We come now to the time in which we turn to the Word of the living God. It’s Luke chapter 21...Luke chapter 21 and we’re going to be looking this morning at what is really introductory to the rest of this very important chapter. Starting in verse 5, we come to a section of Scripture that runs nearly to the end of the chapter, all the way to verse 36, in which our Lord speaks concerning His return...His Second Coming...His coming to judge and His coming to reign on the earth. This is our Lord’s own sermon on His Second Coming. And it comes at a very, very appropriate time because from the human viewpoint, it looks as if His coming has been a total disaster and abysmal failure, a massive disappointment. It is, when we come to verse 5, still Wednesday...Wednesday of what is known as Passion Week, the week in which our Lord is crucified. On Thursday the betrayal will take place. And on Friday He will be crucified by the Romans. It is Wednesday. It is only going to get worse, a lot worse from the human viewpoint. In fact, from the human viewpoint, His life is worse than a failure, it is a disaster. And so it is on the brink of what appears, from a human viewpoint, to be a tragic end that our Lord gives to us the real story of the end bound up in His return to earth in the future.
The world has not seen the last of Jesus Christ. He is coming back. And he speaks of it in this chapter. It is a very important chapter. It is a powerful chapter, as we shall see, experiencing its unfolding in the weeks to come. But as we approach this text, let’s read at least the introduction to it in verses 5, 6 and 7. “And while some were talking about the temple, that it was adorned with beautiful stones and votive gifts, He said, ‘As for these things which you’re looking at, the days will come in which there will not be left one stone upon another which will not be torn down.’ And they questioned Him saying, ‘Teacher, when therefore will these things be? And what will be the sign when these things are about to take place?’” And verse 8 begins, “And He said...” and then comes the longest answer ever given by our Lord to a question, and it runs all the way, as I said, into verse 36. It is an answer to the questions about when will divine judgment fall and what are the signs that it is about to take place? Jesus answers those questions.
In the parallel account in Matthew, there are a couple of other components added to the question. Matthew 24:3, the disciples also added, “What is the sign of Your coming and the end of the age?” They associated Messiah with the end of the age. His coming would mean judgment on the ungodly. It would mean salvation for Israel. The Kingdom in which He would reign over the whole world signaling the end of the age, the age of man’s rule and the oppression of the people of God and the establishment of God’s rule and the exaltation of the people of God.
They weren’t waiting for the Messiah to come, He was present. In fact, in Matthew 24:3 where it says, “What will be the sign of Your coming?”coming is really a little bit of a misleading translation. The word in the Greek is parousia, it means presence...presence. And it really was used of a king who had arrived and would continue to dwell among his people. So what they’re really asking is this, “Now that You are here, what are we looking for that will inaugurate the work that You’ve come to do?” They don’t see Him there and going away and coming back several thousand years later. They see His parousia, His presence, and they want to know You’re here, what sign are we looking for that’s going to inaugurate all our Messianic expectations? That’s their question and it comes in response to His statement about the tearing down of the temple in verse 6, that not one stone will be left upon another that will not be torn down.
Now let me set the scene for you a little bit, put you in the context. It is Wednesday of Passion Week, it is Wednesday evening. This is the last week of our Lord’s life before His crucifixion, as I said, followed Sunday by His resurrection, followed by 40 days of teaching and appearing to His own, followed by His ascension. But this is Wednesday, all day long He has been in the temple which He had cleansed the day before, throwing out the buyers and the sellers, the corrupt money changers and those who were extorting money at exorbitant prices out of people by disqualifying the sacrifices they brought and making them buy sacrifices from them. Jesus had done that at the beginning of His ministry and He had to do it again. There was no question in the minds of His followers that the system was corrupt. They knew it was corrupt because they had grown up in it. They knew it was corrupt because they had been saved out of it. Of course, His disciples, for the most part, affirmed Him as Messiah, they had come to believe in Him as Messiah, they had been taught by Him and He had taught them plenty about the corruption of the Jewish religious system. He had spoken very strong words about the Sadducees, Pharisees, the scribes, the religious leaders. They knew exactly how He felt. He had cleansed the temple the day before, cleansed it at the beginning of His ministry. He had just finished a prolonged speech or sermon against the leaders of Israel in which He pronounced repeated judgment and damnation curses upon their heads. And He made very clear that Jerusalem was cursed, the religious system cursed. And because its effect had reached the nation as well as the city, the whole nation would bear the curse. And, in fact, He had told them on a couple of occasions that the land and the people and the temple was desolate and was falling under the judgment of God. Now He gets very specific and says, “This judgment is going to mean the dismantling of the temple itself.”
