Tuesday

26 June 2012

Luke 21:29-36

"Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away." (v. 33)

Background

Each of the Synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark and Luke) include a description of Jesus' dramatic teaching, shortly before his arrest, trial and crucifixion (Matthew 24:32-35; Mark 13:28-31). A common theme is that of judgement and the need to be watchful, so that the day of the Lord does not catch us unprepared. Jewish readers would have recognised this as apocalyptic, a familiar form of literature that looked towards God's turning upside down of the world as we know it and the dramatic fulfilment of God's kingdom. It often sounds like bad news, until we think of the good news it provided for those who were the victims of the current way of the world and felt they had nothing to lose.

By the time Luke wrote his Gospel (probably in the last 20 years of the first century AD) the great Jerusalem temple had been utterly destroyed by the Roman forces reoccupying the city after the Jewish rebellion of AD69-70. So Luke feels totally justified in portraying Jesus as the prophet who foretells the destruction of the temple, the terrible suffering that will accompany it and the kingdom of God that will replace it. If that prophecy has come true, Luke seems to suggest, we should take very seriously Jesus' words about final conflict and victory. Just as the sprouting of the fig tree is a sign that summer is on its way, so the conflicts and suffering of the world are a sign of the imminence of the kingdom.

Passages like this seem a world away from the 'gentle Jesus' we often prefer to portray. But this is a Jesus who confronts the grim reality of an often sinful and violent world and urges us not be complacent about it. Instead, we are to be on constant alert, not succumbing to its twisted value systems, but keeping as close as we can to the words and example that Jesus has given us.

To Ponder

Is the prospect of a dramatic shake-up of the world as we know it good news or bad news for you? Why?

How do you react to the prophetic Jesus who warns about the destructive path the world is on?

What do you need to do if you are to be better prepared for the kingdom of God?


Bible notes author

The Revd Dr Richard Clutterbuck

Richard Clutterbuck is a minister of the Methodist Church in Britain but since 2004 has served the Irish Methodist Church as principal of Edgehill Theological College in Belfast. His ministry has been divided between pastoral appointments in North London and theological education in the South Pacific (Tonga), Britain and Ireland.