Coffman Commentaries on the Old and New TestamentLuke 21
Except for the first four verses detailing Luke's account of the widow and her two mites, this whole chapter recounts Jesus' Mount Olivet discourse regarding the destruction of the temple, the destruction of Jerusalem, the Second Coming of Christ, and the end of the world. It is well to keep in view throughout the chapter that the prophecies involve multiple future events and that the distinction of what is meant in every instance is hard to determine.
That such multiple prophecies are indeed commingled here is clear from Matthew 24:3, where three separate questions by the apostles are given as the subject of the discourse. "In this passage the fall of Jerusalem and the end of the age so blend that the features of each cannot be precisely determined." F1
For an outline of the chapter, the following has been adopted from Spence. F2
- The episode regarding the widow's mites (Luke 21:1-4)
- Jesus' prophecy of the temple's destruction, and by inference, the destruction of Jerusalem (Luke 21:5-6)
- The disciples' request to know the sign and when (Luke 21:7)
- Apparent signs not to be mistaken for real (Luke 21:8-18)
- The true sign, with destruction to follow at once (Luke 21:20-24)
- Signs of the Second Coming and the End (Luke 21:25-27)
- Practical applications and warnings (Luke 21:28-36)
- Summary of Jesus' final actions before the Cross (Luke 21:37-38)
This chapter regarding Jesus' prophecies uttered from the slopes of Olivet is paralleled in Matthew 24 and Mark 13. Matthew's account is the fullest; but it is easier to make a separation of the prophecies regarding Jerusalem and those regarding the Second Coming, in the account here.
THE WIDOW'S TWO MITES
This wonderful story has captured the imagination of every generation, and this woman's sacrificial gift has been the inspiration for countless gifts in all ages since then.
And he looked up and saw the rich men that were casting their gifts into the treasury. And he saw a certain widow casting in thither two mites. And he said, Of a truth I say unto you, This poor widow cast in more than they all: for all these did of their superfluity cast in unto the gifts; but she of her want did cast in all the living that she had.
The omniscience of Jesus appears in his knowledge of the financial condition of all the givers, this being another example of the emphasis on this attribute of Jesus on the part of the synoptic writers.
The treasury ...
Bliss stated that "The exact position of the treasury is not certainly known"; F3 but, following the studies of Lightfoot, most scholars have located it in the Court of the Women, in which were placed "thirteen boxes in the wall, for the reception of the alms of the people." F4 These are called "trumpets" because of the trumpet shape of the metal devices on top of the boxes, flaring out at the bottom and narrowing upward to a small opening at the top where the monies were deposited.
Two mites ...
The word for this coin is noted by Barclay thus:
A LEPTON was the smallest of all
coins; the name means "the thin one";
it was worth one-sixteenth of a penny;
and therefore the offering of the
widow was only half a farthing. All
she had in the world was two LEPTA. F5
Plummer revealed that "According to Jewish law at the time, it was not permissible to cast in less than TWO gifts." F6 Thus, this woman's gift was the very smallest legal gift possible!
More than they all ...
Jesus commended this gift, making it larger in his sight than all of the other gifts combined, evidently basing such an evaluation upon the following: (1) it manifested trust in God, being all that she had; (2) it was given in harmony with God's laws, even to the point of the Pharisaical rule that it had to be plural (two); (3) it was sacrificial, there being nothing at all left. If God still measures gifts by the rule of what the giver has left, many a handsome gift must appear deficient. Of course, we must believe that God does so evaluate all gifts to his kingdom.
Spence observed that, "As far as we know, Jesus' comment upon the widow's alms was his last word of public teaching." F7
Verses 5, 6
And as some spake of the temple, how it was adorned with goodly stones and offerings, he said, As for these things which ye behold, the days come in which there shall not be left one stone upon another, that shall not be thrown down.
THE PROPHECY OF THE TEMPLE'S DESTRUCTION
There cannot be imagined a more shocking statement of Jesus, as this must have been viewed by the apostles. Mark identified the ones speaking here as Peter, James, John, and Andrew. To every Jew, the temple was the most sacred and beautiful thing ever seen on earth. Josephus (Book V, Chapter 5) described the snow-white stones of such great size, some of which were overlaid with pure gold, and the magnificence of this structure which required the labor of thousands of men from 20-19 B.C. to 64 A.D. to build. Although not completed until long after Jesus' words, it was nevertheless sufficiently built, even then, to justify what is said of it here.
In addition to the fundamental structure, there were adornments of the most extravagant and expensive kind, given by people out of gratitude to God for various deliverances, or by such people as Herod for political considerations. Herod's gift was a golden vine with clusters larger than a man.
