A former Bible college acquaintance of mine recently went off the rails. He predicted that the end would begin on a specific month one year, and if it did not occur, he would declare himself a false prophet. As we have seen before in Christian history, the predicted date came and went, and instead of stepping down and declaring himself a false prophet, the gentleman came up with a brilliant excuse as to why his prophecies failed. When is the end of the world? In Matthew 24, Jesus' disciples asked him about it. What did he say? He predicted two things, the fall of Jerusalem which occurred in 70AD and that the end was not yet. The apostles wanted to know what was the sign of his coming and of the end of the age. Most of the sermon in Matthew 24 detailed the devastating events soon to follow, the end of an era for the Jews. The only specifics about when the end of the world would come were that the Gospel would be preached in the whole world and that no one knows the day or the hour of his return. So let's ignore the false prophets who say that Jesus will come this year or next. Instead, keep watch, because you do not know on what day your Lord will come. That's what Jesus said.
The popular “left behind” theory suggests that people left behind are somehow those who are sinful and rebellious against God. They will not escape but are left behind, while the righteous are whisked away, so the idea goes. It is a teaching from dispensational theology. Yet Matthew 24:36-44 suggests the exact opposite to this viewpoint. The analogy in the Olivet Discourse compares those taken away with those who were swept away in Noah’s flood. In that case, those who were condemned were taken away and only the righteous were left behind. Rather than the righteous escaping by being taken away, the natural reading of this passage is the exact opposite of the “left behind” theories. The problem with prophetic theories is that they are inadequate. God gives enough clues to encourage hope, but leaves enough out to stimulate faith.
Many claim to have the keys to prophecy, but are eventually proven wrong. Others bury their heads in the sand. Is there a balanced approach? How ought we to view the second coming of Jesus Christ? In every generation for the past 2,000 years, people have predicted that Jesus would return in their lifetimes and others have scoffed. Their prophecies all failed, giving more ammunition for those who love to ridicule. Naive Christians willingly follow dogmatically wild and speculative interpretations of prophecies and doubters willingly sneer. However, neither extreme is how prophecies are written. The Olivet Discourse in Matthew 24:36-44 is a case in point. Here is a warning about being too specific with predictions such as the day of his return. The opposite is also true as Jesus warned about being lackadaisical by not keeping prayerful watch.
Matthew 24:36-44 is part of the Olivet discourse or Olivet prophecy. It is also called the little apocalypse because it is reminiscent of the book of Revelation. Apocalyptic writings are a symbolic genre, a point that literal interpretations often overlook. One of the mandates in the passage is to watch. What could that mean? A night watchman was a common task in cities, farms and villages. However, the task of a watchman was vigilance and that is the sense of the wording here. Similar wording is also used a little later in Matthew 26:41 where we are encouraged to watch and pray that we do not give into temptation. In the context of the prophecy, Jesus encouraged disciples to be ready at all times, because he is coming at an hour when we do not think he will.
In contrast to the usual apocalyptic visions, Matthew 24:36-44 includes some pictures of apparent normality before the second coming. There is nothing to suggest that eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage are more evil. People will be carrying on normal business on farms and in flour mills. It appears more likely that they either don’t notice or are ignoring the events around them and carrying on with business as usual. It is in such an outward sense of normalcy that believers are encouraged to keep watch. Routine can distract us and delude us into thinking that we don’t need to keep vigilant watch in prayerful preparation for his return. It appears then that in such apocalyptic times there may also be periods of normalcy. It is perhaps during those times that watching will be even more imperative.
A part of the Olivet Discourse Matthew 24:36-44 is not only about calamitous events around the fall of Jerusalem in AD 70, but also hints at similar events before the second coming. An interesting aspect of the prophecy is a list of things that we do not know. This is important because in order to be sure of what we do know, it is also vital to clearly understand what we don’t know or cannot know. When this was written nobody knew the day or hour. There is nothing to suggest that has changed because the story proposes that knowledge of end times will be just as knowledge of when Noah’s flood came. Nobody knew when that would happen either. We also read again that the audience would not know the day and that Jesus would come when unexpected.
|Revelation Four Views|
How is Jesus like a burglar? In Matthew 24:36-44 Jesus’ second coming is compared to that of a thief in he night. In a day when most villages did not have a police force, security was left to individual home owners. Neighbors would often combine forces and work out rosters for night watch. Jesus is like a burglar in only one way, his coming will be unexpected. The only way to deal with the threat of those who break into homes in the night is by being prepared and keeping watch. Before Jesus’ return, most people will be going about their daily business uninterested in the things of God and unaware of the approach of his coming. We are challenged to stay alert. We are challenged to to be vigilant. We are challenged to be prepared for Jesus’ coming.
Two similar instructions are given in Matthew 24:36-44, watch and be ready. But watch what? At Jesus’ birth we read that shepherds watched their flocks by night, obviously to protect them from predators. What was Jesus’ focus when he said to watch? A watch is set when we want to protect our things from theft or our country from an enemy. We don’t know when they may be coming so we watch. In Revelation 16:15 the analogy is carried further as Jesus warns us to remain clothed. Another way of saying this is found in Mark 14:38. We are to watch and pray that we do not fall into temptation. Unlike the five foolish virgins (Matthew 25:1-13) a good watch is someone who is always at the ready, always on guard lest the enemy tempt them.
