Suppose you have a business. If that business was not making money and if the employees were not happy and if the product you were selling was not catching on, in other words, if it was all falling apart, would you consider that normal? Would you think that your business was doing what it was supposed to be doing? Wouldn’t you think that you were near to bankruptcy?
Suppose you bought a new blender. The first time you use it to make a milkshake, it makes a terrible racket. It sounds like the blades are going to go flying, the top is going to blow off and all of a sudden the faceplate where the buttons are falls off. You stop using the blender and you phone the company which made it and ask them what the problem is. You would be very surprised if they told you that it was supposed to do that. It wouldn’t seem right that falling apart was normal.
Jesus came to this world to establish the kingdom of God. It is a kingdom of peace, a glorious kingdom which is intended to rule over all. Do you ever feel like everything in God’s kingdom is falling apart? Doesn’t it look like God’s kingdom is losing? With the war in Iraq, and all the things that are happening there, with the SARS outbreak and the tragedy of deaths caused by the spring storm which was just dumped on most of Canada, it might seem more like the world is falling apart than like God is establishing his eternal kingdom.
This morning, let us look at Luke 21:5-36 to see what Jesus had to say about this.
I. Everything Is Falling Apart
A. The Destruction Of The Temple
One day, Jesus was in the temple area with his disciples and they were marvelling at the wonderful structure. This was not the temple that Solomon had built. That temple had been destroyed by Nebuchadnezzar when the Jews were sent into exile in Babylon. When they returned after 70 years the temple was rebuilt, but not according to its former glory. In the days of Herod, however, that temple was renewed and apparently it was a most impressive structure.
As the disciples were gazing at its beauty, Jesus told them that this temple would be destroyed so that “not one stone will be left on another.” This comment must have stunned the disciples as they began to grasp the import of this statement. We need to understand their perspective on the temple. When the temple was originally built by Solomon, it was filled with the presence of God. In his prayer of dedication, Solomon prayed that this place would truly be the presence of God for Israel and that this would be the place in which they would meet God. Psalms 27:4 demonstrates the kind of thinking that the disciples would have had, “One thing I ask of the LORD, this is what I seek: that I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the LORD and to seek him in his temple.” To say that it would be destroyed was like saying that a relationship with God was not possible any more.
Jesus warned that this city and the temple would be destroyed. He warned that instead of fleeing to the safety of the city walls on that day, the people should flee to the open countryside because it would be safer.
The destruction Jesus spoke of happened in 70 AD. A group of Jewish Zealots rebelled against the Roman authorities in 66 AD and the resulting war ended with the destruction of Jerusalem and many people were killed in that destruction. Josephus, a Jewish historian of the period, estimates that in the Jewish rebellion more than 1 million died and 100,000 went into exile.
To the disciples, this prediction would look as if everything was falling apart.
But that is not all. There is a further word of Jesus here which makes it look even more like everything is falling apart. Jesus warns, “they will lay hands on you and persecute you.” Jesus warned that for those who choose to follow Jesus, it will not be easy, they can expect persecution, imprisonment. Even worse, Jesus indicates that believers will be betrayed by those who are closest to them - even parents, brothers, relatives and friends. Furthermore, He warned that believers would be betrayed to death.
We live in a society in North America in which we hardly experience such persecution. As a result, we begin to think that our life is normal. We begin to think that everything should always be good. We begin to think that winning everyone to the Lord and having power with the government and being able to live in ease are the norm. We need to know that this is not the case. We need to know that persecution is a much greater likelihood. Our ancestors have experienced it and many Christians in the world today experience it. Several months ago, when we had a day of prayer for the persecuted church, we became aware that what Jesus warned about here is indeed happening in many places in the world.
This may cause us, and more certainly those who experience it to question, “How can God be winning when his people are mocked, prevented from working, beat up, killed and persecuted in many other ways?” It looks like everything is falling apart.
C. Wars, Earthquakes etc.
A further evidence of the “falling apart” is the words Jesus had to say about wars, persecution, earthquakes, famines and pestilence and also about signs in the sun, moon and stars. This is an important thing for us to think about now. We are in the midst of a war in our world. Every day the images bombard us. When we hear things like the threat of other Arab nations joining in to defend Iraq, it is even more frightening. We wonder, will war come to us? What will the impact of the war be on us? Is God able to stop the conflagration?
