Skip Heitzig - Luke 21
Father, we approach your Word with the utmost reverence, with the respect that says this Book is not just another book. These words aren't like words we may have read in the newspaper, or online today, or like a novel we picked up last evening. "But the Word of God is alive, it is powerful, it's sharper than any two-edged sword, it pierces to the division of soul and spirit; it is a discerner of the thoughts and the intents of the heart," and so says the writer of Hebrews. Father, and we believe that to be true. And we ask that you would bless this group, this gathering as we look at this next chapter in the gospel of Luke, chapter 21. We pray also, Father, for those who are enjoying this online or are listening to it via radio, wherever they might be. We consider them also a part of us and pray that you would extend your blessing of understanding to them as well, in Jesus' name, amen.
At this point in our story Jesus Christ has forty-eight hours to live. It's daunting when you think of it in those terms. He has forty-eight hours to live and he knows it, and he is very, very focused. In those hours he is marching toward the hour. "My hour is not yet come," Jesus said to his mother three years earlier. "Father, the hour has come. Glorify your Son, that your Son would glorify you," Jesus prayed just days earlier, or he will pray that a couple days later when he is arrested in the garden of Gethsemane and marches to be tried before his execution. His whole life is aiming toward and focused on that hour. So in these last two days of his life, he's training his men, his disciples, his followers, not only his men, but the greater crowd that is following him and will follow him later.
And he is also responding to accusations brought against him by the enemies. Because at this point our Lord is in the temple. He has been teaching in the temple. He has been in the courts of the temple. Now remember when I tell you this, because I'm going to circle back to another thought in a moment regarding what he is going to say, but Jesus has been in the temple and now he will be in the temple treasury. So we know that he is in the court of the women. You know that the temple had a few different courts: a huge outer court where anybody could go, whether you were Jewish or not, the court of the Gentiles. Then there was a balustrade, a wall with a sign that said, "If you're a Gentile, you can't go any further. And if you do, when you die, it will be your fault." That's what the sign said.
So the only people that could get into the next court were Jewish men and women, and that was the court of the women, and that's where Jesus is. To get to the court of the women, you went through a gate. Now, when I say it, some of you will, it'll ring a bell. You go through a gate called the Gate Beautiful, the Beautiful Gate. Some of you, I hope, are thinking of the book of Acts where a man at the gate called Beautiful, and Peter is walking in and sees that man, and that man gets healed by Peter and John. So you go into the Gate Beautiful, now you're in a court called the court of the women. Jewish men and Jewish women could congregate there. The next court where the temple proper stood was the court of the men or the court of Israel. Now, to get to that court, you'd have to climb steps.
We have, I believe, seven steps that lead to the upper part of this stage; there were fifteen pretty steep and semicircular steps that would take you all the way up from the court of the women to that upper court of Israel where the temple proper stood. And probably Jesus has been teaching standing on one of those steps, speaking to the great crowd that have gathered before him in the court of the women. They're gathered there. After the sacrifice has ended, and this is when it happens, the sacrifice is already over with. And after the sacrifice was enacted and offered by the priest daily in the temple, when it was over, some people lingered in the temple. And they lingered there simply to worship privately, sort of like having devotions. They lingered there and some of them would make special offerings.
You see, in the court of the women there were thirteen, let's call them agape boxes. You know how we have these little square boxes around the church? And we've had them for years. Well, in the temple there were thirteen trumpet-shaped receptacles. And because they were shaped like trumpets they were called shofarots or trumpets. And each of those thirteen boxes was marked with a special function. In other words, if you want to give to this cause, or to that cause, or to that cause, each one was individually marked. There was also in the court of the women two special rooms, two special chambers known as the chambers of the silent, where the children of the pious poor were taken care of with some of offerings that were placed into those receptacles. Got the picture? So we're dealing with the temple courts.
We're in the court of the women. Probably Jesus has ascended up the steps. He had been teaching. That's in the previous chapter. But he's going to notice something that is taking place after the sacrifice has occurred. "And he looked up and he saw the rich putting gifts into the treasury, and he saw also a certain poor widow putting in two mites." Small amount, two mites. Two mites equals one sixty-fourth (1/64), if you're taking notes. And I'm glad that you are, some of you. One sixty-fourth of a denarius, you've heard of a denarius? That's a day's wage for a working man or a soldier. One sixty-fourth of that equals two mites. In Greek, lepta/leptos. It was the smallest amount allowable that you could put in the offering plate. You couldn't put any less.
