Some of the most popular movies and TV shows of all times have been about the end of time and the catastrophic destruction of the world as we know it. No doubt some of you would say Mad Max was your go to post-apocalyptic movie. Others would choose a more contemporary version like “The Walking Dead. My favorite happens to be WALL-E, but then again I do have 2 little boys at home. Since the beginning of time, people have been trying to figure out what the end would look like. How would it play out? Who would be the main players? Would they be alive to see it?
The disciples of Jesus were no different. We read about this in today’s reading in Luke 21, as well as Matthew 24 and Mark 13. These portions of Scripture are often referred to as the Olivet Discourse because Jesus delivered this Sermon on the Mount of Olives overlooking Jerusalem. That location is very important because many scholars believe that a large portion of Jesus’ speech was actually talking about the destruction of Jerusalem that would occur in 70 AD. His disciples had witnessed Jesus weeping over Jerusalem because it was the city that kills the prophets and God’s messengers. He went on to tell them that the temple was going to be completely destroyed. This had to really mess with the mindset of these Jewish believers. They had been taught since childhood that the Messiah would come and his arrival would mean the fulfillment of all the prophecies in which they hoped. They believed Jesus would free them from the Romans and establish his kingdom in Jerusalem with the Temple playing a very important role.
In their perplexed state, the disciples asked Jesus a 3-pronged question: “When will this happen, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?” Jesus then begins to unpack a not so rosy vision of the near future and beyond. He starts by warning them not to listen to false prophets or those who would come and say that they were the Messiah. He then warns them there would be wars and rumors of wars, nations rising up against nations, and kingdoms against kingdoms. They would see earthquakes, famines, pestilence, and other fearful events. Followers of Jesus would face relentless persecution and many would give their lives for the sake of the gospel, which would spread from Jerusalem around the world. Although Jesus was speaking primarily to these Jewish believers about things that would happen in their lifetimes, the realities apply to every subsequent generation.
I feel like Fred Savage in the Princess Bride when his grandfather put down the book that he was reading him when Westley appeared to be dead. He said urgently to his grandpa, “It can’t end there, there has to be more.” Luke 21:27-28 gave the 1st century disciples hope and should speak loud and clear to us today. It says, “And then they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory. Now when these things begin to take place, straighten up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.” I can’t help but think of Stephen experiencing this reality when he was being stoned to death and was allowed to see a glimpse of heaven and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. His redemption was drawing near and we can truly say that ours is as well. We hold fast to the promise there will be a day and an hour when Christ will fulfill the words of his own prophecy and will return in the same way that He left to bring judgment and to cause his kingdom to be more fully realized on the earth.
Finally, Jesus gives an encouragement for us as we wait for his appearance. He calls us to be prepared by watching and praying. We are to watch not primarily for the signs of his coming but to guard against the temptations of this life that attempt to take our attention away from focusing on him. We are also to pray that we will be found faithful no matter what we face here in this life. We encourage ourselves with the promise given by Jesus that is found in John 16:33, “I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.”