We don’t like to wait do we. It is especially hard waiting for something that seems to be taking forever. A child may think that it is taking forever for Christmas to come, but they know it will come after a certain number of days. Waiting for a doctor to call back with test results may feel like time is crawling but we know that within a few days, we will hear. However, consider parents who have been waiting for a child who has rejected the faith to come back. After a long period of time, a parent can lose hope or may even simply assume that it won’t happen.
We are waiting for the return of Jesus. So is it like waiting for a child waiting for Christmas where it is imminent? Or like something that is so far removed, it seems like it won’t happen and we even stop expecting it? Jesus has been teaching his disciples that persecution and trials are coming and coming soon. Yet the time of his coming again is unknown. And we know that the longer we wait, the less likely it seems that it will happen. How can we watch and wait for Jesus’ return with a sense of genuine anticipation? Let’s read Mark 13:32-37.
I. Jesus stresses in verse 32 that God only knows when Jesus will come again.
Jesus concludes this section on the coming trials by talking about the time when God will bring this world to an end. “That day” echoes the Old Testament prophets who spoke of the “day of the Lord.” Amos 9:13 says, “‘The days are coming’ declares the Lord, ‘when the reaper will be overtaken by the ploughman and the planter by the one treading grapes. New wine will drip from the mountains and flow from all the hills and I will bring my people Israel back from exile.’” Micah 4:6 says, “‘In that day,’ declares the Lord, I will gather the lame; I will assemble the exiles and those I have brought to grief.’” In referring to “that day,” Jesus is using prophetic language to help his disciples sense that the time of the final judgment of God is coming near. Yet Jesus says that no one knows the day or even the hour when the Son of Man will appear in glory with power.
It is important to understand the relationship of this statement with Jesus’ previous statements about the destruction of the Temple, especially regarding the time reference. The Temple will be destroyed specifically within this generation but as for the hour when the Son of Man returns, no one knows. Jesus used the parable of the fig tree to illustrate the nearness of the first event. Jesus uses another parable to say that the time of his second coming is unknown. They could know for certain when the end of the Temple would be but Jesus says that they can have no idea how long it will before he comes again.
In fact, Jesus says that “not even the angels nor the Son” know when this will occur. Some have tried to say that Jesus is not fully God since he doesn’t know something the Father knows. However, Jesus was not explaining the theological limits of his knowledge but rather was emphasizing that his followers must be extremely alert and watching. If the Son of Man and the angels are ignorant of that day then certainly mere human beings will not know the timing of that day. His point is that it is impossible to prepare for this day in advance.
This stands in sharp contrast to the preparation for Jerusalem’s destruction. Jesus told them when it would be and exactly what they should do when it happens: it will be easily seen and avoided by fleeing away. The day of judgment will arrive so suddenly and unexpectedly that absolutely no one will have any warning and thus no time to prepare and flee.
For the time for this final moment in history rests with God the Father alone. In fact, in Acts 1:6-7, Jesus will remind them of this again just before he ascended to heaven. The disciples ask, “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?” Jesus responds, “It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority.” The Father has not delegated his authority to anyone, not even to the Son.
The one thing the disciples can be certain of is that the day will come when God will bring judgment on the world and he will do so by sending his Son with the angels. Jesus had just said in Mark 8:26, “At that time people will see the Son of Man coming in the clouds with great power and glory.” Jesus’ second coming and the judgment it will bring about are matters that God decides and no one and nothing can change that or determine this.
For years many Christians have tried to figure out exactly when Jesus is coming again. These predictions have been abysmal failures. And I’ve never understood what about what Jesus here that says they don’t understand. For example, Harold Camping predicted a few years ago that based on all his calculations, Jesus would return on May 21, 2011; it clearly didn’t happen! So if Jesus doesn’t know when he’s coming back, I’m confident that all the calculations in the world aren’t going to reveal it to anyone else!
