Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Luke 21:5-38

5 Some of his disciples were remarking about how the temple was adorned with beautiful stones and with gifts dedicated to God. But Jesus said, 6 "As for what you see here, the time will come when not one stone will be left on another; every one of them will be thrown down."
7 "Teacher," they asked, "when will these things happen? And what will be the sign that they are about to take place?"
8 He replied: "Watch out that you are not deceived. For many will come in my name, claiming, 'I am he,' and, 'The time is near.' Do not follow them. 9 When you hear of wars and uprisings, do not be frightened. These things must happen first, but the end will not come right away."
10 Then he said to them: "Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. 11 There will be great earthquakes, famines and pestilences in various places, and fearful events and great signs from heaven.
12 "But before all this, they will lay hands on you and persecute you. They will deliver you to synagogues and prisons, and you will be brought before kings and governors, and all on account of my name. 13 And so you will bear testimony to me. 14 But make up your mind not to worry beforehand how you will defend yourselves. 15 For I will give you words and wisdom that none of your adversaries will be able to resist or contradict. 16 You will be betrayed even by parents, brothers, sisters, relatives and friends, and they will put some of you to death. 17 Everyone will hate you because of me. 18 But not a hair of your head will perish. 19 Stand firm, and you will win life.
20 "When you see Jerusalem being surrounded by armies, you will know that its desolation is near. 21 Then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains, let those in the city get out, and let those in the country not enter the city. 22 For this is the time of punishment in fulfillment of all that has been written. 23 How dreadful it will be in those days for pregnant women and nursing mothers! There will be great distress in the land and wrath against this people. 24 They will fall by the sword and will be taken as prisoners to all the nations. Jerusalem will be trampled on by the Gentiles until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled.
25 "There will be signs in the sun, moon and stars. On the earth, nations will be in anguish and perplexity at the roaring and tossing of the sea. 26 People will faint from terror, apprehensive of what is coming on the world, for the heavenly bodies will be shaken. 27 At that time they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory. 28 When these things begin to take place, stand up and lift up your heads, because your redemption is drawing near."
29 He told them this parable: "Look at the fig tree and all the trees. 30 When they sprout leaves, you can see for yourselves and know that summer is near. 31 Even so, when you see these things happening, you know that the kingdom of God is near.
32 "Truly I tell you, this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened. 33 Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away.
34 "Be careful, or your hearts will be weighed down with dissipation, drunkenness and the anxieties of life, and that day will close on you suddenly like a trap. 35 For it will come on all those who live on the face of the whole earth. 36 Be always on the watch, and pray that you may be able to escape all that is about to happen, and that you may be able to stand before the Son of Man."
37 Each day Jesus was teaching at the temple, and each evening he went out to spend the night on the hill called the Mount of Olives, 38 and all the people came early in the morning to hear him at the temple.
1 Now the Festival of Unleavened Bread, called the Passover, was approaching, 2 and the chief priests and the teachers of the law were looking for some way to get rid of Jesus, for they were afraid of the people. 3 Then Satan entered Judas, called Iscariot, one of the Twelve. 4 And Judas went to the chief priests and the officers of the temple guard and discussed with them how he might betray Jesus. 5 They were delighted and agreed to give him money. 6 He consented, and watched for an opportunity to hand Jesus over to them when no crowd was present.
7 Then came the day of Unleavened Bread on which the Passover lamb had to be sacrificed. 8 Jesus sent Peter and John, saying, "Go and make preparations for us to eat the Passover."
9 "Where do you want us to prepare for it?" they asked.
10 He replied, "As you enter the city, a man carrying a jar of water will meet you. Follow him to the house that he enters, 11 and say to the owner of the house, 'The Teacher asks: Where is the guest room, where I may eat the Passover with my disciples?' 12 He will show you a large room upstairs, all furnished. Make preparations there."
13 They left and found things just as Jesus had told them. So they prepared the Passover.

Points of Interest:

• ‘how the temple was adorned with beautiful stones’—Herod the Great (the father of the Herod from our story) tried to buy popularity with the Jews by spending tremendous amounts of money on a very lavish renovation of the Temple. Rich Jews from around the world contributed to the project as well. So, it’ not a big surprise that the disciples would do a little gawking—the Temple is a world-renowned architectural wonder, like St. Peter’s Basilica or the Taj Mahal. They seem to miss Jesus’ point from yesterday’s passage, though: the important thing is not the amount of money given, but the amount of faith shown.

