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Signs of the Times

April 2, 2023

Signs of the Times

Passage: Luke 21:20-36
Service Type:

If you’re new with us at River City, we are going through the book of Luke chapter by chapter, verse by verse, looking at the life of Jesus. I don’t have time to recap all of the threads and themes we’ve been tracking across the book, but today’s text is part 2 of a long answer to a question asked of Jesus back in 21:7. The setting for the question was this:


Jesus is in Jerusalem for a Jewish holiday called Passover, during which the city of Jerusalem grows by 200-300 thousand people who are there to make a special sacrifice and eat the Passover meal as God laid out for the Israelites in Exodus 12.


The temple is not only where everyone had to go to make the proper sacrifices for their sins, it’s also a huge attraction for anyone traveling to or near Jerusalem. The Roman governor-king Herod the Great, who had a little Jewish blood in him, wanted to show off his wealth and curry some favor with the Jews, so he began a massive renovation of the temple area, doubling it in size, covering some of it with gold, and resetting the foundation with massive white marble stones. This place was unbelievable.


And one day, while Jesus is teaching in the temple, the disciples are awestruck by just how incredible these renovations are. How huge the new foundation stones are, how amazing the gold plating is, noticing all the immaculate gifts that traveling dignitaries have brought. They can’t believe what their modest temple is becoming, and then Jesus sort of shocks them all in verse 6 by saying one day all of this is coming down. Not a single stone will be left on top of another.


That would be hard for them to imagine, like someone saying Mt Rushmore is going to disappear one day. So naturally they wonder what Jesus knows that they don’t know… “When will these things (The temple coming down) happen, and what will be the sign when these things are about to take place?” How will we know when it’s close? Part 1 of Jesus’ answer 2 weeks ago was that there will be wars, persecution, earthquakes, and people claiming to be the Messiah. Here is part 2 of Jesus’ answer:


[20] "When you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies, then recognize that its desolation has come near.


So to answer the question, there’s your sign. When you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies, the temple is about to come down. This isn’t the first time Jesus has mentioned this. Back in chapter 19:43, he was more specific… These armies will build a barricade, a siege wall, the purpose of which is to starve you out. It’s a common battlefield tactic. There will be other wars, you’ll hear about this or that attack or uprising or whatever… don’t get too wound up about it. But if you see soldiers scooping dirt to make a siege wall, you’d better lace up your Nikes. I don’t care if you hate running – you better start.


(V21) you do not want to be anywhere close to Jerusalem when this happens. You especially don’t want to be pregnant or holding a newborn in a city that’s being starved out (v23). I’ll let you figure out the implications of that one on your own. It’s better to be homeless living in the hills than in the city, [22] because these are days of vengeance to fulfill all the things that are written.


That’s an important sentence to hang out on for a minute, but let’s work it backwards.


To fulfill all things that are written points to OT prophecies that are coming to pass. God’s warnings about obedience to him started all the way back in the Garden of Eden, with Adam. If you eat from this tree, you will surely die, so don’t do it. That’s not God being on a power trip any more than a dad saying to his son, if you don’t listen to me when I tell you not to play in the street, you will die.


It’s not even a scare tactic. That is what a genuinely loving father or mother would say to their kid. God’s warnings continued to Moses in Lev, Deut, to Solomon in 1 Kings, and through the prophets Isaiah, Jeremiah, Daniel, Hosea, Micah,  Zechariah. All of these prophets, across 1000s of years, carried God’s gracious invitation for Israel to turn from their sin… and Israel continually rejected him and the prophetic warnings. Israel had already lost their first temple, and been exiled to Babylon for this exact reason 500 years earlier. But their hearts had not changed, and now God’s patience has run out. All of his warnings about what would happen if they don’t repent are about to be fulfilled.


These are the Days of Vengeance. Back in the beginning of Jesus’ ministry, he visited his hometown synagogue in Nazareth. Do you remember this? Chapter 4 if you want to turn there. But Jesus was asked to read the scroll for their church service that day.


And Jesus read from the prophet Isaiah…The Spirit of the Lord God is on me, because the Lord has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to heal the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives and freedom to the prisoners; 2 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor,


And then he put down the scroll on a comma. It wasn’t the end of the sentence, but that’s where he stopped. I’m certain at least the synagogue rulers would have been like, uh, hello… you going to finish the sentence? You left out the best part. Because the sentence goes like this… to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor, or his grace, and the day of our God’s vengeance;


The religious leaders of Israel that “comfort to those who mourn” would come when the Messiah would direct God’s vengeance at the Romans who occupied their Promised Land, and occupied the government that God had promised would belong to Israel forever. But their hatred for Rome and their thirst for power had caused them to overlook the whole first part of Isaiah 61:1-2.


