Day 216: Matthew 24:28

Wherever there is a dead body, the vultures will gather.

 [This is the one of 15 scriptures in which Jesus provides his disciples with some details about the Second Coming of Christ.  For more on the Second Coming see Day 150.  For more on the Messiah see Day 145.  For more on the End of the Age see Day 128.]

This one is long.  Sorry, but I didn’t want to chop it up.  Oh well.  Yesterday’s was super short so they even out.

Clue #11: There will be vultures.  Or is it eagles?

First of all I can’t help but mention that the Greek word here is “aetos” which at that time meant both “vulture” and “eagle.”  I find it interesting that the Greeks didn’t see any substantive difference between those two kinds of birds.  Even though we classify both of them as “raptors” they look and behave quite differently.  In this scripture and a parallel one in Luke it is translated as “vulture” but the references in Revelation are translated as “eagle.”  I used the Google translate tool and it seems that the Greeks have a different word for vulture now, and aetos is used only for eagles.  It just highlights the problems with having a holy book that was written in another time, another place, another culture, and another language.  Actually, when it comes to the words of Jesus it’s two languages removed.  Aramaic to Greek to modern English.

 Back to the scripture.  It seems like a slam dunk that Jesus meant a scavenger bird, not a predatory bird.  So vulture it is.  And indeed they do gather when they smell death.  I remember that from the old Westerns I grew up with.

Jesus wanted to be known.  He wanted to be followed and tested and examined (See Day 76).  He was humble and accessible.  At first, I think this was the way that his followers and those who knew him probably remembered him.  But then Saul, who became the Apostle Paul, came along and that perception changed.  While I don’t think it would be fair to call Paul a vulture, I do think that he corrupted the essential essence of Jesus’ ministry in the process of trying to market the new religion that he and the other apostles were busy establishing.

Paul never met Jesus. Like Joseph Smith, the founder of the Mormon Church, he had his own personal revelatory experience of Jesus on the road to Damascus when he was struck blind (Acts 9).  He joined up with the other Apostles (Jesus’ disciples), but his teachings were not the same as those of Jesus.  He promoted the idea that abundant, eternal life is given by God through “belief in the Jesus as the Son of God”, not by emulating Jesus’ actions and following his teachings.  Paul came up with a lot of his own teachings, many of which have nothing to do with anything Jesus said or did. It’s a little bit vulture-ish.

And that reliance on “belief in Jesus Christ” had a ripple effect.  It made Jesus the source of our “salvation,” the one who saves us from an angry, vengeful God.  It turned people away from the fundamental understanding that God is the true source of our salvation and everything else that is good.  The Jews wanted a human Messiah to protect them from their enemies and rule over them justly, but they didn’t need a savior.  The Jews already had one and his name was God (just a couple of references here):

The Lord is my light and my salvation; I will fear no one. The Lord protects me from all danger; I will never be afraid. (Psalm 27:1).

You are my hiding place; you will save me from trouble. I sing aloud of your salvation, because you protect me. (Psalm 32:7).

May all who come to you be glad and joyful. May all who are thankful for your salvation always say, “How great is God!” (Psalm 70:4).

I will tell of your goodness; all day long I will speak of your salvation, though it is more than I can understand. (Psalm 71:15).

The development of Christology, or the concept that Jesus was a divine being as opposed to a human being (or even God himself), was introduced by Paul.  He introduces the title “Son of God” and never refers to Jesus without appending it with either “Christ” or “Lord.”   Jesus always called himself the “Son of Man” (an ordinary person) and stressed that others could do everything that he did.  Instead, Paul in particular changed it all up and strengthened the spiritual authority of the movement by teaching that Jesus was God himself.  All this from a man who never actually talked to Jesus, never actually met him.  To him, Jesus was just a symbol.  He never met the man or shook his hand or looked him in the eye. 

The Gospel of John further muddies things up by identifying Jesus as a divine manifestation of the Word (or Law of Moses) and in the Book of Revelation he is identified as “the Alpha and the Omega”, a title previously reserved for God.  I do not think Jesus wanted anyone to call him God.  He would have been very glad to serve as our role model and teacher. He implied that he might be the Messiah who would usher in a new age.  But he never, never, ever said he was God.   It’s important to know that a lot of these things, like the divinity of Jesus, the virgin birth, the identification of Jesus as the Messiah, the depravity of man, original sin, substitutionary atonement (Jesus died for our sins), etc. were concepts that evolved over time and were eventually cast in stone by the Church of Rome as though they were the new Law.  As though they are truth.

The problem is that by promoting Jesus as a divine being, a manifestation of God himself, people like Paul diverted the emphasis away from his teachings.  While Jesus spent his whole ministry trying to empower the masses, Paul and others put Jesus on a pedestal to elevate his importance.  A very big pedestal indeed.  A God-sized pedestal, in fact.

The Apostle Paul.

The Apostle Paul.

