Lift up your heads” (Luke 21:28).
It was a Tuesday afternoon. High on a slope of the Mount of Olives, Jesus and His friends watched the sun gleam on the temple that crowned the holy city of Jerusalem. But now, the disciples stared at its towers not with pride but with terror because their Teacher had just told them that its exquisitely sculpted stone blocks would soon be toppled to rubble. Not only that, a searingly traumatic cluster of crises would take place just before the world’s end.
And three days from that Tuesday, Jesus’ own head would droop forward in death.
How could He say, “Lift up your heads”?
head droopers and head lifters
I grew up in the pancake-flat right-hand half of South Dakota, where a jog through a cow pasture was definitely a head drooper. I had to keep my eyes down so that I could watch for ankle-twisting gopher holes, large rocks, or the occasional cow pie.
But there were head lifters too. Once in a while, high in the blue dome above me, I would hear a thin, steady roar. I’d glance up to see the white thread of a jet contrail five miles up, and sometimes I could actually spot the tiny silver airliner itself. I would try to imagine how many people were on the flight and whether they were looking down right then, and what it would be like to fly through the breathtaking white clouds of the thunderhead I could see on the horizon.
Now, as an adult, I face a different set of head droopers. My smartphone is a major one, not only because it causes my neck to bend forward but also because of what’s in the news feeds. Russia recently invaded Ukraine, triggering Europe’s largest refugee crisis since World War II. Even though supportive blue-and-yellow Ukrainian flags fly on front porches in my neighborhood, it was really discouraging news.
News stories assault us with other head droopers, too, like the annoyance of thieves stealing our cars’ catalytic converters (one of these thefts happened in the parking lot of the church I pastor—during our service!), incessant gang shootings, and even rifle bullets striking cars on the freeway.
And, of course, there are internal head droopers, such as shame or weariness. There’s guilt, too, about the nearly 12,000 homeless people in the Seattle area. I didn’t cause their homelessness, but I feel helpless when it comes to making a real difference.
And speaking of head droopers, don’t even get me started on politics.
Jesus knew about all the head droopers in His time. But rather than grimly telling His friends, “OK, guys, brace yourselves. Suck it up, and get through it,” He told them to lift up their heads.
end-time head droopers
After Jesus told His friends how the temple would be destroyed, they asked, “Teacher, . . . when will these things happen? And what will be the sign that they are about to take place?” (Luke 21:7). So Jesus began listing the signs. Some of them referred mainly to the events just before the temple’s destruction four decades later, in AD 70. Others described what would happen much later, just before He returns. Some dealt with both. Here are just a few:
“Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom” (verse 10). What has happened to Ukraine has jolted the whole planet. And, of course, other wars are constantly taking place that aren’t covered as completely by the media. It’s tragic that such barefaced brutality still happens—but Jesus predicted it. The more we know about history, the more we learn that since Eden, there has never been a time of complete peace in our world. And there won’t be until the King of kings returns.
“There will be great earthquakes, famines and pestilences in various places” (verse 11). If you want a chilling visual, do an online image search on “earthquake hot spots maps.” You’ll see that the earthquake zones are in areas that contain a lot of people. Famines, of course, are frequent and are just as deadly, whether caused by nature or by war. And COVID is a pestilence that has covered the entire globe.
“Signs in the sun, moon and stars” (verse 25). When you stop and think about it, this set of signs could be the most terrifying of all. In Matthew 24:29, Jesus goes into greater detail: “Immediately after the distress of those days
“ ‘the sun will be darkened,
and the moon will not give its light;
the stars will fall from the sky,
and the heavenly bodies will be shaken.’ ”
The first three have been partially fulfilled (late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries), but it’s most likely that we’ll see these signs occur again with an even greater scope just before Jesus’ return.