In the midst of commercial chaos and pressure to buy things is a very important reminder for Christians: be ready. The Advent season is a time to be ready for the celebration of Christ’s first coming. The custom of the Advent wreath is a reminder to be ready. Four Sundays leading up to Christmas candles remind us of stories surrounding the first coming of our Savior. Some popular choices are four red or purple or blue candles surrounding a white one. One of the four may be pink picturing joy or Mary. The first Sunday a candle is lit to remind us of important events. Then a second candle the next Sunday and so on until finally on Christmas Day the central Christ candle is lit. Preparation also reminds us to be ready for his second coming (Matthew 24:36-44).
Nicholas, was born around 280 AD on the Mediterranean coast of what is now the Turkish Riviera. The only son of wealthy Greek Christians, Nicholas gave his inheritance away to the poor. As bishop of Myra, he suffered persecution under Diocletian. He was tortured and imprisoned. Emperor Constantine had the persecuted Christians released. One legend tells of a poor man who Nicholas gave three bags of gold as a dowry for his daughters, so they did not have to become prostitutes. Nicholas was possibly part of the Council of Nicaea in 325 AD where he contributed to the Nicene Creed and condemned Arianism. Nicholas saved three innocent men from execution and reproved the governor for taking bribes to convict them. He became known for his secret gift-giving. The name Santa Claus is a corruption of the Dutch for Saint Nicholas.
Why not tell our kids about the REAL Santa this year? Saint Nicholas was Bishop of Myra in ancient Turkey. He was well known for his generous giving of gifts. One famous story speaks of his giving dowries to a poor man, so that his daughters could get married rather than turn to prostitution in order to survive. Often he would travel to distant villages on a donkey to give gifts. He did not have elves, but he did apparently save an Ethiopian boy name Piter from slavery, who was so grateful that he hung around as Nicholas' assistant. Rather than condone paganism, Nicholas is said to have destroyed several pagan temples. The REAL story of Santa is about giving. Maybe we could teach our children what Acts 20:35 says, that it is more blessed to give than receive.
Who is the most popular Christian outside of the Bible? We may think of many famous names but the answer is Nicholas of Myra, who was loved by many in his time and those know his story today. The fiction surrounding him has grown to the point that he is the second most prominent Christmas character after Jesus. Why is he so popular? Though he was very wealthy, he spent his life giving it away touching the lives of thousands. He saved many from financial ruin, helped out in disasters, defended people in court from false charges, provided food during famines, saved children from slavery, travelers from murder and prayed and saved sailors from shipwreck. The real Saint Nicholas is loved because he watched and waited for the Lord rather than what this world had to offer (Matthew 24:36-44).
When ancient Israel rejected God as their king they wanted a human king just like the nations around them. 1 Samuel 8:10-17 describes the manner of a human king. That relates to any human national leaders no matter their title. The first three words are very descriptive, “He will take.” Taking, rather than giving is a hallmark of human governments. “He will take your sons and MAKE them serve… they will plow HIS ground and reap HIS harvest… He will TAKE your daughters… the best of YOUR fields… take for HIS own use… and you yourselves will become his slaves.”* Taxation without forgiveness and taking, rather than giving are hallmarks of human government. In Luke 23:33-43 we read of hallmarks of Christs government, giving and forgiving, as he gave his life for the whole world and forgave sins.* Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.
We could say that Jesus was born to die. That is true, but he was also born to forgive when for most of us it would have been incomprehensible. Forgiveness for murder is perhaps one of the hardest things imaginable. One of the most remarkable sayings of Jesus is recorded in Luke 23:33-43. “Father forgive them. For, they don’t know what they are doing.” It takes a strong person to apologize and ask forgiveness. Weak people don’t apologize. Many of us will forgive others — after they apologize. Weak people may never forgive even with an apology. Some Christians believe that forgiveness can only be granted by God after repentance. However, here Jesus teaches us a new level of forgiveness, before repentance, before a change of heart, forgiveness because of a deed done in ignorance. What a strange idea!
As a class of human beings, kings generally suck. At least that has been their history. As a rule most were selfish, murderous, tyrannical and didn't care about the people of their nation. That is a major reason why modern democracies have either ditched their kings or severely limited their power. Why in the world then is Jesus referred to as a king? Not all kings suck. Some few have made great personal and financial sacrifice and even given their lives on the battlefield for their people. It is that order of king, the rare kind that Jesus represents. Kings who willingly place themselves in harm’s way are highly honored and deeply loved. As such a king, Jesus sacrificed himself for us. As our king (Luke 23:33-43) Jesus ignored the suggestion to save himself. He came to save us.
Democracy has long replaced monarchy as a form of human government. Abuse of power among kings was intolerable. We no longer believe that kings have a “divine right.” Vestiges of monarchical excesses remain. Prince Charles still owns 131,000 acres in Wales. However, even our democracies have not stopped the abuse of power, merely brought it under a measure of control. What if there was a king who did not need to be elected because his kingdom rule was one without the corruption of human governments? What if there was a leader we knew would never cause us any harm? Would we choose to voluntarily submit to such a kingdom? Would we ask that king to remember us when he came into his kingdom? Would we take a criminal’s request (Luke 23:33-43) before his execution as a worthwhile recommendation?
