Archive for the ‘Bible Study – Luke’ Category

It strikes me each year how unrealistic and fanciful the world’s celebration of Christmas is. Santa, pageants, lollies and gifts, truncated carols and feel-good songs played over shopping centre speakers, tinsel, fake snow and candy canes; talk of ‘peace on earth,’ ‘Rediscovering the True Spirit of Christmas‘ and ‘do they know it’s Christmas?’ For a few days everyone living in a delusion that somehow, if we all try a little harder, we will be able to fix this world.

Sounds like pie-in-the-sky to me. Far more fanciful than the thought that the Creator of the Universe has entered the world as one of us, to bring the ultimate solution to human pain and evil.

Here’s some things that happened at the first Christmas:

  1. A family in a small village (where everyone knows everyone) faced a scandal when it is discovered that the bride-to-be is already pregnant. Potentially, she faces the death penalty for committing adultery.

  2. The father is ‘comforted’ by an angel who assures him that this child will bring about the time of judgement predicted by the prophets.

  3. This couple is forced by the oppressive regime to travel up to 200km through treacherous terrain while she is heavily pregnant, just so they can conduct a census.

  4. The woman gives birth in unhygienic conditions surrounded by animals, with nothing but an animal feeding trough to put her son in.

  5. The mother is told by a prophet that her child will be the cause of opposition and division, and that she will ultimately grieve because of him.

  6. The young family are forced to flee their home country as their despotic ‘King’ orders the brutal slaughter of all boys 2 years and under in the region.

  7. They are forced to live as refugees in a country that, historically, enslaved their people, and to which they were commanded never to return.

So, it seems that Christmas is not actually all about warm fuzzies and feel-good happy times, kidding ourselves that in the end, we’re all going to be OK (especially us here in the affluent, comfortable West). Rather, it is about God coming right into the horrible human situation, sympathising with our weakness, sharing in our suffering, and bearing our sin and evil.

The real Christmas forces us to face the damning verdict that we are children of wrath, with no hope and without God in this world, and unless our God comes to rescue us, all is lost; but also with the liberating Gospel message that He has.

Merry Christmas

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Temple Destruction

 

This is a passage that has been debated over the years. Does this speak of the second coming of Jesus, or is it describing the events leading up to the destruction of the Temple in 70 AD? Or, some combination of both? Those who argue for the second option (that it was all fulfilled in 70 AD) point to verse 32:

Truly, I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all has taken place.’

While some suggest ‘generation’ can be translated as ‘race’ – ie. the Jews will continue to exist as a people right up to Jesus’ coming, this requires an obscure use of this word, and also does not match with other similar statements, as we will see in a moment.

Those who argue for the first (that it speaks of Jesus’ second coming) point to 27:

Then they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory.

This certainly sounds like the second coming. However, it does not have to be; in fact there are similar statements Jesus made that clearly do not refer to his return. The first is in the context of Jesus’ call to discipleship:

For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what shall a man give in return for his soul? For the Son of Man is going to come with his angels in the glory of his Father, and then he will repay each person according to what he has done. Truly, I say to you, there are some standing here who will not taste death until they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom. Truly, I say to you, there are some standing here who will not taste death until they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom.’ (Matthew 16:28, emphasis mine)

Obviously everyone standing there as Jesus said these words have long since died. So here he must have been speaking of something that would occur within the first century. Another similar statement is made during Jesus’ trial:

And the high priest said to him, “I adjure you by the living God, tell us if you are the Christ, the Son of God.” Jesus said to him, “You have said so. But I tell you, from now on you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of Power and coming on the clouds of heaven (Matthew 26:63-64)

Jesus says that they will see the Son of Man ‘from now on’ – ie. from that moment. It seems that on these two occasions Jesus is not speaking of an event, as much as a position of power and authority. In fact, He is making an unveiled reference here (and every time he calls himself ‘the Son of Man’) to Daniel 7:

…and behold, with the clouds of heaven there came one like a son of man,
and he came to the Ancient of Days and was presented before him.
And to him was given dominion and glory and a kingdom,
that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve him;
his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away,
and his kingdom one that shall not be destroyed (Daniel 7:13-14)

