Luke 21:5-19 - Do Not Be Afraid
Luke 21:5 When some were speaking about the temple, how it was adorned with beautiful stones and gifts dedicated to God, he said, 6“As for these things that you see, the days will come when not one stone will be left upon another; all will be thrown down.” 7They asked him, “Teacher, when will this be, and what will be the sign that this is about to take place?” 8And he said, “Beware that you are not led astray; for many will come in my name and say, ‘I am he!’ and, ‘The time is near!’ Do not go after them. 9“When you hear of wars and insurrections, do not be terrified; for these things must take place first, but the end will not follow immediately.” 10Then he said to them, “Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; 11there will be great earthquakes, and in various places famines and plagues; and there will be dreadful portents and great signs from heaven. 12“But before all this occurs, they will arrest you and persecute you; they will hand you over to synagogues and prisons, and you will be brought before kings and governors because of my name. 13This will give you an opportunity to testify. 14So make up your minds not to prepare your defense in advance; 15for I will give you words and a wisdom that none of your opponents will be able to withstand or contradict. 16You will be betrayed even by parents and brothers, by relatives and friends; and they will put some of you to death. 17You will be hated by all because of my name. 18But not a hair of your head will perish. 19By your endurance you will gain your souls.
Background: Luke’s Gospel is written long after the events of Jesus’ life. Most scholars believe that it is written to the Christian community that has survived the fall of Jerusalem and the destruction of the Temple in 70 CE. Imagine how these words would be heard by people who had lived through the horror of siege and burning of their city! Today’s passage is understood by most scholars to be a prediction of the fall of Jerusalem.
Differences between Luke’s account and Mark’s: In Luke’s account of Jesus’ prophecy, the events he speaks of are not the birth pains of the new age, or, in other words, signs of the end of time. Rather, Luke sees Jesus’ words as describing the events leading up to the siege and destruction of Jerusalem and its Temple. Even secular historians of the day saw in his words an uncannily accurate description of what happened. He describes a world and government in chaos. In the time leading up to the siege, many people were defying the government and Rome acted swiftly and decisively to destroy them and their movements. Both Roman and Herodian (the Jewish leader Herod) soldiers worked together in these purges. Dozens of leaders were killed. In this passage Jesus warns that there will be many who will arise and claim to be Messiah, claim to be the only one who can fix the mess the world is in, and they will be the signs that the destruction of Jerusalem is on the way. Turmoil will increase until Rome can’t stand it anymore and Jerusalem will be attacked.
The Jerusalem Temple: The magnificent temple during Jesus’ lifetime was the result of a decades long building project initiated by Herod in 19 BCE. He more than doubled the size of the Temple Mount. The Temple itself was completed in about 18 months but work on the outer courts and the beautiful artwork continued for decades. The entire face of the Temple was covered with gold. The ancient historian Josephus puts it this way “The exterior of the building wanted nothing that could astound either mind or eye. For being covered on all sides with massive plates of gold, the sun was no sooner up that it radiated so fiery a flash that persons straining to look at it were compelled to avert their eyes, as from the solar rays.” The project was completed between 62-64 CE and was destroyed less than a decade later. The Temple was the pride and joy of the Jewish people. They thought that it was worthy of God’s glory and a sign that God was with them.
Vs. 6 -7 – the days will come -Jesus quickly reminds people who are so taken with the beauty of the Temple that it will be utterly destroyed. This prompts his hearers to ask him when and what signs they should expect to alert them to the coming destruction. Ancient historians write that the people of Jerusalem were given many signs but they chose not to
Vs. 8-9- Rather than speak of signs, Jesus issues 3 warnings. There will be many false leaders. The people are not to 1) be led astray(the word means to be led into sin)by them; 2) go after (follow)them; 3) be terrified because even in the chaos everything is in order.
Vs. 10-11 – nation will rise up against nation…this is apocalyptic language that is reminiscent of the poetry of end times. Many believed that the destruction of Jerusalem marked the beginning of the end times. Josephus even records a strange star resembling a sword and a comet crossing the sky at the time of the burning of the Temple.
Vs 12-19 – These verses shift the focus from the destruction of the Temple itself, to what the disciples will experience as they seek to remain faithful in calamitous times. The four verbs in verse 12 outline the fearsome persecution that will come upon believers: arrest (lay hands on), persecute, hand over, and bring you before kings. Still, persecution will be an opportunity to testify. This persecution will not, however, exceed what Jesus himself experienced. The warning of persecution comes with assurances. Jesus will give them the words they need to make their defense. Even though they will experience betrayal and some will be killed, they will be in the palm of God’s hand.
Questions for Personal Reflection
1. This text shows us that Jesus was a keen observer of his times. He is able to see the consequences that logically come from choices people make. When you look at our times, what consequences might you think are logically on the way?
2. In what ways do you see Christians as experiencing persecution in our world today? Have you ever felt that you paid a price for standing up for what is right?
3. Can you remember a time when ‘the words just came to you?’ What was that like?
4. Have you ever felt shunned by family or friends because of your faith or faithful actions? How did you experience God’s support in those times?