THE GOSPEL OF LUKE

THE PASSION NARRATIVE
Luke 19:11-24:53

Predictions of the Fall of Jerusalem and the Return of Christ
Luke 21:1-38

. INTRODUCTION

The biggest temptation in interpreting Luke 21 is NOT interpreting Luke 21. We are so familiar with the parallel passages in Matt. 24 and Mark 13 that instead of interpreting Luke 21, we actually interpret Matt. 24 and Mark 13 and claim that this is the interpretation of Luke 21. To be sure there is much common ground between Luke 21 and its parallel passages in Mark 13 and Matt. 24; however, Luke 21 is NOT Matt. 24, etc. Luke has something important to contribute in the discussion of the return of Christ.

Remember the context of Luke 21. Throughout Luke 20 Jesus has been reaching out to the Jews and the Jewish religious leaders one last time. We see this in the parable of the landowner and the vinegrowers who rejected the landowner’s son (Luke 20:9-16). The landowner responded by killing the vinegrowers and giving the vineyard to others. This parable predicted that the Jews would reject Jesus and that God would give the gifts of salvation to the Gentile church. Luke 21 for the most part speaks of the time when Jesus will come in judgment upon the Jewish people because they rejected Him.

Of the 3 Synoptic Gospels Luke is the one which primarily stresses the fall of Jerusalem in 70 AD. Many people who interpret Matt. 24 and Mark 13 claim that these 2 passages refer only to the second coming of Christ when Jesus comes to save His people in Jerusalem who are being attacked by demonic forces led by Antichrist. Luke though shows us that Jesus’ predictions in this passage refer also to the fall of Jerusalem in 70 AD. (We shall see this as we delve deeper into the passage; see especially verse 24).

If it were not for verse 32 we would say that Luke 21 refers ONLY to the fall of Jerusalem in 70 AD. Verse 32 states that the generation of Jesus’ day would not pass away until AFTER all these things had come to pass. What things? Yes, the fall of Jerusalem (verses 20-24) but also the return of Christ (vv. 25-28). What confuses us is that Jesus did not physically return in 70 AD or at any time this generation lived. Yet Jesus did return in a spiritual sense. He returned to bring judgment upon the nation of Israel which had rejected God’s one last offer. Luke’s point is this: what happened to Jerusalem in 70 AD gives us a taste of what is going to happen just before Jesus returns. The attack upon Jerusalem to some degree gives us a preview of what is to happen just before Jesus returns.

This interpretation should not surprise us. In many ways God repeats throughout history some major events to prepare us for even greater events. For example, the flood demonstrates God’s universal judgment. God executes universal judgment in the flood in order to warn us that a time of greater universal judgment is coming when we all stand before the throne of God. In the same way the fall of Jerusalem is God’s way of informing the Jews (and us) that a time of greater stress is coming upon God’s people in which Christ will return, this time not in judgment as in the case of 70 AD but in salvation.


THE EPISODE OF THE WIDOW’S MITES (21:1-4)

Just before Jesus predicts the fall of Jerusalem, He is standing in the temple with His disciples. They see a poor widow who offers 2 mites (literally 2 lepta, copper coins) in the temple treasury. The temple treasury was the Court of the Women which contained 12 large containers whose mouths were in the shape of a trumpet. Each container was designated for a specific ministry of the temple, i.e. the upkeep of the temple, wages for the priests, etc. While she is offering her 2 mites, wealthier Jews are placing large sums of money into the other containers.

At first blush everybody should be impressed with the huge offerings being given by the wealthy Jews; however, the wealthier Jews were not proportionately giving as much as the widow. They were giving out of the excess of their funds, while she was giving all she had to the Lord. It did not hurt them one bit by offering their large amounts; she was endangering her livelihood by her offering. The widow’s attitude reminds us of what David said: “I won’t give something which costs me nothing”

What is even more incredible about her offering is that she was giving the minimum offering allowed by the temple. She gave 2 mites because the temple authorities would not allow you to give one mite. Two mites was the minimum offering a person could give. In other words, it is quite likely that this woman had to save up her money (2 mites’ worth) before she was able to present her offering.

This reminds me of the story Milton shared about the poor woman in Africa. She had approached Barbara Cunningham who was working in the hospital about tending to her daughter who was deathly ill. When Barbara reached the woman’s home, Barbara saw that she and her daughter lived in abject poverty. After the little girl received treatment, she recovered to full health. A little later the woman appeared at the hospital with a bunch of bananas. She offered them to Barbara in gratitude of all Barbara had done for her little girl. Where did this poverty-stricken woman get the money from? She had found a shilling on the road, picked it up, and used it to buy the bunch of bananas for Barbara. This shilling could have been used to provide much needed food for her family, but she wanted to use it to show her deep gratitude to Barbara for saving her child. It’s the same attitude the widow displayed.