And in the process Paul certainly gained his own claim to fame.  Jesus’ death was Paul’s gain. Most people would not know the difference between the words of Jesus, whom they claim to follow, and those of Paul, who never even met the guy.  Paul’s words are treated with the same reverence and authority.  Unfortunately I believe that a little vulture-ish scavenging went on.  Or regurgitating or something.  The tasty Good News that Jesus shared with humanity begins to sour when it is reframed by Paul.  Legalism, misogyny, pride, institutionalism, idolatry, bragging, and lots of other questionable stuff that Jesus hated in the Pharisees start to sneak back in when you get to Paul’s letters.

I wonder how many people know that Jesus never made any recorded statements about sexuality or sexual practices.  This statement made by Paul in the Book of Romans are the primary fuel for today’s anti-gay movement:

And so God has given those people over to do the filthy things their hearts desire, and they do shameful things with each other.  They exchange the truth about God for a lie; they worship and serve what God has created instead of the Creator himself, who is to be praised forever! Amen.

Because they do this, God has given them over to shameful passions. Even the women pervert the natural use of their sex by unnatural acts.  In the same way the men give up natural sexual relations with women and burn with passion for each other. Men do shameful things with each other, and as a result they bring upon themselves the punishment they deserve for their wrongdoing.

Because those people refuse to keep in mind the true knowledge about God, he has given them over to corrupted minds, so that they do the things that they should not do.  They are filled with all kinds of wickedness, evil, greed, and vice; they are full of jealousy, murder, fighting, deceit, and malice. They gossip and speak evil of one another; they are hateful to God, insolent, proud, and boastful; they think of more ways to do evil; they disobey their parents; they have no conscience; they do not keep their promises, and they show no kindness or pity for others.  They know that God’s law says that people who live in this way deserve death. Yet, not only do they continue to do these very things, but they even approve of others who do them. (Romans 1:24-32).

If Paul had not made this statement, then the Old Testament laws about homosexuality would have been given the same importance as the other 600 Levitical laws.  I am sure that most people attribute these words to Jesus, not Paul.  They don’t know the difference.  When I read the words of Jesus I feel encouraged and empowered.  When I read these words of Paul I feel guilty, ashamed, dirty, and worthless.

Jesus befriended and love society’s outcasts, even sexual deviates like prostitutes, but Paul creates outcasts with his hateful, evil, condemning language.  Through both his language and his actions Jesus emphasized that humanity is essentially good.  He never said anything remotely like this to his followers.  Yes, yes, I know that Biblical scholars say that Paul himself wasn’t really saying these things.  They say he was quoting others.  But I don’t care.  They ended up in the Bible and they are arrows have launched a thousand condemnations.  They have turned many people away from the teachings of Jesus and back to the kinds of teachings and practices that Jesus so vociferously chastised the Pharisees and the entire religious community about.  He hated that kind of talk.  So just because I slimed you by quoting the words of Paul, here are some words of Jesus from Day 16 to wipe away the guilt, cleanse your emotional palate, and set you back in right relationship with your Father God:

You are like light for the whole world. A city built on a hill cannot be hid. No one lights a lamp and puts it under a bowl; instead it is put on the lampstand, where it gives light for everyone in the house. In the same way your light must shine before people, so that they will see the good things you do and praise your Father in heaven.

In today’s scripture Jesus warned the disciples that they must shoo away the vultures, pick up the mantle of leadership themselves, and faithfully carry on his ministry.  Peter and the other original disciples did the best they could.  And I am so grateful that Mark and Matthew gave their eyewitness testimonies which were written down and preserved so that the words and deeds of Jesus of Nazareth are available to us today.  They still serve as a guidepost for those of us who are trying to find the real Jesus and separate him from all the hype.

Wikipedia reports that Albert Einstein once said, “I seriously doubt that Jesus himself said that he was God, for he was too much a Jew to violate that great commandment: [The Shema: See Day 193] “Hear O Israel, the Eternal is our God and He is one!’ and not two or three.” Einstein lamented, “Sometimes I think it would have been better if Jesus had never lived. No name was so abused for the sake of power!”

Sorry, Paul.  I know you did your best.  And it isn’t your fault that the church began to treat your personal advice to individual churches with the same reverence as the historical record of Jesus of Nazareth.  No, not your fault at all.  I know I certainly wouldn’t want anything that I say or write to be confused with the words of Jesus.  You were just a blogger like me who loved God and wanted to make the world a better place.  OK I take it back.  Even though I would never, ever be one of your followers I shouldn’t have called you a vulture.  Now that I think about it you were really an eagle, sharing unto death what you believed to be true.  Even though it differs from what I believe.  Maybe it was the theological dictators who inappropriately elevated the importance of your personal reflections for their own advantage who were the real vultures.

What does this scripture say to you?



Day 215: Matthew 24:23-27

Then, if anyone says to you, “Look, here is the Messiah!” or “There he is!”—do not believe it.  For false Messiahs and false prophets will appear; they will perform great miracles and wonders in order to deceive even God’s chosen people, if possible.  Listen! I have told you this ahead of time.

Or, if people should tell you, “Look, he is out in the desert!”—don’t go there; or if they say, “Look, he is hiding here!”—don’t believe it.  For the Son of Man will come like the lightning which flashes across the whole sky from the east to the west.