Daniel’s vision is ‘apocalyptic’ – filled with visions and images that are not meant to be taken literally, but which communicate a truth. The ‘Son of Man coming with the clouds of heaven’ communicates his status as the divinely appointed King; the One who shines with the power and glory and authority of God Himself. For the Jews, ‘heaven’ was a euphemism for the name of God, which they used to avoid using His name in vain, and so the ‘clouds of heaven’ speak of the cloud of God’s glory that guided the Israelites in the desert; from which the Lord defeated the Egyptian armies; the cloud that covered Mt Sinai while the Law was being given; from which God proclaimed His character to Moses; and which filled the Tabernacle and the Temple.

It is important to see in this passage that Daniel sees this Son of Man ‘coming’ – but to where or whom is he coming? Not to Daniel, but to the Ancient of Days (God the Father) in order that he may be given an eternal kingdom. So the phrase ‘the coming of the Son of Man on the clouds of heaven’ is not speaking of Jesus travelling from Heaven to earth, but of His appointment as King of every people, nation and language.

So when do we ‘see’ Jesus being bestowed with this status as the all-powerful, all glorious King?

…the gospel of God, which he promised beforehand through his prophets in the holy Scriptures, concerning his Son, who was descended from David according to the flesh and was declared to be the Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by his resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord. (Romans 1:1-4)

Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age. (Matthew 28:18-20)

All of his in no way discounts the fact that Jesus will be ‘coming’ again – although this event is described by the New Testament more as his ‘appearing’ – ie. an unveiling of the reality that He is already King, is already ruling over the Nations, and is already present, as promised to his disciples as he sent them out on the co-mission.

And when he had said these things, as they were looking on, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight. And while they were gazing into heaven as he went, behold, two men stood by them in white robes, and said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into heaven? This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven. (Acts 1:9-11)

Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (Philippians 2:9-11)

Currently not every knee bows and not every tongue confesses Jesus as Lord, but that does not diminish in anyway his present Lordship; on the day when all do acknowledge Him it will not be the beginning on His Kingdom, but simply an acknowledgement by all of its reality.

All of this background now helps us to confidently approach this passage and see two things:

  1. How Jesus was preparing his disciples (and those to whom the disciples preached) for the events that were to happen within their own lifetime – the destruction of the Temple in 70AD.
  2. How we are to understand the bearing of HIs kingdom on our lives in this world as we await with patience His appearing, especially in times when troubles and persecution come – how then should we live?
1. Preparing for the destruction of the Temple – 70AD

5-7

We know from the other gospels that the ‘some’ who were speaking of the Temple’s glory were his disciples, and that from verse 7 the conversation took place across the valley, as Jesus and his disciples were sitting on the mount of Olives, from where they could see the Temple rising above the city walls. It would have been a shocking thing to hear Jesus say that this building would be destroyed. They had already heard him say (John 2:19–22) ‘Destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up,’ and understood that he was speaking of Himself in his death and resurrection; Jesus is the true Temple, the true dwelling place of God with His people. Yet if this is true, then it makes the old physical Temple obsolete; the physical Temple had served its purpose, and now that the One it foreshadowed has come, it is no longer needed, and has a use-by date. (Hebrews 8:13). Yet this was something they were yet to realise; we are told it was only after Jesus’ resurrection that they understood (John 2:22). So their hearts must have been burning and in turmoil as they walked through the valley to the place they were staying that night, and we can imagine them wanting to burst as they looked for the opportunity to ask him what he meant.

8-9

Jesus responds initially with a word of caution. There will be terrifying events that will happen in their lifetime, and many will immediately see it as the sign of the End, even claiming to be Jesus physically returned. But he assures them: these events are only ‘penultimate’ – they are a foretaste of the End, but ‘the end will not be at once’ (9) – ie. the final judgement is yet to come; this will be an ‘interim judgement’ with a specific purpose – as we will see, the purpose of the Gospel going out to the ends of the earth and being proclaimed to all the nations.

