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Entries in Near-Far Fulfillment (1)


Jesus Reveals The Future

Luke 21:5-7.  This sermon was preached by Pastor Marty Bonner on October 4, 2015.

Today we begin looking at a passage that is often called the Olivet Discourse because it takes place on the Mt. of Olives, east of Jerusalem.  It is famous because Jesus prophesizes the destruction of Jerusalem and His Second Coming with a lot of details.  Since prophecy is speaking on behalf of God to men, it is not always prediction of things in the future.  However, in this passage we have a mother-lode of predictions about the future.  Now when I use the word prediction, I do not use it as it is used in our society today.  Fortune tellers, hedge-fund managers, politicians, or even scientists do their best to make predictions about the future.  However, it is important for us to recognize that it is the hallmark of God that He alone can accurately foretell the future.  God is not merely making a guess based upon his great knowledge.  Instead, all of space-time is His creation, and as such, it is all before Him at once.  Thus He sees the past, present, and future all at the same time.  Jesus predicted in that he spoke about events that would be before they happened.  He predicted his death, burial, and resurrection.  Here he adds to this his prediction that Jerusalem would be destroyed.  Such prophecies are intended to help us to know that He really was the Son of God.

The Temple Will Be Destroyed

It is important to recognize that Matthew and Mark both wrote down some of the discussions that occurred on the Mt. of Olives.  When Matthew 24, Mark 13, and Luke 21 are compared you come to realized that they each recorded some of the same things and yet did not give everything that was said.  It is in Matthew and Mark that we are told where this discussion takes place.  As they are leaving the temple, one of the disciples comments on the amazing beauty of the buildings at the temple.  Thus this does not seem to be a public declaration of the coming devastation.

The response of Jesus makes one thing clear: we often admire things that God does not.  The First Century AD Temple is not listed as one of the 7 wonders of the ancient world.  However, it was often noted to be an object of wonder for those who saw it for the first time.  Thus it would be no surprise for the disciples who were mostly from Galilee to be impressed with the temple.  The disciples couldn’t help but be impressed.  Yet, they were only seeing the surface and they were only seeing with the eyes of flesh.  It was the existence of the first temple that caused the Israelites before the Babylonian Exile to scoff at the notion that God would destroy Jerusalem.  It had become a kind of “lucky rabbit’s foot” to them.  They felt it was too important to God and too precious to destroy.  God is not enamored with things like we are.  He is not impressed with large stones, beautiful bronze, and Gold.  It is all easily replaced for Him.  Beauty often gets in the way of the purposes of God.  Thus the Temple and its sacrifices had become an ugly thing to God; a continual reminder that they fall short of covering the sins of men.

Jesus had mentioned a destruction of Jerusalem earlier that week as he approached Jerusalem in the “Triumphal Entry.”  Luke 19:41-44 says, “As he approached Jerusalem and saw the city, he wept over it and said, “If you, even you, had only known on this day what would bring you peace—but now it is hidden from your eyes.  The days will come upon you when your enemies will build an embankment against you and encircle you and hem you in on every side.  They will dash you to the ground, you and the children within your walls.  They will not leave one stone on another, because you did not recognize the time of God’s coming to you.”  The following days only emphasized the rejection of Jesus as God’s offer of peace to Israel.  Thus Jesus reminds them that the temple is doomed to be torn completely apart; not one stone will be left on another.  Of course this was done by the Roman legions in 70 AD.

In Matthew and Mark we learn that Jesus and his disciples go on to the Mt. of Olives which is across the Kidron Valley from the Temple.  Mark tells us that it was Peter, James, John, and Andrew who come to Jesus and quiz him further about his prediction of destruction.

They Question Jesus About The Future

Many of us would like to know the future.  In June of this year (2015) a woman claimed that Jesus spoke to her about major catastrophes coming to America, including economic collapse, rioting, famine, war, natural disasters, and martial law.  She said that trouble would begin in September of 2015.  Of course that month has come and gone.  Though many people suspect these things are on the horizon, she clearly was not talking with Jesus.  Yes, she may be whacky.  But all of us have a desire to hear about the future from Jesus.  What would you ask Jesus if he were here today?  Knowing the future is not all it is cracked up to be.  God tends to give us revelations that focus on the big picture with few details.  It leaves much to question.  What we find is that God gives us enough to encourage our faith, but not enough to relieve us of having to have faith.  There are just enough details so that we can confirm events as they happen or at least after the fact.  But not so much that it reads as a screen play.

Thus their first question is this: When will these things be?  The first question is exactly the same in each of the 3 gospels that record this event.  Though some time has transpired, Luke clearly ties this discussion to the earlier statement of Jerusalem’s destruction.  Thus “these things” is pointing back to the prediction of the temple’s destruction.  We should also bear in mind that some other discussions have most likely occurred as well.  Luke does not give the full context, but most likely, neither do Matthew and Mark.  So when will the temple be destroyed?  We will come back to this question.

The second question in Luke appears to ask about a sign that would warn them of the coming destruction of the temple.  However when we compare this to Matthew we find that the second question is a about more than the destruction of the temple.  So either Luke is simplifying the question, or he is only writing about that part.  We will talk more about this as we look at the answers Jesus gave (as Luke records).  Here is the second question in each gospel.

Luke 21:7, “what sign will there be when these things are about to take place?”

Mark 13:4, “what will be the sign when all these things will be fulfilled?”

Matthew 24:3, “what will be the sign of Your coming, and of the end of the age?”

