Luke 21: 5 – 19 The destruction of the temple and signs of the end times – Part 1
Some of his disciples were remarking about how the temple was adorned with beautiful stones and with gifts dedicated to God. But Jesus said, ‘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.’
‘Teacher,’ they asked, ‘when will these things happen? And what will be the sign that they are about to take place?’
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. When you hear of wars and uprisings, do not be frightened. These things must happen first, but the end will not come right away.’
Then he said to them: ‘Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be great earthquakes, famines and pestilences in various places, and fearful events and great signs from heaven.
‘But before all this, they will seize you and persecute you. They will hand you over to synagogues and put you in prison, and you will be brought before kings and governors, and all on account of my name. And so you will bear testimony to me. But make up your mind not to worry beforehand how you will defend yourselves. For I will give you words and wisdom that none of your adversaries will be able to resist or contradict. You will be betrayed even by parents, brothers and sisters, relatives and friends, and they will put some of you to death. Everyone will hate you because of me. But not a hair of your head will perish. Stand firm, and you will win life.
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There are several different ways of understanding this passage. These include:
- Reading these as the literal words of Jesus;
- Accepting that Jesus taught like this, but that the words have been filtered both through an oral tradition and through the evangelist, Luke;
- Reading as though the words reflect more the teaching of the early church than the teaching of Jesus;
I am going to adopt the second view point. If after reading this you feel strongly that I’m mistaken, do please write in the comment box below and let me know.
Jesus takes a casual discussion by some of his disciples about the beauty of the temple as an opportunity to teach them something of what is in store for them. He tells them that, lovely though the temple is, it will be totally destroyed. Not surprisingly they’re alarmed, wanting to know when this will happen, and what sign they should look out for. They presumably want to make sure they’re nowhere near when it happens. It’s worth noting that they obviously trust Jesus’ prophecy.
Jesus starts his teaching by warning the disciples against false prophets. Times of turmoil are fertile ground for unscrupulous would-be leaders. Just like today, in Jesus’ day there were many who would present a simplistic answer to national or international problems. Indeed, when the Jews revolted against the Romans there were several factions with different leaders and agendas. One could make a case for this being the cause of their defeat, the destruction of Jerusalem and the scattering of the nation. “Do not follow them,” Jesus warns the disciples.
Is this warning an instruction for all time? To me, it certainly suggests that I should be cautious as to how passionately I should follow any political leader. At all times I must have my eyes fixed on God and his will, rather than on human strength and political agendas.
I think the heart of this teaching, though, is in verses 12 – 19. Jesus tells the disciples that they will be seized and persecuted. No ifs or buts; it’s going to happen. The reason? To bear testimony to Jesus. And as they are to bear testimony to Jesus, he will give them the words to say.
“But make up your mind not to worry beforehand how you will defend yourselves,” said Jesus. “For I will give you words and wisdom that none of your adversaries will be able to resist or contradict.”
Jesus is reassuring his disciples that when they are going to speak for him, he will give them the words to say. They shouldn’t spend time preparing a defence. In practice, what we see in Acts is that the disciples often spent times of imprisonment in praising God, rather than worrying. When you think about it, what better preparation could they make?
That applies to us, too. When we speak to someone about Jesus, we don’t need to prepare elaborate speeches – if we do, we’ll get it wrong. We just need to speak simply about him. He will give us the right words to say.
Jesus warns his disciples that they will be persecuted by many, including those who are closest to them. Some of them will even be put to death. However, he reassures them.
Stand firm, and you will win life.
Thank you for the teaching of this passage. Please give us the right words to speak to others about Jesus.
In Jesus name, Amen