In this passage, Christ alludes to the end times and His second coming on Judgment Day. He also asserts that it is only the Father who knows when this day will come. He does all this in Jerusalem, just before Holy Week.
Setting the Scene
Jesus’ teaching regarding the end of the world is the apex of His ministry in Jerusalem prior to His Passion. Christ has come down the Mount of Transfiguration, entered Jerusalem in triumph, cleared the temple area of the money changers, and taught on topics such as paying taxes to Caesar and the greatest commandment. Before He is anointed at Bethany and institutes the Lord’s Supper, Jesus presents on the end of the age and the signs that will precede it.
There are two important connections we can make between this pericope and the Church Year. First, as this is the Last Sunday of the Church Year, a time of completion, we also recognize that Jesus is completing His earthly ministry aside from His crucifixion, resurrection, and ascension. The teaching, miracles, and prophecies have passed. What is left is to redeem the world from sin. Second, as we complete the Church Year, we begin Advent, a season of joy at the coming of Christ—but also a time of penitence. This awareness of sin reflects Jesus’ warning regarding the coming wrath. For those who look to Christ for salvation, Advent is a time of sweet anticipation. Yet the Lord bids us not to be led astray by false Christs and to “stay awake” (Mark 13:37).
Mining the Gems
As Jesus teaches the lesson of the fig tree, He says, “Truly, I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things take place” (v. 30). The Greek for generation can mean successive generations in one family, all people living on the earth at a particular age, or a length of time, thirty to thirty-three years. Which meaning does Jesus intend as He uses the word? One could make the case that Jesus means those living in Jerusalem at that time. Certainly, tribulation was coming. In AD 70, Titus would lead Rome’s armies to destroy and pillage the temple. Perhaps Jesus means the entire generation of humankind. That is, all people—from Adam to the last person conceived before Christ’s return. In this way, Jesus means that all the signs to which He refers will take place within the broad scope of humanity and before His return. Finally, by “this generation” Jesus could mean the generation present on the earth when the signs come to their zenith.
While this pericope is no doubt an encouragement to readiness to all who would read it (see again v. 37, “And what I say to you I say to all: Stay awake.”), it is important to notice that Jesus is speaking to Peter, James, John, and Andrew. The Master of the house is putting these servants in charge. The house is the Church on earth, which Jesus’ apostles would work to initiate after He ascended to heaven. Jesus says, “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.” Jesus has indeed given each Christian his or her own work, and a connection can be made here to Paul’s explanation of spiritual gifts in 1 Corinthians 12. At the same time, Jesus has not assigned any one person to watch at the door for the return of the Master but rather charges all to keep watch.
Earlier in the chapter, Peter, James, John, and Andrew ask Jesus privately, “Tell us, when will these things be, and what will be the sign when all these things are about to be accomplished?” (v. 4). Hearing that the temple would be torn down left those present with trepidation. It’s reasonable that they would ask for more information. Likewise, the day and the hour of Jesus’ return are on the collective mind of Christians all over the world and likely many unbelievers as well. Nevertheless, Jesus does not give us an exact timeline. In sin, we search for and even create our own answer to this unanswered question. In part, this reflects a sinful unwillingness to submit. God bids us trust in His promises. Yet, just like Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, we desire to be and to have more than God has given. Secondly, to have an exact date of Jesus’ return or even a clear timeline would tempt spiritual laziness and neglect of the Means of Grace. We would ignore Jesus Christ and His kingdom until the days and hours before His return.
- There is comfort in knowing that God will bring an end to this vale of tears. On one hand, the idea of the sun and moon no longer giving light, the stars falling from the sky, and the heavenly bodies being shaken does inspire dread. Yet, for those who know the Lord, the frustration, disappointment, and suffering this present life brings will cease.
- Jesus’ warning is a wonderful expression of love. God wants us in heaven. Jesus Christ lived, died, and rose to facilitate this. His words of warning in this pericope reflect His divine goal, that we would be aware and have the forgiveness and eternal life that come through faith.
- God’s Holy Spirit has made us ready for the Master’s return. He has made us ready for this return through Holy Baptism. He maintains this readiness in us through His Word and the reception of Christ’s body and blood.
Learn more about Christ’s ministry in Dr. James Voelz’s Concordia Commentary on the Book of Mark!