Mark 13:24-37 — The Son of Man Will Gather the Elect

The key question in reading Mark 13:24-37 is its relation to Mark 13:5-23. In the first section Jesus alerted his disciples to a coming conflagration in which they must beware of deceivers and persecutors who will attempt to enlist them in the service of the Jewish revolt of 66-70 C.E. Does Jesus continue this motif in Mark 13:24-37 or does he shift the topic to something beyond the immediate circumstances of the trials of disciples in the 30s-60s C.E.? In other words, does 13:24 introduce a new narrative horizon within the text or does it continue the previous one?

Martin Gustavo, in my estimation, has convincingly argued that a new narrative horizon arises in Mark 13:24 (Biblica 90 [2009] 457-483), and my discussion below is heavily dependent upon his work. The former horizon was an answer to a specific question. The disciples asked when the temple would be destroyed and how they might discern (“sign”) its eventuation. Jesus responded in Mark 13:5-23 with several imperatives (“watch”) and temporal qualifiers (“when you hear…when you see”). The disciples asked when will “these things” happen (13:4) and Jesus advised them about how to act when “these things” happen (13:23). Jesus identified realities that would shape their discipleship as Jerusalem fell and the temple was destroyed. He gave them “road signs” for identifying what was happening and when it would happen so that they would know what to do. Consequently, Jesus exhorts his disciples to endure to the end (13:8, 13) which is the end of the circumstances Jesus is describing, that is, the destruction of the temple. “End” in Mark 13 (the only place where it occurs in Mark) is contextualized by the narrative in which it is found. Jesus is not speaking eschatologically in Mark 13:5-23 but apocalyptically about the fall of Jerusalem. Mark 13:23 effectively ends the conversation about “these things” as if Jesus says, “now I have answered your question.”

This horizon shifts in Mark 13:24. The strong adversative signals this as well as the temporal qualifier: “but…after the tribulation…” Unlike the previous section, there are no imperatives (no second person verbs, “you…”), advice or “road signs” for this next topic. The urgency is gone and the immediacy of the circumstances is now distant. There is no more “when you see…hear” this or that, but instead a general “then” (Mark 13:26). This is a new act in the drama of redemptive history beyond the destruction of Jerusalem.

This new horizon employs startling apocalyptic language (e.g., Isaiah 13:10) and eschatological language about the coming of the Son of Man (e.g., Daniel 7:13-14). Jesus utilizes this language to speak of deliverance. In future days, days beyond the destruction of Jerusalem, when the earth is yet convulsing under the powers of the nations (such as Babylon or Rome), the Son of Man will come to gather his elect. “They” (the elect on the earth) will see the Son of Man coming with his angels and the angels will gather them from the ends of the earth. This ingathering of the elect, alluding to previous such redemptive acts by God in the history of Israel, will climax history itself as the Son of Man comes to fully reign upon the a new earth. Whereas in the previous section (Mark 13:20) God shortened the days for the sake of the elect, in this section God gathers the elect from the ends of the earth (Mark 13:27). This is not that, that is, the coming of the Son of Man here does not refer to the destruction of Jerusalem. Consequently, here Jesus lifts the eyes of his disciples beyond the horror of the destruction of Jerusalem to a future day after that destruction when the Son of Man will fully reveal himself in power and glory before the whole earth for the sake of his elect.

Gustavo argues that Mark 13:28-37 actually offers an interpretative key for seeing the two horizons—one in Mark 13:5-23 and the other in Mark 13:24-27. In the first half of this section (Mark 13:28-31) Jesus provides a “parable about knowing,” but then in the second half provides a “parable about not knowing” (Mark 13:32-37). In essence, Jesus says, “From the fig tree, learn there are signs that ‘these things’ are about to happen, but there are events for which there are no signs as even the Son of Man does not know the day when he will come.”

From the fig tree—a parable about knowing—you can know when summer is near. In the same way, by what Jesus has described the disciples can know when “all these things will happen” (Mark 13:30). “These things” put us back to Mark 13:4 and the question about the destruction of Jerusalem. Jesus predicts that “these things” (the destruction of Jerusalem—or the first horizon of Mark 13:5-23) will happen within a generation.

And, should they doubt whether the temple will be destroyed or not, Jesus reminds them that his word—his prediction—is as certain as the heavens and earth themselves. This is a word which they can believe and upon which they can act with assurance. “When you see…and when you hear…” they should do what Jesus tells them to do.

