Certainty In Uncertain Times: Luke 21:5-38 – What Does the Future Hold?

Grace For The Journey

I remember in the 70s hearing a song from the 50s that was sung by Doris Day entitled, “Que Sera, Sera,” which means “Whatever will be, will be.”  It was a song about the future . . .

When I was just a little boy

I asked my mother, what will I be

Will I be handsome, will I be rich

Here’s what she said to me:

Que Sera, Sera,

Whatever will be, will be

The future’s not ours, to see

Que Sera, Sera

What will be, will be.

We have in our study today a passage of Scripture that is often referred to as the “Olivet Discourse,” a passage that takes place while Jesus and His disciples are on the Mount of Olives, a mountain rising some 150 feet above Jerusalem, affording a breathtaking view of the Jewish Temple.  It is at this moment some of the disciples speak of the splendor and grandeur of the temple.  As they admire the scene before them, the disciples ask questions about the future and Jesus’ answer is quite different than “the future’s not ours to see,” but quite the contrary . . .

He tells them of two events that will

Most certainly occur in the future.

Since the time Jesus spoke those words one of the events has taken place just as Jesus said it would.  The other event awaits fulfillment and may take place during our lifetime.  Jesus speaks here in chapter 21 of the future.

Let’s take a walk together through this passage and then I will leave you with a few actions to take from it in response to the teaching of Jesus.

Verse 5 tells us that some of the disciples were simply awestruck by the beauty of the Jewish temple.  The temple was impressive; 46 years in the making (John 2:20), it would not be completed until AD 63, just three years before the future Emperor Titus and the Roman legions began surrounding it before ultimately destroying it in AD 70.  It was double the size of the Acropolis in Athens and the perimeter of the temple was a mile long and took up a space equivalent to one-sixth of the city of Jerusalem.  It was impressive.

The Jewish historian Josephus writes, “The exterior of the building lacked nothing that could astound either mind or eye” … “Covered on all sides with massive plates of gold, the sun was no sooner up than it radiated so fiery a flash that persons straining to look at it were compelled to avert their eyes…it appeared from a distance like a snow-clad mountain; for all that was not overlaid with gold was of purest white.”

But Jesus says in verse 6 that the whole thing will be destroyed, “The days will come in which not one stone shall be left upon another,” a general way of saying one day the whole thing will come toppling down.  This leads the disciples to ask a question in verse 7, “So they asked Him, saying, ‘Teacher, but when will these things be? And what sign will there be when these things are about to take place?’”  The disciples had heard before about future events and they ask Jesus about the specifics of the future.  The disciples seem to think the destruction of the temple will coincide with another future event, the end of time when God comes and fixes everything that is wrong.

I just want to note parenthetically that Jesus, while answering this question, does not give them specific dates, unlike the prophecy guys with their color-coded maps, charts, and diagrams.  Why?  Probably because He wants us to be ready and watching.

The disciples seem to think the destruction of the temple will occur at the same time as the Messiah’s second coming.  Jesus, in answering their question, teaches that these are two events occurring at different times.  Jesus teaches here about two future events: 1) the destruction of the Jewish Temple; and, 2) the Second Coming of Christ.   There are two future events . . .

An “immediate future”


A “distant future.”

The destruction of the temple serves as a type or foreshadow of the future coming judgment at the Second Coming of Christ.  The nearer event – the destruction of the temple – serves as a preview of the more distant event, the Second Coming.

Verses 8-19 tell what will happen before the destruction of the Jewish temple and verses 20-24 tell about the destruction itself.

Verse 8 tells us, “And He said: ‘Take heed that you not be deceived. For many will come in My name, saying, ‘I am He,’ and, ‘The time has drawn near.’ Therefore do not go after them.’”  Jesus warns that there will be future pretenders, but they are not the Christ.  You may recall Luke 17:23 that Jesus said, “And they will say to you, ‘Look here!’ or ‘Look there!’  Do not go after them or follow them.”  There will always be future false Messiahs. 

