Forty-five weeks into our study of Mark’s gospel at LifePoint, the wait is over.
Mark 13 is here.
I have been anxious to begin my study of this chapter for a number of months, as I’ve been praying through the best approach to employ as I preach it. At first I was planning on taking 3 or 4 weeks to unfold the 37 somewhat cryptic verses. A few months back as I was delving into the text on a deeper level, I decided to tackle it in 2 weeks. Currently, halfway through the week where I’m actually preparing to preach it on Sunday, I don’t see any way around preaching all 37 verses in one week. I guess we’ll just plan a late lunch for Sunday…
Why one week?
Mark 13 is so unique. In the middle of Mark’s gospel narrative this chapter stands out as one of the seminal texts in all of Scripture in what some refer to as the genre of “apocalyptic literature.” The word “apocalypse” simply means “revelation.” It’s actually the first word of the final book of the Bible, known as “The Revelation of Jesus Christ.” Revelation starts out with the Greek word apokalupsis, translated in English as “revelation.” Often times “apocalyptic literature” is recognized as that which 1) reveals the future of God’s plans, 2) refers to end-times events or events that are “approaching” in the future, or 3) unveils aspects of the conclusion of God’s redemptive plans for his creation. Several places in Scripture contain apocalyptic literature, most notably Revelation, Zechariah, Daniel, and Mark 13, among other texts. The genre was extremely popular in and around the first century, particularly in Jewish circles. There is a host of non-biblical examples of apocalyptic literature dating from the centuries before and after the time of Jesus. I spent the first four months of 2013 studying apocalyptic literature, focused on the book of Revelation, in a graduate course I was able to take at a local seminary. So I’ve been looking forward to preaching Mark 13 for a while.
One of the major features to keep in mind concerning this type of biblical literature is the tendency toward an obsession with predictive interpretation which many “apocalyptic lit fans” exhibit. A distinct feature of New Testament apocalyptic literature is the consistent admonition to the reader to do exactly the opposite. If you read Mark 13 or Revelation you will be bombarded by the call to “stay focused,” “worship God,” “endure to the end,” “stay on guard,” “stay awake,” “stay alert,” “worship Jesus,” “look forward in hope to Jesus’ return,” etc. You will not be overwhelmed by the call to “set dates,” “tie together apocalyptic images with current events,” “postulate on political or historical identifiers,” or “discern the signs of the times.”
This last phrase is one that I’ll talk about a little on Sunday, taken from Luke 12:56 and Matthew 16:3. I feel like I hear the call to “discern the signs of the end times” quite a bit in Christian circles, as if that’s a major call from Jesus’ to his followers. If you look up the context of Jesus’ words in that regard, he is most definitely not saying “spend a lot of time and energy trying to connect images from apocalyptic literature to your current political/historical circumstances.” In those texts from Matthew and Luke he is actually reprimanding his hearers for missing him. They knew how to tell the weather by looking at the skies, but they failed to discern who was standing right in front of them, the One who was (and is) the fulfillment of so many biblical prophecies. The point: Jesus is the point.
One commentator referenced the fact that Mark 13 is often called “the little Apocalypse” of the New Testament. It certainly does “reveal” a great deal for the reader who digs deep. One thing I noticed today was that in comparison to every other chapter in Mark’s normally abbreviated gospel, Mark 13 contains an enormous amount of “red letters.” Other gospel accounts, places like the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5-7, have long drawn out compilations of Jesus’ words, but not so in Mark. Everything in Mark is shorter, more abrupt, and to the point; with the exception of Mark 13. Thirty-four of the chapter’s 37 verses are Jesus’ words, including 33 straight verses that read like an impassioned general’s conclusive discourse to his beloved but soon-to-be beleaguered troops.
I think we’re going to have a really good time diving into this text on Sunday. I’m not actually planning on preaching any longer than I normally do. I think we can knock out these 37 verses in at most 3 or 4 hours. Bring a sack lunch and some Capri Suns to share. By the end of the sermon you’ll definitely be pining for Jesus’ to return.