I think Jesus’ first response may have been, “Peter. Stop looking up. People will think you are a tourist …” or maybe not. Then again, the Jewish Temple was on some lists as one of the wonders of the world; but to be sure, the disciples just spent the last three years following around the one true wonder of the world – the one not made by human hands.
By the time they arrived at the Mount of Olives, they had some serious questions. Jesus had some generalities to share, but when you think about it, when have there NOT been wars and rumors of wars? When have there NOT been earthquakes and famines in various places? And since when have there NOT been people claiming to be Christ, or rather, keeping in context with the original language, claiming that Jesus is indeed the Messiah, in other words, claiming to be Christians – and deceiving many?
This reminds me of what my good buddy Sam once said: “In religion and politics people’s beliefs and convictions are in almost every case gotten at second-hand, and without examination, from authorities who have not themselves examined the questions at issue but have taken them at second-hand from other non-examiners, whose opinions about them were not worth a brass farthing.” – Autobiography – Mark Twain
History is ripe with people deceived.
Gnostics and other morons throughout history imagined Jesus was speaking here in code. This same thinking brought thousands to a little hill in Ohio where Jesus was supposed to arrive in 1840. It was a great disappointment.
People have been deceived by a disgruntled Methodist in Asbury Park, New Jersey who thought Jehovah needed witnesses, or golden plates that tell golden stories or Bishops teaching Hitlerism in the thirties under the guise of Christianity. (Social justice mixed with eugenics anyone)? Sometimes we might want to grab them and shake them silly, slap them, throw water in their face and shout, “Wake Up!” Sometimes, we may be the ones who need to be grabbed.
Centuries ago one inspired person decided that Jesus was not made without human hands after all. These days, so many centuries later, the followers believe they are doing God’s will when they blow up perfectly innocent men, women, children, babies and even themselves. Deception can be frightening in its consequences.
It is frightening to watch compounds full of fanatics ripped to shreds, and churches spring up with a kind of pick-and-choose spirituality, as if two thousand years of faith was held by stupid people and now we moderns somehow magically know better. But you know, sometimes we also need to let go. It is too late when they have drunk the Kool-Aid.
The point is, all of these things, wars, natural disasters, and perhaps especially deception have been common throughout history, and continue to be common today. So what was Jesus really telling us? Was he giving more than just platitudes?
Actually, he said one thing here which is key to the whole train of thought. He said, “do not be alarmed.” (NIV). He said, don’t be afraid. Curious how when an angel appears to a person and the person falls to the ground and trembles, the first thing the angel often says is, “Do not be afraid.”
Jesus is saying, these are birth pains, and they will continue until the end and the baby is born. In the meanwhile, above all, don’t be afraid. God is in control even in the midst of a war or natural disaster or starvation or deception. God will hold on to his own. He will hold on to you and me, so don’t be alarmed. As Douglas Adams said so famously in his book, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, “Don’t Panic!”
It is a lesson worthy to be reminded of now and then and to remember in the future when we live through some more birth pains. Don’t Panic should be especially helpful when real persecution comes on those who remain in the future and they are thrown to robotic lions or their futuristic equivalent …