Date: November 14, 2021
Festival: 25th Sunday after Pentecost
Text: Mark 13:1-13
Occasion: Zion Lutheran Church, Mt. Pleasant, MI and Christ the King Lutheran Chapel
Introduction: How We Deal with the End Times
As one would walk through Jerusalem in the first century, the Temple would’ve been an extremely impressive site. It would be no different than you or me looking at amazement upon structures like the Eiffel Tower, the Empire State Building, the Arch of St. Louis, or an Egyptian pyramid. It took 46 years for Herod to complete the construction of the Temple [John 2:19], so the disciples had very good reason to point out its enormous stones that stood about 50 feet long, 24 feet broad, and 16 feet in thickness along with the beautifully slender Corinthian, Roman columns that towered almost 180 feet over the Court of the Gentiles, not to mention the vibrant colours. Understandably, the Temple was the pride and joy of Judaism, not much different than the Vatican is for Catholics, or maybe Frankenmuth for Lutheran Michiganders.
But Jesus, with His prophetic eye, is not impressed. What He says troubles the disciples, and Jesus has a curious conversation with them as they’re sitting on the Mount of Olives with the Temple in clear view. I’ve been to the Mt. of Olives, and it is still an amazing site. The Jewish Temple no longer sits there but is now the Dome of the Rock that functions as a Muslim Mosque, but the site is still beautiful and amazing. As you’re sitting on the Mt. of Olives, you can see the entire city of Jerusalem with the Dome of the Rock—what used to be the Temple—sticking out like a sore thumb. From all the other buildings and churches in Jerusalem, it’s the first building you see, and you can’t help but admire it because it towers over everything else.
So, it’s no coincidence that Jesus speaks on the end times with such a view of the Temple. At this point in history, the Temple has long been the centre of Jewish cultic practice and theology. When the Psalms and other Hebrew Scriptures speak of Zion, this is it! The Temple is the centre of Zion, and for millennia Zion was the central eschatological hope for the Jews as well. Then Jesus troubles His disciples that all the buildings they see, even the Temple, would not stand forever. Some 40 years hence in 70 AD, the Temple would be destroyed.
With talk of Judaism’s centre being transient, you might as well be talking about the end times! Certain buildings in history have played a central role in religious, cultural, or economic significance. For the Jews, it was the destruction of the Temple during their rebellion against Rome in 70 AD. With the end seemingly in view and preferring death to the enslavement of their children and the raping of their women, many Jews retreated to the plateau of Masada and slit their throats when the Roman soldiers ascended the mount with their innovative architectures of war. Just 9 years later, the end seemed near for the Italians when Mt. Vesuvius erupted and engulfed the entire city of Pompeii in lava.
From the 11th century to the 16th century, the end seemed near in Europe and the Middle East during the Crusades. In fact, many of the sermons that were preached on the Crusades were apocalyptic in nature. Fast forward to the 20th century, and the two World Wars put the end in view with the entire world in turmoil and even more vital historical sites being destroyed. Then again, on September 11, 2001, the end seemed nigh for Americans when two hijacked planes crashed into the twin Towers.
Whether it’s brought on by war, terrorism, or natural disasters, we’ve always been fascinated by the end times, and they tend to strike the fear of God in us. Yet at the same time, from one disaster to the next, we use the end times for our own entertainment. Our movies and video games portray many apocalypses and post-apocalyptic scenarios, and fictional literatures like The Da Vinci Code create conspiracy theories surrounding Revelation and the rest of the Bible.
Perhaps we distract ourselves with such end times entertainment and wild conspiracies to distract us from the truth of what Jesus says about the end times. The same can be said about the Book of Revelation because of the startling and even bloody images it uses. Somehow, Christians have forgotten that both Jesus’ words that were recorded for us here as well as in Revelation are meant for our encouragement and hope that Jesus is indeed coming soon. Why should we be so scared of the end times when these signs merely serve as reminders that Jesus is coming soon to raise you and me from the dead and be with Him for all eternity in the new heavens and the new earth? Or maybe it’s not so much the end we fear but the experiences of these signs we fear. After all, the events of the end times are not enjoyable for anybody. Not even Christians are exempt from the suffering they’re bringing.
The End Times Are Not Nigh because They’re Already Here
So, what apocalyptic signs do we have before us today? We often only speak of the end times that are coming as if they’re a distant or imminent future. Fire-and-brimstone street preachers hold up signs that say, “Repent, the end is nigh!” But what if I told you the end times are already here? As you heard from Jesus’ words of the signs of the end times, were you unable to picture any of them in your own lifetime or in history? Jesus gives us 6 signs of the end times, so let’s quickly go through each of them.
