Luke 21 Continued
20. “But when you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies, then know that its desolation is near.
At this time, they will see Jerusalem surrounded by armies. These will be the forces of the anti-Christ, coming to break his agreement with them, and to stop the temple worship, instead setting himself up as God in the temple. When they see these armies compassing the city, then they will know that its desolation is near.
Many have noted that there was a seeming fulfillment of this prophecy about forty years after Christ said these words, when Israel was invaded by the Roman army under General Titus. He did surround the city of Jerusalem, and that was indeed a sign that its desolation was near, for Titus leveled the city to the ground. It certainly would have been good in those days for all those in Judea who believed in the words of the Lord Jesus Christ to do exactly what it says in the following verse. That is, not to enter into Jerusalem to weather the siege, but rather to flee to the hills. The devastation that took place in the city was terrible, and it was far better for them to be nowhere near it.
Yet even though this situation fits so well with what happened in the past, we do not believe that this was the complete fulfillment of this prophecy, for these were not the days of vengeance mentioned in verse 22, and the totality of this prophecy was not fulfilled. This would have been just as true in the days of Nebuchadnezzar’s siege of the city centuries before Christ said this. In any siege wherein those in the city fail and the city is taken, it would be better to have fled elsewhere rather than to have holed up in the city hoping to outwait the besiegers. Just the fact that a siege like this took place in the past does not prove that it fulfilled this prophecy. The actual fulfillment of this will not take place until the city is surrounded by the forces of the anti-Christ in a far-future day.
21. “Then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains, let those who are in the midst of her depart, and let not those who are in the country enter her.
This would have been as true in the first century as it will be true in the future. This will be no time to be in Judea! Notice, however, that this warning is to those in Judea, not to all men on earth. Those who try to warn us that we will have to flee from the anti-Christ because of this passage are misapplying Scripture. This warning has little to do with those living halfway around the earth!
Jerusalem will be the capital city, and Judea will be the governing province in the government of God to come. Judea will be much like the District of Columbia in the United States, and Jerusalem like Washington, D.C. Those who live there will mostly be those who have something to do with government, along with those who provide goods and services for them. It is these ruling people who will be particularly in danger from the vengeful forces of the Wicked One, and so they must flee or face his wrath. Certainly now these must in patience possess their souls, for surely even in God’s kingdom “living off the land” is not the usual thing for those involved in government.
22. “For these are the days of vengeance, that all things which are written may be fulfilled.
Again this shows us that this has to do with the tribulation period in the future, for this verse was not at all true of the destruction of the past. The things that are written are all those things recorded in the Old Testament regarding this singular and critical time in God’s kingdom. All these things must come to pass.
“Vengeance” here is the Greek word ekdikesis, and is the word used of the parousia of Jesus Christ in II Thessalonians 1:8.
8. in flaming fire taking vengeance on those who do not know God, and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ.
This is also the same word we had for “avenge” back in Luke 18:7-8a.
7. And shall God not avenge His own elect who cry out day and night to Him, though He bears long with them? 8. I tell you that He will avenge them speedily.
This helps us identify the time being spoken of in Luke 18 as well as the time being spoken of here being at the parousia. That is the time of God’s vengeance. This is not something we can count on God doing for us today, as one man told me he was waiting on God to avenge him based on the promise of Luke 18. God is not avenging wrongs done against His people or against Himself in this, the dispensation of grace. Instead, He is showing love and favor to the undeserving. Yet in that future day, the time for vengeance will have come, and God will take it.
23. “But woe to those who are pregnant and to those who are nursing babies in those days! For there will be great distress in the land and wrath upon this people.
Although women have been pregnant all throughout history, and sometimes at infortuitous times, this will be a most unfortunate time to be in such a condition. No doubt godly women will pray that God will spare them such a thing as they see the day approaching.