So they knew how He felt about the system. They knew also that Messiah had come to judge, that there was judgment in the coming of Messiah. But they knew also there would be salvation, restoration, forgiveness and the establishment of a Kingdom. They thought it would all happen at one time. It would all be one big event. And He’s there...they’re not expecting Him to go away and stay away until long after their life times have ended and thousands of years later still not return. They’re assuming You’re here, what sign are we looking for that’s going to launch all the events that we expect to take place?
The leaders, of course, had tried to discredit Jesus publicly because they want Him dead. Those who normally hated each other agreed to work together for the execution of Jesus, namely the scribes, the Pharisees working with the Sadducees, and both of them working with the Herodians. They all came together top get rid of Jesus who was a problem to each and all of them. They were unsuccessful in trying to trap Him in His words publicly so they could bring some just accusation against Him and force the Romans to execute Him. So when they did finally bring Him before Pilate in chapter 23, they lied and fabricated things about Him in order to get the Romans to execute Him. They have finished their attacks by now. The end of Wednesday, they have nothing more to say. Chapter 20 verse 40, they didn’t have the courage to question Him any longer about anything. The crowd is still unconvinced. The crowd is still waiting to see what they expect the Messiah to do if He’s the real Messiah. And that is put on a power display and overthrow Rome and do all the things they expected their Messiah to do. So they remain in neutral with mounting disappointment that finally ends up in the crowd crying, “Crucify Him, crucify Him, we will not have this man to reign over us.”
Well Jesus has completed all His sermons to the crowd. He has preached the last sermon to the crowd which was a warning against the scribes and the Pharisees who were their spiritual leaders. The full text of that sermon is recorded in Matthew 23 and it’s one of the most blistering maledictions on the pages of Scripture, if not THE most blistering of all judgment sermons. And that’s how He ends. He warns the people about the direction their false leaders are taking them and He warns the false leaders about damnation. He has nothing more to say to the crowds. He has told them the truth. He’s given them the gospel. He’s declared Himself to be the Messiah, Son of David, and David’s Lord at the same time, God and Man. He has preached His last message, His last warning. He’s had His last discussion, His last dialogue confrontation with the leaders. It’s over. The last thing that we know that He did in the temple was sit down because He was drained and weary. And as He sat down in the Court of the Women, He looked across opposite Him to the treasury and He watched the people putting money in and He saw the widow come by in the first four verses of chapter 21, and He watched the widow put in her last two cents to go home to die. And He hated the kind of religious system that would take the last two cents out of the hand of a defenseless, destitute widow. And that was the final scene with Jesus in the temple, so corrupt...so corrupt that those whom He had accused of devouring widows’ houses are doing just that and He watches a widow give up her last two cents because that’s what that religious, legalistic system required of her if she was to buy her salvation, and blessing from God. And He has had all that He can take of this system.
And so, He leaves the temple. We know this from the parallel passage in Matthew, the parallel passage in Matthew, the end of chapter 23. He closes the sermon against the false leaders with these words, verse 37, “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, who kills the prophets and stones those who were sent to her. How often I wanted to gather your children together the way a hen gathers her chicks under her wings and you were unwilling. Behold, your house, that is your temple and your city and your nation all encompassed in your house is being left to you desolate. For I say to you, from now on you shall not see Me until you say, ‘Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord.’” And He implies there that there’s going to be a long time of desolation. Desolation upon your house, destruction and emptiness upon your house for a long time until you acknowledge Me.
Here we are two thousand years later and they haven’t acknowledged Him yet. And they are still a spiritually bankrupt, desolate people under divine judgment. By the way, six months before that He had said the very same thing...six months before in the thirteenth chapter of Luke and I won’t even read the words to you, He says the very same thing, “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem,” pronounces desolation and says the desolation will last until you come to believe in Me. And with that pronunciation of desolation, long-term desolation with hope because there will be a day when they will say, “Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord,” when they will believe, with that statement of long-term desolation and judgment, He turns and leaves the temple. We know that because if you notice Matthew chapter 23 ends with desolation, but listen to the first verse of 24, “And Jesus came out from the temple and was going away.” That’s when He left.
