Malankara World Journal - Christian Spirituality from an Orthodox Perspective
Malankara World Journal
Theme: Feast of Sleebo, Second Coming of Jesus, Onam
Volume 6 No. 374 Sept 12, 2016
II. Lectionary Reflections
Second Coming of Jesus

Signs that the End is Near

by Dr. Jeffrey F. Evans


Amos 5:18-20
I Thess. 5:1-11
Luke 21:5-38

I have no intention of setting any dates for Jesus' second coming (like some people did in the past! None whatsoever!

I do believe Jesus IS coming back, and I believe His return is going to be a very REAL and VISIBLE return.

And though I refuse to set dates, I am called, by Jesus, to watch carefully for the signs of His approach, just as the Jews watched for the leafing of the fig tree to tell them that summer was near. Because I'm always aware (as Jesus warned) that it could happen anytime, even when we "least expect it."

In Matthew 24:42, Jesus says to all believers:

"Therefore, keep watch, because you do not know on what day your Lord will return."

And he repeats it one chapter later in The Parable of the Ten Virgins (who irresponsibly let the oil in their lamps waste away as they wait for the bridegroom to return).

"Therefore, keep watch because you do not know the day or the hour."

The Christian is always to be watchful / and alert to the possibility of Christ's imminent return, because He has promised that on one future day the heavens will be split asunder and He will return for His own!

And this passage makes it very clear that Jesus doesn't want His followers to be caught off guard when that day arrives. That's why He says to us twice in today's passage (Luke 21 v. 28 and 31): "When you see these things begin to take place, stand up, and lift up your heads, because your redemption is drawing near."

And again, "Even so, when you see these things happening, you know that the kingdom of God is near."

And even if that time is NOT this year / or this decade / or even within our lifetime / it does nothing to negate the unalterable fact that EVERYONE will, at the instant of their death (as Amos 4:12 puts it), "Meet their God" or Maker.

The believing will meet Him as their Savior and Friend and Advocate / but the unbelieving and the unrepentant will meet Him as their Judge, who being holy and righteous and just, must condemn them for their sins and sentence them to everlasting destruction.
(II Thess. 1:9).

My question to you is: Will you meet Him as Savior, Friend and Advocate or the holy and righteous Judge who must condemn you for your sins?

It's an issue every living person must address, whether Christ returns in their lifetime or not. For as Hebrews tells us, "It is appointed unto man, once to die, and then comes the judgment."

So, open your Bibles and let's see what insights we can glean from Jesus concerning the "signs" that the end is near, just as that budding olive tree signaled that summer was near.

And as we do so, I'm going to divide the text up into its three relatively clear sections.

Three Divisions

1. The period close to the end (Luke 21: 8-11)

2 The time prior to and immediately following the Temple's destruction (Luke 21: 12-24)

3. A return to those things that will occur just prior to the 2nd coming (Luke 21: 25-36).

So, let's look FIRST at Luke 21: 8-11 and consider those things that will signal we are close to the end.

>> #1.) In verse 8, Jesus says that many deceivers will go out "in His name" (most likely, having been Christians / or having claimed to be Christians / or claiming to have come with a message from Him) and will say "I am He," or "the time is near," when obviously, they are not Him and the time is not near!

Why would they do it? It's the age old problem of the sinful ego.

  • The sinful ego is not content to humbly bow in worship.
  • It wants to be admired, adored and worshipped like God.

That's why those who are not Him would claim to be Him -- and unfortunately come "in His name," or from within the ranks of the visible church, claiming, at least initially, to be His followers.

Why? Because it gives them a sense of being special to God or having a unique insider relationship with God or possessing secret knowledge no one else knows. It gives them a sense of power and control and can make one very rich.

As the old saying goes (and false prophets know this well): "Tell people their fortune, and make your own." There's a lot of money to be made in predicting the future or giving people goose bumps.

And many such people, says Jesus, will come. Which is why He warns us ahead of time: "Do not follow them!" Don't listen to them or support them. And by all means, don't follow them or worship them.

And likewise don't say: "It could never happen to me." For as Jesus tells us in the in Matt. 24:24 such people can be extremely convincing! "False prophets and false Christ's will appear," says Jesus, "and perform great signs and miracles, so as to deceive even the elect -- if that be possible."

>> #2) In verse 9 Jesus says "When you hear of wars and revolutions, do not be frightened."

Why should such things not frighten us into thinking the end is near? Historian Will Durant tells us, when he writes:

"War is one of the constants of history, and has not diminished with civilization or democracy. In the last 3,421 years of recorded history only 268 have seen no war."