The word “woe” here, ouai, while it does mean disaster or woe, takes on the nature of a command here, meaning that they should give due heed or attention to women in this condition. Remember that the Lord was speaking to His disciples, men who will have a most exalted position in that kingdom to come. It will be their job to care for the people under them during this great flight, and those who would need most care at this time would be the pregnant women. In our day we would say the pregnant or the elderly, but remember that in God’s kingdom the effects of aging, brought into the world by Adam’s sin, will have been removed, so that an elderly person would be as hale and hearty as a young person. Yet even in the kingdom a pregnant woman will be at a disadvantage when it comes time to flee, and so they are to look out for them.
24. “And they will fall by the edge of the sword, and be led away captive into all nations. And Jerusalem will be trampled by Gentiles until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled.
There is great distress in the land of Israel at this time, and wrath upon the people of Israel. All those in Judea have fled to the mountains as commanded, but that leaves the majority of the people behind who live in other places in the land. This is rather like if an enemy invaded the United States. All our leaders might flee to a secret bunker somewhere and be safe, but that would leave the rest of us to face the brunt of the attack. In the same way, the majority of Israelites are still around to face the wrath of their enemies. This wrath results in many of them falling by the edge of the sword. Others are led away into captivity into all nations. Yes, there will be yet another captivity of Israel after they are gathered back to their land. This captivity takes place during the revolt against the kingdom, though it is thankfully short-lived. Then, Jerusalem is trampled by the Gentiles until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled.
Many have picked up the phrase here “the times of the Gentiles” and made it refer to something taking place today. They make this to start with the conquest of Jerusalem by Babylon under Nebuchadnezzar in the past. Since there are still many Gentiles in the city of Jerusalem, they make these times to continue from that point on even until today. Yet this is not what this passage is talking about. These “times of the Gentiles” are future, having nothing to do with the situation we see in Jerusalem today. There are indeed many Gentiles there, but that does not mean that these words apply to today.
In Ezekiel 30:3, we have another reference to these times of the Gentiles.
3. For the day is near,
Even the day of the LORD is near;
It will be a day of clouds, the time of the Gentiles.
This verse proclaims that the time of the Gentiles takes place in the day of the LORD, not in the current day of man, or even in the coming day of Christ. To locate this day in the day of man in which we live is to misapply this verse. Moreover, this period does not last for thousands of years, as we learn from Revelation 11:2.
2. But leave out the court which is outside the temple, and do not measure it, for it has been given to the Gentiles. And they will tread the holy city underfoot for forty-two months.
Since forty-two months is three and one-half years, we can know that this time of the Gentiles lasts for just that length of time. The word “Gentiles” is the Greek word ethnon, which means “nations.” These times of the Gentiles are just the times of the nations, when they take Jerusalem and tread it under their feet. Therefore, we can see from these passages taken together that they all apply to the future invasion of Jerusalem by an army of men from other nations. To support the idea that the “times of the Gentiles” have extended from the Babylonian captivity until today is to take the words of Scripture far beyond their context.
25. “And there will be signs in the sun, in the moon, and in the stars; and on the earth distress of nations, with perplexity, the sea and the waves roaring;
There will be signs in the sun, moon, and stars. What exactly these signs will be is difficult to say. They will definitely be significant things, for if they were not significant, they would not be signs. The sun, moon, and stars here may be symbolic for heavenly rulers. Certainly the phrase “the powers of heaven” in the next verse speaks of such. Yet we would tend to think that these will be actual signs taking place among the heavenly bodies, even as a star appeared to signal the birth of Jesus Christ in the past. The Lord will prove the importance of what is happening by the great signs that He causes to appear.
On the earth this will result in distress among the nations, for they will be perplexed, and will not know what they should do. The sea and the waves will roar. This may be literal, but certainly we can see that the great sea of mankind on earth will be in a time of upheaval and noise, like a troubled sea.
26. “Men’s hearts failing them from fear and the expectation of those things which are coming on the earth, for the powers of heaven will be shaken.
Men’s hearts will be giving out, failing them for fear at those things that they are expecting to come on the earth. For those born in the kingdom, they will never have seen anything like the sin and wickedness that they see arising, and it will be most distressing for them.
