Friday, July 29, 2016
John Mark was not there. He did not participate. You and I were not there. We did not participate. All we have, is the witness recorded from those who were there. But the testimony of those who witness a thing is often colored by the perspective of the participant. Take for example, the most recent Republican Convention to nominate Donald Trump for President. How you witness this event depends heavily on who you are, what your opinions were before the event, and the degree to which you personally participated in it. Those who were on the convention floor have unique and probably more detailed perceptions of what took place. Those of us who watched it on TV likely have a different view of it. And then it depends on which news network we watch. Fox has a decidedly conservative slant. MSNBC has a decidedly liberal slant. CNN purports to be in the middle, but depending on the particular journalist, again the bias may slant one way or the other. Fans of the Donald, will find things in his acceptance speech that are very positive and give hope for our future. Detractors of the Donald, will find things that are negative and would present a scary picture of the future of our nation.
The facts do not change. The words do not change. But how you see them changes radically based on your preconceptions, point of view, and influences of others tied more closely to these events. Peter, one of the closer disciples of Jesus Christ, has a unique point of view, about the events that occurred at the end of Christ’s life here on earth. John Mark was merely his transcriptionist. The Gospel of Mark could not be told first person by Mark, because Mark was not there. Peter was. But the events at the end of Christ’s life being told by Peter would present a point of view, a witness testimony from only one perspective. The perspective of Peter would also be clouded by the participation of Peter, and frankly by the failure of Peter to live up to the commitments he made to Jesus. The facts do not change. But Peter would only bear witness to some of them, and to some of them while under significant duress.
So we come to the last Passover, and the last Passover meal. This was supposed to be festive. From the perspective of the disciples, even despite having Jesus warn them several times throughout His ministry, that He would die and be resurrected, the disciples still had hope of an earthly kingdom. From the minds of the disciples, the people were ready to make Jesus their king. The time was right. This was even more so as pilgrims from all over the world would be near Jerusalem traveling to it for the day of atonement traditions, and the feasts, and celebrations that surrounded it. Jesus too, was nearby. Jesus had been teaching in the Temple recently. Jesus had bested the priests, the scribes, the leaders of the Sanhedrin. Jesus had put them to silence and ended their verbal traps. And the people loved it even more. The Temple money changers had been driven out, commerce in the Temple had dried up, and the time to crown a righteous King could never be better.
So from the minds of the disciples, from Peter, the timing could not be better. This celebration of Passover would be the best version of it ever. Peter begins his personal recollection to John Mark picking up in verse 12 saying … “And the first day of unleavened bread, when they killed the passover, his disciples said unto him, Where wilt thou that we go and prepare that thou mayest eat the passover?” We do not know exactly the timing of these events. We do know when the Sabbath appears within them. We do know when Jesus was raised. We know Jesus died on Friday prior to the Sabbath, and was raised again on Sunday morning. But relative to this, when the first day of unleavened bread would have occurred at that time, or when they “killed the Passover” is a bit foggy. Originally the unleavened bread celebration would have been seven days before the day of atonement so … the previous Friday. But the killing of the Passover, or more precisely the killing of the Passover lamb, might have taken place traditionally on the day of atonement itself. So the fact that Peter is asking about where to celebrate these events, prior to the day of atonement, suggests, the schedule may be a bit different near the time of Christ.
The other significant idea that comes from this recollection, is that this meal would include eating the Passover lamb. This lamb was traditionally roasted over a fire, not cooked any other way. Left overs were not preserved, they were burned up. And the lamb having been roasted was only one star of this meal. The bread, not surprisingly, was unleavened meaning it did not rise, it was flat. It could have had the consistency of a cracker, or of a tortilla, or pita bread. But there was no yeast it in, by order of God. The bread was actually to be served this way for an entire week. Violators would be cast out of the celebrations until they concluded. And the final stars of these feasts were the bitter herbs and wine (or pressed grape juice). The bitter herbs reminded the participant of the bitter lives Pharoah inflicted upon them in their slavery. To us the parallel would be the bitter lives we live while in slavery to our sins. The wine could not have had time to ferment (nor was that ever advocated). It was a drink of haste. As should be our desire to escape our slavery from sin, done in haste.
What Peter was asking Jesus in this passage was where they should prepare to eat this meal? Determining how much lamb would be needed for the 12 of them plus Jesus, determining where the bread should be prepared, and where all of this should be served, was on his and the other disciples minds. Jesus responds in verse 13 saying … “And he sendeth forth two of his disciples, and saith unto them, Go ye into the city, and there shall meet you a man bearing a pitcher of water: follow him. [verse 14] And wheresoever he shall go in, say ye to the goodman of the house, The Master saith, Where is the guestchamber, where I shall eat the passover with my disciples? [verse 15] And he will shew you a large upper room furnished and prepared: there make ready for us.” Several things are important to note in the answer of Jesus. First, it is likely that given this is Peter’s perspective, Peter’s recollection to John Mark for his gospel, that Jesus sent Peter and one of the other disciples (my guess John). The reason this is important is to remember that Judas had already decided to betray Jesus to death. If Judas knew in advance where they were going, it would have been easy to take Jesus in a smaller confined space, than out in the open. But by doing it this way, only the 2 disciples who went, would know where the room was. Judas would not. Perhaps Jesus was trying to give Judas more time, to regret his choice, and change his mind.
Second, dispatching two disciples, to find a man bearing a pitcher of water sounds like it would be a common place event, easy to pick, as if there would be lots of men doing this. But there would not be. This was a woman’s work. Only women would be caught doing this. The woman at the well in Samaria was a good case in point, coming alone after the others had left to avoid gossip and ridicule, and instead finding Jesus at the well. So Jesus asking his two disciples to find a man doing a woman’s work, and then charging the disciples to follow that man (not immediately ask for a room), was breaking two boundaries. Men could be asked to do women’s work. And disciples were not to be above following a man doing women’s work. Since traditions abound in Jerusalem, finding such a man would have been miraculous indeed. Even among slaves, traditional work was divided between the sexes.
Lastly, Jesus would be known to the owner of this home, and would be welcomed into it. But not only that, the preparations were already done and waiting for the entire crew. The owner of the home had taken it upon himself to make preparations, perhaps inspired by the Holy Spirit, before there was ever any confirmations that Jesus would be coming. If Jesus and His disciples did not come, it would have been quite a bit of food wasted thrown into the fire. It was a financial risk to take this preemptive action. It was a faith of the owner to be rewarded by Jesus. It was a series of miracles from beginning to end surrounding this selection of this home. Jesus again demonstrates before Judas, how accurately He is able to predict the future. He offers Judas yet another insight into who He is. The betrayal of Judas is already known to Him, and He still wants Judas there, He still wants Judas to participate. Peter marks the results of this mission in verse 16 saying … “And his disciples went forth, and came into the city, and found as he had said unto them: and they made ready the passover.” The bulk of the work was done, all that remained were the final touches.
