South Sydney Anglican Church

Luke 17-21: “Portraits of True Faith” (Sunday Series 10)

17 December 2023

Bible Passage: Luke 21:5-37

The Rejection of Jesus brings Gods Final Wrath

Intro:             Well friends, my name is Matt Johnson and today we are finishing off our study of Lukes gospel. In 1967 – THE DOORS sang the famous song THIS IS THE END. Thiis is the end; my only friend, the end…” Well today we are coming to the end of our study of Luke; the end of 2023 and today – Jesus is talking about the end of the world. So this is the end.

PRAYER:     Well today – Jesus is talking about 1) the end of Jerusalem and 2) the end of the world. And really, preaching on the end of the world is a mugs game. Any clown can hold a churches attention (talking about the end of the world) because humanity has some sort of macabre fascination with our own demise. A few years ago when I was preaching on Revelation – our views on YouTube – went up more than 500%. It wasn’t that they were any better sermons. It’s just that sermons on the end of the world are like car crashes on the freeway – everyone slows down to take a good look.

Now this macabre fascination with the end of the world – means biblical prophecy about the end of the world is open to abuse by false teachers. For instance, the early founders of the Seventh Day Adventist church predicted that Jesus would return in 1844 (and many people sold their properties and got ready for Jesus’ return). When that didn’t happen, subsequent SDA leaders kept moving the date. The founder of the Jehovah’s Witnesses, predicted Jesus would return in 1874. The founders of the Mormons predicted 1891. And there was even a weird Christian cult here in Sydney (early C20th), which predicted a specific day in 1924. They even built a pavilion on Balmoral Beach and sold tickets for people to sit and watch Jesus riding on the clouds through Sydney Heads! The fact isend of the world stories have been used to manipulate and abuse many people AND caution is needed.

Now as a result of this abuse – many traditional, mainstream Christian churches have reacted by shying away from biblical prophecy and the book of Revelation. And if anyone talks like Jesus return’ might be imminent or getting close – they’re quickly told “Jesus is going to return like a thief in the night AND no one knows when that day is going to come.” Of course, this is partially true. Jesus’ return like a thief in the night is mentioned seven times in the Bible. So, we need to be very wary of pastors who start putting dates on Jesus’ return OR only ever preach about Jesus’ return.

But many of the quotes about Jesus coming like a thief in the night are often taken out of context by those wary of eschatology. The Bible is clear that when Jesus returns he will catch unbelievers like a thief in the night. But true believers will be ready and waiting. In Matthew 24 where Jesus talks about two servants. The faithful servant is ready, watching and waiting when Jesus returns AND unfaithful servant is aught unawares.. In 1 Thessalonians 5, Paul writes that as believers the day of Jesus’ return should not surprise us like a thief in the night (1 Thess.5:4). We shouldn’t be caught unawares. And finally, Jesus also says in Revelation 3. (Slide 1). PLEASE NOTICE – that those who are not awake, WILL BE SURPRISED by Jesus’ return like a thief in the night and they will not know at what time Jesus will come. BUT THIS SUGGESTS THAT – those who are awake will be ready when Jesus returns and may even have some sense of the time of his return. It is those who are asleep who will not know at what time Jesus will come… The point is – that while A) we can NOT put an exact date on Jesus’ return, the Bible does speak B) about events that lead up to Jesus’ return so that we have some sense when that time is drawing near. And this is what Jesus speaks about today. The signs of pending judgment…

Point 1:         Jesus Pronounces the End of Jerusalem & the End of the World

Show:                        Lk.21:5-7 (READ)

Explain:         Well Jesus’ prophecy about the destruction of Jerusalem is recorded in Matthew, Mark & Luke. And Jesus’ prophecy about the destruction of Jerusalem that begins in the temple (according to Luke) – seems to be discussed long afterwards in Mark and Matthew.  This prophecy is so huge – the disciples were desperate to understand.

Now the Jewish temple started to be beautified by Herod the Great in 19BC and was only finished in 68-69AD. KING HEROD used massive white limestone blocks and all the gates were covered in pure gold. The Jewish temple was considered one of the wonders of the ancient world. But as we’ve seen – the Temple itself was like one of the whitewashed tombs Jesus condemned. Beautiful on the outside and yet dead and decaying on the inside. So, Jesus finishes his ministry pronouncing pending judgement on Jerusalem.

