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And [Jesus] said, “See that you are not led astray. For many will come in My name, saying, ‘I am He!’ and, ‘The time is at hand!’ Do not go after them. And when you hear of wars and tumults, do not be terrified, for these things must first take place, but the end will not be at once” (Luke 21:8-9).
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ!
Our text begins with Jesus hearing His followers discussing the impressive appearance of the temple. This would have been quite a natural response to looking at Herod’s temple, which was not only lavishly decorated but was also the largest religious structure in the world at the time. When Jesus tells them of the coming destruction of the temple they respond with the obvious question: when will this happen?
The remainder of the passage is an extended speech by Jesus, a response that goes far beyond the question itself. Jesus warns His followers about a number of things that will happen before the end:
- the coming of those who will teach falsely in His name (Luke 21:8);
- rumors of coming wars between nations (Luke 21:9-10);
- a variety of natural disasters (Luke 21:11);
- persecution leading to an opportunity to bear witness to Jesus (Luke 21:12-15);
- betrayal by family and friends (Luke 21:16);
- the hatred of all around them (Luke 21:17-19);
- the siege and destruction of Jerusalem at the hands of gentiles (Luke 21:20-24).
Jesus responds to their question by making two related points: First, He tells His disciples to be prepared to face what is to come. There is no sugar-coating here. The world that hated Jesus will hate His disciples. The whole history of the Church will be a history of tribulation and suffering. In order to stand firm in the day of trial the disciples will need to be prepared.
The second point made by Jesus is that all of the hardship and suffering to come should not drive His followers to despair. He will not abandon them but will give them wisdom to witness for Him when the hour comes (Luke 21:15) and He will preserve them in the midst of their suffering (Luke 21:18-19).
These two points come together in the “surprise ending” of the discourse: “Now when these things begin to take place, straighten up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near” (Luke 21:28). It is ultimately the certainty of their redemption that will be the source of their strength and comfort as they face hardships to come.
In AD 70, Jesus’ prediction of judgment would come true: the religious leaders who rejected Him were punished by God through the destruction of the temple and the laying waste the city of Jerusalem by the hands of the Romans.
What were the disciples to do as they wait for these things to pass? Jesus’ words invite them to see past the trouble, to see past the sorrow and evil in the world, to the day when He will return to judge the living and the dead, and to remove all sin from our lives and make all things right! Because it is Jesus who says these things, His disciples can be confident that God is going to rescue and redeem all His Christian people.
At the start of verse 25, our text switches from the destruction of Jerusalem to the end of the world: the “times of the Gentiles” are fulfilled and finished on the Last Day. Jesus describes the end with these words:
And there will be signs in sun and moon and stars, and on the earth distress of nations in perplexity because of the roaring of the sea and the waves,people fainting with fear and with foreboding of what is coming on the world. For the powers of the heavens will be shaken. And then they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory. (Luke 21:25-27).
As Jesus spoke these words, so we are to hear them with Jerusalem’s destruction in the background. As He describes the future destruction of Jerusalem to His disciples back in the 1st century, He tells us that there are parallels to the future destruction of the world. The world will end, and it will end with distress, perplexity, fear, and foreboding among the nations. In the end, like Jerusalem, it will be utterly destroyed. On that day, all will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and glory. And they will be terrified.
Why does it end this way? For the same reason that Jerusalem fell—people following false gods and a religion of our own making, rejection of Jesus Christ as Lord and God, our Redeemer and Savior.
Here’s the truth: while there might be a million different ways in which they are acted out, they’re all one gigantic rejection of Christ. There seem to be endless deviations to human religion, but they all deny the Gospel. They all want Jesus gone. That’s what sin does: it wants Jesus gone.
And that is why the world is going to end—not because it wears out, but because the time will come when the Lord’s patience ends and He says, “If you do not want Me, then you don’t have to have Me around. I will give you a place where you need never have Me around again.” That’s what hell is. A place where God has withdrawn His gracious presence—a place that is literally God-forsaken.
The only reason that this world holds together as well as it does is because it isn’t God-forsaken, because the Lord still attends to it for the sake of His people, for the sake of Christ. Look at the rubble of Jerusalem after Jesus was rejected—destruction, death, and despair reigned supreme. Hell is the ongoing, chaotic destruction in a place where there is no mercy of God because its inhabitants do not want Him there.
In the meantime, the world still has its share of troubles, afflictions, and disasters. There are many things that threaten us and may cause us to fear: global warming, massive national debt, socialism, crony capitalism, increasing pressure against practicing the Christian faith in the public square, a culture of death that looks for solutions to problems in abortion and euthanasia, an aging population, the opioid crisis, the health care crisis, the farm economy crisis, just to name a few. And there are still the good old standbys that Jesus warned His disciples about: false teachers, wars and rumors of wars, persecution, betrayal by family and friends, hatred all around.
Some might say these calamities are death throes to indicate that the end is coming. But for you, these are not death throes. They are birth pains. They are reminders that Jesus’ Word remains true. It remains true that this is a world of distress and perplexity. But it is also true that your redemption draws near. So, while all the world is in distress at the thought of death and endings, it is not so for you: Jesus says, “Straighten up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.”
Dear friends, with this text the Lord does not want you to obsess over the end, the Last Day. Rather, He would have you be prepared for it whenever it occurs. And you are prepared for it because of what He tells you in His Word. He tells you that, although the world wishes He were gone, He is still very much present and findable. Just as one could point to Him in our Gospel lesson and say, “There is the Lord in His temple,” so can you today.
You point to His Word and say, “There, in the Word—read, spoken, and preached—is the Word made flesh.” And so He is. Jesus still speaks to you by means of His Word. By His Law, He shows you your sin and need for His grace. By His Gospel, He speaks that grace and redemption into you. He tells you what He will tell you on Judgment Day: “You’re no longer guilty, because I have died with your guilt already. You are prepared. That’s why heaven is yours.” And that’s the message we declare to the world, that others might be prepared for Judgment Day.
You point to the font, to Holy Baptism. The Messiah is present there, too. In that water and Word, He has joined you to Himself, to His death and resurrection. That is key for Judgment Day, for in Baptism the Lord says to you: “You will not die for your sin on Judgment Day, because I’ve joined you to My death for your sin. I’ve joined you to My resurrection, too, so heaven is yours. You’re prepared because I’ve redeemed you.”
And you point to the altar, to the Supper, where the Lord gives you His body and blood—His risen body and blood that has conquered death, descended into hell and come back again for you. No destruction for you, because the Lord strengthens and preserves you unto life everlasting.
The Lord is still present in His temple for you: that’s why this world is not forsaken. It’s just that, rather than a temple made of large stones, He now dwells in the temple of His means of grace—but He is just as surely, fully there as He was in the temple in our text. It’s little wonder that the means of grace are held in such low esteem today, for Christ was treated the same way in Jerusalem. But He is present, and He will not forsake you. Whatever distress you see in this world, the Lord is as near to you as His Word and Sacraments. You will not be put to shame on Judgment Day.
Be prepared… not afraid. Go in the peace of the Lord and serve your neighbor with joy. You are forgiven for all of your sins.
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen
Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from the Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.