When it feels like the end of the world

In Luke 21:5-19, Jesus predicted the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem, and described some signs of the things that will occur before what we refer to as the “end days.” Justifiably, most people find it to be somewhat depressing. It’s depressing on the surface, yet it is a message of hope. Wait – what? Hope?

Jesus spoke often in the temple, and to those listening that day, the destruction of that beautiful building they knew so well was something they couldn’t even imagine. This temple was the very centre of their religious and cultural lives. King Solomon had completed the first temple almost thousand years earlier. Over the centuries it had been damaged and repaired, destroyed and rebuilt, and still it stood in all its glory. To the people, it was permanent.

Jesus made this prediction approximately 40 years before the destruction of the temple in 70 AD. Just three days before Passover that year, the Romans destroyed the temple and most of Jerusalem. Tens of thousands of people were killed. In verse 32, Jesus had also predicted “this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened.” 

It has been suggested, and it makes sense, that this sentence was somehow moved when Luke’s Gospel was being compiled. There has been much confusion over the centuries, because this verse follows warnings of wars, famines, plagues, and worse – signs that the end days are approaching. For this reason, every generation for the past two thousand years has read this and thought they were the generation that would see the end days, in other words, the return of Jesus.

But back to hope – where is the hope in the destruction of the temple that was a stable factor in the lives of so many, and a symbol of human achievement? The hope is in the fact that for all its splendor, the temple was just a physical building. Yes, it was built with beautiful stone and filled with gifts to God, but we are not to become too attached to material things. When Jesus began with, “As for these things that you see,” He was redirecting our attention toward what is unseen, non-material, and enduring. He was saying that human achievement was not permanent after all. And the hope in this message is that God is permanent and eternal.

Jesus continued, saying that wars and insurrections must take place before the end, but even then it will not follow immediately. We still have earthquakes, famines, plagues, false prophets, and dreadful signs from heaven. And let’s not forget betrayal by family members, arrests, persecutions, and even death. In the Book of Acts, we read accounts of this type of persecution. 

There is no denying that this reading is very unsettling. Exactly where in all this can we find hope? Jesus gives us the hope in a form of a promise: I will give you words and a wisdom that none of your opponents will be able to withstand or contradict… not a hair of your head will perish…by your endurance you will gain your souls. Jesus tells his listeners – and us — not to be afraid

He is with us, He is eternal; that’s hope. We are never alone. This is the promise Jesus made to His disciples and He kept it on the day of Pentecost when He sent us the Holy Spirit, the Advocate who is always with us. 

Every generation has had wars, natural catastrophes, plagues, and famines. Every generation has had false prophets. Every generation before us believed that they would be the one to see Jesus return, and every generation after us will believe the same thing. We will never know when the end days are near, but for each of us the end of our own days is approaching and unavoidable. Jesus tells us to keep our trust in God even when life presents the most devastating of challenges.

In the midst of every war ever fought, God was present in the lives of believers. In the wars and insurrections to come we have the hope that comes with knowing He will be present in our lives, too.So, yes, this lesson really is one of hope. In John 14, Jesus tells us not to let our hearts be troubled. In the same chapter, He says, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you.” Paul called it the peace that passes all understanding, because whether or not we understand it, we have the promise that God remains constant and present, and that we have the Holy Spirit as an advocate in our lives. That’s a hope we can cling to, even when things have gotten so bad that it literally feels like the end of the world.