Signs of the End of the Age (part 2)
[Luke chapter 21, verses 20-38]
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Last week when we left off at verse 19, Jesus was explaining to his apostles what would occur during the End Times, or “end of the age” as the apostle Luke puts it. Christ goes on to state that no matter how bad things get during that period, up to and including persecution for our faith on a global scale, “…not a hair of your head will perish. By standing firm you will gain life.” I sure hope everyone will take our Lord and Savior’s advice, because if we do, the “life” Jesus spoke of is a life without end. The life we gain by following Jesus Christ and his teachings, then, is an eternal one that goes to infinity. Today as Christ continues his explanation to the Twelve, he elaborates further on the events of the End Times, and what they should expect to occur. Notice that Jesus explains the End Times to the Twelve as if they would all live to see it, although all but 2 were martyred for their devotion to Christ and his Gospel. The first was John, “the apostle who Jesus loved” as John’s gospel often calls himself, and rightfully so. The apostle John died of natural causes roughly 2 years after he finished writing the Book of Revelation around the years 89-90AD. The second was Judas, who needs no explanation. So let’s take up where we last left off starting at verse 20.
“When you see Jerusalem being surrounded by armies, you will know that its desolation is near. 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. For this is the time of punishment in fulfillment of all that has been written. 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. They will fall by the sword and be taken as prisoners to all the nations. Jerusalem will be trampled on by the Gentiles until 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. Men will faint in terror, apprehensive of what is coming on the world, for the heavenly bodies will be shaken. At that time they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory. When these things begin to take place, stand up and lift up your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.” (Luke 21, verses 20-28)
Let’s recall what our Lord and Savior said back in verse 6: “Not a single stone will be left upon another. Every one will be thrown down.” ‘This temple that everyone is so proud of and which everyone reveres will be utterly demolished’, is how Jesus’ statements would read in 21st century vernacular. As I wrote in last week’s lesson, Christ was referring to the military conquest of Jerusalem in 70AD, which was over 3 ½ decades into the future at that time. The “armies” Jesus spoke of were of the Roman Empire, which was at its peak during the time of Christ. “For this is the time of punishment in fulfillment of all that has been written.” This was God’s retribution to the Jewish people for their handing his Son over to the Roman authorities to be crucified. God allowed the Roman armies to overrun Jerusalem as payback for what the Jewish religious establishment did to the Son of God. The Greater and Lesser prophets of the Old Testament wrote volumes about it, just pick it up and read it for yourselves. The book of Isaiah would be a good place to start.
“There will be great distress in the land and wrath against this people. They will fall by the sword and 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 “times of the Gentiles” consisted of the time from the Roman conquest of Jerusalem in 70AD – including most of what was the Hebrew nation back then – up until 1917, which was the year of the Balfour Declaration which laid the groundwork for the reestablishment of the nation of Israel in May 1948. So for a period of 1,847 years, the ancestors of the Jewish people who handed Jesus over to be crucified – to have the Son of God executed like a criminal – were scattered across the face of the earth without a home. So we can conclude from this that “the times of the Gentiles” were fulfilled on May 14, 1948, when the nation of Israel was formally chartered by the United Nations. “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.” This statement describes our present situation with startling accuracy. We just had a total solar eclipse all across North America this past summer (2017), and many have expressed a growing concern – myself included – about rising sea levels and the other effects of climate change, with flooding of coastal areas becoming more commonplace.
“Men will faint in terror, apprehensive of what is coming on the world, for the heavenly bodies will be shaken.” Something really big is going to happen, something unprecedented. This is a possible reference to what had not yet been written – what we now call Revelation chapter 6, otherwise known as “The Sixth Seal”, verses 12-16: “I watched as he opened the sixth seal. There was a great earthquake. The sun turned black like sack cloth made of goat hair, the whole moon turned blood red, and the stars in the sky fell to earth, as late figs drop from a fig tree when shaken by a strong wind. The sky receded like a scroll, rolling up, and every mountain and island was removed from their place. Then the kings of the earth, the princes, the generals, the rich, the mighty, and every slave and every free man hid in caves and among the rocks in the mountains. They called to the mountains and the rocks, ‘Fall on us and hide us from the face of him who sits on the throne and from the wrath of the Lamb! For the great day of their wrath has come, and who can stand?’”
