For liturgical churches such as ours, the church year begins four Sundays before Christmas. This year, the new church year will begin on November 28th. There are only two Sundays between now and then! Since we’re coming to the end of the church calendar, it is fitting for us to consider eschatological matters. (That’s a fancy word meaning the “end times”.) This week, I will answer all your “end time” questions exactly the way that Jesus did in today’s Gospel lesson. But first, let’s look at the other readings.
Contemporary theologians date the time of this writing around 198-164 BC, rather than at the time of the historical prophet Daniel existed. During this time, the Greeks had conquered Palestine. Under their ruler, Antiochus III Epiphanes, there was intense pressure for the Jews to abandon their faith and culture, and embrace all things Greek. Most Jews resisted, and underwent much oppression, including torture and death. God always speaks to his people in need, and this time was no exception. God sends a much-needed message of hope to the faithful. We join the narrative towards the end of the story.
- After the period of strife just described in the previous chapters, the archangel Michael rises up to take control. The archangel Michael was considered to be the guardian angel of the Jews. Here, he is given the title of “prince”, to indicate that he will lead God’s people to victory over their oppressors. (v. 1a)
- Daniel says that it is not going to be easy. But in the end, they shall be delivered—at least those written in “the book”. We’ll talk about the book in the takeaway. (v. 1b&c)
- The passage then turns to a resurrection scene. “Many” will rise from the dead and be judged. Some to eternal life, and some to eternal death. No details are given, except for the next verse. (v. 2)
- The focus here is on “those who are wise”. Those who are faithful to God in the face of religious persecution. It will be a happy ending for those wise in faithfulness to God. (v. 3)
The father of a friend of mine was a Chief Petty Officer in the navy. He carried a little notebook. If he wrote your name down in that book, it was not a good thing. This story from the book of Daniel tells us that God also keeps a book of names. But His book contains the names of the faithful. This book is mentioned many times in Revelation, especially in chapters 2 & 3. If you love Jesus, your name is most certainly in this book.
The overall message of this passage is clear. Bad times come and go. Remain faithful to God. Make sure that your name is in His book, and you will be saved!
HEBREWS 10:11-14, 19-25
As we have studied in previous weeks, the book of Hebrews was written for Jewish Christians. It explained how Jesus qualified to be our high priest, how he fits into the divine realm & plan, and what this means for those who believe in him. All this is explained in terms of Jewish terms and practices, since it was written for the Hebrews. Today’s passage summarizes this whole subject. The book continues on for only three more chapters after this.
The passage can be divided into two parts, as indicated by the two paragraphs. The first is a summary of what God has done for us through Jesus. The second is a summary of what we should do in response of what God has first done for us.
- We’re talking here about the high priests before Jesus, who presented blood offerings to God for the sins of the people. (v. 11)
- With Jesus’ single offering of his own blood, we are sanctified (“made holy”) for all time. Having done this, his mission on earth is complete, and he now takes his place at God’s right hand. (vv. 12-14)
- “Therefore” is the signal that that part of the discussion is complete, and we are now going to talk about what we should do about it. Now that Jesus has done all this, we may confidently enter the sanctuary, or Holy of Holies. Before Jesus, only the high priest could enter that room, and then only after he had been spiritually cleansed. We are cleansed through our baptism, and may enter past the veil, made of stone. What a change! (vv. 19-22)
- We are to hold fast to our faith, just like we are urged in the reading from Daniel. (v. 23)
- We should “provoke” one another to do loving acts. (v. 24)
- We must gather for worship, keeping in mind that the end may be near. (v. 25)
Provoking someone to love and do good things. What an interesting concept! Other translations use similar words like “stir up”, “spur”, “arouse”, etc., but the message is the same. We should aggressively encourage each other to be who Jesus wants us to be. Most importantly, we need to “hold fast to the confession of our hope without wavering…” (v. 23a)
While we were reading other Gospel passages, Mark’s narrative has gone on without us. In chapter 11, he entered Jerusalem on a donkey amid praises of “Hosanna!” He has cleaned the temple, and taught using many parables. After today’s passage, Jesus will speak more of the “end times”. In fact, Mark 13 is commonly called “Mark’s Little Apocalypse”. Some bibles name the last book of the bible “The Apocalypse” instead of the book of [the] Revelation.
- Jesus and his disciples are exiting the big temple in Jerusalem, the one that Herod was rebuilding. The disciples, all country bumpkins from Galilee, are in awe at the enormity of the temple. (v. 1)
- Jesus says something shocking. “Take a good look, guys, cuz it’s all coming down!” (v. 2) [Don’s personal translation.] Jesus was right, of course. About 35 years later, there was a Jewish revolt. In retaliation, Rome destroyed the temple. In fact, all that remains to this day is the wailing wall.
- Later, on the Mount of Olives, some of the disciples quiz Jesus on this. They want to know when, and what signs will signal the event. (vv. 3-4)
- Jesus’ answer is vague, but instructional.
- He warns them not to be led astray by false teaching. Many teachers will claim many things which are not true. Don’t fall for them! (vv. 5-6)
- He does hint that it is going to be a while, when he says “…this must take place, but the end is still to come.” (v. 7b)
- He says that lots of bad things will happen first, but they are all just the “birthpangs”. The "baby's" delivery is yet to come. (v. 8)
They wanted dates and signs. Jesus does not give them this as an answer. How do you think they would have reacted, if he had told them it would be at least 2,000 years? Actually, he has already told him that only the Father knows the time. Even Jesus doesn’t know the answer! But what is important for them and us is what he teaches us:
- Be patient and be wise.
- Don’t fall for every little teaching about the end times.
- Most of them are wrong.
- What is important is to have faith and trust in God.
- Everything else is simply details.
FOOD FOR THOUGHT
If you’re as old as me, you’ve heard and read about all sort of predictions about the “end times”. I used to own a book that used “biblical math” to predict that the second coming would occur on October 16, 1914. Yes, it was an old book. I showed this book to some people of that denomination. They wanted to give me a newer book with newer dates in it. Maybe Jesus was right. Maybe they are who Jesus was talking about.
One of my pastors told me that these details really don’t matter. What matters is putting our faith and trust in Jesus, and encouraging others to do the same. Let God do what God does. Our names will be in the Book of Life. Nothing else matters.