Saviors are everywhere. At least many claim to save us. Politicians will save us from the government. Advertisers will save us from illnesses and bad breath. Drink manufactures will save us from pure but boring water. Fashion merchants will save us from comfortable clothes. Credit card companies will save us from being debt free. Central banks will save our economies. Hollywood will save us from innocence. Who will save us from our saviors? When all the results are in and we look back on the claims, we will probably find that more often than not, those saviors hurt more than they helped. Even Jesus’ enemies testified that he “saved others” (Luke 23:33-43). He healed many and saved them from not only from their illnesses but also promised something no one else can do, save us from sin and death.
We may have heard stories about Nazi victims who found it difficult to forgive former persecutors after they asked for it. Some have. Now that’s world class forgiveness. It is the best kind of forgiveness available in this world. There is a kind of forgiveness that is even beyond world class. We could call it heavenly forgiveness. It is recorded in Luke 23:33-43. Jesus said, “Father forgive them. For, they don’t know what they are doing.” It is difficult for most of us to forgive atrocities on the order of that which the Nazis committed. Crucifixion was no less an atrocity than those extermination camps. Yet, Jesus forgave, even before he was asked to. World class forgiveness is difficult. Jesus prayed for heavenly forgiveness for terrible deeds done in ignorance. Thank God for forgiveness! All humanity surely needs it!
Human leadership easily disappoints. Many Christians constantly criticize and condemn political and church leaders. But that overlooks grace. Matthew 26:14-27:66 highlights two common leadership faults: weakness and hypocrisy. It’s our human condition. The Judean leadership was a group of Jews who deeply feared Roman occupation forces 2,000 years ago. They were so frightened of their own people rioting and angering the Romans that some of them used false charges, coercion and violence to avert it, crucifying Jesus. Every single one of Jesus’ disciples also abandoned him. At the cross, all human leadership in or out of the faith failed. When we are tempted to criticize political or church leaders today, maybe we ought to remember Jesus’ words about both while he hung on the cross: Father forgive them; they don’t know what they’re doing (Luke 23:34).
Jesus conquered the gates of hell at his crucifixion and resurrection. He ushered in a new government. Although the fullness of that kingdom will not be ushered in until his return we can live under that government now. How? Luke 23:33-43 indicates some very important ways in which we can be ambassadors for the government of Christ now. He forgave those who planned his death. He willingly offered himself as a sacrifice for all. He allowed a criminal to enter paradise on his attitude alone. We represent that eternal government whenever we forgive and sacrifice for others. Jesus’ forgiveness of his persecutors was before any change of heart or repentance. Jesus’ example was a total self-sacrifice. Jesus’ inclusion was of a sinner who had a change of heart but before he could prove his repentance with a changed life.
It’s not that democracy is really that much better than other forms of human government. It’s just that it sucks less. All forms of human government ultimately fail, some just more miserably than others. An early despot was Nimrod who gathered people into cities so as to have more power over them. Egypt was run like a company town. The country was a plantation and the company bosses were just like many company bosses today, building huge monuments to themselves and much like communism, the government owned almost everything. Like Israel’s kings most European Monarchs, though claiming religion were nothing but selfish leaders. Democracy emerged in Greece as government by the people, but all our checks and balances eventually fail as the rich and powerful take over. Only one government offers hope for humanity, that of Christ (Luke 23:33-43).
The Gospel message in Luke 23:33-43 is as relevant to North Koreans murdered by their government for having a Bible as it is for retail workers mistreated and underpaid by society’s most privileged families. The greedy and powerful can crush the life out of you but they cannot crush the hope for a better world. As Jesus followers attended his crucifixion, all over the world today people have gone to a church service somewhere in hope of a better world. They may be oppressed Christians in countries where their faith is banned. They may have had their homes burned, been kidnapped, imprisoned or be about to lose their lives, but they have a hope. They may be western Christians failed by false political promises of liberty and equality for all. Nothing is the hope of the world but Christ.
We have all experienced the overconfidence of youth. We think that we can do so much better than our forebears or we think that we could do so much better than those currently in government. The only problem is that every generation starts out life exactly the same way, thinking that they can create a better world and live life better than others. By the time we reach middle age, that overconfidence is somewhat mellowed as we are forced to admit our many failures. By the time we are old, we are compelled to face the realities of life and death. Our generation has also not solved the world’s problems. We don’t have to worry about our imperfect lives in an imperfect world. We just need to pray, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom” (Luke 23:33-43).
All human governments are represented by those that crucified Christ, not just the Roman and Jewish states. In Luke 23:33-43 are telling contrasts between Christ’s and human reign. Human governments are usually filled with very intelligent and highly educated people, but as Jesus and a man I once knew said who had lived among world leaders said, “they do not know what they are doing.” Another telling difference is that rather than being there as real servants like Christ, our so-called public servants, from political and military leaders even to criminals in reality deride the suffering saying in so many words, “let him save himself,” and “save yourself.” Is it no wonder that human governments are symbolically pictured in apocalyptic literature of the Bible as devouring beasts. In reality are we not all just the same, selfish and ignorant.
