What’s to Come
Preached by Jason Abbott
Last Sunday, Benjamin unpacked Jesus’ teaching concerning the destruction of the temple. That’s in the passage just before this one. Jesus was clear about it—Jerusalem would fall, and it did fall in AD 70. The Romans came and destroyed it. That magnificent temple building did not last. (News Flash: Jesus was right.)
In a similar way, he predicts—in today’s text—the end of this secular age. He predicts his second coming to usher in, forever and fully, the kingdom of God. While his first coming proffers mercy and forgiveness, his second coming will be in power and in judgment…as well as in glorious reward for all who trust in him.
25 “And there will be signs in sun and moon and stars, and on the earth distress of nations in perplexity because of the roaring of the sea and the waves, 26 people fainting with fear and with foreboding of what is coming on the world. For the powers of the heavens will be shaken. 27 And then they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory. 28 Now when these things begin to take place, straighten up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.”
29 And he told them a parable: “Look at the fig tree, and all the trees. 30 As soon as they come out in leaf, you see for yourselves and know that the summer is already near. 31 So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that the kingdom of God is near. 32 Truly, I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all has taken place. 33 Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.
34 “But watch yourselves lest your hearts be weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and cares of this life, and that day come upon you suddenly like a trap. 35 For it will come upon all who dwell on the face of the whole earth. 36 But stay awake at all times, praying that you may have strength to escape all these things that are going to take place, and to stand before the Son of Man.”
37 And every day he was teaching in the temple, but at night he went out and lodged on the mount called Olivet. 38 And early in the morning all the people came to him in the temple to hear him.
So, full disclosure, I totally lifted my outline for today’s sermon from Jesus. I totally plagiarized the outline Jesus used for his little sermon here in my sermon, which—as a preacher—is exactly, pretty much what you’re always supposed to do. Theology 101: As much as possible, say exactly what Jesus said as he said it.
So, that’s what I’ve done here. Jesus teaches (1st) a lesson about his return. Then, he shares (2nd) an illustration to illuminate that lesson. Finally, he provides (3rd) an application so that all those listening know how to live.
1. A lesson (vv. 25-28)
Can you control the sun, moon, or stars? Can you tame the sea or its waves? Are you able to shake the heavens?
When I was in college, I roomed with this clown down here on the first row. Two college guys in our physical prime! As strong and as capable as we’d ever be! (Which to be honest wasn’t all that impressive, but whatever.)
One evening, we were in our basement apartment, and the lights flashed-off. And it got totally quiet for about 10 seconds. Then, we began to hear a distant howl from somewhere outside, which quickly grew louder and louder. Next deep thuds, like baritone machinegun fire, began sputtering against the walls of the building. We were in the middle of a tornado.
So, what did we do? What did two burly young men—as strong and capable as we’d ever be—do at that moment in that tornado? We screamed, It’s a tornado! in rather panicked, high-pitched—not very strong or capable sounding—shrieks, while we simultaneously threw ourselves facedown upon the floor in absolute fear. That’s the sad but true story. That’s what the two of us had to offer at that moment. That was the pinnacle of our courage and power.
In our first few verses, that’s what Jesus says you’ll be like when he returns unless you’ve given him your life—unless you trust him as your Savior and King. Jesus teaches us that even the most powerful people on earth will tremble in fear, will be facedown upon the floor when they “see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory” (v. 27). On that day, Christ will come like a tornado of righteous judgment against the unrighteous—against all who throughout history opposed him as their Savior and their God.
That, by the way, is precisely what Jesus is claiming with all this imagery—that he is indeed God. Many times we get caught up with whether Jesus will return on a cloud literally, or whether this imagery is to be understood more figuratively. And, I think that’s an open question. I think Christians can differ on their readings of this text, on that issue, and still be thoroughly orthodox believers.
Whether, however, Jesus returns riding literally or figuratively on a cloud, the main point he’s making with this phrase is that he’s not just a man. He’s God! And, anyone who was in the least bit familiar with their Old Testament scriptures would’ve understood the implications of this riding on a cloud image immediately. You see, in the Bible, only God comes riding on a cloud.
Just consider these verses.
There is no one like…God… / who rides across the heavens to help you / and on the clouds in his majesty (Deuteronomy 33:26, NIV).
Sing to God, sing in praise of his name, / extol him who rides on the clouds; / rejoice before him—his name is the Lord (Psalm 68:4, NIV).
See, the Lord rides on a swift cloud / and is coming to Egypt. / The idols of Egypt tremble… / and the…Egyptians melt with fear (Isaiah 19:1, NIV).
Here’s the lesson. Jesus is God. The glory and the majesty of God, the power of God—the control over sun, moon, or stars, over the sea and its raging waves—belongs to Jesus. He can shake the heavens. He is God. And, one day he will return as the Judge of us all. For those who oppose him, there will be distress, perplexity, and fainting with fear. There will be destruction.
But, not for the faithful. Not for the Christian. If you have placed your faith in Jesus, then he encourages you “when these things begin…[to] raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near” (v. 28). These things signal good news for you. This is the day you’ve been waiting for. This is the blessed hope we have as believers…which will not disappoint us!
If you’re a Christian, look forward to this. Pray for this day to come quickly. If you’re not a Christian, then know that this day is not yet. Mercy is still on offer. Forgiveness is still on offer. Jesus warns and welcomes you here. Turn to him!
