Let the rivers clap their hands, *
and let the hills ring out with joy before the LORD,
when he comes to judge the earth.
In righteousness shall he judge the world *
and the peoples with equity. From Psalm 98.
As we begin to wrap up the church year, the theme of our readings from Holy Scripture returns to the Last Day, or Judgement Day, as I have spoken about before. The Psalmist looks forward to this day with great joy. Sing to the Lord a new song, he writes, for he has done marvelous things. There is a sound of victory, and a lot of shouting, too! Even the seas and the rivers make lots of noise. No one will sleep on this day.
In our Gospel reading today, we hear that some were speaking about the temple, about how beautiful it was. Does Jesus join in their praise of the Lord’s house? No, he says something that is shocking to his hearers. He tells them that some day soon it will all be torn down. The people then want to know when this will happen, and what signs will come to warn them. His answer is not as specific as some would like, but it sounds like a terrible warning of what is to come.
We know from history that wars and insurrections have been raging off and on since the very beginning. Famines and plagues are happening all the time, but none of these things are very close to home. We also know that the Temple was indeed torn down in around 70 AD, after the Romans crushed a rebellion by the Jews. So was Jesus speaking of a time now long past, or a time to come? I think some of both.
In the years after the Church began to spread in the Roman empire, there was a lot of persecution of the Christians. Some theologians believe that St. John the Divine was writing about the Roman emperor Domitian in the Revelation of Jesus Christ to John, and referred to him using the number 666.
This is a calculation based on the assigning of numbers to certain letters called the gematria. The number 666 corresponds to the abbreviation of Domitian’s title which appeared on the coinage of that time. His title was Titus Flavius Caesar Domitianus Augustus. Domitian had ordered the banishment of St. John the Divine to Patmos where he experienced the Revelation. John was released from that prison when Domition died.
There are those who believe that the prophecies in the Revelation have yet to occur, and that the AntiChrist has yet to be revealed. These folks see the signs of the Day of the Lord in what is happening today.
They believe that we have yet to see the Mark of the beast, that it might be some sort of electronic implant without which no one will be able to buy goods. They believe some world ruler will create the One World Government, and all people will be made to bow before him.
Some people are even superstitious about the number 666, so that they avoid it at all costs! Well, they can believe all that if they want. The editors of our hymnal didn’t worry about it, as Hymn 666 is a nice paraphrase of Psalm 130.
The persecution of the Christian Church is one thing that has happened in the past, is happening now, and will happen in the future. There were more emperors who saw Christianity as something to be feared and to crush, but their efforts never succeeded.
It is happening right now in countries where Muslims of the radical persuasion see it as their duty to convert or kill all infidels. There are many stories of how Christians have stood up to their persecutors and have not renounced their faith in Jesus Christ. These are the martyrs or today. I only hope that my faith would be strong enough to do the same.
We Christians are being persecuted in more subtle ways as well, being belittled for our beliefs, and being accused of using hate speech when it comes to preaching the word of God. In this country we have the right of freedom of speech, but in other modern and more progressive countries, one’s speech had better be politically correct or one might face the wrath of the justice system.
Jesus predicted that Christians would be arrested and persecuted, betrayed and convicted for his name’s sake. “You will be hated for my Name’s sake,” he said. Then he said, “But not a hair of your head will perish. By your endurance you will gain your souls.”
This is our task, then, to endure. We must endure when we are hated because we follow Jesus, and the teaching that has been handed down to us by the apostles. We may be accused by our friends as being phobic of this or that, but when it is the truth of Holy Scripture that we follow, we have no greater friend than Jesus, the Lord, himself. He is our true best friend forever. Amen.