It’s the End of the World as We Know It (Part II), or: How to Escape the Temple (Luke 21:5-38)

We live in an amazing city, don’t we? Incredible architecture, incredible engineering, some really beautiful buildings! Kuala Lumpur really is a world-class city. I know that many of you who grew up here don’t think so, but I can tell you — as a boy who grew up in the kampungs of Indonesia, and has lived in the kampungs of America — this city is really something.

But we who live here also know these incredible engineering marvels have a dark side, don’t they? These towers are planned and paid for by the elite as the very visible evidence of their success and power! — but they are built and serviced by the poor, by hundreds of thousands of immigrants, legal and illegal, who often labor in less-than-optimum conditions for less-than-fair wages.

Well, just like Kuala Lumpur, Jerusalem also had some really amazing architecture. The Jewish temple, especially, was world famous: it was widely considered to be the most beautiful temple in the entire Roman empire.

And the Jewish people were justly proud of it. So Luke tells us, beginning in verse 5, that some of Jesus’ disciples were also proud of it. They were looking around and saying, “Wow! Look at this place! This one maximum amazing one kind wat!”

Unfortunately for them, Jesus has just finished slamming the temple priests for building their religion — and their temple — on the bones of broken widows.

Oooooof! Talk about bad timing! Kesian leh those guys ah!

So Jesus speaks up in verse 6: “Actually, guys, all this is crap. It’s temporary. The time will come when not one stone will be left on another; every one of them will be thrown down.”

And everyone there would have been like, “…What?! Ohhh no, not again!”

See, for the Jews, the temple was the literal house of God. If the temple is destroyed, it means God has left them.

And the Jews are terrified of this because it has already happened once before! In the Old Testament Solomon’s temple was world famous for its beauty — and God sent the Babylonians to destroy it because it had become corrupt. The Jews lived in constant fear that this would happen again. That is why they were so religious: they had this idea that if they could just do their religion perfectly they could keep God happy and he would not send a foreign army to destroy the temple again.

So when Jesus says, “Uh, guess what? The temple system is corrupt again! God is going to destroy it again!” — he is prophesying the deepest nightmares of the Jewish people.

But…there was a sliver of hope in Jewish beliefs about the temple. Some religious scholars taught that the next time the temple is destroyed will be Judgement Day: the day the Messiah arrives to conquer the world and create God’s kingdom on earth.

So for many people there that day, Temple Destruction=Judgement Day/Kingdom of God.

So for them, when Jesus says, “Hey, you guys, the temple is going to be destroyed!” they hear him saying, “Hey, you guys, the Judgement Day/Kingdom of God is happening soon!” And that is good news!

So they say, “Teacher, when? When is Judgment Day? When is the Kingdom of God going to start? And what are the warning signs? — so we can make sure to be ready you know!”

Today, Jesus is going to explain that Temple Destruction does not equal Judgement Day.

He is going to explain that there will be very clear signs leading up to the destruction of the temple; there will not be any signs leading up to Judgement Day; but there will be signs leading up to God’s Kingdom…?

Then he is going to explain how to escape Judgement Day.

That is the setting for today’s conversation. The people — including some of his disciples — have just asked Jesus, “What are the signs we should look for leading up to the Temple Destruction/Judgement Day/God’s Kingdom.”

So Jesus starts by separating Temple Destruction from Judgement Day. He says, verse 8, “Watch out that you are not deceived. For many will come in my name, claiming, ‘I’m the Messiah!’ and, ‘It’s the end of the world!’ Do not follow them. [9] When you hear of wars and uprisings, do not be frightened. These things must happen first, but the end will not come right away.”

Before the destruction of the temple, there will be many false Messiahs who will start wars and rebellions against the Roman empire. Jesus says, “Do not join those rebellions! — they are doomed to fail.” In fact, those rebellions will lead directly to the destruction of Jerusalem! Then Jesus says, “But don’t be scared when that happens! These things must happen first, but the end will not come right away.”

Jerusalem must be destroyed first — but Judgement Day will not come right away.

So: Temple Destruction does not equal Judgement Day.

