2nd-coming-dramatic02Mark 13 Part 3

24.  “But in those days, after that tribulation, the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light;

Mark skips some of the further information given in Matthew, and moves right on to the time immediately following the great tribulation.  He now quotes, in this verse and the next, Isaiah 13:10.  After the tribulation, the sun is darkened and the moon does not give its light.  If this happened literally, of course, the earth would be doomed.  Yet I do not believe that this is literal.  Rather, the sun and moon are darkened because they are overpowered by a much greater light.  These things may sound terrible, yet this is not speaking of awful things, but instead of the glory of Christ’s coming, as we see in verse 26.  For His coming will overshadow all the heavenly bodies by its brightness and the glory He will bring to the earth at that time.  This will be a wonderful event, not a terrible one.  Oh, for the day when His glorious return will take place!

25.  “The stars of heaven will fall, and the powers in the heavens will be shaken.

In this verse, He now quotes Isaiah 34:4.  We read here of the fall of the stars of heaven and the shaking of the powers in the heavens.  This again sounds like a terrible thing if it was literal.  Yet of course we realize that “falling stars” are not even literally stars, but chunks of rock hitting the earth’s atmosphere.  The stars cannot literally fall to earth, and if they did, we would be in serious trouble, for scientists tell us that many of them are far bigger than even our sun, and would toast the earth completely if they really fell down to it!  Yet this is not talking about a literal falling of stars or a shaking of the powers of the universe.  Remember, “heaven” comes from the English verb “to heave,” and means that which is lifted or “heaven” up and exalted.  The rulers of that time are indeed exalted, but those who rebel and follow the anti-Christ will fall, and the powers, even those among the most exalted, will be shaken.  Yes, these stars and powers are the exalted rulers on earth at the time when Christ returns.  They may also include supernatural rulers who have followed Satan and helped to bring about the rise of the anti-Christ and the wicked things he has done on earth.  Thus, these stars and powers are not giant balls of burning gas and other heavenly bodies, but rather the wicked ruling powers who have rebelled against God and followed the revolt of the Evil One.

26.  “Then they will see the Son of Man coming in the clouds with great power and glory.

The Lord now speaks of His coming, and quotes Daniel 7:13 in doing so.

I was watching in the night visions,
And behold, One like the Son of Man,
Coming with the clouds of heaven!
He came to the Ancient of Days,
And they brought Him near before Him.

What a glorious thing it is to imagine!  The Lord coming to earth with power!  And this verse gives us the key to all that comes before.  It is the coming of the Son of Man that darkens the sun and moon by the great and shining glory of it.  It is His coming that causes the ruling “stars” to fall and that shakes even the most exalted powers that have dared to rebel against Him.  For He comes with great power and glory, and He puts down the rebellion and sets things right on the earth once again.

27.  “And then He will send His angels, and gather together His elect from the four winds, from the farthest part of earth to the farthest part of heaven.

Now the Lord reveals what He will do once He has come.  He sends out His angels to gather His elect from the four winds back to Himself.  This is how they are removed from their retreat in the mountains.  They are gathered from there by the angels!  There is nowhere they might be where they will not be gathered from and brought to Him.  Even if they had left the earth and gone to the farthest part of heaven, they will be taken from there and brought to their Master and Lord at this time to celebrate His coming.

This gathering of the elect sounds amazingly similar to that of I Thessalonians 4, although many protest that the two cannot be the same.  Is there really Biblical evidence for this, or is it just wishful thinking?  Even the apostle Paul indicates there that he will be “alive” and remaining until the coming of the Lord, not waiting for resurrection in the state of death.  Will he too have been resurrected like the twelve, and be waiting for the Lord to gather Him at this time when He gathers all the elect to Himself?

28.  “Now learn this parable from the fig tree: When its branch has already become tender, and puts forth leaves, you know that summer is near.

He now teaches them through a parable of a fig tree.  Remember, parables were common, everyday stories that could easily be understood by anyone living at that time.  Yet they contained a hidden, underlying message that illustrated a great truth that the Lord wished to convey.  In this case, the story is of a simple fig tree.  When its branch becomes tender rather than hard and dry, and when it puts forth its leaves, it is a sure sign that summer is near.  No one would suspect anything else when he sees such things happening to a tree!

29.  “So you also, when you see these things happening, know that it is near–at the doors!

We see now what the meaning of this parable is.  In the same way that what happens to a fig tree reveals that summer is near, so the happening of these events that the Lord has spoken of reveals that the fulfillment of these things is near, even at the doors.  Thus, the Lord is wrapping up His prophecy and His answer to the disciples’ question.  He has indeed revealed to them through this prophecy both when these things will be, and what the sign will be when all these things will be fulfilled.

30.  “Assuredly, I say to you, this generation will by no means pass away till all these things take place.

