THE SECOND COMING OF THE LORD
Dan 12:1-3; Heb 10:11-14,18; Mk 13:24-32
It is part of human nature to want to know details about the future. People love to have information about the future. Business people speculate about stock markets, students do everything to gain access to examination question before the actual examination, people consult soothsayers for one reason or the other, etc. Similarly, people fancy information concerning the future and the end of time. From time to time, people come along to predict the end of the world. They always give precise dates on which it will come to an end. For this reason, people rush to conferences on prophecy. They readily buy books that talk about foretelling the future. They smartly turn to preachers and pastors who profess to teach what the future holds. Today’s first reading and the gospel are talking about things that are going to happen in the future.
- APOCALYPTIC LANGUAGE
The first reading (Daniel 12:1-3) and the gospel of today (Mark 13:24-32) use apocalyptic language, that is, language relating to or involving predictions about future disasters and the destruction of the world. These signs are usually associated with the Second Coming of Christ. They speak of the sun that becomes dark, of falling stars, of angels that call together all the elect from the four corners of the universe, of the Son of the Man coming on the clouds of heaven, of the angel Michael, of the time of great anguish, of the resurrection of the dead. If these texts are read literally, they can be very frightening and confusing to many a people.
We recite the Creed at Mass and proclaim that Jesus “will come again to judge the living and the dead.” The New Testament writers used the Greek word Parousia which means the arrival and presence of a king, to describe this second coming of Jesus. When this day comes, Jesus will be acknowledged as Lord with the dead rising and all human beings judged in the presence of the glorified Christ, our King. When is he coming? Nobody knows.
The apocalyptic books in the Bible were written mostly during difficult historical periods, when a whole population, depressed and humiliated, felt like asking: God, will our sorrow and pain ever end? The book of Daniel was written during one of the most difficult times in Israel’s history: during the oppressive reign of a very wicked king called Antiochus. He sought to wipe out all semblance of religion; he had desecrated the Temple in Jerusalem, and he was persecuting believers and killing those who opposed his reforms. When Mark was writing the part of the gospel which we have proclaimed today, the Christian communities were shaken and frightened by wars, calamities and famines that plagued the world. To tranquilize the Christians, Mark recalls the recommendation of the Master not to be deceived by stupid and senseless talk (Mk 13:5-8). He tells us not to worry about the date of the end of the world.
- TWO QUESTIONS
In order to understand what Jesus says in today’s gospel, we must listen to the questions posed by the disciples of Jesus: (Mk 13:1-4) “As Jesus was leaving the Temple grounds, his disciples pointed out to him the various Temple buildings. But he responded, “Do you see all these buildings? I tell you the truth, they will be completely demolished. Not one stone will be left on top of another!” Later, Jesus sat on the Mount of Olives. His disciples came to him privately and said, “Tell us, when will all this happen? What sign will signal your return and the end of the world?” There are two different questions that were asked by Peter, Andrew, James and John (c.f. Mark 13:3):
- a) “When will the temple be destroyed?”
- b) “What will be the sign of the end of the world?”
Concerning the first question, writers of Jewish history do give us a clue. Approximately 40 years after Jesus spoke these words, around AD 70, Roman armies began surrounding the city of Jerusalem to overtake it. And when they did take the city, the Roman army destroyed the temple, made sacrifices to false gods, declared Titus, the Roman emperor, to be supreme. Daniel 12:1 refers to a time like this: “There will be a time of distress such as never has occurred since nations came into being until that time.” This is the same language that is used in Mark 13:24-27 (and Mtt 24:21). The time of Jerusalem’s destruction in AD 70 was a horrifying and ghastly time. It was “a time of great tribulation”, as Mark calls it. The Jewish historian, Josephus, described the savagery, slaughter, disease, and famine that the Jewish people experienced during those years. And all of this took place about 40 years after Jesus said these words to His disciples.
The answer to the second question is given through the image of the fig tree (Mk 13:28). This tree is the last tree to put on its leaves before summer. As the leaves begin to break out, the farmer knows that summer is near, and he is full of joy because the time of plentiful crops is at hand. Only the Father, and nobody else, knows the time and hour of the final establishment of the kingdom of God, but there are evident signs that show the time is near. The Christian is invited to keep alert like the farmer who knows how to “read” the signs that mark the coming of the new season.
