Hi. Please find a seat and Luke 21.20-24 and let’s pray:
Lord help us now to understand your word and to respond in repentance and faith. Amen.
During 2020 have you found yourself longing for a better world? The pain and misery that’s all over this world reminds me of the fallenness of this world and it makes me desperate for a better world and so longing for that day when Jesus returns, when the kingdom of God is finally and fully ushered in, for the promised new heaven and new earth, the home of righteousness, as the Bible puts it. And that is what Jesus points to in Luke 21. Now think back, what’s one of the best days you’ve ever had? That almost perfect day you wished would never end. Well what Jesus speaks of here in Luke 21.31 of the Kingdom of God being near, he’s speaking of an experience of being somewhere where you hope it will never end and it never does. A place that’s in stark contrast to this world because even the best moments in this world end, not to mention all the aspects of this world that are so grim. Here as Jesus points his disciples towards the wonderful prospect of a new creation. He’s saying, be sure you don’t miss out on being in that wonderful place to come with him forever.
But for Jesus to bring that promised new creation there has to be judgment. God has to get rid of all the stuff in this broken world that ruins life if he’s going to bring us the new world. More than that he must bring justice to this world. If he were to ignore all the injustices in the world we would be outraged, and indeed God would not be God. So, for that wonderful new creation to become a reality there must be judgment and when judgment day comes, when Jesus wraps up history as we know it, it will be a day of utter turmoil. And Jesus speaks of that here.
You see there are two events weaving through this chapter. The judgment of Jerusalem and the final judgment to come. They are two events but one helps to explain the other. The fall of Jerusalem and destruction of the Temple is first a scale model of the final judgement of the world. And second, the fall of Jerusalem is a sure sign that Jesus will return to judge the world. So my one main point from the verses we’re focusing on today Luke 21.20-24 is that:
The fall of Jerusalem is a scale model of the final judgement of the world
Jesus says that the destruction of the Temple and the sacking of Jerusalem will happen and is a scale model of the final judgment of the world, which will also happen. Luke 21.20:
But when you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies, then know that its desolation has come near.
Here at this point Jesus is predicting something which came true in AD 70, when Roman Emperors Nero and then Vespasian sent 60,000 troops to Jerusalem, led latterly by Vespasian’s son, Titus, the future Emperor. They besieged and crushed the city which had been controlled by Judean rebel factions since AD 66. The siege ended on 30th August AD 70 with the sacking of Jerusalem and the destruction of the Temple. You can still see the triumphal arch in Rome built to honour Titus’ victory, depicting the removal of the Temple lampstand. Jesus said this would happen in 33AD. And history tells us that almost 40 years later it did happen.
So, before we return to the fall of Jerusalem we must ask what does this prediction teach us about Jesus? Well it speaks of Christ’s perfect knowledge. Jesus gives us a fearful and detailed picture of the dreadful misery which will come on Jerusalem. And foreknowledge like this is a special attribute of God. Left to ourselves, the Bible says we don’t even know what a day may bring about (Proverbs 27.1). To say what will happen to any city or kingdom in 40 years is far beyond the power of a mere human being (Isaiah 46.10). He who could speak with such authority about future events must be fully God as well as fully man. We should take note and be encouraged that Christ’s great knowledge means nothing that happens to us takes him by surprise.
Christ knew what was going to happen in AD 70 but at the time when Jesus predicted it, it would’ve been hard to find anyone who believed it. The Temple was huge and impressive. In fact that’s how this whole discussion began (Luke 21.5). It was a beautiful and spectacular structure. The Temple could hold between 20-40,000 people. People would’ve thought it was as permanent as the mountains that surrounded Jerusalem. But Jesus said, Luke 21.6 that:
…the days will come when there will not be left here one stone upon another that will not be thrown down.
As Jesus said those words no-one would have believed him. You see the Temple was at the heart of Judaism. To say that the Temple would be destroyed was to say that Judaism itself was going to be destroyed. And that’s what Jesus was saying.
Jerusalem the holy city would become in effect a Gentile (or non-Jewish) city. First overrun by the Gentiles and then run by the Gentiles according to Gentile values. Jerusalem would become all it had begun to be. Jerusalem’s leaders were about to take God’s Messiah and have him executed by the Romans. They’re about to reject their God and act like the Gentiles around them who themselves had turned to other gods. So Jerusalem would be destroyed, the Temple flattened and with it Judaism would be replaced as the way through which people would come to know the one true living God.
All that seemed impossible when Jesus said it. But it happened. History tells us it happened. What Jesus predicted here in Luke 21.20-24 happened. The Roman Emperor sent his troops and the Temple was razed to the ground.
And Jesus says when Luke 21.20 happens, when you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies, get out of the area and city as fast as you can. Luke 21.21:
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…
Jerusalem started being surrounded by armies three years before the siege of Jerusalem by Titus. In AD 67 the Roman army under Cestius unaccountably and without any apparent reason withdrew, although the city might have been easily taken. This made some of Jerusalem’s inhabitants take fright and flee the city as soon as the Roman army withdrew. In the words of the Jewish historian Josephus:
They swam away, as from a ship about to sink.