Which also means — bad news — history is going to repeat itself. God is going to send another foreign army to destroy the temple — again — as an act of judgement.

Which means Temple Destruction also does not equal Kingdom of God! It actually means more years of suffering and exile for the Jewish people…!

Oh. That’s bad. That changes everything!

But Jesus isn’t finished yet. They asked for signs: he is going to give them signs. Verse 10: 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.

So what signs do we have so far? False Messiahs, wars, rebellions, earthquakes, famines, pestilences — that means plagues — fearful events and great signs from heaven.

By the way, if you read the Book of Acts carefully — which was also written by Luke — you will see that each one of these signs takes place during the Book of Acts.

Interesting, no?

We’ll talk more about that later.

Jesus goes on in verse 12: “But before all this — before the Book of Acts is finished — they will seize you and persecute you. They will hand you over to [Jewish] synagogues and put you in [Roman] prison, and you will be brought before [Jewish] kings and [Roman] governors, and all on account of my name. [13] And so you will bear testimony to me. [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. [16] You will be betrayed even by parents, brothers and sisters, relatives and friends, and they will put some of you to death. [17] Everyone will hate you because of me. [18] But not a hair of your head will perish. [19] Stand firm, and you will win life.”

And, by the way, if you read the Book of Acts carefully…you will see that all these things happen also. The disciples are dragged before Jewish judges and Roman judges. They end up on trial before Jewish kings and Roman governors. They bear testimony to Jesus. And even though most of them are not highly-educated men, again and again God gives them words and wisdom that the opposing lawyers are unable to argue against.

We should also notice that — even though they won the arguments — some of them were put to death anyway.

And that raises a question for us. In verse 16 Jesus says, “They will put some of you to death.” Then in verse 18 he says, “Not a hair of your head will perish.”

Isn’t that a contradiction?

No, actually. See, the word “perish” in those days meant “condemned to hell.” Death happens to everyone: good people as well as wicked people. But “perishing” — condemnation — only happens to the wicked.

Jesus is telling his disciples, “Human courts might condemn you and kill you. But that doesn’t matter, because God’s court will not condemn you. On resurrection day — on Judgement Day — not a single hair on your head will have been plucked out and condemned to hell.”

“Then,” Jesus says in verse 20, “after all those events of the Book of Acts, then the temple will be destroyed. You asked for warning signs? I’m giving you warning signs: When you see Jerusalem being surrounded by armies, you will know that its desolation — its destruction — 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.

The ancient prophets warned the rulers of Jerusalem again and again that if they did not accept the Messiah when he comes…the entire city would be destroyed: the rulers as well as their followers.

[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.”

And you should know, friends, that all of this happened exactly as described. False Messiahs showed up and rebelled against Rome. Roman armies surrounded Jerusalem. Eye-witnesses describe fearful events and great signs from heaven, including a strange star and a comet. When the city fell, the Romans killed almost everyone. The few survivors were taken as prisoners to all the nations. In the end the Romans threw down every stone of the temple and even dug up its foundations.

But the Christian Jews of Jerusalem, when they saw the city “being surrounded by armies” remembered Jesus advice and got out. And so Jesus’ words saved them from God’s judgement.

So, just as Jesus predicted, Jerusalem was trampled on by the Gentiles…and it is still being “trampled on” by the Gentiles. That is why even today Jerusalem is still not the capital city of the Jews (no matter what President Trump might say); that is why even today there is still no Jewish temple in Jerusalem: we are still living in the “times of the Gentiles”. And Jesus says here that Jerusalem will continue to be ruled by the Gentiles until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled.

So quite naturally we want to know: what happens after the times of the Gentiles? Will the Jewish people rule Jerusalem again? Will the Jewish temple be rebuilt, like it was after the first destruction?

No. Jesus says, beginning in verse 25: “When the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled, there will be signs in the sun, moon and stars. On the earth, nations will be in anguish and perplexity at the roaring and tossing of the sea. [26] People will faint from terror, apprehensive of what is coming on the world, for the heavenly bodies will be shaken. [27] At that time they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory. [28] When these things begin to take place, stand up and lift up your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.”

