“The Temple Destroyed and Signs of the End of the Age”
NATION WILL RISE AGAINST NATION
Intro: Our text today is the last public speech the Lord Jesus makes in Luke’s gospel.
The subject of the address is “last things” or “end times.” The special feature here in Luke is that a final, distant future event is prefigured/foreshadowed in a near and realized event.
Studying Luke 21 is like wearing bifocals – Our Lord helps us see important events from both near and far. His prophecies are both near fulfillments and far fulfillments.
He predicts a coming judgment on Jerusalem that people in His audience will experience. Not only will they see it, but their lives will be affected by it. Indeed, the holy city of Jerusalem was destroyed by the Roman emperor some 40 years after this speech.
We will call this a near future event.
On the other hand, Jerusalem’s fall in A.D. 70 is only a taste of the final judgment to come. It is the coming of the Son of Man. It will constitute the end of all things on earth. It will usher in the eternal kingdom of God. We will call it a distant future event.
The primary purpose of Luke 21 is to show us a view of the end of time in the distant future through the lens of the destruction of Jerusalem in the immediate future. Jesus will alternate between the near and the distant in His address.
Psalm 65:4 …We shall be satisfied with the goodness of Your house, of Your holy temple.
In those days most Israelites lived in modest houses made of mud, brick, or stone. So, when they went up to the temple to worship, they were almost overwhelmed with feelings of joy. Indeed, they were awestruck. This was the house of their God.
Luke 21:5 Then, as some spoke of the temple, how it was adorned with beautiful stones and donations, He said,
Christ’s audience marvels at the immensity of the temple. They are impressed with its stunning decorations.
Each year when they went up to Jerusalem, pilgrims would look to see what had been added to the temple. By the time of Christ it had been under construction for almost 50 years.
Josephus tells us that the temple’s walls and gates were completely overlaid with gold. Its doors were over 82 feet high and 24 feet wide. Roman historian Tacitus described it as “immensely opulent.”
To call the blocks of stone that made its foundation “enormous” would be a silly understatement. Josephus reports that some of them measured 60 feet in length and measuring their density by height and girth placed their weight as exceeding 100 tons!
When the citizens of the city/nation looked at their temple, their hearts swelled with pride. It was a staggering sight.
However, what was a sacred astonishment for the worshipers, was for Jesus a prelude for disaster. Rather than joining in the general admiration of the temple, Jesus prophesied that soon the whole building would be torn down.
Luke 21:6 “These things which you see — the days will come in which not one stone shall be left upon another that shall not be thrown down.”
His reply is a solemn reminder of God’s perspective and His judgment on human culture. In the same way that God was not impressed with the human achievement of the tower of Babel, He is also undaunted by the spectacle of the temple.
Its architecture and décor were supposed to point to His glory, not man’s accomplishment.
Like a once-healthy system of cells that has become cancerous, the temple has forsaken its intended purpose.
Luke 21:7 So they asked Him, saying, “Teacher, but when will these things be? And what sign will there be when these things are about to take place?”
The people ask the double question of “When?” and “How?”
Without a sign the coming disaster would come and go as simply some massive misfortune. “Well, isn’t that a shame?”
The question about a sign, then relates to the fall of Jerusalem in A.D. 70 as not simply a calamity, but as an event that expresses the clear will of God. It would not be random. It would be a targeted judgment. It would be a statement from heaven.
He was right: all the words of His prophecy came true. When the Roman General Titus sacked Jerusalem in A.D. 70 with his army, they tore down the temple stone by stone.
Out of the rubble, a new day had dawned. The ancient system of Jewish religion had come to an unexpected end. The old temple sacrifices no longer atoned for sin. How would they be made right with God now?
To every Israelite, it felt like the end of the world.
To help us know how to live from now until the end of the world, Jesus gives us four practical exhortations:
DO NOT BE LED ASTRAY
Luke 21:8 And He said: “Take heed that you not be deceived. For many will come in My name, saying, ‘I am He,’ and, ‘The time has drawn near.’ Therefore do not go after them.
Don’t be fooled by any wild ideas about the end times – especially false messiahs and rash predictions about when the end will come.
Our Lord was fully aware that talking about the end of the world always seems to bring out the crazy in some people.
“For many will come in My name, saying, “I am [He]” – this is the name for God in the OT (Ex 3:14). Here it signifies someone falsely claiming to be Jesus, the Son of God.