Spence thought there might have been some kind of connection between Jesus' praise of the widow's gift and the apostles' calling attention to the precious stones and adornments within the temple with an implication in their remarks that "If only such gifts as you have just praised had been made, never had that glorious pile been raised in the honor of the Eternal King!" F8
Jesus' mention of the stones that would be "thrown down," however, focuses attention, not on the adornments, but upon the foundations. All three synoptics mention this prophecy that not a stone would be left intact in the temple; and this must rank as one of the greatest prophecies ever uttered among the sons of earth. There can be no quibbling about this prophecy. Jesus made it, much to the astonishment of his disciples, and against all probabilities that such a thing was even possible. Why should every stone be moved, especially in view of their size? The occasion for this was the gold plating, which when the temple burned, ran down into the crevices; and the soldiers of Titus made a thorough search for the yellow metal. Also significantly, the temple was destroyed contrary to Titus' orders. F9 After the fire, however, Titus ordered the destruction to be completed. F10 See my Commentary on Matthew, Matt. 24:1-2.
There cannot be any doubt of Titus' making every conceivable effort to spare the glorious temple. Near the end of the siege, when he was trying to negotiate with some of the Jewish leaders, he said, "I will endeavor to preserve you your holy house, whether you will or not." F11 Jesus, however, had condemned the temple to destruction, and not even the word of a man so powerful as Titus could stand against the word of Jesus.
Although the destruction of Jerusalem itself is not mentioned in these verses, it is clearly implied; and so the apostles understood it.
The temple was the last link between God and the hardened Israel. "How gloriously God had revealed himself there to his faithful worshipers!" F12 Isaiah was called to his prophetic work in the temple (Isa. 6); and in the temple an angel of the Most High had appeared to Zachariah with the announcement of the birth of John (Luke 1:11ff).
And they asked him, saying, Teacher, when therefore shall these things be? and what shall be the sign when these things are about to come to pass?
Jesus went far beyond answering the question recorded here. He did indeed give the sign that signaled the end of Jerusalem and the temple (Luke 21:20); but as Geldenhuys noted:
So terrible, the Saviour warns them,
will be the judgments soon to burst
forth over the people of Jerusalem,
that the judgments upon the guilty
city will be the foreshadowing of the
Final Judgment at his Second
In the meanwhile, for Jesus clearly foresaw that the destruction of Jerusalem was not to occur for a whole generation, the Lord carefully warned the Twelve not to be deceived by many developments that would only appear to be signs; but as reiterated in Matthew, "The end is not yet." Luke 21:8-19 inculcate the warnings against false signs.
Verses 8, 9
And he said, Take heed that ye be led not astray: for many shall come in my name, saying, I am he; and, The time is at hand: go ye not after them. And when ye shall hear of wars and tumults, be not terrified; for these things must needs come to pass first; but the end is not immediately.
There were many historical fulfillments of the things mentioned here in the forty years preceding the destruction of Jerusalem. Such things as "wars and tumults," however, were but the normal state of humanity; and even the earthquakes and natural disasters mentioned a moment later were all "par for the course," as far as this world is concerned.
One thing that has occasioned some questioning among scholars is Jesus' prophecy of the many false christ's who would come claiming to be "I AM," and that "the time (of the End) is at hand." Geldenhuys said;
As far as can be ascertained, there
were no persons who represented
themselves as Christ during the years
between the Ascension and 70 A.D. ...
this refers to the last days before
his Second Advent. F14
Boles, however, mentioned that the whole country (during those years) "was overrun with magicians, seducers, imposters, etc., who drew the people after them into the wilderness, promising signs and wonders. F15 There was also a pretended prophet, an Egyptian (Acts 21:38).
If there were indeed no such people claiming to be "Christ" during the interval, Geldenhuys is correct in referring the words to the times prior to the End; but it is rash to conclude that there were no such claimants to Messiahship, whether or not we may be able to identify them. Spence stated that:
Many of these pretenders appeared
during the lifetime of the apostles
... Simon Magus was one (Acts 8).
His rival Dositheus, and his disciple
Meander were such ... Many of these
false Messiahs appeared in the
interval between the Ascension and the
destruction of Jerusalem. F16
In view of the prophecy of Jesus, and the known condition of the times, it would appear that the preponderance of evidence favors Spence's view.
By the very nature of this double prophecy, the same condition of false pretenders to Messiahship and deity will mark the approach of the final judgment; and it must be observed that our generation has already seen many such pretenders to divine honors.
Verses 10, 11
Then said he unto them, Nation shall rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; and there shall be great earthquakes, and in divers places famines and pestilences; and there shall be terrors and great signs from heaven.
The famines, pestilences, earthquakes, etc. were to be expected as invariable phenomena characteristic of all generations. Again, these are not the true sign of the end. They are in a sense NORMAL. It is futile to cite historical examples, which are plentiful.
Terrors and great signs from heaven ...
