As he came out of the temple, one of his disciples said to him, “Look, Teacher, what large stones and what large buildings!” Then Jesus asked him, “Do you see these great buildings? Not one stone will be left here upon another; all will be thrown down.” When he was sitting on the Mount of Olives opposite the temple, Peter, James, John, and Andrew asked him privately, “Tell us, when will this be, and what will be the sign that all these things are about to be accomplished?” Then Jesus began to say to them, “Beware that no one leads you astray. Many will come in my name and say, ‘I am he!’ And they will lead many astray. When you hear of wars and rumors of wars, do not be alarmed; this must take place, but the end is still to come. For nation will rise up against nation, kingdom against kingdom, there will be earthquakes in various places; there will be famines. This is but the beginning of the birthpangs.”
This might be our least favorite Jesus. We prefer the Jesus who fed the 5,000 gathered to hear him speak. We like rejoicing in Jesus’ greatest parables like the Prodigal Son and the
Good Samaritan. We enjoy reflecting on Jesus’ final evening with his friends while passing bread and wine around the table.
But the apocalyptic Jesus? No thank you!
Jesus and his disciples are walking through Jerusalem and the temple is casting a shadow over everything (literally and figuratively). It captivates the hearts and imaginations of all who walk in its shade, and it is the pivotal focus of their faith. It stands as a beacon to all with eyes to see regarding the power and the glory of God.
And the disciples can’t help but marvel in the giant stones and the large buildings. Like kids seeing a skyscraper for the first time they probably kept fumbling over their feet while their eyes were stuck in the sky.
Jesus had led them all through Galilee ministering to the last, least, and lost, but now they are in Jerusalem, rubbing shoulders with the very people who fear Jesus the most.
It was probably Peter who keeps his finger pointed up high with every passing arrangement of architecture and Jesus says, “Psst. You want to know a secret?”
The disciples frantically move to get close enough to hear the Good News.
“All of this stuff is going to be destroyed.”
“Now wait just a minute Jesus! This temple has stood for centuries. You mean to tell us the pinnacle of all that we hope for and that we believe in will crumble?”
Later, they’re sitting on the Mount of Olives, opposite the temple, and they bring it up again: “Seriously Jesus, when is this going to happen? What will be the signs of the times so we know what to expect?”
“My friends, beware that no one leads you astray with empty promises about the end. There will be plenty of people who come in my name declaring profound change, and messianic power. They will lead many down the wrong path. But when you hear about wars and destruction, do not be alarmed; all of this must take place. There will be earthquakes. There will be famines. There will be wars. But all of this is just the birth pangs, the beginning of the end.”
Big and towering buildings are not supposed to crumble to the ground. Oceans are not supposed to leap out and cover the dry land. The earth is not supposed to shake and tremble.
We are not supposed to lose the people we love.
But then it happens.
Those who witness such unfortunate and frightening sights not only lose things that are dear and precious to them – like the countless families whose homes and properties have burned to the ground in California. But in a very real sense they have also lost their innocence.
They now know that something they once believed to be a sure thing is no longer trustworthy.
These images, both in scripture and in our lives, are what we might call apocalyptic. They signal to those with eyes to see the destructive forces of the world such that reality seems to be pulling at the seams. But thats not what apocalypse means.
An apocalypse is a revelation from God – it is a vision of a timeless reality. It is the past. It is the present. It is the future.
Jesus’ friends saw the temple as the end-all-be-all of faithful living, and he quickly brushed it aside to say that even the brick and mortar will fall away.
Don’t put your faith in the buildings and in the structure. Keep your faith in the Lord who reigns forever.
But we don’t like this Jesus; he’s frightening!
These words are tough to swallow in our comfortable and contemporary condition. What if the things we cling to most are just illusions? What happens when those things we so elevate come crashing to the ground? How have we so forgotten these words from Jesus?
Take a look around for just a moment at our sanctuary… None of this will last. Everything has its time. But we deny it again and again. Look at the pews, there’s a reason they’re bolted to the floor! They are made to feel far more permanent than they really are.
All of this will disappear. All of our great monuments are temporary – not just in the church but in the world at large.
