Where the Known Things Are

Heritage Presbyterian Church https://heritagepresbyterian.org

November 14, 2021
25th Sunday After Pentecost
Scripture readings – Daniel 12:1-3 and Mark 13: 1-8

If you were awake and paying attention last Sunday, then you could describe the content of the sermon in one word:  saints.

If you stay awake and pay attention today, you will also be able to describe the content of this sermon in one word:  prophecy.

Both Scripture readings today include prophecies that describe what will happen at the End of the World, also known as the End Times, the End of Days, Christ’s return, or the Apocalypse.

And neither is from the Book of Revelation, which is the biggest source of prophecy in Scripture.

Now if we are going to discuss Biblical prophecies, we must first recognize that there are some difficulties with this concept:

  1.  Most prophecies described in the Bible are grandly descriptive; only a few have any real specifics.  For an example of this, John’s descriptions of what he sees in Revelation are just that: descriptions.  There are few very specific events that can be pointed to; virtually all of the content of Revelation includes John’s descriptions of what he actually saw in his visions.  Contrast that with Daniel’s prophecies, in which he describes very specific historical events that occurred around the year 165 B.C.  In fact, all of Daniel’s specific prophecies are accurate – but he didn’t describe the end or the death of the major antagonist, Antiochus Epiphanes IV, the king of Syria who attacked Israel in Daniel’s prophecies.
  • The timeline for authorship of Biblical prophecies makes them suspect.  Daniel was supposedly written in the 6th century B.C. and described events around 165 B.C.  Yet, some scholars claim that Daniel was actually written much closer to 165 B.C. and could have been a description of events instead of a prophecy of what would happen in the future. John’s Revelation seems to point to the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 A.D., which is a known historical date.  Yet, most scholars point to a later date for Revelation being written, possibly as late as 90 A.D.  So, could the Book of Revelation actually be a description and not a prophecy? Hard to say definitively…
  • Some prophecies are so incredibly vague that they could point to virtually any time in human history.  In Mark’s Gospel, note that Jesus described the following as happening when the Apostles asked when the Temple in Jerusalem would be destroyed:
    • Nation will rise against nation;
    • Kingdom against kingdom;
    • There will be earthquakes in various places;
    • Famines.

Where are these things NOT occurring today?

  •  One of the most common interpretations is that the End Times must be associated with specific events that occur in America.  When various wars have occurred, when devastating earthquakes, when food shortages happen, Americans are quick to interpret these events as harbingers of Christ’s imminent return.  Yet, Americans are often aware of these same conditions occurring in locations around the world, and no end-of-the-world associations seem to be counted.  When the two tribes in Rwanda began murdering one another back in the 1990’s, I don’t recall anyone speculating that the world was ending.  When the Dust Bowl devastated the Midwest in the 1930’s and no rain fell for 8 years, were the local churches preaching from the Book of Revelation exclusively for 8 years?  In 1964, when the largest earthquake ever to hit in North America destroyed large sections of Alaskan cities, including ten-foot drops in the streets in Anchorage, I didn’t hear anything about the Alaskan population looking to the sky and anticipating Christ’s return.

In fact, when 9/11 happened, churches all over America reported substantial increases in worship attendance… which trailed off after a few weeks.  Not exactly a prophecy-following interpretation… 

  • But in my opinion, all the difficulties I have listed so far pale in comparison to this one: Much too often, prophecies are misunderstood, misinterpreted, and mismanaged by those who seek to have influence over others.  Throughout history, various so-called “prophets” have risen who claimed to have intimate knowledge of when the world would end and how to best prepare for it.  In America, we have had more than our share of these folks who have mostly ended up moving away from public view and living in shame – or disappearing suddenly from view and dying shortly after their special knowledge proves to be false.  

So…with so much that is unknown in prophecy, where are the known things?  Where are those insights that we can hold fast to when our daily lives – or even our basic faith – is challenged?

One known thing that all of us should always hold to is that Jesus said no one – I repeat, NO ONE – knows when the day or hour of the End Times will occur.  Not the angels, not any human being, not the Son, but only the Father.  So, if we know this, then why do the false prophesiers continue to arise and continue to occupy our attention?

Another known thing is how Jesus acted on that day of the Apostles’ questions.  If you were to look back at last week’s reading from Mark, the Apostles were all saying, “Look!” when they were talking about the Temple; when Jesus said, “Look!” he was talking about the poor widow who put two copper coins or two mites into the collection for the Temple tax.  Jesus wanted his followers to look at the world right now and notice was right in front of them.

Also, when the Apostles asked, “When?” their answer was NOT a specific date from Jesus.  Their answer was “God!”  Jesus wanted them to trust the Father, not to sit on mountain tops or in open fields doing nothing and waiting for his return.  There was and is work to be done right now and right here.  Jesus wanted his followers to attend to that work.  This is a known thing that we frequently forget about; but it’s so easy to get caught up in speculating on future events…

The final thing that should be known and should be held closely in our hearts and minds is the following observation about the four Gospels.  The last word to his followers from Jesus is this:

  • John: Be united in love with Christ and with one another.
  • Matthew and Luke: Be engaged in the mission to the Gentiles, for the Kingdom of God is for everyone.
  • Mark: Watch for the coming of the Son of Man.

All four Gospels tell us that Jesus Christ is about much more than even the grandest Temple in Jerusalem; He is more important than even the holiest site in the world; He taught lessons that were much, MUCH clearer than most prophecies if we would only pay strict attention to them.

The known things are these:

  • Be alert
  • Be informed
  • Be faithful to the end
  • Be loving to one another.

If those things are truly known, then Jesus will take care of those who love and serve him.