Those things that are coming “on the earth” are coming on the inhabited world, called the oikoumene here. It is upon men that these fearful things are set to fall. The government in which they have trusted for so long, the sure and steady government of God, seems to be failing them, and all the powers of heaven seem to be shaken. Can they rely on anything anymore, or has all come to ruin?
27. “Then they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory.
At this moment, when things look the bleakest, they will see the awesome sight of the Son of Man coming in a cloud with the power that is inherent to Him, and with great glory. Thus the days of vengeance are immediately followed by the second coming of Jesus Christ. He will put down this wicked revolt, and make all right on His earth once again. How different this coming is from His first! He is not coming as a suffering servant this time, but rather as the Ruler of the Kingdom, coming to dwell among His subjects at last.
28. “Now when these things begin to happen, look up and lift up your heads, because your redemption draws near.”
Having taught them these things, Christ now begins to return to His original subject and the answer to their question. Seeing these things begin to happen, they should begin to look up and wait for their redemption, for it draws near. They are not to be discouraged or give up. Their Savior will come to them, and He will have the victory!
The word “redemption” is very much connected with salvation in the thoughts of many Christians, but the word here just means “deliverance.” This is not talking about redemption from the power of sin and death that leads to eternal life, but rather deliverance from all the many ills and difficulties of the tribulation period.
29. Then He spoke to them a parable: “Look at the fig tree, and all the trees.
Now the Lord speaks a parable to them. He speaks of a fig tree, and of all the trees. If this is true of all the trees, He probably mentions a fig tree because there was one within their sight at the place where Christ was speaking to them.
30. “When they are already budding, you see and know for yourselves that summer is now near.
Christ now reminds them how easily men can tell summer is near just by looking at the buds on a tree. If you were suddenly disoriented and couldn’t remember what time of year it was, all you would have to see is some budding trees, and you would know it was spring, and that summer was near.
31. “So you also, when you see these things happening, know that the kingdom of God is near.
Like they could see and know the time of year from a tree, so when they see these things, they can know that the Kingdom of God is near. Now some have taken this to mean that this is the beginning of the kingdom of God coming in, and that the kingdom must follow the tribulation. However, we believe that even the Acts period was an early stage of the kingdom of God, and that there will be a long period of the kingdom that is yet to come before the tribulation and the parousia of Christ ever takes place. What, then, does the Lord mean here?
When the kingdom of God appears on earth, it takes control of many things, bringing all in line with God’s will. The terrible calamities and awful things that take place on a regular basis today will not be allowed when God is holding the reigns of government. However, there comes a time when God turns off these controls on the earth. This is so He can test the people on the earth to see if their loyalties lie with Him or not. When He does this, the Kingdom of God will seem to have departed the scene. Men might look upon the chaos and sin taking place in that day unchecked, and wonder where the government of God has gone, and how it can allow such things as these. Some might wonder if the kingdom of God has failed, and if men are to be left on their own from this point on.
Yet these disciples are not to imagine that this might be so. The government of God is not gone, and God has not forgotten about His loyal subjects on the earth. These signs then will serve to assure the disciples that the government of God is still near at hand. God is aware of all that is taking place, and He is watching over it all. Nothing will happen that will thwart His ultimate plan in any way. Rather the government of God is near to returning again, and it will come back in full force at the parousia of the Lord.
32. “Assuredly, I say to you, this generation will by no means pass away till all things take place.
This verse seems to be a major problem. The usual definition of a generation is all the people of a similar age living on the earth at the same time. Yet we know that the generation of people living at the time the Lord spoke these words passed away without these things being fulfilled. This has led some to suggest that the Lord was mistaken, and that He thought the millennium would come very soon. Yet we cannot abide such reasoning, for we know that the Lord knows all things, and that He knew as well as we do that more than two thousand years would pass, and that these things would not yet have taken place.
Yet some who are more noble in trying to maintain the integrity of God’s Word have resorted to the teaching that the second coming of Christ took place at the destruction of Jerusalem, and even to suggesting that the believers of that day experienced the resurrection and are even now in heaven! These explanations run entirely contrary to all that the Old Testament says about the tribulation period, and about the government of God yet to come.