Peter continues his recollection in verse 17 saying … “And in the evening he cometh with the twelve.” The two disciples sent to prepare find everything as Jesus said. The faith of the owner of the home rewarded. They have time to complete the work, and return to Jesus rejoining everyone else. John Mark continues in verse 18 saying … “And as they sat and did eat, Jesus said, Verily I say unto you, One of you which eateth with me shall betray me. [verse 19] And they began to be sorrowful, and to say unto him one by one, Is it I? and another said, Is it I?” The focus of this evening shifts to Judas. Jesus says out loud what up to now He has only been thinking to Himself. As Judas has been unwilling to change his mind, the prophecy from Christ now reveals to the others what will shortly come to pass. The mood in the feast changes. Joy flees from the room. Only Judas knows it is him. But the others begin to doubt themselves, they know Jesus does not lie, they also know Jesus is never wrong.
Each disciple begins to consider the worst of all fates, that they will be the traitor. Each disciple begins to ponder whether their own selfishness will lead them to do this betrayal. They must know. Perhaps He will forgive them, and change the outcome for them. Even if they have not sinned this sin yet, they must know if it will be something they do. So each begins to ask Jesus … “is it I?”. This is a level of faith we seldom demonstrate. We think ourselves as Abraham having a faith that surely cannot and will not be shaken. So did they. But faced with this prophecy, each of them began to question themselves, something we rarely do. We assume we are Peter, when perhaps we are Judas. Have we learned to rely upon Jesus for our faith itself, for our fidelity to Him, for our salvation from who we are. Or do we trust in our own strength to be faithful, and to save and perfect in ourselves what we could never accomplish?
Jesus must be careful how He responds, He is still looking to redeem Judas, not to push him away further. Jesus answers picking up in verse 20 saying … “And he answered and said unto them, It is one of the twelve, that dippeth with me in the dish. [verse 21] The Son of man indeed goeth, as it is written of him: but woe to that man by whom the Son of man is betrayed! good were it for that man if he had never been born.” Jesus does not give a direct answer. Dipping unleavened bread into olive oil is a common practice at meals in this day. I am certain nearly all the disciples were doing this. The fact that Judas could reach the same bowl as Jesus tells us that Jesus did not ostracize Judas, but rather still kept him close by. The answer of Jesus likely kept all of the disciples uncomfortable as each looks at their bread and oil. But Jesus continued stating that He was ready to go, and walk the road, scripture has predicted for Him.
Lastly, Jesus states, that “woe” or great regret, is reserved for the one who betrays Him. It would have been good for that man if he had never been born. This is not a curse. This is not a condemnation to hell, notice the word hell is never used. This is not a sin beyond forgiveness. Each of us commit it, each time we commit sin we know must cost our Saviors blood to redeem once again. However, the weight of the knowledge of this sin is overwhelming. Judas would have to accept forgiveness for it. Jesus would gladly give it. But Judas even if he took the forgiveness of Jesus, would still bear the self condemnation of having done it. That weight would crush him. It would be too much for him. Seeing what happened to Jesus was indeed too much for Judas, and eventually he hung himself during these events. Judas did not see the resurrection. Judas did not see Christ arisen. The weight of his sin, crushed him first. But the love of Christ even now for Judas would reach out to redeem him.
Peter concludes the events of this meal now briefly picking up in verse 22 saying … “And as they did eat, Jesus took bread, and blessed, and brake it, and gave to them, and said, Take, eat: this is my body. [verse 23] And he took the cup, and when he had given thanks, he gave it to them: and they all drank of it. [verse 24] And he said unto them, This is my blood of the new testament, which is shed for many. [verse 25] Verily I say unto you, I will drink no more of the fruit of the vine, until that day that I drink it new in the kingdom of God. [verse 26] And when they had sung an hymn, they went out into the mount of Olives.” Peter remembers his own guilt. He offers only 4 verses to encompass the entire last supper, or last Passover of Jesus here on earth. Even now, as he recalls it to John Mark, Peter can remember only his own failure. The parallels between himself and Judas are too close, are too painful. The weight of Peters sin now crushes him and makes his memory of these events brief.
Peter omits the feet washing of Jesus. Peter omits all the counsel of Jesus during this dinner and afterwards. Peter records only a sequence of events that mirrors the traditions of a Passover Seder. Prayers over the bread. Prayers over the wine. The singing of a hymn. These events were all part of the original Passover feast, yet even in Peter’s brevity, Jesus is transforming the past into the future. Out of an old tradition comes a remembrance of Him, and of His great love for us all. Jesus Himself however, will refrain from having the grape juice, even the grape juice of heaven, until He can have it with us once again in our eternal home. The disciples do not understand how long Jesus will be foregoing this custom, and this beverage. It will be more than 2000 years and counting that Jesus foregoes the pressing of grapes into His cup. Jesus longs to be with us, He does not crave the juice, but He does crave our company, our proximity, the ability to reach out and touch us personally. This restoration He craves more than anything, more than even His own life.
We who were not there have only the memories of these recollections in print to offer us insight. I wonder how many of us easily condemn Judas for what he did. I wonder how many of us believe Judas is lost to that eternal home because of what he did. How easy it is to judge. And how little we know of the love of Jesus for each and every one of us, for Judas, and for one worse than him, for me, for you. But I believe there is yet hope for Judas.
There are 12 gates in heaven, with the names of 12 tribes of Israel inscribed above them, as well as 12 disciples (or apostles) of Jesus. We like to think we know which names are there, but in truth, we only guess. Could the name of Judas be there in bright bold letters? Is it possible that in his last act of desperation here on earth he repented of his sin like Samson of old, yet could not imagine ever receiving forgiveness as he did not deserve it? How close to you and I. We do not deserve it either, and we have only faith to believe we receive it. We have only trust in Jesus to believe He can ever change us from the people who love our sins, to the people who love the absence of our sins. If God can love me, if He has that much love, perhaps I will one day walk under the gate inscribed with the name of Judas. Not because Judas or I are worthy, but because the love of God is just that great.
Saturday, July 23, 2016
Imagine Joel Osteen, Billy Graham, Bishop T.D. Jakes, Ted Wilson, the Pope, and the leader of your particular church or faith sit down to consider the state of Christianity around the world. Such a superstar team like this one would surely represent the leadership of the faith. Some might consider it, the authority of the faith. And while each of them might represent subtly different doctrines or dogma’s, perhaps different traditions and interpretations, in general, ALL would still be considered the leadership of the Christian faith in our world today. It would not stop them from arguing with each other, with disagreements over traditions and doctrines, but their collective association still represents a leadership. These men would be the superstar team of our faith. The right religion (or faith), the right Bible (or scriptures), and the right God to follow. Now imagine they ALL to a man, plot to kill Christ.
Impossible you say. It could not happen you say. But it happened before, with a team of men equally famous in their day, equally recognized in their day, equal leaders in their day. Our superstar team is no different than the leadership of the faith in the days of Jesus Christ (when He walked this earth). And that superstar team decided to kill Jesus Christ. We think ourselves immune from making the same mistakes. We think that “our” leaders could never come to that same conclusion. We think that “we” have moved beyond the dangers of this thinking, that in fact the entire Christian faith is prefaced on following Jesus Christ so “we” could never kill our leader … it would not make any sense. But then, what was different in the days of Jesus than is in our day?
