Shadow to Substance: Persecution (Luke 21:7-19)

As we continue our study of the Gospel of Luke we now come to a section of Scripture (Luke 21:5-38) where Jesus teaches about the destruction of the Temple in 70 A.D. and of the coming end of the world.  In verses 7-19, Jesus is preparing His disciples for their upcoming persecution before the Temple is destroyed and also before the end of the world (time unknown).  Jesus spoke these words so that we would not be anxious about these tumultuous times but would have greater faith, boldness, trust, and love.

In verse 6, Jesus told His disciples that the Temple would be destroyed.  In verse 7 they ask: “when will these things be, and what will be sign when these things are about to take place?” In verse 8, Jesus replied that they “are not led astray” and to “not go after” those who falsely claim to either be the Messiah or claim they are sent by the Messiah.  In verse 9, Jesus cautioned His disciples to “not be terrified” concerning “wars and tumults” because these “things must first take place, but the end will not be at once.”  In verse 12 Jesus said, “But before all this…”  In other words, before the end of the world there will be something that happens that all Christians must be prepared for: persecution.

Persecution from Others (vs. 12, 16)

Jesus’ focus in His teaching found in verses 12-19 is that of persecution.  This persecution shall come from within (family) and without (governing authorities).

From Government (v. 12). Jesus said in verse 12: “they will lay their hands on you and persecute you, delivering you up to the synagogues and prisons, and you will be brought before kings and governors for my name’s sake.”  While each government has been instituted by God to be terror to bad conduct (Rom 13), Jesus cautions us that governing authorities can (and do) turn their sword against Christians.  Examples of this can be found in Acts 12, 23-26.

From Family (v.16). Jesus said that persecution can also happen from within one’s own household.  He said: “You will be delivered up even by parents and brothers and relatives and friends”.  Many Christians around the world must decide between Christ and their family.  This is because their family will disown them if they are Christians.

Persecution for Christ (vs. 12-15)

In verses 12 and 17 Jesus said the reason for the persecution and hatred is “for my name’s sake.”  This should not catch us off guard because Jesus earlier mentioned in Luke 12:51, “Do you think that I have come to give peace on earth? No, I tell you, but rather division.”  Jesus is the most divisive character in the history of the world because people are either running to Him or from Him.  Jesus said in John 3:19 that “light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil.”

For a Witness (v. 13). Jesus said that He will allow His followers to undergo persecution in order to be a witness to people who would not normally hear the gospel of Jesus Christ.  In verse 13 He said, “This will be your opportunity to witness.”  While this might not found fair, it is biblical.  Does God not love the persecutor?  But we may not want this to happen because we feel hatred towards those who are doing the persecuting, but do we hate anyone enough that we desire that they suffer the torments of hell for eternity?  Jesus tells us to love our enemies (Matt 5:44) and for some this might be their only opportunity to hear the gospel.

For a Judgment (v. 15).  This is an opportunity to witness for Christ in the hopes that they may be saved, but it is also an indictment from God against them that judgment is coming.  Verse 15 speaks of wisdom given from God “which none of your adversaries will be able to withstand or contradict.”  The wisdom given by God cannot be withstood and it will either drive them to repentance and faith or serve to harden their heart and prepare them for the judgment of god.

Persecution to Glory (v. 14, 18-19)

We are encouraged by our Lord to endure persecution because God is working a greater good through it and He promises He will walk with us through it.  In Hebrews 13:5 we have Jesus’ promise: “‘I will never leave you nor forsake you.’ So we can confidently say, ‘The Lord is my helper; I will not fear; what can man do to me?’”  Jesus also told us in Luke 12:4-5: “Do not fear those who kill the body, and after that have nothing more that they can do. But I will warn you whom to fear: fear him who, after he has killed, has authority to cast into hell. Yes, I tell you, fear him!

Shall Not Perish (v. 18).  Jesus promised “not a hair of your head will perish.” This is a promise from Jesus so it is true, but it obviously not literal because He just finished saying “some of you they will put to death” (16).  This is a proverbial statement (a proverb) that reminds us of God’s protection.  Even though “all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted” (2 Tim 3:12) and some will be put to death, we remember that “even the hairs of your head are all numbered (Luke 12:7).  This proverb serves to remind Jesus’ followers that God is well aware of their suffering and persecution and will ensure that they are cared for both in life and in death.

Shall Have Eternal Life (v. 19).  Jesus closes this section by saying: “By endurance you will gain your lives.”  This is the literal meaning of the proverb in verse 18.  You will not have a hair of your head perish in the sense that your endurance is a demonstration of your faith.  Perseverance is a fruit of true faith.  Those who are truly saved will endure persecution because Christ is in them and Christ will enable them to endure.

I wish I could promise you that the United States of America will never see this degree of persecution, but we all know I cannot.  In fact, it is already beginning in various forms. (See Barronelle Stutzman).  When a nation like ours—which has received so great a spiritual light—turns from that light; how great is the spiritual darkness!  Our response must be to repent and turn from our wicked ways.

If my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land. (2 Chronicles 7:14).