As noted in the previous post, our Lord’s tears over Jerusalem prophesied a fearful time ahead. The time before His crucifixion was now only a few days, and His preparation of the disciples was intensified. Would He prepare them for a time of joyous peace, or for a time of hardship and turmoil? We find the answer in Luke 21:5-36.
As Jesus and His disciples walked around the Temple grounds admiring the beautiful buildings, He reminded them that they would all be torn down:
(v6) As for these things which you are looking at, the days will come in which there will not be left one stone upon another which will not be torn down.
The disciples reaction (v7) was to try to pin Him down as to the actual date on which this would happen and what specific sign would certify it. (As Paul later said, the Jews [always] seek after a sign…) In response, He launches into a lengthy discourse about His ultimate return as King of Kings and the events that would take place in the meantime. As we will see, there are two glaring omissions from what He taught them: (1) There is no specific mention of the destruction of Jerusalem under Titus as described in Luke 19, and (2) there is no mention of a time when Israel would be set aside, supplanted for the time being by an unprophesied era when Jew and Gentile alike would be accepted into God’s family purely through faith by grace. His teaching at this point in the narrative presents a prophetic continuum beginning with Daniel’s prophecies immediately into the Tribulation and then seven years later the events under which the Millennial Kingdom would be established. This should not surprise us because our day, the Age of Grace, was still a mystery hidden in God, yet to be revealed to the Apostle Paul. What was important for His disciples to know follows in vv8-36:
(v8-9) See to it that you be not misled; for many will come in My name, saying, ‘I am He,’ and, ‘The time is at hand’; do not go after them. And when you hear of wars and disturbances, do not be terrified; for these things must take place first, but the end does not follow immediately. His main concern was that His disciples might be so eager for His return that they could be easily misled. The events would be so terrible that it could increase their desire for His return and cause them to fall for imposters who even used all the right words. His opening statement to them flatly says some nasty stuff has to happen before He returns, so don’t be fooled.
(v10-11) Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom, and there will be great earthquakes, and in varous places plagues and famines; and there will be terrors and great signs from heaven. Surely we are experiencing these things today in increasing degree. Yes, I believe it is a sign that this age is coming to an end. We read of great earthquakes, tsunamis, volcanic eruptions (who can forget the destruction of Haiti?), world-wide epidemic diseases (AIDS), and famine (Darfur). But the remaining two items speak of a time beyond this age, events which will not take place until the Church is taken out of the world in the event we know as the Rapture. We have not seen terrors which result from great signs from Heaven. Daniel saw them, and John saw them, long in advance of their occurrence, and they describe the events prophesied as Daniel’s Seventieth Week (Daniel 12).
(v12-18) But before all these things, they will lay their hands on you and will persecute you, delivering you to the synagogues and prisons, bringing you before kings and governors for My name’s sake. It will lead to an opportunity for your testimony. So make up your minds beforehand to defend yourselves; for I will give you utterance and wisdom which none of your opponents will be able to resist or refute. But you will be delivered up even by parents and brothers and relatives and friends, and they will put some of you to death, and you will be hated by all on account of My name. Yet not a hair of your head will perish. These seven verses are a “rabbit trail” where our Lord makes the lesson intensely personal for the disciples, and He resumes His general teaching about the events of His return in v20. vv12-15 we see fulfilled, at least in part, in the opening chapters of Acts where John and Peter and the others are repeatedly jailed by the Pharisees for proclaiming the resurrection of Jesus openly on the Temple grounds. vv16-17 worked out more slowly over the next thirty years or so, when each disciple except John was martyred. v18 is in interesting contrast to the preceeding statement that some of them would be put to death. (see the next verse)
(v19) By your endurance you will gain your lives. How can the disciples be put to death and yet not lose a single hair of their head and gain their lives? IMHO, our Lord was speaking from an eternal perspective in which physical death is but a minor punctuation mark. Such a perspective is in keeping with the prophetic nature of the entire passage, and also in keeping with the nature of prophecy itself, which in a given circumstance is only partially fulfilled and awaits a greater and complete fulfillment in a later time. The destruction of Jerusalem by Titus is just such a partially-fulfilled prophecy, and was the occasion for this entire discussion (remember Luke 19). There is another important point to be made from this verse. It’s wording seems to imply that endurance is a prerequisite to eternal life, that eternal life can be earned (gained), and that those who do not endure will go to hell. It’s meaning is tied up in understanding the Greek words for endurance and lives. “Endurance” is hupomone, literally “under-abiding”, and is the ability to go through terrible circumstances patiently because we know that it is God’s will in our lives for the moment and that afterward God will wipe away our tears. “Lives” is psuche, or “soul”. The Greeks had words used by New Testament authors for three qualities of man – the body, the soul and the spirit. The psuche was what gave man his animation, his ability to think and to be self-aware, and what left the body upon the person’s death. Animals also have a soul. Literally stated, this verse says you can keep your life going by abiding under these terrors patiently while God does what is necessary. Did Jesus mean here that their deaths could be put off longer by patiently putting up with the terrors? Did He mean that they could preserve their souls in spite of physical death if they suffered patiently? Did He mean that failure to suffer patiently would end their physical lives prematurely or that their souls would spend eternity in hell? The answers are all human conjecture. But Paul and other New Testament authors clearly teach that salvation is sure and cannot be earned. By grace are you saved, through faith, and that not of yourselves. It is the gift of God, not of works, lest any man should boast. (Ephesians 2:8-9) Interestingly, this same issue arises again in Revelation, echoing throughout the letters to the Seven Churches as an issue of perseverence.