This blog comes to you in Holy Week. The title and subject hardly sounds appropriate! It looks much more like an everyday current newspaper heading. Perhaps a more devotional or religious topic would be preferable? On a closer look, however, it is really very much more appropriate than it might first seem. To begin with, these much quoted words came from the lips of Jesus and, furthermore, they were spoken right in the middle of Holy Week, only a day or so away from his crucifixion. How did that happen? Why at that time?
You may remember that last week’s blog on the subject of Palm Sunday revealed Jesus in awesome prophetic mode, riding on a donkey and deliberately fulfilling a prophecy of Zechariah concerning his messianic kingship, and then prophesying with tears the downfall of Jerusalem. That “prophetic cloak” rested on him throughout the week that followed. At one point during that week, as he was leaving the temple the disciples were speaking of the wonder of its construction. Jesus abruptly told them that every stone of that temple would be “thrown down” Matt 24:2ff; he was re-iterating the Palm Sunday prophecy about the fate of Jerusalem. The disciples wanted to know when that would happen, and more significantly what would be “the sign of his coming and the end of the age”, since to them the destruction of Jerusalem would equate with the end of the age. That was a serious question; when would this age end, when would Jesus show his full glory and the Kingdom of righteousness come? Jesus chose to give them a full and serious answer. He was glad to give them a vision beyond the cross.
He spoke first of the coming of false messiahs, famines, earthquakes and wars among nations. That would be the unhappy shape of life in the world in the future, but none of those things would be a sign of the “end”, or of his coming. As far as “wars among nations” is concerned many idealists and earnest peacemakers have tried to bring wars to an end, but have never succeeded. On the contrary the fact is that since Jesus spoke these words, every generation has seen war somewhere in the world. The 20th century attempts to prevent war in the shape of the League of Nations and the United Nations, grandiose and far reaching as they are, have not succeeded. World leaders have always made treaties, and always broken them. I am writing in Holy week and even as I write an American strike on Syria has just heightened tensions in a war-torn Middle East, whilst at the same time a task force is on its way in the Pacific toward North Korea, and this is not to mention the terrorist strikes in Sweden and Egypt this same week. The current “rumours” are very serious. Such is the way of a sinful world where there is always more than a few self-seeking, power-seeking, ambitious and unprincipled leaders at the head of the nations. Jesus’ comment about wars was, “these things must happen but see to it that you are not alarmed”. That is a call to trust and to pray, a call to patience. No wonder Paul instructed Timothy with these words: “I urge, then, first of all that petitions prayers, intercessions be made …. for kings and all those in authority, that we might live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness” 1 Tim. 2:1. Only the restraint of God can bring about some sort of peace.
The bombing of two Egyptian churches on Palm Sunday not only points to wars involving terror, but also to another aspect of Jesus’ reply to his disciples about what was to come. He underlined very clearly the persecution to which Christians would be subjected: “You will be handed over to be persecuted and put to death, and you will be hated of all nations because of me” Matt. 24:9. In a few short and very recent years many tens of thousands of Christians in the Middle East have been dispossessed of their homes, and many have lost their lives, simply because they are Christians. There has been much suffering. One thing is certain; it is not inappropriate to Easter to dwell on Jesus’ words concerning the persecution of his church. Quite the contrary: His sufferings and death were unique, but the church’s trials nonetheless reflect his sufferings to a degree. An article in a leading newspaper today in Holy week has made a plea for the world and its leaders to recognise how much Christians are being persecuted world-wide, and not to continue to ignore it. It is unfortunately a matter much glossed over.
But none of these future things Jesus had mentioned would be a “sign of the end”! They “would only be the beginning of trials“. However, in sharp contrast Jesus did clearly speak of a sign that would indeed herald “the end”. He said, “This gospel will be preached in all the world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come”. Matt. 24:14. The end would not come until a world-wide spiritual harvest had been gathered. In saying this, Jesus was putting a focus on the real work that lay ahead of the disciples; they were being challenged with the task of speaking out the good news right across the world. Until that happened the end would not come, but when it had happened the end would come, he would return. It was something to really watch for. This, of course, was an audacious prophecy by Jesus. He had a small following, he was due to be crucified and would leave a hapless, fearful, band. It seemed utterly absurd. Yet here we are this week celebrating Easter along with millions of Christians world-wide. What a vindication of Jesus’ prophetic ministry! What a matter of thanksgiving! We are watching a sign being fulfilled. Perhaps we are “at the beginning of the end”? We should not forget at any rate that it is our work of “mission” that will bring about the end! We are involved.
Finally, Jesus told the disciples that at the coming destruction of Jerusalem the Jews would be dispersed throughout the whole world. (Lk. 21:24). An astounding prediction, and remarkably fulfilled! It is important for Christians to know and understand the history of the Jewish people; it has many lessons to teach. It is very appropriate, as is the custom of some Christians, to pray particularly for Jewish people at Easter. But he spoke of a hope for those people when he said the “trampling down of Jerusalem by gentiles would come to an end when the harvest of the gentiles had been fully gathered in” – an enigmatic comment but full of meaning and well worth contemplating in our age!
Have a very happy and thoughtful Easter.
P.S. If you want to pursue further the themes above please go to pamphlets 46 and 47
To-day there is a new Bible Page (“The Love of God in the Death of Christ”) Go to Home Page and click on Bible Page