Hold on Tight
New Revised Standard Version Updated Edition
5 When some were speaking about the temple, how it was adorned with beautiful stones and gifts dedicated to God, he said, 6 “As for these things that you see, the days will come when not one stone will be left upon another; all will be thrown down.”
7 They asked him, “Teacher, when will this be, and what will be the sign that this is about to take place?” 8 And he said, “Beware that you are not led astray, for many will come in my name and say, ‘I am he!’ and, ‘The time is near!’ Do not go after them.
9 “When you hear of wars and insurrections, do not be terrified, for these things must take place first, but the end will not follow immediately.” 10 Then he said to them, “Nation will rise against nation and kingdom against kingdom; 11 there will be great earthquakes and in various places famines and plagues, and there will be dreadful portents and great signs from heaven.
12 “But before all this occurs, they will arrest you and persecute you; they will hand you over to synagogues and prisons, and you will be brought before kings and governors because of my name. 13 This will give you an opportunity to testify. 14 So make up your minds not to prepare your defense in advance, 15 for I will give you words and a wisdom that none of your opponents will be able to withstand or contradict. 16 You will be betrayed even by parents and siblings, by relatives and friends, and they will put some of you to death. 17 You will be hated by all because of my name. 18 But not a hair of your head will perish. 19 By your endurance you will gain your souls.
The election is over. Some are happy, others angry, and still others are indifferent. Now the question is: what next? Will there be a change, or will the status quo be maintained? The end of an election cycle means the end of campaign ads, mailings, and signs. Most of the ads slung mud at the opponent. Few told what the candidate’s stand was on important issues other than it was better than their opponent. In the midst of everything, how does one find a path to the future, to what we can become as a nation, state, or community. Where is the hope we are looking for?
Hope can be elusive, just out of reach. When we get close, we are caught in a current that takes us in the opposite direction, or we come face-to-face with what seems to be an insurmountable obstacle.
The Temple was the place of hope for the Jewish people. It was the place God dwelled. The Temple was impressive, an incredible edifice meant to show Herod’s importance and power that took 80 years to build. The building, which stood on 35 acres, was surrounded by beautiful colonnades that created cloisters and porticos. Each one was created from a single slab of marble. They were so magnificent they needed no additional adornment.
Eight massive gates were adorned with gold. The bronze work was intricate. The gold even more so. The actual Temple was a comparatively small building. A priceless embroidered curtain separated the temple space from the courts of the people. Beyond the curtain was the golden altar, candelabra, and table. Another curtain separated the Holy of Holies from the rest of the temple space. Overall, the Temple was awe-inspiring.
For the people, the synagogue was the place of instruction. The Temple was the place God dwelled, where the people worshiped and offered sacrifices, and the focus of their faith. The Jewish people were certain it would stand forever as a symbol of God’s hope.
Not so fast Jesus says. What you see now will be destroyed – not the message the people wanted to hear and found difficult to believe. (In fact, at the time of Luke’s writing, the Temple had already been destroyed).
Jesus adds details: not only will the Temple be destroyed, but here is also what you can look forward to
· Plagues and famine
· Ominous signs from heaven
Oh, and before that you will be
· Arrested and persecuted
· Accused and tried
· Put in prison
· Betrayed, even by loved ones
Where is the hope in all that?
Just as Marlin in the Disney movie persevered in his search for his son, Nemo, this is a call to perseverance and hope. Marlin’s journey was long, full of hazards, and created despair. With the aid of a few new friends, he met on the way, Marlin was eventually reunited with his son.
We, too, are called to persevere and to hope.
Many have analyzed this and other biblical texts to chart the course of history and predict coming events in an attempt to create a road map to the end of the world and the second coming of Christ. Instead, the biblical texts are a survival guide for lining through the days of adversity and hardship that precede that end and Christ’s return. Not unlike the safety demonstration presented by flight attendants prior to take off in case something happens.
The predictions made by Jesus were very real, especially to his followers. They were already experiencing betrayal, persecution, prison, and death. These words are very real to us as well. We have and experience wars, natural disasters, famine, drought, the spread of disease, unrest, terrorism, and global warming. We have undergone personal trials, heartaches, and disaster. We wonder if these are the signs Jesus talks about. Sometimes, when things are extremely difficult, we hope these are the signs of Christ’s imminent return.
Where is the hope?
This is the point where Jesus words say to us that hope defies expectations of what we think it should look like. Prior to the destruction of the Temple, the curtain separating the Holy of Holies was torn in two at Christ’s death on the cross. What appears and feels like the end is actually the beginning.
The ruin of the Temple was the end of a place of brick and mortar to signify God’s presence. That event was the beginning of a new era, the one of a new covenant written on our hearts. It is the era where the temple is Jesus’ body of which each of us is a part – we, too, are God’s temple. Here is the first glimmer of hope. The hope to hold on tight to.
Before we leave this passage, I want to consider the last two verses – ones that are easy to overlook after the gloom and doom of the rest of the text. Note the words: not of a hair of your head will perish and by your endurance you will gain our souls.
The words of Psalm 139 are helpful here. The psalmist proclaims that God is the one who has searched me and known me. God is the one who knows when I sit up and rise up. He knows what I will say before the words are on my tongue. God hems me in behind and before.
And then these verses of the Psalm:
7 Where can I go from your spirit? Or where can I flee from your presence? 8 If I ascend to heaven, you are there; if I make my bed in Sheol, you are there. 9 If I take the wings of the morning and settle at the farthest limits of the sea, 10 even there your hand shall lead me, and your right hand shall hold me fast. 11 If I say, “Surely the darkness shall cover me, and night wraps itself around me,” 12 even the darkness is not dark to you; the night is as bright as the day, for darkness is as light to you.
This is the hope that is found only in Jesus Christ, the One who is always there no matter where we are. In life and death, in trials, and in all that life throws our way, Christ’s hand holds us fast. This is the hope we can count on, even in the very depth of our souls. The hope we hold onto with all our strength.