[This is the one of 15 scriptures in which Jesus provides his disciples with some details about the Second Coming of Christ.  For more on the Second Coming see Day 150.  For more on the Messiah see Day 145.  For more on the End of the Age see Day 128.]

Clue #10: The Son of Man will come suddenly.

Jesus has warned his disciples several times about false Messiahs and prophets.

Way back  on Day 87 he warns them, “Be on your guard against false prophets; they come to you looking like sheep on the outside, but on the inside they are really like wild wolves.”

On Day 124, as part of this prophecy, he says, “Then many false prophets will appear and fool many people. Such will be the spread of evil that many people’s love will grow cold.”

On Day 206 he says, “Watch out, and do not let anyone fool you. Many men, claiming to speak for me, will come and say, ‘I am the Messiah!’ and they will fool many people.”

Jesus tells his disciples that they should ignore rumors that might pop up after his death that he is wandering around in the desert or that he is hiding out in a cave somewhere.  This reminds me of all of the Elvis sightings that took place for years after his death in 1977.  There was, for example, a rash of sightings in the late 1980s in Kalamazoo, Michigan.  The people who believed that they saw him either asserted that his death had been faked or that he had been resurrected from the dead.  Many believed that it was a conspiracy.  Jesus said it would not be like Elvis.  He said that when he returned from the dead it would be decisive and sudden and highly visible.  Like lightning.

Matthew’s account of Jesus’ resurrection picks up on this reference to lightning.  It says that the angel who rolls the stone away from Jesus’ tomb appeared like lightning:

After the Sabbath, as Sunday morning was dawning, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to look at the tomb.  Suddenly there was a violent earthquake; an angel of the Lord came down from heaven, rolled the stone away, and sat on it.  His appearance was like lightning, and his clothes were white as snow.  The guards were so afraid that they trembled and became like dead men. (Matthew 28:1-4)

Then Matthew describes how the resurrected Jesus appeared to the women – suddenly:

Suddenly Jesus met them and said, “Peace be with you.” They came up to him, took hold of his feet, and worshiped him.  “Do not be afraid,” Jesus said to them. “Go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee, and there they will see me.” (Matthew 28:9-10).

And so it seems that this particular prophecy was fulfilled at the time of Jesus’ resurrection from the dead.  And there will be one more great “suddenly” that follows in the Book of Acts after Jesus ascends into heaven:

When the day of Pentecost came, all the believers were gathered together in one place.  Suddenly there was a noise from the sky which sounded like a strong wind blowing, and it filled the whole house where they were sitting.  Then they saw what looked like tongues of fire which spread out and touched each person there.  They were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to talk in other languages, as the Spirit enabled them to speak. (Acts 2:1-4).

And that’s the way it has worked with my own spiritual journey.  Long stretches of just plugging along uneventfully, and then something happens – suddenly – that changes everything.  A visitation, a revelation, a prophecy, a rhema word, a divine appointment, and it’s a whole new world.  We move from glory to glory in fits and starts, guided by flashes of the Kingdom of God that appear here and there.  Suddenly.  Always suddenly, and unexpected.  Like lightning.

What does this scripture say to you?

Day 214: Matthew 24:16-22

Then those who are in Judea must run away to the hills. Someone who is on the roof of a house must not take the time to go down and get any belongings from the house. Someone who is in the field must not go back to get a cloak. How terrible it will be in those days for women who are pregnant and for mothers with little babies! Pray to God that you will not have to run away during the winter or on a Sabbath!

For the trouble at that time will be far more terrible than any there has ever been, from the beginning of the world to this very day. Nor will there ever be anything like it again. But God has already reduced the number of days; had he not done so, nobody would survive. For the sake of his chosen people, however, God will reduce the days.

[This is the one of 15 scriptures in which Jesus provides his disciples with some details about the Second Coming of Christ.  For more on the Second Coming see Day 150.  For more on the Messiah see Day 145.  For more on the End of the Age see Day 128.]

Clue #9:  Terrible trouble will come suddenly and go just as fast.

Jesus warned the Jews repeatedly to love their enemies (Day 34).  He told them that “turning the other cheek” was the best response to insult or injury (Day 31) and that they should pay their taxes without complaint (Day 191).  He even said to obey the Roman troops: ”And if one of the occupation troops forces you to carry his pack one mile, carry it two miles.” (Day 32).  He essentially said, “Don’t mess with the Romans!”

After Jesus’ death the Bible tells the uplifting story of the beginning of the Christian movement.  But there was another parallel story that is not included in the Bible that underscores the wisdom of Jesus’ teachings about nonviolence.  There were also other very important things going on at the same time.

Throughout this blog I have talked about how the Jews (Pharisees, Sadducees, and Essenes) were seriously divided about religious practices during the time of Jesus.  The Jews were simultaneously divided about how to free themselves from Roman occupation.  There were those who relied on God to deliver them, but there were others who believed that violence was the only solution.  Those people who believed that war would save them were collectively referred to as the “Zealots”.   Today we would call them “hawks.”

