Grace to you and peace from God our Father
and the Lord Jesus Christ.
In 1889, Charles Taze Russell, the founder of the group we know today as Jehovah’s Witnesses, wrote a book called “The Time is At Hand”. The title for this book is taken from the language in Luke 21:8. I want you to listen to what he wrote: “In view of this strong Bible evidence concerning the Times of the Gentiles, we consider it an established truth that the final end of the kingdoms of this world, and the full establishment of the Kingdom of God, will be accomplished near the end of A. D. 1915” (Russel 1889, 99) Later on he continues, “Be not surprised, then, when in subsequent chapters we present proofs … that the “battle of the great day of God Almighty” (Rev. 16:14), which will end in A.D. 1915, with the complete overthrow of the earth’s present rulership, is already commenced” (Russell 1889, 101). Isn’t it a bit ironic then that the verse from which the title of this book was taken says, “See that you are not led astray. For many will come in my name, saying… ‘The time is at hand!’ Do not go after them” (Lk 21:8).
History has seen many end-of-the-world cults. One Lutheran pastor has noted that he has survived 26 apocalypses, and that if he survives another four, he’ll get a free large coffee! Such cults thrive because there remains an instinctive fascination with the idea of the end of the world. We think not only of cult groups but the guy downtown with wild eyes and hair wearing a sandwich-board sign warning that “the end is near.” These movements can make a person think that only crazy people and cults talk about the end of the world, but actually, wondering about the end is perfectly natural. We know that our lives end. We know that the lives of our loved ones will end. We see things in the world and society—wars and nuclear weapons—that have the potential to end life as we know it. So it’s natural to wonder. If we are spiritually minded, it’s also natural to wonder what God thinks about it. If Jesus had a sandwich board, what would it read? This morning we’re going see by look at Luke chapter 21. There Jesus prepares us for the Last Days. He does this by warning us about the dreadful things to come and by comforting us with a promise of redemption.
He Warns Us About Dreadful Things To Come
Our Gospel reading finds Jesus during Holy Week. Jesus was with His disciples in Jerusalem. As the disciples were leaving the Temple, they paused to reflect on its beautiful architecture. While they were admiring the Temple, Jesus offered his disciples a frightening prediction. The Temple will be levelled to the ground. “There will not be left here one stone upon another that will not be thrown down” (Lk 21:6). The natural questions which come to their minds are: when and how will we know? Jesus doesn’t say precisely when the end will come. Instead of telling us when the end will come, Jesus gives us signs. These signs of the end do not tell us when the end will come, only that it will
Our Lord Jesus warns us that the first sign of the Last Days is false christs, false prophets, and false religions. The Bible never encourages us to listen to those who distort the truth about Jesus. The greatest danger we face is to be deceived. False teachers pretend to be followers of Christ. They claim to teach what the Bible teaches. This is what makes these false teachers so dangerous. Jesus gives us a warning. Don’t be fooled. It is essential for those who believe in Jesus to study the Scriptures carefully so that they will not be deceived or tricked by the lies of false teachers.
The second sign of the coming end includes wars and tumults spreading everywhere (Lk 21:9). The world will suffer natural disasters. Great earthquakes, famines, plagues and epidemics, and signs from heaven will forecast the end. There will be worried whispers about another conflict arising. This nation will go to war over that nation. The world will continually be plunged into the bloodshed of war. This is where verses 20 through 24 come in. Jesus foretold that within one generation, war would come to Jerusalem. Around 30 years later, the Jews rebelled against Rome. Then, in 70 A.D., just as Jesus predicted, Roman armies surrounded the city and razed it to the ground.
The third sign is persecution, hatred, and betrayal. Persecution arises because of Jesus’s name. There will be oppression, suppression, and fierce state-sanctioned backlash for identifying with Christ. Friday’s Christian Post noted that over 4000 Christians have been killed in Nigeria, and 2300 kidnapped since the beginning of 2022. It all happens because of his name. The world despises disciples because of our commitment to the message that Jesus is the Christ, that he is the risen and exalted King, and that there is salvation in no one else (Acts 4:9–12). Those who do not love Jesus will jail, beat, and kill those who do. Loved ones will betray Christians, even close relatives and former friends. Christianity will never be popular, in fact, it’s hated. So, beloved, if we are Christians faithful to Christ, then we will not have worldly approval. Precisely because we cling to Jesus’ name, the world hates us. We cannot expect the world to hate and crucify Jesus but to love us. If they hated him, they will hate us.
