Sermon 11-13-2022: “It’s the End of the World as We Know It”

November 30, 2022

Scripture: Luke 21:5-19

A couple of weeks ago I was at my gym, running on a treadmill. And you know how gyms have an array of TV sets in front of you, tuned to various channels. They always have the major cable news networks on. I’ve never in my life tried to listen to the sound of any of these TVs at the gym—don’t even know how to do that… I just listen to music or whatever. But as I was running, I was looking at the TV screens—without the sound—and I was struck by a headline that I saw on one of the news networks. It was something like this: “Asteroid the size of eight football fields heading toward earth. Are we in danger?”

I gathered from the captions on the screen that this giant asteroid took NASA and astronomers by surprise. And given the other captions and images that accompanied the story, I gather that the reporter was speculating how deadly—on a global scale—the impact of this asteroid could be… if it actually struck the earth.

And I’ll be honest: I felt a sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach.

And I kept looking at the screens of the other cable news channels because I figured, “If we’re in danger of being wiped out by a giant asteroid or meteor 1, surely this news would be on other news outlets!” But there was nothing! Just nonstop politics as usual.

Whatever… I quickly forgot about this asteroid hurtling toward our planet, until I began preparing for today’s sermon. “Oh, yeah,” I thought. “What was that all about?” So I googled “giant asteroid hitting earth.” It turns out, the asteroid is named “2022RM4,” and it’s the size of the world’s largest building, Dubai’s Burj Kalifa skyscraper. But good news: It already passed by the earth—on November 1. We survived! But the cable news story was partly right: It passed dangerously close: only six lunar distances. That is, six times the distance between the earth and the moon. So this asteroid passed one point five million miles away from us!

In other words, Earth dodged a bullet!

But in case you’re still worried, just last month, NASA launched an armed probe, called DART, an acronym for something… and for the first time NASA successfully targeted and struck an asteroid. So who knows? Maybe we will have the technology to break those things up or alter their course before they impact the earth.

The larger issue is, why was I worried about it—even for the 20 minutes or so I was on that treadmill?

And the reason I was reminded of this asteroid is because, in today’s scripture, Jesus is talking about something happening in the near future that seems very frightening… something that his listeners should be afraid of… something that seems like the end of the world.

And that’s mostly what today’s sermon is about: the end of the world—or at least what sometimes feels like the end of the world. I want to make three points. Point Number One, in a strict literal sense, today’s scripture is not about the end of the world. Point Number Two, but there is a sense in which Jesus is talking about the end of the world. And finally, Point Number Three, What can we learn from Jesus when we face what seems like the end of the world—or close enough?

And Point Number One is, what Jesus is describing in today’s scripture isn’t, strictly speaking, about the end of the world.

But let me explain: let’s look at verses 5 and 6:

And while some were speaking of the temple, how it was adorned with noble stones and offerings, he said, “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.”

Keep in mind: Jesus and his disciples are on the Mount of Olives, near the Temple in Jerusalem. They could see the Temple off in the distance. This was Passion Week, the last week of Jesus’ life before Good Friday and Easter Sunday. They were looking at the Temple and admiring its grandeur, and rightly so. The so-called “Second Temple”—which King Herod built over the course of decades,which replaced the Temple that Solomon originally built a thousand years earlier—the Second Temple was an architectural marvel. People from all over the known world would come to see this thing, even if they didn’t know anything about the God of Israel. While it wasn’t counted as one of the “seven wonders of the ancient world,” I’ve read that it may as well have been.

Even these stones that Jesus refers to are larger than stones used in constructing any other ancient temple: The ancient Jewish historian Josephus says they measured 60 feet long. 2

You can go to Jerusalem today and walk on the Temple Mount—which was the platform built on top of Mt. Zion on which the Temple sat—and the Temple Mount is an impressive enough structure—but you can no longer see the Temple or these stones that Jesus is talking about…


Because Jesus was right when he prophesied in verse 6 that “there will not be left here one stone upon another.”

About 40 years after he spoke these words, in the year 70, the Roman army completely destroyed the Temple, just as Jesus prophesied. Not one stone left on top of another.

So when the disciples and others heard Jesus say this, they could hardly believe their ears. If what Jesus is saying is true, and the Temple is going to be destroyed like this, then surely, they imagined, Jesus is describing nothing less than the “end of the world.”

But he wasn’t

And this is where things can become very confusing: When Luke says in verse 6 that “some were speaking of the temple,” Jesus says, “As for these things that you see, the days will come when there will not be left here one stone upon another.” He says, “As for these things…” What do “these things” refer to: They refer to the destruction of the Temple forty years later. And then his disciples ask, “When will these things be, and what will be the sign when these things are about to take place”—notice, again, the words “these things.”