According to the Jewish writings, you were forbidden to put anything less than that in. This woman put in two mites, just, we would say, chump change, pocket change. "He said, 'Truly I say to you that this poor widow has put in more than all.'" Now, this is quite a statement, because the rich are giving what rich people give. You would think, presumably, a lot more of a portion than what she is giving, just pocket change, chump change. "But truly I say to you this poor widow has put in more than all; for all these out of their abundance have put in offerings for God, but she out of her poverty put in all the livelihood that she had." An incredible statement, an incredible statement that gives us a very interesting perspective on how Jesus sees giving.
Because he is looking. He is seeing rich give and he's seeing this poor lady give. She gave out of her substance, her livelihood. The Greek word is bios. We get the term biology from it. It's life itself. She's, in other words, giving probably all that she could live on in a single day. She's putting in and she's giving more than those rich people. Now, here's the principle, don't miss this, it's pretty obvious: when God measures gifts given, he doesn't measure it according to the portion, but according to the proportion. Proportionately she gave way more. You know, some people, most people, it's impossible to give a million dollars. If I were to say, "Give the Lord a million dollars," you'd say, "It's an impossibility for me. I can't do it. Don't have it." But for others it's not impossible. It's doable. It's manageable.
For others a million dollars, I've met people like this, it's expendable. It's like, "Yeah, no problem. I've got another hundred million where that comes from." But God doesn't measure the gift on portion but proportion. She gave her life, her livelihood. She put in all that she had. I believe that whenever and whatever you give to God, that's between you and God. But I believe it should cost you. You ought to feel it. I've always believed that when we as a married couple, or I as a single person before that gave to the Lord, it's gotta be something where I feel the pinch. Because David, when he wanted to offer to the Lord, he offered to buy the threshing floor of Ornan, which, by the way, is where the temple was eventually placed. Same spot. He wanted to buy that because he wanted to build a temple for the Lord.
And the owner said, "Oh, man, if you're going to build something for God, you can have it. It's free." David says, "Oh, no, no, no. I'm willing to pay full price for it." "Oh, no. David, you're going to do a good deed for the Lord. I just want to donate it to you." And David said, "No. I'm not going to give to God something that costs me nothing." I've got to feel it. It's got to cost me. It's got to hurt a little bit. Now, here's what's interesting about Jesus: Did you know that of all of the parables that Jesus gave, that he taught, at least half or more of the literary real estate, the words spoken by Jesus recorded in the gospels, half of the parables deal with money. So he had a lot to say about it. It's estimated in the New Testament that every one out of seven verses speak about the issue of the relationship of the believer to finances.
There are five hundred verses that speak about prayer, less than five hundred that speak about faith, and around two thousand that speak about money. So just looking at this and hearing what I just said, we want to ask the question: How should I give to the Lord? Here's the answer: Give simply, give proportionately, and give joyfully. That's what the New Testament teaches. Give simply, give proportionately, and give joyfully. Give simply. Back in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus taught these words. You don't have to turn to it. This is Matthew 6, "Take heed that you do not do [your alms, giving of alms or] your charitable deeds," as this translation puts it, "before men, to be seen by them. Otherwise you have no reward from your Father in heaven.
"Therefore, when you do a charitable deed [or you give alms], don't sound a trumpet before you as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may have glory from men. Assuredly, I say to you, they have their reward. But when you do a charitable deed, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing," and that's how simple it ought to be, "that your charitable deed [or your giving of alms] may be in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will himself reward you openly." You remember, do you not, what it says in Second Corinthians, chapter 9, about giving? "Let each one give as he purposes in his heart." So whatever you purpose in your heart, that's, I told you, that's between you and God. "Let him give as he purposes in his heart, not grudgingly or of necessity; for God loves a cheerful giver."
So give simply. No fanfare, not, "No, no. Let's have a pledge Sunday and I'm going to stand up and raise my hand. And then after you see how much money I give, I want a plaque on that wing of the building that says, "Donated by..." No. You give simply, you give proportionately, and you give joyfully. That's how the New Testament would sum it up. I've always hated hype. I've always hated when I've heard people on television or used to be on radio or in church services where, you know, they talk the "seed faith gift." You plant the seed of faith. "You have enough faith? You know, plant a big seed." And what they mean by planting the seed is giving to this ministry, and you give to this ministry and you plant that seed of faith.
