(This is the gist of my sermon preached this morning back outside in our parking lot. It is now uploaded on our church youtube site - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dWyaPyilTUo).
INTRODUCTION – One of the great blessings and advantages of being a disciple of Jesus Christ is that He gladly informs His disciples of things we need to know regarding the future - - things that we could not know otherwise - because only God knows what the future for sure holds. As God declared through the prophet Isaiah, “I am God and there is no one like Me, Declaring the end from the beginning….” (Isaiah 46:9)
One of the snares or traps or schemes of the evil one in regard to our seeking to understand future events is that of neglecting to abide by the ethics of eschatology – eschatology being the theological term for the study or knowledge of end times or last days events.
Jesus rarely ever speaks of end times events without speaking of the kind of godly character and responses necessary to rightly handle such information. The enemy of our souls would have us be mesmerized with the details of the events, ignoring the ethical responses that must accompany the information. If he succeeds in his devious diversion, then the knowledge we receive regarding future events – instead of helping us be more godly and useable in His hands, will bring about the opposite result.
In our ongoing preaching series through the gospel of Luke, we come this morning to the longest passage or teaching of Jesus regarding future events. There are mainly two events He felt His disciples needed to know about. The first one concerns the destruction of the temple and the city (Jerusalem) that surrounds it. This happened in AD 70 – some 40 years after this discussion. And its discussion is found in vs. 5-24. The second one concerns His second coming; this discussion follows in vs. 25-36. We are going to cover the first one this morning.
Because there is a general tendency in the body of Christ to be more concerned about the details of future events rather than the godly responses that must accompany such knowledge, and because there are 8 commands within our passage for today, I’m going to try to give those the focus they deserve.
This long teaching of Jesus’s appears to immediately follow Jesus’s verbal assessment to His disciples of the merit or lack of - of the gifts being offered into the treasury of the temple as recorded in Luke 21:1-4. While the self righteous rich folk were offering their large gifts (in terms of numeric amounts) in a way that people (especially Jesus) could not help but notice; the truly righteous widow’s sacrificial gift, which was extremely small in terms of numeric amount - - went largely unnoticed and unappreciated by everyone except Jesus.
Jesus had already warned against being thrown or deceived by appearances. John recorded that warning in chapter 7 of his gospel, where Jesus said, “Do not judge according to appearance, but judge with righteous judgment.”
Sadly the Jewish culture of that day, much like ours today pretty much judges everything by appearance. So instead of taking some time to ponder the shocking assessment Jesus made about the merit of the gifts being offered, some of these disciples began to trip up over another appearance and that was the super impressive stones used to build the temple; and some of the decorative gifts attached to them. Let’s read vs. 5 of Luke chapter 21, “And while some were talking about the temple, that it was adorned with beautiful stones and votive gifts, He said,"
Now to be fair, in terms of human architecture in that day, or even in ours, these stones were impressive. Josephus (arguably the most respected historian of that day) described its beauty in his Wars (5.5.1-6 §§184-227 and Antiquities 15.11.1-7§§380-425.) He mentions one of the stones in the foundation as being sixty-seven by seven by nine feet and that the stones of the temple were thirty-seven by twelve by eighteen feet in size!
All the more shocking then when Jesus predicted they would all be torn down! Look at vs. 6, “As for these things which you are looking at, the days will come in which there will not be left one stone upon another which will not be torn down.”
To the disciples’ credit, even though Jesus basically interrupted their conversation, and even though the chances of such a massive temple and the fortress surrounding Jerusalem being overtaken and torn down were very small in their eyes, they did not challenge His prophecy. Rather they asked for more understanding. Look at vs. 7, “They questioned Him, saying,”Teacher, when therefore will these things happen? And what will be the sign when these things are about to take place?”
His answer starts with a warning or command. In fact He gives three commands in these next two verses, which means among other things that Jesus wanted them to know there is a right and a wrong response to being informed about future events. Let’s look at vs. 8, “And He said, “See to it that you are not misled; for many will come in My name, saying, ‘I am He,’ and, ‘The time is near.’ Do not go after them.