Jesus’ point was that his ministry would pick up on all the things the religious leaders had selfishly and sinfully overlooked. His ministry would be marked by good news to the poor, not devouring widow’s houses. Healing the brokenhearted, not avoiding them or taking advantage of their pain. Proclaiming liberty and freedom to captives and prisoners, not proclaiming to them, “wow, you or your parents must have sinned pretty badly” like the religious leaders did.


Jesus stopped where he did because His ministry would not be marked by vengeance, but that didn’t mean that vengeance was off the table.


And now here in 21:22, he finishes out the sentence he left hanging 3 years earlier in that Nazareth synagogue… the vengeance of our God is coming, and it’s not coming on the people you think it should. Instead of the vengeance of God being aimed at King Herod and tax collectors and Roman soldiers, it will be aimed straight at this gorgeous temple and the broken religious system attached to it, as a direct response to the spiritual pride, corruption, and unrepentant hearts of the spiritual shepherds of Israel.  Instead of clearing the city of Gentiles, Jerusalem will be handed over to them.


It was only 40 years after he said this, about 10 years after Luke wrote this gospel, that the temple and the entire city of Jerusalem were destroyed in exactly the way Jesus spoke about (Sproul, 381). No stones were left on top of each other. Not a single Jew was left alive in Jerusalem… Those who didn’t listen to Jesus’ advice and run for the hills were either killed or taken captive. That all happened in the year 70 AD. You can read about it.


And may you yawn at all of that. Okay, cool. Thanks for the history lesson. What does that have to do with us today? I’m struggling in my marriage. With my kids. With my friendships. With the country’s politics. First of all, that is a good question, but it is the wrong question to start with. It’s perfectly fine to approach the Bible, especially a text like this, and ask why it matters for your life today. But that is not the FIRST question. Let me give you another tip for reading your Bible that will change your life. You ready?


The first question you should ask of the Bible is what does this say about God? So, we’ve read 4 verses today. What do they tell you about God so far?


  1. He takes sin seriously, and he will not sweep it under the rug.

  2. He is incredibly patient and gracious and loving. He didn’t blow up after 10 minutes of disobedience. Or after repeating himself 2-3x. He continually held out his hand to Israel like a loving father – come on, come on, get out of the street – even when they refused him time and time and time and time and time again. Even when they claimed to be speaking for him as they oppressed the poor and vulnerable!

  3. And we learn one day his patience will expire. One day he will have had enough, and he will act quickly and decisively on those who have continued to refuse him.


See now we have started to read the Bible the right way when you ask what it says about God. But we’ll get to your question  “what does this have to do with me” in a minute.


So vengeance is coming on Israel because of their sin. V24, The city will be trampled by Gentiles UNTIL (so there is a limit on this) UNTIL the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled.


People much smarter than me have studied and argued about what exactly that means, but without chasing the rabbit too far, for much of biblical history, from Abraham to Jesus, Israel was the primary player in God’s story of redeeming sinful humans. Part of the reason Jesus came to earth was to be the new Israel, where all of God’s people are represented in one person, like a new Adam or a new Abraham… except Jesus, unlike Adam, Abraham, and Israel… will be obedient to his Father. He lived the way God expected everyone else to live.


But the book of Acts describes a shift, where God essentially shifts his attention to the Gentiles because most of the Jews refused to acknowledge Jesus as God’s Son, the Messiah. The apostle Paul, in Romans 10-11 says God turned to the Gentiles in order to make Israel jealous, to stir their hearts to come back to Yahweh, back to obedience to him. Even to this day, Christianity is still almost 100% non-Jewish.


But in verse 24, Jesus seems to indicate that there is a time coming when Jerusalem and Israel are once again back in the mix in some way, and a key player in what is to come. And sometime after that happens, [25] "Then there will be signs in the sun, moon, and stars; and there will be anguish on the earth among nations bewildered by the roaring of the sea and the waves. [26] People will faint from fear and expectation of the things that are coming on the world, because the powers of the heavens will be shaken.


Matthew’s gospel adds details Luke doesn’t. He says the sun will darken. The stars will fall or go dark. The moon will go dark. Those are very obvious signs of the end that Jesus points to. You won’t have to guess “are we at the end or not?” Creation itself will let us know, and people will be dropping over in fear at the gas station, the grocery store, at work, on the street when they see unusual things happening in the sky.

