Luke 21: 5-9
And some were speaking [to him] about the temple with its exquisite masonry and about the ornamentation with which it had been endowed. And his comment was this: “There comes the day when these things, which you behold now, will be overthrown, one stone no longer standing on another.”
And then they questioned him [about this saying]: “Teacher, when will these things be and what is the sign [we should look for] that will indicate that this is about to occur?”
And to this he answered: “Take heed [watch out] that you are not deceived [do not allow yourselves to be distracted or misled into wandering] for there will come many who will say: ‘I am he!’ or ‘The time has come!’ Don’t follow them! And when you hear of wars and confusion you are not to be scared off. For these things are bound to happen but when they appear [know this that] the end is not yet.”
Jesus had identified that visitor to the temple’s poor-box who, more than any other, contributed to the maintenance of the temple’s integrity. It is in wholehearted service to God and love of neighbour, as evidenced by the impoverished widow’s two cents, that any religious devotion is acceptable before Heaven.
But almost as if those listening hadn’t heard, Luke continues to tell us that on this occasion, or soon after, some were eager to draw Jesus’ attention away from discussing true wealth to the exquisite craftsmanship of the temple. And so in their haste to avoid further reflection on what Jesus had pointed out to them, Luke describes them changing the topic.
Jesus’ response to this seems to suggest that he discerned a besetting temptation among those attending to his teaching to fall into worshipping their place of worship. He had no bones about dismissing outright any possible thoughts of such devotion. Luke puts these events one after the other to illustrate the continuity that Jesus maintained in his teaching.
Don’t be taken in by scribes parading their dress and by exhibiting their wealth; it has come into their coffers from preying upon poor widows. That poor widow – that one, putting in her two cents now – has a greater entry in Heaven’s account books than all those $m cheques thrown in by wealthy philanthropists … she’s the one in this place today for whom the poorbox is part of her life before God. She is proof that God is faithful to His promises; whatever integrity this place has before Heaven, she confirms it. God’s promises to those humbled by earthly circumstances stand firm even while the exquisite engineering on display here in this temple cannot prevent the temple’s eventual destruction, the overthrow of every single stone in it.
Jesus confirmed what is valuable in God’s Kingdom, the kind of thing that lasts the distance until the Kingdom comes in its fulness. And having responded in this way [to what sounds like a suggestion that Jesus hitch his teaching to the temple’s guided tour], those listening still showed their inability to “get it”, their incapacity to follow Jesus’ teaching and take him up on what he was talking about. Luke is continuing to expound how Jesus’ disciples, and above all the apostles themselves, just didn’t get it.
None of them understood these things; his sayings were clouded in darkness; they had no idea what he was telling them (18:34).
So, we now read that the questions that were raised were about the future.
Well, if that is to come about, as you say Lord, you better tell us what signs to look for …
But with what presumption was this request made? They were assuming, as if by instinct, that any discussion about the temple’s architectural fragility must have meant he was telling them about the end of the world.
But if those being taught, wanted a sign of how God’s faithfulness to his promises lasts the distance, even outlasting the temple’s early use-by date, then they should have been thinking about what Jesus had said already about the widow’s two cents. If they had focused upon their public worship of God in that way they wouldn’t have been distracted by the false demands put upon on them by the pagan religion of display that had made such incursions into Israel’s worship.
Luke at this point is describing for us how Jesus the teacher continued his classes in the face of much misunderstanding, in the face great declension from faith the Israel’s Lord.
Take heed that you are not deceived.
It almost sounds like:
Be very careful you don’t wander into useless speculation, because of the false assumptions in your own questions.
And as we think about this we begin to hear how Jesus remained open to the extreme likelihood of being totally misrepresented. He is teaching in a way that tells us he was vitally aware, given the condition of human heart, that many – not just a few – would be coming along with false claims. They would proclaiming themselves to be the answer to all their hopes, to be the Messiah, to be the one born to be the Fixer, even to be the reincarnation of Jesus himself. They will draw attention to their own pseudo-messianic claims, announcing that the time has come and that they are it. They will claim to have been destined to solve the problems no one else has been able to fix. Jesus’ answer is plain, short and sharp.
Don’t listen to them!
