Today's reading contains some of the most difficult teaching in the New Testament. I will not even pretend that I enjoy reading/studying it. I knew that some of it had to do with Jesus predicting the destruction of the Temple and the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70. But some of it seemed to do with the end of the world. And it can sometimes be difficult to sort the two out.
But a couple of weeks ago, my awesome minister preached a sermon covering this material, entitled, "It's the End of the World as We Know it." I will try to lift some of his teaching from my notes and explain a little of what I learned about this passage.
First off, notice the occasion--Jesus and His disciples are in Jerusalem, and one of His disciples comments on the beauty and splendor of the Temple. Jesus then tells them that there is coming a day when "not one stone will be left on another." They then asked Him two questions:
- When will this happen?
- What will be the sign of your coming and the end of the age?
Interesting to me that they associated the destruction of the Temple with the end of the world. Jesus proceeds to teach them about the signs of the coming destruction of the Temple, but then He contrasts that with His coming. The two will not necessarily go hand-in-hand. One will be predictable. The other, not so much.
Jesus begins by telling them the signs of the destruction of the Temple. He teaches them that there will be misleading signs--wars and rumors of wars--but that they are not to be alarmed. He said there will be famines and earthquakes--these will be the beginning of birth pains. They will be handed over to be persecuted. False teachers will deceive many people. There will be an increase in wickedness and a decrease in love. These are all preliminary signs. But the real sign--the one spoken of by Daniel--will be when you see "the abomination that causes desolation." When this happens, GET OUT. Don't look back, don't go back for anything, GET OUT of Jerusalem as quickly as possible. His advice turned out to be good, considering that history tells us that, as Jesus predicted, in Jerusalem there was "great distress, unequaled from the beginning of the world until now--and never to be equaled again."
Next Jesus talks about some events that will follow immediately after the destruction of the Temple. He says, "the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light; the stars will fall from the sky, and the heavenly bodies will be shaken." That's apocalyptic language for "God is going to do something BIG!" Jesus follows that up with a description of the coming of the Son of Man.
So one might think that immediately after the destruction of the Temple, Jesus is coming back. However, we all know that with the Lord, a day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years are as a day. He is not bound by time.
Jesus continues by saying, of the coming of the Son of Man, that "No one knows about that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father." The day of the coming of our Lord stands in stark contrast to the destruction of hte Temple, which could be predicted by coming signs. There are no signs of the coming of the Son of Man. In fact, Jesus gives them three examples:
- The Flood in the days of Noah
- A thief in the night
- A master who returns unexpectedly, demanding an account from his servants
If the people in Noah's day had known of the impending flood, they would've changed their ways. If a person knows a thief is coming, he will be prepared. If a servant knows his master is returning, he is ready to give an account.
The contrast of these two events makes even more perfect sense to me, as it is followed up by Jesus' parable of the Ten Virgins, about the importance of being prepared. Jesus' message to His disciples here is clear: kep watch and be prepared, because you do not know when He will return.