What Does Jesus Say About His Coming?
Fourth in a Series of Six Messages
The Date Is Set
Jackson Snyder, March 8, 1995
loosely based on The End, by Conyers
Luke 13:23-24, 31-35
"When will Jesus return?" It's a question that's puzzled Christians for two millennia. Although we don't know the day or the hour precisely, we do know that we should be living in expectancy, as though he were returning today, tomorrow, or the next day. Having determined to live for him daily, we turn our attention to a second question, "Who will be saved?" As we survey our world, our answer may be "many" or "few" depending on how we understand salvation.
Jesus was asked that very question by his disciples, "Lord, are only a few people going to be saved?" And Jesus answers them immediately, but only indirectly:
"Enter through the narrow gate. Many will try, but will not be able to enter, for it will be too late. And when it is too late, they will stand outside and beg the gate be opened again. But the owner of the house will say, I don't know you. Go away. And you will weep and gnash your teeth when you see the saints of God gathered together in the house for the great banquet, but you yourself left outside." (Luke 13:23-24)
Jesus: An Uncommon Revolutionary
One of several prophetic events that Jesus is referring to when he speaks of "entering the narrow gate" is his "Triumphal Entry" into Jerusalem, where he is hailed by expectant crowds as the long-awaited Messiah and Lord. This "entry" fulfilled the ancient prophecy that the "Anointed King" would enter Jerusalem triumphantly by the East Gate of the city. When Jesus enters Jerusalem at his second coming, his triumph will be complete -- he will take his place on the throne of glory and rule the nations for 1,000 years with a rod of iron. But his entry in March of 33 AD was to be but a fleeting triumph -- mortal suffering and death was to come. However, for the time being, Jesus would be the revolutionary of the hour, bringing temporal hope of an eternal kingdom to those who followed him.
Jesus' began his last journey to Jerusalem from his homeland of Galilee, a hot-bed of nationalism and sedition against the forces of Rome, which occupied the whole of Israel. Jesus, though preaching a message of non-violence, was the people's candidate for the new "King of the Jews." The rulers of Israel, Romans puppets, wanted Jesus silenced in order to avoid a military encounter, and thus preserve their power to rule. Jesus was a dangerous nuisance. The Pharisees and Rulers wanted him solid gone.
These rulers expressed their sentiment toward Jesus in verse 13:"Leave this place and go somewhere else. Herod wants to kill you." (Luke 13:31 NIV)
These Pharisees were the conservative "lay leaders" of the Temple -- they constituted "the religious right." Whenever Jesus preached what they believed, they seemed to be for him; but whenever he varied from their doctrine, they were against him. It was they who really wanted Jesus out of the way, but the projected what they wanted on King Herod, who governed on behalf of Rome. Herod may or may not have wanted to kill Jesus -- we don't know -- but we do know that Herod was steeped in the occult, so he was very curious, foxy in fact, about Jesus' miraculous spiritual power.
Jesus replied to the Pharisees just as mysteriously as they had asked, addressing Herod through them.
"Go tell that fox (referring to Herod), 'I will drive out demons and heal people today and tomorrow, and on the third day I will reach my goal.' In any case, I must keep going today and tomorrow and the next day--for surely no prophet can die outside Jerusalem! (Luke 13:32-33)
In this answer Jesus describes a well-planned itinerary that he is meeting event by event, until he reaches his goal, or, as in the Greek, "until I am perfected" or "until my mission is accomplished." Jesus is on a tight schedule! His symbolic use of "today, tomorrow, and the next day" has a double
(1) his death and resurrection on the third day as his final destination, and
(2) the fulfillment of Daniel's prophecy: that the remainder of his course would be one of persecution and hardship.
He shall speak words against the Most High, shall wear out the holy ones of the Most High, and shall attempt to change the sacred seasons and the law; and they shall be given into his power for a time, two times, and half a time. Then the court shall sit in judgment, and his dominion shall be taken away, to be consumed and totally destroyed. (Dan 7:25-26 NRSV)
Herod would know exactly what Jesus meant when he said, "Today, tomorrow, and the next day." Herod would know that, after a time, times, and half a time, "The heavenly court will assemble, your kingdom will be taken away, and you'll be destroyed." Despite the wishes of Herod or the Pharisees, it is Jesus himself who determines when he'll go to Jerusalem to fulfill his mission, no matter what anyone else might try to force by setting dates or times. It's Jesus' choice! When circumstances are right, he'll come in power.
Even though Jesus knows he will suffer gravely, he doesn't mourn over himself, but over the people of Jerusalem whom he considers his "chicks":
"O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing!" (Luke 13:34)
Here the city of Jerusalem is symbolic of the whole people of Israel, chosen by God to be his chaste bride, a people who had, for centuries, been nurtured by the personal hand of a loving but just God, a "nothing" people who had been highly exalted from slavery to sanctity through no virtue of their own, but through God's favor only. Though exalted by God, "Jerusalem" was a people who had been rebellious and unfaithful and idolatrous and unloving and full of failure and corruption; a people who had murdered every other messenger of God who dared to come forth with words of reconciliation and shalom.
