Brave New World
November 15, 2009
Jesus was right. The Temple’s gone. It’s been gone for a long time. Centuries. It’s hardly even a ruin in Jerusalem these days. A bit of the wall is all that’s left. And there is some debate if that was even really ever a part of the Temple.
But when Jesus said this, the disciples never imagined it would meet such a fate. You could see the sun shining off of it’s gold facade from a great distance.
And besides, all the nations of the world were to come streaming to Mt. Zion, to the Temple. Rome would be defeated. All of God’s, and Israel’s, enemies destroyed. The Messiah would descend. Israel would be not only the new Imperial power, but it would be the only power ever again. And it would all center around this magnificent Temple, the true dwelling place of God. This is what had been promised to Abraham, Issac, and Jacob, their wives and families and all the rest of Israel. God would reign forever and ever. From right there on Temple Mount.
The disciples were caught up in their own end times theology. The first century equivalent of the Left Behind series had laid it all out. So who was Jesus to even suggest they could be wrong? There was no way the Temple would be destroyed. It had to be there forever. Didn’t he believe the Bible?
Afterwards, they got up their courage and asked him what was going on? And what they wanted to know most of all, if what they had been told wasn’t right, then what was? If these aren’t the end times Jesus, when will they be? We need to know.
Ever since then there has been in the church, in my humble opinion, this obsession with the end times. Whether it was the first century, the fifth century, the 15th century, the 20th or 21st centuries, or in any other century, large parts of the church have developed as precise and minute a blueprint for the end times that have been developed for ours. Even though it was the accepted teaching that those Christians of all those past times were living in the end times, and that was what all Bible believing Christians believed, they all, of course, were wrong.
Guess what? All those Christians over the centuries got it wrong, but this current batch of end timers claims to have gotten it right. And in a whole lot of churches in the 21st century USA, it’s taken for gospel truth that these are the end times.
It’s kind of weird, though, that this current fascination with the end times reached its height in the 1960′s and has stayed there ever since. Hal Lindsay’s The Late Great Planet Earth started this round off. And even though he got is so wrong in that book, it didn’t deter the fervor.
Some of you here, who are old enough, may remember how our mailboxes were flooded with the little booklet called 88 Reasons Why the Rapture will Happen in 1988. They did try to redeem themselves with the corrected version the following year with 89 Reasons the Rapture will Happen in 1989. I guess they couldn’t come up with 90 reasons, or funding, for the following year, so they sort of faded away.
The end times preachers didn’t though. And despite the fact that the LeHaye’s and Haggee’s and Lindsay’s have been revamping their predictions for 50 years now, which by most definitions that I can think of would be proof in itself that these aren’t the end times, they are more popular and wealthier than ever. None of their predictions have quite panned out. The Soviet Union was going to try to wipe out Israel and thus initiate Armageddon. When the Soviet Union disappeared, the end times preachers didn’t miss a beat and they said it was Saddam Hussain who was going to bring about Armageddon. But he’s dead now.
When there was first talk of a European Union they said that as soon as ten countries joined it, that would bring about the rise of the anti-Christ and his world wide dictatorship. I think there are 24 countries in the EU now. Despite how wrong they have been, end times theology is not only alive and well in many churches, but it is thriving.
There are probably all kinds of reasons for this fascination with the end times. No matter what period of history, times can be tough. Wars and rumors of wars. Earthquakes. Famines. All manner of catastrophe, personal as well as societal. So we want an end to it all. We want God to make things right once and for all and forever. The sooner God rules from the Temple, and establishes that everlasting Kingdom, the better. And if you are familiar with the end times scenarios, a rebuilt Temple in Jerusalem is key to all of them.
And then, of course, the culmination of the age, of all that God is doing, we are sure, has to involve us.
It turns out, though, that Jesus was much more interested in another kind of Kingdom. He said that God’s Realm wasn’t something we wait for, but we go find. It is something to be sought because it is in our midst. We don’t have to have elaborate charts and time lines. We follow Jesus. We take him and his ways seriously, loving God with as much of ourselves as we can and loving each other. Those were the signs Jesus was looking for, his followers helping God’s Kingdom to come, helping God’s will to be done on earth as it is in heaven. Why, Jesus must have wondered, were we waiting for God to make things right, when we could be joining God in making things right along the way.
The Temple was destroyed in around 70a.d. Really destroyed. The Romans, tired of Jewish intransigence, did turn every stone over. It was nothing but rubble by time they got done. And by then, the first Christians had long lost their fascination with the Temple since they were so unwelcomed there. And the gospel, the good news Jesus proclaimed of God’s Realm, was spreading to people outside of Israel who had never cared about the Temple in Jerusalem.
These first Christians, though, were discovering another kind of temple, one built with their lives. As 1 Peter says, “You are living stones, being built into a spiritual temple… called out of darkness into the marvelous light of God.”
That’s the temple we should be concerned about, not some Temple built with stones and wood. Jesus calls us to build something with each other where the presence of God is found. And that is quite a calling. What we are doing with each other is building a place where people can find God. It puts a whole different spin on this thing we call church.
It’s not that Jesus didn’t believe that God was going to establish a new heaven and a new earth. He lived his life with that vision in mind. He was an eschatological kind of guy, but he had such a different vision. He believed what was to come in the new age wasn’t limited to the new age. We could discover in along the way to it’s being fulfilled.
So much of of other end times theology is about despair and destruction. But Jesus wanted things built up not torn down, including our lives. Though things were so dark and hard for him, personally, he was filled with hope. He knew that God was creating something for this world that offered so much more than a Temple in Jerusalem. Why would God want that rebuilt, when there is much more that can be built out of our lives as we follow Jesus with each other?
We can build hope. We can build this living temple with each other that will make a difference in our lives, and the lives of others. Our call is not to believe in the end times, but to believe in Jesus, and let God take care of the end of the age.
I can understand wanting a new world. But I can’t understand waiting for it. We may not be much, but we are the living stones, the building blocks of what God is building in this world, now. So that Temple in Jerusalem may have been big and beautiful. The disciples were rightly impressed. They had never seen anything like it. But it would pale to the beauty of what Jesus had in mind, what we can bring to this world as God builds our lives together into a living temple, the dwelling place of God.