verse 13 and the reason we are to “stay awake,” because “You will be hated by all for my name’s sake. But the one who endures to the end will be saved.”
The study of eschatology is somewhat confusing and the interpretation of the variety of future oriented passages can be daunting. However, be warned, as one of my professors said, “For you to ignore the prophetic passages of scripture as irrelevant or simply not-to-be-understood, you will be throwing out about a quarter of your Bible.”
I’m not going to lay out all of the eschatological events for you here; one reason is because not even everyone on staff has the same view. What we can agree on, however, and what is more important to maintain in any view of eschatology is the doctrine of imminency. Imminency is the idea that Christ can return at any second, without warning, as verses 32–37 maintain. Although we have the warning of the fig tree in 28–31, and that we should be able to understand the signs of the times, Christ’s return will be sudden and unexpected. Yes, he could have come yesterday when you were fighting with your spouse. Yes, he could have come last week when you were one that website you should not have seen. Yes, he might come during that upcoming meeting where you will be tempted to, not lie, but merely re-position the truth so that you look good.
Imminency is both the carrot and the stick for ministry. We work in light of our eternal hope, but we know this season of grace, this season where we have the opportunity to share the gospel before judgement comes, will only last for a little while longer. Use the time you have!
By: Tyler Short — Connections Ministry Associate