A powerful, almost overwhelming chapter, troubling and puzzling because it’s difficult to figure out precisely–now almost 2000 years from the time Jesus spoke these words–what they mean. They’re difficult to understand for two reasons. The chapter combines both symbolic language and literal language. And sometimes it’s difficult to determine which things are symbolic and which are actual. Further chapters in Luke and comparable chapters in Matthew 24 and Mark 13 are difficult to understand because they are prophetic of two different sieges against Jerusalem: one in 70 AD, which resulted in terrible desolation and destruction of the temple. The first 5 verses in Luke 21 describe Jesus and his disciples talking and looking at the temple, observing how beautiful it is, and then Jesus saying, let me tell you that not one stone is gonna be left on top of another, but they’re all gonna be thrown down. And so it was. The language describing that particular siege against Jerusalem and the results of it are in Luke 21. 23, 24, saying," woe to them that are with child and to them that nurse children in those days, for there shall be great distress in the land and wrath among the people, and they shall fall by the edge of the sword and shall be led away captive into all nations; and Jerusalem shall be trodden down by the Gentiles until the times of the Gentiles be fulfilled". That time has come.
The second siege which precedes the second advent is briefly encapsulated in Luke. 25 and 26, speaking of "signs in the sun and in the moon, and in the stars; and upon the earth distress of nations, with perplexity; the sea and the waves roaring; men’s hearts failing them for fear, and for looking after those things which are coming on the earth: for the powers of heaven shall be shaken." This scripture is a mere hint made by Luke of what will happen to Israel in the last days–perhaps within our lifetimes. In Ezekiel 38 is described the last battle of Israel with her enemies. "It shall come to pass at the same time when Gog shall come against the land of Israel, saith the Lord God, that ny fury shall come up in my face, for in my jealousy and in the fire of my wrath have I spoken. Surely in that day there shall be a great shaking in the land of Israel so that the fish of the sea, the fowls of the heaven, the beasts of the field, all creeping things that creep upon the earth, and all the men that are on the face of the earth, shall shake at my presence. And the mountains shall be thrown down, and steep places shall fall, and every wall shall fall to the ground." And it goes on to describe the results of that earthquake.
Christ warns the disciples there’s a lot going to happen before he comes, and to beware of imposters; he speaks of earthquakes, famines and pestilence to come. Are these merely figurative of the upheaval that’s gonna come among the nations before the second coming? If you view this as fact, there will be an increase of earthquakes before Christ returns. I’ve always been reluctant to say that because it’s unprovable. There’s a mention earlier in the chapter all of you will recall of earthquakes and famines and pestilence. And I think many of us, including me if I am candid about it, have thought of those verses as being strictly symbolic. All of us know of the literary devices employed by the prophets when they talk about the sun and moon being shaken–we have evidence that this is a symbolic reference to political powers. And that these verses talking about earthquakes, famines and pestilence are merely figurative of the upheaval that’s gonna come among the nations before the second coming of Christ. Some of you have thought that these verses and other passages in the scripture describe a fact. But I mean how do you know how many earthquakes there have been now compared to 2,000 years ago. But I’m willing to admit that I may have been wrong about this because first of all you should think–I think–of Luke 21 as not a description of a continuum, that is to say, a description of something that happened (or was about to happen) after Luke wrote these words, and then continuing a description all the way up til today. In fact the prophecy, if scrutinized closely is, I believe, descriptive of two events: the siege in 70 AD, and the events that lead up to the siege in our time, perhaps. If you view it in that way, then you can isolate the business of pestilence and famine and earthquakes a little better.
Luke 21. 1 - 5 is a description of Jesus and his disciples talking and they are looking at the temple and observing how beautiful it is, and Jesus says, let me tell you that not one stone is gonna be left on top of another, but they’re all gonna be thrown down. That happened in 70 AD. Undoubtedly, the disciples were badly shaken; then they asked when these things would happen and what signs would be given. Matthew puts it, "What shall be the sign of thy coming and the end of the age?" He said that nation shall rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom, and great earthquakes shall be in diverse places and great signs shall be from heaven. The first century after his ascension was a period of relative peace when Rome held sway; and international warfare would seem to apply more to our day. Were there great earthquakes in divers places in the first century? One modern writer has mentioned that there were 6 in the first 3 centuries after Christ. Surely such a record does not fulfill the words of the Lord. I don’t know. Who knows there were only 6 earthquakes in the first 3 centuries? But it is true that this verse describes not only earthquakes, but famines and pestilence, and he says that the evidence is not there that those things occurred in the first century in the way that they have occurred in ours. There have been great famines as we know in various parts of the world–Africa, Bangladesh, Armenia, Somalia,–even as we speak, people are starving to death. In regard to pestilence, we have no record toward the end of the first century, but they’ve occurred since then, and still today we have this tremendous pestilence overhanging the world now–the pestilence of AIDS. The US Dept of the Interior record shows that up to 1948 the highest number of quakes recorded does not exceed 905. However, thereafter the annual totals have increased markedly: 1948 - 620, 1949 - 1152 , 1950 - 2023, 1959 - 3186, and so on until 1980, over 13,000 earthquakes greater than 3 on the Richter scale. Well, interesting, isn’t it? Earthquakes almost always have fore shocks–little earthquakes presaging big ones. What I’m leading up to is this: I don’t know, I can’t say with any certainty how much literal application we should give to that verse which says that in our century there will be a great increase in the incidence of earthquakes.