So, what happens after the times of the Gentiles?

Judgement Day.

Without warning, there will be some kind of global disaster. And, to be clear, this global disaster is not the warning sign that Judgement Day is coming; this global disaster is Judgement Day. There will be just enough time for the nations to experience anguish, perplexity, and terror; there will be just enough time for us to stand up and lift up our heads, knowing that our redemption is near —

— and then it will be over. The court will be seated, the books will be opened, the dead who sleep in the dust of the earth will awake: some to everlasting life, others to shame and everlasting contempt. And the children of God will shine like the brightness of the heavens…like the stars for ever and ever.

And that is all Jesus has to say about Judgement Day: it will come without warning, it will be universal, and it will be the absolute End of all corruption and all abuse.

This is the course of world history as Jesus has just outlined it: first, Destruction of Jerusalem; second, the Age of the Gentiles (that’s our age); third, Judgement Day.

But…what about the Kingdom of God? When does that begin? After Judgement Day?

Starting in verse 29, Jesus told them this parable: “Look at the fig tree and all the trees. [30] When they sprout leaves, you can see for yourselves and know that summer is near.”

Okay…Jesus is saying that new leaves are the sign that summer is near…that’s pretty clear. Go on:

[31] “Even so, when you see these things happening, you know that the kingdom of God is near.”

Okay…now Jesus is saying that these things are the sign that the kingdom of God is near.

Also very clear…except, one question: “When we see what things, Jesus?”

“Ah, but see: I just told you what things: false Messiahs, wars, rebellions, earthquakes, famines, pestilences, fearful events and great signs from heaven!” — basically all the events of the Book of Acts!

So when, exactly, does the kingdom of God begin, Jesus?

[32] “Truly I tell you, this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things (in the Book of Acts) have happened.”

This generation will get to see all these things — and all these things will be the proof that the kingdom of God is “near” — actually, already begun, as Jesus said back in Chapter 17.

So this is the course of world history as outlined by Jesus: first, the Kingdom of God begins. Second, the Destruction of Jerusalem. Third, the Age of the Gentiles. And finally: Judgement Day, with the completion of God’s Kingdom.

God’s Kingdom began during that generation, two thousand years ago; it is still being built today. Many people don’t recognize it, because God’s Kingdom does not consist of temples covered with silver and gold, built on the backs of the poor and the helpless; God’s Kingdom is the kingdom of the poor and the helpless. That is why the successful and the powerful have so much trouble seeing it. But whether they recognize it or not, one day God’s Kingdom will be completed: there will be a new heavens and a new earth, the home of righteousness.

But how can we be sure that Jesus prophecies about Judgement Day are true?

Because everything happened in that generation exactly as he said. How do we know? Because Luke went on to write the Book of Acts for us. We have the record of all Jesus’ prophecies about that generation coming true.

And if Jesus was right about all the details of the Temple’s Destruction…he is going to be right about all the details of Judgement Day.

Which is exactly what Jesus goes on to say:

[30] “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away.

“This physical world will come to an end. This temple here is strictly temporary. But my words are forever.”

Jesus’ words saved the Christians of that generation from God’s judgement on Jerusalem.

Jesus’ words will save the Christians of every generation from God’s judgement on the world.

So we had better listen to what Jesus has to say, especially when he is talking about how to escape Judgement Day!

And what does Jesus have to say about how to escape Judgement Day?

First he tells us what to stay away from: [34] “Be careful, or your hearts will be weighed down with carousing, drunkenness and the anxieties of life, and that day will close on you suddenly like a trap. [35] For it will come on all those who live on the face of the whole earth.

That first sentence is a funny one: “Be careful, or your hearts will be weighed down with carousing, drunkenness and the anxieties of life.” That word “carousing” is especially funny. It is very difficult to translate into English. In the Greek that word means “to be seized by the kind of pain that happens when you eat or drink too much.” In other words: vomiting, staggering, getting a hangover.