PREDICTION OF THE FALL OF JERUSALEM AND THE RETURN OF CHRIST (21:5-33)

Prediction of the Fall of Jerusalem (21:5-24)

As Jesus and the disciples are exiting the temple compound on their way to the Mount of Olives, the disciples comment on how grand and magnificent the temple buildings are. From the writings of Josephus and the rabbis we get a vivid picture of how spectacular these buildings were. The columns which lined the temple courtyard measured 40 feet in height and were made of finest white marble. The temple itself was so sparklingly white that when the sun hit it, it looked like brilliant snow. Gold laced the temple structure. In addition to this gifts from royal personages graced the temple compound. One of these, a gold vine representing Israel God’s vineyard, had gold clusters 6 feet in height. It was truly one of the wonders of the ancient world.

Whereas Jesus was impressed with the widow’s mites, He was not impressed with the temple. In fact He tells the disciples that a day is coming in which not one of these magnificent stones will be left standing, one on top of the other. The disciples don’t seem to be rattled by this prediction. In fact they might have even expected it. They thought that as glorious as this temple was, surely it was not a suitable temple for the time when the Messiah would rule the world from Jerusalem. Moreover, this temple was primarily the work of Herod the Great, the half-breed (half Jew and half Idumean), a degenerate who was not worthy to build a dwelling for God. The destruction of this temple for the disciples means the construction of an even grander temple. This, however, is not what Jesus is referring to. He is referring to the destruction of the temple and of Jerusalem as punishment for the rejection of God’s Son Jesus.


Events Preceding the Fall of Jerusalem (21:8-19)

Jesus claims that several events will precede the destruction of Jerusalem. First, many will arise claiming to be the Messiah Himself. Earlier Jesus had warned them against such false messiahs. If I have to convince you that somebody is the Messiah, then that person is NOT the Messiah. Jesus claims that when He returns, He will return in such a dramatic fashion that there will be no doubt that He is the Messiah. As the lightning streaks across the sky from one end to the other, so will be the coming of Christ on the last day (Luke 17:24; Matt. 24:27). The presence of these false messiahs and the wars they cause do not necessarily mean that Christ is near.

These false christs who emerged before the fall of Jerusalem in 70 AD show us that another false christs will be emerging before the final return of Christ. The Bible calls him “Antichrist” (1 John 2:18), “the son of perdition” or “the son of destruction” because his ultimate destiny is destruction (John 17:12, 2 Thess. 2:3); “the man of lawlessness” because he promotes lawlessness and sin against God (2 Thess. 2:3); and “the beast” because he will be like a wild ravenous animal who will prey upon the people of God (Rev. 13:1). Whereas the emergence of the false christs during the time of Jesus’ generation did not mean Jesus was about to return, the emergence of this final Antichrist means that Christ is just around the corner.

In addition to the rise of false christs, natural disasters would precede the fall of Jerusalem. In Acts 11:27-29 Agabas, a Christian prophet, prophesied that a great famine would strike the Roman empire. Not only did a famine hit during the reign of Claudius in fulfillment of this prophecy, another famine devastated the Roman empire during the reign of Nero a decade later. Moreover, in 63 AD Mt. Vesuvius erupted, burying half of the city of Pompeii. This event was as devastating to the Roman empire as the tsunami disaster to our present generation. In the same way great natural disasters will hit the world before the return of Christ (as seen in the book of Revelation).

For Christians one of the most devastating features before the destruction of Jerusalem will be the persecutions they endure. Jesus says that the Jews will turn them over to governing authorities; they will be hauled before governors and kings. A quick survey of Acts reveals the truth of this prediction. Paul was hauled before the chief magistrates in Philippi (Acts 16), before Gallio the Roman proconsul of Achaia (Acts 17), before the Roman governors Felix and Porcius Festus (Acts 24, 25), and even before Caesar himself (2 Timothy 4:16-17).

Jesus instructs the disciples not to prepare beforehand their defense before these hostile authorities because in the hour of their need, the Spirit Himself will instruct them as to what to say. Jesus is not promising them that the defense given to them by the Spirit will convince the governing authorities. Jesus though is promising that they will give a sterling defense. These hostile authorities will actually hear an excellent witness to Jesus Christ. This defense will give all the hostile authorities a chance to repent and will also mean that they will have no excuse on judgment day for rejecting Jesus.

The hardest part about the persecution is that many times the ones who will turn in the Christians will be family members of the Christians. Jesus says that even parents will turn in their own children. It is ironic that people may criticize us for being more loyal to Christ than to family members; yet when it is all said and done, many times those same family members will be the ones to turn us into hostile authorities. For the non-Christians the family ties were not as important as they wanted the family ties to be for Christians. There are some things more important than family ties--for the non-Christian as well as the Christian.

Jesus motivates us though to be faithful to Him by uttering an encouragement as well as a warning (21:18-19). Jesus promises us that if we remain faithful to Him, not a hair from our head will perish. Jesus is not speaking about physical harm; He is referring to spiritual harm. The persecutors may kill the Christians; however, they cannot destroy the souls of the Christians. God will preserve us spiritually. Jesus is also implying that if we reject Him in order to save our physical lives, then we can be sure that we will lose our spiritual lives, eternally.