And though I believe in certain of these principles, and I do believe in reaping and sowing, and I do believe the Bible says test the Lord when it comes to giving, I think God hates and I know I hate hype. I hate hype; so God says do it simply. Do it proportionately to what you make. For some people $20 is hard to give; for others, not a big deal; for others $200,000 isn't a big deal. So you give proportionately to what you make and you give joyfully. She, the Lord says she gave "more than all." Now, verse 5, "Then, as some spoke of the temple, how it was adorned with beautiful stones and donations, he said, 'These things which you see, the days will come in which not one stone shall be left upon another that shall not be thrown down.'"
Okay, we are now getting into what most New Testament scholars call the "Olivet Discourse." Heard that term? Olivet Discourse simply means Jesus spoke it on the Mount of Olives. And that is because Luke 21 has similarities to Matthew, chapter 24, and Mark, chapter 13. It's generally the same kind of subject matter. Matthew 24 tells us Jesus spoke it on the Mount of Olives when his disciples pointed out the stones of the building. It could be that Jesus did both. It could be that Jesus taught the Olivet Discourse on the Mount of Olives to his disciples and he taught a variation of the same sermon while in the temple courts. I believe many of the sermons Jesus preached he repeated in different forms, in different places for his disciples or different parts of the crowd.
And, by the way, it would not be unusual on any given day for anyone to marvel at the temple. I mean, it, I don't know how to describe it to you. I wish we were in Jerusalem right now and I could show you a model of the second temple. It was unbelievable. Oh, look at that. You're getting a picture of the model of the temple from Jerusalem. There you are. Okay, so you're looking at the court of the women and you're looking at, on the sides, the court of the Gentiles. See how big that court is? And then you see a division between the court of the women after those steps go up. And then the other court in that big building, which is the temple itself, the Holy Place and the Holy of Holies. That court in which this building is housed, that's the court of Israel, the court of the men.
Okay, to build that structure took eighty years, eight-zero years. It began in 20 BC. It was still being built when it was destroyed in 64 AD. Took eighty years. It took eighteen thousand men eighty years to build, and it wasn't completely finished when it was destroyed. Now, some of the stones on the temple building, I back up. You saw a little picture, a little snippet of it. The whole temple compound, the whole temple area was thirty-six acres. Thirty-six acres that is the Temple Mount today. The temple is gone. The Dome of the Rock is on it. But that enclosure, that area that you can visit today still intact, many of the stones from two thousand years ago are, comprised the Temple Mount area, which is thirty-six acres.
The height from the Kidron Valley down below to the pinnacle of the Temple Mount was 158 feet. And then the temple building itself rose another ninety feet, nine-zero feet from the base upward. It was unbelievable. All the scholars from antiquity spoke about its magnificence. One scholar said you could see it from thirty miles away, because it was made of white marble. The top of the temple was adorned with a gold cornice. It was absolutely magnificent. Some of the stones that are placed there, the temple is gone. It's completely destroyed, but the Temple Mount and that enclosing wall is still intact. And I wish I was there to show you on the western side at the south, right where the two walls come together, some of the giant stones. They're called ashlars, and ashlar is a word for a giant stone.
But some of ashlars there are six feet tall, some a little bit taller, almost seven feet tall, and thirty feet long, and weigh, a single stone, some of the largest estimated to weigh four hundred tons. Ever seen those massive building cranes, they can hold like one ton, two tons? Four hundred tons of stone for the master course of these gigantic ashlars that are laid for the Temple Mount. So it was amazing. It took eighty years, eighteen thousand men over that period of time to build it. So anytime anyone would go there, they gawked over it. The Jewish Talmud said, "He who has not seen the temple in its glory has never seen a beautiful building." Yet, Jesus predicts it's going to be destroyed. This got their attention.
And if this was a portion of the Sermon on the Mount of Olives or separately in that temple compound, this got their attention: "You see these stones? Pretty nice, but don't make a big deal out of it, all coming down, all going to be destroyed." And in 70 AD that came to pass. I've told you before, Titus and the Roman armies surrounded the city locking it up basically. This is how the Romans would take over a city. They'd starve people out. They would set up camps around the city and build walls around the camps, and then build connecting walls from camp to camp, so nobody could go out, nobody could come in. Supplies couldn't come in and would starve to death. They'd starve them out and then they would take them over. They would take it one section at a time. That's what Titus did.