Impostors will come “in My name” with powers and credentials that will give the impression that they are messianic. And many will be misled by them. At least two such claims are made prior to A.D.70 and are recorded for us by Luke in Acts.
Acts 5:36 For some time ago Theudas rose up, claiming to be somebody. A number of men, about four hundred, joined him. He was slain, and all who obeyed him were scattered and came to nothing.
This happened between the years 44-46 A.D. A decade later under the rule of Felix (52-60 A.D.) another appeared.
He was called “the Egyptian.” Josephus described him as a “false prophet.” He amassed a small army and sought to storm Jerusalem, but he was intercepted by the governor’s forces, shattering the rebellion.
A roman soldier accused Paul of being this same man upon his arrest in Jerusalem in Acts 21.
Acts 21:38 Are you not the Egyptian who some time ago stirred up a rebellion and led the four thousand assassins out into the wilderness?
Sometimes the problem is people who try to forecast the future. They develop complex theories about coming events that supposedly are based on biblical prophecy. But in charting out the future they go well beyond what the Scriptures teach.
Next, Christ reassures them that when global politics heat up the surrounding nations into conflict, they must not be alarmed.
Luke 21:9 But when you hear of wars and commotions, do not be terrified; for these things must come to pass first, but the end will not come immediately.”
DO NOT BE AFRAID
These things must happen. They are ordered by God. They are symptoms. They are a first alert – ancient sirens of a coming storm.
They will tell you that the end is near, but they do not specify exactly when it will occur. The date of the inauguration of God’s kingdom cannot be calculated.
Matt 24:36 But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, but My Father only.
Human calamities like war and strife among nations do not signify any loss of control on God’s part. They must happen before the end. Jesus insists that we must not be terrified by these things.
Luke 21:10 Then He said to them, “Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom.
Luke 21:11 And there will be great earthquakes in various places, and famines and pestilences; and there will be fearful sights and great signs from heaven.
Jesus shifts again from near future to distant future. The fall of Jerusalem functions a precursor to the final Day of the Lord.
All these things happened in the years leading up to the destruction of Jerusalem. Nation did rise against nation.
Israel flared up against Rome in A.D. 66. There was a powerful earthquake in Phrygia in A.D. 61. Famines were regular during the reigns of Claudius and Nero. There was also a cosmic sign in the heavens – a comet recorded by Josephus.
These were all signs of the coming judgment, and Jerusalem was not destroyed until all these things had taken place.
We find ourselves in a similar situation. We see nation rise against nation. We see video evidence of great natural disasters on our smart phones every week. There is famine and other terrors in many parts of the world.
What fears do you have about the future? Some worry about the calamity or the next terror strike or school shooting or financial depression.
Jesus’ audience were not nearly as interested in the exact timetable of future events as they were about their own safety.
Christ speaks to all our anxieties when He says, “Do not be terrified.”
The near future event returns in v.12.
One of the reasons it is so desperately important for us not to be afraid is that trials and persecutions give us extraordinary opportunities for evangelism.
Isn’t it true that America gives every indication of a nation in spiritual decline? Are we not living in a arrogant, decadent, hyper-individualized, oversexed, ultra-materialistic culture?
Whether we will suffer a sudden collapse or go through a long, drawn-out, dispiriting decline remains to be seen.
But it seems inevitable that God’s judgment will come, along with growing opposition to the church.
Jesus prophesied the same kinds of difficulties for the people of His generation. He said that Jerusalem would be destroyed.
Luke 21:12 But before all these things, they will lay their hands on you and persecute you, delivering you up to the synagogues and prisons. You will be brought before kings and rulers for My name's sake.
Who is the “you” in this verse? It is all the believers in the early Christian community who were mistreated for wearing His Name.
The Gospel stirs up antagonism from religious circles and secular authorities (“synagogues and prisons”).
Who went to prison first for identifying with Jesus? John the Baptizer (3:20). He was followed by no fewer than 16 instances of imprisonment on behalf in Christ in the book of Acts.
What was the history of the fledgling Christian movement if not a series of trials before “kings and rulers?”
Jesus – hauled before Herod Antipas and Pilate (Luke 23:1-12)
Peter, John, and Stephen – tried before the Sanhedrin (Acts 4:1-22; 6:12)
James – appeared before Herod Agrippa I (Acts 12:2)
Paul – examined before Gallio (Acts 18), Felix (Acts 23-24), Agrippa & Festus (Acts 26).
In every instance, the charge was not for a crime, but was for bearing witness to the “name of Jesus.”
