Jesus’s discussion of the upcoming destruction of Jerusalem and impending time of persecution recorded in Luke 21 are troubling. Jesus paints a bleak picture as he speaks of the Temple being destroyed, wars, earthquakes, famines, and pestilence. It is a dire warning that troubling times are ahead.
The remarks come during passion week, as Jesus has finally arrived in Jerusalem, and the cosmic battle between good and evil is taking place. Jesus has entered Jerusalem as the new King. He has cleansed the Temple and returned it to a place of worship and prayer. He has been attacked repeatedly by scribes, priests, and religious leaders, and yet answers all of their questions with wisdom and poise. This should be a moment in which the talk of victory is present. Yes, the cross is coming, but so is the resurrection. Jesus knows that victory is close at hand. Yet he reminds his disciples that things are not always as they appear.
Jesus says, you think things look great with beautiful buildings being built, a booming economy, and a secure future. Things may appear to be great, but destruction is coming. The days will come when not even one stone will be left on another. Those days will be filled with war, famine, and pestilence. Even worse, persecution is coming. You will be thrown into prison and dragged before councils to give an account of your faith. Friends and family will turn on each other, and some of you will even lose your lives. During these days, some will claim to know the answer to return us to greatness, but don’t believe them. All of these things must take place, but don’t fear, those who endure will receive life.
When Jesus speaks these words it is forty years before the destruction of Jerusalem. In 70 AD, in response to a Jewish revolt that started a few years earlier, the Roman army surrounds Jerusalem and squeezes the life out of the city. Many Jewish citizens are killed, or captured and used as slaves. The city is ransacked, and the Temple plundered and then destroyed. The days ahead are truly scary.
Yet, while Jesus’s audience hears of these events and they are still to be experienced some day in the future, Luke’s audience who is reading about this episode knows the events as past history. Luke, whom many scholars believe is writing sometime after the events of AD 70, is writing to an audience who has lived through the destruction of the Temple. They were witnesses to these horrible days. Some of them were scattered to other areas because of the persecution. Many possibly know personally a friend or relative who died during these horrific events. These words are not in preparation of upcoming trials, but reminders of past destruction.
What then is the message for those living on the other side of the foretold catastrophe?
For one, they gain strength from recognizing the prophetic calling of Jesus. Prophets are proven true when their prophecies come to pass. If Jesus is a prophet about these horrible events, events that most would never predict, perhaps Jesus can be trusted about other prophecies of the future. Jesus can be believed because his prophecies have come true.
Even more so, those living after the catastrophic events gain hope. Jesus foretold horrific events. War, famine, persecution, and the destruction of a sacred city and temple. It would seem that nothing could stand under this mess, that all good would be undone in the world. Yet here they stand on the other side of the catastrophe. They haven’t lost faith. The hope of the Kingdom still stands. The truth of the resurrection is still their guiding principle. They know now what is most important. Not buildings, institutions, traditions, or power. Instead, the Triune God, salvation, the resurrection, righteousness, and justice. And these things will never end. No evil, no destruction, no catastrophe could ever stop them from being true and providing security. .
Which should also give us hope during our troubling times. We live in an interesting time in which the polarization of groups seems as dangerous as ever. Various factions seem to be always competing for control of the conversation. Add to the disturbances a growing fear of someone else robbing us of safety and security. It’s easy during these times to assume the world is coming to an end. If the opposing political party has control. If some unknown danger attacks. If I lose my job. If I fail my math test. It seems at times the world is unstable.
It’s in these times when we need to hear the words of Jesus. These stones you see will be cast down, and war and persecution are coming. But remember, you are hearing this on the opposite side of the moment. The Kingdom of the Messiah is not tragic. The fear of the cataclysmic event is not the end. Whatever worry you face about the future, you will overcome. Now is not the time to panic. Now is the time for testimony. The cross of Jesus triumphed over the powers of darkness, and the resurrection defeated the powers of death. While the message of a crucified Messiah seems foolish, it is in reality the hope of the world.
We, like Jesus’s hearers, will overcome the tragedy.
We, like Luke’s hearers, have overcome the tragedy.
The Kingdom will come, even in these troubling times.
That is our hope!