HIS COMING AGAIN
Mk. 13:7-8 and Mk. 13:24-27
Jesus said, “When you hear of wars and reports of wars, do not be disturbed. These things must happen. But the end is not yet. Nation shall rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. In certain places there will be earthquakes. There will be famines. These things are the beginning of the birth-pangs of the new age.”
“And in those days, after that tribulation, the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will be falling from heaven, and the powers in the heavens will be shaken. And then they will see the Son of Man coming in the clouds with much power and glory. And then he will send his angels and they will gather the chosen ones from the four winds, from the edge of the earth to the edge of the heaven.”
Here Jesus unmistakably speaks of his coming again. But–and this is important–he clothes the idea in three pictures which are part and parcel of the apparatus connected with the day of the Lord.
(i) The day of the Lord was to be preceded by a time of wars. 4 Ezra declares that before the day of the Lord there will be,
“Quakings of places Tumult of peoples, Scheming of nations, Confusion of leaders, Disquietude of princes.” (9: 3).
The same book says,
“And there shall come astonishment of mind upon the dwellers on earth. And they shall plan to war one against another, city against city, place against place, people against people, and kingdom against kingdom.” (13: 31).
The Sibylline Oracles foresee that,
“King captures king and takes his land, and nations ravage nations and potentates people, and rulers all flee to another land, and the land is changed in men and a barbarian empire ravages Hellas and drains the rich land of its wealth, and men come face to face in strife.” (3: 633-647).
Second Baruch has the same ideas. In 27: 5-13 this book singles out twelve things which will precede the new age.
“In the first part there will be the beginning of commotions. In the second part there shall be the slayings of great ones. In the third part the fall of many by death. In the fourth part the sending of the sword. In the fifth part famine and withholding of rain. In the sixth part earthquakes and terrors…(there is a blank in the manuscript here)…. In the eighth part a multitude of spectres and attacks of the evil spirits. In the ninth part the fall of fire. In the tenth part rapine and much oppression. In the eleventh part wickedness and unchastity. In the twelfth part confusion from the mingling together of all those things aforesaid.”
“All the inhabitants of the earth shall be moved against one another.” (48: 32.)
“And they shall hate one another, And provoke one another to fight.
And it shall come to pass that whosoever comes safe out of the war shall die in the earthquake, And whosoever gets safe out of the earthquake shall be burned by the fire, And whosoever gets safe out of the fire shag be destroyed by famine.”
It is abundantly clear that when Jesus spoke of wars and rumours of wars he was using pictures which were part and parcel of Jewish dreams of the future.
(ii) The day of the Lord was to be preceded by the darkening of sun and moon. The Old Testament itself is full of that (Am.8:9, Jl.2:10, Jl.3:15, Eze.32:7-8, Isa.13:10, Isa.34:4); again the popular literature of Jesus’ day is full of it, too.
“Then shall the sun suddenly shine forth by night, And the moon by day.
The outgoings of the stars shall change.” (4 Ezra 5: 4-7.)
2 Baruch 32: 1 speaks of “the time in which the mighty one is to shake the whole creation.” The Sibylline Oracles (3: 796-806) talk of a time when “swords in the star-lit heaven appear by night towards dusk and towards dawn…and all the brightness of the sun fails at midday from the heaven, and the moon’s rays shine forth and come back to earth, and a sign comes from the rocks with dripping streams of blood.” The Assumption of Moses foresees a time when:
“The horns of the sun shall be broken and he shall be turned into darkness, And the moon shall not give her light, and be turned wholly into blood, And the circle of the stars shall be disturbed.” (10: 5.)
Once again it is clear that Jesus is using the popular language which everyone knew.
(iii) It was a regular part of the imagery that the Jews were to be gathered back to Palestine from the four corners of the earth. The Old Testament itself is full of that idea (Isa.27:13; Isa.35:8-10; Mic.7:12; Zech.10:6-11); once more the popular literature loves the idea:
“Blow ye in Zion on the trumpet to summon the saints, Cause ye to be heard in Jerusalem the voice of him that bringeth good tidings, For God hath had pity on Israel in visiting them. Stand on the height, O Jerusalem, and behold thy children, From the East and the West gathered together by the Lord.” (Wis.11:1-3.)
“The Lord will gather you together in faith through His tender mercy, and for the sake of Abraham and Isaac and Jacob.” (The Testament of Asher 7: 5-7.)
When we read the pictorial words of Jesus about the Second Coming we must remember that he is giving us neither a map of eternity nor a timetable to the future, but that he is simply using the language and the pictures that many a Jew knew and used for centuries before him.
But it is extremely interesting to note that the things Jesus prophesied were in fact happening. He prophesied wars and the dreaded Parthians were in fact pressing in on the Roman frontiers. He prophesied earthquakes and within forty years the Roman world was aghast at the earthquake which devastated Laodicaea and by the eruption of Vesuvius which buried Pompeii in lava. He prophesied famines, and there was famine in Rome in the days of Claudius. It was in fact such a time of terror in the near future that when Tacitus began his histories he said that everything happening seemed to prove that the gods were seeking, not salvation, but vengeance on the Roman Empire.
In this passage the one thing that we must retain is the fact that Jesus did foretell that he would come again. The imagery we can disregard.
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