And that doesn't count battles, wars or skirmishes that are unrecorded.

"These things must happen first," says Jesus, "but the end will not come right away."

When we see these things, says Jesus, it's not any type of guarantee that the end of the world is at hand -- though it IS easy to see how those caught in the middle of war -- with all its dive-bombing planes and artillery and incendiary bombs and bloodshed and horrors and destruction going on all around them -- could be tempted to say that it is.

>> #3) Jesus says, "Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be great earthquakes, famines and pestilences in various places, and fearful events, and great signs from heaven."

And I stress what Jesus says when he adds: "In various places..."

It is incorrect to assume that in the time just preceding the end, everything, everywhere, will be black and gloomy and filled with fighting and war and earthquakes and famines -- as some books and movies suggest.

Not at all! Even as the end is about to occur, says Jesus, such things will only be present, "in VARIOUS places." While some will be undergoing horrific things and seeing fearful events, others will not.

Some parts of the globe may have the sun blotted out by huge clouds of volcanic ash with people running airborne volcanic bombs and molten lava and poisonous gases and pyroclastic material.

While others (in other parts of the globe) will have the sun shining, and people laying on the beach getting a tan, as the waves gently splash upon the shore.

It's what we saw in Luke 17, when Jesus said of the end that, "It will be as in the days of Noah -- people were eating and drinking, marrying and being married, right up until the day Noah went into the ark."

They will be "buying and selling and planting and building, just as in Sodom and Gomorrah..." Life in some places will be just like normal while in other places it will be unbearable.

We got a little picture of that just weeks ago with the Tornados. Some places got hammered / while other places just hours away would never have known about it were it not for the Evening News. So it will be in the end -- even hours or seconds before Christ returns.

Sections 2: Fulfilled Events

Then we come to our SECOND section, in verses Luke 21: 12-24, which, as I've already stated, was prophetic for those living in Jesus day, but are long past fulfilled when it comes to us, because they refer to the destruction of Jerusalem that would take place 37 years in the future for them, but took place 1941 years ago for us, in 70 A.D.

How do we know that Jesus has moved from talking about the end, to talking of something that would happen long before the end? He tells us so in Luke 21:12 where he begins this section:

"But before all this..."

It's like He says:

"Now, before I go on with more about the end, let's step back in time and tell you about something that will happen in the not too distant future."

In fact, something that will happen here in Israel (whereas the things we just looked at were not limited to Israel).

"They will persecute you," says Jesus, "and deliver you to synagogues and prisons."

In fact, if you read the Book of Acts, you will see this is exactly what Paul did to the early Christians in Israel, and those just outside her borders. And later, it's what others did to Paul after he was converted! Luke 21 verses 12-19 couldn't be a more precise picture of what would happen to Paul and the early Christians in Acts 3, 4, 5, 7, 9, 12, 18 & 21-26.

And starting in Luke 21 verse 20, what Jesus gives us is a precise description of the fall of Jerusalem in 70 A.D. In 70 A.D. the Roman armies, tired of Israel's constant uprisings, surrounded the city with its armies, and instead of attacking the city (and losing men), cut off all water and food to the city, and simply starved the population before ransacking the city.

The historian Josephus tells us:

The roofs of the houses in Jerusalem were thronged with famished women with babes in their arms and the alleys were filled with the corpses of the elderly.

Children swollen from starvation, "roamed like phantoms through the marketplaces and collapsed wherever their doom overtook them."

Some of the things are even too gruesome to mention. (Which is why Jesus says elsewhere that people would wish the stones fell on them and made their deaths quick.)

Yet, that's not all Josephus tells us. He also informs us that the Christian population, heeding the words of Jesus in this passage, did "flee (the city) to the mountains," (quote) "like swimmers deserting a sinking ship."

Years later Eusebius wrote essentially the same thing:

"The people of the church in Jerusalem, having been commanded by an oracle given by revelation before the war, to those in the city [the oracle recorded here in Lk. 21 as well as Mt. 24] departed from the city to dwell in one of the cities of Perea which they called Pella [about 65 miles north of Jerusalem]. To it those who believed on Christ migrated" (before the siege of the city began).

Thus the words of Jesus in Luke 21 vv. 23-24 were fulfilled:

"There will be great distress in the land and wrath against this people. They will fall by the sword and will be taken as prisoners to all the nations. Jerusalem will be trampled on by the Gentiles until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled."

It was a trampling that would continue for another 1878 years (until 1948) when we might say: "The times of the Gentiles were (at least in part) fulfilled," by the restoration of Israel to the Jews.