A few short decades after Jesus’ death the Zealots launched the Great Jewish Revolt against the Romans in 66 AD.  Violence initially erupted as a result of religious tensions between the Jews and the Greeks, but quickly escalated into anti-taxation protests and terrorist attacks against innocent Roman citizens.  The Roman army failed to respond effectively because of civil unrest and political turmoil in Rome, so the violence escalated unchecked despite the fact that the Zealots were undisciplined and poorly trained.  The Romans were eventually expelled from Jerusalem, but this Jewish victory didn’t last very long.

In the year 69 the Roman General Titus took over the military operation in the Holy Land and launched a siege against Jerusalem that lasted for seven months, during which Zealot infighting resulted in the burning of city’s food supply.  The Romans finally broke through Jerusalem’s defensive walls in the summer of 70 AD.  The starving inhabitants provided little resistance, and the Roman Army moved swiftly through the city, methodically slaughtering men, women, and children.  Josephus witnessed the horrible scene, which he documented in his monumental work The Wars of the Jews:

The Fall of Jerusalem.

The Fall of Jerusalem.

“The slaughter within was even more dreadful than the spectacle from without. Men and women, old and young, insurgents and priests, those who fought and those who entreated mercy, were hewn down in indiscriminate carnage. The number of the slain exceeded that of the slayers. The legionaries had to clamber over heaps of dead to carry on the work of extermination.”

Although some were able to flee the city through hidden underground tunnels, it was reported that more than 1 million Jews died from famine and warfare, and 97,000 were taken into captivity.  Titus gave his troops orders to spare the Temple, but the Zealots ensured its destruction by retreating behind its walls and using it as a military stronghold.  Flaming arrows launched against them by the Romans resulted in a conflagration that consumed the Temple and much of the city.

The fall of Jerusalem was swift and decisive.  Even after the fall of Jerusalem, bands of rebellious Jews continued to resist the Romans for another 50 years until the Roman Emperor Hadrian finally destroyed what little was left of the city.  Jerusalem and its precious Temple were destroyed because the Jews didn’t accept Jesus’ teachings about the futility of violence.  If they had continued to co-exist with the Romans, their city would have remained intact and eventually the Roman Empire, like all empires, would have fallen.

I am reminded of the story that they tell about the city of Savannah and how it was spared by General Sherman during the Civil War.  Sherman’s “scorched earth” campaign left a swatch of destruction all the way from Atlanta to the city’s door.  However, the city had the good sense to surrender peacefully and give Sherman the key to the city.  With great fanfare Sherman telegraphed President Lincoln that he had delivered the city of Savannah unharmed to the president as a Christmas gift. As a result of the good sense of its leadership this beautiful city was spared and its downtown area is one of the nation’s largest National Historic Landmark Districts.

I’m also reminded of China, which fell time and time again to neighboring empires.  But today the Han Chinese are the world’s largest ethnic group.  And what happened to all those invading groups?  They are remnants at best.  It’s hard, for example, to find a full-blooded Manchurian these days.  And look at the Mongols.  Not exactly players on the world stage. The Chinese defeated their enemies by loving them – literally.  They intermarried and bred their culture out of existence.  Assimilation. They may have lost all their battles but in the end they always had the last laugh.

And I’m reminded of Switzerland.  That’s what happens when you stay neutral when others go to war.  You prosper.  You get rich.

Jesus’ prophecy was proven true, as well as his teachings about war and violence.  War brings famine and destruction and genocide (Day 208).  If a nation turns the other cheek and waits it out, the invading empire will eventually crash and burn all on its own.  Evil dictators don’t live forever.  The decline of the Roman Empire began around 250 AD and the ultimate fall came another couple of hundred years later.  In most cases, discretion is the better part of valor.  Brains and self-restraint are often more effective than brawn and rage when it comes to safety and self-preservation.

The ultimate irony is that the Christians, who followed Jesus’ teachings about non-violence, established their headquarters in the capital city of their oppressor. Rome’s next claim to fame was as the home of the Roman Catholic Church.  And it really isn’t surprising that it wasn’t long before the church turned away from Jesus’ pacifist ways and became the next political and military superpower.  Rome’s new “Christian Empire” reached its zenith in the Middle Ages.  The Reformation initiated the decline of the Roman Catholic empire and the eventual evolution of the concept of separation of church and state.

Destruction of the Temple.

Destruction of the Temple.

Too bad those Zealots didn’t take Jesus’ advice not to mess with the Romans.  Too bad they didn’t just wait it out.  But then again, if they hadn’t gone to war the Jews might still be slaughtering animals and throwing blood around in that paganistic Temple.  Still it seems that the Temple could have come down without the death of a million people.  It would have been better if it had been by choice rather than force.

What does this scripture say to you?

Day 213: Matthew 24:15

You will see ‘The Awful Horror’ of which the prophet Daniel spoke. It will be standing in the holy place.”

[This is the one of 15 scriptures in which Jesus provides his disciples with some details about the Second Coming of Christ.  For more on the Second Coming see Day 150.  For more on the Messiah see Day 145.  For more on the End of the Age see Day 128.]

