Sunday, March 10, 2013

Luke 21:5-38 - Signs of the Times

It was January 24, 1961. A B-52G jet with a crew of eight is 12 hours into a routine flight mission over the Atlantic seaboard. The plane is part of a fleet of a dozen bombers in the air, ready to defend the country against the Soviet Union as a part of the strategic air command. Without warning over Raleigh, North Carolina, the huge jet lost 19 tons of fuel pressure in two minutes. The pilots try to make an emergency landing at Seymour Johnson Air Force Base in Goldsboro. The crew levels out at 10,000 feet to see if they have enough fuel to land.

Then disaster. The right wing breaks loose. The plane nosedives and spins downward. The pilot unbuckles his belt, but the G-forces fling him 10 feet across the plane and pin him against the floor. He prays, “Lord, if I go, take me home to heaven.” The co-pilot opens the hatch and jumps out of the plane. The aircraft commander follows him. The pilot pulls himself off the floor and falls out of the hatch into the darkness over the farming communities of Faro and Eureka in Wayne County, NC

Spinning out of control, the plane explodes and crashes just north of Musgrave’s Crossroads. The Faro Volunteer Fire Department responds, led by Fire Chief Earl Lancaster, where the find the aircraft and surrounding area engulfed in flame. Within the hour, the US Air Force orders them to leave the area. “They told us to git, and we got, said Lancaster. Later the reason came out: On board were two hydrogen nuclear bombs, each one 500 times more powerful than the bomb that landed on Hiroshima. One bomb was found embedded 18 inches in the ground next to Shackleford Road. It was deactivated and taken to Texas for analysis. The other one burrowed 50 feet into C.T. Davis’ swamp.

The military issued a statement saying both bombs were recovered and all is safe, but that wasn’t exactly true. The Air Force dug into the swamp, but at 20 feet down, the pumps could not keep up with the 20,000 gallons of water an hour coming into the hole. So they filled in the hole, and a half century later, a live nuclear device is still in the swamp in Faro, NC. The government still monitors and collects samples at the site, but it is still there. Why did those bombs not explode? Why didn’t the jet’s explosion in the air detonate the bombs? Why did they not explode on impact? Why did God spare eastern North Carolina from being instantly a nuclear wasteland with massive death and destruction and a radiological nightmare of birth defects and cancerous tumors and short life expectancies for centuries?

In the passage before us today, Jesus opens a veil on the future for His disciples, a veil that shows them God’s grace in the midst of a world headed for great destruction.

Key Truth: Luke wrote Luke 21:5-38 to teach believers to put your trust in Jesus who will return in power and glory; therefore, watch and pray for His Return.
Key Application: Today I want to show you what God’s Word says about Christ’s Return.
Key Verse: Luke 21:27
Pray and Read:  Luke 21:5-38

Sermon Points:
1.   Trust in Jesus who will Return (Luke 21:5-28)
2.   Watch and pray until His Return (Luke 21:29-38)

Contextual Notes:
Throughout his Gospel, Luke emphasizes the importance of walking in faith and avoiding unbelief. He has made it clear that every individual who meets Jesus Christ must make a decision about Him. Christ must be received or rejected. His claims must be believed or denied. When the Gospel shifts gears at Luke 9:51, Luke urges us to prioritize faith over unbelief (Luke 9:57-11:36) and warning us to trust the Lord rather than ourselves (Luke 11:37-12:59).
Christ then calls us to a Kingdom marked by grace (Luke 13:1-21), repentance (Luke 13:22-35), provision (Luke 14), and redemption of the lost (Luke 15). Luke warns us to prepare for His Return by responding in repentance (Luke 16), obedience (Luke 17:1-19), faithfulness (Luke 17:20-37), and persevering prayer (Luke 18:1-8), and humility (Luke 18:9-14), and complete reliance on Christ (Luke 18:15-17).
True faith is complete reliance on Christ’s provision (Luke 18:18-23), power (Luke 18:24-30), Person (Luke 18:31-34), and mercy (Luke 18:35-43). Therefore, Jesus draws us into His Presence (Luke 19:1-7) and purpose on the planet, “to seek and save the lost,” (Luke 19:8-10), assigning us a mission until He returns (Luke 19:11-27).
Therefore, we must trust Jesus because He is worthy to be praised (Luke 19:28-40), He is the only Hope for a doomed world (Luke 19:41-44), He stands by His Word (Luke 19:45-48), He has ultimate authority (Luke 20:1-8), He is our Inheritance (Luke 20:9-16), our Cornerstone (Luke 20:17-19), our Lord (Luke 20:20-26), our Resurrection (Luke 20:27-40), our Messiah (Luke 20:41-47), and our Provision (Luke 21:1-4). Therefore, we must watch and pray until He returns (Luke 21:5-38).

