Texts: Daniel 12:1-3; Mark 13:1-13
Jesus said to one of His disciples, “Do you see these great buildings? There will not be left here one stone upon another that will not be thrown down.” In our text last week Jesus taught the people to beware of the scribes. Afterward, He and the Disciples left the temple and one of them marveled at its wonderful stones and buildings. Buildings are temporary, even the temple, said Jesus; There will be a time when not one of those stones will be left standing. A minor fulfillment of this prophecy would come some 40 years later when the Romans come to destroy Jerusalem. Its major fulfillment will be at the return of Christ when He sets all things in order.
We’ve now hit the final two Sundays of the church year, and our readings take a turn toward the somewhat dire. For example, “Brother will deliver brother over to death, and the father his child, and children will rise against parents and have them put to death. And you will be hated by all for my name’s sake.” That doesn’t quite sound like the Gospel words we’re used to, or maybe prefer. We might’ve forgotten that Jesus Himself said that He did not come to bring peace, but division. (Lk. 12:51) That is the result when sinful man hears the Word without the aid of the Holy Spirit. He rejects it and those – like us – who receive it with joy. In our world today, and increasingly in times to come, this results in brother delivering brother to death, hating each other on account of Christ’s holy name.
Just where is Jesus going with this? “You will be hated by all for my name’s sake. But the one who endures to the end will be saved.” Jesus tells us all this plainly so that we will not be deceived. My first sermon as a pastor I used the phrase, “The times, they are a changin.” This is going to become increasingly true of the world’s tolerance for the one true faith. It’s going to get worse, until it won’t. Christ tells us all these things so that we may have the blessed assurance, the blessed endurance, that we will be saved in the resurrection of the flesh.
We turn back to the the text. The occasion is that upon leaving the temple, a remark is given about how great the buildings are. For a first-century Jew, the rebuilt temple of Herod the Great was about as close to the glory of Solomon as one could get. Surely its storied halls were a sign of God’s benevolent love. Not so, according to Jesus. The larger context is that we are in Holy Week. Jesus had already cleansed the Temple of those buying and selling, and last week He set the scribes straight. He is endeavoring now to tell the Disciples what will soon happen to them, and what will happen to the Church before His return. Jesus says,
“See that no one leads you astray. Many will come in my name, saying, ‘I am he!’ and they will lead many astray. And when you hear of wars and rumors of wars, do not be alarmed. This must take place, but the end is not yet. For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be earthquakes in various places; there will be famines. These are but the beginning of the birth pains.”
There again is why Jesus is telling us these things, so that we are not led astray. Scripture tells us that Christ will come again in the same way that He left – on the clouds – and the whole world will see it. But that will not stop many from falsely coming in His name. Recent history has shown us examples of that, as in ancient history some claimed to be Moses reincarnated and led many people to their deaths. There will be wars and rumors, but these things must take place. And yet, these are but the beginning.
This continues to bear immediate implications for the Disciples. “They will deliver you over to councils, and you will be beaten in synagogues, and you will stand before governors and kings for my sake, to bear witness before them.” This was true for the Apostles. Save St. John, all died martyrs’ deaths, along with many other early and present-day Christians. St. Paul was beaten in synagogues, stood before governors, and even Caesar before his martyrdom in Rome. They all stood before governors and kings bearing the Word of Christ. We, likewise, are called to bear witness to Christ before the world. Some of us may be called to suffer directly for His sake.
That is a scary thought, though, isn’t it? Many of us struggle sharing the faith with people in our regular lives; how could we possibly testify before kings? At various times in the early church there were persecutions. But, if a Christian brought in would just offer a small sacrifice to the gods, all would be forgiven. They could just forget all the bad stuff. Do you know how many are remembered in history for doing that? None. For Jesus says, “When they bring you to trial and deliver you over, do not be anxious beforehand what you are to say, but say whatever is given you in that hour, for it is not you who speak, but the Holy Spirit.”
We have been given the Words of the Holy Spirit. We hear them weekly in church, we have them in written form in the Holy Scriptures, and we have all received the Holy Spirit in our hearts through the washing of Holy Baptism, whereby our sins are forgiven and faith is received. Jesus says that things are going to get worse. More and more persecutions of our faith will come, but Jesus is telling us these things so that we do not lose heart. When these things do come, we will endure. We will speak not our own words, but the words of the Holy Spirit. Jesus also says, “You will be hated by all for my name’s sake. But the one who endures to the end will be saved.”
Many of you probably know and love the hymn, “Blessed Assurance.” It is actually based off a verse from our Epistle text: “Let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water.” The author to the Hebrews is reminding them and us that we have been sprinkled clean with the blood of Christ and washed pure from our sins through Holy Baptism. That is our blessed assurance in the times of trial that we are in now and in the ones to come. This blessed assurance gives us what I would call the blessed endurance. We have the endurance of the Holy Spirit, given to those whose names are written in the Book of Life.
The Lord gives us a picture of where this blessed endurance leads in Daniel 12. Our Old Testament text is one of the most beloved passages in the Bible that speak specifically about the resurrection of the dead. We confess it almost every Sunday in the Creed, but what will it look like?
There shall be a time of trouble, such as never has been since there was a nation till that time. But at that time your people shall be delivered, everyone whose name shall be found written in the book. And many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt. And those who are wise shall shine like the brightness of the sky above; and those who turn many to righteousness, like the stars forever and ever.
The Lord tells Daniel that there shall be a time of great tribulation, a great persecution of the true faith of the Church, such as has never been until that time. But, those who belong to the Lord will be delivered – everyone whose name is written in the Book of Life. That’s you. When you were baptized your name was written in the Book of Eternal life and inscribed upon Christ’s palms. When He stands before the throne to plead on behalf of sinners, He intercedes for you. When we die we go immediately to heaven and are with Christ. We become those who are standing before the throne with palm branches in our hands as we await the Resurrection. When Christ returns, He will raise our bodies from the dust of the earth and bring us into the New Heaven and New Earth.
We’ve covered some pretty heavy stuff today. We began with the teaching of Christ that more persecutions will come. Before He returns, the world will grow increasingly cold to the warmth of the Gospel and we who bear it in our hearts through Baptism. We may be called to suffer for His sake, but we need not worry what to say, because it will be the Holy Spirit who will speak through us. St. Paul writes that He who began a good work in us will bring it to completion in the day of Christ. This is the blessed endurance that we have received. The Holy Spirit will keep us in the true faith through all persecutions until the return of Christ. When He comes back, our bodies will be raised to shine like the stars and we will live forever in both soul and body with Christ and those who love Him.