If you knew you were about to die, how would you prepare your children? If I knew I was going to prison for my faith, what would I say to you? If I knew that you because of me, would face trial and suffering, what would I say to you.
I might prepare you for what you will face. I might alert you to various games and challenges you will face. In pre-teaching, I might give you strength and help you tune in so that you will remain true to God.
Jesus is in Jerusalem, he knows he is about to die. He has said to his disciple three times as they were on the way, that he would be handed over to the authorities, accused, tried and hung on a cross to die. He knew the end was near. I can see his heart, he has many things to share with his disciples and he knows they too will face a similar fate. He longs for them to see, to hear, to understand, to be able to endure the challenges that are before them and remain faithful to God.
In the 1st century culture it was commonly thought that one facing death would have greater access to the prophetic knowledge of the future. One facing death was more attuned and open to the future—they had partly entered the death because they were near to it. This is how the author of Mark is thinking as he writes this account of Jesus last days with his disciples. Jesus is perceiving what is to come and he longs for his disciples to also perceive what he is perceiving and to remain true and loyal to their God.
Don’t just see but, perceive, understand the events that are about to take place.
1 As Jesus was leaving the Temple that day, one of his disciples said, “Teacher, look (ide) at these magnificent buildings! Look (ide) at the impressive stones in the walls.”
2 Jesus replied, “Yes, look (blepeis) at these great buildings. But they will be completely demolished. Not one stone will be left on top of another!”
There is a significant play on words that is very clear in the Greek Bible but less clear in English. This play on words is helpful in discerning meaning. Notice in verse 1 a disciples says, “teacher, look at the magnificent buildings, the impressive stones in the walls.” Look in Greek is ide… But Jesus reply’s, “yes, look Blepeis in the Greek which is more to do with perceiving than simply seeing. It is as if he is saying, don’t just see the beauty of the building… perceive the building.
The temple in the history of God’s people has been the place God would dwell with his people, where heaven and earth met and God's people heard from God. In the Old Testament, while God’s people traveled around, the Tent of Meeting or Tabernacle went with them. In Exodus we read that God would be their God and they would be his people. The Temple was a symbol that God was with them and they were his people. The Temple also was the place where the religious life of God’s people was centered. One went to the Temple on significant feast days, one offered sacrifices for ones sins and the priests offered sacrifices on behalf of all the people. It was the place where God’s people experienced God’s love and forgiveness. It was also to be a place where justice flourished because God was present.
But in the first century the temple had become corrupt. It’s priests were aligned with Rome and defined an unjust system that did more to reinforce the injustice than expose it. Previously, Jesus had turned over the tables in the temple and drove out the merchants with a whip. The temple that was to have stood for God stood for corruption. We notice how many times Jesus confronted the injustice and got into trouble. The temple and its priests no longer reflected the heart and image of God.
The temptation of all religious systems is to support the injustice in a society instead of exposing it. Human beings seek safety and it is more difficult to oppose unjust structures than to integrate and conform. Too often religious institutions have become corrupt. But a new era is about to begin. The Temple will no longer be the place of God’s dwelling.
Yes, do not merely see the beauty of the building for looks can be deceiving but, perceive the building—what it was meant for and what it had become. The building will be demolished as an act of judgment against it.
In verse 3 we notice that Jesus has gone out of the temple and now sits on the Mount of Olives across from the Temple. It is important to note that geography is significant in Mark. Disciples and Jesus on their way to Jerusalem. They move in and out of the temple, note that Jesus taught for the last time IN the temple and in our text today, Jesus is leaving the temple and now he has left it. Jesus the person who is God in human form has now left the temple.
3 Later, Jesus sat on the Mount of Olives across the valley from the Temple. Peter, James, John, and Andrew came to him privately and asked him, 4 “Tell us, when will all this happen? What sign will show us that these things are about to be fulfilled?”
Perceive this truth, it is significant. God no longer dwells in a physical temple. That beautiful building covered with inlays of Gold, the building that stood like snow atop a mountain. The building that looked like it housed an amazing and glorious God now stands only as a monument to the time when God once dwelt there. Jesus, God in flesh, has left the temple. As one nearing death, Jesus pronounced that it would soon be destroyed. And 40 years later, it was demolished and defiled by the Romans as they laid siege to Jerusalem in 70 AD.
Jesus prepares his disciples for what it to come. And again he says, Perceive, blepete… don’t let anyone mislead you, perceive.