Yet now Jesus, with the eyes of eternity, looks to these people who will soon demand his death. He desires no vengeance. What he feels is indescribable compassion and mercy -- having the heart of El Shaddai, the Mother side of God, who so longed to bring her babies to her breast. But they stubbornly would not come. O, how he must of loved them! O how he must love us, the citizens of the New Jerusalem, though we be fraught with unloveliness, unfaithfulness, and selfishness! Jesus knew full well that few in Jerusalem would be spared the wrath of God that was to soon come - so few would be saved - for "the gate is narrow." With one sentence, Jesus spelled the fate of contemporary Jerusalem: "Look, your house is left to you desolate." (Luke 13:35) Jerusalem was to receive God's wrath, and nothing could change that, not even the love of Jesus. If you have ears to hear, make connections.
The Wrath of God
The "wrath of God" takes many forms, among them: devastating disease and plague, famine, drought, earthquake, meteor shower, fire, lethal weather. These are natural occurrences, natural defenses, that God has built into the creation so that creation might be able to deal judgment to humanity for our sad disregard for Nature. Although we still call such calamities "Acts of God," I believe that God seldom deliberately set Nature into motion against us, but Nature has been given the power to defend itself. No, it's not nice to fool Mother Nature.
But when God moves in a sovereign manner, God is more apt to use people. When a nation disregards God's laws, in time, God sends another, mightier nation to bring an end to the lawlessness. Even in our short lives, we have learned that nation succeeds nation, and it often happens as a result of God's wrath. Jesus knew that Jerusalem's acceptance or rejection of him would spell her fate. God cried rain and groaned thunder when his own people killed his son. But afterward, God got mad. It took an awful lot to bring that about, but the last straw was finally set upon the stack.
When Jesus and his disciples finally reached Jerusalem for the last time, Jesus told them what form God's wrath would take, and when it would fall.
"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. When you see Jerusalem being surrounded by armies, you will know that its desolation is near. Then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains. For this is the time of punishment in fulfillment of all that has been written. 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 Gentiles until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled. Truly, I say, this generation will not pass away till all has taken place." (Luke 21:6-32 excerpts)
Jesus' incredible prophecy, that "not one stone will be left on another" in Jerusalem, would be fulfilled, just as he said, within the generation of those living when he spoke the words. 38 years after Jesus' spoke these words, Jerusalem was penned-in by Roman armies. We have the whole story of the two-year siege and eventual fall of Jerusalem preserved in all its gory detail in the writings of the Jewish General Flavius Josephus, who, in the course of the siege of Israel, changed sides, and became the interpreter for the Roman General Titus, who finally destroyed the city. Josephus reports terrible carnage, with hundreds of thousands of people killed by the sword and a hundred thousand taken prisoner in one day! The city was set afire and destroyed, as was its temple and other important buildings. Jerusalem would not be the capitol of Israel again until modern times. If God could use locusts as in Joel to express his wrath, then he could use Romans even better.
Those Who Left Were Saved - Other Prophecies Fulfilled
Eusebius Pamphilus, an early Christian historian, relates that those who were followers of Jesus and who heeded Jesus' prophecy, fled the city in the nick of time to make their escape, and thus were preserved from this great outpouring of the wrath of God on Jerusalem. Those who received Jesus' message escaped the wrath. Friends, this is a historical fact. The Christians escaped!
And Jerusalem the city has been trampled under the feet of "the Gentiles" since 70 A.D. - the Romans, the Moslems, the Turks, the British, the Arabs - until the end of the time of the Gentiles, 1967, when Jerusalem once again became the property of the independent Jewish state of Israel - a gathering place for the homeless "chosen" who had been scattered all over the earth, all just as Jesus predicted. The end of the time of Gentiles and its restoration of Israel is probably the most astonishing of all of Jesus' prophecies -- correct in every detail -- earthshaking in significance. Jesus didn't speak riddles like Nostradamus, or in vague generalities of today's "psychic friends," but he spoke in specific detail unaltered and unalterable. "Though heaven and earth pass away, my words will never pass away."
Therefore, if Jesus saw the events of 33 to 1967, his prophetic word is significant to us today. It's 2001 now, 34 years after the restoration of Jerusalem, the next-to-last significant sign before the final installment of the wrath of God is once and for all poured out on the earth, culminating in Jesus' return to Jerusalem by way of the East gate -- the narrow gate. "I tell you," he says, "you will not see me again until you say, 'Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord';" a saying which, when interpreted through Psalm 118, points to that great time of suffering before Jesus' public return to Jerusalem as the Messiah. This is "The Great Tribulation." He will set things aright when he gets there, and forever "rule the nations with a rod of iron, and dash them to pieces like pottery."
Just as Jesus set out from Galilee for Jerusalem in 33 A.D., he is now setting out from Heaven bound for Jerusalem. The stage is set for his return. It may be "today, tomorrow, or the next day" as he warned - though it will be in his time - but it will certainly be "soon and very soon," and grievously unexpected. All Bible prophecies leading up to Jesus' coming to Jerusalem have either been fulfilled or are being fulfilled now, with the greatest of all being the restoration of Jerusalem to Israel in 1967.
May I remind you that it was exactly 40 years, one biblical generation, from the time Jesus prophesied the fall of Jerusalem until it happened. It has now been 34 years since the unification of Jerusalem under Israeli rule. He said in the conclusion to his prophecy, “This generation will live to see it all come to pass. There are only six years left in this generation.
If you have ears....