The End Is Here (Mark 13:1-13)
Rev. Peter Heckert
+ Grace to you, and peace, from God our heavenly Father, and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. + Amen.
The text for our meditation for this twenty-fifth Sunday after Pentecost comes from our Gospel text, especially where Mark records Jesus’s words, “See that no one leads you astray. Many will come in my name, saying, ‘I am he!’ and they will lead many astray. And when you hear of wars and rumors of wars, do not be alarmed. This must take place, but the end is not yet. For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be earthquakes in various places; there will be famines. These are but the beginning of the birth pains.” Here ends our text; my dear Christian friends …
What do these words from our Lord’s lips fill you with? How do they make you feel? This is an honest, albeit rhetorical, question. Consider your thoughts. When you heard those words a few moments ago, or if you read them beforehand, what did you feel? Did your mind automatically flip to memories from last night’s newscast? Did you become uneasy thinking about the likes of John Hagee and other doomsday preachers, thinking, “Oh man, maybe they’re right”? Heaven forbid! How do you feel, hearing that the end of all things is near? Anxiety? Fear? Dread?
You can tell what the disciples were feeling during our text, at least at first; they were very confused. Here they were, gazing upon the marvel and appreciating the beauty of the recently-completed Temple. It was the result of decades of work, begun by Herod the Great; and it’s not surprising that some have included this rendition of the Jerusalem temple as one of the wonders of the ancient world. It was a beautiful structure, as the one of disciples exclaims, “Look, Teacher, what wonderful stones and what wonderful buildings!” … and Jesus simply remarks, “Do you see these great buildings? There will not be left here one stone upon another that will not be thrown down.”
That’s rather jarring, don’t you think? In the midst of such beauty, Jesus seems like a party-pooper, which no doubt confuses the disciples. Certainly they knew of the transience of man-made structures – even this temple had now been rebuilt or modified twice – but that was all in the past! The ancient Israelites deserved to have the temple destroyed, but now … now, they had things figured out. No way would God allow His temple to be destroyed again, and certainly not in, presumably, the near future! Thus their confusion, probably some amount of alarm, and their desire for clarity.
They move on to the Mount of Olives, in sight of that gorgeous temple, and as Jesus takes a seat, four of the disciples quietly ask Him about this. “Tell us, when will these things be, and what will be the sign when all these things are about to be accomplished?” The temple was the center of religious (and thus, all) life for these ancient Judeans. The system established by the Pharisees concerned every part of their lives, and thus to hear of the destruction of the temple, the holy place where God’s very presence dwelled, the very center of their lives … is tantamount to the world’s ending. They thought those two events were one and the same … they were wrong.
No, the upcoming destruction of the temple in Jerusalem in AD 70 was not the same as the end of this broken creation – obviously, we’re still here 1951 years later – but Jesus would explain what to look for with regard to both, starting in our text with the close of this present age: “Many will come in my name, saying, ‘I am he!’ and they will lead many astray. And when you hear of wars and rumors of wars, do not be alarmed. This must take place, but the end is not yet. For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be earthquakes in various places; there will be famines.”
But wait a second, you might be thinking. This stuff has always been happening. There have been false-christs, wars and warmongering, earthquakes, famine, disease, natural disasters, civil unrest, nations rising and falling throughout history! This has always been the case! And you would be correct. And yes, that does mean that the close of this age, the end of the world, the rolling up of the heavens like a scroll and the ringing of the angelic trumpets signaling the return of Christ the Judge … has always been imminent, down to this day.
So again, let me ask you, how does that make you feel, knowing that the return of our Lord and, consequently, the end of life as we know it, has always been, and is even now, just around the corner? Confused? Anxious? Terrified? Or do you instead hear … comfort? Peace? Joyful expectation?
Yes, knowing that the end of the universe could happen in our lifetime ought to fill all of us with eager anticipation and joyful hope. Why? For one reason: before the Romans sent the stones of the Second Temple crashing down, the true Temple was destroyed. This holy dwelling place for God was not made of marble and alabaster, but rather flesh and blood. His adornment was not in gold filigree and curtains of scarlet, but rather humility and truth. That Temple was destroyed, not in the midst of Jerusalem, but outside the city walls, on a crude but effective killing machine called a cross. Jesus’s crucifixion was the destruction of the real Temple, as He Himself told the Pharisees, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” Destroy it they did, and true to His Word, He did rise from the dead three days later! This Temple’s destruction and resurrection proves that He is faithful to the promises He made to us! He promised that our sins are atoned for in His sacrifice. He promised that He is coming back. He promised that He is taking us to be with Him, where He is. That’s why we don’t hear Jesus’s words about the end of this age as horror-inducing, but rather as the long-expected culmination of all His promises to us, His people!
No one likes to hear that they will endure suffering; perhaps that is why people don’t like hearing about the end of the world. All they’ve heard is that it will be a time of great anguish and misery, but they forget that those things have always been endemic to the human experience. It will be life as usual until the most unusual thing occurs, when the blessed Day of God’s choosing finally arrives, when Jesus’s return is literally just a breath away. The Day He comes on clouds descending will not be a source of terror or panic to those who hold to His promises. That is the Day … we await in eager expectation! That is the Day when all wrongs will be righted! The Day when sin and death are finally defeated once and for all! The Day we are ushered into the new creation to live forever in righteousness, innocence, and blessedness with Him who bled and died for us! When the end is finally here, that will mean the beginning of true life for those who hold to Christ, who is the living and resurrected Temple that will never be destroyed again!
+ In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. + Amen.