And after all of THAT happens, the MOST unusual thing to happen in the sky is that [27] Then they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory.


That title Jesus gives himself, the Son of Man, borrows OT prophetic language to talk about the person who receives all kingdom authority (Bock, 1685). This second coming will be Jesus coming back as King with full authority to judge, full authority to rule… he’s not doing Philippians 2 this time, where he didn’t play the God-card when he could have… this time he’s playing the God-card and he’s not just clearing the temple of sin – he’s clearing the whole earth.


This second appearance won’t be about forgiveness of sin – it’ll be about kingdom authority; it’s about the hero showing up to save the day by rescuing his bride and thrashing the villain who has brought about so much suffering and deception in the world.


[28] But when these things (the stuff of verses 25 & 26) begin to take place: (the sky and the oceans going crazy, people dropping over in fear… stand up and lift up your heads, because your redemption is near."


While everyone else is fainting in fear, Christians can stand up; instead of cowering in the fetal position in their bathroom closet, dear Christian, lift up your heads and maybe even let yourself smile a bit. It might be dicey for a little while, but your redemption, the hope you have waited for, prayed for, longed for, hoped for, is so close you can smell it, just like you can smell Spring in the air on those first warm days in February or March.


Or like when you see the flowers breaking through the ground. When you see this happening in your yard, you know that summer isn’t here yet, but it won’t be long now before these will be in full bloom.


[31] In the same way, when you see these things happening (distress, people fainting in fear over what is happening in the sky and the oceans), recognize that the kingdom of God, where all of God’s promises are fulfilled, all of death and sin and deception and hatred and fear are destroyed, and tears and sorrow are wiped away, that moment when Jesus returns as king in full authority to judge evil will soon be in full bloom.


[32] Truly I tell you, this generation will certainly not pass away until all things take place.

This is yet another verse people have argued for centuries, so I won’t chase this rabbit too far either. Based on some of the commentaries I read, I think it means that the generation who sees the leaves start to bud in the Spring will also see it come to full bloom in the Summer. The generation that faints in fear at the sky and the oceans is the same generation that will see the Lord return.


So now we can get to the question, What does this have to do with me? If all of this is true, how should we live our lives in April, May, June 2023?


And he concludes with this in verse 33, everything you can see, touch, hold, feel on this earth might die out, but my words and my promises will never pass away.


[34] "Be on your guard… To be on your guard, means to direct your mind; pay careful attention. Jesus clearly wants every generation paying attention, watching for the signs, taking this seriously, because as he said back in Luke 12, this day is going to come on us like a thief in the night.


The broadcast of the Hawkeyes game this afternoon could be interrupted by reports that the oceans are acting strange, or that stars are randomly falling from the sky or the moon seems to have disappeared. You could wake up to it tomorrow morning. If that happens, jump up and get ready. The hastas are breaking through the soil.


What should we be on guard against? So that your minds are not dulled. That word dulled means weighed down, burdened. Jesus is saying, if you aren’t carefully directing your heart, carefully guarding your mind, you will end up carrying the heavy weight of…

  1. Carousing/Partying - It’s perfectly Christian to have a good time with friends, enjoying laughter and stories and good food; but constant partying has an ability to become an escape from reality, making our minds and hearts dull to remembering God’s promises and his word, dull to taking care of the vulnerable, dull to living in light of eternity.

  2. Drunkenness - It’s perfectly Christian to enjoy an adult beverage from time to time. The Bible speaks of wine as a good thing way more often than it being a bad thing, but over-indulging ANY good thing, especially alcohol, can leave you with a clouded mind, unable to move when you have to move, unable to think when you need to think… all things Jesus says we had better be able to do when the end comes. So whether your conscience gives you freedom to drink alcohol or not, you are responsible to keep a clear mind and not get drunk.

  3. And just in case you thought you would escape this part unharmed, because you don’t party or get drunk, he adds the Worries of life - It’s perfectly human to experience a bit of worry when you think ahead to the future, because we are limited by time and space. We don’t all have a Delorean that can travel to the future and see if everything will be okay or see how it’ll all work out. So some fear is perfectly human. But a paralyzing anxiety about what to eat, wear, drink, how to pay the bills, cleaning, planting, harvesting, marriage & dating, parenting, fear of dying, saving enough for the unknowns, social media, etc, etc, etc, creates a weight on our hearts that was never meant to be there. A weight on our hearts and our minds that distracts us from knowing and trusting God as our loving Father who not only cares deeply for his children, but is sovereign over every moment of your life.