Section 3: Return of Christ

Which brings us to our LAST section (Luke 21: 25-36), which return us to more "signs" that the end or Christ's return is near. What will they be?

>> 1st) In Luke 21: 25-26 we find astronomical or cosmic signs! They will be, "Signs in the sun, the moon and the stars."

Before Christ returns, things will be stirred up, not just on earth, but in the heavens above. Or maybe, on the earth because of the things taking place in the heavens.

What things? Maybe things like radiation from solar flares or the collision of asteroids with the earth or geomagnetic disruptions or the super-nova which occurs when a star runs out of fuel and it collapses or a growing black hole which swallows up everything in its path.

We will know the end is near when things start to go haywire in the heavens. It's not "wars and rumors of wars," or occasional "earthquakes, famines and pestilences in various places."

The things that signals the end is near is disruption of things in the heavens! It's then that we'll KNOW that the end is near! When THOSE THINGS begin to happen, says Jesus,

"stand up, and lift up your head, for your redemption is drawing near."

Which is surely why Jesus can say in the next verse:

"On the earth, nations will be in anguish and perplexity at the roaring and tossing of the sea."

Those cosmic events (as we now know) affect the gravitational forces of the earth thus affecting the oceans and its tides and the weather patterns (possibly increasing the number and severity of droughts and famines and hurricanes and monsoons) -- and possibly even triggering earthquakes and seismic activity and the tsunamis or tidal waves that they spawn.

"Men will faint from terror," says Jesus in Luke 21:26, "apprehensive of what is coming on the world, for the heavenly bodies will be shaken."

"At that time," Jesus continues, "they (that is, those living in that day) will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with great power and glory."

>>> 2nd) Luke 21: 29-33 say,

"Look at the fig tree and all the trees." "When they sprout leaves, you can see for yourselves and know that summer is near. Even so, when you see THESE THINGS (this heavenly shaking that has its effects upon the earth), you can KNOW that the kingdom of God is near."

And then He follows that statement with the statement more people ask me about than almost any other statement in the Bible! He says,

"I tell you the truth, this generation will certainly not pass away until ALL these things have happened."

And He's so emphatic about it that He follows that statement up by adding,

"Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away."

In other words, it's absolutely unalterable truth.

So what does He mean? Because if we see it as referring to the generation of people that He was speaking to, then we would have to see Him as wrong (which is precisely what many have said to me) since we all know it didn't happen within their lifetime or generation (that is, by 75 or 80 A.D.).

The destruction of Jerusalem did happen within that time frame, just as He had said. But all the other things did not, and those other things are included in the phrase "until ALL these things have happened."

So what does He mean when He says: "This generation will not pass away before all these things have happened"?

Well obviously He didn't mean "within 40 years" from when He was speaking. Because if He did, then He was wrong.

And although there are many suggestions as to what "this generation" refers to, the best explanation (in my opinion) is that it means the generation which will be alive at the time that these final signs start happening. The "generation" that is living when these things begin to occur, "will not pass away until ALL the things I speak of have taken place."

As Darrell Bock points out:

"Once the beginning of the end arrives with the cosmic signs of Luke 21: 25-26, the Son of Man will return before that generation passes away... The same group that sees the start of the end will not pass away before they see its end."

I agree. That is the best way to understand it.

It's Jesus way of saying that even when these great and fearful events do actually begin, there may still be upwards of 40 years that pass by before the end comes and they actually see, "the Son of Man coming on the clouds with great power and glory."

You see, some people so overreact when they see just one of the signs spoken of here, that Jesus (I believe) is essentially saying this:

Don't run around waving your arms in the air and wildly proclaiming I'm returning just because astronomers see a comet whose orbit will take it close to the earth (as people did with Halley's Comet in 1910)!

Don't proclaim it's the end of the world just because an earthquake in California occurs in conjunction with a volcanic eruption in Japan and a tsunami in Indonesia (even if they cause great damage)!

And don't sell everything you own and dig an underground bunker stocked with food, just because some planets line up and a major solar flare interferes with the earth's telecommunications (as it did on Dec. 6, 2006)!

Jesus says, "ALL THESE THINGS MUST COME TO PASS (not just some of them), before the end will come."

For even when they start to happen, the generation which begins to see them may have to wait 30 to 40 years before they see Christ return.

You see, Jesus is wisely giving us built in restraints that help us to see that we do need to look for the "signs," while never overreacting / or setting dates. We must always be aware and alert, but at the same time wait to see that EVERYTHING HE SPEAKS OF TAKES PLACE before we can KNOW and confidently proclaim, "the kingdom of God is near" (Luke 21: 31).

