Past, Present, and Future Persecution: Luke 21:5-19

Focus Passage: Luke 21:5-19 (NASB)

This entry’s passage is just the first piece of a much longer passage where Jesus unpacks some of what will be coming down history’s timeline: Persecution, wars, rumors, famines, earthquakes, and more.

The specific detail that we will focus on in this entry has to do with a short phrase related to the timing. In verse 9, we read “When you hear of wars and disturbances, do not be terrified; for these things must take place first, but the end does not follow immediately.” [Italicized words not in original Greek]

In this verse, Jesus is describing something that will happen before the end. But it gets even a little more interesting when we compare how Luke starts verse 12 when comparing it to the other gospels with this teaching: But before all these things, they will lay their hands on you and will persecute you, delivering you to the synagogues and prisons, bringing you before kings and governors for My name’s sake . . .” (v.12)

Luke’s passage places the persecution Jesus’ followers face before the wars that happen before the end, while Matthew indicates that it happens afterward (Matthew 24:9) and Mark phrases it in a way that could mean at any or every point in time in history (Mark 13:9).

What this tells me is not that the gospel writers are confused by Jesus’ words, but there could easily be more present in Jesus’ predictions. For example:

  • Using Mark’s version, we can understand Jesus to be saying there will always be people/nations that are not accepting of the gospel, and at any point, we could be called to give a defense;

  • Using Luke’s version, we could look at points in history where the followers of Jesus were persecuted in major ways, and there are plenty of examples of this;

  • Using Matthew’s version, we can understand that in the future, there may be one big push to get rid of all of Jesus’ followers.

While the three gospels that include this teaching all are unique, they all give a different credible angle to Jesus’ words, and I believe that even though each is distinct on this point, they are all true predictions.

In these three gospels we have past, present, and future persecution – all happening before and during the end. Persecution does not provide a safe foundation to lean on when determining where we are in history’s timeline. Persecution fulfills a different task – prompting us to ask God how long will He wait to return and giving us the opportunity to be like Jesus and let the Holy Spirit speak through us.

This discussion pushes me to one big conclusion: Don’t be stressed out or worried about where we are in history. Jesus shares things in this passage that let us know we are at the beginning of the end or before the end itself. That means we still have time; we still can share Jesus to others; we can still fulfill Jesus’ great commission. Our primary focus should always be pointed to Jesus and moving forward with the mission He has given to each of us.

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Bad Preacher, Good Preacher: Luke 3:1-18

Focus Passage: Luke 3:1-18 (NLT)

It was now the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius, the Roman emperor. Pontius Pilate was governor over Judea; Herod Antipas was ruler over Galilee; his brother Philip was ruler over Iturea and Traconitis; Lysanias was ruler over Abilene. Annas and Caiaphas were the high priests. At this time a message from God came to John son of Zechariah, who was living in the wilderness. Then John went from place to place on both sides of the Jordan River, preaching that people should be baptized to show that they had repented of their sins and turned to God to be forgiven. Isaiah had spoken of John when he said,

“He is a voice shouting in the wilderness,
‘Prepare the way for the Lord’s coming!
    Clear the road for him!
The valleys will be filled,
    and the mountains and hills made level.
The curves will be straightened,
    and the rough places made smooth.
And then all people will see
    the salvation sent from God.’”

When the crowds came to John for baptism, he said, “You brood of snakes! Who warned you to flee God’s coming wrath? Prove by the way you live that you have repented of your sins and turned to God. Don’t just say to each other, ‘We’re safe, for we are descendants of Abraham.’ That means nothing, for I tell you, God can create children of Abraham from these very stones. Even now the ax of God’s judgment is poised, ready to sever the roots of the trees. Yes, every tree that does not produce good fruit will be chopped down and thrown into the fire.”

10 The crowds asked, “What should we do?”

11 John replied, “If you have two shirts, give one to the poor. If you have food, share it with those who are hungry.”

12 Even corrupt tax collectors came to be baptized and asked, “Teacher, what should we do?”

13 He replied, “Collect no more taxes than the government requires.”

14 “What should we do?” asked some soldiers.

John replied, “Don’t extort money or make false accusations. And be content with your pay.”

15 Everyone was expecting the Messiah to come soon, and they were eager to know whether John might be the Messiah. 16 John answered their questions by saying, “I baptize you with water; but someone is coming soon who is greater than I am—so much greater that I’m not even worthy to be his slave and untie the straps of his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire. 17 He is ready to separate the chaff from the wheat with his winnowing fork. Then he will clean up the threshing area, gathering the wheat into his barn but burning the chaff with never-ending fire.” 18 John used many such warnings as he announced the Good News to the people.

Read Luke 3:1-18 in context and/or in other translations on BibleGateway.com!

Before Jesus stepped onto the scene, a man named John the Baptist began a ministry to help prepare people for the coming Messiah. John’s ministry was so effective, powerful, and challenging that some people even wondered if John was actually the Messiah himself.

