“The End Times”
Mark 13:1-8, 24-31
I wonder how many times Jesus and his disciples must have traveled to Jerusalem and journeyed to the temple? King Herod and his family were the builders of this structure. The temple grounds covered the top of Mount Moriah. Some have said it rivaled any of the ancient wonders of the world. In Jesus time the temple had been under construction for the past 46 years. Jesus would have grown up watching the Temple being put in place. Even in his time some of the work was still being completed. Some of the stones used in the foundation were forty feet long and eighteen feet wide. Today people aren’t even sure how these megalithic blocks were even moved. In the front of the Temple were huge pillars, almost forty feet high. It was covered in pure white marble and parts of it were plated with solid gold. When the sun hit the white and gold structure, it often gleamed so brilliantly that onlookers had to shield their eyes from the glare. The temple even to our modern eyes would have been a dazzling sight. If you have ever been to the Lincoln Memorial and had a sense of it being a sacred site, just multiply that effect. Gentiles could only approach so close before they came to a gate that warned them to enter no farther or be put to death for doing so. No one approached the temple without being ceremonially clean. The Levites and priest administered sacrifices in and around the inner portion of temple. Most people probably never entered the main structure.
As Jesus and his disciples arrived at the temple once again, the disciples said what everyone was saying. They said what you or I would have said. “Man, isn’t this place really something. It is such a beautiful building. Look how large the blocks are. I wonder how they managed to build this?” The temple was a source of national pride. It was central to their identity as a nation. It was the focus of their government and life. Sure, there was Roman, but not even Caesar had anything better than this.
We can relate. We too take pride in the great buildings that house our governments and religious life. Google knows everything. There are 11 states that have the dome of their capitol buildings covered with gold leaf. I thought about this because my home state of West Virginia is one of them. In the midst of the West Virginia Hills you might just drive by the Capitol and see its gold dome. It stands out as a place declaring its importance and pride.
So, there were the disciples engulfed in national pride and spiritual reverence for coming to the temple in Jerusalem, and then Jesus listens to their praise and comments. Mark 13:2 “Do you see these great buildings? Not one stone will be left here upon another; all will be thrown down.” Now that is truly a shocking statement. That is a 9/11 type revelation. That is like promising that someone is going to level Washington DC. Lord do you mean to tell us that everything we are, and everything we have built here will someday end? How can that be? The disciples asked Jesus when will these things take place? Perhaps they did not ask why the temple would be destroyed because they knew that Jesus words were from Old Testament words and prophecies in 1 and 2 Kings, Ezra and Daniel. Herod’s Temple was the 3rd Temple built. The first two ended in destruction and the scripture seem to lean that one built in Jesus day would fall as well.
Well, as time passed, we know the rest of the story. In 70 AD many of the Jews revolted against Rome and Rome sent their General Titus to sack Jerusalem. In the process the temple was set on fire and destroyed. I once heard a scholar suggest that the gold on the temple melted in between the blocks and so afterwards The Roman soldiers pushed every last block apart in order to collect the gold that was part of the temple’s construction; until not one block was left upon another.
Now there is one line of argument that believes the gospel of Mark was formally written after 70 AD. Therefore, much of what we read here was given to try and answer the question of where do we go from here? The temple is destroyed. The religious life of the nation has become scattered. Many of those who were the learned rulers were killed. The people had to wonder if this was the end of all things for them. Had God forsaken them?
Have you ever invest so much of your own time into an endeavor, a marriage, a family, a job, or a project and then have it come to a sudden loss? Perhaps you have, perhaps you have been fortunate and not been struck with such a tragedy. However, I am sure that all of us knows what loss is like. If a person lives long enough a person will encounter times of grief and loss for one thing or another. We all may likewise find ourselves struggling for answer to what will become of us or just not knowing what tomorrow may bring. When we lose a loved one, lose a job, have to relocate, or get property or homes swept away by natural disasters, or even dare to venture away from the places we know best. There is always the struggle to put life back together.
