24 “But in those days, following that distress,
“‘the sun will be darkened,
and the moon will not give its light;
25 the stars will fall from the sky,
and the heavenly bodies will be shaken.’
26 “At that time people will see the Son of Man coming in clouds with great power and glory. 27 And he will send his angels and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of the heavens.
28 “Now learn this lesson from the fig tree: As soon as its twigs get tender and its leaves come out, you know that summer is near. 29 Even so, when you see these things happening, you know that it is near, right at the door. 30 Truly I tell you, this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened. 31 Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away.
(Mark 13:24-31 NIV)
As a quick review, Jesus has been answering His disciples’ questions about the timing of the Temple’s destruction, and the warning signs that will be associated with its impending doom.
Jesus has given His disciples some general instructions regarding their relationship with Him; namely, that they will be persecuted and betrayed, just as He will be. Jesus also gives His disciples some specific instructions on what to do when these warning signs come to pass.
In today’s text, Jesus jumps to the time beyond the destruction of the Temple to the arrival of Messiah (vv. 24-27), then brings the conversation back to the present (vv. 28-31).
In verses 24-27, Jesus answers His disciples’ inevitable question that will come next – “When will You come back as Messiah, Jesus? When will You set up Your kingdom? What signs will precede that event?”
In verse 24, Jesus says “following that distress”, meaning that He will come back at some time following the destruction of the Temple. Jesus then lays out some signs that will take place to mark the coming of the Lord. These signs will not be tied to people, like the human events that Jesus described in verses 14-21. Instead, these events will be tied to celestial (heavenly) events – the sun, the moon, and the stars. The scope will be universal, and all will see. Jesus alludes to a number of Old Testament scriptures in verses 24-25 but does not quote any of them directly.
Jesus said that He would send His angels to gather the elect (those that choose to follow Him) from the uttermost parts of the earth, a task that only God could do. The central gathering point will no longer be Israel, Jerusalem, or even the Temple; the Son of Man (Jesus, the Messiah) will be the central figure.
Just as quickly as Jesus jumped to the distant future, He returns to the present. Still in the Mount of Olives, Jesus likely grabbed the branch of a nearby fig tree and used it as a living illustration. Just as the new foliage on a fig tree marks the coming of summer, so the signs called out in verses 5 – 23 will represent the imminent siege against Jerusalem and the destruction of the Temple.
Jesus goes on to say that the current generation will see the persecution, betrayal, and the other events Jesus described, including the destruction of the Temple.
Jesus goes on to say that while all these events will take place, including the destruction of the heavens (sun, moon, and stars in vv. 24-25), His words will never pass away.
May we take comfort in Jesus’ words, that even though the world as we know it may pass away, and we will suffer as Christ did, He will come again to gather us (as His followers) one day. It may be today, it may not be in our lifetime, but He has promised to hold things together until that time so that His Word may be shared around the world.
The Apostle Paul sums up this truth of Christ’s supremacy so well:
15 The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. 16 For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. 17 He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. 18 And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy.19 For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, 20 and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.
(Colossians 1:15-20 NIV)