Have you ever wondered what the future holds for the people of God? What will life be like after the resurrection of the dead? Today, R.C. Sproul continues his series in the gospel of Luke by examining Jesus’ teaching on the resurrection and on His identity as Lord of all.
This morning, we will continue our study of the gospel according to Saint Luke, starting a new chapter. I will be reading from Luke 21:1–24. I would ask the congregation please to stand for the reading of the Word of God:
Jesus looked up and saw the rich putting their gifts into the offering box, and he saw a poor widow put in two small copper coins. And he said, “Truly, I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all of them. For they all contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty put in all she had to live on.”
And while some were speaking of the temple, how it was adorned with noble stones and offerings, he said, “As for these things that you see, the days will come when there will not be left here one stone upon another that will not be thrown down.” And they asked him, “Teacher, when will these things be, and what will be the sign when these things are about to take place?” And he said, “See that you are not led astray. For many will come in my name, saying, ‘I am he!’ and, ‘The time is at hand!’ Do not go after them. And when you hear of wars and tumults, do not be terrified, for these things must first take place, but the end will not be at once.”
Then he said to them, “Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be great earthquakes, and in various places famines and pestilences. And there will be terrors and great signs from heaven. But before all this they will lay their hands on you and persecute you, delivering you up to the synagogues and prisons, and you will be brought before kings and governors for my name’s sake. This will be your opportunity to bear witness. Settle it therefore in your minds not to meditate beforehand how to answer, for I will give you a mouth and wisdom, which none of your adversaries will be able to withstand or contradict. You will be delivered up even by parents and brothers and relatives and friends, and some of you they will put to death. You will be hated by all for my name’s sake. But not a hair of your head will perish. By your endurance you will gain your lives.
“But when you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies, then know that its desolation has come near. Then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains, and let those who are inside the city depart, and let not those who are out in the country enter it, for these are days of vengeance, to fulfill all that is written. Alas for women who are pregnant and for those who are nursing infants in those days! For there will be great distress upon the earth and wrath against this people. They will fall by the edge of the sword and be led captive among all nations, and Jerusalem will be trampled underfoot by the Gentiles, until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled.
These weighty words of warning are given by our Lord Himself, and their record is preserved by the inspiration and superintendence of God the Holy Spirit. This is the Word of God. Please receive it as such and be seated. Let us pray.
Our Father, we ask that You would help us, for we find many of the things in this text difficult to understand, but by the power of Your Holy Spirit, You may illumine them for us. For we ask it for our sake and for the sake of Jesus. Amen.
Commendation after Condemnation
Luke 21 begins after a brief parenthesis in which Jesus uttered words of condemnation. In the next part of the parenthesis, Jesus opened chapter 21 not with words of condemnation, but with words of commendation.
Let us look briefly at the end of chapter 20, where Jesus said: “Beware of the scribes, who like to walk around in long robes, and love greetings in the marketplaces and the best seats in the synagogues and the places of honor at feasts, who devour widows’ houses and for a pretense make long prayers. They will receive the greater condemnation.”
Earlier, Jesus had severely rebuked the Pharisees, scribes, and the religious leaders of the day for being hypocrites. Then He singled out attorneys, who were theologians, masters of the Old Testament law. He said: “They love to parade around in glory and enjoy the adulation of the people in the marketplace, the synagogues, and wherever they can be elevated in places of honor. But theirs is a culture of deceit, and to them will come the greater condemnation.” Immediately after these words, Jesus moved to speaking tender words of commendation to the most famous donor in Christian history.
The Widow’s Great Offering
Chapter 21 begins with these words: “Jesus looked up and saw the rich putting their gifts into the offering box, and he saw a poor widow put in two small copper coins. And he said, ‘Truly, I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all of them. For they all contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty put in all she had to live on.’”
Jesus was observing people in the temple. He watched people of wealth and affluence go out of their way to the offering box and, out of the abundance of their great wealth, put in their donations. Then He noticed a widow. She had two copper coins, and the Greek word tells us their value. The two coins together made up the value of one-fourth of one cent, a quarter of a penny. That was all she had.
The widow could have taken one of those copper coins and dropped it in the box. That would certainly have been more than sufficient. Instead, she took them both and gave them away, all that she had, for Christ. And do you know what happened? Jesus saw her do it.
We have people today in the twenty-first century who give less than this in the church, and Jesus sees that, too, but this woman enjoyed the blessed commendation of Christ: “I see you. I see what you have done.” Jesus realized that this woman was all in.
We sing, “Take my life and let it be.” We make all kinds of claims. I do not know how you feel, but I know that whatever devotion I have given in my life to Jesus, whatever sacrifice I have made for the sake of His kingdom pales into utter insignificance in light of the poverty-stricken widow whose mite was seen and blessed by Jesus.
An Astonishing Prophecy of Destruction
Jesus moved on to uttering one of the most astonishing prophecies in all sacred Scripture. In fact, I believe it is the most astonishing recorded prophecy of all time. Jesus looked at the temple as the disciples were admiring its stones and adornment, and He said to them, “As for these things that you see, the days will come when there will not be left here one stone upon another that will not be thrown down.” Do you realize how radical that prediction was?
They walked outside. The disciples were still in awe. Every time they came near the temple, they could not get over the awe they felt with the majesty of this edifice. The first temple built by Solomon was magnificent, and it lasted for about four hundred years until it was destroyed by the Babylonians and then partially rebuilt. There was more destruction until about twenty years before this time, when King Herod began the reconstruction of the temple to make it the most glorious building on the face of the earth.