Government is a bad word to many people, but Jesus came as the head of a government that would genuinely be for everyone’s good not just the rich and powerful. Some key differences are outlined in Luke 23:33-43. They are some of the first acts of government and set the precedent as to how that government will operate. One of Jesus’ first acts as head of God’s government was to forgive the wrongs of everyone involved in plotting and preparing for his murder. Another act was his unwillingness to save himself from self-sacrifice for everyone else. Where are today’s world leaders who are willing to sacrifice themselves? The head of God’s government’s third act in this section was also one of forgiveness of one certain criminal based entirely upon his attitude. Forgiveness and sacrifice — hallmarks of Christ’s government.
The Arch of Titus in Rome features the sack of Jerusalem in 70 AD. Jesus predicted it in Luke 21:1-19. Spoils stolen from the Temple are pictured on the south panel of the arch like the menorah, golden trumpets and table of shew-bread. The Temple was built around 19 BC. It’s outer walls were not completed until a few years before their destruction by Rome. Herod constructed temples to pagan gods as well as Jerusalem. The widow’s mite also paid paid the upkeep of this temple. The temple was so magnificent that it could easily surpass many of today’s most magnificent churches. Though magnificent God had it destroyed because it was not a successful building. It had become an idol. Successful churches are those not those with the most magnificent buildings but those that preach Christ and change lives.
There is an old saying about success that he who dies with the most toys wins. It is a rather revealing commentary on shallow materialistic goals. Some wealthy people seem to try and gain accolades by public displays of philanthropy. Is such a life the most successful? It is certainly a better example than the alternative. A life of stinginess and accumulation can be partaken of by every social class and it is a mean and empty life. On the scale of success through generosity, there is one example that stands out above the rest, and it is not the person who gives the most in monetary value. There is a person, who is often completely unknown, who is the greatest. It is not the amount given away that gauges financial success, but the percentage. That's what the story found in Luke 21:1-19 of the widow's mite is all about.
Our society is afraid of many things and fear is big business. Fear sells merchandise from pharmaceutical drugs to newspapers, from insurance to airport security systems. It buys votes for political candidates. It is profitable for politicians and businesses to lead us into fear. This encourages a relationship of dependency for profit. At the same time there are many real reasons to fear. Despite the profit motive which encourages fear, things to be feared are not all imaginary or exaggerated. In Luke 21:1-19 Jesus informed believers several times about the reality of fearful times, but encouraged them not to be afraid. Can we be fearless in fearful times? Every aspect of our lives, even the hairs on our heads, are under God’s control. It takes faith to stand firm until the end and in so doing win eternal life.
Everybody hates to close a church building down. It’s seems like giving up ground in the church’s spiritual battle. It is also one of the most difficult jobs in church life. My Greek professor at graduate school loved it. He saw it as a necessary part of keeping church life healthy. We become so attached to real estate that we begin to believe that the church is buildings instead of people. So it was with ancient Israel. In Luke 21:1-19 Jesus predicted that the temple at Jerusalem, which had lasted over 500 years, would be destroyed. God is sometimes in the business of closing down buildings. Jesus’ prediction came right after he had praised a widow for her very generous contribution to the temple fund, the proverbial widow’s mite. Church buildings are not the "forever" part of church life.
People have predicted that the time is near every century for the past 2,000 years. Yet a major thing about that kind of prediction is frequently neglected: the warning that Jesus made not to follow people who make such predictions. That’s right! If you don’t believe me, just take a look at Jesus’ own words in Luke 21:1-19. He said that many would come predicting that the time is near. Then he said something very shocking, Don’t follow them. Wow! Have you ever noticed that? False prophets are a dime a dozen. Yet, not only are the day and hour unknown, but also the nearness of Christ’s return. When we believe that we are certain of the nearness of Christ’s return, we become lazy. Yet, real Christianity involves keeping on keeping on even in the midst of uncertainty.
The fiction of the prosperity gospel attracts many suckers, but it is not real Christianity. It is the snake oil salesman’s version of the real thing. It is a counterfeit which enriches the false preachers who gladly ask for your so called “seed money.” One place to see the reality of a Christian life is in Luke 21:1-19, where Jesus predicted many hardships which would follow true believers. Does that mean that God never provides material blessings to the obedient? Of course he does. The problem with prosperity preaching is that many teach that if you suffer, you must have been disobedient. That is the exact opposite of what Jesus taught and the early church experienced. Suffering comes to Christians precisely because they are obedient. Jesus encouraged us to stand firm and inherit something greater than materialism, eternal life.
Many Christians are intimidated by mega-churches and their larger than life leaders. It is as if we believe that quantity is far more important than quality. Don’t get me wrong. Sometimes the majesty of a large church service is awe-inspiring. Yet the intimacy and healing embrace of a small church is unsurpassed. However, size does not guarantee spiritual depth. Sometimes the preaching in a large church is hollow and trite, while the preaching in a small country church can be rich and deep. The opposite can also be true. In Luke 21:1-19 Jesus did not promise large churches would be the norm or even a sign of success. Some few times local churches were large anciently. More often, they were small and scattered during very difficult times. Size is not mentioned as a sign of success; standing firm is.
