“Signs of the End” (Luke 21:5-36)
Tomorrow night, if the sky is clear, you will be able to see what is called a “Supermoon.” This Supermoon is a full moon, but it will appear about 15% larger than average, because the moon will be at its closest point to the earth in 68 years, since 1948.
In the Holy Gospel for today, Jesus talks about signs of the end times. He says there will be “great signs from heaven.” He says, “There will be signs in sun and moon and stars.” So is this Supermoon coming tomorrow a sign that the end of the world is about to come upon us?
Well, no, not per se. I mean, the end could come upon us tomorrow–heck, it could come upon us later today–but the appearance of this Supermoon is not a sure indicator. The very fact that such a Supermoon occurred in 1948 and nothing happened shows that this type of phenomenon is not definitive. Remember a few years ago, there was a lot of talk about “Blood Moons” and how this meant that Jesus was about to come back right away. Well, it didn’t happen.
But while a Supermoon by itself is not a predictor of when the end will come and Jesus will return, we should not therefore conclude that the end is not coming. It is. Our Lord Jesus will return, in glory, to judge the living and the dead. That will happen. When it will happen, we don’t know. But that it will happen–we do know that, with certainty. And there will be signs. Indeed, there have been signs, all along. Jesus tells us about them in our text for today. And the point of the signs is for us to be ready for his return and to take courage in the present. Thus our theme this morning: “Signs of the End.”
Signs of the end. But which end? Jesus seems to be talking about two ends here in this chapter: one, the end of Jerusalem and the temple; the other, about the end of the world. But there is a connection between the two. For the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple, which occurred in the year 70, would serve as a perpetual warning and a microcosm, if you will, of the end of the world that is still to come. In both cases, the judgment comes against those who, in their stiff-necked unbelief, reject the only Savior sent from heaven. But also in both cases, Jesus alerts and encourages those who do trust in him to hold on and remain vigilant, to not be misled or terrified, and to not give up hope when you see all the bad things that are happening. And so this is a message for us today.
Jesus here is speaking to his disciples while they are in Jerusalem, during Holy Week, as they are leaving the temple, admiring how beautiful it is. But Jesus tells them, “As for these things that you see, the days will come when there will not be left here one stone upon another that will not be thrown down.” Whoa! This gets their attention, and they ask Jesus, “Teacher, when will these things be, and what will be the sign when these things are about to take place?”
So Jesus will prepare them for the coming destruction of Jerusalem, which some of them will live to see, about forty years later. And in this same discourse, our Lord also prepares us to remain steady and alert when we see signs of the world seemingly falling apart.
What are the signs that the end is coming? They are signs of a broken world, a world that doesn’t function as it ought, whether you’re talking about nature or politics or religion or whatever. Things are messed up and in serious need of fixing. And it’s going to continue like that until the end comes. So don’t despair! Don’t give up hope! Things may look bleak, and they are bleak for this world as we know it. The end is coming. But that’s because Jesus is coming again to do the fixing and to set everything right.
The signs of the end show us that indeed things are messed up pretty bad. Signs in nature. Signs in politics. Signs in religion. Let’s look at these signs.
The signs in nature include things like earthquakes and famines and pestilences. The world, the created order, isn’t working right. Disasters and calamities show that this is so. Ever since our first parents fell into sin and were driven out of the garden, a curse has come upon the earth. Thorns and thistles come up among the crops, and working the earth becomes more difficult. The earth shakes, and mountains explode. Floods and droughts, tornadoes and hurricanes, devastate the planet. This old earth is coming apart at the seams. It’s not going to last forever as it is. The Book of Romans says that creation itself is groaning as in the pangs of childbirth. And those labor pains may increase or subside in intensity and frequency, until the end comes. So don’t be alarmed. Jesus will come again and set everything right. The whole creation will be renewed and restored, better than ever, when Christ returns.
Signs in nature. Signs in politics. By that I mean, conflicts among the nations of this world. Jesus says we will hear of wars and tumults, but to not be terrified. Terrorism, as the term implies, would strike terror into our hearts. But we have a Savior who is greater than all the jihadists seeking to blow us up or behead us. This Savior, Jesus, speaks peace to our hearts. Whatever our enemies may attempt, they cannot cut us off from Christ. War will continue. “Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom.” But Jesus Christ is King of kings and Lord of lords. Don’t expect the world to suddenly get all better and peaceful, just because of this election or that. It’s never been that way, and it never will be. The chaos will continue until the coming of the Christ. But when he comes, peace will prevail at last.
Signs in nature. Signs in politics. Signs in religion. One is the presence of false teachers. The other is the persecution of the church. False teachers will come, Jesus says, and they will try to lead you astray. Don’t listen to them. “See that you are not led astray. For many will come in my name, saying, ‘I am he!’ and, ‘The time is at hand!’ Do not go after them.”
Friends, the devil is at work to pull you away from the faith. False teachers arise and get a hearing, because they tell people what their itching ears want to hear. They can sound so appealing. This is why you need to be thoroughly grounded in sound doctrine, so you can discern truth from error and not be led astray. There’s not going to be a time when there are no more false teachers, not in this life. So you need to be prepared to recognize and hold fast to the truth.
Another sign of the end times is the persecution of the church. We’re seeing it today. Whether the blood-red persecution of Christians in the Middle East or in Africa, or the dull-gray oppression of the church here in America, the enemies of the gospel are out to get us. They hate God, and thus they hate Christians. But don’t let that surprise you or shock you or cause you to slink back into a shell. Christ is with us. Persecution is nothing new. It takes different forms, sometimes it’s localized and sometimes more widespread, but the persecution of the church been going on since the beginning of the church. Jesus tells us, “You will be hated by all for my name’s sake. But not a hair of your head will perish.”
Why is that? Why will not a hair of your head perish? “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” Christ has won the victory over death and persecution and false teaching and wars and natural disasters. This is why you will not perish. Your life is tied to Christ. You believe in him. You are baptized in him. You trust in Christ. And rightly so. For Jesus has done everything you need so as not to fear those signs of the end.
Jesus has taken the sting out of death, for you, by his death on the cross. There Jesus won your forgiveness by shedding his holy blood on your behalf. This cleanses you from your sin. Now there is no more barrier between you and God. The wages of sin is death, but when God’s own Son took that death for you and declared the job complete, what is left to condemn you? Nothing. What is left to terrify you? Nothing. And Jesus’ resurrection tells you that you have nothing to fear. Christ is risen, and you will rise too. We have the sure hope of everlasting life, in a renewed and restored creation. So do not fear the signs of the end.
Indeed, these signs of the end are telling us that our Savior is on the way! “Straighten up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.” Think of the joy that lies before us. Come, Lord Jesus, come! Rescue and redeem your people! Set this world right! Give us the strength to endure all the calamities and catastrophes, all the upheaval and distress that is coming on this earth. Give us even joy in the midst of the ruins. Let your word, let your gospel of hope, go out from among us, and let our joy radiate to others.
Dear Christian friends, as you look around at our crazy world, you will see plenty of signs of the end. And heaven and earth as we know it will pass away. But the words of Jesus will never pass away. And Jesus assures us that we are his and that no one can snatch us out of his hand. Nothing can separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus. Signs of the end may abound and intensify, but these same signs point us ahead to the coming of our Lord. Christ is coming, and of his kingdom there will be no end.