Facing the future (Part One)
Jesus had been talking openly with his disciples in the Women’s Court in the temple but now he was leaving and his disciples went with him.
As they went some of them were talking about the temple and admiring its magnificence. Here was a building to impress anyone who had the good fortune to see it! And it truly was a magnificent building even though Jesus and his disciples saw it only in its unfinished state – building work would continue for at least thirty more years.
There had been a Temple in Jerusalem most almost 1,000 years and it played an important role in Israel’s national and spiritual life.
The first temple was the brainchild of King David. The LORD wouldn’t authorise David to build the temple himself due to the blood he had shed through his various military campaigns but that didn’t stop David drawing up detailed plans and stockpiling much of the building materials that would be required. It was left to David’s son, King Solomon, to oversee the construction of this temple. It was well made and stood for nearly 400 years before it was destroyed by the Babylonian invaders around 586BC.
When the Jews returned from exile in Babylon they quickly set about building a second temple on the same spot. The project encountered considerable local hostility but eventually it was completed in 515BC. This second temple was much less impressive than Solomon’s had been. In 168BC this version of the temple was seriously desecrated but after cleansing it was subsequently rededicated. In total this temple was in service for 500 years.
Some 20 years before Jesus was born Herod the Great decided to revamp the existing temple and his alterations were so considerable that he effectively supervised the construction of a new and greatly enlarged temple complex. This was the Temple that was in use in Jesus’ day.
It is hard to imagine the scale and magnificence of this building. The perimeter wall ran for nearly a mile! (Imagine, if you can, the Memorial Gardens in Herne Bay. If you were to start at the corner of those gardens where the new children’s play area is you could walk along Dering Road with the gardens on your right until you came to Spenser Road. Then if you turned right and went as far as you could you’d get to Station Road. Turn right again and proceed along Station Road until you reach a crossroads. Turn right again and you’ll find yourself in Kings Road which will take you past Park Surgery until you arrive at the children’s play area again. You will have walked almost a mile, the same as the Temple’s perimeter!) It was a big place.
It was built out of sparkling white stone that looked like polished marble and the outside of the main buildings were covered with plates of gold that flashed brilliantly as the sun shone upon them. Along the tops of its walls precious stones too had been set as special offerings. The temple was an impressive looking place – it was meant to be!
And the disciples, who were mostly country folk from Galilee, were seriously impressed by it all. Looking at it they spoke admiring about it.
Jesus heard what they said and his reply must have come as something of a shock. Impressive as the whole building might appear the fact was it was soon to come crashing down, its destruction would be complete!
The temple should have functioned as a house of prayer for the nations; the temple was designed in God’s purpose to point to the spiritual realities to be personified in the life and ministry of the Messiah. But under the corrupt direction of the religious classes the Temple had become so corrupt it was beyond reform. Jesus had cleansed it twice and still those in charge of the place were hostile towards him. In fact they were growing ever more hostile towards the One about whom the temple and its procedures were intended to speak. If the temple could not be effectively cleansed its usefulness was at an end and its destruction inevitable.
Jesus’ disciples must have been astonished by what he said. After all for 1,000 years the temple had stood at the heart of the nation’s life; most of the famous people of their nation had been associated with the temple and now Jesus was declaring not simply its demise but its utter destruction!
And yet they don’t challenge him as to the validity of his judgement, the accuracy of his pronouncement – all they do is ask for some further information as to when this will take place. It seems they immediately accepted the veracity of Jesus’ words – their questions don’t contain the slightest hint that he might be mistaken, all they want to know is when it will all come to pass. How will they be able to tell that this momentous event is about to be played out?
So what about the future?
Throughout history we humans have wanted to know what is going to happen in the future, we always seem to want to know what will happen next. People have tried all kinds of things to try to discover what will happen next – such knowledge would grant power if only we could secure it.
Or would it?
Knowing what is going to happen next would only be useful if we knew what to do with that information. Jesus was going to answer his disciples’ questions but he wasn’t going to jump straight to providing them with some future time-line of significant events simply to satisfy their curiosity. He would begin with something more important than that and we would do well to pay careful attention to this: he was going to tell them about the attitude and behaviour they should cultivate so that they might know how to handle information pertaining to the future.
The question the disciples asked Jesus was indeed a serious one, an important one. In their thinking the destruction of the temple with the fall of Jerusalem meant that end-time judgment had arrived. They were asking their questions because they felt personally concerned – they wanted to be ready for that great day. Can the same be said about us?
Let’s now turn to what Jesus taught them on this occasion.
Don’t be led astray
The first thing Jesus said to his followers was:
"See that you are not led astray. For many will come in my name, saying, ‘I am he!’ and, ‘The time is at hand!’ Do not go after them." v.8
Isn’t that interesting? The disciples are not to allow themselves to be duped! They already know many things that the Lord has taught them and they are to use such knowledge to protect them from charlatans and deceivers.
As soon as we start taking an interest in things of the future we’ll find that there are any number of people who are interested in speaking their mind and many of them will not have your best interests at heart whatever they might say. Some of them will make such extravagant claims that you’d think no-one would be silly enough to follow them but many do.
