What’s the worst thing that has ever happened to you?
Some people go through horrendous times. Even now, around our world, only a few hours away, immense persecution and suffering are taking place on people simply because of the colour of their skin, their tribe, their belief and their lifestyle.
We are going to read the words of Jesus as he prophecies of huge suffering to come on his followers and on Israel, resulting in the fall of the Temple.
His followers could probably believe they would be caught and imprisoned perhaps. But for the second Temple to fall after being built for hundreds of years. This was unthinkable.
In April this year, the world watched in dismay as fire engulfed the Notre Dame cathedral in Paris. The horror on the faces of those there was tangible. This was news that reached right across the world and it captures something of the shock and trauma of the Temple’s possible downfall.
Yet that is obviously what happened.
Life leading up to that wasn’t good for the Christians or the Jews.
There was constant persecution and suffering for the followers of Jesus since the resurrection. On the day of Stephen’s martyr in AD34 a great persecution broke out against the Christians but it certainly wasn’t the greatest.
In AD64 Rome had a huge fire break out that lasted nearly a week and burned three quarters of the city. The people blamed the Emperor Nero for the fire and he in turn blamed the Christians. The Romans rounded them all up and in a savage and brutal way killed them. Torn apart by dogs and burned as street lights for Nero’s garden parties even the Roman people thought the torturous deaths too much.
Persecution has continued to this day throughout the centuries. It has centred on the same battle, that is, who is Lord? The early Christians refused to say Caesar is Lord. One amazing story comes out in history of an elderly bishop named Polycarp, who knew the Apostle John personally. He could have saved his life if he had simply put a pinch of incense on the altar as worship to Caesar. He refused, “Eighty and six years have I served Christ, and he never did me any injury: how then can I blaspheme my King and my Saviour?” So in AD155 he was tortured and burnt to death. But the reason for his death continues today. Caesar was called Lord and Saviour. So who will it be, Jesus or Caesar? But even more than that the early Christians refused to recognise the pantheon of gods in the Roman culture, they were remarkably called atheists as a result. One of the great attacks on Christians today is that of the demand to tolerate other Lords and Saviours alongside that of Jesus. The challenge remains for us that Jesus is and will always be Lord.
For the Jews, leading up to the dreadful year of AD70 they had been quite successfully in fighting off the Romans. For example, the revolt in Masada where the Zealots killed 3,600 Roman soldiers. In solidarity with Masada, the Temple sacrifice to Caesar was stopped and then Judea and Galilean Jews were encouraged and started to rebel against Caesar. Caesar was not Lord and the Romans hated them even more.
After the Passover in AD70 the Romans had permitted pilgrims to enter the city of Jerusalem but then prevented them leaving. Nero began the starvation of the city. The Jewish historian, Josephus wrote first-hand accounts as he was Nero’s interpreter and mediator. He wrote of up to 500 hundred crucifixions of prisoners every day and the famine resulting in cannibalism. But the Jews remained strong, this was their culture, their history, their land.
Titus, the son of Nero, finished what others had attempted to do before him. At first he wanted to save the Temple but he could not stop the frenzied attacks from his own soldiers. There is no need for me to write of the cruelty and barbaric treatment from the soldiers on the innocent people. But let me quote Josephus, “No one, can conceive a louder, more terrible shriek than arose from all sides during the burning of the temple. The shout of victory and the jubilee of the legions sounded through the wailings of the people, now surrounded with fire and sword, upon the mountain, and throughout the city… Yet the misery itself was more terrible than this disorder. The hill on which the temple stood was seething hot, and seemed enveloped to its base in one sheet of flame. The blood was larger in quantity than the fire, and those that were slain more in number than those that slew them. The ground was nowhere visible. All was covered with corpses; over these heaps the soldiers pursued the fugitives.”
Who would have thought this would ever have happened? Who could have imagined this?
There was one of course! Let’s read now the passage before I give some simple devotional thoughts to carry with us today:
Luke 21: 5-19 “5 Some of his disciples were remarking about how the temple was adorned with beautiful stones and with gifts dedicated to God. But Jesus said, 6 “As for what you see here, the time will come when not one stone will be left on another; every one of them will be thrown down.” 7 “Teacher,” they asked, “when will these things happen? And what will be the sign that they are about to take place?” 8 He replied: “Watch out that you are not deceived. For many will come in my name, claiming, ‘I am he,’ and, ‘The time is near.’ Do not follow them. 9 When you hear of wars and uprisings, do not be frightened. These things must happen first, but the end will not come right away.” 10 Then he said to them: “Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. 11 There will be great earthquakes, famines and pestilences in various places, and fearful events and great signs from heaven. 12 “But before all this, they will seize you and persecute you. They will hand you over to synagogues and put you in prison, and you will be brought before kings and governors, and all on account of my name. 13 And so you will bear testimony to me. 14 But make up your mind not to worry beforehand how you will defend yourselves. 15 For I will give you words and wisdom that none of your adversaries will be able to resist or contradict. 16 You will be betrayed even by parents, brothers and sisters, relatives and friends, and they will put some of you to death. 17 Everyone will hate you because of me. 18 But not a hair of your head will perish. 19 Stand firm, and you will win life.”
Clearly Jesus’ prophetic statement was for that generation. Not only did the resurrection vindicate Jesus but the destruction of the Temple proved He was who he said he was. He is Lord and Saviour not the Caesars of this world.
However, the instructions contained within the prophecy have comforted and encouraged many throughout the persecuted history of the Christian Church, even today.
Let me ask the question again: What’s the worst thing that has ever happened to you?
Perhaps you are going through that today?
Jesus would say, during this time:
- Do not be deceived, v8 “Watch out that you are not deceived. For many will come in my name, claiming, ‘I am he,’ and, ‘The time is near.’ Do not follow them.” It is easy to follow people with huge personalities and over inflated egos. Confidence is a magnet but do not follow the ones who draw people to themselves and not to God. In the moment of your vulnerability do not run to man claiming this and that.
- Get ready to tell your story, v13 “And so you will bear testimony to me.” Even in the despair you can give evidence of Jesus, you can testify of what He has done and who He is. Force out your praise.
- Receive wisdom, v15 “For I will give you words and wisdom that none of your adversaries will be able to resist or contradict.” Jesus promises to give ideas of what you can say and how to respond to the circumstances. In your hell choose the words of heaven to come out of your mouth.
- Be patient, v19 “Stand firm, and you will win life.” Don’t give up, give way, remain in position, fixed on ‘Jesus is Lord’ and you will come into victory. You may lose the battle of the flesh but win the war of the soul.