Mark 13 is a fascinating chapter for expected and unexpected reasons. It captures our attention for the expected reasons: Jesus talks about the end of the age, the coming of the Son of Man, and references a host of OT prophetic literature. It also captures our attention for unexpected reasons: we learn a great deal about what it means to follow Christ is a world that, at times, seems utterly out of control.
Throughout the chapter Christ tells the disciples the end will not be pretty. Pray you are not infirm or sick or pregnant when that day comes—you need to be able to run. Even the coming of the Son of Man is attended with the darkening of the sun and moon and the falling of the stars. Though it is great and glorious, it is overwhelming. Then, to wrap up the teaching on the signs of the end of the age, Jesus tells a parable.
A master sets up his house, leaves it in the hands of his servants, and leaves. He doesn’t tell the servants when he is coming back, so they must remain awake until he returns to claim his possession. The servants were put in a position of responsibility over the master’s house and needed to stay diligent to watch over it until he comes back. Christ closes the parable with some rather haunting words, “And what I say to you I say to all: Stay awake” (vs. 37).
In just a few days the disciples will watch Christ rise off the ground and ascend into heaven leaving them here without his physical presence. At that very moment the disciples become the servants of the parable, responsible for the master’s house until he returns. And did they take that responsibility seriously! Their very real belief that Christ was coming back soon, that they didn’t know when, and that they were responsible until he did turned their world upside down.
Within a generation, the world of their time knew about Jesus Christ. Thomas went as far as India. John and others found themselves in the deserts of Africa. Others made it as far as Europe, and even Paul was trying to get to Spain before his death. Even though the early Christians were the slaves and lower classes of their time, the rest of the world took notice. The disciples of the disciples spent a great deal of time defending their faith against the slander of the Roman citizens who didn’t understand what was happening to their culture.
The disciples and their disciples died and Christ did not return. That means we now stand in the same place they did when Christ first ascended into heaven; we are now the servants in charge of the master’s house. Will we take up the responsibility? Are we prepared to do what the disciples did and turn our world upside down with the Gospel of Jesus Christ? We certainly live in a different world than they did, and our challenges may be different from theirs, but their world was every bit as hostile to and skeptical of Christ. And yet they did amazing things as responsible servants of Christ.
Talk about the end of the age is intended to motivate my daily existence. It is not “pie-in-the-sky,” and it is not just for some fuzzy day in the future. It moved the disciples to action, and it should move us to action as well. Paul tells Titus that God trains “us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ” (Titus 2:12-13). Peter tells persecuted Christians they ought to live “lives of holiness and godliness, waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God” (2 Peter 3:11-12). And John tells us this: “but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is. And everyone who thus hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure” (1 John 3:2-3).
Let’s give Jesus the final word. And what I say to you I say everyone who comes after you: Stay awake!