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The First Sunday of Advent is November 28, 2021.

Readings for Year C — the new liturgical year — can be found here.

The Gospel reading is as follows (emphases mine):

Luke 21:25-36

21:25 “There will be signs in the sun, the moon, and the stars, and on the earth distress among nations confused by the roaring of the sea and the waves.

21:26 People will faint from fear and foreboding of what is coming upon the world, for the powers of the heavens will be shaken.

21:27 Then they will see ‘the Son of Man coming in a cloud’ with power and great glory.

21:28 Now when these things begin to take place, stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.”

21:29 Then he told them a parable: “Look at the fig tree and all the trees;

21:30 as soon as they sprout leaves you can see for yourselves and know that summer is already near.

21:31 So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that the kingdom of God is near.

21:32 Truly I tell you, this generation will not pass away until all things have taken place.

21:33 Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.

21:34 “Be on guard so that your hearts are not weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and the worries of this life, and that day catch you unexpectedly,

21:35 like a trap. For it will come upon all who live on the face of the whole earth.

21:36 Be alert at all times, praying that you may have the strength to escape all these things that will take place, and to stand before the Son of Man.”

Commentary comes from Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

We had a similar passage about the Second Coming two weeks ago, on the Twenty-fourth Sunday after Trinity: Mark 13:1-8.

This Sunday’s is Luke’s version of Christ’s prophecy.

As with Mark’s (and Matthew’s) version, Luke’s preceding verses had to do with the destruction of the temple and the end of the Jewish sacrificial system, which occurred at the hands of the Romans in AD 70.

With regard to His second coming, Jesus tells us that the universe will give us signs as will the earth, where the movement of the seas will create distress across the nations (verse 25).

Jesus goes on to say that people will ‘faint with fear and foreboding’ as ‘the powers of the heavens will be shaken’ (verse 26).

John MacArthur says:

The staging is given in verses 25 and 26. Sun and moon and stars…what happens to them in that period of time? They go out. The sun goes out therefore the moon goes out. The stars go out as well, blackness covers the universe. At the same time the seas begin to roar, the waves turn into a tumult and we see the powers of the heavens being shaken. This is all final staging and parallels the Old Testament prophets and the book of Revelation.

Now that brings us to the third word and where we pick up the text this morning. The third word is shock…shock. There’s only one possible response to this unimaginable chaos, verse 25, “And upon the earth dismay among nations in perplexity.” Verse 26, “Men fainting from fear and the expectation of the things which are coming upon the world.”

And again I remind you, this is how history ends. This is the real story of the end of the earth and the universe as we know it. This is the first step in the beginning of the eternal state …

The confusion comes because people can’t do anything about it. There is absolute chaos. There’s no way to solve this. You’ve got a third of the oceans destroyed, a third of the fresh water destroyed. You’ve got mountains exploding. You’ve got heavenly bodies crashing and careening into the earth. You’ve got the skies going dark. You have horrible storms, hundred-pound hailstones and other things described in the book of Revelation. And the confusion comes because they can’t sort it out.

They can’t even react to it because it’s coming in such rapid-fire succession. There’s reason to believe that the trumpet judgments come in months and then the final judgments described in Revelation, the bowl judgments come in weeks and days…rapid-fire succession. Shock is so great that we are told that men are fainting from fear. And fainting is a rather benign way to translate another rare word used no where else in the New Testament, aposuche(?). What that word means is to breathe out or to expire. That’s another word for to die. People will be scared to death. People will be scared to death. People all over the world will die of terror because of what is happening and because what is happening they know will lead to further horrors. As they watch everything turn into chaos, they understand the implications. It’s not just what’s going on in the moment, it’s what all this means in the immediate future. That is to say the terror comes from the immediate and the terror is compounded by the total absence of any hope of relief. You might be able to mitigate your anxiety if you thought there would be an end but there will be nor can there be…there will be no end nor can there be any end. The chaos is too great.

