Passion Week XV

And He said, “See to it that you are not misled; for many will come in My name, saying, ‘I am He,’ and, ‘The time is near.’ Do not go after them.  When you hear of wars and disturbances, do not be terrified; for these things must take place first, but the end does not follow immediately.”  (Luke 21:8-9 NASB)

In order to study this passage, I broke it up into nine sections.  Eight of these sections are some sort of preview of the future.  Of these “previews” only one of them is clearly answering their question about when the temple would be destroyed.  Rather than do eight posts (I don’t have time for that), I’m going to cluster them to a degree.

This first section almost reads like a prequel.  Essentially there will be lots of people popping up claiming to be Jesus returned.  It sort of reminds me of the ’70s, with one “messiah” or another springing from the fertile ground of the “Jesus Movement”.  That wasn’t the first rash of them, but that’s one I lived through.

But Jesus rounds off His statements with, “…but the end does not follow immediately.”  It’s sort of anticlimactic, or perhaps building tension.  Either way, the disciples asked about the temple, and Jesus replies about the “end of time”.  Or does He?  I suppose it doesn’t really have to be about the “end of the world” as much as about the “end of the temple”.  He just says “the end”.  It’s the heel of bread, but which loaf?

Then He continued by saying to them, “Nation will rise against nation and kingdom against kingdom, and there will be great earthquakes, and in various places plagues and famines; and there will be terrors and great signs from heaven. (Luke 21:10-11 NASB)

Matthew 24 and Mark 13 also have a statement like this, but Luke’s is slightly different.  It’s similar enough to know it’s the same reference, but different enough to stand out as Luke’s.  That tells me that the Gospel writers had some latitude in what they wrote of these things.  This is where my interpretation of this passage settles for security.  It’s not a lot of security, but it’s some.

One of Luke’s unique choices is in the word, “terrors” that will appear in the heavens.  The word is only used here in all of the Christian Scriptures, and once in Isaiah in the Septuagint.  So it’s rare, and Luke is not quoting or referring to Isaiah, it’s a very different use there (Isa. 19:17).  The word Luke uses is “phobatron” which sound like the name of a “Transformer”.  It refers to something (event or object) which terrifies.

These events of wars, earthquakes, plagues and so on happen in the First Century.  So they could very well be the precursor to the destruction of Jerusalem.  But the terrors and signs from heaven aren’t necessarily things we have records of from this era.  So it’s possible Jesus is still answering their question directly.  But that changes.

“But before all these things, they will lay their hands on you and will persecute you, delivering you to the synagogues and prisons, bringing you before kings and governors for My name’s sake.  It will lead to an opportunity for your testimony.  So make up your minds not to prepare beforehand to defend yourselves; for I will give you utterance and wisdom which none of your opponents will be able to resist or refute.  But you will be betrayed even by parents and brothers and relatives and friends, and they will put some of you to death, and you will be hated by all because of My name.  Yet not a hair of your head will perish.  By your endurance you will gain your lives.  (Luke 21:12-19 NASB)

There’s a lot in this next section which can either be the persecution which began with Stephen’s death, or it could be later on after the destruction of Jerusalem.  If this is supposed to be sequential (and that’s not necessarily required here), then this could refer to persecution throughout the Roman Empire of Christians by both Jews and Gentiles.  But we really don’t have such a reference to an empire-wide persecution later on in Acts.

The reference to “synagogues” along with courts, before kings and governors, and so on does make a valid argument for being prior to the destruction of Jerusalem.  After that synagogues are not going to hold much local sway or influence in Gentile communities.  That persecution leads to an opportunity for testimony is not new either, as Luke refers to this before in chapter 12 (Luke 12:11,12).

But there is a rather strange set of comments Jesus makes which Luke either left this way or constructed (which is weirder).  Jesus says they will put some of you to death, but then says that not a hair of your head will perish.  It seems a strange literary construction.  In Matthew and Mark this combination doesn’t occur, which is why I wonder if it’s a construction of Luke.  How can it be both, and what did First-Century believers understand when they heard/read this?

