Sermon: What is the Day of the Lord?

Text: Luke 21:5-28
Proper 28, Year C

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. 

“For behold, the day is coming” warns the prophet Malachi. A day of fire and wrath. A day to end all days, the last day, the Day of the Lord.  What is the day of the Lord? When most Christians use the phrase “the day of the Lord,” they use it to refer to the end of time, when Jesus descends from Heaven on a cloud to bring justice to the world and defeat evil once and for all. Just as there was a beginning, when God created everything, there is also an end of this creation and the rising up of a new creation out of the ashes of the old. Isn’t that what we think our Gospel reading is talking about? A day when the heavens will be shaken, the seas will roar, the sun, moon, and stars will fail, the nations will be in upheaval, and people will literally faint with fear? It’s all thunderbolts and lightening, and very very frightening. It may make for great cinema, but we have to be careful when reading this kind of language. It can be very easy to jump to the wrong conclusions and misunderstand what Jesus intended. Our Gospel reading is emphatically about the fall of Jerusalem and the destruction of the Temple, not specifically about the end of the world. That doesn’t mean the End of the World won’t happen. So, what’s the point of this passage if not the End of the World?

The Temple will be Destroyed and Replaced

While it isn’t specifically about the end of the World, Jesus is talking about the Day of the Lord. We find Jesus during Holy Week with his disciples in the Temple. As Jesus and His disciples were in the temple courtyard, they could see the scaffolding and hear the stone cutters hard at work. The temple was undergoing an extensive renovation under King Herod who was throwing a money at it to restore it to the way it was during its glory days, hoping the people would love him for it.

The people in Jesus’ day thought Jerusalem was bulletproof. The temple was the national and religious centre of Israel. It was the city of God, and the temple was his footstool, the place where Heaven and Earth were one. It was the place where the glory of God had formerly dwelt. It once held the ark of the covenant with its mercy seat. It still was a place of sacrifice The temple was the focal point of all Israel’s dreams, hopes, and expectations. When Messiah comes, he will end Roman oppression and restore the temple, they thought.

But, Jesus the Messiah comes, and doesn’t restore the temple. Instead, he says, “the day is coming.” What day? The day of God’s wrath and judgment. Jesus says out loud, “The days are coming when one stone won’t be left standing upon another that will not be thrown down.” The sacrifices had become perfunctory and the priesthood went to the highest bidder. The entire Temple regime was corrupt and opposed and rejected Jesus as God’s Messiah. So, the day of God’s judgment and anger has come. Enough is enough. This Temple has got to go. And it will happen Jesus says, within one generation. And in warning the disciples ahead of time, Jesus is making sure they don’t get caught up in all the revolutionary fervour. He promises that God will visit Jerusalem with destruction, but his Christian people will be delivered.

And that’s exactly what happened. When Jerusalem was surrounded, suddenly Emperor Nero died. General Vespasian retreated to secure the kingdom for himself. The Roman troops withdrew and the Christians living in Jerusalem remembered what Jesus had said and fled the city. When Vespasian became Emperor he sent his son Titus to finish the job, and after that, there was no escape.

Jesus made two predictions in His earthly ministry – that He would be crucified and on the third day rise to life again, and that the temple and Jerusalem would be destroyed within His generation. The way you tested a prophet was whether his words came to pass. Both of them did. Jesus did actually, historically, factually die and rise as He said. And the temple and Jerusalem were destroyed by the Roman army in the Jewish wars of AD 66 to 70. Jesus, speaking as a prophet, predicted that Jerusalem and the Temple would fall, not to show off his prophetic powers but because the Temple had come to symbolise all that was wrong with the Israel of his day. And when the Temple finally falls, that will be the sign that Jesus was speaking the truth.  The proof that Jesus own claim that He is the Son of God and the Savior of the world are proven by his resurrection and the destruction of Jerusalem.

But there’s more to it than that. The Temple must fall because the true and final temple was not that building in Jerusalem. It was the flesh of Christ, His body. “Destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up again.” The Jerusalem temple never rose, it never will. What is sitting on the temple mount today? A mosque. The Dome of the Rock. Just to ensure there is never a temple again. Ever. There is no need for one. The temple of Jesus’ body rose from the dead after being destroyed by the Gentiles. He is the true temple. His Body and Blood are the true sacrifice for sin. His covenant is the last and everlasting covenant of forgiveness and life.

The city must fall because the true and final city is not Jerusalem, but the city of God, the Church, made not with human hands but by the hand of God Himself. Not rising up from the earth, but coming down from heaven. It is out of this great city, the Church, that messengers are sent to you, to bear witness to Christ. It is in that Heavenly City, God’s Holy Church, where we enjoy our citizenship as loyal subjects of the King of Kings.

That Day and the Day that is Coming

According to Jesus, the day of the Lord will come in 70 AD when the Romans destroy Jerusalem and the Temple. The fall of Jerusalem and the destruction of the temple are a picture, a type, a pattern, for the end of all things on the Last Day. In fact, the Day of the Lord is a phrase used in the Bible to describe how God throughout history, has brought judgment upon human evil, and rescued his people from oppression. The Exodus was the original Day of the Lord. Pharaoh tried to protect his own interests by enslaving the Israelites. God brought judgment upon Egypt with the Ten Plagues, and liberated His people. Afterward, they sang a song that called this “the day.” As time went on, new enemies of the Israelites arose. As they remembered how God rescued them from Egypt, the Israelites hoped that their God would do it again, and that he bring “the day” and deliver them from evil.

The Old Testament prophets used ‘the day of the Lord’ to refer to catastrophes that befell Jerusalem. Babylon’s destruction of Jerusalem was a day of the Lord. The pagan nations can also expect the day of the Lord, as through the prophets, God also promises to visit them in judgment. Any day where God punishes the wicked and rescues his people is the Day of the Lord. And all of these little “days of the Lord” foreshadow the final and global day of the lord. 

On Good Friday, at three in the afternoon, it was also a day of the Lord. It was a day of darkness and judgment. Except this time, the judgment of God’s wrath against sin fell upon a substitute. Because judgment fell on that substitute, there was a great liberation, for on that cross was won forgiveness, life and salvation. 

“My Saviour paid the debt I owe,
And for my sin was smitten;
Within the Book of Life I know
My name has now been written.
I will not doubt, for I am free,
And Satan cannot threaten me;
There is no condemnation. (LSB #508, st. 5)

On that dark Friday, the time of the temple and Jerusalem ended. Now Jesus is the True Temple, and his Church is the very City of God. The curtain was torn in two. Forty years later the city and building were destroyed, just as Jesus had predicted. The destruction of Jerusalem and its Temple point forward to the Day we still await when Jesus will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead. 

Like those little days of the Lord, the final Day of the Lord will be a day both of wrath and mercy. There will be wrath, judgment, and destruction against sin and unbelief and all those who reject Jesus as Saviour and Lord. It is the day of reckoning. All accounts will be settled and justice will be served. But, for you dear saints, you who are Christ’s own dear people, you who cling to him in faith and live repentant lives, you do not need to fear the Day of the Lord. For you, the judgment ends in Jesus, and Jesus was judged in your place. It isn’t a day of dread and doom for you. No, it is a day of liberation, freedom, salvation. It’s the day of resurrection. Only at the end, on that Day that ends all days, will we receive all the good things he has promised us.

“Then we shall see Him face to face, With all His saints in that blest place, Which He has purchased for us.” (LSB #508, st. 6b)

Salvation will be yours. Eternal life will be yours. The treasures of heaven will be yours.  So, straighten up, and raise your heads because your salvation is nearer now then when you first believed. 

The peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.