1 As Jesus was leaving the Temple grounds, his disciples pointed out to him the various Temple buildings. 2 But he responded, “Do you see all these buildings? I tell you the truth, they will be completely demolished. Not one stone will be left on top of another!”
3 Later, Jesus sat on the Mount of Olives. His disciples came to him privately and said, “Tell us, when will all this happen? What sign will signal your return and the end of the world?”
4 Jesus told them, “Don’t let anyone mislead you, 5 for many will come in my name, claiming, ‘I am the Messiah.’ They will deceive many. 6 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. 7 Nation will go to war against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be famines and earthquakes in many parts of the world. 8 But all this is only the first of the birth pains, with more to come.
9 Then you will be arrested, persecuted, and killed. You will be hated all over the world because you are my followers. 10 And many will turn away from me and betray and hate each other. 11 And many false prophets will appear and will deceive many people. 12 Sin will be rampant everywhere, and the love of many will grow cold. 13 But the one who endures to the end will be saved. 14 And the Good News about the Kingdom will be preached throughout the whole world, so that all nations will hear it; and then the end will come.
15 The day is coming when you will see what Daniel the prophet spoke about—the sacrilegious object that causes desecration standing in the Holy Place.” (Reader, pay attention!) 16 “Then those in Judea must flee to the hills. 17 A person out on the deck of a roof must not go down into the house to pack. 18 A person out in the field must not return even to get a coat. 19 How terrible it will be for pregnant women and for nursing mothers in those days. 20 And pray that your flight will not be in winter or on the Sabbath. 21 For there will be greater anguish than at any time since the world began. And it will never be so great again. 22 In fact, unless that time of calamity is shortened, not a single person will survive. But it will be shortened for the sake of God’s chosen ones. 23 Then if anyone tells you, ‘Look, here is the Messiah,’ or ‘There he is,’ don’t believe it. 24 For false messiahs and false prophets will rise up and perform great signs and wonders so as to deceive, if possible, even God’s chosen ones. 25 See, I have warned you about this ahead of time.”
When we read apocalyptic passages like this, we tend to interpret them in one of two ways. Sometimes, people try to construct a nexus of signs that will indicate the end is imminent, that Jesus will return on a certain day and these events will occur not long before as signals of the coming of the kingdom that isn’t here quite yet. Others read these as descriptions of the world as it exists alongside and until the kingdom is brought to bear on it. The first approach is waiting for a sign that the end is here. The second sees these as signs that we have work to do.
Another way to read this begins with the understanding that the kingdom is both already here and also not here in its fulness yet (this often gets called already/not yet for short). War, violence, and natural disasters are opportunities to show love and compassion toward people and also evidence that the kingdom has not come completely yet. Paying close attention to the text, we see that the disciples are doing the same thing the religious leaders were earlier – asking for a sign – and that Jesus does again what he did before – refuses to answer. He is specifically not giving a list of signs here. In fact, he is warning against looking for signs and making use of dramatic events as such. He calls people who do that sort of thing false messiahs and prophets and warns the disciples against that sort of teaching.
This is important for us because so many Christians do exactly what Jesus warned against. Just this week, the devastating, heart-breaking destruction in Oklahoma was followed by Christian leaders taking to social media with the false claims Jesus predicted here. What Jesus is saying here is pretty clear. Don’t pay any attention to that stuff. Those people do not speak for the Father. Do not be fooled by false teachers and their claims about signs.
The New Living Translation (NLT)Holy Bible. New Living Translation copyright© 1996, 2004, 2007 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.