Passion Week XIV

And while some were talking about the temple, that it was adorned with beautiful stones and votive gifts, He said, “As for these things which you are looking at, the days will come in which there will not be left one stone upon another which will not be torn down.”  They questioned Him, saying, “Teacher, when therefore will these things happen? And what will be the sign when these things are about to take place?” (Luke 21:5-7 NASB)

And so begins one of my least favorite passages of Scripture.  It’s not that I don’t study “end-times”.  I don’t, but that’s not why I don’t like this passage, and Mark 15 and Matthew 24.  The reason I don’t like this passage is because this passage is confusing and actually, possibly, wrong.

The dating of the writing of Luke and Matthew is not an exact science.  But the major debate has to do with the timing in relation to the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem.  Many believe they were written before, some believe one was written before and one after (debate over which), and others believe they were both written after.  A lot of this debate can be found to focus on this passage.

We’ll get to the reason in a few entries, but right now it is the setup, the setting of the scene, that occupies our attention.  Luke, along with Matthew and Mark, have the temple in Jerusalem as the prompt for the discussion.  As the disciples leave the temple with Jesus, they comment on the beauty of the buildings, decorations, and the stones.  The stones are huge.  And Jesus says, not one will be left on the other.  Which is true, since the Romans will be disassembling the temple and throwing it into the Kidron Valley around AD 70.

After Jesus and His disciples reach the Mount of Olives, they ask Him about the timing.  They want to know when these things will take place.  This answer is what troubles me, but really the issue at hand does have to do with the destruction of the temple.  What I’m hoping, but cannot confirm, is that Mark wrote before the destruction and editorially arranged his Gospel around the hope that the end of Jerusalem was the end.  And then that Matthew and Luke, writing whenever, followed suit but without the need for all to end with Jerusalem.  It’s just impossible to know.

In Hard Sayings of the Bible, verse 32 is addressed claiming the “plain sense” approach.  I had to laugh at it.  It basically said the context requires a statement of timing to be limited to the destruction of the temple.  On the other hand, the “literary context” has a lot of stuff between the destruction of the temple and the statement of timing (all these things will happen in this generation).  So, “fail” on his part for claiming the “plain sense” and divorcing his conclusion from the literary context.

Matthew Henry has the reference to a “future” coming to be “virtual” as opposed to “actual”, but I’m not sure how he can logically sustain that view.  At least he understands the statement/prediction referring to the entire literary context.  Craig Evans in the Understanding the Bible Commentary says that the statement refers to the “parable of the fig tree” and so the signs leading up to the coming of Jesus by a future generation.  So this would be a compressed context, but at least literary.  Still the reference to “all these things” makes such a narrow interpretation difficult.

This is why timing is so important.  If Matthew and Luke have been written after the destruction of Jerusalem, then they would be looking back and know already that Jesus did not return when Jerusalem was destroyed.  If one or both were written before the fall of Jerusalem, then they would still not know, and could be thinking it would all happen together.  I think it’s interesting that John simply avoids the whole thing all together in his Gospel.  In fact John takes pains to point out that Jesus did not say that John would live until He returned.  And John is certainly to have written after Jerusalem was destroyed.

So, I will be examining the hope Jesus gives us in this passage, and then toward the end, the timing of the generational prediction.  My problem is that I’m not in the habit of looking back and interpreting by what happened after the things were written.  Others do and that’s fine.  I try not to.  I try to see it for what it was when written, when heard by the first audience, and bring that forward.  I don’t know if I can get away with that here.

So what do I do when I don’t know how to “rescue” the honor of my Master?  This challenges inspiration, it challenges prophesy, it challenges interpretive methods, and even the validity of the Scripture texts we have today.  A lot rides on this passage because we are a critical people.  Sometimes the challenge is to also be honest.  Can I be both, and wherein lies my faith?  I’d much rather study the crucifixion and resurrection, skipping this altogether.


Empty Warnings Undeterring

Just at that time some Pharisees approached, saying to Him, “Go away, leave here, for Herod wants to kill You.”  And He said to them, “Go and tell that fox, ‘Behold, I cast out demons and perform cures today and tomorrow, and the third day I reach My goal.’  Nevertheless I must journey on today and tomorrow and the next day; for it cannot be that a prophet would perish outside of Jerusalem.  O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, just as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you would not have it!  “Behold, your house is left to you desolate; and I say to you, you will not see Me until the time comes when you say, ‘BLESSED IS HE WHO COMES IN THE NAME OF THE LORD!'” (Luke 13:31-35 NASB)

When I was a kid and my family would be going on a long vacation, occasionally I was allowed to pack my own bag my way.  It was only when it didn’t matter whether I brought enough socks and underwear though.  My bag inevitably ended up with lots of stuff that made no sense and served little to no purpose.  But I had an explanation for everything that was in there.  It made sense to me.  In a way, Luke’s preservation of this dialogue of Jesus is like my child-travel bag.