Evening, it’s over, He leaves, says His disciples came up as they went with Him, out of the temple buildings to Him and what were they doing? Turn to Luke 21 verse 5, they were talking about the temple. What a place. What a stunning place. What an amazing place. One of the wonders of the ancient world. Some writers say it was THE greatest building in the world. Most impressive. Before it was actually completed, it was being built and decorated for 85 years, about 50 years of building at the time our Lord walked out on that Wednesday. It had been started by Herod the Great in 19 and 20 B.C. It was an unbelievable building project. And the Jews were so concerned that it would be sacred that Herod actually trained priests to be masons and carpenters and craftsmen so that there would only be people who understood holy things who were actually leading the work. And it went on and on and on and on, nearly 50 years by the time Jesus walked out. Fifty years of the best that you could ever imagine. Every stone in that place was made of mezza(?), white brilliant stone available in the land of Israel that can be finally cut and polished so that it looks like marble. It was a staggering project.
I’ve seen models, reconstructive models of the best estimate of the Herodian temple. It’s indescribable. As to its myriad porticos, colonnades, plazas, patios, rooms, multiple level upon level upon level, all the way up to the parapet around the highest level which had to be fenced in so the people didn’t fall at one particular point on the southwest corner, it’s about a 400 foot drop to the valley below Kidron...massive walls, massive colonnades, porticos. It’s a staggering facility. To imagine this thing coming down is stunning. But Jesus kept repeating that judgment was going to come. In fact, you remember back in chapter 19 verse 41 when He first came into the city, this week, this Passion Week. Look at it. He wept, verse 41 chapter 19, as He approached He wept...He wept. Why? Because He said, “If you had known in this day, even you the things which make for peace, but now they have been hidden from your eyes. For the days shall come upon you when your enemies will throw up a bank before you and surround you and hue you in on every side and level you to the ground and your children within you and they will not leave in you one stone upon another because you didn’t recognize the time of your visitation.” And then having said that, He walked into the temple and began to throw out the buyers and the sellers and He said, “My house shall be a house of prayer, you’ve made it a robber’s den.” They knew how He felt about the temple. He had already promised that it was coming down and the city was coming down with it and the nation. And as they walked out, the disciples now, everything He says from here on until His death He says to His disciples, the crowds are not a part anymore, nor are the leaders, as they walk out, as they start up the Mount of Olives full of wonder and confusion, they turn and look back at this incredible edifice staggering, massive building project on the Mount. They had been told as little children or some of them may even been old enough to remember, that prior to this there was another temple there built by Zerubbabel after the restoration from Babylonian captivity, the Babylonians destroyed the Solomonic temple. But Zerubbabel’s temple looked more like a fort, and maybe didn’t get any higher than three stories. It lacked the glory of the Solomonic temple and so Herod came along and said, “Look, this is an inadequate temple for the God of Israel, I will build a greater one...far greater one.”
His real reason was not to honor the God of Israel. His real reason was to immortalize himself in this great building. So work began in the eighteenth year of his reign and went on long after his death. They took the old temple, Zerubbabel’s temple, and they flattened it to the ground right down to the bedrock. They laid massive new foundation stones, some of which are still there and visible today. Construction, as I said, went on and on and on and on, the place got larger and larger and larger and larger and could accommodate hundreds of thousands of people. It contained, of course, the Holy Place and the Holy of Holies, surrounded by walls and gates filled with colonnades and porticos. There were at least 32 caves, pits and cisterns for water storage. But it was all going to come down.
On August 29, 70 A.D., Titus Vespasian, the great Roman general came in after a long siege and they began burning the colonnades, the great porticos and colonnades that surrounded the outer courtyards and there were numbers of them. And then some soldier on his own against the wishes of Titus, historians tells us, took a torch and threw it into the Holy Place. And they tried to put it out but they couldn’t save it and down came the Holy Place and the Holy of Holies, the whole thing was torched. There were about 6,000 people, Josephus says, who were trying to seek refuge in the temple who were consumed in the conflagration and died and there were tens of thousands more that were massacred by the Romans throughout the city of Jerusalem. The priests, Josephus tells us, tried in a feeble way to defend their temple. They got up on the highest parapet where there were spikes driven up like this to keep the birds from perching there and they were pulling the spikes out and throwing them at the Romans in a useless effort to stop the horrible destruction.
