THE BACKGROUND OF THE CHAPTER FROM LUKE.
In this chapter there are four different concepts:
- THERE IS THE CONCEPT OF THE DAY OF THE LORD. The Jews of Jesus’ time regarded time as being in two ages. There was the present age, which was altogether bad and evil, incapable of being cured, and fit only for destruction. There was the age to come, which was to be the golden age of God and of Jewish supremacy. But in between the two there would be the Day of the Lord, which would be a terrible time of upheaval and destruction, leading to the birth of the new age. It would be a day of terror. The Bible tells us “Behold the day of the Lord comes, cruel with wrath and fierce anger, to make the earth a desolation and to destroy its sinners from it.” It would come suddenly. We are told: “The day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night.” It would be a day when the world would be shattered. “The stars of the heavens and their constellations will not give their light, the sun will be dark at its rising and the moon will not shed its light. Therefore I will make the heavens tremble, and the earth will be shaken out of its place, at the wrath of the Lord of hosts in the day of his fierce anger.” The day of the Lord was one of the basic concepts of religious thought in the time of Jesus; everyone knew these terrible pictures, and this picture is reflected in this passage which we read from Luke’s gospel.
THEN THERE IS THE PROPHESIED FALL OF JERUSALEM. Jerusalem fell to the Roman armies in A.D. 70 after a desperate siege in which the inhabitants were actually reduced to cannibalism and in which the city had to be taken literally stone by stone. Commentators say that an incredible number of 1,100,000 people died in the siege and 97,000 were taken prisoner. The Jewish nation was obliterated; and the Temple was burned down and became a ruin. In this passage Luke clearly refers to that event which was still to come.
THERE IS THE SECOND COMING OF CHRIST. Jesus was sure that he was to come again and the early church waited for such a coming, but not realising that it would be Jesus. This was envisaged by many as God coming in a blaze of glory, conquering all in front of Him. This passage clearly refers to it. Before the second coming it was expected that many false claimants to be the Christ would arise and great upheavals would take place. This passage refers to that. Think of some TV evangelists today, for example; and other strange ideas of the Second Coming.
THERE IS THE IDEA OF PERSECUTION TO COME. Jesus clearly foresaw and foretold the terrible things his people would have to suffer for his sake in the days to come. Sadly this is still true in many countries.
AND SO TO THE PASSAGE WE’VE READ:
This is the second of Jesus’ apocalyptic speeches in Luke. Here in this second speech Jesus tells of the destruction of the temple, the danger of people being misled to think the end is near, and the persecution of the believers, from forces outside the congregation, and within.
Luke reminds us today to look at hardship and persecution as a chance to tell the gospel, the good news. Jesus tells us again: Do not be afraid! Not a single hair of our heads will be lost and standing firm will bring us through the trouble and to life.
Think of our vacancy situation: it’s not a negative, pessimistic time; it’s an opportunity to have a good think about our church’s position, and an opportunity to look ahead in terms of what kind of ministry do we want here, and to pray that the Vacancy Committee is able to effectively search for the right person, and that the right person will feel called to minister among us.
At this time of year the increasing darkness may well be depressing for people. Our lives may also be full of challenges, overbearing for some. It is good to remember that since the earliest days people have successfully gone through troubles (consider two World Wars) and that God promises his saving strength, his healing and presence for times of intense trouble, to help us, even through death, to life and new creation.
At the beginning of this passage, we have a poor woman giving everything she has – and the next thing we read is the disciples admiring the beauty of the temple and its rich gifts! It makes us ask: is Jesus losing his temper here just a wee bit with the human tendency to place importance on material things?
Is it not ironic that our rich society is finding it so hard to devise a benefit system which all agree is fair and just? Is it not strange how we are struggling with obesity while so many in the world go hungry? Is it not terrible that some people have to work so hard it affects their health and family happiness, while others have no work at all?
It was a comment on the opulence of the Temple that moved Jesus to prophesy its demise. In the Temple the pillars of the porches and of the cloisters were columns of white marble, forty feet high, each made of one single block of stone. Of the ornaments, the most famous was the great vine made of solid gold, each of whose clusters was as tall as a man. The finest description of the Temple as it stood in the time of Jesus is described by one commentator, who writes: “The outward face of the Temple in its front wanted nothing that was likely to surprise either men’s minds or their eyes, for it was covered all over with plates of gold of great weight, and, at the first rising of the sun, reflected back a very fiery splendour, and made those who forced themselves to look upon it to turn their eyes away, just as they would have done at the sun’s own rays. But the Temple appeared, to strangers when they were at a distance, like a mountain covered with snow, for, as to those parts of it that were not gilt, they were exceeding white.”
To the Jews it was unthinkable that the glory of the Temple should be shattered to dust.
From this passage we learn certain basic things about Jesus and about the Christian life:
- JESUS COULD READ THE SIGNS OF HISTORY. Others might be blind to the approaching disaster but he saw the avalanche about to descend. From this, we learn that it is only when we see things through the eyes of God that we see them clearly
- JESUS WAS COMPLETELY HONEST. “This,” he said to his disciples, “is what you must expect if you choose to follow me.” Once in the middle of a great struggle for righteousness, a heroic leader wrote to a friend, “Heads are rolling in the sand; come and add yours.” Jesus believed in men enough to offer them, not an easy way, but a way for heroes.
- JESUS PROMISED THAT HIS DISCIPLES WOULD NEVER MEET THEIR TRIBULATIONS ALONE. It is the sheer evidence of history that the great Christians have written over and over again, of sweet times with Christ, when their bodies were in torture and when they were awaiting death. A prison can be like a palace, a scaffold like a throne, the storms of life can be like summer weather, when we take Christ with us.
- JESUS SPOKE OF A SAFETY THAT OUTWEIGHS EARTHLY THREATS “Not one hair of your head,” he said, “will be harmed.” In the days of the 1914-18 war Rupert Brooke, out of his faith and his ideal, wrote these lines:
We have found safety with all things undying. The winds, and morning, tears of men, and mirth. The deep night, and birds singing, and clouds flying. And sleep, and freedom, and the autumnal earth. We have built a house which is not for Time’s throwing, We have gained a peace unshaken by pain for ever. War knows no power. Safe shall be my going, Secretly armed against all death’s endeavour:
Safe though all safety’s lost; safe where men fall; And if these poor limbs die, safest of all.
The man or woman who walks with Christ may lose their life but they can never lose their soul.
The when and how of Christ’s second coming is not our concern. What is our concern is the faithfulness with which we pray, sing, tell and show his love until he comes.