Jesus at World’s End, pt.1

There is so much talk right now about the end of the world. Have you noticed? Have you noticed the Discovery Channel and History Channel running specials on 2012 and the Mayan calendar and the apocalypse? Have you noticed doing their best to play off this interest for profit with the blockbuster “2012” and before that “Knowing”? Even the SyFy channel got in on this with a special about 2012 and the Mayan calendar. It seems like it is everywhere. 

With all the hype and hoopla surrounding 2012 and the Mayan calendar, it is good to see what Jesus about His coming. Notice, I did not say second coming. We need to understand that God (and Christ according to this passage [Luke 21.25-27] and Matthew 24) has come in the past. We, in the religious realm, often speak of the “coming of the Lord” as though it is a one time event. On the contrary, Scriptures often speak of the coming of the Lord and you can read about the many times God has come in judgment (Psa 22.19, on enemies; Psa 50.3; Isa 13.9, on Babylon; Isa 19.1, against Egypt; Isa 26.21, inhabitants of the earth (not final judgment); Jer. 4.13, against his people Judah and specifically Jerusalem; et al.). It should not surprise us that what Jesus is talking about in Luke 21.5-36 is all about his coming in judgment on the Jews and espcially Jerusalem (see v.20). The question we need to concern ourselves with is not “What will we do” but “How should we prepare” for when God/Christ come in judgment (be it in history on a particular nation or in the final judgment).

The Background

In paralell accounts (Matthew 24, Mark 13), Jesus and his disciples are leaving the temple. No doubt this is the same setting for Luke. According to historians, this temple, which Herod had built, was made of exceedingly white stones. In fact, Josephus said it resembled a mountain covered with snow. So brilliant was this display, that should the sun reflect off of it at just the right angle, the onlooker would have to turn away for its brilliance. There were costly gifts and the spoils of war in it. It was a very rich setting.

The disciples are all alive with conversation about this beautiful building and its “noble stones and offerings” and how it was adorned. In Mark, “Look, Teacher, what wonderful stones and what wonderful things!” (Mark 13.1) They are impressed. Jesus is not and let’s them know as much in his answer (v.6).

The Bombshell

Jesus explains that there is coming a day when not one stone will be left upon another, indeed all the stones, and therefore the building itself, will be thrown down. Can you imagine the shock on these disciples? Jews, all of them. And here is Jesus (a Jew himself) saying the center for Jewish religion and worship would be utter destroyed. It was all they had known and, in their thinking, the only system they would ever know. It was, not in the least, their whole world. Yet here is Jesus saying all that is going to pass away. Their shocked disbelief prompts a question: When? So human, their reply. When will our world end? We want a time frame. Perhaps that is why the Mayan calendar is so intrigue to some; it gives a time frame for “the end”  corresponding to our year 2012. What signs will there be so that we can see and know the time is near? All of these typical questions humans ask. We want a time frame and indeed we need a time frame so that we can schedule our lives around it or (more like) it around our lives.

The Behest

Jesus has a personal charge for his band of believers, a warning about what’s on the horizon for them. Here is a key to understanding this entire passage: Jesus was not talking to you, he was talking to “you.” In this context, “you” are his twelve disciples (sustained by the use of the plural throughout), not you (singular) two thousand years later. It is his twelve who will see many come in His name, who hear of wars, who will be persecuted (v.12) and bearing witness (v.13). It is the twleve who will be hated (v.14) and who will see Jerusalem surrounded by armies (v.20). This was spoken in a very specific context to a specific group of men about a specific coming event, namely the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70 by the Romans.

To his twelve he warns that many will come, even in Jesus’ name, and claim to be him or will be setting dates for “the time.” Jesus warns his disciples “do not go after them.” Many people concerned about the coming end will be afraid and that is a perfect opportunity for racketeers to come in and take advantage (like Hollywood). In the disciples time, they would come and play on people’s fears and lead them astray. That is the first admonition: be on guard for false Christs or anti-Christs. Second, do not be afraid. In other words, fear not. Wars and tumult may come but it must be so. These happen first. But “the end” is different. This can be understood as stuff must happen first, then comes the end. This should not be interpretted to mean that His coming is postponed 2000 years. It simply means that some things “must take place first” and then “the end” will come. But the disciple need not fear. Why? God is in control.

