Summary: Times and signs.
WARNINGS & PROMISES FOR EVIL DAYS
Every so often we are confronted with all the uncertainty that arises from the dawn of what seem to be evil days. One hundred years ago people wondered if the fierce battles of World War One represented the Apocalyptic Armageddon. Then came World War Two.
At the end of World War Two the newspaper headlines screamed, ‘Peace on Earth!’ But that, even if it was ever true, was short-lived. In this century, the events of 9/11 seemed to unleash another age of terror – but still I hear the quiet voice of Jesus reassuring us: “but the end is not yet” (Luke 21:9).
There were three new Emperors in Rome in the space of one year immediately before Titus’ sack of Jerusalem, and his destruction of the Temple which the disciples had been so recently admiring (Luke 21:5-6). In Jesus’ answer to the disciples’ question about times and signs (Luke 21:7), He speaks of things which have always been, and which will always be – but the specific timing of all these things is known only to the Father (cf. Mark 13:32).
1. “Take heed that you are not led astray,” warned Jesus (Luke 21:8). Apocalyptic teachers will come and go, some claiming to come in Jesus’ name, and some even claiming “I am He!” Dates are set for the end, and those dates come and go – but we are still here, and the end has not come.
There will be wars, uprisings, earthquakes, famines, pestilences, and fearful sights and convincing signs in the heavens (Luke 21:9-11). “But before all these things,” Jesus warned His disciples (Luke 21:12), they would face arrests, persecution, interrogation by the synagogue authorities, imprisonment, arraignment before kings and governors – and all because they bore His name. We see the outworking of all these in Luke’s second volume, the Book of Acts.
2. “But it shall turn out for you as (an occasion for) testimony” (Luke 21:13). The Greek word for “testimony” speaks to us, in its extreme, of martyrdom. We should not chase after tribulation, but when it comes we must embrace it, and recognize it as an opportunity for witness.
Luke 21:14 is not an excuse for preachers to be slovenly, or slack in their sermon preparation. It would be futile to say, ‘if such and such comes up then I will say…’ because, faced with the crisis, we might fail to recollect all that. But when events catch us unawares we are forced to depend upon the Lord.
3. “I will give you a mouth and wisdom,” says Jesus (Luke 21:15). On such occasions He will give us the words, and the wisdom to say just exactly what He wants us to say. The words will be His words, to which none of our opponents will be able to reply; and the wisdom His wisdom which they will not be able to gainsay or resist.
There will even be disharmony within homes and families, and amongst friends, warns Jesus (Luke 21:16). ‘Trust not in man,’ suggests one of the prophets: ‘even the people of one’s own household may turn out to be enemies; but I look to the LORD’ (cf. Micah 7:5-7). Jesus illustrates this disharmony elsewhere by bringing it right home to a family of five divided between believers and unbelievers (Luke 12:52-53).
4. “But not a hair of your head will be lost” (Luke 21:18). This cannot be literal - or else James, Stephen and all the martyrs died for nothing - but metaphorical, speaking not of God’s protection from tribulation, but of God’s protection even in the midst of tribulation. It is a call for us to persevere: for “by patient endurance you shall keep your souls” (Luke 21:19); and ‘those who endure to the end shall be saved’ (cf. Matthew 10:22).