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Reflections on the Mark 13

I recently read over the Gospel of Mark and was inspired by the Chapter 13. Similar to Matthew 24, this chapter contains message of Jesus about the end times and the signs that accompany them. Unlike, for example, the Sermon on the Mount (Mt. 6), these words of Jesus do not come as a direct instruction from God, but as an answer to the curious questions of the disciples: When will all this (the end time) happen? What will be the signs from God so that we (disciples) can understand that that time has come? (from Mk.13:4).

To understand the context, one must go back to the beginning of the chapter, when an unnamed disciple, excited by the grandeur of the Temple, could not help exclaiming: What the stones! What the buildings! (from Mk.13:1). It can be understood that Jesus, leaving the Temple at the end of the day, where he had been addressed many times by both his believers and the Pharisees, who sought to catch him in contradictions, and had also seen both the poor widow’s offering and the hypocrisy of the rich, did not give in to excitement, but prophesied that after some time the Temple will be so destroyed that not one stone will remain upon another (from Mk.13:2). Knowing the history, that’s how it happened – in year 70AD after the Jewish uprising, all of Jerusalem and the Temple were leveled  to the ground – today only the Wailing Wall – a fragment of the foundation ramp – has been preserved. The Jewish uprising began in 66AD, and initially it was successful – the Roman garrison of Jerusalem was defeated, and the rest of the territory was also liberated in several successful battles. But the Roman war machine was strong, the Romans were not going to give up Judea, and under the leadership of the later Roman emperors Vespasian and his son Titus, the Roman army gradually recaptured the lost territories, besieged Jerusalem and conquered it after fierce battles. The inhabitants of Jerusalem were killed or sold into slavery and later Jews were forbidden even to approach the ruins of the city. The Romans even tried to erase the name of Jerusalem from their memory, calling the rebuilt city after its ruins Aelia Capitolina. There is a model of the city of Jesus’ lifetime in today’s Jerusalem, and the size of the city, the sheer size, and the robustness of the Temple itself show the ferocity of the Romans, who undeniably had to put in much effort to level it all. Don’t get me wrong, I really would give a lot to be able to walk the streets of Jerusalem, even climb up to the gates of the Temple and see the city from the Mount of Olives, before it was destroyed. Jesus used to sit on the Mount of Olives and look at the grand city with the temple of his Father, and how humanly difficult it was for him to realize that in less than 40 years it would all be gone, and he himself would have to accept the death of the cross very soon…

Later on that day, sitting on the Mount of Olives, overlooking the Temple, Jesus began to answer the questions of Peter, James, John, and Andrew: When? and What sign? Interestingly, Jesus’ first words were: Watch out that no one deceives you. Many will come in my name, claiming, ‘I am he’, and will deceive many (Mk. 13:6, NIV). Jesus predicts that there will be false prophets who will prophesy lies, and many, including believers, will be deceived. Next, Jesus talks about natural cataclysms, wars, rumors of wars, and persecution of believers. All of these things have happened before, are happening, and will continue to happen. One pastor has said: The end times have begun with Jesus Christ, and I will probably not live to see the end. To my understanding, the key phrases in this prophecy of Jesus are: Do not be alarmed (afraid) (Mk13:7, NIV) and Do not worry when you are brought before rulers and kings, for the Holy Spirit will speak with your mouth” (from Mk.13:9,11, NIV). My understanding of this is that God holds his hand over his children, protects them, and guides them in thoughts, words, and deeds. It makes me feel safe about myself and those close to me, no matter the troubles ahead. We only need to pray to God that we do not spoil our lives with lust, stupidity, anger, indifference, etc.

He who stands firm to the end will be saved (Mk. 13:13, NIV). Christian congregations were formed in different circumstances – for example, in Rome at the beginning Christians were not persecuted as they were considered a sect of Jews, and Judaism was allowed. Cruel persecution began during the time of Emperor Nero, and many were faced with a choice – to deny Jesus or die a painful death. On the other hand, Christianity was not officially banned in the Soviet Union, and churches were functioning, but no one could build a serious career if they positioned themselves as Christians. A young Christian could do physical work, but he could not even dream of a management position. The choice was up to everyone – to gain normal life, respect, status, possessions, an apartment, and a personal car, in exchange for renouncing the church or to remain faithful to the call of Jesus and gain the kingdom of heaven. From today’s point of view, the choice was obvious, but at that time not everyone could afford it. There is no persecution of Christians in modern Latvia, we can be proud of the relatively peaceful coexistence between denominations. The biggest challenge to stand firm to the end  is not to accept the earthly logic, fears, and neuroses. Yes, also to stay in your ministry, and church, maintain your church with donations, support, work. Enduring to the end also means not losing love. Because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold (Mt. 24:12NIV). I didn’t understand this passage a few years ago. Now, unfortunately, I am acutely aware of what that means. Seeing the injustice in the world and increasing in strength, taking over the minds, there is a desire to build the fortress around oneself, rely on one’s own strength, and shout to God: Where are You? Why do you allow all this to happen? There is no clear answer… all the nations of the earth will mourn. They will see the Son of Men coming on the clouds of the sky, with power and great glory (Mt. 24:30, NIV). For as lightning that comes from the east is visible even in the west, so will be the coming of the Son of Man (Mt. 24:27NIV). And he will send his angels with a load trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of heavens to the other (Mt. 24:31, NIV). When will all this happen? No one knows about that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father (Mt. 24:36, NIV). I sometimes watch the history channels, which have 1st World War: Hell on Earth and Apocalypse: 2nd World War, but long before that there were Mongol invasions, crusades, Ottoman conquests, and Berber and Viking raids. Indeed, the history of mankind has already been full of disasters, wars, and terrible war crimes, many times already the generation had every right to say: Well, the end of the world is here! As we know, not yet… How much longer and what ELSE has to happen?! If you think about all this with earthly thinking, then you cannot sleep peacefully at night, and a resort of it seems to harden your heart, in better case to accuse God in cruelty, in the worst – to give up faith and die spiritually. Somewhere in the distance, the words of Jesus are heard calmly, clearly, and softly: Now learn this lesson from the fig tree: As soon as its twigs get tender and its leaves come out, you know that summer is near. Even so, when you see all these things, you know that it is near, right at the door (Mt. 24:32-33, NIV). These words of Jesus strengthen and give hope. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away (Mk.13:31, NIV). Since we do not know the time when Jesus will come, we do not have the opportunity to sleep – i.e. get indifferent, lazy in service, give in to despair, give up compassion, do not care about our neighbors and our relationship with God, thinking that when Jesus comes, we will be on the strip with a lighted torch. No, it doesn’t go through like that. Jesus says: Watch! (Mk. 13:37, NIV).