GOSPEL, FIRST READING & PSALM TRANSCRIPT (Subscribe or Login for Full Transcript):
So we’ll just begin in verse 24. Jesus says, “In those days after that tribulation,” pause, right there. Okay, what tribulation is he talking about? Well he's referring here to the preceding verses where he described wars breaking out, and rumors of wars, and a desecration of the Temple and needing to flee from Jerusalem and get out of the city, right, and go to the hills. All those things clearly refer to the wars that led up to the destruction of the Temple of Jerusalem in 70 A.D. For one thing, it doesn’t make any sense for Jesus to tell you to flee to the hills if it’s the end of the world because if the world is going down, getting to the hills outside of Judea is not going to help you. But if it's the Temple being destroyed in a war then of course that makes lots of sense. So what Jesus is saying is that leading up to the destruction of the Temple there’s going to be this time of great tribulation, okay, of wars and rumors of wars. And sure enough, we know that from Josephus and other historians that when the Romans came in and destroyed the Temple it was an unprecedented time of suffering and death. Over a million Jews were killed. They were crucifying Jews, 500 Jews a day, the Romans were, outside the city of Jerusalem. It was an unprecedented amount of bloodshed and horror and death. People were starving inside the city, eating their own children. It was a terrible, terrible time. So all of this tribulation is described in the preceding verses that we don't actually hear from today.
So Jesus here describes after the tribulation, “the sun will be darkened, moon will not give its light, the stars will be falling from heaven and powers in heaven will be shaken. And they’ll see ‘the Son of Man coming in clouds’ with great power and glory, and they’ll send out his angels, gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth and from the ends of heaven.” Okay, now when you read those verses your first move, the first thing you think of, will probably be the final coming of Jesus, the end of time right, the final judgment, the Son of Man coming in power and glory. There is a sense in which that's definitely true of these verses, however, a number of scholars have pointed out that if you look at Jesus' words in light of the Old Testament, the very images he uses here of the sun being darkened, the moon not giving it’s light, the stars falling from heaven are also images that the prophets Isaiah, Jeremiah, and others used to refer to the destruction of a city or the destruction of an Empire. So if you go back to Jeremiah 13, or you go back to Jeremiah 3, or Isaiah 1 or several other prophecies in the Old Testament, whenever the prophets would describe God coming in judgment to destroy a city they would say things like the sun went dark, the stars fell from heaven, the moon didn't give it’s light, God comes on the clouds in judgment, right. So what they use there is they use cosmic images to refer to a political event of cosmic significance, like the overthrow of a major city, whether it's Babylon or Egypt or Jerusalem, the prophets would use similar images for Jerusalem. So the prophetic language in the Old Testament doesn't necessarily, in fact we know it doesn’t, mean the end of time because those were just historical events where cities had been destroyed because of their sinfulness. So on one level here a case can be made that Jesus is actually talking about the Son of Man coming in judgment when Jerusalem is destroyed...
SECOND READING TRANSCRIPT (Subscribe or Login for Full Transcript):
Okay, so the final verse of the reading for today is — and the upshot, you might say, of the author of the Hebrews for his original audience is:
Where there is forgiveness of these, there is no longer any offering for sin. (Hebrews 10:18)
What does this mean, “there is no longer any offering for sin”? Well, here the author to the Hebrews is trying to explain another difficulty that would have been a problem in the first century — namely, the question, “Should animal sacrifice continue?”
God commanded animal sacrifice in the Old Testament. This is in Scripture; it’s the Word of God. Now that Christ has died on the cross, been raised and ascended into Heaven, what is the status of the animal sacrifices that are continuing to happen in the temple? Are they necessary for salvation? Should we continue to participate in them? These would have been live questions for Jewish Christians, especially Jewish Christians living in Jerusalem in the first century AD. Say 40 AD or 50 AD… the temple is still standing. What do you do if you’re a Jewish believer in Jesus as Messiah? Are you going to the Eucharist on Sunday and then going to the Tamid on Wednesday? What is the nature of these sacrifices?
And so — although the text wasn’t given to us today for the lectionary — I’ll just have to turn to the last chapter of Hebrews. It’s really telling. It gives us just a little bit of a glimpse, so we can’t be sure… but if we read Hebrews carefully, it looks like the people to whom it’s written are being tempted to turn away from the sacrifice of the Eucharist and go back to frequenting the animal sacrifices in the temple in Jerusalem. And listen to how Hebrews brings the letter to
conclusion; it says this — I’ll start in verse 7:
Remember your leaders, those who spoke to you the word of God; consider the outcome of their life, and imitate their faith. Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and for ever. Do not be led away by diverse and strange teachings; for it is well that the heart be strengthened by grace, not by foods, which have not benefited their adherents.
Here’s a key line:
We have an altar from which those who serve the tent have no right to eat. For the bodies of those animals whose blood is brought into the sanctuary by the high priest as a sacrifice for sin are burned outside the camp. So Jesus also suffered outside the gate in order to sanctify the people through his own blood. (Hebrews 13:7-12)
Man, that’s a great verse. This is so important. So it’s the first century AD. You get a letter from whoever — maybe it’s St. Paul, maybe it’s somebody else. You’re a Hebrew, and the letter really only makes sense if you’re likely living in the land of Jerusalem. And in that letter, the apostle says to you:
We have an altar from which those who serve the tent have no right to eat.
Do not be led away by diverse and strange teachings…
Go back to the faith that you heard preached to you as the Word of God. What could that possibly mean? What is the altar from which the earthly priest serving in Jerusalem have no right to eat? The only reasonable answer is the altar of the Eucharist.
So Hebrews 13:10 is a key passage showing that already in the first century AD, the Eucharist is being described as a sacrifice. It’s not just a meal; it’s a sacrifice. And not only is it a sacrifice, but it’s a sacrifice that surpasses the sacrificial animals and the sacrificial feasts of the old covenant … so that there’s no need to go back and partake of the flesh of the Passover lambs or the other animal sacrifices that are offered in the temple day after day, year after year. Because Christ, the perfect sacrifice, has been offered outside the sanctuary, outside the city, in order to sanctify the people of God, the Church, the ecclesia
So, I just … I don’t think it’s inconsequential. I don’t think it’s an accident that Hebrews ends with this apparent reference to the Eucharist, because — although I can’t prove it, it’s just speculation — if I had to guess, it seems to me that the most likely explanation for this situation that the letter to the Hebrews is addressing, is that it is written to Hebrews, to Jewish believers in Christ who may be tempted to go back to the animal sacrifices of the temple and to treat them as if they were necessary for salvation, and that Christ’s sacrifice on the cross was not enough, that it wasn’t enough … or that Christ’s offering of His Body and Blood (the sacrificial banquet of the Eucharist) isn’t enough.
And the author to the Hebrews gives us this elaborate letter, this beautiful, powerful letter, to show not only how Jesus is the true high priest, not only that He is a Melchizedekian high priest, but also (I would suggest) why it is that animal sacrifice has come to an end and been replaced by an altar from which the priests in the temple on Earth have no right to eat.
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