Signs of the End of the Age (part 1)
(Luke chapter 21, verses 1-19)
by Minister Paul J. Bern
Last week when we finished chapter 20 of Luke’s gospel, our Lord and Savior Jesus the Christ had just left his critics dumbfounded by his response to yet another of their ‘trick questions’. Today as we move on to chapter 21, as they are about to leave the Temple at Jerusalem Jesus makes an observation about the religious practices of that day. We find Jesus, the Twelve, and a throng of his followers moving on from this scene to one that was more private soon after. So let’s begin today’s analysis of Luke chapter 21 at verse one.
“As he looked up, he saw the rich putting their gifts into the temple treasury. He also saw a poor widow put in two very small copper coins. ‘I tell you the truth’, he said, ‘this poor widow has put in more than all the others. All these other people gave their gifts out of their wealth; but she out of her poverty put in all she had to live on.’ Some of the apostles were remarking about how the temple was adorned with beautiful stones and gifts dedicated to God. But Jesus said, ‘As for what you see here, the time will come when not one stone will be left on top of another; every one of them will be thrown down.’ ‘Teacher’, they asked, ‘when will these things happen? And what will be the sign that they are about to take place?’ 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. When you hear of wars and revolutions, do not be frightened. These things must happen first, but the end will not come right away.’ “ (Luke 21, verses 1–11)
As chapter 21 begins, we find the apostle Luke adding yet another shining example of Jesus’ contempt for the rich – those who line their pockets, their wallets and their closets full of as much cash, expensive merchandise and the very finest of everything all the time that they can! As you see from Luke’s testimony, greedy and materialistic people will never see the Kingdom of God, nor will the vast majority of them be able to enter heaven when their lives are over, although there will be at least a few exceptions. The rich tithed their 10% effortlessly. It was no strain on their budget at all. But the poor widow who put the two copper coins in the offering put in all she had. She left the worship service more justified in the sight of God than the person who put in the largest offering that day! God doesn’t honor what we possess. He honors those who give away what they have. It’s exactly the opposite of our world today. Everyone is obsessed with how much they can accumulate, but our eternity depends on the legacy we leave behind.
In the following verses, Jesus relates how the Temple at Jerusalem will be torn down, with not a single stone atop another. This actually occurred in 70AD, when the Roman armies conquered Jerusalem and destroyed the temple there, approximately 37-38 years after Jesus uttered those words. But Jesus’ response to the apostle’s questions about the End Times are telling: “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.” We have already seen some of this in the last 150 years here in America, with the Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses being two of the most prominent examples. The conflagration of the Branch Davidians in Waco, Texas back in the 1990’s is yet another example, and with horrific consequences. That was, in short, a sign of the impending End Times in which we are living.
“When you hear of wars and revolutions, do not be frightened. These things must happen first, but the end will not come right away.” As before, this is precisely what is occurring today. We have had 2 world wars, with a third threatening to break out over the Korean peninsula, and with Russia and China signing a sweeping military and economic cooperation agreement that effectively forms an alliance against North America. As I have written previously, this new pact between the 2 largest Asian countries will ultimately climax in a preemptive strike on the United States (see Ezekiel 7 & Revelation 18), the exact nature of which remains unknown. I know, I know, this is not exactly a popular thing to say or write, and there are at least a few who have questioned my patriotism over the years. But I’m a man commissioned to speak and write the truth who also happens to love his country and to care greatly about her future. So to me, I would be remiss to fail to warn my countrymen – and the rest of the world – of the dangers that lie ahead. But if we pray and ask God to forgive us for our sins and our country of its sins, and then turn away and repent of those sins, God will hear our prayers, and will forgive us and heal our land. An now let’s move on to the rest of today’s Biblical study beginning at verse 12.