Jesus Christ expects His disciples to see to it that we are not misled or deceived. That implies we are to be very intentional about this. The reality is many – inspired by the father of lies will try to deceive them and will try to deceive us. Our enemy knows one of the aspects of our sinful nature is we prefer to follow a flesh and blood prophet or expert rather than having to follow One who is invisible to us, and whose mostly non verbal voice has to be discerned and heard amidst many other very verbal , loud and persuasive voices. I say this because Jesus at this point probably only had weeks left with His disciples before He would ascend to the Father in heaven and would no longer be visible. He would still be as communicative (more actually since He was no longer limited by time and space) with His disciples as when He walked the earth. But hearing His voice would become more challenging.
We have a God created need to discern the times, and to have at least a general understanding of what the future holds. Jesus rebuked the crowds more than once for being such experts about coming weather patterns, but not having a clue about coming events of much greater import (Matt. 16:2,3).
But unless this God created need is Spirit controlled; and unless we are daily growing in a true experiential knowledge of Jesus Christ; then when a persuasive false Messiah or false prophet or false apostle comes along, we very easily can fall for their smooth deception.
Many imposters came in that day, especially after Jesus ascended to Heaven. Jesus expected His disciples to be able to detect their deception and falsehood; and to not give them the time of day.
But because they asked about the timing of the destruction of the temple, and because false Messiahs and false prophets will try to convince them otherwise, Jesus mercifully gives them more information along with more instructions for how to live in such times.
Let’s read vs. 9-11, “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. Then He continued by saying to them, “Nation will rise against nation and kingdom against kingdom, and there will be great earthquakes, and in various places plagues and famines; and there will be terrors and great signs from heaven.”
Do you know why it is so easy even for disciples to be terrified? Well the primary reason is because we do not know God as we should. By far the best defense against being deceived is knowing intimately the real thing! But another reason is because in every culture and society then and today there are people whose job it is to inform we citizens of the latest news. And tumultuous events and happenings like wars or skirmishes between warring nations and earthquakes and storms, plagues and droughts and famines always get the top billing or the greatest emphasis. And these news folk – if you will – live in an ever increasing state of trauma because on the most part they do not know God; and second -they have a daily diet of reporting on and thinking about traumatic events – sometimes perhaps witnessing them first hand or at least witnessing or hearing about the collateral damage of such.
Over time these news folk, or more like couriers in that day, learn to grab our attention by their use of hyperbole and dramatic presentation. They think it is their job to warn us of the worst case scenarios in every situation, even though often the worst case scenario does not materialize. And their trauma like leaven spreads to us. And if we have not learned to listen to the voice of God, and if we have not learned to walk by the Spirit, then our sinful flesh will keep longing for more and more of this kind of dramatic and traumatic news; some of this longing can even be chemical; and before we know it, we find it difficult to go to sleep at night and we reach for the bottle of wine increasingly, or the calming pills, and we become slowly but surely gripped by fear.
I wonder how seriously the disciples took this emphatic command from Jesus, “Do not be terrified!” It was not a suggestion. I know that much. And to overcome it, changes in what they processed in a given day had to be made.
So all of these things listed in vs. 9-11 would take place before the destruction of the temple. But that’s not all. So also would severe persecution of the disciples. Look at vs. 12, “But before all these things, they will lay their hands on you and will persecute you, delivering you to the synagogues and prisons, bringing you before kings and governors for My name’s sake. “
How would you have responded to that prediction? Well before they could get too sullen about it, Jesus followed with this promise in Vs. 13, “It will lead to an opportunity for your testimony.”
And based on that promise, Jesus instructs them how to prepare for delivering their testimonies in vs. 14, 15 “ So make up your minds not to prepare beforehand to defend yourselves; for I will give you utterance and wisdom which none of your opponents will be able to resist or refute."
Did this actually happen? You bet it did! Numerous times in the book of Acts the author chronicles persecutions that led to bold witness before governmental authorities – powerful people whom they would have never had an audience apart from being persecuted and arrested. And time after time these mostly uneducated apostles spoke with great authority and confidence thanks to their learning to walk by the Spirit and not by the flesh.