Impressive as these most assuredly will be, nevertheless, these also are not THE SIGN. As to what Jesus foretold here, one may only conjecture. Certainly Josephus has the most amazing catalog of wonders that preceded the fall of Jerusalem, such as a cow giving birth to a lamb, the appearance in the skies of legions of marching soldiers, etc. Whatever was the cause of these things, and whatever was their nature, real or imaginary, they were certainly "terrors" to those who experienced them, thus vindicating Jesus' prophecy.
But before all these things, they shall lay their hands on you, and shall persecute you, delivering you up to the synagogues and prisons, bringing you before kings and governors for my name's sake.
The application of these verses through Luke 21:19 are primarily to the twelve apostles, this being implicit in the fact of four apostles being named by Mark as precipitating this prophecy; and when Jesus said to them, "They shall lay their hands upon YOU, etc." there can hardly be any way to avoid the inference that the Twelve are meant. Of course, as throughout the discourse, it applies also to the times of the End.
Synagogues ... kings and governors ...
Thus the persecuting power against the Twelve and the infant church would be doubly prosecuted, by both Jews and Gentiles. The Book of Acts, in its entirety, is an inspired comment on the prophecy here. These things all came to pass exactly as Jesus said.
Verses 13, 14, 15
It shall turn out unto you for a testimony. Settle it therefore in your hearts, not to meditate beforehand how to answer: for I will give you a mouth and wisdom, which all your adversaries shall not be able to withstand or gainsay.
This promise of inspiration for the occasion was never to all Christians, nor was the recommendation that they should not meditate beforehand what they would say. The Twelve are clearly in view here.
Give you a mouth and wisdom ...
These are symbolical words with the meaning that they would have the Spirit of God speaking through them (Matthew 10:20)
But ye shall be delivered up even by parents, and brethren, and kinsfolk, and friends; and some of you shall they cause to be put to death. And ye shall be hated of all men for my name's sake. And not a hair of your head shall perish. In your patience ye shall win your souls.
John Wesley's comment on these verses is correct and impressive; he said: "`Not a hair of your head shall perish' is a proverbial expression (meaning that ye shall not perish) - that is, without the special providence of God, and not before the time, nor without full reward." F17
Summers declared flatly that "Luke 21:18-19 contain words of assurance which appear to be contradictory to what is contained in Luke 21:16!" F18 Some of the Twelve, Jesus said, would be "put to death"; yet here he says, "Not a hair of your head shall perish ... ye shall win your souls." Of course, the ancient Pharisees would have been sure this is a contradiction; but one is always surprised when a Christian falls into such error. Jesus' teaching here is that, even though the Twelve are put to death, nevertheless, neither their soul nor their body (from mention of hair) shall perish! Some of the Twelve were put to death, but have they perished? No. They sit upon twelve thrones judging twelve tribes of (spiritual) Israel (Matthew 19:28).
William Barclay had a beautiful understanding of this, thus:
Jesus spoke of a safety that
overpasses the threats of earth. In
the days of the 1914-1918 war, Rupert
Brooke, out of his faith and his
ideal, wrote these lines:
War knows no power, Safe shall be my
going, Secretly armed against all
death's endeavor: Safe though all
safety's lost; safe where men fall;
And if these poor limbs die, safest
The man who walks with Christ may lose
his life, but he can never lose his
In your patience, ye shall win your souls ...
We should not leave this passage without regarding the admonition to patience. The apostles needed it; Jesus was here telling them that a whole generation would pass before even the first phase of this vast prophecy would begin to unfold, and that some of them would not live to see even the type enacted before men's eyes, to say nothing of the anti-type.
When this writer was engaged in efforts to construct the church of Christ complex on Madison Avenue, New York City, at a time when things were discouraging, Berry Brown, the great elder of the church of Wichita Falls, Texas, sought him after a lecture at Abilene Christian College and handed him a slip of paper on which were written these words in the old KJV version, "In your patience, possess ye your souls!" Here is a fountain of strength for every mortal who must endure the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune.
But when ye see Jerusalem compassed with armies, then know that her desolation is at hand.
THE SIGN AND WHAT SHALL FOLLOW IT
The sign was to be the encirclement of Jerusalem with hostile armies. This was a sign no one could miss; and when it came, they were to expect utter desolation of the city.
There is absolutely no evidence here that Luke was writing long after the facts, or that he retrospectively included these words in Jesus' prophecy. Such a conceit exists in the critical schools, but it is unfounded in any evidence whatever, and must be written off as totally unacceptable. Note this:
There is nothing in this passage that is not also in Matthew, who mentioned the "armies" that would burn the city (Matthew 22:7), and the "desolation" that would follow (Matthew 24:15); and it is certain that Matthew thus quoted Jesus' words which were spoken forty years prior to their fulfillment. The only word in this verse that is not in Matthew is "encompassed," and such an encompassing is inherent, absolutely, in the fact of the king's "armies" destroying those murderers and burning "their city."
