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Future Days: Jerusalem's Destruction

The Gospel of Luke 2  •  Sermon  •  Submitted   •  Presented   •  42:24
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PRAY: Father in heaven, grant us clarity and humility as we study your word. Strengthen your people to be like the Bereans, who seek to not only to be sure what is taught is truly from your word, but also seeking to submit to the truth found there. May we take the words of Jesus today as the very words of eternal God and obey them as such. We ask this of you with both reverence and confidence because your grace to us through Christ Jesus has made us your own. Amen.

INTRO:

There are no Biblical texts more disputed by like-minded believers than those concerning eschatology. I’ll say that again with a particular emphasis. There are no Biblical texts more disputed by even like-minded believers than those concerning eschatology.
That matters because as we continue our progress of studying through the Gospel of Luke, we are presently at the Olivet Discourse, where Jesus discusses things that are yet future for his disciples.
Some of you are saying, what on earth is eschatology? Others… Remind me what eschatology is? Others, Oh yes, I love eschatology! It’s my favorite biblical theme. And still others are rolling their eyes at those who looooove eschatology.
For all of us who aren’t end-time aficianados, let’s review the basics.
What is eschatology?
The Lexham Bible Dictionary defines ESCHATOLOGY - The study of the end times, including death, the intermediate state, the afterlife, judgment, the millennium, heaven, and hell. Also refers to the time of Jesus’ second coming. The word eschatology comes from a combination of Greek words meaning “the study of last things.”
In the study of last things (eschatology), there are various approaches to interpretation concerning these and other interrelated prophecies, and they tend to be connected to one’s view concerning the millennium. Millennium simply means one thousand, and is based upon Revelation 20:2-7 speaking of a thousand-year reign of Christ.
What are the main millennial views?
There are three main millennial views, even among evangelical Christians. One view is called Premillennialism, which means that when Jesus returns he will establish God’s kingdom on earth to fulfill any remaining promises God made to Israel in the Old Testament that are not fulfilled in the Church. There is, of course, a sense in which his kingdom is already present because of Jesus’ first coming (Luke 17:21 “the kingdom of God is in the midst of you,” and continues to be spiritually through his people), but we are still to expect a future consummation of that kingdom (Luke 21:31). So one understanding is that there will be a yet future earthly consummation of this kingdom in a literal thousand-year reign of Christ, prior to the eternal state. The pre of Pre-Mil indicates that the return of Christ precedes a future literal millennium.
Amillennialism, by contrast, does not take the 1,000 year reign as being literal, but rather a figurative reference to a long period of time in which we are now living. In this view, the kingdom of God consists of Christ’s present spiritual reign from heaven over His people. As such it is not tied to any physical earthly manifestation of a kingdom in the future. The amillennial view was explained and popularized by Augustine of Hippo in the early part of the 5th century AD.
The third major view is postmillennialism, which also perceives the millenium as the spiritual reign of Christ, but with the particular emphasis that Christ will return AFTER the millenium. And this millenium will occur, is occuring, or has already taken place through the global spread of the gospel and a golden age unmatched prosperity for his Church in its advancement and influence. This group tends to view all or most of eschatological prophecy as having already been fulfilled in either AD 70 (preterist) or throughout history (historicist).
(Now going back to the first of the millennial views, which is the one I espouse...) Among premillennialists there are varying positions about whether or not there will be a secret rapture of the church before the tribulation. By “secret” is meant only that it occurs suddenly (without warning) and is not accompanied by the final public return of Christ, which is yet after the great tribulation (for the dispensational premillennialist, technically refers to the last 3.5 years before the second coming... - all of these numbers are taken from a certain interpretive method to Daniel ch. 9). So there are those who believe the rapture takes place before any of the 7 final years of tribulation, and those who believe that it occurs mid-trib (before the second half “great” tribulation). Dispensational premillennialists take one of these two views, before the 7 years being the more common.
But there is another premillennial position, historic premillennialism, which is not convinced that scripture teaches a secret rapture; rather, such a catching up of the saints, it is believed, will take place AT the return of Christ AFTER the last intense tribulation and immediately before the millennial kingdom. This version of premillennialism can be traced through church history to the very early days of NT Christianity, when it was called chiliasm (based on the Greek chilioi, meaning “thousand”). As for me personally, I am becoming increasingly less convinced of a secret rapture and more inclined to believe that the church will be empowered by God to endure the final tribulation in the same way he enabled the disciples in the the past and enables his people in the present us to endure tribulation and persecution.
While most of the time we speak of tribulation and mean the “the great one” from Rev 7:14, the Greek word for tribulation, thlipsis (meaning “affliction”) appears some 45 times in the NT. A few times it refers to the general hardships of humanity (such as the labor pains of childbirth, Jn 16:21), but in most instances it refers to the tribulation of believers either in the present age (Jn 16:33) or in the last days. In my view Luke 21:5-38 contains elements of both, meaning that what Jesus teaches is essentially applicable to all generations of the church, whether or not you are around in the final days.
Let’s review what we studied last week and then read our text for today.