The superstar team of old, had the right Bible (or scriptures). In fact, they spent their lives, dedicated their lives to the study of scriptures. They were not part time farmers, or soldiers, or sea-fairing tradesmen, they were full time dedicated since childhood students of the right Bible, the right scriptures, and a better understanding of these texts. The superstar team of old followed the right God. They worshipped God the Father the creator of our world. They did not worship idols of any kind. No stone or wooden images stained their places of worship. They followed an invisible God whose face they did not know. They followed the God of their heritage, of the faith that had been passed down to them. And the singular hope they shared was in their Messiah, the Christ, the Son of the Living God, who would come and free them from their burdens, creating a new Kingdom that would never pass away. It would not make any sense to kill the Messiah, ever, He was their great hope. Yet they plotted to do just that, in spite of all of this.
The superstar team of old were not stupid, or ignorant, or lazy. They were motivated, dynamic, deep thinkers who commanded the respect of a nation, and of a faith spread around the world of that day. So even in their plans to kill Jesus, must come stealth, precision, and effectivity. Peter records this in his recollections to John Mark in his gospel in chapter fourteen picking up in verse 1 saying … “After two days was the feast of the passover, and of unleavened bread: and the chief priests and the scribes sought how they might take him by craft, and put him to death. [verse 2] But they said, Not on the feast day, lest there be an uproar of the people.” Notice how the superstar team of old does not even want to corrupt their own traditions, skipping the feast day itself, in order to avoid upsetting the people and disrupting the feasting.
Notice too, it was the “chief” priests and leaders of the scribes meeting together despite any differences on doctrine or interpretations. It did not matter if you were Pharisee or Sadducee, ALL were united in singular purpose of killing Jesus Christ, and doing it by “craft” as well. Spy craft, trade craft, as Jason Bourne might put it. This was to be a mission of stealth and precision. Chop the head off the snake so to speak (but it was here that Satan plotted his own demise). What could have motivated this superstar team to abandon the scriptures that pointed to the fulfillment of the Messiah in Jesus Christ? What could have caused the superstar team to have ignored the miracles that Jesus Christ performed, and the voice of God Himself who confirmed Jesus as His Son and in His ministry?
I don’t know. What causes Joel Osteen, Bishop T.D. Jakes, the Pope, and the leader of your particular faith, more importantly you and I, to continue to amass wealth rather than let it ALL go and put our trust in the God we claim to follow? I remember the words of Jesus to the rich young ruler, to one who already had the right Bible, right religion, and claimed the right behavior; to sell everything He had, give it to the poor, and come and be a disciple of Christ. And the rich young ruler wept, turning away, because he already had too much wealth, to give it all away, and show that much trust in Jesus to keep him and preserve him and save him. Private planes, multiple limousine’s, multiple houses, golden watches, and art such as exists nowhere else in the world; are not examples of selling it all and trusting Jesus. But then modest homes, with modest cars and clothes and jewelry, are still wealth of a certain kind. Should they be any less exempt by Jesus who asks us for ALL we have, even down to the widow’s 2 mites? And how far would we go to keep what we have “earned”, would we fight for it? Would we kill for it?
What if the challenge of Jesus would tear away from us our means of making a living, our jobs, our careers, ended forever because of Christ? The leaders of the superstar team of old faced losing the one thing that kept them in the positions they had become accustomed to; the people. Jesus was not establishing a church with hierarchy, He was establishing a one-on-one relationship with each of its people. Jesus was asking each church member to put their trust in Him alone, not in the leadership of the church, not in the faith of others, or intercession of others, but in Jesus alone. The new church model was to be flat in management structure. There is Jesus leading you, case closed. No need for a preacher, or leader, those are only positions of service to others, not of vanity from others. Prophets, apostles, and care givers, are only characteristics given by the Holy Spirit in service to the church, not designed to lift up the ego of those who serve. In the new model of church, that Jesus proposed, there would be no people to follow you, only a vast number of people for you to serve, washing their feet, pointing them to the only leader, Jesus Christ. This model destroys the livelihood of preachers, evangelists, conference leaders, denomination leaders, and papal powers. It leaves each of these men having to lose all wealth, and trust Jesus alone, exactly like the believers below them now should do.
What would you do if faced with a loss of wealth, loss of career, and loss of income? Peter continues with a further example of what the new church will look like as he recalls to John Mark in verse 3 saying … “And being in Bethany in the house of Simon the leper, as he sat at meat, there came a woman having an alabaster box of ointment of spikenard very precious; and she brake the box, and poured it on his head.” Jesus and His disciples are in the town of Bethany, having dinner at home of Simon the leper, a character we have yet to meet in the scriptures. We know Jesus healed many lepers, but we know few, if any, by name. But here Simon is called out of the masses, for only His gesture of response, in desiring to feed Jesus and His disciples.
Then enters a woman (likely Mary Magdalene) though she is not called out by name here. This could have been someone like Mary the sister of Lazarus, or a sister relation / a family member of Jesus Christ, or it could have been Martha, or the Samaritan woman who carried the gospel to her entire region and converted so many through her testimony. Jesus had touched so many women, valued so many women. It would appear Jesus loved women the exact same way in which He loved the souls of men. Jesus picked Mary to be the first one to carry the gospel to the disciples after His resurrection. Jesus had women who followed Him and ministered as they could to Him throughout His entire ministry, even following after the cross He dragged up the hill to His death. His mother, John, and other women were there. It would appear women were more brave than men, and thereby staying with Christ through death and resurrection, being eye witnesses to both events, and carrying the news of both to those disciples who could not bear to be at either event. In the new church, women were to have an equal place, an equal role, but this will tear at the male dominations of tradition that lasts even into our age.
This woman has sold all she has. She has prepared the best gift she could, given everything she has, and poured into a single bottle to be given for Him. She holds nothing back, not a penny is left in her back accounts after this gift. Not an ounce of dignity or pride will be held back after using her hair as a towel to dry her Lord if needed. She will give all, for she can sense there is little time left. But the church has other opinions about her flagrant display. John Mark records the responses beginning in verse 4 saying … “And there were some that had indignation within themselves, and said, Why was this waste of the ointment made? [verse 5] For it might have been sold for more than three hundred pence, and have been given to the poor. And they murmured against her.” The church, here represented by at least a few of the disciples, is not happy about the loss of control of this offering, or where it went, or how. The church, wanted control over the money, over the value of this gift. Sound familiar? The superstar team of old wants the same control over the offerings, and the one today looks to want the same controls. But what does Jesus say?
Mark continues in verse 6 saying … “And Jesus said, Let her alone; why trouble ye her? she hath wrought a good work on me. [verse 7] For ye have the poor with you always, and whensoever ye will ye may do them good: but me ye have not always.” Jesus challenges our greed. Jesus challenges our desire to control where His offerings are used or expended. Jesus should be in control of that as well. Once we give all, we are not supposed to continue to control where it goes, we are meant to unburden ourselves, not just maintain the burden of running our own mini-foundations of charity. Let it go means let it go. Then Jesus reminds us, we always have an opportunity to do something for someone else. We “could” be serving others full time. If we choose not to, isn’t that on us?
Jesus continues in verse 8 saying … “She hath done what she could: she is come aforehand to anoint my body to the burying. [verse 9] Verily I say unto you, Wheresoever this gospel shall be preached throughout the whole world, this also that she hath done shall be spoken of for a memorial of her.” This woman has broken with tradition. She is anointing the body of Jesus before His burial instead of after it. Like the wine at the wedding in Cana, the good wine was given after Jesus created it; here the good oil will be poured out before He is killed. Traditions are NOT as important as hearts, and as the deeds done by those who love. Jesus then states her charity will not sink into oblivion, it will be remembered through all of history. Her name is not mentioned, perhaps that “she” does not receive the credit, but that her action is the thing we remember. The new church will recognize deeds of love, more than the names of people. The new church will remember women as much as it remembers men.
