We are encouraged to believe that, even when it seems the world is crumbling around us, God is still in control.
Through this lesson, students should:
Understand that Jerusalem and the Temple were the centers of Jewish existence.
Not be terrified when catastrophic things take place because Christ is coming to make all things new.
Understand that, even if we die, our death is not the end.
Catch up on the Story
Jesus has entered Jerusalem for the final time. He has gone to the Temple, where he continues to teach, preach, and discuss. There is no shortage of people who are skeptical or concerned about what Jesus has been doing and saying. Jesus has been challenged openly, leading to some heated debates. Some have even begun to look for a way to permanently rid themselves of Jesus.
The criticisms and conflict that began in the latter part of chapter 19 have now come to an end. The scene will focus on Jesus’ anticipation of the future and the coming of the Kingdom of God. This new order that Jesus has been revealing is characterized by selfless love, generosity, and hospitality.
By now, the disciples are beginning to get a sense that the end of Jesus’ ministry is near. They anticipate that God’s kingdom will come now in its fullness. At the very least, they know that Jesus knows that something significant is on the horizon. Their suspicions are confirmed in today’s passage.
For the last few scenes, Jesus and his entourage have been in and around the Temple. The setting for today’s encounter remains the same. While Jesus and his followers are in and around the Temple, they overhear someone commenting on the beautiful craftsmanship of the Temple. The Temple would surely have been a wonder to behold in a world of modest construction materials and methods.
Jesus can be a bit of a killjoy because these comments on the beauty of the Temple lead him to comment that someday this marvelous structure will be completely and utterly destroyed! We’re not talking, just burnt with fire or partially destroyed. No, we’re talking torn down. No stone left on top of the stone on which it originally rested. There will be nothing left.
It is generally believed that Luke wrote his gospel after 70 AD, which was the year this event happened. If anyone could completely destroy the Temple in Jerusalem, it was undoubtedly the Romans. Luke’s readers would have known this to have occurred. Luke’s readers would have been familiar with similar things as Jesus has just described.
I am sure that it was with some horror that Jesus’ disciples asked him when this was going to take place and by what sign they would know it was about to happen.
Keep in mind that Jerusalem was the center of Jewish existence because that’s where the Temple stood. The Temple was the center because it was where God’s presence dwelt. As long as Jerusalem thrived, the Temple stood, God’s people had meaning and purpose. To hear of the Temple’s destruction would have been alarming, to say the least.
At first glance, it might seem as though Jesus gave his followers a clear description of what was to follow. However, I think Jesus is doing something altogether different. Jesus’ concern does not seem to be revelatory. He’s not seeking to show them how the end of this age will happen. He’s trying to spiritually prepare his disciples for what lies in store for them very shortly (Marshall, 754).
Jesus begins his response with a warning, “Beware that you are not led astray; for many will come in my name and say, ‘I am he!’ and The time is near!’ Do not go after them.”
As humans, I think we always tend to look toward events in our world, be they natural or human-caused, and imbue them with great significance. Perhaps that goes back to the prehistoric days when, as a species, we had little understanding of our natural surroundings. Our desire to know what the future holds makes us susceptible to anyone who claims they might know what’s going to happen.
The substance of Jesus’ warning is just that, a warning to watch out for those who claim to know what and when significant events will happen. Jesus hasn’t been wrong about this, either. The world has known many men and women who have gathered a following either by claiming to be a messiah or by proclaiming they know when the end will happen.
In our day, those folks with TV shows on religious broadcasting stations. They write books and make large sums of money doing so. Jesus is rather clear here. Don’t listen to them! Don’t follow after them! They can’t save you!
In Jesus’ day, you might have literally followed such a person, followed them into the wilderness to make preparations for the end (Marshall, 763).
Not only will false prophets and messiah wannabes emerge, but there will also be wars and insurrections! Many people would have understood that events like wars and revolutionary uprisings would have been a “sign of the times.” Even now, well-meaning people latch onto events that happen all over the world and assign those events with supernatural or divine significance. Again, Luke’s readers would have experienced just these things. They had heard the rumors of uprisings in Jerusalem and witnessed the Roman army surrounding Jerusalem. They would have watched as the Temple fell.
Into the chaos of destruction and war, Jesus speaks a word of comfort. “Do not be terrified; for these things must take place first…” If we stop halfway through verse 9, we might begin to believe just what Jesus is warning us not to think, that these wars signify the end and the coming of God’s kingdom. The second half of verse 9 is crucial, “…but the end will not follow immediately.”
Even though there will be wars between nations and kingdoms, and even though there will be great earthquakes and famines, plagues, and “dreadful protests” in the sky, do not be afraid.
“Dreadful portents,” by the way, are meteorological or astronomical events, comets, and the like. It was common to believe that these events had repercussions for the day-to-day lives of people and nations.
Jesus is saying that he will go away, and some time will pass before he returns to finish what he started. As we said before, his interest is not to let his followers know when that will be but to prepare them to continue to follow him faithfully in the interim.
In verse 12, Jesus abruptly shifts gears from general warnings about what will happen to specifics about what the disciples will undoubtedly face. The disciples will be persecuted and suffer at both the hands of the Jewish religious leaders and the Gentile civil authorities. Such division and persecution happen because people fear the radical reorientation of priorities that come with God’s Kingdom. As we have noted in previous weeks, those who benefit from the current order of things will always resist change.
This persecution will not be in vain. Through persecution, the disciples will have an opportunity to testify to the kingdom of God and the grace, restoration, and salvation it brings. But the disciples will not be alone as they give their testimony concerning the grace of God because Jesus says, “I will give you words and wisdom that none of your opponents will be able to withstand or contradict.” Those who God calls, God equips for his service.
The division that the disciples will experience will come not just at the hands of religious and civil authorities but at the hands of their closest family members. Parents and siblings will turn on believers, and some will even face death. The sacrificial love of God will be met with hatred toward those who proclaim the good news.
There will always be lots of speculation about how the world will end. There have always been people who claimed to be the second coming of Christ or to know exactly when that will happen. People have continued to imbue meteorological and astronomical events with divine significance.
Persecution of faithful brothers and sisters in Christ has continued from the time of Jesus’ resurrection until this very day. The divisions sometimes run as deep as Jesus said they would, with family members turning on their own.
Even with the rather dire warnings that Jesus offers, we should not lose hope. Any event we may experience, any persecution we may endure, any harm that might come our way is but an opportunity to proclaim the good news of God’s grace and forgiveness for all of creation. Jesus is not asking us to do anything he has not already done.
Read the text aloud. Then, read the text to yourself quietly. Read it slowly, as if you were very unfamiliar with the story.
Who are the main characters in the story? What are they doing?
What doesn’t make sense to you in this story?
The Temple was the central identifying symbol for the Jews. Its importance for Jewish life cannot be overstated. For some, it might have even become an idol. What are some things that might be a part of our own religious establishment that, while they are good and God-given, might be raised to the status of an idol?
Have you ever heard it said that Jesus is soon coming back because of various things that are happening in the world today? What does Jesus in this passage have to say about that?
Jesus says in verse 12, “But before all this occurs, they will arrest you and persecute you; they will hand you over to the synagogues and prisons, and you will be brought before kings and governors because of my name.” This was obviously a reality for the original audience of Luke’s gospel and continues to be a reality for many Christians in the world today. How might Jesus’ words be true for us Christians who live in America today?
I. Howard Marshall, The Gospel of Luke: A Commentary on the Greek Text, New International Greek Testament Commentary (Exeter: Paternoster Press, 1978).