And even when the end does begin, the vague terms "near" or "this generation" (within the next 40 years) are the closest that Jesus (and thus all of his followers) should ever come to setting a "date"!

You see, Jesus lays it all out so wisely and perfectly! Far from being wrong, what Jesus is doing is telling us exactly what signs will accompany His return and yet at the same time doing all He can to ward off improper / fanatical / or extremist type responses / which always do great harm to people's faith and hurt the testimony of the church.

Fanaticism (and the undiscerning emotionalism that always accompanies it) actually make people more susceptible to the deceptive traits and alluring charisma of false prophets and false Christ's!

So I tell you: Someday everything Jesus has said will come to pass. And it will be a frightening time to live. So heed His closing words:

"Be careful, or your hearts will be weighed down with dissipation" (that is, the temptation to indulge in sensual pleasure because the end is coming. Dissipation being exact opposite of uprightness and godliness).

"Don't be weighed down by... drunkenness" (that is, excessive drinking to aimed at easing the pain and fear and dread associated with the cataclysmic end of the world).

Or "the anxieties of life" (the stress of simply trying to survive under very difficult conditions, when there is no food or water or social order), "lest that day close in on you unexpectedly like a trap."

Instead of falling apart (like everyone else) / and letting go of all self restraint and indulging in sin (dissipation) / or deadening the pain with drugs (drunken-ness) / or succumbing to fear and anxiety / we are in faith, and in calm confidence, to "stand up, and lift up our heads, knowing our redemption is drawing near!"

We are to "watch," says Jesus (and He means for the signs of His return), "and pray" (that is, for the strength to endure) "that we may be able to stand before the Son of Man on that day" (and He means "stand" in the sense of one who perseveres to the very end trusting confidently in Christ).

WATCH, PRAY and STAND FIRM in the faith! Those are Jesus directives. Don't succumb to fear, fanaticism, anxiety, sin, or unbelief.

That's Jesus word to us regarding the end. It's going to be rough. But regardless of when it may come, or how hard it may be, face it with faith, wisdom, prayer and quiet confidence.

It's the climax of God's redemptive plan! That's why, when everyone else is cringing in fear, we can "stand up, and lift up our heads," because for us it means that "our redemption is near!" It's finally come! For us, the end is the beginning of everything we've ever wanted or hoped for!

Coming soon

by: Jeremy Troxler

Gospel: Luke 21: 7-8, 25-38

We human beings are not too good at reading the signs.

On the door to my office hangs one of my favorite Gary Larsen "Far Side" cartoons. In it a somewhat nerdy-looking boy is trying to enter the Midvale School for the Gifted. He's carrying a book under one arm and leaning with his other arm, with all his weight, against the door, straining, trying to push open the door. On the door there is a sign in great big letters that explains his problem. It reads, "PULL."

That's us. We're not too good at reading the signs.

But that's also the people Jesus dealt with. All throughout the Gospels, people are coming up to Jesus and asking for a sign from heaven. Jesus will perform one sign or wonder or healing, more than John says he can even tell us about, but then the people will just ask for another sign. Even when Jesus is dragged before King Herod just before he's murdered, Luke tells us that Herod was kind of excited to meet him because he wanted to see Jesus do some sign.

Seemingly everybody who meets Jesus in the Gospels wants some sign, but when they get one they still don't seem to be able to read those signs for what they mean. They're pushing at a door that says, "Pull." At one point, Jesus throws up his hands in exasperation and says, "You people look up in the sky, and you see some dark, cumulonimbus clouds gathering up, and you're perceptive enough to say, 'Uh, oh, it's going to rain.' And when you see the south wind blowing signaling summer, you realize that hot weather is on the way, you put on your shorts and T-shirts, and sure enough, the thermometer goes through the roof. You can interpret the signs of the sky. Why can't you interpret what it means that I am here?"

We're not too good at reading the signs; at least, not the signs that matter.

Neither are the disciples in our Gospel story. The disciples are sitting there opposite the massive megachurch, St.-Peter's-Cathedral-sized, Mall-of-America-looking Temple, gaping at the shining stones and dazzling jewels, perhaps thinking silently that the Temple building, the central pivot point of Judaism, is what connects them to God. Then Jesus, unimpressed, tells them, "All of that is going to be nothing more than a pile of rubble." The disciples, shocked, ask, "Teacher, when will this be? What will be the sign that this will take place?"

