32 "However, no one knows the day or hour when these things will happen, not even the angels in heaven or the Son himself. Only the Father knows. 33 And since you don't know when that time will come, be on guard! Stay alert!
34 "The coming of the Son of Man can be illustrated by the story of a man going on a long trip. When he left home, he gave each of his slaves instructions about the work they were to do, and he told the gatekeeper to watch for his return. 35 You, too, must keep watch! For you don't know when the master of the household will return-in the evening, at midnight, before dawn, or at daybreak. 36 Don't let him find you sleeping when he arrives without warning. 37 I say to you what I say to everyone: Watch for him!"
Jesus says that only the Father knows the appointed hour of his return. Since the disciples have no way of knowing, they are to "stay alert and keep watch." Jesus illustrates his future return by comparing it to a wealthy homeowner who leaves for an extended journey. Having given specific instructions to his servants, he tells the gatekeeper "to watch for his return." Jesus drives the point home by telling the disciples to "keep a sharp lookout!" He can return at any hour of the night or day, and woe to them if they are found sleeping on duty. Jesus concludes his sermon with yet another stern call for watchfulness.
No one knows the day or hour (Mark 13:32)
One commentator provides an excellent summary of this entire section (Mark 13:32-37):
Probably because Jesus knew that the question about when he would return would be asked most often, he saved his answer to the disciples' question, "When will all this happen?" for last. His answer was blunt: "No one knows; not even me." He then pointed out that the mark of a disciple was not having inside information, but serving Christ faithfully. Spiritual vigilance, "not sleeping," becomes the essential theme of the entire chapter. Jesus' servants must be so busy that they have no time to speculate about his schedule.1499
Several points are worth noting:
Neither scientists nor psychics. "The emphasis of this verse is not on Jesus' lack of knowledge, but rather on the fact that no one knows. It is God the Father's secret to be revealed when he wills. No one can predict by Scripture or science the exact day of Jesus' return. Jesus was teaching that preparation, not calculation, was needed."1500 We might also wish to note how Jesus' claim that he did not know the day or hour actually affirms both his humanity and his deity. "In His Incarnation Jesus voluntarily accepted human limitations, including this one (cf. Acts 1:7), in submission to the Father's will (cf. John 4:34). On the other hand Jesus' use of 'the Son' title (only here in Mark) instead of the usual 'Son of Man' revealed His own awareness of His deity and sonship. Nevertheless He exercised His divine attributes only at the Father's bidding (cf. John 8:28-29)."1501
Trust in God ... and keep the powder dry. Here Jesus offers us a tremendous example to follow. Rather than being troubled by a lack of knowledge regarding the precise day and hour of his return, Jesus was content to submit to and trust in God. We need to do the same, even as we remain alert and on guard (Mark 13:33). "Constant praying is to be combined with this alertness. The contents of these prayers will naturally be appeals to God to keep the disciples true in faith and ready for Christ's coming. ... The uncertainty of the time of the Lord's coming is to keep us wide awake, to call on God, and thus to be ever ready."1502 In that respect, "[a] map of the future would be a hindrance, not a help, to faith."1503
No slacking off. Becoming involved with and even blending into the world has been a constant temptation for every generation of Christians. Just imagine how much worse it would be if we did know the exact day and hour of his return. Our natural (= sinful) tendency would be "to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a season" (Hebrews 11:25, KJV). And while that might not cost us our salvation, it most certainly would diminish our eternal reward. Moreover, who would be left to call people out of the world and into God's kingdom? As one source pointedly reminds us: "Heaven is not our only goal; we have work to do here. And we must keep on doing it until death or until the return of our Savior."1504
No close-out bargains. "Jesus explained that believers must be on guard and alert, ready for his return to happen at any moment. Christ's second coming will be swift and sudden. There will be no opportunity for last-minute repentance or bargaining. The choice that people have already made will determine their eternal destiny."1505
A man going on a long trip (Mark 13:34)