Don’t go following them!
We say it again: Luke is telling the story of the impact of John’s preaching of a baptism of repentance in Jordan’s wilderness. There are those who, having repented, have then heeded John’s word and followed the Lamb of God. But Jesus put an end to such questioning about such signs because the prophetic announcement John made to the people of Israel was then in the process of reaching its fulfilment.
The significance of this teaching – promulgated in the temple’s precincts – cannot be underestimated. We, who believe in Christ, should be in no doubt about its importance for us. Here is the announcement of the temple’s demise, in fact of the demise of the temple’s worship, because the One initiating the true worship of the Living God has come!
Don’t follow them!
Then Jesus follows up to tell his hearers:
You are going to hear of wars and total confusion in many places. Don’t be afraid!
So this is a crucial passage for Luke’s story in its entirety, a crucial passage that links his Gospel to the Book of Acts. This brief passage tells how Jesus responded with clear commands.
Don’t follow them!
Don’t fear them!
Don’t be afraid!
These are commands given in response to questions that were based on faulty assumptions. Jesus, took up the discussion and redirected it. The questions may have arisen instinctively or automatically from those listening! At first they may heard about the end of the religion of display with joy! But Jesus pressed the point home. Religious devotion to religious devotion can neither hasten nor prevent the coming of Kingly rule of God’s servant over all that He has made and all that He redeems. The religion of display, the worship of worship, will be thoroughly overthrown just as every single stone of the temple’s exquisite masonry will not be left one on top of another.
All the religion of display can do is distract you from God’s rule in your life.
All it can do is to lead you astray from my teaching which is your life-blood!
All it can do is to provoke you to ask wrong questions that, if answered, can only confuse you!
So saying, Jesus addressed the deep spiritual anxieties that coincided with the emerging, although clouded, faith of his first disciples. They may well have been asking him:
But Lord, what about our zeal for you? We thought that as a result of your coming the Romans would have to go home, be sent home afterwards even if we hadn’t prepared the way for your coming beforehand!
Now you seem to be telling us that we’ve misunderstood what your coming means for us. have we misunderstood so seriously, for so long, for generations in fact? Are you saying to us that the temple is not the precursor of your coming, and the victory of your Kingdom, as we had thought …?
Herod’s spies, whatever their interpretation of his statements, would certainly reported them to their boss (see Luke 13:31-35). Had Herod, with his own overblown appreciation for what his family had done for the Jewish people, still been wondering about John’s call for repentance? Was that what he wondered about as reports of Jesus’ ministry reached him, raising the possibility that John had been raised from the grave? (see Mark 6:16, Matthew 14:2). But instead of repentance, Herod had let it be known, to those who spread his rumours, that he was planning on killing Jesus (Luke 13:31). But consistent he was not. Later in this Gospel, Luke tells us that Herod no longer saw Jesus as a threat. And so, we wonder how that change came about (Luke 23:15).
This statement of Jesus – placing his teaching about the Kingdom of Heaven in clear opposition to any (political) presumption about the temple’s place in God’s future regime – meant that Herod probably concluded from the latest report from his spies that he did not have to worry any more about this teacher from Nazareth. Herod’s view seems to be: If he gets the bullet from the murderous scheming of chief priests, scribes and Pharisees on the one hand, or from the zealots who wanted to kick the Romans out on the other, well so be it. My hands are clean!
One is left with the strong impression that Luke considered that Herod just did not take Jesus seriously at all. It seems that Herod assumed that he and his line, and the temple, were here to stay.
Later on Pilate and Herod became buddies. That was from the time they came to an agreement about Jesus and with Pilate issuing a statement about Jesus’ innocence.
Neither Herod nor myself found this man guilty of the charges you have brought against this man. He has done nothing deserving death (Luke 23:15).
That was one in the eye for those bothersome Jewish religious leaders. To Pilate and Herod, Jesus’ attitude to the temple indicated he was clearly not a zealot plotting the overthrow of the Romans. The temple was the Herodian family’s bequest to Israel. Herod could rest content – or at least he considered that Jesus was no threat to his hold on power whatever strange views this Nazarene teacher had about the temple’s use-by date.
Sunday 5th February 2017.