So men – and presumably women, children and the sick and elderly – will literally be falling out left and right in sheer terror. Some will merely faint, others will scream in horror, while others will die from heart attacks and strokes right where they are standing or sitting. The cloud of dust and debris from this global earthquake will be thick enough to blot out the sun, moon and stars. “When these things begin to take place, stand up and lift up your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.” Notice that a whole lot of really bad stuff has to happen before our ‘redemption draws near’. So all the stuff being said on “Christian TV” and in “prosperity gospel” churches about the so-called “pretribulation Rapture” doesn’t pass the ‘smell test’ as far as I am concerned. Verses 15 and 16 prove that beyond a shadow of a doubt. Only after certain things have occurred can we be finally redeemed, and not before! On that note, let’s tackle the second half of this week’s lesson, beginning at verse 29.
“He told them this parable: ‘Look at the fig tree and all the trees. When they sprout leaves, you can see for yourselves and know that summer is near. Even so, when you see these things happening, you know that the kingdom of God is near. I tell you the truth, this generation will not pass away until all these things have happened. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away. Be careful, or your hearts will be weighed down with dissipation, drunkenness and the anxieties of life, and that day will close on you unexpectedly like a trap. For it will come upon all those who live on the face of the whole earth. Be always on the watch, and pray 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.’ Each day Jesus was teaching at the temple, and each night he went out to spend the night on the hill called the Mount of Olives, and all the people came early in the morning to hear him at the temple.” (Luke 21, verses 29-38)
Oftentimes throughout the Four Gospels Jesus used trees as symbols for the Church – or more accurately the Bride – as well as for the times and seasons. But our Lord and Savior sometimes used the fig tree as a symbol for the future nation of Israel, whose formation was still approximately 1,885 years into the future at this particular point. “Even so, when you see these things happening, you know that the kingdom of God is near.” From a modern perspective, this can only be interpreted as Christ telling us that once Israel rises again, the return of Jesus Christ to rule the earth for 1,000 years cannot be far away. In the following verse, Jesus gets more specific and more mysterious: “I tell you the truth, this generation will not pass away until all these things have happened. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away.” The words “this generation” meant all those present with Jesus at that time. As before, he was still referring to the military conquest of Jerusalem some 37-38 years into the future. But as we now know, all but a handful of the apostles had been martyred for their preaching and their faith by the time that occurred. John and Paul were likely still alive, Judas committed suicide, but I’m fairly sure all the rest were gone by then. So, many in that generation passed away beforehand – did that make Christ a liar as some naysayers insist? The answer is an emphatic ‘no’, due to a mistake in some of the translations, not the least of which is the revered King James Bible. “Generation” meant ‘age’ or ‘era’, meaning the era of the Gentiles that Christ mentioned back in verse 24. The difference is subtle but still quite significant.
“Be careful, or your hearts will be weighed down with dissipation, drunkenness and the anxieties of life, and that day will close on you unexpectedly like a trap. For it will come upon all those who live on the face of the whole earth.” In modern vernacular this simply means, ‘Do not allow yourself to become distracted by anything. Distraction can be deadly. Distraction in the End Times will be lethal’. According to my Merriam-Webster dictionary, ‘dissipation’ means drinking or doing drugs to excess just to have something that’s fun to do. Excessive partying, drugging and binge drinking, which leads to addiction, is sinful for this very reason. Those weighed down with “the anxieties of life” should rely on their faith in Christ instead of substance abuse to get them through life’s trying times, and there are plenty of those to go around. “Be always on the watch, and pray 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.” Jesus could return at any time, nobody knows for sure. As he said in Matthew 24, verse 36, “No one knows that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.” Watch and pray daily, everyone. Because the ‘coming of the Lord’ can just as accurately be portrayed as the end of one’s life, and nobody knows when that is either, including myself. That’s something for everyone to pray about daily over the next week, and next time we’ll move on to chapter 22.