“Rubble Under the King's Feet”

Categories: Tuesday Tidbits

The crowds hovered around Jesus questioning, marveling, hoping as they listened to Him debate and silence the chief priests, the scribes, and the Sadducees on the temple grounds. Jesus had come into their house and overturned their entire system (quite literally in one instance cf. Lk. 19:45-46). Fuming with rage and oozing with jealously the religious authorities and the leading men sought to detain and destroy Jesus but found no opportunity because of the great esteem He had among the people (Lk. 19:47-48).

Jesus continued to frustrate their efforts and demonstrate the folly of their faith, tied to a particular place, and failing to see God when He stared them in the face (Lk. 20:17). Having been interrogated with a barrage of questions by the authorities Jesus then countered with an interpretive riddle they could not answer (Lk. 20:41-44). The Christ would be the son of David, but he would be so much more than that. He was also David’s Lord. And God was raising him up to crush his enemies. That bit the religious authorities readily accepted, so long as the Christ’s enemies were also their enemies. Little did they realize that they were the ones who stood opposed to Him.

After confounding their minds, Jesus pressed on to condemn their hearts and their hands by pointing out how these men’s piety was really a pretense for their pride and a platform for their social and political gain (Lk. 20:45-47). In seeking to climb higher up the socio-economic ladder they stepped over and stepped on the most vulnerable of society, namely the widows. It is in this moment that Jesus turned and saw through the dust and the crowds someone that no one paid attention to. A widowed woman, who had nothing more than two pennies to rub together. She dropped both into the offering box at the temple, their sound no more discernible than their purchasing power. Meanwhile, many rich men were pouring in bags fulls of coins of great value, clanging loudly as they rattled in. ‘Now these contributions were actually worth something’ some thought as they marveled at the Temple’s grandeur, ‘look what beauty and bounty these can buy’ (Lk. 21:1-5).

They were missing the point. Where they saw great acts of faith, Jesus saw greed. Where they observed piety, Jesus pointed out pride. What they called religiosity, Jesus called robbery (Lk. 19:46). His driving the merchants out of the temple and overturning of their tables had been a foreshadowing, a foreboding portent of a greater upheaval. There would come a day when every one of these magnificent and majestic stones at which the crowd marveled would be overturned (Lk. 21:6). God would not abide their hypocrisy and injustice anymore. The religious elite who had stepped on the backs of widows to attain their positions of power would soon find themselves under the feet of the Christ (Lk. 20:42-43). Their house would be destroyed.

This was perhaps the most scandalous thing that Jesus had said to this point, but the disciples were starting to understand it. They could now see through the thin veil the leaders had pulled over the eyes. ‘When would these things be?’ they asked, ‘and what signs should we be looking for?”

Here is where we need to begin to watch the time markers that punctuate this text. Jesus warns that there will be many who say that the time is near, and rumors of war will excite their ears and terrify their hearts. In other words, ‘the world is going carry on as it always has, but you carry on your way, continue in your business, complete your task. The end is not yet.’ First, the disciples must bear witness about Jesus while being turned over by friends and family, rejected by those who continued to remain obstinate in their rebellion. As they faced the same rejection as their Christ to which they testified, the cup of wrath was being filled up against the leaders in Jerusalem and all aligned with them. Given ample opportunity to repent, and remaining as rebellious as ever Jerusalem would soon find themselves surrounded by enemies, ready to be trampled underfoot (Lk. 21:20-24, cp. 20:42-43).

Up to this point in the story, we remain pretty confident that we get the gist of what is being said, but here things start to take a turn, and questions and confusion abound. Jesus begins to use cosmic language and apocalyptic imagery and thus we might begin to think that He has shifted from the destruction of Jerusalem to another topic entirely. He hasn’t. This language, while exciting and novel to us was the way that the ancients would’ve expressed a major change in world orders, the rising up of new kings, or the overthrow of powerful kingdoms. We hear this language and are prone to think of THE end of the world at the end of history, when in fact the Bible uses this sort of language to describe events that occur within history that while significant, are something less than the final end of the entire world. Read the oracle of judgment against Babylon in Isaiah 13. Nations rise up, the sound of tumults are heard, God is purposing to destroy “the whole earth,” the stars, the sun, and the moon all turn dark, the heavens and the earth tremble and “the world” is punished for its evil. That Jesus picks up on this language here prepares us for the possibility that something less than the end of the world might be in view.

However, we face another hurdle at this point, because Jesus begins talking about the coming of the Son of Man with the clouds. Surely this is a reference to the second coming and the end of the world, right?! This comes straight from Daniel 7 where Daniel sees a vision of “one like a son of man” coming with the clouds approaching the “Ancient of Days”, defeating the beasts which represent the enemy nations, and being given an every lasting reign that would never be destroyed. At base, it is a text about the king reigning over His enemies. Now, like the cat who hides under the chair with his tail sticking out, hopefully, some of what is hidden is starting to become obvious. Already, Jesus has referenced Him sitting enthroned over His enemies (Lk. 21:42-43). The question is when would this happen? Like the cat’s tail sticking out, we see a glimpse of what will ultimately take place. This is already beginning in the events of Jesus’ day as He silences His enemies. Continuing to follow the time markers in Luke 21, Jesus says to His disciples that these are signs that they will observe. The king will reign over His enemies in their lifetime, their time of redemption is near (Lk. 21:28)!

Jesus drives this point home by telling a parable about trees, leaves, and fruit. When the leaves begin to sprout, it is evidence of something coming to fruition. So too when the disciples faced the persecution, bore testimony to Jesus, and eventually saw the armies surrounding Jerusalem they would know that the time was near, the kingdom was at hand, the Son of Man was at work in defeating His enemies. All of these things would happen before that present generation passed away (Lk. 21:32). The real scandal in all of this was that the Son of Man would come to destroy not Nineveh, Babylon, Athens, or Rome, but that He would come on this occasion to destroy Jerusalem, the home of the Temple, the height of the Jewish culture and religion.

So this text is not about the final end of the world, at least not primarily or directly. It is about the destruction of Jerusalem, cast in apocalyptic language, as with many previous judgments and this would happen during the lifetime of Jesus’ disciples. Derivatively, however, it foreshadows, as all judgment scenes do, the final judgment for which we must all be ready. Let us “stay awake at all times, praying that [we] may have the strength to escape [the judgment] and to stand before the Son of Man” (Lk. 21:36).