We’re getting closer to the end of our church year. In fact, Sun., Nov. 25, 2018 is Reign of Christ Sunday, which is the church’s equivalent to New Year’s Eve. As we draw closer to the end of the church year, our Gospel readings begin to emphasize the signs of Christ’s Second Coming. In fact, Jesus talks about some of these signs in Mark 13:1-8.
In a sermon often called the Olivet Discourse (because it was delivered on the Mount of Olives), Jesus gave the disciples and us a look into the future. The sermon spoke to both the destruction of the temple by the Romans in 70 AD and the destruction to come when Christ returns. Jesus’ sermon focused attention on preparedness, readiness to suffer, and trust. Jesus began his description of the events to come by emphasizing that many people will claim to be Him. All of them will deceive the people. As the time of Christ’s return draws near, wars and rumours of wars will escalate in number or intensity or both. These conflicts will involve both nation states and ethnic groups. Natural disasters will gain more worldwide attention.
One of the signs Jesus talks about is the destruction of the temple, and he uses that sign to describe what things will be like on earth as the Second Coming draws closer. Many of the stones in the temple were the same weight as a large jet. When the disciples commented on the size of the stones, they were likely expecting a messianic takeover of the temple. They were looking forward to a life of power and prestige. Unfortunately, they still did not realize the true nature of Christ’s kingdom.
The destruction of the temple was the result of its misuse by its leaders. The sacrificial system of the temple could not make sufficient atonement for the sinfulness of mankind. The disciples could not believe that one of the architectural wonders of the world had lost the grandeur of the spirit. Jesus’ conversation about the destruction of the temple was symbolic of the systems and institutions that oppress and exclude people. He was talking about the end of the status quo and the beginning of justice, freedom, and the redistribution and/or redefinition of power and wealth.
When our world is falling apart, God is not through with us-not by a long shot! Jesus reminds us not to create treasures here on earth. We must create treasures in heaven. Things that we think are permanent in our lives are only temporary. Material goods are temporary. They can be taken away. Our journey through life is short. We are travellers passing through. Our true home is in heaven and our true wealth is in knowing Jesus’ love and care for each of us.
The false teachers represented the religious cultism that results from man’s search for spiritual meaning outside of God’s world and word. Man’s self-interest often leads to social upheavals. Natural disasters often occur when the ecological system is upset by things such as pollution. These signs are constantly happening, so Jesus told the disciples not to see them as signs of final judgment. He told them that these signs are precursors to the end-time wrath.
Jesus expects his disciples to be the first people to counter false prophets, condemn war and show compassion to the victims of natural disasters. False prophets arise in every war, cult or natural disaster. If we ignore what they teach, they won’t survive. The main reason why false teachers can thrive is because of our secular society. People do what they please, and they have no time or place for God. All we have to do is look at our congregations on Sunday mornings to see that this is true. People make time for other activities on Sunday but they don’t make time for God. People want to do what they please, and God makes that uncomfortable. They try to gain satisfaction from earthly things such as possessions, status, position or wealth, but the only thing that gives us true satisfaction is faith in God.
When Jesus referred to the pains of childbirth, he was referring to the frequency of the signs of the end time. When a woman is in labour, her contractions are infrequent at first and become more frequent as the baby comes closer to entering the world. In the same way the signs of the end times will be infrequent at first but will escalate to massive and tragic proportions just before Christ’s return.
God’s answer to trouble is trust. He wants us to trust him in times of trouble, especially as the Second Coming draw closer. Faith is the link between heaven and earth. This world is a place where our faith will be refined and where our hope will rest on our future heavenly home-one that will never perish or be destroyed. God is up to stuff that is beyond our ability to understand. Our job is to be alert for it.
This passage from Mark’s Gospel was not meant to make us worry about the future. It was written to offer comfort to first century believers who were struggling to make sense of their world and their lives. We have the same struggles, so this passage gives us comfort as well. A prophet speaks both to their own generation and to future generations. When Jesus spoke to the disciples about the destruction of the temple, the troubles leading up to that day and of the signs that the terrible day was upon them, he was speaking to both their generation and ours. We live in the interim between Christ’s ascension and his return, and in this interim we will experience the same circumstances that Jesus promised his disciples. We will experience false prophets, wars and rumours of wars, natural disasters and persecution.
Jesus reminded the disciples that buildings are only stones and bricks. What really matters is what goes on inside. Life-giving waters are splashed and stories from the Bible are told-stories that are meant to give us guidance while we are on our faith journey. A simple meal of bread and wine is given to all of us, and we gather together to bring all of our joys and concerns and thanksgivings to God.
The destruction of the temple was not the end. It was the beginning. It was not about dismantling God. It was about new beginnings in faith. A building may be destroyed, but the place where God dwells can’t be destroyed because God lives in Jesus and his word as well as in the hearts and minds of all believers.
Our hope is in Christ’s return, which will be the main event of the end times. We must be careful not to be deceived by world events. Instead, we must look forward to the greatest event in history-Christ’s return for his church!
- Jeremiah, David: The Jeremiah Study Bible, NKJV (Brentwood, TN: Worthy Publishing; 2013)
- Collin Wimberly, “Life in the Last Days.” (Preaching Magazine, September/October 2015, pgs. 49-50)
- ESV Study Bible. Part of Wordsearch 11 Bible software package.
- McKenna, D.L. & Ogilvie, L.J.: The Preacher’s Commentary Series, Vol. 25: Mark (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Inc.; 1982)
- MacArthur, J.F. Jr.: The MacArthur Study Bible, NASV (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers; 2006)
- David Jeremiah, “Troubled by trouble.” Retrieved from firstname.lastname@example.org
- Pastor Bob Coy, “Earth: Don’t Get Too Comfortable.” Retrieved from www.activeword.org
- Micah D. Kiehl, “Commentary on Mark 13:1-8.” Retrieved from http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=1419
- David Lose, “Apocalypse Now.” Retrieved from http://www.workingpreacher.org/craft.aspx?post=1629
- Brian P. Stoffregen, “Proper 28-Year B; Mark 13:1-8.” Retrieved from www.crossmarks.com/brian/mark13x1.htm
- The Rev. Dr. Kathi Martin, “Flip the Script.” Retrieved from www.day1.org/490-flip_the_script.print.
- Dr. Mickey Anders, “Everything Nailed Down is Coming Loose.” Retrieved from http://www.lectionary.org/Sermons/NT/02-Mark/Mark-13.01-8-NailedDown-Anders.htm
- Pastor Vince Gerhardy, “The End is Still to Come.” Retrieved from http://www.lectionary.org/Sermons/NT/02-Mark/Mark-13.01-08-EndCome-Gerhardy.htm
- The Rev. Dr. James D. Kegel, “Sic Transit Gloria.” http://www.lectionary.org/Sermons/NT/02-Mark/Mark-13.01-08-SicTransit.-Kegel.htm
- Dr. Jeffrey K. London, “Joy Ahead.” Retrieved from http://www.lectionary.org/Sermons/NT/02-Mark/Mark-13.01-08-JoyAhead-London.htm