But this must be understood in the context of God’s grace. Jesus has done everything he can to gather the Jewish people to himself – like a mother hen gathers her chicks (Matt.23:37). But the vast majority of Israel have been unwilling to accept Jesus as their Messiah. Like people drowning – God has thrown them the life-ring in Jesus, but they have rejected it. So drowning is now inevitable. Yes, God is gracious. But if you reject God’s grace and you don’t accept His help in Jesus – judgment is coming. It’s Jesus or its judgment.

So when Jesus starts singing the Doors; “this is the end, my only friends, the end” (of Jerusalem) – the disciples start asking Jesus WHEN will this happen and what will be THE SIGN that this destruction is near. And Jesus does kind of answer these questions. DARREL BOCK (and many good biblical scholars) recognize that Luke’s gospel seems to give a clearer and more chronological account of world events than Matthew or Mark.

Jesus first speaks of A) the destruction of Jewish world and then Jesus speaks about B) the destruction of the Gentile world. And there are many parallels between the two judgments. But before offering details (of either judgment) Jesus begins with A WARNING in verse 8. (Slide 4; Lk.21:8)  PLEASE NOTE – Jesus explicitly tells us to watch out for false Messiahs and NOT to follow those who are always saying the time is near. This is a real warning for those who want to be end of the world eschatology experts. The minute you enter the realm of eschatology you will find false prophets, false Messiahs and deception on every corner. Great nonsense abounds in this area of Christianity. So you may think – “ok, I’ll stay right away from eschatology”. But that’s not the right answer either – because the Bible speaks of eschatology AND it is given to us for our good. What you need in this space – is caution, discernment and a very careful weighing of everything against God’s Word in the Bible.

So after a very important warning – Jesus begins to draw a distinction between the end of Jerusalem and the end of the world. And there is a further warning – lots of bad things will happen before the world comes to an end. Not every bad thing that happens – is a sign that the end is near.

Apply:            So Jesus says – the end is coming, but it will not come immediately. But remember Jesus said this 2000 years ago. And on the Biblical timeline – many of the things Jesus says will happen before the end eventually comes – have already happened in world history. So we need to realise the end may be closer than we think.

Point 2:         Jesus Declares the End of the Jewish World will Come First

Show:                        Lk.21:12-19 (READ)

Explain:         Please notice that Jesus begins verse 12 – saying “before all this…” BEFORE the great earthquakes, the famines and global pandemics AND before the great signs from heaven (that mark the end of the world) Jewish Christians will be suffer. Verses 12-24 have a Jewish focus and they foretell the difficulties Jewish Christians will face in the lead up to the destruction of Jerusalem in 70AD. These verses are basically Jesus foretelling the book of Acts before it happens.

Now we know verses 12-24 have a Jewish focus because it begins by talking about the apostles being handed over to Jewish synagogues (which believe it or not – is rarely my experience as a Gentile pastor) AND it finishes with Jerusalem being surrounded by a great army. The primary audience of these verses is entirely Jewish Christians.

Now very often GENTILE CHRISTIANS take these verses and we directly apply them to ourselves. This is not necessarily wrong – because Christian persecution generally follows similar patterns. We don’t comply with unjust laws and so we are persecuted. But first and foremost – the “YOU” in verses 12-24 is talking to the apostles and the early Jewish church. And when Jewish believers see a great army gathering around Jerusalem it is a SIGN. It is the SIGN the disciples asked about. What will be the SIGN of Gods pending judgment? Well it will be the gathering of a great army around Jerusalem. And when that day of judgment comes (like a thief in the night and on a day no one yet knows about), the believers are meant to get out of the city.

The Jewish great distress or great tribulation (verse 23) began in 70AD. In 70AD the Romans, under Emperor Titius surrounded and destroyed Jerusalem (just as Jesus prophesied). At that point – many Christian Jews recognized that this was a fulfillment of Jesus’ prophecy – and they fled to the country. Eusebius an ancient Christian historian writes about this event; (Slide 8-9).

Apply:            Although God’s judgment on Jerusalem still came like A THIEF in the night AND its day an hour was unknown to them; those who trusted Jesus’ words, saw certain SIGNS and said “ok, we can’t be absolutely certain, but this looks remarkably similar to what Jesus forewarned so let’s take some precautionary action”. And consequently, the Jewish Christians were spared some of Gods judgment.