Clue #8:  The Awful Horror will reappear.

The Awful Horror was first mentioned by the prophet Daniel, who lived in the late 7th century BC when the Jews were in exile in Babylon.  Daniel had many visions about the rise and succession of several empires.  In one of these visions Daniel describes the “Awful Horror,” a pagan statue that was brought into the Temple by the enemies of the Jews:

The angel went on to explain: “The next king of Syria will be an evil man who has no right to be king, but he will come unexpectedly and seize power by trickery.  Anyone who opposes him, even God’s High Priest, will be swept away and wiped out…”  “Later on he will invade Egypt again, but this time things will turn out differently.  The Romans will come in ships and oppose him, and he will be frightened.”

“Then he will turn back in a rage and try to destroy the religion of God’s people. He will follow the advice of those who have abandoned that religion.  Some of his soldiers will make the Temple ritually unclean. They will stop the daily sacrifices and set up The Awful Horror.  By deceit the king will win the support of those who have already abandoned their religion, but those who follow God will fight back.” (Daniel 11:21-22, 29-32).

The Awful Horror was mentioned again the Book of I Maccabees, which documents a period 500 years later when the evil Syrian king Antiochus Epiphanes was persecuting the Jews.

On the fifteenth day of the month of Kislev in the year 145 (BC) King Antiochus set up The Awful Horror on the altar of the Temple, and pagan altars were built in the towns throughout Judea. Pagan sacrifices were offered in front of houses and in the streets. Any books of the Law which were found were torn up and burned, and anyone who was caught with a copy of the sacred books or who obeyed the Law was put to death by order of the king. Month after month these wicked people used their power against the Israelites caught in the towns. On the twenty-fifth of the month, these same evil people offered sacrifices on the pagan altar erected on top of the altar in the Temple. (I Maccabees 1:54-59).

Eventually King Antiochus was defeated and the Jews were able to pull down the Awful Horror, which historians believe was probably a statue of the Greek god Zeus.  Daniel predicted it, it showed up in the time of the Maccabees, and it was taken down a few years later.  And now Jesus mentions it again.  Apparently there is going to be a rerun.

Roman soldiers entering the Holy of Holies.

Roman soldiers entering the Holy of Holies.

It is generally assumed that this statement by Jesus somehow refers to the defilement of the Temple by the Romans in his own time. This event is described in detail by the great historian Josephus (37 AD-100 AD) in his master work, “The Wars of the Jews.”  In Book 1, Chapter 7 Josephus recalls how the Temple was invaded and violated by the Romans in the 1st century BC a few decades before Jesus was born.  Josephus reports that 12,000 Jews and only a few Romans were killed in this struggle, mostly because the Jews started fighting against each other.

The Romans were impressed by how the Temple priests continued to make their daily sacrifices and purifications with “the utmost exactness.”  He says, “And now did many of the priests, even when they saw their enemies assailing them with swords in their hands, without any disturbance, go on with their Divine worship, and were slain while they were offering their drink-offerings, and burning their incense, as preferring the duties about their worship to God before their own preservation.”

Ultimately the Roman general Pompey defiled the Temple in 63 BC when he entered the Holy of Holies.  Josephus wrote that “But there was nothing that affected the nation so much, in the calamities they were then under, as that their holy place, which had been hitherto seen by none, should be laid open to strangers; for Pompey, and those that were about him, went into the temple itself whither it was not lawful for any to enter but the high priest, and saw what was reposited therein.”

While Pompey did not steal or destroy anything in the Temple, he nevertheless violated it.  Imagine the arrogant general and his triumphant troops sauntering around in the Holy of Holies, running their hands over the candlestick with its lamps, picking up the golden vessels, tasting the spices, examining the piles of sacred money, perhaps even touching the Ark of the Covenant. To establish the Temple as his territory, Pompey replaced the High Priest with one of his own choosing.  And the defilement didn’t end with the invasion of the Romans.  Forty years later the evil King Herod the Great, a Jewish convert who did not obey the Law, rebuilt the Temple in a grand and gaudy style (See Day 206).  From that time on it was known as Herod’s Temple.  The Temple of the man who killed John the Baptist.

Maybe the Awful Horror wasn’t the defilement of the Romans or Herod. Perhaps the Awful Horror was the idolotry that had crept into Jewish religious practice.  On Day 123 I talked about Alfred Edersheim’s interpretation of Matthew 12:43-45 about demonic possession.  To make a long story short, Edersheim said that after the Jews returned from exile and rebuilt the temple, their emphasis was on combating idolatry (the worship of other gods) by demanding strict obedience to the letter of the Law of Moses.  Jesus said that they were successful in this effort.  However, somewhere along the line, their zeal to make things “clean and all fixed up,” they forgot about God.  He said that the Temple and religious practice in general was empty and devoid of meaning because God had left the building.  So now things were even worse.  Religious practice itself had become the new idolatry.  Idolatry had returned in the guise of religion but they failed to recognize it.  Along with the original spirit of idolotry, the pretense of religion was accompanied by other evils that Edersheim refers to – pride, self-righteousness, unbelief.  One might also add many others like legalism, cruelty, materialism, pride, to name a few.  Paganistic ritualism.  Awful.  Horrible.

