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. And if anyone says to you at that time, 'Look! Here is the Messiah!' or 'Look! There he is!'--do not believe it. False messiahs and false prophets will appear and produce signs and omens, to lead astray, if possible, the elect. But be alert; I have already told you everything." (Mark 13:14-23)
There were many people afraid of the year 2000 Y2K: The Millennium Bug. The market was flooded with the Millennium Meltdown, Y2K Family Survival Guide, and all sorts of other gimmicks. Some People were afraid that world wide computer systems would crash-causing unimaginable calamity. Would the world, in fact, come to an end? There are some horrible images of the end time expressed in songs like this:
It shall come one night a darkness
For centuries to last
When water turns to blood
And wine to poison
Shadows of dimensions far up high
Dwell strongly in a soul
Descend to a gloom of a thousand nights
There are no limits for the blood and tears
The time has come for death
And there is no return
When the reaper comes to hunt your soul
When the angels heads are held up high
When brothers fall for brothers sword
When black winds rage, and fire rapes the sky
It is the sign of Hades!!! (Hades-Apocalyptic)
On September 11, 2001 we experienced the darkest dooms day in the United States. Then hate was in action, as devastation and destruction came through three cities of our nation. The blood of the innocent and the dust and debris of steel, cement and ashes burnt human bodies in the inferno of fanatical terror. It ultimately engulfed thousands of lives of Americans. It was a sad and dark day in human history when misguided zealots attacked innocent lives in the name of religion. The trail of terror did not stop in New York, Washington and Pennsylvania but it continues in Afghanistan, Iraq, Saudi Arabia and Sudan. There have been Countless lives destroyed and dehumanized because of hatred, violence and fanaticism. Practically, we hear everyday about war, terrorism and its economic impact on the lives of people around the globe.
Christians are often besieged with apocalyptic and eschatological expectations whenever such dark deeds occur. Nobody has done more to stroke this state of unease than Hal Lindsey, the popular writer of the 70's bestseller The Late Great Planet Earth who predicted that Christ would return in 1988. Lindsey said at the onset of 9/11, "The Battle of America has begun! So be it!" And whenever we begin to talk about these issues, certain questions come to the forefront: When will the end come? What will be the sequence of events? How will Jesus return?
The lessons appointed from the book of Daniel and Gospel of Mark speaks in apocalyptic language about the end times. These are difficult passages in the Bible. It is difficult to fully explain and understand these texts without understanding their historical background. Chesterton's words explain it well as we try to unravel these mysteries. He said, "It is only the fool who tries to get the heavens inside his head, and not unnaturally his head burst. The wise man is content to get his head inside the heavens." This morning we shall try the latter, to get our heads inside the heavens, to understand the mysteries of the Kingdom of God.
When Albert Schweitzer, the great medical missionary, theologian and musician of the early 20th century, was a young man, he studied the organ in Paris under Charles Marie Widor. One day in 1899 Widor confessed to Schweitzer that he couldn't understand Bach's chorale prelude. The mood of the music kept shifting unpredictably. "Naturally," replied the young Schweitzer, "Many things in the chorales must seem obscure to you, because they can only be explained by the texts that go with them." Schweitzer was right. Widor hadn't known that the chorale preludes were designed to go with particular Lutheran hymns. Once you understand the texts behind the music, the music itself becomes clear. Here we meet the same problem.
In order to understand these texts from Daniel and Mark, we need to study the prophetic language usued by both the Prophet Daniel and Jesus. Jesus had already made his triumphal entry into Jerusalem and was on his final journey. He had prophesied destruction of Israel by cursing the fig tree, had cleansed the Temple, and had debated intensely with the Jewish religious leaders. Then while inside the Temple he noticed the giving of the poor widow and in exalting her giving, he passed a judgment on the hypocrisy of the religious leadership of Israel.
After this Jesus left the Temple forever. Now it is the beginning of road to Calvary. As Jesus was leaving the Temple one of his disciples said to him, "Look teacher! What massive stones! What magnificent buildings!" (Mark 13:1). Jesus response left the disciples flabbergasted: "Do you see all these great buildings? Not one stone here will be left on another; every one will be thrown down" (Mark 13:2). This message struck them like a thunderbolt. To these men the Temple was considered the holiest sign of the presence of God.