What if Jesus were to present us with two church choices? On the one hand, we could meet in a large and beautiful building with community respect and international acclaim. It would contain gold and magnificently dressed priests. On the other hand, there would be no gold and church leaders may be dressed very ordinarily. We could be scattered without a building, endure suffering and be despised. Most of us would readily prefer the former. What if the choice came with a caveat, that if we chose the latter and stood firm, we could have eternal life? That is similar to what Jesus predicted in Luke 21:1-19. Buildings can be idols. We are overly impressed with the things of this world. Jesus is more impressed with the grandeur of a heart which stands firm for him no matter what.
When rebuilding old shrinking churches there are two inevitable things we must face: change and conflict. Any rebuilding necessarily destroys something old. Sometimes drastic action is required and anger arises. In church life we tend to focus overly much on things that we have built and not enough on people. We look too much to our traditions and not enough to God’s instructions. We worship our complications and not the simplicity of Christ. The same was true in ancient Israel. In order to rebuild the faith, sometimes existing structures must go. When Jesus prophesied in Luke 21:1-19 that the temple would be destroyed, he was predicting an important change, a revolution in faith. If we are not willing to move forward in faith, then perhaps God will step in and destroy what we have built for our own good.
Christians are divided by ideas yet united in Jesus. Some are proud of a tradition of ignorance and lack of education. They claim that the apostles were uneducated men, yet they were educated for 3 years by the Master. Others praise their own education in the traditions of their denomination and look down their noses at the teachings of others. Yet, even good ideas can become like idols. Idols need to be destroyed. The same was true of the temple in Jerusalem (Luke 21:5-19). It had once served a good purpose, but it had become a national idol. The more we study Jesus, the more we realize how ignorant we are of God’s perspective. Instead of being vain about our education or lack of it, let’s all realize our mutual ignorance and sit at the feet of the Master.
A story is making the circuit of a tour group being shown through St Peter's Basilica in Vatican City. One tourist asked how much it cost and the astute priest tour guide responded that it cost most of northern Europe. He was referring to the Protestant churches which left the western Christian Church in large part because of the financial scandal associated with funding that building. In another sense then, instead of being a monument to the Apostle Peter, it is also a monument to sin and arrogant pride in the Church. Jesus’ prediction of the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem (Luke 21:5-19) carries with it similar lessons. If we are not willing to change, then the traditions and structures we have built can become monuments to our own sin and conceited arrogance which God must eventually destroy.
The Jerusalem temple was so incredible a building that when the sun reflected off its gold covered sides, people had to look away, it was so bright. Jesus predicted its destruction in Luke 21:1-19 but also also spoke of a truly permanent temple and an important cornerstone. We are that house of God (Ephesians 2:18-20). We so easily forget that people are more important than buildings. The beautiful physical stones of that worldly building were destroyed. We are the living stones (1 Peter 2:4-6) that are being placed into a spiritual temple. People still weep for the destroyed temple in Jerusalem today. They are deeply disappointed that it is a ruin. Our hope is not in physical buildings but a permanent structure being built by Jesus Christ. If we build with him we will not be disappointed.
How can we tell if a preacher is on the right path, way off the track or somewhere in between? None of us can claim that we are all right on every issue, but we often deceive ourselves into thinking that we are more right than wrong. In Luke 21:1-19 Jesus taught some major warning signs that would distinguish false teachers from the rest of us who, although still very faulty are perhaps at least headed in the right direction. Jesus describes those giving off such alarm bells as many not few. Not too many claim to be Jesus, but many do make Messiah-like claims such as the sole place to find salvation or exclusive knowledge about salvation. People who make prophetic claims about the immediacy of Jesus’ return are certainly sounding a warning bell — not to follow them!
A church planter friend once said that he knew how to build a church a mile wide and an inch deep, but that only a true pastor could build depth. A principle behind Jesus’ prediction of the destruction of the temple in Luke 21:1-19 was the greater importance of inner spiritual depth over visible signs like buildings. How then do we build a foundation of spiritual depth if the comfort of a building does not help? A good building has a foundation that stands firm. We are to stand firm. A list of things outside of a church building that helps us stand firm follows: Don’t following false preachers who make wild claims about salvation and the end of the world. Do not be frightened. In the midst of calamity and hatred, rely upon the strengthening that God gives.
When Jesus was at the temple in Jerusalem he was not impressed by most of the religious leaders. His disciples were impressed with the architecture. His comments in Luke 21:1-19 indicate a very different perspective than what is normal in our society. What impresses us most at church? Is it puffed up people with big titles and fancy clothes? Is it extravagant and ornate church architecture? Some people are offended by churches because of such things. God is also offended when we are more impressed with status and materialism than with him. Jesus had the most praise for a widow who gave very generously at the temple. Could it just be that one of the most important reasons to attend a church is the opportunity to learn from the examples of the many faithful people with whom we fellowship?
