Jesus shares some terrifying news: before the end of the temple comes, there will be wars and famines, natural disasters and fearful events. Worse, we Christians will be arrested, betrayed by loved ones, and persecuted. “Everyone will hate you because of me,” Jesus says. And yes, the temple, the place where God’s glory dwells, the place first built by Solomon in our earlier readings, then rebuilt by Ezra, then again by Herod, this temple will be destroyed.
But this is typical of Jesus’ message to a suffering population. And it is not bad news for a few reasons. First, they were all facing these realities already. Rather than a warning of loss as we take it today, this is an assurance that though they are persecuted, it is not because God abandoned them but is rather the necessary activity of God’s great change. And second, though things are and will continue to be hard here, there is a better life awaiting.
Our culture has shunned the message of relief in heaven and focused more on a lived-Kingdom message in the here and now. Ours, it says, is not to endure and wait for a better tomorrow. Ours is to make a better today right now. And this message is a good one for the wealthy, the comfortable, the all-together. We in America don’t need to await a future paradise: by most accounts and figures, we already have one here and now. We have plenty of food, health, medicine, luxury, power… we are “living the dream”.
But to a culture like Jesus’, a culture like that of most of the rest of the world, a culture that faces persecution and poverty, sickness and toil, the image of enduring until a blessed tomorrow is a blessed one. And it is to that audience that the bible was written. When we get confused by Jesus’ message, we should always remember that it was not written to a culture like ours.