They want to know when the Temple will be destroyed. They want a sign to look for. Maybe they're expecting Jesus to tell them something kind of esoteric and mysterious, some hidden knowledge like, "In the month of April, a blackbird with red eyes will land on the steeple and caw three times. It will then be eaten by a hawk wearing a purple sash and suddenly lightning will strike on the north portico and crop circles will appear in the cornfield and then you'll know" or something like that.

I can't help but chuckle at Jesus' very different answer, because it's so obvious. The sign is not esoteric, hidden or mysterious at all. Basically Jesus tells them, "Well, when you see a great big old army camped around the Temple about to take it over, and they have really big weapons, well, that's going to be the end of it. They're going to tear it down." Here's your sign. And then Jesus says, "And when you see a great big angry-looking army about to take over the city of Jerusalem, here's my advice. Run. Don't be prideful or brave. Head for the hills."

There's no mysterious sign here. It's a very obvious sign. Even disciples who aren't very good at reading signs, who are always pushing on doors that say "Pull" can get this one. It's like Jesus says, "Trust me, you'll know when it's happening. The sign will be obvious and right in front of you."

Sure enough, around the year A.D. 70 a large Roman army will encamp around the Temple, and eventually they will raze it to the ground: not one stone left on another, every one of them thrown down.

The sign Jesus gave could be trusted.

In the next breath, though, Jesus goes on to speak of other signs. Jesus moves from describing the signs of the destruction of the Temple to describing the signs that will be seen when he returns, when he comes again in final victory. And again, his message seems to be that signs of the final victory will be obvious. They won't be esoteric or mysterious or hidden. He says, "There will be signs in the sun, the moon, and the stars, the roaring of the sea, people fainting, the powers of the heavens shaken, the Son of Man coming in a cloud."

It's as if Jesus is saying, "In my first coming, I came in hiddenness, born in a manger, cloaked in flesh, visible only to the eyes of faith. But when I come again in fullness, it will be in power and glory." It won't be hidden. It will be obvious to all, like when you go to the eye doctor and they ask you to read the largest line of letters on the eye-chart first. The signs will be that clear to see.

And again, the sign Jesus gives can be trusted.

I don't know about you, but if tomorrow I were to see crazy stuff happening in the sun and moon and stars and then see the Son of Man surfing a stratus cloud up at the sky, I won't need a prophet or an expert in the parousia to let me know that maybe something's going on. So Jesus makes the point that the signs of the Second Coming, the unveiling, the final victory, whatever it will look like, will be obvious when it arrives. We don't have to read the tea leaves or get out the Ouija board or read books on prophecy or look for signs of when it is near.

In a sense, it is always near. And when it comes in its fullness, Jesus says, "Trust me, you'll know." So we don't have to be like the little kid on the long car trip who keeps asking every ten minutes, "Are we there yet?" "Are we almost there yet?" When we get there, we'll know.

In the meantime, we can know that we are almost there, because the signs that Jesus performed are signs that the Kingdom of God has already broken in among us. God's future has entered our present. It is at hand, as close as the hand at the end of our arm. At hand. The kingdom is coming. That train has left the station, and we can hear its far-off whistle. It's coming, and it's coming, Scripture tells us, "soon." Soon could mean tomorrow, it could mean a thousand years from now, but soon means it's coming. Soon means we are one day closer to it today than we were yesterday.

The kingdom is near, and it's coming with all its fullness soon. And until then, I can't help but think that Jesus is more interested in the signs to be seen here on earth, than the signs to be seen in the heavens -- not signs in the sun and moon and stars, but signs in me and you and us. We're not so much looking for signs, we are signs. Signs of God's kingdom. We are the sign before the signs. We live the heavenly life here on earth, signs pointing to God's good future and final victory.

The theologian Karl Barth had a painting of the crucifixion in the wall of his study that was painted by the artist Matthias Grunewald. In the painting there is an image of John the Baptist, his extra long finger raised this way, directing and pointing the onlooker to the cross of Jesus in the center of the painting. It's said that when Barth would talk with a visitor about his work, he would direct them to John the Baptist in the painting, and he would say, "I want to be that finger." I want to be a sign pointing to the victory of Christ.

We are the people who have read the end of the book. We know how the story ends. We know God wins. And so we as God's people, in our life of love together, it's not that we stand on a corner holding a sign that says "The End is Near." But we live in such a way that our life is a sign reading "The New Beginning is Near." We are the beachhead of the kingdom. We're like the preview or trailer of the movie that makes people look forward to seeing the full show. We're like the warm-up act that gets people pumped up for the concert that is about to begin. We're the appetizer that makes people hunger for the full feast -- like the lady at the ice cream shop who lets me get a taste of Chunky Monkey before she hands me the full cone. People don't have to travel through time on a mysterious island or gaze into a crystal ball to look into the future. They can simply look at the life of the faithful, loving Christian.

