“There will be signs in the sun, the moon, and the stars, and on the earth distress among nations confused by the roaring of the sea and the waves. People will faint from fear and foreboding of what is coming upon the world, for the powers of the heavens will be shaken.” (Luke 21:25 – 26)
Nature does some strange things – eclipses of the sun and moon, solar flares, shooting stars and meteors. How are we to know what are “signs” and what are natural but unique phenomena. In the past predictions of the end times and portents of doom have been begun and tied to nature “malfunctioning”. So far, as far as I know, the world has not ended yet.
Nations rise and fall, governments act rashly and go to war one with another – one nation against one nation, groups of nations rising up against other groups of nations, and one nation attacking or being attacked by a collection of other nations. How are we to know what are “signs” and what are results of antagonism, aggression, and violence?
And how are we to know if/when the “powers of the heavens” are shaken if we can’t find heaven on any map know to humanity? All in all, the signs that have had humanity fainting and fearing, and foreboding have not result in global apocalypse or rapture.
“Then they will see ‘the Son of Man coming in a cloud’ with power and great glory. Now when these things begin to take place, stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.” (Verses 27 – 28)
It seems to me that each generation in humanity had defined for itself what are the fearful and foreboding signs. Yes there have been individuals who have raised their voices and have yelled “Beware the times!” But so far, while the times are fear producing, the Son of Man has not come back to earth in the way predicted.
“Then he told them a parable: “Look at the fig tree and all the trees; as soon as they sprout leaves you can see for yourselves and know that summer is already near. So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that the kingdom of God is near. Truly I tell you, this generation will not pass away until all things have taken place. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.
“Be on guard so that your hearts are not weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and the worries of this life, and that day catch you unexpectedly, like a trap. For it will come upon all who live on the face of the whole earth. Be alert at all times, praying that you may have the strength to escape all these things that will take place, and to stand before the Son of Man.” (Verses 29 – 36)
What do we do with these passages? There are more questions than answers. Which “generation”? What does the term “pass away” mean for a whole generation? It sounds like the writer of the gospel of Luke is telling his readers/listeners it will be in their lifetimes, and they need to be on guard for these things. It is not a warning to pass on to their children, the next generation, but the generation of the gospel of Luke. Yet, here we are.
And . . . if this passage is one weighted down with worry, fret, and warning . . . . what is it doing in the texts for the first week of Advent?! I don’t have any surprising or pithy answer to my questions. No turning things on their head and seeing it in a new light. The commentators I read did not seem to have answers either, but confined themselves to explaining the language used.
Perhaps the next question should be “What does it mean if/when the kingdom of God is at hand?” For if these things have come to pass within the generation it was spoken to/written for, then the kingdom of God was very near them. What then does it mean to live so close to the kingdom of God?
What if it means this? We know that the Holy Spirit, the Counselor and Adviser, came upon the disciples and changed them in ways they could not understand before. Gave them strength, endurance, stamina, and faith that they never had before, nor that they could have. Maybe the kingdom of God is not a physical intervention into our world but a spiritual generator set up just outside of physical boundaries of our world sending energy and spiritual wisdom to us.
I don’t know what the gospel writer of Luke meant, or how/if Jesus’ words were given meanings that had more to do with the times and the hopes of the people and gospel writers who lived then. We take words that were written so long ago under circumstances that are so far from our own. And we expect them to translate. Seamlessly no less!
We are coming to the end of the first week of Advent. Maybe the kingdom of God is nearer than we think. I can not say for 100% what than means. What I do know is that if the Lord God the Divine is coming nearer, we better be ready! Selah!