Remarkably, these adversities and offensive moments do not weaken the church. Instead, they provide an opportunity for “witness.”
Luke 21:13 But it will turn out for you as an occasion for testimony.
DO NOT NEGLECT TO TESTIFY
“Testimony” refers to what we say about Jesus to the world. It also includes our suffering. In all the persecution that comes upon believers in Christ, we not only bear witness by our words, but we also live our witness by what we endure.
We must not pray for persecutions, because they are great sins against God. But neither should we despair when Christians are under attack and mistreated, because that is when the church has its brightest and boldest witness.
God will not abandon believers in the hour of crisis. He will enable their witness. He will empower their words.
Luke 21:14 Therefore settle it in your hearts not to meditate beforehand on what you will answer;
Luke 21:15 for I will give you a mouth and wisdom which all your adversaries will not be able to contradict or resist.
“Settle it in your hearts” means to be utterly determined. (“make up your mind”)
Disciples must not be anxious or nervous about what they will say or how they will perform in the face of official persecution.
We must not lose heart when facing the enemies of the gospel. The more hatred any culture has for Christ, the clearer it becomes what difference it makes to be a Christian. We gleam like sparkling diamonds against black velvet.
Whether it is under the oppression of communism, or against the evil of Islam, or even in our own godless society, God is always giving us opportunities for witness to the cross and Resurrection.
In the storms of intimidation and mistreatment, we will have an advocate far superior to our own learning and rhetorical skills.
Jesus says, “I will give you a mouth and wisdom which all your adversaries will not be able to contradict or resist.”
Indeed, if they prepare speeches beforehand, there will be no room for Christ to speak through them.
Every instance of “being filled with the Spirit” in Luke-Acts is for the purpose of giving a verbal witness to Jesus being the Christ.
Faithfulness does not mean prepared, apologetic responses in the moment of truth. Faithfulness does mean to utterly trust God to give grace to complete the witness and to speak through the disciple in the critical moment.
According to the Lord Jesus, the coming persecution will dramatically deteriorate. Believers will be bullied not only from external sources – synagogues, kings, and rulers (v.12) – but also from those close by.
Luke 21:16 You will be betrayed even by parents and brothers, relatives and friends; and they will put some of you to death.
Ancient Israel was an honor-shame culture. Therefore, it was a collective culture. Individualism was of no consequence.
Joshua 24:15 …choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve… But as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.
Whichever group you most closely related to – household, family, clan, or tribe – was where you received honor.
They were also the only ones who could remove shame. Therefore, if they were also the ones who put you to shame, it would destroy your life until something reversed it. To be betrayed by those closest to you felt like clear judgment.
In his description of the persecution by the emperor Nero in 64 A.D., Tacitus wrote that Christians were first arrested, and “on their disclosures” other Christians were arrested (Ann. 15:44).
Luke 21:17 And you will be hated by all for My name's sake.
The historian Tacitus also referred to Christians in his record as “a class of persons who were loathed…[and] hated by the human race” (Ann 15:44).
John 15:18 If the world hates you, you know that it hated Me before it hated you.
Luke 21:18 But not a hair of your head shall be lost.
This verse bears unconditional witness to the sovereignty of God in the life of every believer. The Lord will not allow a hair to fall from the head of His children apart from His will.
It does not mean that nothing bad will happen – we already know from v.16 that some will even die in the Lord because of persecution (ex. Stephen, Acts 7; James, Acts 12).
Apart from God’s secret will, nothing can befall believers. Even if our deaths happen, our souls will be absolutely safe.
Verse 18 is much more than simple reassurance in difficult times. It is a graphic reconfiguring of the meaning of life. From the perspective of eternity, the loss of your earthly life is not greater than the loss of a single hair on your head!
Luke 21:19 By your patience possess your souls.
DO NOT GIVE UP
“Stand firm and you will win life.” lit. “by your endurance you will make your lives secure.”
The only other time “endurance” (patience) is used in Luke-Acts is in reference to the parable of the four soils.
Those who, like good soil, “having heard the word with a noble and good heart, keep it and bear fruit with patience” (8:15).
By steadfast patience/endurance, Christians will receive the promises of God.
Remember, this is the same Savior who said that if we lose our lives for Him we will save them in the end.
As believers, we are not commanded to be superhuman. We are not commanded to feel good in all circumstances. We are not commanded to emerge victorious from all difficulties.
We are commanded to do the one thing we can do in every crisis – to endure and be steadfast.