But the destruction of Jerusalem also saw a major shift in the focus of God’s Kingdom. After Jesus (and the Jews rejection of Jesus) God’s Kingdom stopped revolving around the Jews and Jerusalem. REMEMBER, (2 weeks ago) IN THE PARABLE OF THE VINEYARD, Jesus told the Jewish leadership – the Kingdom would be taken from them and given to other people and it was… In 70AD God destroyed Jerusalem and scattered all the Jews (including the Christian Jews) in order to seed Gentile Christian communities right across the Roman Empire. And this event started the TIME OF THE GENTILES mentioned in verse 24. For two thousand years – Gods Kingdom revolved primarily around the Jews, but in 70AD the Kingdom of God shifted and now primarily revolved around the Gentile world. The time of Gentiles began as Jerusalem was destroyed.

Point 3:         Jesus Declares the End of the Gentile Era (will also Come)

Show:           Lk.21:25-28 (READ)

Explain:         Well the time of the Gentiles – seems to shift Jesus’ prophecy to a second pending judgment. JUST AS the world of the Jews was ultimately judged for rejecting Jesus, SO the world of the Gentiles will be judged for rejecting Jesus. But the judgment of the world of the Gentiles (for rejecting Jesus) will also align with the very end of the world.

We know that there has been A SHIFT – because Jesus now focuses on the nations, not Israel. And the locus of judgment is no longer Judea – it is now the entire inhabited world. And again, we are told there will be SIGNS preceding this second judgment. There will be ASTRONOMICAL SIGNS in the sun, moon and the stars. Verse 26 says the heavenly bodies will be shaken in a visible way. Another SIGN is that on earth the nations (plural) will be in anguish and perplexity; people will faint and be apprehensive at the tossing of the sea. Every one of these words has to do with fear and anxiety. AND THE FEAR AND ANXIETY is arising because something is wrong with the natural world. The mention of sun, moon, stars, and the seas roaring suggest that maybe something is wrong with the natural world. The natural world is not acting normally. So panic, fear and apprehension starts to set in at a global level. Now I concede that perhaps, my reading of people fretting over nature is an over-reading. But everyone is beginning to panic.

Apply:            And Jesus says – when you see the world begin to panic – lift up your heads because your redemption is drawing near. Soon after these SIGNS you will see the Son of Man come riding on the clouds for the final judgment. Now the only way to stand firm in the midst of all this chaos – will be to trust Jesus AND to comprehend this great panic (about natural events) – is all part of Gods revealed plan. If it was right for God to judge the Jewish world in 70AD for rejecting Jesus, then it will also be right for God to judge the Gentile world – when we start acting in similar fashion – perverting 1) true Christian religion, 2) abusing the vulnerable and 3) crying crucify, crucify Jesus.

Sadly, I think the western Gentile world now looks remarkably similar to Jerusalem in Jesus’ day. So we must accept that perhaps judgment is imminent. But thankfully, it’s not yet too late to repent. (GOSPEL) When Jesus died on the cross – he took the punishment for our sins. Jesus died in your place for your wrongdoing. He did the time for your crimes and he did this because he LOVES you. So if you believe Jesus died for you and you repent of your sins (as best you can) – the Bible says God’s final damning, judgment will Pass over you. You will be saved and you will be taken to heaven. So have you accepted Jesus as your Saviour and Lord? Although, I don’t yet see all the signs that the Bible speaks about – I do see some uncanny resemblances beginning to emerge.

Point 4:         Jesus tells us to be Ready and Careful as this Day Draws Near

Show:            Lk.21:29-33 (READ)

Explain:         Well all three gospels – Matthew, Mark and Luke – include this fig tree parable. The message is simple and clear. When deciduous trees start to sprout buds – we know summer is near. In the same way – when we see the signs Jesus is talking about – we know the coming of Gods Kingdom is near.

Now how do we reconcile this parable of the eschatological fig tree – with Jesus’ words about his return coming like a thief in the night. (PAUSE) I’d say very, very carefully. The Bible is clear that no one can put a date on Jesus return or declare with absolute confidence that it is definitely about to happen. But at the same time biblical prophecy does give us SIGNS of what we can and should expect as that day gets closer. TO DENY THIS TRUTH – is to deny the parable of the fig tree and to deny the concept of biblical prophecy. BIBLICAL PROPHECY uttered by the Old Testament prophets, Jesus and the apostles is not just forth-telling, it is foretelling. And we have been foretold – so that verse 36 (Slide 14 – Lk,21:36). Notice we are encouraged to watch for Jesus return (and signs of Jesus return) and we are to pray (two things).

FIRST, that we might be able to escape some aspects of Gods pending judgment AND SECOND that we might be able to stand confidently in the final judgment – as good and faithful Christians.

