Sermon preached on Luke 21:5-38 by Rev. W. Reid Hankins during the Morning Worship Service at Trinity Presbyterian Church (OPC) on 11/27/2022 in Petaluma, CA.
Rev. W. Reid Hankins, M.Div.
Today we come to a passage about the end times – what is called “eschatology,” the study of the last things. Jesus is giving us prophecy here about the end times and the things that will lead up to it. Some Christians get really excited about studying the end times. Holding a Bible study on Revelation is a sure way to increase attendance. But some Christians also find the study of the end times as daunting or just too difficult or mysterious to understand. Many Christians feel quite a bit of both of those two things when they study prophecies about the end times: that it is both intriguing and intimidating. So then, hopefully our study today can both feed our interest about the end while also shine more clarity on our understanding of it.
As we tackle this passage, I will approach it in three points. First, we’ll see what Jesus says about the things to expect as we near the end of this age. Second, we’ll consider what happens at the end of this age when Christ returns. Third, we’ll see the application and exhortation that Jesus brings us about how to live here and now in light of the impending end of this age.
So then, we begin first with considering what Jesus said would be occurring as we approach the end at his return. There are quite a few things he told them that would happen before the final end of this age when he would usher in the glorious messianic kingdom and the new creation. What should become clear was that when he told them these things, he was setting the expectation that there were still several things that would have to happen before the end came. While Jesus did also preach an urgency and imminency of the coming of the kingdom, that was balanced with teaching like this that said there were yet things that would happen before the end.
So that’s related to the first thing he tells them to expect before the end. In verse 8 he warns them to expect false Messiah’s coming in his name. There will be people who rise up claiming that he is the Messiah coming at the end of the age and calling people to follow him. As we saw in similar warning back in chapter 17, and again here when he talks about his return coming in the clouds, it will be abundantly clear when he does return. If there is any doubt that it is him, then it must not be him. Because Jesus is telling us here that there won’t be any doubt when he returns, but prior to that there will be a lot of impostors. So, that is the first thing he told them and us to expect before the end: false Christs.
The next thing he tells us to expect is what we might call general troubles and tribulations that are common to all mankind. Verse 9, speaks of wars and tumults. Those wars are described in verse 10 as the ways nations and kingdom will fight against each other. And tumults is a fancy word in the Greek referring to unrest in society: think of things like riots and protests, whether they are mostly-peaceful or not. Similarly, he speaks of what we call natural disasters when he mentions big earthquakes and famines and pestilences. Verse 11 also speaks of great terrors and signs from heaven, likely having in mind things like eclipses, asteroids, comets, which are certainly things that have scared humans and at times caused even damage to the earth; even recently think of the movies that have pictured the end coming by way of a huge asteroid hitting earth. So then, a couple observations about such general troubles. One, these are things that all people, both Christians and non-Christians, will have to endure before the end. Two, these are not signs that one could use to predict the imminent coming of the end. In fact, these things have existed throughout earth’s history, so essentially Jesus’ prediction is to expect to continue to see the kinds of troubles that have characterized earth’s history. Even though Jesus has already came and conquered sin at the cross. Even though now he has rose from the dead and ascended up into glory. Jesus is telling us that while that mark the beginning of the end, there will still be more of the common troubles to mankind ahead. To say it another way, after Christ’s first coming, this world has not yet entered into the new creation. It is still a cursed world affected by man’s fall groaning until it is redeemed when Christ returns.
The next thing Jesus tells us to expect is tribulations specific to Christians. This is in verses 12-19 where Jesus foretells how people will persecute us, including to arrest them and put them on trial. They will hate us specifically because we are Christian. Some Christians would even be put to death for their faith. To clarify, this especially was very literally fulfilled by the apostles that Jesus was speaking to then and there. They were official witnesses before men, being inspired by the Holy Spirit to bear witness of Christ even before kings and governors. But certainly it has continued to find similar expression down through the centuries. Christians do still face hatred and persecution from different people in this world and those are an opportunity to tell them about our Christian hope. And we can have comfort to know that the Holy Spirit is with us through some conflicts with the world. I love the hope that he gives us in this. He says in verse 18 that we won’t perish even if the world hotly persecutes us. Yet, two verses before he mentioned how they might kill some of us. So put that together. He is saying that we won’t perish even if they kill us. Not even death can conquer the Christian’s hope. That’s our blessed hope!
