I want to begin looking at what it is that is revealed to us in the apocalyptic writing in the Bible—in the New Testament, really. And I begin with what is often called the “Little Apocalypse,” in the Gospel according to Mark, Chapter 13.
Every time I read this passage, I think of William Butler Yeats’ ever-increasingly more relevant poem, “The Second Coming:”
“ Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.”
Yeats was speaking of his “end-time”, and Mark of his. But were they, really? There are images, words, and understandings that resonate with us today.
Who cannot hear Jesus saying today: “Take care that no one deceives you. Many will come using my name and saying, ‘I am he,’ and they will deceive many….And if anyone says to you then, ‘Look, here is the Christ,’ or, ‘Look, he is there,’ do not believe it; for false Christs and false prophets will arise to produce signs and portents to deceive the elect, if that were possible.”
It is possible!
Does not Yeats speak of our times when he writes, “The best lack all conviction, while the worst/are full of passionate intensity”?
But why is all this happening? Why does Jesus speak of false prophets, of buildings being laid to waste, of sign in the sun and moon, of families turning on one another? Why does Yeats speak of anarchy, and blood-dimmed tides?
Here Jesus interprets Yeats: where Yeats simply says “the centre cannot hold,” Jesus names that center—or, to be more precise, Mark has Jesus “sitting facing the Temple” when he (Jesus) describes what is about to happen.
The “centre” that cannot hold for Jesus is the Temple! “Not a single stone will be left on another; everything will be destroyed.” With the destruction of the Temple comes the destruction of everything, of all meaning. What follows then are wars, pestilence, false prophets, persecution, family members turning on each other—and even the shaking of the heavens.
Jesus, of course, is speaking to and about the Diaspora: his followers will have to exist in a world whose center is no longer the temple. And at that time in their history, the temple was what held the people together.
So this is what the “Little Apocalypse” reveals to us: not a prediction of catastrophes, a list to be played out according to a timetable; but rather an understanding that the change coming will be so profound that it will literally be the end of the world as we know it! Or, to put it even more simply, the destruction of our cherished beliefs is harder to bear than the destruction of our lives. We will be ready to deny everything, follow any leader, turn on even our family—if only we can hang onto the world as we know it!