Signs and the Son – Thursday, 34th week in ordinary time – Luke 21:20-28
This is the third and final part of the apocalyptic tract in the Gospel of Luke. (Luke 21: 5-28) As elsewhere in apocalyptic literature, we find here references to the eschatological crises of persecution, famine and war, impending salvation and judgment, and exhortations to specific actions in the midst of suffering. There is a mixture here of two distinct prophecies of Jesus and the bringing together of two events: one of the destruction of Jerusalem by the Roman armies in 70 A.D; the other of the second coming of Christ at the end of the time. One happens within history, the other marks the end of history.
In 66 A.D. a Roman prefect attempted to seize money from the temple causing the Jews to revolt. The Romans acted to suppress the revolt but the Jews ambushed and defeated a Roman expeditionary force, killing 6,000 Roman soldiers. In 70 A.D. Titus brought 60,000 soldiers to Jerusalem and laid siege to it. They built a five-mile long barricade around Jerusalem. Many Jews fled to escape the city but the Romans crucified them to intimidate the population. According to one account they crucified up to 500 people a day. As the siege continued those inside the city carried the dead outside. The Romans appointed someone to count the number: it was 115,880.
Eventually the Romans built an earth ramp up to the top of the walls and used battering rams to break down the walls, and took the city. The temple was burned. It is believed that the gold inlay melted and seeped between the large stones. The Romans tore down the temple in order to retrieve the gold. They brought nearly 100,000 prisoners back to Rome and paraded them through the streets in a procession. In AD 82 they built a massive arch to honour Titus for his conquests which still exists in the Roman Forum behind the Capitoline museums. It has a carving on it of Romans soldiers carrying away the temple lamp stand.
Jesus foretold all of this and he made it clear that it would be an act of judgement by God. “When you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies, then know that its desolation has come near. Then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains, and let those who are inside the city depart, and let not those who are out in the country enter it, for these are days of vengeance, to fulfil all that is written.” ( Luke 21:20-22)
Jesus’ instructions are clear and the early Christians followed them! An early Christian scholar called Eusebius tells us that the entire Jerusalem church left Jerusalem before the siege started and moved to a town called Pella, and so did not suffer the fate that befell Jerusalem.
Essentially Jesus is warning us about what is to come. But most importantly he wants us to realize what it will take to prepare for what is to come. Destruction, death, and betrayal are coming, but hope is there in the midst of it all (21:18-19). Earthly trials and tribulations are portrayed as temporary, and vindication for God’s chosen ones as imminent. Their redemption, Jesus teaches his disciples, “is near” (Luke 21:28). Both suffering and comfort.
We are presented with a challenge in the present darkness of this pandemic. We may sing dirges and bemoan our situation; or we may rejoice in the knowledge that we are children of the Living God, and that we are conquerors through Jesus, the Son of God.