Such folk will often develop elaborate schemes and speak as though they had insider information about how everything will pan out. They draw others in speaking boldly and confidently but they end up putting themselves centre stage and declaring things that contradicts the word of God. However plausible their ideas and however attractive their personality we are warned!
Don’t be afraid
Jesus was and is a realist. He didn’t try to tell his followers that life would be a bed of roses – quite the contrary in fact. He told them that they would live to hear about problems here and there. The peace of the pax romana was not going to last forever; wars and tumults might suggest the status quo that the disciples has grown up under was coming to an end. Such reports, if dwelt upon, could easily lead to a paralysing fear taking over a person’s life. But the disciples didn’t need to be afraid indeed they were instructed not to allow themselves to be terrified by the reports they heard.
Quite simply because such things did not mean that the world was about to end!
v.9 "And when you hear of wars and tumults, do not be terrified, for these things must first take place, but the end will not be at once."
In this way Jesus began to correct the disciples’ mistake of confusing troubles in Jerusalem with the end of the world.
He also taught them here that not everything that seems to be a sign really is a sign in anything more than a very general sense. There are such things as mistaken signs and we are not to allow them to worry us. Don’t heed those who insist on this or that current event as a sure sign of the imminent end of the world. Events such as wars and tumults are a constant feature of life and along with earthquakes, famines and pestilence prefigure rather than decisively indicate the arrival of the end.
If the end of the world is not going to be clearly identified by signs that does not mean that followers of Jesus Christ are left entirely in the dark as to what the future holds.
Jesus left his disciples in no doubt but that before the destruction of the temple and the fall of Jerusalem they would be likely to suffer persecution. This would be wide-ranging including serious investigation and imprisonment and all simply because of their Christian faith.
While Jesus spoke specifically to his disciples at this time about the period leading up to the destruction of the temple which would take place in AD70 how relevant are his words to Christians throughout history. How often even today are people disadvantaged and mistreated simply because they dare to own allegiance to Jesus Christ! We have been used to thinking of such persecution as something that happens somewhere else but in recent years it has been becoming more common even in our own land.
When that persecution did arrive his followers were not to be unduly worried – those times of questioning would prove, in God’s providence, to provide them with opportunities of testifying to the faith and trust in the Lord Jesus.
The instruction that Jesus gave to his disciples then is true for us today. When threatened with difficult circumstances it might well be very tempting to try to work out in advance some clever defence, a form of words which might get us off the hook as it were! How easy to waste so much time and nervous energy in the process! Don’t do that says Jesus. I’ll give you the words to say at the right time.
Do you remember how Paul and Silas were in prison singing hymns at midnight? They weren’t trying to work out what they were going to say to the authorities when the time came they were too busy praising God. And then an earthquake shattered the prison and the doors all burst open. The gaoler was about to take his own life but Paul cried out with such ordinary words: Don’t harm yourself, we’re all here! It was the start of a discussion that would see first the gaoler then all his household becoming Christians.
Jesus promises that sort of help to his followers when for his name’s sake they find themselves in trouble of various kinds.
Yet this persecution that Jesus was preparing his followers to be prepared for was no a game. Betrayals would take place – even family members would betray other family members and some disciples would lose even their very lives. But in terms of eternity what could man do to any of them really? Hence the reassuring promise of vv.18+19:
"But not a hair of your head will perish. By your endurance you will gain your lives."
All the wicked efforts of the ungodly can never ever separate the believer from the love of God!
Having earlier spoken of the destruction of the temple Jesus now indicates to his followers that this will be an event preceded by a sign and that sign will be a very simple and obvious one. The city will be surrounded by armies bent on entry and razing the city to the ground.
When the followers of Jesus see this happening they are to get away as fast as they can to the safety of the hills and they are not to take refuge behind the city walls. In the event the Roman armies surrounded the city of Jerusalem around Passover time when the city was crammed with visitors. The city tried to resist and for a number of months was besieged but in time the Roman armies entered and there was carnage. The Jewish historian wrote, probably with inflated figures, of more than a million Jews losing their lives at that time even if that figure is way too high it is certain that Jewish loss of life was very significant.
Christians who listened to what their Master had told them would have been safe.
But the city and the temple that should have welcomed their long-promised Messiah had chosen instead to deny and to reject him and were now shattered.
It wasn’t the end of the world but it is a foreshadowing of what will happen when the Day of Judgement does finally arrive in God’s good time. For those who have denied and rejected the Messiah the loss will be as complete – the outcome everlasting destruction.
Friends you have been warned. Jesus has explained what will happen and his disciples will be safe on that great day for they will be kept safe by his intercession and representation. Are you going to be safe on that day? Have you made peace with God through Jesus Christ now? The warnings about coming destruction are accompanied by gracious invitations – the Lord takes no delight in the death of the wicked and wishes that all might be saved – but you will only be saved if you repent of your sins and cry upon the name of the Lord to be saved. Have you done that? Oh do it and do it today if you haven’t already done so. Why choose death, eternal death, when life, eternal life is offered so freely to you?
May God have mercy on us all.