Gospel: Mark 13:24-37 is the conclusion of what is called the “Olivet Discourse” in which Christ describes in apocalyptic language what will happen in this coming generation including the destruction of the Temple and great tribulation such as has never been seen before. The cataclysmic signs in the heavens do not refer to the end of the space-time world but figuratively to the “earth-shattering” events that are portended.
The Son of Man “coming in the clouds” (based on Dan. 7) is not literal either, but refers figuratively to the vindication of the Messiah by the fulfillment of His (Daniel’s and Jesus’) prophecies regarding the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple. Many have thought that these events described in the Book of Revelation refer to the future (so-called Dispensationalism), but a good case can be made that all these events happened around AD 70 in the past (the so-called Preterist view) with the destruction of the Temple and Jerusalem by the Roman armies under Vespasian and Titus. In the latter case these events would verify Jesus’ prophecies and confirm His role as Messiah.
The reference in verse 34 to a man going away and returning is a parabolic reference to YHWH who left the Temple before Babylon destroyed it in 586 B.C. and who has returned as Jesus of Nazareth in the role of YHWH to predict the permanent destruction of the second Temple within the coming generation. As the fig tree prepares to bear figs, so the time is ripe. Jesus warns His disciples to be prepared. This Gospel passage prepares us for the coming ministry of Jesus as described in the four Sundays of Advent in Mark, John, and Luke. Interestingly, the Nicene and Apostle’s Creeds tell of Jesus’ incarnation and His crucifixion and resurrection but say nothing about His life!
Apart from dying on the cross, why did Jesus come? What was the purpose of His life? The Gospels make it clear to those “with eyes to see and ears to hear” that He is finally returning as the God who left the Temple before it was destroyed by the Babylonians centuries before. His return was promised in Isaiah 40:10-11; Jeremiah 31:20, 31-34, 38-40; Ezekiel 43:1-5; Zechariah 9:9,10; and Malachi 3:1-4 but had not yet occurred.
In Daniel 9 the angel Gabriel tells Daniel the duration of exile till the Lord’s return is prophesied to be 490 years (70 weeks of years). People were anticipating the Lord’s return with excitement based on Daniel 9 when John the Baptist appeared and prophesied that “one greater than he was coming as the Lamb of God who would take away the sins of the world.” When Jesus appears on the scene, He began to speak of the Kingdom of God: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” This is what Jesus came to do – to launch the Kingdom of God on earth as it is in heaven.
The expression “kingdom heaven” as used by Matthew for the kingdom of God has misled Christians to think that the gospel is that when we die we will go to heaven for eternity, but Revelation 21-22 speaks of heaven coming to earth where believers will receive resurrection bodies to live for eternity in the renewed earth as foretold in Romans 8:18-23.
This story the Gospels tell is the subject of Tim Keller’s King’s Cross and N.T. Wright’s How God Became King. I will use these books to background the Gospel lessons in the Lectionary during the liturgical seasons that extend for the half year from Advent till Ascensiontide and the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. It is the story of the return of God to forgive sins, to end the exile and to become King over this world. It is a story being lived out today by those who have heard God’s call to follow Jesus and bring in His kingdom prophesied during His life and launched on the cross.
Memory Verse: Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away… I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God… (Rev 21:1, 2).