This is not, by the way, hyperbole. This is lethal emotional trauma causing rapid pulse, low blood pressure and cardiac collapse. Rapid-pulse, low blood pressure, cardiac collapse, scared to death. This is not something the disciples wouldn’t have heard about before. This is shocking coming from Jesus and yet this is what Isaiah said. Listen to Isaiah 13:8, “All hands will fall limp, every man’s heart will melt. They will be terrified. Pains and anguish will take hold of them. They will writhe like a woman in labor. They will look at one another in astonishment, their faces aflame.” Listen again to the Revelation chapter 6, as we read familiar words. “The kings of the earth, the great men, verse 15, the commanders, the rich, the strong, every slave, every free man hid themselves in the caves and among the rocks of the mountains and they said to the mountains and to the rocks, ‘Fall on us and hide us from the presence of Him who sits on the throne and from the wrath of the Lamb for the great day of their wrath has come and who is able to stand?’” They want to die. Some will be scared to death. Others will be scared but cannot or do not die, they will wish to be buried alive just to escape what’s next.

In the ninth chapter of the Revelation and verse 6, “In those days men will seek death and will not find it. They will long to die and death flees from them.” In the sixteenth chapter of Revelation and verse 8, “The fourth angel pours out the rapid-fire judgments called bowl judgments and the sun scorches men with fire. They’re scorched with fierce heat and they blaspheme the name of God who has the power over these plagues that didn’t repent so as to give Him glory. Then the fifth angel poured out his bowl on the throne of the beast, his kingdom became darkened. They gnawed their tongues because of pain and they blasphemed the God of heaven because of their pains and their sores and didn’t repent of their deeds.” The chapter ends in verse 21 with a statement, “The plagues were extremely severe.”

The eighteenth chapter gives us a description of the disintegration of life at that final hour, in those final weeks, in those final days. The eighteenth chapter of Revelation, we can pick it up in verse 8. Plagues will come pestilence, mourning, famine, fire, the Lord God is bringing judgment. The symbol here is Babylon, Babylon is the unifying term to describe the final world coalition of religion and government, the final world system. And it’s going to be wiped out. The kings of the earth who committed acts of immorality live sensuously with this system will weak and lament over her when they see the smoke of her burning. Standing at a distance because of the fear of her torment saying, “Woe, woe, the great Babylon, the strong city, in one hour your judgment has come.” Again indicating to us how rapid-fire the final judgments will be.

The merchants of the earth weep and mourn over her, again symbolizing the whole economy of the earth in this one symbol of Babylon. Nobody buys their cargoes anymore, cargos of gold and silver and precious stones and pearls, fine linen, purple silk, scarlet, the clothing industry, the jewel industry, every kind of citron, wood and every article of ivory, every article made from costly wood and bronze and iron and marble, the construction industry as well, cinnamon, spice, incense, perfume, frankincense, wine, olive oil, fine flour, wheat, cattle, sheep, cargos of horses, chariots, slaves, transportation industry, food industry, everything goes…the fruit you long for has gone from you, all things that were luxurious and splendid have passed away from you. Men will no longer find them. The merchants of these things who became rich from her will stand at a distance because of the fear of her torment, weeping and mourning, saying, “Woe, woe, the great city, she who was clothed in fine linen, purple, scarlet, adorned with gold, precious stones and pearls in one hour such great wealth has been laid waste.” Again indicating the suddenness of this destruction.

Matthew Henry’s commentary acknowledges that some Bible scholars believe this refers only to the destruction of the temple, but, like MacArthur, he says this pertains to the eventual end of the world and the terror that unbelievers will experience:

… our Saviour makes use of these figurative expressions because at the end of time they shall be literally accomplished, when the heavens shall be rolled together as a scroll, and all their powers not only shaken, but broken, and the earth and all the works that are therein shall be burnt up, 2 Peter 3:10; 2 Peter 3:12. As that day was all terror and destruction to the unbelieving Jews, so the great day will be to all unbelievers.

Jesus says that, at the appointed time, people will see ‘the Son of Man coming in a cloud’ of great power and glory (verse 27). The quote comes from a verse in the Book of Daniel.

His appearance, MacArthur says, is the final sign:

… here is THE sign, verse 27, “And then they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory.” That is THE sign, the final sign, the sign is the Son of Man.

