Listen to it:
“The End is Near”
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
It must have been hard to believe, coming out of the Temple. Walking past stones twice as tall as a man and 37 feet long, it must have been hard to believe that anything could take those stones down. Not one stone left upon another that will not be thrown down? These great stones and great buildings reduced to rubble? It must have been hard to believe. And yet it happened, some forty years later, in 70 AD, when Roman armies conquered and destroyed Jerusalem and the Temple in the midst of her. Jesus told His disciples ahead of time, though we don’t know how many of them, other than John, were still alive in 70. But they were brought before councils and synagogues; they were beaten and killed for the witness they gave. The Holy Spirit spoke through them and their words were blessed by those who trusted Jesus and hated by those who did not. But Jesus was painting a much bigger picture than just the next 40 years. He was laying out on the canvas the life of the Church from the time of His ascension to His return in glory. In His painting, the end is telescoped into the now. But even though these few verses from Mark 13 compress the Last Day, our day, and 70 AD all together, there are three distinct things in this painting: first, you can see Roman armies descending upon Judea, and burning everything to the ground except three towers and part of one wall. September 26, 70 AD, Jerusalem fell to the Roman Caesar, Titus, just as Jesus had prophesied. Second, you can see Jesus descending to the earth with the armies of heaven to put an end to all hatred, murder, war, and every natural disaster that results in death. Third, you can see the time in between those two events.
What the painting does not reveal is the timing of the last Day, whether it is close or far. “Tell us, when will these things be, and what will be the sign when all these things are about to be accomplished?” (Mark 13:4, ESV). He does give us signs, just as He gave His disciples. He doesn’t tell us how long this time will last, but He does tell us that we are living now in the end of time. Even though it has been 1,939 years since the stones of the Temple were thrown down, the words of Jesus still echo through time to us: “See that no one leads you astray. Many will come in My Name, saying, ‘I am [He], and they will lead many astray” (Mark 13:5-6). Even in the first 25 years after Jerusalem had been destroyed, St. John wrote: “Children, it is the last hour, and as you have heard that antichrist is coming, so now many antichrists have come. Therefore we know that it is the last hour” (1 John 2:18, ESV). We know that this, too, is the last hour, because people still oppose Christ and put themselves in His place. That is the definition of “anti-christ.” More signs: “[W]hen you hear of wars and rumors of wars, do not be disturbed. It must happen, but the end is not yet. For nation will rise up against nation and kingdom against kingdom, and there will be earthquakes in various places; there will be famines. These things are the beginning of birth-pains” (Mark 13:7-8). Do we hear of wars and rumors of wars? Do we have earthquakes? Are there famines? All of those things mean the end is near, just as they did when they happened in the first century. But, as of this moment, the end hasn’t come yet. We know that labor-pains mean the birth is near, but no one knows how long the labor will last.
And so we are in exactly the same position as the disciples in Mark 13. There is nothing to do in these end-times but what Jesus told the disciples to do in those end-times: See that no one leads you astray to any other Jesus or any other Gospel. Do not be alarmed at all the things that you hear and see; this is what it looks like to watch a world die. Be on your guard; you will be given opportunities to bear witness to Christ during your life in this world. Maybe not in synagogues, or before kings and emperors, but certainly in schools and in families, in fields and offices. Do not be anxious about what you will say, whether you are asked about Jesus individually or brought to trial before judge and jury. The Holy Spirit is within you, and He will bring to your mind the particular Word of Jesus fitting to the time. It will not be easy; it never has been. Perhaps physical persecution will come to us. If not to us, than to our children or grandchildren. If not physical persecution, then mental and spiritual persecution to drive us away from Baptism, and the Word, and the Supper—to cut us off from the Vine. Sometimes that persecution will simply be the slight but steady pressure of living life in this world. Satan aims to take your eyes off the Christ whose painting this is. He will tempt you to get caught up in all the speculation about greater and lesser signs, times and seasons. If that doesn’t work, he will tempt you to think that everything is fine, so you no longer need to watch and be on guard. It can be hard to believe: all this talk about the end of the world is vague and indefinite. It can seem as if there is nothing firm, nothing sound, nothing solid. But there is One. There is One who is absolutely trustworthy, absolutely believable, because He has never lied. He promised His disciples that Jerusalem would mean His end—death and resurrection—and He died and rose again. He promised that they would face persecution and death because they bore His Name, and they did. He promised that the Temple would be destroyed, and it was. He promises that the end will come, and it will; and He promises that He will grant the strength and power to endure until the end. You who have Jesus for your Lord will endure to the end, because Christ endures forever—He is the steadfast love of Yahweh. And you will be saved. “He who calls you is faithful; he will surely do it” (1 Thessalonians 5:24, ESV).
But until that promise is fulfilled, things are not going to get better or easier. There will be no secret rapture of Christians so that we do not have to experience suffering and persecution. No, we, too, will have to be on our guard. We, too, will have to see that we are not deceived by counterfeit christs and Jesus-imposters. Many will come with His Name on their lips, but what they will say about Him will not match what the prophetic and apostolic Scriptures say. If they say that He did not rise from the dead, or that the cross was unnecessary, or that He is not returning in the clouds to raise our bodies from their graves, they are antichrists. Be on your guard. Fortify your position with the very Word who is Christ, as you hear Him today and in the written Scriptures. Strengthen your bodies and your souls for the time when the labor pains reach our part of the Body. The only way to do that is for Christ to give you His Word and His Supper, to strengthen and preserve you in both body and soul until life everlasting. It is to not give up meeting together around the Risen Christ, as some are in the habit of doing (Hebrews 10:25). And it is to know that Jesus is Faithful and True (Revelation 19:11). Even in the midst of death, even if all these stones are thrown down, know that your Lord is risen, and so you will rise, too. Do not be alarmed or disturbed by what you see and hear; it is only the beginning of the end. At the same time, do not be alarmed or disturbed by the fact that the end is coming: it comes for you. Jesus is your Lord by the blood He shed for you and poured over you and gives you to drink. It is that Lord who is coming to save you. You will not need to wonder if it is Him; when every knee bows before Him and every tongue confesses Him to be Lord of heaven and earth, He will call you to Himself, and you will know and follow His voice to your true home. “O Jesus Christ, do not delay,/But hasten our salvation;/We often tremble on our way/In fear and tribulation/O hear and grant our fervent plea:/Come, mighty judge, and set us free/From death and ev’ry evil” (LSB 508, st. 7).
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen. “And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:7, ESV). Amen.
— Pr. Timothy Winterstein, 11/10/09