So as they left, they look backed at this massive, glorious, incredible building, must have been wondering about the words of Jesus that they had already heard just a day before, that it was coming down. It was the grandest of Herod’s many massive building projects. Its eastern front, its eastern front, the side they would be seeing as they went out the east and down the little slope at the backside of the mountain, across the Kidron and up the Mount of Olives, the eastern side was completely covered in gold plating so that it looked like one massive piece of solid gold. In the morning sun, the sun would roll up over the top of the Mount of Olives, it would reflect itself in such a blaze that it would blind someone who didn’t cover his eyes just to look at the temple. And in the evening when the sun was on the other side, its golden glory was only subdued but still impressive. By all accounts, it was the most beautiful building in the world.
And the disciples were fully aware of what this building meant to them, and what it meant to their history and the effort that had gone into it. And that the whole sacrificial system and the religious system dominated their whole lives. They had been to the Passover and other feasts and festivals every year of their lives. And Jesus has unmasked it as full of hypocrisy and wretchedness and death and it’s coming down. Stunning. And as they look back, Luke records for us in chapter 21 that they were talking about the temple and how it was adorned with beautiful stones and votive gifts.
Beautiful stones? What is that? Well it was just laden with precious and semi-precious stones that had been brought in the same way that people, remember, had brought their jewelry when the Solomonic temple was built in the Old Testament, same pattern. People would come with their precious stones and semi-precious stones and imbedded them everywhere in that facility all over the place.
And votive gifts? What is a votive gift? A votive gift is a gift associated with a vow. Votive is simply a word connected to the word vow. If you made a vow to God, it was typical to consecrate that vow with a gift, some kind of symbol of that vow. And by the way, votive gifts have always been a part of religion. They go way back into pagan religions. You can visit today Corinth and if they would allow you to go into the little private museum in Corinth where the ruins of Corinth are held in a trust, in a treasury and not open to the public, you would go into rooms that are filled with votive gifts that people brought to symbolize their vow of consecration to Aesculapius whom they desired to heal them. Votive gifts have always been a part of people’s worship. They would make a consecrated vow and they would symbolize it with a gift. And the temple was filled with these things...golden sculpture, brass plaques, golden plaques, all kinds of rich treasures imbedded in the walls and suspended in appropriate places. And maybe the most notable of all and this would fit Herod was one given by him. He not only was the builder, but he donated a massive golden vine that had clusters of grapes hanging from it, nearly six feet tall. And it was in a prominent place in the temple. These kinds of gifts were suspended and displayed on the walls all through all the many courtyards, porticos, porches, rooms. And there was internal structure with oak and cedar. It was a formidable and magnificent place. And all these symbols of prayers, vows of consecration, vows of devotion, vows of worship of the true God, and it was all a scam. On the inside it was a majestic wonder...in the walls and around the walls and on the outside, it was a stunning thing to see, shining with its gold plate in the sun. And what wasn’t gold was polished marble, white. But the reality of it was that it was a vile, wicked, satanic counterfeit religious system, like temples today all over the world, like cathedrals today all over the world, like magnificent rich church buildings in which is propagated false religion. Nothing new.
And so, they’re talking about it and looking at it. These were, for the most part, humble country folk, Galilean people. Never saw anything like this, not even close. And they only saw what they could see in their town, in their village, or when they went to Jerusalem, they never got out of that area of their world. This was staggering, inconceivable that this could harbor such corruption and that this which was to be the religious center of the nation was going to be the very reason for the nation’s destruction by God and by His Messiah. And so, Jesus repeats. This brings an end to the conversation, verse 6, “As for these things which you’re looking at, the days will come in which there will not be left one stone upon another which will not be torn down.” The whole thing is coming down.
In part, every piece and in total. Israel is desolate, desolation has been pronounced on them as six months ago, chapter 13, repeated again the day before, repeated again this day at the end of the diatribe against the leaders, He says it again in chapter 23 of Matthew 37 to 39, O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, that’s at least the third time He said that. The second time this week He said it. And here He says it again in a more brief way. It’s coming down...it’s coming down.
