5 As some people were remarking about the Temple, how beautiful its stonework and memorial decorations were, he said, 6 “The time is coming when what you see here will be totally destroyed — not a single stone will be left standing!” 7 They asked him, “Rabbi, if this is so, when will these events take place? And what sign will show that they are about to happen?” 8 He answered, “Watch out! Don’t be fooled! For many will come in my name, saying, ‘I am he!’ and, ‘The time has come!’ Don’t go after them. 9 And when you hear of wars and revolutions, don’t panic. For these things must happen first, but the end will not follow immediately.”
10 Then he told them, “Peoples will fight each other, nations will fight each other, 11 there will be great earthquakes, there will be epidemics and famines in various places, and there will be fearful sights and great signs from Heaven. 12 But before all this, they will arrest you and persecute you, handing you over to the synagogues and prisons; and you will be brought before kings and governors. This will all be on account of me, 13 but it will prove an opportunity for you to bear witness. 14 So make up your minds not to worry, rehearsing your defense beforehand; 15 for I myself will give you an eloquence and a wisdom that no adversary will be able to resist or refute. 16 You will be betrayed even by parents, brothers, relatives and friends; some of you they will have put to death; 17 and everyone will hate you because of me. 18 But not a hair of your head will be lost. 19 By standing firm you will save your lives.
20 “However, when you see Yerushalayim surrounded by armies, then you are to understand that she is about to be destroyed. 21 Those in Y’hudah must escape to the hills, those inside the city must get out, and those in the country must not enter it. 22 For these are the days of vengeance, when everything that has been written in the Tanakh will come true. 23 What a terrible time it will be for pregnant women and nursing mothers! For there will be great distress in the Land and judgment on the people. 24 Some will fall by the edge of the sword, others will be carried into all the countries of the Gentiles, and Yerushalayim will be trampled down by the Gentiles until the age of the Gentiles has run its course.
25 “There will appear signs in the sun, moon and stars; and on earth, nations will be in anxiety and bewilderment at the sound and surge of the sea, 26 as people faint with fear at the prospect of what is overtaking the world; for the powers in heaven will be shaken. 27 And then they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with tremendous power and glory.[b] 28 When these things start to happen, stand up and hold your heads high; because you are about to be liberated!”
29 Then he told them a parable: “Look at the fig tree, Indeed, all the trees. 30 As soon as they sprout leaves, you can see for yourselves that summer is near. 31 In the same way, when you see these things taking place, you are to know that the Kingdom of God is near! 32 Yes! I tell you that this people will certainly not pass away before it has all happened. 33 Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will certainly not pass away.
34 “But keep watch on yourselves, or your hearts will become dulled by carousing, drunkenness and the worries of everyday living, and that Day will be sprung upon you suddenly like a trap! 35 For it will close in on everyone, no matter where they live, throughout the whole world. 36 Stay alert, always praying that you will have the strength to escape all the things that will happen and to stand in the presence of the Son of Man.”
- This passage probably causes some bewilderment and dismay for ordinary believers who are not proclaimer of the world’s end or waiting for Jesus to meet them in the sky. For most people these prophecies of Jesus are full of strange language and opaque images. out the consequences of violent rebellion against Rome.
- There is however material here that cannot simply be interpreted as pointing to events in history. The destruction of the holy place of Jewish people was doubtless seen by many as the end of an era, perhaps as ushering in the end -time of the world. That kind of apocalyptic expectation is uncommon in the culture of most developed nations today, and the precise terms of Jesus’ expectation are even more obscure. Modern readers should nevertheless be able to see that apocalyptic expectation is an indication that the completion of God’s rescuing justice will not happen within the horizon of ordinary history, which will be brought to an end, so that justice may be done.
- Jesus probably spoke of the agent of God’s end time justice as “the son of Man” who is a figure from Daniel chapter 7 where he stands for a humane kingdom inaugurated by the saints of the most high. He sometimes spoke as if he was the sole representative of that kingdom. Here the son of man comes as God’s representative to put an end to evil and to rescue those who have stayed faithful to God’s goodness. This title points to One who is not utterly separate from the best of humanity, a corporate being whose authority is shared. Christian tradition has identified this figure with the risen Jesus himself.
- This whole way of thinking questions one of the unspoken assumptions of modern Christian faith, namely, that it will work in this world and this history. Last week I wrote a blog on my xtremejesus.co site which suggested that the human race might be extinguished by global warming. Numbers of readers asked if that pessimism was compatible with Christian belief. As I read them, the apocalyptic visions of the Bible, especially the prophecies of Jesus and the visions of The Revelation, are terminally pessimistic about the course of worldly history, but optimistic about God’s rescue of those who place their trust in Jesus.
- Faith in this rescue is what Jesus hopes will give patience, endurance, calm and courage to his followers in dark times to come.
I wonder what the present-day version of this faith would be. Just hanging on to symbols that were relevant in the first century is no answer, and the hyped up fantasy – book version of “The Rapture” is pure mince. But just ditching it altogether means losing a key element in New Teatament faith. I promise my readers to follow this up once Holy Week is past.
I shall reserve a special prize for the reader who solves the conundrum of verses 16 and 18: how can some of you be put to death and yet not a hair of your heads be hurt?