New Testament Week 21: “Be Watchful.” – JST Matt 1, Matt 24-25, Mark 12-13, Luke 21

For the first time in Jesus’s ministry, and the last time Jesus will preach at the temple, the Savior prophecies about the future after His resurrection. Up until this point, every time He has spoken of the future it was regarding His pending death and resurrection.

The events of these chapters likely occurred on Wednesday before Passover during the day and with the plot against Jesus already in motion, the presence of angry Pharisees seems unlikely and they are not mentioned. In fact, the messages seemed primarily delivered for the benefit of His disciples and parts only for a select few apostles.

Next week will be the final teachings of Jesus to His closest friends, the apostles.

CHAPTERS FOR STUDY WEEK 21 – JST Matt 1, Matt 24-25, Mark 12-13, Luke 21

– The Signs of the Times are useful reminders in every generation.

– We must be prepared for the coming of the Lord, regardless of whether He comes in our lifetime.

– Taking care of each other is necessary for our preparations to meet God.

Context and Timeline:
– The “Widow’s Mite” was the same as two copper coins and represented about 1/64th of a days wages at the time. It was a very small amount of money.

– Abomination of Desolation is a very interesting phrase that links to the Book of Daniel in the Old Testament. It is better translated as the Desolating Sacrilege and is referring to the desecration of the Holy Place in the temple. Many scholars believe that Jesus was referring to the destruction of the temple in 70 AD by the Romans, but it could also reference a symbolic desecration that will happen in later times. However, it seems from the JST that standing in the Holy Place is how we separate ourselves and a key phrase is “whoever readeth let him understand” which could be referencing things that we may know about the temple, which are not to be written down.

– JST Matt 1 is a translation of Matthew 24. It is one of the most expansive edits to the New Testament that Joseph Smith produced. It gives additional information that makes it clear that while most of the events Jesus prophesied about would be fulfilled during the disciples’ lives, that there were many that would be fulfilled at the end when Jesus comes again.

– “Marriage and giving in marriage” is a colloquial term that represented the riotous celebrations at weddings. They had become over the top in many cases and was a way of talking about a partying type lifestyle.

– Maiden is a better translation than virgin, mainly because virgin has a sexual connotation and maiden is more particularly emphasizing the youth and unmarried status of the women.

– Herodian lamps were small at this time and would need an extra container to burn for longer. This would have required additional preparation than normal.

– Talents were close to seventy pounds of silver and were likely worth 6,000 denarii. This could be close to $1 Million dollars. This parable is also very likely the origin of the word talent meaning a skill or ability.

The beginning of the chapters in Luke and Mark begin with some of the stories and parables from last week’s discussion, but they all converge as Jesus is leaving the temple and is near the treasury. He notices many wealthy people contributing funds to the treasury, when a poor widow contributes a few copper coins. Jesus makes a comment about how she had given less, but it was a lot more than the rich contributors, because of how little she had to begin with.

This comment is mostly understood to celebrate the faith of the woman, but I think it is important to notice the comparison to the rich and point out that giving more because we are rich is not something that demonstrates our faith, but rather we should look for ways to give more of ourselves the way the widow did.

As Jesus continues out of the temple, one of the disciples makes a comment about the beauty of the temple and Jesus prophesies that there will not be one stone left when the temple is destroyed. I think this saying worried some of Jesus’s closest friends, and at some point on their journey back to Bethany, Peter, James, John and Andrew ask the Lord privately to explain the future that He is referencing and what will happen.

At this point, Jesus gives a discourse on the Signs of the Times. These signs represent things that will happen to the disciples, but also things that will happen at the end of times. It is also my belief, that many of them happen in all generations as a reminder to us to be prepared for the Lord. I am going to list each of the signs with a little comment about each one. The order is a little different in each of the gospel accounts so pay little attention to my order:

  • Persecution of the Faithful
    • Believers will be hated at times and persecuted for their beliefs. With the advent of social media and the internet it is so much easier for people to be attacked, reviled, and misrepresented.
  • Destruction of the Temple
    • The Romans destroyed the temple in 70 AD.
  • Many religions will claim to be Jesus’s
    • Since the end of the middle ages this prediction has been fulfilled and proliferated.
  • Wars and rumors of wars
    • The most famous of the predictions. While there are fewer casualties of wars in our day and many fewer conflicts, there is greater fear-mongering regarding conflict and war. The rumors of wars create fear and skepticism of each other.
  • Sin will abound and the Love of many will be cold
    • Sin has always been prevalent, but it is easier to access, quicker to justify, and mostly people have become addicted to the god of self. We seek to satisfy our own selves without regard to the better path of the gospel. This worship of the god of self also makes our relationships with others less meaningful and lasting and so we lose the true value of love. It is easy to profess love, but in practice we truly only love the god of self.
  • Desolating Sacrilege
    • It is very likely this is referencing the destruction of the Temple in 70 AD, but it could also mean a further desecration of the Holy places.
  • Stand in the Holy Place
    • The temple will always be the Holy Place for believers, a place to show God that we love Him.
  • War and conflict in Jerusalem
    • There are seemingly never-ending conflicts and potential conflicts in this area of the world.
  • Gathering of Israel
    • The gathering of Israel has begun and has progressed. Bringing people back to the fold of Christ is a key component of the end of times.
  • No Man knows when it will happen
    • Do not be deceived into believing it is happening at a specific time or even a general time. The point of these chapters is to that we live like it is coming at any time.
  • Nation and Kingdoms against Nation and Kingdoms
    • I think we can see a huge push for nationalism in the world right now. When we only focus on our differences and how much we hurt each other, then nationalism will increase, and more conflict will follow.
  • Earthquakes and Famines
    • I think measuring the amount of natural disasters doesn’t really prove anything, but I think the mere fact that they happen is a reminder for us to love and help each other. I love how many people with huge differences help each other when these things happen. It is an opportunity to be our most Christlike.
  • Gospel declared to all Nations
    • There seems to only be a few places left on earth for the gospel message to really take root.
  • False Christs and False Prophets
    • The interesting part of this prediction is that these false prophets and Christs are showing miracles and wonders. It will not be easy to see their falsehood as the elect will be convinced. With information and access so instantaneous in our society, this kind of power is available to so many people. There are people with millions of followers and all they do is make voices to action figures and play with the toys. If that is possible, then there is a high likelihood someone with the powers of Satan helping them can deceive people. We must be true to our covenants and focused on our relationship with God and Jesus Christ.
  • Sun and Moon darkened, Stars falling from the sky
    • This could be a reference to the changing of our climate and the many satellites that are being put into orbit. It seems like the more we treat the earth poorly and pollute it and the space around it the more at risk we are of catastrophic outcomes.
  • Return of the Son of Man
    • When the world is in a panic, the Lord will come and that will be a relief and a burden for the world. Those who have tried their best and loved their best will find that relief and joy, those who have ignored, persecuted, and went about to hurt and destroy will be afraid.

The Lord likely knew the concern this explanation would give the disciples, so He goes on to soften it by saying that there is no one who knows when the Lord will come again, but that it is imperative that we are all watchful. We must act as if it could come at any moment, because if we do not, then we are likely to fail in our preparations.

Jesus describes that faithful people are found doing good, and that one of the most deceiving of emotions it he emotion that we can delay doing something good because it can be done later. This delaying feeling is described as wicked by Jesus. I feel like it is wicked, because it has ensnared so many of us.

To illustrate what a faithful servant looks like to His apostles, Jesus teaches three of His most famous parables: 10 Maidens, the Talents, and the Sheep and Goats. Let’s go through them and discuss what they mean for our own point of view in terms of being a faithful servant:

  • Parable of the Ten Maidens
    • There are five wise maidens and five unwise maidens.
    • Wisdom = being prepared in case the oil runs out.
    • The wedding party is delayed, meaning it took longer than the maidens thought.
    • There was not enough time when the party was announced for the maidens without enough oil to purchase more.
    • Main Point: Be purposeful in our preparations to see the Savior again. What can we do differently, and how can we help others prepare as well? This does not mean, only when He comes again, it could mean when we die, which also can come like a thief in the night.
  • Parable of the Talents
    • Three stewards are given talents by their master numbering 5, 2, and 1 talent.
    • The stewards with 5 and 2 talents take their stewardship and create more talents through trading and other activities. The steward with 1 talent buries his in the ground so he will not lose it.
    • When the master returns, he appoints the stewards who increased their talents over many other responsibilities. He casts the final steward out and gives his talent to the steward that began with 5.
    • Jesus then makes the point that those who use what they were given the way the master wants they will be given more. Those who do not will have theirs taken away.
    • This is the third or fourth parable with this idea at the foundation. However, in this one we get more insight into the steward who buried the talent.
      • He believed the Master was a harsh person
      • He was afraid of the Master
    • Main Point – We must be in alignment with the master to progress. We need to eliminate the fear and guilt and focus on the opportunity that is ahead. For me this is the opportunity to love and help others. Most of all we cannot let that fear paralyze us from action.
  • Parable of the Sheep and Goats
    • Jesus compares the Kingdom of Heaven to the separating of Goats and Sheep. Goats will be on the left hand and Sheep on the right.
    • He then explains what the requirements for entering the Kingdom – Those who help and bless God’s children will make it. Those who do not will not.

When you look that the three parables together you can see how they can help us look at our lives:
1 – Be prepared because our journey can end at any time.
2 – Do our best to align our will with the will of God so we are doing the things that matter most while we journey.
3 – Spend our resources and time on blessing those around us and helping them on their journey.

Jesus had this time with his closest friends, and these were the things he taught them. I think they are something we need to think about as well. Jesus then heads to Bethany for the night and next week we will study his final teachings before his death and resurrection.

Why do you think so many prophecies in scripture have dual meanings? It is because history repeats itself? Or is it because the Lord knows the future and so these ideas fit so many different times? Or is it a little of both?

Does the timing of the Lord’s return matter to you? Should it? What kinds of things can we learn from His teachings about the Signs in either case?

What do the parables of the Maidens, Talents, and Sheep/Goats have in common? What do they tell us about ourselves and our purpose as disciples?

Is the world around us getting worse? Has it always been about the same, but it is meant to seem worse to us as we age so it reminds us to prepare ourselves to meet the Lord, whether in life or death? Is it something we should worry about or something that should remind us to be the disciples we know we should?

Key Moment or Scripture: Matt 25:34-40
34 Then shall the King say unto them on his right hand, Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world:
35 For I was an hungred, and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me in:
36 Naked, and ye clothed me: I was sick, and ye visited me: I was in prison, and ye came unto me.
37 Then shall the righteous answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungred, and fed thee? or thirsty, and gave thee drink?
38 When saw we thee a stranger, and took thee in? or naked, and clothed thee?
39 Or when saw we thee sick, or in prison, and came unto thee?
40 And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me. 

The parable of the Sheep and Goats is less of a Parable and more of an example of what will separate the faithful and the wicked at the end of our lives. It is such a stark and specific example of what is required of us to be considered among the faithful.

I would challenge each of us to include as the centerpiece of our discussion this week the following questions to see where we are and what we can do differently:

  • Do you know people who are hungry and thirsty physically or spiritually? What have you done, or could you do to help them today?
  • Do you know people in your life who are more like strangers to you? What can you do to connect and take them into your heart and into friendship?
  • Who do you know that are exposed to the elements of the world, lonely and alone, unprotected? What can you do clothe them, or protect them?
  • We all know people who are sick, are we comforting them? What can we do to help them without asking? At the very least are we visiting them?
  • Do we have people in our lives who are in prison, or in trouble, or in the wrong crowd? Have we alienated them because of their situation? Can we go unto them and be part of their lives anyway?

Final Thoughts:
As we approach the half-way mark on gospel study for the year I wonder how we feel our discipleship is changing. I have noticed a difference in the things I think about and the things I care about. I can’t say I am doing so much better yet, but I want to do better, and I feel like I am seeing things more clearly. It makes me think that sometimes we act without thinking and that can make our habits what govern our behavior. I am hoping as I think more about my anticipated actions that I can become more aligned with the Savior. I can say with certainty that I have grown to love Jesus more through this process and I am thankful for that.