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Luke 21: 5-38
Jesus has made it to Jerusalem after a fruitful three-year ministry. He’s gone there to be handed over to the Gentiles and to be crucified. He’s in the temple. He’s preaching there day by day. The Pharisees are trying to catch Him out, the Sadducees are trying to catch Him out about the resurrection. Nobody can do it; He is cleverer. Why? Because He is God. He is asking them questions, catching them out. They are looking for an opportunity to kill Him, then He says these wonderful truths found in Luke 21 and He prophesises a number of things.
We live in uncertain times. I’m not sure that at any point in the history of the world, since the Fall, anyone couldn’t say they were uncertain times. We have always lived in uncertain times. Nothing is certain, nothing is secure, unless God allows it to be. We are living in uncertain times, but we’ve always been living in uncertain times.
We are, hopefully, coming out of two years of Covid. Putin has lost his mind. He has invaded Ukraine. The threat of that war may well extend beyond those nations. People are panic buying, filling cars with petrol and diesel, taking their jerry cans to the store. Do you remember the panic buying of toilet rolls! There is fear that Russian might use chemical bombs, nuclear bombs and all the rest of the bombs. Is World War Three about to happen? The news causes panic and fear. Some Christians are afraid and fearful. Some are terrified about what might take place. Other Christians are saying that the world is coming to an end, that these are signs of the end times. Our text this morning is very applicable for us today. It always has been, but especially today, with all these weird things that are going on in the world.
We can draw three things out of this text:
- Expect persecution and suffering, but fear not.
- In light of suffering and persecution we are the bear witness and spread the gospel.
- Be prepared for the Second Coming of Christ.
We should expect persecution and suffering, but fear not, “5 And while some were speaking of the temple, how it was adorned with noble stones and offerings, he said, 6 “As for these things that you see, the days will come when there will not be left here one stone upon another that will not be thrown down.” 7 And they asked him, “Teacher, when will these things be, and what will be the sign when these things are about to take place?” (Luke 21:5-7).
There are a number of times throughout the gospels when Jesus speaks of the temple being destroyed and three days later it will be rebuilt. When He does that, the temple is a metaphor of Jesus Himself, as the temple was God’s presence on Earth. Jesus fulfils the function of the temple, that His body will be destroyed and three days later be built up at the Resurrection. In this instance, that is not what is going on. What is happening here is that Jesus is prophesying the literal destruction of the temple in Jerusalem, which happened in 70 AD., when the Romans ransacked the temple and all of Jerusalem.
If you were to go to Jerusalem today, where the temple is you will see ruins, pieces of stone. There is a famous wall, a destroyed wall of the temple, which is called the wailing wall. It’s a very sad place to go because what you see is Jews writing prayers on pieces of paper and putting them into the wall. They are awaiting a Messiah to come back. They think that this is the closest that they can get to God; this is where God should dwell on Earth. They’ve missed the boat! It’s Jesus! We come to God through Jesus, not the temple. Not even this building. You are the church. This building is a place to gather.
The importance of this prophecy is that for the world to know that God no longer dwells on Earth, in the temple. But rather, having come to the world in Jesus Christ, and through sending the Holy Spirit, God now dwells in our hearts, in the hearts of believers. Effectively, He dwells in the church, in the gathered people, not the stones.
When Jesus spoke this the people were terrified. They asked when this would happen. Jesus, instead of calming them, brings more fear, “8 And he said, “See that you are not led astray. For many will come in my name, saying, ‘I am he!’ and, ‘The time is at hand!’ Do not go after them. 9 And when you hear of wars and tumults, do not be terrified, for these things must first take place, but the end will not be at once.” 10 Then he said to them, “Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. 11 There will be great earthquakes, and in various places famines and pestilences. And there will be terrors and great signs from heaven.” (Luke 21:8-11).
When someone comes to you with a worry, you try to calm them. But Jesus here was the opposite. He says there will be wars. Nations will rise against nations. There will be pestilences, mass diseases – Covid! Kingdom will rise against kingdom. Earthquakes. These are things that we see. The Tsunami. These are things that we see, these are the things that we have always seen. Because we live in a fallen and sinful world, we should not be surprised. Jesus is effectively saying, ‘Things go wrong, both naturally (earthquakes, famines, pestilences) and purposefully.
