Holy God, in the daily round from sunrise to sunset, remind me again of your holy presence hovering near me and in me. Free me from shame and self-doubt. Help me to see you in the moment-by-moment possibilities to live honestly, to act courageously, and to speak with wisdom. Let your words be to me as sweet as honey and as nourishing as a feast.
After spending much of the last few weeks focused on Advent, I am picking up my reflections on the Gospel of Mark this week. Today I’m looking at Mark 13:14-36:
“But when you see the abomination of desolation standing where he ought not to be (let the reader understand), then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains. Let the one who is on the housetop not go down, nor enter his house, to take anything out, and let the one who is in the field not turn back to take his cloak. And alas for women who are pregnant and for those who are nursing infants in those days! Pray that it may not happen in winter. For in those days there will be such tribulation as has not been from the beginning of the creation that God created until now, and never will be. And if the Lord had not cut short the days, no human being would be saved. But for the sake of the elect, whom he chose, he shortened the days. And then if anyone says to you, ‘Look, here is the Christ!’ or ‘Look, there he is!’ do not believe it. For false christs and false prophets will arise and perform signs and wonders, to lead astray, if possible, the elect. But be on guard; I have told you all things beforehand.
“But in those days, after that tribulation, 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. And then they will see the Son of Man coming in clouds with great power and glory. And 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.
“From the fig tree learn its lesson: as soon as its branch becomes tender and puts out its leaves, you know that summer is near. So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that he is near, at the very gates. Truly, I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things take place. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.
“But concerning that day or that hour, no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. Be on guard, keep awake. For you do not know when the time will come. It is like a man going on a journey, when he leaves home and puts his servants in charge, each with his work, and commands the doorkeeper to stay awake. Therefore stay awake—for you do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or when the rooster crows, or in the morning—lest he come suddenly and find you asleep. And what I say to you I say to all: Stay awake.” (Mark 13:14-37 ESV)
Jesus is coming again. This much I know.
When I read a passage like this, dealing with “eschatology,” or the study of the end-times, I am left with many, many questions. But what I do not question is the physical second coming of Christ. To people who do not believe, it’s a pretty wacky idea, I admit. But for those of us who believe in Christ as divine and who believe in the Bible as trustworthy and true, it is fundamental. Besides being stated multiple times throughout the New Testament, the second coming of Christ is affirmed in the Nicene creed (“…and He shall come again, with glory, to judge the quick and the dead; whose kingdom shall have no end”) and in the Apostles’ Creed (“From thence he shall come to judge the quick and the dead”).
Jesus said, “And then they will see the Son of Man coming in clouds with great power and glory. And 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.” Jesus is coming again some day to “gather his elect… from the ends of the earth to the ends of heaven.” As Revelation puts it, “Worthy are you to take the scroll and to open its seals, for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation, and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God, and they shall reign on the earth.” (Revelation 5:9-10 ESV)
There is much I don’t know from this passage, but what I do know is that it will happen. No one knows when, “not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.” And Jesus seems emphatic that, rather than trying to figure out when he is coming again, we should be more concerned about living our lives in preparedness—in anticipation of his coming, whether that be sooner or later.
It’s interesting that I am reading this passage on Christmas night. We have just finished the season of Advent, culmination the four weeks of waiting with the day of celebration—Jesus is born! The consolation of Israel has come, and he has come not only for Jew, but also for Gentile—for all of humanity to be restored to relationship with God, to be grafted into the family of God (or to be re-grafted, after sin had ripped the branches from the trunk). Yet, still, we wait.
In fact, the season of Advent is a symbolic waiting. We commemorate waiting for the birth of the Messiah year after year, even as we have the benefit of hindsight and being part of a global worshiping community that has existed for two thousand years. We rejoice at the gesture of placing the baby in the manger because we know what the birth of that baby meant for generation after generation after generation of faithful followers: Hope. Love. Mercy. Joy. Peace.
But the anticipation of Christ’s second coming is far from symbolic. What Jesus seems to be emphasizing here is that he is coming again and we really need to live our lives in such a way that whenever he comes—be it sooner or be it later—we are ready.
So as I have been reflecting on this passage, seeking an application that is specific and actionable, I have landed on this question: What does it mean to “be ready?” To “be on guard,” to “keep awake?”
Here are a few thoughts I have on how I might live my life in such a way that I am constantly trying to be ready for Christ’s imminent return. I would love to hear what you would add to this!
No unfinished business. Often, when a loved on is given a life-threatening diagnosis and a grim prognosis, they begin to make sure they don’t have any “unfinished business.” This can mean many different things, but for me, it means that, as much as it is up to me, I am at peace with God and with others. Are there people I need to forgive, or people I need to ask for forgiveness from? Are there people I need to reach out to? To extend God’s loving-kindness in a winsome and genuine way?
Giving like I know I can’t take it with me. When it comes to finances, I am a fairly careful person. I do my best to live debt free, and I invest in a retirement account so that, should the Lord delay his return, my husband and I will have income when our working days are over. But I also don’t want to be found with a stockpile of money when people are starving. So, once my tithe is given, my bills are paid, and I have put a bit away into my retirement account and a savings account, I support people and causes that are devoted to spreading the love and hope of Christ to others. It’s a delicate balance, and one that requires prayer, but when Jesus returns, I want him to find that my checking account register reflects faithful spending, saving and giving.
Remembering frequently that Jesus could return today. Every so often, I find myself in a situation that seems completely disassociated with spiritual things, and I am tempted to forget who I am. Sometimes I eat, drink and speak in a manner that does not glorify God. Maybe I’m in a particularly selfish, or gluttonous, or lascivious mood. Imagining how I would feel if Christ returned at that moment jars me from my complacency and helps me to be more intentional about my words and behaviors.
Frequent times of reflection, confession, repentance, service, and worship. When Jesus comes again, I want to be found with “clean hands and a pure heart.” When the “master of the house” returns, I want to be found busy doing the work of his kingdom—spreading light and love, praying, worshiping, serving, setting captives free and caring for widows and orphans (both literal and figurative).
Being prepared for Christ’s second coming does not come naturally. It needs to be intentional. Sometimes this causes people to go overboard, developing an unhealthy obsession with the second coming. I don’t think that’s what Jesus wants for his followers. But he does want us to know that he is coming again, and when he comes, he wants us to be ready.
In addition to what I’ve shared above from my own process of applying this passage of scripture to my life, I sometimes simply ask myself this question: If Jesus walked through the door right now and this was “it,” would I be horrified or overjoyed? This is a pretty effective lens for me to gauge whether I am “awake,” as Jesus put it.