It is natural to be terrified when things around us are falling apart. When Jesus predicted the destruction of the Temple, the disciples were anxious to know when and what sign there would be when it was about to happen. In Luke 21 Jesus describes far more trouble that the destruction of the Temple and Jerusalem, troubles which would not be an indication of his imminent return. “When you hear of wars and tumults, do not be terrified, but the end will not be at once” (verse 9).

He said they would be persecuted, but “this will be your opportunity to bear witness” (verse 13). He promised them, “I will give you a mouth and wisdom, which none of your adversaries will be able to withstand or contradict” (verse 15). “By your endurance you will gain your (eternal) lives” (verse 19).

The nation would come to a tragic end and “be led captive among all nations, and Jerusalem will be trampled underfoot by the Gentiles, until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled” (verse 24). Then “there will be signs in sun and moon and stars, and on earth distress of nations in perplexity because of the roaring of the sea and the waves, people fainting with fear and foreboding of what is coming on the world … For the powers of the heavens will be shaken. And then they will see the Son of Man coming …” (verses 25,26).

The sun, moon and stars are symbolic of the ruling powers being in chaos and symbolically those power will end – “heaven and earth will pass away”. The parable of the fig tree (verses 39-41) represents Israel (Joel 1:7) and when “they come out in leaf … you know the kingdom of God is near”. “That day”, says Jesus, will come, “suddenly like a trap … upon all who dwell on the face of the whole earth” (verse 35). “but stay awake at all times praying …” (verse 36) and “do not be terrified”.