But I do know this: there is going to be a great literal earthquake–the most dramatic earthquake the world has ever seen–at the time of the end. And I’m not just making that up. Jerusalem sits right on the edge of a great fault on the earth’s surface called the Arabah. It’s another word for the great rift that starts above the Sea of Galilee which is 686 feet below sea level. It continues down the Jordan Valley, where it gets to the Dead Sea, 1290 feet below sea level. This great rift, if you will, is Palestine’s equivalent of the San Andreas fault in California. And there have been earthquakes in that part of the world. Incidentally, there is one described in Matthew 27. 50. You recall when Jesus was crucified, he cried with a loud voice and yielded up the spirit. "And behold, the veil of the temple was rent in two from the top to the bottom, and the earth did quake and rocks were split, and the graves were opened and many bodies of the saints that slept arose." That’s a description of an earthquake.
The earthquake that I want to call to your attention is in the 14th chapter of Zechariah. Christ has returned and it is perhaps the same earthquake being described in a different way. His (Christ’s) feet ‘shall stand in that day upon the Mount of Olives which is before Jerusalem on the east. And the Mount of Olives shall cleave at its midst toward the east and toward the west. And there shall be a very great valley, and half of the mountain shall remove toward the north and half of it toward the south. And ye shall flee to the valley of the mountains.’ You’re gonna be fleeing the same way as the earthquake in the days of Uzziah (787 - 735 BC)–they’ve had some earthquakes there–"and it shall be in that day (8th verse) that the living waters shall go out from Jerusalem, half of them toward the former sea, and half toward the hinder sea, and in summer and it winter shall it be." Now what does that mean? Well, consider this. Jerusalem is at an altitude of 2500 feet. The former sea (Mediterranean) is at sea level by definition. The hinder sea (Dead Sea) is 1290 feet below sea level. So here we’ve got Jerusalem sitting atop a mountain plateau, and an earthquake producing an enormous fountain of subterranean water.; with half going toward the Mediterranean and half toward the Dead Sea. The Mediterranean Sea is salty, so if the Arabah–this great rift in the land–is to blossom like a rose, and if the Dead Sea is to be productive, then the water coming from this mountain headwater will flow down into the Arabah into the Dead Sea. And water from the twin headwaters, if you will, will flow toward the Mediterranean. Now this description of the waters flowing into the Dead Sea is referred to again in Ezekiel 47. In Ezekiel 38 is described the earthquake I mentioned earlier, followed by the building of the Temple.
The Temple is apparently gonna be built on top of this gigantic artesian spring, if you will, that comes out of Jerusalem as a result of this earthquake, because it says there (Ezek 47. 1), "He brought me again unto the door of the house (temple) , and behold, waters issued out from under the threshold of the house eastward." And it goes on to describe the abundance of that water. The water is so vast that he can’t pass over it. It can’t be forwarded, in other words. "He measured a thousand cubits–it was a river that I could not pass over, for the waters were risen. Waters to swim in. A river that could not be passed over. Then, (v.8), "These waters issue out towards the east country and go out to the Arabah. The water flow, as I perceive it is: the Mount of Olives and Jerusalem are next to each other, separated by a very narrow, deep valley. The Mount of Olives is going to split, the water is gonna run from west to east and slightly northward, and down into this great rift with this result: "These waters issue out towards the east country and go down into the Arabah and being brought forth into the Dead Sea, the waters shall be healed. And it shall come to pass that everything that lives , which moves wherever the rivers shall come, shall live. And there shall be a great multitude of fish, because these waters shall come there; for they shall be healed. . .and it shall come to pass that the fishermen shall stand upon it from Engedi even to Eneglaim shall be a place to spread forth their nets. Their fish shall be according to their kinds as the fish of the Great Sea," ( That is to say there will be fish in the Dead Sea just like fish in the Mediterranean). So here is how we can understand literally how the desert will blossom as the rose in the kingdom age. Now we’ve been talking about the mixture of symbol and actual. The last two or three passages I’ve read are a description of what’s actually gonna happen in Jerusalem.
But then, at the conclusion of the book, the Bible, Jesus turns it all back into symbol. "And he showed me a pure river of water of life; clear as crystal, proceeding out of the throne of God (the literal temple in Ezek 47) and of the lamb. And in the midst of the stream of it and on either side of the river, was there the tree of life, which bore 12 kinds of fruit, and yielded her fruit every month. And the leaves of the trees were for the healing of the nations. There shall be no more curse, but the throne of God and of the lamb shall be in it; and his servants shall serve him...there shall be no night there; they need no candle, for the Lord God gives them light and they shall reign forever." (Rev 22) So I think we can all look with interest at what’s going on in the world, remembering the literal descriptions we’ve just read, and this beautiful description of the removal of sin by the waters of the river of life. In conclusion, Jesus says, "Behold, I come quickly, and my reward is with me, to give every man according as his work shall be. I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end, the first and the last." It is Alpha and Omega we remember here today.