Others have suggested that the generation that sees these things start to take place will see the end of them. Yet this is a forced explanation that does not stand up to this or any other use of the word “generation” that we can find in Scripture.
Some have suggested that “generation” here means “race” or “kind,” and refers to the fact that that nation of Israel will not pass away until all these things are fulfilled. While it is true that Israel will not pass away, nevertheless the word genea in Greek means “generation” and not “race” or “kind.” This is translation out of a desperate desire to deliver the Scriptures from what they perceive to be error, and there is no real evidence behind it.
Some, like E.W. Bullinger in his Companion Bible, have tried to explain this difficulty by different means, pointing out the existence of the untranslatable Greek word an in verse 32 and claiming that the appearance of this word in this sentence means that the whole sentence is conditional. Then they conclude that the “condition” was that Israel had to accept Christ as their Messiah and since (they claim) they did not, the condition was not met and these words never came to pass. But I insist that this view is wrong. Although an in Greek indicates a condition, it is always a condition that is clearly stated in the sentence itself. For example, suppose I said to you, “If you come with me, I will buy you something.” Then later after you came with me, you asked me to fulfill my promise. I could not honestly say at that point, “I used the word ‘if,’ which indicates a condition. What the condition was is that you have to give me money. So fork it over or I won’t buy you anything.” That would be ridiculous and going back on my word. But the same would be true of Christ if He had misused an in this way. Using an like these people suggest He used it would have been no more honest than me using “if” the way I suggested in my example. This explanation simply does not hold up to the Greek.
The difficulty here is caused first of all by limiting the word “generation.” We always think of a generation of people when this word is used, yet the fact of the matter is that “generation” is related to the word “generate.” It refers to something that is generated, whether it be people or some other thing entirely. We usually use it exclusively to mean people, yet since many other things can be generated, these things could properly be called a “generation.”
The second reason this verse is often misunderstood is because of not noting the figure of speech called “Pleonasm” or “Redundancy,” whereby “what is said is, immediately after, put in another or opposite way to make it impossible for the sense to be missed.” (The Companion Bible, Appendix 6, page 12) To Bullinger’s words I would add that the standard use of Redundancy was to make perfectly clear a statement that might otherwise be confusing. God used this figure when His words were of extreme import and yet might easily be misunderstood. He then would repeat what He had said in different, plainer words to make absolutely certain that no one would miss their meaning. This figure of speech is used here, as God repeats Himself in verse 33 and thus clarifies for us what this verse means. Let us examine then the next verse.
33. “Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will by no means pass away.
Christ tell us here that, though heaven and earth pass away, His words will not pass away. “Words” here is the plural of the important Greek word logos, used in John 1 to describe the Lord Himself as the Word of God, and here used to describe His spoken words as the word of God. Yet why does He insert this solemn pronouncement here? What does it have to do with what He was saying previously?
Christ here was giving the disciples a promise that, though He spoke these words and no man recorded them at the time, yet these words would not be lost nor forgotten. Christ’s words here when spoken probably did not take more than five to ten minutes for Him to speak them, even speaking slowly after the manner of the Orientals. Yet even though this speech was short, we know enough about the human memory to realize that none of the disciples could have repeated what Christ said word-for-word even if they had tried it immediately after He had just finished. Yet Christ’s promise here tells them that these seemingly unrecoverable words would be preserved forever! And we know that they were through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, as even now they still exist in our Bibles.
But this teaching of verse 33 is the same thing as was taught in verse 32! There Christ used the word “generation” to describe His words, for He had just generated a great body of truth in His teaching in these verses. Though He used the word “generation” in verse 32 and the plainer word “words” in verse 33, yet His meaning was the same. Those words that He had generated would by no means pass away until they had all been fulfilled. That this was the meaning is made clear by the figure of speech Redundancy, and thus we have no excuse for misunderstanding.
