Mark 13:1-8

As he came out of the temple, one of his disciples said to him, “Look, Teacher, what large stones and what large buildings!” Then Jesus asked him, “Do you see these great buildings? Not one stone will be left here upon another; all will be thrown down.”

When he was sitting on the Mount of Olives opposite the temple, Peter, James, John, and Andrew asked him privately, “Tell us, when will this be, and what will be the sign that all these things are about to be accomplished?” Then Jesus began to say to them, “Beware that no one leads you astray. Many will come in my name and say, ‘I am he!’ and they will lead many astray. When you hear of wars and rumors of wars, do not be alarmed; this must take place, but the end is still to come. For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; there will be earthquakes in various places; there will be famines. This is but the beginning of the birthpangs. Mark 13:1-8

The disciples marveled at the size and majesty of the temple. The heart of Judaism. A big, impressive, monumental building. That, one day, would all come tumbling down. By the time Mark was written, the temple was already gone.

We are still in the month of September. We are still in the grip of a world-wide pandemic that has taken the lives of over 200,000 Americans. Wildfires in the West have taken lives, homes, and businesses. Hurricanes in the Southeast have done the same. As I write, we in the Houston area are breathing again after yet another storm closed life down this past week. More homes were flooded. Social unrest continues. We lost a hero in Ruth Bader Ginsburg. We still live in the memory of 9/11.

Watch TV, listen to the radio, or attend the right churches (stubbornly still hosting in-person worship) and you will hear the voices of religious leaders warning that the end is near. The end is near! The end is near! The sky is falling! Everything is falling apart!

And Jesus says, “Beware that no one leads you astray”.

We aren’t the only, and we aren’t the first, people to pass through gut-wrenchingly difficult times. The New Testament was written in the aftermath of times like this. The Roman army had destroyed the city of Jerusalem. After years of little skirmishes led by rebellious Jews, Rome’s hammer fell. In 70 CE Jerusalem was put under siege for months. No food. No water. Until finally the army marched in. By the time it was over, the city was destroyed. The majestic temple was reduced to rubble. Judaism, as it had been practiced for centuries, would never be the same.

People always look for scapegoats when times get tough. The tiny fledgling Christian movement served that purpose (minorities make great scapegoats). After the destruction of Jerusalem, those who believed Jesus was the Messiah were no longer welcomed within their own families or worshipping communities. Christianity was forced beyond its beginnings as a reform movement within Judaism.

How were they to understand what had happened? They started writing. Mark, then later Matthew and Luke, and still later, John, were all written to the decades following the fall of Jerusalem to guide peoples’ understanding of the purpose and the significance of the life and ministry of Jesus.

As you will see in the 13th chapter of Mark, the writer uses a literary genre called “apocalyptic.” From a Greek word meaning to “uncover”, apocalyptic writing wasn’t new to Mark. There are places in the Old Testament, in books like Ezekiel and Daniel, that use the same literary forms. They use symbolism, numbers, and poetry to uncover the end of the world. It is a type of writing designed not just to comment on the world, but to bring hope to those losing hope. The final book of the New Testament, the Revelation, is an archetype of apocalyptic literature.

All next week we will hear from chapter 13, Mark’s “little apocalypse.” But don’t be misled. Keep following Jesus as he teaches us less about fearing tomorrow and more about living today.

Let us pray: Dear Lord, day after day we hear more and more that is discouraging and disheartening. We long for rescue. Remind us, and guide us, to trust both that the future is in your hands, and that we are your hands, in building a better tomorrow. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

One Response to “Mark 13:1-8”

  1. Paul Norman Graeber Says:

    Thanks, difficult times, but God is indeed with us.

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