Proper 28 • Luke 21:5–28 • November 13, 2016
By David Adams
The Text as Text
The text of this account in Luke’s gospel is well-attested, and there is no variant that is so problematic as to demand serious consideration. In v. 19 the future tense κτησεσθε occurs in many manuscripts in place of the the eclectic text’s aorist κτήσασθε. It is thought more likely that the future arose as a scribal accommodation to the tense of the surrounding verbs. Rarely in the NT, the aorist is used to characterize an act which is valid for all times, and such may be the use here. Most English translations nevertheless render this verb as if it were a future tense. Otherwise the translation is relatively straightforward.
The Text as Literature
The eschatological discourse stands at the end of the section of Luke’s gospel that recounts the ministry of Jesus in Jerusalem, beginning with 19:28, the bulk of which is centered on the teaching of Jesus in the temple. It is followed immediately by the passion narrative, beginning with the account of the Last Supper.
The discourse begins when Jesus hears his followers discussing the impressive appearance of the temple. This would have been quite a natural response to looking at Herod’s temple, which was not only opulently decorated but was also the largest religious structure in the world at the time. When Jesus tells them of the coming destruction of the temple they respond with the obvious question: when will this happen?
The remainder of the passage is an extended speech by Jesus. Jesus’s response to the question goes far beyond the question itself. Jesus warns his followers about a number of things that will happen before the end: the coming of those who will teach falsely in his name (21:8); rumors of coming wars between nations (21:9–10); a variety of natural disasters (21:11); persecution leading to an opportunity to bear witness to Jesus (21:12– 15); betrayal by family and friends (21:16); the hatred of all around them (21:17–19); the siege and destruction of Jerusalem at the hands of gentiles (21:20–24—the language of this section is particularly redolent of Old Testament motifs describing the destruction of cities); and the disruption of the cosmic order (21:25–26—this employs the language of chaos and the undoing of creation found in the Old Testament). Then, Jesus tells them, the Son of Man will come with power and glory (27:28).
The Text as Theology
Jesus responds to their question by making two related points: First, he tells his disciples to be prepared to face what is to come. There is no sugar-coating here. The world that hated Jesus will hate his disciples. The whole history of the church will be a history of tribulation and suffering. In order to stand firm in the day of trial the disciples will need to be prepared.
The second point made by Jesus is that all of the hardship and suffering to come should not drive his followers to despair. He will not abandon them, but will give them wisdom to witness for him when the hour comes (21:15) and will preserve them in the midst of suffering (21:18–19).
These two points come together in the “surprise ending” of the discourse: “Now when these things begin to take place, straighten up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near” (21:28). It is ultimately the certainty of their redemption in the Son of Man who will come in glory that will be the source of their strength and comfort as they face the hardships to come.
Proclaiming the Text
“Be Prepared . . . But Not Afraid”
The central theme of a sermon on this text will draw upon the “surprise ending” of Jesus’s discourse: faith in Christ and the certain hope of our redemption enables the Christian to be prepared to face the suffering to come without giving way to fear and despair. The text provides an opportunity to employ rhetorical skill in building up the picture of the suffering of the church, including examples of the many ways that these things are fulfilled in our age. The skilled preacher can re-create the anxiety that the disciples of Jesus must have experienced when they heard this discourse before the “twist” that all of this tribulation will be the sign for us to “straighten up and raise your heads,” because through faith in Christ we are certain that our redemption is drawing near.