The End of the World
Advent 1B Mark 13:24-37
Pentecost 24B Mark 13:1-8
(The bold print and pictures can become a power point presentation during the sermon.)
“What does the Lutheran Church teach about the second coming of Christ? What does this congregation teach about the end of the world?”
Today’s sermon is focuses on the second coming of Christ and the end of history. At my adult instruction class, a person asked me, “What does the Lutheran Church teach about the second coming of Christ? What does this congregation teach about the end of the world?”
Another person in the class chimed in, “There is so much talk today that the world is coming to an end very soon, that the Biblical prophecies about the end of the world are coming true in the near future. Is that true? What do you think?”
Today’s sermon is essentially a response to those questions.
I saw a young mother the other day on television. It was strange but this young mother was longing intensely for the End of the world. You could it by the flash in her eyes and in the sound of her voice. It seemed weird to me.
Futurologists. Throughout the history of the world, there have always been futurologists. Futurologists are those people who have an uncanny ability to look into the future of the human race.
We have a self-designated futurologist in the Lutheran Church and his name is Dr. Ted Peters who teaches at Pacific Lutheran Theological Seminary in Berkeley, California. Dr. Peters attends futurology conferences with other futurologists, and he comes back to report to us in the church. He is a futurologist. He looks deeply and intensively into the future.
Futurologists look at human history; past and present and therefore they make observations about the future.
These futurologists also look at human nature, especially the warring quality of us as human beings.
Futurologists are those people who have this uncanny ability to understand both human history and human nature.
Understanding both human history and human nature, they are able to look deeply into the future.
Futurologists are not clairvoyant people. We are not talking about Jeanne Dixon and those people who predicted the assassination of President Kennedy. We are not talking about people like that. Nor are we talking about those people who do horoscopes and practice astrology. We are not talking about these people either.
Rather, futurologists are usually historians, poets, novelists and scientists. They are people like Aldus Huxley who wrote a famous book, BRAVE NEW WORLD. In the BRAVE NEW WORLD, the future was controlled by science and technology. Babies were bottled in test tubes. Fifty years ago, I couldn’t believe that babies were bottled in test tubes when I first read that book as a fifteen year old. Now today, it seems that babies are being bottled in test tubes. Rather than test tubes, nowadays we read about eggs fertilized by sperm and are stored in petrie dishes and the Republicans and Democrats fight about what is inside the petrie dish.
In BRAVE NEW WORLD, scientists broke the genetic code and could control DNA particles and soon there would be human beings with no genetic defects. We read nowadays about unwinding the DNA spirals.
Do you remember from that book, BRAVE NEW WORLD, that they had invented “chastity belts?” With chastity belts, women were protected from pregnancy. The chastity belts were forerunners of “the pill.”
Common to the vision of many futurologists is the awareness of the atomic bomb that was dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The inevitability of the nuclear nightmare is in our future. Somewhere, sometime, some place, this green planet, our Mother Earth, will be incinerated by nuclear fire.
Albert Einstein, said, “”The unleashed power of the atomic bomb has changed everything, except our way of thinking. Because human beings have not changed, “this earth drifts towards unparalleled catastrophe.”
Another example of this tendency to inevitable, unparalleled catastrophe is a film you may have seen years ago. Some of you who are older may have read the book and then seen the film called ON THE BEACH. The story was written by Neville Schute. This story is also about a nuclear holocaust that had just happened. The only human life left on the planet was in Australia. The movie/novel delt with a nuclear war and the associated radiation that was slowly blanketing the earth and killing all in its wake. In this film, Australia was the "final frontier" where the radiation was to arrive in about two months. The peoples of this country were offered a state-sanctioned "suicide kit" to forestall the inevitable.
In Australia, there was one sailor who wanted to return to the United States. The survivors put him on a submarine, and he went under the ocean and then came up in San Francisco Bay. He pushed up the periscope and he looked around. There was nothing. Totally silent. Nothing moving. An eery emptiness. The buildings were still standing but there was no life. All life had been killed by radioactivity. In the last scene of the movie, the young man got out an inflatable rubber raft, rabged a fishing pole, and sat there in San Francisco Bay with his fishing pole as he absorbed radioactivity into his body. The future has come. The earth is finally silenced. Human history is over. That is the end of the movie.