And though he wanted to preserve the temple, a fire was started inside the temple and the gold on the cornice, that white marble structure, the temple, the gold around the cornice and the gold on some of the doors and structures and wall hangings melted into the cracks of the stone. And the soldiers, in order to get the gold out, took every single stone off each other and it was completely destroyed, the temple proper itself, the building completely destroyed in fulfillment of what Jesus said, all destroyed, all gone. It was so devastated that the Jewish historian Flavius Josephus said if you were to visit Jerusalem after the destruction of the temple in 70 AD, you would never believe anyone inhabited that city and you would not be able to say where the temple actually stood. It's quite a statement in antiquity.
Jesus predicted all that. He said, "These things which you see, the days will some in which you will, in which not one stone shall be left on another that shall not be thrown down." Okay, "So, they asked him, saying, 'Teacher, but when will these things be? And what sign will there be that these are about to take place?'" Okay, I'm glad they asked the question. I'm really glad because we get a great answer. But I wonder if in your mind when you hear the question, you understand what was in their mind when they asked the question? See, in our minds, evangelical Christians living in 2015, we hear the question, "When's this going to happen?" And we're thinking in the future. We're thinking sometime in the future. So, you know, if I'm, it's been two thousand years since that question was asked.
When they asked the question, they weren't thinking of the ends of days, they were thinking, "Any day now this is going to happen. Might happen in a week. Certainly isn't going to take longer than the Passover." And do you know why? Because they believed the kingdom of God was coming immediately, remember? Remember that's the Jewish eschatology: If the Messiah comes, he's setting up the kingdom now. He's going to overthrow the yoke of Rome and set up a messianic kingdom. There'll be no more oppressors in the physical realm. Messiah will take over. This will be the kingdom age. So when Jesus said, "It's all coming down," and they said, "When is that gonna happen?" they're thinking immediately. I just back you up a little bit. You don't have to turn there.
But in chapter 19 on the way up to Jerusalem it says, "Jesus taught them a parable, because he knew that the crowds believed the kingdom was coming immediately." Remember that? "And he said, 'A man went into a far country... ,'" and he basically told them it's not going to happen immediately. But he knew the crowds believed that. So when the disciples who believed in that worldview and that eschatological outlook said, "When... ?" they weren't thinking two thousand years later; they're thinking any day now. So, "When is this going to happen? And what sign will there be that these things take place?" Now, as we enter into the answer to this question, and I do recommend that you compare Matthew 24 and Mark, chapter 13, along with Luke 21, because they're parallel passages.
From our vantage point, from our vantage point we're waiting for two things to happen: we're waiting for the Lord Jesus Christ to come toward the earth, number one; and then we're waiting for the Lord Jesus Christ to come to the earth, number two. The first one is a flyby. He's not coming to the earth; he's coming from heaven toward the earth to meet those believers and be caught up together in the air.
First Thessalonians, chapter 4, plainly tells us. Because of the language used, we call that the "rapture" of the church. Harpazó, the snatching away by force of believers on the earth is the Greek term. We're waiting for the Lord to come toward the earth; and, second, we're waiting for the Lord to come to the earth.
In event number one, all believers living at that time will be taken upwards; in event number two, all believers who are up already will come down to the earth with the Lord Jesus Christ. That's his "second coming," event number two. The first is the rapture of the church; the second event is the second coming. The second coming in when the Lord sets up his kingdom on the earth. Now, these disciples didn't know anything about a second coming at this point. "He came. Good enough. He's here, let's have a kingdom." But Jesus has indicated and even here will indicate there is a coming kingdom, but it's not going to come right now, and it hasn't come for two thousand years.
And it's pretty evident by this text that there's going to be a period of time between his first coming and when he sets up his kingdom at what we call the second coming of Jesus Christ. Something else to keep in mind, not only the question being asked by these disciples who are thinking "soon," but also you will notice in the language of Jesus it's very Jewish. He speaks about the Sabbath and Jerusalem and fleeing Judea. It's all this geocentric localized language. I'll bring it up to you again when we read it. And that is because we're dealing with the Jewish nation, the Jewish capital, Jerusalem. And you know why? Because Israel is at the very epicenter of God's prophetic calendar, the very epicenter of God's prophetic calendar. It's not that God doesn't care about the whole world. He does.
He loved the world. But God has a plan that includes something happening in Israel with the Messiah reigning from Jerusalem, and the time clock prophetically always, always, always has Israel at the center. If you don't believe me, just read Daniel, chapter 9. It plainly states that the timetable given to Daniel has "your people," the Jewish people, "your nation," the Jewish nation, "your holy city," Jerusalem, spelled out. And so when it comes to prophecy of what's going on in the end times, Jerusalem you always have to place at the center and so it is here. And so he answers the question. "He said: 'Take heed that you do not be deceived.'" Interesting way to answer this question."When's this going to happen? What's the sign?"