Exposition:   Note well,

a.   || Matt. 24-25; Mark 13:1-37. With the time of His departure quickly approaching, Jesus answers a question about the days to come for Jerusalem and the signs pointing to His Return. Raising again the motif of the Temple stones (Luke 19:40; 20:17-18), Jesus begins by pointing out the immediate future (Luke 21:5-7) and then transitions into the distant future (Luke 21:8-28). In the end times there will be counterfeits (Luke 21:8), combat (Luke 21:9-10), calamity (Luke 21:11), contempt (Luke 21:12, 16-17), chances for witness (Luke 21:13), and conservation of God’s people (Luke 21:14-15, 18-19).
b.   Luke 21:5-6 – The greatest of Herod the Great’s many building projects was the restoration of the Temple. It was extraordinary and astounding. The historian Josephus, who described it in detail, wrote that the sun reflecting off the massive gold plates on the building “radiated so fiery a flash that persons straining to look at it were compelled to avert their eyes from solar rays.” Massive white stones over 37 to 67 feet long were used in construction gave the building a brilliant white appearance so that from a distance the Temple appeared to be a snow-covered mountain. Jesus predicts total devastation.
c.   Luke 21:8-11: Jesus first says the signs of coming judgment will be the rise of false Messiahs setting dates. Jesus says not to listen to them. Second, the increasing break-up of social and natural orders with wars, disturbances, earthquakes, famines, pestilences will be indications, but Jesus says these events are typical of human history and should not be overzealously confused with the end.
d.   APPLICATION: Don’t be deceived (Luke 21:8). Jesus’ return won’t be a secret. There’s no need for us to set dates. Don’t be frightened (Luke 21:9-11). Believers should not be deceived by disasters and assume the end of the world has arrived. (Luke 21:5-11). Human history will be filled with wars and disasters. In the meantime, God will look after His own.
e.   Luke 21:12-19: The disciples will know severe persecution from the authorities and family. In the synagogues of the first century were judicial hearings. Paul’s hearings that led to five lashings by the Jews (2 Cor. 11:24) probably were held in local synagogues. God gave then, and is still giving words and wisdom to those on trial for their faith (Luke 21:15) just as He did Moses (Exod. 4:12, 15) and Jeremiah (Jer. 1:9). Jesus says even family and friends will betray (Luke 21:16; cf. Micah 7:6), but not a hair of your head will perish (Luke 21:18), an idiom for complete protection, even in light of martyrdom (Luke 21:16).
f.    APPLICATION: Believers must expect persecution and not be disheartened by it (Luke 21:12-19). There will be religious and political persecution (Luke 21:12), general persecution (Luke 21:12), and family persecution (Luke 21:16). Don’t worry when the persecution comes. Be a witness to your persecutors (Luke 21:12-16). After all, the folks in real trouble are the ones who oppress God’s believers. Let the Spirit fill your mouth with words about Jesus and your hearts with love for your enemies. Don’t give up, even when everyone seems to turn against you. Others can hate you. But they can’t do you any lasting harm.
g.   Luke 21:20-23 – Jesus predicts the destruction of Jerusalem by the Roman armies in A.D. 66-70. Jerusalem will fall to Gentile armies and be under their domination until the end (Luke 21:20-24). There will be destitution (Luke 21:20-21), disaster (Luke 21:22-23), death and destruction in Jerusalem (Luke 21:24). For Luke, Jerusalem’s destruction is a preview and type of the final day of God’s judgment, but is distinguished from it. The days of vengeance (Luke 21:22) are predicted in Deut 32:35 (cf. Jer. 46:10; Hosea 9:7) when the Lord will “judge His people.” However the context here is that ultimately God will “forgive the land and His people” (Deut 22:43). Normally in war people would flee to the fortified cities for protection, but Jesus advises the opposite (Luke 21:21). The Christian historian Eusebius says that the Messianic Jews of Jerusalem heeded Jesus’ words and fled en masse in A.D. 66 to Pella, east of the Jordan River. This act of foresight is thought to have been taken as disloyalty to the Jewish nation in time of war, and it became a major cause of Jews resentment and sanctions[1] against those who believed on Jesus as Messiah. The key transition from near future to distant future is in verse 24.