The sign Jesus gives can be trusted.

On a crisp day last fall, stepping out of my car and walking up towards the porch of my home in the evening, I noticed a bright, red sycamore leaf that had fallen and lay by itself in my yard. It was so bright red it looked like it was on fire, and it was so beautiful and different from the green and brown grass that it was laying on that you couldn't help but notice it. It was different. That bright red leaf was the first leaf of fall. And in that way, it was a kind of sign. Lying there, it told me, "More are coming after me so get the rake ready." But it says, "Fall is coming. A change is coming. Beauty is coming. Believe it."

"Look at the fig tree and all the trees," Jesus says. "As soon as they sprout leaves you can see for yourselves and know that summer is already near. So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that the kingdom of God is near."

We are that leaf. We are ahead of time. We are signs of the change that is coming, of the beauty that is about to follow. We can shine that brightly and be that beautiful. We don't wait for the world to change, or for everything else to change its color. We can go ahead and be changed. We can point others to what is coming and live the heavenly life now. We can be a sign of God's shalom.

This world will set up all kinds of signs for people, telling them -- us -- which way to go.

Some tell people to push when the door really only opens with a pull. Most of them are stop signs. Most of them say that the road we are travelling on is a dead end. There is no way you can go.

The church sets up another sign in the world: "Coming Soon."

We are a sign.

A soon sign.

And the sign Jesus gives can be trusted.

Source: Faith & Leadership, Duke Divinity

Falling Temples

by Dr. Janet H. Hunt

Gospel: Luke 21:5-19

I would be less than truthful if I said I knew precisely what to make of the Gospel lesson before us now.

On the one hand, I do know at least a little bit of what it means when 'temples fall.' Anyone who has experienced the world changing around us has experienced the impact of this.

For instance, I drive by the house that was my childhood home and I see the fence which now cuts off most of the back yard we ran and played in when we were small. After much deliberation rooted in the growing realization that it was becoming too much to care for, several years ago my mother sold that sturdy old farmhouse to the local Catholic Church. The house backs up to their cemetery. One day the house itself will be torn down to become a place where the dead are buried and people go only to remember.

I drive by my grade school which now stands empty. All the children on the south side of my hometown are now bussed to the other end of town to attend school.

The high school where I discovered and was coached in some gifts I still use today has been replaced by a Walgreen's.

Temples? No, of course not. At least not in the way that Jesus speaks today. But places that seemed permanent and immovable? Yes, they were that. Even so, all these changes do seem to fit into a natural order of what we might understand as progress.

So while I have not seen temples fall in the violent way that Jesus speaks of now, I do know the ache in my own soul to see so much of what I thought would always be, be no longer. The older one gets, the surer one becomes of this. The things that last are not always the things you think will last. Not even the big, impressive, amazingly beautiful ones. No, not even the ones that helped make you who you are.

So while I sort of get the first part of this week's Gospel reading, I can't really begin to say that is so about the second part. Except for what I catch on the evening news or skim on my news feed, I don't know much of nations rising against nations. I have experienced tremors here in Northern Illinois --- even ones that can wake you in the night --- but not great earthquakes. I have never known hunger nor plague and I certainly don't know what Jesus is getting at when he talks about dreadful portents and great signs from heaven.

For that matter, what comes next is pretty foreign to me, too. I know nothing of the sort of persecution Jesus speaks of now. Nor have I experienced betrayal at the hands of trusted loved ones. And while some may see what I do as irrelevant, I'm not sure I've ever done anything offensive enough to stir up hatred in another. At least not lately...

This was not the case when these words were first recorded and passed on. Those who first heard them knew precisely of what Jesus spoke. And I would venture to say there are people in the world today with whom these words resonate as well. For those who hear them as meant for them, these are surely meant to be words of promise and hope. For them the words they must cling to are those at the end of this section where Jesus assures them that not even a hair on their heads will perish. That all they have to do is hang on. And yet, while these words do speak to some how do they speak in the world I am called to serve?

Indeed, how do these words resonate in a time and place where I sit in a warm office on a brilliant November morning as I scratch out these words today? How do they speak in a world where all I have to do is simply turn off the news of the rising death count as a result of the typhoon which has just devastated the Philippines? Where I have become numb to the report of another wounding or death by gunshot of an innocent child in the nearby city of Chicago? Where I find myself looking away from the sign at the cash register line informing those using LINK cards that their benefits have been cut, so they had better check their balance?