The disciples are asking about the destruction of the Temple.

And what follows in verses 8 through 19 is a description of the signs that must take place not before the Second Coming of Christ at the end of the world, but before the destruction of the Temple in the year 70.

And we know from history that the signs that Jesus describes did take place. For example, when Jesus says, “Many will come in my name, saying, ‘I am he,’” there were many false messiahs that came in Jesus’ name prior to 70. The Book of Acts mentions three false messiahs; 3 and there were many others. “But don’t be fooled by them,” Jesus says. “None of these would-be messiahs are going to be me.” Later on, in verse 27, Jesus assures them, in so many words: “When I return, in the Second Coming—trust me—no one is going to have to tell you about it! You’ll know. The whole world will know! It won’t be a secret.”

As far as “wars and tumults” and “nation rising against nation,” and the widespread persecution of Christians… Yep… Plenty of that happened before the year 70, as well! Around the year 40, for instance, the emperor Caligula attempted to erect a statue of himself in the Temple in Jerusalem—and that nearly started a war. Twenty-five years later, the emperor Nero blamed Christians for the fire that swept through Rome in the year 64 and that led to widespread persecution. When Nero committed suicide in 68, that set off wars and skirmishes all around his Empire.

And even these cosmic and supernatural events that Jesus describes—like the “great signs from heaven” in verse 11—the Jewish historian Josephus—who was not a Christian—reports all kinds of weird astronomical events and supernatural events happening before the Temple was destroyed!

My point is, we know from history that these signs took place. Jesus’ prophecy was proven true. And we also know, from the fourth century historian Eusebius, that Christians living in Jerusalem at the time heeded Jesus’ warning about the coming destruction; they saw these signs; and for the most part they fled Jerusalem before the Romans invaded.

So that’s Point Number One: Jesus isn’t talking about the Second Coming in today’s scripture. It’s not the end of the world.

Point Number Two: But in a way, it is… In a way, Jesus is talking about the Second Coming… He is talking about the end of the world. And I’m not contradicting myself in saying so…

Let me explain… if you skip ahead in this chapter to verses 25 through 27, it becomes clear that Jesus is talking about the Second Coming, explicitly… It’s as if he has just seamlessly transitioned from talking about one earth-shattering event in the near term, the destruction of the Temple, to another, larger, even more earth-shattering event—the Second Coming of Christ—in the long term. The line between one event and the other just seems to blur… He makes it sound as if the Second Coming will happen around the same time as the fall of Jerusalem in the year 70, or shortly thereafter.

And that’s intentional: Because Jesus is speaking the same way that prophets in the Bible often speak. He’s saying that the events associated with the fall of Jerusalem and the destruction of the Temple are going to be a foreshadowing of the events related to the Second Coming. Just as there was tribulation and suffering in the year 70, so there will be greater tribulation and suffering before Christ returns. Just as there were false messiahs in the year 70, so there will be more even greater “false messiahs”—even the one whom the Bible describes as the Man of Lawlessness 4 or the Antichrist 5—before Christ returns. Just as there was persecution of Christians leading up to the year 70, so there will be much more persecution of Christians before Christ returns.

And to be clear, there are more Christians today being persecuted for their faith than ever before. No less an authority than Pope Francis himself said that he believed that this increasing persecution of Christians in the world today may be a sign of the Second Coming! 6

But my point is, Jesus is saying that what happens on a small scale before the fall of Jerusalem in the year 70 will happen on a much larger, cosmic, universal scale before the Second Coming.

Let me give you one small example from the Book of Joel about how prophets blur the lines between talking about something in the near term and something happening in the long term: In the Book of Joel, the prophet is talking about how God is going to judge the people of Israel by sending a plague of locusts to devour their crops and cause a great famine in the land. He says that the people can still repent and possibly be saved. But then Joel pivots from this near-term judgment of God—of locusts and famine—to the long-term judgment of God—final judgment… and our ultimate hope for salvation through Christ. 

The two events, near-term and long-term, blend together. He uses a small-scale event to make a point about a much larger-scale event.

Jesus is doing the same thing… Bible scholars even have a name for what Jesus is doing: They call it “prophetic foreshortening” 7: It’s like looking at mountain peaks from a far distance: From a far distance they look like they’re close together, but when you get up close to the first mountain, you see that the next group of mountains might be separated by dozens or even hundreds of miles!