But there are future events about which no one knows the time, even the Son of Man. The parable of the gatekeeper underscores the point, that is, he does not know when the owner will return. Like the owner, the timing of the Son of Man’s appearance is unknown and indeterminate as far as anyone except the Father knows. The disciples, then, are called to be alert (the word for “watch” in Mark 14:37 is different from the word for “watch” in Mark 14:5, 9, 23). In the former horizon they could “see” when things would happen—they would see the signs, but in this situation they can only remain alert to the sudden arrival of the Son of Man.

The two parables, then, alert us to the two horizons. The fig tree parable suggests that we can know when “these things” will happen, and the disciples are to “watch” and act. But the gatekeeper parable suggests that there is no sign of the coming of the Son of Man and the disciples will joyously receive him but they are not called to act in response to the events.

The differences between the two horizons are organized in the below table.

Mark 13:5-23, 28-31

The First Horizon

Mark 13:24-27, 32-37

The Second Horizon

Temporal Qualifiers (“when you…”) No Temporal Qualifiers
Imperatives to Act (“flee”) No Imperatives Other Than “Be Alert”
“Watch” from Greek to “See” (“look”) “Watch” from Greek to “Be Alert”
Fig Tree Parable of “Knowing” Gatekeeper Parable of “Not Knowing”
Elect Protected and Days Shortened Elect Gathered with the Angels
Signs For What Will Happen No Signs of Coming; It is Sudden
“These Things” or “All These Things” “That Day”
Deceivers Announce: “Christ is Here!” The Son of Man Comes
The Son of Man Knows The Son of Man Does Not Know

In the first horizon, disciples “watch and act” but in the second horizon they “wait and receive.” In the first horizon, disciples reject the revolt as identical with the kingdom of God, but in the second horizon they welcome the owner (king) back to his lands (kingdom). The first has already happened, but we yet await the second, the coming of the Son of Man in all his glory and power when he will gather his elect from the ends of the earth.

The king will come home–the Son of Man will come. Consequently, disciples do not align themselves with the nations and kingdoms of this earth. The Son of Man, the owner, will return to his kingdom and disciples await the coming of their king instead of joining other kings in their wars, conquests and violence. Disciples remain alert and attentive to the coming kingdom of God.

25 Responses to “Mark 13:24-37 — The Son of Man Will Gather the Elect”

  1.   rich Says:

    john mark question.
    would you consider matthew 24’s interpretation to fall under the heading of the first horizon, and then matthew 25 would then fall under the second horizon?
    I’ve always understood 24&25 also luke 21 to be parallel passages with mark 13.
    in the study of all of these pasages, is it reasonable to set the same parameters of intrepretation

    •   John Mark Hicks Says:

      Rich, I was not attempting to coordinate my reading of Mark with Matthew or Luke. Certainly they both have their own versions of the Olivet Discourse. I was attempting to read Mark on its own.

      •   rich Says:

        well in any event to me this is really a great perspective it brings up more questions than a little question that I asked I was all over isaiah 63-66, yesterday morning.
        as I said before john mark, the only greek I know runs a restaurant on the corner.
        1 thing I’ve learned from my study on romans 3. 20 -21… sometimes when looking at greek grammarians. before he’s even finished translating the theologian in him has already figured out the translation
        it really blows that you’re not answering my question.

      •   rich Says:

        Ps I’m going to try to finish that last part.
        my point being is that context is a little bit more important than the translation. sometimes to me.
        and the narrative approach along with your ability in scripture and translations to say nothing of humility.
        pretty much keeps me in a squirrel cage of uncertainty

  2.   Mitchell Powell Says:

    Greetings, Dr. Hicks.

    With regard to your overall argument, I remain unconvinced, and primarily for one reason. The phrase “in those days” appears in both verse 18 and verse 24, and would seem at least at first glance to indicate that what occurs in verse 24 happens within the same horizon, immediately following what occurs in 5-23. I notice that you nowhere quote the entirely of verse 24 in your post, but rather elide the phrase “in those days” when you write “but . . . after the tribulation.” Why skip over this phrase?

    If in verse 24 Jesus were indeed seeking to lift the eyes of his disciples far beyond the horror of the destruction of Jerusalem and to some distant future event, it would seem unlikely that he would re-use “in those days” and give so little indication of this break in horizons.

    It would seem, on the face of it, that 5-27 are Jesus narrating a continuous set of predictions about the future. Then again, I know Hebrew far better than Greek, so there could be some indications of a shift in time horizon that I am missing (alla doesn’t seem to be quite enough, nor the word meta, especially when they have ἐν ἐκείναις ταῖς ἡμέραις between them). My question is this — is the break between 5-23 and 24-27 most heavily suggested for reasons internal to the text, or by a need to make the text fit with what we know in retrospect about the events of the first century A.D.?

