We are nearing the end of the liturgical year, being the 26th Sunday after Pentecost. Next Sunday will celebrate Christ the King, which caps off the year with a reminder of who is our true King, the one who loves us, protects us, and saves us.
The reading from the Gospel of St. Mark today is from chapter 13, where there is a long discourse of Jesus teaching about the end times. This occurs on the Mount of Olives, East of Jerusalem.
At the very beginning of this chapter, Jesus came out of the temple, where the widow had just placed her two coins, when a disciple said to him, “Look, Teacher, what wonderful stones and wonderful buildings.” I can imagine the big smile on this disciples face when he said this! Then I can imagine the frown when he heard Jesus’ answer. This great building will be thrown down so that no stone remains on top of another.
This is a prophecy of the destruction of the temple that was to come. According to a certain Roman historian, the temple was destroyed in around 70 AD by the Romans after a revolt by the Jews. Sometime later a pagan shrine was set up in its place. The Roman emperor had two statues erected, one of Jupiter, the greatest pagan god, and one of himself, no doubt to equate himself with the greatest of the pagan gods.
Today the temple mount is dominated by the Dome of the Rock, a muslim shrine containing the foundation stone. In the section of the gospel we heard today, Jesus speaks of a “desolating sacrilege set up where it ought not to be” This is a reference to the prophecy of Daniel, which we heard today.
“From the time that the regular burnt offering is taken away and the abomination that desolates is set up.” “The regular burnt offering taken away” means that the Levitical priesthood had ended, because when there is no temple, there is no longer a sacrifice for the atonement of the people.
Jesus said, “let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains.” He knew that the Romans would be merciless in their persecution of the Jews, and anyone who remained in the Roman Province of Judea. In the decades afterward the Jews were scattered all over the Roman empire, and from the letters of St. Paul, we know that many were in the regions North of Judea in what is now Turkey and Greece.
Jesus goes on to warn the Jews to get away without any hesitation. Don’t go back to get a coat. Don’t go back because you think you left the oven on. Run, don’t walk, because you don’t have time to think about it. I believe he is speaking to the Jews because he talk about them as the ‘elect, those whom he chose.’
The elect are they whom St. John the Divine saw in the Revelation, the 144 thousand, out of every tribe of the sons of Israel. I think the message of the Gospel of St. Mark, chapter 13, comes after this section from our lectionary. It begins with the last verse: “But take heed; I have told you all things beforehand.”
After the tribulation spoken of in the preceding verses, things seem to get much worse. The sun and the moon will go dark, and the stars will fall from heaven. Verse 26 and 27 say, “And then they will see the Son of man coming in clouds with great power and glory. And 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.”
His elect in this instance is us, everyone who believe in the Lord Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior, and we are mentioned in the prophesy of St. John the Divine as those who have come out of the tribulation. “They have washed their robes and made them white in the Blood of the Lamb.”
What is his message for us this morning? First, it is we who are his elect, that he loves and calls us out of this world into his heart. False messiahs and false prophets will try to divert us from the path of righteousness. They will tell us that everything that we used to know as sinful is now celebrated because he loves us just the way we are. For the sake of radical inclusivity, there will be no more code of conduct such as that found in the Bible.
One radical preacher of some other denomination recently said that the Bible is not clear about anything, and that everything we were taught about morality is wrong, and was really designed to hurt us, and keep us from the truth. Such teaching will harm all of us as it dilutes the Word of God with some muddy water that will make religion more irrelevant to the masses.
We must reject false prophets, and keep our eyes on Jesus, the true Messiah, the Christ, on whose cross are nailed the sins of the world. In Mark 13, verse 31 and following, Jesus said, “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away. But of that day or that hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. Take heed, watch; for you do not know when the time will come.”
He will be coming for us, one way or another, so I plan to heed his words. I will do what I can to teach Biblical truth, and to stand firm for traditional morality. I want to be ready when he comes, and I hope you do, too. Amen.