We have a very long passage and unit of thought to cover today, one about which are numerous interpretive issues and about which countless books have been written. As well, being Good Friday, this is a rather significant day of the year. So let me be a bit brief …
Returning to the mountain theme that I mentioned yesterday, an illustration I have used over the years to explain some interpretive issues will be helpful to review here. Say that you are in a mountainous region and you look off into the distance at a mountain peak. There you see a pair of communication towers, with one looking to be possibly just a bit behind the other. Then, when you drive up the hill and get to the first tower, you realize that there was a second, larger mountain well beyond the first that you saw; and this second tower is in fact on a second range rather far beyond, with a huge valley in between that was originally out of sight. What at first glance looked to be close together and on the same ridge … in fact, they were miles apart.
This is how we should understand certain Bible passages. For example, Old Testament writers would look forward to the Messiah, and they would pen words about both a suffering and a ruling Christ. From their view, these Messianic manifestations were on the same visual line. We now know that the suffering Messiah was the Jesus of the cross, whereas the reigning Messiah is the one to return in the future. We live in the valley – call it the age of the CHURCH.
Our passage today looks forward from the time of Christ to the destruction of Jerusalem. This would have both near and far fulfillments, not just one event. The near destruction would be by the Romans under Titus in A.D. 70 – this is what verses 20-24 are talking about. The far destruction is that which will happen during the seven-year period of the Tribulation, just prior to the second coming of Christ. This is the material in verses 8-19 and 25-28. Again, we are living in the valley in between those events (though there is strong reason to believe we are getting rather close to the latter!).
Jesus also mentions the phrase “the time of the Gentiles.” What does this mean? This would be the total period of time that Gentiles will dominate Jerusalem. This began in the Babylonian Captivity under Nebuchadnezzar, and it continues through today, and into the Tribulation period to come.
There is SO MUCH more we could write about all of this.
In verses 34ff, there is the practical admonition to “be on guard … keep on the alert …” And surely here is practical advice for us. We don’t know the exact times of the big events on God’s calendar. But we know they are certain; we know that this world does not last forever. And so we need to live with that knowledge in the front of our minds, guiding our every decision and priority.
Luke 21:5 – Some of his disciples were remarking about how the temple was adorned with beautiful stones and with gifts dedicated to God. But Jesus said, 6 “As for what you see here, the time will come when not one stone will be left on another; every one of them will be thrown down.”
7 “Teacher,” they asked, “when will these things happen? And what will be the sign that they are about to take place?”
8 He replied: “Watch out that you are not deceived. For many will come in my name, claiming, ‘I am he,’ and, ‘The time is near.’ 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.”
10 Then 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.
12 “But before all this, they will seize you and persecute you. They will hand you over to synagogues and put you in prison, and you will be brought before kings and 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.
20 “When you see Jerusalem being surrounded by armies, you will know that its desolation 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. 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.
25 “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.”
29 He 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. 31 Even so, when you see these things happening, you know that the kingdom of God is near.
32 “Truly I tell you, this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened. 33 Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away.
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. 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.”
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.