So, Point Number Two, there’s a sense in which Jesus is talking about the end of the world—he is talking about the Second Coming. But I’ll say more about that when we get to the first Sunday of Advent—which, traditionally, always relates to the Second Coming. So put a pin in that for now.

Some of you may remember a hit song from the ’80s by R.E.M., a band out of Athens, Georgia: the song is called “It’s the End of the World as We Know It.” In the chorus of the song, they just repeat the title about 17 times in a row—what can I say? They went to UGA! I like the song a lot. But after they repeat that line over and over they say, “I feel fine.”

And this is Point Number Three: How is it possible to “feel fine” even when it seems like the end of the world as know it—or close enough?  

I believe Jesus gives us guidance in today’s scripture on how we can still “feel fine” even when it feels as if our world is coming to an end. And when I say “feel fine,” of course, I’m talking about something that goes far deeper than mere feelings. I told you at the beginning of the sermon that I felt a little scared when I heard about that giant asteroid threatening to crash into the planet… even though it turns out it never really came close. But still. I was momentarily afraid.

And that’s okay. We’re all going to feel feelings. There’s nothing wrong, per se, with the emotions that we feel. But what do we do when we feel them… How do we respond? Do we let those feelings control us? We have control over how we respond to our emotions!

In his book The Purpose Driven Life,Pastor Rick Warren quotes Martin Luther, the 16th-century Protestant Reformer, who famously said, “You cannot keep birds from flying over your head but you can keep them from building a nest in your hair.” And Warren goes on to paraphrase him: 

“You can’t keep the Devil from suggesting thoughts [or causing us to feel feelings], but you can choose not to dwell or act on those thoughts [or feelings]” 8

You can choose not to dwell or act on them… That’s exactly right! We may not be able to change the fact that we feel a certain way, but we can change how we think about those feelings. Or I should say, through prayer and meditating on the promises of God’s Word, the Lord, by his grace, can change how we think about them. And as he changes our thinking, our emotions may, however slowly, begin to step in line and follow.

When the disciples heard Jesus’ words about the destruction of the Temple, they surely thought they were facing the “end of the world as they knew it.” For faithful Jews like themselves, the Temple was the center of the universe, the center of everything they believed, the center of their identity as God’s people. The idea that that would disappear… Not to mention all the persecution and suffering that Jesus promises is coming their way!

How would they cope with these feelings? How would they cope with the feeling that their world was coming to an end? Instead of giving in to fear, to anger, to worry, to depression, to despair, how could they instead face the future with confidence and hope.

Jesus shows us how in today’s scripture.

Let’s first look at verse 7: When the disciples ask about what are the signs, Jesus doesn’t deny for a moment that there are signs. He describes them; he calls them “signs” in verse 11.

And when we are going through something that feels like the end of the world—or close enough—we need to remember this important truth: If there are “signs,” then that means there must be a path… there must be a road… that leads to a destination. The existence of signs always means that someone has planned a path or a road to a particular destination. And if God is the One who put the signs there in the first place, then that means that God is the One who built the road, which means that that road must be leading us to a destination that is going to be really good. Amen?

Just think: Forty years after Jesus spoke these words in today’s scripture, at least some of Jesus’ disciples who heard him speak these words were still alive. I’m referring here to disciples in general, not the original Twelve disciples. But if there were disciples around who heard Jesus speak these words, they were likely enduring what seemed to them like “the end of world”… 

But then they remembered: If there are signs, then there is a road… They remembered: “Whatever we’re were going through, no matter how difficult and painful, we know that it is part of God’s plan for our lives.” And they thought, “This road may be incredibly hard, but ultimately it’s taking us somewhere very good.”

Besides, if some of Jesus’ Twelve original disciples were still alive—and we know for sure the apostle John was—but if some of the original Twelve were around, this would hardly be the first time they had faced what seemed like the “end of the world as they knew it”! If you have your Bibles—and you should—turn to Mark chapter 4, verses 35 to 41.

The disciples are with Jesus on a fishing boat on the Sea of Galilee… in the midst of a life-threatening storm. It was the middle of the night. The wind and the waves were crashing against their small boat. The disciples were bailing water—they just knew they were going to drown! And Jesus himself, somehow, was asleep in the stern of the boat… Seemingly not worried at all. Why? Because he knew his Father had planned a path through this storm. And he must have known that that path did not include all thirteen of them dying in this boat in a storm out at sea!

The disciples didn’t yet know that, of course. They didn’t know their Father had planned a path through the storm. And maybe one reason they were on that fishing boat, on this particular evening, in this particular storm, was to learn that lesson! To learn that there was a path through this storm. To learn, in other words, there was a purpose for it.