I don’t think Jesus saw Jerusalem’s Temple as a holy place.  I think he felt that the Temple had indeed been defiled by both the Romans and the Jews themselves. I think that when he looked at the Temple and the rituals that were practiced there he saw the Awful Horror.  I think he saw idolotry and thinly veiled paganism.  He saw all of their faithful execution of religious duty as an exercise in futility because the Temple was just an empty shell.  God had left the building and the Awful Horror was the one who was now being worshiped.

What does this scripture say to you?

Day 212: Matthew 24:13-14

But whoever holds out to the end will be saved. And this Good News about the Kingdom will be preached through all the world for a witness to all people; and then the end will come.

[This is the one of 15 scriptures in which Jesus provides his disciples with some details about the Second Coming of Christ.  For more on the Second Coming see Day 150.  For more on the Messiah see Day 145.  For more on the End of the Age see Day 128.]

How will the disciples know that the end of the age is at hand?

Clue #7:  Those who persevere will be saved, and this Good News will be preached all over the world.

One of the things I learned as a result of doing this blog is that many of the things that I thought were uniquely Christian are in reality rooted in Jewish practice.  Here’s another one of those things.  I have heard many times that Christians are evangelistic and Jews are not.   Of course evangelical Christians want to get everyone to convert to Christianity so that the end of the world will come and we can all put this life on earth thing behind us.  I always think it’s funny how lots of Christians look forward to “the end of the world” even though they are afraid of death.  Seems weird to me. What’s even weirder is the survivalists who are filling up their basements with guns and canned goods to prepare for the end.  Who are they going to shoot?  God?

Anyway, I was always led to believe that this idea of world conversion as a prelude to the end times is a uniquely Christian point of view.  And while you aren’t likely to find Jews proselytizing on city street corners, a little research shows that this prophecy is a traditional Jewish belief.  Jews have apparently always believed that the “end of the world” or the “Messianic Age” or the “Kingdom of Heaven” will come only when everyone becomes a Jew.  Here’s the way the way it’s explained on my favorite Jewish educational website

Olam Ha-Ba: The Messianic Age

The world after the messiah comes is often referred to in Jewish literature as Olam Ha-Ba, the World to Come. This term can cause some confusion, because it is also used to refer to a spiritual afterlife. In English, we commonly use the term “messianic age” to refer specifically to the time of the messiah.

In the Olam Ha-Ba (The Messianic Age), the whole world will recognize the Jewish G-d as the only true G-d, and the Jewish religion as the only true religion (Isaiah 2:3; 11:10; Micah 4:2-3; Zechariah 14:9). Some gentiles have tried to put an ugly spin on this theology, claiming that Jews plan to force people to convert to our religion, perhaps based on their own religion’s history of doing exactly the same thing. That is not at all how Jews understand the messianic age. We believe that in that future time, everyone will simply know what the truth is, in the same way that we know that 2+2=4, and there will no longer be any reason to argue about it. It is much like a situation I witnessed at work once: two computer programmers were arguing loudly and at length about whether it was possible for a user to input data at a certain point in a program. Finally someone pressed a key and they all saw that nothing happened. Now they knew the truth, end of argument. When mashiach comes, theological truths will be equally obvious to mankind, and there will be no reason to argue about it.

So it seems there is a conflict here.  When everyone converts to Judaism there will be world peace.  Or is it Christianity?  We can’t all be Christian and Jewish at the same time.  Maybe it means the end will never come.  Or maybe the Kingdom of God is big enough to accommodate more than one earthly religion.  Maybe the end of the age will come when everyone comes to their senses and decides that love is better than hate, peace is better than war, generosity is better than greed, and kindness is always the best approach to everything.  When we can all get along, the Kingdom of God won’t “appear.”  When we can all get along, the Kingdom of God will already be here.

A lot of Christians today say the end is near because the Bible has been translated into 518 languages and knowledge of Jesus is known in all four corners of the earth.  They think that is what this scripture means.  All that’s needed is for everyone on the earth to hear the word “Jesus” and perhaps say, “I believe.”   Because that’s that they think being a Christian is all about.  World domination.

But what, according to this scripture, is the “Good News”?  Is it that Jesus died for our sins?  No, according to this scripture the Good News is that those who hold out until the end will be saved.  It says “THIS Good News,” the news that those who persevere will be saved, will be preached throughout the world.  Who are those who “hold out”? Those who love their enemies.  Those who turn the other cheek.  Those who show compassion to the outcasts.  Those who turn away from materialism.  Those who trust in God, accept the teachings of Jesus, and believe in the power of good.  Based on this criteria I don’t think the end is imminent.  Seems like we have a long way to go.

What does this scripture say to you?

Day 211: Matthew 24:11-12

Then many false prophets will appear and fool many people. Such will be the spread of evil that many people’s love will grow cold.