One cannot help being wearied by the type of criticism reviewed here; because, more and more, the inherent dishonesty of such criticisms is apparent. The people who make them cannot be so stupid as to be ignorant of the refutation of their theories. As an editorial from "Christianity Today" expressed it:
When scholarly objections to
particular texts are raised, it is
proper to meet them with scholarly
evidence on the other side. If we
then discover, however as frequently
happens - that even when we have
shown their criticism of a passage to
be unfounded, certain critics continue
to reject its reliability, we
recognize that their objections are
based on anti-Biblical presuppositions
and must be seen as a kind of faith or
(anti-faith) rather than as
scholarship and science.
The road that one takes at the
beginning of a journey determines the
goal he will reach. Starting with the
conviction that the Bible is
unreliable leads us not merely to
mistrust it but to misunderstand it.
The prolonged misreading of the
evidence ultimately leads to views
that are as unreal, abstract, and
incommunicable as those of Bultmann
and other "modern" theologians. The
first need of Christians and the
Church today is to start at the
beginning, to reaffirm the historic
Christian assertion that the Bible is
true and trustworthy in the whole and
in all its parts.
(January 17, 1975)
A case in point is this verse. The allegation of a late date (after the destruction of Jerusalem) for Luke, and the insistence that he here put words in Jesus' mouth which Jesus never spoke is not serious scholarship at all, but prejudice. There is a whole volume of evidence which refutes such prejudice; but the simple affirmation of the sacred author, Luke, that he gave us an account "of all things accurately" (Luke 1:3) is far more than sufficient refutation of it.
Matthew and Mark in the parallels used the words "the abomination of desolation," both of them being Jews; but Luke the Gentile, while using "desolation," selected another word that Jesus used in the discourse, which was "armies." That Jesus did indeed use that word is seen in the fact that when the armies of Rome surrounded the city, all the Christians fled to Pella (see under Luke 21:21).
All of the language Luke used in this verse may be found in the Old Testament, and there is no word or phrase in this whole paragraph which requires one to believe Luke was writing history as a prophecy, an act of dishonesty in itself. Scholars who have spent years of study on the questions raised here affirm that "There is no single trait of the forecast which cannot be documented directly out of the Old Testament. F20 C. H. Dodd was certain that "Luke's reference to Jerusalem being encompassed by armies stands on its own feet, and is not coloured by the event of A.D. 66-70." F21
We repeat, the critical allegations based on this verse are not scholarship at all, but prejudice, grounded in the a priori bias that there is no such thing as prophecy.
Verses 21, 22
Then let them that are in Judea flee unto the mountains; and let them that are in the midst of her depart out; and let not them that are in the country enter therein. For these are days of vengeance, that all things which are written may be fulfilled.
Flee unto the mountains ...
History records that no Christian lost his life in the incredible devastation that overtook Jerusalem, the certainty that they did escape being the only authentication of Jesus' prophecy that is necessary. Eusebius tells how:
The Christians fled to Pella, a town
in Trans-Jordan to the south of the
Sea of Galilee. Pella was one of the
Greek towns of the Decapolis, and
there the Christians remained free
from the Roman warfare and Jewish
All things that are written may be fulfilled ...
The great chapter of Deut. 28:15-68 is surely included in this. Almost no form of calamity which was visited upon the Jews during the Roman war was left unmentioned in this chapter; but many of the prophets were just as specific (see Leviticus 26:31-33; Deuteronomy 32:35; 1 Kings 9:6-9; Daniel 9:26; Micah 3:12; and Zechariah 11:6).
These are the days of vengeance ...
At last, as Jesus said, "All of the righteous blood shed on earth, from the blood of Abel" to the very time Jesus spoke, was coming upon the doomed city. Their greatest sin of all was in rejecting God's Son; and the penalty of that last act of rebellion was summarily executed upon Israel in the total destruction of their city.
Woe unto them that are with child and to them that give suck in those days! for there shall be great distress upon the land, and wrath upon this people.
As Ash observed:
(These) touches depict the horror of a
nation scattered by God's wrath
(Deuteronomy 28:64). The siege would work
particular hardship upon pregnant
women and those with babies still
There is no way to entertain any reasonable doubt either: (1) that Jesus uttered this prophecy, or (2) that it came to pass as he said. Here indeed was the Prophet like unto Moses.
And they shall fall by the edge of the sword, and shall be led captive into all nations: and Jerusalem shall be trodden down of the Gentiles, until the times of the Gentiles be fulfilled.
Fall by the edge of the sword ...
Josephus gives the names of the tribes and villages with the numbers put to death, arriving at the fantastic total of 1,100,000; and as Josephus was a Jewish historian, his record must be received as the most reliable that has reached us concerning this disaster.
Led captive into all nations ...
Titus alone deported some 97,000 at one time; and the scattering of Israel, as often promised by Jesus, was most thoroughly accomplished.
Trodden down of the Gentiles ...
means occupied by the Gentiles. They did not tread down the city during the siege, nor as they devastated it, but as they occupied it for more than nineteen centuries.
