Signs of the End of the Age
LOOK UP AND LIFT UP YOUR HEADS
Intro: Has any ancient city ever endured a more crushing defeat or witnessed more terrible suffering than Jerusalem? The city fell to the Romans in 70 A.D. After excruciatingly long months of siege, as famine wasted everyone inside to the bone, Jerusalem was conquered by General Titus, the son of the emperor Vespasian. The temple was burned to the ground and every last man, woman, and child in the city was either killed or taken captive. The unspeakable horrors of those dreadful days are recorded by Josephus in The War of the Jews. Many of the stories he tells are not appropriate to reveal in a church meeting: human sacrifice, cannibalism, crucifixion. By the end of the siege, those who were still alive were jealous of the dead who were lying unburied in the streets. Josephus, who was an eyewitness, concluded that the carnage was nothing less than the judgment of Israel’s God on a rebellious people. And Josephus was right. Jerusalem fell to the Romans because it was under the wrath of God. And all of it happened precisely the way Jesus had prophesied. Decades before Titus’ forces encircled the city, Jesus said Jerusalem would fall and its temple would be torn to the ground. He did not make this prophecy with joy but with deep sorrow. He knew the terrible suffering it would bring. Today’s text gives us more of Christ’s prophetic word about the coming judgment. Three questions emerge…
Luke 21:20 “But when you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies, then know that its desolation is near.
“desolation” refers to the mysterious “abomination of desolation” from Daniel’s prophecy.
Mark 13:14 “So when you see the ‘abomination of desolation,’ spoken of by Daniel the prophet, standing where it ought not” (let the reader understand), “then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains.”
illus: When Jesus mentioned “desolation” His listeners would have immediately thought of an historical event that happened centuries earlier, when Antiochus IV Epiphanes desecrated the holy temple of God. In 167 B.C. that infamous Greek king conquered Jerusalem and built a statue of Zeus in the temple courts. Furthermore, he sacrificed pigs in the Holy of Holies – an outrageous sacrilege that infuriated the people of God.
Now Jesus was prophesying another desolation.
Instead of expounding upon this mystery as Matt/Mark in their Gospels, Luke supplies the shocking details of the Roman siege, the embers of which were still glowing in the memory of his readers.
“Jerusalem surrounded by armies” = siege by General Titus and Rome’s army…The flag of the Roman Empire would be raised over Jerusalem and the city would again be destroyed.
illus: Some 40 years after Jesus spoke these words, Titus marched on Jerusalem and Roman legions laid siege to the city, surrounding it for almost 6 full months. By the end of the Roman onslaught, famine had made the citizens so desperate, they were reduced to eating the very dust of the ground. What a terrible time it was to be expecting a baby or to be the mother of nursing children. There was no milk to give them. Some babies were left to die, and some were put to death out of a strange mercy. By the time the walls were broken through, and the mighty Romans finally entered Jerusalem, they were met with little resistance. Starvation had won the battle for them. So many men, women, and children were put to the sword that Josephus claimed that as many as 1 million Israelites were killed, and another 100,000 were taken prisoner. After the survivors were led away in chains, scarcely a single Israelite was left alive in all of Jerusalem. Has any city ever endured a more crushing defeat or witnessed more terrible suffering?
WOULD GOD ANNOUNCE JUDGMENT WITHOUT GRACE?
When Jerusalem is surrounded…
Luke 21:21 Then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains, let those who are in the midst of her depart, and let not those who are in the country enter her.
Answer: He always gives a clear way to escape wrath.
(1) In the region? Head for the hills.
(2) In the city? Get out.
(3) Outside? Stay away.
Once General Titus set up the siege perimeter around Jerusalem, neither entrance into nor exit out of the city was possible.
Those who earlier had fled into the city found there was no safety there, but instead almost certain death.
Thankfully, we know that prior to the siege of Titus nearly every Christian had fled from Jerusalem and Judea to Pella across the Jordan River because they remembered the words their Master had prophesied.