h.   Luke 21:24 – Until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled: Many believe that the final part of this message has been fulfilled in our own day. “They will fall by the sword” (cf. Jer. 21:7) was initially fulfilled in the rebellion of A.D. 66-70 when over 1 million Jews perished, and it has been repeated ad nauseam throughout history, often by so-called Christians. The next phrase, “and will be taken as prisoners to all the nations” could stand as a history of the Jewish Diaspora.[2]
i.    APPLICATION: Flee Jerusalem when the nations surround her (Luke 21:20-24). This advice applied both to the Jews then living and to those who will live in the city at history’s end.
j.    That brings us to the last phrase, “until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled”: Psalm 79:1 says, “O God, the nations have invaded your inheritance; they have defiled your holy temple; they have reduced Jerusalem to rubble. Isaiah 63:18 saying “our adversaries have trampled down your sanctuary,” and Daniel 9:26 says “After sixty-two sevens Messiah will be cut off, with nothing left to him, and the people of a prince yet to come will destroy the city and the sanctuary” (cf. Dan. 2:44; 7:27). General Titus as a result of his military operations in Jerusalem would become Roman emperor after his father Vespasian.
k.   The Gentile trampling of Jerusalem began after A.D. 70, when all Jews were expelled from the city in A.D. 135 and it was renamed Aelia Capitolina. Jews still lived in the Holy Land as they did from the time of Joshua’s conquest, but they were not allowed in Jerusalem. The Romans controlled the city until A.D. 324, then the Byzantines until A.D. 614, the Persians until A.D. 629, then in A.D. 638, the Muslim Arabs took control and completed the Dome of the Rock in A.D. 691 and controlled it until A.D. 750, then the Abbasid Arabs of Baghdad until A.D. 878, then the Egyptians until 1099 when the Crusaders conquered Jerusalem and massacred all the Jews they could find. The Kurds under Saladin drove out the Crusaders in 1187, but they fought on until 1244 when in 1250 the Egyptian Mamluks established control. They held sway until the Ottoman Turks under Suleiman the Great took over in 1517 and held the Land until defeated by Britain’s General Allenby in World War I. The League of Nations’ British Mandate lasted until 1948 when in the wake of the Nazi Holocaust, over 2/3 of the United Nations voted to establish the State of Israel. The UN had planned Jerusalem to be an internationalized city, but when five Arab countries attacked Israel within hours of her independence and conquered western Jerusalem. In the Six Day War, Israel recaptured the Old City of Jerusalem, the portion about which verse 24 speaks, on June 8, 1967. Many say Jesus’ prophecy was fulfilled, and 1,897 years of Gentile rule came to an end. In 1980, Israel proclaimed Jerusalem a united city under Israeli sovereignty. Still others say that until the Muslims no longer control the Temple Mount, the prophecy remains unfulfilled.
l.    Luke 21:25 – Signs in the sun, moon, and stars: Jesus refers to the Great Day of the Lord (Joel 3:1-5; Isaiah 13:9-10), thus is placing His prophecy at the end times.
m. Luke 21:27 – Son of Man: At His Second Coming, Jesus will fulfill the remaining unfulfilled prophecies in the OT concerning Him. Jesus’ image is taken from Daniel 7:13-14 where an exalted Messianic figure is described as “one like a son of man” who comes on the clouds of heaven and is given authority, glory, and an eternal kingdom.
n.   APPLICATION: The end will bring a shaking of even the laws that keep the universe stable (Luke 21:25-28). There will be doom in the heavens (Luke 21:25), distress (Luke 21:26), and great delight when Christ returns in power and glory (Luke 21:27).

