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Watch 2022-2023 online sermons » Robert Barron » Robert Barron - What Is the Apocalypse?

Robert Barron - What Is the Apocalypse?

Robert Barron - What Is the Apocalypse?
TOPICS: Apocalypse

Peace be with you. Friends, this time of year, we're getting into late November, when the days are getting shorter and the weather a bit gloomier, it's appropriate, I suppose, the Gospel readings turn toward the apocalyptic. There's something dark and threatening and a little bit dire about the Gospel reading. Here's how the one for today now is set up. Jesus and his disciples are standing in Jerusalem before the great temple. Now, to understand what this would've meant to a first-century Jew, you have to imagine, let's say, an American standing before some single building that would be a combination of maybe the White House, the Capitol, the National Cathedral.

What else? We have nothing comparable, really, to what the temple meant. It was in almost every sense of the term the center of Jewish life. It was seen in almost a literal sense as the dwelling place of the Lord. And we know from ancient accounts, the temple was spectacular in its size, in its decoration. It was a wonder of the ancient world. And so, here's these pious Jews standing in front of this magnificent and symbolically charged building. And of course they were filled with wonder and awe and probably a sense of their national identity, their religious identity and purpose, all of it. So there they are. And what does Jesus say to them? He assures them that every stone of that temple will be thrown down.

Well, I submit to you, that's not what they're expecting to hear. I think of, in my life, when I stood in front of these great buildings, like Chartres Cathedral being one of my favorites, and the many times I stood in front of St. Peter's Basilica in Rome, and just soaked in the grandeur and spiritual power of these places. If I were there with friends, I'd be talking about the history and the importance and the symbolism. We'd all be exalting together in this marvelous place. What if I were to say, I'm with a group of friends, I'm in front of St. Peter's, "now the days are coming when every stone of this place will be torn down". What if I'm with friends, we're outside of Chartres Cathedral, we're marveling at the stained glass and the great towers that have stood now for eight centuries, and I were to say, "the days are coming when this whole place is going to be blown to smithereens".

I would just shock my interlocutors. Well, that's the effect it must have had on Jesus' disciples. Well, if that's not bad enough, listen to what comes next. He says, "During the period after trials of every sort, the sun will be darkened, the moon will not shed its light, stars will fall from the skies, and the heavenly hosts will be shaken". So, not only is this great building going to come crashing down, the whole cosmos is going to come crashing down. That's what he blindly tells them when they're standing outside the temple. It what was probably for them a marvelous spiritual moment. This is the message Jesus gives. Now, this is the perennially fascinating language of the apocalyptic. If you doubt me that this is to the present day extremely interesting for people, go online sometime, just put in "apocalypse" or "apocalyptic," and millions of references will come up.

This is now some years ago, gosh, maybe twenty years ago, that famous series of books called the "Left Behind" series, about the rapture, about the end of the world, and they just fascinated the whole country. We've always loved talk about the end times. Look up and down Christian history; almost every age, there's been somebody who is calling upon this apocalyptic language or predicting the end of the world. And so from Jesus' time on, it's been fascinating. Well, how do we read it? How do we make sense of this strange, unnerving language? Well, let me make first this suggestion: taking this language literally as a description of cosmological events would put us on pretty shaky, dangerous ground. Now, why? Why? Well, listen to what Jesus says: "I assure you this generation will not pass away until all these things take place".

Okay, so wait a minute. You just talked about the destruction of the temple. Okay. But also about the destruction of the space time continuum. You're talking about the falling of the stars from the sky, the darkening of the sun and the moon. And now you're telling me that it's going to happen in this generation. Well, see friends, if we take this language in a strictly literal sense, it's describing something that will happen in the cosmos. Well, then Jesus is obviously wrong. He's obviously a very bad prophet because last time I checked, the space time continuum didn't end in the first century. And so, we're compelled, it seems to me, to look at this language with fresh eyes to understand what's going on, because it does indeed have a very particular relevance to Jesus' time and to ours.

So what do I mean? First of all, we have to see the kind of genre we're dealing with here. Our first reading is from the book of Daniel. If I had time I'd go into that marvelous, fascinating book, but Daniel gives you a very apocalyptic approach too. You want to see it, look in the book of Revelation, the book of the Apocalypse, this kind of literature. Apocalypse, our English word, is from "apokalypsis" in Greek, which doesn't mean, first of all, "end of the world". The word, literally, "apokalypsis," means "taking away of the veil". Right? "Kalypso," it means veil. "Apokalypsis" means taking the veil back. Which is exactly why when this word was translated into Latin, it came out as "revelatio," "velum" being the veil, "revelatio" is the pulling back of the veil.