• ‘not one stone will be left on another’—even the Temple, the house of God, is just worldly wealth to Jesus: it will fail; it will wear out; it can be stolen or destroyed. In fact, the destruction of the Temple is not just a theoretical possibility. Jesus specifically foresees it in the not too distant future.
This prediction also reminds me of Psalm 118: ‘The stone the builders rejected/has become the cornerstone' (quoted in Monday’s passage). There’s only one way to have a new cornerstone: by building a new building. You can’t just add a new cornerstone to an old building. God will dismantle his old home—the Temple—and build a new one, with Jesus as the foundation.

• ‘when will these things happen?’—in what follows, we’ll read a lot of things that sound quite cataclysmic, but the cataclysm that’s being talked about is local. ‘These things’ is the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem. For Jesus’ listeners, the destruction of the Temple would be simultaneously geographically limited and almost incomprehensibly significant, like Washington, D.C., or Manhattan all of a sudden ceasing to exist.

• ‘what will be the sign’—a sign is something that comes just before the thing it’s pointing to. For example, a freeway exit sign comes just before the exit itself, so that you know that it’s coming and are able to make the exit. The disciples want to know what comes just before the destruction of the temple, so that they have a chance to escape just before it happens.

• ‘the end will not come right away’—it will take longer than they might think. In particular, the disciples will be tempted to listen to rumors that Jesus has returned. As Jesus said before, they’ll know it when he’s returned (17:24).

• ‘fearful events and great signs’—many of the things that are typically thought of as signs of terrible events—wars, earthquakes, natural disasters, epidemics, strange things happening in the stars—will happen, but they aren’t the signs they need to be concerned about.

• ‘they will lay hands on you’—up until this point, they won’t need to worry about the Temple. For a while, the Temple will be fine: they themselves, however, will face a considerable amount of trouble. These stories of being thrown in prison and of testifying in front of governors are much of what Luke’s sequel, the book of Acts, is all about. Almost from the beginning, Jesus’ followers would be in and out of prison at the hands of the chief priests; and they would face their first major persecution from the Romans during the reign of Nero, just a few years before the war between the Romans and the Jews and the eventual destruction of the Temple.

• ‘Stand firm, and you will win life’—as long as they trust Jesus to guide them and give them the words to say, they’ll be in absolutely no real danger. The danger is not that they will be harmed, but that they will fall prey to fear or worry. If they succumb to worry, they may try to save their life, and lose it; but if they lose their life for Jesus’ sake, they’ll win it (9:24). It will be difficult to wait. It will look like they are on their way to death. But, if they stay the course, it will turn out very well.

• ‘When you see Jerusalem being surrounded by armies’—back to Jerusalem’s destruction. The sign of the Temple’s doom is obvious enough: Jerusalem being surrounded by an enemy army. Once that happens, people should leave immediately; there’s enough time to escape, but just enough. Jesus recommends that everyone run away from the city and into the hills, advice which goes against instinct; in times of trouble, people would usually run toward the city to get behind the safety of the walls. In this particular case, whoever ignored Jesus’ advice would end up trapped by the Roman siege, from which absolutely no one would escape (IVP Bible Background Commentary 248).

• ‘Jerusalem will be trampled on by the Gentiles’—many of Jesus’ contemporaries thought that because Jerusalem was the home of the Temple, God would never let it be destroyed. This confidence was somewhat foolish, seeing as God had already shown in the past that he was indeed willing to allow his own house to be destroyed if that’s what it took to get the attention of his people; about 600 years before Jesus, Jerusalem was conquered and the Temple destroyed by the Babylonians. In AD 70, the Temple would be destroyed again by the Romans. The Jewish overconfidence in the inviolability of Jerusalem proceeded partly from an overvaluation of the importance of the Temple. The Temple was never as important to God as it was to the people of Jerusalem. It wasn’t even his idea; it was David’s (I Chronicles 17). God accepted the Temple and chose to bless the place with his presence, because the temple was a generous expression of gratitude from his people—parents always show pride in the gifts their children give them. But his plans never depended on the Temple as much as his people came to think they did.

