By Herb Montgomery
Note: This week we are looking at the seventh of the eight final prophecies of the nonviolent Jesus concerning the two fates that lay before Jerusalem. In each prophecy up to this point, we have seen Jesus laying out two potential paths, each having its own outcome, either life in a world made new, or annihilation. In this part, we will see that this is the final time Jesus will lay out these two contingent outcomes. In this seventh prophecy, he will do so in greater detail than he has in any prophecy up to this point. This will be the final time. His eighth prophecy, which we will look at next post, will be given while he is actually carrying his cross to Golgotha. In that moment, he will only give a warning of what is coming, for at that stage, to all appearances, Jerusalem has rejected the way of nonviolence. They have chosen a militaristic messiah instead of Jesus, a nonviolent one. But we will get to that in part 8. For now, let’s dive in.
“Some of his disciples were remarking about how the temple was adorned with beautiful stones and with gifts dedicated to God. But Jesus said, “As for what you see here, the time will come when not one stone will be left on another; every one of them will be thrown down.” “Teacher,” they asked, “when will these things happen? And what will be the sign that they are about to take place?” He replied: “Watch out that you are not deceived. For many will come in my name, claiming, ‘I am he,’ and, ‘The time is near.’ Do not follow them. When you hear of wars and uprisings, do not be frightened. These things must happen first, but the end will not come right away.” (Luke 21.5-9)
The disciples are remarking about the beauty of the temple, Jesus warns of the temple’s destruction, and then the people ask how they will know when this is about to happen.
What is missed by many is that the title used by the questioners for Jesus is “Teacher.” The Greek word here is didaskale. In the book of Luke, this title is never used by the disciples when addressing Jesus. It is used 11 times in the book of Luke, and in each instance it is used by the people—never by Jesus’s disciples.
As he did in the fifth prophecy, Jesus responds by warning the people not to follow false militaristic messiahs (see part 5) placing their hope in violently overpowering Rome. Stating that these violent false messiahs will come, Jesus offers the people another path; a path of hope.
What Jesus lays out next are two possible futures. In the first, Jesus describes what the future will look like if Jerusalem should, in this final hour, turn and follow Jesus’s teachings. In the second, he describes what the future will look like if she [Jerusalem] does not.
“Then he said to them:“Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be great earthquakes, famines and pestilences in various places, and fearful events and great signs from heaven. But before all this, they will lay hands on you and persecute you. They will deliver you to synagogues and prisons, and you will be brought before kings and governors, and all on account of my name. And so you will bear testimony to me. But make up your mind not to worry beforehand how you will defend yourselves. For I will give you words and wisdom that none of your adversaries will be able to resist or contradict. You will be betrayed even by parents, brothers, sisters, relatives and friends, and they will put some of you to death. Everyone will hate you because of me. But not a hair of your head will perish. Stand firm, and you will win life.” (Luke 21.10-19)
Jesus initially lays out the great cosmic signs that would accompany the coming of his Kingdom, but he is doing so as if it would happen through Jerusalem, as if Jerusalem would still in the end embrace Jesus and be his conduit of an enemy-loving revolution.
The context of this whole section is vital. Luke has couched this seventh prophecy within a time of Jesus’s ministry where the people (the ones asking the questions here) are actually receiving and following Jesus as their messiah. Just before this passage, Luke is careful to point out the positive response of the people after Jesus’s behavior at the temple:
“Every day he was teaching at the temple. But the chief priests, the teachers of the law and the leaders among the people were trying to kill him. Yet they could not find any way to do it, because all the people hung on his words” (Luke 19.47-48).
And just afterward, Luke is quick to remind us:
“Each day Jesus was teaching at the temple, and each evening he went out to spend the night on the hill called the Mount of Olives, and all the people came early in the morning to hear him at the temple” (Luke 21.37-38).
The picture we get from Luke is that this was a time in Jesus’s ministry when it looked as if Jerusalem might be turning the corner and actually beginning to embrace this “narrow way” of enemy love that Jesus was offering the people. According to Luke, Jesus is speaking here to a very large, supportive audience. Those who are presently surrounding Jesus are farmers forced by taxes and debt to become day laborers. They are also the destitute and the starving who have been drawn to Jesus given his promise that his Kingdom would restructure society in their favor. (See Luke 6.20-26.)
Jerusalem, at this time, was a large center of poverty, where streets were lined with “beggars.” A significant section of the population of Jerusalem lived chiefly on charity. Jesus’s words gave this crowd hope! Therefore, Jesus’s seventh prophecy includes what a future would look like in which Jerusalem would not be annihilated by Rome, but instead would be the avenue through which Jesus’s Kingdom is established once again on Earth as it is in Heaven.
