28 “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. 29 So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that he is near, at the very gates. 30 Truly, I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things take place. 31 Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away. 32 “But concerning that day or that hour, no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. 33 Be on guard, keep awake. For you do not know when the time will come. 34 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. 35 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— 36 lest he come suddenly and find you asleep. 37 And what I say to you I say to all: Stay awake.”
What do the following dates have in common?
66-70 / 365 / 375-400 / 500 / April 6, 793 / 800 / 799-806 / 848 / 992-995 / January 1, 1000 / 1033 / 1200-1260 / 1284 / 1290-1335 / 1346-1351 / 1370 / 1378 / 1504 / February 1, 1524 / February 20, 1524 / 1524-1528 / May 27, 1528 / October 19, 1533 / April 5, 1534 / 1555 / 1585 / 1600 / February 1, 1624 / 1648 / 1651 / 1654 / 1656 / 1655-1657 / 1658 / 1660 / 1666 / 1673 / 1688 / 1689 / 1694 / 1697 / 1700 / 1705-1708 / 1716 / April 5, 1719 / 1700-1734 / October 16, 1736 / 1736 / 1757 / May 19, 1780 / November 19, 1795 / October 19, 1814 / April 28, 1843 / December 31, 1843 / March 21, 1844 / October 22, 1844 / August 7, 1847 / February 13, 1925 / September 1935 / December 21, 1954 / April 22, 1959 / February 4, 1962 / August 20, 1967 / 1967 / August 9, 1969 / 1969 / 1972 / January 1974 / 1975 / 1976 / 1977 / 1980 / 1981 / 1982 / April-June 1982 / March 10, 1982 / June 21, 1982 / 1985 / April 29, 1986 / August 17, 1987 / September 11-13, 1988 / October 3, 1988 / September 30, 1989 / April 23, 1990 / September 9, 1991 / 1991 / September 28, 1992 / October 28, 1992 / 1993 / May 2, 1994 / September 1994 June 29, 1994 / October 2, 1994 / March 31, 1995 / December 17, 1996 / March 26, 1997 / August 10, 1997 / October 23, 1997 / March 31, 1998 / July 1999 / August 18, 1999 / September 11, 1999 / 1999 / January 1, 2000 / April 6, 2000 / April 6, 2000 / May 5, 2000 / 2000 / 2001 / May 27, 2003 / October 30-November 29, 2003 / September 12, 2006 / April 29, 2007 / 2010 / May 21, 2011 / September 29, 2011 / October 21, 2011 / May 27, 2012 / June 30, 2012 / December 21, 2012 / August 23, 2013 / April 2014 / September 2015 / September 23, 2017 / October 21, 2017
If you guessed, “Those are years in which people predicted the world would end!” you are correct! In truth, this list is incomplete and other dates could be added. Furthermore, the list does not include future dates that have also been predicted. These are just the dates that have been predicted and have already passed.
When you look at that list it is hard not to think, “Why do we keep doing this? Why do we keep trying to predict when the world will end?” But we do indeed do it! Human beings just cannot help themselves.
For Christians, this is utterly inexcusable for Jesus specifically said that we cannot know the exact time of His return. We cannot know the exact time, but we can read the times and live in preparedness. It is very important that we get this right or else we can really get sidetracked, disillusioned, and do injury to our faith. Let us consider what Jesus says about the coming of the end.
The return of Jesus is certain though the exact time is unknown.
We begin with a key and fundamental tenet that should guide our eschatology, that is, our view of the return of Christ, and it is this: the return of Jesus is certain though the exact time is unknown.
28 “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. 29 So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that he is near, at the very gates. 30 Truly, I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things take place. 31 Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away. 32 “But concerning that day or that hour, no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.
Before we deal with the specifics of our text, let us first recall what we said earlier concerning Mark 13. Mark 13 is a challenging and complex text because it speaks of the end but it does so from two different perspectives: (1) from the perspective of the realization of God’s judgment in the fall of Jerusalem in AD 70 and (2) from the perspective of the ultimate and final return of Christ at the end of all things. The chapter speaks of both perspectives and distinctions must be made between the two. For instance, verses 28-31 appear to refer to the fall of Jerusalem and the temple in AD 70 whereas verse 32 appears to refer to the final return of Jesus at the end of all things. New Testament scholar William Lane argues this point in this way:
“That day” [v.32] evokes a formula consecrated by use in the prophetic Scriptures; it appears with a clearly eschatological resonance in passages which announce the day of Yahweh’s appearing…Here it designates an indeterminate date which remains the Father’s secret. In the light of its association with the theophany of God on the Day of the Lord it must have primary reference to the parousia, the coming of the Son of man (verse 26). Jesus thus affirms that no one knows that day or the hour…when the Son of Man will appear in glory with power. In order to understand the relationship of this affirmation to the assurance given in verse 30 that events preliminary to the destruction of the Temple will occur within the experience of that generation, it is necessary to give full force to the adversative particle in verse 32: “I say to you solemnly, this generation shall not pass away…As for that day and that hour, on the contrary, no one knows…” While the parable of the fig tree illustrates the possibility of observing the proximity of the first event, another comparison is developed in connection with verse 32 which underscores the impossibility of knowing the moment of the Lord’s return. Verses 30 and 32 concern two distinct events (the taking of Jerusalem by the Romans, and the Day of the Lord, respectively) [emphasis mine].
