Jesus and the Temple
Jesus can sometimes be alarming.
Have you ever noticed that? Every once in a while, as Jesus gets to talking and teaching, he says something that sounds very intense but also very purposeful. He doesn’t tend to judge the kind of people that we think he should judge this way, but he is not opposed to pronouncing judgment on something (or even someone) deserving of that judgment.
Just such a scene takes place in Mark 13. Now, if you have ever read Mark 13, then you know that it is an alarming chapter. And it is a bit bizarre too. Jesus is speaking about the days to come when Sin and Death rule the world. But Jesus also knows that those days are numbered. They will not be the final days of the age to come when God will restore creation to the goodness it was always meant to have and to be.
But it all starts at the Temple. Jesus and his disciples leave the Temple after Jesus has just recognized and honored the poor widow’s contribution (see the blog from last week, Jesus And #7), and the disciples pipe up and comment on the grandeur of the Temple. “What awesome stones and buildings!” (The disciples show just how perceptive they can be!) And Jesus says, “Yeah? Well, they’re about to be as useful as the walls of Jericho.” (I know, I know, I’m paraphrasing.) The point is these impressive structures and buildings won’t last.
And a little bit later on, this leads to a longer discussion about when the Temple will be destroyed. Because the disciples are thinking, perhaps, that if and when the Jewish people revolt against the Romans, the Romans will destroy the Temple as a means of stopping any rebellion. One way to understand this story is that the disciples want to know when the Jewish people will get to be the Jewish people again, and not just be subjugated to the Romans.
But that’s not really what Jesus is talking about.
Jesus is talking about the things that will last. I mean, the things that will really and truly last.
This is not a discussion about the longevity of things or places or even people groups. This is a discussion about the Kingdom of God.
In the Kingdom of God, buildings are not that important. They will all eventually come and go. The Temple will eventually be destroyed (which it was about 40 years later in basically the exact scenario described above concerning revolt). But Jesus isn’t really interested in that. Jesus is interested in the Kingdom.
There are 3 important lessons that Jesus wants to impart to the disciples as a result of this object lesson about the Temple. They are all Kingdom lessons. The first is this: Jesus is the Christ.
As Mark 13 continues, Jesus explicitly describes false Messiahs and prophets. They are not the false prophets and Messiahs that we typically think of– people who intentionally lead the people away from God. They are, instead, people who claim to say they are leading people toward God, but in truth, they are not following God at all. They can and do perform wondrous things in the name of God, but God is not among them. And Jesus wants his disciples to know that they are not the Christ. He is.
Second and built on the first lesson: the Gospel must be preached in all nations. And this is an incredibly important lesson because it connects the story of God’s people with the story of God’s creation. It connects the story of Abraham’s receiving of the promises with the Christ. If Jesus is truly the Christ who has come announcing the Kingdom of God, then the story needs to be told everywhere. It will be the disciples’ responsibility to proclaim the good news everywhere and to all people.
And third, built upon the other two: there is no such thing as an off day. There is no vacation plan to following Jesus. There is no time off. Stay alert and be prepared, Jesus says. God’s Kingdom is coming. It is here now, in part, but one day will be here fully. We must prepare every day for that day.
So, yes, Jesus can be alarming sometimes. But, the good news is that the Kingdom of God is here now. Jesus is the Christ–the King. Let’s preach the Gospel. Let’s get to work.