It was late one Sunday night as I listened to the radio, that I first heard Jonny Cash sing “When the man comes around” with his deep bass notes reverberating in the pit of my stomach.
A song about the end of time (according to some readings of the book of Revelation). The man, “Christ”, on His return, establishing “Alpha and Omega’s Kingdom come” and deciding at judgement “who to free and who to blame”. “Pop” culture brimming full of Biblical imagery! I still feel a shiver up my spine when I hear Cash’s song. The “old time” Gospel you might say.
Personal. Global. Apocalyptic.
This week’s Lectionary reading from Mark Chapter 13 verses 21 to 37 certainly has a personal, global and an apocalyptic timbre to its message. It is worth cutting and pasting the Scripture for reflection…
21 At that time if anyone says to you, ‘Look, here is the Messiah!’ or, ‘Look, there he is!’ do not believe it. 22 For false messiahs and false prophets will appear and perform signs and wonders to deceive, if possible, even the elect. 23 So be on your guard; I have told you everything ahead of time.
24 “But in those days, following that distress,
“‘the sun will be darkened,
and the moon will not give its light;
25 the stars will fall from the sky,
and the heavenly bodies will be shaken.’[a]
26 “At that time people will see the Son of Man coming in clouds with great power and glory. 27 And he will send his angels and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of the heavens.
28 “Now learn this lesson from the fig tree: As soon as its twigs get tender and its leaves come out, you know that summer is near. 29 Even so, when you see these things happening, you know that it[b] is near, right at the door. 30 Truly I tell you, this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened. 31 Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away.
32 “But about that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. 33 Be on guard! Be alert[c]! You do not know when that time will come. 34 It’s like a man going away: He leaves his house and puts his servants in charge, each with their assigned task, and tells the one at the door to keep watch.
35 “Therefore keep watch because you do not know when the owner of the house will come back—whether in the evening, or at midnight, or when the rooster crows, or at dawn. 36 If he comes suddenly, do not let him find you sleeping. 37 What I say to you, I say to everyone: ‘Watch!’”
The Gospel of Mark. Chapter 13 v 21 to 37. The New International Version.
So. How to understand Christ’s teachings?
As much as this passage can be read from the perspective of the “end times” such as Jonny Cash refers to in his song “When the man comes around”, there is some truth in recognising that the signs of the times debate was started when one of Christ’s disciples pointed out to Christ how impressive the stonework of the Temple was. Jesus is not overly impressed and comments that the Temple, hallowed by the Jews, would someday “end up in a heap of rubble” (Matthew 13 v 2). (The Message paraphrase). This confuses the disciples who rightly seek clarification as to when this destruction will occur. When will this happen? What will be the signs?
And, let’s be honest, the signs are ominous. Wars. Famine, False preachers, Fake Messiahs indeed. Stars falling out of the sky. The world in tumult.
All this before the “Son of Man” as Christ is referred to “enters in grand style” as Petersen’s “The Message” puts it.
The meaning of the word “apocalyptic” often associated with the end times such as represented vividly in Mark Chapter 13 actually refers to an unveiling, a revelation, a disclosure. When Christ comes, all will be revealed, that is the “apocalypse”. An awakening you might say, not an annihilation.
So. In light of the coming of Christ, in light of the fact that even great big stone temples can be destroyed, how do we live?
We live in the light of God at work, now, today.
We live faithfully in this earthly reality, looking and longing, as believers, for a heavenly reality. Indeed we see and sometimes experience heaven and earth in our present “now”.
We wait. We watch. We build what is good (and not just temples of stone).
We act local and think global as Christian Aid’s call to arms used to remind us.
We discern those seeking our energy, our emotion even our vote, with false promises. And keep away from.
We remain ready for the man who will “come around”.
Picture courtesy of @savbrown