• ‘they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory’—Jesus refers to one of the most famous prophecies of the Messiah, found in Daniel 7:13-14:
There before me was one like a son of man, coming with the clouds of heaven. He approached the Ancient of Days and was led into his presence. He was given authority, glory and sovereign power; all nations and peoples of every language worshipped him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that will not pass away, and his kingdom is one that will never be destroyed.
I think, in context of the story Jesus is telling, this prophecy is about ‘the stone that the builders rejected’ becoming the cornerstone. This is describing the destruction of the Temple, but from a heavenly rather than earthly perspective. In Jerusalem on earth, the Gentiles entering Jerusalem will be followed by the destruction of the Temple. In heaven, Jesus will come into his full authority. The Temple will be replaced by Jesus and his followers as the sign of God’s presence on earth. The shaking of the heavenly bodies probably refers to a shake-up in the heavenly hierarchy: the sun, moon, and stars were often used in prophecy to describe the spiritual power behind earthly rulers (Ezekiel 32:7-8, in which the downfall of Pharaoh is accompanied by stars falling and the sun being darkened, is a good example).

• ‘this generation will certainly not pass away’—all of the things Jesus has said up until this point will happen within the average lifespan of his listeners.

• ‘Heaven and earth will pass away’—not just the Temple, but all of heaven and earth, will eventually fade away; but Jesus’ words will last beyond it all. They’re like a lifeline to eternity.

• ‘and that day will close on you suddenly like a trap’—I think ‘that day’ is the day when heaven and earth pass away. What Jesus was talking about until now was something that will happen in Jerusalem, which can be avoided by running to the mountains, for which there will be plenty of warning. What Jesus is talking about now happens suddenly, across the face of the whole earth. However, even it—the end of the world—can be escaped by the person who faithfully watches in the expectation of Jesus’ rescue.

• ‘each evening he went out to spend the night on the hill called the Mount of Olives’—the Mount of Olives was just outside of the city limits.

• ‘the Festival of Unleavened Bread, called the Passover’—this festival commemorates the Israelites’ escape from Egypt. The unleavened bread (bread without yeast) symbolizes the suddenness and haste with which the Israelites left Egypt: they didn’t even have time to let the dough rise. The first Passover, and instructions for future feasts, is found in Exodus 12.

• ‘they were afraid of the people’—the priests and teachers are looking for a way to arrest Jesus without causing a stir in front of the crowds.

• ‘Satan entered Judas, called Iscariot, one of the Twelve’—after tempting Jesus (chapter 4), the devil withdrew, but he was still on the lookout for a good opportunity (4:13). Now, he sees that opportunity, not directly with Jesus, but with one of the Twelve.

• ‘delighted and agreed to give him money’—Judas agrees to sell Jesus for money. This is the ultimate choice of treasure on earth over treasure in heaven: ‘Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed’ (12:15).

• ‘on which the Passover lamb had to be sacrificed’—the Passover lamb is sacrificed on the first night of the feast. At the first Passover, in Egypt, the people spread some of the lamb’s blood on their door-frames. God sent a plague on the firstborn of the Egyptians, to punish them for keeping the Israelites in slavery. But whenever the destroying angel came across the blood on the doorframe, it passed over that house, saving the life of the firstborn of that house (Exodus 12:23).

• ‘a man carrying a jar of water will meet you’—it’s unclear whether this is some sort of supernatural arrangement, or it’s a little bit of cloak-and-dagger so that the priests and teachers don’t know where Jesus is having his Passover dinner.

• ‘found things just as Jesus had told them’—they are preparing for Jesus’ feast, but Jesus has already prepared for them to prepare. He gives them what they need to serve him.

Taking it home:

For you and your family: Pray that God would protect you from worry or distraction or unbelief that would get in the way of you being ready and on the lookout for the things he would like to do in your life.

For your friends: This life is full of the possibility of unexpected dangers. Pray that God would mercifully protect your friends from being harmed by any disaster.

For our city: When the disciples look at the Temple, they see something impressive and enduring. But Jesus tells them that they’re mistaken: many of them will outlive the Temple. Our government, our banks, the large businesses in our area, our sports teams, and the universities all look solid and impressive enough; but who knows what changes may come in the future? Pray that God would save our city from placing undue trust in institutions that won’t last.