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BEWARE OF FALSE PROPHETS

Read­ing Time: 13 minutes

(Ref. Texts: Mal 3:19–20; Ps 9897; 2Thess 3:7–12; Luke 21:5–19)

When you hear of wars and dis­turb­ances, do not be ter­ri­fied; for these things must take place first, but the end does not fol­low imme­di­ately” (Luke 21:9). “You will hear of wars and reports of wars; see that you are not alarmed, for these things must hap­pen, but it will not yet be the end” (Matt 24:6).

Introduction

Jesus will nev­er cease to amaze us. Every occa­sion was an oppor­tun­ity to teach some­thing new. Even the dis­cus­sion on the archi­tec­tur­al dec­or­a­tions of the Temple was used as an occa­sion to instruct, teach and edu­cate his listen­ers on the true nature of the king­dom of God, and the cost of wit­ness­ing to the Good News. Both the litur­gic­al year of the Church and the civil year are gradu­ally com­ing to a con­clu­sion. The Church in her wis­dom, organ­ises the weekly and Sunday read­ings to reflect the sea­sons of the year. Nor­mally, wicked, selfish and god­less civil­ian rulers lead their nations to destruc­tion. In the same way, god­less, cor­rupt, greedy and selfish Chris­ti­an lead­ers have turned the Churches into a polit­ic­al arena, com­prom­ising the spir­itu­al life of the con­greg­a­tion. Jesus warns the faith­ful to beware of such selfish and god­less lead­ers. In Luke 19:41–44, Jesus wept for the city of Jer­u­s­alem; in Luke 20:14–18, he proph­esied through the par­able of the wicked ten­ants that the scribes and the chief priests would kill him; in Luke 20:45–47, he denounced the scribes. These are the events that led to the proph­ecy of the Temple (21:5–9) and the fate of the dis­ciples (21:12–19). Jesus must be weep­ing for what is hap­pen­ing in the con­tem­por­ary Christianity.

After silen­cing the Sad­ducees, the Phar­isees and the Scribes, Jesus pub­licly warns his dis­ciples with these hard words “be on guard against the scribes, who like to go around in long robes and love greet­ings in mar­ket­places, seats of hon­our in syn­agogues, and places of hon­our at ban­quets. They devour the houses of wid­ows and, as a pre­text, recite lengthy pray­ers. They will receive a very severe con­dem­na­tion” (Luke 20:46–47). These words con­clude Luke chapter 20. What fol­lows in the next chapter?

Jesus speaks

Truly I tell you, this poor wid­ow has put in more than all of them; for all of them have con­trib­uted out of their abund­ance, but she out of her poverty has put in all she had to live on” (Luke 21:3–4). After warn­ing the dis­ciples against the hypo­crisy of the Church author­it­ies, Jesus makes a strik­ing remark con­cern­ing who made their offer­ings in the Temple. First, he saw the wealthy, then, he also saw a poor wid­ow who put her two coins in the treas­ury. Accord­ing to Jesus’ eval­u­ation, the poor wid­ow gave more than the wealthy. How? Prac­tic­ally, Jesus recog­nized the poor widow’s dona­tion more than that of the rich people. This can­not hap­pen in the con­tem­por­ary Nigeri­an Churches. Has any poor per­son been giv­en any award or recog­ni­tion in any of the Churches? Poverty has no recog­ni­tion. Poverty should be fought, not applauded. Jesus did not praise poverty. Rather, he praised the self­less atti­tude of the poor widow.

By recog­niz­ing the poor wid­ow, Jesus makes an import­ant obser­va­tion regard­ing the heart with which we do whatever we do either in the Church or else­where. In the words of Jesus, while the wealthy gave from their abund­ance, the poor wid­ow gave from her scarcity. This obser­va­tion needs fur­ther reflec­tion. What mat­ters is not what one pos­sesses, but the spir­it that pos­sesses the per­son. Since the poor wid­ow was pos­sessed by the spir­it of giv­ing, hav­ing little or noth­ing could not pre­vent her from giv­ing. Wheth­er she had little or much, she knew the import­ance of giv­ing. No one is so poor that he or she has noth­ing to offer to oth­ers. You can give from your abund­ance. And you can as well give from your scarcity. it is a mat­ter of pos­sess­ing and being pos­sessed by the right spir­it, the spir­it of God, the spir­it of altru­ism. Thank you, Jesus, for this won­der­ful teaching!