“Then he said to them, ‘Nation will rise against nation; and kingdom against kingdom. There will be great earthquakes, famines, and pestilences in various places, and fearful events and great signs from heaven. But before all this, they will lay hands on you and persecute you. They will deliver you to synagogues and prisons, and you will be brought before kings and governors, and all on account of my name. This will result in your being witnesses to them. But make up your mind not to worry beforehand how you will defend yourselves. For I will give you words and wisdom that none of your adversaries will be able to resist or contradict. You will be betrayed even by parents, brothers, relatives and friends, and they will put some of you to death. All men will hate you because of me. But not a hair of your head will perish. By standing firm you will gain life.’” (Luke 21, verses 12-19)
So we can infer from the first 2 or 3 verses that before the time of the end – when nations and kingdoms rise up against one another and “fearful events”, a possible reference to the atomic age, as well as “great signs from heaven”, such as the total eclipse of the sun that was seen across North America earlier this year, occur – that those who are counted as believers and followers of Christ Jesus will endure considerable persecution for their faith. This is the proof many are seeking as to the timing of the ‘rapture’ of the Church (see 1st Thessalonians 4: 13-18 and chapter 5 verses 1-3), but in fact it shows that we will have to endure persecution for our faith, implying that we will all still be here for the first part of the ‘tribulation’ period, the word used in Matthew chapter 24, which parallels this account of the apostle Luke’s. Nobody knows for sure when we are going to be ‘taken up’ by Christ just prior to the last part of the 7-year (see Daniel chapter 9) ‘tribulation’ period in Scriptural prophecy. So this is proof that those who argue in favor of a “pre-tribulation” or a “mid-tribulation” as opposed to a “post tribulation” ‘rapture’ are only guessing at best, and stirring up confusion at worst, within the Body of Believers known as the Bride! This has simply got to stop! Remember what Jesus said to his apostles, “He who does not gather with me, scatters.”
“But before all this, they will lay hands on you and persecute you. They will deliver you to synagogues and prisons, and you will be brought before kings and governors, and all on account of my name. This will result in your being witnesses to them.” This quotation was not talking about the early Christians being fed to the lions in the Coliseum in Rome. Jesus was prophesying about our time, about the here and now! Our faith is going to be tested to the utmost extreme during the reign of the world dictator called the “Antichrist”, as the apostle John calls him (see 1st John 2, verses 18-27). Although a lot of people currently don’t believe this, there will be persecution and even prosecutions of Christians right here in the United States in the not-too-distant future, and Jesus knew that. But God will take what was intended for evil and turn it into an opportunity for those being prosecuted to do some good for the cause of Christ. “But make up your mind not to worry beforehand how you will defend yourselves. For I will give you words and wisdom that none of your adversaries will be able to resist or contradict.” That’s the good news about this trying time to come from our Lord and Savior himself. None of us will need lawyers, presumably because none will be provided. This can only mean the US Constitution will be suspended at best or done away with at worst, implying martial law or its equivalent. Clearly this will be a bad situation for everyone. But if we prepare ourselves we will fulfill our missions for the Lord, and we will be rewarded accordingly.
“You will be betrayed even by parents, brothers, relatives and friends, and they will put some of you to death. All men will hate you because of me. But not a hair of your head will perish. By standing firm you will gain life.” Some of us will have to die for our faith, there’s no doubt about it. The way I see it, Jesus loved us all so much he gave his life for us by dying on the cross. It seems only natural – from a Christian vantage point – to be quite willing to return the favor if given the opportunity to do so. This doesn’t mean we’re all going to have to get ourselves killed to get to heaven, but it does mean we should have as much passion for serving Christ as he did for being our Savior and Kinsman Redeemer. It will cost us some friends and some will find themselves estranged from their families on account of their faith. This is similar to my own life. The family that I grew up with are all Catholics. I am a nondenominational Protestant. I was a foster kid who found Christ later in life (I was in my thirties when I gave myself to Jesus in 1992), I have had no contact with them since, and I’m OK with that. They know where I live if they want to contact me. So if you are a person who is estranged from your family for religious reasons, or if you have no family for whatever the reason, take heart! You have gotten God’s attention because it’s people like ourselves who make the best servants. Having ‘lost’ our families, we are all now part of the ‘family of God’, the largest one of all! And next week we’ll explore the 2nd half of Luke chapter 21.
Signs of the End of the Age (part 2)
[Luke chapter 21, verses 20-38]
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.