There were two other extraordinarily noteworthy things about this temple. First, its vastness, its sheer size: one thousand feet by one thousand feet. Herod, the master architect, chose huge stones that were quarried and brought in order to build the interior of the temple—single stones made of pure white marble that were sixty-seven feet long, seven feet high, and nine feet wide.
Herod adorned the building with jewels, gold, and precious stones. The outer portion of the temple was covered with layers and sheets of gold so brilliant that when the sun came up at dawn, people could not look directly at the walls of the temple because the refulgence of its glory blinded them. They had to look away.
This temple was one of the wonders of the ancient world. Jerusalem the city and its temple were considered impregnable pieces of real estate. This was the temple of the Lord. This was Mount Zion. In the eyes of the Jewish people, it was completely and totally indestructible, but Jesus said: “It’s going away. Not one stone is going to be left upon another.”
Proof and Skepticism
Things were going to end in absolute desolation and destruction when God responded to the unbelief of His people and visited them in what Luke calls “the days of vengeance.” He was going to take away their city. He was going to take away their temple. When Jesus said that, no one could believe it. Yet, if there is anything that proves the truth of the Bible and Jesus’ claims, it would be this singular prophecy fulfilled in its details in AD 70 when the Romans came and annihilated Jerusalem and the temple.
Ironically, this text is often used to support skepticism and unbelief in the church because, in connection with the prophecy of the destruction of the temple, Jesus said He would come on clouds of glory at the end of the age. There would be wars, there would be rumors of wars, there would be famines, pestilence, plagues, and all those things. Then He said, “This generation will not pass away until all these things are fulfilled.”
Skeptics have leaped at that text. Bertrand Russell, in his book Why I Am Not a Christian, said, “I’m not a Christian because Jesus made this unbelievable prophecy, and it didn’t happen in the timeframe that He said it would.” I know this is hyperbole, but I felt like every day when I was in seminary, some professor would call attention to the Olivet Discourse and say that Jesus was a false prophet because His predictions did not come true.
So much of Jesus’ prediction came true so vividly and so compellingly that I would think it would prove to the most obstreperous skeptic that He was a true prophet. But that timeframe issue hangs out there as a cause for much debate. I will postpone a treatment of the timeframe problem until the next sermon, God willing.
Vengeance Will End
Let me jump down to Luke 21, where Jesus said in verse 20 and following:
But when you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies, then know that its desolation has come near. Then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains, and let those who are inside the city depart, and let not those who are out in the country enter it, for these are days of vengeance, to fulfill all that is written. Alas for women who are pregnant and for those who are nursing infants in those days! For there will be great distress upon the earth and wrath against this people. They will fall by the edge of the sword and be led captive among all nations, and Jerusalem will be trampled underfoot by the Gentiles, until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled.
That critical word “until” in the Greek means, “up to this point and then it stops.” Jesus was saying: “The city will be destroyed. The temple will be destroyed. The Jewish people will be sent into dispersion throughout all the world until a point in time where that vengeance will end.” The only other time I know of that Paul speaks of the times of the Gentiles is in Romans 11 when he talks about the return (at some point) of the Jewish people.
The Jewish Nation Again
I am Irish by descent. My great grandfather came to this country during the Potato Famine in Ireland in the middle of the nineteenth century. My grandfather marched every year in the Orangemen’s parade in the city of Pittsburgh on Saint Patrick’s Day. My mother tucked me into bed every night by singing, “Toora Loora Loora,” an Irish lullaby. The one day I was allowed to stay home every year was on Saint Patrick’s Day because the city of Pittsburgh would have famous Irish songs playing all day. My son wears a kilt. All his children have Irish names. My daughter gave all her children Irish names. But we do not gather around the table on Sunday night and say, “Next year in Dublin,” or, “Pray for the peace of Dublin.” For all intents and purposes, we have become assimilated into this country. We are Americans, not really Irishmen.
The Jews were sent out of their homeland and dispersed throughout the whole world, but the never lost their identity for two thousand years. Then, in 1948, a song went to the top of the popular music charts that was extraordinarily unusual. It was not a jig or a dancing tune that we would be normally familiar with, but it was a hora:
Tzena, Tzena, Tzena, Tzena
Can’t you hear the music playing
In the city square.
Tzena, Tzena, join the celebration
There’ll be people there from every nation.
The hora went to the top of the music charts, celebrating the founding of the Jewish nation again.
It was not until 1967 that the Jews recaptured Jerusalem. During that war, the television cameras were whirring when there were firefights in the middle of the city of Jerusalem. In the middle of that firefight, Jewish soldiers would suddenly threw their weapons on the ground, ran to the Wailing Wall, and began to pray and weep, even while bullets flew all around them.
I lived in Boston at the time. One of my colleagues was Meredith Kline, one of the most famous Old Testament scholars of the twentieth century, and I went to his house and said, “Meredith, what do you think of this?” He said: “I’m going to have to rethink my eschatology. People are reading the Bible in one hand and the newspaper in the other.”
There are still only one out of five Jews back in the Holy Land, and maybe it will be another two thousand years before they really recover total control of the city, but I do not think it is by accident that the hottest place in the political issues of our day is the Middle East. Jesus said, “The city will be destroyed first by the Romans, but not forever.”
Next week, God willing, we will look at the problem of those elements of the prophecy concerning the question, When will these things be? When will this take place?
This transcript has been lightly edited for readability.