Well, after this lesson about his return, Jesus gives us…
2. An illustration (vv. 29-33)
Here’s what he says:
Look at the fig tree, and all the trees. As soon as they come out in leaf, you see for yourselves and know…the summer is…near. So also, when you see these things taking place, you know…the kingdom of God is near. Truly, I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all has taken place. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not…(vv. 29-33).
Let me say two things about the illustration and, then, hopefully bring clarity to a potentially confusing statement that’s found here.
First, the illustration’s point is super clear. Just as you know summer is near when trees begin to bud and show their leaves so too you’ll know that Jesus’ return is near when all these natural phenomena or signs—with the sun, moon, and stars or with the raging of the sea—begin to happen. The point Jesus makes is obvious. We should learn to read spiritual seasons as we’ve learned to read earthly seasons. We shouldn’t be “distressed” or “fainting with fear”—when these things begin—but ready and waiting with eager anticipation. That’s the illustration’s point.
Second, there is no question that the things Jesus predicts here will happen. His words, he says, are far more sturdy than heaven and earth. That’s a huge claim. That’s another claim to divinity. (Look, just think about making such a statement. If you seriously said this, people would think you needed to be institutionalized. From a completely secular point of view, you might hope your thoughts and words would last as long as civilization survived. You might hope that they’d be included among the Harvard Classics or the Great Books. But, you wouldn’t have any hope of them surviving the extinction of the universe…unless you were absolutely crazy or the One who spoke heaven and earth into existence.) Are you beginning to see what I’m talking about? Jesus claims what only God can claim.
Now, let’s discuss what has caused a good deal of confusion in these verses. What about the timing of all these events? What about the timing of Jesus’ return? It’s been about two-thousand years, and we’re still waiting. And, more to the point, Jesus seems to indicate that it would happen rather quickly. He says:
Truly, I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all has taken place (v. 32).
Certainly, those who listened to Jesus that day in the temple are long gone. That generation has surely passed away, and all the things Jesus was talking about haven’t taken place. Jesus hasn’t returned yet. What’s going on? Was Jesus wrong? Some have certainly concluded precisely that. I, however, believe they’re the ones who are wrong. Here’s why.
Jesus is talking about future events and to the generation who will see them. He’s talking about the beginning of the end; he wants all who’ll see the beginning of these things to be ready and not surprised. Moreover, and this is the main point, he wants those who see the beginning of the end to know that they will see the end of the end too. In other words, Jesus is saying, once these things begin to happen, they will happen quickly. The generation who sees the beginning of them will see, also, the end of them—his return in glory and with power.
I hope that brings clarity for those who may’ve been confused by this verse. And, if my explanation has caused you confusion, then please see me after service. I’d love to help you understand and be encouraged by these words of Jesus.
Let’s move briefly to the final point in this little prophetic sermon by Jesus. He gets very practical. Let’s look at…
3. An application (vv. 34-38)
Jesus wants us to know how we should live in light of what he just shared with us about his return. Here’s what he says:
“But watch yourselves lest your hearts be weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and cares of this life, and that day come upon you suddenly like a trap. For it will come upon all who dwell on the face of the whole earth. But stay awake at all times, praying that you may have strength to escape all these things that are going to take place, and to stand before the Son of Man” (vv. 34-36).
In a nutshell, Jesus encourages us to be ready, to be about the things of God, to not be distracted by the fleeting pleasures or the temporary cares of this lifetime. He instructs us to use what we have, in the here and now, for his glorious purposes. He tells us to not give up hope but to persevere until our death or until his return. Look, for the most part, we don’t have a problem grasping Jesus’ application here; we know how he’s calling us to live. Instead, our trouble is trusting him in all this. We have trouble really believing that he’s on the move—that he’s truly returning. And, we have trouble believing that that day will be better than this day.
We like our pleasures too much. We imagine they’re greater than they are. We imagine that they’ll satisfy us. We’re shortsighted in this. Like Adam and Eve, we want and take the fruit now, rather than waiting and trusting the Lord.
I have a good friend who took each of his sons out to dinner at McDonald’s when they turned thirteen. He told them they could get whatever they wanted to eat on the menu. But, if they trusted him and waited, that he’d have something better for them to eat later on. He then proceeded to order a Big Mac and fries and Coke off the menu and eat it as his teenage son—hungry as only a teenage son can be!—watched him take and chew every bite. Yet, after he had finished eating the meal, (which likely only took 15 minutes and, yet, felt like 15 years to his starving son) he crumpled up his trash, threw it away, and told his child he’d take him anywhere he wanted to go—no restaurant was off limits, no item on the menu was off limits, no price was too much! His two sons, because they trusted him and waited on him, were given unbelievable feasts.
Friends, that father is like our Lord, and we are like his hungry teenage sons. Jesus says that he has something better in store for us if we will trust him and wait on his return. He promises us redeemed life—holy, eternal life in God’s presence. He compares it to a great wedding feast, an unimaginable celebration for eternity! But, we lose sight of this coming reality and go in for fast-food types of pleasures. We aren’t readying ourselves; we aren’t waiting for our Lord.
Is that what you want? Are the pleasures of this life really worth all of this? Do they really satisfy you?
Jesus urges you to trust him. Jesus urges you to ready yourself for his return, so that he might welcome you into his presence and pleasure forever. Amen.
 See Darrell L. Bock’s arguments in the Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament series. Darrell Bock, Luke 9:51-24:53, 1691-1692