[36] But be alert at all times, praying that you would have strength

  1. to escape all these things that are going to take place -  He’s encouraging us to pray that we would have strength to escape the temptations to give in to persecution, to escape giving in to fear and worry, the strength to resist the urge to dull our senses with partying or heavy drinking.

  2. Strength to stand before the Son of Man." meaning, we pray for the strength to stay the course now in the meantime until he returns, v27, in a cloud with power and great glory.


Those whom God has chosen to redeem don’t have to fear the vengeance of God, because Jesus stood in and took the vengeance of God FOR you; every single sin – past, present and future, every single one atoned for, paid in full, even the ones you haven’t thought about yet.


So, Church, listen to me: The bedrock that you can stand on both today and when the end starts to take place is that the promises of God will never expire. His promise to be with you and never leave you? The sun might burn out in 3 trillion years, but that promise never will. His promise that those who call on the name of the Lord will be saved, and no one who comes to him will be turned away? The moon could disappear or float out into space, but that promise never will. His words from the cross about your salvation “IT IS FINISHED” are more certain and longer lasting than the Milky Way itself.


Why? Because when Jesus stood up and walked out of that grave, all authority in heaven and on earth was given to him by his Father in heaven, and like a King’s declaration can never be revoked, Jesus’ words and promises will never expire.


And right now, April 2, 2023, Jesus sits at the right hand of God, glorified, worshiped, exalted, and right this moment, he is your Great High Priest, interceding for you – meaning, Jesus talks to his Father about you. When you pray for strength, that prayer passes through the lips of Jesus your Savior, on the way to his Father. When you pray for wisdom, it passes right through the lips of the one who is the wisdom of God. When you say God, forgive me again, that prayer passes through the lips of the One who still has holes in his hands and his feet, the one whose blood covers the very sin you are confessing, and he takes it out with the evening trash as far as the east is from the west never to be brought up again.


We’re going to respond to this with prayer and the Lord’s Supper, but first, some of you have been playing games with God. I know myself, and I’ve been around church long enough to know that we don’t all practice what we preach or say we believe.


Some of you, like the Israelites, are a child of God, and you know what you should do but you refuse to do it. You know what you shouldn’t do, and you keep doing it. You are not taking your sin seriously, your life is undisciplined and self-centered, and you are bringing sorrow on your own head and the heads of people you love.


Today, you will hold in your hands the grace of Jesus for you. God once again is holding out his hands to you, inviting you to repent and come home. Confess your sin. Wake up! Don’t receive the grace of God in vain. Your sins are forgiven…Don’t bring unnecessary judgment on yourself.


Other’s of you have never trusted Christ for anything. You might say you believe in him, you might admit you don’t, but if being a Christian means you’ve entered into a relationship with Jesus, you’d say that hasn’t happened. I’m so glad you are here this morning, and we’d love for you to keep coming back, but the Lord’s Supper is for those who have confessed with their mouth that Jesus is Lord, and believed in their heart that God raised him from the dead, as Romans 10:9 says.


Today I would encourage you to do that! Even right now! Receive Jesus by faith in your own words, in sincere faith. You don’t need to jump through any hoops – Jesus cleared all the hoops with his own life, death, and resurrection. Just receive him by faith.


If you haven’t done that, or aren’t sure yet, just pass the bread and cup past when it comes to you.


Lastly, for those of you who have joyfully, faithfully been seeking Jesus, walking with him, trusting him - imperfectly of course, but you’re running the race with endurance… Let me encourage you with this bread and the cup today… God’s commitment to you, his love for you, his promises toward you are yes and amen. They are so much greater and more solid and more eternal than your commitment to him, your love for him, or any promises you could make. Receive the bread and the cup today, and rest again the grace of the Father toward you.



As you receive these elements, on the screen will be some things for you to pray:


  1. Lord: Where is my mind weighed down?

    1. Escapism? Worries of life?

  2. Thank you Jesus for the blood applied.

  3. Pray for the strength to face the temptations of every day, to stand firm, to keep our eyes on Christ.




R. C. Sproul, A Walk with God: An Exposition of Luke (Great Britain: Christian Focus Publications, 1999)


Darrell L. Bock, Luke: 9:51–24:53, vol. 2, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 1996), 1675.