There are 64 books in the Bible, from Genesis to Revelation. Some of them are poetry, like the psalms, some are history, like the books of Samuel, Kings and Chronicles; there are books of Prophecy, like Isaiah and Jeremiah, while in the New Testament there are four Gospels and the Letters of Paul, Peter and John. There are also two books, Daniel and Revelation which are described by scholars as apocalyptic writings. I must add that we find poetry and history and gospel and letters and apocalyptic in many books of the Bible. It’s not all neatly divided. The Bible is the word of God in human words, not a nice neat, properly catalogued library.
“Apocalyptic” comes from the Greek word “apocalypse” which means “revelation”. In particular the revelation we are talking about means the revelation of the supernatural world beyond the world of historical events. In other words, we are looking at what’s going on in our world and comparing it with the purposes, promises and acts of God. Apocalyptic writing focuses on the end of the world as we now experience it and the beginning of a new world.
Today we have the apocalyptic discourse of Jesus from the gospel according to Luke. Put simply, Jesus is talking about the end of the world and Luke has written his version of events. In the first gospel we will find Matthew’s version and in the second Gospel we find Mark’s version. The versions are different, but the message is the same.
Let’s hear it, then. Some people were admiring the Temple, which, in Jesus’ day, was only just finished, all clean and shiny. Beautiful stonework, some of which still exists today. And there were places where people could leave gifts dedicated to God, gold, silver and jewels. We do the same today with gifts dedicated to the glory of God and in memory of a person we love and admire.
And Jesus frightens them all by saying, “The whole thing will be destroyed!”
Jesus is absolutely right. Forty years after Jesus death and resurrection, the Roman army did just that, leaving only the ruins and broken stones we can still see in Jerusalem. Here is a real, historical event which bears witness to Jesus’ words.
At the time, the people were stunned. Imagine the shocked silence. Then someone asks, “Please, teacher, when will this happen? What signs will there be?”
Jesus answers with a warning. “Do not be misled. Many people will come and tell you all sorts of lies!” He was right to warn them. We should be warned as well. How many versions of the end of the world do you want? When I googled, “End of the world,” I got 3,360 million results in 43 seconds.
Jesus continues, “There will be wars and insurrections, nation will rise against nation and kingdom against kingdom, earthquakes, famines and plagues.” He might have added tsunamis, bushfires, cyclones and typhoons. He did speak of dreadful portents and great signs from heaven. It is only now, with our advanced technology that we know how much danger we are in from wandering asteroids, comets and meteors. Fortune-tellers made a very good living from interpreting the stars, and now we know the danger is real.
But right in the middle of all this disaster, Jesus says something which is very important. Matthew, Mark and Luke all quote Jesus as saying, “The end will not follow immediately.” No one knows and no one can tell when the end will come, neither humans nor angels nor Jesus Christ himself. The time and manner of the end is known to God the Father Almighty, the Creator and Sustainer of all that is. No one else knows or can know. So, when you hear a prediction of the end of the world you can say, with all the authority of Christ, “You know neither the scriptures, nor the power of God; you are quite wrong.”
Now we come to the important bit. Like all good preachers and teachers, Jesus and Luke put the most important part at the end, so that people will remember it. The most important teaching today is not the false prophets of doom, or the destruction of the temple or the wars and insurrections. It is not the persecutions, or the betrayal by relatives and friends, or even the hatred of the name of Jesus. These things, says Jesus, will give you the opportunity to testify. Jesus is speaking of a law court, where witnesses give their testimony. If you are arrested for being a Christian, says Jesus, do not panic, for “I will give you (inspired) words and (holy) wisdom which none of your accusers will be able to withstand or contradict.”
In our lives and in our country it is not illegal to be a Christian, so we are not likely to be arrested for that. However, in Australia now is not an easy time to be a Christian. The Christian church and faith is under attack from outside and inside. When there are disasters like bushfires and typhoons, people demand answers, saying, why does God permit these tragedies? Has God forgotten how to calm the raging of the storm? Does God no longer rescue his people when they call? These are not new questions, Peter, in his letter quotes a scoffer who asks, “Where is the promise of his coming? For ever since the fathers have fallen asleep, all things have continued as they were from the beginning of creation.”
And again, people quite rightly criticise the hypocrisy when people say they are followers of Christ and then behave badly. The Royal Commission of Enquiry into the Abuse of Children is not only exposing the terrible actions of some people, but we find that all Christians are criticised as if they were responsible for covering up the crimes. All sorts of nonsense is spoken by people who claim to be inspired by God or filled with the Spirit of Christ. No wonder people are not interested.
But Jesus tells us that there is a hope; that behind all these dreadful things, God’s eternal purpose carries on. We may be battered and cursed, but God’s promise is sure. Our task is to be faithful and to be true to our faith in our lives, no matter what. Paul says, “Brothers and sisters, do not be weary in doing good.” Good words and good works testify to our faithfulness and our hope. The hope we have is good news, even as our homes are burning or being swept away by flood. Our hope is good news even when we come face to face with agonising illness and painful death. Our hope is good news even when those we love and respect commit terrible crimes. Beneath the troubles of this world, God remains faithful to those who are faithful.
Jesus says, “Not a hair of your head will perish.” This is not a mistake or a false promise. It is the assurance of salvation. “By your endurance you will gain your souls.” This is how our reading today finishes. This world, including our bodies, will come to an end, but “whoever endures to the end will be saved.”