And what is the response of the leaders of the church, of the superstars of the church, of one who has been with Jesus throughout His ministry? The pope cannot have this loss of control. Joel Osteen cannot have this message of poverty valued over wealth. Bishop T.D. Jakes cannot have this level of anonymity. Ted Wilson cannot have this loss of hierarchy and embrace of women as equals. Your leader cannot lose what neither you or I are willing to lose; namely our wealth, our careers, our all. John Mark records as if a warning to us all beginning in verse 10 saying … “And Judas Iscariot, one of the twelve, went unto the chief priests, to betray him unto them. [verse 11] And when they heard it, they were glad, and promised to give him money. And he sought how he might conveniently betray him.”
The church does what the church always does when faced with radical change dictated by radical love, it plots to kill its creator. Judas left this exchange with Jesus, where Jesus valued a woman, stated that a woman would be remembered throughout history, stated that the church would not have control over all the money. Judas left that and sought to betray Jesus unto death. This was Judas the superstar people. This was Judas the disciple the other disciples looked up to the most, he was likely the most educated, likely the shrewdest in business dealings. It was the leader in the church, most admired in the church, who took it upon himself to turn away from humility, and begin a cycle that would end in the death of Jesus Christ. Judas did not even seek money at first, it was the priests that were so happy about his actions they were willing to give him money to insure he followed through with it.
The old superstar team, and the new superstar team were of one accord, of one mind, on how the church should be operated. This Jesus character was and is a threat to that operational spec. In short, our ideas are not His ideas, our traditions are not what He values, our exclusions are not His exclusions. He appears not to have any exclusions, even for women, even for sinners. This cannot be tolerated. The church must maintain control. The church must control the finances. There has to be a hierarchy or how will order be maintained? Through Jesus, how will He maintain order without a hierarchy, it’s impossible. The arguments raised by the superstar team of old, are echoed through time, to be raised again by the superstar team of today, and by you, and by me. It boils down to a lack of trust in Jesus, and it is reflected widely.
So many in our day decry an organized religion as being the enemy. Perhaps it is. But I see even fewer individuals who decry organized religions giving up ALL they have to follow Jesus Christ instead. To me it looks only like an excuse to withhold even the little of themselves they would part with to an organized religious entity. Instead offerings are reserved for opportunities when credit and convenience are available. Sacrifice is a notion long since departed, and with it trust in the Jesus that said we need not worry about food, homes, or health. But the church today, trusts in the medicines and advancements of science to heal our wounded and sick, not in the greater hand of the Holy Spirit. The church today, trusts in the programs of our government to address the problems of the poor. It does not wish to become the poor by losing its wealth and trusting in Jesus. The church today trusts in its male dominated hierarchy to maintain order and control, when both belong to Jesus anyway, formed by trust in Him as a foundation. Do we truly trust the Lord of one-on-one relationships, or must we insert ourselves to provide hierarchy for order and controls?
We think ourselves immune to the thinking that once plotted to kill Christ. But is our thinking a great self-deception? Would our leaders and ourselves plot to kill Jesus once again, before we give up our ideas of church operations and our all? …
Friday, July 15, 2016
In our prior studies we have been examining the answers of Christ to the questions of His disciples as to when the Temple would be destroyed at Jerusalem. History gives us the answers in 70 AD. But a more careful example of the parallels between the events and signs that occurred back then and the dangers we face in our modern world are striking. The biggest warning of Jesus was the focus on avoiding deceptions, that is, avoiding the false Messiah’s, or those who would place themselves between us and God. This warning still exists for us today, as we still place “self” in the line of responsibility for our own salvation instead of just upon Jesus. This warning was important enough for Jesus to repeat it 2 times, so perhaps of all the issues that faced the disciples and face us, it may be the most important. But Jesus wanted to focus the minds of His disciples beyond the immediate, and to the more important during this conversation. His second coming, while not the main topic of conversation, would also be one He would include.
Peter continues his recollection to John Mark in his gospel in chapter thirteen, picking up in verse 24 saying … “But in those days, after that tribulation, the sun shall be darkened, and the moon shall not give her light, [verse 25] And the stars of heaven shall fall, and the powers that are in heaven shall be shaken.” To set the context, in verse 19 Jesus predicts affliction such has not been since the world was created, nor shall ever be as great again. When we apply a modern interpretation, and knowing our world seems to always get worse, we naturally assume that whatever this great affliction is, it must still be ahead of us. But the introductory language Jesus uses in this text would seem to disagree. Jesus begins by saying but in those days, and after that tribulation … it is only “then” that the sun will be darkened, and the moon shall not give her light, followed by the stars of heaven falling. These signs in the sky have largely been shown by historians to have occurred before 1844, giving rise to the movement that believed this date would be the return of our Lord.
However, if “that tribulation” was set to be “never again” witnessed, then perhaps the great persecution this world witnessed has in fact been completed. It was for nearly 1200 years that the faith, persecuted the faith, an age where dissent was not tolerated, and religion was about power over others, instead of service to others. Perhaps given the words of Christ Himself, this is to what He referred. Jesus then continues His thoughts leading to this conclusion in verse 26 saying … “And then shall they see the Son of man coming in the clouds with great power and glory.” What Jesus refers to here, has nothing to do with the destruction of the Temple, but with His own triumphant return. It was this event alone that is distinguished by the sun, moon, and stars behaving differently. The creations of the Creator, showing deference to the divine that created them. His return follows these events. But again, the sequence is punctuated by a tribulation that is followed by these signs, not a tribulation that occurs hundreds of years after them. The martyrs of the faith are enough. What remains is His coming, as a thief in the night, or as we who wait, have become unprepared, and untransformed.
Jesus continues describing His second coming in verse 27 saying … “And then shall he send his angels, and shall gather together his elect from the four winds, from the uttermost part of the earth to the uttermost part of heaven.” This verse has more significance to us perhaps, than it did to Peter, James, John, and Andrew. Consider multiple meanings it may contain. First, the many who have died and await the Lord, will have done so from the four winds, or the four corners of the earth. Many, from many different tribes and nations will arise to meet the Lord whose name they did not know in this day. We who have been blessed to read about and know the name and story of Jesus, have seeded the uttermost part of the earth, and now are extending ourselves even to the space around us. When Christ returns, his elect will be gathered whether alive or raised from the dead, no matter where they are.
Consider the second meaning. It may imply that the gospel, or good news, has been spread as well, to the uttermost parts of the earth, and of heaven. Perhaps the gospel as well, will be common knowledge for anyone wishing to know it, when Jesus returns. This was a feat that the disciples could not have imagined, not knowing just how large the world was, or that it was round, or that it was inhabited by many peoples unaware of the goings on in Jerusalem. Jesus seems to speak of a day when the gospel would be known in those far off places in the world. Our communications methods of the day, can now carry that good news, even if by satellite wave, than by human explorer.