Clearly they all agree that the second question sought a sign that they could look for.  But here we can see that they are thinking about more than the destruction of Jerusalem.  They are also thinking about the Coming of Jesus and the End of the Age.  Jesus had told them before that he would be leaving them for a while and then coming back.  So it makes sense they would wonder about this.  Also, the end of the age from the Jewish mindset simply meant the end of their current state of affairs; i.e. under the rule of the Gentile powers.  They looked forward to a Messianic Age in which the Gentile powers would be judged and the Messiah would rule over Israel and the world.

As Jesus came closer and closer to the cross, he revealed more and more regarding the coming Kingdom.  In fact, he taught that it would come in two phases.  Phase one is seen in Luke 17:20-37.  Here Jesus explains that it would not be a visible kingdom with borders, capitals, and armies.  In fact, Jesus as its king would actually be ruling by the Spirit from Heaven in the hearts of his followers.  This invisible phase would be obvious to those who were born again.  Phase 2, is the awaited revelation of the Son of Man.  We call this the Second Coming.  It refers to a time when Jesus will return visibly and physically to the earth as King of Kings in order to judge the nations and take up political rule.  A visible Kingdom will be set up at that time.  This was not all clear to the disciples.  Thus they most likely thought they were asking one simple question and that all of these things would be happening at the same time.  The Temple would be destroyed by the Gentiles, Christ would return and destroy the Gentile powers (thus ending the age of their dominion), and set up the Messianic Kingdom.  Of course now we know that they did not correctly understand.  So though Luke’s question seems to only focus on the Temple’s destruction, it is clear that the context includes more to this.

So, is the answer that Jesus gives only about 70 AD?  Some approach this passage as if it can only be about 70 AD.  To them the prophecies of Jesus were fulfilled in the past.  Others see all or part of this prophecy as pointing to things that are still future.  I won’t get into the terminology regarding these views, but suffice it to say, every prophecy that is given in the Bible begs the questions: What is this talking about, and did it happen already?  The answers to those questions generally put people into two camps: those who believe it has been fulfilled and those who think it has not (Past vs. Future).  In the next several weeks we are going to walk through this passage and talk about prophetic things.  In order to do so well, we need to look at two issues in the area of biblical prophecy.

Conflation in Prophecy

Any study of prophecy in the Old Testament that pointed to the coming of the Messiah, will show that the first coming and the second coming of Jesus are often put together in the same passage without a clear distinction made between them.  Thus they are conflated.  Let’s look at an example in Isaiah 9:6-7.

“For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder; and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, the Mighty God, the Everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace.  Of the increase of his government and peace there shall be no end, upon the throne of David, and upon his kingdom, to order it, and to establish it with judgment and with justice from henceforth even forever.”

Here we are told that a child will be born who will bear some amazing titles and who shall sit upon the throne of David with an increasing kingdom of justice and judgment forever.  It is clearly a messianic prophecy that points to the birth of Jesus.  Yet, there is no concept of a gap between his birth and his reigning forever on the throne of David.  Some deal with this by taking the wording as symbolic.  Christ would not literally sit on the throne of David, but he would symbolically rule in David’s place.  The problem with this is that passages in the New Testament call for a visible, physical return of Christ to a literal throne (especially Acts 1:11).  Thus it was not important for Old Testament believers to know all the details.  But rather, it was enough for them to know the purpose of God regardless of how it played out.  It should not be surprising to us that the Lord of prophecy who inspired the prophets in the Old Testament would prophesy similarly in the New Testament.  We should expect that some of the things Jesus reveals will not flow seamlessly.

Near and Far Fulfillment

This Isaiah passage brings up another issue.  Often things predicted by the prophets pointed to something that was going on in their day, but also at a later time.  It is sometimes called a double fulfillment of a prophecy, but this is misleading.  In Isaiah chapters 7-9 clearly portray Isaiah as telling King Ahaz that a son will be born and before that son can understand the difference between good and evil, the King of Syria (who had allied with the Northern Tribes to attack Jerusalem) would be gone.  The threat Ahaz feared would be neutralized.  Chapter 8 actually describes this child being born to the wife of Isaiah.  Within a matter of years the King of Assyria overwhelms the King of Syria and the threat is no more.  Yet, as you read the prophecies and fulfillments in Isaiah 7-9, you see much that doesn’t quite fit the events of those days.  Something else is being conflated with the child of Isaiah’s day.  The amazing titles were not used of Isaiah’s son.  In fact he is not called Immanuel, but rather Maher-Shalal-Chash-Baz, which means quick to the spoil and quick to the prey.  It would be easy to say that Isaiah “missed” on his prophecy.  But the truth is he is talking about something that is bigger than the things of his day.  The son of that day becomes a type or symbol of an even greater son who will be Immanuel, God with us.  Thus the prophecy has a fulfillment that is near in time and yet an even greater fulfillment that is far away in time.  Thus we will see some of these same elements in the Mt. of Olives Discussion.

Final Thoughts

God is more concerned that we understand Him and His overall purposes rather than every detail of prophecy.  In fact, the details that are given are not so that we can have everything figured out before it happens.  But rather, so that we can have our faith confirmed during events, or even after them.  They are meant to lock into place like a puzzle piece that didn’t seem to make sense until it was put in place.  This gives us the amazing joy of seeing God’s Word confirmed and our Faith encouraged.  Put your trust in the only One who knows what tomorrow holds, and that is Jesus.

Jesus Reveals Future Audio