With the many and varied changes around us –conflicts in Ukraine, the Middle-East and Africa, China’s aggressive acts, significant political and social divisions in the West, climate-change, gender issues, and the western disdain of Christianity – we might wonder about the future.
In the course of his ministry Jesus spoke of events that would unfold (Luke 12:35-48; 17:20-37). In Luke 21 he spoke more specifically about two events – the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem, and an end of time. It’s not surprising that the disciples asked: “Teacher, when will these things be, and what will be the sign when these things are about to take place?” (Luke 21:7).
Convulsions (21:8-11). Jesus begins his response with a specific warning against false prophets who will come in his name. Over the centuries many have predicted the end-time. In the late 20th century for example, Harold Camping predicted the world would end around 1994, and when that passed, he identified another date, May 21, 2011, and then another, October 21, 2011.
We can easily become complacent about Jesus’ warning. We forget his central teaching that there is to be an end of all things as we know them. There will be wars and tumults, he says. “Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be great earthquakes, and in various places famines and pestilences. And there will be terrors and great signs from heaven” (21:10f).
In contrast to the optimism of people who say that the world will only get better through human effort, Jesus knows us and tells us that conflicts will not cease. He also says that volcanoes and earthquakes, floods and droughts should not take us by surprise.
Nations will rise and fall, empires will come and go, and catastrophic seismic events will continue. Yes, we need to care for the environment as best we can, but most of all we should treat the events around us as reminders of the uncertainty and fragility of life and our world.
Some thirty-five years after Jesus predicted the destruction of the Jewish Temple, the Roman armies under Titus laid siege to Jerusalem from 67-70AD. It was one of the most devastating acts of war in history. The people of Jerusalem were mercilessly put to the sword.
In the course of his words about Jerusalem and its Temple, Jesus warns that these events would not be the conclusion of God’s plan. One more stage remains. The return of God’s king.
There are times when great and unexpected events occur, events that impact the course of history – for example, the fall of the Berlin Wall in November 1989, the destruction of the twin towers in New York on September 11, 2001, and the Hamas terrorist attack on Israel, October 7, 2023. The first brought joy, the second and the third, fear and anger.
In Luke 21:25-28 Jesus speaks of the coming of the ‘Son of Man’ in a style of language known as ‘apocalyptic’. “And there will be signs in sun and moon and stars,” he says, “and on the earth distress of nations in perplexity because of the roaring of the sea and the waves” (21:25).
The phrase, ‘the Son of Man’, is a reference to Daniel 7:13f where we read: “I saw in the night visions, and behold, with the clouds of heaven there came one like a son of man, and he came from the Ancient of Days and he was presented before him. And to him was given dominion and glory and a kingdom, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve him; his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, …”
The coming of the Son of Man will be accompanied by such strange and forbidding events that people will faint with fear and foreboding… (21:26). It is the scene of the end of time, when ‘the Son of Man’ will be seen for who he truly is.
It is easy to overlook Jesus’ prophecy. During his ministry he spoke of his arrest, death and resurrection. He also spoke of the destruction of Jerusalem and its temple. Now he speaks of the return of God’s king. His first two predictions came true. We should not dismiss the fulfilment of his third prophecy as fiction. On that day everyone “will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory” (Luke 21:27).
It’s important we heed Jesus’ words: “Now when these things begin to take place, straighten up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near” (Luke 21:28).
As we enter a new calendar year, let’s not be fearful about the future but, knowing God is in charge, stay alert and, putting our hand in his hand, pray for the day of the return of the great King.
May you know God’s comfort and joy in the New Year!
A Prayer. Lord our God, you have given us the life of Jesus in his home as an example: grant that all Christian families may be so bound together in love and service that we may rejoice together in your heavenly home; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, for ever and ever. Amen.
© John G. Mason
Note: Today’s ‘Word’ is adapted from my book, Luke: An Unexpected God, Second Edition, Aquila: 2019.