[November 18, 2012] The pilgrims have gathered in the city of Jerusalem for the weeklong Feast of the Passover and it is about to begin. There is much excitement, but the tone is different for Jesus. He arrived with His disciples a few days earlier and has been confrontational ever since. You recall that He was paraded into the City on Palm Sunday, hailed as the Son of David with palm branches and garments strewn on His path. In other words, He came into the City as a King, and at once inspected the Temple grounds. The next day (according to Mark) He cleansed the Temple, driving out the merchants and money changers. The chief priests and elders, that is, the members of the high council, the Sanhedrin, at once questioned Him and each time they tried He turned their questions against them, refusing to let them judge Him but instead, each time, He judged them. Now, as the rightful King, and as therefore the Judge, He is about to pronounce sentence on the City and on the Temple which it housed.
But it seems as though the disciples are more in tune with the crowds than they are with their Master. As Jesus leaves the Temple grounds, having just spoken of God’s judgment, they tug at His sleeve and say, “Look Teacher, what wonderful stones and what wonderful buildings!” From the ascent of the Mount of Olives, the Temple looked like a jewel crowning the City of Jerusalem. As the western sun shone on it, the gold of its columns blazed and the white of its walls gleamed. The fine lines of its rectangular structure surrounded by the porticoes of Solomon were beautiful.
Jesus saw this beauty too, for He too, since He was twelve years old, came to the Temple three times a year to celebrate the feasts of Israel, but seeing it now only made His heart ache. “Do you see these great buildings?” He says to them. “There shall by no means be left here a stone upon a stone which shall not be thrown down.” That must have been a conversation stopper! In fact, the disciples must have been shocked at themselves, and shamed by the pain that they saw in Jesus’ face. They became quiet and recalled all the things that Jesus had been saying in their midst. The Gospel according to Luke tells us that on Palm Sunday, when the disciples were probably anticipating something wonderful about to happen (like the kingdom of God suddenly taking place), Jesus saw what the disciples were looking at now and wept over the City, and said, “The days will come upon you when your enemies will throw up a rampart before you, and will encircle you, and will press you in on every side, and they will level you to the ground and your children within you, and they will not leave a stone upon a stone in you, because you did not know the time of your visitation!”
They were on the Mount of Olives opposite the eastern wall of the City, and when they could get a good view of the Temple and the City, Jesus sat down on the grass. Peter, James and John, Jesus’ closest disciples, approached Him by themselves; so the other disciples must have been milling about in the olive groves out of hearing range. They sat down with Him and looked at what He was looking at—the Temple and its environs—and asked Him, “Tell us, when will these things be? And what will be the sign when all these things are about to be accomplished?”
Jesus looked at them thoughtfully and said, “See that no one leads you astray.” This is His first concern, so as we pay attention to the rest of what He says, we should see it in this light. These horrific things that Jesus has spoken about will happen but in the meantime it will be easy to be led astray, to be led down a false path, to be distracted from our task and goal. Maybe even to completely fall off and get caught up in the disaster that is about to happen. We can end up on the wrong side of things. How can we guard ourselves?
The verses we are considering here are only the beginning of Jesus’ answer. He goes on for 29 more verses and covers a range of things related to this. But let’s see how Jesus begins. First, He says, “Many will come in My name, saying, ‘I am the Messiah!’ and will lead many astray.” When Jesus says, “My name,” He probably means something like His title or role. The messiah means the anoint one, which can either be a prophet, priest or king. People expected all three, and sometimes in different people. People expected Elijah the prophet to come; he would be a messiah figure. They also expected a real high priest to arise to replace the dynasty of Caiaphas and his gang. But most people thought of the messiah as a warrior king, like David, who would give them victory over their enemies. He would be someone in the lineage of King David, a son of David. If you listen to the song of Zechariah in Luke 1:68-79 or Mary’s song in Luke 1:46-55, they are thinking of this. Hannah’s song in 1 Samuel 2, which Mary’s song resembles, celebrates the coming of King David. Jesus actually fulfills all these images of the Messiah, for He is a Prophet, Priest and King. As the Prophet He is the Word of God who reveals God; as the Priest He is both the Intercessor and the Sacrifice who mediates between God and humanity; as the King He is both the Warrior who overcomes God’s enemies, and the Man of Peace who builds God’s house. He is our salvation and meets all our needs. We are to look to Him for everything, giving Him our loyalty, trusting in His provision and protection. Anyone who claims to bring us to God, anyone who claims to reveal God, anyone who claims to save us, anyone who claims to be “the answer” is someone who will lead us astray.
If we are Jesus’ disciples, we owe Him our allegiance and cannot look to anyone else. It would be disloyal and will certainly lead us to a sad end.
Next, Jesus says, “When you hear of wars and rumors of war, do not be alarmed; it must happen, but the end is not yet. For nation will rise up against nation, and kingdom against kingdom.” There will be wars, they must happen. Naturally they alarm us and make us terribly afraid. War means that someone else’s will is violently forced on you. Wars are destructive, and therefore they mean the loss of what is ours—our property and even our loved ones. But Jesus says, “Do not be alarmed!” First, they do not mean that the end is here. They happen and will keep happening until the end. But to not be alarmed in the face of danger requires that we really look to Jesus and to our Father in heaven, and trust Them to guide and protect us.
“There will be earthquakes in various places; there will be famines.” Earthquakes are natural disasters; they turn buildings and homes into rubble. Famines may be caused by wars, by oppression and class warfare, by bad economics and the distribution of goods, and by natural causes. It means a lack of food, a basic necessity of life. Yet Jesus words, “Do not be alarmed,” apply here too. “They are the beginning of birth pangs”; they are not the birth. Yes, they are part of a trajectory. Birth pangs get increasingly worse as the time of delivery arrives. But do not let them pull you off balance. It is imperative that you stay the course right on through to the end.
Let’s pay attention to this matter of “rumors” for a moment. We think of rumors as not being very reliable. That does not seem to be the main concern here. In the ancient world, in fact until fairly recently in history, rumors is how most people got the news. They did not turn on the radio or the television news or get the news downloaded onto Yahoo. They heard it from other people. So we might understand “rumors” to be equivalent to what we mean by news. Getting caught up in the news—current events—can also lead us astray. There is a difference between being in a war zone and all the things you have to be concerned about there and hearing about a war in the news. Often the anxiety of people hearing news is greater than the anxiety of the people who are experiencing it, especially if you have a personal interest in the news, say a loved one is in the area of concern. The imagination and helplessness of those hearing the news puts the hearers in a much different position than the people who have to deal with the facts of it and make decisions and solve problems. Our helplessness causes a different kind of stress, one that is hard to relieve. So Jesus is saying, do not be led astray by getting caught up in the news.
In our culture, in the time in which it is, we are bombarded with news more than any other culture prior to us. It was much different before the days of the weekly newspaper. Now the news is fed down into us every day and often throughout the day, and if we do not keep up with the latest disaster or calamity or plight we are made to feel guilty.