That’s why these date setters and propaganda artists ought to be ashamed of themselves. Whether Hollywood or the History Channel or Family Radio in Oakland, CA (which says the end of the world is not 2012, but actually Oct 21, 2011), to you, devoted reader, I say what Jesus said to his disciples: “Do not go after them.” Don’t you believe it/them for a moment! Jesus does not give a precise time for when Jerusalem would be destroyed and God has not given a precise time for when this world will end. The message has aways been “You don’t know and won’t know the exact time, but you can be ready and should prepare yourself spiritually for it.”

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The Widow’s Mite

Every Sunday, the church is privileged to worship our God. One of the acts in which we engage in during worship is giving. That is, many members will give money during the allotted time of worship service. Some are able to give a lot of money, others less. Unfortunately, some do not give. The money collected is used for a variety of reasons including local evangelism, missionary support, and maintanence of the building.

It is interesting to note that this practice of the church has Jewish roots. Under the Law, Jews gave the tithe, a tenth, to the Lord. Even before the Law, Abraham gave a tenth of his spoils to Melchizedek. Giving has been a something that God has approved of, even commanded of his people since the beginning; Cain and Abel offered sacrfices to God. In Luke 21.1-4, Luke records the account of when a poor widow (a picture of true poverty in the first century) showed up at the treasury of the temple to make an offering.

Now Mark sets the stage for us when he records that Jesus was sitting “opposite the treasury” (Mark 12.41); perhaps he is tired from the exertion that went along with his four round heavyweight bout with the Pharisees and scribes. So he is able to see everyone coming in to make their offerings. Now there were 13 offering boxes (ESV) or trumpets (called that for their shape) which were labeled so you knew where your money was going when you gave. In this scene, Luke makes the striking contrast between the rich and poor. The rich people are coming up with their offerings and dropping it down into the mouth of the offering box. Perhaps the large sums of money make a lot of noice as they clatter into the offering box.

But then a poor (lit. lacking the essential means of livelihood) widow, one who is in dire circumstances (for a widow had basically not means of income) comes forward with her offering. She gives “two small copper coins” (ESV) or “two mites” (KJV, ASV). It was the smallest of the current currency. It was a very small, thin coin worth less than a penny today. Clink clink. I wonder if she was embarassed, if her face was flush with color because she had to follow those who were rich and whose great amount of money had great noice when dropped into the offering boxes.

Jesus shows why there was no need for her to be embarassed. He says she has put in more than everyone else, more than the each rich person who came to make an offering. The force of the words cannot be stressed. Literally Jesus says she gave “more than all” – her offering was greater than all of those rich before her combined. Wow! Why? Jesus explains: “For they all contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty put in all she had to live on” (v.4, ESV). It was not about size but significance. This was all she had to live on (and it wasn’t much). What’s incredible to me is that she had two of these coins, implying she could have kept one. But to hold back would make the gift no different than those of the rich. This action of giving both mites is an action demonstrating her total reliance upon God. It was a true sacrifice to give all she had. The rich before had their bank accounts to fall back on; this widow, when she commits to give those two coins to the Lord, has nothing.

It should be noted that Jesus does not make her rich. A lot of televangelists will tell you that God wants you rich and if you give a lot of money, God will make you rich. Jesus does not miraculously give this widow riches. He does not command the rich to give her money. He does not tell his disciples to give her money. As far as we she know, she died a poor widow. But that’s the point! Luke is rife with warnings for the rich (Luke 16.14-15; 16.19ff; 18.24; 20.46-47, et al). Indeed, one of the greatest sermons ever preached (but not nearly as well known as the Sermon on the Mount) is recorded by Luke and the first blessing is for the poor (Luke 6.20b). Why? Because you cannot serve both God and money (Matt 6.24) and those who are rich must take special care lest they trust in their money, in this world, rather than God. This widow represents a disposition which is always looking toward God for deliverance and sustenance.

One final word: “As for the rich of this present age, charge them not to be haughty, nor to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly provides us with everything to enjoy. They are to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share, thus storing up treasure for themselves as a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of that which is truly life.” – 1 Timothy 6.17-19. I ask you: who are the rich today, the rich of this present age? Are they the people in Washington? Are they the movie stars of Hollywood? Or is rich just another word for those who have more than their “daily bread”?