Even though we have seen and heard a considerable quantity of bad news in the past two years, as Christians, we know some good news. We know that the Lord Jesus Christ is coming again. On the night before He died, Jesus told His disciples, “If I go away, I will come again” (John 14:3). One day, amid all of the dark clouds, there will be the silver lining of Jesus’ return. The Second Coming of Jesus Christ will occur in two parts. In part one, Jesus will return to take His church; the people He redeemed with His own blood, to heaven where they will receive their eternal reward. Seven years later, in part two, Jesus Christ will return as Lord and King and will fulfill all of His promises by establishing His kingdom and He will rule over the entire world.
To the people of Israel, He will be their Messiah and Savior. He will gather all of the Jewish people from every corner of the world and they will live in the Promised Land, the very land the Lord showed to Abraham centuries ago. They will live in the very place God pledged to give to Abraham’s descendants thus fulfilling all of God’s promises. The present world system will be replaced by the Lord’s Millennial Kingdom which will endure for a thousand years.
Over the years there have been many people who have made false claims of being a messiah and that the end of the world had come. Even in recent history, we have seen the rise and fall of a number of prominent cults and cult leaders that emphasized the end of the world. Some of us may remember that back in the early 1990’s there was a man named David Koresh who was the head of a cult called the Branch Davidians of Waco, Texas. Mr. Koresh claimed to be the messiah and deceived a number of people into following him. They came to a tragic end when Koresh led his followers to resist the authorities. During a siege their compound caught on fire and a great many died. Cults like this exist because of an instinctive fascination we have with the end of the world.
This fascination has spawned a number of end-of-the-world movies and books. Just about every year a movie is produced that depicts the end of planet earth. It usually begins with the destruction of Los Angeles or New York, making me happy I live in Kansas. Recently, I watched a TV series called, “How the World Will End.” I was amazed at how many ways our planet can be destroyed.
We notice in the verses we read today that Jesus taught His disciples about the approaching end of the present world system. Obviously, they were very curious about the things to come. In our Lord’s last public message in Luke’s gospel, He focused on the future and especially on His Second Coming. We will begin with the rise and fall of God’s magnificent temple and then look at the words of Jesus that point to the timing and signs of Jesus’ return.
GOD’S JUDGMENT ON ISRAEL. Luke 21:5-6
The Beauty of the Temple. Jesus and His disciples had spent the day teaching in the temple. The temple in which Jesus taught is known as the Second Temple or Herod’s Temple. The temple was constructed based on a design given by God to Moses. In Moses’ day, the people of Israel journeyed through the wilderness living in tents, so it made sense that their worship center was also a portable tent. It was called the Tabernacle and it was made up of three parts, the Holy of Holies, the Holy Place, and the Outer Court. When Moses finished building the Tabernacle, God’s glory filled it thus showing His presence among His people.
As the years went by, many of the people of Israel failed to trust and follow the Lord and His commandments. When the disobedient people went into battle with the Philistines, they removed the ark of the covenant from the Tabernacle and took it into the battle. The ark was captured by the enemy and Israel was defeated. When the news of the ark’s capture reached the high priest, Eli, he died and as his daughter-in-law gave birth, she named her newborn, Ichabod, which means, “The glory has departed from Israel” (1 Samuel 4:21). The glory that had been Israel’s special blessing was gone.
Some years later, King David purposed to build a permanent center to worship the Lord. While God refused to allow David to build the Temple, He did allow David’s son, Solomon, to build it. When completed, this Temple became known as the Solomonic or First Temple. It was a magnificent building, with beautiful stone work, golden accents and amazing tapestries. When the Temple was dedicated, the Bible tells us that the glory cloud of the Lord filled it.
As before, the Jewish people fell into apostasy and turned away from the Lord. They became rebellious and disobedient and failed to humbly worship the Lord. God sent messengers to warn them of the consequences they would reap if they continued in their sin and lawlessness. He warned them that they would be conquered by a Gentile army if they refused to repent. Finally, in 586 B.C., King Nebuchadnezzar and the Babylonian army attacked Jerusalem and destroyed the first temple. In the book of Second Chronicles, we read that the Babylonians, “burned the house of God and broke down the wall of Jerusalem, and burned all its fortified buildings with fire and destroyed all its valuable articles” (2 Chronicles 36:19). Solomon’s temple was no more.