Thus, the events that will happen in AD 70 will indeed happen in the lifetime of the generation hearing Jesus’ words. This is judgment but it anticipates the final judgment, the exact time of which no man knows. The judgment of AD 70 is, we might say, an end but not the end.
It will also be helpful in this regard to realize that verse 29 should likely read “it” instead of “he” and should be seen as the events surrounding the destruction of the temple and not the return of Jesus.
29 So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that he [it] is near, at the very gates.
Ronald Kernaghan explains why this is likely so.
The NIV broke new ground with its translation of 13:29. Other versions read “he is near,” which indicates that those translators thought this verse describes the return of Jesus. On the other hand, the NIV’s rendering, it is near, is consistent with this prophecy not describing the end of history, but the judgment of Jerusalem…“It” is preferable to “he” because summer, a common symbol for judgment, is the closer antecedent. The argument for “he” traces the antecedent back to the Son of Man in 13:26. The Son of Man is more distant grammatically. Furthermore, the expression at the door (literally “at the gates”) is appropriate to describe the arrival of the armies of Rome, but it does not belong with the images that describe Jesus’ return. The New Testament does not portray Jesus’ returning to the gates of Jerusalem or to any other gates for that matter. He will appear with the clouds of the air to summon the faithful, living and dead, to be with him. In short, both the imagery of this verse and its grammar require a translation that put a judgment in history at center stage.
In summary, we are speaking of an end and of the end and both references are in our text. An end looks forward to the destruction of Jerusalem. The end looks forward to the coming of Jesus. The first is, in essence, a type on a local scale of what will come at the end on a universal scale.
Concerning the return of Jesus, the Christian can have confidence that (a) it will happen and (b) we do not know exactly when it will happen. In one of the most provocative statements in scripture, Jesus said:
32 “But concerning that day or that hour, no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.
How could Jesus say that not even He, the Son, knew the day or hour? Traditionally, and I think rightly, Christians have found the answer in the amazing and beautiful statement found about the incarnation of Jesus in Philippians 2.
5 Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, 6 who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, 7 but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.
The key here is the phrase, “but emptied himself.” The idea is that in Jesus’ self-emptying in the incarnation He chose to set aside certain things in His embrace of humanity. He did not cease to be God and His statement that He did not know when He would return cannot be construed in such a way. This is because Christ’s not knowing the day and hour of His return was His choice. It was, in other words, an act of self-limitation and not outside imposition. The Son chose to embrace this limitation in His taking on flesh.
The question of whether or not Jesus now knows is an interesting question. That question, in my opinion, belongs to speculative theology and is best approached and answered humbly. Perhaps after His ascension to the right hand of the Father He now knows. Perhaps He has maintained this limitation. Regardless, what is most telling for us is that Jesus chose not to know! And if Jesus chose not to know, why are we so obsessed with knowing? Furthermore, why are we so arrogant as to think we can know the specific day and hour?
Even so, our inability to not know the day and hour does not mean we cannot read the times and have a general sense. In the beginning of our text, Jesus said:
28 “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. 29 So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that he is near, at the very gates.
What this means is that while we lack specificity in our knowledge we do not lack knowledge. We know that Jesus will come again! Jesus is most clear on this. This is what makes it all the more frustrating to see Christians and Christian leaders deny that Christ will come again.
In a New Oxford Review article entitled, “There Goes Hell & The Second Coming,” an account is given of one church leader’s rejection of the idea of Christ’s return and of a final judgment.
David Jenkins, the Anglican Bishop of Durham, is at it again…During the past Christmas season, Jenkins announced to a conference that there is no hell and that there would be no Second Coming. Regarding hell, he declared that the teaching of the Book of Revelation concerning torment “day and night for ever and ever” was “pretty pathological,” and that “if there is such a god, he is a small, cultic deity who is so bad tempered that the sooner we forget him the better. Indeed, that the sooner we forget him the better. Indeed, “there can be no hell for eternity—our God could not be so cruel.”
No hell and no second coming. Well. To reach this conclusion one must embrace a skepticism that is not becoming of followers of Jesus. Furthermore, one must ignore the plain words of scripture.