    Forgive me if I’ve overstated my case somewhere, or if there is some crucial detail in that I’ve stumbled over. I look forward to your response.

    •   John Mark Hicks Says:

      I do think it is a difficult text, as I indicated in my comments on Mark 13:5-23. I have no certainty about my interpretation, at least to the effect that I would be dogmatic about it.

      I would hope, at least is my intent, to maintain integrity with the text such that it is the text that dictates or suggests a second horizon in verse 24 rather than any interest in a retrospective reformulation to salvage the text or my theology in some way. But I understand I am not immune to subtle self-deception. Thus, I welcome your point.

      You raise a good point. The phrase “in those days” is used in 13:19 to describe the “tribulation.” It seems to me that “those days” are identified with the tribulation. It is “those days” of the tribulation itself. While 13:24 identifies “those days” that are “after the tribulation,” the “days” of v. 19 are the tribulation themselves. It appears to me that the text distinguishes one set of days from another. In other words, v. 24 is not v. 19. One comes after the other. “Those days” after the tribulation are not the same as “those days” of the tribulation. And the timing of what comes after is unspecified–it is without signs or temporal qualifiers except for “then’ (26 and 27): “in those days after the tribulation…and then…and then..” I think this implied contrast gives more force to the alla (but) and vice versa.

      Generally, in those days after the tribulation, the Son of Man will come, but the day (or “that [single] day) is unknown. Jesus offers no signs for that day.

      Thank you for your kind probing. I do appreciate it though my time is limited this week due to a conference. Blessings.

      •   Mitchell Powell Says:

        It sounds like, at least in theory, we agree on methodology. I’ll probably continue to at least tentatively believe that, in the absence of temporal qualifiers other than “after the tribulation,” the most reasonable assumption is that both the speaker and the hearers of such a passage would think of the events as more or less sequential. But I’ll hold that opinion very tentatively. May all go well with your conference.

  3.   charlesstelding Says:

    One thing is certain in this section. Jesus will gather the elect!

    This is already happening every Lord’s Day when the elect gather together to wait for the final gathering at the end time. It seems that the church when it comes together every Sunday in joyful waiting performs what will happen in the future . This seems to be a central theological motif for the assembly. But this theme is more evident in Luke-Acts.

    •   John Mark Hicks Says:

      I think that is true–the elect gather eschatologically with God every Lord’s Day. I argued that in my book “Gathered People.” However, I think we participate now, by the Spirit, in the eschatological reality that has not yet been fully realized. I think Mark 13:24-27 is speaking of the full realization of that eschatological reality in which we now participate by the Spirit and by faith.

  4.   John King Says:

    John Mark, I strongly concur with your analysis of this passage. The chart does an excellent job of highlighting the differences.

    I appreciate your sticking with Mark’s gospel. Interestingly, though, I believe Matthew’s gospel gives us an answer for why Jesus would “lift the eyes of the disciples to another horizon”–they have conflated the two horizons. Matthew writes, “As Jesus was sitting on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to him privately. ‘Tell us,’ they said, ‘when will this happen, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?'” (Matthew 24:3 NIV).

    The coming destruction of the temple was presumed by the disciples to surely be a sign of the very end of the age! Jesus guides them through a process of differentiating between similar, but very different events. Their incorrect assumptions prompt this proclamation from Jesus.

    •   John Mark Hicks Says:

      I think you are probably correct. “this is not that” is what Jesus is doing. This destruction of Jerusalem is not the coming of the eschatological kingdom if God

  5.   Jenny Says:

    According to your analysis, Christ’s discusses H1 (Mark 13:5-23), then H2 (vv. 24-27), then H1 again (vv. 28-31), then H2 again (vv. 32-37). In other words, He flip-flops a total of 3 times, very quickly, without clear indication that He’s changing horizons. It seems to me that you’re looking for something that isn’t there in the text.

    •   John Mark Hicks Says:

      I suppose one could call it a flip-flop, or one might recognize a rhetorical A-B-A-B structure that is indicated by the factors I note represented in the chart. It seems to me it is in the text, and chia stoic structures are common in Mark. The contrast between knowing and not knowing indicates a change in topic or referent just as the alla in v. 24 does as well. I think you are much too dismissive of the evidence in the text.