More than that, Jesus goes further. We think, ‘Give it a rest!’ But no, He goes further:
12 But before all this they will lay their hands on you and persecute you, delivering you up to the synagogues and prisons, and you will be brought before kings and governors for my name’s sake. 13 This will be your opportunity to bear witness. 14 Settle it therefore in your minds not to meditate beforehand how to answer, 15 for I will give you a mouth and wisdom, which none of your adversaries will be able to withstand or contradict. 16 You will be delivered up even by parents and brothers[c] and relatives and friends, and some of you they will put to death. 17 You will be hated by all for my name’s sake. 18 But not a hair of your head will perish. 19 By your endurance you will gain your lives.” (Luke 21:12-19).
This section was specifically targeted towards the Early church. It was tied in with the destruction of Jerusalem. The Church began after Jerusalem. Verses 12 and 15, for example, are especially true for the likes of Stephen – who was stoned to death, Peter – who was constantly put in front of the Counsel, the same thing for Paul and the apostles, John and the others. However, even though it was specifically for them, and we know it was specifically for them because Jesus’ advice is, ‘Don’t meditate beforehand about what you will say.’ Our advice today is that we should do that, we should read the scriptures and gain an understanding as to how we would answer questions that people will throw at us when we are persecuted. But this was a time when they didn’t have the New Testament. So, Jesus is effectively saying, ‘Don’t freak out. I will give you the words to say when this comes upon you.’ So, even though it is specifically directed at the Early Church, it is still also true of the Church today.
Paul tells Timothy, everyone who wants to live a Godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted, “Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted,” (2 Timothy 3:12). If you want to live a Godly life, and if you do live a Godly life, you will be persecuted. This is because of what Jesus says in verse 17, “You will be hated by all for my name’s sake.”
Suffering is a call for us and others to turn from treasuring anything in this world above Christ. Entering in to suffering puts things into perspective for us. If we suffer well, we demonstrate the gospel to the world. More than that, we demonstrate to God that we are willing servants. So, don’t be surprised, brothers and sisters in Christ, when nations go to war. Are you surprised that Russia has invaded Ukraine? Don’t be. Are you surprised when natural disasters occur? Don’t be. Are you surprised that Covid came? Don’t be.
Here’s what Jesus says, “When you hear of wars and tumults, do not be terrified, for these things must first take place, but the end will not be at once.” (Luke 21:9). But why, Jesus? How do I not fear when these things happen? I could die! My family could suffer. Well, the main reason can be found in verses 16-19, “You will be delivered up even by parents and brothers and relatives and friends, and some of you they will put to death. 17 You will be hated by all for my name’s sake. 18 But not a hair of your head will perish. 19 By your endurance you will gain your lives.” (Luke 21:12-19).
Is this confusing you as much as it did me? How can Jesus say, on one hand, ‘You will die. You’ll be delivered up even by those who are supposed to love you. Some of you will be put to death,’ then say, ‘But not a hair of your head will perish.’ What is He talking about? Well, when He says, ‘Not a hair on your head will perish,’ it is a spiritual metaphor. The point He is making is that even if we are to die here on Earth, we shall live abundantly in the next. Not a hair of you head will perish. When, at last, you come to cast your accounts, you shall find you have lost nothing. And your enemies shall find that they have gained nothing. When all is said and done, if you are in Christ, if you die, you have lost nothing, not a hair on your head shall perish. The believer has what the unbeliever does not – life in abundance in Christ.