As some people observed and com­men­ted on the costly stones with which the Temple was adorned, and the votive offer­ings (tapestries, gold and bronze doors, golden grape clusters) in the Temple, Jesus observed “all these things that you are look­ing at, the days will come when there will not be left a stone upon anoth­er stone that will not be thrown down” (Luke 21:6). The expres­sion ‘the days will come’ is not eschat­o­lo­gic­al. That is, it is not a ref­er­ence to the end of the world. Instead, it alludes to a par­tic­u­lar time in the his­tory of man­kind when such things will be veri­fied (cf. Luke 5:35; 17:22; 19:43; 23:29). How did the people react to these unusu­al words?

The request for sign

So, they asked him, Teach­er, when will these things hap­pen? And what will be the sign that these things are about to take place?” (Luke 21:7). It is true that Jesus might have as well alluded to his death by refer­ring to the Temple, but the fol­low-up of such ref­er­ence cla­ri­fies more his actu­al reas­on for using the Temple build­ing as an example. The request for sign on the part of those who were dis­cuss­ing and admir­ing the aes­thet­ic charm of the Temple, on the ‘when’ and ‘how’ of the ful­fil­ment of Jesus’ shock­ing com­ment con­cern­ing the Temple, helped Jesus to put things aright and call people to order on the issue of eschat­o­logy (the last day). The con­tent of Luke 21:5–19 is also found in Mat­thew 24:1–25 and in Mark 13:1–23.

In Mat­thew, it was the dis­ciples who called Jesus’ atten­tion to the Temple. It was also the same dis­ciples who asked to know ‘when’ and the sign that will indic­ate the destruc­tion of the Temple as announced by Jesus. In Mark, it was one of the dis­ciples who poin­ted out to Jesus the size of the Temple. But it was the dis­ciples them­selves that reques­ted for a sign on when Jesus’ proph­ecy will be ful­filled. On his part, Luke says it was some [people] who were dis­cuss­ing about the impos­ing nature of the Temple, and who inquired from Jesus the sign that will accom­pany what he has just said. Read­ing through the pas­sage, there is the impres­sion that Jesus’ words are addressed to the dis­ciples. Wheth­er the dis­ciples or some people who reques­ted for a sign for Jesus’ “all these things that you are look­ing at, the days will come when there will not be left a stone upon anoth­er stone that will not be thrown down”, more import­ant is the mean­ing of Jesus’ proph­ecy. What was Jesus allud­ing to?

Beware of deceptive signs

Beware that you are not led astray; for many will come in my name and say, I am he! and, the time is near! Do not go after them. When you hear of wars and insur­rec­tions, do not be ter­ri­fied; for these things must take place first, but the end will not fol­low imme­di­ately” (Luke 21:8–9). To the request for sign (Greek: sēmeion), Jesus warned his disciples/audience to be extremely care­ful not to allow them­selves to be deceived by any­one (Greek: blepete mē planēthēte).

Accord­ing to Jesus, many will come in his name only to deceive people. This decep­tion will be for­mu­lated in two forms: “I am he” and “the time is near.” While the former is the say­ing of the Johan­nine Jesus (cf. John 8:24), the lat­ter is a say­ing of the Markan Jesus (cf. Mark 1:15). “I am” or “I am he” (Greek: egō eimi) is the divine name revealed to Moses in Exodus 3:13.14. By attrib­ut­ing this title to him­self, Jesus affirms to be the only authen­t­ic, incom­par­able unre­place­able saviour. The impost­ors will claim to be the mes­si­ah, mak­ing people to fol­low them. The dis­ciples and the crowd should be care­ful not to be led astray by these “impost­ors.”

On the oth­er hand, “the time is near” (Greek: ho kairos ēngiken) is the invit­at­ory for­mula adop­ted by Jesus in the open­ing chapter of the Gos­pel accord­ing to Mark, and the scope was and still remains to call people to repent­ance for the king­dom of God which has arrived. It is not the time (Greek: kairos) of destruc­tion, neither is it a chro­no­lo­gic­al time. Instead, it is a time that must be dis­cerned (cf. Luke 12:56). It is the time of sal­va­tion. There­fore, the bib­lic­al kairos is not a moment but an event. Con­sequently, no one who inter­prets this time dif­fer­ently should be giv­en atten­tion. Such per­son (or people) is an impost­or. Thus, the dis­ciples should be care­ful because the pre­tend­ers will adopt Jesus’ expres­sion to deceive them. Taken out of its eschat­o­lo­gic­al con­text, “ho kairos ēngiken – the time is near or the time is at hand” (cf. Dan 7:22; Rev 1:3; 22:10), becomes a time of decep­tion. The dis­ciples should beware because these false mes­si­ahs are not Christ him­self (cf. Luke 17:23). They are not even his rep­res­ent­at­ives, neither are they believ­ers. They are crim­in­als who have come to steal the sheep (cf. John 10:10).

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