Notice what he says first. "Take heed that you do 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." Notice, please, there's not one who is coming who's false, not two who are coming that are false, or three, "many," "many," "many." And these "many" will proliferate and point to the ultimate deceptive one called the "Antichrist." First John, chapter 2, I think verse 18. I'm guessing, but I think it's around verse 18. John says this, "Little children, you know the that it is the last hour; and you have heard that the Antichrist is coming, whereas now many antichrists, many, have already come." So there are many antichrists, people who come and are against Christ, or literally means take the place of Christ.
But then there's going to be the ultimate deception of all, Satan's masterpiece, if you will, the Antichrist who will deceive the world. The nations of the world will be deceived by him. But here's what I don't want you to miss: Satan's primary tool is deception. His primary tool is deception. When people think of Satan, they think of, you know, scaring little children or killing mass amounts of people. "Oh, that's evil. That's the Devil." The Devil's greatest tool, primary tool is deceiving people, so that people will turn toward, move toward something that takes the place of Christ or is against the absolute authority of Jesus Christ. Deception is his primary deal. And most of the people that I meet in life, in life, in life in general are deceived people.
Deception is his primary tool, and that's why believers need to study the Bible. And that's why it's very difficult in these days to get people to do what you're doing. As the Scripture says, "They will not endure sound doctrine in the last days, but heap up to themselves teachers, because they have itchy ears." They want to hear certain things. They don't want to hear it all. They don't want hear the truth. I just thank God that you are the blessed exception to that. But here's the reason we need to be engaged with and be exposed to the truth is because deception is that primary tool and "many will come." "Therefore do not go after them. But when you hear of wars and commotions," (Matthew 24 and Mark 14, "wars and rumors of wars"), "do not be terrified."
Do you get scared when you see what's happening in the world? I understand. Do not be terrified. "I can't believe what's happening!" Well, you should, you should believe what's happening. It's been predicted, what's going to happen. "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." Please note that or underline that. It's not going to come immediately. They thought the kingdom of God was coming immediately. Jesus indicates there is a period of time before the kingdom will be set up and the end of the age will come. And that's why we must be careful. As believers we look awfully silly when everything that happens, we go "It's a sign, end of days."
We have to be very careful what we assign to an end-time prophecy fulfillment. I believe in prophecy, I believe in fulfillment, but we must be very careful because it has been so overdone and overcooked, that steak is beyond well-done. "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.'" Okay, there's always been those things. There's always been wars. Nations have always risen up against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. We've always had people fighting and killing each other, right? At first it was stones and then sticks and then swords and then spears and then javelins and then arrows and then crossbows and then catapults and then onagers and then battering rams and then bullets and now drones.
We're always inventing cleaner, better ways to kill. But there have always been wars and rumors of wars, and always been nations against nation since the beginning. Since 3600 BC there have been about fifteen thousand wars on planet earth, this is according to the Canadian Army Journal, 3.64 billion people have been annihilated on the earth during those wars. The value to fund those wars in history would be able to make a belt of solid gold around the entire earth that would be a hundred miles wide and thirty-three feet thick. That's how much money we have spent killing one another. However, we've always done it, so what does it mean when you're going to see "Nation rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom" and there will be "wars and commotions" and "rumors of wars."
Well, Jesus did say something very important, I believe, that is noted by both Matthew and Mark. He says, "These things are the beginnings of sorrows," "birth pangs" in the Greek. These are the beginning of birth pangs. You know when a woman's going to have a baby, not because she has pain, but because she has certain intensity of pain and a certain frequency of pain. Am I right, ladies? My wife had all sorts of pains during pregnancy, but there was a specific kind that when it happened, it's like, "Call the doctor, this is it." Intensity. Frequency. Time it. What are they like? Come in. We have seen all of these things through history, but when they reach a certain kind of frequency and certain kind of intensity, you know you're moving toward the birth of the kingdom, the second coming preceded by the rapture.
The Lord will set up his kingdom on the earth after he comes. So that's a very key point. Also, it is my belief that Jesus isn't talking about signs that will happen before the rapture of the church. Again, we're dealing with Israel principally and Jerusalem principally and the Jewish nation principally in this prophecy that Jesus is speaking about. And I believe this happens, this is dealing with something that is going to happen before his second coming. I commend to you, not that you would do it in one easy read, but some might, read in order to understand the book of Revelation. In Revelation, as the tribulation begins, the seals are opened, right? And then after the seals are opened, the trumpets, and then after the trumpets the vials are poured, right? Seals, trumpets, and vials.