Now did they really associate the arrival of Messiah with the destruction of their nation? Did they? Didn’t they expect the Messiah to come and make everything good? Better? Best? Perfect? Did they have any idea that there would be a future cup of God’s wrath that would come? That there would be great judgment and then Messiah’s reign would be established?
Well the fact of the matter is, they did. They actually did. They could read the Old Testament. And most notably, Zechariah. Look at Zechariah for just a moment, chapter 12 through 14, actually. In chapter 12 and verse 8 of Zechariah’s prophecy, talks about in that day...that’s the day, Messiah’s day, the day of judgment, “The Lord will defend the inhabitants of Jerusalem and the one who is feeble among them, in that day will be like David, and the house of David will be like God, like the angel of the Lord before them and it will come about on that day that I will set about to destroy all the nations that come against Jerusalem.” So what the prophet Zechariah seemed to say was that the Messiah was going to come and destroy all the enemies of Jerusalem, all the enemies of Israel.
But in verse 10, there would not only be the destruction of their enemies, the enemies that set themselves against Jerusalem, but there would be a salvation for Israel. “I’ll pour out on the house of David, on the inhabitants of Jerusalem the Spirit of grace and supplication. They’ll look on Me whom they’ve pierced, they will mourn for Him as one mourns for an only Son and weep bitterly over Him like a bitter weeping of a firstborn.” So they’re going to come...come a day when God’s going to judge the nations and He’s going to save Israel. Verse 1 of chapter 13, “A fountain will be opened for the house of David, the inhabitants of Jerusalem, for sin and for impurity.”
So what they saw in Zechariah, first of all, was that the Lord is going to come, He’s going to judge the nations, He’s going to save Israel, He’s going to cleanse Israel. Then you go to chapter 14, “A day is coming for the Lord when the spoil taken from you will be divided among you.” God’s going to recover and restore and everything all through the years taken from Israel is going to be given back to them. “But, I will gather all the nations against Jerusalem to battle. The city will be captured. The houses plundered. The women ravished. Half of the city exiled. The rest of the people will not be cut off from the city. Then the Lord will go forth and fight against those nations as when He fought on the day of battle.” Aha, so before all of this salvation and restoration, there is going to be a great assault and attack on Jerusalem and the houses will be plundered, the city will be captured, the women will be ravished, half the city exiled, the rest of the people will not die. There’s going to be great devastation. Zechariah said that. They read their Old Testament. There will be a day of salvation. There will be a day of restoration. There will be a day of glory in the Kingdom. In chapter 14 of Zechariah, by the way, you go down to verse 8, “It will come about in that day, living waters will flow out of Jerusalem, half of them toward the eastern sea, the other half toward the western sea.” Verse 9, “The Lord will be King over all the earth. In that day the Lord will be the only one and His name the only one.” That’s the final rule of the Lord, fulfillment of all the promises of a Kingdom. They could read that.
So what did the disciples...let’s see if we can get into their heads a little bit...what did they expect? The Messiah is going to come. The Messiah’s going to save. The Messiah’s going to destroy the enemies. But there’s going to be a great conflagration. Jerusalem’s going to be sacked and ravished and plundered. And then restored, and then the Kingdom. And that’s all going to happen, they thought, when the Messiah arrives. So they just have two questions in verse 7. When He says it’s all coming down, they can work that in to their eschatology. They questioned Him saying, “Teacher, when therefore will these things be?” It’s the when question...when? “And what will be the sign when these things are about to take place?” When is it going to happen and what’s going to proceed it so we know it’s coming. Fair questions, right? Teacher,...and they show great respect, of course, to Him because they are His disciples, they want to know the time of this devastation and they want to know the preliminary indicators, what should they look for? And as I told you earlier, in Matthew 24:3 it also says they asked...what will be the sign of Your presence and the end of the age? What will be the sign that You are bringing the end of the age, the age of Gentile domination, the age of iniquity across the earth, the end of that age and the beginning of the golden age of messianic rule and reign over the whole world. When is it going to happen and what are we looking for?
And as I said to you, starting in verse 8 you have the answer running all the way to verse 36, a long answer. There is a text, a comparative text, in Mark that we’ll refer to as we work through this, and there’s also the wonderful text of Matthew 24 and 25 which is again the most comprehensive treatment of our Lord’s answer. There you have a two chapter answer. So we’ll be comparing that as we go.
