I’m going to utter a prophecy. The gates of hell will not destroy this church. Jesus said that in Matthew 16:18. When he said that, he was not talking about a building. He was talking about the people, because people are the church.
Let’s learn that real estate is not the church, people are.
Let’s look at Luke 21:1-19 and discuss church success, what impresses God, church buildings, tribulation, fear, prophecy and endurance.
Luke 21:1 While Jesus was in the Temple, he watched the rich people dropping their gifts in the collection box. 2 Then a poor widow came by and dropped in two small coins. 3 “I tell you the truth,” Jesus said, “this poor widow has given more than all the rest of them. 4 For they have given a tiny part of their surplus, but she, poor as she is, has given everything she has.”
5 Some of his disciples began talking about the majestic stonework of the Temple and the memorial decorations on the walls. But Jesus said, 6 “The time is coming when all these things will be completely demolished. Not one stone will be left on top of another!” 7 “Teacher,” they asked, “when will all this happen? What sign will show us that these things are about to take place?”
8 He replied, “Don’t let anyone mislead you, for many will come in my name, claiming, ‘I am the Messiah,’ and saying, ‘The time has come!’ But don’t believe them. 9 And when you hear of wars and insurrections, don’t panic. Yes, these things must take place first, but the end won’t follow immediately.” 10 Then he added, “Nation will go to war against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. 11 There will be great earthquakes, and there will be famines and plagues in many lands, and there will be terrifying things and great miraculous signs from heaven.
12 “But before all this occurs, there will be a time of great persecution. You will be dragged into synagogues and prisons, and you will stand trial before kings and governors because you are my followers. 13 But this will be your opportunity to tell them about me. 14 So don’t worry in advance about how to answer the charges against you, 15 for I will give you the right words and such wisdom that none of your opponents will be able to reply or refute you! 16 Even those closest to you—your parents, brothers, relatives, and friends—will betray you. They will even kill some of you. 17 And everyone will hate you because you are my followers. 18 But not a hair of your head will perish! 19 By standing firm, you will win your souls.
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.
Success (vs. 1-4)
Jerusalem’s Temple was renovated around 19 BC and destroyed in 70 AD. It was so magnificent that it could easily surpass many of today’s most magnificent churches. God destroyed it because it was not a successful building. It became an idol. Successful churches are those not those with the most magnificent buildings but those that preach Christ and change lives.
A Successful Life (vs. 1-4)
A life of stinginess and accumulation is a mean and empty life. One example of generosity stands out, though she gave very little. This person, who was otherwise completely unknown, was a great giver. It was not the amount given away that gauges her financial success, but the percentage. That's what the story of the widow's mite is all about.
What Impresses God (vs. 1-4)
The disciples were impressed by the temple. God is not impressed by materialism. Jesus had the most praise for a widow who gave very generously at the temple. Could it just be that one of the most important reasons to attend a church is the opportunity to learn from the examples of the many faithful people with whom we fellowship?
Closing Church Buildings (vs. 1-4)
Jesus predicted that the temple at Jerusalem, which was an institution for over 500 years, would be destroyed. God is sometimes in the business of closing buildings. Jesus’ prediction came right after he had praised a widow for her very generous contribution to the temple fund, the proverbial widow’s mite. Church buildings are not the "forever" part of church life.
Church Size (vs. 5)
The majesty of a large church service can be awe-inspiring. Yet the intimacy and healing embrace of a small church is unsurpassed. Jesus did not promise large churches would be the norm or even a sign of success. Some few ancient churches were large. Usually, they were small and scattered. Size is not a sign of success; standing firm is.
A church choice (vs. 5)
What if Jesus presented us with a choice between a large and beautiful church building or having no building, enduring suffering and being despised? What if by choosing the latter and standing firm, we could have eternal life? Buildings can be idols. Jesus is more impressed with the grandeur of a heart which stands firm for him no matter what.