More than that, we will only suffer what the Lord allows us to suffer. So, the war in Ukraine can only happen if God allows it to happen. Russia is not in control of this war. God is in control. It is not to say that God is pleased with Russia, that’s not it at all. But He’s allowed it to happen. He has allowed this evil to take place. The plans of terrorists and hostile nations don’t succeed apart from our gracious God. Why He allows it is a question many struggle with. King David faced the threat of war on a daily basis. He was constantly facing the threat of war. When you read the psalms you see his pain, you feel his pain. Have you ever prayed the psalms back to God? It forces you to feel what David felt. He often questioned where the Lord was at these times. However, what he learnt was that God allowed his trials and tribulations in order to shape him into God’s willingness. The result of David’s constant suffering was worship and praise. So, we learn to expect persecution and suffering, but to fear not. Whatever may come upon us, we are safe in our Saviour.
Secondly, in the face of persecution and suffering, not only are we not to do something, meaning not to fear – we are to do something – to bear witness and spread the gospel. Not being fearful is a negative; God is telling us ‘Don’t fear.’ But this is a positive. It is telling us what to do – to spread the gospel, “This will be your opportunity to bear witness.” (Luke 21:13). We have so many opportunities to bear witness.
Whenever the Church has been persecuted in history, it has resulted in growth. The Church thrives when she is persecuted. The Church began with twelve men. Eleven of them were killed. 2,000 years later, more people claim to be Christian than any other group of people in the world. How genuine that is, is of debate. But whenever persecution has happened, the Church has thrived.
The Church shines brighter when the world gets darker. This should cause us to think how we should pray for persecuted Christians in other nations. In my own church, when we pray for the church in Ukraine, we don’t actually pray for them to be delivered from persecution (not that we want it to happen). What we pray is, ‘Father, as a church in Ukraine is being persecuted and is facing this war, make them shine all the brighter in the face of it.’ We don’t ask for removal, we ask them to shine brighter, to witness and to spread the gospel there. Should we ask God to remove persecution, or should we ask God to use the Church when she is persecuted? The best way to pray for the Church is not to ask for removal of hardship but to ask God to cause the church to bear witness in the midst of hardship.
When everything around us gets darker, the Church shines brighter. This is what Jesus predicts, “20 “But when you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies, then know that its desolation has come near. 21 Then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains, and let those who are inside the city depart, and let not those who are out in the country enter it, 22 for these are days of vengeance, to fulfill all that is written. 23 Alas for women who are pregnant and for those who are nursing infants in those days! For there will be great distress upon the earth and wrath against this people. 24 They will fall by the edge of the sword and be led captive among all nations, and Jerusalem will be trampled underfoot by the Gentiles, until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled.” (Luke 21:20-24).
Jesus is prophesying the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD by the Romans, and that God’s people will flee, but in doing so, the gospel will spread. He uses destruction in a positive sense. This is extremely negative; there will be hardship and it will continue, He says, until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled. In other words, the gospel must go to the Gentiles, extend to the nations. This meant that the hardships will continue until God has finished what He wants to do in the world, among the Gentiles, until all is fulfilled, when God’s work is done among us, when Jesus will return.
When foolish Christians like to predict the end of times, the first thing to say is, “Stop it! You don’t have a clue when the end of the world will take place because you are not God.” Jesus says, “And when you hear of wars and tumults, do not be terrified, for these things must first take place, but the end will not be at once.” (Luke 21:9). On other words, these things are signs of the last days, but the last day will not come at once.
The Bible teaches us that we are in the last days and that we have been for the past 2,000 years. John tells us, “Children, it is the last hour (1 John 2:18a). If that were literal, it would have lasted an hour. It is not the last hour literally, it is metaphorically speaking, a figure of speech.
Jesus continues, “and as you have heard that antichrist is coming, so now many antichrists have come. Therefore we know that it is the last hour.“ (1 John 2:18b). Antichrists have been, antichrists are here and antichrists will come.
Paul says, “But understand this, that in the last days there will come times of difficulty.” (2 Timothy 3:1). He then writes to the church in Thessalonica,“ 2 For you yourselves are fully aware that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night. 3 While people are saying, “There is peace and security,” then sudden destruction will come upon them as labour pains come upon a pregnant woman, and they will not escape.” (1 Thessalonians 5:2-3)
If Jesus comes like a thief in the night, He will come unannounced. If you have ever been robbed, the thief didn’t phone you in the morning to let you know what time they would be coming round to rob you. They come unannounced. Jesus will come unannounced. Anyone who predicts will be wrong. You can’t predict when a thief will come, you can’t predict when Jesus will return.