But war is not the only devastation. The world has been subject to many different kinds of difficulties. Some of them man made and some of them what insurance companies call “acts of God.” All of them are terrifying and when they happen to us. They may cause us to question, “where is God?” Where is the promise of his kingdom?
So it is not hard to see that Jesus’ words have come true - the Jerusalem temple has been destroyed, God’s people are persecuted and there are many wars and natural disasters which make it look like God’s kingdom is falling apart.
II. It’s Working
One Christmas, I built a little car for one of our children. The car was designed for the purpose of falling apart when it crashed. When it was falling apart, it was part of what it was supposed to do. To us it looks like God’s kingdom is falling apart, but Jesus was telling us that it is supposed to work that way.
A. The Son Of Man Will Come
All of these devastations are not the end of things, rather the sign that the former things are passing away and all things are becoming new.
The destruction of the city of Jerusalem and of the temple was necessary in order for the new covenant to be established. In the Old Covenant, the way to God was through the temple. In Hebrews, God’s Word tells us that when Jesus died once for all, and when the Holy Spirit was given, the need for the Old Covenant was past because a new covenant was being established. This was why the temple had to be destroyed, to show that the old covenant was no longer in force and the new covenant was now in force.
Persecution is a necessary part of the transition time. God’s kingdom is coming in, but as always, it is not accepted by those who do not follow God and so persecution is inevitable.
The destruction in the earth and the devastating things that happen in our world are further signs of the crumbling of the godless world to make a way for the new kingdom which Jesus is establishing.
Therefore, none of these terrible and frightening things mean that God has lost. They simply are the passing away of the old. Therefore, we look forward with great anticipation to what Jesus promised in verse 27, “they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory.”
The kingdom of God will come and for us that is good news.
It will be a divine coming. Throughout the Bible, clouds have been a symbol of the divine presence. For example, in the Exodus and when Jesus was transfigured, a cloud was the symbol of the presence of God. So the promise is that God will come down to earth and then what now looks like loss will be straightened out. For now, it is happening as it should, but that is not the end.
Furthermore, there is certainty about that coming. Sometimes we forget about this promise, but look again at verse 27 where we are assured that “they will see the Son of Man.” There is no mystery, no hidden-ness about his coming, it will be clear and visible for all to see.
It will also restore all things, for He will come with power and great glory. The power and glory of the kingdom of God as it really should be will be revealed. There will be a worldwide victory of the kingdom of God.
B. Signs Of His Coming
The section began with the question of the disciples, “what will be the sign that they are about to take place?” This is a question that interests us very much. How do we know when His coming is near?
Three times in this passage, we have the phrase “these things.” In verse 28 it says, “when these things begin to take place, stand up and lift up your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.” Then in verse 31, it says, “when you see these things happening, you know that the kingdom of God is near.” Then in verse 32 we read, “I tell you the truth, this generation will certainly not pass away until al these things have happened.” With these three verses, Jesus answers this question.
The difficult thing is to understand what “these things” refers to and what “sign” means.
Are “these things” the final signs? The destruction of Jerusalem? The persecution? Or all the destructive elements which Jesus speaks about in this chapter? Although there are many different interpretations, I believe that it is best to understand that “these things” refers to all the things Jesus warns about here, all the devastating things - the destruction of Jerusalem, the persecutions and the signs in the sun moon and stars.
If that is the case, then how do we understand the meaning of a sign? If a sign is like a road sign telling us that we have only 20 more miles to go, then we have a problem. When verse 32 says that all these things will happen in the generation of Jesus, then where is Jesus? I believe that we need to understand sign in a different way. The leaves sprouting, as Jesus talks about in verse 30 can be a sign in two senses. It can be a sign of time nearness, or of certainty, a sign of authenticity. Since I believe that “these things” refers to all the turmoil that Jesus has talked about – the wars, earthquakes, signs in the heavens, I believe that we should understand these signs, not in the sense of a road sign, but in the sense of something that assures certainty.
Our natural inclination when we see this devastation is to think that God has lost. I believe that the intention of Jesus’ words is to create the exact opposite reaction and that is to understand that whenever terrible things come to our world, it should remind us of the certainty of Jesus return. The reason for this certainty is that they all show us that it is not the kingdom of God that is falling apart, but the present age in order that God’s kingdom can come in fullness when Jesus comes.
III. Living While Everything Is Falling Apart.
So if this world is falling apart and God’s kingdom is certainly coming, “how do we live in this time of anticipation?”