Luke is clearer here than in other places about the timing connecting back to what came before.  More than one Pharisee comes to Jesus with the warning, and the warning sounds like they care about Jesus.  Jesus’ response is to call Herod a fox (and not in a cute sense), and then proceed to delineate His itinerary of healing and exorcisms over the next three days until He reaches His goal.  And I have to ask whether Jesus is giving a clue to the “3-Days-In-The-Grave” thing coming up quickly; where He is in the grave today, the next day, and the following day rises from the dead.

But then Jesus goes on to lament over Jerusalem even though He’s not there yet.  He will do it again once He arrives, but here laments about how unreceptive the city has been to her God and His prophets and messengers.  How long has Jesus desired to gather her children as a hen gathers her chicks?  It’s possible Jesus is describing much more than His earthly life time, though the ones hearing Him wouldn’t have understood that.  “But you would not have it” is a sad commentary on a city whose claim to fame is as the “Place where God placed His Name.”  The commentary is to become an epitaph, as is clear in Jesus’ prophesy over the city when He arrives.

This last statement about the city though, I think, is a foreshadowing of the Triumphal Entry, and not some end-time reference.  This prophecy is really about the city receiving Him, but at the same time, foreshadows His eventual rejection.  It only takes a few days to come to be, so it’s not a prophecy of some future yet to be.  And the quote within it is from Psalm 118, which also sounds like a hodge-podge of praise about God and to God.  Psalm 118 is where we find “The stone which the builders rejected has become the corner stone.”  It’s where we find “This is the day the Lord has made; Let us rejoice and be glad in it.”  And then, “Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord.”

It’s a weird statement from a weird Psalm.  The context doesn’t really illuminate why Jesus would use it here.  What did it mean to the Pharisees?  What did it mean to the disciples?  Does this Psalm refer to some event in the minds of first-century Jews?  Not that I’m aware, which means little really.  I am more inclined to believe Jesus is simply foreshadowing the day He arrives in Jerusalem.  Perhaps these same Pharisees who have lied about Herod will be there, see the entry, and remember this statement.  Who knows.  And yes, they lied about Herod.

So what is my lesson, my take-away from this?  Jesus doesn’t subscribe to my illusions.  He isn’t fooled by those things I use to fool myself and others.  Jesus sees through them, through their distractions and focus’ on His purpose, His plan and goal.  He will not be deterred from Jerusalem, and the cross, the grave, and the empty tomb.  So, I also need to be honest about my illusions.  I need to learn what the Pharisees did not.  Why not learn from Jesus?  Unlike them, I know He’s God, shouldn’t I listen to God?  Why not share Jesus’ focus, purpose, plan, and goal?   Do I have better ones?  Not letting the distractions of warnings, fears, empty and hollow fears, is the necessary approach to life with Jesus.  But like Peter, the wind and wave distract me from walking on water.  The hollow warnings of those seeking my destruction draw my attention.  The ridiculous and the easy distract from the beautiful and difficult.  Jesus was undeterred in His pursuit of the cross.  I can be undeterred in my pursuit of His goal for my life.

What do you learn from this passage?

What are YOU Looking At?

And He was also saying to the crowds, “When you see a cloud rising in the west, immediately you say, ‘A shower is coming,’ and so it turns out.  And when you see a south wind blowing, you say, ‘It will be a hot day,’ and it turns out that way.  You hypocrites! You know how to analyze the appearance of the earth and the sky, but why do you not analyze this present time?  (Luke 12:54-56 NASB)

When I’m a passenger on a long trip, one of the ways I entertain myself is by looking out the window at the world passing by.  Sometimes I realize after I’ve passed something that it was interesting and I should have paid more attention.  But it also makes me wonder how often I’ve passed interesting things without even noticing that I missed it.

This passage has been zipped right by on many occasion by me and perhaps others as we read the words of Jesus.  Okay, I get it, I should be as good at predicting the times I live in as I am about the weather.  Or is it about that?  How many of us have tried to do just that, and failed miserably?  We have a presidential election coming up.  Pick a winner now.  What will we be like in 4 years?  Now let’s see if you’re right.  How often have you been right? I’m almost never right.

In various translations, the most common word used for what Jesus is trying to tell them to do is “interpret”.  In the King James it was “discern”, and here in the New American Standard it’s “analyze”.  The verbs in this critique by Jesus are made up of the verb to know (…you know how…) which is based on the verb to see, and the infinitive of the verb to test or prove by testing.  So, in essence people know from experience that seeing one thing in the sky means another event will follow.  Yet for some reason the same people don’t seem to realize that certain events mean certain other events will follow as a result.