The author of the Hebrews identifies the time of his writing as the last days. He says, “But in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world.” (Hebrews 1:2)
Paul, likewise, identifies that Jesus’ ministry was in the last days, “He was foreknown before the foundation of the world but was made manifest in the last times for the sake of you,” (1 Peter 1:20)
So, for those Christians who like to predict, stop pointing to the war and to Covid and to say that this is a sign of the beast, this is the last days,“8 But do not overlook this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day. 9 The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.” (2 Peter 3:8-9).
So, instead of being concerned about the last days, about when Jesus going to come, this war, Covid, all these things happening, Jesus tells us to be concerned about bearing witness to Christ in the midst of it all. The best way to do this is to be prepared.
Jesus talks about the time when He will return to the world. He says, “Now when these things begin to take place, straighten up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.” (Luke 21:28). Let me tell you that now – your redemption is drawing near, whether it’s your death or Christ’s return. That is a wonderful thing.
To illustrate this Jesus has a parable, 29 And he told them a parable: “Look at the fig tree, and all the trees. 30 As soon as they come out in leaf, you see for yourselves and know that the summer is already near. 31 So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that the kingdom of God is near.” 32 Truly, I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all has taken place. 33 Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away. (Luke 21:29-33).
Remember, what is near to God is not near to us, we do not know. The point is, be prepared now. Don’t let the phrase, “When you see these things take place you know that the Kingdom of God is near,” confuse you because they have been taking place for 2,000 years. The point He makes is that you will not know the time of the Son’s return, so be prepared today, tomorrow, every day.
The question is, ‘How do we prepare ourselves?’ By watching ourselves, “34 “But watch yourselves lest your hearts be weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and cares of this life, and that day come upon you suddenly like a trap. 35 For it will come upon all who dwell on the face of the whole earth. 36 But stay awake at all times, praying that you may have strength to escape all these things that are going to take place, and to stand before the Son of Man.” (Luke 21:34-36).
Don’t be concerned about the cares of this life. In other words, keep your eyes fixed on Jesus. When it says, ‘Stay awake at all times,’ it doesn’t mean you need to go to the GP and ask for caffeine tablets. Again, it’s not literal, it’s a figure of speech. Be spiritually awake and prepared, alert at all times, to escape all things, to be counted righteous before God in Christ, so that we might be delivered from persecution when Jesus returns. In other words, don’t be like the people who were listening to Jesus here because these very people who were in the temple, in just a few days from here, would abandon Him. They would see persecution coming upon Jesus and they would run because they would not want it for themselves.
“37 And every day he was teaching in the temple, but at night he went out and lodged on the mount called Olivet. 38 And early in the morning all the people came to him in the temple to hear him.” (Luke 21:37-38). They were fascinated by His teaching. Fascinated. But when it came to it, when He was persecuted, they ran. Don’t be fascinated by Jesus, commit to Jesus. Let that fascination become love, commitment and salvation.
What are you like? Are you a Christian? If you are, who do you say Jesus is? What is your answer to these troubles in the world?
If you’re not a Christian, where do you go when trouble arrives? Who do you trust in? Are you fearful? Do you trust in the law or something else?
We already know that Jesus reigns over all things in heaven and on Earth, but the real question is, ‘Does He reign in your heart?’ You see, the thing to be most fearful of is not wars, persecution or diseases. What we have to fear most of the wrath of God. That is far more terrifying than any war, any bomb, any threat of violence. The wrath of God is eternal. Fear Him. But allow that fear to be converted to joy, the kind of fear that draws you to Him, not cause you to run away from Him.
As much as you should fear the wrath of God, because that is the thing that we should fear above anything else, He poured it onto His Son. Is there anything better in the world? That’s the best news. He is to be feared above anything else, but at the same time He isn’t – because Jesus paid the price. So, does Jesus reign in your heart?