  6.   John Mark Hicks Says:

    That should read chiastic in the above comment. I forget to notice auto correct at times. 🙂

  7.   rich Says:

    ya know john mark , i think i have read every thing you have posted since around April 08.
    for me the the subject matter seemed at best random, just so much information, kinda like playing in a sprinkler water drops of information as time has passed i am finding a pattern 🙂 so to speak,
    the water drops now would be like falling into a large funnel for me,
    falling down into a sorta kinda a target circle,
    (big or small it is a compared to what on a subjective level of perspective)

    i do wish that there were more people interacting on the level of focus that this subject has brought about in the related comments,
    i really have enjoyed reading the exchanges.

    what a blessing to be here. 🙂
    boy oh boy john mark
    and you know know
    the appreciation i have for the body of work here.
    to say nothing of the guy that started the thing.

  8.   rich Says:

    sorry john mark but I have so many questions.
    1more and I’ll drop it.
    would not the end of the age represent the promised blessing along with romans 4:13
    the tabernacle of david reestablished an acts
    also the son of man standing(, “when steven is stoned )on his throne.?
    for me all these isolated scripture seem to validate what you were saying in mark.
    anyway thanks again john mark

    •   rich Says:

      ‘so as an explanation for this last post.
      through the faithfulness of the trinities act of deliverance in which the gentiles have hope, or all those that believe,( Romans the third chapter)
      the father has brought about what was promised in the son, which is life through the spirit (Galatians 3 ),
      the curse of the law ( Romans 7-8:1-4being nullified (eph. saved by grace through faith by the blood of his cross) and completed the reconciliation,
      bringing about the new Eden of the father which is the very good of god because of his glory he will and Zeal and promise for those that believe, a habitation of of fellowship in ,by, and through the Spirit of his beloved the new Age EPH 1:18-23
      (ROM 4). (the new cosmos) creating in his son the new nation which will abide for ever.A kingdom of priests and kings in the spirit (Heb?pet)in which only righteous dwells in which we are adopted as son’s believing in a god that cannot lie.
      having the faith hope and love. exercised through the death of his son for us that believe,
      and through that , we have all been translated into the kingdom through his spirit that dwells in us. so that through the scriptures we might have hope.
      one new priest one new king ,reconciled nation, THE new creation that, was, is, and will be realize in the father’s good time ,so that we the people do eagerly wait as Paul did to be with the lord.
      So looking at what you’re saying in mark I don’t find that hard to believe it all, taking into consideration the date
      the book was written and that the aposeals and prophets knew and talked with one another considerably. seem to be writing in a personal historical perspective thus bringing about an understanding of the progression of the “way”and in there present.
      everyone would know how they got from point A to point B in the reality of their present, in the Spirit which would be understood by all in that time around 60 to 80 a.d. . okay I’m really done now john mark :-)’

  9.   rich Says:

    oh well oops 1 more?
    john mark
    as i alluded to in that last post.
    how does mark 12:36 compare to eph.1:20-21
    jesus speaks of david and this prophecy as not being yet fulfilled?yes?
    paul speaks as though the prophecy having been fulfilled.
    in your opinion do I need to rethink ephesians is that a bad translation that I’m looking at??

    •   rich Says:

      your post on Haggai the second chapter,
      with reference to hebrews the 12th chapter 26-28 brought this question to mind,
      as being the hope of Gods work which has been accomplished through his son’s resurrection the new age. and we screw base to be girly await the consummation of god’s kingdom realized

  10.   Michael Says:

    Greetings, I would like to know how verse 10 gets lumped into the first horizon, it seems like the Bible being published in all languages and spread throughout the world is only possible in today’s age of increased technology, how is that verse speaking apocalypticly about the destruction of the temple? I belive the entire chapter is eschatological, with some verses being spoke in double meaning, whereas they could/would apply to also the apostles time as well. Could not verse 14 speaking of the abomination of desolation be referring to the Antichrist who at the time will break a 7 year covenant made with Israel?

    •   John Mark Hicks Says:

      It depends on how one reads v. 10. Paul spoke of the gospel bearing fruit in “all the world” (Col. 1:6). This is common language in the empire as Romans spoke of ruling the “whole world” or “all nations.” This language functions within the imperial context of the Roman world. He is talking to the disciples of that generation who would experience the destruction of Jerusalem and how his disciples would respond, especially when they are encouraged to join the rebellion and the disciples of Jesus refuse to do so.

      I believe the “abomination of desolation” is the context of the destruction of Jerusalem in Mark 13. Whatever it means in Daniel 9 is not necessarily relevant here, but it is also likely that Daniel 9 is thinking about this time as well.

      Whatever the AntiChrist is or the eschatological end of the world is, it seems to me the first half of Mark 13 deals with the destruction of Jerusalem.

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