Online Bible Study – Mark 13:1-8, 24-37
Scripture: Mark 13:1-8, 24-37
People have been predicting the apocalypse for a long time. An article in Smithsonian Magazine notes that one of the earliest recorded predictions comes from an Assyrian clay tablet dating to 2800 BCE.[i] Needless to say, it didn’t happen, nor have any of the other predictions made over the millennia. If one of them had, I wouldn’t be sitting here writing this Bible study. Nonetheless, I have a feeling that apocalypse is on a lot of people’s minds this week and it is the topic that our Narrative Lectionary text for this week addresses.
This week’s reading follows immediately from last week’s text.
Having commented on the widow and her offering Jesus leaves the temple with his disciples and starts talking about things that are to come. Interestingly, the main thrust of verses one to eight isn’t that the apocalypse is coming soon. Instead Jesus warns the disciples who are with him not to be too eager to assume something is a sign that the end times have come. He doesn’t deny that bad things will happen. The disciples and indeed the whole of Judea were living through tough times in the wake of the Roman occupation.
That was perhaps one reason that apocalyptic predictions were so common in Jesus’ day. We tend to think of the apocalypse as something to be frightened of. We focus on the predictions of terrible happening. But the Greek word that we translate as apocalypse actually means to uncover or reveal.
In the context of the Bible it refers to the final revelation of God at the end of history. For people living under an oppressive regime, longing for God to set things right, the apocalypse was good news, and they risked seeing every bad thing that happened as a sign that the end was near. This would result in them failing to live their lives fully in the moment.
The second half of this reading points to a different risk.
Here Jesus is telling his listeners to keep awake. If on the one hand the disciples risk being too eager for the apocalypse, the opposite problem is thinking that God is in no way involved in the history of the world and that God isn’t interested in setting the world to rights. That assumption can lead to a failure of discipleship. It creates the assumption that if God isn’t invested in the world it doesn’t matter how we live. Jesus is very clear that this attitude is also a problem.
So what does all of this mean for us, living in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic?
First, that events that feel cataclysmic have happened before and will likely happen again. The world has always made it through. We as Christians have a responsibility to act as faithful disciples through these times.
And secondly, although the situation is serious and we need to follow the advice of health authorities and the rules that the government is laying down for us, it’s important that we don’t give in to despair and assume that this is the end of all things.
God has been and will continue to be faithful. Thanks be to God.