The times of the Gentiles ...
is here named as the period of time during which the Holy City would be subject to Gentile domination, and it is far easier for Christians now to know what this meant than it was for the apostles who first heard it. The historical record of that period is spread upon the chronicles of nearly two millennia.
The proper understanding of "the times of the Gentiles" must take into account the following:
- The fact that nineteen hundred years were clearly a part of the period indicated, that much time having already elapsed.
- The fact that these words "are to be understood as the antithesis of the season of Jerusalem" (Luke 19:44). F24 The Times of the Gentiles will be comparable to the times during which Jerusalem held the favored position.
- The fact that the apostle Paul used a very similar term, "the fullness of the Gentiles," and prophesied that Jewish hardening would continue until that period was concluded (see Romans 11:25,; 11:25, and also comments in my Commentary on Romans, en ).
In the light of the above considerations, the true meaning of "the times of the Gentiles" would appear to be as expressed by various writers thus:
The interval between the fall of
Jerusalem and the End of the Age is
called "the times of the Gentiles,"
during which the gospel is announced
to the Gentiles and the vineyard is
given to others than the Jews
(Luke 20:16; 13:29,30). F25
To the Jews God granted a time of
privilege and gracious opportunity.
Near the close of that time the Son of
man wept over Jerusalem, saying, "If
thou hadst known ... in this thy day."
In like manner, the Gentile nations
are now having their times, which in
due course are to be fulfilled, as was
the case with Jerusalem. F26
The times of the Gentiles may mean the Gentiles' "Day of grace," that is, the church age. F27
"The times of the Gentiles" signify
the whole period or epoch which must
elapse between the destruction of
Jerusalem and the temple, and the
beginning of the times of the end when
the Lord will return ... In other
words, these denote the period during
which they, the Gentiles, hold the
Church of God in place of the Jews,
deposed from that position of favor
and honor. F28
There is not much disagreement among commentators that the "times of the Gentiles" represents a very long period of time; but there are many radically divergent views on when those times will be terminated. For example: Dummelow thought they would close "when Israel is converted." F29 Barnes mentioned some who believe they will end "in the millenium" F30 or "when all the Gentiles are converted." F31 Wesley said these times shall terminate "in the full conversion of the Gentiles." F32 Harrison supposed they would close "with Israel's future restoration to favor," F33 etc. All such interpretations of this passage are rejected here.
As Geldenhuys said:
Christ nowhere implies that the "times
of the Gentiles" will be followed by
Jewish dominion over the nations. The
kingdom of this world is to give place
to "the kingdom of our Lord and of his
Christ" (Revelation 9:15). F34
Furthermore, the times of the Jews did not mean their "full conversion," and neither will the times of the Gentiles be their "full conversion," but just the opposite. The times of the Gentiles means the period when Gentiles are being saved; and there is a powerful inference in this text that, just as Israel finally rebelled completely against the Lord, so will the Gentiles, bringing on the time of the End.
A VERY STARTLING FACT
Today, after over nineteen centuries of Gentile dominion over Jerusalem, during which the Romans, the Saracens, the Franks, the Mamelukes, the Turks, and the British have, in turn, held authority over Jerusalem, (the city is today controlled by secular Israel.) If the interpretations which we have advocated above, the same interpretations that have been in vogue among Christian commentators for centuries - if those interpretations are true, then there is a powerful indication in the current status of Jerusalem that suggests the awesome possibility, if not the certainty, that "the times of the Gentiles" have about expired. The current status of true faith in Christ in our troubled world is weak and precarious. Multiplied billions of the Gentile nations have either not heard the gospel at all, or have totally repudiated Christianity, as has Russia. The truth that men cannot foresee the future, and the fact of uncertainty in all such interpretations as those undertaken here, preclude any dogmatism; but the six-day war that lifted the Gentile yoke from Jerusalem in 1967 is in some manner related to this prophecy. The practical applications of his words which Jesus at once propounded should now concern people more than ever, lest "that day" come upon them unawares.
And there shall be signs in sun and moon and stars; and upon the earth distress of nations, in perplexity for the roaring of the sea and the billows; men fainting for fear, and for expectation of the things which are coming on the world: for the powers of the heavens shall be shaken. And then shall they see the Son of man coming in a cloud with power and great glory. But when these things begin to come to pass, look up; and lift up your heads; because your redemption draweth nigh.
The signs spoken of here refer to the Second Advent when Christ shall appear in glory, all the dead who ever lived shall be raised to life, and the Judgment shall occur. Just as the sign of the destruction of Jerusalem was something that all could "see" (the encompassing armies), so also the sign of the Second Advent shall be when they shall "see the Son of man," coming with power and glory.
And then shall they see ...
The event spoken of is very remote in time; the Lord did not say, then shall "you" see. Of course, in a little different sense, "every eye shall see him"; and no man shall "sleep through" such an event as this.
