"Biblical Theology Weekly Bible Study" <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Subject: Biblical Theology Weekly Bible Study AJBT. Luke 21:1-28. Be Faithful to the End.
Date: April 7th 2017
Be Faithful to the End.
Dr. John W. (Jack) Carter
The American Journal of Biblical Theology. Volume 18(15). April 9, 2017.
Many of us live our lives as if the next day will be exactly like the current one. After all, did today not look like yesterday, and the day before? The sun rises in the east, sets in the west, and for those few hours in between we accomplish a few small things, only to find the day spent. Day after day passes, week after week, year after year, and we find time quickly gone. Mesmerized by this repeating cycle, we often give little heed to the future, other than to set aside a little savings in order to supplement or provide for retirement. We build networks of security for today, and storehouses of security for tomorrow. We expect little out of the future except to continue doing the things we do, continue in relationships with our loved ones, and then, hopefully die with dignity. When we look back, we see little else in the future. One might note that, if this is indeed the testimony of a Christian, it is indistinguishable from that of a lost person. Does the Christian have more to look forward to?
When Jesus approached the end of His earthly ministry, He frequently taught about the nature of the coming kingdom of God. Expecting a kingdom of Israel, most of the Jews could not, or chose not, to recognize Jesus as the Messiah who would save all people from their sins. They expected and wanted a messiah who would deliver them from the political oppression they experienced at the hands of the Roman government. While those whom Jesus taught were continually concerned with the "here and now" Jesus was bringing a message of hope for tomorrow.
By the time we come upon the events recorded in the gospel of Luke, chapter 21, Jesus has completed his "earthly ministry" in the region of Galilee. Upon entering Jerusalem, Jesus found the temple court of the gentiles filled with merchants and moneychangers who profited by selling sacrifices and exchanging Roman coin for temple currency for those Jewish travelers who came to worship God. Rather than clean the government of the Roman oppressors, as the people had hoped, Jesus cleaned the temple of the merchants, reopening the court to those who would come for worship. The court was also a place where rabbinical teaching was to take place, and with the merchants removed, Jesus started to teach the people there. This move came with no little controversy. When Jesus brought the gospel of truth and faith to a Jewish leadership who believed in a religion of works, the pattern of conflict was set that would in just a few short days’ lead to Jesus' arrest, His passion, His death, and His resurrection: the focal event of creation.
So, we find Jesus teaching in the temple court.
Luke 21:1. And he looked up, and saw the rich men casting their gifts into the treasury.
The Jewish law was clear in its requirement to bring the "tithe into the storehouse". In today's culture, the publication of donation amounts is generally limited to philanthropic endeavors. The church tends to consider such disclosures inappropriate for any number of both good and imperfect reasons. However, the ancient Jews had no such consideration. Since giving was covered under the law, it was not uncommon to publish the amounts given by the more wealthy Jews. Such proclamations were a source of pride and affirmation. The purpose for the tithe was for the support of the temple, and traditionally, the support of the Levites. Consequently, the spending of lavish amounts of money on the temple building and facilities was seen as an extravagant demonstration of obedience to the Jewish law. Consequently, their culture had established the clear philosophy that the value of the gift given in the temple was simply indicated by its intrinsic value. The more money given, the more the gift and the giver were venerated by the people.
Luke 21:2-4. And he saw also a certain poor widow casting in thither two mites. 3And he said, Of a truth I say unto you, that this poor widow hath cast in more than they all: 4For all these have of their abundance cast in unto the offerings of God: but she of her penury hath cast in all the living that she had.
Included in the people who brought their gifts to the temple was a widow who had little or no means of support. Her gift is described as two small copper coins, each representing only a small fraction of a day's wages. The people would scoff at such a gift. After all, what impact would such a gift have on the gilding of the temple facilities? The dramatic difference in the world view of the Jews and the message that is in the teaching of Jesus is illustrated by this widow's gift. She did not bring the gift to the temple so that people would see it and receive their accolades. Her gift was a gift to the LORD, given from the heart, and given out of her poverty. For her, the sacrifice of two copper coins was real. Those two coins meant the difference of having enough money for her next meal. By giving out of her poverty she was demonstrating both her love for God and her trust that He would provide for her.
It is this difference that Jesus points out. Where the rich contributed to the offering, this woman contributed from her life. Jesus is demonstrating that is not the gilding of the temple that is the purpose of the gift, but rather it is the attitude of the heart that defines real sacrifice. Those who are giving out of their abundance are placing their trust in the temple, its authority, and its laws. They receive their reward in the accolades of their peers. The widow is an example of one who is using that same tithe to demonstrate her trust in God, and in His authority. Her reward is from God, an eternal reward that does not rely upon the permanence of the temple.