Jesus speaks of the persecution, arrest, and imprisonment this nonviolent revolution/movement, growing out of Jerusalem, would encounter. Yet God would use all of this for Jerusalem to “bear testimony.” Before the great cosmic “signs” that would accompany the coming of Jesus’s kingdom, Jesus lays out the plan for the healing of the world from the self-destructive way of violence through the Jewish followers of Jesus embracing their own crosses of nonviolent noncooperation. Jerusalem, if she would in this late hour follow Jesus, would be brought before the judges of the Roman Empire to give their testimony. (Although Jerusalem ended up rejecting Jesus and therefore not experiencing this, we do see this is exactly what happened with the Apostles who actually did embrace this movement that began in the nonviolent teachings of Jesus.)
Yes, even at the hands of loved ones Jerusalem could expect that many would be put to death, losing their lives in this revolution, but they would not perish permanently. No, though they did not fully understand, Jesus was saying that even if they lost their lives for the Kingdom, their lives would be given back to them. They would find life given back to them, not in a world as it had been, but in a whole new world, renewed, restored, healed, once again under the reign of the nonviolent Christ. Here, Jesus was offering, as an alternative to Jerusalem’s destruction, a transforming nonviolent movement that would turn Jerusalem and even the entire world around. It is well worth noting that even in this, Jesus is emphasizing the way of the cross (both his and his followers’) as the means of transformation.
Then Jesus quickly warns of another possible outcome if Jerusalem should end up rejecting Jesus. Jerusalem’s fate was on the edge of the blade during this final week of Jesus’ life. His Kingdom could come through them if they embraced his way of nonviolent enemy love. But if Jerusalem did, in the end, choose to remain on their path of violent, eye-for-an-eye, punitive retribution toward the Romans, Jesus is quick to warn of Jerusalem’s possible annihilation and the coming of the “times of the Nations”:
“When you see Jerusalem being surrounded by armies, you will know that its DESOLATION [rather then restoration] is near. THEN let those who are in Judea FLEE to the mountains, let those in the city get out, and let those in the country not enter the city. For this is the time of punishment in fulfillment of all that has been written. How dreadful it will be in those days for pregnant women and nursing mothers! There will be great distress in the land and wrath against this people. THEY WILL FALL BY THE SWORD AND WILL BE TAKEN AS PRISONERS TO ALL THE NATIONS. JERUSALEM WILL BE TRAMPLED ON BY THE NATIONS UNTIL THE TIMES OF THE NATIONS ARE FULFILLED.” (Luke 21.20-24, emphasis added.)
But this next section is the best part of Jesus’s seventh prophecy. Even if Jerusalem should be annihilated, even if the nations wiped her out, Jesus’s Kingdom would still come. The nonviolent reign of Christ would still ultimately triumph even if Jerusalem and the temple should be no more.
Jesus is saying that the Kingdom could come through Jerusalem, if she so chose. Yet even if she rejected this Kingdom of nonviolent, enemy love, she would be destroyed by her enemies, and the Kingdom would still come. If Jerusalem chose the way of annihilation, the “times of the Nations” would then ensue. But even given this worst-case scenario, the “times of the Nations” would also have their limits. The prophecies of the Son of Man would be fulfilled: “He was given authority, glory and sovereign power; all nations and peoples of every language worshipped him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion” (Daniel 7.14).
Jesus describes the coming of his Kingdom if rejection of Jesus, Jerusalem’s destruction, and the victory of the Nations (i.e. “the times of the Nations”) should be the path Jerusalem would choose.
“There will be signs in the sun, moon and stars. On the earth, NATIONS will be in anguish and perplexity at the roaring and tossing of the sea. People will faint from terror, apprehensive of what is coming on the world, for the heavenly bodies will be shaken. At that time THEY will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory. When these things begin to take place, stand up and lift up your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.” He told them this parable: “Look at the fig tree and all the trees. When they sprout leaves, you can see for yourselves and know that summer is near. Even so, when you see these things happening, you know that the kingdom of God is near” (Luke 21.25-32, emphasis added).
The imagery of the sea and the waves, in the culture to which Jesus was speaking, had long been used to refer to the Gentile world:
“Woe to the many nations that rage! They rage like the raging sea! Woe to the peoples who roar—they roar like the roaring of great waters!” (Isaiah 17.12).
“Reach down your hand from on high; deliver me and rescue me from the mighty waters, from the hands of foreigners” (Psalms 144.7).