We have borrowed a word from Greek to mean someone who dies for their faith. The word in English is martyr. It comes from a similar Greek word used in Luke 21:5-19 which is often translated as testimony. For many Christians their witness or testimony has been in their willingness to die for their faith, to be martyrs. And what a testimony! Throughout Christian history many have been betrayed even by parents, brothers and sisters, relatives and friends, and some have been put to death. Currently 50 countries are on the world watch list at Open Doors of those who persecute Christians the worst and the Voice of the Martyrs tells many of their stories. May we pray for them and follow their example by standing firm no matter what may come, so that we too "will win life."
Apocalyptic books such as Daniel and Revelation are accepted in all Christian Bibles. There are studied with 4 predominant views of prophecy: fulfillment mostly in very early history, mostly throughout history, mostly in the future and symbolic fulfillment any time any place. These four camps are often called preterism (ancient fulfillment), historicism, futurism and idealism (symbolic or spiritual fulfillment). Because apocalyptic literature is largely symbolic in genre, it seems logical to see its prophecies as also symbolic. A symbolic view also has a place for all three other views. So when we read of prophecies in other literature such as that in Luke 21:5-19 we can see elements which were fulfilled at least in type shortly afterwards (Jerusalem surrounded and trampled) and some which will be more logically completely fulfilled only at Christ’s return (the Son of Man coming).
Warnings in prophecies like Luke 21:5-19 are strange to us in countries with great religious freedom — Christians tried, believers betrayed by relatives and friends, some put to death, everyone hating us because of Christ. Christians live such tribulation in about 50 countries today. North Korea is the worst. An estimated 400,000 Christians face labor camps and death if caught. Saudi Arabia is second worst. It has no religious freedom. 1¼ million Christians are threatened with imprisonment, deportation, torture and death. Afghanistan is next worst. Thousands of Christians there face kidnapping and killing. With over 300,000 Christians Iraq is next, where they are threatened with home burning, abduction and murder. Last in the worst 5 is Somalia, where a few hundred Christians live. They face abduction and murder with no religious freedom. Let us pray for them.
Some people read apocalyptic literature like Luke 21:5-19 and try to hide in man-made caves, while others read it and resolve to live a fuller Christian life by faith. There certainly is a time to flee from impending persecution. So, why is it better to live life under normal circumstances by faith than be a worried prepper? Nobody knows the day or hour of calamitous times. Every generation since Christ thought that theirs was the last generation and none of them was right. What a lot of time was wasted. Many false prophets have taken advantage of people by making such false predictions. Jesus encouraged us not to worry about being overly prepared but to put our faith in him. Worry and doubt distract us from the most important job at hand which it to spread the gospel message.
I once knew of two elderly brothers who owned a farm and still used the first and only car they ever bought, a Model T Ford. Once a month they drove it to town for supplies. When most of us change cars occasionally, they endured through all the repairs, changes of parts and even occasional change of engines to keep their one and only car for life. In a throwaway world, most of us do not have such endurance. Yet, there are some things that we keep for life. It may be family bonds, keepsakes, a bank account or a phone number. Our bodies change dramatically over a lifetime but our fingerprints change very little. Endurance is a habit that we make consciously and against all odds. It is a good habit that leads to eternal life (Luke 21:5-19).
Is the soul as well as the body asleep until Christ’s return (1 Corinthians 15)? How could that square with the parable of Lazarus and the rich man (Luke 16:19-31) or Stephen’s prayer “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit” (Acts 7:59)? Are passages referring to death as a sleep literal or figurative? Is purgatory the place of judgment (Hebrews 9:27) and where atonement may be made for the dead (2 Maccabees 12:43-45)? Is resurrection instantaneous after death where believers receive a spiritual body (2 Corinthians 5:1-10)? Is the spirit absent from the body and consciously present with the Lord in heaven (Philippians 1:19-26) but awaiting a body at the return of Christ (Philippians 3:20-21; 1 Thessalonians 4:16-17)? All die and by God’s grace we can enter his joyful presence forever (Luke 20:27-38).
Presumed dead but alive seems to be a theme regarding the patriarchs and matriarchs of antiquity in the Gospel message according to Luke. Many Sadducees were wealthy priests who did not believe in the resurrection. Luke quoted Jesus as saying that God is the God of the living. Phrases similar to God being the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob are repeated often in the Old Testament. Yet were they not all dead? If so, then God would be called the God of the dead. So, they must be alive to God, even though we call them dead. The parable of Lazarus and the rich man (Luke 16:19-31) also shows Abraham as alive. God is the God of the living implies something more than just a future life. It implies that our lives today are already blessed with eternity.
Many people have attempted to find cheap immortality by experiencing unrestricted sexual love. Our world continues to suffer the consequences of breaking sexual taboos. Sexual restrictions are for this life and create a safety zone which perpetuates family units and healthy societies. Yet in the resurrection (Luke 20:27-38) there will be no need for restrictions on love, because marriage and sexual love will no longer exist. To those who have suffered horrible sexual experiences this may be good news. It is also good news to those who have had wonderful marriages with lifelong joy. The joys of human sexuality are only a pale foretaste in comparison to the eternal pleasures of the resurrection. There will be no such boundaries to our relationships in God’s presence forever because in the resurrection there will no monogamous marital relationships, just unrestricted love.