34. “But take heed to yourselves, lest your hearts be weighed down with carousing, drunkenness, and cares of this life, and that Day come on you unexpectedly.
Christ advises them to take heed to themselves. They are to be careful that they not let their hearts be weighed down with pleasure, drunkenness, or just the affairs of this life, and therefore not be ready for that Day to come upon them. Notice that this warning is addressed to the disciples. Christ is ever assuming that they will be alive at this time. Yet this can only be true if they are raised from the dead first!
Though this advice was address to the disciples and is regarding a future day, this is nevertheless something that we would do well to consider in our day. It is very easy for us to be caught up in pleasures in our day. We live in an almost entertainment-crazed society, and we have a desire to be entertained that could easily crowd out the things that are truly important: the things of God. Then there is drunkenness, which likewise crowds God out of many peoples’ lives. Then there are just the cares of this life. These are things that we cannot ignore, that all of us must deal with in our lives. Yet these necessary things can come to dominate our lives, and we should not allow them to do so. As important as the cares of this life might be, they are still not as important as the things of God. We should always be ready, so that when the kingdom of God comes we might be found giving our lives in service to the King!
35. “For it will come as a snare on all those who dwell on the face of the whole earth.
Again speaking of the time of the tribulation, the Lord tells them that this Day comes as a trap. It catches men where they are, and what is truly in their hearts is made plain. But those who have prepared themselves and who have true faith in the Word of God and love the government of God and the One Who rules it will have no trouble avoiding the snare. It is only those who have been lazy and who give in to wickedness who will be trapped and fall because of that day.
That day comes on all those who dwell on the face of the whole earth. We know that the tribulation period is mainly centered around Israel. Yet the momentous events that take place there do spread out and affect the whole earth. Therefore we do believe that it is not just those in the land, but all men on earth who are tried and tested by that Day of the Lord to come.
36. “Watch therefore, and pray always that you may be counted worthy to escape all these things that will come to pass, and to stand before the Son of Man.”
Christ’s warning to the disciples here must apply to all those who are living when that day comes. They are to watch and pray that, in that day when it comes, they will be counted worthy. If they stand faithful at that time, they will escape all the things that will come to pass, and they will stand before the Son of Man when He comes to earth for His parousia.
37. And in the daytime He was teaching in the temple, but at night He went out and stayed on the mountain called Olivet.
Now we read of what became the Lord’s standard procedure during these days leading up to Passover and His death. In the daytime, He would teach in the temple. Remember that the temple was not a single building, but rather was a large area like our college campuses. There would always be different groups meeting here or there on the temple grounds, just like there are many meetings and classes that take place on a college campus all the time. Some people might be listening to one rabbi in one place while others listened to another rabbi in another. Now, though, Christ was teaching there, and doubtless the crowd He drew was bigger than any other.
So He was teaching in the temple in the daytime, but at night He went out of Jerusalem to stay on the mountain called Olivet. Then He would return to Jerusalem every morning to teach in the temple once again. The population of Jerusalem went from several hundred thousand at most times to several million at feast times. Some might find accommodations in the city, whereas others might just sleep in a corner in the temple where they could find a place to curl up. Others would leave the city at night and find lodging elsewhere. Christ was among these. He took His disciples and went out of the city to spend the night on this mountain called Olivet.
We can see that this custom gave the Lord the opportunity for multiple “triumphal entries,” and multiple journeys to and from Jerusalem. This makes pinning down the order of events in the four gospels difficult. Since He entered the city multiple times, multiple events may have been repeated. It becomes easy then to two take similar records and assume they are the same, when in fact they are not. Yet a careful student should be able to work out a sequence of events.
38. Then early in the morning all the people came to Him in the temple to hear Him.
Here we see that the people were anxious to hear the words of the Lord, for they would come early in the morning to the temple to hear Him. There is no sign of rejection on the part of the common people in this passage. They were eager to hear the Lord. It was the rulers who hated Him and wanted to silence His message. Remember, the love that the common people had for Jesus Christ was why the rulers had to take Him prisoner at night. The people never would have allowed this during the day!