Commentary on Luke 21:5-19
The temple was beautiful. It had recently been refurbished by Herod the Great. And apparently, the work had been done very well. The rebuilding project had taken eighty years to complete and included new foundation walls through which Herod had significantly enlarged the temple. Sparing no expense, he had employed the most talented artisans to use the best materials for the project such as white marble that was up to sixty-seven feet long, twelve feet high and twelve feet wide. Blue, scarlet, and purple Babylonian tapestries made of fine linen formed a veil at the entrance.1 He had installed gold and silver-plated gates and gold-plated doors throughout.
People who were interacting with Jesus in the temple were admiring its stones and the gifts that had been dedicated to God when Jesus delivered horrible news: the temple would soon be completely destroyed. How could that be? Imagine their surprise upon hearing this news. Why was something so beautiful, and that had taken so long to create, about to be destroyed? However, though the news must have been shocking to them, Jesus’ followers did not ask him how he knew about the temple’s imminent demise. They only asked him when the destruction would happen. This exchange between Jesus and his followers attests to their wholehearted belief that Jesus was sent by God. Therefore, if Jesus said the temple was going to be destroyed, it was a done deal. They just wanted to know when to expect such an event.
While Jesus’ followers had unwavering faith in Him, Jesus did not want them to share that same unwavering faith in everyone who would come in His name. Some of them would be false prophets who would lead Jesus’ people astray. The preacher can remind the people that not everyone is who they claim to be. Though Jesus made this statement to help the people be wary of false prophets in particular, Jesus’ teaching can be applied to our relationships in general. Before Jesus ascended to heaven to sit at the right hand of God, he sent the Holy Spirit to be our guide. The Holy Spirit can help us not only discern whether some people are false prophets, it can help us be much more discerning in all of our relationships.
The preacher can also share that although the temple was indeed destroyed by the Romans in 70 A.D., neither Judaism nor Christianity was destroyed. The Spirit of God transcends buildings and structures. Both religions continued to grow and evolve over the centuries in new geographical locations, nations, and among people of many ethnicities and races. People can take heart that though Christianity seems to be declining in some denominations, through the Spirit and power of God, it will continue to live and grow in new forms and new places. Our task is to ask for discernment about what God wants us to do and then follow the guidance of the Holy Spirit to get it done.
Jesus told his followers that before the temple was destroyed, they would be arrested and persecuted. Those who chose to follow Christ could expect to be persecuted by both Jews and Romans. Some were persecuted by Jews because some Jews felt that by following Christ, who did not adhere to the strict letter of Law, they were being unfaithful to the faith. We have only to look at the story of the Apostle Paul as an example. In Acts 7 and 8 we can read about Saul (Paul’s name before his conversion). Saul persecuted Christians because he felt they were not following the Law.
Followers of Christ were also persecuted by the Romans. Though the Romans tolerated the beliefs, lifestyles and worship practices of Jews, they had antipathy towards Christians. They believed that followers of Christ were renegades who abandoned Judaism while also refusing to worship Roman gods.2 Some Christians in the early church went even further. Not only did they refuse to worship Roman gods, they also characterized Roman gods as non-existent or demonic. However, no actions were taken by the Roman government against religious groups until or unless formal accusations of wrongdoing were made by people within those communities who would carry out the prosecution, such as some Jewish leaders in the first century. For both the Romans and these Jewish leaders, issues of power and control were at stake when new religious sects challenged existing beliefs and practices.
Today, Christianity in its many forms is one of the world’s major religions. However, people are still persecuted for their Christian beliefs when those beliefs contradict the will of people in power. Even in the United States where there are millions of Christians, those who dare to speak truth to power can expect persecution. Jesus went on to say that his followers would be betrayed and hated by those closest to them when they acted upon their faith in His name. Today, this persecution can take many forms. For example, Martin Luther King and other leaders and participants in the Civil Rights movement were persecuted for speaking truth to power and daring to challenge the practices of segregation and racial discrimination of a nation that professed to be a land of freedom and opportunity for all. They were challenging the nation to not only live up to its own written commitments, but to also live into the teachings of Jesus Christ that so many in this nation professed then, and profess today, to serve.
King did his work in the name of Jesus. He truly believed that authentic Christian faith is about liberation of all of God’s people. Not all persecution leads to physical death. Sometimes, challenging the status quo can lead to being ostracized or marginalized. When we are being maligned, we can feel as if we have been abandoned by those we thought were our friends and allies. If and when we experience mistreatment because we are following the ways of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, we have only to remember that Jesus predicted it would happen. We can take heart that God will be with us even in our times of trial.
- Darrell Bock, Luke: Volume 2, 9:51-24:53, (Grand Rapids, Mi: Baker Academic, 1996), 1661-1665.
- C. G. Kruse, “Persecution” in Dictionary of New Testament Background, ed. Craig A. Evans, Stanley E. Porter (InterVarsity Press, 2000), 775-778.