Do Not Follow Them

Ordinary 33C

Luke 21: 5 19

Introduction

This reflection brings the three year cycle of meditations on the Gospels almost to its close. The next is a finale, a celebration of the true kingship of Jesus Christ.

Our reading takes us back to when our Lord was teaching in the Temple and was challenged by a group of self-assured Sadducees with the absurd case of a woman marrying seven husbands who all pre-deceased her. After being praised by some Pharisees for outflanking his opponents, Jesus warns his disciples never to put on religious airs or take on sanctimonious affectations. There was enough of that around already. He then focussed on a widow who donated to the Temple Treasury fund for the poor all that she had to live on. With that he implied his disciples would need to try hard to emulate her wonderful generosity and true piety.

Some Notes on the Text

Verse 5

During a lull in our Lord's "on site" commentary of what was happening around them, some of his disciples could not help remarking how staggeringly beautiful the Temple was looking. This was hardly surprising as it was widely held to be one of the great wonders of the world. The Jewish historian Josephus (born around A D 37) in his book "The Jewish War" (written about A D 73) gave the following description of the Temple:

"The whole of the outer works of the temple was in the highest degree worthy of admiration; for it was completely covered with gold plates, which, when the sun was shining on them, glittered so dazzlingly that they blinded the eyes of the beholders not less than when one gazed at the sun's rays themselves. And on the other sides, where there was no gold, the blocks of marble were of such a pure white that to strangers who had never previously seen them (from a distance) they looked like a mountain of snow."

Jewish tradition was based on faithful obedience to God's specifications together with a generous interpretation of standards required. In the case of the Temple, this meant nothing was too good for God. Much of Christianity continued to build beautiful places of worship in a likeminded desire to give the best back to God. (Some of Christianity's oldest churches going back to the Roman Emperor Constantine are still used today for their exact original purpose.)

Verse 6

In response to his disciples' comments our Lord makes a chilling statement: "You may admire the Temple now, but the time will come when it will be totally destroyed."

Verse 7

"When?" gasped the disciples, "and what warning signs will we be able to see?"

The disciples of Jesus, quite naturally, were applying our Lord's words to their situation. But his answer really pointed forwards to cover a vast age of unjust suffering and persecution which his Church would need to undergo and navigate carefully if it would keep true to its mission.

The fact that they asked for a sign indicated:

a) they realised this must be due to divine intervention;

b) they were taking it seriously.

Verse 8

Their sincere response brought Jesus to declare his first priority:

"Watch out that you are not deceived, for many will come in my name, claiming, 'I am he', and, 'The time is near.' DO NOT FOLLOW THEM!"

The church has always been vulnerable to hijacking by groups with their own agendas. It was as vulnerable then as it is now, to be misled by self-appointed, self-assured and self-centred messiahs. This is our Lord's greatest fear and he voices it first for emphasis.

Verses 9 17

Jesus lists a number of events which will signal the end of the era. These are NOT in chronological order; nor do they enable us to work out an "apocalyptic timetable"! Those who make constant use of such a threat to manipulate the less academic are no better than "religious bullies".

We note in verses 14 and 15 Jesus demanded that his followers were not to pre-fabricate responses for their opponents. He does NOT mean that his followers should not be prepared. Indeed, they must carry on studying the Scriptures and improving their understanding of them. What he means is that in the hour of true crisis, Jesus himself will inspire them for bold and incontrovertible witness.

Blaiklock wrote: "The words are not meant to excuse those who are equipped and able to prepare, from proper attention to defence and proclamation. God can and will guide in preparation as well as in utterance."

Verse 18

Then comes a gratifying remark: "Not a hair of your head will perish". This was said in the Hebrew sense of the collective community. In other words:

"Though some will be killed, as a whole,
as a community, the disciples will be safe.
So, do not panic!"

Verse 19

"By standing firm", Jesus assures his disciples, "you will gain life".

The Text In Summary

Liefeld in the "Expositor's Bible Commentary" (volume 8) gives four exhortations arising from the above text:

1. Do not follow false leaders (v 8).

2. Do not be frightened by the awesome events associated with the end times in apocalyptic literature (v 9 — 11).

3. Do not worry about your legal defence when you are persecuted and face legal charges because of your Christian witness (v 12 — 16).

4. When all turn against you, persevere and take a firm stand (v 17 — 19).

Conclusion

We should beware the common resort to fear tactics of those who proclaim the end of the world is nigh and yet live a life of amazing worldliness. It is a common phenomenon, and "one of the oldest tricks in the book" used by self-promoting preachers riding the wave of popularity. We need to remember our Lords words," Do not follow them!" His warning implies that many will follow false leaders because their religion is ruled by emotion. They actively seek feelings of exaltation and overwhelming awe. Unless they are served up a rich diet of good feelings, sights and sounds, they will simply withdraw and go elsewhere until they find these things.

When they find a place where they are told what they want to hear, and are shown what they want to see, they are convinced they have found God. This is the great deception of our age, and it is precisely from this grave danger that Jesus tries to protect his disciples.

A final quote may encourage us in the face of troubled times:

"St Luke opportunely brings us back to what is happening today, 'before all this' (viz), to our today. Even if much seems to be crumbling, we should not seek to escape from the present: the end of a world is not the end of the world. What counts is to stand firm in the world no matter what happens. In this way we shall not be deceived!"

Glenstall Bible Missal

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