Now let me give you a little bit of historical background, okay? The disciples had because the people of Israel at that time had a fairly developed sense of eschatology. They weren’t living in the complete dark about the coming of Messiah. They had the Old Testament. They had Zechariah. They knew that things weren’t going to stay the way t hey were. They knew God promised blessing, salvation and a Kingdom. But instead, they hadn’t been out from under the rule of wicked oppressive nations for a long time. First it was the Assyrians, then it was the Babylonians, and then it was the Persians, then it was the Greeks, and now it’s the Romans. The golden age hasn’t come. There’s supposed to be a time of peace, and righteousness and salvation, that hasn’t come. And it’s been a long, long time since the promise of God to Abraham, the promise of God to David, the promise of God through Isaiah, Jeremiah, Zechariah...long time. In fact, it’s been 400 years since the closing of the Old Testament canon and God hasn’t said anything for 400 years. They’re ready. They are ready.
So during that 400 years, and I think this is quite interesting historically, during that 400 year period, literature began to develop among the Jews that was their own spin on the future. They were called apocalypses, meaning unveilings. Some of them are contained in the apocrypha. If you come out of a Catholic background, you know that a Catholic Bible has in the middle an apocrypha. Those are books not authored by God, not written by the Holy Spirit, those are not books that belong in the Bible, they are, however, books that grew up out of the religious ideas of people living in the intertestamental period, that 400-year period. Those are not the only books that surfaced during that time. And many of the books that surfaced in that period of time, books written by religious people and groups, looked at the future. And if you pull that literature together as some scholars have done, you get a basic idea of what they thought about the future. It was kind of their own developing fiction around what the Old Testament taught.
Here’s just a basic outline, okay? A man named Shurer(?) who wrote the classic book The History of the Jewish People In the Time of Christ helps us to see this. Now this is what the Jews believed before the New Testament, just combining their understanding of the Old Testament and what they thought was coming in the future.
Number one, before the Messiah came there would be a time of great tribulation. Before the Messiah came to establish His Kingdom, there would be a time of great tribulation. There would be messianic travailed, there would be the birth pangs of the new age, every imaginable horror and terror would burst on the earth, every standard of honor and decency would be torn down. The world will become physical and moral chaos. Quoting, for example, from a book called 2 Baruch, “And honor shall be turned into shame, and strength humiliated into contempt, and probity destroyed and beauty shall become ugliness, and envy shall rise in those who had not thought ought of themselves and passion shall seize him that is peaceful and many shall be stirred up in anger to injure many. And they shall rouse up armies in order to shed blood and in the end they shall perish together with them.” So it’s a horrible time coming, according to that literature.
There would be also in another book called Fourth Ezra, quakings of places, tumult of people scheming of nations, confusion of leaders, disquietude of princes.
Another source somewhat familiar called The Sibylline(?) Oracles says, “From heaven shall fall fiery swords down to earth, light shall come bright and great flashing in the midst of men, the earth, the universal mother will shake in those days at the hand of the eternal. Fishes of the sea and beasts of the earth and countless tribes of flying things and all the souls of men in every sea shall shudder at the presence of the eternal and there shall be panic.” Amazing because this is exactly what the book of Revelation describes based upon the promises of judgment in the Old Testament. They saw arrogance increasing, and according to one source, the Mishnah, their Jewish writings, ambition shooting up the vine would yield plenty of fruit yet wine would be scarce. The government would turn to heresy, there would be no instruction. The synagogue would be devoted to lewdness. Galilee would be destroyed. It goes on and on and on. They expected bad times before Messiah came.
Secondly into this chaos, there would come a forerunner to Messiah. Of course this is what Malachi came, there would come one before the Messiah, there would be an Elijah-like figure who would come as a forerunner and herald of the Messiah and when you see him, you know the Messiah is close behind. Then there would come the Messiah, Mashiah, which is simply meaning anointed. In Hebrew it’s Mashiah, in Greek it’s Christ. Christ is not a name, it’s a title, the anointed one, the anointed one would come. He would be a human figure crashing into history to remake the world, to bring it to an end to vindicate God’s people.
