Bible Study November 19 for Worship December 2Posted: November 18, 2012
Bible Study November 19 for Worship December 2
Luke 21: 25 “And there will be signs in sun and moon and stars, and upon the earth distress of nations in perplexity at the roaring of the sea and the waves,
26 men 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, look 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 till all has taken place.
33 Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.
34 “But take heed to 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 snare;
35 for it will come upon all who dwell upon the face of the whole earth.
36 But watch at all times, praying that you may have strength to escape all these things that will take place, and to stand before the Son of man.”
The Gospel of Luke was probably written 50 to 60 years after the death of Jesus. The key date to remember was the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 A.D. In his gospel and his Acts of the Apostles Luke was trying to collect and make sense of the fragments of the early church’s history that were rapidly being lost after the followers of Jesus had scattered from Jerusalem. Luke tried to find as many eye witnesses, not many, as he could, and he also ended up interviewing many people from the “second generation,” people who had known people who had been eye witnesses. Of course by that time there were all kinds of apocryphal stories mixed in with genuine testimony.
Another issue that crops up in reading the gospels is how the early church was reshaping their stories about Jesus in order to speak to the issues of their own time. Our passage today is a case in point. This section in Luke, Luke 21:8-38, parallels Mark chapter 13, and they are sometimes labeled “the Little Apocalypse.” The difference between Mark and Luke is that Mark was writing before the destruction of Jerusalem and Luke was writing after the destruction of the City and the scattering of the Jerusalem Church. As a result Mark was more focused on the unrest in Palestine between 67 and 70 A.D., and the impending Roman dismembering of the Jewish people, and Luke has a more generalized chaos in mind more akin to the apocalyptic vision of the Revelation of John, that bespeaks of the eventual downfall of the Roman Empire.
Jesus seems to have been opposed to the hierarchy and injustice of Empire in general and the violence required to maintain Empire. Many of his followers began to imagine that “the Day of the Lord,” or the culmination of history would be an end to Empire, not just Roman, and the establishment of the universal commonwealth of peace and justice. But they rightly foresaw that the transition from Empire to commonwealth would not be easy and might be accompanied by general chaos unrest and hardship.
In verses 25 and 26 Luke adopted the apocalyptic imagination that the hardships of the end times will probably be signaled by astronomical and planetary signs: comets, eclipses, earthquakes, tidal waves, extremes of weather. The followers of Jesus claimed that a special star appeared at the birth of Jesus and an earthquake accompanied his death. This paralleled the claims of the Roman State religion concerning the Caesars. A comet appeared after the assassination of Julius Caesar, and the Roman Senate declared that the comet was the soul of Caesar being elevated to divine status. The Roman historian Suetonius in his history of Caesar Augustus claimed that a special star appeared to mark the birth of Augustus.
In verse 27 Luke introduced the figure of the Son of man coming in power and great glory. In the Old Testament and the apocryphal literature of inter-testamental times “Son of man,” means everything from a human being to a semi-divine messianic figure. Ezekiel employs the term most often using it 94 times. In Ezekiel the prophet himself is often referred to as “son of man.”
In verse 29 Luke refers to the “fig tree, and all the trees. ” This is a parallel to Mark 13:28, except that Luke misses Mark’s symbolism. Mark intended to compare the fruitless fig tree with the Temple Authorities, who were fruitless spiritual leaders. Luke merely uses the fig tree and all the other trees as a harbinger of the change of season. How do we know when Spring comes? When the trees put forth their leaves. How will we know when the world is going to change? Pay attention to the signs of the times.
Luke may have been hinting that the Destruction of Jerusalem was a sign that God was working toward the end of Empire. In the Acts of the Apostles Luke seems to hint that the church needed to reach out from Jerusalem in order to convert the whole world, and the scattering of the Jerusalem church while traumatic certainly served to spread the gospel. Verse 32 reiterated the promise that the fulfillment of Jesus’ promised return was imminent. Whether this promise can be traced directly to Jesus or to his followers, we cannot know for sure, but clearly the prediction of an imminent return of the Christ was mistaken.
In verses 34 through 36 Luke warns his readers not to lose faith or relax their ethical life style, or let down their vigilance in the time of waiting. Keeping faith in the time of waiting is the reason this scripture is included in the lectionary for Advent. How long oh Lord, do we have to wait? With all of the talk about secession after this latest election, we might wonder whether or not that question was resolved 150 years ago. How long will we have to wait for the legacy of racism and hatred to be overcome? How long do we have to wait?
Do followers of Jesus still expect a return of Jesus coming on the clouds with power and great glory. Certainly that generation has passed away and Jesus has not returned. Millions of more fundamentalist Christians still wait expectantly. Is that waiting anymore realistic, or should progressive Christians begin to use some midrash to reinterpret “end times.” In Judaism the progressive midrash on this topic is to stop looking for a Messiah, and instead to focus upon a messianic age, when people of faith learn that it is up to us to change the world. There is the famous story about the young man who went to visit Rabbi Akiba at his cave to ask, “when will the Messiah come?”
Rabbi Akiba told the young man, “The Messiah is already here at the City Gate.”
The young man ran to the City Gate looking for the Messiah, but all he saw were beggars, the blind, the disabled, the poor. Finally he asked one of the company of the poor, who seemed more able than the rest, “where is the Messiah?”
The man straightened and replied, “I am the Messiah.”
The young man said incredulously, “You the Messiah? Well if you are the Messiah, why don’t you heal the sick, and wipe out world hunger, and stop all the wars in the world? What are you waiting for?”
And the Messiah responded, “I wait for you.”
As we are waiting this Advent let each one of us consider, in what way is the Messiah waiting for me?”
LET’S ASK SOME QUESTIONS OF THE TEXT
1. What are some of the signs that are supposed to accompany a change in the world?
2. How does the gospel project the return of the “Son of man?”
3. How should followers of Jesus respond to these signs?
4. What “Parable” does Jesus offer as an analogy for the signs of the end?
5. What is the expectation of the gospel writer?
6. How soon did the gospel writer believe these things might happen?
7. What warnings did the gospel writers give to the followers of Jesus?
8. What spiritual exercises did the gospel writer recommend for preparedness?
LET’S ALLOW THE TEXT TO ASK QUESTIONS OF US
1. Have you ever experienced a stellar event or a natural disaster as a sign of anything?
2. Why do you think weather events or natural disasters are often experienced as signs?
3. Do you think Jesus will return on a cloud in power and glory?
4. Do you think there will be an end to history?
5. What do you think it means to be able to read the signs of the times?
6. What signs have you experienced in your life time?
7. What warnings would you give to people about waiting for things to happen?
8. What spiritual practices sustain you in waiting?
9. What are you waiting for?
Week of November 26 – December 2: First Sunday of Advent – Luke 21:25-36 – Sign of Things to Come – Jeremiah 33:14-16, Psalm 25:1-10, I Thessalonians 3:9-13.