However, when John learns of this rumor, he answered it by saying, “I baptize you with water; but someone is coming soon who is greater than I am—so much greater that I’m not even worthy to be his slave and untie the straps of his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire. He is ready to separate the chaff from the wheat with his winnowing fork. Then he will clean up the threshing area, gathering the wheat into his barn but burning the chaff with never-ending fire.” (v. 16-17)

Interestingly enough, John wraps up another challenge in his answer that he is not the Messiah. In John’s challenge we see an interesting idea: Jesus is going to come and separate people. If John’s ministry was challenging and it divided people, Jesus’ ministry would only amplify the division.

I wonder if in some ways, John’s ministry was easier to latch onto. John gave clear requirements and clear expectations, and it seemed like John challenged people before he accepted them. When Jesus came, He took an opposite approach. Instead of challenging people first, Jesus seemed to love, heal, and accept them first, before then challenging them.

Jesus’ ministry was even more dividing because it showed the people who believed in hierarchy and social status that Jesus was stepping over the line. Jesus came as a representative from God, but it seemed like He was more interested in spending time with those “at the bottom of the social ladder” than with those at the top.

While we have plenty of examples of Jesus interacting with people of all social statuses, the most dividing thing He did was accept those at the bottom in an unconditional way. John the Baptist’s ministry was very conditional: Repent, be baptized, and change the focus of your life. If you do this, then you will escape the coming judgment.

John was the New Testament’s “Fire and Brimstone” preacher. Jesus came as a loving teacher. In an odd sort of “good cop, bad cop” illustration, John takes the role of “bad preacher”, while Jesus takes the role of “good preacher”. Both ministries were effective, and perhaps John chose His role to help people gravitate more towards Jesus when Jesus ultimately steps into the ministry scene.

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Gathering Fruit for Eternal Life: John 4:1-45

Focus Passage: John 4:1-45 (HCSB)

When Jesus knew that the Pharisees heard He was making and baptizing more disciples than John (though Jesus Himself was not baptizing, but His disciples were), He left Judea and went again to Galilee. He had to travel through Samaria, so He came to a town of Samaria called Sychar near the property that Jacob had given his son Joseph. Jacob’s well was there, and Jesus, worn out from His journey, sat down at the well. It was about six in the evening.

A woman of Samaria came to draw water.

“Give Me a drink,” Jesus said to her, for His disciples had gone into town to buy food.

“How is it that You, a Jew, ask for a drink from me, a Samaritan woman?” she asked Him. For Jews do not associate with Samaritans.

10 Jesus answered, “If you knew the gift of God, and who is saying to you, ‘Give Me a drink,’ you would ask Him, and He would give you living water.”

11 “Sir,” said the woman, “You don’t even have a bucket, and the well is deep. So where do You get this ‘living water’? 12 You aren’t greater than our father Jacob, are You? He gave us the well and drank from it himself, as did his sons and livestock.”

13 Jesus said, “Everyone who drinks from this water will get thirsty again. 14 But whoever drinks from the water that I will give him will never get thirsty again—ever! In fact, the water I will give him will become a well of water springing up within him for eternal life.”

15 “Sir,” the woman said to Him, “give me this water so I won’t get thirsty and come here to draw water.”

16 “Go call your husband,” He told her, “and come back here.”

17 “I don’t have a husband,” she answered.

“You have correctly said, ‘I don’t have a husband,’” Jesus said. 18 “For you’ve had five husbands, and the man you now have is not your husband. What you have said is true.”

19 “Sir,” the woman replied, “I see that You are a prophet. 20 Our fathers worshiped on this mountain, yet you Jews say that the place to worship is in Jerusalem.”

21 Jesus told her, “Believe Me, woman, an hour is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. 22 You Samaritans worship what you do not know. We worship what we do know, because salvation is from the Jews. 23 But an hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth. Yes, the Father wants such people to worship Him. 24 God is spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth.”

25 The woman said to Him, “I know that Messiah is coming” (who is called Christ). “When He comes, He will explain everything to us.”

26 “I am He,” Jesus told her, “the One speaking to you.”

27 Just then His disciples arrived, and they were amazed that He was talking with a woman. Yet no one said, “What do You want?” or “Why are You talking with her?”

28 Then the woman left her water jar, went into town, and told the men, 29 “Come, see a man who told me everything I ever did! Could this be the Messiah?” 30 They left the town and made their way to Him.

31 In the meantime the disciples kept urging Him, “Rabbi, eat something.”

32 But He said, “I have food to eat that you don’t know about.”

33 The disciples said to one another, “Could someone have brought Him something to eat?”

34 “My food is to do the will of Him who sent Me and to finish His work,” Jesus told them. 35 “Don’t you say, ‘There are still four more months, then comes the harvest’? Listen to what I’m telling you: Open your eyes and look at the fields, for they are ready for harvest. 36 The reaper is already receiving pay and gathering fruit for eternal life, so the sower and reaper can rejoice together. 37 For in this case the saying is true: ‘One sows and another reaps.’ 38 I sent you to reap what you didn’t labor for; others have labored, and you have benefited from their labor.”

