From New Testament times anyone who has said that Jesus Christ will return one day has been considered crazy. Certainly, the idea of him bursting through the skies in a blazing display of power and glory, doesn’t come easily. And now centuries have passed and nothing has happened.
The return of the king (21:25-33). There are times when unexpectedly, momentous upheavals occur – events that can impact the course of history. We saw this with the fall of the Berlin Wall in November 1989 and with the destruction of the twin towers in New York on September 11, 2001. The first was accompanied with joy, the second with fear and anger – which led to war.
In Luke 21:25-28 we are taken to another of Jesus’ key predictions. In Luke chapter 21 we read his prediction of events before his return: “And there will be signs in sun and moon and stars, and on the earth distress of nations in perplexity because of the roaring of the sea and the waves, …” (21:25). The words about signs in sun and moon and stars are apocalyptic language, speaking of times to come in a highly metaphorical form of expression. People will faint with fear and foreboding… at strange and forbidding events, he says.
Furthermore, he speaks his return as the coming of ‘the Son of Man’. His Jewish hearers would have understood this as the fulfilment of the prophecy of Daniel 7:13f: “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, …”
Daniel 7 speaks of ‘the Son of Man’ being publicly enthroned at God’s right hand. All peoples, nations and languages will be brought under his rule. Everyone throughout the universe will see it and understand its significance.
It is important that we feel the narrative impact of this prophecy. Having spoken of his arrest, death and resurrection, the destruction of Jerusalem and its temple, Jesus now speaks of his return. His first predictions came true. So too will his prediction concerning his return. On that day everyone “will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory” (Luke 21:27).
We can only begin to imagine what this will mean. It might be helpful to take the splendor and pageantry of royal occasions on earth – such as a royal coronation – and then multiply the scene a million times, and then a million times more. We might then begin to imagine the dazzling glory, might and majesty, power and purity of the coming of the Son of Man.
That said, we easily forget that it is a fearful thing to come near the living God. Three thousand years ago the giving of the law to Moses caused people to tremble with fear as they stood at the foot of Mt Sinai (Exodus 19:16). Isaiah’s vision of the Lord in the temple caused him to cry out, “Woe is me, …” (Isaiah 6:5). And in 2 Corinthians 5:11, Paul the Apostle says: Knowing the fear of the Lord, we persuade others…
So it’s essential to keep in mind Jesus’ words to his people: “Now when these things begin to take place, straighten up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near” (Luke 21:28). We are not to be fearful or downcast, but rather lift our eyes to see the fulfillment of all that our hearts have longed for – the return of the great King in all his glory.
Jesus points to an end-time and the beginning of a totally new age – one where there will be no crying or mourning, where death itself will have passed away (Revelation 21:4).
What then should we be doing before the end time? (21:34-36) Jesus concludes with an exhortation. He wants us to start living in the light of his coming kingdom. In Luke 21:34, 35 he warns of dangers, dissipation and drunkenness. He speaks of lives dominated by short-term pleasures, dulling us to the deeper issues of life about which he is speaking.
In an earlier parable he spoke of people worn down by the cares of the world, their lives dominated by a longing for success. But such people, Jesus warns, will not be ready for the events that will unfold. To avoid disaster we need to be ‘alert at all times’. This means being aware of the Lord’s gifts and requirements to guide us through life.
Jesus wants to prepare us for his coming, which will be truly the return of the King. On that great and awesome day he does not want us to cower in fear but rather to stand before him, having the confidence of true and faithful servants. “Stay awake at all times,” he says, “praying that that you may have the strength to escape all these things that are going to take place, and to stand before the Son of Man” (21:36).
A prayer. Almighty God, give us grace so that we may cast away the works of darkness and put on the armor of light now in the time of this mortal life, in which your Son Jesus Christ came amongst us in great humility: so that on the last day, when he comes again in his glorious majesty to judge the living and the dead, we may rise to life immortal; through him who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, now and for ever. Amen.
© John G. Mason