READ Luke 21:20-24
In our text for today, we are continuing to look at Jesus’ teaching in the temple. The passage you just read is another part of the longer teaching Jesus gives to His disciples on the heels of the widow giving her two coins in the temple. His teaching is apocalyptic, mysterious, and dark. And at this point it seems necessary to zoom out and remind ourselves of the bigger picture that Jesus is painting. These verses can be confusing, but more than that, they can be frightening and disorienting. When we are making our way verse-by-verse through passages like this, it is important for us to chart out some theological landmarks so that we can keep our bearings.
The first landmark I want to remind us of is what Jesus has in mind when He talks about “the end.” Theologians, pastors, scholars, and Christians throughout history have spent much time and ink discussing what “the end” is, what it means, and when it will come. While there is a place for a broader conversation on the topic, the main truth I want to remind us is this: when Jesus speaks of “the end,” He is speaking about the coming of His kingdom. It is easy to be dismayed at the thought of this world ending as we know it. But we must not forget that the greatest hope of the Christian faith is that Christ has come and will come again! His kingdom’s coming is our greatest good!
The second landmark I want to map out for us is the normality of suffering in the Christian life. When we read passages like the one we are looking at today, it is easy for us to think the scenario is spectacular and exaggerated. But throughout the Scriptures we see that suffering is a normal part of the Christian life. We are not to lose heart in the face of suffering. Remember, our God is He who overcame the world (John 16:33).
The final landmark I want to remind us of today is that Jesus is intentionally speaking in apocalyptic language. This kind of language uses poetic imagery to paint for us a picture that is rich in meaning and is layered in its interpretation (consider the book of Revelation as a primary example of apocalyptic writing). Jesus is not giving his disciples the newspaper in advance; He does not intend for them to count the days until a certain event happens, from which they will know the year of His return (in fact, He says that no one could know the day of His return, Matthew 24:36). But His words have both an immediate and long-term perspective. As we study Jesus’ words, let’s look for both the immediate and long-term meanings, understanding this teaching as dynamic, meaning-saturated words that paint for us a beautiful picture of what He has come to accomplish.
Jesus paints for the disciples a grim picture of the destruction of Jerusalem. Historically, we know this happened in 70 A.D. Jerusalem was surrounded by her enemies, and many of her inhabitants fell by the sword. Israel lost her capital city, the land the Israelites called home. In poignant and almost poetic language, Jesus describes the dark day in which Jerusalem will be surrounded by the war cries of the enemy, and the enemy will snuff out her light.
We cannot help but notice what a metaphor this is for the coming suffering of Christ. Even as He speaks these words, He knows that in the coming days He, too, will be surrounded by enemies. He, too, will hear the war cries that demand His life. And we will see in just a few short days that, as the crowd cheers for His execution, the Light of the World will be snuffed out.
If this was the end of the story it would, indeed, be a dark one. But what did Jesus say the fall of Jerusalem would represent?
The coming of His Kingdom is near! These were signs to the world that the kingdom of man was starting to crack open, and the Light of His kingdom was starting to shine. The fall of the city seemed to mark the victory of the enemies of the people of God, but in fact it was a sign that one day God would gain the victory for His people. Even as the city walls fell, the disciples could call to mind Jesus’ promise that He was on His way; as Jesus falls under the burden of the cross, we can call to mind the promise that He was on a mission to bring His kingdom. All may seem dark, but the promises of God are firm: the Kingdom is on its way.
Spend some time thanking God that Jesus suffered in order that we might have the Light of World as our own inheritance. Thank Him that even in the darkest of days we can have confidence that He is coming again.