In other words, Jesus is upset with them for not paying attention to the “current events”.  It’s not that they don’t know from experience, they’re not paying attention at all.  They are repeating history because they refuse to learn from it.  It doesn’t take a rocket surgeon to follow the thread of Jewish history in that region past the time of Jesus and realize it looks a lot like the problems they had just emerged from with the Greek occupation under the Selucid kings.  And even that had similarities to the problems they had with Babylonians that resulted in the first destruction of Jerusalem.

The events were different, the occupiers were different, but the response by the Jewish people were similar in that they were unwilling to submit (although, I have to agree with their rebellion against the Greek Selucids, that needed to happen).  They had prophets warning them about the Babylonians they refused to listen to.  Jesus warned about the Romans, and they refused to listen to Him.  The times were heading somewhere, and even the Jewish leaders knew it.  Their big fear of Jesus was they He would incite a riot and the Romans would come and take their “place” (i.e. the Temple).  Why worry about Jesus and not the actual rebels who eventually did exactly that?  They missed the warnings of the coming storm even though they were obvious.

Today, we’re missing evidence of what’s to come.  History has recorded the rise and fall of many empires, greater than America has ever become.  And in nearly every instance these greats decayed from within morally before they ever suffered militarily.  At least one historian says they “lost their moral compass”.  I can’t imagine a better way to describe this country.  We’ve lost our moral compass.  This isn’t even a religious assertion.  When a nation begun with the phrase that all people are endowed with inalienable rights like life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, then finds reasons and ways to kill their infants and elderly, I think we’re done.  The original moorings have been lost, and we’re drifting without any sort of guidance.

The thing is though, once we see the evidence and realize what it means, what do we do?  Jesus warned His followers much like the prophets before warned the people.  The disaster still happened.  So, is our goal to avert the disaster or to continue to minister and love others as we see the wave crash over us?  Warn, admonish, proclaim, heal the sick, feed the hungry, and keep going in face of impending doom.  Sounds hopeless, but the reality is that there will always be a remnant of the people of God.  What we hold fast to is the future we have with Him, and others, a few, will follow and also be saved from the impending doom.  Because the impending doom is not the demise of America, it’s an eternity in hell.  People are rushing there  in a flood of hopeless reckless abandon in pursuit of the illusion of dark selfish happiness.  Those few God rescues through us are what we’re after.

Kind of a downer this morning. Sorry.  Maybe you have a lighter view through this particular “knothole” of Scripture.  What do you learn from the Spirit through this passage?

Ho The Ancient Women Prophets

And there was a prophetess, Anna, the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was advanced in years, having lived with her husband seven years from when she was a virgin, and then as a widow until she was eighty-four. She did not depart from the temple, worshiping with fasting and prayer night and day. And coming up at that very hour she began to give thanks to God and to speak of him to all who were waiting for the redemption of Jerusalem. (Luke 2:36-38 ESV)

There are very few references to prophetesses in Scripture.  But none really like Anna. This lady is constantly in the Temple, and she is there practicing spiritual disciplines as part of personal worship. We don’t have this pattern in a prophetess elsewhere. Taken out of context as we have, you may miss the pronoun referring to Jesus. Here she prophesies about Jesus, but not just everyone, but to those ‘waiting for the redemption of Jerusalem’. These are the elements of this divergent pattern I want to look at.

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But Before Being Dismissed…

And there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon; and this man was righteous and devout, looking for the consolation of Israel; and the Holy Spirit was upon him.  And it had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Christ. (Luke 2:25, 26 NASB)

Simeon is an anomaly in this account.  He’s somewhat like John the Baptist, somewhat like Zachariah John’s father, and somewhat like a respectable old man.  He does stuff by the prompting of the Holy Spirit, which means, in his day, he’s really weird and unpredictable.  On the other hand, he loves his people, and he loves his God.  He’s probably one of the most upbeat people in the temple any time he’s there; and that’s with the people suffering under Roman rule and the religious leaders being ridiculously unrighteous.

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Forerunning God

 “And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High;
To give to His people the knowledge of salvation
By the forgiveness of their sins,
Because of the tender mercy of our God,
With which the Sunrise from on high will visit us,
To guide our feet into the way of peace.”
(Luke 1:76-79 NASB)

The people wondered what this child, surrounded by the clear work of God, would be (see verse 66).  Zachariah essentially told them.  The child he fathered would be called the prophet of the Most High.  And he would prepare the way for God Who was coming.  He would prepare them with knowledge of salvation through forgiveness because of God’s mercy.  He would be the forerunner of God Himself.

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