a.   Luke 21:29 – Look at the fig tree: Jesus explains that just as a fig tree is bare in winter and that the first signs of leaves are evidence that summer is near. While Jesus is using an illustration from nature to say the signs he has been describing will herald the return of the Son of Man, the fig tree is also a type in Scripture of Israel, and Jesus’ use of double entendre is too close to ignore, especially since He is in Jerusalem predicting events surrounding Jerusalem.
b.   APPLICATION: Take heart when the universe itself shows massive destabilization (Luke 21:25-31). This is a sign that Christ is soon to appear and is a cause for believers to rejoice rather than fear.
c.   Luke 21:32 – this generation: Many commentators take “generation” to mean the Jewish race, but it would be an unusual use of genea. If Jesus is referring again to the disciples’ own generation, then the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70 must fulfill in some way the prophecy. Judgment of the Son of Man began at that time. In parallel passages of Matthew and Mark, the word may point to the generation living when the signs begin. Another explanation is that the generation living when the signs begin to take place  will see the end come within their generation.
d.   Luke 21:36 – Watch and pray: Until the end comes, God’s people are to watch and pray (Luke 21:29-38). To stand before the Son of Man: To stand in this context means to stand confident of approval and vindication.
e.   APPLICATION: Instead of drowning in depression and addictions, celebrate the certainty that God’s Word can be trusted, no matter how uncertain life may be (Luke 21:32-33). Luke 21:34-36 - Be watchful, pray, and persevere and so earn the approval of the Son of Man. Life has its pressures, and many are intense. But the important thing is to fix our eyes on Jesus and let nothing distract us from serving Him.
The recurring theme in Jesus great Olivet Discourse is the need to be ready and prepared for the Lord’s return. While Biblical scholars may debate the details of how end-time events will play out in human history, two themes permeate all end-time prophecy in the Bible. First, God is sovereign over world events. He will bring them to the right conclusion. Second, the believer must persevere in doing right, always ready for the Master’s return.
Are you ready for Christ’s return? Are you prepared? Have you bowed your knee to Him, asked Him to forgive you of your sins, and submitted to His Lordship? Won’t you do that right now?
Paul John Isaak, “Luke,” Africa Bible Commentary, Tokunboh Adeyemo, gen. ed. (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2006), 1245-1246.
Laurence E. Porter, “Luke,” The International Bible Commentary, F.F. Bruce, gen. ed. (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1986), 1221-1223.
Lawrence O. Richards, The Bible Reader’s Companion (Wheaton: Victor, 1991), 672.
David H. Stern, Jewish New Testament Commentary (Clarksville, MD: Jewish New Testament Publications, 1996), 139-142.
Mark Strauss. “Luke,” Zondervan Illustrated Bible Backgrounds Commentary, Clinton E. Arnold, gen. ed. (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2002), 1:477-481.
Harold L. Wilmington, The Outline Bible (Nashville: Tyndale House, 1999), 552-553.

[1] In A.D. 90, the Birkat-Haminim was instituted at Yavneh in the rabbinical general council. Composed by Rabbi Shmu’el HaKatan, it says that a rabbi making a mistake when repeating the Birkat must be removed because he would be suspected of being a min (sectarian), i.e., a Messianic Jew (B’rakhot 28b).
[2] Josephus says that 1.1 million Jews were slain and 97,000 carried away captive as slaves by the Romans.[2] Moses predicted the Diaspora (Deut 28:63-68). Israel was exiled by the Assyrians in 722 B.C., and Babylon in 586 B.C. (cf. Ezra 9:7), but the Roman slaughter and destruction brought the end of the Jewish nation. This time, along with the Bar Kokhba rebellion (A.D. 132-135), it became all but total.