Saturday, April 16, 2011
This weekend marks Palm Sunday, the beginning of one of the two holiest weeks in the Christian calendar. On Palm Sunday we remember Jesus' entering the city of Jerusalem in Triumph to an explosion of good will, palm branch waving, and shouts of "Hosana" before undertaking the most important activities of his life.
These events included the overturning of the money-changers tables at the Temple and driving them out of that holy place, and resulted in some of his most famous teachings:
"Whatever you ask for in prayer with faith, you will receive"
"Many are invited, but few are chosen"
"Repay to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God"
"Whoever exalts himself will be humbled; but whoever humbles himself will be exalted"
He also was asked a question during these final days in Jerusalem regarding which was the greatest of the commandments, and famously replied: "You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and first commandment. The second is like it: you shall love your neighbor as yourself."
He even foretold the coming of Christianity itself when he lectured the Jewish chief priests and the Pharisees that "the Kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people that will produce its fruit."
The week which began in triumph and proceeded on through inspiration, challenge, and controversy would ultimately move to his betrayal, arrest, trial, persecution and would end with his death on the cross for all of our sins.
Christians also believe that Jesus Christ is destined to come again in what many refer to as the "End Days", the "End of Time", the "End of the Age", or in the "Apocalypse" period at the end of time. This belief doesn't come from a teaching of men, but from the promise of Christ himself in those same final days of his life.
But when will Jesus return? At what time, on what day, in what year and in which generation of history? Many generations of men, even within the Church itself, have believed that they themselves were living in the end of times, that Christ would be returning in their lifetimes. They have all been wrong, as may those who believe so today.
What did Jesus say of his returning to us? Much, including some signs in the final moments that would signal that he had indeed returned. But the most important thing that Christ taught about that time was this: "of that day and hour, no one knows, neither the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father alone." Jesus himself did not have the exact information as to his return. That information was and is held in the heart and mind of God the Father alone.
But because no one but God knows the exact hour, that does not mean that we haven't been given clues and signs to watch for that will signal at least the beginning of the end. We are told by James that there will be great economic calamities near the end. Timothy tells us that many men will turn from God and towards physical pleasures, paganism, and selfishness towards the end. Mark tells us that in the final years, Christians will be turned over to authorities, put on trial, and even put to death for their beliefs.
Mark also gave us one of the most important clues when he wrote that before the end times come "the gospel must first be preached to all nations." This simple message in and of itself ruled out all prior times of mankind before our current time. Only now, with the developments over the past century of air travel and the internet, have missionaries been able to reach every corner and every people on the planet with the gospel of Christ.
Christ himself taught that "Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be great earthquakes, famines, and pestilences in various places, and fearful events and great signs from heaven."
Perhaps one of the easiest signs to look for that the world is beginning to enter into the period of the end of times would be the rebuilding of the Jewish Temple on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, an event that is viewed as an impossibility by many in the world today. This event will indeed come to pass, however, if any number of Old and New Testament prophecies are correct. In fact, it is that very Temple that will be at the center of many of the final events involving the anti-Christ and his period of rule just before Jesus' return.
So when will Christ return? As he himself said, no one knows. But we can look for increasing natural disasters, incredible celestial events, the Jews rebuilding of the Temple, and for public persecutions of Christians all around the world as sure signs. If these things happen, you better be ready to get your self and your house in order. If these things have not yet happened, we have not yet likely reached the end of days.
But are we correct? Am I reading these teachings correctly? Are the Christian spiritual leaders? Maybe, maybe not. Maybe on some items, not so much on others. Maybe we just have learned to understand pieces of the final truth. The important thing to understand is that the end will indeed come, and Christ will indeed come again, and you need to love and accept him and try to remain ready. Remember Jesus' most important words: "I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life. No one comes to the Father except through me." Without faith and belief in and acceptance of Jesus Christ, you will not make it to heaven.
Jesus taught "Therefore, stay awake! For you do not know on which day your Lord will come...be prepared, for at an hour you do not expect, the Son of Man will come...stay awake, for you know neither the day nor the hour."