10-11

This will be a time of great political turmoil – nation against nation and kingdom against kingdom. We might take the ‘earthquakes, famines, terrors and signs from heaven’ as being apocalyptic language, or we may take it literally, but either way it means that this is the action of God’s judgement. Many times in the past He has used nations as His instruments of judgement upon other nations; the Biblical view of wars is not of a world that has gone crazy, over which God has lost control; but of peoples and nations who have been handed over by the sovereign hand of God to the outworking of their sinfulness, and all as an action of God’s wrath.

12-19

Jesus’ disciples are in this world, and so necessarily they suffer along with everyone else in this turmoil of judgement. Yet Jesus speaks of another kind of suffering that will come to them – the suffering of persecution. The Jewish people already faced a difficult time at the hands of the Romans, however the Jewish faith was still an ‘authorised’ religion. For some time the Romans considered Christians as a branch of Judaism, however as the Jews increasingly rejected Jesus as Messiah, and the divide grew between Jews and Messianic Jews, the Christian faith became ‘illegitimate’ in the Roman Empire, and so Christians faced conflict and persecution from both Jews and Romans. This was combined with the escalating tension between Rome and the Jews in the 60’s, and the division among Jews as to how they should respond to the oppressive power of Rome, and meant that being a Christian in Jerusalem and Judea was a very dangerous thing – humanly speaking. Possibly some Jews would have considered the Christians to be the cause of their troubles, by their acceptance and worship of Jesus they had brought wrath upon the nation.

Jesus makes a wonderful promise to the disciples: not a hair of their head will perish (18). This does not mean they will not be killed, as has just said in 16 that some of them would be put to death. But their hope will be one that goes beyond the grave; even though they die they will live; the worst people will be able to do will be to kill their bodies, and in fact the worst will actually be the best, because by this – the laying down of their lives – they will actually gain life (19). Jesus is not saying ‘hang in there and they will not get to you,’ but ‘hang in there, because even if they do get to you you will never die, because your life will be hidden with me in God, and when I who are your life appears, you will also appear with me in glory.’ (Colossians 3:3)

20-26a

In 68AD the Jewish zealots took over the Temple and turned it into a fortress from which to stage their rebellion against Rome. They killed the priests, along with anyone else who opposed their mission, and installed one of their own as High Priest. The temple was filled with the blood of humans, and became a place of violence, drunkenness and immorality. In response the Romans multiplied their armies, and literally surrounded Jerusalem, until in 70AD they besieged the city, slaughtering all they came across – men, women and children – and destroyed the Temple and all who were in it. They literally trampled Jerusalem underfoot.

The Jews saw this as an action for which the wrath of God would come upon the Romans; yet Jesus describes it as ‘wrath against this people’ (23). Just a few days earlier he had stood weeping over Jerusalem:

“Would that you, even you, had known on this day the things that make for peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes. For the days will come upon you, when your enemies will set up a barricade around you and surround you and hem you in on every side and tear you down to the ground, you and your children within you. And they will not leave one stone upon another in you, because you did not know the time of your visitation (Luke 19:42-44)

This was not about Rome storing up judgement for herself; it was about the judgement that Jesus’ own people had already stored up for themselves by rejecting him as their Messiah. They should have recognised that their responsibility as God’s chosen people was to welcome the Messiah when he came; to recognise Him as the fulfilment, the ‘Yes’ to all of God’s promises to bless them and to make them a blessing to the Nations; yet they forsook this commission, wanting to keep all of God’s blessing for themselves, and cut themselves off from and despised the nations.

Yet God’s promises and plans were not to be thwarted by Israel’s disobedience. Paul speaks in Romans 11 about the necessity of this judgement:

So I ask, did they stumble in order that they might fall? By no means! Rather through their trespass salvation has come to the Gentiles, so as to make Israel jealous. Now if their trespass means riches for the world, and if their failure means riches for the Gentiles, how much more will their full inclusion mean (Romans 11:11-12)

…a partial hardening has come upon Israel, until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in (Romans 11:25)

This is the ‘time of the Gentiles’ that Jesus speaks of here (24). The old system of the Temple with all its rituals; the city, nation and people of the Jews, has been brought to an end because now the Gospel is going out not just to Jews by to every tribe and people and tongue and nation. This is the era we are now in; if it were not so, we would not be here this morning, a gathering of gentiles who acknowledge and worship the Jewish Messiah!.

