Christ’s Olivet Discourse is shorter in Mark than it was in Matthew. It is still the longest continuous passage of teaching by Jesus in the Gospel of Mark.
Jesus wants us all to be alert and ready for his coming. In Mark 13:32-37 he says,
32 But concerning that day or that hour, no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. 33 Be on guard, keep awake. For you do not know when the time will come. 34 It is like a man going on a journey, when he leaves home and puts his servants in charge, each with his work, and commands the doorkeeper to stay awake. 35 Therefore stay awake—for you do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or when the rooster crows, or in the morning— 36 lest he come suddenly and find you asleep. 37 And what I say to you I say to all: Stay awake.
Jesus draws an analogy between the kind of constant awareness and expectation he wants from us and the doorkeeper to a house. In this case the doorkeeper’s master has gone off on a journey and may come back at any time. When Jesus compares this to his own return, he points out that he, our master, might come at any moment, even in the middle of the night. No one knows when he will arrive.
I happen to be an advocate of the pretribulation rapture view of Christ’s coming, which, among other things, seems to make the most sense of this passage. Though I know plenty of wonderful Christians who disagree, I do hope they at least see the importance of our constant preparedness and sense of expectation. For example, one of my former professors, who holds different views on end-times prophecy from me, still says in his commentary on this passage,
The reference to all four watches, including the second and third watches when people avoided travel, underlines the fact that Jesus’ return may happen when it is least expected, and emphasizes that Jesus’ followers are always “on duty”: they must always, constantly, be alert, prepared for Jesus’ sudden, unexpected return.
– Eckhard Schnabel, Gordon Conwell Theological Seminary *
In a day when people are not overly enthusiastic about Bible prophecy, there is a constant danger to shift toward a lack of enthusiasm. Let’s not forget that the New Testament emphasizes that Jesus is coming soon. Let’s be like the faithful doorkeeper in Christ’s comparison who is ready to open the door at any time, even at an unexpected moment. In other words, at any and every time, Jesus might realistically be expected.
No one knows when Jesus will return. This means we should always be ready.
* Eckhard Schnabel, 2017. Mark, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries. (Downers Grove, IVP Academic), 339.
Jesus has just come down from the Mount of Transfiguration with three of his disciples. Now he finds the other nine stuck in a situation for which they can do nothing helpful. It seems a father has brought his son to Christ’s disciples. The symptoms the boy exhibits are similar to epilepsy, but are actually caused by a demon, When the father asks Jesus if perhaps he can help, the following interaction ensues.
23 And Jesus said to him, “‘If you can’! All things are possible for one who believes.” 24 Immediately the father of the child cried out and said, “I believe; help my unbelief!”
Isn’t this where we so often find ourselves? We believe Jesus has the ability. We pray to God, knowing he is all-powerful and all-good. And still we doubt. Our faith falls short. We lack something in the area of true belief.
Eckhard Schnabel, in his Tyndale NT Commentary on Mark, describes the man, “He acknowledges his lack of faith, which is not an unwillingness to commit to Jesus’ power but an inability to believe in the face of immense odds, given that the nine disciples were unable to heal the boy.”
The reassuring thing is that this admission on the part of the father, “I believe; help my unbelief!” turns out to be enough of an expression of faith that Jesus heals the son. The demon doesn’t come out without a fight, but it is a fight that Jesus cannot help but win.
We need to be willing to express our faith in Christ and the lack thereof. Our belief and unbelief which somehow coexist in our torn and divided hearts. It is not a rejection of Jesus so much as a wavering acceptance with a desire for the waves to calm down. The doubts of the saint and those of the skeptic are of a different species entirely.
We believe Lord, help our unbelief! And help he will.