Anything else exciting that we should expect Jesus before the destruction of the temple? Well as a matter of fact, yes there is. He went on to say even your own relatives and friends in some cases will come against them Let’s read vs. 16,17, “But you will be betrayed even by parents and brothers and relatives and friends, and they will put some of you to death, and you will be hated by all because of My name.”
Now we know that this wasn’t true of every relative of the apostles. Some of their relatives became disciples and joined the early church. But it was true of some. In those cases most likely their relatives turned them in to governing authorities and they did the killing.
Jesus just didn’t want them to be shocked or surprised. And He wanted them to know they were immortal until their God appointed time of death came.
For those who were not put to death, Jesus promised in proverbial language in vs. 18 “Yet not a hair of your head will perish.” This was not to be taken as a literal promise that they would never have a bad hair day. Rather that God would protect them and fulfill His purposes through them despite persecution and opposition. Jesus, the Captain of His army of sons and daughters then and today, knows how to use persecution and opposition to accomplish His purposes. He is never caught by surprise or distracted when the enemies of His church oppress His servants. As with the raving persecutor Saul, Jesus takes it personally, and can and will bring it to an end in due time, or He will deliver His servants from it..
He wanted His disciples to be confident of His hands on protection of them. But He also wanted them to know He expected them to endure these temporary difficulties. Thus He instructed them in vs. 19,, “By your endurance you will gain your lives.” Jesus endured and persevered until He accomplished His mission and purpose on earth. He never took a vacation. He never said, "I'm done!" He never checked out. He expects His disciples to do the same.
All of these things are going to happen before the destruction of Jerusalem and its cherished, seemingly indestructible temple. Will there be any signs that immediately precede it?
That’s what He is now ready to communicate to His disciples. Let’s read vs. 20, “But when you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies, then recognize that her desolation is near.” Roman armies to be specific.
And by the way disciples, don’t be deceived by false prophets who might say “Ah don’t worry about them. God will protect us.” No when you see this, you can know God’s protection over Jerusalem has lifted. Complete desolation is coming. And exit strategies are a must!
Whoa! That’s specific and a bit scary! So Jesus followed this with some specific instructions on how to handle this coming reality. Let’s read vs. 21 “Then those who are in Judea must flee to the mountains, and those who are in the midst of the city must leave, and those who are in the country must not enter the city;”
Again, if Jesus calls His servants to stay and promises to protect them, then they should stay. But no such promises for this coming invasion and desolation. No one will be spared. So when you see these signs, get out any way you can Jesus was saying!
Josephus, the primary historian of that era, recorded that 1.1 million Jews were killed in this invasion. 97,000 were led into slavery.
Now if you are familiar with God’s special and unique calling on the nation of Israel, you might be wondering…Why did God allow such an invasion and such desolation?
Well let’s read on - Vs. 22-24 “ because these are days of vengeance, so that all things which are written will be fulfilled. Woe to those who are pregnant and to those who are nursing babies in those days; for there will be great distress upon the land and wrath to this people; and they will fall by the edge of the sword and will be led captive into all the nations; and Jerusalem will be trampled under foot by the Gentiles until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled.”
Whose vengeance is Jesus speaking of? God’s! The Roman armies were merely His instrument.
Just as God used the armies of Babylon in 587 BC to bring promised and much deserved judgment to Israel, so in this case God is using the wrath of Rome to judge and discipline His people for all of their disobedience and rebellion and hard heartedness against Him. In both cases much warning was given and many opportunities to repent were offered.
But Israel’s sins were great and most of Israel was too hard hearted and too spiritually blind to heed the warnings. Whether it be her overall rejection of her Messiah; or the absolute corruption of her religious leaders, which included their abuse of and lack of compassion for the poor and needy and widows, whether it be Israel’s idolatry and worldliness, her pride and self righteousness, or her rejection and persecution and sometimes murder of God sent prophets- - you name it – Israel was guilty of it. And a nation with such a high calling - - well as Jesus said, “To whom much is given, much is required.”