The certainty that great signs will appear, not their exact nature, is revealed here. Exactly what these will be will not be known until the final events begin. The things prophesied surely appear to be vast and cataclysmic disturbances in the physical universe. The sun's light failed at the first Advent of Christ, and similar cosmic signs may be expected in the Second Advent.
A good summary of this place was given by Barclay thus: "The Christian conception of history is that it has a goal; and, at that goal, Jesus Christ will be Lord of all. That is all we know, and all we need to know." F35
Verses 29, 30, 31
And he spake to them a parable: Behold the fig tree, and all of the trees: when they now shoot forth, ye see it and know of your own selves that the summer is now nigh. Even so ye also, when ye see these things coming to pass, know ye that the kingdom of God is nigh.
And all the trees ...
These words seem to have been added by Jesus to prevent the interpretation of this fig tree as Israel; but, of course, that is what some have done anyway, with the deduction that when Israel starts budding out (giving signs of conversion to Christ), the glorious kingdom is about to appear! The conviction here regards such views negatively. This parable simply means that the progress, or lack of progress, of God's will among men will be plainly evident in the actions of men themselves. In our day, the trees are shooting out the leaves and branches all right; but what is indicated? Is it an increase of righteousness, or wickedness? The man who cannot answer has simply not looked. Jesus said, "Behold!"
The kingdom of God ...
as used here is apparently a reference to the "eternal kingdom" (2 Peter 1:11), which is the state of believers after the Judgment.
Verse 32, 33
Verily I say unto you, This generation shall not pass away, till all things be accomplished Heaven and earth shall pass away: but my words shall not pass away.
Throughout this discourse, Jesus was giving prophecies related to two future events: (1) the destruction of Jerusalem with its temple, and (2) his Second Coming in glory; therefore, Jesus' use of the word "generation" in this passage requires it to be understood in two senses. It has a perfect application to both events when so understood.
meaning the people then alive on earth, would not pass away before Jerusalem was destroyed some forty years afterward. "This generation," in the sense of the Jewish people, will not pass away before Christ comes in glory. There can be no reasonable objection to this use of a word in two somewhat different senses, for the word "Israel" is itself so written and understood by the inspired authors of the New Testament.
JESUS FORETOLD THE PASSING OF AGES BEFORE HIS RETURN
One of the most common errors among the sophisticated with regard to Jesus Christ is the notion that our Lord thought that his Second Coming was an event in the near future, with the result that the early church expected Christ to come in glory during their own lives. It is true, of course, that some of the early church did expect the speedy return of Christ in their own times; but that was not due to anything that Jesus either did or taught, nor to anything that the holy apostles preached or wrote. In fact, the early church was guilty of the same sin of inattention to what Christ had emphatically taught that is today being committed by the people making the same mistake that some in the early church made. The chapter before us emphatically reveals that countless ages were to go by before the final coming of Christ in glory. Geldenhuys has this wonderful summary of it:
Jesus taught that even before the
destruction of Jerusalem a
considerable time would elapse
(Luke 21:12), and that thereafter
again a considerable time, when one
after another of the Gentile nations
(plural) would, in turn, rule over
Jerusalem (Luke 21:24); and only when
the "times of the Gentiles" are
fulfilled (Luke 21:24) (obviously a
long period), will the signs of
Luke 21:25ff come, and only after
that his second advent. F36
Not merely in this chapter, but upon other occasions Jesus plainly taught that ages were to pass away before his second coming. Note:
This gospel of the kingdom shall be
preached in the whole world; and then
shall the end come (Matthew 24:14).
Now after a long time the lord of
those servants cometh (Matthew 25:19).
And this gospel must first be preached
to all the nations (Mark 13:10).
Wheresoever this gospel shall be
preached throughout the whole world,
that also which this woman hath done
shall be spoken of for a memorial of
her (Mark 14:9).
If that servant shall say in his
heart, My lord delayeth his coming ...
It is in the border context of what Jesus here did that one finds the most certain proof of all that Christ envisioned ages, not some short span, as elapsing before the Second Advent. And what did he do?
- He combined prophecies of the destruction of Jerusalem in such a manner as to make the first event a type of the latter.
- He most circumstantially outlined what would happen before Jerusalem was destroyed, even predicting the martyrdom of some of the Twelve BEFORE that event which took place forty years after he spoke.
- By choice of an event forty years in the future, making it a type of his Second Advent, and by the declaration of an interval between them which would allow time for successive "nations," as indicated by the word "times" (plural), to hold dominion over Jerusalem, the Lord made it certain that all future peoples would be able to discern his clear meaning, namely, that ages, not mere years or decades, would pass before his return.
The very obvious truth of all this, however, does not prevent the old satanic lie from being circulated that Jesus himself was deceived in thinking he would return within a few months, or years, after his crucifixion.