Eusebius reports that “the church in Jerusalem was commanded by an oracle given by revelation before the war…to depart and dwell in one of the cities of Pella.” That oracle was given by none other than the Lord Jesus Himself (this text)!
Luke 21:22 For these are the days of vengeance, that all things which are written may be fulfilled.
“Days of vengeance” = “time of punishment” – term used for heaven’s justice. Vengeance is God’s unique prerogative.
Rom 12:19 Beloved, do not avenge yourselves, but rather give place to wrath; for it is written, “Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,” says the Lord.
Have you considered the important role the fulfillment of Scripture played in the earthly ministry of Jesus?
In His first recorded sermon in the synagogue in His hometown of Nazareth, Jesus said…
Luke 4:21 “Today this Scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.”
Here, in His final public address, He declares that Jerusalem will be destroyed “that all things which are written may be fulfilled.”
When our Lord sets the fateful events of 70 A.D. in the context of the fulfillment of Scripture, it shows that Jerusalem falling by the hands of the Romans was not simply a national tragedy. It was not a random historical disaster. It was the judgment of God.
Dread of the coming catastrophe on the Holy City is highlighted by the fate of the most defenseless and most vulnerable inhabitants.
Luke 21:23 But woe to those who are pregnant and to those who are nursing babies in those days! For there will be great distress in the land and wrath upon this people.
The Lord had given them ample time to change their minds and repent – nearly four decades of patience.
Luke 21:24 And they will fall by the edge of the sword, and be led away captive into all nations. And Jerusalem will be trampled by Gentiles until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled.”
WHERE IS THE HOPE IN THESE WORDS?
(a) die by the sword
(b) taken captive
(c) city flattened
These words describe a total defeat. The people will be killed or captured, and the Holy City desecrated.
That sounds foreboding. It does not sound hopeful.
Answer: It is found in the earlier promises of God.
“until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled” = reference to the promise God made to Abraham.
Gen 12:3 I will bless those who bless you, and I will curse him who curses you; and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.
Rom 11:25 For I do not desire, brethren, that you should be ignorant of this mystery, lest you should be wise in your own opinion, that blindness in part has happened to Israel until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in.
Rom 11:26 And so all Israel will be saved
When judgment comes, the people of God always find safety in His promises. This is the way it has been all through history.
God told Noah to build an ark so that he would be safe from the flood. God told Lot to flee from the city of Sodom so that he would be safe from the fire and brimstone. These men were rescued by the grace of God, whose promises they believed.
This principle holds true for every believer in Christ: in the dangers of life, whether great or small, our only hope of refuge is found in the promises of God.
We are living in “the times of the Gentiles.” The Gospel is for the Jew first, then for all non-Jews. These are the days of grace. We must receive the good news and respond accordingly by repentance towards God and faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.
Luke’s final statement from the mouth of Paul in Acts affirms this connection.
Acts 28:28 “Therefore let it be known to you that the salvation of God has been sent to the Gentiles, and they will hear it!”
These verses make it clear that “until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled” means that the Gospel will be preached to every people group (“ethnē”) and all the elect sheep from every nation will believe, and then the Son of Man will return.
When the Gospel goes to the nations, it makes the Gentiles heirs in Israel’s salvation.
WHEN THE SON OF MAN COMES AGAIN, HOW WILL PEOPLE REACT?
Preachers have notoriously misused and misinterpreted what the Bible teaches about the Last Days (eschatology) for decades in America.
Many Christians are now skeptical about anything taught concerning the end of the world. Misuse of a Bible doctrine typically results in the neglect of that doctrine. Neglect of the truth always makes the church weaker.
Question: What happens when the church loses its eschatology?
Answer: The purpose and destiny of history fall into the hands of mankind alone. Who is comforted by that thought? Who is glad to hear that prospect?
The fallen greatness of humanity is the final and tragic word on us unless history can be redeemed by someone outside of it.
The empty feeling that things on earth are not as they ought to be and that we should not accept the current state that the world is in, is an eschatological longing. It’s a Lasts Days issue.
