King Herod the Great is famous for ordering the death of the infant and toddler sons of Bethlehem. However, despite his paranoia and cruelty, ancient documents also tell us that that before he fell into the paranoid delusions of the last years of his life, he was actually a very capable ruler.
The problem that Herod had was that he was a puppet king of the occupying forces of the Roman Empire. Furthermore, he was not even Jewish. This meant that no matter how well he ruled … no matter that he brought prosperity to the land, the people hated him.
Herod hoped that improvements to the city’s infrastructure would win the hearts of the Israelites. One of these improvements was a massive project that would expand the temple area in Jerusalem. The work on this project began about twenty years before Jesus was born and continued until 64 AD. This means that every time you read about the temple in the Gospels, it was a temple that was under renovation.
Today’s Gospel begins by telling us that people were discussing the beauty of the temple. Some were speaking of the temple, how it was adorned with noble stones and offerings. (Luke 21:5) I can just imagine the disciples talking about how the new construction made the temple even more magnificent than the last time that they had come. I can imagine them speculating about what things would look like the next time they came to the temple.
You can imagine, then, how shocked these disciples were when Jesus said, 6“As for these things that you see, the days will come when there will not be left here one stone upon another that will not be thrown down.” (Luke 21:5–6) Those words, there will not be left here one stone upon another, indicate that the destruction will be thorough and complete.
Jesus words came true when Rome became frustrated with the constant rebellion of Jerusalem and sent its legions to destroy the city. In 70 A.D., only six years after the completion of the renovations, the armies of Rome destroyed the entire city of Jerusalem down to its foundations. Today, there is a Moslem mosque on the site where the temple used to be. The stones that once made up the temple now litter the area around the temple mound. Modern archeologists have left these stones in place as a tribute to the many defenders who lost their lives when these stones were thrown down on them.
Of course, today’s Gospel happened a few decades before this destruction. The disciples had no idea how the Romans would destroy Jerusalem. You can imagine that they were bewildered by Jesus proclamation of the destruction of the temple. So, they asked him, “Teacher, when will these things be, and what will be the sign when these things are about to take place?” (Luke 21:7)
Jesus used the disciples’ question to teach about the end of Jerusalem and the end of time. But first, He gave them some insight into the struggles that His disciples will have while they wait for these endings.
Jesus began His teaching on last things by warning His disciples about false prophets. He said, “See that you are not led astray. For many will come in my name, saying, ‘I am he!’ and, ‘The time is at hand!’ Do not go after them. 9And when you hear of wars and tumults, do not be terrified, for these things must first take place, but the end will not be at once.” (Luke 21:8–9) Jesus knew that there will be deceptive people who will use predictions of the End Times to lead people astray. Even today, there are many cults who steal money by predicting the end times. In some cases, people have even died because they followed these liars.
Jesus then told the disciples that the history of the world will continue as it had before … from disaster to disaster. He said to them, “Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. 11There will be great earthquakes, and in various places famines and pestilences. And there will be terrors and great signs from heaven. (Luke 21:10–11) Note that these disasters are merely a short list of the effects that sin has had in this world.
Then Jesus told of persecution. He said to them, “… But before all this they will lay their hands on you and persecute you, delivering you up to the synagogues and prisons, and you will be brought before kings and governors for my name’s sake. 13This will be your opportunity to bear witness. 14Settle it therefore in your minds not to meditate beforehand how to answer, 15for I will give you a mouth and wisdom, which none of your adversaries will be able to withstand or contradict. 16You will be delivered up even by parents and brothers and relatives and friends, and some of you they will put to death. 17You will be hated by all for my name’s sake. 18But not a hair of your head will perish. 19By your endurance you will gain your lives. (Luke 21:12–19) Notice here that even family members and friends will betray Christians into persecution. Notice also, that God will use this persecution to provide additional opportunities for the disciples to tell what they have heard and seen while they were with Jesus. They will even testify to kings and governors. The persecution will lead to a time of growth for the church.
After these teachings, Jesus finally got around to teaching about the destruction of Jerusalem. His teachings are basic common sense. “But when you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies, then know that its desolation has come near. 21Then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains, and let those who are inside the city depart, and let not those who are out in the country enter it.” (Luke 21:20–21) This just makes sense. In fact, when the Roman army finally did come to Jerusalem, the Christians were already gone. They got word that the army was coming and they evacuated the city.
Finally, Jesus returned to the topic of the Last Day. He said to them, “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, 26people fainting with fear and with foreboding of what is coming on the world. For the powers of the heavens will be shaken. 27And then they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory.” (Luke 21:25–27) With these words, Jesus described a fundamental change in the universe. When these things happen, no one will have to inform you that the end of the world has come. It will be apparent to everyone … especially when every person in the entire world will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory.
Most people will be terrified when the end comes, but Jesus has different instructions for His people. He said to them, “Now when these things begin to take place, straighten up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.” (Luke 21:28) When the Son of Man comes in clouds and glory, He will come for those whom He redeemed with His suffering and death on the cross. Just as He rose from the dead and ascended, He promised to return to take His people to live with Him.
The temple had been the place where God made His presence known among His people. Jesus reminded the disciples that the temple was not permanent. The Temple, the sacrifices, the festivals, and all the other requirements of the ceremonial law were only preparation for the day when God would dwell among His people as one of them. They were shadows pointing to a future reality as the Holy Spirit inspired the Apostle Paul to write, “These are a shadow of the things to come, but the substance belongs to Christ.” (Colossians 2:17) The continuous blood and smoke that came from the sacrifices of sheep, goats, cattle, and birds at the altar in Jerusalem was only a reminder that one day Immanuel, God with us, would come and God would dwell with His people.
When the Son of God took up our human flesh in order to endure the wrath of God in our place, the temple’s days were numbered. When Jesus offered Himself up as the Lamb of God who took away the sin of the world, there was no longer any need for the temple. Its purpose was fulfilled. As Jesus died on the cross to take away your sin, the sun’s light failed. And the curtain of the temple was torn in two. (Luke 23:45)
He who sacrificed himself on the cross for our sins now lives in the hearts of those whom he saves. Since the temple is the place where God dwells that means the heart of every person He has saved is a temple. How do we know that we are God’s temples? The Holy Spirit works through God’s Word to create faith in the heart. Through baptism the Word is combined with water and the Holy Spirit comes to live in that heart. Through the Lord’s Supper the Word is combined with bread and wine and our mouths receive Jesus Christ Himself for the strengthening of our faith to endure until He returns. Wherever He makes His presence known to us by these means, that is now His temple.
It is appropriate that, as we near the end of the church year, we think about the end of our time on this earth. Will our end come on the Last Day? All the signs Jesus mentions in today’s gospel have already happened. Nations still rise against nations, and kingdoms against kingdoms. We have great earthquakes, famines and pestilences. The terrors and great signs from heaven have already happened. Every time you check the news and hear or read about another disaster or war, it is a reminder that, one day, Jesus will return to judge the world. He might return before this service is over. OR His return could be long after we are all dead. Either way, when the Son of Man comes on the clouds we shall all straighten up and raise our heads, because our redemption is drawing near. Amen
Please quote from my sermons freely. I expect people to copy my sermons or I wouldn't put them on a site like this. I only ask that you quote accurately if you attribute anything to me.
Should you decide to contact me, I would be very interested in knowing where you are. Please include the name of your city, state or province, and country when contacting me.
Send James T. Batchelor an email.