The Present Tense of Prophecy (Luke 21)

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“’Teacher,’ they asked, ‘when will these things happen? And what will be the sign that they are about to take place?’”

Luke 21:5-38 is a long discourse that operates as an answer to that stated question. Broadly speaking, it teaches how the People of God will and should live, in the light of the coming Wrap-Up of history.

So how should they live?

The answer to that question is: “Like Jesus.” Jesus is the model for how we are to respond to the intense pressure of the coming times. But further, the things that are about to happen to Jesus are prophetic descriptions of the lifestyle of the People of God in this closing phase of humanity.

This is indicated by a complex parallel drawn between the words of Luke 21: 5-38 and the events of the next chapters, and the death and resurrection of the Messiah.

  1. The followers of Jesus will be handed over to synagogues (v12), just as Jesus was led to the Sanhedrin (in Luke 22:66-71).
  2. They will stand on trial and witness before kings and governors (v12),just as Jesus stood to testify before Herod and Pilate in (Luke 23:1-25).
  3. They will be betrayed by friends (v16) just as Jesus was betrayed by his friend Judas (in Luke 22: 47-48).
  4. They will be hated (v17), just as Jesus was hated (in Luke 22:63; 23:18, 35-39).
  5. But they will also be sustained and protected (v18), just as Jesus was (in Luke 23:46, and confirmed in Luke 24!).
  6. They are summoned to endure all this (v19), just as Jesus endured the cross (in Luke 22:7-23:46). And Jesus’ call to prayer “that you may have strength to escape all these things” (v36) is paralleled by Jesus being strengthened by an angel after prayer (in Luke 22:43).

The point is that the pattern of Jesus’ life will be reproduced in the life of his People, in both its trials and its ultimate triumph. The triumph of God’s cause is foreshadowed in Jesus’ triumph and establishment as king:  For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves” (Col 1:13).

So we are called to hang tough, to endure and to believe in the final vindication of the cause of Christ, with our eyes fixed on what Jesus has already endured, and upon how he has already been vindicated in the triumph of the resurrection. For the apparent defeat of Jesus will be reversed for all to see his total triumph. As Paul put it, the triumph now “hidden” will be manifested in glory: “For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is your  life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory” (Col 3:3,4).

Generally speaking, the picture that Luke 21:5-38 paints of the life of the People of God in the “Last Days” is sombre and doom-laden. However, we are called to look beneath the events of the cross in its disintegration and despair to the empty tomb and God’s ultimate victory. And similarly, as we live as the People of God, we are not to be daunted by future events -by war, (vv9-11), persecution (vv12-19), and even the destruction of what is most dear to us (vv20-24)- but to see them against the Big Picture of God’s planning.

In Christ, every catastrophe can be faced in hope, and even as a sign that God is on the move, and that the End is closer than we perhaps thought:

When these things begin to take place, stand up and lift up your heads, because your redemption is drawing near…. Be always on the watch, and pray that you may be able to escape all that is about to happen, and that you may be able to stand before the Son of Man.’” (Luke 21:28, 36)

As Pablo Neruda put it: “You can cut all the flowers but you cannot keep Spring from coming.”
Lift up your heads! This is where it all begins. Everything starts here, today.

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