Some Context about the End

This coming Sunday is the 33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time, Lectionary Cycle C. Two Sundays ago was the encounter with Zacchaeus in Jericho (Luke 19:1-10). This followed by Jesus’ parable of the ten gold coins (19:11-27) and Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem and the events of Palm Sunday (v.28). What follows has been a series of confrontations with the Jerusalem authorities in the Temple, an example of which was the previous Sunday gospel in which the Sadducees confronted Jesus around the topic of resurrection. The confrontation now shifts to the future tense. The extended dialogue concerns the:

  • coming persecutions and destruction of the Temple (21:5-19), our gospel reading;
  • destruction of the Jerusalem (21:20-24); and
  • coming of the Son of Man (21:25-36).

It is tempting to refer to these verses as St. Luke’s “little apocalypse,” given its similarity to the accounts in Mark and Matthew – and the ongoing fascination of evangelical American Christianity with the “end times” popularized by the “Left Behind” series of books and movies. Described in another post later this morning with more details for those interested, Luke’s account is different in that all the “temporal markers” in the telling are focused on the present. Luke reserves the future focus for later verses outside our gospel text. Up through verse 18 the focus remains on events before the judgment of the capital in A.D. 70, which is not yet the end. While there are apocalyptic elements, it is not the final words of Jesus, but an introduction to his suffering and death.

Prophetic, Wisdom, and Apocalyptic writings share one thing in common, their focus is on the present. The prophets first draw your attention to God’s actions in the past and ask you to draw the conclusion about what your current actions should be. Those actions will result in God’s favor or dire reprocussions. Wisdom literature accomplishes the same end using the collective experience of the ancestors to guide one’s current actions, always recommending continued righteous living as the better choice. Apocalyptic writing encourages the people to continue their faithfulness and patience during the present suffering. Perhaps none of these categories is adequate to describe Luke’s narrative, because one must always remember that Luke is a rhetorical historian. He uses those skills to make it easier to understand how divine history was read and understood, making several key points:

  • First, Luke clearly shows how the destruction of A.D. 70 is distinct from but related to the end. The two events should not be confused, but Jerusalem’s destruction, when it comes, will guarantee as well as display the end, since one event mirrors the other. Both are a part of God’s plan as events move toward the end.
  • Second, Jesus’ prophetic character is highlighted by this section. God is speaking through Jesus about unfolding events in the plan.
  • Third, the Jewish nation’s fate was clearly tied to its reaction to Jesus. The reader is not to question that the events Jesus describes will result from the nation’s failure to respond to him (19:41-44). In fact, if one were to ask why Jerusalem was being judged, Luke has given many reasons. It is filled with hypocrisy (11:37-54), has oppressed the poor (18:7; 20:47), has rejected Messiah (13:33-34; 20:13-18), has missed the day of visitation (19:44), has rejected the gospel (Acts 13:46-48; 18:5-6; 28:25-28) and has slain God’s Son (Luke 9:22; 18:31-33; 19:47; 20:14-19; 22:1-2, 52; 23:1-25).
  • Fourth, the passage offers reassurance to disciples that God will enable them to face persecution and deliver them from it, whether by giving them words to say in their own defense or by saving them after martyrdom.
  • Fifth, the call is to remain steadfast because God is in control.

So the discourse offers information and exhortations. It provides a general outline but not a detailed, dated calendar of future events. In effect, we are told:  “Rest assured, God’s plan is being fulfilled.”

Image credit: Image credit: Destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem by Francesco Hayez. Oil on canvas, 1867. Public Domain

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