Oh, I wonder sometimes if I am not like those gawking at the temple so long ago. I wonder if the signs are all around me and in my own personal comfort and denial I have just chosen to look the other way. Maybe I need the hard words of Jesus now to wake me up. Perhaps I need to be reminded that just because the 'temple' still stands for me, it doesn't mean this will always be so. And it is already not so for much of the world.

So I suppose I end where I began. For while I know for sure that they do speak, I can't say for sure how these words speak today. And maybe it is so that Jesus' words ring more true for those in devastating circumstances than they do for me. So, I expect it is true that those who are in the midst of the struggle are lifted up by his promises in ways I may never fully know. At least not yet. Maybe this is one of those lessons which calls me to simply stand alongside and listen to those for whom these words do speak. Maybe then I won't have time to 'gawk at the temple.' Maybe then I won't find myself resting in the false promise that the world is secure and things made by human hands will last forever. Maybe then I will finally be about what Jesus calls me to. What do you think?

And so, for now I am venturing out into this crisp November morning to go to our local hospital where dear ones from the congregation I serve are struggling to 'endure' in the only way they know how. I expect they do find themselves in the midst of circumstances which mirror Jesus' words, if only in individual and limited ways. As I walk the hallway I will remember that in many of the rooms I walk by some are discovering that the 'temple' of modern medicine with all of its gifts will simply not always do all we hope it will. In other rooms others will be finding that in the midst of a health crisis, family relationships are becoming more clear than perhaps they would like. And yes, at the same time I know I will be passing by small acts of kindness and large ones, too, which point to the promises Jesus offers now.

Indeed, whatever else may be true, even if these words don't resound for you today, the time will come when they just might. And then, as now, the promise for many and for you and me, too, while it may not always seem like it, remains. God is watching out for you, too. Even down to the hairs on your head. Just hang on and even should our 'temples' fall, you won't lose what matters most of all. For God has claimed you as a Beloved Child. You are God's Own.

Do you hear Jesus' words today as meant for us universally or cosmically, individually, or both/and?

When have you experienced 'temples falling?' What was that like? How did you receive a promise of hope in those times?

If you are living and serving in a time and place where these words do not seem to immediately speak to your context, how do you hear them? If you are living and serving in a time and place where these words do speak to your context, what hope do you find in them?

Source: Dancing with the Word

Reading the Signs

by Dr. Luke Bouman

Gospel: Luke 21:5-19

Fall has come late to my new home in Valparaiso, Indiana. It is at times of year like this that one does not have to use much imagination to understand why some of the area's early settlers decided to call this city by a Spanish name that means "vale of paradise." The splendor of the fall and the colors of red, orange, brown and the ever present evergreen create a feast for the eyes. This visual banquet is marvelous, but it is also temporary. Already the leaves are falling. I know that this weekend, the monumental task of raking the leaves from the 10 large maple trees that populate my yard will begin. Soon the trees will be bare, their beauty a memory, and winter's icy blast will quicken the step that still lingers for the wonder of God's paintbrush. Fall is a signpost of what is to come.

But even the worst pessimist does not think that fall is the sign of a permanent winter. We all know that as sure as fall gives way to winter, so too will winter melt in the face of the spring, which in turn will give way to the warmth of summer. Such is the way of seasons the times as we know them. They cycle ever onward and are for the marking of days and weeks and months and years. We know how to read the signs of the seasons. We have been reading them for a long time.

The evident seasons are one thing to read, but the changes from epoch to epoch of history are another. What of the signs of these changes. At times the words of the bible, the words of Jesus himself, proclaim these signs as there for the reading as well (just continue reading in Luke's gospel after today's text for an example of this). At other times, we are warned that the days and weeks are coming, but at an unexpected time, and thus we should stand ready to meet them at all times (and we'll get a firm dose of that medicine in the season of Advent come this December).

But in our text for today, the disciples puzzle over Jesus words of warning. The beauty that they see, signified by the splendor of the Jerusalem temple, seems so much more permanent than the trees that change with the season. Yet Jesus warns that it will all pass away. What will this grand destruction mean? Is it the start of a new epoch of history? Is the age of Messiah and Israel's vindication upon them? If so, then the destruction of so important a national symbol seems to bode ill for the whole enterprise. Puzzled, the disciples as Jesus what it all means.

Jesus answer is surprising. The wars, the destructions, the persecutions, all will take place. Lots of the kinds of spectacular events associated with "the end of the world" will happen. But the end is not associated with those things. They are almost like the colors of the fall. They will happen and will continue to happen (as they have for nearly two thousand years). But these signs are not to be read as the time when history will change from one era to another. THAT change is also happening, but not with the spectacular cosmic events expected.