"Revelatio" gives us the English word, revelation. Which is why we call the last book of the Bible the book of Revelation. It's not the book of the end of the world. It's the book of the great unveiling. Something is being disclosed to us. A hidden truth is going to be revealed. Well, what is it? What's being unveiled? Listen again to Jesus. "During that period after trials of every sort, the sun will be darkened, the moon will not shed its light, stars will fall out of the skies, and the heavenly host will be shaken".

Okay. What does this mean? If you're an ancient person, sun, moon, stars, were the instruments by which you navigated. We're not attuned to that in our modern times. But up until pretty recent times, this was true. I mean, once in a long while, if I'm trying to figure out now where I am, I will look to, where's the sun? People who are skilled at navigation at sea, I might still rely on the stars to navigate. But in the ancient world, this is how they did it. You're traveling by land or by sea, you would go by the sun and the moon and the stars. It's how you got your orientation. The very best comparison would be, for us, the GPS systems that we all carry around in our pockets.

It's funny, isn't it; just recently I was in the New York area driving, I don't know much about the New York area, and I relied every moment on this GPS that was linked to satellites up in space and then told me exactly where I should drive. The days are coming when that GPS will be torn apart, when that iPhone will be taken away from you, where you will not know where you're going. That's the import of this language. The days are coming, says the Lord, when you're going to be totally disoriented. The way you typically navigate your way through life, that's going to be upended. You'll lose your sense of direction, your sense of order. Furthermore, we hear, the heavenly hosts will be shaken. It's very interesting now.

In the ancient world, they believed there were, as Paul put it, powers and principalities. So behind the realities of this world, there was a hidden reality, spiritual powers, that directed affairs. This was a standard view. There's still great truth to that, by the way. But in our time, we might speak of some of these great principles and ideas that govern the way we think and act. Think of all the systems, economic and political and culture, by which we organize our lives by which we understand what's going on. What if all those are shaken, they're undermined, they no longer hold? My way of situating myself in the world is now turned upside down.

This is what's going to be revealed. This is the apocalypse. This is the falling of the sun and moon and stars, the shaking of the powers. And you know what, everybody, it did happen for that generation to whom Jesus was speaking. What was revealed? The death and Resurrection of the Lord. Jesus done in by the powers of the world. Think of all those who contributed to his death, from the Romans, to the Jews, to his own followers, to his whole society. Jesus nailed to that Roman cross was someone who was done in by the powers and principalities, by the basic assumptions, by the normal way that people organized their lives. It led to his Crucifixion, and people walking by would've said, "Well, there he is, one more victim of our system or someone that ran afoul the way things go".

But then, listen to me, listen to me. In that generation, yes, indeed, the people that were listening to him that day, yes, in that time, Jesus rose from the dead. You know what that represented? The falling of the sun and the moon and all the stars and the shaking of the heavenly powers. Why? Because one of the basic principles by which we govern life is that death is final. Death is absolute. That's the end. And in fact, corrupt political powers have used the fear of death to do their dirty work for eons. But now, through the power of the Holy Spirit, Jesus, who had been done in by those powers, rises from the dead and shows that death itself does not have the final word. Death itself is questioned.

And, by extension, all those political, economic, and cultural forces by which we run our lives, they've been shaken, they've been questioned. They've fallen to the ground. It was the dying and rising of Jesus that pulled back a veil, everybody, to reveal the deepest truths of things, that God's love is more powerful than death and more powerful than all those institutions that are based upon the fear of death. So now we can't live our lives the old ways. Throw away your GPS, it doesn't work anymore. You need a new one.

Read the Acts to the Apostles now, this is what it means to be governed by the Holy Spirit. I'm not governed by the old assumptions anymore, but now it's the Holy Spirit who is my sun and moon and stars. Does that make sense? And you see now why this has perfect relevance to us in our own time. How do we govern our life? Well, look, the culture gives us the ordinary sun and moon and stars, the ordinary heavenly powers, the assumptions and institutions that govern us.

Sure, we know about that. But see, we Christians who've received the message of the resurrection, we've experienced "apokalypis," "revelatio," the pulling back of the veil, to reveal the deepest truth of things. And now, now, now, we need to govern our lives by this new power. We need a new spiritual GPS. That's why this startling word of Jesus is meant to wake us up out of our complacency and give our lives over to the higher power of the Holy Spirit. And God bless you.
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