BEFORE THE KINGDOM COMES IN ITS FULL EXTENT:

JESUS’ VIEW OF HIS DISCIPLES’ FUTURE
Luke 21:10-28

Then he said to them: “For a people will rise up in arms against another people, and [likewise] a kingdom against a kingdom, and there will be great earthquakes and disasters and famines going from place to place, and terrible occurrences and massive signs coming from the heavens. But even before all these things [are played out] they will lay their hands on you by ordaining your persecution, delivering you up to their gatherings and into their prisons, having you dragged before kings and governors [to stand trial] for bearing my name. This then will be for your giving witness. Settle it in your hearts now, firmly resolve not to spend your time in rehearsing how you will answer them. For I will [at that time] bestow upon you such eloquence and such wisdom that all your opponents will not be able to withstand or contradict. And [after all] you will [in fact] be dropped in it, betrayed [on all sides even] by parents, brethren, relatives and [even by] friends, and you will be executed, denigrated [beyond all recognition] by everyone because of my name. But [count on this] not a single hair of your head will perish and your life shall be secured by such patient endurance.
“For when you see Jerusalem encircled by armed troops then you well know that [the day of] its laying waste has come. Then [you say] that those in Judaea should flee to the mountains, those within [the city] should make their speedy exit, and those out in the surrounding districts should by no means try to enter, and that is because the days of such redress will be completed according to all that has been written of it. And so [indeed] woe unto the women who are pregnant [having been granted the power to conceive] in those days, and those who are nursing children at the breast. For great [and intense] will be the distress upon the [entire] land along with the [outbreak of] anger upon this people. And they shall crash, consumed by the sword, to live subjugated among the peoples, and Jerusalem shall thus be under the heel of the peoples until the time of the peoples is up.

Luke recounts what he has been told of Jesus’ apocalyptic vision of what is to come, instructing his listeners and disciples for whom a sense of deep apprehension was rising. Then and later they expressed themselves as being in need of some indication of when the hard times would be over. Jesus’ answer was blunt, almost as if to say:
Forget it! It’s not just a matter of carrying a cross for this week or next week, for this month or next month. It’s for keeps. It’s for the duration. It’s the path you’re already on! Get used to it.

Luke recounts Jesus’ teaching at this time, as he had gathered it for Theophilus, and for us. The way of Israel’s Messiah will make the angels gasp but in God’s timetable that has to be the way the Good News of God’s mercy can begin to spread everywhere … nothing will stop it …. God knows that the death of the Lamb, the redemption of his flock, will not bring an immediate cease-fire. (Actually we should keep in mind that Luke does not expound John’s teaching about the Lamb of God as is found in the Apostle John’s Gospel 1:29, 36). And it sounds now like he was then suggesting that the distress would only be in its earliest phase when the temple crashes, stone by stone, to the ground. Luke tells us how Jesus prepared his disciples:

You name it, it’s coming. You’ll have to weather it but you won’t be on your own. God can be relied upon – this is not in your control – my work will be completed, and you are part of that. You can rely on that. Don’t rely on anything or anyone else. God keeps his promises to wind things up in his time. Believe it. In the meantime prepare yourself for whatever distress comes your way by listening carefully to my teaching!”

The Creator and Redeemer who rules the entire creation is not going to be taken by surprise. Luke is not suggesting that this was all that Jesus had to say, but this was what he had to say by way of his disciple’s preparation for the time after he had left, when they would go everywhere to spread the Good News. I can imagine that some of what we have heard are the reports of what Jesus reminded his disciples after his resurrection and before he left, from these encounters in the temple. But first, Luke is explaining that this is not vital teaching because it forms part of Jesus’ special work that he was busy completing. He reiterates to his disciples that the massive persecution against those who follow Jesus is provoked by their deep opposition (Paul would say “jealous”) opposition to him.

Luke’s account here should be compared closely with the parallel passages in Mark 13. But Luke gives emphasis to what Jesus said to put the hearts of his disciples at rest, freeing them from anxiety. We sense Luke’s awareness of Theophilus’s need to understand how Jesus’ initial disciples were instructed about this coming turmoil in relation to their inherited Jewish identity. Still the instruction to be alert is also important for Gentile believers, as they were to find out.

When judgement comes because the service of strange gods has become dominant in the lives of God’s people, then it is time to get right away. Don’t even think about getting close to it. When the service of God is turned into the worship of idols, it is time to get as far away as possible. Don’t touch it. Turn. Flee. Pray that God will guide your footsteps and pick up the pieces of your broken life. He will keep you safe. Only don’t tarry as if you don’t know what to do. You know what to do. Keep away!