Fourthly, they believed, at least their developing eschatology said, that the nations would ally themselves and gather themselves together against the Messiah...against the Messiah. That the world would fight against Him. There are a number again, the Sibylline(?) Oracles and 4 Ezra. They often named the book Ezra because they want to give it credibility even though it’s not written by Ezra, it’s a deception. But in these kinds of books they talked about how the world would fight Messiah.
Then fifthly, the result would be the total destruction of the hostile powers. Philo, for example, said that the Messiah would take the field and make war and destroy great and populous nations. There are descriptions of that in another book called Enoch. The Messiah would become the most destructive conqueror in history, smashing His enemies into utter distinction...utter extinction. This is what was flowing out of their literature during this period.
And...here’s what I’m after...there were some sources such as this book called Enoch that spoke of the renovation of Jerusalem, the purification of the existing city. Talked about all the pillars and all the decorations and ornaments being new.
So there was a place in their developing eschatology. Messiah comes, before He comes things get worse. When He comes the world fights Him. There will be in the process of His purging a restoring or a rebuilding of a devastated Jerusalem.
So when Jesus talked about that, He was not saying something that hadn’t been talked about by the rabbis and the teachers and written about. Their eschatology also suggested, you find this in a writing called The Psalms of Solomon, that there would be a restoration of the Jews from the east and west and north and south. They’d all be gathered back into Israel. And, of course, this is what the Old Testament promises as well. Palestine would become the center of the world. And the whole world would be subject to the reign of the Messiah in Israel. And it would be Kingdom of peace which would last forever.
Not a bad eschatology. In fact, they sound like dispensationalists, actually...pre-millennial, Tribulation, coming of a great battle and so forth. So there was in their sort of current thinking room for a cleansing of the city of Jerusalem that was based upon things that the prophets had said. And so when Jesus said it’s all coming down, their assumption would be, “This is it because if it’s coming down, this means the judgment’s going to take place, this means the restoration’s going to take place, this means the Kingdom is very near.” And they expected it all to happen in one arrival of the Messiah. They didn’t see this gap. That’s why after the resurrection, when Jesus met with them for those 40 days, they say to Him in Acts 1:6, “Will You at this time restore the Kingdom to Israel?” They’re still even after the cross and the resurrection saying, “Is it now? Is it now? Is it now?”
So the only question they have, okay...when is this going to happen and what are the preliminaries that we need to look for? What signs are going to precede the destruction which will proceed surely immediately the restoration? We’re willing...kind of the ideas...we’re willing to go with the devastation because we think that right after that will come the reconstruction. We’re okay with the judgment because that means that the Kingdom has to be very, very near.
But Jesus answers that in a strange way in verses 8 and 9. I’ll just give you a hint. He said, “See to it that you don’t be misled, for many will come in My name saying I am He and the time is now, time is at hand, don’t go after them. When you hear of wars and disturbances, don’t be terrified for these things must take place first but the end doesn’t not follow immediately.”
Oh...now Jesus suggests don’t be in a big hurry. And so He speaks of His coming in verse 8, the promise of His coming. In verses 9 and following He speaks of the preliminaries to His coming and they stretch out and we’re still living in that period when they haven’t even begun. We’re living in the period of Israel’s desolation. They still don’t have a temple. It was destroyed in 70 A.D., it’s never been rebuilt. This is still the desolation two thousand years later. And so He says yes, verses 8 and verse 27, the promise of His coming, verses 9 and following, the preliminaries to His coming which He will describe in detail. And then finally, the preparation for His coming and that will push us through this whole incredible answer. They were still expecting Jesus to emerge out of this very troubling week as the conquering Messiah, especially after the triumphal entry on Monday. So if He was going to destroy the temple, they would assume it would happen fairly rapidly so that the restoration could happen. They had no idea that there would be a gap of thousands of years. Whatever He would do in judgment, He would certainly do then. And followed immediately by restoration and His reign in the Kingdom and they were assuming that it would all happen fast. In fact, surely in their lifetime. And they would get to sit on His right and His left hand in the Kingdom, that’s how fast the Kingdom would have to come. And our Lord gives an answer that is far from what they expected and the answer goes way beyond their thinking. Two thousand years have gone by and it hasn’t happened yet.