And we don’t have to be seasoned with life to know that this is true. Each of us here, in some way, shape, or form, know about the finitude of things. We all kind of know, whether we like to admit it or not, that all life is loss.
Time is now fleeting, the moments are passing…
We try to deny the truth, we erect giant edifices, we worship our architecture as if it was here from the beginning, and we believe that are favorite institutions are too big to fail.
But they do, and they will.
Perhaps most frightening of all isn’t the foolish belief that these things will last forever, but that we will last forever. We won’t. The bell will toll for us all.
We cannot stop the inevitable.
All life comes to an end.
Only a living God can make our end a beginning.
There is a strange and bizarre comfort in these words from Jesus to the disciples in Jerusalem. I know it doesn’t sound comforting. For us, when Jesus says, “God’s gonna destroy all of this,” it sounds like bad news. But for others, those for whom these institutions and statues are like hell on earth, the destruction of them is good news.
None of those things give true life. No building, no institution, no company.
Only God gives life.
The truth of the gospel is that God is gonna get what God wants. No matter how much God’s gotta mess up what we’ve got, God’s gonna get what God wants.
Jesus rightly warns his disciples that many will come proclaiming some version of a truth, they will come with empty promises about the saving end of all things. They will, in some way, call upon you and I to join up to protect the things that we think rule the world.
But Jesus is abundantly clear – the temple cannot and will not stand.
The restoration of the temple, getting Jesus back in schools, whatever the thing is that we are willing to die for is not the end of all things. Those things are not God’s goals for the world.
The goal of all life is resurrection!
This is why we are cautioned about those who draw all of our attention and focus and energy of bold claims about what’s really at stake. And yet we cannot help ourselves! The all-you-can-eat-buffet of suffering and destruction in this world is a fix that never stops bizarrely comforting us.
And we, today, become so focused on discerning the signs of the time, that we neglect to open our eyes to the truth of the gospel today.
Our focus is not on the signs of the times themselves, but rather on the one who is to come – the one who enables us to stare into the void of such devastation and claim the certainty of a new day dawning in the light of the resurrection.
Today, faithful living, whatever that means, has become something of fanatical observance, or an apathetic endeavor.
Just turn on the news and you will quickly learn about the destructive powers of Christians in their communities all across the theological spectrum. Or you can learn about the failure of so-called Christian politicians. Or you can learn about the greed in churches that wedge themselves between families, between friends, and between brothers and sisters in Christ.
The world quickly identifies the people who claim to speak on behalf of Jesus who then rapidly lead disciples down paths of idolatrous worship. They care more about which politicians won certain seats than about the people who sit in the seats of their churches. They preach intolerance rather than love, they emphasize death over resurrection, and they support judgment above new life.
And then, on the other side, there are countless churches that contain only the blandest sense of discipleship. Week after week the pews fill with less and less people as the sermons are filled with more and more trite aphorisms about living your best life. They might have a bible displayed at the front of the sanctuary but it is covered in dust, the people who show up on Sunday don’t even know why they do so, and they only pray because they don’t know what else to do.
And so, it is against the fanatical religious leaders of today, Jesus warns us to beware that no one leads us astray. He speaks to us through the apocalyptic vision of the past, present, and future about holding fast to the love that has been revealed to us in Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. And he beckons us to remember who we are and whose we are.
And it is against the apathetic churches of today, the ones who are just going through the motions, that Jesus announces an electrifying and revelatory message: this is not the end!
This kind of scripture might terrify us to the core; we might see the world falling apart under our feet and immediately identify what we witness with what Jesus warned his disciples about. Depending on who we are, and where we are, these verses can appear more horrifying than hopeful.
But for anyone with a truly terrifying reality – this is a profound word and vision of hope.
For the woman who fears the Thanksgiving table, and the conversations and memories it brings, “this is not the end” promises something redemptive and transformative.
For the man who knows he cannot afford to buy Christmas presents this year, “this is not the end” is a hope that burns like a faithful flame in the midst of darkness.
For the family grieving as they take their first steps after burying someone in the ground, “this is not the end” takes on a whole new meaning when they experience the glory of God who promises our resurrection.
No matter who you are, and no matter what you going through in your life right now, hear these frighteningly and faithfully apocalyptic words and know that they are meant for you: “This is not the end.” Amen.