It needs to be emphasized over and over again that compromising with persecutors of Christians is not an option for Christians. We cannot excuse ourselves by saying, "Jesus wouldn't expect me to suffer," or "God knows that this is too hard for me to handle." The truth is that since Christ suffered far more than you or I will ever suffer, then He certainly expects us to accept the suffering that does come our way. Compromise is not an option.


The Fall of Jerusalem (21:20-24)

At this point Jerusalem will experience God's wrath for rejecting Jesus and for persecuting Christians. (According to Paul the persecution of the Christians by Jews was going to result in God's wrath being poured out completely upon the Jews--1 Thess. 2:16). Jesus tells His followers that when they see the armies (Roman) approaching and surrounding the holy city, they are to flee from the city. The city will not be a place of refuge. Although the OT prophesied that whenever the armies surrounded Jerusalem that the Messiah would return to save her, this was not that time. The time for Jerusalem's salvation lay in the future, not in 70 AD. Jesus warns them to flee into the wilderness or into the mountains. Christians would have time to escape because the movement of the Roman armies was both methodical and slow.

How bad were those days going to be? Normally child-bearing and nursing children are times of joy and blessing. Yet not in this case. The Romans will have no mercy upon the Jews, even the pregnant and nursing mothers. Josephus claims that the Romans killed 1,100,000 after Jerusalem fell. (The Romans besieged the city from April to August 70 AD when the city fell.) Another 70,000+ were hauled off to captivity. From then on until the end of the time of the Gentiles is completed, Jerusalem will be trampled underfoot by the Gentiles, first by the Romans, then by the Byzantines, by the Arabs, the Turks, and finally the British. It was not until 1948 that the Jews were able to reestablish their homeland in Israel and not until June, 1967 that the Jews recaptured Jerusalem entirely.

There are many inferences coming out of v. 24. Jesus says that Jerusalem will be trampled underfoot until the time of the Gentiles is over. The time of the Gentiles refers most likely to the period of time in which God works primarily through the Gentile church to bring salvation and His message to the world. After that time is over, God will once more work through the Jewish nation (Rom. 11:25-36). Right now we are still in the time of the Gentiles because God is working primarily through the Gentile church. That period of time though may be drawing to a close. If so, God will once more reach out in a dramatic fashion to the Jews, working through them to bring many to salvation. Paul says at that time, "All Israel will be saved" (Rom. 11:26).


The Return of Christ (21:25-33)

Luke now turns his attention to the return of Christ. According to Christ He will return AFTER the fall of Jerusalem and AFTER the period of the Gentiles is over. (Jesus does not say that the rapture comes here thereby putting an end to the period of time in which He works primarily through the Gentile church. Be careful about reading in things here.)

What events or signs will precede His coming? There will be distress in the heavenly bodies and stress upon the natural earth. Revelation depicts a series of events which bring great stress upon the earth: the first trumpet brings loathsome sores upon unbelieving mankind; the second trumpet, stress upon 1/3 of the oceans; the third trumpet, pollution of 1/3 of the fresh water bodies; the fourth trumpet, a partial darkening of the heavenly luminaries; the fifth trumpet, a plague of locusts upon unbelieving mankind; the sixth trumpet, the invasion of a 200 million-man army from the east (Rev. 8-9). The bowls of wrath are even worse.

Jesus then gives the parable of the fig tree in order to illustrate the truth that we will know the approximate time Jesus is about to return. Whenever a person sees the fig tree blooming, he can be sure that summer is near; in the same token, whenever a person sees these signs occurring, he can be sure that Jesus is about to return. Now we will not know the exact day or hour Jesus will return (Matt. 24:36); however, we will have a good idea that He is about to return.


HOW SHOULD WE RESPOND? (21:34-36)

When Jesus speaks to us about His second coming, He does not do this in order to scare us or to push us into Bible studies about His return which will last until He does return. The belief in the tribulation and the return of Christ should have a positive effect upon our lives. First, we should not give ourselves over to dissipation, drunkenness, the worries of this life, etc. We need to remember that the return of Christ means that life as we know it on earth is temporary; therefore, I need to treat these things as temporary. When we put TOO much effort in a certain project or get TOO disappointed in something that did not go our way, then we should realize that we are acting like the life of this world is eternal. We need to keep awake by keeping our focus on Jesus and His mission because as His second coming proves, the things that are eternal. We should base our lives upon things that are eternal, not things that are temporal.

The second way we should respond to the second coming is that we should be in constant prayer. Remember that one of Jesus’ main talks on prayer (Luke 18:18) occurred right after He described His second coming (Luke 17:22-37). The widow was to persevere in prayer so that she might be vindicated, that is, saved. Right at the end of His talk on prayer, Jesus asks whimsically, “Will the Son of Man find faith on the earth when He returns?” (18:8). By this Jesus means that great trials and tribulations will fall upon God’s people and that the only way they are going to be victorious through these sufferings is by praying. In prayer they will find the strength necessary to overcome Satan and his onslaught.