Jesus is describing people who have so much extra cash, so much extra to eat and drink, that it makes them sick, it weighs their hearts down. Jesus is describing people who have become consumed with the anxieties of their own lives — and no longer see the suffering of others. Jesus is describing people like the Sadducees and the Pharisees and the priests of Jerusalem, who were so consumed with maintaining their temple and their religion that they were willing to sacrifice widows to do it.

Friends, isn’t that a fair description of our age, of our city? Don’t we live in a world full of people who are so consumed with maintaining their profit margins that they are willing to sacrifice the poor to keep it all going?

Jesus is repeating the same warnings he has given us before: “Watch out for the virus of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy! Do not claim to be the children of God, and then abuse those who are weaker than you! Do not claim to be close to God, and then live a life obsessed with wealth and comfort and success! Do not claim to speak for God, and then use your religion to crush the poor and devour widow’s houses!”

This is Jesus’ urgent warning: “If you become like this, you won’t be ready, and Judgement Day will take you by surprise!”

Now that is a scary warning, isn’t it?

It makes makes me look at my own life and wonder, “Oh, is my heart weighed down with all this extra stuff? Have the anxieties of my own life — career, family, all that — blinded me to the suffering of others? Am I ready for Judgement Day?”

Those are good questions to ask. The bible encourages us to examine our lives and see: could we be more generous? Could we be more compassionate? And if we’re being honest with ourselves the answer is usually, “…yeah…I probably could be more generous, more compassionate…!”

But, friends, listen carefully: being more generous, being more compassionate, might be good, would be good — but these things will not save us on Judgement Day. Remember: we cannot save ourselves by doing good deeds. That is how the devil’s kingdom works. That is how every other religion on earth works: you must give up your life to earn God’s blessings for yourself.

But Jesus’ kingdom works the opposite way. Christianity is different. In our faith, Jesus gives up his life to earn God’s blessings for us. And he does this not because we are generous and compassionate and deserve to be saved, but because he knows we are all like helpless handicapped children. Jesus knows that we were all born with a severe learning disability — he has compassion on us because we are helpless.

Jesus is telling us that it can be very dangerous to be successful in this life. Once we become successful, we tend to forget that we are actually God’s helpless handicapped children. We start to think we are independent, self-made, self-sufficien, super spiritualt! And once we forget our own helplessness, we tend to forget the helplessness of others. And once we forget the helplessless of others, we no longer see any need to be generous and compassionate! Because, after all, since we worked hard and helped ourselves and succeeded, everyone else also ought to work hard and help themselves!

Jesus is saying that kind of thinking leads straight to hell.

Okay. Thank you Jesus for telling us what not to do, and scaring us all to death. Now, please tell us what to do!

He does: “Instead of doing that, [36] be always on the watch, and pray that you may be able to escape all that is about to happen, and that you may be able to stand before the Son of Man.”

So what should we do to be ready?

Two commands, two results: Watch and Pray, so that you may Escape and Stand.

Command Number One: be always on the watch.

What are we watching for?

Two things.

Jesus told us, back in verse 8: “Watch out that you are not deceived. For many will come in my name,” claiming to be Christians, claiming to be “Messiahs”, or “Apostles”, or “Prophets”, claiming to know when Judgment Day will happen, claiming to have special spiritual knowledge from God. Such people have forgotten that they are nothing more than God’s helpless handicapped children. Jesus says, very clearly: “Do not follow them!”

So watch out for false teachers who want to lead us into self-sufficiency. Refuse to follow them.

Jesus also told us, in verse 34, “Be careful, or your hearts will be weighed down…” We must keep watch on our own lives, especially if we perceive ourselves to be successful by the standards of the world. Remember, success can lead to self-sufficiency. Self-sufficiency leads to hell. So we must keep watch on our own lives, to make sure we are not being led away into hard-hearted self-centered self-sufficiency.

Jesus commands us to watch out for two things: self-sufficient false teachers in the world, and self-sufficient attitudes in our hearts.

But what if we do find a self-sufficient idol growing within us like a cancer? What should we do then?

Now it is time for Command Number Two: Pray that you may be able to Escape and Stand!

