Troubles and persecution. 21:5-24
Hearing a comment about the magnificence of the Temple, Jesus declares that the day is coming when "not one stone will be left upon another." The disciples ask what sign will herald this event. Messianic signs are the stuff of millennial speculation, and signs there will be, but for Jesus' disciples, let there be discernment and patience.
v5-6. The temple was completely rebuilt from 19BC to 64AD. It was massive, consisting of white limestone with gold and silver inlay. Josephus, a Jewish historian at the time, said it looked like a snow-capped mountain. It was totally destroyed during the conquest of Jerusalem by the Romans.
v7. The disciples ask what sign will herald the destruction of the temple. In Matthew's gospel they also ask about the end of the age. Jesus goes on to answer their question.
v8-11. Natural calamities and political upheaval are signs of the age, but they are not signs of the end. The disciples are not to be led astray by false messiahs using signs to prove their messianic credentials.
v12. During (rather than "before") the signs of the age, believers will be persecuted.
v13-15. This will be a time of testimony (gospel proclamation) for believers. Disciples will be given the words that are both wise and powerful, for they are Jesus' words. Mark, in 13:11, refers to the Holy Spirit as the source of these words.
v16-18. Although persecuted and killed, even at the hands of family members, "not a hair of your head will perish" - a promise of spiritual protection, cf.12:4-7.
v19. Endurance shows that a disciple is truly grafted in Christ through faith; it shows that the word is not sown in shallow ground, cf.8:13.
v20 In Mark's parallel passage, 13:14-20, the end-times flavour is heightened, while in Luke the oracle is tied to the historic destruction of Jerusalem. In typical prophetic fashion, a word concerning the destruction of Jerusalem also applies to the end of the age, to Armageddon.
v21. In the day of tribulation, believers will need to take a low profile.
v22. The day is a day of chastisement upon the wilful apostasy of God's people Israel. Of course, in the last day, this "vengeance" will be directed at the church. As the scriptures remind us, "judgement begins with the household of God."
v23-24. Josephus tells us that some one million people died in the Roman assault upon Jerusalem in 70AD. The statement that God's hand will remain on Israel until "the times of the Gentile's are fulfilled", has been hotly debated over the years, but it probably just means "until the triumph of the Romans over Jerusalem is complete."
The signs of the end
Jesus reveals to his disciples that he will be taken from them, but he will return. During the interim, believers must not to be taken in by false messiahs who announce particular dates for the end of the age, or who claim special powers. Nor should they get overly concerned by political strife or natural disasters. People are always using these events as predictive signs, but they are nothing more than the death-pangs of a dying world.
These signs of the age serve as a time for testimony. During this time the church is to witness to Christ in gospel proclamation. The message we have to proclaim is both powerful and self-authenticating - Spirit empowered. The Lord has given us the content of the message and the wherewithal to achieve its end.
Yet, this age is winding down to a climax and there is one particular sign which will herald its end. This is the sign of the abomination of desolation. This sign, said Jesus, will herald the end of the restored kingdom of Israel. In 68AD the state of Israel rebelled against Rome. This resulted in the siege of Jerusalem and its destruction in 70AD. The sign will also herald the end of the present age of the Christian church.
It's hard for us to visualize what this end-sign will entail today, but we can be sure that when the tribulation finally comes upon the world, we will recognize it and so be able to protect ourselves from much of the Antichrist's fury. Somehow the believers in Jerusalem, at the time of the rebellion, knew that the abomination of desolation was upon them, and so they fled to the safety of Pella in Transjordan.
In our age, the "desolation" will most likely involve a concerted persecution of the church at the time of the revealing of the Antichrist. All we can say is that we will know when this day is upon us. Discernment and patience is the name of the game.
Discuss the effect that this oracle should have on our Christian life?
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