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.
28“From 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.
32“But 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 doorkeeper 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.”
What I am Learning:
Things are not as they should be.
This is a key perception of the Jewish and Christian faiths, perhaps of all human beings. But this perception is secondary to this core perception of faith:
The creation is good, lovingly created and sustained by God.
Christians live in the tension between these two perceptions, and they add a third:
God is healing and creating the world, and will one day bring all to wholeness.
This passage invites us to live in this tension between these three ideas and to use this tension as a source of energy to make a difference in the world.
First, let’s remember what this passage is not about. This passage is not a prediction of the “rapture.” The rapture was made popular by John Wilson Darby who (among others) taught that passages in the Bible like the one above described a future event. In this event, Jesus would come and gather all the faithful before God smacked sinners a good one in a “tribulation.” Now there are lots and lots of variations on this tradition and I don’t want to go into that here. Actually, Wikipedia is an okay source to look at all of these variations. A good book to read is Barbara Rossing’s book, The Rapture. In this book she explores the Biblical passages most often quoted in rapture theology and offers more credible interpretations of them. I encourage you to read that book.
Her main issue in that book is that rapture theology encourages people to disengage from the issues of the world and to focus on their escape from the world.
As she rightly points out, this is the exact opposite of what these writings intended
This passage invites us to live in the tension between the world as it is and the world as God is making it.
Let’s focus once again on the term “son of man coming in the clouds.”
This is a reference to Daniel chapter 7. The issue in Daniel 7 is that one empire after another, one domination culture after another, had occupied Israel. These empires kept the Israel from fulfilling its mandate to be a blessing to all nations.
The writer of Daniel 7 said that God would one day send “the son of man”, or fully human one, to bring justice and peace to the earth. As the chapter concludes, however, there is a twist. The twist is that instead of the fully human one ruling by himself, he would rule with all the other fully human ones instead of "lording it over them." This is no dream to replace one authoritarian ruler with another but to replace the whole system of authoritarian rule with humans living in mutuality with each other. The earth is refreshed and people learn to live in peace.
In these statements, Jesus is picking up Daniel 7 and using it to encourage his followers, even after his death, to live and work in hope for this day of peace and healing. He is inviting us to live in the tension between the world as it is and the world as God is creating it. Further, Jesus is inviting us to see that we have work to do to partner with God in God’s healing of the world. Notice that in his example of a “man going on a journey” that “the man put his slaves in charge, each with his work.”
This is the exact opposite of what rapture theology does to most people.
Jesus is using the promise of a future in which the earth and all people are healed and whole as a motivation for our doing our part toward that new creation.
This passage, and many others like it, are an attempt to provoke a positive vision of the future. Why then all the images of destruction?
Today we all feel tremendous grief at what is happening in Ferguson, MO, and indeed throughout our country. We see the yoke of ancient racism and its heavy burden on black and brown people. We don’t know what to do to change it. But however it will change, the change will need to be big. The way the ancient writers imagined this big change was to describe change using cosmic imagery like the sun being darkened and the moon turning to blood.
The power of domination culture, the power of empire is vast, so to imagine change in it requires big imagery.
But the goal of the change is not destruction, but re-creation, not rejection but truth told in love to restore relationship – even if the truth causes pain.
I think that the church is called to live in the tension between the world as it is and the world as God is making it. One way we can do this is to foster honest conversation about racism in this country. We may not understand what to do about it at first. We may make many vain attempts. That is the way with any real work. But I am convinced that we need to do our work, in trust that God is doing God’s work, until all is made whole.