I wish we’d all been ready
Luke 21: 20-28
20 “When you see Jerusalem being surrounded by armies, you will know that its desolation is near. 21 Then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains, let those in the city get out, and let those in the country not enter the city. 22 For this is the time of punishment in fulfilment of all that has been written. 23 How dreadful it will be in those days for pregnant women and nursing mothers! There will be great distress in the land and wrath against this people. 24 They will fall by the sword and will be taken as prisoners to all the nations. Jerusalem will be trampled on by the Gentiles until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled.
25 “There will be signs in the sun, moon and stars. On the earth, nations will be in anguish and perplexity at the roaring and tossing of the sea. 26 People will faint from terror, apprehensive of what is coming on the world, for the heavenly bodies will be shaken. 27 At that time they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory. 28 When these things begin to take place, stand up and lift up your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.”
I find it so difficult to read these verses with a first century perspective. I am immediately thinking of some end-time battle, apocalyptic destruction and Jesus riding on the clouds to earth. I have to debunk my brain in order to understand.
So here goes ….
The city of Jerusalem was being starved, imprisoned in their own city, they had been let in as pilgrims but unable to leave. The armies of Rome surrounded them. This was it. This is what Jesus had prophesied. It was AD70. The Temple would be burnt to the ground, the city destroyed and the Son of Man would be vindicated.
Jesus paints a graphic horrible picture of trying to survive the onslaught. He uses apocalyptic imagery that the people would understand and especially as they went through the violence their world would indeed be shaking. Now here it is, the verse 27, “At that time they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory.” Which is of course Jesus not talking about his return to earth but it is still in the context of the downfall of Jerusalem. So what is it then?
The title ‘Son of Man’ as we have seen on a number of occasions is the prophetic title given in Daniel.
Daniel 7: 13-14 “In my vision at night I looked, and there before me was one like a son of man, coming with the clouds of heaven. He approached the Ancient of Days and was led into his presence. 14 He was given authority, glory and sovereign power; all nations and peoples of every language worshiped him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that will not pass away, and his kingdom is one that will never be destroyed.” Daniel prophesied it in the context of the oppression of the beasts of the earth coming against God’s people.
The Son of Man (Jesus) v the beasts (the religious leaders and the Romans)
Mark records Jesus’ words to the High Priest at his trial in 14:61-63, “Again the high priest asked him, “Are you the Messiah, the Son of the Blessed One?” 62 “I am,” said Jesus. “And you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Mighty One and coming on the clouds of heaven.”
What did Jesus mean? Clearly the High Priest and Jerusalem would not see Jesus coming on the clouds.
We need to see this as the vindication from God.
The downfall of Jerusalem was the sign that Jesus had been proven right and was enthroned in heaven.
The destruction of the Temple which refused to recognise the kingdom was the fulfilment of the kingdom Jesus came to bring. This had to happen in the Jesus’ generation.
But that didn’t happen till approximately 40 years after the resurrection and ascension of Jesus.
So what was happening before?
What was life like for Jerusalem and in particular for the followers of Jesus post resurrection and pre-destruction of the city?
Can you imagine?
The city was still held and oppressed by the Romans. There would have been many false Messiahs trying to raise a revolution, they were subsequently squashed. The Temple carried on. Where was the vindication? God was seemingly moving across the world through the Apostle Paul and the other apostles, but where is Jesus in the city, where is this sign from heaven? What happened to the prophecy?
Jesus had also said these words in v 34-36, “Be careful, or your hearts will be weighed down with carousing, drunkenness and the anxieties of life, and that day will close on you suddenly like a trap. 35 For it will come on all those who live on the face of the whole earth. 36 Be always on the watch, and pray that you may be able to escape all that is about to happen, and that you may be able to stand before the Son of Man.”
Jesus was saying, be ready. Live well. Be alert. Pray.
I am at the moment listening in the car to my Larry Norman albums, the father of Christian Rock Music, he wrote so many songs on the return of Christ. The famous one being “I wish we’d all been ready.”
It is 2019, people around you may not believe what you hold to. The followers of Jesus are struggling across the world. Where is the vindication? When will this end? Where is Jesus?
Luke in his gospel is referring to the Son of Man coming as the vindication mentioned in Daniel’s prophecy and the city did fall. But Luke also knew that Jesus would return again. In his Acts book he recorded in 1:11 “Men of Galilee,” they said, “why do you stand here looking into the sky? This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven.”
And so we wait and we are still waiting, far more than 40 years, 2,000 years later. Will he return in our lifetime? As we look around our world we see that people are not anticipating this at all, even in the Church! Maybe we will be singing ‘I wish we’d all been ready’. The end will come, the vindication will be over, just as He said it would.