Do you remember where you were when the Berlin Wall came down or when those aircraft flew into the Twin Towers? Perhaps some readers will be a little too young to remember those events but all of us well remember the day when lockdown was announced in response to the global pandemic. In each of those cases, events were so deeply shocking, so life changing that it did not seem too hyperbolics to say that it felt like the end of the world as we knew it. Those most closely affected felt as though their world had been shattered.
So, it will have felt for the disciples as Jesus told them that the Temple was going to be destroyed. The temple was an impressive structure and so there was a level of civic, national pride attached to it. Funded by King Herod, it represented something of the Pax Romana. As the place where they brought their sacrifices and came together for festivals it offered religious comfort, it was a symbol of God’s presence and held out the hope of forgiveness for sin. Now, they’ve just discovered that it will all be gone. There were really only three ways that this would happen:
- Some kind of act of God, an incredible natural disaster such as a significant earthquake
- The collapse of the Roman Empire and attack from other enemies.
- A failed uprising by the Jews being crushed.
Each of those events would have been earth shattering.
Read Mark 13:3-13
The disciples immediate response is to ask Jesus when this terrible event will occur. It’s clear from the conversation that they see this prophecy as pointing not just to the destruction of the Temple but to something so much bigger. If their world was about to end, then surely that meant the world itself was ending. There would have been fear about this but also hope because that would indicate the ushering in of the Messianic age. They knew that Jesus was the Messiah, so they would reasonably connect his presence with this apocalyptic event to mean that the end was nigh.
Jesus response is to tell them that this sign is not the sign of the final end and of his return as ruling king. Instead, it is the first of many, one among a multitude of signs: wars, catastrophes, political upheaval, economic disaster were to follow but they were not to be mislead or overwhelmed by them.
These chaotic and uncertain times to come would create an environment for all kinds of people to put themselves forward as messiahs and saviours but Jesus tells his disciples to ignore them because they will be false messiahs.
What are they to do? They are to remain faithful. This will be a time of betrayal and persecution when families will turn against each other. Jesus’ disciples were not to be like that. Instead, they were to stay loyal to him and keep trusting. If they did, then they could depend upon the Holy Spirit to go with them wherever they went and to speak for them when they faced trial.
Persecution would be fearful and painful but they were not to lose heart. Instead, they were to see that these challenges offered an opportunity to proclaim the good news. They were to take heart because the very proclamation of the Gospel that persecution enabled was a necessary step towards the day when Jesus would come back.
This reminds us not to become overwhelmed by the challenges and fears we face whether those are of the geo-political kind like the threat of nuclear conflict or of the personal kind such as trouble at home, or even the day to day threat of economic hardship. Instead, we are to see these circumstances as offering us an opportunity to share the good news about Jesus, demonstrating our trust in him with our lives and speaking about it with our mouths.