“People will faint from terror, apprehensive of what is coming on the world, for the heavenly bodies will be shaken” (Luke 21:26). This is eerily true of our time, isn’t it? People are truly obsessed with the future of the planet. For an intriguing snapshot of what’s on people’s minds these days, do an online search for the top-grossing movies of any recent year. Out of the top 10 worldwide films of 2021, for example, three are superhero movies (Spider-Man: No Way Home, Venom: Let There Be Carnage, and Eternals). Stories with powerful, victorious heroes and heroines responding to evil speak to something deep within our frightened human race—a longing to bring harmony out of chaos.
But a real, unflawed Hero is on the way! In the very next verse, after we are told people will faint from terror, Jesus says, “At that time they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory.” Now there’s a heavenly sign that will be impossible to miss!
how to “lift up your head”
So, amid all of this, how do we follow Jesus’ advice to raise our eyes from our fears to focus on His return? He gives us three steps in verse 28: “When these things begin to take place, stand up and lift up your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.” Did you catch these steps? Here they are:
Be ready right now to respond. Jesus says to lift your head “when these things begin to take place.” In other words, don’t just go sailing serenely along, putting off your response until the last minute. Be alert! Signs that the world is ending are everywhere. It’s a good idea to keep one eye on Jesus’ words in Luke 21 and Matthew 24 and the other eye on national and world news.
Stand up! One Bible version reads “straighten up.” When word comes that officers are arriving at a military barracks for inspection, soldiers roll out of their bunks and stand at attention. And if a slouch is detected, it’s rewarded with a gruff “Straighten up, private!” You and I need to be spiritually upright people, ready to do battle for our souls.
Lift up your heads. Like being on the alert and straightening up, lifting your head is a decision. When my wife, Shelley, and I walk along a trail near our neighborhood, head drooping is often my default position. There are some interesting things on the path: slugs, those little black-and-red caterpillars, and “dog pies” left uncared for by their owners. But by drooping my head, I’m missing the dazzle of sunlight through tree leaves, the blue flash of a Steller’s jay, or the tiny green hummingbird who sits on a favorite tree branch in a yard festooned with bird feeders. If I didn’t look up, I’d also miss the often-stunning cloud patterns. All of these things are the handiwork of my Creator and Savior.
How do you “lift up your head” in a spiritual way? The only source of truth about the future is the Bible because it tells us the paths along which God has led His people in the past. Lift your eyes from this world’s problems, and remember the Savior’s guarantee about His arrival. Luke 21:27 reminds us that the Son of man will come “with power and great glory.”
But He’s also with us right now. In Matthew 28:20, after urging His disciples to go and baptize and teach people to do what He has commanded, He promises, “And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”
He’s able to be so close to us because of His Holy Spirit, as He told His disciples on the evening before His capture: “I will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate to be with you forever—the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you. I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you” (John 14:16–18).
watch the widow!
I know the story well, but I had never connected this poor widow with Jesus’ lift-your-head comments until now. We can read her story right there at the beginning of this same chapter, Luke 21. Watch her carefully; let her mentor you in head lifting. “As Jesus looked up, he saw the rich putting their gifts into the temple treasury. He also saw a poor widow put in two very small copper coins” (verses 1, 2).
Can you picture her? She’s a widow, and she’s poor—two head droopers right there. A third might be the soul-crushing jealousy she could have allowed herself to feel as she watched the wealthy carelessly donate their gargantuan offerings. But still, she lifts her head—raises her eyes from the sadness of her bereavement, raises her eyes from the knowledge that the only wealth she has is these two copper coins—and she drops those coins into the offering box.
Jesus watched her in awe. “Truly I tell you,” He said, “this poor widow has put in more than all the others. All these people gave their gifts out of their wealth; but she out of her poverty put in all she had to live on” (verses 3, 4).
Why did she lift her head? The Bible doesn’t say if she even noticed Jesus and His disciples. She couldn’t have known that He was the Son of God or that on the coming Friday afternoon, He would die for her sins. But she had faith to believe that even though she was the poorest of the poor and saddest of the sad, there was a God in heaven who loved her and would watch out for her even when times were tough. And she showed her gratitude by giving Him her all.
That’s how to “lift up your head.”
Maylan Schurch is a pastor in Washington State and a frequent contributor to Signs of the Times®.