Many of those who escaped were Christians, often ending up in a place called Pella, north east of Jerusalem and beyond. One result would be that the gospel was pushed out further. We may feel scattered as a church due to the pandemic but it has led to more opportunities for us to share the gospel. The more immediate result in AD 70 was that when the war and siege broke out, almost the entire Jerusalem church escaped Jerusalem’s desolation. Jesus’ instructions are clear, and the early Christians followed them! Believing and obeying the words of Jesus is always wise. Believing and obeying Jesus’ words about how to escape the coming final Judgment, namely through trusting in him, is exceedingly wise.
There’s a further lesson for us all here. Jesus’ words teach us that there’s nothing cowardly or unchristian about trying to escape from danger. There’s nothing wrong about diligently using everything that comes to hand to secure our safety and security. Yes, we’re to meet death patiently and courageously, if it comes upon us as we follow God’s path. But to court death and suffering and rush needlessly into danger is to act like a fanatic rather than like a wise disciple of Christ. It’s those who use all means which God has placed within their reach who may confidently expect God’s protection. There’s a great deal of difference between presumption and faith.
But if you were caught in the city during the siege there would be no escape. It would end in death or in capture. It would be awful for pregnant women and nursing mothers Luke 21.23. Alas for them says Jesus. He doesn’t say these things with any relish. It saddens him deeply. But they had been warned. Luke 21.24:
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.
Which probably means both the times when the Gentiles triumph over Israel and when the gospel is preached to the Gentiles. See Romans 11.25 for more.
Josephus says 1 million Jews died by sword or famine during the siege of Jerusalem. Josephus also records that 97000 Jews were taken away as prisoners to all the nations. Most were sent as slaves to Egypt or dispersed over the Roman Empire, to be thrown to the lions in the Colosseums. Jesus is giving us a desperate picture of a city ravaged by war. A picture we’re all too familiar with. Aleppo. Mosel. Utter devastation.
Why did this happen to Jerusalem? Well I’ve already mentioned some key reasons. Jesus says, referring to the siege of Jerusalem Luke 21.22:
for these are days of vengeance, to fulfil all that is written.
And Luke 21.23:
…for there will be great distress upon the earth and wrath against this people.
‘Days of vengeance’ tells us that this wasn’t meaningless suffering but divine penalty. Not an out of control human vengeance but rather God’s just judgment. JC Ryle says Luke 21.22-23 show us that the sins of the Jewish nation had been noted in God’s book of remembrance for a long time, and now they were rejecting his Son, the Messiah, and would have him killed. Through their unrepentant unbelief, they’d been storing up wrath, God’s righteous and just anger, against themselves for hundreds of years. The fearful tribulation which accompanied the siege of Jerusalem would be the fall of a sword which had been hanging over Israel’s head since the days of the kings.
And Jesus says when that happens to Jerusalem it will be a scale model of what the final judgment will be when it comes upon the whole world. Judgment will be terrible. Therefore, we should be Christ’s witnesses Luke 21.12-15, compelled by his love whatever the cost. We wouldn’t keep the cure for covid from people and we shouldn’t keep the cure for sin and death from people. Luke 21.13 this will be your opportunity to bear witness to Christ with the Spirit’s help, sharing the gospel and warning of the judgment to come – telling them the good news even if they won’t listen to you, even if they hate you; telling them the best news ever before it’s too late, even if they lock you up in prison. Lovingly alerting them that the final Judgment will be terrible and when it comes there’ll be no time to escape for those who haven’t put their faith in Christ.
For when the final judgment comes it will be upon the whole world. From the scale model, Jerusalem, Jesus moves on to the whole world Luke 21.25 and the final judgment when there’ll be cataclysmic cosmic chaos at the end of the world with Jesus coming in power and great glory on a cloud, a sign of deity. There’ll be no doubt on that final day that he is the King of Kings and Lord of Lords. It will be a tragic day for those who turned their backs on God’s Son (Luke 21.26). But a glorious day for those who accepted Christ (Luke 21.28). Romans 6.23:
For the wages of sin is eternal death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Are you trusting in Christ? He loved us and died on the cross in our place to deal with our sin, our rebellion against God, so that we can escape judgment and know him forever through faith in him. If you are trusting in Christ are you praying for those who don’t yet?The fall of Jerusalem is a scale model of the final Judgment and a sure sign that it will happen, that Jesus will return as King & Judge. Blessed are those who know these things and live the life of faith in the Son of God. They are the ones, and they alone, who are ready for the great things that are to come on the earth, the appearing of the Lord Jesus Christ. According to Daniel 2.44 and Daniel 7.14 the kingdom to which we belong is the only kingdom which will never be destroyed. The King whom we serve is the only King, King Jesus, whose dominion will never be taken away.