The temple...it will be destroyed in 40 years. This was 30 A.D., in 70 A.D. But the Kingdom will not come for a very long time. And so, Jesus here takes the opportunity not to describe the destruction of Jerusalem, that’s...that’s just a historical footnote, but to describe the great destruction at the end of the age and the great restoration of Israel and the glory of the coming King. The passage that follows cannot describe the destruction of Jerusalem. Verse 10, for example, “Nation will rise against nation, kingdom against kingdom,” that didn’t happen in the destruction of Jerusalem. Verse 11, “There will be great earthquakes, various places, plagues and famines, terrors and great signs from heaven”...that didn’t happen in the destruction of Jerusalem Verse 25, “Signs in the sun, the moon, the stars, upon the earth, dismay among nations, perplexity at the roaring of the sea and the waves. Men fainting from fear and the expectation of the things which are coming upon the world, for the powers of the heavens will be shaken and they will see the Son of Man coming in the cloud with power and great glory.” That certainly can’t describe the destruction of Jerusalem, and yet there are people who believe that everything Jesus says here was fulfilled in the destruction of Jerusalem.
In fact, look at verse 35. Whatever happens, whatever He’s describing, it will come upon all those who dwell on the face of...what?...the whole earth. So verse 36, “Keep on the alert at all times, praying in order that you may have strength to escape all these things that are about to take place and to stand before the Son of Man.” This is not talking about the arrival of a Roman general, this is talking about the arrival of Jesus Christ. How in the world can people miss that?
And so, our Lord then sets out in verse 8 to answer the question about when and what signs precede His coming to judge and to rule. And the answer takes us all the way through the history of the desolation of Israel to His return and Israel’s final salvation.
Does this matter? Yeah, it matters more than anything else because the end of the story is the reason for the story, right? The end of history is the reason for history. The consummation is the reason for the creation. The reason for Genesis is to get to Revelation. So we will learn from our Lord Himself the important features of His return, the signs leading up to it and how we are to prepare for it. And we will be far better for that, the New Testament says we will be purged, purified because we understand it. We will worship better because we will worship the coming King, anticipating His full glory. This is going to be a great privilege for us to look ahead and see how it all ends. Join me in prayer.
Our Father, we’ve just given a little introduction today to this and yet we feel like those disciples there, full of anticipation to hear what’s going to come out of the mouth of the Lord, as we sit, as it were, with Him on the side of the Mount of Olives and look at the beloved temple and city about to come down in destruction. That’s a sad thing to think about the long, long, long history of desolation of this nation. We thank You for the remnant that have been saved, that have come to embrace the Messiah. We look forward to the day when Israel will be saved, when by Your sovereign power You will open a fountain of cleansing and You will forgive their sin and make them again Your people and establish Your glory and Your Kingdom in Israel and reign over the whole world. We know this is how history is going to end, and we’re so thankful that You’ve laid it out for us that we might know it, that we might give You praise and glory for it even in advance of its coming, and that we might live in that hope. We have no fear of what’s going on in this world, we’re not worried about this world destroying itself, poisoning itself with toxic fumes, global warming, or some other thing that people think could be the end of life here. It’s going to end when You decide it’s going to end and it’s going to end in a glorious consummation when the Lord Jesus comes back. We live in anticipation of that and we say with John, “Even so, come, Lord Jesus.” Fill our hearts with anticipation and hope and may we live in the light of that and we know that John said, “He who has this hope purifies himself, even as He is pure.” So we want to live lives ready for the coming of Christ to gather His own.
We thank You, Lord, for the richness of Your Word and we thank You for its unassailable veracity, its truthfulness, how it holds up and has for all these centuries. How blessed we are to know its truths and live in light of them.
Now, Father, we are so grateful that we are in Christ, so thankful that we look at the end, we look at the return of Christ and it’s sweet to us, bitter to the world, sweet to us because we shall be gathered into eternal glory. We know You come...before You come with Your saints, you come for Your saints. Before You come back with us to reign, You come to take us to the home You’ve prepared for us in heaven. Lord, we look forward to that day, the day we escape the debilitating things of this life and enter into the perfection that You’ve prepared for us. But in the meantime, may we be faithful to proclaim Your glory and Your gospel that others may come to know You and have this blessed hope. Thank You for this privilege. Apply Your words to our hearts and may we be used to bring it to those who so desperately need to hear for the joy of their own salvation. Use us in that sense, we pray, in Christ’s name. Amen.