Luke 21:25-28 (NIV) “There will be signs in the sun, moon and stars. On the earth, nations will be in anguish and perplexity at the roaring and tossing of the sea. Men will faint from terror, apprehensive of what is coming on the world, for the heavenly bodies will be shaken. At that time they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory. When these things begin to take place, stand up and lift up your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.”
Jesus is still talking with His followers about the impending destruction of Jerusalem that would occur about 40 years later. The destruction of the city and its temple would be so complete that not one stone would be left on another, and the suffering of the people during and after that destruction was going to be horrific.
Next Jesus seems to look forward, far into the future, to the time of His return from heaven at the final judgment. And in that vision, He spoke of terrible things: signs in the heavens, shaking the very heavenly bodies; unrest among the bewildered people of the world; and finally, the appearance of Himself, coming with the clouds of heaven in power and glory, ushering in the new age of full redemption. This interpretation is logical, and even scriptural, especially if we look at this discourse as recorded in the other gospels. Matthew includes a bit more of the disciples’ question than merely what they were asking about the destruction of the city and its temple: “Tell us, when will this happen, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?” (Matthew 24:3 NIV)
The disciples were actually asking more than they knew. They logically assumed that the destruction of the temple would be such a drastic step in God’s plan, that it would surely signal the beginning of the end of the world.
But, as is frequently the case, Jesus’ words, using symbolism drawn from the Scriptures and from current Jewish figures of speech, had a both/and aspect to it. Jesus was pointing to the far distant future in this section of His discourse, but He was also still pointing to aspects of the coming destruction of the city and the temple.
All of the imagery of celestial signs, disruption of the powers of heaven, the roaring of the sea, and anguish among the nations of earth had meaning for the people of Jesus’ day, as well as for those in the centuries immediately following. They point to, not only the fall of Jewish leadership and the dispersion of the Jewish people, but also to the unrest in the far reaches of the Roman Empire, of which the rebellion that would happen in Israel was a harbinger. Within a relatively short time, the Empire would be required to draw in its boundaries, and to take a more defensive posture, due to continuing and increasing incursions and rebellions in the frontiers, causing a lot of unrest and uncertainty among the people.
But despite all of the unrest and chaos that Jesus was forecasting, the people of the kingdom were not to join in the despair or confusion. When everything looked like the end of the world, and when people were fretting and fuming about not knowing what was going to happen, they were instead to lift up their heads and look for the power of Jesus to deliver them, symbolized by the imagery of Jesus coming to the rescue in a cloud of the heavenly host.
Again, this is a case of both/and. The description Jesus gave will be quite literally fulfilled at His second coming. But it also has had symbolic significance down through the ages for those in the Church, especially for those who were undergoing persecution. This vision has encouraged them, and helped them to lift up their heads in their darkest hours, and to look for Jesus to deliver them through His magnificent power. And He always has.
Father, sometimes we do get stuck into an either/or viewpoint instead of being willing to entertain the possibility of a both/and meaning. But many times You showed visions to Your prophets that definitely had a both/and significance, meaningful to those who heard, meaningful to those who lived later, and ultimately and literally fulfilled by Jesus. Help us to stay open to ALL of the truth that You have given us in Your Scriptures, and not try to box You into only the interpretation that we favor. Amen.