2nd Sunday before Advent—17th November 2019—Gt Brickhill
Gospel Luke 21
Alleluia, alleluia. Welcome with meekness the implanted word that has the power to save your souls. All Alleluia.
5 Some of his disciples were remarking about how the temple was adorned with beautiful stones and with gifts dedicated to God. But Jesus said, 6 ‘As for what you see here, the time will come when not one stone will be left on another; every one of them will be thrown down.’
7 ‘Teacher,’ they asked, ‘when will these things happen? And what will be the sign that they are about to take place?’
8 He replied: ‘Watch out that you are not deceived. For many will come in my name, claiming, “I am he,” and, “The time is near.” Do not follow them. 9 When you hear of wars and uprisings, do not be frightened. These things must happen first, but the end will not come right away.’
10 Then he said to them: ‘Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. 11 There will be great earthquakes, famines and pestilences in various places, and fearful events and great signs from heaven.
12 ‘But before all this, they will seize you and persecute you. They will hand you over to synagogues and put you in prison, and you will be brought before kings and governors, and all on account of my name. 13 And so you will bear testimony to me. 14 But make up your mind not to worry beforehand how you will defend yourselves. 15 For I will give you words and wisdom that none of your adversaries will be able to resist or contradict. 16 You will be betrayed even by parents, brothers and sisters, relatives and friends, and they will put some of you to death. 17 Everyone will hate you because of me. 18 But not a hair of your head will perish. 19 Stand firm, and you will win life.
Jesus has a generally positive attitude to the Jerusalem Temple, which makes his predictions of the Temple’s destruction all the more stark.
We have been reading through Luke’s gospel. He tells us, for example:
- Simeon enters the Temple ‘guided by the Spirit’ (2:27);
- It is a place of ‘fasting and prayer’ (2:37; 18:10; 19:45);
- The boy Jesus was discovered there learning (2:46);
- Jesus attempts to protect the space as a “house of prayer” (19:45).
The destruction of the Temple was not therefore something to be desired.
After the prophecy in today’s reading, Luke records Jesus as teaching in the Temple on several more occasions; and the final verse of Luke’s Gospel reports not only the disciples worship of Jesus (in itself quite shocking for first-century Jews!) but also how they remained ‘continually in the Temple blessing God’ (24:53).
In Acts, Luke’s follow-on from his gospel:
- Peter and John attend the ‘hour of prayer’ at Temple (3:1-3) and heal a disabled man who ‘entered the Temple with them’ (3:8-10);
- The apostles teach in the Temple area regularly (5:20-25); in fact, ‘every day in the Temple’ they taught Jesus as Messiah (5:42);
- Paul claims to have done nothing wrong ‘against the temple’ (25:8);
- Paul even received his ‘revelation’ (of Jesus’s Gospel) in the Temple itself (22:17).
Now, you may be thinking of the words of Jesus when he threatened to destroy the Temple and rebuild it in 3 days. You’ll recall that this promise was used by his accusers during the trial leading up to Jesus’s crucifixion.
In John 2:18ff he says:
18 The Jews then responded to him, ‘What sign can you show us to prove your authority to do all this?’
19 Jesus answered them, ‘Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days.’
20 They replied, ‘It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and you are going to raise it in three days?’ 21 But the temple he had spoken of was his body. 22 After he was raised from the dead, his disciples recalled what he had said. Then they believed the Scripture and the words that Jesus had spoken.
The same accusation is made in Matthew 26 and Mark 15—as well as against the early Christians at the trial of Stephen, the first martyr.
These accounts are rather different from today’s passage. Jesus seems to be warning the disciples about the so-called end times and how they should behave. How do I know this? Well, it’s the mention of earthquakes, famine, pestilence and persecution—all characteristic of eschatology.
For most of my life, I have lived in a benign religious environment where most faiths are tolerated, but the changing aspects of our multi-faith environment have led to shocking scenes of persecution against Christians where previously various different religions were practised side by side. This is even the case within the UK, so perhaps we should give more attention to the words of Jesus about eschatology in general and persecution in particular.
Jesus’s words of advice and command were of course addressed to a contemporary audience—and so we must be wary of adopting every saying as equally relevant to a contemporary audience. But we can distil Jesus’s commands into 5 pieces of advice:
· Be prepared to ‘testify’ (Luke 21:13);
· But do not prepare to testify in advance (21:14);
· Depend on Jesus’s ‘Wisdom’ (21:15);
· Family breakups will be part of this time (21:16);
· Do persevere (21:19).
Ultimately, although the teaching brings mixed news of persecution and family breakup, Jesus affirms:
18 But not a hair of your head will perish. 19 Stand firm, and you will win life.
Persevere. Stand firm—because whatever happens in this world all around us, the victory will in the end be ours. Amen