Jesus gives us one more thing in this passage that will happen before the end comes. That’s in verses 20-24 when he speaks of the fall of Jerusalem. That was fulfilled in 70 AD when the Romans came through and destroyed the city. Many historians have noted that many Christians remembered this prediction of Jesus and his warning to flea to the mountains on that day and did that. Let us then note that Jesus does not say that destruction of Jerusalem is then the final event before the end. In fact, verse 24 speaks of the aftermath and effects of the destruction of Jerusalem lasting from then on “until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled.” So, that leaves open the door for an unspecified time after that destruction of Jerusalem where there will be more of those general troubles to all mankind and specific tribulations to Christians. In fact, that is what has continued to happen since Jerusalem fell. Jesus does not tell us how much longer after the fall of Jerusalem it would be before he returns. But there is a set time even though the amount of it has not been revealed to us.
So then, that leads us to our second point to consider the end when Jesus returns. This is especially here in verses 25-28. Jesus begins by mentioning briefly some final signs in verse 25. These have a similarity to some degree with the previously mentioned general signs: things happening in outer space, and the nations being troubled and what not. But there does seem something of a heightened degree going on in this description. The Old Testament has prophecies of this sort concerning such phenomenon happening at the end. At this point, it is not known the specifics of how this will work out. Will there be some final onslaught of such signs in an extreme way that then is immediately followed by the end? Or will there be some final period of time in between? Given how the Scriptures speaks like in verse 34 of the sudden and surprising nature of the Lord’s coming and how it will catch people off guard, I suspect from Scripture that these final signs of seemingly grander nature all coincide with the end, either imminently or very near to it. That they happen and shortly thereafter the Lord is coming back in the clouds. Again, time will tell how the specifics unfold. Here is where there is the greatest mystery I think in this passage.
So then, Jesus says that when he returns, he will come in the clouds for all to see. Since Jesus ascended up literally from earth and was translated into the heavenly places, this should not be too mind boggling to imagine him returning in a similar way. But it will be more glorious. When he ascended, only a select number witnessed it. But when he returns, everyone will see it. As he says it will come with power and great glory, verse 27. While this too has much mystery, let’s make sure we understand what this involves. When Jesus comes back, he will be bringing an end to this current age. Elsewhere that is described as the time when he will make a new heavens and new earth through some radical transformation and renewal of the cosmos. That is even referenced here in verse 33 when he speaks of how the current heaven and earth will pass away. So then, since Christ’s return marks such a cosmic event, we should not be surprised at either how there would be such final cosmic signs along with Jesus somehow coming in the clouds with power and glory.
Jesus does tell us yet more of what will happen at Christ’s return. It will be a simultaneous time of redemption and judgment. Verse 28 speaks to how Christians will be able to view that day as the hour of their redemption. Though the world has hated us and even killed us, we will be ushered into the eternal resurrection life of glory on that day. We’ll be vindicated and declared to be the sons of God. On the flip side, it will be a day of judgment that will result in the eternal condemnation of those who are not saved in Christ. Verse 35 describes how Christ’s coming will be like a trap that snares the wicked to catch them. This will be for them to face judgment, as verse 36 hints at this when it speaks of we then want to be able stand before the Son of Man on that day. When Jesus returns there will be a final day of judgment as we read about in passages like Revelation 20 and Matthew 25. Those who are still alive at Christ’s return will stand trial, but also those who have already died. All the dead will be raised so they can stand trial before Christ. The elect of God will be found to be justified by the work of Christ imputed to them and will be ushered into the new creation. But the rest will be found guilty for all their various evil deeds and cast into the eternal lake of fire where they will endure a just punishment day and night.