Another way of looking at the difference in the way the gifts are given is in the consideration of the practice that often involves putting a plaque on an object of value that has been given to the church. Often that plaque will identify the identity of the donor. If the donor looks at that plaque with the pride of knowing that everyone can see that it is they who gave the gift, their gift is like that of the rich man in this passage. The gift is given so that others can see, and the gift is in the form of something that is physical and temporal. Though no attempt is made herein to denigrate the practice of the placement of plaques, it is worth noting that this practice does open up the door to the expression of the sin of pride.
Luke 21:5-6. And as some spake of the temple, how it was adorned with goodly stones and gifts, he said, 6As for these things which ye behold, the days will come, in the which there shall not be left one stone upon another, that shall not be thrown down.
The entire following teaching of Jesus is given in the context of the illustration of the two gifts given in the temple. The motives and world view of the rich donor is contrasted with the motives and world view of the widow, and Jesus clearly states that it is the motive held by the widow that is to be honored. The two copper coins will contribute nothing to the Jews' attempts at gilding the temple, the edifice that defines their trust and faith. When the rich give their large gifts, the people speak of how the money can be used to further adorn the edifice.
The Jewish people have placed their trust in the law, and placed their security in the Jerusalem temple. They are waiting for a Messiah who will overthrow the Roman oppressors who would destroy Jerusalem, with little or no regard to the prophesies that describe the Messiah as one who will overthrow the power of sin to destroy the soul. Jesus points out that their trust in the worldly temple will be short-lived. From a practical standpoint, Jesus' prophesy of the destruction of the temple facility came true in AD 70 when the Roman Government destroyed it in an attempt to pacify the rebellious Jews. Jews were scattered around the region (and Christians with them). All that remains of the temple today is a piece of the west wall of the outer court, the "Wailing Wall." It is quite possible that it was within this wall that Jesus was teaching.
Luke 21:7. And they asked him, saying, Master, but when shall these things be? and what sign will there be when these things shall come to pass?
The destruction of the temple was a matter of huge importance to the people. Though they had long ago abandoned reverent veneration of the temple as the tabernacle of God, they still held on to the tradition that this was a holy place. The Jews still defined their religious practice around the temple, some arguing that this was the only place where God was to be worshipped. Something as dramatic as its destruction, an event that would change the fabric of Judaism, surely would not happen without preceding signs and prophesies. So they asked concerning when and how such a dramatic event would come to pass.
Jesus prophesied that the temple would be destroyed, and that He would rebuild it in three days. When Jesus is speaking of the restoration of the temple, He is not referring to one made with hands. The true tabernacle is where God lives. When Jesus was among the people, He was the tabernacle of God. When He was put to death on the cross, that tabernacle was destroyed, only to be raised in three days. Following His resurrection, God resides in the heart of every believer. The temple has been rebuilt.
When we contrast the identity of the temple that is "Not made with hands" with the physical temple in Jerusalem, we see the difference between who Jesus is and who the Messiah was that the Jews expected.
Luke 21:8. And he said, Take heed that ye be not deceived: for many shall come in my name, saying, I am Christ; and the time draweth near: go ye not therefore after them.
Few people understood that Jesus was the prophesied Messiah. They looked for another who would lead a worldly kingdom. Jesus has made it clear that the existing worldly kingdom of the Jews would be destroyed, and upon Jesus' resurrection, it would no longer be necessary. However, since the people are still waiting, they will be ready to follow anyone who fits their own view of his identity. Many will come "in my name," claiming the nature and power of the Messiah. Jesus is the One Way to salvation, and many will (and have) come who bring their own plan. Many have been drawn away into cults and erroneous religions thinking they were following the One. Ancient historical writings describe many who came with such claims. Jesus instructs them and us not to follow such individuals. Jesus is the Messiah. Consequently, when the Messiah comes, it will be Jesus Himself, not someone claiming to be Him.
Luke 21:9. But when ye shall hear of wars and commotions, be not terrified: for these things must first come to pass; but the end is not by and by.
As Jesus begins to describe the "end of the age" he first instructs his disciples to be calm when they hear and witness events that would seem to be earth-ending and earth-shattering. Though wars and earth-shattering events will take place, it is not these that will usher in the end of the age, so there is no reason for fear when such events occur. These are not signs of the end, but will all take place before the end comes. This is a world where, like in ancient Israel, almost all of the population disregards the gospel brought by Jesus, and rejects Him as the Messiah. This is, then, a world that is immersed in the nature and expression of sin. There will continue to be wars, battles, and tremendous events involving the inhumanity of man toward one another, but these are not expressions of the end of the age, but rather they are expressions of the sin that runs rampant in this world. There will be no seeming end to the impact of sin on this world ...