Lastly, consider the third meaning or implication. Jesus states specifically it is His angels who are commissioned to gather together His elect from these places. He does not look for a forgiven people, or a people who are aware of Him, or a people who claim to follow Him. His angels seek for an “elect” people, a people who stand upright before the Lord, in action and in motive. How can such an elect people exist in our world? How can I be rid of the sin I am chained to? It is not by strength of will, but by submission to Christ, to be remade from the creature I am, to the creation He intends me to be. In short, I am to be transformed from the man who craves self-love, to the servant who craves to love others alone. This transformation will affect my thinking, and how I love. It will make me someone different than I am today. And it will work its work within me, before I am considered one of the elect. I will be a person of deep and passionate love for others, before I am one of the elect. I will be a child, a toddler, in the Kingdom of God, trusting Jesus with my salvation, and my transformation, before I can be one of the elect. Jesus does not return for those with only a tacit knowledge of who He is. He returns for those with an experiential knowledge of how He can save us, from us.
It is then, that Jesus seems to jump around a bit, in His timeline of future events. He continues with admonitions fit for both the destruction of the Temple, and for the second coming. Jesus picks up in verse 28 saying … “Now learn a parable of the fig tree; When her branch is yet tender, and putteth forth leaves, ye know that summer is near: [verse 29] So ye in like manner, when ye shall see these things come to pass, know that it is nigh, even at the doors.” The destruction of the Temple would be a catastrophic event that occurred swiftly when it occurred. Jesus wanted His disciples, and His followers in that day to know this, and move quickly to be ready. The parable of the fig tree was meant to illustrate it. In our day, Jesus would have us prepared and ready for His soon return. Not because we delay to engage in our sins as long as we think time remains, playing a cat and mouse game with impending death. But because allowing Jesus to transform who we are in the here and now, makes our lives so much better, and gives us a life worth living as one of the elect as long as possible before His quick return.
Jesus continues in verse 30 saying … “Verily I say unto you, that this generation shall not pass, till all these things be done. [verse 31] Heaven and earth shall pass away: but my words shall not pass away.” This verse acts as a promise for the disciples and for us. The disciples could live long enough to witness the destruction of the Temple. We know John did. Christian tradition varies on how many others would surpass the 70 AD date, perhaps Andrew, perhaps Jude. But obviously not all of them would live to witness either the destruction of Jerusalem, Judas would commit suicide, and James would be stoned long before it. Nor would any of the disciples witness the second coming, as all of us are awaiting that event. So what was it that Christ was so certain and so steadfast that His generation would see come to pass?
Could it be, He was certain that the power of the Gospel, what He refers to in the next verse as “His words” would not pass away. Could it be He was certain that our transformation, beginning with the Disciples and their generation and lasting to the end of days, to the end of heaven and earth would be seen and NOT pass away. This was the concrete promise of our Lord, that should we decide to submit to Him, to enter His Kingdom of God as a little child, trusting Jesus with our salvation, we would not be disappointed or see Him fail. Following the words of Jesus, to love one another, to love our enemies, to love God with our whole heart, mind, and soul; would become part of who we are, as we are transformed by Jesus alone, into this new creation. This is what Jesus promised that you and I can take absolute faith in. Jesus will save anyone who asks, anyone who seeks to be something different than who they are today.
This process would begin in the age of the disciples, beginning the transformations at Pentecost. It would continue with Saul on the road to persecute, becoming Paul the staunchest advocate and prolific writer of His day. It would continue with countless martyrs for the faith; normal people who loved life as much as you or I, but could not bow down and worship something false, even if it meant keeping them out of the pits of hell on this earth. They died singing hymns to Jesus, while evil unleashed a torrent of torture upon them. These are not the acts of those with only a fake knowledge of Jesus. These are the acts of those who have truly been transformed and could live no other way. And His transformations continue from that day until ours. But to experience them, we must seek them, we must put aside the distractions of this world, and look for the Lord who can remake what has been broken in us.
Jesus continues in verse 32 saying … “But of that day and that hour knoweth no man, no, not the angels which are in heaven, neither the Son, but the Father. [verse 33] Take ye heed, watch and pray: for ye know not when the time is.” As if to try to eliminate the pain Christians would feel, the bitter disappointment of the 1844 movement Jesus blatantly states, that not even He knows when the time for His return will be appointed. Since no one knows when it will occur, not even Jesus, we are meant to focus on our salvation through Jesus. This could occur whenever we seek Him and submit. Responding to that great love will be its beginning. And seeing what Jesus does within us, will be its end. This is what is important to do, not the specific days and dates of His return.
Jesus continues in verse 34 saying … “For the Son of man is as a man taking a far journey, who left his house, and gave authority to his servants, and to every man his work, and commanded the porter to watch. [verse 35] Watch ye therefore: for ye know not when the master of the house cometh, at even, or at midnight, or at the cockcrowing, or in the morning: [verse 36] Lest coming suddenly he find you sleeping. [verse 37] And what I say unto you I say unto all, Watch.” Jesus ends His sermon of admonitions and predictions, with the most important direction to us all. He bids us watch. He does not tell us the exact moment of our demise, nor does He tell us the exact moment of His return. Perhaps this is by intent. The goal is not to tell us when we should die, and when He would return. If our move to Jesus was one, delayed by the knowledge we had time remaining, we might never come to Him. He does not wish to blackmail us with threats of death, He wishes to lure us with the promise of Love unending.
We need to think differently. The transformed mind and heart do not need to know when and why, or even how … they only need to know what. What does Jesus want me to do now? What can I do to serve you, to meet your needs now? What can I do to point you to Jesus, who can change your life like He has done to me? These are the questions that obsess the transformed mind and heart, for they are the only ones that truly matter. Serving God, serving others, loving everyone … this is the focus of the elect. The elect have no time for doctrine, and scriptural interpretation, for to them the answers are easy. Love God with everything, give Him everything you are, and become what He makes you into. The rest He will give you as you have need. You cannot study your way into transformation, you cannot intellectualize your way into it. You can only submit yourself, your will, your desires, your dreams to Jesus and let Him remake it.
The when question does not matter, as now is the best answer. When should I stop sinning: now. When should I let go of the pain that comes with sin: now. When should I begin to enjoy what Jesus has in store for me and my life: now. The second of coming of Christ is not meant to begin your conversion experience, it is meant to punctuate a journey you are already on. The second coming of Christ is not meant to introduce you to a God you can finally trust; it is meant to reveal the face of the God you have already been trusting with your entire life. He bids us watch. Not to watch only for His coming, but to watch what happens to a life given over to Him. Watch what happens to your sin, as He takes it from you. Watch what happens to your love for others, as He quietly puts it in you, until it overflows. He bids you watch, those who know Him, should watch. There is so much to see. There is so much He wants to give you. Do not wait for it. Take it, and watch.
Saturday, July 9, 2016
In our previous study, four of the disciples (Peter, James, John, and Andrew) had taken Jesus aside on the Mount of Olives. Perhaps inspired by the view of the Temple, they were interested in knowing “when” the Temple would be destroyed. It was this question that Jesus was answering. Yet many of us modern Christians have examined this answer by Jesus, and applied it to our days as well. We have extrapolated the answers of Christ into our own day, and applied them to signs of His second coming as well. And while there may be parallels between the warnings and admonitions of Christ in His day and our own, it is important to remember, the words of Jesus must FIRST apply to the question He was asked, NOT to the one we apply His answers to. Similarities may exist, but the context and timing of His answers should be examined in light of the generation of those disciples as a first priority. For it is not fair to expect a word for word, deed for deed, exact replication to signs in our days for the event we wait for now. The parallels we should study, and the reasons behind them will perhaps warrant a second look.