39 Now many Samaritans from that town believed in Him because of what the woman said when she testified, “He told me everything I ever did.” 40 Therefore, when the Samaritans came to Him, they asked Him to stay with them, and He stayed there two days. 41 Many more believed because of what He said. 42 And they told the woman, “We no longer believe because of what you said, for we have heard for ourselves and know that this really is the Savior of the world.”

43 After two days He left there for Galilee. 44 Jesus Himself testified that a prophet has no honor in his own country. 45 When they entered Galilee, the Galileans welcomed Him because they had seen everything He did in Jerusalem during the festival. For they also had gone to the festival.

Read John 4:1-45 in context and/or in other translations on BibleGateway.com!

During a brief transition within John’s gospel, we can find a perplexing concept and a profound idea that Jesus shares with His disciples. While the disciples are in a Samaritan town buying food, Jesus strikes up a conversation with a Samaritan woman. But even though Jesus’ conversation with the Samaritan woman is interesting itself, what I find perplexing and profound in Jesus’ words happens during a brief conversation after the woman leaves and before she returns with those from the town.

It is in this transition where we find the disciples urging Jesus to eat something. They were probably really hungry when they went into the town, and I can only imagine how hungry they felt Jesus would have been since they probably had eaten and snacked all the way back to the well.

But Jesus responds, “I have food to eat that you don’t know about.” (v. 32)

This confuses the disciples. Did Jesus find food while they were gone? Did someone else come by the well and offer Him something to eat?

Sensing their confusion, Jesus responds to the questions they are asking amongst themselves. Jesus tells them, “My food is to do the will of Him who sent Me and to finish His work.” (v. 34)

It is in this statement that we see Jesus pointing us towards a pretty important concept. What we focus our attention on grows. If we focus on our hunger, we will only become hungrier. But if we focus on our mission, then only that will matter. It will not matter if we are tired, hungry, or stressed out. Those things are minimized in our minds as long as our focus stays on the mission.

And Jesus continues by pointing us to a truth about the only mission with eternal significance: “Don’t you say, ‘There are still four more months, then comes the harvest’? Listen to what I’m telling you: Open your eyes and look at the fields, for they are ready for harvest. The reaper is already receiving pay and gathering fruit for eternal life, so the sower and reaper can rejoice together. For in this case the saying is true: ‘One sows and another reaps.’ I sent you to reap what you didn’t labor for; others have labored, and you have benefited from their labor.” (v. 35-38)

The big truth I see in Jesus’ message is that when our eyes are open to what God is doing in the world, we will see opportunities everywhere to help others and to bring people to Him. God has been working in people’s lives long before we were invited to be involved, and we are able to benefit from what they started.

When we partner with Jesus, we are able to gather fruit destined for eternal life. That’s the only mission with results that will last forever!

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Celebration of the Found: Luke 15:1-10

Focus Passage: Luke 15:1-10 (NASB)

One way I have learned to read parables Jesus gave is to look at what prompted the parable to be shared in the first place. In this passage, Jesus shares two parables (and a third one immediately following in verse 11), and they are all prompted by one thing, which we read in verses 1 and 2:

“Now all the tax collectors and the sinners were coming near Him to listen to Him. Both the Pharisees and the scribes began to grumble, saying, ‘This man receives sinners and eats with them.’” (verses 1-2)

These two simple truths prompt Jesus to share three of the most amazing parables to illustrate God’s love for sinners – all because the “religious” people of the time were distorting God’s character with their attitudes and actions.

So Jesus shares these two parables, and while they don’t specifically state that they are representative of the Kingdom of God or the Kingdom of Heaven, the closing lines of these two reference what happens in heaven when a sinner repents and turns to God: “I tell you that in the same way, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.” (v. 7) and “In the same way, I tell you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.” (v. 10)

From Jesus’ response to these “grumblings” from the Pharisees and the scribes, He points out a truth about God that was counter to what they taught/believed: God rejoices when sinners repent. The opposite approach is that God reluctantly accepts those who repent, or that when they repent, they then have to prove themselves worthy by doing something extra to show their repentance was genuine.

Neither alternate is even implied by Jesus’ set of parables here. The coin and sheep are not scolded for getting lost, nor are they required to prove themselves worthy of trust again by doing something or facing some sort of punishment. Instead, like an excited shepherd or an excited housekeeper, excitement is expressed when finding something that we thought had been lost – something we may have been losing hope of ever finding.

It is the same way with God. There will be a point when He ends history, but until that point, He hasn’t lost hope that sinners will be found by Him. The coin and sheep cannot find themselves – it is God who is actively seeking them.

Will you let God “find” you?

God promises a celebration in heaven at the very moment you are found, and when we arrive in heaven, we get to take part in the “Celebration of the Found”. Jesus is an equal opportunity “includer” – anyone and everyone who lets Him find them will be present.

Will you let Jesus find you?

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