The second horse that comes on the scene, the second seal is opened and he said, "I saw a horse, fiery red. And him that sat on him power was given to him to take peace from the earth, that men should kill one another." So there is going to come an intensity of warfare and death and destruction on the earth during that period of time still yet future, the tribulation period that I believe this has its primary fulfillment in, that coming period, the tribulation period. Something else, I don't want to overladen you with too many things, but I, there's certain things I think are important. When Jesus answers this question for his disciples, he has two things in mind and he's really approaching this with two realities in answering the question "When... ?", a near reality and a far reality.
Now, don't, don't let me lose you here. This is very common. If you know the Bible at all, this is frequent. It happens all over the Old Testament. That's how the Old Testament prophets did it. They would prophesy and they would speak about something that is going to happen very soon, short-term fulfillment, but that would become the model for something else coming, far worse, far greater in the future. The book of Daniel, the book of Isaiah, Jeremiah, all of it has a lot of that near/far. Jesus answers the question in a classical manner that an Old Testament prophet would teach. "I'm going to tell you about a coming event in the near future that will become a model or a forerunner or a harbinger", all basically mean the same thing, "of something future that is coming far bigger, far worse."
You got it? So what's coming in the future? "Destruction of Jerusalem, 70 AD. Stones coming down. This place is going to be leveled. It's going to be destroyed. Jerusalem is going to be encompassed with armies. However, that's a model of something far worse that's going to come before I come again." Now I will prove this to you if you doubt it. There's both in the same text of Scripture. Because he talks about the temple being destroyed and not one stone left upon another. That happened in 70 AD almost identically as Jesus, no, identically as Jesus described it. But then there's a future fulfillment that will take place that will usher in his kingdom. So there's a near and a far fulfillment in the same answer that is given.
"But before all these things," verse 12, "they will lay their hands on you and persecute you, and deliver 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. Therefore settle 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 by parents and brothers, relatives and friends; and they will put some of you to death. And you will be hated by all for my name's sake. But not a hair of your head will be lost." Now he's not promising physical safety and physical immunity, because he said, "They're going to kill you." Right?
So the fact that he says, "Not a hair of your head is going to be lost," that's a euphemism. That's a way of saying, "You will not eternally perish. Not all of you is going to go to waste. You're going to be preserved eternally." "By your patience possess your souls." It's a great verse. "By your patience possess your souls." There's a twist to this suffering thing. None of us like to suffer, but all of us want patience. Have you noticed that? Right? Am I right? None of us like to suffer, but all of us would like to have more patience. Every Christian I've ever met, "Pray for patience for me." "Oh, be careful what you're asking me to pray for." Because here's the twist: our ability to suffer is actually produced by suffering. Right? Right?
"For tribulation works patience; and patience produces character; and character produces hope: and hope makes us not ashamed," the Bible tells us in Romans. I've always loved the story about the older minister, and a younger minister at a pastor's conference walked up to him and said, "Look, I've always seen you as a mentor of mine. And my biggest issue as a young minister is I'm a very impatient person. Would you pray for patience?" And the older minister said, "I'll be honored to you." Laid hands on him and said, "Father, send this young man trial and hardship and suffering." And the young man backed up to get this guy's hand off of him and said, "I didn't ask you to pray for that. I wanted patience." "Exactly," and then he quoted Romans, "tribulation worketh patience."
James said, "Let patience have its perfect work." Your ability to endure suffering is produced by the suffering itself. That's why you find people who have lived a while and have endured great trials, they're the people you want to talk to. They're the people you want counsel from. They'll give you the wisdom of the years of experience. "By your patience possess your souls. But when you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies, then know its desolation is near." And it happened that way. Titus surrounded the city and starved out quarter by quarter the city of Jerusalem. "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." So please again notice the language is localized. It's geocentric language.
Sabbath will be mentioned, Jerusalem, Judea. It's dealing with the Jewish state. It's dealing with the city of Jerusalem. In other words, I'll summarize it, there's a catastrophe coming to the Middle East that will have its center, the brunt of the attack in Jerusalem. Now, according to the book of Isaiah, Jerusalem is going to take a hit in the future. Zechariah, chapter 13, two-thirds of the people in that city will be cut off and killed, only one-third will escape. And when they escape, God tells them to flee. And the Bible indicates they will be cared for in the desert, in the wilderness for 1,260 days. I'm quoting now Revelation, chapter 12. John sees a vision of a woman.