This parable teaches the need for "constant vigilance" and the "faithful fulfillment of assigned tasks"1506 With this illustration, Jesus attempts to turn his disciples' fears into a fearless work ethic. The real issue is not why the master left or when he will be back; the real issue is whether or not his servants will trust him and be found faithful when he does return.1507
Instructions (Mark 13:34)
In Jesus' illustration, the homeowner actually gives his slaves the authority to act on his behalf: "It is like a man, away on a journey, who upon leaving his house and putting his slaves in charge (lit. giving the authority to) ... " (Mark 13:34, NASB, margin).1508 The word Jesus uses here is exousia, which refers to legitimate power or authority. Thus the homeowner's servants become his legal representatives, acting in their master's name, with his power and authority. As Christ's followers, we are given and expected to use his power and authority. For what purpose? So that we can relax and take it easy? By no means. Christians represent Christ and are to diligently, faithfully work to advance his kingdom. We are to be alert, and "[t]he alertness Jesus has in mind is not only eager and prayerful, it is also intelligent, continuous, and last but not least, active."1509 As one source puts it: "The slaves [in Jesus' parable of watchfulness] understand that they are in charge of themselves, had their own work to do, and would not want the master to return suddenly and find them being lazy. Each of us has enough assigned work to do that we shouldn't be neutralized or paralyzed by fear or doubt. We do not need to worry about how other servants compare to us; instead, we should devote ourselves to doing what God has given us to do."1510
Watch (Mark 13:34)
Jesus specifically mentions "the gatekeeper" ("doorkeeper" NASB), who is told to "watch" for his master's return. The gatekeeper's "role was a prominent one, because he held the master's keys, kept out unwanted visitors and checked other slaves leaving the premises."1511 The owner "commanded the doorkeeper to stay on the alert" (NASB). As one source notes: "To be (constantly) on the alert or watchful - a Greek word from which the proper name Gregory (the watchful or vigilant one) is derived - means to live a sanctified life, in the consciousness of the coming judgment day. Spiritual and moral circumspection and forethought are required; preparedness is necessary. The watchful person has his loins girded and his lamps burning (Luke 12:35). It is in that condition that he looks forward to the coming of the Bridegroom. ... "1512 In his application of the parable, Jesus makes clear that watchfulness is its main theme:
35 You, too, must keep watch! For you don't know when the master of the household will return - in the evening, at midnight, before dawn, or at daybreak. 36 Don't let him find you sleeping when he arrives without warning. 37 I say to you what I say to everyone: Watch for him! (NLT)
35 Therefore, be on the alert - for you do not know when the master of the house is coming, whether in the evening, at midnight, or when the rooster crows, or in the morning - 36 in case he should come suddenly and find you asleep. 37 What I say to you I say to all, "Be on the alert!" (NASB)
35 So, stay at your post, watching. You have no idea when the homeowner is returning, whether evening, midnight, cockcrow, or morning. 36 You don't want him showing up unannounced, with you asleep on the job. 37 I say it to you, and I'm saying it to all: Stay at your post. Keep watch. (The Message)
Evening ... midnight ... dawn ... daybreak (Mark 13:35)
Jesus' language "corresponds to the Roman system of reckoning time."1513 ("Jews had only three watches of the night."1514) There were four "watches," consisting of three-hour shifts beginning at 6 P.M. and ending the following morning at 6 A.M.1515 (The names - "'evening ... midnight ... when the rooster crows ... morning'" [NASB] - "were derived from their termination point.1516) Notice how "Jesus purposely places the arrival at some time during a night in order to illustrate that the Son of man will come at an hour when we think not."1517
Sleeping (Mark 13:36)
Jesus warned against being found sleeping when the master returns, with sleep "indicat[ing] moral and spiritual laxity."1518 The "nighttime [is] when a careless doorkeeper would be inclined to sleep."1519 And of course to be found in such a state would be a dereliction of duty, if not an indication of blatant disloyalty.1520 Jesus' point was/is "that none of his followers would want to be found spiritually lax, but instead conscientiously going about the work given by God for them to do."1521
MARK 13: APOCALYPTIC LITERATURE?
