“By your endurance you will gain your souls”

Luke 21:5-19 (Psalm 98, 2 Thessalonians 3:6-13)

Four Roman emperors in a single year (69AD). An earthquake in Philippi (Acts 16:26). A severe and wide-spread famine (Acts 11:28). And a description – by the Jewish historian Josephus – of a comet resembling a flaming sword streaking through the sky at the time of the destruction of the Temple (War 6.289).

These are not signs of the end of the world, but rather a progression of events leading up to the fall of Jerusalem and the destruction of its Temple in 70AD:

Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; there will be great earthquakes, and in various places famines and plagues; and there will be dreadful portents and great signs from heaven (Luke 21:10-11).

Luke is responding to the awe of the disciples as they look at the Temple, and to which before their very eyes, the finishing touches are being made. Herod the Great oversaw the refurbishment of the great Second Temple – itself the rebuild of Solomon’s Temple, begun after the return from the Babylonian Exile. At its core, this rebuild, or refurbishment, took only eighteen months, but the decorations and the construction of the outer courts was still ongoing at the time of Jesus.

When some were speaking about the temple, how it was adorned with beautiful stones and gifts dedicated to God, [Jesus] said, “As for these things that you see, the days will come when not one stone will be left upon another; all will be thrown down (vs. 5-6).

Imagine the disciples, watching the workmen putting the finishing touches to the Temple, and hearing that its days were numbered. Sic transit gloria mundi – thus passes the glory of the world.

Yet, look at the “signs” listed above, and notice that several are described (prophecy fulfilled?) in the Acts of the Apostles. The Book of Acts is Volume Two of the writings of Luke – the follow up to his Gospel. Acts serves as a history of the Early Church, following on from the death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus. So, in the midst of these signs of the end of the Temple, the early Church, and its leaders (Paul, for example) face persecution:

But before all this occurs, they will arrest you and persecute you; they will hand you over to synagogues and prisons, and you will be brought before kings and governors because of my name. This will give you an opportunity to testify. So make up your minds not to prepare your defense in advance; for I will give you words and a wisdom that none of your opponents will be able to withstand or contradict. You will be betrayed even by parents and brothers, by relatives and friends; and they will put some of you to death. You will be hated by all because of my name. But not a hair of your head will perish. By your endurance you will gain your souls (vs. 12-19).

Sure enough in Acts, Christians were arrested (Acts 4:3 etc.), handed over to the authorities (21:11), brought before governors (24-26), and given an opportunity to testify through the Spirit (6:10). Hatred and betrayal, along with divided families, are issues I’ve dealt with in previous Devotions – and all were very real issues faced by our Apostolic Era sisters and brothers. So, the events leading to the destruction of the Temple are mirrored in the trials and tribulations of the Early Church. Yet, Jesus assures them (and us!) that “By your endurance you will gain your souls” (vs. 19) – literally, “You will win your souls” – meaning, to acquire or procure real life.

Shalom,
 

Pastor Ken+