In the midst of the commercial chaos and pressure to buy and exchange gifts is a very important reminder for Christians: prepare. The Advent season is a time to prepare for the celebration of Christ’s first coming. The custom of the Advent wreath is one example of such preparation. We use the four weeks leading up to Christmas to visually remind ourselves of stories surrounding the birth of our Savior. In my experience, three red or purple and one pink candle surround a white one. Others use four red candles surrounding the white one. The first Sunday a candle is lit to remind us of important events. Then a second candle the next Sunday and so on until finally on Christmas Day the central Christ candle is lit. Preparation also reminds us to prepare for his second coming (Luke 21-25-36).
The word rapture summarizes 1 Thessalonians 4:16-18, being caught up in the air. People confuse this “rapture” which all Christians believe, with the doctrine of a “secret rapture” which most Christians do not believe. There are many weaknesses in this doctrine, but a main reason that I do not believe it is because Luke 21-25-36 says that men shall see the Son of man coming in the clouds. The popular “Left Behind” video series builds upon the idea of the rapture being a secret coming of Christ, but this contradicts the plain statements of many Bible texts which reveal that Christ will come visibly, not in secret. Every eye will see him (Revelation 1:7). He will come back in the same way that he went (Acts 1:11). The second coming will be obvious to the whole world.
Why is Jesus’ kingdom not of this world (John 18:33-37)? What many people may not realize is that the criticisms that Jesus made towards such parties as the Pharisees and Scribes, were criticisms of political-religious parties. In the Jewish state there was no separation of church and state as we experience in modern western democracies. The church was the state and the state was the church. So when Jesus said such things as Scribes, Pharisees hypocrites (Matthew 23:13), he would probably have said something similar to Republicans, Democrats hypocrites, if he were on earth today. The more that we compare this world’s politics with the benevolence of the kingdom of God as seen in Israel’s law and in the self-sacrifice of the king of kings, the better we understand why Jesus’ kingdom is not of this world.
Jesus’ reign is not of this world (John 18:33-37). What is the difference? Israel could have been a land of mutual assistance and equality. Lending in hard times without interest, no one need be poor (Deuteronomy 15:7–10; Leviticus 25:35–37; Exodus 22:25; Deuteronomy 23:19–20; Leviticus 25:36–37). They were to celebrate festivals as equals (Exodus 23:10–12; Leviticus 25:1–7, 18–24), land was to be returned to the original owners, debt written off, and slaves released (Leviticus 25). Farmers were to leave some of their crops for the marginalized (Deuteronomy 24:19–21; Leviticus 19:9–10; 23:22; Ruth 2). There was a poor tithe (Deuteronomy 14:22–29). Debt was to be forgiven (Deuteronomy 15:1–3), slavery to debt fully paid in six years (Exodus 21:2–6; Deuteronomy 15:12–18). No country of this world is like God’s kingdom.
Reference: Barrera, Albino. Economic Compulsion And Christian Ethics. n.p.: Cambridge University Press, 2005. eBook Collection (EBSCOhost). Web. 23 Nov. 2012. p. 82
Who was Pilate? John 18:33-37 shows Pontius Pilatus (his Latin name) to be important during Jesus’ last days. He was a prefect, an early title similar to procurator, lower in rank than king. His job as prefect was primarily military with around 3,000 soldiers under his command. His duties also included tax collection and limited functions of judge. Charges of blasphemy against Jewish law would have held little interest for a Roman military governor, but twisting Jesus’ own words of being king, could have posed a political threat against Rome. Pilate remained unconvinced of the charges and probably saw right through the Jewish plot. When allowing the crucifixion, he insisted that the trumped up charges be posted above the cross, “Jesus of Nazareth. The king of the Jews”, probably indignant for being manipulated by the Jewish political-religious leaders.
The church is the assembly of people called out by God. The church is not the building that we rent or own. Jesus’ prophecy of the destruction of the Temple in Mark 13:1-23 is a lesson for us today that the building is not that important to God. When the Temple destroys people, it is no use. When the Temple is a center of corruption and bickering, it is no good any more. If a building stands in the way of God’s work, then it is no longer needed. Throughout the Bible the voice of the widow and the orphan cry out for justice. The poor and the alien shout for good news. A building serves no purpose if those voices are not heard. Buildings come and go, but the the assembly of the saints, and its purpose remain.
Jesus was always political, comparing the values of the kingdom of God to the hypocritical leadership of this world. His prophecy in Mark 13:1-23 contains two imperatives: don’t be led astray by false religion and don’t be disturbed by wars. Roman and Jewish politics stunk. The people were oppressed and sinking into poverty. The political-religious leadership misused the Temple. Times would become more and more politically uncomfortable for Christians. Several of those loyal to the kingdom of heaven would be brought to court on trumped up charges and beaten up. Some would even be executed. Political loyalties would divide families and Christians would have to flee their homelands without time to take possessions. All this is preliminary to the good news of Jesus’ coming to take over the governments of this world and usher in the kingdom of God.