Luke 21:10-11. Then said he unto them, Nation shall rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom: 11And great earthquakes shall be in divers places, and famines, and pestilences; and fearful sights and great signs shall there be from heaven.
The impact of a world that rejects the Messiah will be profound. Nations will destroy each other because of their hatred and bigotry for one another. Man will even find calamity in natural events such as earthquakes. In man's arrogance, he will build communities on earthquake faults, on sand hills, and on tidal-wave prone beaches and then find great calamity when this living earth generates normal events such as earthquakes, wind, rain, fire, and ocean waves. Though there is enough resource in this world to feed every person, arrogance, hatred, and bigotry will disrupt the equitable distribution of goods, and there will be famines and pestilences all around the world as a result. It is clear that all of the calamities that Jesus predicts are in some way related to the sin of man and his rejection of the Messiah.
Luke 21:12. But before all these, they shall lay their hands on you, and persecute you, delivering you up to the synagogues, and into prisons, being brought before kings and rulers for my name’s sake.
The sin of this world will not be focused against God alone, but also against those who serve Him. Those who put their faith and trust in the Messiah will be ridiculed and persecuted. Some will be treated violently, some will be imprisoned. Some will be brought before the worldly authorities who lead the godless culture. It may be interesting to note that included in this list of godless authorities are the synagogues. Just as the secular culture will reject God, there will be a religious culture that likewise rejects God. Though Jesus specifically points out the Jewish synagogue as the godless authority, history and context show that many godless world religions fit within this description. Over the years there have been many examples of the church, in the Name of Christ, exacting persecution upon those who, in opposition to their traditional tenets, lean instead on their faith in Christ.
Life in this world, following the destruction of the worldly temple, will not be easy for the Christians who from this point forward will comprise the true tabernacle of God. The power of the Jewish temple will fall. The presence of God that was first evident in the fire that Moses saw on the mountainside and the Jews saw in the pillar of fire over the temple came to live in Jesus Christ as the pillar came to rest over His Bethlehem birthplace. After the resurrection of Christ, that same light of the world would reside in the heart of those who place their faith and trust in the Messiah, Jesus. The world will hate Christians because it has rejected Christ.
Luke 21:13-15. And it shall turn to you for a testimony. 14Settle it therefore in your hearts, not to meditate before what ye shall answer: 15For I will give you a mouth and wisdom, which all your adversaries shall not be able to gainsay nor resist.
During this time of persecution, Jesus will not leave His disciples alone. Speaking in the first person, He states, "I will give ..." The source of words and wisdom is the Holy Spirit, given to each true disciple, each Christian who truly loves the LORD. When it comes to the core issues of saving faith, the lost simply "do not have a clue" and are confounded by the truth that they hate. The Holy Spirit lives in the hearts of every Christian, guiding and comforting those who will listen and submit to His lead.
Luke 21:16-19. And ye shall be betrayed both by parents, and brethren, and kinsfolks, and friends; and some of you shall they cause to be put to death. 17And ye shall be hated of all men for my name’s sake. 18But there shall not an hair of your head perish. 19In your patience possess ye your souls.
The Jews of Jesus time held firmly to their traditional beliefs, and a conversion to faith in Jesus Christ was not particularly welcomed. Branding Jesus as a heretic, Jews came to consider Christianity an heretical cult. Often, when a member of a family was saved, the family would have a funeral, an official form of disinheritance. Turning to Jesus Christ in faith often meant leaving those closest: siblings, parents, close relatives and friends. The persecution of Christians by Jews would be so great that some would be put to death by them. One example is the stoning of Stephen, an act that took place under then Pharisee Saul, who would become the Apostle Paul. The hatred of Christians would extend beyond the Jews. The Roman Caesars were particularly abusive of Christians who, like the Jews, did not bow before the Roman Caesar. Seeking a scapegoat for the burning of Rome, Caesar Nero placed the blame on Christians and sought to destroy all of those who followed "The Way" of Christianity. Though Jesus is speaking to a group of disciples, the Apostles would all die a martyr's death, save John who died in exile on the island of Patmos.
However, despite the hatred that this world will, and does, hold towards Christians, their security in their faith is assured. The key to understanding verse 18 lies in the word perish, which refers to eternal destruction. Jesus then calls upon the disciples to exhibit endurance during this time of persecution. The time of Jesus' return, prophesied in the following verses, is not given. It is likely that their time of persecution will not be cut short by the Parousia, the second coming of Christ that will end the age.