For me, one of the best films about visions for the future is T.B.X. 1138, 4.E.B. by George Lucas when he was a student at Stanford University. I love the creative genius of George Lucas who created the STAR WARS series, INDIANA JONES and was the director of RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK. But he created his first film while as a student at Stanford, the epic film T.B.X. 1138, 4 E.B.
In that film, you don’t see any blood, gore and guts like you would in movies today. The film is not a “scare-you” thriller. In the film, what you see are thousands upon thousands of miles of tunnel. The human beings are now living like ants, living in tunnels underneath the earth. One person comes up from the tunnel, out from the ground, peeking through a metal lid. He peeks his head out into the air, and the Geiger counter on his helmet goes “tick, tick, tick, tick, tick.” The crust of the earth has been incinerated by nuclear fire and is radioactive. With the crust of the earth being radioactive, the human race has gone underground and is now living in tunnels, like ants. George Lucas was/is a brilliant futurologist.
Today, we are increasingly worried that nuclear material and nuclear bombs may get into the hands of terrorists who could create unimaginable damage with nuclear devices hidden in suitcases. We know that soon the film industry will be producing horror movies about nuclear devises hidden in suitcases and ready to explode in stadiums that seat 100,000 people. Those movies should see and "scare 'em."
Mother Nature silenced the planet Mars and human nature may silence the planet Earth. Recent lunar explorations of the planet, Mars, reveals that at one time, there was life and water on Mars. Now, Mars is silent, a totally silent. It is now a death planet. In the minds of our futurologists, this is vision of the future for planet Earth. The Earth will become another Mars. Mother Nature silenced the planet Mars and human nature will most likely silence the planet Earth.
So futurologists are those people who have this uncanny ability to understand both human history and human nature.
Understanding both human history and human nature, they are able to look deeply into the future.
The Bible also has futurologists. They are called seers, spelled S E E R S. These seers are quite different from the other Old Testament prophets.
Three seers in the Bible are:
*John, the prophet of the Book of Revelation.
And Jesus. (In Mark 13 and the gospel parallels of Matthew 24 and Luke 21). In Mark 13, we hear Jesus’ teachings about the End of the World. We know that the Gospel of Mark was an eyewitness account of Jesus. We know that Simon Peter shared his memories of Jesus with John Mark before Peter was executed upside down in Rome in about 65 CE. Mark and John, both eyewitnesses of Jesus, give us numerous juicy details from Jesus’ life, in their gospels.
In both gospels, Jesus was omnitient and constantly saw into the future. Jesus knew before hand about his coming death and resurrection, that Peter would deny him three times, that he would be “lifted up onto a tree,” onto the cross.
In Mark 13, Jesus, the Son of God, also tells us about the future and the future destruction of Jerusalem.
The “little apocalypse.” Apo = off. Calypse = with the cover. We imagine a kettle with a lid on it. You take off the lid and look into the kettle to see what is in it. Similarly, Jesus took the lid off the kettle and looked into the future.
What did Jesus teach about The End? Jesus is the Son of God, the Mind of God. He knew and knows about the future better than any other human being. We listen to what Jesus actually taught about the future here in Mark 13.
As he came out of the temple, one of his disciples said to him, "Look, Teacher, what large stones and what large buildings!" Then Jesus asked him, "Do you see these great buildings? Not one stone will be left here upon another; all will be thrown down." Mark 13:1-3 NRSV Focus on the words, “large stones,” “large buildings, “great buildings.” As we look at the historical reconstruction of the temple, we will hear about these great stones and great buildings.
“The rebuilt temple of Herod created such an impression. When the disciples praised its grandeur to Jesus (v. 5), the temple was in the midst of an eighty-three-year building program. Started about 20 B.C., it continued until A.D. 63-64, just a few years before Jerusalem's fall in A.D. 70. Assuming an A.D. 33 date for the crucifixion, the program was over fifty years old at the time the disciples marveled at it. The temple clearly made a deep impression on all who visited it. Josephus gives detailed descriptions of its beauty (Jewish Wars 1.21.1 401; 5.5.1-6 184-227; Antiquities 15.11.1-7 380-425). The Roman historian Tacitus also describes the temple as containing great riches (History 5.8.1).
