“little apocalypse”

This section of Luke’s gospel is sometimes called “the little apocalypse.” We think it was written late in the first century, between 80 and 90 common era; about 50 years after Jesus’ resurrection and 10-15 years after the Romans destroyed the temple. 

The temple had stood for generations; people gathered for sacrifices and festivals, living out their devotion to God and their identity as God’s people.  They had rebuilt it and reclaimed it after enemies destroyed and defiled it.  It was once again destroyed, this time by the Romans.  The followers of Jesus were facing persecution within their religious community and in the wider Roman community.  Luke’s audience was still trying to understand it all. 

Apocalypse is a kind of literature written for a community in the midst of a crisis.  This kind of story can help the audience make bigger sense of very difficult experiences.  The word “apocalypse” comes from the word for “revelation” in Greek.  Apocalyptic writing functions on both a material and a spiritual level, linking them together and mirroring the ongoing conflict between good and evil.  As people face chaotic, confusing or painful situations, this kind of story can help them make sense of what is happening by linking their experience to a larger, more enduring and significant reality.  Luke’s initial audience could begin to see their current peril in a larger picture that promises (in the end) that all would be well.

Jesus’ words are alarming.  He talks about not only the destruction of the temple, but of wars and insurrections, natural disasters, multiple famines and plagues, as well as signs from heaven.  He talks about arrests and persecution. Luke’s original audience could relate to all that and more. He is naming what is happening.   Jesus’ words here put their difficult situation into the broader context, the larger struggle between good and evil, as God’s intention for the world unfolds.  It is not comfort for their struggle, exactly, but reassurance and reminder that God is with them through it all.  Reminder that God will finally triumph in the end.

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