The Second Temple Constructed. Along with the destruction of their temple which was the center of Israel’s worship to the Creator Covenant God, the people were carried into captivity to far away Babylon where they languished for seventy years. Then something miraculous happened. The Persian Empire had replaced the Babylonian Empire, and God worked in King Cyrus’ heart to send the people of Israel back to Jerusalem to rebuild the temple. He actually published a royal decree that said, “The Lord, the God of heaven, has given me all the kingdoms of the earth and He has appointed me to build Him a house in Jerusalem” (Ezra 1:2). He called for offerings of gold and silver to finance the rebuilding program.
With the king’s approval, Ezra and a contingent of the Jewish people returned and began to rebuild the temple. They were given nearly all of the articles for the temple worship that had been taken from the first temple, which they carried back to Jerusalem. We are told that when they finished rebuilding the temple’s foundation that the “people shouted with a great shout and praised the Lord” (Ezra 3:11) Yet, this foundation was smaller than Solomon’s temple and “the old men who had seen the first temple [as children], wept with a loud voice” (Ezra 3:12). Finally, in February of 515 B.C., twenty-one years after the rebuilding work had begun, the second temple was completed. It had been just over seventy years after the first temple had been destroyed by God’s judgment on August 12, 586 B.C.
The Beauty of the Second Temple. As Jesus and His disciples departed from the temple that day, they were departing from that second temple. Fifty years earlier, Herod the Great began a remodeling of the temple and enlargement of the temple area. It was built with brilliant white stones and each was polished and looked like marble. It contained numerous rooms, porticos, colonnades, plazas, and patios. It was adorned with beautiful stones donated by the wealthy and featured incalculable wealth in gold votive gifts in the form of plaques, sculptures, and other artistic treasures.
The Roman historian Tacitus said the temple was “immensely opulent.” Archaeologists have discovered the largest ancient construction stones in the Middle East at the temple area, larger than those used by the Egyptians in the Great Pyramid. One block alone was 42 feet by eleven feet by fourteen feet and weighed over one million pounds. So magnificent was the temple that it always succeeded in causing a sense of awe from those who viewed it.
It was this temple, with all of its beauty that the disciples pointed to as they ascended the Mount of Olives. It was breathtaking in its strength and beauty. Surely, it would last forever. No wonder they were so incredulous when the Lord Jesus told them in less than forty years it would be totally destroyed.
TIMING OF GOD’S APPROACHING JUDGMENT. Luke 21:7
Not One Stone–All Torn Down. Once again, the rebellious people of Israel had turned their back on their Lord. Once more they had abandoned His ways and followed the ways of the world. God Himself, in human form, the Lord Jesus Christ, was once again in His holy temple. Once again, the glorious God was among His people. He offered them deliverance and salvation, and once again they refused. Rather than embracing the God of their covenant, they continuously insulted and rejected Him. And once again, God’s judgment would fall on them.
It must have been nearly impossible for the disciples to visualize the temple being destroyed. At that moment the temple and its environment were filled with people enjoying life and preparing for the celebration of the Passover. It was also incomprehensible for them for another reason. The temple was the single worship center for the people of Israel. If it was destroyed, where would the people worship? Where would the songs of the Lord be sung? Where would the required sacrifices be made? Where would the people find atonement for their sins? Where would they gather for their great celebrations? Will it really be destroyed?
Judgment Falls–the Temple Was Destroyed. The unthinkable did happen. Thirty-seven years later, the Roman army marched into the rebellious and insurrection filled Jerusalem and completely destroyed the temple. The final construction had only been finished a few years earlier and now it would come crashing to the ground. The historian Josephus wrote, “Caesar ordered the whole city and the temple to be razed to the ground. All the rest of the wall encompassing the city was so completely leveled to the ground as to leave future visitors to the spot no ground for believing that it had ever been inhabited.” Jesus’ words were absolutely precise and accurate. This destruction proves that the Lord’s prophecy comes true with meticulous detail. The temple’s destruction was God’s judgment and not a random event. All of divine prophecy will be fulfilled in exactly the same way; with absolute precision.