The above photograph is of a model of Jerusalem. This model is part of the Jerusalem Hotel. You can see people standing above Solomon’s portico on the left side of the photo. We recall that the temple was seventy feet high and constructed with some 100,000 builders.
In the last week of his life, Jesus taught daily in the temple.
Below, you can see a diagram of the temple. You can clearly see the courtyard which had a dirt floor. Most likely, the woman caught in adultery was brought into that courtyard and Jesus doodled on the dirt floor as he taught the people who wanted to convict the women. You can see the portico (columns) of Solomon where Jesus taught. You can also see the treasury where Jesus taught the story about the widow’s mite.
The only surviving part of the temple is the Wailing Wall. We recall that Jerusalem was leveled by the Roman army in 68-70 CE. We recall the grandeur of the Roman civilizations at Ephesus and Rome itself, but we find no similar Roman ruins in Jerusalem. Why? It was totally leveled by the Roman army. All that was left of Jerusalem is the Wailing Wall that is seen in the “red rectangle” of the next picture.
Remember that the disciples in the gospel story for today were commenting to Jesus about the great stones of the temple and the grandeur of the temple itself. From archeology, we hear about these great stones.
Some of its stones were 12 to 60 feet in length, 7.5 feet in height and 9 feet in width (Josephus Jewish Wars 5.5.1-2 189-90 gives these measurements in cubits; a cubit is eighteen inches). The temple loomed over the city like a "snow clad mountain" (Josephus Jewish Wars 5.5.6 223). Not only was the building impressive, but it was decorated with gifts from other countries and had elegantly adorned doors and gates of fine craftsmanship (Josephus Jewish Wars 5.5.3-5 206-18).” http://www.biblegateway.com/cgi-bin/webcommentary?language=english&version=niv&book=luke&chapter=21
When he was sitting on the Mount of Olives opposite the temple, Peter, James, John, and Andrew asked him privately, "Tell us, when will this be, and what will be the sign that all these things are about to be accomplished?" Mark 13:4 NRSV We recall that Jesus was teaching in the temple during the day of the last week of his life. At night, Jesus would sleep overnight at the Mount of Olives.
Then Jesus began to say to them, "Beware that no one leads you astray. Many will come in my name and say, "I am he!' and they will lead many astray. Mark 13:5-6 NRSV
And if anyone says to you at that time, "Look! Here is the Messiah!' or "Look! There he is!'—do not believe it. False messiahs and false prophets will appear and produce signs and omens, to lead astray, if possible, the elect. But be alert; I have already told you everything. Mark 13: 21-23 NRSV
Every generation in history produces “fanatics” who think they know that we are living in the “last times” and give evidences for their beliefs. In Luther’s time, it was a man by the name of Melchior Hoffman who was a lay preacher who was noted for his zealous eschatology and teaching that the world would end in his lifetime. “On the eve of the Protestant Reformation, both Italy and Germany provided fertile ground for apocalyptic speculation. Pessimism and doom were dominant themes of prophecy in the decades before Luther. In In 1526 Hoffman published a detailed pamphlet on the twelfth chapter of Daniel which proclaimed that the world would end in seven years, at Easter or 1533.”
“A German bookbinder named Hans Nut (I love that name) said that he was a prophet of God sent by Christ to herald the Second Coming. This would occur exactly three and a half years after the start of the Peasant's War, in 1527.” (Yes, Hans Nut was his real name.)
“Bishop Frederick Nausea (yes, that is his name), predicted that the world would end in 1532 after hearing a single report of bloody crosses appearing in the sky alongside a comet.”
“AD 1500 Martin Luther, Protestant reformer, stated: "I persuade myself verily, that the day of judgment will not be absent full three hundred years. God will not, cannot, suffer this world much longer.” Luther thought that the End of the world would occur within three hundred years.