One source offers a very helpful perspective on Mark 13:
Is Mark 13 an "apocalyptic discourse""? It is in the sense that it clearly reflects a view of history/eschatology in which a present age of crisis and persecution will give way to a future age in which God exercises judgment on his enemies and vindicates and rewards his elect. Moreover, it contains eschatological predictions and warns the elect of impending deceptions and disasters. One of the typical patterns of apocalyptic literature is reflected in the structure of the chapter - the beginning of woes (v. 8b), a time of great tribulation (v. 19) and a cosmic upheaval in which God intervenes (vv. 24–27).
But in other ways Mark 13 is very unlike "apocalyptic literature." Its concern is not with timetables and calculations. It reports no other-worldly journeys. It contains no visions of the abode of the dead, the divine courtroom or the heavenly throne room. In contrast with typical apocalypses, it insists that the timing of the end is unknown to the angels, indeed even to the revealer of the discourse (13:32). The discipleship teaching of Mark 13 (reflected in the numerous imperatives, e.g., vv. 5, 9, 11, 23, 33) and its apparent anti-sign-seeking message, set it apart from typical apocalypses. It is Jesus' farewell discourse offering hope and calling for faithfulness. It has the same function today for Christians who know that the end did not come with the crisis of A.D. 70 but who look forward to the fulfillment of the promise of 13:26–27.1522 Right Living While Waiting
The entire thirteenth chapter of Mark tells us how to live while we wait for Christ's return:
We are not to be misled by confusing claims or speculative interpretations of what will happen (13:5-6).
We should not be afraid to tell people about Christ, despite what they might say or do to us (13:9-11).
We must stand firm by faith and not be surprised by persecution (13:13).
This chapter was not given to promote discussions on prophetic timetables, but to stimulate right living for God in a world where he is largely ignored. Jesus' purpose was to warn us to be prepared. Will you be ready? The only safe choice is to obey him today.1523
There was a game warden named Jake who had an amazing neighbor named Sam. Sam was a fisherman, and whenever he went fishing in a particular lake he returned home with a long string of fish. This was in spite of the fact that that particular lake was notoriously stingy when it came to giving up its fish.
One day Jake's curiosity got the best of him and he asked Sam if he could go fishing with him. "Sure," said Sam, and off they went.
They had made it out to the middle of the lake when all of a sudden Sam reached in his tackle box, pulled out a stick of dynamite, lit it, and tossed it overboard. In just a few seconds the area around his boat was littered with fish floating on the water's surface. Sam took out his net and began scooping them up.
Jake was understandably outraged. "I'm going to throw the book at you! You are going to jail! What you are doing is horrible!"
That's when Sam once again reached into his tackle box, pulled out a stick of dynamite, and lit it. This time, however, he tossed it right into Jake's lap!
"Well," said Sam. "Are you going to just sit there, or are you going to go fishing?"1524 Our English word "dynamite" comes from the Greek dunamis,1525 meaning "strength, power, ability."1526 Jesus said that he would return " ... with great power (dunamis) and glory" (Mark 13:26, NASB). The apostle Paul told Timothy that "God has not given us a spirit of timidity, but of power (dunamis) and love and discipline" (2 Timothy 1:7, NASB). And the apostle Peter declared that Jesus' "divine power (dunamis) has granted to us everything pertaining to life and godliness" (2 Peter 1:3, NASB). While we await the return of our Savior, we are called to be alert, watchful, and diligent. With the strength, power, and authority of Jesus, we are called to minister to one another and to fish for people using the dynamite power of the Gospel.
Months of planning go into a wedding, the birth of a baby, a career change, a speaking engagement, the purchase of a home. Do you place the same importance on preparing for Christ's return, the most important event in your life? Its results will last for eternity. You dare not postpone your preparations because you do not know when his return will occur. The way to prepare is to study God's Word and live by its instructions each day; remain morally alert and avoid the spiritual lethargy Paul warned about in 1 Thessalonians 5:6; and refuse to be distracted from doing the work or fulfilling the role that God has assigned to you.1527 ??? What are some of the things that threaten to distract you "from doing the work or fulfilling the role that God has assigned to you"? Letting "sports consume a Sunday"? Allowing a frenzied schedule to push aside prayer? Replacing the Bible with books and magazines?1528