Dear Sisters and Brothers,
There is a line from a song by David Byrne, “Facts don’t come with points of view. Facts don’t do what I want them to.” People aren’t always convinced by facts because facts don’t always line up with our expectations. To be a fact-driven person (like an ideal scientist or mathematician) takes a tremendous effort. As any experience of human beings will tell you, we are much more driven by personal ideas and beliefs than facts. There are many facts that are meaningless, but some facts come together to make truth. But there is no truth without fact.
The whole thirteenth chapter of Mark doesn’t say what we want it to say. Since it is clearly about “end times,” we want it to be about the future, but it is very specifically about a time in the second half of the first century. After hundreds of books and thousands of essays, many people have used these words as being prophetic to us, but they really are prophetic in the way that the Old Testament prophesies about the coming messiah were prophetic. There are plenty of people who will find this a disagreeable idea, but I repeat, “facts don’t do what I want them to.”
As Jesus was leaving the temple, one of his disciples said to him, “Look, Teacher! What massive stones! What magnificent buildings!”
“Do you see all these great buildings?” replied Jesus. “Not one stone here will be left on another; every one will be thrown down.”
According to historical accounts, the destruction of the temple began on the thirtieth of August in the year 70 AD. After four years of rebellion from the Jews, Roman legions swept into the city and methodically separated the building apart and broke apart its stones. The only parts of the temple that remained were its deep foundations (which include the “weeping wall” which was only slightly exposed for centuries until it was excavated in 1967). The Romans didn’t bother to dig; they just used crowbars, fires and hammers to cast down all the buildings.
As Jesus was sitting on the Mount of Olives opposite the temple, Peter, James, John and Andrew asked him privately, “Tell us, when will these things happen? And what will be the sign that they are all about to be fulfilled?”
Jesus said to them: “Watch out that no one deceives you. Many will come in my name, claiming, ‘I am he,’ and will deceive many. When you hear of wars and rumors of wars, do not be alarmed. Such things must happen, but the end is still to come. Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be earthquakes in various places, and famines. These are the beginning of birth pains.
There were false messiahs before Jesus and many that came soon after. Some were self-proclaimed and some were proclaimed by others. After seeing the crowds that Jesus drew, many people attempted to gain a following so they might lead a popular uprising against the Romans. Two Samaritans claimed to be the messiah shortly after Jesus’ death and resurrection: One was named “Simon Magus” and the other was called “Dositheos.” It is also written that King Herod Agrippa was stricken deathly ill the day that a crowd proclaimed him to be a god during Passover of the year 44 AD. We even see a small-time “sorcerer” in the thirteenth chapter of acts who calls himself “Bar-Jesus” who preyed on smaller groups of people with his false claims of power. This man was temporarily blinded and eventually became a Christian convert (his other name was Elymas).
“You must be on your guard. You will be handed over to the local councils and flogged in the synagogues. On account of me you will stand before governors and kings as witnesses to them. And the gospel must first be preached to all nations. Whenever you are arrested and brought to trial, do not worry beforehand about what to say. Just say whatever is given you at the time, for it is not you speaking, but the Holy Spirit.
“Brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child. Children will rebel against their parents and have them put to death. Everyone will hate you because of me, but the one who stands firm to the end will be saved.”
The book of Acts includes many descriptions of how Christians were mistreated for sharing their faith, but the first widespread persecution came in 64 Ad, when the early Christians were made scapegoats for the burning of Rome. The fires of Rome began accidentally and destroyed two-thirds of the city in July of the year 64, but the blame was placed on the Christians who were becoming numerous and were seen as a nuisance to regular public order and religion. Since the Christians were also non-violent, they were safe targets.
The persecution of Christians drove the church “underground” into secret meetings. Since most of the Christians in Palestine were Jews, they were also persecuted by the Romans after the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD and the defeat of Masada in April of 73. There would be nineteen centuries before the establishment of a Jewish homeland in Palestine, in 1949.
The persecution of Christians worsened through the third century, but in the fourth century it became the official religion of the Roman Empire. The persecution of the Jews has never ended.
“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 housetop go down or enter the house to take anything out. Let no one in the field go back to get their cloak. How dreadful it will be in those days for pregnant women and nursing mothers! Pray that this will not take place in winter, because those will be days of distress unequaled from the beginning, when God created the world, until now—and never to be equaled again.
This abomination is mentioned in Daniel and is often thought to refer to an altar to Zeus that stood in the temple for a few years more than a century before Christ, but here it is often thought to mean the Roman soldiers destroying the temple in 70 AD.
The description of the “days of distress” also echos the words of Jesus to the women who were crying over him on his way to his crucifixion in Luke 23:28 “Jesus turned and said to them, “Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me; weep for yourselves and for your children. 29 For the time will come when you will say, ‘Blessed are the childless women, the wombs that never bore and the breasts that never nursed!’ 30 Then “‘they will say to the mountains, “Fall on us!” and to the hills, “Cover us!”’ 31 For if people do these things when the tree is green, what will happen when it is dry?”
Jesus is foretelling the events of four decades in the future with some clarity. He is speaking these words to four disciples with the clear expectation that these things are approaching.
“If the Lord had not cut short those days, no one would survive. But for the sake of the elect, whom he has chosen, he has shortened them. At that time if anyone says to you, ‘Look, here is the Messiah!’ or, ‘Look, there he is!’ do not believe it. For false messiahs and false prophets will appear and perform signs and wonders to deceive, if possible, even the elect. So be on your guard; I have told you everything ahead of time.
The next passage is a clear description of the second coming of Christ, but it is also clearly stated that the events are expected to happen shortly after the destruction of the Temple. The key verse is Mark 13:30 “Truly I tell you, this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened.” It is a definitive statement that we have to give credence.
“But in those days, following that distress,
“‘the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light;
the stars will fall from the sky, and the heavenly bodies will be shaken.’
“At that time people will see the Son of Man coming in clouds with great power and glory. And he will send his angels and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of the heavens.
Now learn this lesson from the fig tree: As soon as its twigs get tender and its leaves come out, you know that summer is near. Even so, when you see these things happening, you know that it is near, right at the door. Truly I tell you, this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away.
We often read biblical prophesies as if they were written about our lifetimes. It is clear that they are not specifically about our lifetimes, but they may be about all times. The prophecies in the Bible apply to 2020 as much as they did 1245, 1701, or any other year. We all need to take teachings seriously. We all have a limited time to take action (even if it is to surrender to God’s love).
“But about that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. Be on guard! Be alert! You do not know when that time will come. It’s like a man going away: He leaves his house and puts his servants in charge, each with their assigned task, and tells the one at the door to keep watch.
“Therefore keep watch because you do not know when the owner of the house will come back—whether in the evening, or at midnight, or when the rooster crows, or at dawn. If he comes suddenly, do not let him find you sleeping. What I say to you, I say to everyone: ‘Watch!’”
This passage applies to us personally and not according to any date, because we do not know when our time on earth will end and we will face God in the life to come. It also makes it very clear that anyone who claims to know the time of the second coming is wrong. The return of Christ as described in the Gospel cannot be foreseen or predicted by anyone other than God the Father, and he is not telling. So, anyone who claims to know the date of the second coming is either deluded or using evil behavior to manipulate others. We should never believe anyone who makes this claim against (and over) Jesus.
Our task is to live as if the Gospel message of love is for today and not tomorrow. We wait for the Lord’s return knowing that “now” is always the moment that matters most.
Questions to Ponder: What does it mean to you that Jesus foresaw the destruction of the temple? What does it mean to you that he could not foresee the time of his own return?”