Monday, August 9, 2010

Watch out! I have warned you about this ahead of time!

Mark 13:2-27 NLT (excerpted)  
   2 Jesus replied, “Yes, look at these great buildings. But they will be completely demolished. Not one   
  3  Later, . . ,. Peter, James, John, and Andrew came to him privately and asked him, . . . 4 when will all this happen? What sign will show us that these things are about to be fulfilled?” 
   5  Jesus replied, “Don’t let anyone mislead you, 6 for many will come in my name, claiming, ‘I am the Messiah.’ They will deceive many. 7 And you will hear of wars and threats of wars, but don’t panic. Yes, these things must take place, but the end won’t follow immediately. 8 Nation will go to war against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be earthquakes in many parts of the world, as well as famines. But this is only the first of the birth pains, with more to come.
   9  “When these things begin to happen, watch out! You will be handed over to the local councils and beaten in the synagogues. You will stand trial before governors and kings because you are my followers. But this will be your opportunity to tell them about me. 10 For the Good News must first be preached to all nations. 11 But when you are arrested and stand trial, don’t worry in advance about what to say. Just say what God tells you at that time, for it is not you who will be speaking, but the Holy Spirit.
   12   “A brother will betray his brother to death, a father will betray his own child, and children will rebel against their parents and cause them to be killed. 13 And everyone will hate you because you are my followers. But the one who endures to the end will be saved.
   14  “The day is coming when you will see the sacrilegious object that causes desecration standing where he should not be.” (Reader, pay attention!) “Then those in Judea must flee to the hills. 15 A person out on the deck of a roof must not go down into the house to pack. 16 A person out in the field must not return even to get a coat. 17 How terrible it will be for pregnant women and for nursing mothers in those days. 18 And pray that your flight will not be in winter. 19 For there will be greater anguish in those days than at any time since God created the world. And it will never be so great again. 20 In fact, unless the Lord shortens that time of calamity, not a single person will survive. But for the sake of his chosen ones he has shortened those days. 
   21  “Then if anyone tells you, ‘Look, here is the Messiah,’ or ‘There he is,’ don’t believe it. 22 For false messiahs and false prophets will rise up and perform signs and wonders so as to deceive, if possible, even God’s chosen ones. 23 Watch out! I have warned you about this ahead of time! 
   24   “At that time, after the anguish of those days, the sun will be darkened, the moon will give no light, 25 the stars will fall from the sky,  and the powers in the heavens will be shaken. 
   26  Then everyone will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds with great power and glory. 27 And he will send out his angels to gather his chosen ones from all over the world—from the farthest ends of the earth and heaven.

I have long struggled with this passage and struggled again as I prepared for this edition or our inspirational sharing. When commentators and preachers talk about 'end times' this passage inevitably comes up, but there is a serious question to ask. Was Jesus referring to 'end times' throughout the passage? Notice that he was responding to the disciple's question (verse 1) about the magnificence of the masonry walls in the Temple. His response was to say that the time was coming when all this magnificent work would be torn down (verse 2)-- something that implies a total destruction of Jerusalem for it to happen at all. History records that the city was destroyed in 70 AD, about 40 years after Jesus gave this prophesy. History also verifies that the Believers in Jerusalem, remembering this prophesy, heeded it and did not go back into their homes to pack but fled immediately. They got out before the Roman General, Titus, moved on the city. Millions of Jews were killed but Christians were dispersed across the empire to spread the Gospel.

The wars, earthquakes, false messiahs, and all that Jesus describes could be his telling of the struggles throughout the church age and not merely the few years leading up to the sacking of Jerusalem by Rome. His prophesy jumps between the 70 AD event and up to our times. His point was to tell us to persevere and not get over excited when certain times of hardship come. History also chides Christians for the times when silly misguided believers heeded a false prophet and wasted their time waiting on a mountain top for a non-event. Jesus called us to serve not sit around. Jesus called us to persevere until he came. The Apostles were repeatedly asking for a date-certain to know of His coming. However, at the time of their question they were still not fully understanding of who Jesus was and why he came in the first place. A careful reading of the Book of Acts can check off most of the events that Jesus listed for these early believers and he did not want them to mistakenly think his return was eminent when these intermediate things took place. Notice in verse 8, that these events were merely the first of more to come.

The Jewish believers who were to witness the fulfillment of verse 14--when Titus sacrificed a pig on the altar, repeating a historical event from centuries earlier. Even this event was not the ultimate indicator of Christ's return. There was a ministry to engage in whereby the people of Christ would share Christ all across the globe.

I have settled on the view that Jesus was describing the millennia of living for Christ around the world and the cyclical experiences of persecution, victory, disfavor, and more persecution of the church by the world. His detailed message was to say 'hang in there no matter what you face.'  I think that it was not until the passage covered by Mark starting in verse 21 was he talking about leading up to end times. He wanted believers of all centuries to realize that when Christ did return, EVERYONE will see it (vs 26).

So much has been written, and filmed, of perspectives and stories leading up to Christ's return, depicting yet more intense persecution of believers. In fact, there is more to come, according to the Book of Revelation. In fact, almost anywhere outside of North America, you can find Christians facing the very sort of persecution described and originally applied to the first and second centuries. Communism, Islam, the Taoism, Buddhism, all brings life-threatening persecution to Christ's people around the world. In North America we are a bit safer, but even our safety appears to be dissipating from the work of Godless atheists steadily gaining control of western governments. Jesus said 23 Watch out! I have warned you about this ahead of time!. 

Your servant in Christ's Love

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