The “little apocalypse” of Mark 13 predicted the Temple’s destruction. It was a huge complex, five football fields long and three wide. The Temple was the center of national life for Israel. The marble was so white that from a distance it looked like snow. The gold was so magnificent that in the morning sun it was blinding. Yet this beautiful place also contained corruption that caused the nation distress. Part of Jesus’ early popularity was from his political criticisms of Temple leadership. When rebellion began in the 60’s one of the first things they did was to burn the Temple records of debt. There was no middle class, only the rich and the poor. Taxes on the poor were near 50% and tax debt was so high that foreclosure and unemployment were rampant. It’s a dire warning for today.
In the language of grief Jesus prophesied about events to happen within 40 years of his death and at the end of this age (Mark 13:1-23). His first warning was against deception by those claiming to be a Messiah figure. The First Jewish-Roman War, also called the Great Revolt, occurred between 66-74 AD. It began with religious tensions, growing poverty and unemployment, high taxes and corruption in the Jewish government. Many came saying that they would save the people from Roman oppression. Thus began an anti-tax revolt which spread to guerrilla warfare and eventually full-scale war. The Jews suffered a disastrous defeat, a terrible tragedy. Jerusalem was destroyed in 70 and the last rebels were defeated at Masada in 74. We have similar issues today. Many rise up claiming to be saviors of the nation. There is only one Savior.
Mark 13:1-14 prophesied a time to flee. Living in the modern democracies of the Anglosphere we cannot imagine a time when we might have to flee from our countries. Yet, those who remember the Nazi time in Europe can well imagine it. Jews were among the most severely persecuted at that time. Many saw the handwriting on the wall and fled to freedom leaving everything behind. Others ignored the danger and stayed. Many of them were never heard from again after they ended up in one of Hitler’s concentration camps and died in the Nazi’s terrible “final solution.” Times of persecution are not new. Christians live it today in North Korea, China, in parts of the Middle East and Africa. Will we ever experience it here? Jesus seems to indicate that it will become widespread before his second coming.
The passage in Mark 13:1-13 prophesied the destruction of the temple and also looks forward to the second coming. Prior to his becoming Emperor, because of the fierceness of the Jewish revolt, Titus ordered Jerusalem and its temple to be demolished in 70 AD. The temple was built by Zerubbabel and Ezra. It was greatly expanded by Herod. However, just like many things dedicated to God, it had become an idol and God is in the habit of destroying idols. Some of the largest stones were 50 feet wide, 25 feet high, and 15 feet deep. They were cut, transported and placed with such precision that no mortar was needed. This prophecy was literally fulfilled, revealing to us that the rest of the prophecy is also to be taken literally. Before Jesus’ return other dramatic events will also occur.
When we read bad-news passages like Mark 13:1-13 we may be tempted to think that it is the end of us. But it is not. It is the end of the bad news and the beginning of the good news. It is the prelude to the kingdom of God finally becoming reality on earth as it is in heaven. Often times when an enemy is about to lose, he goes all out in an insane last ditch effort to win, like Hitler’s Battle of the Bulge in World War 2. The enemy of humanity, Satan will also attack us in a last ditch effort. That is the biggest battle before Christ returns. His offensive will involve deception, wars and rumors of wars, earthquakes, famines, kangaroo courts, murder and betrayal. But that’s only the bad end before the good beginning.
“All in” is a poker term of total commitment. Can Christians go all in with very faulty churches? As a jaded Christian who has have been offended, disappointed and deeply hurt by church leadership, I was once pleasantly surprised to hear a theology professor openly admit that he and other church leaders are the modern equivalent of the Pharisees. Rather than run away from the church, I have also come to the conclusion that this shows Jesus’ remarkable grace, in that he chooses to work through such a faulty instrument as the church and even calls it his special treasure and his bride. In Mark 12:38-44 Jesus revealed some of the dirty underbelly of the Jewish church and a remarkable woman who, rather than walk away, focused on God behind the scenes and went “all in” with her offering.
During the Spanish American War, Americans and Cubans fought together against the Spanish. During the 1898 battle for Guantanamo Bay, gunfire from the USS Dolphin had been misdirected and was landing on Americans. West Virginia Marine Sergeant Major John Quick found a large blue polka-dot cloth, tied it to a stick and without thought of his own life, climbed to the top of a ridge to signal the ship. He gave no regard to the shells and bullets flying all around him, but calmly faced the ship and did not stop until his message was complete. The ship answered and he returned to his place on the firing line. For his bravery he received the medal of honor, one of less than 100 West Virginians to do so. His is the name of one honored for sacrifice (Mark 12:38-44).