And I say that in part because of verse 35: “On that day, when evening had come, he,” Jesus, “said to them, ‘Let us go across to the other side.’” Jesus was responsible, in other words, for planning this trip, for sending them into harm’s way, for sending them across this lake in the middle of the night, for sending them into this terrible storm.

Do you think Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the Second Person of the Trinity, was a lousy meteorologist? Did Jesus not know about this impending storm? Of course he knew! When he said, “Let’s get in this boat and cross to the other side of this lake,” he knew exactly what lay ahead of him and his disciples: he knew about the storm, he knew about the the bailing of water, he knew about the fearful recriminations: “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” He knew about the doubting disciples. He knew he would tell the wind and the waves, “Peace! Be still!” He knew all about what was going to happen! 

And yet he still said, “Let’s go across to the other side.” 

Jesus sent his disciples into the storm. He had a plan for them in this storm. He had a purpose for sending them into this storm. 

And, best of all, he had a path through this storm.

And if that was true for the disciples back then it’s no less true for us disciples today! Our lives are no less in the hands of Almighty God our heavenly Father than these original Twelve disciples were in our Father’s hands! Which means there’s nothing happening to us about which our Father would not be able to say, “This is ultimately for your good!” I’ve got this. I’m in control.

Yet we so easily forget! At least I do. And I suspect I’m not alone.

Notice verse 18: “But not a hair of your head will perish.”

Jesus is not saying, by this verse, that the path that he’s created for us won’t eventually lead to death. It will… unless the Second Coming happens first. In fact, ten of the twelve disciples on board that boat, who survived this terrible storm, would later lay down their lives for the sake of their faith in Christ. 

No, in verse 18, Jesus isn’t promising a life that won’t at times be incredibly hard, or certainly not a life that won’t end in death, even untimely and sometimes violent death. He gives no assurances of ease and comfort and safety when he says, “Not a hair of your head will perish.” That’s not his point: His point is spiritual. His point is eternal. 

He’s saying, no matter what happens to you in this world of sin and evil and Satanic attack, it happens according to my plan—by all means—even when that plan includes some very hard stuff… But I promise you: you will, ultimately, be okay. You will eternally be okay. In fact, you’llbe more than okay! Much more than okay! Infinitely more than okay!

I don’t know about you, but I love celebrities, movie stars, rocks stars, who love Jesus, in part because these celebrities tend to be people who already possess what many of us think we want or need to be happy, yet they are saying, “These things do not bring lasting happiness. Only Jesus does!” I also love them because, by speaking so openly about their love for Jesus, they risk jeopardizing the very things that make them a celebrity in the first place. If an actor talks too much about Jesus, pretty soon they won’t be getting offered the same roles in movies and TV shows they were offered before, for instance. Or they may decide they don’t want the same old roles they used to have—because they’re unable to glorify God while playing those roles.

So I admire their integrity for speaking out about their faith. It takes courage.

And one of my favorite celebrities, who is also a Christian, is actress Patricia Heaton, whose most famous role was playing Debra on Everybody Loves Raymond—the greatest show about marriage ever made. She was also on the more recent show The Middle, which was a hit and ran for many years.

Anyway, I follow her on Twitter… and by the way… she did “like” one of my replies to her tweets one time, so I have that going for me!

But last week, after Tuesday’s election, she tweeted something very wise. And what she tweeted applies to any Christian, irrespective of the political party or politician they support. She tweeted the following:

For those of you who are Christians and who feel disappointed or despairing of the election results, it is a blessing to be reminded that our security does not rest in men or governments, which are finite and will eventually crumble, but in God alone who is ever sustaining.

To which I say a hearty, “Amen, sister!” She’s exactly right!

Who’s in control here? Don’t be afraid! There’s a plan! There is a path through this.

Let’s pray…

  1.  What’s left over from an asteroid that burns up upon entry into earth’s atmosphere becomes meteors.
  2.  James Edwards, The Gospel According to Luke (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2015), 593.
  3.  See Acts 5:34-39; 21:38. Paul was even mistaken for a false messiah from Egypt in Acts 21:38.
  4.  2 Thessalonians 2:3
  5.  1 John 2:22; 1 John 4:3; 2 John 1:7
  6.  Tyler O’Neil, “Pope Francis: Christian Persecution, Prohibition of Worship Signs of the End Times,”, 29 November 2013. Accessed 11 November 2022.
  7.  Anthony Hoekema, The Bible and the Future (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1979), 149.
  8.  Rick Warren, The Purpose Driven Life (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2002), 205.

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