That's the nation of Israel fleeing to the wilderness to a place where God has prepared to care for her for 1,260 days, three and a half years, or the second half of that seven year tribulation period that we call the great tribulation period. So there is a catastrophe coming to the Middle East that will center in Jerusalem. And Jesus in Matthew 24 says, "Flee," and he says here, "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." The reference would be Zechariah 13, to chase that down later. "For these are the days of vengeance, that all things which are written may be fulfilled. But woe to those who are pregnant and those who are nursing babies in those days! For there will be great distress in the land and wrath upon this people."
"This people," the Jewish people, the city of Jerusalem. "And they will fall by the edge of the sword, and be led away captive into all nations. And Jerusalem will be trampled by the Gentiles until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled." I just briefly want to touch on that. Some people think this refers to something that happened in 1967. Some people will say, "Well, you know, this refers to what happened between 70 AD, when the Gentiles destroyed Jerusalem, until June of 1967, when Jerusalem once again fell into Jewish control. And they say, "June of 1967 is when the times of the Gentiles was done." The only problem with that is that the times of Gentiles has extended far before that, first of all. It didn't happen in 70 AD. Before 70 AD the Romans occupied it.
Before them they've been occupied, and they only occupied it themselves without foreign occupants a very short period of time. So, it's probably more accurate to see the times of the Gentiles as beginning in 586 BC. Anybody know that date? Babylonian captivity. They were taken captive into Babylon. They came back, a few of them, but they were occupied by foreign invaders ever since that time on and off, mostly on. So times of the Gentiles began in 586 BC and will end in Revelation, chapter 20, when Jesus sets up his kingdom on the earth. Yeah, they're, it's under Jewish control now, but that city is greatly divided. And they have a wall up. It's really the only thing that protects them.
I don't think the times of the Gentiles was fulfilled in sixty, and see, we love to say that because we wanted to say, "Well, now let's count a generation. Let's count forty years," you know. Or "Let's count forty years from 1948." That's what I used to do. I believed the Lord would have to come back before 1988, because Israel became a nation in 1948. And we'll read that that generation won't pass away till these things are fulfilled, so we just kind of made up the number. "Generation's forty years, so the Lord's got to come back before 1988." Aren't you glad he didn't? I think of all the people that have been saved since then. I thank the Lord for his patience. I better hurry it up.
"And there will be signs in the sun, in the moon, in the stars", I commend to you a good reading of the book of Revelation for its fulfillment in the end of days, the tribulation period. "And on the earth distress of nations, with perplexity." One translation says, "Without any resources whatsoever." "And 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 the cloud with power and great glory." This is why I believe when Jesus was giving this prediction to his disciples, this couldn't have been fulfilled in their lifetime, 'cause they never saw verse 31. They never saw the Lord return and set up his kingdom. We're still waiting for that one.
So it's been a while. "Now when these things begin to happen, look up and lift up your heads, because your redemption is drawing near." There's a time coming to this world the Bible predicts in language that you have to meditate on to really get its impact. Because when we look around at what's happening today, it seems like there's an unraveling happening with ISIS, with radical Islam. And it's coming here. It's already here. It's going to get much worse. But the Bible said this, Daniel 12, that there will be coming a time on the earth that there has never been a time like it. It says from the beginning of the time there was a nation, until that time there has never been on earth like the time that is coming. In Jeremiah he calls it a "time of Jacob's trouble," Israel's trouble.
Jacob's trouble will be a great day, a day of massive, international, global unraveling. I spoke at it in length in several studies, and I want to get through the chapter. Sorry about that. I could go into it, believe me, I could go for hours into this, and I have done that, so I got to stay on target. "And 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, know that the kingdom of God is near. Assuredly, I say to you, this generation will by no means pass till all these things take place. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will by no means pass away.'" Some people say that the fig tree is Israel, and that could be.
It could be that Jesus is speaking about a nation budding forth, which happened against all precedent; 1948, after two thousand years of dispersion and destruction, Israel budded again. And it is a tree among other trees. It is a nation among other nations, recognized as a nation except by its enemies. They don't even recognize its existence. But the world generally recognizes the existence of this tree among other trees. Or it could simply be as fundamental as Jesus is saying, "You know when you look at a tree, you can tell what season it is, so you know what's coming." Right? You can look at a tree and know if it's wintertime, fall time, springtime. You know the general season. So he could simply be saying after a winter of tribulation, there will be a springtime of blessing. It could be that simple.