Friends, when we discover an idol growing within us…do not make the mistake of fighting it. Remember, we are God’s helpless handicapped children. All we can do is cry for help: “pray that you may be able to escape.” Prayer is the cry of the helpless. When we do not pray for help, we show that we think we can handle it.

See: sin and idolatry is like dog shit at the park. You tell your child, “Watch out! Don’t slip and fall in that!” But they will, eventually. If you take your kid to the park, they will get dirty. And tell me, parents, if you’ve had this experience: a little later you’re back home and then…“Oh no! What is that smell?! And why is my child sitting on the sofa in their dirty clothes?”

But then when you confront your kid, she says, “Don’t worry, I cleaned it up all by myself!”

“Oh, yeah? And how did you do that?”

“Oh, you know, I used my hands, and then I rubbed on the wall, and on the sofa here…”

We are God’s helpless handicapped children. We cannot clean up our sins and our idols by ourselves. Please don’t try. Jesus says, “Watch out! Don’t fall into that! Don’t become ‘successful’ like the Pharisees and forget about compassion! But if you do fall, ask me to clean you up!

Pray that you may be able to escape!

“And pray that you may be able to stand before the Son of Man.”

What does it mean to stand before the Son of Man?

The Son of Man is the judge of Judgement Day. The guilty will not be permitted to stand before him. If they refuse to kneel, the bible says their legs will be shattered; they will not be able to stand.

But the innocent will stand before the judge — because they are not guilty.

Now: who are the innocent? People who never sinned? No, there is no such thing. Everyone has sinned.

The innocent are those who have sinned, but whose sins have been forgiven.

When Jesus commands us to pray that we may be able to stand before the Son of Man, he is telling us to pray for forgiveness.

So, what must we do to be ready for Judgement Day?

We Watch for two things, and we Pray for two things.

We watch for false teachers who are obsessed with health and wealth, success and secret spiritual knowledge.

We watch our own lives for the idols of health and wealth, success and secret spiritual knowledge.

When we find those idols within us — and we will, we’ve all got them! — then we pray to be rescued; we pray to be forgiven. And those prayers will be answered. Jesus always hears the cries of the helpless.

So if you are here today, and you are helpless in the grip of powers greater than yourself, if you are helpless in the grip of sin and shame…cry out! Pray. Speak to the Son of Man, the judge of Judgement Day. Whether you are a Christian or not a Christian, he will hear your cries; he will rescue you from the devil’s devouring kingdom, and lead you into his own, where everything is paid for, and all the blessings of God can be given to you for free.

It is as simple as that.

So, in closing, a brief recap:

This section began in the temple, and it ends in the temple.

The disciples and everyone else were really impressed with it, but that’s because they worshiped the appearace of success and power.

Jesus saw only self-centered, self-sufficient, other-devouring corruption. So he said that one day God would bring it to an end. And he warned everyone that if they tried to take shelter within that corrupt temple on that day, they would be destroyed along with that temple!

And that is exactly what happened.

Then Jesus went on to show us that the destruction of that temple in Jerusalem is just a small preview of what will happen on Judgement Day. He looks at our great global civilizations and all he sees is self-centered, self-sufficient, other-devouring corruption. He has promised that one day God will bring it all to an end. And he has warned us all that if we try to take shelter within our corrupt definitions of “success”…then we will be destroyed along with this world.

Jesus is speaking to everyone, even today. He is saying, “Run. Flee the coming judgement. Join my kingdom. Let me lead you out of darkness and slavery. Claim me as your king, and I will pay back everything you owe, I will return everything you have lost. I will set you free! — and all you have to do is ask.”

Jesus is leading a New Exodus, out of the old temple and into something new. And that is how Luke ends this section: [37] Each day Jesus was teaching at the temple, and each evening he went out to spend the night on the hill called the Mount of Olives, [38] and all the people came early in the morning to hear him at the temple.

The people come to him in the temple. Will they follow him out, and be saved from the coming judgement?

That is Luke’s cliffhanger — and ours. We also want people to come and listen to Jesus’ words here, in our church, in this city. But ultimately we are pointing forward to a day when we will all follow Jesus out of this world when he calls.

Come back next week for the beginning of the rest of the story.

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