Jesus had completed the first part of his answer to the disciples. He was now to continue with His answer, an answer that still echoes to our day. Peter giving account to John Mark in his gospel in chapter thirteen, he picks up in verse 14 saying … “But when ye shall see the abomination of desolation, spoken of by Daniel the prophet, standing where it ought not, (let him that readeth understand,) then let them that be in Judaea flee to the mountains:” To begin, lets us examine this answer, for what it could not be. Many Hollywood movies would have us believe that Romans desecrating the Temple with idols, and images of the Emperor would constitute the abomination of desolation. There are at least two problems with this idea: 1.) Jesus had already been crucified, arisen, and ascended. Therefore the true Temple was no longer in a building located in Jerusalem, He had gone home to be at the right hand of His Father. It would be hard to desecrate a building that had been nullified in the real worship of God. The Temple at Jerusalem was no longer sacred, blessed by God, or attended by God. It was merely just another building, its best feature having historical relevance, but nothing truly spiritual. Putting idols in or on it, would be of no more import than doing so at any other place of public gathering.
2.) The history of events bears examination. In 64 AD, Zealots in Israel begin a full-fledged revolt against the Roman empire. The Zealots succeed at driving out local Roman garrisons from Jerusalem, Masada, and other surrounding regions. This would mean that no Roman authority would have been left in Jerusalem to place idols or images in the Temple, to create the perception of an abomination of desolation in the first place. However, in 66 AD, Linus would be elected the First Bishop (or pope) of Rome. In 68 AD the Romans would destroy the Essene monastery at the Dead Sea on their way back to Jerusalem. And then in 70 AD the Romans would retake Jerusalem completely destroying the Temple. Finally, in 74 AD the remaining Zealots would commit mass suicide at Masada, ending the rebellion, ending the uprising, and causing all the Jews to be removed from Palestine as their official home until after WW2. In ten years everything would change for the Jewish people.
But it was then the Jews, who had full control over the Temple in the years that preceded its destruction. No Roman, or outside entity, could have placed something within it to cause this abomination to exist. Now adding that news itself did not travel by CNN in these days, it took much longer with horses, sea faring ships, and then word of mouth – any significant action might not have reached the ears of its audience for quite a while. What did take place however preceding the destruction of the Temple at Jerusalem, was the less publicized event of Linus being elected as the “First Bishop of Rome”. Here Peter, who has never referred to himself as any kind of Bishop, makes reference to a little known event. Why? What difference could that have made?
To answer we must first examine what kind of “abomination” could ever lead to “desolation” in the first place. One might argue it was the killing of Christ, but that event was already near, during the conversation with Jesus at the time, and He did not make reference to it. Christ must die in fact, in order that our salvation be offered, and our punishment be taken on by Him in our place. So the killing of Jesus was not actually an abomination but instead part of the plan of our salvation. What then? Jesus had already alluded to it earlier when He first said, “be not deceived”. He would state it again soon in the coming texts. Any sort of replacement for the true Jesus, any sort of diversion of our focus away from Jesus for our salvation, would become the abomination of desolation, for our transformation is impossible without Jesus Christ.
The election of Linus was dangerous because the people of this day, were already looking to the Bishop of Rome to handle spiritual matters for them, instead of looking directly to Jesus Christ themselves. The people had already turned away from a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, and were looking at their Bishop as being the authority to seek out on matters of salvation. What is worse, the leadership of the Christian faith, had assumed rights, authority, and control over the believers; instead of being in service to the people. The Bishops had advertised as having authority even over Jesus Christ, and as being the source the people should feel comfortable coming to, instead of directly to Christ. This intercessory role was never intended for humans to offer to other humans. It was intended only for Jesus to offer to us. Any reliance on anyone other than Jesus creates an abomination resulting in the desolation of our souls, of our actions, of our hearts. For one human cannot transform the mind and heart of another. Only Jesus can truly do this. Only Jesus can truly save us from us.
And before we get too sanctimonious in looking down on the simpletons of our history. We should examine our lives today. While we may not rely upon a human pope to offer us salvation. We have replaced the pope of history, with the papal power in our mirrors. We do not look at a Catholic pope to save and transform us, but instead we still hold on to “self” to do the same thing. We believe “we” are in control over our sins. We simply need to choose to stop sinning and we will stop sinning. But while we control our actions, our hearts are still steeped in the love of sin. Our motives have not changed, even though our strong will is able to keep us from defying the letter of the law. We too have engaged in the abomination of desolation, because we too, have allowed Jesus to take a back seat role in our salvation, in our perfection processes. But it has ever been the same. Only Jesus can save us from ourselves. No other human can do it, not pope, and not self. The danger is the same, even if separated by 2,000 years of history.
Then Jesus transitions from the Jews and Christians who were to flea into the mountains when they heard the news of these events. He would now focus on those who still remained closer to Jerusalem as the Romans were invading. The dangers for them would be more immediate. Jesus continues in verse 15 saying … “ And let him that is on the housetop not go down into the house, neither enter therein, to take any thing out of his house: [verse 16] And let him that is in the field not turn back again for to take up his garment.” When the Roman scouts are seen on the horizon, when Roman banners are close enough to dot the horizon, there is no time to pack. There is no time to return for clothing or precious belongings. If life is to be preserved, one must flea immediately.
In our day, when we discover our self-reliance, there is no time to delay. We cannot flirt with the idea of self-salvation, or our lives will not be spared. The dangers of self are immediate and bring a level of desolation we cannot imagine. If we are to be spared, we must flee self, and self-reliance, and run as fast as we can to Jesus. We cannot depend on our salvation being established by other humans. Our parents cannot save us. Our pastors and popes cannot save us. The history of our church forefathers, and bloodlines we descend from cannot save us. Only Jesus can save us, and only as we look to Him, and submit to Him to do it. Any diversion away from Jesus Christ, any reliance on anything other than Him, takes us right back to the abomination of desolation, standing where it ought not, between us and our true Messiah.
Jesus continues in verse 17 saying … “But woe to them that are with child, and to them that give suck in those days! [verse 18] And pray ye that your flight be not in the winter.” Pregnant mothers, and those with nursing children will have it particularly hard fleeing. It is because those infants who depend upon them will still have needs even while they flee. A flight in winter will be hard as food is more scarce, and conditions much harsher. You can survive heat in the outdoors, much easier than you can survive cold. Heat brings more life with it. Cold tends to make life hide and be reclusive. Mothers are the backbone of any society, in any age. In our day, those who raise children, have an even more intense need to find Jesus, particularly when conditions are well suited around them. When strong support systems are in place, mothers should use them, to find Jesus for themselves. For a mother to find Jesus, when conditions are harsh, will have repercussions for their young. And all of us are directly influenced by what our mothers believe, whether we like it or not.
