Sorry no recording this week.
The end of a world, and the end of the world
The end of a world and the end of the world
Lucy and I have been watching a French spy drama TV series called ‘the Bureau’ ‘Le Bureau des Legendes’. Don’t worry it has subtitles….!
Much of it is set in the Middle East over the last few years. The scenes of Iraq and Syria, particularly Mosul and Raqqa reveal the whole destructive power of modern warfare: the destroyed buildings, the dead bodies, the ruined lives…When you imagine that these were once communities, with friends and neighbours, shops, schools, and businesses, hospitals, factories and offices, churches and mosques, for the surviving people of these cities it must often feel like the world has come to an end. Everything that gave them identity and purpose for their lives has vanished. It is as if the destruction of the buildings was not just a means of defeating an enemy, of driving it to surrender, but of annihilating an entire culture, a way of life.
Conflicts in the Middle East today have an ancient feel to them. As I mentioned in my talk on Remembrance Sunday, the destruction wrought by ISIS on cities, peoples and cultures has the characteristic brutality of something that the Ancient Romans might have done. There is something almost Biblical, or perhaps Apocalyptic, about it, in its horror.
Jesus predicted such catastrophes for the Jewish people in Mark Chapter 13.
If you have your Bibles open (or see below), it’s helpful to glance back to the beginning of Chapter 13 of Mark which we have just read.
Jesus is nearing the end of his ministry, the Last Supper and Gethsemane are drawing close, and He is teaching his disciples about the impermanence of created things. The disciples have noticed (as he taught in the temple) the magnificent building of the the temple, built of such huge stones…but Jesus’ riposte (Verse 2) is ‘Do you see all these great buildings? Not one stone will be left on another. Every one will be thrown down.’
Jesus and his disciples then move up to the Mount of Olives and his disciples ask when these things will happen?
Jesus then gives a long catalogue of the disasters that will happen first: There will be (verse 8) wars, nation will fight against nation, families will tear themselves apart with betrayals (verse 12), hate will abound (verse 13). There will be days of distress (verse 19) unequalled from the beginning of the world and, quoting the Prophet Isaiah, Jesus says: ‘The Sun will be darkened and the moon will lose its light. The stars will fall from the sky and the heavenly bodies will be shaken’.
Mark’s gospel was probably written in 60 AD…in 70 AD General Titus, the son of the Roman Emperor Vespasian sacked Jerusalem.
We are given graphic accounts, chapter after chapter, of what happened as Jerusalem was destroyed by the legions, in the book of the Jewish Wars written by the contemporary, Jewish historian Josephus. He writes of the chaos in Jerusalem as the Roman legions tightened their siege, of the starvation of the inhabitants which was so bad that it eventually led to cannibalism….even within families…the hard bitten Josephus was horrified.
The Romans were determined not only to put an end to the truculent, difficult to manage, Jewish people’s perpetual rebellion against them but also to annihilate the whole idea…to destroy the thing that they most held dear: the epicentre of their religion and their rebellion, focused as it was on a place, Jerusalem, which they would defend to the last, and which had caused the Romans so much trouble. So the Romans destroyed and desecrated the Temple, that place where Jews believe was where God resided on earth.
They hurled the huge stones down from Temple Mount, from Mount Zion (you can see them today where the legions left them) the holy centre of the lives of so many, a place of identity and meaning for the whole race of Jews became desolate, ruined, destroyed, just as Jesus had predicted in around 30AD, just before his crucifixion.
It was the end of a world, as for 2000 years the Jews have been scattered over the rest of the globe, only returning to take possession of some of the Holy Land in 1947 and Jerusalem in1967…in our life time.
But then, when everything must have looked to Jesus’ disciples as if it their way of life would be ripped apart as if he was predicting a total apocalypse, he says…..
But then (verse 26)….
‘At that time [people] will see the Son of Man coming in clouds with great power and glory. 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’
What does this mean? Did it happen then in 70 AD or is this (as it has been traditionally taught) a shift in Jesus’ focus….away from the coming destruction of Jerusalem, (the end of a world), to a final reappearance of our Saviour what is called ‘the Parousia’, at the end of the world
Theologians differ on this, but I find the following interpretation by Ian Paul (following on from Tom Wright and Dick France) convincing: He says that Jesus is quoting in verse 26 directly from Daniel 7:13 in which the Son of Man is not coming to Earth (as we might think from the passage) but approaching the Ancient of Days the Creator, Father God, and being given (Daniel 7:14) ‘Authority glory and sovereign power and peoples of every language worshipped him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that will not pass away and his kingdom is one which will not be destroyed’.
Jesus continues (verse 28) that the disciples should learn from the fig tree. Verse 28: You can tell from a fig tree when summer is coming because it sends out shoots, so when catastrophe strikes you should know that these things are nearby.
He reassures his disciples that (verse 30) ‘This generation will not pass away until all these things have happened’.
So, despite all the destruction, the end of the Temple, the place where the Jews met with God, despite the destruction of the centre of their identity as Jews, when all seems to be lost, Jesus is reassuring his disciples that this is the moment when he, the Son of Man, comes into his power, a power which will never be lost, a kingdom which will never be destroyed.
Despite the chaos of the world, King Jesus is on his throne and he does have supreme power in the universe.
Then Jesus turns (Verse 32) to the final end of the world, when he will finally return to earth in glory and bringing his description of the end of the world, so close to the end of a world, it leads us to think that they may be similar…
On ‘that day’ when everything will be restored in the words of Revelation 21:4 ‘In a new heaven and a new earth and He will wipe away every tear and there will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain’
He says that only the Father knows when that day is going to happen.