RECAP: Jesus prepares his people for tribulation. (Luke 21:5-19)

Apparently as Jesus leaves the temple at the end of a day of teaching, some disciples marvel at how impressive the temple is. Jesus comments that this very structure is going to be destroyed, and the disciples respond privately out on the Mount of Olives with questions [the parallels in Mt and Mk tell us of this transition from the temple to Mount Olivet between vv. 6&7 here in Luke]. The questions concern the timing and signs of the temple destruction and coming kingdom:
When will this destruction of the temple take place, and what will be the sign of your parousia (coming in triumph as Messiah) and the end of the present age? (Mt 24:3) - With the question the disciples undoubtedly think that Christ would yet rule a literal earthly kingdom in the near future. Little did they know that such was not to be the case, at least not as they would have counted near.
Beginning in v. 8 of Luke 21 Jesus doesn’t immediately answer their questions, but instead warns them against falling for false messiahs making grand claims. He also warns them not to fear when great calamities would come upon the earth from time to time, including wars and riots, peoples against peoples and kingdoms against kingdoms (vv. 8-9). But even these things would not signal the end (v. 9b). Similarly, there will be various natural catastrophes, like earthquakes and famines and plagues (epidemic diseases), even great signs in the heavens (vv. 10-11).
But even before they would see and experience some of the things in vv. 9-11, they would first suffer hardship, more imminent persecution for the cause of Christ. The comfort Jesus gives them is first that such trial, even before great leaders, would prove to be opportunities to testify to the person and work of Christ. The second great comfort is that, by endurance of faith in Christ, they would reach final salvation. … Luke will go on to show that their inheritance would be secured by Christ’s own impending tribulation of sacrificial death and then victorious resurrection and exaltation!
So he prepares them (and us, 2 Tim. 3:12) to expect tribulation (suffering/persecution) in this life as his people, but we are NOT left without the guarantee of his Holy Spirit to be with us and in us (Jn 14:16-17), and the guarantee that he is also our confirmation that Jesus will return to claim us and bring us home (2 Cor 1:22 & Eph 1:13-14).
In Luke’s account, Jesus now returns to answering the questions more directly (in v. 20).
Luke 21:20–28 ESV
“But when you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies, then know that its desolation has come near. Then 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, for these are days of vengeance, to fulfill all that is written. Alas for women who are pregnant and for those who are nursing infants in those days! For there will be great distress upon the earth and wrath against this people. They will fall by the edge of the sword and be led captive among all nations, and Jerusalem will be trampled underfoot by the Gentiles, until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled. “And 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, people fainting with fear and with foreboding of what is coming on the world. For the powers of the heavens will be shaken. And then they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory. Now when these things begin to take place, straighten up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.”
What is described in Luke 21:20-24 answers the first question the disciples asked concerning “when” the temple would be destroyed, and it almost certainly had a first fulfillment in the historical events of Jerusalem in 70AD.
But we will also need to ask the question as to whether it is the only fulfillment, or whether we should expect another yet future fulfillment. Let’s look first at the text in Luke to explain the near fulfillment, and then compare to Matthew in order determine if that is but a picture of what might be expected still to come.
I will argue that…

Jerusalem’s Destruction in 70AD Pictures the End (Luke 21:20-24)

