Signs of the times
When “wars and rumours of wars” hit the headlines, Christians will often proclaim, “This must be the end.” And often they will point to Mark 13 as proof. Yet in this chapter Jesus says something quite different:
“And when ye shall hear of wars and rumours of wars, be ye not troubled: for such things must needs be; but the end shall not be yet. For nation shall rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom: and there shall be earthquakes in divers places, and there shall be famines and troubles: these are the beginnings of sorrows.” (Mark 13:7-8)
When nations rise against nations, people declare, “These must be the last days.” And of course, they are right. Yet “the last days” describe the whole period from Christ’s first to His second coming. The last days have been going for 2000 years now.
When we see international breakdown, what should we conclude? Jesus says “These are the beginnings of sorrows.” The word for “sorrows” is a word for “birth-pains.” Such events might be painful – excruciatingly painful. But they are a pain that leads to new life. These signs are not death-throes but birth-pains. In one sense they represent an ending. But far more they are the ending that births a new beginning.
Back in Matthew 16 Jesus spoke of “signs of the times” such as the famous, “red sky at night.” (Matthew 16:3,4). These are the kinds of signs Jesus wants us to be attuned to. In Mark 13 He also speaks of the fig tree, whose leaves may be tender now, but such vulnerability signifies a coming summer. Think about these signs. Though the sky is blood red, yet, as we all know “red sky at night, shepherd’s delight.” And though the fig tree is tender now, summer is around the corner.
In just this way Jesus wants us to interpret the signs of family, national, international and cosmic breakdown. They are painful – but painful like pregnancy is painful. There is new life coming.
It would be easy to read Mark 13 merely as a prophecy of doom. But Jesus intends something else beyond these “sorrows.”
There is “the end” (v7, 13). In Greek it’s the word telos meaning goal. It is the end for which all things are made. The universe is heading towards its goal.
There is “birth” (v8) – the regeneration of all things! (Matthew 19:28)
There is “summer” (v27) – after the cold of winter and after the tenderness of the leaves in spring, all creation will blossom. Christ’s world will flower and bear fruit.
There is “the cloud” (v26) – this is the cloud symbolising the Presence of the LORD with His people (Numbers 10:33-36). Jesus will come with the cloud. It’s the cloud that provides shelter by day, light and warmth by night. Jesus will come back in the cloud and neither He nor the cloud of His presence will ever leave us again.
There is “gathering” (v27) – as a hen gathers her chicks, Jesus will gather His people. Our lives are scattered in this age, we are distant from one another and from Christ, one day He will gather us.
There is the “power and glory of Son of Man” (v26) – The whole cosmos will be shaken, yet one thing will survive. Jesus Himself. Think of how He speaks:
“Heaven and earth shall pass away: but my words shall not pass away.” (Mark 13:31)
It is an astonishing thing to say. Who does He think He is? Well He knows Himself to be the One Person who can last this judgement. He, and in a real sense He alone, is what remains on the other side of this judgement. The last day will be the Day of the LORD.
For He will be the true Temple torn down – the Head of creation taken down to the tomb. Yet from there He will arise. And for those who come into Christ, the safe-house, the end will be “summer”, “regeneration”, “gathering”, “the cloud of His presence” and “the power and glory of the Son of Man”.
Follow the “signs of the times.” This dark night, awash with blood, will give way to a delightful dawn.