Jesus continues in verse 19 saying … “For in those days shall be affliction, such as was not from the beginning of the creation which God created unto this time, neither shall be. [verse 20] And except that the Lord had shortened those days, no flesh should be saved: but for the elect's sake, whom he hath chosen, he hath shortened the days.” These two verses seem equally valid for the time of the destruction of the Temple, and for those we live in. In the days of Jerusalem, strange signs began to appear in the skies over the city. Chariots of fire in the clouds both in day and night began to appear. The Christians saw these signs for what they were and fled the city. Not a single Christian was lost in the siege and destruction of Jerusalem as a result. But for those who remained, parents came to the point of eating their own children to survive the siege. There is no horror greater than to be reduced to cannibalism in order to remain alive. It wars against the body and soul. It scars us in ways that will never quite heal.
In our day we have witnessed atrocities on a grander scale. We see attempts at genocide from WW2 to the far east. What one person is capable of inflicting upon another seems to have no limits in our day. And we wonder if the world has ever been this bad. It has. It has been so since Satan gained control over the populous. It is only Jesus that can free us from being either victim or perpetrator, and break the cycle once and for all. And so the Father God, must shorten the days He is willing to tolerate evil, in an attempt to save all who might be saved. He is forced to shorten His preferred date, because if He does not, we would take actions that would end ALL life in our world, and leave no one left alive. But make no mistake, this is not what He preferred, but what our embrace of evil demands. How few will see it coming. How few will choose the life He would offer as its alternative, the freedom from pain He longs to provide us.
Jesus continues in verse 21 saying … “And then if any man shall say to you, Lo, here is Christ; or, lo, he is there; believe him not: [verse 22] For false Christs and false prophets shall rise, and shall shew signs and wonders, to seduce, if it were possible, even the elect. [verse 23] But take ye heed: behold, I have foretold you all things.” Here again, Jesus returns to what weighs heavily upon His mind, the distractions and deceptions of following humans instead of following Himself. Jesus repeats His warning again, stating that no matter how long it takes, there is always someone standing in the place of our savior, purporting to be the next Messiah. These false Christs will also have the backing of Satan, showing signs and wonders, so many they might deceive even the very elect. These words and this warning is terrifying.
We in our age, who know so little of the Holy Spirit on a personal basis. We have no baseline to determine if the supernatural we witness is of the Holy Spirit, or of the competitor of our God. We attempt to use the scriptures, or our interpretations of them to discern the difference. But in all our studies, and all our doctrines, we have been left void of the supernatural in our own lives. We walk in the desert, neither performing miracles, nor believing we could ever perform them. And so the dry, are expected to judge whether the living have life blood from Jesus (who our own lives reflect so little of), or of Satan (who would love to deceive us with his power, encouraging us to use it on ourselves, and on our glory). The elect should have experienced transformation. But perhaps this is the biggest deception, that the dry, think themselves as the elect, having been deceived that doctrine is more important than love. Then assuming that doctrine can discern, what only love could have.
But there was more to be said by Jesus, more prophecy designed to change the outcome of our own lives, given to us not just to witness, but to participate within …
Friday, July 1, 2016
Imagine if you could know with 100% certainty, the exact moment of your death. But with this knowledge would come a complete inability to alter the outcome one iota. Would you prefer to know, or not know? Most of us would rather be surprised. Knowing makes every moment between now and then a countdown clock, a constant ticking of wasted time, and wasted opportunities. Between now and then, we must still work, still function in our communities, still be the people we were before the knowledge of our death. That knowledge could work as a huge depressant to our lives, ticking away at it. We might either waste that time between now and then, or maximize it. Not knowing on the other hand, which is how we all have it today, offers us hope that what we do might somehow impact when we die. It gives our prayers even more meaning, as hope in God can change any outcome. So it would appear our God has chosen not to share with us, “the when” of every bit of information in our lives.
But what if a prophecy could have meaningful impacts from a change in our behavior. What if the purpose of prophecy was not simply to depress, but to warn, and thereby avoid depression or evil outcomes? This kind of knowledge would become invaluable. This kind of information would be priceless. And so, Jesus having just foretold the destruction of the Temple at Jerusalem, would face the inevitable human question of “when” it should come to pass. I suppose the question in itself represents a level of faith. The disciples were not going to plead for the Temple’s continuation, or ask if it could be somehow avoided by what actions they would take. Instead they were all resigned that if Jesus said it would happen, it would surely happen, and the most pertinent information they could know is simply … when.
Peter continues his recollection to John Mark in chapter thirteen of his gospel picking up again in verse 3 saying … “And as he sat upon the mount of Olives over against the temple, Peter and James and John and Andrew asked him privately,” This text begins with setting the context, Jesus and His disciples have left the Temple. They have traveled over to the Mount of Olives, and now they have a fairly good view of the Temple from their location. This venue only serves to stir up the memories of Jesus’ words, and four of the disciples want to know more. Perhaps all the disciples did, but only four of them sought to ask Jesus in whatever privacy they could muster. Peter, James, and John, seemed always to be the top three disciples when missions of privacy or importance came up from our Lord. But perhaps that is only because they were the only three who sought out to do these things. Andrew joined them here, and he was not excluded at all. Maybe this is a lesson to us. The wisdom of Jesus is not confined to the pastor, head elder, and head deaconess in our churches, it is available to anyone who asks, even one so lowly as you and I.
Mark continues in verse 4 saying … “Tell us, when shall these things be? and what shall be the sign when all these things shall be fulfilled?” It is important to note context once again. Jesus had just prophesied the destruction of the Temple at Jerusalem. He was not talking about His own second coming. Often we flip back and forth between the other 3 gospels and conflate this questions about “when” with signs of His second coming, mostly because the language is very similar. But Peter is clear. There is no conflation. Jesus had just prophesied about the Temple at Jerusalem’s destruction, and that is what the disciples were interested in knowing when it would occur. Further, they were asking for signs, or warning conditions, or actions that would precede this event, in order that they would know it was coming soon.
Jesus answers them picking up in verse 5 saying … “And Jesus answering them began to say, Take heed lest any man deceive you:” The first concern of our Lord was not answering them the calendar date of 70 AD when due to a Roman retaking of Jerusalem the Temple would be destroyed again. Those were the facts as history would demonstrate them. But to Jesus there was something more important, and that was a connection with Himself, not with false human alternatives. If you do not stay connected to Jesus, and allow humans to influence what you believe, you can be talked into all kinds of fallacies. Deception comes from listening to anything other than Jesus. Whether that makes sense to you or not, is irrelevant. Doing it is what matters. Abraham would never have attempted to sacrifice his only son, if he listened to humans that would have told him he was crazy. That the voice in his head was a hallucination, and that God never orders a murder. But Abraham maintained his connection and did what he was told.
Jesus continues in verse 6 saying … “For many shall come in my name, saying, I am Christ; and shall deceive many.” The days of the Messiah were not at an end for those who rejected Jesus. Pharisees and rebels against Rome would promote their own versions of a Messiah, in order to bring the people to their own way of thinking. Satan would stand behind every one of them, working his own supernatural power to make a pretend Jesus nearly as good as the real Jesus. Satan always offers a counterfeit for what God creates in perfection. Each imposter of Christ would have special backing from Satan in order to counterfeit the real ministry of Jesus Christ. For those who did not want to hear truth, for those who were content to be placated by what they wanted to believe, the voice of false Messiah decrying the Roman empire would ring true, and deceive many.