Changing the Story

Israel, at the time of Jesus and for centuries before, had national stories. Chief among them was the story of the Exodus. This was the story of their origins as a people. It was a family story, dealing with their ancient ancestor, Jacob. It was a patterned story: including an oppressive nation (Egypt) with an oppressive king (Pharaoh) not to mention God's intervention and the people's vindication. It was a repeating story: Egypt could also be Babylon and Syria, Pharaoh could also be Nebuchadnezzer and Antiochus Epiphanes, God still intervened and the people were vindicated time and again.

The way that Israel told the story in Jesus day followed the same pattern and expected the same result. Rome was the new oppressor, Caesar the new Pharaoh, and the expectation was that the intervention of God and the victory of the people were near. As the story had been retold, it had changed and grown. Certainly the Maccabees had raised expectations when they had taken matters into their own hands, though with God's help, as they defeated the Syrians. That era, 200 years before Jesus, also had employed imagery of the end of the world to explain the cosmic significance of political events.

With this story also came the ability to see the pattern and predict when it would happen again. The rebuilding of the temple was seen as a sign that God was about to dwell with the people again. The presence of John the Baptist, a new prophet like Elijah raised expectations that Messiah and the victorious army of Israel's resistance were about to reappear. The stage was set for God to do it all again.

And in a sense, with Jesus, God was doing exactly that. The story was repeating. In another sense, however, the story was being reframed. It was no longer going to be part of a cycle. This time, God's intervention was different. No longer was this the story of Israel alone. Now the story would include an intervention within Israel, within the people of God that would restore her vocation as "light to the nations." It would be for all peoples. The story would not revolve around the symbols of national pride and idolatry: the land, the temple, the ancestry. Instead, the symbols are transformed as the promise is fulfilled. They are returned to their rightful place in the national narrative. The people are no longer exclusively blessed, but are blessed to be a blessing to all nations. The land is hallowed as the source of healing for the whole creation. The temple is replaced as God's dwelling is no longer within a building, but within humanity in Jesus Christ. The more the story is reframed, the more it echoes with the themes of the prophets, both in warning and in promise.

Good News in the Midst of Lingering Questions

Of note in the middle of all of this reframing of the story is that Jesus never does answer the question, "When will this be?" He talks around it. He talks of signs, but not of the end. He talks of persecutions, even within families, but says that comes way before the end. He talks of endurance, but never states endurance to what end. We are so apt to get caught up in the images and the themes that we almost do not recognize that Jesus gives us the slip once again. He will not be pinned down on this. But that leaves me asking, "Where is the good news in all of this?" Are we simply to brace ourselves for suffering? Are we waiting only for the promise of the future? What is God doing for us in the face the cycles of tumult that whirl around us?

The first answer to that question is found in Jesus himself. When he suggests that we need not "prepare a defense in advance" because he will give us the words to say, he is suggesting that he is with us and will not abandon us. Indeed, his resurrection and ascension are not seen as his absence from the disciples in Acts, but rather they are emboldened by his presence. This leads us to the second and perhaps most important answer to what God is doing. God is already establishing the new age among us.

Here is the paradox. The new age comes not with wars and tumult, but in the quiet of a night. The new age comes not with a violent uprising, but rather with the birth of a child in Bethlehem. The new age comes not by resisting the forces of empire, who control with the threat of death, but rather with a journey through death to new life, which God, in Jesus, undertakes to destroy death and its power. The wars and tumult, even in our day, are the dying cries of the kings of this world. The God of the universe has subverted their power and sewn the seeds of the new kingdom, the new reign of God, within our world, within our finitude. For those with faith to see and courage to endure, both gifts of God's spirit to us, the tumult of the world becomes both more and less than what it is.

To be honest, the wars, the violence, the cosmic signs are indeed terrible. All humanity suffers, oppressed and oppressors alike. God too, suffers with us. This tumult, of which our lesson today speaks, assumes terrible power in the face of such honesty. But it does not have ultimate power. It cannot control Jesus, and it does not control those who are named and claimed by God in baptism. Though it may kill us, yet it does not harm us. God's love is stronger still.

So, we are not fooled by the endless cycles of violence in our world. We take them for what they are, the death throes of our own sinfulness, on a grand scale. We struggle against them even as we know we are in part responsible for the suffering they cause. But we see God's action hidden apart from them, and hope for the reign of God, promised, already begun, not yet fully present. We hope not in out great cities, our beautiful churches, our military might. We hope in the crucified and risen one, our ever present Lord, Jesus Christ.


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