But we need to be keenly alert that it could happen at any time…We need (verse 34) to be like the servants left in charge of the house while the master goes on a long journey, we need to keep awake, because we do not know when he will return..
So what does this mean for all of us today?
As we look at the world, we can easily be horrified by what we see. Not just the wholesale destruction of ancient cultures in the Middle East, the killing and destruction of war, the starvation of nations, but also the way that we see, even our own society changing away from the certainties with which we were brought up, the undermining of whole systems of ideas which have given us an identity, a culture, our history, in this country since King Alfred defeated the Vikings and first established England as a Christian nation.
But its not just the decline in church attendance, and the failure of our society to look to its Christian heritage for its ethical decisions, which is bad enough….its not just the total preoccupation of so many of our nation with self and distorted images of what love is…..being the result but even the discrediting of the idea that truth exists…….
Everything that we could once be proud of, our history, our culture, our freedom, our British common sense way of being, the way we worship…..these things, which are so precious to so many of us, seem like those great stones making up the temple which Jesus predicts will all eventually be thrown down….
there is one truth one certainty for those who are his followers, which will be everlasting:
One person whose words will never pass away, despite the changing fashions of society
One King whose kingdom will never be destroyed
One truth that will never be shaken
That Jesus, whom we eagerly await this Advent Sunday with great anticipation, keeping awake, like the servants, watching out for his presence, to be with us….
So let’s not get too distressed about the passing of impermanent things. We can speak in favour of keeping them, of course, we must be salt and light in our communities…..But we need to recognise, like the stones of the temple, the cultural things that we love which contribute to our identity are bound to fall… but this need not dismay us because the source of all we believe about ourselves, Jesus, is the one unchanging truth witnessed in the Bible upon whom we can have absolute confidence, even if everything else fails. Inviting him into our lives puts everything in perspective, will give us peace, as so much seems to be disappearing around us and enables us to see him coming with great power and glory, this Advent.
And so, despite the crumbling stones of things we hold dear, we can be confident that he will gather us to him wherever we are in peace and safety for ever.
Mark Chapter 13
The Destruction of the Temple Foretold
13 As he came out of the temple, one of his disciples said to him, “Look, Teacher, what large stones and what large buildings!” 2 Then Jesus asked him, “Do you see these great buildings? Not one stone will be left here upon another; all will be thrown down.”
3 When he was sitting on the Mount of Olives opposite the temple, Peter, James, John, and Andrew asked him privately, 4 “Tell us, when will this be, and what will be the sign that all these things are about to be accomplished?” 5 Then Jesus began to say to them, “Beware that no one leads you astray. 6 Many will come in my name and say, ‘I am he!’ and they will lead many astray. 7 When you hear of wars and rumors of wars, do not be alarmed; this must take place, but the end is still to come. 8 For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; there will be earthquakes in various places; there will be famines. This is but the beginning of the birth pangs.
(Mt 24:9–14; Lk 21:12–19)
9 “As for yourselves, beware; for they will hand you over to councils; and you will be beaten in synagogues; and you will stand before governors and kings because of me, as a testimony to them. 10 And the good news must first be proclaimed to all nations. 11 When they bring you to trial and hand you over, do not worry beforehand about what you are to say; but say whatever is given you at that time, for it is not you who speak, but the Holy Spirit. 12 Brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child, and children will rise against parents and have them put to death; 13 and you will be hated by all because of my name. But the one who endures to the end will be saved.
The Desolating Sacrilege
(Mt 24:15–28; Lk 21:20–24)
14 “But when you see the desolating sacrilege set up where it ought not to be (let the reader understand), then those in Judea must flee to the mountains; 15 the one on the housetop must not go down or enter the house to take anything away; 16 the one in the field must not turn back to get a coat. 17 Woe to those who are pregnant and to those who are nursing infants in those days! 18 Pray that it may not be in winter. 19 For in those days there will be suffering, such as has not been from the beginning of the creation that God created until now, no, and never will be. 20 And if the Lord had not cut short those days, no one would be saved; but for the sake of the elect, whom he chose, he has cut short those days. 21 And if anyone says to you at that time, ‘Look! Here is the Messiah!’ or ‘Look! There he is!’—do not believe it. 22 False messiahs and false prophets will appear and produce signs and omens, to lead astray, if possible, the elect. 23 But be alert; I have already told you everything.
The Coming of the Son of Man
24 “But in those days, after that suffering,
the sun will be darkened,
and the moon will not give its light,
25 and the stars will be falling from heaven,
and the powers in the heavens will be shaken.
26 Then they will see ‘the Son of Man coming in clouds’ with great power and glory. 27 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.
The Lesson of the Fig Tree
28 “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. 29 So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that he is near, at the very gates. 30 Truly I tell you, this generation will not pass away until all these things have taken place. 31 Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.
The Necessity for Watchfulness
32 “But about that day or hour no one knows, neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. 33 Beware, keep alert; for you do not know when the time will come. 34 It is like a man going on a journey, when he leaves home and puts his slaves in charge, each with his work, and commands the doorkeeper to be on the watch. 35 Therefore, keep awake—for you do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or at cockcrow, or at dawn, 36 or else he may find you asleep when he comes suddenly. 37 And what I say to you I say to all: Keep awake.”
The Holy Bible: New Revised Standard Version. (1989). (Mk 13:1–37). Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers.