“But in those days, after that suffering, 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. Then they will see ‘the Son of Man coming in clouds’ with great power and glory. Then 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.”
Once again we’re confronted with the fact that most of us aren’t quite sure what to make of apocalyptic imagery. Given that this scene feels closer to an animated super hero movie than our everyday experience, we may often feel that there are only two choices about what to do with it.
The first is to adopt a worldview where these things definitely happen – the worldview of those Christians who avidly believe the The Left Behind books are accurate predictions of the future or warily check out the UPC codes on their purchases for fear they might buy something with 666 on it. This worldview, while it takes passages like these with absolute and literal seriousness – more, perhaps, than their authors intended – forces you to abandon most of what we know about reality and so isn’t much of an option for most of us.
The second alternative is to consign these passages – and along with it, quite frankly, much of the Bible – to a category of “ancient beliefs” that unfortunately don’t have much to say to us today. While many of us might flirt with this position when we stumble across passages like this one, it also doesn’t satisfy us in that deep down we sense, even if don’t fully understand exactly how, that our faith is somehow inextricably tied to this peculiar book.
So let me briefly offer a third alternative: perhaps we need to remind ourselves again that the Bible is not, was not, and never will be primarily a book of information – not moral information, or historical, or even theological. Rather, it’s a book of testimony, of confession, written by people so gripped by their experience of the living God that they had to tell, to give witness, to confess, to share what they had experienced however they could.
Which means that they laid hold of whatever literary genres and forms were available to them, sometimes using more than one. So while most of the time Mark offers his testimony through a kind of first-century biography (which is not the same as a twenty-first century biography), at this point he takes hold of apocalyptic imagery in an attempt to comfort Christians who are suffering with the promise that the God who created the world will also bring it to a good end and the Jesus they have followed is not just another teacher but the “Son of Man” messianic figure Daniel and others promised who will draw us all together at the end of time.
At heart, this is the promise that God keeps God’s promises, that God will be with each and all of us when the going gets tough, that God will never, ever give up on us, and that in the end God will bring all that was started to a good conclusion. While we might articulate that confession and promise differently – maybe very differently – than in today’s passage, it’s still, I think, a great promise to share.
Prayer: Dear God, grant us the confidence that no matter how dark the hour may seem, yet you will be with us, guiding us forth by the light of the promise you have made to us and all the world in Jesus Christ. In Jesus’ name, Amen.