Perhaps more pertinent for our situation is not an outright rejection of the second coming but, rather, an indifference. I was struck by the comment of Ehud Danoch, a Jewish man and the former Israeli consul, when asked about the Christian belief in the second coming. Richard John Neuhaus passes on Danoch’s words:
Asked whether apocalyptic scenarios about the mass conversion of Jews does not temper his appreciation of evangelical support for Israel, Irving Kristol responded some years ago, “No. It’s their theology but it’s our Israel.” This year thousands of enthusiastic evangelicals met in Anaheim, California, for the annual rally of Christian broadcasters and were addressed by Israeli consul Ehud Danoch, who expressed his country’s gratitude for evangelical support, also in keeping up the flow of pilgrims to the Holy Land even during the violent times of the most recent intifada. Asked whether he is not bothered by the convention speeches about the Middle East being bathed in fire as the end time approaches, Mr. Danoch said, “The end of time, it’s not something we’re looking at.”
Wow! “The end of time, it’s not something we’re looking at.” What is most tragic is that many Christians have functionally embraced the skepticism that Peter says non-believers have in 2 Peter 3:
1 This is now the second letter that I am writing to you, beloved. In both of them I am stirring up your sincere mind by way of reminder, 2 that you should remember the predictions of the holy prophets and the commandment of the Lord and Savior through your apostles,3 knowing this first of all, that scoffers will come in the last days with scoffing, following their own sinful desires. 4 They will say, “Where is the promise of his coming? For ever since the fathers fell asleep, all things are continuing as they were from the beginning of creation.”
Do you feel this kind of skepticism? I am not asking if you would say such a thing. I am asking if deep down you feel it: “Everything keeps going like it always has! Where is this promised return?” “The problem is not so much that we seldom think about his coming,” wrote Calvin Miller, “but that we are no longer excited by the prospect.”
Christian, do not fall into neglect or disinterest in the beautiful promise of the return of Jesus! We should live as a people who are ever and always aware of the fact that this moment may be our last, that this moment may usher us into the presence of King Jesus! This matters! This changes things! We can never live like any day is just another day when we grasp and believe that Christ is coming again and could come at any time.
The posture of the church must be one of diligence and obedience.
What, then, should be our posture? Simply put: diligence and obedience. We should be appropriately aware of the trajectory of our lives and of human history towards the end of Christ’s return. And, in light of this fact, we must be found faithful when He comes!
33 Be on guard, keep awake. For you do not know when the time will come. 34 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. 35 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— 36 lest he come suddenly and find you asleep. 37 And what I say to you I say to all: Stay awake.”
The commands are most telling.
“Be on guard!” (v.33a)
“Keep awake!” (v.33b)
“Stay awake” (v.35a)
“Stay awake” (v.37b)
This is a summons to alert diligence. This repeated call to wakefulness is especially interesting in light of the fact that soon, in the garden of Gethsemane, Christ will find His disciples asleep after He calls them to watchfulness and wakefulness. This is, we might say, a picture of the Church at large in our day: dull and sleepy in the face of our King’s imminent return.
What should it mean for us and the living of our lives that Jesus could return at any moment? We must ever and always ask ourselves whether or not we would be pleased for Christ to find us living as we are currently living were He to return right now. We are not called to waste time speculating. We are called instead to live actively in the light of the promised return, to live with both eyes opened and hearts ablaze!
“Knowing when the master might return is not their concern,” writes Michael Card, “only faithful service. Knowing is not what matters. Obedience is everything.” Yes, obedience is everything. Will we be found faithful?
Church, we dare not sleep through our moment in history. Whether our moment is history’s last moment or not, we must live with radical preparedness “lest he come suddenly and find you asleep.” Ask yourself this question: were Christ to return right now, how would He find your life? Are you sleepwalking through life? Are you awake? Are you alert? Are you sober-minded? Are you engaged? Are you being salt and light? Are you doing what Christ has called you to do? Are you following your King?
May it be so! May it be so!
He who testifies to these things says, “Surely I am coming soon.” Amen. Come, Lord Jesus! (Revelation 22:20)
And we join in saying, “Amen!”
 William L. Lane, The Gospel According to Mark. The New International Commentary of the New Testament. Gen. Ed., F.F. Bruce (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1974), p.481-482.
 Ronald J. Kernaghan, Mark. The IVP New Testament Commentary Series. Ed., Grant R. Osborne. Vol.2 (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2007), p.270-271. Lane agrees and notes, “The translation ‘he is near’ presumes that the intended reference is to the parousia described in verses 24-27. A structural analysis of the discourse, however, shows that verse 29 has reference to verses 5-23. It is preferable, therefore, to translate ‘it is near,’ finding the antecedent in the appalling sacrilege and tribulation described in verses 14-20. This interpretation finds support from the parallel statement in verse 30, which clearly has reference to verses 14-20.” Lane, p.478.
 “There Goes Hell & The Second Coming,” New Oxford Review, p.18.
 Richard John Neuhaus, “While We’re At It,” First Things. May 2005.
 Calvin Miller, The Path of Celtic Prayer: An Ancient Way to Everyday Joy (Downers Grove, Illinois: IVP Books, 2007), p.17.
 Michael Card, Mark. (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2012), p.162.