Interestingly – the word “ESCAPE” in verse 36 (ejkfugei’n) is a version of the same verb “flee” (Feugevtwsan) back in verse 21. Just as the Jewish Christians were able to escape some aspects of God’s judgment on Jerusalem, Gentile Christians who are watchful and prayerful may be able to escape some of the dangers in the great tribulation. But if we’re not watching and praying for Gods discernment – we may not recognize certain dangers as they begin to emerge. Before we see Jesus come riding on the clouds I believe Christians will need to live through most of the great tribulation. If we are to avoid the GREAT PANIC that drives humanity to carousing and drunkenness (in order to numb the fear) we will need to see clearly what is really happening on the world stage.

Apply:            Now let me add two more comments about the world stage. First, Jesus says (Slide 16; Lk.21:32-33) “Truly I tell you this “genea” will not pass away until all these things have happened.” Our NIV Bibles translate “genea” – generation, but this then causes problems. How can the generation living in Jesus day not pass away before all these things happen? GENTILE PASTORS tie themselves in knots trying to explain what Jesus means. But what if I told you the simplest translation of “genea” is race; clan; or even nation. Jesus is standing in the temple – telling his Jewish disciples that Jerusalem is going to be destroyed. But then he says – this race, this clan or this nation will certainly not pass away until all these things are accomplished. For a Jewish audience – these are very significant words. Yes, the Jewish people are going to be punished for rejecting Jesus. But Jesus adds “truly I tell you this race (the Jewish people) will not pass away until everything is accomplished. This is a very plausible interpretation. In fact, it is probably the most plausible interpretation of genea AND makes the most sense in context.

But can the Jewish people really continue to exist as a race or nation until the end of the world – even without a home or a land to live in? Of course, Jerusalem was destroyed in 70AD and then in 136AD after the Jewish Bar Kokhba revolt – Rome forbid the Jews from living in the land of Israel. The vineyard was given to Gentiles.

But despite significant difficulties (including the holocaust) the Jews have continued to exist as a people. But this is not all that Jesus has said about the Jewish people. Jesus also clearly said in verse 24 (Slide 16 – Lk.21:24). NOTICE Jerusalem is going to be trodden on (and inhabited by Gentiles) until the age of the Gentiles comes to a close.  Now when did Jerusalem stop being controlled by Gentiles? (PAUSE)

The answer 1948. Now notice – I’m not putting a date on Jesus’ return. Nor am I saying the 7th little horn on the beasts head is Putin or Netanyahu. But if the time of the Gentiles comes to an end (when Jerusalem is no longer trodden on by Gentiles) – what should we expect next on the eschatological time clock. This is just a plain reading of Jesus’ words. Jesus said the Jews will not pass away until all these things are accomplished. So they are not completely forsaken. And Jesus says – the Jews would be scattered and Jerusalem would be trampled on by the Gentiles – until the age of the Gentiles is complete. So are we now living at the close of the age of the Gentiles? I mean Jesus said – the gospel MUST first be preached in the entire world and then the end would come. So tell me where has the gospel NOT been preached in this world? The time of the Jews lasted for about 2000 years before judgment fell and the time of the Gentiles has now lasted for about 2000 years. So where do you think we are on the eschatological timetable?

All I want you to see – is that we may be far closer to the end – than people realise. I also want you to realise that this may yet prove to be a golden age for evangelism to both Jews and Gentiles.

I was evangelising a very successful Chinese professional this week. And he told me that until very recently he had no interest in religion or Christianity. But he said; “that in all the woke, green, totalitarian cancel culture of the world” – he is finding himself more and more attracted to the Christian worldview. He told me that in his workplace he is forbidden from sharing on social media any of his personal views on any of the hot topics. He said his workplace here in Sydney is now more restrictive than Communist China. AND YET, in such a world he is finding politicians and people – who argue from a conservative Judaeo- Christian worldview more and more attractive. Now whether he agrees to do Christianity Explored with me – I wait to see. But I wonder how many non-Christians out there (with basic traditional family values and seeing the world begin to shake), may be more open to Christianity than we realise. If the world continues in its current direction I think Gods judgment is inevitable. If God judged Jerusalem in 70AD, he must soon judge us. But if we get out of our holy huddles, and speak the gospel plainly, clearly and prophetically – many, may yet be saved and God may grant us a few more years. So stop worrying what to say. Just speak Jesus, stand firm on God’s prophetic word and Jesus will come when God wills.

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