What does it mean in Luke 20:27-38 that those who are accounted worthy to partake of that age, and are resurrected from the dead can no longer die? The Sadducees were not so different from us, in that they tried to obtain eternal life through their children by perpetuating family lineage or family names. It is a worldly version of eternal life. Even today, some conversations tend to sideline those who cannot have children or have the gift of celibacy and so choose to remain single. Marriage is indeed honorable, but so is celibacy. We do not then, need to be married and have children to be assured of everlasting life with God. When we reorient our thinking away from the values of this world to those of the next, then we begin to see things as God does.
The Sadducees’ questioned Jesus perhaps with mocking humor: Moses perpetuated a Ugaritic and Hittite custom that if a man’s brother dies and leaves a wife but no children, he must marry the widow and raise up offspring to inherit his brother’s land. Now there were seven brothers. The first one married a horrible woman and rather than live with her he died in self-defense, childless. The second and then the third married her, and in the same way each of the seven died, leaving no children. Finally, the woman died too. Now then, at the resurrection whose wife will she be, since the seven were married to her? Was it meant to humorously disprove the resurrection? Jesus did not answer the question but pointed out how ridiculous it was because there is no marriage in the resurrection (Luke 20:27-38).
In ancient times marriage meant survival and was often more a business arrangement than romantic. Ancient law gave agricultural inheritance through the males. This was because females would usually marry and thus be partners in their husband’s farmland. Israel inherited this practice but made exceptions where the general rule created an unfair situation. The necessity for a male heir created the levirate marriage, where a man married his deceased brother’s wife so as to ensure the family inheritance. This is the background to the trick question the Sadducees asked Jesus (Luke 20:27-38). Whose wife would she be in the resurrection? The question was not sincere but designed to trick Jesus about the resurrection, something the Sadducees did not believe in. Important beliefs in Christianity are repentance, faith, baptisms, laying on of hands, resurrection, and eternal judgment (Hebrews 6:1-3).
Who were the Sadducees (Luke 20:27-38)? Under King David temple liturgy was organized by a high priest named Zadok. Possibly under that Zadok or a later name-sake, a group formed to support temple worship. Their name Sadducees refers to Zadok. In Israel there was no separation of church and state, so any such religious party was also a political party and Jesus’ comments about them were also political criticisms. Sadducees were conservatives believing that preserving temple worship would perpetuate God’s blessing. After the destruction of the temple in 70 AD, they lost followers and disappeared. They opposed the more liberal Pharisees who believed that people could worship God anywhere. The Sadducees also did not believe in a resurrection as this discussion shows. The Pharisees and Sadducees were not often in agreement but they were united in opposition to Jesus.
In Luke 20:27-38 Jesus spoke of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and that God is the God of the living. Some Bibles explain this as “to him all are alive” but others say something closer to a literal translation of the original Greek like “all live to him.” As we humans perceive things, people are either dead or alive, but obviously God perceives the reality of things beyond our physical ability to know. Does this mean that Abraham is literally alive now in heaven or just that God counts him as being alive because he will be in the future or that after death a timeless eternity has already begun? There are people who believe different sides of that discussion. But does it really matter since eternity is something beyond our understanding anyway and in that eternity all are alive?
How will life be for eternity? Luke 20:27-38 is a passage that gives us a few hints. How will we look at the resurrection? Luke reveals that we will be very different from how we are now. There will be no childbearing or human-style family life. Will we recognize our earthly families? Though Jesus did not directly address that question, he did say that Abraham, Isaac and Jacob would be recognizable. So, it is reasonable to assume that we would know family members who are also there. It is also reasonable to speculate that current close bonds of love between family members on earth would naturally continue. What about body and spirit? Whatever happens in the meantime, whether or not body and spirit are separated for a time, completeness of resurrection will mean body and soul together for eternity.
Native Americans have been in a losing battle for hundreds of years now. Only 2-3 people still speak Tuscarora, about 200 speak Oneida and less than 100 speak Seneca. The cultures and languages are dying. Even Navajo with the most numerous (about 120,000 speakers) is at risk. Even today’s English will someday become a lost language. The English we speak today is not the same language as our grandparents spoke and the English of Beowulf from about 1100 AD is almost unreadable to us. There is only one thing permanent, the language of faithfulness (Luke 4:1-13). The devil tried to trick Jesus into using language to obey him. But, Jesus did not want to obey the devil in anything. He passed the test. He conquered the devil even when almost physically depleted. Is our language faithful to God?
Labels: Luke 04
Saints are special people to God. Right? That is true, but there are more saints than those few canonized by mere human, church authority. In fact a saint is someone that heaven makes holy even though they are not perfect. The Greek word translated as saint in the Bible more fully means different from the world and therefore special to God, and that includes millions of people who have lived in poor circumstances. Because they have a special blessing from heaven, whether they are poor, hungry, weeping or hated they are still blessed (Luke 6:20-31). Being rich, fat, funny or popular does not make someone a saint. Some of the greatest saints may be virtually unknown. So next time you see a poor, hungry, crying or hated person take a second look. You may be speaking to a saint.