But the final statement here is very interesting. It’s part of where I get my “Theory of the Last Man Standing”, which is my answer to the theological question of “can salvation be lost?”.  My typical reply is that if you want to know if someone is truly saved, look for them in heaven, until then it’s not my problem.  The interesting thing about Luke’s version of this is his grammatical construction.  It’s not Matthew’s (10:22) or Mark’s (13:13), which are more familiar.  Luke quotes Jesus telling them how to save their “souls”.  Luke literally has, “In your endurance obtain your souls.”  It means essentially the same thing as Matthew and Mark, but the wording is more empowering for the person.  It is more up to us than as Matthew and Mark have it “the one enduring to the end will be saved” which is more passive.

Tomorrow I will get through the next three sections wherein lies my problem with this passage.  No promises on some sort of solution, so I approach it with some concern and trepidation.

Please share your views on these passages.  I welcome your view through the knothole!


Fear Not! Fear This! Fear Not!

“I tell you, my friends, do not fear those who kill the body, and after that have nothing more that they can do.  But I will warn you whom to fear: fear him who, after he has killed, has authority to cast into hell. Yes, I tell you, fear him!  Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? And not one of them is forgotten before God.  Why, even the hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not; you are of more value than many sparrows.  (Luke 12:4-7 ESV)

One of the criticisms of Scripture that tend to make me smile at the simpletons bringing it is that Scripture is internally inconsistent.  I want to just smile and pat them on the head, and say, “Yes, it does seem that way at times” and move on.  But the crowd really seems to like the Emperor’s New Clothes, and I’m not that impressed by naked emperors.  These same intellectuals leveling the charge of internal inconsistency will be seemingly inconsistent in their lives all the time, but explain it away as “clarifying” not contradicting themselves.  The irony is that this is exactly what Jesus is doing, or seems to be doing.

In the context of Jesus’ explanation of the hypocrisy of the former dinner guests (Pharisees), He arrives at a possible motivating factor, fear of others.  Jesus points out how fearing anyone but God fails to accommodate Who God really is.  People can cause death, just as God can.  But only God can condemn to hell afterwards.  The unsaid implication is that He can also permit entry into heaven.  Faithfulness to Him should outweigh any fear of mere humanity.

On the one hand, the Pharisees “feared” how they looked to others, and were more concerned about their reputations than the people among whom they had the reputation.  On the other hand, they weren’t afraid of being killed by these people.  Jesus’ disciples would soon face that fear. So, this is probably more for the disciples than about the Pharisees.

Jesus has an interesting organization though.  First it’s “don’t begin to fear people”, then “fear the One who can kill and then condemn to hell”, then “stop fearing” because they are “special” to God.  The last two seem contradictory, but they really compliment each other.  Fear God for His authority as Judge, but stop fearing Him because, as Judge, He is especially fond of you.  Think that through.  It’s designed to provide the “guideposts” between which we live out our relationship with our Creator and Master.

In our culture we fear people, what they might think of us and what they might do to us.  We need to stop that (or don’t even start).  We need to fear God, what He thinks of us and what He might do to us.  But we also need to stop fearing Him for how He sees us.  Yes, He’s the Judge.  Yes, He has the authority to cast us into hell after taking our lives.  But He “carries us through”.  The word normally translated “more valuable”, “worth more”, or “of more value” is based on a word made up of the verb “to carry” and the preposition “through”.  From this was derived the meaning for value where the value isn’t monetary or “precious” due to some inherent quality or even “superior value”.  Our value stems from the fact that God sees something in us He that really catches His eye.

My daughter is a “collector”.  Unfortunately, she’s not terribly discriminating and can come back from the beach with her pockets full to overflowing with rocks, shells, driftwood, dead molluscs, and so on.  She sees something that catches her eye and it goes into her pockets.  In a sense, we have “caught God’s eye” and have wound up in His pocket.  And in the safety of God’s pocket, He “carries us through”.  Can you think of a more secure place to be than in the pocket of God?  So what do we have to fear?  Yes, we’re being carried by the Judge who could cast us into hell, but He’s carrying us in His pockets.  How likely is it that He’s carrying us around only to cast us into hell?

What do you learn from Jesus about fear from this?