It was the divine wisdom of our Lord that led him to meld the prophecies regarding Jerusalem and the Second Coming, providing just enough uncertainty that each generation in turn might suppose the end to be possible in its own day.
Heaven and earth shall pass away ...
This is a positive declaration that an end, or termination, shall come to the earth and its environment. "The end of the world" was mentioned in the great commission (Matthew 28:18-20), and an apostle said, "According to his promise, we look for new heavens and a new earth, wherein dwelleth righteousness (2 Peter 3:13). (See more on this in my Commentary on Matthew, Matthew 28:18-20.)
My word shall not pass away ...
None but God could have such a certainty regarding his word; and the passing ages have only confirmed the superlative truth of this statement. Nineteen centuries and more have gone; and evil men will spend half a lifetime trying to prove one little fragment of the gospels to be false, but such is a hopeless endeavor. The sun, moon, and stars will disappear more quickly than the word of Jesus Christ our Lord.
Verses 34, 35, 36
But take heed to yourselves, lest haply your hearts be overcharged with surfeiting, and drunkenness, and cares of this life, and that day come on you suddenly as a snare: for so shall it come upon all them that dwell upon the face of the earth. But watch ye at every season, making supplication, that ye may prevail to escape all these things that shall come to pass, and to stand before the Son of man.
Take heed to yourselves ...
means that men should give more attention to their own spiritual condition than to such questions as the apostles just raised. The vital thing that concerns every person ever born is his relationship to God in Christ; and, as that is the practical concern of greatest importance, Jesus concluded this teaching with this appeal for patient, godly living on the part of his followers.
With surfeiting, drunkenness, and cares of this life ...
Ash observed that the word for "surfeiting" "refers to the nausea following a debauch and is used only here in the New Testament." F37 It is translated "dissipation" in RSV, Phillips, and New English Bible. It is noteworthy that "cares of this life" appear here as equally detrimental in some as gross sins are in others.
Suddenly as a snare ...
Jesus here stated that the Second Coming will thus come upon "all" that dwell on the face of "all the earth." Thus, none shall expect him at the time of his coming, which appears to give a negative answer to the question he propounded in Luke 18:8.
Watch ye, that ye may escape ...
In the TYPE of the final event, the Christians escaped the siege through heeding Jesus' words; the admonition here is that if his disciples watch they shall escape the disasters accompanying the ANTI-TYPE. There is reference to this escape in 1 Thessalonians 4:16-18.
To stand before the Son of man ...
These words foretell of glorious majesty pertaining to Jesus Christ in the final judgment. The disciples were either standing or sitting with Jesus when these words were uttered, and they found no discomfort whatever in his presence; but the scene here transferred to the Great Assize, "when the great and terrible day of the Lord has come, and who shall be able to stand!" (2 Corinthians 5:10; Revelation 6:17).
Verses 37, 38
And every day he was teaching in the temple; and every night he went out and lodged in the mount that is called Olivet. And all the people came early in the morning to him in the temple, to hear him.
And every day ...
The fact that Jesus taught "every day" of the final week contradicts the near-unanimous opinions of scholars to the effect that "Wednesday and Thursday were spent in retirement." F38 Robertson, in his "Harmony of the Gospels," scheduled no word or event from Jesus on Wednesday, and nothing on Thursday except the Last Supper. F39 This misunderstanding of that week is due to the near-universal opinion that Jesus was crucified on Friday. He was, however, crucified on Thursday, April 6, A.D. 30, as the Scriptural records reveal, confirmed by modern computer studies of those early dates. See dissertation on this under Mark 15:42 in my Commentary on Mark. The reason why people cannot find anything that Jesus taught on Thursday is that Jesus was on the cross that day.
Lodged in the mount that is called Olivet ...
Adam Clarke was of the opinion that Jesus stayed each night in the home of Martha, Mary, and Lazarus, in Bethany, a village located on the nearby slopes of Mount Olivet; but as Childers noted:
The Greek word translated ABODE (or
LODGED) in this verse means literally
to lodge in the open. Thus it seems
that Jesus spent the nights in the
open on the Mount of Olives. F40
It is also significant that Jesus apparently never spent a night in Jerusalem, except as a prisoner. God's displeasure because of Jerusalem's rebellion against himself was never more evident than in such a fact as this.
And all the people came early in the morning ...
This has reference to the daily schedule of teachings followed by Jesus. This mention of the early hour shows that the days were very long working periods, filled to the utmost with teaching by the Master.