A. Don’t Be Deceived Or Frightened
First of all, Jesus tells us in 8, 9 that we should not be deceived or frightened.
He warns us about those who would come and say, “I am he” or “the time is near.”
In 1987, I received a booklet with the title, “88 reason why the rapture will happen in 1988. Well, it is 15 years later, and it still hasn’t happened. I wonder how the writer of that book has adjusted his writing? It is obvious that he has not read or taken Luke 21 seriously.
We had a friend who was so concerned about the terrible things that will happen that he talked about moving to a remote area in the mountains and stocking up on enough food and water to last out the terrible times.
There are a lot of examples of people who have been deceived by those who said, “he is there” or “the time is near.” Jesus specifically and clearly warns us not to follow such people.
Besides the possibility of deception, there is also a great fear that comes with all the terrible things that will happen. Jesus encourages the disciples in verse 9 that they should not be frightened. Because of the promise of Jesus return, we do not need to fear.
B. Witness In The Power Of God
As we have already noted, persecution is a real possibility. Jesus teaches several things about living with that reality.
First of all, he indicates that persecution gives opportunity to witness. I have been reading a book about Georgi Vins. The story tells about the persecution of Soviet Christians during the 30’s to the 70’s. It tells about his own imprisonment. At his trial, he read a poem he had written describing the reality of what was happening and giving testimony to Jesus. It has been observed that the church grows fastest in a situation of persecution. As we experience persecution, let us not allow that persecution to move us to silence, but let us open our mouths.
When we do have an opportunity to witness when we are persecuted, we should not worry about how we will defend ourselves. Jesus promises that He will give us words which will refute our adversaries in amazing ways. When Stephen, the first martyr was arrested and asked to make a defence, he gave an insightful, pointed and wonderful defence of his faith. God gave him that ability and will also give it to us. Some have misinterpreted this to mean that preachers should not prepare their messages, but that is to misunderstand the context and also to forget about other passages of scripture which teach us to study God’s Word diligently.
C. Be Ready
Jesus also warns that in view of the truth, that He will come back at any time, we need to live ready.
Being ready means living with the reality of Christ’s return always in our minds. There is a temptation to forget about the promise of his return and become so focused on this life that we live for this life instead of with the constant reminder that there is another reality. Have you heard the saying, “he’s so heavenly minded that he’s no earthly good.” I think the opposite is every bit as much of a danger that we are so earthly minded that heaven never crosses our mind. Do we live with God’s coming kingdom as a constant reality in our life?
If we are living for this world, then all kinds of this worlds things will become our focus. Jesus talks about “dissipation” which means getting so caught up in the things of this world, that we do not have time to work for the kingdom of God. Donald Hoke reminds us about “how to boil a frog. You don't put him in a pot of boiling water. You drop him in the boiling water and he'll jump out before he's injured. So you put him in a pot of cold water, and he's perfectly comfortable. Then you put him on the stove, and little by little the water gets warm. It's very pleasant at first. Then it gets to Jacuzzi level, and he begins to be a little alarmed. Finally, when it's boiling, it's too late. Christians are like that, aren't we? We get into the world and it's oh so pleasant at first. And then it gets a little warmer and it's pleasanter yet. And one day we realize the danger: "This is going to kill me, and I haven't the strength to get out!" If our focus is on the coming of Christ, we will have the ability not to slowly succumb to the dissipation in this world.
Jesus also talks about “the anxieties of life.” The Greek word of anxiety, or worry, is “merimnao.” It is made up of two words, “divided” and “mind.” What worry means is to have a divided mind, a mind that is on the past and the future at the same time. Jesus invites us to focus our attention fully on the future He is bringing. When we do that, then the worries of this life will not have the same impact on us.
The other thing that Jesus says is that we will be able to stand on that last day. What will prevent us from being able to stand before the Son of Man when He comes? Jesus encourages us to watch and pray. If we maintain a relationship with God, through prayer, then we will be able to stand on that day.
This week the shares of Air Canada dropped from $2 a share to $.80 a share. No one would have been foolish enough to buy shares at $2 a share if they would have known it was falling apart.
To buy shares in this world is equally foolish. Although it looks like God’s kingdom is falling apart, the exact opposite is true. The signs of Jesus’ return are the devastating things that are happening in the world. The are indications that it is this world that is falling apart.
In light of that, let us invest heavily in the kingdom of God.