In Part 2 of “How Close Are We”, we reviewed specifically what it is that we’re close to – the Rapture. But the disciples were 2,000 years closer to something else: the destruction of ancient Israel as a nation and of Jerusalem, and the “Diaspora”, the scattering of the surviving Jews into “all nations”. Jesus warned them about this approaching horror and gave instructions about what to do when it approached. This can be confusing to those looking for information about our future in the 21st century. Don’t be embarrassed if you’re confused. It was confusing to the disciples too. They were still expecting King Jesus to set up His Kingdom within their lifetimes. It confused me too at first.
God has a habit of being confusing about the timing of events. He has reasons for this.
“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.” We dealt with this partially in Part 1 of this series. I have a really fun list of current famines and pestilences if you want to read that. (Please say yes; I spent a couple of hours documenting it. 😀 )
Luke 21:12-19 says, “But before all this, they will seize you and persecute you. They will hand you over to synagogues and put you in prison, 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 and 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.”
The words “before all this” tell us that now Jesus is talking to Jews, especially His disciples, about events that have to do only with Israel, which they were going to live through. Verses 20-24 complete that warning:
“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, 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 Gentiles until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled.”
After verse 24, there is a 2,000+ year gap before verse 25, because Luke is recording only the parts of this discourse by Jesus that pertain to the Jews. For 2,000 years, the Jewish nation doesn’t even exist. When Jerusalem is destroyed and the Diaspora begins, Israel is no longer the primary means by which God sends His Word out to the world. Gentiles take over the mission of world evangelism.
At this point, Matthew‘s account in Matthew 24:10-14 adds a partial description of the time near the end of the time of the Gentiles: “And then many will fall away and betray one another and hate one another. And many false prophets will arise and lead many astray. And because lawlessness will be increased, the love of many will grow cold. But the one who endures to the end will be saved. And this gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.”
Lawlessness, false “prophets” leading people astray, stone-cold hearts – those are some of the signs of the nearness of the Rapture.
However, after the Rapture, when “the Body of Christ”, the capital-C Church, is removed from earth by the Rapture and 144,000 Jews are sealed by God as His special evangelists (Revelation 7:3-8) God again begins to deal with the world primarily through Jews who have come to believe that Jesus is the promised Jewish Messiah. That period of time is also known as “the Great Tribulation”. That is where verses 25-33 pick up the narrative:
“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 powers of the heavens 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. 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.”
This is clearly not describing Christ’s return for the Church because of the words “the Kingdom of God is near.” Those words never refer to the Rapture, but always to either the Millennial Kingdom of Christ on earth or God’s eternal Kingdom after this earth is replaced by the New Heavens and the New Earth”.
Verses 34-36 are a warning for all believers of all ages, but especially for those living during the Great Tribulation:
“Be careful, or your hearts will be weighed down with carousing, drunkenness and the anxieties of life, and that day will close on you suddenly. For it will come on all those who live on the face of the whole earth. Be always on the watch, and pray that you may be able to escape all that is about to happen, and that you may be able to stand before the Son of Man.”
The disciples were close to the destruction of Jerusalem and their nation. We are close to the Rapture, although even American Christians may find ourselves being hated, betrayed, horribly abused and killed before the Rapture comes. And after the deadly Great Tribulation, every one who is not a believer in Jesus faces the “Great White Throne” judgment of Revelation 20:11-15.
But those who are believers in Jesus will begin eternal life, and the description of that life in Revelation chapter 21 is enough to encourage every heart.