This verse is a great difficulty to many.  We know very well that that generation of people has long since passed away, and yet none of these great events took place.  Did the prophecy of Christ then fail?  Does this passage reveal Christ’s big mistake?

I do not believe so, for I always believe Christ’s word.  Moreover, how could anyone believe this and still give any credence to the Bible at all considering the great statement made in the very next verse?  Yet men have struggled greatly to explain this passage.

Some try to suggest that “generation” can also mean “race,” and Christ was telling them that the Jewish race would not pass away until all these things took place.  Yet “race” is not a Biblical concept, but an evolutionary one.  The Lord’s teaching on “race” is given in Acts 17:26, which states, “And He has made from one blood every nation of men to dwell on all the face of the earth.”  Yet even if we take “nation” instead of “race,” though the continued existence of the Jewish people is promised in many other places in Scripture, this is not one of them, for this word is clearly “generation” and there is no evidence whatsoever that it could ever mean “race.”  This is nothing more than translation out of desperation, and is done without evidence.

The Companion Bible makes another suggestion.  Mr. Bullinger points out that “by no means” is the Greek double negative, ou me.  It is the strongest possible negative, and means that there is no possibility that this could ever be.  Yet “till all these things” contains the Greek word an, which is a conditional word.  Like our word “if,” this word has no real translation, and merely indicates that a condition is present.  So though the first part of the statement is unequivocal, there is a condition upon the second part that may or may not have come to pass.  This much is true.  Yet Mr. Bullinger goes on to state that the condition that existed was “the repentance of the nation” and cites Acts 3:18-26.  Yet, as good a scholar as he was, his idea here does not stand up to examination.  For the word an, although it does indicate that a statement is subject to a condition, always refers to a condition clearly given in the context, yes, in the very sentence, in which the word occurs.  An examination of every occurrence of this word reveals that this is true.  Never does this word indicate the presence of an unstated condition, or only one that can be found by examining such a remote context as Acts 3:18-26.  The condition is always right there in the sentence and obvious for all to see.  The same is true of English.  I could never say, “I will not force you to go alone, but if I will go with you.”  This is nonsense, for I have not stated the condition which “if” implies.  I can fix the sentence by adding, “I will not force you to go alone, but if you ask me, I will go with you.”  This states the condition, and makes the sentence understandable and clear.  And the Greek word an is the same way.  So, what is the condition referred to by an, then?  I believe that it is easy to see right there in the sentence in which “an” occurs!  It is that all these things will be done.  That generation will never pass away until the condition is fulfilled that all these things have already taken place.  That is the condition stated, and that is the condition to which an refers.  This, not Bullinger’s suggestion, fits with the proper Greek usage of the word an as we see it all throughout the rest of the New Testament.

So how do we explain this difficult verse?  What can be the explanation, when the generation in which these words were spoken so clearly has died off without these things taking place?  I believe to answer this we need to re-examine our concept of the word “generation.”  We think of a “generation” as always referring to a group of people of a certain age living on earth at one time.  Yet if we move beyond this conception to actually examine the word, we will notice that it comes from a family of words related to the infinitive verb, “to generate.”  We speak of generating power or generating excitement, and we mean to create or cause to occur.  We create power or we cause excitement to occur, and we say we are generating something.  So, if we looked at the word in light of this, we would expect a “generation” to mean something that was generated.  A generation is something that is created or brought about.  A generation of people was created or brought about by the actions of their parents.  And yet there are other things that can be generated as well.  And, keeping this in mind, let us look to the following verse, for there I believe we can find the final key that will help us to unlock this difficult passage.

31.  “Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will by no means pass away.

I believe this gives us the answer to this great difficulty.  This is the most solemn statement Christ could make regarding the absolute undying character and infallibility of His words.  Yet, though we can take great comfort in this assurance as to the reliability of the Scriptures, this verse makes any thought that the verse just previous to this did pass away without coming true seem even more untenable.  What, then, will our explanation be?