II. Jesus makes it very clear in verses 33-36 that we must be constantly on guard!
Jesus illustrates this with a parable about the absent landowner. A master who is away has delegated his authority to his servants and has assigned each to his work, specifying that the doorkeeper is to be watching. In the Roman understanding of time, there were four night-watches in contrast to the Jewish way of having three watches in the night. Mark makes this time adjustment so that it makes sense to his Roman readers.
Jesus’ point is that the one in charge of the door must be watching and ready for his master to return. This was applied to the early church in their desire to be busy in the work God had called them to do in their work and labor. The danger is that the master will return and find the servant sleeping. The true servant will want to be watching and actively engaged in his Master’s service when he returns.
Jesus says that those who follow him should not be sleeping but what does that mean for us? Two weeks ago I asked if you believed that Jesus was coming again and we said yes. But do you believe that Jesus will come back in your lifetime? I suspect most of us would honestly answer “no;” most of us fully expect to die and Jesus will come later after we die. We are watching but not expecting his return in our lifetime. Jesus’ point is that we must be actively ready. watching and doing his work.
Ok, but how are we to be staying awake and watching? Jesus teaches that we are to be busy doing the work of the kingdom waiting for his return, but how do we do that? I believe that we do what we normally would do in serving our Lord, only with the full expectation of his coming while we are doing it. Think of it this way: what would you ideally like to be doing when Jesus returns? I would like to be teaching others about Jesus or preaching the good news. Maybe you would like to be helping others or being of service to others. I’m guessing most of us would not want to be obsessing about money or worse, taking advantage of others. Nor would we want to be doing things that we would be ashamed of if others were to know and see.
So let’s seek to do what we would love Jesus seeing us doing when he returns. When I was about 12 years old, my mother worked outside the home and I was home alone during the day during the summer. Before she would leave for the day, she would give me a list of chores that I was to be doing while she was at work; such as clean my room or do the dishes or vacuum the carpet. So I watched for her return very carefully; or more accurately I was watching the clock as to when she would return. And in the last 30 minutes, I’d get busy and get going on what I should have been doing all along. How much better to have been doing what I was supposed to have been doing all along. How much more effective it would have been in keeping me honest about my work if she had said that she would be back but not sure when. Jesus says do the work you are supposed to be doing and when he returns, you won’t be surprised or ashamed.
III. Jesus’ final word of warning in verse 37 is simply: “watch!”
Jesus began this long answer to the four disciples’ questions about the Temple’s destruction by saying “watch” and now he concludes it as well with the same warning: Watch! But this command to watch is expanded to a wider circle when Jesus says “everyone.” Mark undoubtedly understood this to include the readers in Rome 35 years later. This same warning was true for them as it was for the disciples. This suggests that Jesus intended this teaching for more than just his disciples. Jesus’ instruction is for all the church and not just the disciples.
Each member has their work and by working faithfully each person will be watching. This stress upon vigilance emphasized throughout this teaching suggests that this final call to watching in verse 37 is not focused exclusively on the last day. This applies to the continuing life of the Church during an age marked by false teachers, persecution and delay in the Lord’s return.
Finally, I want us to reflect on that phrase “each with his assigned task” in verse 34. We all have our assigned task in the kingdom. We each have our specific gifts given by the Holy Spirit that we are to be using in the kingdom. Jesus is saying that as we wait and watch for his return, we must be busy using the gifts that God has given us. If we are doing that, then we are working and watching faithfully.
The time of the appearance of the Son of Man in glory is unknown, but the fact that he will come is certain. So let’s be working hard in the kingdom and doing all we can to God’s glory as we work in that kingdom to advance it. Let’s seek to be busy doing the things we would want our Lord to see us doing.
It’s not all about just being busy but also living in the presence of God and resting in his gracious presence as well. So let’s work but let’s also enjoy the peaceful presence of God as well and know that he has his kingdom fully in his hands as we watchfully await our Lord’s return.