When we are touched by war or persecution, it is easy to think —“The end of the world is here!” Yet these things are not the end of the world. Jesus said, “the end will not be at once” (Lk 21:9). The end does not follow closely upon any one of them. We have been living in the last days ever since Christ came the first time. The scriptures say these things will worsen as time goes on. Elsewhere, Jesus spoke of these signs as labour pains of the end of the age (Mt 24:8). These dreadful events do not tell us that the end has arrived but that it is coming soon. It is near (Lk 21:28, 31). Every time they occur, it is like a knock at the door, letting us know that Christ is near.
He Comforts Us With A Promise of Redemption
Do you get the impression that living in the last days is not exactly a bed of roses? We worry, fret, doubt, and tremble because we do not believe. We do not trust Jesus or take Him at His Word. And so the end times, eschatology, causes us anxiety. These dreadful happenings and great signs can be a comfort for us. That is why Jesus says in our text, when you see all these things, don’t be scared. We must not become paralyzed by terror or fear. Why shouldn’t these things scare us?
These things shouldn’t scare us because the Lord does not leave us alone. Jesus reveals God’s presence in suffering. During this upheaval, God sustains His people. When we are persecuted, Jesus will be with us. That’s why, amidst all the turmoil, the Lord says, “This will allow you to bear witness about me.” The Lord promises not a hair will be harmed on our heads (vv. 18–19). You might die because of Jesus. You might be martyred. They might crucify you, cut off your head, feed you to lions, or burn you at the stake, but not a hair of your head will perish. Death isn’t the worst thing that can happen to you. Even if you die, not a hair of your head will perish. How does that work? Because the promises of Christ cannot be taken away by this world. “And take they our life, goods, fame, child, and wife, though these all be gone, our victory has been won. The kingdom ours remaineth” (LSB 656:4). We may very well be killed in persecution or worse, but it will be gain for us (Phil 1:21)! We may be persecuted or put to death, but Jesus promises that we will not be truly harmed. No matter what happens to you, God never leaves you, nor will he forsake you. We may die, but we will rise again and triumph forever.
That’s the hidden comfort in these last Sundays of the church year and the end of the world as we know it. The end is also the beginning. When we see all of these things coming true (earthquakes, famines, wars, etc.), we know that the day is coming when our Savior will come again and take us to be with him forever. Jesus says there will be a coming Day, when the world will start to fall apart. The things happening in the world will be so frightening that people will faint because of fear. They will shudder at what is about to come in the world as the cosmic order dissolves. As the world falls apart, Jesus will come. That’s when the Lord calls us to lift our heads. Notice that. Your redemption is drawing near. Not your destruction. Not your demise. Not your death. Your redemption. We look up because our redemption is close. All the signs point to this reality—Christ is near! All that we hope for draws quickly near. We get to live through tragedy like people who know there’s something better on the other side. We get to live through suffering like people who know they will be robed in the perfect righteousness of Christ. We are people who know that in the kingdom, God will wipe away every tear from our eyes (Rev 21:4)!
Wars and rumours of wars, fires and drought, mass shootings and riots, and it sounds like the end is coming. What Jesus does in our Gospel reading is turn our attention to what we know for certain. All that God has said will come to pass. We have God’s sure, standing, enduring, never-failing, never-erring Word. Trust God’s Word. Heaven and earth will pass away. His words will never pass away. His words of forgiveness, life, and salvation spoken to you will never pass away. Nor will you, dear baptized believer. Not a hair of your head will perish. Because Jesus Christ is Lord, and He will come to renew all things. You have been purchased by Jesus’ wounds on the cross and claimed by His resurrection victory. Jesus calls you to look at the signs and see that they point to his return. He will end all evil, and then we will see Him, our Redeemer, reigning over a new creation in all His glory. Your Jesus is drawing near. Lift up your heads.
May, the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.