Proverbs 18:10 The Lord’s name is a strong tower. The righteous run to it and are safe.
Joel 2: 32 … all who call upon the Name of the Lord shall be delivered!… There shall be those who escape, as the Lord has said, and among the survivors shall be those called of the Lord …

When Jesus spoke about the great signs in the heavens, he was telling his disciples that Joel the prophet had said was coming true in their lives. They would find that those who call on the Lord in the midst of great disaster are indeed kept safe. They are the ones whom the Lord is calling to come to him from out of all the mayhem, the confusion and the destruction. They are the ones who can rest secure. That was his teaching when he spoke about the approach of the temple’s use-by date that evening when he left on his way to the Mount of Oliver. Our Heavenly Father will keep us safe. God keeps his promises.

We have emphasized Luke’s concern to trace the continuity of Jesus’ teaching with John’s desert call for repentance in the wilderness. Jesus’ account of the future mayhem engulfing God’s creation is in a direct line with John’s apocalyptic announcements (3:3-9; 16-17). Jesus had by this time filled that out in further detail (10:17-20; 12:49-53). And at the same time we do not forget the song of his mother, by which he was raised:

He has demonstrated the might of his arm
Scattering far and wide
Those presumptuous in misunderstanding from their hearts,
He takes the thrones from those elevated themselves,
Lifting up the ones in humble circumstances (Luke 1:51-52).

The paean is given to reassure his disciples. Jesus tells them that not a hair of their heads will perish. This recalls the story of the three faithful servants of the Lord in the courts of Nebuchadnezzar, having survived the ordeal of the fiery furnace (Daniel 3:27). And so, the wider context will be as it has hitherto been:

Wars; rumours of wars. Nation slugging it out with nation. Kingdom smashing kingdom. Earthquakes. Famines.

Jesus’ disciples follow him, from one generation to the next, in that context. They will be under cross-examination, disgracefully betrayed by those who should have known better, hedged in on every side by dark powers. And then Jesus made a remarkable observation:
You are not to spend your time trying to telegraph behind what you are going to be accused of in order to devise some justification for who you are and what you have been doing.

Jesus effectively says:

I have taken care of who you are. You do not have to go worrying about that.

He promises that since his followers will have to carry the full weight of people’s fury against him, that he will not forsake them and indeed will supply the right words at the right time. In that sense, he reminds them that they can only end up on the end of the kind of treatment that was awaiting him because such opposition presupposes the same dark forces of deceit that always betray the innocent, and which will also have their day in his case. Such betrayal may come from the most unexpected sources.

So that’s the situation, he says to them. That’s to confirm the need for your prayerful readiness. Firm it up. Decide now, beforehand, that you simply cannot know beforehand what you are going to have to say to give a good account of yourselves.

After all, you don’t know what is going to be twisted this way and that to squeeze a confession, and if possible a renunciation, out of you. So settle it in your hearts here and now! When the heat is turned on, I’ll be there and I’ll provide the words you need since you are my disciples, and in truth it is me that they are so ruthlessly opposing.

Then Luke records Jesus advice in immediate terms. He was alert to disciples who were resident there in Jerusalem.

Consider it this way. You are a people who know what has to be done when Jerusalem is surrounded by enemies who want to destroy this city. You’ve heard the story often enough, haven’t you? You know the stories of being ready to up-stakes and get moving – you recall Abraham, you recall Passover night in Egypt, you recall Jerusalem being besieged. You have been nurtured as a people ready to move, ready to continue your sojourn wherever you go. You are a people who know what has to be done in such circumstances.

Jesus instructed his disciples to understand their response to tumult and dislocation by reckoning with Jerusalem’s place, in the context of wars and tumults. We recall his tears, and his apocalyptic vision of Jerusalem, recounted for us just before we read of his cleansing of the temple (Luke 19:41-44).

Surely Herod and Pilate were informed of what Jesus had prophesied. Had not this exchange between Jesus and his disciples been leaked to them so that they knew about these comments when they met him a short time later to decide his fate in the face of the other accusations brought against him? The Chief Priests and the Pharisees derived a charge of blasphemy from Jesus’ comments about the temple’s sure demise. And then of course, true to form, they proceeded to accuse Jesus of fomenting rebellion challenging the supremacy of Caesar. So his “apocalypse” seems to have escaped the concern of the authorities.

BCW 7 February 2017

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