John, too, uses this imagery for the times of the Nations in his Apocalypse:
“Then the angel said to me, ‘The waters you saw, where the prostitute sits, are peoples, multitudes, nations and languages’” (Revelation 17.15).
The heavenly bodies were identified by the Jewish people with the gods of Greco-Roman religion and regarded by them as “the powers” which presided over the pagan nations.
“In that day the LORD will punish the powers in the heavens above and the kings on the earth below” (Isaiah 24.21).
“Come near, you nations, and listen; pay attention, you peoples! Let the earth hear, and all that is in it, the world, and all that comes out of it! The LORD is angry with all nations; his wrath is on all their armies. He will totally destroy them, he will give them over to slaughter . . . All the stars in the sky will be dissolved and the heavens rolled up like a scroll; all the starry host will fall” (Isaiah 34.1-4, see also Ephesians 6.12).
What Jesus is explaining in the passage here from Luke is that even if Jerusalem falls to Rome, there is nothing permanent in Gentile domination. In the end, the reign of the nonviolent Christ will be restored. Jerusalem could be a significant part of that, or she could become a stepping stone herself, in her destruction, toward that end. Ultimately, all nations, including Jerusalem, would be judged in history from the standpoint of a new, nonviolent humanity centered on Christ.
The idea that the path of violence would end in destruction was not only for the Jews. Unless “the nations” would turn and be transformed, the nations too would destroy themselves by their violence, each in turn, until Christ’s Kingdom is the last Kingdom standing. (This is the mustard seed prophecy in which the Kingdom of Christ is growing subversively all while “nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom” till the last Kingdom standing is the Christ’s. (See Luke 13.19, Revelation 11.15)
Yet, even this second option had contingencies. Even if Jerusalem did reject and crucify Jesus, even then, she was not beyond repenting still, turning from violence and embracing Jesus’s upside-down kingdom in which the poor and suffering are given first place and in which we love our enemies:
“He told them, ‘This is what is written: The Messiah will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, and repentance for the forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name TO ALL NATIONS, beginning at Jerusalem’” (Luke 24.46-47).
If Jerusalem should reject and crucify Jesus, she would be no different from any other nation, but would still be called to submit to the nonviolent reign of Jesus and His Kingdom, on Earth as it is in Heaven.
What we see Jesus doing here is describing a revolution, an alternative to destruction. Every generation faces these inflexible alternatives: violence and annihilation, or nonviolent, enemy-embracing, enemy-forgiving love, and thus eternal life in a world made new. Transformation or annihilation—these are the inflexible alternatives Jesus sets before us. These are the events, the alternatives, that the “generation” Jesus was speaking to that day would see transpire before them.
Which path would they choose?
“Truly I tell you, this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away.” (Luke 21.33)
When will the nonviolent, enemy-embracing Kingdom of God come for our generation? It comes right now. Our choice right now, globally, is the same as was Jerusalem’s. It is a choice between the inflexible alternatives, as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. also said, of “nonviolence or nonexistence.” Our generation too will choose either the nonviolent Kingdom that Jesus told us is within our power, thereby bringing healing to the world, our we will choose the horrific alternative of annihilation. “Truly I tell you, this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened.”
I close this look at Jesus’s seventh prophecy with the hope that is found in the following passages. Hoping against hope that it will give you, dear reader, the courage to believe in the healing power of Jesus’s Kingdom of nonviolent, enemy forgiveness and love as well.
Our world doesn’t have to end in annihilation, but our world must end, and a new world begin. Either way, the nonviolent reign of Christ must—and will—come. Will we be a part of that revolution, or as in Jerusalem, will it pass us by, leaving us to our own demise? I still hold out hope:
“He was given authority, glory and sovereign power; ALL NATIONS and peoples of every language worshipped him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that will not pass away, and his kingdom is one that will never be destroyed.” (Daniel 7.14)
“Who will not fear you, Lord, and bring glory to your name? For you alone are holy. ALL NATIONS will come and worship before you, for your righteous acts have been revealed.” (Revelation 15.4)
“THE NATIONS will walk by its light, and THE KINGS OF THE EARTH will bring their splendor into it.” (Revelation 21.24)
“On each side of the river stood the tree of life, bearing twelve crops of fruit, yielding its fruit every month. And the leaves of the tree are for THE HEALING OF THE NATIONS.” (Revelation 22.2)
The nonviolent revolution, the enemy-embracing Kingdom, starts now! Till the only world that remains is a world where this love reigns.
Our Lord has come! Let us follow the nonviolent Lamb.