And you can make it more complicated if you wish, and you can take the fig tree, and you can go home and make charts if you'd like and sell books, but I think it's pretty straightforward. He's dealing with disciples from Galilee. But he says this: "Assuredly, I say to you, this generation will be no means pass away till all these things take place." It means one of three things. Number one, Jesus was referring to the disciples' generation. He was talking to them, so maybe Jesus was saying, "You guys, this generation won't pass away till all these things be fulfilled." The problem with that is the kingdom didn't come in the disciples' era. Verse 31 didn't happen where Jesus said, "Know that the kingdom of God is near." That didn't happen yet. So I think we can safely take that off the table and its interpretation.
Number two, some people say Jesus was referring to the Jewish race, because the word "this generation" is the Hebrew word genealogy or genea, which is race of people, the ethnicity, the tribal ethnicity of Israel. So Israel will stay planted in its land, even though it'll have trouble all the way to the end. Yup, that's a possibility, but I think it's simpler than that. I think Jesus is saying, "The generation that sees what I just said, these cosmological phenomena that will happen that I just mentioned, that is the generation of people that will also see the coming of the kingdom set up." I think it's yet future. It's that future generation of the tribulation period that will see those things will also be there to see the inauguration of the kingdom on earth in the millennium.
"But take heed to yourselves," he closes off. Perfect time to end, 'cause time's up. "Take heed to yourselves, lest your hearts be weighed down with carousing, drunkenness, and the cares of this life, that that Day come on you unexpectedly. 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 not to stand before the Son of Man." Now I've heard some interpreters tell me, some people who hold a certain position that Christians are going through the tribulation. And they say, "Oh, you Christians are escape artists," and, you know, "I don't know why you always think you're going to escape the tribulation period."
It's because Jesus told me to pray that I'd escape it. And so I'm going to do what he said. And I believe he wouldn't say, "Pray that you can escape it," if he thought you never would or it wasn't a possibility for it. "And in the daytime he was teaching in the temple, but at night he went out and stayed on the mountain called Olivet." Hence the term "Olivet Discourse." "Then early in the morning all the people came to the temple to hear him." Okay, there's something thrilling about standing on the Mount of Olives and looking over the city of Jerusalem. The first time you see it, it'll take your breath away. First time my wife saw it, she just wept. That's the view from the Mount of Olives of Jerusalem, but no picture gives it to you, no video gives it to you.
But when you're there and you look at it, it's stunning, because you realize Jesus stood here and taught these things to his disciples. Jesus has walked through that area and taught. But you're going to, whether you go on a trip to Israel ever or not, you're going to make it to the Mount of Olives one day. Because, you see, the Bible tells us that we're going to be caught up to meet the Lord in the air, and then at the end of a seven-year period, the tribulation period, when Jesus comes back to the earth to put an end to the all the wars, all the nations that gather against Israel, that we are going to come with him. And the Bible says his foot will touch down on the Mount of Olives and it will split in two. The prophet tells us in Zechariah it'll split in two sections and the Lord will judge the nations at that point.
But you're going to get front row seats, man. You're going to be there. Until that happens, you need to be alert. You need to be alert. The Bible says, Jesus said, "Watch." So you need to get involved with other believers. You need to get active with unbelievers, winning them to Christ. This life, we're not toying around. Just as Jesus said, "All these stones are coming down," everything you see tonight around us right here, it's coming down. That new car you just got, going down. New house you just bought, going down! It won't last. It won't last. It's a good lesson that we have something far greater to look forward to. The kingdom is coming. So let's get active with believers and train them and disciple them and pour our hearts into them. Let's get busy with unbelievers and win them to Christ. And, finally, if you're an unbeliever, get right with God, get right with God.
Heavenly Father, Jesus told us to watch. In one answer he spoke about the destruction of the Jewish temple that happened two thousand years ago, and he talked about his coming in clouds, and he talked about setting up a kingdom all in the same answer, a near event mixed with a far event. Some has been fulfilled, much is waiting to be fulfilled in a far greater and more pervasive way. Lord, we are living what must be in the cusp of at least the last days, because we are watching what the prophets have predicted: the rebirth of Israel, the nations in hostility gathering against and wanting to destroy Israel as a nation from off the earth, an end-times scenario setting up. We don't want to say everything and anything is a sign, but it sure points to the soon return of Jesus. And you told us to be ready and pray that we wouldn't go through those days of wrath, we would escape it. So I pray, Lord, we'd be alert, we'd get active, get busy, and if we're not, get right with you, in Jesus' name, amen.