There is so much talk right now about the end of the world. Have you noticed? Have you noticed the Discovery Channel and History Channel running specials on 2012 and the Mayan calendar and the apocalypse? Have you noticed doing their best to play off this interest for profit with the blockbuster “2012” and before that “Knowing”? Even the SyFy channel got in on this with a special about 2012 and the Mayan calendar. It seems like it is everywhere.
With all the hype and hoopla surrounding 2012 and the Mayan calendar, it is good to see what Jesus about His coming. Notice, I did not say second coming. We need to understand that God (and Christ according to this passage [Luke 21.25-27] and Matthew 24) has come in the past. We, in the religious realm, often speak of the “coming of the Lord” as though it is a one time event. On the contrary, Scriptures often speak of the coming of the Lord and you can read about the many times God has come in judgment (Psa 22.19, on enemies; Psa 50.3; Isa 13.9, on Babylon; Isa 19.1, against Egypt; Isa 26.21, inhabitants of the earth (not final judgment); Jer. 4.13, against his people Judah and specifically Jerusalem; et al.). It should not surprise us that what Jesus is talking about in Luke 21.5-36 is all about his coming in judgment on the Jews and espcially Jerusalem (see v.20). The question we need to concern ourselves with is not “What will we do” but “How should we prepare” for when God/Christ come in judgment (be it in history on a particular nation or in the final judgment).
In paralell accounts (Matthew 24, Mark 13), Jesus and his disciples are leaving the temple. No doubt this is the same setting for Luke. According to historians, this temple, which Herod had built, was made of exceedingly white stones. In fact, Josephus said it resembled a mountain covered with snow. So brilliant was this display, that should the sun reflect off of it at just the right angle, the onlooker would have to turn away for its brilliance. There were costly gifts and the spoils of war in it. It was a very rich setting.
The disciples are all alive with conversation about this beautiful building and its “noble stones and offerings” and how it was adorned. In Mark, “Look, Teacher, what wonderful stones and what wonderful things!” (Mark 13.1) They are impressed. Jesus is not and let’s them know as much in his answer (v.6).
Jesus explains that there is coming a day when not one stone will be left upon another, indeed all the stones, and therefore the building itself, will be thrown down. Can you imagine the shock on these disciples? Jews, all of them. And here is Jesus (a Jew himself) saying the center for Jewish religion and worship would be utter destroyed. It was all they had known and, in their thinking, the only system they would ever know. It was, not in the least, their whole world. Yet here is Jesus saying all that is going to pass away. Their shocked disbelief prompts a question: When? So human, their reply. When will our world end? We want a time frame. Perhaps that is why the Mayan calendar is so intrigue to some; it gives a time frame for “the end” corresponding to our year 2012. What signs will there be so that we can see and know the time is near? All of these typical questions humans ask. We want a time frame and indeed we need a time frame so that we can schedule our lives around it or (more like) it around our lives.
Jesus has a personal charge for his band of believers, a warning about what’s on the horizon for them. Here is a key to understanding this entire passage: Jesus was not talking to you, he was talking to “you.” In this context, “you” are his twelve disciples (sustained by the use of the plural throughout), not you (singular) two thousand years later. It is his twelve who will see many come in His name, who hear of wars, who will be persecuted (v.12) and bearing witness (v.13). It is the twleve who will be hated (v.14) and who will see Jerusalem surrounded by armies (v.20). This was spoken in a very specific context to a specific group of men about a specific coming event, namely the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70 by the Romans.
To his twelve he warns that many will come, even in Jesus’ name, and claim to be him or will be setting dates for “the time.” Jesus warns his disciples “do not go after them.” Many people concerned about the coming end will be afraid and that is a perfect opportunity for racketeers to come in and take advantage (like Hollywood). In the disciples time, they would come and play on people’s fears and lead them astray. That is the first admonition: be on guard for false Christs or anti-Christs. Second, do not be afraid. In other words, fear not. Wars and tumult may come but it must be so. These happen first. But “the end” is different. This can be understood as stuff must happen first, then comes the end. This should not be interpretted to mean that His coming is postponed 2000 years. It simply means that some things “must take place first” and then “the end” will come. But the disciple need not fear. Why? God is in control.
That’s why these date setters and propaganda artists ought to be ashamed of themselves. Whether Hollywood or the History Channel or Family Radio in Oakland, CA (which says the end of the world is not 2012, but actually Oct 21, 2011), to you, devoted reader, I say what Jesus said to his disciples: “Do not go after them.” Don’t you believe it/them for a moment! Jesus does not give a precise time for when Jerusalem would be destroyed and God has not given a precise time for when this world will end. The message has aways been “You don’t know and won’t know the exact time, but you can be ready and should prepare yourself spiritually for it.”