The National Catholic Review
Upon leaving the Temple platform and all its beauty, one of the disciples expressed awe at the "stones and buildings" there. For people from Galilee, no doubt the immense pillars and valuable stone and wood and metals, the artwork and design all around them was a stark contrast to their small, dimly lit houses, the roofs of which were made with twigs, branches and packed mud. About this grandeur Jesus announces that ’not one stone will be left on another. With Jesus’ words in mind, four disciples later on the Mount of Olives overlooking the Temple ask Jesus for two things: when will the destruction of all this take place and what sign will tell us to warn us of this impending doom? Jesus’ answer is lengthy; it runs the length of the entire chapter. No doubt, Mark has combined in this speech a number of Jesus’ sayings from elsewhere in his life. The overall effect is that Jesus talks mainly about what his disciples will undergo historically till the time of the destruction of the Temple. And the concerted effort of the speech is not to answer the questions "when" and "what signs", but to encourage Jesus’ disciples to keep alert, to watch. As for signs, what might be called a sign is not a sign, e.g., persecution, people claiming to be Messiah or to "come in my name", and trial before courts at the betrayal even of family members. Traditionally, the woes that signaled the end of the world were such as these, but Jesus says these sufferings are only a beginning of Christian suffering. But then Jesus does offer signs. The first of these is the sighting of the Abomination of Desolation, a blasphemous statue of the Roman Emperor placed in the Temple. So close will the full destruction of Jerusalem be! Flee, then, care for nothing else but your life! Do not be misled by the claim of some to be Messiah, that is, the king to save you; they are false Messiahs. A second sign is the one that will appear after the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple: it will be the traditional complex of horrific natural changes that make part of the prophetic message of the Old Testament. It is difficult to say that these fearsome pictures of convulsed nature will prove to be historical; Jesus may be using only terminology of his Jewish tradition to underline the complete change that will now take place over the entire creation as we have been accustomed to know it. But not simply imaginative is the promise of the Final Judgment, to be exercised by the Son of Man, that is, Jesus – a Judgment long promised by the prophets of Israel and spoken of often by Jesus who made the Judgment an integral part of his call to a repentance by which one is to enter the Kingdom of God. The Judgment, if not the imagery surrounding it, will be a fact. These two signs – the Abomination and the convulsion of Nature – are the ones to watch for. Indeed, there is no knowledge given, particularly about the amount of time between the destruction of Jerusalem and the coming of the Son of Man; all we can say is that the Son of Man will come after the destruction of Jerusalem. Does anyone actually know when these two signs will occur? Only the Father, and he has told no one. Perhaps we can at least say that ’all these things’ will happen before ’this generation will pass away’, but clearly, to be a true statement, ’these things’ and ’this generation’ must be interpreted in a sense that will allow for the fact that we cannot know when these signs will take place. The only and final word is "Watch"! You have learned to predict natural things, like the growth and harvesting of figs. Learn to watch, to be alert; the One who has left all things in our care will return. Watch! John Kilgallen, SJ