In verse 9 Jesus says,“But when you hear of wars and commotions, do not be terrified; for these things must come to pass first, but the end will not come immediately.”  These things will happen until Christ returns to redeem all of creation.

In verses 10-11 the Bible tells us, “Then He said to them, ‘Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom.  And there will be great earthquakes in various places, and famines and pestilences; and there will be fearful sights and great signs from heaven.”  History tells us that the first century saw a number of wars, earthquakes, and famines throughout the Roman Empire.  The historian Will Durant, writing in the 1960s in his book, The Lessons of History, observes that “in the last 3,421 years of recorded history only 268 have seen no war.”  He goes to state that there have “only been 268 years of peace out of over 3,000 years.”

Jesus goes on to say in verses 12 and 13, “But before all these things, they will lay their hands on you and persecute you, delivering you up to the synagogues and prisons. You will be brought before kings and rulers for My name’s sake.  But it will turn out for you as an occasion for testimony.”  While the disciples would face persecution in the next few decades, it would give them an opportunity to bear witness to Jesus Christ.

In verses 14 through 18 Jesus says, “Therefore settle it in your hearts not to meditate beforehand on what you will answer; for I will give you a mouth and wisdom which all your adversaries will not be able to contradict or resist.  You will be betrayed even by parents and brothers, relatives and friends; and they will put some of you to death (cf Luke 12:53, Luke 14:26, Luke 18:29).  And you will be hated by all for My name’s sake.  But not a hair of your head shall be lost.”

This means that while some of God’s children will suffer physical death, none of God’s children will suffer eternal death.

In verse 19 Jesus concludes this section by saying, “By your patience possess your souls.”  Put another way: Jesus is telling His disciples, and us, “to persevere, endure suffering, stay committed to Him.”

Verses 8-19 describe what will occur before the destruction of Jerusalem, now we look at the destruction itself in verses 20-24.

In verse 21 Jesus says, “But when you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies, then know that its desolation is near” (cf Luke 19:43-44)This happened in AD 70 when Titus, acting under his father, Roman Emperor Vespasian, surrounded the city of Jerusalem and destroyed the temple and ultimately the city.  Jesus predicted this event and said what to do when it happens in verses 21-23, “Then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains, let those who are in the midst of her depart, and let not those who are in the country enter her.  For these are the days of vengeance, that all things which are written may be fulfilled.  But woe to those who are pregnant and to those who are nursing babies in those days! For there will be great distress in the land and wrath upon this people.”

A time of joy becomes a time of sorrow.  Josephus says that a million people died, and 100,000 prisoners taken.  The fact that Josephus, who was not a Christian, underscores the horror of the destruction.

This is confirmed in verse 24 where Jesus also says,“And they will fall by the edge of the sword, and be led away captive into all nations. And Jerusalem will be trampled by Gentiles until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled.”  Jerusalem’s being “trampled by the Gentiles” is a way of saying that non-Jews will conquer and dominate Jerusalem and the Jewish people until a future time when God puts an end to it.  This “trampling of the Gentiles” continues beyond AD 70.  The Romans, Persians, Franks, Turks, and the British have all “trampled” on Jerusalem.  Even today, where Jesus had been teaching (earlier in chapter 21) on that very spot is yet another fulfillment of verse 24.  Today the temple has been replaced by the huge mosque known as “The Dome of the Rock.”

The time of the Gentiles seems to suggest a time during which the Jewish people face persecution, a time that will not end until Christ returns (cf Romans 11:11-32).

Beginning in verse 25 and following, Jesus foretells the coming of the Son of Man, the Second Coming, the future event coinciding with the end of time.  By the way, if Jesus predicted the first event – the destruction of the temple in AD 70, and the first event occurred as prophesied, then you and I can be equally certain that what Jesus says will happen in verses 25 and following will happen exactly as prophesied.  It is a guarantee!