Listen to Matthew 24:30, the parallel account. The words of our Lord, “And then the sign of the Son of Man will appear in the sky.” The sign of the Son of Man will appear in the sky then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, they’ll already be emotional basket cases, to put it mildly. They will now launch into a final mourning as they see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of the sky with power and great glory. THE sign of THE Son of Man, that is a subjective genitive, the sign which is the Son of Man.

It is not another sign that points to the Son of Man, it is the sign which is the Son of Man. Now remember, the whole world will be pitch dark. As Joel puts it, the sun will go dark and the moon will not give its light. The stars will fall. Heaven rolls up like a scroll. It’s pitch blackness. And out of that blackness, the whole world sees the Son of Man coming. This is the moment to which all redemptive history moves. This is its glorious culmination, when the once humiliated Christ returns as the eternally exalted Christ. He came once to die. He comes now to kill. He came once to build His church. He comes again to establish His glorious Kingdom.

Henry ties the Second Coming back to the temple so that we might better understand that its destruction presages the return of Christ:

The destruction of Jerusalem was in a particular manner an act of Christ’s judgment, the judgment committed to the Son of man; his religion could never be thoroughly established but by the destruction of the temple, and the abolishing of the Levitical priesthood and economy, after which even the converted Jews, and many of the Gentiles too, were still hankering, till they were destroyed; so that it might justly be looked upon as a coming of the Son of man, in power and great glory, yet not visibly, but in the clouds; for in executing such judgments as these clouds and darkness are round about him. Now this was, 1. An evidence of the first coming of the Messiah; so some understand it. Then the unbelieving Jews shall be confined, when it is too late, that Jesus was the Messiah; those that would not see him coming in the power of his grace to save them shall be made to see him coming in the power of his wrath to destroy them; those that would not have him to reign over them shall have him to triumph over them. 2. It was an earnest of his second coming. Then in the terrors of that day they shall see the Son of man coming in a cloud, and all the terrors of the last day.

Jesus says that, when believers see these alarming signs, they can stand up and raise their heads because their redemption is near (verse 28).

MacArthur says:

A word to the saints in verse 28. These are the folks that will be alive at the time and will have believed in Christ. “But when these things begin to take place, straighten up, lift up your heads because your redemption is drawing near,” engizo, about to start.

Then Jesus gives the disciples a parable about the fig tree and other trees (verse 29), saying that when they sprout leaves, everyone knows that summer is near (verse 30).

Similarly, when these dramatic signs take place, we can be sure that the kingdom of God is near (verse 31).

MacArthur says that analogies involving fig trees are common in the Bible. They were the easiest ways to get a point across:

both in the Old Testament and in the teaching of the Lord, the fig tree served a purpose as an illustration. It is designed to help people understand. In fact, in Matthew 24:32, where the parallel text in Matthew’s record is, he says Jesus also said, “Now learn this parable of the fig tree.” The point is: This is for your learning – manthanō – this is so you can understand. And the reason I press that point is because it seems to me that people turn these parables into very complex things when they are the most simple, especially when you have such a simple parable as this.

It was also apposite as Jesus taught His disciples this lesson about the temple and His later return in the middle of His Passion, which we commemorate during Holy Week. It was Passover week, therefore, springtime.

MacArthur explains the deeper meaning of summer, which involves fruit and harvest, therefore, blessings for some and judgement for others:

When you see the signs – leaves – you know summer’s near. And with summer comes fruit and harvest.

By the way, harvest is always, in the Old Testament, a symbol of judgment as well as blessing. So, you have a simple analogy.

MacArthur says the disciples who would witness the destruction of the temple were symbolic of the people who would witness the end of the world:

The disciples are only symbolic of those people. They are only representative of that future group of people. “You,” meaning you believers, who are alive when you see these things happen. What the Lord is saying is: It’s going to come very fast.

You remember He told a parable about a man who went on a long journey? We’re living in the long journey. We’re living in the long time, two thousand years now. But once those signs start – once they start – you can be sure that when you see these things happen, the Kingdom of God is near …

Jesus emphasises — ‘Truly I tell you’ — that the present generation will not pass away until all those things have taken place (verse 32).

