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How does it all play out in the end? Do you really want to know!
As Jesus went out of the temple, one of His disciples said to Him, "Teacher, see what manner of stones and what buildings are here!" Jesus said to him, "Do you see these great buildings? Not one stone shall be left upon another, that shall not be thrown down."
As He sat on the Mount of Olives opposite the temple, Peter, James, John and Andrew asked Him privately, "Tell us, when will these things be? What will be the sign when all these things will be fulfilled?"
Jesus answered, "Take heed that no one deceives you. Many will come in My name and will deceive many. But when you hear of wars and rumors of wars, do not be troubled; for such things must happen, but the end is not yet. Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be earthquakes in various places, famines, and troubles. These are the beginnings of sorrows.
"Watch out for yourselves, they will deliver you up to councils, and you will be beaten in the synagogues. You will be brought before rulers for My sake, for a testimony to them. When they arrest you, do not worry beforehand what you will speak. Whatever is given you in that hour, speak; for it is not you who speak, but the Holy Spirit.
"Brother will betray brother, and a father his child. You will be hated by all for My name's sake. But he who endures to the end shall be saved."
Mark 13:1-13 NKJV, condensed
A Pile of Stones
Jesus walked away from the temple, perhaps in frustration. To pick up the mood, his disciples started talking. "Wow! Look how beautiful, how splendid this place is!" The gold on the stones was probably glistening in the sunlight. But Jesus axed their enthusiasm immediately. He told them the temple would someday come under attack and be destroyed so completely that not one stone would remain on top of another! So much for pleasant conversation. The joyful excitement of Palm Sunday seemed far in the past. This is the week of our Lord's passion; there will be one shock after another.
By the time they climbed the hill to Mount Olivet, the disciples had recovered sufficiently to ask a follow-up question. "When will this devastating event occur? What signs should we look for?" Matthew wrote his Gospel after the fall of the temple and recorded a broader question, "What will be the sign of Your coming, and of the end of the age?"
These are new questions, ones we have not seen so far in our study of the Gospels. It must be getting through to the disciples that Jesus is not in Jerusalem to set up his kingdom any time soon. Instead, he will be leaving them for awhile and returning at a later date. A later date best summed up in their minds as the end of the age when God intervenes with something glorious.
Jesus gave them a lengthy, detailed, and troubling answer. He warned them to be careful. Many will come claiming to be a savior. But don't be deceived; don't believe their lies. There will be conflict and wars, earthquakes and famine. You will also be persecuted for your faith, and hauled before the authorities. But don't worry, the Holy Spirit will tell you what to say. You can expect betrayal, martyrdom and all kinds of trouble. But stand firm. This is not the end. When you feel like giving up, keep going. Don't quit. Hang in there until the very end and you will find eternal life.
The important question is not, "When will the end come?" The question worth asking is, "How are we to live as we wait for his coming?" The answer--with confidence, trusting the Holy Spirit to see us through. Remember the presence of God, and the promise, "Lo, I will be with you always." That's as forward-looking as Jesus thought was necessary.
When Jesus departed from this earth, the Holy Spirit came. The Holy Spirit is Jesus in the present tense! As the disciples long ago walked with Jesus in person, so now we walk with Jesus by faith. Things seen are temporal; things unseen are permanent. Everything on earth, including the magnificent temple in Jerusalem, will pass away, but the kingdom of our loving heavenly Father will last forever.
Like the disciples, we want to be upbeat and optimistic about the future. The temple seemed invincible and just the sight of it made them feel strong and confident. But Jesus said their faith was misplaced. Someday in the not too distance future, it would all be reduced to a heap of rocks. Peter, James and John would have to look elsewhere for constancy. They were headed into their own worst nightmare, but resurrection morning would dawn loud and clear. Maybe not so clear at first, but on the day of Pentecost they would know the power and joyful victory of their ever-living Lord.
When Jesus died on the cross he knew life would be very difficult for his disciples and for all the new converts. The times were cruel. The boots of the oppressors were crushing. The disciple, James, was the first of the Twelve to be martyred for his faith in Jesus.
On the other hand his brother, John, lived to be a very old man. It was John who remembered these words of Jesus, "It is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go, the Helper will not come to you; but if I depart, I will send Him to you." John also wrote in his Revelation that the earthly powers of evil were doomed because Jesus won the victory through his death and resurrection. In every age and for every believer, the vision of John brings hope and encouragement when all we have left is a pile of stones.
Use the following questions for small groups, journaling, further study or reflection.
Icebreaker: What is something you look at and say, "Wow!"?
What do you think it meant to the disciples to hear that the temple in Jerusalem would someday lay in ruins?Did anything important to you, tangible or intangible, ever crumble and fall apart? How did you move beyond that experience?
The disciples were impressed with the grandeur of the temple; to Jesus it was a sad sight. How do you explain this difference of opinion?
What images come to your mind when you hear the phrase, "End Times"? Are they happy or frightening? Confusing or convincing?
Just as the healing miracles of Jesus were a sign that Jesus was sent from God, so we like to see and experience some supporting evidence before we believe something. Did you ever experience a sign which encouraged you to believe? If so, share something about it? If not, how do you react to the witness of others who claim they have seen a sign?
Conflict between nations, natural disasters, scarcity of resources upon which we depend--we see these things regularly on TV. They are common to every generation. Which of these hardships has affected you most personally? What exactly does Jesus say in this text about these misfortunes?
When you pit faith versus fear, which one usually wins? What does the faith Jesus talked about look like? Give some examples of faith under fire?What strategy or gimmick do you use to remind yourself not to worry?
Betrayal, martyrdom, and all kinds of troubles. Jesus didn't give his disciples much to look forward to. Why didn't they run away instead of continuing to the end?Maybe Jesus did give them something to look forward to. If so, what was it?What aspect of your faith is most valuable to you?
Notes on the destruction of the temple:
It was called The First Jewish-Roman War. After many decades of rising tensions, the people of Judea rebelled in 66 A.D, some thirty years after Jesus died. The issues were the usual things--lack of self-determination, unfair taxes, discrimination and exploitation. And then the final straw, the Roman authorities stole vast sums of silver from the Jewish temple. The war ended four years later with the total destruction of the holy city of Jerusalem. The victors burned the temple to melt all the gold and harvest it.
It has been estimated that the Romans took 97,000 prisoners during the 4-year ordeal. Thousands became gladiators and were killed in the arena fighting wild animals or fellow gladiators. Some were burned alive. Some were crucified. Most were part of the slave force which built the Coliseum and Forum of Peace in the heart of Rome. The last of the Jewish rebels were surrounded by Roman forces and met their deaths at Masada near the Dead Sea in 73 A.D.