At this point Jesus had confused his disciples. Peter, John, James and Andrew needed further consultation with him. They climbed another 150 feet higher on the mountaintop with Jesus. Here at this elevation the Temple was radiating in the late afternoon sun and looked like a mountain of gold. It was a breathtaking view. Now the disciples asked Jesus a question: "Tell us, when will these things happen? And what will be the sign that they are all about to be fulfilled" (Mark 13:4)? Jesus replied, "When you see the abomination that causes desolation standing where it does not belong-let the reader understand-then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains. Let no one on the roof if his house go down or enter the house to take anything out. Let no one in the field go back to get his cloak" (Mark 13:14-16). These disciples immediately understood the reference to the prophecy mentioned in the book of Daniel in 9:27 and then in 11:31. It had been fulfilled earlier in 168 B.C. when Antiochus Epiphanes conquered Jerusalem. His acts of idolatry were "desolating" because they put an end to Temple worship. He forbade Jews to circumcise their male children, forcing them to give a sacrifice of swine in the Temple and erected a statue of Zeus on the Altar. He also set up brothels in the Temple chambers (2 Maccabees 6:4). This abomination caused Jews to abandon the Temple until their successful revolt.
Jesus is here warning them that another abomination is about to happen. We know that in AD 70 this prophesy of Jesus was fulfilled. The historian Josephus tells us that in AD 69 four Roman emperors: Nero, Otho, Vitellius, Vespasian caused much violence, murder and civil war to succeed each other. Vaspasian entered Rome as emperor and his adopted son Titus entered Jerusalem as a conqueror. He destroyed the Temple, destroyed the city and crucified thousands of Jews. It was so bad that Jerusalem could not bury all the bodies, so they were thrown away over the wall of the city. Jesus had said, "If the Lord had not cut short those days, no one would survive" (Mark 13:20).
Jesus finished his warning with these words: "So be on your guard; I told you everything ahead of time." The point of what Jesus says in this passage is not: go sit on your rooftops and wait for me to come again. Neither is it, roll over in bed and go back to sleep, because this has no meaning for you. This passage paints a picture of terrible disaster and suffering and it implies that this distress is the great tribulation, which precedes the end of the age. The truth is the world has never been without massive suffering: wars, famine, refugee migrations, mass murders and holocausts, natural disasters-when they are happening to you and to people you love-it is the great tribulation-it is the end of the world as you know it.
Is this the gospel of gloom and doom we are supposed to preach or does it have any good news for our world today? We Americans are more aware than ever before that there is great tribulation in our world. There are wars and signs of wars in the areas of Kashmir, Sudan, Iraq, Afghanistan and the Holy Land, and this "war on terrorism" will last longer than we want to imagine. What, then, is our responsibility? We are called first to pray for peace and then to work as an instrument of God's peace. There are 1.3 billion people in our world who live on less than one dollar of income a day. We are called as a church to work to create a just and equitable society, to eradicate poverty. Millions are suffering from HIV AIDS in Africa. What is our moral vision? Is not to be the healing hands of Christ to the suffering humanity? There are 1.5 billion people in the world who yet have to hear the good news of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Will we not support those who are planting new church among those un-reached people groups? Should we not pray with a burden for them to be touched by the saving grace of Jesus?
Even in the presence of gloom and doom we can have this confidence because God is with us and He will be victorious in the end. We must remember that evil does not have the last word. The end is really the renewal of all things. Jesus said that he would renew all things when he sits on his glorious throne (Matt 19:28). Jesus had a vision for creating a new community of people who would live out the realities of Jesus' message. Jesus expected this community to share the message of Jesus and work of salvation, so that message and the benefits of His saving grace will go to every nation, every language, and every people. We can have this confidence because God is with us and He will be victorious in the end. In the words of Eucharistic liturgy: Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ shall come again. It is a triumphant, victorious and hopeful proclamation. We either believe him or we don't. And to believe him is to trust him. And to trust him is to endure, until he comes again (Philip A. Apol). We know the end of the story. At the end of this great tribulation our God has the victory as "Then they will see the Son of Man (Jesus) coming in the clouds with great power and glory." (Mark 13:26) J Alleluia!