26b-28

What does Jesus mean by the statement, ‘…the powers of the heavens will be shaken. And then they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory. (Luke 21:26-27)? As we have already seen Jesus is using images from Daniel 7. In Daniel’s vision he sees the enemies of God and of His saints being destroyed, and the Son of Man ‘coming’ in order to be installed by the Ancient of Days as the ruler of the Nations, whose kingdom will last forever and will never be destroyed. We have also seen that this event finds its fulfilment not just in some event that is still in our future, but in the death and resurrection of Jesus. In the cross, ‘He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him in it.’ (Colossians 2:15); this is, ’…the plan of the mystery hidden for ages in God who created all things, so that through the church the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places.’ (Ephesians 3:8-10) At the cross all God’s enemies and ours – sin, death and the devil – were defeated, and Jesus’ resurrection is the Father’s declaration to us ‘It is done! I am making all things new! This is my beloved Son, whom I love, listen to Him! Trust in Him! pledge your allegiance to Him! Look and long for His appearing and the day when the heavens and the earth will be made new and will become through and through the dwelling place of righteousness!’

2. How then should we live?

Jesus gives plenty of guidance to his disciples as they anticipated not only this event in 70AD, but as they continued to live in anticipation of the Main Event it foreshadowed: His glorious appearing. How should they – and we – live and respond in this world, knowing that He is the Son of Man who has established the Kingdom in his death and resurrection?

Do not be led astray (8).

It seems almost an annual occurrence that someone somewhere tells us that Jesus will show up on a given date or time; there are still those even today who claim to actually be Jesus in person. Yet one thing we know for sure: when Jesus appears there will be no question it is him. He will not need to advertise in the papers, start his own TV show or buy property in Queensland. Every eye will see Him. Yet we are called to trust in the sovereign plan of the Father, that He is working all things out according to His schedule. There will be a time between the end of the old age and the consummation of the new, and during this time we are to fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, and know for sure that the work He has begun he will bring to completion on the day of Jesus Christ (Philippians 1:6). This assurance in the Father’s sovereignty will save us from being sidetracked by all kinds of fanatical and fanciful date setting and end-time scenario silliness.

Stay awake at all times (34-36).

Avoiding end-time silliness does not mean, however, that we become complacent in the face of all that is happening in the world around us. We are called to live with wisdom and shrewdness as we live in a world of social, moral, political and spiritual turmoil. When disasters come – whatever their nature, and however it impact on us as God’s people – we should not be surprised. This is not only because Jesus has warned us in advance that these things will happen continually until the end, but also because we know that He rules the nations, and nothing takes place in this world that is not ultimately serving His purposes to make the kingdom of this world into the Kingdom of our Lord and of His Christ (Revelation 11:15)

Take the opportunities that come to proclaim Jesus (13).

Literally, ‘testify’ – the word is ‘martyrion’ from which we get the word ‘martyr.’ We are not holding the fort until Jesus comes and takes over. Rather, we are emissaries, or ambassadors of the King. We proclaim not our own message, but the message that He has given us to declare, and so as we testify it will not be us speaking by Him speaking through us with the full weight of His authority. Do we see opposition to the Gospel – be it something as extreme as the threat of death, or as ‘mild’ as being mocked or ostracised – as a terrible calamity from which we have to be rescued, or as an opportunity to declare the grace of God in Jesus Christ and the good news of His kingdom?

Raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near (28).

Faith in Christ is not a cheap insurance policy, nor is it an excuse to retreat into our bunkers and disengage from the world and just wait it out. Yet we do have the sure promise of a new heavens and a new earth; the day when there will be no more sickness, pain, crying or death; and the day when our mortal, weak and frail bodies will be clothed in glorious immortality and our current battle with sin will be a fading memory. Christians are to be characterised as those with heads held high – if not literally, then spiritually; living each day in eager expectation the day of Jesus Christ:

Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. He who calls you is faithful; he will surely do it. (1 Thessalonians 5:23-24)