We are creeping up on the Easter holiday season, many Christians will be planning their celebrations of death and resurrection. They will be recounting the last days of Jesus Christ on his way to the cross etc. There will be many annoying bath-robe pageants, easter sunrise services and the like. The bigger churches will have glitz and glamour, and high-tech installations. Oh my, I think I just made myself sick.
I want to re-visit one of Jesus last messages. The message not only highlights why he was murdered by politics and religion but talks about something that I’ve heard often repeated since my youth; he talks about what so many Christians have interpolated as the “end times” – as in, “it’s the end of the world, pack your backs for the rapture – we’re goin’ to heaven.”
Text will be from Luke 21 in the Concordant Literal New Testament translation. The context is a number of days before the Last Supper and Jesus’ arrest. Jesus is with his disciples at the temple. He notices people caught up in the temple service and they are making a big show of how much they are able to give. Even a poor widow who gives all that she owns. His disciples are caught up in the hoopla and talk about how beautiful and grand the temple is. In other words we are seeing a cultic temple-centric (not God centered) experience complete with hype. Religious practice has become a show (kinda like Christian churches in our own time).
Jesus does NOT get caught up in the hoopla. He steps back from the fray and declares,
“These which you are beholding – there will be coming days in which not a stone will be left here on a stone, which will not be demolished.” [v.6]
Is it any wonder he was murdered? He was talking about the end of the temple religion – a religion that had become the very core of Jewish identity. Today this would be called anti-Semitism. And if someone said the same of Christian churches there would be riots in the streets. How did Christianity get “end times” out of that incident? It makes NO sense. But the next section may give us a clue. Jesus’ disciples start by asking,
“Teacher, when, then, will these things be, and what is the sign whenever these things may be about to be occurring?” [v.7]
So even Jesus disciples can’t believe the words that came out of his mouth. Jesus then talks about what to expect. He describes how nations will war with each other and smaller political entities/governments will war with, and within, each other (think of the war between Republicans and Democrats in the US). In other words great division. he also mentions great quakes, famines and pestilences,… fearful sights and great events in the heavens (i.e. space, the solar system etc). Jesus continues to talk about not only the desolation of the temple but also the desolation of Jerusalem. Again if this kind of talk happened here in America it would be considered traitorous punishable by death penalty – so as I said earlier – is it any wonder that people hated Jesus and begged for his crucifixion? Jesus goes on, in detail, to talk about various signs that the desolation is near and at the time of this desolation he says,
“And then they shall be seeing the son of mankind coming in a cloud with power and much glory. Now at the beginning of these occurrences, unbend and lift up your heads, because your deliverance is drawing near.” [v.27]
Pretty fanciful and this is where Christians have interpolated this notion of rapture and end times because they read this as a literal event not a metaphor for living now. He is describing those who are able to rise above the fray. Again this has nothing to do with the end of life as we know it. Just the end of the temple and desolation of Jerusalem. Continuing, Jesus then tells one of his famous parables – this time the parable of the fig tree. And this is another thing that disturbs me because most of the parables are mis-understood and taken out of the context in which they happen. He illuminates and interprets the parable for his disciples by saying,
“Thus you also, whenever you may be perceiving these things occurring, know that near is the kingdom of God.” [v.31]
This is wonderfully consistent because through-out the period in his life when he was teaching Jesus refers to the kingdom of God/Heaven as near and even here now and “within you”. So in the midst of all this crap that’s happening in the world the kingdom of God and Heaven is near, so near that it’s here now within us. Now most Christians will not want to hear this because they want some great escape from the crap in this world. But it doesn’t happen that way. Of course the next question could be “Why are we stuck here, why can’t we escape?” I think it’s because we’re supposed to make a difference to help others work through the crap in their lives to make this heaven for everyone.
What happens next in the scripture is that Jesus gives us a map, a guideline of behavior and mindset, for surviving this life and it is loosely linked with the golden rule. Jesus tells us to beware for ourselves that we don’t get sucked into all that’s going on around us,
“Now take heed to yourselves, lest at some time your hearts should be burdened with crapulence and drunkenness and the worries of life’s affairs,….” [vs.34]
We need to protect our own mindset because if we don’t we can get bogged down by “crapulence” (literally skull-wrestle or mental distress), drunkenness if we give in and stressed by life’s affairs. He goes on to say that getting bogged down by this stuff is a trap. A hidden trap that will snap shut and victimize us. He does not want us to be trapped or victimized so he is warning us to beware of our own thinking and behavior. This is incredibly difficult to do in our technological environment where we are continuously blasted by news of all that is going on around us – it is easy to get caught up in events and not remain separate and guarded so that we can be of benefit to others. But this is exactly what he is talking about. In verse 36 Jesus comes to the end of this particular teaching and says,
“Now be vigilant, on every occasion beseeching that you may be prevailing to escape all these things which are about to occur, and to stand in front of the son of mankind.” [v.36]
Again he reiterates to beware at all times. And why? Not so that we can escape from this life but that we can escape from the harm of getting sucked into the vortex of all that is happening around thus rendering us ineffective. Is it the end times? Sure, because all the signs are there. Will there be a great escape for Christians? Nah, don’t think so. If Christians truly believed they were chosen then they would want to stick around to be a part of the healing and restoration fulfilling the teaching of Christ. I plan on sticking around. I’d rather be dancing in the mosh pit or some jazzy dive than in some grand disco in the sky.