This is a confusing verse, because some of the things that Jesus prophesies here did not take place when the Romans destroyed the temple.

MacArthur says that Jesus means whoever is alive at the time and sees the prophesied events take place, whether about the temple or His coming again in glory:

Let me tell you how simple this is. Verse 32, “Truly I say to you, this generation.” What generation? “The generation that sees these things happen will not die until it’s all taken place.” Whoever is among the you who sees these things happen can know this, it’s going to happen soon in your lifetime, and if you see the beginning, you’re going to be there for the end.

If you see Jerusalem surrounded, if you’re alive and you see Jerusalem surrounded and you see the changes and the devastating changes in the universe, you see those signs, you will see the Son of Man. Such a simple thing. If you see the leaves, you know summer is near. If you see the signs, you know Christ is near; He’s at the door.

And our Lord is simply saying, “You asked Me a question. You asked Me, what do we look for? What are the signs?” And I’m telling you this, that generation alive that sees these things will see the Son of Man return. Our Lord is answering the question

If you’re alive and you see the signs and you survive through that and you’re not martyred – and we’re talking about believers here; believers who are alive and looking and waiting for the coming of Christ – if you’re alive when all that starts, you’re going to be there when He returns and you’re going to go into His Kingdom. That’s all it means.

If this is looking for an antecedent, the obvious antecedent is you in verse 31 – you, you. It is this generation – the you that sees these things – that will see it all take place.

Jesus makes it clear that heaven and earth will pass away, but His words will not; they will endure forever (verse 33).

MacArthur explains:

You were saved through the living and abiding word and you will be brought to glory through that same living, abiding word. Whatever God says is absolutely the way it is, whether He speaks of salvation, or sanctification, or glorification. And we look forward to the unfolding of this.

Then Jesus gives stern warnings about our behaviour. We must not be weighed down by the concerns of this life to the extent that we become despondent and drunk as a result, lest His return catch us by surprise (verse 34), like a trap (verse 35). In our era, I would also include getting out of one’s mind on drugs in that warning.

We do not want to be out of our minds when the time comes for us to meet our Lord.

Henry says:

See here, 1. What our danger is: that the day of death and judgment should come upon us unawares, when we do not expect it, and are not prepared for it,–lest, when we are called to meet our Lord, that be found the furthest thing from our thoughts which ought always to be laid nearest our hearts, lest it come upon us as a snare; for so it will come upon the most of men, who dwell upon the earth, and mind earthly things only, and have no converse with heaven; to them it will be as a snare. See Ecclesiastes 9:12. It will be a terror and a destruction to them; it will put them into an inexpressible fright, and hold them fast for a doom yet more frightful.

Jesus calls upon us to be ‘alert at all times’ — ‘watching’, in some translations — and praying that we are strong enough to escape these terrible events and be able to stand before Him one day (verse 36).

Henry says:

Watch therefore, and pray always. Watching and praying must go together, Nehemiah 4:9. Those that would escape the wrath to come, and make sure of the joys to come, must watch and pray, and must do so always, must make it the constant business of their lives, (1.) To keep a guard upon themselves. “Watch against sin, watch to every duty, and to the improvement of every opportunity of doing good. Be awake, and keep awake, in expectation of your Lord’s coming, that you may be in a right frame to receive him, and bid him welcome.” (2.) To keep up their communion with God: “Pray always; be always in an habitual disposition to that duty; keep up stated times for it; abound in it; pray upon all occasions.” Those shall be accounted worthy to live a life of praise in the other world that live a life of prayer in this world.

MacArthur says:

He will come. He will come. We don’t know when He will come. And so, we live in perpetual vigilance, a vigilant anticipation, never letting that out of our minds. He could come at any moment…He could come at any time…He could come at any day. This needs to be kept before the church at all times. This is one of the gifts that our Lord wants from us. When He comes…Oh, we expected You, we expected You. We’ve been waiting, we’re ready.

This might seem to some as an odd reading in Advent, a time which, for us, is full of preparation for Christmas, including happy social engagements.

Yet, Advent readings begin by calling us to account, to repent, so that we might better appreciate Christ’s deigning to come to the world as an infant and living a fully human — yet fully divine — life among us.

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