In His final address, Jesus proclaims that there is a sure hope for the future. The Son of Man will return to make all things new.
But first there will be some natural and some cosmic indicators that precede His coming.
Is this hope grounded in history? No. Is it grounded in human logic? No. Is it grounded in human intuition? No.
The foundation of this hope is Jesus declaring that on that Final Day the Son of Man will return in glory and power to judge evil and to end suffering and to gather His own to Himself!
Luke 21:25 “And there will be signs in the sun, in the moon, and in the stars; and on the earth distress of nations, with perplexity, the sea and the waves roaring;
Luke 21:26 men's hearts failing them from fear and the expectation of those things which are coming on the earth, for the powers of the heavens will be shaken.
We don’t know what the cosmic signs are exactly. We just know to expect some. On the earth, we anticipate worldwide conflict between the nations. Jesus called it “distress” with “perplexity” – complicated matters of global politics.
And what will these signs and this distress bring? Overwhelming fear and panic.
Remarkably, terror and death do not come by the cataclysmic event themselves, but from the dread of them.
“men’s hearts failing them from fear and the expectation of those things which are coming on the earth”
Answer #1: The unbelieving will be scared to death.
What do men do when they are afraid? Foolish and violent things.
Luke 21:27 Then they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory.
In the Bible, when the Son of Man is connected to clouds and power and glory it is always to establish an everlasting kingdom.
Dan 7:13 I was watching in the night visions, and behold, One like the Son of Man, coming with the clouds of heaven! He came to the Ancient of Days, and they brought Him near before Him.
Luke makes one significant change in the reference. Daniel wrote of clouds (plural) while Luke wrote of cloud (singular).
This slight alteration is significant because it changes “clouds” which are the means by which the Son of Man comes, to a representation of God Himself.
Ex 40:34 Then the cloud covered the tabernacle of meeting, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle.
In the Scriptures, “cloud” signifies God-present-with-humanity.
Luke 9:34 While he was saying this, a cloud came and overshadowed them; and they were fearful as they entered the cloud.
Luke 9:35 And a voice came out of the cloud, saying, “This is My beloved Son. Hear Him!”
Therefore, on the Last Day, the Son of Man does not come on clouds, rather, He comes in the form of a cloud with the power and glory of Almighty God.
Luke 21:28 Now when these things begin to happen, look up and lift up your heads, because your redemption draws near.”
Jesus calls for a surprising response to the cosmic signs & the natural upheaval on earth the precede the End in v.28.
In direct contrast to the fear and dread of vv.25-26, believers are to “look up and lift up your heads” when the Son of Man comes, “because your redemption draws near.”
The reference to “look up” reminds us of the woman in Luke 13 who had an evil spirit for eighteen years who tortured her body.
Luke 13:11 And behold, there was a woman who had a spirit of infirmity eighteen years, and was bent over and could in no way raise herself up.
Luke 13:12 But when Jesus saw her, He called her to Him and said to her, “Woman, you are loosed from your infirmity.”
Luke 13:13 And He laid His hands on her, and immediately she was made straight, and glorified God.
At the return of the Son of Man, believers are to respond just like the woman whom He healed: they are to cast off the weight of sin that entangles, stand up straight and receive Christ as their deliverer from heaven.
They must lift their heads in triumph because the Return of God’s Son is not an hour of judgment for His people – it is the dawn of their final redemption. It is a day of good news!
What is redemption but the securing of a release through the payment of a price? His Return makes our redemption complete!
Answer #2: Believers will enjoy being liberated and vindicated.
Conclusion: People scoffed when Jesus said the temple would be torn to the ground, but no one was laughing when it actually happened. So will it be at the final judgment. Most people are inclined to dismiss what the Bible says about the end of the world. They just do not take it seriously. Like the scoffers the Apostle Peter wrote about – they say, “Where is the promise of His coming?” (2 Pet 3:4). The only security is for us to believe the words of Jesus – not only His words about judgment, but also His words of saving grace. Everyone who believes the promise of Christ for the forgiveness of sins will be saved from the wrath to come.