In verses 25 through 28 Jesus says, “And there will be signs in the sun, in the moon, and in the stars; and on the earth distress of nations, with perplexity, the sea and the waves roaring; men’s hearts failing them from fear and the expectation of those things which are coming on the earth, for the powers of the heavens will be shaken.  Then they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory.  Now when these things begin to happen, look up and lift up your heads, because your redemption draws near.”  Note the two different reactions in verses 26-28. 

  • Some men’s hearts will “fail them.”
  • And others will “look up and lift up their heads” because their “redemption draws near” (is coming to completion). 

At Christ’s second coming, will you be fearful or grateful? 

Verses 29 through 33 tell us, “Then He spoke to them a parable: ‘Look at the fig tree, and all the trees.  When they are already budding, you see and know for yourselves that summer is now near.  So you also, when you see these things happening (these signs in the sun and moon, etc.), know that the kingdom of God is near.  Assuredly, I say to you, this generation will by no means pass away till all things take place(this generation of people living on earth when the signs occur in the sky)Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will by no means pass away.”

Jesus says these events will happen!  We have already on record that which He prophesied would take place in AD 70.  If Jesus got that one right, we can rest assured He will get this one right, too. 

In verse Jesus says,“But take heed to yourselves, lest your hearts be weighed down with carousing, drunkenness, and cares of this life, and that Day come on you unexpectedly.”  Jesus is telling us to be ready.  Do not let that day catch us in self-indulgence or allow ourselves to be swept away by the things of this present, fallen world, including the daily pressures caused by worry and anxiety.

He goes on to say in verses 35-36, “For it will come as a snare on all those who dwell on the face of the whole earth.  Watch therefore, and pray always that you may be counted worthy to escape all these things that will come to pass, and to stand before the Son of Man.”  Then Luke tells us, “And in the daytime He was teaching in the temple, but at night He went out and stayed on the mountain called Olivet.  Then early in the morning all the people came to Him in the temple to hear Him.”

In light of these truths, here is the question . . .

How shall we face the future?

Because the Bible does not give us information about the future just to fill our heads or so that we will pull out the maps, and charts, and diagrams to be able to plot various points of interest and sell our books. 

The Bible gives us information

About the future to teach us

How to live in the present.

Note these practical guidelines . . .  

1) BE WITNESSING – Verses 12-15.

Remember verse 13?  Jesus told the disciples that the future difficulties they faced would give them an opportunity to bear witness to Christ.  He said in verse 13, “But it will turn out for you as an occasion for testimony.”  This takes us back to what Jesus had said earlier in Luke 12:11-12: “Now when they bring you to the synagogues and magistrates and authorities, do not worry about how or what you should answer, or what you should say.  For the Holy Spirit will teach you in that very hour what you ought to say.”

We are to live our lives as witnesses to Christ.  Luke records this truth again in his second volume, the Book of Acts.  He records what Jesus says in Acts 1:8, “You shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be My witnesses …”  In the context here of Luke 21, Jesus tells us that we are to witness to Christ when facing future difficulties. 

What a powerful witness to not

Fall away because of persecution,

But to draw nearer to Christ.

People are watching you when you face persecution.  How will you respond when the going gets tough?  Adrian Rogers used to say, “If you want to see what a man is made of shake him up really good and see what comes out.”  When you are shaken what comes out?  Dads, what do your children see when you face fire?  Moms, how do you handle adversity?  Young people, who will you witness to for Christ this week at school?

Jesus reminds us not to worry about what we will say. 

If we will live for Christ,

He will guide our words.

Verse 15 says, “I will give you a mouth and wisdom which all your adversaries will not be able to contradict or resist.”  Trust in the Lord and you will witness for His glory.

How do we face the future?  How do we live this week?  Be witnessing.  Secondly . . .

2) BE WARNED!  Verses 34-35.

Remember the two different reactions to Christ’s Second Coming back in verses 26-28?  Jesus says some men’s hearts will “fail them” and others will “lift up their heads because their redemption” is coming to completion.  That idea is repeated in verses 34 and 35 – Jesus says, do not allow yourselves to be “weighed down with carousing, drunkness, and cares of this life, and that Day come on you unexpectedly.”  Take heed how you live!