(is a typological earlier fulfillment of a greater tribulation still to come)
v. 20a&b - But when you see Jerusalem surrounded… “then know that it’s desolation has come near” - When they see this taking place, they would know the answer to their first question—when will the destruction of the temple take place? When Jerusalem is besieged and destroyed.
Described in history as the first Jewish revolt against Roman rule, “the war with Rome began in A.D. 66, and soon Roman armies had marched through the rest of Palestine and surrounded Jerusalem, then laid siege to it until it fell in A.D. 70. Those who tried to flee shortly after Jerusalem was surrounded found that it was too late […]” -Craig S. Keener, The IVP Bible Background Commentary: New Testament (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1993), Lk 21:20.
The ensuing description (vv. 21-24) shows how traumatic that experience will be for the Jews in the region and the nation as a whole.
v. 21 When this siege of Jerusalem begins to take place (when there is still time), people in the surrounding region should flee to the mountains for safety. They might be inclined to head to a fortified city like Jerusalem for protection when they see invading armies, but those in the city should leave, and those around should not enter it (for their own safety). Instead, they should avoid the invading armies in the mountains of Judea, such as David had done to escape Saul’s murderous plots.
v. 22 Gives the big-picture reason these things are taking place (the siege of Jerusalem and the destruction of the temple). The vengeance Jesus means here surely is God’s judgment on the nation for rejecting their Messiah, even as Jesus predicted previously (less than a week earlier) in Luke 19:43-44.
Luke 19:43–44 ESV
For the days will come upon you, when your enemies will set up a barricade around you and surround you and hem you in on every side and tear you down to the ground, you and your children within you. And they will not leave one stone upon another in you, because you did not know the time of your visitation.”
Secondly (also in v. 22), Jesus says this fulfills “all that is written.” Just as Jesus repeatedly tells his disciples that he must fulfill all prophecy concerning himself, so too the destruction of Jerusalem for her sin against God must be accomplished.
v. 23 Gives a vivid picture of the sad plight of those who are defenseless and vulnerable and normally would be experiencing a time of great joy (to be giving birth or to have recently done so). But instead of the joy and peace of obedience to God, Isreal will experience distress and wrath.
And this period of discipline for Israel’s rejection of Christ will not end with the siege of Jerusalem, but (v. 24) will usher in yet another period of time where Israel will continue to led away in exile and trampled underfoot by other Gentile powers. That period will continue “until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled.” This “times of the Gentiles,” a phrase unique to Luke, is almost certainly a reference to the present age, but its beginning and ending, and its meaning, are far less certain. It may indicate a future program for Israel, or at least suggest the last days when many in Israel will repent and be restored to God.
Again, Luke appears to emphasize the near fulfillment of Jesus words (as we surmise by reading what seems to be a transition at the end of v. 24), indicating that this first siege of Jerusalem will not be the end. Mt and Mk, on the other hand, appear to emphasize Jesus’ words in a greater future fulfillment within an even broader final tribulation.
By comparing this section in Luke to the parallel account in Matthew, it seems to echo events still future that will be on an even greater scale.
Matthew 24:1–22 ESV
Jesus left the temple and was going away, when his disciples came to point out to him the buildings of the temple. But he answered them, “You see all these, do you not? Truly, I say to you, there will not be left here one stone upon another that will not be thrown down.” As he sat on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to him privately, saying, “Tell us, when will these things be, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?” And Jesus answered them, “See that no one leads you astray. For many will come in my name, saying, ‘I am the Christ,’ and they will lead many astray. And you will hear of wars and rumors of wars. See that you are not alarmed, for this must take place, but the end is not yet. For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom, and there will be famines and earthquakes in various places. All these are but the beginning of the birth pains. “Then they will deliver you up to tribulation and put you to death, and you will be hated by all nations for my name’s sake. And then many will fall away and betray one another and hate one another. And many false prophets will arise and lead many astray. And because lawlessness will be increased, the love of many will grow cold. But the one who endures to the end will be saved. And this gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come. “So when you see the abomination of desolation spoken of by the prophet Daniel, standing in the holy place (let the reader understand), then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains. Let the one who is on the housetop not go down to take what is in his house, and let the one who is in the field not turn back to take his cloak. And alas for women who are pregnant and for those who are nursing infants in those days! Pray that your flight may not be in winter or on a Sabbath. For then there will be great tribulation, such as has not been from the beginning of the world until now, no, and never will be. And if those days had not been cut short, no human being would be saved. But for the sake of the elect those days will be cut short.
Based on the parallels in Mt & Mk, we can see that this is closely tied to things which take place at the end (an even greater tribulation before the kingdom consummation).
A couple of things that might help us to clarify: 1. This does not mean that Luke has already seen the fulfillment (he probably wrote Luke & Acts before 70AD). Instead, it indicates more likely that Luke is using the same discourse from Jesus but from a different source than Mt and Mk, explaining the distinct nuanced emphases.
2. The overall picture then is almost certainly that, like many other prophecies from the OT, there is a nearer fulfillment which serves as a type of the greater fulfillment in the future. In other words…
Jerusalem’s Destruction in 70AD Pictures the End… However, they should not expect the end yet when this takes place. The end will wait “until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled” (v. 24).

Application:

1. We need greater humility in uncertainty.
How does a discerning believer know when to not be dogmatic on a theological issue?
-Find the points of certainty and stand on those with conviction. (Jesus is coming again. When he does so, everyone in the world throughout history will be judged. Jesus will literally reign over all, either in the eternal state [the new heavens and new earth] or in a literal millenium and in the eternal state, etc.)
-Hold more loosely to interpretive elements where like-minded discerning believers are reaching different conclusions. (pre-trib rapture or no, literal or figurative millenium, does God have a future program for national Israel, etc.)
2. You can trust God with what you do not know for certain.
Isaiah 55:8–11 ESV
For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts. “For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven and do not return there but water the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it.
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Next time: “If the second coming of Jesus Christ is not a major factor in your normal Christian life, you are missing one of the most powerful biblical motivations to godly living.” -Steve Cole
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