It is this matter of the coming judgment that leads us to our third point for today. Let us now consider how Jesus calls us to be vigilant and prepared for his return. This is found largely in verses 29-37. Observe the parable of the fig tree starting in verse 29. The point is that you can tell what season it is by looking at the trees. Winter, spring, summer, and fall, the trees go through their different stages. When the trees wake up from winter in the spring they bud and leaves begin to form, and you know summer is getting close. The application Jesus makes is to his return when he will come ushing in the kingdom of God and the new creation. Jesus says there will be all these signs and then he will return.
So, look around, and that’s what we’ve seen. Verse 32 has caused a lot of questions when it says “This generation will not pass away until all has taken place.” If that “all” included the return of Christ, then “generation” must not mean “that age of people living then and there when Jesus said this,” because they are dead and Jesus hasn’t yet returned. But if the “all” that Jesus is referring to is the various signs leading up to the final return of Christ, then indeed that generation of Jesus’ day didn’t die off before all these signs had already begun to take place. Acts records the persecutions the apostles faced and all their bearing witness to Christ. All the general troubles of this world certainly continued during that time. And Jerusalem was destroyed in 70 AD. By the time Jerusalem was destroyed, you could indeed affirm that all these various signs had in fact taken place. The only thing left is the return of Christ and the things we said here are connected with that.
In other words, the fig tree has come out in leaf. We can look around now and see that to be the case. That’s how this parable should apply to us today. We shouldn’t be sitting back and say we’ve got plenty of time because this or that other event in redemptive history has to happen first before Jesus comes back. He could come back today. The leaves are out on the fig tree.
SO then, Jesus says to watch yourself, verse 34. We need to be on the watch. This is about spiritual vigilance. The related metaphor given here is to stay awake, verse 36. You see the sense of vigilance here is that you are like a night watchman who has to stay awake and keep on the watch and alert for trouble. If you are a night watchman you need to stay awake and pay attention. That’s the imagery for this spiritual vigilance we need to have. Are we seeing that we are in Christ? Are we watching out for the enemies that would look to turn us away from him? Are we looking to daily repent afresh and trust in faith afresh in Christ? Are we looking to daily put off the old man and put on Christ? Are we on the look to be walking ever in Christ?
One way to be watching like that is with regularly study of God’s Word in close examination of your heart and life. Jesus said here in verse 32 that God’s Word is the something that endures. This world won’t endure, but God’s Word will endure. And it’s his Word that will teach us how to endure beyond this world too. Use the Bible to help you in being spiritually vigilant.
Another way to be watching yourself is stated for us in verse 36. That we would pray. That we would pray when the troubles come like he’s prophesied here, that we would not recant our faith, but continue in Christ. That’s a concern raised here. If persecution heats up and you have the option to recant Christ and be freed from it, there is a real temptation. We need to watch and pray against such temptation. Apply this to today’s events. Being a true Christian today means you might face being canceled by the culture, for example. That might keep you from getting the job you wanted, or from getting into the college you were hoping to, or a bunch of supposed friends turning on you, and other things like that. Jesus warns us to be on guard by watching and praying lest we succumb to temptation.
In conclusion, Trinity Presbyterian Church, let’s take all this together. Prophecy of the end times is very intriguing to us, but too often approached in the wrong way. Too often, Christians approach it like some secret puzzle or some Rubik’s cube that if they just figure it out, then they will know when exactly Jesus is coming back. But that is clearly not the case here. Rather this passage has essentially told us the signs will only warn us that he is coming and to be ready but not to give us enough to predict a specific date.
So then, let us instead of trying to predict a date, instead recognize the “season” we are in. We are surely nearing the final harvest. Let us be awake and watching as Jesus has exhorted us today. Of course, as I mention seasons, I recognize that this is that time of the year many Christians have referred to as the advent season. While not a biblically instituted holiday, many have historically used this season to be remembering the first advent of Christ and thinking about what it means to be prepared for that. The fitting application of remembering the first advent of Christ is to be getting prepared for the second advent of Jesus. Let us indeed be doing that during this “season”.
Copyright © 2022 Rev. W. Reid Hankins, M.Div.
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