The Real . . . and the Phoney

“At that time if anyone says to you, ‘Look, here is the Christ!’ or, ‘Look, there he is!’ do not believe it. For false Christs and false prophets will appear and perform signs and miracles to deceive the elect—if that were possible. So be on your guard; I have told you everything ahead of time” (Mark 13:21-23).

In Jesus’ temple speech he warns against the deceptions of “false Christs.” They too will perform signs and miracles and “deceive the elect.” But how were Jesus’ hearers (more importantly, how are we) supposed to tell the difference? If both performed miracles, how will anyone tell the true Jesus from the pretender?

Jesus isn’t coming back to convince anyone he is back, or to spend time trying to “make disciples” or get people to believe. His return will be for judgment. There will be no need for miracles. More likely for us though are those who claim to speak for Jesus, but don’t. It is the responsibility of the elect to know the word of God well enough to tell the difference. And it’s good to remember that, for the most part, what we think is okay with God, without actually consulting God, is most likely, not. The Lord Himself says: “my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways. As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts” (Isaiah 55:7-8).

The uninformed have no chance at avoiding anxiety, deception nor calamity. Being informed requires dwelling in, and on, the word of God. As Isaiah put it: “To the law and to the testimony! If they do not speak according to this word, they have no light of dawn.”

So . . . how’s your daily Bible reading going? In which Bible class are you participating? Are you “on your guard”?

On Guard Duty

“Be on guard! Be alert! You do not know when that time will come” (Mark 13:33).

The longest speech in Mark’s gospel (chapter 13) is the one dealing with the end of the temple and the end of the world.  While the command “Be on guard!” occurs in the same context in both Matthew and Luke, Mark focuses on it, mentioning it five times in Jesus’ speech.

The speech itself is notoriously difficult.  Was Jesus talking just about the end of the temple, or was he talking about the end of the world (or both)?  Matthew and Mark each offer clues. At one point, Jesus says: “This generation will not pass away before all these things take place” (vs. 30).  Some scholars suggest Jesus was not talking about his own generation, but the generation that would see the signs.  But that makes Jesus seem a bit foolish.  Obviously the generation that would see the signs wouldn’t pass until they had seen them. The easier answer is that, everything in Mark 13:1-31 addresses the end of the temple.  Verses 32-37 address the end of the world.

But the timing of neither cataclysmic event was really the point.  The point was that both are coming, and you should “be on guard.!”  For the disciples, and perhaps some of Mark’s early readers, the end of the temple would seem like the end of the world.  Whether it genuinely was or not was irrelevant. The imperative for the disciples was to be watchful with their lives.

There will be (and perhaps, for you, already have been) times when you will think your world is coming to an end. But there is something always more important than what is happening.  Are you ready to meet the Lord?  It’s a lifestyle really, to live every day in prepared anticipation of his coming.

They All Fall Down

“And Jesus said to him, ‘Do you see these great buildings? There will not be left here one stone upon another that will not be thrown down.’” (Mark 13:2)

So begins the longest speech recorded of Jesus in the gospel of Mark.

Since arriving in Jerusalem in Mark 11, Jesus has viewed the temple, cleansed it, argued in it, and now, he condemns it.  In the next verse, Jesus leaves the temple never to return.

The disciples, however, like Job’s wife leaving Sodom, do not appear eager to leave. “Look, Teacher” they said, “what wonderful stones and what wonderful buildings!”

And the architecture was magnificent.  Josephus (who saw the building) wrote: “The exterior of the building lacked nothing that could astound mind or eye.  For being covered on all sides with massive plates of gold, the sun was no sooner up than it radiated so fiery a flash that persons straining to look at it were compelled to avert their eyes, as if looking at the sun.” Another wrote: “He who has not seen the Temple in its full construction has never seen a glorious building in his life.” Herod built it for his own honor, but also to burnish the image of Judea in the pagan world.

Magnificent or not, God was not impressed.  People, and their behavior, are more important than architecture, and in the verses that follow, Jesus makes it clear that the temple is to be destroyed and it will be the judgment of God that does it.

It wasn’t a new value system.  Even in the Old Testament, the orthodoxy of pious people was condemned when their day to day behavior didn’t match the holiness of their calling (see Isaiah 58:1-9 and Jeremiah 7:2-11).  An enduring message is this: There is nothing we should prize more than our relationship with God, a valuing that is reflected in our obedient behavior.  Whatever gets in the way of that, no matter how majestic or noble in our own eyes, is slated, like the temple, for destruction.

Wednesday, November 20. Mark 11 – 13

The Lincoln memorial is not far from my house. It is my favorite memorial. When I ascend the steps and turn around, there is the mall before me, and in the distance, the Washington monument. There may be more beautiful cities, but I have not seen them. Patriotic people, looking at the same scene for the first time, seldom fail to feel that intense pride in their nation.

I would imagine that’s the way Jesus’ disciples felt as they were traveling through the temple courts in chapter thirteen. It was a magnificent structure. It had been under construction for nearly fifty years. Construction would continue for over thirty more. Disciples could not help but marvel at what was taking place.

As they voice their amazement (and perhaps no little pride), Jesus turns to them and says: “Do you see all these great buildings? Not one stone here will be left on another; every one will be thrown down.”

It seems wholly unappreciative of Jesus, but the Lord has a point: Don’t put your trust in anything earthly. It will all come to an end. Everything here is temporary: government, achievements, programs, and treasures. They should all be thought of as disposable. Nothing should get in the way of following Jesus.

Two “ends” are contemplated in chapter thirteen: First, the end of the Jewish economy. Jerusalem will be destroyed. The Jewish nation and government will end, and it would end in one generation – the generation of the disciples (13:1-31). Second, the end of the world (32-37). It is now the latter one we must all be preparing for.