I’ve been to Jerusalem. There is no temple. Were you to visit, you would find no temple and just a few small reminders of it. Nearly two thousand years have gone by. Such is the reality of God’s sovereign providence in this world. Jesus’ disciples asked a very good question, “When will these things happen?”
SIGNS OF GOD’S APPROACHING JUDGMENT. Luke 21:8-11
Do Not Be Deceived. Deceivers will come in the latter times who will either claim to be Jesus Christ or some other messianic figure. They will say they are the deliverer and to have the authority to speak and act for God. Multiple times Jesus used the words “I am” to describe His divine attributes. These counterfeits will claim to be the “I am” but they will be frauds. Believers must learn discernment that comes from knowing biblical truth so that they will not be deceived and misled. We are not to go after them. We follow Jesus and only Jesus. This warning assumes that Jesus will be physically absent from His disciples and that the period of His absence will be long enough that some will wish for a quick deliverance and make them susceptible to impostors.
Do Not Be Terrified. Speculations about war and conflicts will be everywhere. These will be topics on everyone’s lips. Did you hear of that war? Do you think they will go to war? To what will this war lead? Conflicts lead to social chaos and the breakdown of civil order. It will become easier to be terrified, which is a deep sense of terror or emotional distress. Disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ should not be disturbed or surprised by such world events. We have already been told about the great chaos and confusion that lies ahead.
We may be seeing the very beginnings of the collapse of society. Many areas of this world have already experienced a destruction of biblical moral values. Social breakdown is now on the horizon. We can expect conditions to increase in frequency and intensity.
Recognize the Signs of the Times. The Lord Jesus gives three additional signs in these verses. First is uncontrolled conflict among the peoples of the earth. These conflicts will be between nations and kingdoms; some far away and some close at hand. While efforts will be made to stop conflict, nations will still rise against other nations. The fall of Jerusalem and the destruction of the temple serves as a reminder of the accuracy of God’s truth.
The second sign are signs in the natural world. Great earthquakes will rock the foundations of the world. In modern history, millions of people have been killed by seismic events and these will increase. Plagues are outbreaks of disease and include epidemics and pandemics. The human race has suffered through countless outbreaks and will remain at the mercy of microscopic pathogens. Famines are the result of poor weather conditions, wars, and depleted populations. Food shortages are the result.
The third sign are terrors and great signs from heaven. Whether the Lord is describing unusual weather conditions, increased astronomical phenomena, or demonic activity, it is safe to say the attention of most people will be drawn up to the sky. The signs tell us one vital message: Jesus is coming again.
When will Jesus return? I must declare to you that no one knows the day or the hour when Jesus will return. But I must also remind you that His return is imminent–it could happen at any moment. There are some who think they have plenty of time and others who think Jesus will never return. We must learn the lesson of the temple. Jesus clearly told the disciples the temple would be destroyed and it was. The destruction did not take place in a year or even a decade. It would have been easy to doubt and become complacent. But destruction did come and multitudes who were unprepared and disobedient died. The coming of Jesus is preceded by global judgment of an unprecedented scale. Are you ready? Will Christ’s coming find you unprepared?
Jesus came to save you, to forgive your sins, to offer you eternal redemption and everlasting life. The vast majority of people ignore this reality and go on about their lives as if God does not exist and Jesus will never return. Is that you? I plead with you to reconsider and urge you to ask Jesus to save you. None of us has any guarantee about tomorrow. The Bible says, “Do not boast about tomorrow, for you do not know what a day may bring forth” (Proverbs 27:1). Come to the Lord Jesus and receive Him as Lord and Master.
Updated by Pastor Vernon Welkner, 1/17/2022