Luke 21:5-19 Year C - 2 Before Advent

What is the most impressive building you have ever seen ? I remember being impressed by Salisbury Cathedral which has the tallest spire in the country. I have fond memories of my home town Cathedral in Norwich and also three visits to Wembley Stadium. Joshua says that Old Trafford, the home of Manchester United, impressed him most.

I would imagine that anything any of us has ever seen would pale into insignificance if we could have seen the temple in Jerusalem at the time of Jesus. This was rebuilt because of King Herod. He became king when Jerusalem was captured in 37 BC. Midway in his reign, he launched the project of rebuilding the temple on a grander scale. The building started in 20-19 BC. The temple itself, was finished in a year and a half, but it took 8 years to complete the courts and cloisters. Herod died in 4 B.C., so Jesus could not have been born after 4 B.C. ! The total work of rebuilding was not entirely completed till 64 AD. So, around 30 A.D. Jesus' disciples would have seen the completed temple, some of it nearly fifty years old and it's surroundings, some of which had yet to be completed.

Built of white marble, covered with heavy plates of gold in front and rising high above its marble-cloistered courts, themselves a succession of terraces, the temple was compared by Josephus to a snow-covered mountain. It was a conspicuous and dazzling object from every side. "Whatever was not overlaid with gold was purest white" (Josephus, Jewish War, 5.5.6.).

With its beauty and massive stones it looked the embodiment of permanence. According to Josephus (Antiquities, 15.11.3), some of them were 37 feet long, 12 feet high and 18 feet wide.

The temple in Jerusalem had been rebuilt before but this time it looked as if it was going to stay and the worship of God could be focused in one, beautiful location. The disciples could well have been filled with awe and nationalistic pride. Jesus, however, shattered this dream. 6 "As for what you see here, the time will come when not one stone will be left on another; every one of them will be thrown down."

Jesus words were fulfilled in A.D. 70, when the Romans under Titus completely destroyed Jerusalem, its inhabitants and the temple buildings. Stones were even prised apart to collect the gold leaf that melted from the roof when the temple was set on fire. Excavations in 1968 uncovered large numbers of the stones, toppled from the walls by the invaders.

There were few if any Christians there because they knew of Jesus' words in verses 20-24. 20 "When you see Jerusalem being surrounded by armies, you will know that its desolation is near. 21 Then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains, let those in the city get out, and let those in the country not enter the city. 22 For this is the time of punishment in fulfillment of all that has been written. 23 How dreadful it will be in those days for pregnant women and nursing mothers! There will be great distress in the land and wrath against this people. 24 They will fall by the sword and will be taken as prisoners to all the nations. Jerusalem will be trampled on by the Gentiles until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled.

The Christians escaped from Jerusalem before, or during its siege. Many of them went across the River Jordan to a town called Pella.

Jerusalem was punished by God because it had rejected Jesus whom God had sent to save them. He was the Messiah that they were so eagerly looking forward to, but they killed him.

This pattern will be repeated when Jesus returns to judge the living and the dead. Those who have rejected Jesus will have to bear the condemnation that this brings and be separated from God forever. Christians will not be condemned, Romans 8:1 Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. We can look forward to being with God forever, unaffected by sin and death, with perfect resurrection bodies.

The disciples would have expected this to happen soon. They are desperate to know when, 7 "Teacher," they asked, "when will these things happen? And what will be the sign that they are about to take place?"

Jesus warns them that the end will not come immediately and not to be gullible.

8 He replied: "Watch out that you are not deceived. For many will come in my name, claiming, `I am he,' and, `The time is near.' Do not follow them. He warned against people who falsely claim to be Jesus. When Jesus returns there will be no doubt about it. He said in Matthew 24 : 30 "At that time the sign of the Son of Man will appear in the sky, and all the nations of the earth will mourn. They will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of the sky, with power and great glory.

This exposes the false prophets who have claimed that Jesus will return. The Jehovah's Witnesses excel in this. They said that Jesus would return in 1874, then said that it was an invisible coming ! The predicted that the end of the world would occur in 1914 , again in 1975 and in 1984. Prior to 1975 many Jehovah's Witnesses did not have children because they expected the end to come. The Watchtower Society also predicted that all members of the body of Christ would be changed to heavenly glory in 1925. They also believed that World War Two was Armageddon.

They also claim to be 'Christian' but do not believe that Jesus is God.

9 When you hear of wars and revolutions, do not be frightened. These things must happen first, but the end will not come right away."

Jesus is pointing out that just because there are wars and revolutions does not mean that he will return immediately. There are other things that will happen first as Jesus outlines in verses 12f.

12 "But before all this, they will lay hands on you and persecute you. They will deliver you to synagogues and prisons, and you will be brought before kings and governors, and all on account of my name. 13 This will result in your being witnesses to them.

God is in control. He will allow the disciples to be persecuted and appear before rulers so that even they can hear the good news of Jesus. Just as God will give these opportunities he will also give the disciples the right words to say through the Holy Spirit, living within them. 14 But make up your mind not to worry beforehand how you will defend yourselves. 15 For I will give you words and wisdom that none of your adversaries will be able to resist or contradict.

Sometimes people spend a lot of time worrying about things that are beyond their control, so it doesn't do any good ! Jesus told his disciples not to worry about what they would say because he is in control. By His Spirit he will give the words and wisdom to defeat others' reasoning.

However, this does not mean that things are going to be easy for them.

16 You will be betrayed even by parents, brothers, relatives and friends, and they will put some of you to death. 17 All men will hate you because of me.

Jesus was betrayed by one of his disciples. His disciples would be betrayed by family members. The early church was persecuted many times. Tertullian a theologian who lived around 150 A.D. wrote, 'the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church'.

Today when some people come to Jesus from another faith their family members consider it their duty to kill them.

Persecution is widespread in the world today.

"[The Nuba mountains in Sudan] ...which have had a Christian population since the 6th century, are littered with mass graves...Nuba women are systematically raped by Arab soldiers in order to produce non-Nuba offspring. There have been reports, including from Catholic bishops, of crucifixions of Christians by the army."

In the southern part of Sudan, thousands of children were seized from their families and sold at open-air slave markets for as little as £10 apiece. They were taken north to other countries in the Middle East and other parts of Sudan where they are forced to labour as field hands, domestic slaves, or concubines for Muslim masters.

China, Shaanxi Province: "The officers stripped three brethren naked from the waist and forced the women to stand with them.... The three men were beaten until they were totally covered with blood and had gaping wounds and injuries all over their bodies. As if such violent beating wasn't enough, the officers then hung them up and began to hit them with rods on their backs. They did this until the three men were unconscious and barely breathing." The victims were Protestants. Their crime was communicating with foreigners.

Pakistan: "The Muslim population of Khan Jajja was incited in May 1994 by the local Muslim cleric to drive the 60 Christian families of the region from the 'land of the pure' and to demolish their church. The Christian men were beaten and the women were stripped naked..., while three girls were kidnapped and raped. These Christians' homes were destroyed and their possessions looted or destroyed." Pakistan's 1986 blasphemy law makes it a capital crime to insult the Prophet Mohammed "by any imputation, innuendo or insinuation." The law has been used repeatedly to justify a reign of terror against Pakistani Christians

In Bangladesh, when Marzina Begum and her family declined to celebrate a Muslim holiday, their neighbours beat her husband, breaking both his legs.

These are just a few of the vast number of men, women, and children each day who are tortured, imprisoned, or executed because they are Christians.

There are far more Christians today under persecution than in any other time in the history of the Church. An estimated 200 to 250 million persons around the world are at risk in countries where it is a crime to be a Christian. They fear for their lives, and they die for their faith. Tens of thousands are actually martyred each year. The International Bulletin of Missionary Research, estimates that about 150,000 Christians were killed for their faith in 1996 alone.

75% of all Christians live outside the West. Most Christians are not white. Christianity was in Africa before Europe, in India before England, and in China before America. Today Christianity is the largest Third-World religion.

In his book "Their Blood Cries Out", Canadian political scientist Paul Marshall notes, "More people take part in Christian Sunday worship in China than do people in the entirety of Western Europe. The same is true of Nigeria and probably true of India, Brazil and even the world's largest Muslim country, Indonesia."

Christians may face some opposition in the Western world, but they do not face intense persecution. In many radical Islamic and communist countries, practicing the Christian faith is a capital crime. In Muslim nations, such as Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Iran, committing your life to Christ is treasonous blasphemy.

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18 But not a hair of your head will perish. 19 By standing firm you will gain life.

When we think of the words of Jesus in verses 16f we realize that Jesus is not literally saying that none of his disciples will ever have a hair on their head damaged. Indeed , virtually all the disciples met a violent death. He is talking about God taking care of his followers spiritually. He is encouraging them to persevere in their faith so that they will gain a life lived forever in a right relationship with God the Father.

Christians who die for their faith today do so in the certain hope that they will be raised from the dead and be united with God through Jesus' death for them.

Only after false prophets, wars and revolutions, and persecution have come, will Jesus return. This will be preceded by chaos in the political, natural and celestial worlds. Verses 10f. 10 Then he said to them: "Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. 11 There will be great earthquakes, famines and pestilences in various places, and fearful events and great signs from heaven.

Jesus warns us to be prepared for his return, not to follow false prophets and be gullible, to expect rejection and to keep going in our faith and not to be frightened because we will always be in God's loving care.