And as Jesus came out of the temple, one of his disciples said to him, “Look, Teacher, what wonderful stones and what wonderful buildings!” 2 And Jesus said to him, “Do you see these great buildings? There will not be left here one stone upon another that will not be thrown down.”
3 And as he sat on the Mount of Olives opposite the temple, Peter and James and John and Andrew asked him privately, 4 “Tell us, when will these things be, and what will be the sign when all these things are about to be accomplished?” 5 And Jesus began to say to them, “See that no one leads you astray.6 Many will come in my name, saying, ‘I am he!’ and they will lead many astray. 7 And when you hear of wars and rumors of wars, do not be alarmed. This must take place, but the end is not yet. 8 For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be earthquakes in various places; there will be famines. These are but the beginning of the birth pains. – Mark 13:1-8
My tendency in life is toward not taking the bait; not reacting precipitously. Sometimes my anger or fear gets the better part of me and I react. But I seldom make good decisions about a given situation in the spur of the moment. There are exceptions: seeing a snake in my path, or finding a wasp nest in the bush I’m about to trim: Run! Now! Some would name my normal mode of decision making stalling for time, or even denial. I prefer to call it deliberate and prayerful.
When it comes to the signs of the world’s ends, I am definitely more deliberate and prayerful. I love Martin Luther’s response to the question of what he would do if the world were going to end tomorrow. He, it is said, would plant a tree. Life goes on, after all – until the end actually does come.
Therein lies the challenge and the balance that we are to embrace in life as regards the end of the world. It is one thing not being given to constant fretting and sensational fascination with the various signs, events, and dire predictions. That does not call mean we ignore signs of the end of the world. They are all around: Wars, rumors of war, nation against nation, false Christs, false hopes, earthquakes and famines. These are but the beginning of the end – not the end itself.
Most of us are ready for the end of the world when the tax bill comes due, or our worst fears about a health diagnosis are confirmed. Most of us want the end to come when we’re not happy here and now. We don’t want to see the destruction of our temples – be they our beautiful church buildings, a delightful garden, or the most glorious seaside or mountain retreat.
Yet these will all come to an end. There will be a final time. Even the most God-glorifying physical structures will crumble. They will all be replaced with the immediate and eternal presence of the One we worship. Our earthly glories serve as a poor imitation for the true splendor of heavenly delight. One day we will see that for ourselves – we who hope in Christ. One day we will sit down at a heavenly banquet feast of God’s delight. Perhaps the earthly beauty we experience can serve as a reminder of that hope, and the pains and travail of earthly suffering can be seen for what they are: the beginning of birth pains, and a reminder for us not to put our hopes in the things of this world – no matter how glorious they may be.