A Reading from the Holy Gospel according to Luke:
When some were talking about the Temple, remarking how it was adorned with fine stonework and votive offerings, he said, ‘All these things you are staring at now — the time will come when not a single stone will be left on another; everything will be destroyed.’And they put to him this question, ‘Master,’ they said, ‘when will this happen, then, and what sign will there be that it is about to take place?’ But he said, ‘Take care not to be deceived, because many will come using my name and saying, “I am the one” and “The time is near at hand.” Refuse to join them. And when you hear of wars and revolutions, do not be terrified, for this is something that must happen first, but the end will not come at once.’ Then he said to them, ‘Nation will fight against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be great earthquakes and plagues and famines in various places; there will be terrifying events and great signs from heaven.’ But before all this happens, you will be seized and persecuted; you will be handed over to the synagogues and to imprisonment, and brought before kings and governors for the sake of my name -and that will be your opportunity to bear witness. Make up your minds not to prepare your defense, because I myself shall give you an eloquence and a wisdom that none of your opponents will be able to resist or contradict. You will be betrayed even by parents and brothers, relations and friends; and some of you will be put to death. You will be hated universally on account of my name, but not a hair of your head will be lost. Your perseverance will win you your lives.
The end will not come at once.
Christ warned His disciples that the temple they were admiring would not last forever, and indeed it didn’t– the Romans leveled that temple about forty years later, in the year 70. But that was not the end.
Christ warned them that many would come using His name and saying “I am the one” and “The time is near at hand,” but we are not to join them. They have come, and they are still here, and we are still not to join them.
He warned them of wars and revolutions that must come first, and they have come, and they are still happening, and they will continue to happen, but the end will not come at once.
Then He warned them of nations rising against nation, kingdom against kingdom, earthquakes, plagues, famines, terrifying events and great signs. In other words, He warned them that life would go on as it always had. For as long as there have been nations and kingdoms, they have risen up against each other. For as long as there has been a planet there have been earthquakes. For as long as there has been living things, those things that managed not to die in wars and earthquakes have died of disease or starved to death. For as long as people have sought God, God has answered in one way or another; there have always been signs, and those are terrifying. None of this will change until the end, and the end will not come at once.
Before the end comes, we will be seized and persecuted. We will be handed over to the synagogues and to imprisonment, brought to kings and governors– that is, the spiritual and secular authorities of whatever place we find ourselves living will be against us. Remember, Jesus and His disciples were all Jews and thought of themselves as Jews. The early Christians thought of themselves as Jews for generations. When you see “synagogues” in the New Testament, you should think, “The leaders of my own faith.” If you choose to follow Christ, you will suffer for that, and the suffering will come from inside and outside of your faith. That has happened, is happening, and will continue to happen until the end. But the end will not come at once.
When this happens, you will have an opportunity to witness, but don’t bother preparing your script in advance because it’s not going to look the way you think. Real people aren’t moved by rehearsed comebacks and nice little apologetic talking points. Real people are moved by faith, and faith is manifest in your works. What you do when you are betrayed by everyone you should have been able to trust– by your church, by your nation, yes, even by your family and friends– will be the eloquence and wisdom that come directly from Christ and which nobody will be able to contradict.
When they run out of ways to try and contradict you, people will kill you. And if people don’t kill you, then earthquakes and famines and plagues will. Something will. Because, while the ending will not come at once, it’s coming.
Every single person reading this has something less than a lifetime remaining before the end. And some lifetimes are shorter than others.
When it’s over– and someday, it will be over– you will find that not a hair of your head was lost. God will have kept them all, along with everything else they took from you along the way. God will have caught everything where it fell and kept it for you better than it was in this life– your innocence, your trust, your sense of worth, your sense of belonging somewhere, your ability to feel loved, your joy, your everything else. By perseverance, you will win it all. You will win your whole life and everything that you had to lay down. It will all come back to you and far more besides.
This will not happen all at once, but it is happening.
The Son of God is returning to make things right, and indeed He is already among us.
Do not be terrified, for this is something that must happen first.
The ending will not come at once, but the ending is beginning here.
(image via Pixabay)
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