Mark 12:38-44. America has a low incidence of illegal corruption, but a high incidence of legal corruption like campaign contributions and lobbying. It is far worse in China, where crony capitalism goes hand-in-hand with party membership. In America, “Wall Street’s done a fabulous job of making the world safe for Wall Street.”* Powerful and wealthy people are usually more immoral than the average person because power and wealth corrupt. The problem of all our economies is to have a form of capitalism that creates wealth for all rather than for just a few. When the poor cry in pain, the wealthy often ignore them, but when the rich are asked to sacrifice they cry persecution. True Christians follow the example of the widow rather than the wealthy and powerful.
*Chrystia Freeland, Plutocrats, Penguin Group, 2012, p. 219
Why does a soldier do it, sacrifice his life in a faraway country for a complete stranger? That’s what Sergeant Dennis Weichel did in early 2012. A little Afghan girl ran into the road directly in front of a 16 ton truck and he ran to her rescue, saving her life, but sacrificing his own. He was run down and later died of his injuries. Soldiers are not given the moral choice between a just war and an unjust one. That’s for politicians to decide, but men like Dennis remind us of the morality of self-sacrifice regardless of politics. Christians are called to a life of sacrifice, something that even the ugly politics of church cannot erase. In heaven some names will rise above those with status or wealth. They are the names of those who sacrifice (Mark 12:38-44).
It seems that everything today is “monetized,” filled with annoying in your face advertisements. From the latest versions of software, to social media and news videos, we cannot escape the ubiquitous money-grubbing advertising. Even within the church there are those who have fallen prey to the false Gospel of Mammon. Just like certain ancient teachers of God’s law, some are not satisfied with the offering plate. In Mark 12:38-44 we find an ancient kind of the monetized church, those who devoured widows houses. Shamelessly cheating people out of property in the name of religion is nothing new. It is just one example of many ways to use religion as a scam for personal gain, to monetize the church. Jesus contrasted this greed amongst believers with those who are in it to follow Jesus’ own example by giving not taking.
Mark 12:38-44 reminds us of two kinds of Christian, takers who love power and wealth versus the givers. The description is a stark contrast. On the one hand are those who love fancy clothes, public acclaim, position and long verbose prayers, all the while exploiting the helpless. The contrast on that side includes the rich who give what seems to be generously but is a miserly percentage of what they could give. Both of these groups are contrasted with a poor and needy woman who gave extravagantly. A western pope once compared such giving from our abundance with giving of our substance. Giving a tiny part of our surplus wealth, even large amounts which would not be missed is puny compared to the woman who gave lavishly what she could not afford. To what would God compare our giving?
When an emergency happens we can exhibit super-human strength, what science calls hysterical strength or adrenaline strength. Mothers lift cars to rescue children and warriors go berserk to accomplish heroic feats in battle. Using all our strength also makes us very tired very quickly. Can we love God with all our strength (Mark 12:28-34)? But what happens when our strength fails? Paul encouraged the Ephesians and through them us, to be strong in the Lord (Ephesians 6:10). We may be weak, but if we remain in God’s city we will be strong (Isaiah 26:1-2). The Lord is our strength and song and salvation (Exodus 15:1-2). God is our strength and power (2 Samuel 22:33). Let us not be discouraged because God will strengthen us even when enemies attack us for serving him (Isaiah 41:10).
Why ought we to love God with all our souls (Mark 12:28-34)? The word translated as soul here is psyche which can also refer to the life of a person. What good is it if we gain the whole world and lose our souls? What can we give in exchange for our souls (Matthew 16:26)? If we love things more than God, we are lost souls. If we find our lives, we lose them. If we lose our lives for Jesus’ sake, we find them (Matthew 10:39). The Magnificat is so named because Mary sang, my soul magnifies the Lord. Do our lives magnify the Lord (Luke 1:46)? Why would we not want to love the one who is the shepherd and overseer of our souls (1 Peter 2:25)? He provides everything that we need.
How do we love God with all our hearts (Mark 12:28-34)? It is a two-way street. We have our part. We are to seek him wholeheartedly (Deuteronomy 4:29-31). Joshua 22:5 explains that it involves walking in his ways, keeping his commands and holding fast to him. The first few of the Ten Commandments are specific principles of showing love to God: have no other Gods, no graven images, not taking his name in vain and taking a specific day to rest and assemble to worship him. God directs our hearts into this love (2 Thessalonians 3:5) and the Holy Spirit pours the love of God out in our hearts (Romans 5:5). We also show love to God in how we love the least of the brethren, so have we done for Jesus. (Matthew 25:31-46).