Apocalyptic doom and apocalyptic speculation were part of the mood of enormous changes brought about by the Reformation, the Enlightenment, the Renaissance, the Peasants’ War, the Muslims being tossed out of Europe by Queen Isabella and King Ferdinand.
Remember the names, Nut and Nausea. Both Hans Nut and Bishop Frederick Nausea were immersed in apocalyptic doom and speculation. Both Nut and Nausea were part of a growing heresy although they did not realize it.
This heresy is called “chiliasm.” Also “millennialism.” “apocalyptic speculation.”
A contemporary example of these heresies and being led astray was Hal Lindsey in the early 1970s. In the early 1970s, Hal Lindsey was the most popular “fanatic” on the globe. Lindsey was a tugboat captain from New Orleans who attended Dallas Theological Seminary. He wrote the book, THE LATE GREAT PLANET EARTH in 1971. It was THE rage of that era, as I distinctly recall. That book sold over 28 million copies and was made into a movie narrated by Orson Welles. THE LATE GREAT PLANET EARTH interpreted the Book of Revelation as pre-written history from twenty centuries ago, that the Book of Revelation and the Bible specifically prophecied about Lindsey’s time in history. The beginning of the End began on May 14, 1948, when the land of Israel was officially established. By reading closely and carefully the Book of Revelation and other similar prophecies in the Bible such as in Mark 13, Lindsey and similar “fanatics” thought that the End was coming soon, that there would be a final battle of Armegeddon fought in the Middle East between Russia and Western Europe, that Russia was “Gog and Magog,” that the ten horns in the Book of Revelation represented the ten nations of the common market of Western Europe, etc. He also thought the swarms of 30 million Chinese soldiers swarming the Middle East was prophecied in the Book of Revelation. The book, THE LATE GREAT PLANET EARTH, was the rage in the 1970s, and people actually thought the contents of that book were true, that it was an accurate interpretation of the Book of Revelation and other similar prophecies. The popularity of the book, THE LATE GREAT PLANET EARTH, was so great that you could not say a word against it, without offending the enormous horde of true believers who believed Lindsey’s interpretation of the End Times.
In today’s world, it is the erroneous thinking of Tim LeHaye and his LEFT BEHIND SERIES. I make a distinction between LeHaye’s novels and his theology. LeHaye’s novels are “good reads” and have sold 17 million copies since their inception in 1995. But when you read LeHaye’s theology on his websites on the Internet, you begin to realize that Timothy LeHaye replaces Hal Lindsay from twenty years ago when his LATE GREAT PLANET EARTH sold 28 million copies. There is a huge market out there in America for people who believe Lindsay’s and LeHaye’s interpretation of the End Times in the New Testament. 28 million books sold. 17 million books sold. I think to the same people. There is a whole bunch of people out there in America who think like Lindsay and LeHaye. The End of the World started in 1948 with the creation of the state of Israel and “things are falling into place” in our lifetime.
Momentarily in this sermon, we will look at the words that Jesus himself did not know when the End of the world was coming. If Jesus didn’t know when the end of the world was coming. If Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, and Paul didn’t know when the end of the world was coming, why would Hal Lindsay know? Why would Tim LeHaye know? In every generation, there are “scare books,” that want to scare people into believing or they will be left behind.
When you hear of wars and rumors of wars, do not be alarmed; this must take place, but the end is still to come. For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; Unfortunately, human beings are warring animals. We human beings have always warred with each other. The way we have solved conflicts is by means of war. But the weapons have gotten worse and human nature has not changed. Many people suggest that the new enemy of humankind is war itself, war as a means of solving international human conflict.
There will be earthquakes in various places; there will be famines. This is but the beginning of the birth pangs. Mark 13:7-8 NRSV The famines are getting worse. As the population of the Earth accelerates and grows even larger, the famines which are awful today will get worse in the future. One billion people on earth; then two billion; then three billion; now six billion; sometime in the future, twelve billion. As the earth grows more intensely populated, the famines will be more catastrophic.