J.C. Ryle’s words on this passage are pertinent and worth pondering. He writes, “There is something peculiarly awful in this expression (“…these are days of vengeance”). It shows us that the sins of the Jewish nation had been long noted down in the book of God’s remembrance. The Jews, by their unbelief and impenitence, had been treasuring up wrath against themselves for many hundred years. The anger of God, like a pent-up river, had been silently accumulating for ages. The fearful tribulation which attended the siege of Jerusalem, would only be the outburst of a thunderstorm which had been gradually gathering since the days of the kings (that is Israel’s kings). It would only be the fall of a sword which had been long hanging over Israel’s head.”
When Jesus added, “…so that all things which are written will be fulfilled” He was referring to all the warnings of impending judgment the prophets had made over the past centuries. Judgments which were inspired and directed by the Holy Spirit and thus which must be fulfilled apart from widespread and sincere repentance, which sadly in the ensuing 40 years or so – never came.
When He says at the end of vs. 24, “…Jerusalem will be trampled under foot by the Gentiles until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled.” Please note the word “until”. What that tells us is that while God has allowed Gentile nations to oppress and war against Israel throughout her history, and more is to come, it will come to an end. It is not infinite. It is tightly controlled and orchestrated by God. And every Gentile nation will answer for every unrighteous word and deed said or done against Israel – even though God chose to use them to discipline His people.
Babylon is an excellent example of that. The prophets Isaiah and Jeremiah prophesied both that Babylon would conquer Israel as His instrument of judgment, and that God would judge Babylon for its unrighteous treatment of Israel.
Historians tend to not attribute Rome’s fall several centuries later to her dealings with Israel in AD 70, but invincible Rome did fall several centuries later.
Nothing has changed in God’s dealings with both Israel (His forever chosen people) and the way we Gentile nations treat her. God will continue to discipline and judge her until she becomes what He originally called her to be. One of the ways His greatness will be manifested on the earth is when she does fulfill her calling. God will also continue to purify and cleanse His worldwide church – made up largely of Gentiles – until we see and feel about Israel the way He does. God will also continue to judge Gentile nations for the way we treat Israel on the world wide stage.
God has graciously and supernaturally led Jewish authors to write at great length in holy scripture about their nations’ high calling and its many failures and God’s many judgments. But interspersed through all of those historical accounts are God’s promises that He will finish what He began with her. Promises such as Isaiah 54:7,8, “For a brief moment I forsook you, But with great compassion I will gather you. In an outburst of anger I hid My face from you for a moment, But with everlasting lovingkindness I will have compassion on you,” Says the Lord your Redeemer.”
We who would seek to follow Jesus and be His disciples must be sober about God’s judgments against Israel, and humble and expectant about His promises. We must continue to seek Him for both understanding of future events regarding Israel and the nations, and the ethical responses He expects of us when He reveals this understanding to us.
One crucial ethical response we know He expects of we Gentile disciples is a total rejection of arrogance towards Israel. Much of Romans chapter 11 is written to that end. The living God of the Bible in scripture often does things like leading the apostle Paul to say in the last verse of Romans chapter 10, “But as for Israel He (GOD) says, “ALL THE DAY LONG I HAVE STRETCHED OUT MY HANDS TO A DISOBEDIENT AND OBSTINATE PEOPLE.” And then in the first verse of chapter 11 the Holy Spirit inspired Paul to write, “I say then, God has not rejected His people, has He? May it never be!”
Disciples must hold these two truths in tension.
As I said in the beginning, one of the great blessings and privileges of being a disciple of Jesus Christ is – out of an ever growing daily relationship with Him – we get not only an inside look at His plans and purposes for the nations, but wisdom and specific instruction on how to prepare for what is to come. And courage and peace for the turbulence therein.
Now, there may be someone listening today in person or online, who is not a disciple of Jesus Christ. If that is you, I invite you in His name to quit wasting your life and quit subjecting yourself to the whims and lies of men,….men whom Jesus Christ created for Himself, and whom He will judge on the last day. Men whose very breath comes from Him.
I invite you into a forever relationship with the living God - made possible by His sacrificial death on a criminal’s cross It is yours for the asking!
Prayer for disciples and future ones