First Sunday in Advent

by Bear Wade

Interim Apocalypses — Until HE Comes or:
Inert VS. Alert at the Apocalypse
Mark 13:24-37
(First Sunday in Advent)
analysis by Cathy Lessmann

Dear Folks,

Just for the record — the basic theology of many of these next STs has been liberally stolen from Ed Schroeder’s pericope studies on the year of Mark which are already on the website For those of you looking for some extra theological exercise, you might compare and contrast these newest efforts with Ed’s originals. After all, imitation is the sincerest form of flattery — and if we screw it up, Ed will surely let us know!

Have a good week,

24 “But in those days, after that suffering, the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, 25and the stars will be falling from heaven, and the powers in the heavens will be shaken. 26Then they will see ‘the Son of Man coming in clouds’ with great power and glory. 27Then he will send out the angels, and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of heaven. 28From the fig tree learn its lesson: as soon as its branch becomes tender and puts forth its leaves, you know that summer is near. 29So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that he is near, at the very gates. 30Truly I tell you, this generation will not pass away until all these things have taken place. 31Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away. 32But about that day or hour no one knows, neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. 33Beware, keep alert; for you do not know when the time will come. 34It is like a man going on a journey, when he leaves home and puts his slaves in charge, each with his work, and commands the door-keeper to be on the watch. 35Therefore, keep awake — for you do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or at cockcrow, or at dawn, 36or else he may find you asleep when he comes suddenly. 37And what I say to you I say to all: Keep awake.”

DIAGNOSIS: INERT: Sleeping through “Apocalypse Now”

Step 1-Initial Diagnosis: Asleep (bad timing)
The thirteenth chapter of Mark is all about “Apocalypse,” but not only about the final Apocalypse (Judgment Day), and especially not about the timing of that Final Apocalypse (“Y2K” prognosticators, beware!). It is very much about the “Apocalypse Now” — those times when believers are called upon now, during their lifetimes, to give a confession of their faith, because it’s these confessions that predict the final one. Jesus constantly urges, beware, keep alert (v. 33)! In fact, keep awake (v. 35)! Throughout his Gospel, Mark portrays the disciples (insiders, people we assume are the closest to Jesus) as being the ones who are the most “asleep,” the ones Jesus constantly has to admonish. Note how they fail their big opportunity on Easter morning as they flee “trembling with astonishment, saying nothing to anyone because they were afraid” (Mark 16:8). That was their “Apocalypse Now,” but they kept their mouths shut, resorting to flight and fright. The uncomfortable question we modern-day Christians, especially those of us who assume we’re Jesus’ special “insiders” need to ask is: could this really be a warning to us too? Could we be asleep and inert, not ready “for the master’s sudden return”?

Step 2-Advanced Diagnosis: Astray
Not being ready, being asleep is bad enough, but Jesus indicates that the direct cause of that inertia is because the disciples/we have been led “astray!” He warns, “Beware that no one leads you astray. Many will come in my name and say, ‘I am he!’ and they will lead many astray” (v. 5-6). They/we are astray about the very identity of the Messiah — who he is and what he does! “And if anyone says to you at that time, ‘Look! Here is the Messiah!’ or ‘Look! There he is!’ — do not believe it. False messiahs and false prophets will appear and produce signs and omens, to lead astray, if possible, the elect” (v. 21-23). Mesmerized by false Messiahs, or false notions (theologies of glory) about the true Messiah, they/we are in fact disconnected from him and his words! But it is only his words that are guaranteed not to pass away, whereas the words of any other voice or power in “heaven and earth will pass away,” at the Apocalypse Now.

Step 3-Final Diagnosis: Ashamed, Rejected
By the disciples/our de facto confessing of a false Messiah in “Apocalypse Now” times, they/we blow their/our option for confessing the true Messiah at the Final Apocalypse! Mark graphically describes the consequences of this in terms of being “ashamed.” Jesus says, “those who are ashamed of me and my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of them the Son of Man will also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels” (8:38). What more lethal consequence can there be? With Jesus ashamed of us at the Last Apocalypse, our status changes from “insider” to “reject” — big time losers with God!

PROGNOSIS: ALERT: Vitalized Confessing in “Apocalypse Now”

Step 4-Initial Prognosis: The Merciful Apocalypse in the Ochlos-Messiah
The “beginning of the Good News of Jesus, the Christ,” according to Mark (1:1), is that he initiates the beginning of the end time, and that in him God’s kingdom is here — i.e., it is, in this beginning, Apocalypse Now (1:15). Jesus’ apocalypse is different from the one expected. Instead of judgment for the sinners and reward for the righteous, he condemns the obviously righteous ones and befriends the obvious rejects. He takes on our identity: ochlos — the common crowd, rejected one — and he takes our Final Apocalypse upon himself, suffers it, and then has the chutzpah to claim that his “mercifully premature apocalypse boldly scoops the final one and actually averts and thwarts it” (R.W. Bertram), already giving us advance approval from the One who will be on the bench in the final apocalypse. Easter proves Jesus to be God’s Elect-Reject, our Ochlos-Messiah. That closes the case before the court on all the rejects he elects — the disciples and ourselves!

Step 5-Advanced Prognosis: Spirited Confessing in the Apocalypse Now
The disciples/we are freed in our everyday Apocalypse Nows to confess Jesus as our Ochlos-Messiah, even if, as Jesus describes, all hell is breaking loose — siblings betraying siblings, parents doing their kids in and vice versa. Even if we are “hated by all for my name’s sake” (v. 13). But this time, we are not led astray by false spirits, we have the Holy Spirit surging through us. There is no need on our part for advance planning on what to say or how to say it or how it will come across. Instead of strategy considerations that inevitably bring anxiety (for no one earthling can predict the future when it is apocalypse now), our agenda is careful listening to the Spirit of the Ochlos-Messiah and then simply saying what we’ve heard. That’s confessing, homo-logia (saying the same thing) i.e., saying what was previously said by the one whose “words will not pass away” (v. 31).

Step 6-Final Prognosis: Servants in Charge — Alert and Involved (good timing!)
Alert and involved, saying what we’ve heard, we become trusted servants whom the master has left in charge. We go about doing that which Jesus points out needs to get done: preaching the good news to all nations (v. 10) right now, from our witness stands right in the midst of our everyday lives. We become Jesus’ own designated emissaries (angeloi), entrusted to “gather his elect from the four winds”, (whither churchly and worldly establishments have blown them), “and from the edges [not ‘ends’] of the earth and heaven” (whither they have been shoved, marginated, by the operating systems of the old eon; v. 27). Through us, the Ochlos-Messiah gathers in the ochlos of the world. It couldn’t come at a better time!


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