First, Jesus warns His disciples not to be led astray. Led astray how? By false Christs, “Many will come in My name, saying, ‘I am He!’ and they will lead many astray.” This has happened numerous times in history. False Messiahs date all the way back to 135 AD and are as recent as Alan John Miller in 2013. Second, we will “hear of wars and rumours of wars.” This has certainly happened in everybody’s lifetime, no matter how young or old you are. Some of you may have been alive during World War II and have lived through the Cold War, Vietnam War, and Korean War. More recently is the war in the Middle East and there’s always rumours that we’re going to war with North Korea or some other country. But “do not be alarmed,” Jesus says, because these things “must take place” before the end comes, that is, before Jesus returns.
Third, “There will be earthquakes in various places” and “there will be famines.” This isn’t hard to imagine either. Earthquakes seem to be California’s pastime, there’ve been tsunamis that are the result of earthquakes, and we hear all the time of famines in the east; and as some of you are farmers, you’ve probably suffered your own famines. Fourth, Jesus warns of persecutions in courts and violence against His disciples. This was of immediate relevance to them. After Jesus’ ascension, they were taken to court many times for preaching in Jesus’ name, they were beaten, and all of Jesus’ apostles were martyred (except for John who wrote Revelation, but not after a failed attempt to poison him). Today, we still see martyrdom, mostly in Africa and the Middle East. But in our own country, Christians are taken to court all the time for refusing to capitulate to unbiblical views of gender and marriage according to the Woke religion. In fact, in Finland, Bishop Juhana Pohjola of the Evangelical Lutheran Mission Diocese of Finland will be in court in January with charges against him for publishing a booklet that confesses the biblical view of marriage back in 2004.
Fifth, Jesus warns that siblings will kill one another, parents will kill their children, and children will kill their parents. We might find this hard to believe, but this, too, is already happening. Think of any mob story and you will hear of brother betraying brother, son betraying father, and so forth. In fact, something like this just happened in Saginaw. Even parents are killing their own children, whether that be father and/or mother aborting their unborn children or those few news stories we hear about a parent suddenly killing their young children, such as this past September in LA. Also, a few years ago, a student on this campus killed his own parents in his dorm room.
The last sign Jesus gives is that His disciples will be hated for His name’s sake. The disciples with whom Jesus is talking all experienced this. They suffered the worst form of hatred when they were beaten and killed for preaching in His name. And all of Jesus’ disciples throughout all of time experience this hatred. You may have experienced such hatred from your own family, friends, or co-workers. Our college students experience it when they boldly confess their biblical, Christian view on life, sex, and gender issues. And the Internet is a cesspool of God-haters. Just say the word “Christian,” and you will easily find somebody who will hastily go on a verbal crusade about their disdain for Christians.
Who Will Endure? Keep Reading
So, there you have it: six signs of the end times that have been going on ever since Jesus’ ascension. We’ve been in the end times for almost 2,000 years. And if Jesus’ words here and in the other Gospels are any indication, things are only going to keep getting worse until He returns. Now, it’s easy to end on such doom and gloom, but Jesus’ words don’t end on hopelessness. Today’s Gospel reading ends with these hopeful words, “But the one who endures to the end will be saved.” Yet this brings us to ask, “Who can endure to the end? Can I endure?” But Jesus doesn’t answer this question for us here. That’s why, whenever you read something in Scripture that perplexes you, the best thing you can do is keep reading.
As we keep reading Mark’s Gospel, Jesus gives more warnings about the end times. Then the events of His Passion Week take place: He institutes the Lord’s Supper, He prays His last prayer at Gethsemane, He’s betrayed, He’s crucified, He rises from the dead, then the Gospel ends with these words from Jesus with His final instructions to His disciples as our answer: “Go into all the world and proclaim the Gospel to the whole creation. Whoever believes and is baptised will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned” (16:15-16).
Therefore, ask yourself two questions: “Do I believe?” and, “Am I baptised?” And because you’ve answered yes to both these questions, there’s your answer! Those who endure to the end are those who believe and are baptised. This is every single one of you! To fully grasp this Good News, it is necessary that we hear from St. Paul, “In Him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the Gospel of your salvation, and believed in Him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of His glory” [Ephesians 1:13-14].
And when were you sealed with the Holy Spirit who guarantees the inheritance of your salvation? At your Baptism! When will you acquire possession of this inheritance? At the conclusion of the end times, which is when Jesus comes again, and He is coming soon. The second coming of Jesus doesn’t inaugurate the end times; the return of our King puts an end to it! As the encouraging words of Revelation put the baptismal promise, you are part of that multitude in the new creation who’ve endured the great tribulation of the end times and who “have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb” [Revelation 7:14]. Therefore, because you have been washed with the blood of the Lamb in your Baptism, you have this as the guarantee that you will endure to the very end when you see Christ in all His glory.
Let us pray: O Lord Christ, during these end times grant us the strength of Your Spirit, who is the guarantee of our salvation, to live as Your disciples in the world and engage those who hate us with the Good News of Your salvation in the Gospel, that we may go forth knowing we shall endure to the end because of what You have done for us in Your death and resurrection and continue to do in Your ascension. To that end, come, Lord Jesus; for You live and reign with the Father and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.