A sermon by the Rev’d Peter Jin
In today’s Gospel reading, Jesus tells his disciples the signs of the end time: the destruction of the temple and persecution.
The Gospel emphasises over and over again that nothing in this world lasts, nothing here below is ultimate. In the later verses of chapter 13, Jesus is announcing that the whole world is about to end.
If you search ‘end times’ in the internet, 6 billion references on this theme come up on Google. It’s obvious that people are still fascinated to find out when and where this is going to happen.
The question is how do we understand it. Let me make a suggestion. If we take this language as a literal description of cosmological events, it takes us in a very dangerous direction. Let me tell you why.
In 1994, when I was 21, I was invited to a bible study in Shanghai. I took notes on the date of Jesus’ second coming in the clouds.
I did have doubts about this kind of interpretation. As we all know, clouds are made of moisture. So it’s highly impossible for Jesus to come in this way.
To be honest, I didn’t mind HOW Jesus came back. What upset me was the date of Jesus coming back.
I was told that the year would be 1999.
The following was my prayer at that time: ‘Heavenly Father, let Jesus not come back TOO SOON! I have not made enough money yet. I even have not got myself a girlfriend. I pray this in the name of Jesus whom I don’t wish will come back too soon. Amen!
Ok, you got my point. We don’t read the bible literally. So how do we interpret it?
This kind of end-time language belongs to a literary genre of the apocalyptic. The books of Daniel and Revelation are the best examples.
Apocalyptic in Greek means an unveiling. What has been unveiled here by Jesus? Something which is hidden, and is now revealed.
That is the key I think to today’s gospel reading.
For the ancient peoples, the stars, the sun and the moon, were the means of navigation. They believed that those cosmic powers guided and governed the world.
What Jesus is telling his disciples: The way they usually govern, and guide, and order their lives, is all going to change. The temple, the most splendour and impressive building which was the centre of their religious life, the moon, the stars and the sun, the cosmic powers which govern their lives, all of these are going to change. Something new is going to be unveiled.
What is Jesus talking about? What he is talking about is not so much predicting the end of time. What he is talking about is a new world emerges through his death and his resurrection.
So what does the resurrection mean? When Jesus rises from the dead, that way of governing our lives, ordering our lives, no longer makes sense.
Now we know that death doesn’t have the final word, now we know that death has been disempowered. We can live with a great hope.
Jesus rose from the dead, which means God’s love is more powerful than death. We don’t have to live in fear. We can now live in the freedom of God’s children. We can live as God wants us to live.
Jesus assures us that this new way of seeing, and the new way of thinking, and the new way of imagining has been revealed to us.
The end-time language is not a depressing language. It’s not meant to frighten us, just the contrary, it’s meant to show us a way out. The old order is passing away. Good news is a new order has been unveiled. Paul says, ‘it’s no longer I who live, but it’s Christ who lives in me.’
So the old self based upon the fear of death, guided by the sun, the moon, and stars of the old world has been transformed.
That’s why this end-time language is finally the language of life
and the language of hope.