Destruction for Progress (vs. 6)
Change often causes anger. When churches look to traditions and not God’s instructions, our complications and not the simplicity of Christ, sometimes existing structures must go. Jesus prophesied that the temple would be destroyed, heralding a revolution in faith. If we are not willing to move forward in faith, God may destroy what we have built for our own good.
Buildings as Idols (vs. 6)
Christians are united in Jesus, but even good traditions can become like idols and need to be destroyed. The temple once served a good purpose, but had become a national idol. The more we study Jesus, the more we realize how ignorant we are of God’s perspective. The most important thing is to sit at the feet of the Master.
St Peter's Basilica cost what (vs. 6)
A tour guide once remarked that St Peter's Basilica cost most of northern Europe. Protestant churches left largely because of the financial scandal in building it. It is a monument to sin and arrogant pride in the Church. The traditions and structures we have built can become monuments to our own sin and conceited arrogance which God must eventually destroy.
A permanent Structure (vs. 6)
Jesus predicted the temple’s destruction and spoke of a truly permanent temple and an important cornerstone. People are that house of God (Ephesians 2:18-20). We are the living stones (1 Peter 2:4-6) in a spiritual temple. Our hope is in a permanent structure being built by Jesus Christ. If we build with him we will not be disappointed.
A Firm Foundation (vs. 6)
Jesus placed spiritual depth before buildings. A good building has a foundation that stands firm. We are to stand firm. Jesus listed things that help us stand firm: Don’t following false preachers who make wild claims about salvation and the end of the world. Do not be frightened. In the midst of calamity and hatred, stand firm on God’s foundation.
The Time is Near (vs. 8)
People have predicted the end for 2,000 years and Jesus warned us not to follow them (Luke 21:1-19). The day, hour and nearness of Christ’s return are unknown. When we believe that we are certain of the nearness of Christ’s return, we become lazy. Yet, real Christianity involves keeping on keeping on even in the midst of uncertainty.
Great Tribulation (vs. 11-14)
Christians live great tribulation in dozens of countries today. North Korean Christians face labor camps and death. Saudi Arabian Christians are threatened with imprisonment, deportation, torture and death. Afghanistani Christians face kidnapping and killing. In Iraq they are threatened with home burning, abduction and murder. Somali Christians face abduction and murder with no religious freedom. Let us pray for them.
Fearless in Fearful Times (vs. 11-14)
There are many reasons for fear. Jesus informed believers about the reality of fearful times, but encouraged them not to be afraid. Can we be fearless in fearful times? Every aspect of our lives, even the hairs on our heads are under God’s control. It takes faith to stand firm until the end and in so doing win eternal life.
Living by Faith (vs. 11-14)
Every generation since Christ thought that theirs was the last generation and none of them was right. What a lot of time was wasted! Jesus encouraged us not to worry about being overly prepared but to put our faith in him. Worry and doubt distract us from the most important job at hand which it to spread the gospel message.
Dying Testimony (vs. 16)
Martyr also means testimony. A witness is to die for our faith as martyrs. 50 countries which persecute Christians are on the list at Open Doors. The Voice of the Martyrs tells many of their stories. May we pray for them and follow their example by standing firm no matter what may come, so that we too "will win life."
Difficult Christianity (vs. 17)
The prosperity gospel is not real Christianity. We see the reality of a Christian life as Jesus predicted hardships which would follow true believers. God certainly does provide material blessings to the faithful at times, but suffering also comes to Christians precisely because they are obedient. Jesus encouraged us to stand firm and inherit something greater than materialism, eternal life.
4 Views of Prophecy (vs. 20, 27)
There are 4 predominant schools of prophecy: preterists (ancient fulfillment), historicists (fulfilled through history), futurists (to be fulfilled) and idealists (symbolic or spiritual fulfillment). The fourth symbolic view can include all other views. In Luke 21:5-19 we can see elements which were fulfilled in 70 AD and some which will be more logically completely fulfilled only at Christ’s return.
Like all temporary things, buildings have never been important to God. What is more important is lives changed and people that will live forever with him.