After calling attention to the fact that some ancient manuscripts have here (following Luke 21:38) the story of the woman taken in adultery (John 7:53-8:11), Tinsley remarked that:
This story is very probably one of the
detached units of genuine material
about Jesus which some early
Christians were anxious to get into
one gospel or another. Most
manuscripts include this in John's
The last public teaching, as far as we know, had been completed when Jesus praised the widow's two mites; and had lifted the perspective all the way to final judgment. Only the deed upon which everything else depended remained to be enacted, and that was the death, burial, and resurrection of our Lord; and the inspired evangelist Luke's final three chapters deal with that final act and consummation of Jesus' redemptive mission on earth. Like all the other gospels, Luke's account is original, fresh, independent, historical, and totally in harmony with all the others. The gospel records form a composite description of the most important week ever lived upon this earth. In these records is unveiled God's offering for human transgression, who is our Lord Jesus Christ.
Footnotes for Luke 21
1: Donald G. Miller, The Layman's Bible Commentary (Richmond, Virginia: The John Knox Press, 1959), Vol. 18 (Luke), p. 145.
2: H. D. M. Spence, Pulpit Commentary (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1962), Vol. 16, Luke ii, p. 184.
3: George R. Bliss, An American Commentary on the New Testament (Valley Forge, Pennsylvania: The Judson Press, n.d.), Vol. II, Luke, p. 299.
4: H. D. M. Spence, op. cit., p. 182.
5: William Barclay, The Gospel of Luke (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1953), p. 265.
6: Alfred Plummer, The Gospel according to Luke (New York: T. and T. Clark, 1929), en loco.
7: H. D. M. Spence, op. cit., p. 183.
9: James MacKnight, A Harmony of the Gospels (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Book House, 1950), p. 412.
10: Flavius Josephus, Wars and Antiquities (New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston), p. 831.
11: Ibid., p. 814.
12: Norval Geldenhuys, Commentary on the Gospel of Luke (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1951), p. 524.
13: Ibid., p. 523.
14: Ibid., p. 530.
15: H. Leo Boles, Commentary on Luke (Nashville: Gospel Advocate Company, 1940), p. 394.
16: H. D. M. Spence, op. cit., p. 184.
17: John Wesley, Notes on the New Testament (Naperville, Illinois: Alec. R. Allenson, Inc., 1950), p. 282.
18: Ray Summers, Commentary on Luke (Waco, Texas: Word Books, Publisher, 1974), p. 257.
19: William Barclay, op. cit., p. 270.
20: Norval Geldenhuys, op. cit., p. 533.
21: C. H. Dodd, "The Fall of Jerusalem and the `Abomination of Desolation'," Journal of Roman Studies, 37 (1947), pp. 47-54.
22: Eusebius, the ancient church historian, was thus quoted by Norval Geldenhuys, op. cit., p. 535.
23: Anthony Lee Ash, The Gospel according to Luke (Austin, Texas: Sweet Publishing Company, 1973), Luke, II, p. 115.
24: George R. Bliss, op. cit., p. 304.
25: Donald G. Miller, op. cit., p. 148.
26: J. S. Lamar, The New Testament Commentary, Vol. II (Cincinnati, Ohio: Chase and Hall, 1877), p. 251.
27: Charles L. Childers, Beacon Bible Commentary (Kansas City, Missouri: Beacon Hill Press, 1964), p. 591.
28: H. D. M. Spence, op. cit., p. 185.
29: J. R. Dummelow, Commentary on the Holy Bible (New York: The Macmillan Company, 1937), p. 766.
30: Albert Barnes, Notes on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Book House, 1954), p. 143.
32: John Wesley, op. cit., p. 283.
33: Everett F. Harrison, Wycliffe Bible Commentary (Chicago: Moody Press, 1971), p. 262.
34: Norval Geldenhuys, op. cit., p. 536.
35: William Barclay, op. cit., p. 272.
36: Norval Geldenhuys, op. cit., p. 541.
37: Anthony Lee Ash, op. cit., p. 118.
38: H. D. M. Spence, op. cit., p. 187.
39: A. T. Robertson, A Harmony of the Gospels (New York: Harper and Brothers, 1922), pp. 189-190.
40: Charles L. Childers, op. cit., p. 593.
41: E. J. Tinsley, The Gospel according to Luke (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1969), p. 186.
42: Anthony Lee Ash, op. cit., p. 98.
43: Donald G. Miller, op. cit., p. 135.
44: Anthony Lee Ash, op. cit., p. 98.
45: Norval Geldenhuys, op. cit., p. 483.
46: H. D. M. Spence, op. cit., p. 139
47: J. C. Ryle, op. cit., p. 311.
48: Herschel H. Hobbs, op. cit., p. 278.
49: William Barclay, op. cit., p. 249.
50: Anthony Lee Ash, op. cit., p. 100.
51: J. S. Lamar, op. cit., p. 238.
52: Anthony Lee Ash, op. cit., p. 101.
53: William Barclay, op. cit., p. 251.
54: Norval Geldenhuys, op. cit., p. 484.
55: Charles L. Childers, op. cit., p. 588.
56: Norval Geldenhuys, op. cit., p. 464.
57: Ibid., pp. 484-485.
58: Ibid, p. 199.