That is where Mark chapter 13 seems to be. The gospel writer uses Jesus words, and images that are similar to what we might find in the book of Daniel or Revelation. The writer resorted to using what we call apocalyptic language. Apocalypse literally means “unveiling.” Now what is being unveiled in these strange images and incredible prophecies has to do with what God has for us in moments of ultimate loss. What do you do when life seems to be failing you? Where is God in the midst of your deepest problems? The Apocalypse comes in these moments as a word of hope. The passages in Mark were not just written as future prophecy irrelevant to the present, but they were written to a people in a state of loss, and thus this text has the power to touch our lives when we are also in such a state loss and find ourselves questioning the meaning of life. The message is not just one that says, “Hang in there. The end is near, and Jesus second coming is at hand,” as it might at first seem, but there is more of a meaning then that, and this meaning draws us to assumptions about our world that stand in contradiction to what we normally would think.
In the scriptures we see that Peter, James, and John came to Jesus privately, and asked him when these things would be, and Jesus began to teach them. To the assumption that today’s troubles will be the end for us, and so we might as well give up on life, we are given the knowledge that times of tribulation do not signal the end, but the end comes as a result of God’s action; not ours. What is revealed is not just the meaning of the end, but the sovereign power of God that is in control of all things. We read in Mark 13:24-25:
“But in those days AFTER THAT TRIBULATION, the sun will darken, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will be falling from heaven, and the powers in the heavens will be shaken.”
The Jewish people thought the end had come, because they lost a city, but according to Mark when the end comes it is the universe that will end, and not just a city. The stars will fall from the heavens and the power of the heavens will be shaken. This fearful picture is something that none of us has yet encountered. It is not the end when the powers we control fail, but it is the end when the powers God controls are allowed to fail. Therefore, it is by God’s final action that the end comes, and that strangely, can provide us with a source of hope. It is to ensure that God indeed is in control. It may not seem that way to us, but if in the darkness the stars are still shining in the heavens then you can be certain that God is still at work and there is the promise of another day. God has radical ownership over all of creation and life, and even in our worst tragedies there still is hope, and an opportunity to overcome the problems that we face. Also, because we are assured that there will be a tomorrow, we can not resign ourselves to “our fate.” We can not just say that life does not matter. No, even in the midst of a troubled world we are called to discipleship. Let the wounds of life be healed, and the relationships between family and friends be restored. Let us never just quit. God has given us life, and so we might as well live it, because it is not going to go away unless if we just plain give up. That is God’s promise, and so live each day as a gift from God. You may be surprised at what you can do and have the opportunity to do. Remember that Jesus never gave up on life, and even in his crucifixion, life was found for all. That is the hard to believe truth about God. Even in death it is not over until God says it is over.
To the assumption that we are forsaken in life, we are told that even in the midst of this chaotic world; even when the stars shall fall from heaven, and the powers of the heaven are shaken, God still cares for us.
“And then they will see the Son of Man coming in clouds with great power and glory. And then he will send out the angels, and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of heaven.”
Even if the worst does happen, and the world is called to its end, the scriptures affirm a God who is there actively saving and redeeming his people. Throughout all of creation in both heaven, and Earth God will gather his people together. Perhaps it was this realization that led the apostle Paul to write in Romans:
“Neither death, nor life, nor Angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
Who could say it better? God remains with us, and so as we turn to the questions, and fears facing us in life, as we come up against the things which would seem to end life, it is only with an understanding of the need not to give up on life; with an understanding of the sovereignty and power of God; and with an understanding of God’s great love for us first in mind, that I can say to you, hang in there, and be watchful and ready.
“From the fig tree learn its lesson: as soon as its branch becomes tender and puts forth its leaves, you know that summer is near. So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that he is near, at the very gates. Truly, I say to you, this generation will not pass away before all these things take place. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away. But of that day or that hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.”
We do not know the time, but the Son of Man is coming! We can have confidence in the love and actions of God for us –both today and tomorrow. AMEN.