It’s the End of the World as We Know It and I Feel Fine
As chapter 24 begins, a bit before our passage, we find Jesus coming out of the Temple where his disciples were apparently waiting. According to the story in Matthew, Jesus had been in the Temple teaching in parables and answering questions from Pharisees and Sadducees on everything from Jesus’ authority to taxes, the resurrection, and David’s Son. After this lengthy discussion, Jesus leaves the Temple and finds the disciples they have a little conversation where the disciples point out various buildings in the area of the Temple Mount. As they are talking, Jesus tells them,
“Do you see all these buildings? I tell you the truth, they will be completely demolished. Not one stone will be left on top of another!”
At this point the disciples want to know, “…when will all this happen? What sign will signal your return and the end of the world?” It’s at this point that Jesus goes into a long lesson on two things that often get seen as one. The first of these is a discussion on the destruction of Jerusalem and it’s Temple. Since the gospel of Matthew was written down within a decade or so of the end of the First Jewish-Roman War in or around the year 70 CE, the writer of the gospel would have most likely seen the war firsthand.
As Jesus speaks in the first part of chapter 24, he is talking about this event. Everything from verse 4 through verse 35 is a discussion on the state of things as they were before and during the war that would see the Temple destroyed and the Jewish people continuing to be dispersed across the region as they had for some time before. This answers the first of two questions in verse 3, “when will this happen?”
The answer to the second question, what is the sign of your coming, is a bit of a letdown for the disciples. Jesus tells them, “…no one knows the day or hour when these things will happen, not even the angels in heaven or the Son himself. Only the Father knows.” Jesus only admonition to them, through several examples and parables is “We don’t know when so keep watching, be expecting it.”
I can remember not long after starting my faith journey, hearing about a book called 88 Reasons Why the Rapture is in 1988. I always thought this was odd since Jesus said no one knows the day. Still, there were a lot of people in the churches I knew of at the time that saw or wanted to see this as an answer to the question of when Jesus was coming back. Yet, even with the knowledge of this, people from as early as the first century started guessing and making proclamations about the date. The Essenes went to war with the Romans in 70 CE believing that return of the Messiah was around the corner. Bishop and theologians from Martin of Tours to Pope Sylvester II to Martin Luther and Christopher Columbus have all taken stabs at the date and seen it pass by.
Some theologians in recent years have even posited the idea that Jesus coming has already been fulfilled in the event known as Pentecost. They believe that the coming of the Holy Spirit was the second coming that Jesus spoke of and the early church misinterpreted the event as something else.
Peace in chaos
Why talk about peace as a part of Advent using this text? What does the end of Jerusalem and the coming of the Son of Man have to do with peace? When the world Jesus lived in, the world the New Testament was written in, the world through the ages has been a place of violence and chaos, why talk about peace? When we live in a world where there is constant partisan political strife and war and hatred and starvation, how can we talk about peace?
Because it’s always been this way. There has never been a time in history when there were not wars, starvation, hatred, pain, suffering. All these things have been from the beginning of civilization. And amid this pain, this chaos, God is present and offers his peace. When Joseph went from a hole in the ground to Potipher’s house to prison to the halls of the Pharoah, Joseph knew God was with him and this brought him peace. When Job watched everything in his life blown, burned, and carried away, God was present and eventually, Job was at peace. When the Jews were carried off to Babylon to live in a strange land with strange customs, they were able to hold onto their faith and hope because God was present, and they could take peace in that.
Jesus told the disciples at the Last Supper, “But when the Father sends the Advocate as my representative—that is, the Holy Spirit—he will teach you everything and will remind you of everything I have told you. I am leaving you with a gift—peace of mind and heart. And the peace I give is a gift the world cannot give.” The word translated as peace in the New Testament is a word that means a state of well-being or harmony with God and man. It is a way of looking at the things around us through eyes that see beyond the situation. It is a sense of knowing within our hearts and minds that no matter circumstance, the presence of God, the Holy Spirit, goes with us and speaks this peace to us, reminiscent of Jesus words to us. This well-being, this harmony, comes from knowing that God is at work even when we don’t know when or how and regardless of what is going on around us.
This peace is not something that comes without work on our part. It requires an openness to the Spirit of God and a willingness to listen. It is in that relationship of listening and responding, regardless of our circumstances, that we find well-being and harmony with God and neighbor, that we come to know peace. It requires that we are willing to look beyond the difficulty of the current circumstances to see God at work in and through the difficulty. It is knowing that the difficulty is not the end of the journey but a part of it, an opportunity to learn more of God, more of who we are, and more of who we can be immersed in the life, ministry, death, and resurrection of Jesus.
 Matthew 24:2
 Matthew 24:3
 Matthew 24:36
 John 14:27