Luke 21:20-24. And when ye shall see Jerusalem compassed with armies, then know that the desolation thereof is nigh. 21Then let them which are in Judaea flee to the mountains; and let them which are in the midst of it depart out; and let not them that are in the countries enter thereinto. 22For these be the days of vengeance, that all things which are written may be fulfilled. 23But woe unto them that are with child, and to them that give suck, in those days! for there shall be great distress in the land, and wrath upon this people. 24And they shall fall by the edge of the sword, and shall be led away captive into all nations: and Jerusalem shall be trodden down of the Gentiles, until the times of the Gentiles be fulfilled.
The history of Israel is characterized by destruction at the hands of Gentile armies that were used of God as a form of punishment for their apostasy. The nation desired to be led of a king rather than to be led of God through prophets, and God gave them Saul and David. Following David, the kings led the nation away from God. David's son Solomon placed the people of Israel in bondage and debt in order to complete his building projects. Solomon's son Rehoboam sought to increase the bondage on the people, splitting the nation in to the northern and southern kingdoms. None of the kings of the northern Kingdom sought to honor God and only a few in the southern kingdom did. The northern kingdom was the first to be taken into captivity by the Assyrians. Not long afterward, the southern kingdom of Judah had also turned from God and was taken by the Babylonians. These actions were but images of what Jesus is herein describing. Like its ancestors, Israel had replaced God with idolatry, in this case the idol is the system of tradition and law. The Jews of Jesus' time were as apostate as those of the captivities that took place about four hundred dark years earlier. During those four hundred years of darkness the Jews replaced the faith of David with the Law of Moses. The time for the final judgment of Israel had come. Jesus describes a final overthrow of Jerusalem that would not only destroy the temple and the city, but would disperse its population throughout the region. In the Assyrian and Babylonian captivities, the nations were maintained. In the judgment that would befall Jerusalem this time, the nation itself would be destroyed. Many would flee to other nations in the region. Many others would be taken away as slaves in many of the surrounding nations.
The prophesy that Jesus gives here could certainly refer to the destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans in 70AD. Both the Jews and Christians were dispersed among the nations (an event called the Diaspora, referring to the dispersion of the people.) Gentiles would take over Jerusalem and all of Israel. Just as God had given His grace and mission to the Gentiles, God would give the land to them also. Following the Diaspora, the nation of Israel no longer existed except in the future dream of the Jews who were scattered. These Zionists would not see a Jewish nation formed again until after the Second World War of the 20th century, 2000 years after the Diaspora.
The Diaspora was an immensely traumatic time for the Jews, a time of distress that is described by Jesus' prophesy in verses 23-24. The scattering of the people separated families and friends. However, it also resulted in the dispersion of the Christians throughout the region, an event that had a tremendous impact on the spread of the gospel. As Paul traveled on his mission of church planting, he often met Christians who were already established in their communities.
Luke 21:25-28. And there shall be signs in the sun, and in the moon, and in the stars; and upon the earth distress of nations, with perplexity; the sea and the waves roaring; 26Men’s hearts failing them for fear, and for looking after those things which are coming on the earth: for the powers of heaven shall be shaken. 27And then shall they see the Son of man coming in a cloud with power and great glory. 28And when these things begin to come to pass, then look up, and lift up your heads; for your redemption draweth nigh.
The fall of Jerusalem would only be the first of the death pangs of sin on earth. Jesus' prophesy moves beyond the destruction of Jerusalem, and beyond that period of time of persecution, to the end of the age when He would return "with power and great glory." The faithful can be assured that during this time, the very period of time in which we live, that though persecution will continue, it will not prevail. Though Christians are hated by a godless and sinful world, righteousness will prevail. Even though Christians may even be put to death for the name of Christ, their soul is preserved. John, in his Revelation describes a special place at the foot of the altar of God for those who were martyred for their faith.
Jesus' promise of His return is certain, and when that time comes all Christians will be able to look up and see their redemption from this evil world.
How do we respond to such prophesy? Like the whole of John's Revelation, Jesus' words are not words of doom and gloom, but rather words of encouragement for those who will be patient and maintain their faithfulness to Him. The doom and gloom is reserved for those who have rejected Jesus to the bitter and final end. For those who have been faithful, Jesus promises His return in power, and a single, powerful, and final act of redemption of all of the faithful for all ages. Christians can respond in the manner that Jesus has invited: do not be afraid of the coming events. Be strong in the LORD, listening to the Holy Spirit to determine what to say and do while still immersed in this sinful world. Jesus has called all Christians to faithfulness, a faithfulness that also includes loving all people with a love that will result in the spread of that love to all peoples and all nations. Some have said, "he who finishes with the most toys wins." However, all of those toys are left behind. The message of God's grace is "he who finishes in the hands of God wins," and the joy of that ending can only be multiplied when shared with those whom God's grace has been shared.
Look again at the widow and her two copper coins. This is the faithfulness that will endure to the end.
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