5 Jesus replied, “Don’t let anyone mislead (blepete) you, 6 for many will come in my name, claiming, ‘I am the Messiah.’ They will deceive many. 7 And you will hear of wars and threats of wars, but don’t panic. Yes, these things must take place, but the end won’t follow immediately. 8 Nation will go to war against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be earthquakes in many parts of the world, as well as famines. But this is only the first of the birth pains, with more to come.
Mark was written around 68-70 AD, just as the Romans were involved in the Jewish war. There were many Messiah’s who rose up to engage in a physical military battle to liberate the city from Rome. Do not be deceived by such a Messiah. AS we have learned, Jesus is not a political Messiah nor is he a military Messiah. Jesus is the Messiah who would deliver people from within, liberating their hearts and inviting them to live as Jesus lived. Messiah’s who sought deliverance in military might were false ones. Again in AD 135 during the Bar Kochba rebellion… Simon Bar Kochba declared himself a Messiah who led the people in war.
I believe Jesus is letting them know ahead of time that there will be others who claim to be a Messiah who are not like me. Their ways are not like my ways. Perceive it, do not be deceived by them.
Again in verse 9 Jesus uses the word blepete, watch out, perceive. When these things begin to happen you will be persecuted. Around the same time Mark was written, Nero was in power. Nero was the emperor of Rome. Christians were being persecuted all over the Roman Empire. Some were killed in the Coliseum, others in Nero’s garden hung as human candles, burnt on crosses, rounded up and fed to the Lions because they would not worship Emperor Nero. Watch out, perceive.
9 “When these things begin to happen, watch ( blepete) out! You will be handed over to the local councils and beaten in the synagogues. You will stand trial before governors and kings because you are my followers. But this will be your opportunity to tell them about me. 10 For the Good News must first be preached to all nations. 11 But when you are arrested and stand trial, don’t worry in advance about what to say. Just say what God tells you at that time, for it is not you who will be speaking, but the Holy Spirit.
12 “A brother will betray his brother to death, a father will betray his own child, and children will rebel against their parents and cause them to be killed. 13 And everyone will hate you because you are my followers. But the one who endures to the end will be saved.
Jesus in his last hour was seeking to prepare his followers for what was to come. Not only would he be handed over, beaten, stand trial before Pilate and be killed but, they too would face the same fate. Jesus was betrayed by a close friend, one like a brother. They too would face betrayal from friend and kin.
These are birth pains that would bring about a new era, a new time. The violent end would birth a new beginning.
We know the end of the story. Jesus was brought before Pilate, sentenced to death and died a brutal death on the cross. By the Spirit, he was raised from the dead and vindicated by God as the real Messiah. He ascended to heaven and on Pentecost, the Spirit of Jesus Christ was poured out and God dwelt once again with his people. Not in a Temple built with human hands but in a people with whom God by the Spirit would now dwell intimately within.
God now dwells with people, in them, among them. God is with us. He doesn’t need an institution to enforce law, or a building, he works and moves through and dwells in his people.
His people are to reflect his nature and character and do the things that he would do if he were physically present. Jesus now works through you and me to bring the shalom, or the flourishing of God to this world.
So what does all of this mean for us?
- If God’s temple is not a building then our main focus for worship is not on what takes place here or in getting more people in here to sing worshipful words to God.
- If God dwells in you and wishes to work through you, then you are vital to the work of God and he has a mission and a vocation for you.
- You are a living sacrifice consecrated to God and your worship does not primarily take place in a church building but also in the way you live your life outside this place. Worship is a life lived in a way that reflects and honors God—a way that brings justice and shalom to this earth.
- What takes place in the church building is more about gathering, intimacy and connecting with God, healing and equipping you so you can do the work of God in the world. It is here that you are spiritually formed, strengthened and empowered for the mission you are called to out there.
Everything is redefined according to the heart of God.
We have been taught in church, a temple model of worship in which we go to church, sing songs in a worship service—kind of like bringing a goat or lamb type sacrifice—and use our gifts in a Temple setting. But in this model, God’s character and goodness and shalom is not emphasized as much. It can often be just about us and the songs we like and worship is reduced to music and regular weekly attendance and giving money to support the temple system. That is way too easy and requires little from us.
I think this is where repentance comes in—we are invited to change our ways—to move in a new direction. We are invited to discover and fulfill our vocation as the people with whom God dwells.
Can you perceive this radical call to discipleship? God is with us and he wishes to use us to bring his peace (shalom) to the world.