- DIFFERENT REACTIONS TO THE END OF TIME
Imagine how the early disciples felt once they saw the destruction of Jerusalem and its mighty Temple erased to the ground! That certainly convinced them that the end of the world could not be very far off. This thought filled them with trepidation. They felt strongly that the Second Coming was just around. Whenever predictions of the end of the world are made, different people react differently. The vast majority of people panic. They are frightened. Some have been known to sell all their possessions and return to their village to await the end of the world there. Others have actually committed suicide because they did not want to witness the end of the world. The fear is not unfounded in view of what Jesus says about the events that will precede the end of the world. As said above, there will be unprecedented catastrophe: “after that tribulation, the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will be falling from heaven, and the powers in the heavens will be shaken” (Mk 13:24-25). That is enough to scare even the stoutest of hearts. Another reason why people—maybe even most people—are frightened is that they do not know what their lot will be after the end of this world: will it be a happy one or a sad one, or to put it concretely, ‘will it be heaven or hell for all eternity?” In the face of these trends of thought, there are certain clear lessons for us as we look back on the words of today’s gospel:
- IMPORTANT LESSONS FROM THE END-TIMES MESSAGE
- a) Despite appearances, things are NOT out of control. There are times when it feels like the world is a sort of a runaway train that cannot be stopped. Today, we hear stories of gunmen shooting at innocent people; starvation, frightful diseases, despicable acts of wickedness of “man to man”, global warming, environmental disasters and much more. These may lead many people into hopelessness. In spite of all of this, God remains on the throne. Nothing surprises him. It is tempting to despair as we read about all the tumult in the world.
The difficult situation in which the communities for which this message was addressed found themselves is not so different from our own situation. How many failures, injustices, disappointments have we not had in our lives? Friends betray us, children disappoint us, people trick us into dishonest deals, etc. Nature seems to be revolting, people are becoming more violent. Jesus invites all those who suffer because of their love for truth, justice, peace and freedom not to get discouraged. Even during the darkest moments, they will be able to see the signs of the kingdom that is coming closer. On this point, Jesus says some very significant words in the Gospel of Luke: “When these things begin to take place (persecutions, disasters, calamities), stand erect, hold your heads high because your liberation is near at hand” (Lk 21:28). This is exactly what Jesus said was going to happen. Our job is to remain faithful.
- b) The coming of the day of the Lord. For us Christians, the end of the world is not about annihilation of our planet earth as some scientists and others believe, but this is about the Second Coming of Jesus. It is where Jesus is absolutely acknowledged as Lord and God with the dead rising and all human beings judged in the presence of the glorified Christ, the King. We call this event as the day of the Lord because it signifies of the Lord’s victory of the enemy, the devil.
- c) We need to be aware of “End Times Hysteria”. There will always be the temptation to run to this teacher or that teacher for the “secret code” to the end times. There will be fads that draw crowds; and people will endlessly debate on aspects of the end times. Yet, we must keep in mind what Jesus tells us:
- No one knows the day or hour (and yes, that also includes the year!)
- The coming of Christ will be sudden and unmistakable. We do not need to know secret codes, have a password or possess de-coder rings.
- We must not become complacent, thinking the Lord’s coming is still a long-long way off.
- d) We should bear in mind that the end will be sudden. Jesus Christ says it clearly: “But of that day or that hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son but only the Father.” (Mk 13:32). In the next five verses before the end of this 13th chapter of Mark’s gospel, Jesus tells his listeners four times to “stay awake”, because they do not know the exact time when the Master will come. Jesus does not leave the disciples wondering. In Matthew’s gospel, he spells it out for them: “So you, too, must keep watch! For you do not know what day your Lord is coming. Understand this: If a homeowner knew exactly when a burglar was coming, he would keep watch and not permit his house to be broken into. You also must be ready all the time, for the Son of Man will come when least expected.” (Mtt 24:42-44). It is all going to be sudden, coming at a time and a manner in which no one can foretell. Imagine driving along in a car and seemingly out of nowhere a car crashes into the side of your vehicle and life changes in an instant. That is what his coming will be like. Whether this is Christ’s coming for the church or the final advent, we will not be expecting it. The Lord is coming. It may be today, tomorrow or years from now. The question is: Are we ready?
- e) We should be ready for the Lord’s coming at all times. The expectant person lives every day in such a way that if Jesus were to appear he/she would have no regrets. The only sure way to be ready for the return of our Lord is to follow him every day. We should live our lives in such a way that if we knew for sure that he is coming tomorrow, we would not change anything we are planning to do.
At the approach of the end of the liturgical year, thoughts about the end of the world are apt to help us decide where we want to be: on the side of those who panic at the mention of the end of the world or on the side of those who remain calm, unperturbed at the prospect, because they trust in God. The choice depends on our preparation. We need to prepare for our death. We need to put our lives in order. We need to confess our sins and get ourselves in shape from a spiritual point of view so that we are ready to meet our maker whenever that day comes. Let us pray for the grace of a happy and peaceful meeting with Christ when he summons us on the last day.