We all like a kind word, encouragement and even a little flattery feels good, but it can be a deadly trap. In Luke 6:20-31 Jesus spoke of the woe we face when everyone speaks well of us. Among pastors we often joke that if everyone likes us we must be doing something wrong, and there is a large measure of truth to that. Elijah the prophet was labeled a troublemaker by his nation’s leader Ahab. He was not very popular. More popular was a pagan god called Ba’al (1 Kings 18), the principal god of a place or “lord”. So eventually there was a confrontation between a lonely Elijah and 450 priests of Ba’al. Which was more important, being flattered and popular or being right? In the great judgment day only one reputation will matter, being popular with God.
Some Christians get the wrong idea about Christianity. They think that it ought to be a life filled with money, good food and laughter. Jesus said just the opposite in Luke 6:20-31. He said woe to those who laugh now. What is Jesus, a party pooper? Notice he said laugh “now.” There is a time to laugh, but in the midst of a world where greed is a fashion statement, laughter may not always be appropriate. In fact it can even be from an attitude of not caring about those who are suffering. Being thrilled about the things of this world, fashions, popularity, money and partying can all come from a calloused heart that does not care about the distress of others at our own gates. Jesus warned a lot about the fate of those with hard, uncaring hearts.
I once knew a man from rural Ghana who grew up wearing no shoes but never knew even the common cold until he moved to the capital city Accra. Then he moved to the west and began to experience our western diseases. In Europe and America we are well fed, but have diseases not common in many poorer countries, because they cannot afford to pollute their food with all the toxic junk that we do. So, when I read how Jesus said woe to the full (Luke 6:20-31) I think of our awfully bad but filling western diets. Even with junk food, our full bellies tend to make us forget those who are starving. Those who eat well now may end up empty on judgment day, because of the callous hearts that go along with wealth and full bellies.
Jesus is not against wealth per se. After all, although he lived in voluntary poverty while on earth, he still is the wealthiest person in the Universe, owning everything there is. So what is it about worldly wealth that caused Jesus to declare woe on the rich (Luke 6:20-31)? The issue is that wealth is a great temptation to live in selfish and callous comfort. Jesus overcame that temptation when he chose to be born in a stable, but most rich people find it almost impossible to overcome. Wealth tends to harden people’s hearts. Witness is the loud voices of those wealthy who oppose public programs to help the poor or demand budget cuts in welfare programs and yet oppose increases in taxes on the rich. They call it entitlement, but surely selfish entitlement is strongest among the rich.
We all experience being hated at times even if only from an impatient motorist on the road. Even the most famous receive negative reviews and hateful criticism. Those in some jobs, like politicians, experience hatred almost constantly yet there are always people waiting in line to fill their shoes. Is there a secret that the rest of us don’t know? Could there be something in what Jesus said about being blessed when people hate us (Luke 6:20-31)? In context, Jesus was encouraging people expelled from the Jewish community, because of him. Christianity was once a part of the Jewish religion. Today, Christians are excluded, insulted and rejected as if evil by many people from various situations. Yet, they are in the best of all company, the good company of the ancient prophets and will receive great reward in heaven.
There is one blessing in Luke’s summary of the beatitudes that cuts across all classes and circumstances, the blessing of weeping (Luke 6:20-31). How can it be a blessing to cry, to mourn out loud? Loss and pain are common to all human beings, rich or poor, famous or unknown, loved or hated. According to some medical experts, crying aloud is not only good physically in that it cleanses the body of certain toxins produced by stress, it also helps us bring negative emotions to the fore so that they can be addressed. Mourning is good it produces a change of heart about bad habits and produces change. Mourning may be all the more genuine and produce longer lasting positive benefits when it is expressed through tears. Such a changed heart is a blessing bringing true joy and laughter.
Hunger is a worldwide scourge not caused by lack of food but selfish politics and greed. Jesus strangely said that the hungry are also blessed (Luke 6:20-31). What could he have meant? Those who have fasted for a time either due to circumstances or choice know how good the food that breaks that fast tastes. Somehow the cleansing of poisons from our bodies during a fast makes all food taste so much better. The poor may long to eat crumbs from the rich man’s table (Luke 16:19-21) but the rich man may be dying due to poverty of diet, the unhealthy ingredients of a bad western diet, something even the ancients knew (Daniel 1:1-16). But even healthy food only satisfies for a few hours. There is a hunger in every soul that only Jesus can truly satisfy.
Poverty is a blight and a road to suffering but Jesus clearly said in Luke 6:20-31 that the poor are also blessed. Unlike the saying in Matthew where Jesus described the poor in spirit, Luke wrote that Jesus also emphasized the poor in fact. So, what are the blessings of the poor? Jesus said they are blessed because the kingdom is theirs. Why? The poor appreciate small blessings, are more environmentally friendly, are more empathetic to suffering, are more generous and more moral, know they need a Savior, depend on God, have no exaggerated sense of self-importance, are less into competition than cooperation, know the difference between necessities and luxuries, learn patience, know how to survive great suffering, know the Gospel is good news and respond to the gospel unafraid of losing anything because they have nothing to lose.