[This is the one of 15 scriptures in which Jesus provides his disciples with some details about the Second Coming of Christ.  For more on the Second Coming see Day 150.  For more on the Messiah see Day 145.  For more on the End of the Age see Day 128.]

How will the disciples know that the end of the age is at hand?

Clue #6 – There will be false prophets.

This seems like sort of a no-brainer.  Was there ever a time when there weren’t false prophets?  There is always someone running around who claims to be speaking for God, and always plenty of people who are willing to follow anyone who has leadership skills and charisma.

The rules about false prophets were laid out in the Law of Moses, so it must have been problem way back then:

“Prophets or interpreters of dreams may promise a miracle or a wonder, in order to lead you to worship and serve gods that you have not worshiped before. Even if what they promise comes true, do not pay any attention to them. The Lord your God is using them to test you, to see if you love the Lord with all your heart.  Follow the Lord and honor him; obey him and keep his commands; worship him and be faithful to him.  But put to death any interpreters of dreams or prophets that tell you to rebel against the Lord, who rescued you from Egypt, where you were slaves. Such people are evil and are trying to lead you away from the life that the Lord has commanded you to live. They must be put to death, in order to rid yourselves of this evil. (Deuteronomy 13:1-5).

Being a false prophet was yet another one of many capital offenses back in Moses’ day.  They sure used the death penalty a lot back then.  If you don’t like it, kill it.  The Law of Moses also provides a basic guideline about how to tell an authentic prophet from a false one, indicating once again that there were indeed false prophets running around:

“You may wonder how you can tell when a prophet’s message does not come from the Lord.  If a prophet speaks in the name of the Lord and what he says does not come true, then it is not the Lord’s message. That prophet has spoken on his own authority, and you are not to fear him. (Deuteronomy 18:21-22).

Here is some interesting info from Wikipedia on some of the prophets and Messiah wannabes who were running around in the time of Jesus:

The Talmud provides two examples of such Jewish miracle workers around the time of Jesus. Mishnah Ta’anit 3:8 tells of “Honi the Circledrawer” who, in the middle of the 1st century BCE, was famous for his ability to successfully pray for rain. On one occasion when God did not answer his prayer, he drew a circle in the dust, stood inside it, and informed God that he would not move until it rained. When it began to drizzle, Honi told God that he was not satisfied and expected more rain; it then began to pour. He explained that he wanted a calm rain, at which point the rain calmed to a normal rain.

Mishnah Berakot 5:5 tells of Hanina ben Dosa, who in the generation following Jesus cured Gamaliel’s son by prayer.  A later story tells of a lizard that used to injure passers-by. Hanina ben Dosa came and put his heel over the hole; the lizard bit him and died. Such men were respected for their relationship with God but not considered especially saintly; their abilities were seen as one more unknowable thing and not deemed a result of any ultra-strict observance of Jewish law. These men were sometimes doubted, often respected, and even addressed by their followers as “lord” — but never considered “saviors” or “messiahs.”

During this period a new class of prophets emerged who hearkened back to Moses and Joshua as harbingers of national liberation. These men did not claim to be messiahs, and did not rely on physical force, but did lead large movements of people (from the hundreds to the thousands) to act in ways that, they believed, would lead God to restore his kingdom. For example, in 36 AD a Samaritan led a large group up Mount Gerizim, where they believed Moses had buried sacred vessels (echoing Moses’ ascent up Mt. Sinai). Pilate blocked their route and killed their leaders.

Another such prophet was Theudas, who, sometime between 44 and 46 AD led a large group of people to the Jordan river, which he claimed he could part (echoing Moses at the Red Sea and Joshua at the Jordan river). Fadus, a procurator after Pilate, blocked their route and killed Theudas.

An “Egyptian Prophet” (it is unclear if the prophet came from Egypt, or was invoking Moses’ Egyptian origin) led thirty thousand around the Mount of Olives and sought to enter Jerusalem until stopped by Felix, a procurator after Fadus.

The existence of one of those prophets, Theudas, is mentioned in the Book of Acts when a religious council is trying to figure out what to do about the apostles:

Fellow Israelites, be careful what you do to these men.  You remember that Theudas appeared some time ago, claiming to be somebody great, and about four hundred men joined him. But he was killed, all his followers were scattered, and his movement died out.  After that, Judas the Galilean appeared during the time of the census; he drew a crowd after him, but he also was killed, and all his followers were scattered.  And so in this case, I tell you, do not take any action against these men. Leave them alone! If what they have planned and done is of human origin, it will disappear, but if it comes from God, you cannot possibly defeat them. You could find yourselves fighting against God!” (Acts 5:35-39).

And of course there are still false prophets.  Every pastor who claims to preach God’s word gets it wrong sometimes, but that doesn’t mean they are all false prophets.  When someone really goes off the rails and develops a large following we generally refer to them as cult leaders.  They typically manipulate people by trying to convince them that the “end of the world” is imminent.  A few famous ones are Jim Jones, Harold Camping, Marshall Applewhite, David Koresh, and David Berg.  It usually ends bad.