"As for yourselves, beware; for they will hand you over to councils; and you will be beaten in synagogues; and you will stand before governors and kings because of me, as a testimony to them. Mark 13:9 NRSV In every generation, people have become persecuted and killed by governments, religious true believers, and family because of their Christian faith. I remember Father Lef Nerada from our sister church in St. Petersburg, Russia and his becoming a Russian Orthodox priest at the height of the Soviet Empire. Today, a person who becomes a Christian in an Islamic state will be ostracized, killed or jailed for their Christian convictions. There have been places and cultures who will persecute and kill new Christians. That has always been true.
And the good news must first be proclaimed to all nations. Mark 13:10 NRSV Yes, we know that the good news of Jesus Christ is to be preached to all nations, so that all people can know the truth about God that Jesus reveals.
When they bring you to trial and hand you over, do not worry beforehand about what you are to say; but say whatever is given you at that time, for it is not you who speak, but the Holy Spirit. Mark 13:11 NRSV It is true: a person is given both the words and the wisdom which are necessary for important conversations.
Brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child, and children will rise against parents and have them put to death; and you will be hated by all because of my name. But the one who endures to the end will be saved. Mark 13:12-13 NRSV
Truly I tell you, this generation will not pass away until all these things have taken place. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away. Mark 13:30-31 NRSV The author of the gospel of Matthew actually believed that he was living in the last generation on earth. As did Mark. As did Luke. As did John. As did Paul. Matthew was wrong. Mark was wrong. Luke was wrong. John was wrong. The Apostle Paul was wrong. All these Biblical authors thought that they were living in the last generation on earth, and they were all wrong. But Jesus was right. Jesus was right when he said, “Nobody knows the hour. Nobody knows when the end of the world is going to come. Nobody knows. Not the angels. Not even me the Son. Only God knows. We will be caught by surprise, like a thief in the night, like a trap that suddenly and unexpectedly snaps shut.”
"But about that day or hour no one knows, neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. Mark 13:32 NRSV Underline it. Highlight it. Circle it. What a statement. No one knows when the End will come, including the Son of God, the Mind of God, the Wisdom of God.
Beware, keep alert; for you do not know when the time will come. Mark 13:33 NRSV Highlight it. Circle it. Learn it. We are to simply be alert as we live because nobody knows the time of the end.
What are implications for our lives?
First, we learn from Jesus that future human history will experience incredible suffering.
Much of the imagery of these futurologists are symbols of massive suffering, massive starvation, massive wars, and massive earthquakes. The other day, I was watching a documentary on the spread of AIDS and how sixty million people are infected with that deadly disease, that pandemic of all epidemics. There is so much misery in the world today. We as Christians don’t need to ask what our purpose it. One of our purposes is to care for the immense misery of our brothers and sisters around the globe.
Second, we learn from Jesus is that no one knows when the end of human history is going to occur. No one. Not even Jesus.
The Bible does not indicate that we human beings are to spend time figuring out when the End of the World is going to come. I would like to make a suggestion: throw away all those books that waste intellectual time on speculating when the End of the World is going to occur. Throw all those books away. Simply go back to Mark 13 and live out Jesus’ suggestions from Mark 13.
Third, Jesus will come at the end of history. Christ will come to be the final judge. Christ will separate the wise from the foolish, the doers from the talkers, the righteous from the evil. Remember, there will be a final judgment and Christ will be the judge who will judge the wise from the talkers, the doers from the talkers. Please clearly note: Jesus does not judge based on the religious label that a person is wearing.
So the important question is this: how are we to live today?
We are to live our lives as if Jesus Christ were coming back tomorrow, as if we were to meet Jesus face to face tomorrow.
If Jesus Christ were coming back tomorrow, what would you do today?
I asked my wife that question recently. “Jan, if tomorrow was your last day on earth and you will meet Jesus tomorrow night at midnight, what would you do tomorrow?” She said, “Well, I would spend time with you, asking you to hold me quietly. I would call the kids and ask them to come over. I would tell them that I love them deeply, that they would be wise to hold onto the values that we all hold dear and to leave this world a better place. I would garden for a while, planting some flowers for the future. And then, you and I would go for a walk.”
How about you? What would you do today if you knew that you were going to meet Jesus Christ tonight at midnight?” Amen.
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