First of all, let us ask ourselves why this verse occurs here.  Though it is a wonderful thing to know that such a verse exists anywhere to assure us of the reliability of God’s Word, why did Christ see fit to speak this verse just here?  I think to answer this question, we need to remember the occasion when Christ spoke this great statement.  These things were spoken to the disciples so that they would know when the time of the destruction of the temple was near.  However, they may have been concerned that they would soon forget this message and the signs that they were to look for, and thus this warning would do them little good.  For remember, this prophecy was spoken on a mountain, and no scribe was present to take it down.  Thus, there was a very real possibility, or it must have seemed so to them, that these words could pass away and be forgotten.  Indeed, probably there wasn’t a one of them there who could repeat more than half of what Christ had just said from memory even right after He had spoken it.  However, Christ assures them that, though heaven and earth may pass away, His words here will by no means pass away.  And this gives us the key to our difficulty in the previous verse and what He meant when He said that this generation will not pass away until all these words are fulfilled.  The “generation” Christ was speaking of was not the generation of people living at that time, or the Jewish nation, or even the human race.  Rather, it was the very important prophecy He had just spoken.  The generation that would not pass was the generation of His words.  And verse 31 makes this even more clear.  For once again here we have the figure of speech called ““Pleonasm” or “Redundancy.”  Remember, in this figure of speech, a statement that is given that is difficult to understand and that might be misunderstood is repeated in another way so its meaning will be clear and the possibility of misunderstanding is removed.  In this case, verse 31 clarifies for us verse 30, telling us that “My words” in verse 31 are the same thing as “this generation” in verse 30.  This generation would not pass.  His words would not pass.  The two are one and the same!  And, praise God, this is still true.  These words have not passed, for here we are almost two thousand years later studying them and learning the truth they have to offer!  Yes, this explanation clears up what for many is one of the biggest problem passages in Scripture.  And it allows us to acknowledge that Christ’s words were indeed true, for, lo! we have His words before us even now, preserved for two millennia by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit in this book.

32.  “But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.

The Lord reveals that no one knows that day or hour when He will return.  Yet notice that He does not say that they cannot know the year, or even the month or week!  As we have seen, the years of the tribulation have been recorded by the Lord to their exact number.  Thus, as that time approaches, it will be possible to know the approximate time that He will come, although the day and the hour will not be possible to calculate.  Yet these things are not approaching now, and we have no way of knowing even the century when these things will occur!

We can understand that no man knows this, and also that the angels in heaven do not know it.  Yet that the Son does not know is a difficulty, for is He not God as well?  This is truly what we believe!  The Companion Bible suggests that this is referring to His limitations as the Son of Man, but that seems unlikely to me, for He does not seem limited in any other knowledge.  It may be that Christ, being a physical being, looks at time as linear, as we do, whereas the Father is outside of time and not subject to it.  But then, the Son and the Father are one, are they not?  Another explanation is that some ancient manuscripts do not have those words, but this is more a cop-out than anything.  Some ancient scholar probably removed them since they do not occur in the parallel passage in Matthew 24:36.  This is a difficult verse indeed.

A look at the Greek text can give us a clue here.  For the words we have translated “but only” are actually in Greek the words ei me, which mean “if not.”  Thus, the end of the verse should read, “nor the Son, if not the Father.”  This changes the whole meaning of the verse.  Now, instead of saying that the Son does not know, it seems rather to indicate that He would not know, if He were not the Father!  Yet He is the Father, as He reveals in many places, such as John 10:30 and 14:9.  And so, He does know that day and hour.  A further bit of truth to consider is that the word “son” means a representative.  He has just said that the angels do not know that day or hour.  Then, He says that the son does not know the day or hour, if not the Father.  Could He mean that even the representative of God on earth, like the prophets and the authors of Scripture were, do not know that day and hour, unless that representative happens to be the One Who is not only the Son but also is the Father?  This could be what He is referring to.  At any rate, it seems obvious to me that, if the Father knows it, then the Son Jesus Christ must as well, for He and His Father are one!

33.  “Take heed, watch and pray; for you do not know when the time is.

Christ goes on, continuing from the previous verse, to tell them that, since they do not know the day or hour, they should take heed, watch, and pray.  It would not do to not be ready when the Master comes!  We can see an illustration of this in the parable given in Matthew 25:1-13.

34.  “It is like a man going to a far country, who left his house and gave authority to his servants, and to each his work, and commanded the doorkeeper to watch.

Now the Lord tells another simple story to illustrate this matter and to emphasize the necessity of watching.  He speaks of a man who goes into a far country and leaves his house in the charge of his servants.  He gives to each his work, and commands the doorkeeper to stay awake and watch for his return.

35.  “Watch therefore, for you do not know when the master of the house is coming–in the evening, at midnight, at the crowing of the rooster, or in the morning–

This seems to give the words of the master speaking to his servant in urging him not to fall asleep on his night watch.  He admonishes him that he does not know when he will be returning.  It could be at any hour of the night: evening, midnight, the crowing of the rooster, or the morning.

36.  “Lest, coming suddenly, he find you sleeping.

He warns the doorkeeper against sleep, for he may come suddenly.  It would not do for this doorkeeper to be caught sleeping!  The consequences for him could be severe.

37.  “And what I say to you, I say to all: Watch!”

This is the point of the Lord’s story.  These solemn words of warning were meant for the disciples.  They will be in positions of great authority at that future time, and for them watchfulness will be crucial.  It will not do for them to be caught unprepared when these things begin to come to pass.  For they are the leaders, and if they are not ready, who will be?

To apply these words to us today may have some merit, as we too look for Christ to come to us, but we are by no means given such an authority as these men had and will have.  Let us take heed, however, that we too manage and keep a close watch over the things that God has given us, for this is our duty even today, and it would not do for Him to come and find us unfaithful!