Jesus continues in verse 7 saying … “And when ye shall hear of wars and rumours of wars, be ye not troubled: for such things must needs be; but the end shall not be yet.” Christ then addresses what can strike fear in the heart of a man. War in the days of Jesus was something that left little prisoners, and little left alive. Invading armies killed all the men, took the women as slaves and concubines. Butchered children or only increased the slave count. Homes were completely wiped out. Crops were burned. Commerce was ended. Rumors that a great Assyrian army was set to invade, or a great Egyptian or Ethiopian army was to invade leaving only a scorched earth, could strike fear into the heart of a man. But Jesus wished for us to leave our fears behind, and focus our security in Him. He foretells that wars will exist, and rumors will persist, but these do NOT declare the end of the Temple at Jerusalem.
Jesus continues in verse 8 saying … “For nation shall rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom: and there shall be earthquakes in divers places, and there shall be famines and troubles: these are the beginnings of sorrows.” The sorrows of our world are in fact, NOT signs of the end, nor of the end of Temple at Jerusalem. They are declared by Jesus Christ as only the beginning of sorrows. The idea that man could bring about the end of the world in our day by his military actions or his political policies is laid out as false by Jesus Christ. All we could ever do, is add to the sorrows our world already has to deal with. The changes in our climate and the calamities that are ever increasing in our world, are also NOT signs of the end of all things, they are only a continuation of the sorrows identified by Jesus Christ so long ago. They may get worse, but they do not represent His soon return. For after all, if these signs did not mean anything against the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem, why would they be of significance in the end of days?
Jesus continues in verse 9 saying … “But take heed to yourselves: for they shall deliver you up to councils; and in the synagogues ye shall be beaten: and ye shall be brought before rulers and kings for my sake, for a testimony against them.” This is very clearly counsel given to the disciples and apostles of Christ and largely in their day or generation. Synagogues are no longer a threat to the Christian faith, and in most of the world Christianity does not have to defend itself in the courts of monarchs who can persecute and take life arbitrarily. But it was so in the days of Jesus. In His day, and in the days of the disciples, this was a real threat, and a real concern. But Jesus says, only know that this is coming.
Jesus continues in verse 10 saying … “And the gospel must first be published among all nations. [verse 11] But when they shall lead you, and deliver you up, take no thought beforehand what ye shall speak, neither do ye premeditate: but whatsoever shall be given you in that hour, that speak ye: for it is not ye that speak, but the Holy Ghost.” Jesus makes a seemingly disconnected series of statements here. Verse ten establishes the need for the gospel to be “published” among all nations. Peter and his compatriots surely could have translated the gospel into the popular languages of the day, that would have touched the limits of the world they knew. But it would not have reached the limits of the world we know today. So this statements seems to have another relevance to the disciples. It took Peter and the others a good long while, before they were willing to reach out to gentiles, and others with the gospel. Paul would be the biggest ambassador here. It would take long argument to get the church at Jerusalem to see the value in ALL in humans, beyond just Jews.
Verse eleven, becomes a promise to the disciples, as well as one we can rely upon today. When taken in to defend our faith, we do not need to prepare. This is something that runs counter to our nature today. We rarely believe any speech is worth anything without preparation. Particularly if that speech is a legal brief, or one upon which heavy circumstances could rely. But Jesus tells His own disciples that even when brought before kings who could have them killed, to purposely avoid preparation. They are to trust the Holy Spirit, who will tell them what to say, when they have need to say it. Imagine what our pastors might say if they ALL took the same approach with the same faith. Imagine what you might say. Could our world become a better place if instead of attempting preparation, we simply trusted in the wisdom and love of the Holy Spirit.
Jesus continues in verse 12 saying … “Now the brother shall betray the brother to death, and the father the son; and children shall rise up against their parents, and shall cause them to be put to death. [verse 13] And ye shall be hated of all men for my name's sake: but he that shall endure unto the end, the same shall be saved.” The conditions Jesus describes begin with the earliest faith, and are maintained until the end. In the early days, the disciples were hated by the upright Jews who rejected Christ. Those families who still sided with the Pharisees would turn over new believers unto death. And now in our day, in perhaps the last days, those believers who look to trust Jesus with our salvation, turning away from the idea of self-salvation, may engender the hatred of those who do not want to hear, they are unable to save themselves. This hatred may grow, as transformed hearts begin to stand in stark contrast with Christians who do not love, can only judge, and offer condemnation for other people’s sins. The Christian who remains untransformed by the Love of Jesus Christ will eventually use scriptures to justify his hate of those who are truly changed. That hate will grow until it reached the levels of persecution of old. For those who have no love, have no resistance to killing in the name of God.
The dangers Christ enumerates are not limited to those outside of the faith looking inwards at it. They are as real for those inside the faith, looking at each other in it. The text begins by listing “brother shall betray brother”. Why should Christians believe they are immune to this idea? The Pharisees were willing to kill Christ the author of their very religion and scriptures. Through the ages, crusades mark the willingness of Christians to kill other people in the name of our God. Today in modern politics, American Christians believe their faith is under attack, and think they must defend it, with lethal means if needed. The idea of shedding blood in the name of God is not a new one. It dates back as old as Satan is. Our God tells us to love each other, and to love our enemies. One cannot kill what one truly loves. But therein is the rub. Christians do not truly love each other, nor do they truly love their enemies.
We talk about loving others, and the need to do so. But our feeling, motives, and actions reflect something else entirely. We tolerate each other, and less so, our enemies. Our language betrays us. Our lack of converts betray us. No one is motivated to find and follow the Jesus Christ many of us represent. For that Jesus is cold, unfeeling, and uncaring. Why would any non-believer, or sinner, come to find a Jesus who means only to burn them for what they do, not redeem them from the pain they are in? The transformed heart views the world differently. But few submit to Christ to actually be transformed. They offer lip service to love, and reflect nearly none of it. One of the first signs of a truly transformed heart is passion. A great passion about the lives and needs of others (no matter if family, friend, or self-declared enemy). The transformed hearts begin to empathize as if what happens to another is happening to themselves. They cannot bear to remain silent, or still. They must do something. They must do anything.
The contrast of those kinds of Christians, with the kind who spew only judgement and condemnation will one day reach a point, of persecution. Those who have no feeling, have no compassion, have no love; will be all too willing to kill those who do. Redemption is the not the primary goal of the Christian who has not been transformed. A call for justice is. Christians without love believe themselves forgiven, and therefore saved. They want others to admit their guilt, beg for forgiveness, and then join them in a hunt for those who do not yet believe. But forgiveness is not enough. Being sorry, or pretending to, while still craving the same sins we did before, reflects no real change in our lives. Seeking out the sins of others, in order to feel better by comparison, is the not the standard our God uses for perfection. It is fallacy. It is deception. And it is what Christ was warning about all those years ago.
Only through submission to Jesus, that allows Him to recreate who we are, will we finally be able to love others like He loves others. Only then will we ever be truly sorry for who we used to be. Only then will our actions reflect new motives that are in harmony with the Law. Only then is obedience possible. All of the things the judgmental Christian calls for, are found only in the transformation submitting to Jesus will accomplish. Which side of persecution will you find yourself within? The side of brother who betrays brother unto death? Or the side of those who know Jesus so intimately that their passion remains even for the one who would betray them unto death?
Jesus was not done just yet …