Monday, August 24, 2009

Be alert; I have already told you everything

‘But when you see the desolating sacrilege set up where it ought not to be (let the reader understand), then those in Judea must flee to the mountains; someone on the housetop must not go down or enter the house to take anything away; someone in the field must not turn back to get a coat. Woe to those who are pregnant and to those who are nursing infants in those days! Pray that it may not be in winter. For in those days there will be suffering, such as has not been from the beginning of the creation that God created until now, no, and never will be. 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.

‘But in those days, after that suffering,

the sun will be darkened,

and the moon will not give its light,

and the stars will be falling from heaven,

and the powers in the heavens will be shaken.

Then they will see “the Son of Man coming in clouds” with great power and glory. Then he will send out the angels, and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of heaven.

- Mark 13:14-27

We continue with Jesus' discourse standing outside the temple (begun in Saturday's reading). One of Jesus' disciples has remarked on the beauty and majesty of the temple. Jesus began speaking of what was to come. He continues in today's reading.

Verses 14-23 seem to speak directly of the destruction of Jerusalem, culminating in the burning of the temple, which would occur in A.D. 70. The "abomination of desolation" (translated as "desolating sacrilege" in our quotation) is a reference to scripture (the book of Daniel). This would occur when the Roman general Titus defiled the temple by first entering into it and "standing where he ought not" - in the Most Holy Place. I read that, heeding prophecies, the Church in Jerusalem fled before this great tribulation (v. 19, translated "suffering" in our excerpt above). This time of tremendous suffering was recorded by an eyewitness, the Jewish historian Josephus. My study bible goes on to recount that Christians have suffered many tribulations throughout history. Even in the 20th century alone, there were millions martyred for their faith. The photograph on my blog, of a genocide orphan, was taken during the Armenian genocide of 1915, in which 1.5 million people were killed essentially because they maintained their Christian faith, in addition to tens of thousands of Christian minorities of other ethnic origin at that time. This is but one example.

Jesus goes on to quote Isaiah, and we are given to understand that he continues to speak of both the destruction of Jerusalem (and the temple) and the end of the age. If we are to comprehend that we enter into a period of the "end of the Age" after his death and resurrection, that indeed the "wars and rumors of wars," the shortening time (see Saturday's commentary), the false messiahs, violence and upheaval, and repeated tribulation and suffering will continue, then we come to a perspective that we have been in this period all along these past 20 centuries and continue to be so. Jesus' preparations for us include an admonition for endurance and faith. Clearly they also include the instruction that we really will not be able to predict the ultimate end of this age nor how it happens, and neither will be unaware when it happens. It will be known when it is experienced. As faithful, neither will we avoid periods of tribulation and suffering.

So what can we conclude from this discourse? I think it is important to maintain a sense that we are not to focus on predictions, but rather to focus on the now, to do what we must do, to be "alert" (v. 19). We study, we think, pray and worship. We seek the Spirit. And we do what we must do to follow his teachings. If we are to endure unto the end, surely it is in faith and in increasing our understanding and practice of mercy as we are taught; most assuredly to hope to know and to share God's love and to develop and grow and share the gifts of the Spirit. This is how we endure to the end, if we follow what He has taught.

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