Here is a question: To whom is Jesus speaking here?  He is not speaking to religious, closed hearted Pharisees or Sadducees or a special group of Christians who will avoid all this by being whisked away to some vacation spot in the sky.  He is talking to His disciples.  “Take heed to yourselves, lest your hearts be weighed down with carousing, drunkenness, and cares of this life, and that Day come on you unexpectedly.”

On that day, there will be those who greet Jesus as Savior and those who meet Jesus as Judge.”  Which will it be for you?  At Christ’s Second Coming, will you be fearful or grateful?

How do we face the future?  How do we live this week?  Be witnessing.  Be warned.  Thirdly . . .

3) BE WATCHING!  Verse 36.

Jesus says in verse 36, “Watch therefore, and pray always that you may be counted worthy to escape all these things that will come to pass, and to stand before the Son of Man.”  Don’t miss what Jesus is saying here – We are to watch and pray “that you may be counted worthy to escape all these things,” all what things?  What Jesus has said in the preceding verses – verses 34 and 35 – that Christ’s coming not catch us by surprise because our hearts were weighed down with carousing, drunkenness, and the worries of this life, living for this world only.

It is not always easy living the Christian life.  Sometimes we face persecution and great difficulties.  But remember that Jesus says, “Not a hair of our head will be lost” (verse 18).  I like that!  Remember what the Bible says in Romans 8:38-39, “I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

When you face difficulties and trials and tribulation, watch and pray.  Look up to Jesus and ask for help:

Live by the truth of Philippians 4:6-7, “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.”

Maybe this causes you to think about the words of the song,  

When peace, like a river, attendeth my way,

When sorrows like sea billows roll;

Whatever my lot, thou hast taught me to say,

It is well, it is well with my soul.

Most of you have heard of Chuck Colson.  He was the founder of Prison Fellowship and the former so-called political “Hatchet Man” for Richard Nixon and one of the major players in the Watergate scandal.  A friend of his, Tom Phillips, shortly after Richard Nixon’s reelection campaign in 1972, said Chuck had accepted Christ as his Lord and Savior.  He described how it happened.  Church called Tom and said he wanted to talk to him.  During their meeting Phillips read the section on pride from CS Lewis’ Mere Christianity.  Colson left despite Tom’s wanting him to stay and talk more.  It was his pride that made him leave, but God was breaking-through the pride.

Colson wrote about it later in his autobiographical book, Born Again: “As I drove out of Tom’s driveway, the tears were flowing uncontrollably.  There were no street lights, no moonlight. The car headlights were flooding illumination before my eyes, but I was crying so hard it was like trying to swim underwater.  I pulled to the side of the road not more than a hundred yards from the entrance to Tom’s driveway … I remember hoping that Tom and (his wife) wouldn’t hear my sobbing, the only sound other than the chirping of crickets penetrating the still of the night.  With my face cupped in my hands, head leaning forward against the wheel, I forgot about machismo, about pretenses, about fears of being weak.  And as I did, I began to experience a wonderful feeling of being released … And then I prayed my first real prayer. ‘God, I don’t know how to find you, but I’m going to try! I’m not much the way I am now, but somehow I want to give myself to You.’ I didn’t know how to say more, so I repeated over and over the words: Take me.

I had not ‘accepted’ Christ – I still didn’t know who he was. My mind told me it was important to find that out first, to be sure that I knew what I was doing, that I meant it and would stay with it. Only, that night, something inside me was urging me to surrender – to what or to whom I did not know.

I stayed there in the car, wet-eyed, praying, thinking, for perhaps half an hour, perhaps longer, alone in the quiet of the dark night.  Yet for the first time in my life I was not alone at all.”  (p.116-117)

When Christ returns, will you greet Him as Savior or meet Him as Judge?  Tell Him today, “Take me.”

This is God’s Word …

This is Grace for your Journey …

Rest and Rejoice in this eternal truth!

Pastor Terry

Ephesians 4:7 – “But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it.”

Hebrews 4:16 – “Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.”

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