So Jesus was right.  Seems like there have always been false prophets, and when people get involved with them they get hurt and disappointed.  Like Jesus says on Day 61, you can’t just watch what people say, you have to watch what they do:

Be on your guard against false prophets; they come to you looking like sheep on the outside, but on the inside they are really like wild wolves. You will know them by what they do. Thorn bushes do not bear grapes, and briers do not bear figs.

A healthy tree bears good fruit, but a poor tree bears bad fruit. A healthy tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a poor tree cannot bear good fruit. And any tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown in the fire. So then, you will know the false prophets by what they do.

Such good advice.  You have to use a little common sense. If you don’t want to be disappointed by a spiritual leader, pay less attention to what they say and more attention to what they do.

What does this scripture say to you?

Day 210: Matthew 24:10

Many will give up their faith at that time; they will betray one another and hate one another.

[This is the one of 15 scriptures in which Jesus provides his disciples with some details about the Second Coming of Christ.  For more on the Second Coming see Day 150.  For more on the Messiah see Day 145.  For more on the End of the Age see Day 128.]

How will the disciples know when the end of the age is at hand?

Clue #5 – There will be discouragement, betrayal and hatred.

For the short term this was certainly true.  One of Jesus’ disciples (Judas) betrayed him, but in doing this he also betrayed the whole group.  Peter, the disciple whom Jesus calls the “rock” on which he will build his church (Day 146), denied Jesus three times to save his own skin.  When Jesus is crucified, the disciples were nowhere to be found.  The men have all run away.   Plenty of discouragement and betrayal.

When Jesus was crucified the only ones who remained faithful were the women:

There were many women there, looking on from a distance, who had followed Jesus from Galilee and helped him.  Among them were Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James and Joseph, and the wife of Zebedee (Matthew 27:55-56).

Two Marys.  Of all the people who followed Jesus only the two Marys are documented by Matthew as sticking around to be with him until the bitter end.  Maybe the two Marys still held on to hope that something good was going to happen.  Maybe they were there because they kept the faith.  They didn’t betray him, or deny him, or run away, or stay home behind closed doors.  They stayed with him.  They did the honorable thing.  Oh, by the way, in the Book of John the writer adds a third Mary, and he also inserts himself as “the disciple that Jesus loved”.  I guess Matthew and Mark didn’t see John there.  Oh wait, they weren’t there, so how would they know?  They were both off hiding out somewhere.  Who knows.  Maybe John was there in the spirit.  He was a pretty spiritual guy.  But the first and most reliable accounts given by Mark and Matthew only mention the two Marys.  Whatever.  I’m glad the women were mentioned because they were probably the only ones in Jesus’ inner circle who were actually there.  Usually the women in the Bible are invisible except for a few heroines and vixens.

Yes, it seems that in the very short term there was certainly discouragement and betrayal.  I’m sure there were some very hateful stuff going on, too.  But in the long run it seems that no amount of persecution could discourage the people from joining the followers of Jesus.

Here is a case where the movement grew despite the fact that Peter and John were arrested:

Peter and John were still speaking to the people when some priests, the officer in charge of the Temple guards, and some Sadducees arrived.  They were annoyed because the two apostles were teaching the people that Jesus had risen from death, which proved that the dead will rise to life. So they arrested them and put them in jail until the next day, since it was already late.  But many who heard the message believed; and the number grew to about five thousand. (Acts 4:1-4)

Here is a case where the church leaders started to quarrel about finances (sound familiar?), but in the end they worked out their differences and some pagan priests were converted (how often does that happen?):

Some time later, as the number of disciples kept growing, there was a quarrel between the Greek-speaking Jews and the native Jews. The Greek-speaking Jews claimed that their widows were being neglected in the daily distribution of funds.  So the twelve apostles called the whole group of believers together and said, “It is not right for us to neglect the preaching of God’s word in order to handle finances. So then, friends, choose seven men among you who are known to be full of the Holy Spirit and wisdom, and we will put them in charge of this matter…The group presented them to the apostles, who prayed and placed their hands on them. And so the word of God continued to spread. The number of disciples in Jerusalem grew larger and larger, and a great number of priests accepted the faith. (Acts 6:1-7)

Finally, although some were forced to leave their homes and flee for their lives, they still didn’t get discouraged.  Instead they continued to spread Jesus’ message of love and peace and the expansion of the movement continued:

Some of the believers who were scattered by the persecution which took place when Stephen was killed went as far as Phoenicia, Cyprus, and Antioch, telling the message to Jews only.  But other believers, who were from Cyprus and Cyrene, went to Antioch and proclaimed the message to Gentiles[b] also, telling them the Good News about the Lord Jesus.  The Lord’s power was with them, and a great number of people believed and turned to the Lord.  (Acts 11:19-21).

So even though there were mass defections and betrayals and hatred, these things didn’t stop the movement from growing.  The message of Jesus was so revolutionary, so compelling, so intuitively good and true that nothing could stop its spread. No matter how messed up things may look, it’s not over till it’s over.

What does this scripture say to you?