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Luke 21:1-38 – The Mount Olives

The temple was built of gleaming white marble and the entire eastern wall of the main structure was covered with gold plates so that it would brilliantly reflect the rising sun. It was one of the most spectacular, breathtaking structures imaginable. A contemporary said that the temple was “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, as from solar rays … it appeared from a distance like a snow-clad mountain; for all that was not overlaid with gold was of purest white”.

However, Jesus spoke of the destruction of both the temple and of Jerusalem. This destruction would come as an act of God’s judgment. As Old Testament Jerusalem had incurred God’s wrath having rejected the prophets who spoke his word, so New Testament Jerusalem had rejected God’s Son.

The disciples ask when this will occur, but Jesus’ concern is more to assist them in living faithfully until that time comes. Jesus warns them not to be deceived by false messiahs and teachers. He tells them not to be terrified by wars, social upheaval, earthquakes, famines or pestilences. When persecuted they are to settle it in their hearts to be quietly confident that Jesus will give them a mouth and wisdom whereby, they, like Jesus, will confound their opponents in their speaking. Even should the disciples lose their lives, not a hair of their heads will be lost in the resurrection.

When the Romans armies begin their march to surround Jerusalem, the disciples must flee knowing that Jesus’ words will be fulfilled (and the Christians in 70 A.D. did do just that). The destruction of the temple and city was God’s days of vengeance and wrath fulfilling the prophetic writings. The trampling of the land and people by the nations will continue until the time when God will judge the nations.

The language of the sun, moon and stars going dark and the roaring of the sea and waves is classic Old Testament imagery of something coming to an end – whether a person’s life, a city or a nation – even if the world continues. Cosmic language being applied to a person or people. Verses 25-26 can refer then to the end of Jerusalem. However, the cosmic language and indeed 70 A.D. itself also points to the end of this old age. It is like two mountain tops where in the prophetic vision the two events appear as a single mountain top but once one arrives at 70 A.D. one sees a valley before a higher mountain (the end of all things) which prior to arrival at the first mountain seemed to be as if one with it. What happened in 70 A.D. was a visual expression of the fact that Jesus on the clouds of heaven (c.f. Daniel 7) was now enthroned with the power of God. In the same way, the end of the age will also result in a destruction by the one who comes on the clouds of heaven then as well.

Notice that while people’s breath is leaving them in fear of the judgment to come, God’s people are told to straighten up and raise our heads, because our redemption is drawing near. Finally, Jesus urges us to “watch ourselves lest our hearts be weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and cares of this life, and that day come upon us suddenly like a trap.” We are to “stay awake at all times, praying that we may have strength to escape all these things that are going to take place, and to stand (confidently) before the Son of Man.”

The final note in the chapter is that each day Jesus would teach in the temple but each night he would leave and reside on the Mount of Olives. This has extra significance because prior to the first temple’s destruction by the Babylonians, Ezekiel had seen a vision where God’s presence had left the temple and resided on the Mount of Olives before abandoning the temple and the city to its destruction. Now Jesus is acting out the vision – once he is raised he, like God’s Old Testament presence, will ascend into heaven from the Mount of Olives. Once he does so the temple and the city are on borrowed time. But thanks be to God many thousands in Jerusalem will come to faith in Christ and when the Roman armies come, they will leave the city because they believe all of Jesus’ words in salvation and judgment.