In today’s gospel reading, we heard Jesus predict the destruction of the beautiful Temple in Jerusalem, and he uses very vivid language to describe it; earthquakes, wars and famines, persecutions, horrors, betrayals and violent death.
Many people think that throughout this whole passage, Jesus was talking about the end of the world. In their minds eye they’ve drawn a time line which joins the violence with the immediate end of the world. They expect no gap between them.
But that wasn’t the case at all. Jesus’s main point here, was the fall of the Temple in Jerusalem and the difficulties which his followers would face in the time just before this. And we should notice that Jesus didn’t say just how long before.
So it’s a pity that many fundamental religious groups have used this passage to teach that particular catastrophes signal the immediate end of the world as we know it.
They’re wrong. And perhaps if they were a bit more consistent they’d pay a great deal more attention to some very clear teaching of Jesus that nobody will know the day or the hour
Jesus prophesied the destruction of the Temple which actually took place about 40 years after his death. He read the political circumstances accurately, and he could see that the Romans wouldn’t put up with the Jewish problem for much longer.
So he warned his followers that they would face much danger at that time. He also said that he wouldn’t, be there, bodily, to lead and encourage them.
They would face trials, beatings and death, but he emphasised that they had to be patient.
False teachers, natural disasters and frightening rumours would tempt them to panic and to suspect that the present age was rapidly ending.
But he said they must resist the temptation to draw that conclusion, because it isn’t for us to know when God’s new creation will be complete. When God’s dimension of reality and ours will be joined and His Kingdom will exist on earth, just as it is in heaven.
Jesus promised his disciples that they would be given what they needed to say during those times when they would be on trial for their lives because of their allegiance to him.
And as we read the accounts of the experiences of the first Christians, between the time of the resurrection and the fall of the Temple ,we can see quite clearly that they were promises which were honoured. Many early Christians would testify that Jesus had indeed been with them and given them words to say.
But our gospel reading this morning has much to say to us as well. There’s a temptation for those of us who don’t face persecution, to become cynical. It’s easy for us to suppose because nothing much is happening, that the Kingdom of God is just a fancy dream. We might feel inclined to dismiss, as difficult to understand picture language, the kind of account which we’ve just heard. But once more we need to hold the tension of what it means to live as a Christian. We need to be aware that things can and often do, change dramatically and very quickly. And so, perhaps we should reflect on this passage and prepare ourselves.
Many Christians today face persecution every bit as severe as that which the early church endured. Just think of what’s being experienced by our brothers and sisters who live in fundamental Islamic countries. And those Christians need more than the support and prayers of those of us who live in more fortunate places; they also need to hear the voice of Jesus recorded in Holy Scripture. The voice which says the words of encouragement:
“ Don’t let anyone deceive you; be patient, stand firm and I will give you my wisdom”. The words which Jesus used to encourage his first followers are words which he still uses to encourage us today.
We’ll get more from this passage when we see it in its original setting. Jesus could see what was around the corner waiting to break out in AD 70, and he encouraged his followers to stand firm.
For ourselves, we may be called to live in less troubled times, but we may still see the destruction of cherished and beautiful symbols; just as the Jewish people saw the destruction of the Temple, with all its symbolism for them.
Many of us have lived through times when old values seem to be thrown away. We may well feel that the world has lost its sense of direction, and is breaking up in front of our very eyes.
We see churches being vandalized and destroyed. And we don’t need to look very far for examples.
We see whole generations of children growing up in what is supposed to be a Christian country, but without the slightest knowledge about God and Jesus Christ.
Children who’ve been taught that the biggest wrong is getting caught, we see family life disintegrating as young people pursue what they see as happiness through material gain. And we may well be laughed at and mocked for continuing with our faith, when many people, even of our own generation , have given up on what they see as meaningless mumbo jumbo.
Our calling then is to hold on to Jesus himself and to continue to trust that through him, in his good time, the new world will be born through this pain.
God, in Christ has won the victory. Evil has been defeated even if sometimes it doesn’t seem that way. There will continue to be mopping up operations throughout time until that great day comes when God will finally draw the curtain on history.
Jesus told us to be sure of that, He didn’t tell us that we should spend our time looking out for particular circumstances and double guessing God’s time plan.
So, the verses that we’ve just heard, remain precious promises to be learned ahead of time and to be remembered and held in moments of need.
May God bless us all to this end, Amen.