PREPARE FOR HARD TIMES LEADING UP TO
– THE DESTRUCTION OF JERUSALEM AND THE TEMPLE
– THE SECOND COMING OF CHRIST
BE PERCEPTIVE AND READY
Let’s face it. We live in a soft society. Luxury, comfort and abundant leisure time characterize our present prosperity. We wrestle with tough decisions like where to go on vacation; what menu selection we should choose at our favorite restaurant; what movie to watch tonight. My grandson gives his attention to which Lego set to lobby for as the next purchase. Life is basically easy. We are not exhausting ourselves trying to eke out bare subsistence living. Maybe the COVID-19 pandemic is a wake-up call that hard times are coming in God’s program for end time events.
Steven Cole: One of the biggest lies that Satan has promoted is that believing in Christ as Savior will bring a trouble-free life. The pitch goes, “Do you have problems? If you trust in Jesus, He will get you out of them.” So the person trusts in Christ and his problems get worse, not better. The enemy comes to him and says, “See where trusting in Christ got you? You were better off before you became a Christian!”
The Bible does promise believers peace and joy, but it does not promise the absence of trials, freedom from persecution, or even protection from violent death. It promises peace and joy in the midst of such trials as we rely on the Lord and His promises.
Some of the confusion and controversy over this discourse revolves around which verses pertain to the upcoming destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans in A.D. 70 and which verses can only be applied to the end times. Then there are some prophecies which will have both a near and far fulfillment.
Morris: The discourse expresses Jesus’ certainty of ultimate triumph, even though there were dark days ahead. And it concludes with a rousing challenge to His followers to be watchful and not let themselves be weighted down with the difficulties of this world. Much of the language is reminiscent of Old Testament passages (e.g. 2 Ch. 15:6; Is. 8:21f.; 13:13; Je. 34:17), which may be a way of emphasizing that what Jesus was describing was a divine visitation.
Geldenhuys: verses 5-24 deal practically throughout (except verses 8, 9) with predictions concerning the destruction of Jerusalem and the preceding events, although in a secondary sense even some of these predictions also refer to the Last Things. But in verses 25-8 Jesus looks beyond the foreshadowings of the Final Judgment to that Judgment itself and its attendant signs, in association with His second advent. In verses 29-33 He exhorts His hearers to watch for the former set of events, which are to be accomplished within “this generation”, while in verses 34-6 He warns them (and through them the whole Christian church) to watch faithfully for the latter set of events, which are to take place at a day and hour known to none save God the Father.
I. (:5-24) PREPARE FOR THE DESTRUCTION OF JERUSALEM AND THE TEMPLE
A. (:5-6) Shocking Prophecy of Temple Destruction –
Transformation from Valuable Edifice to Worthless Rubble
1. (:5) Valuable Edifice
“And while some were talking about the temple, that it was adorned with beautiful stones and votive gifts, He said,”
Steven Cole: By all accounts, it was a magnificent structure. At that time, it had been under construction for about 50 years. According to the Jewish historian, Josephus, some of the stones measured over 35 feet long, 12 feet high, and 18 feet wide. The current Wailing Wall is a part of the foundation left from that building. Its white marble walls rose about 200 feet above the Kidron Valley. The brilliance of the white walls and the gold trim in the morning sun was dazzling. The courtyard was about 400 by 500 yards square, so that thousands of worshippers could gather there. The rabbis said, “He who has not seen the Temple in its full construction has never seen a glorious building in his life” (cited by William Lane, Mark [Eerdmans], p. 451).
2. (:6) Worthless Rubble
“As for these things which you are looking at, the days will come in which there will not be left one stone upon another which will not be torn down.”
Donald Miller: To announce the ruin of the temple was to say that Israel would cease being the people of God. And since the Jews could not conceive of the existence of God without his people to adore him, this was to them blasphemy against God. (cf. Jer. 26:6)
B. (:7-11) Stable Perspective as Events Draw Near and Unfold
1. (:7) Need to Understand the Signs of the Times
“And they questioned Him, saying, ‘Teacher, when therefore will these things be? And what will be the sign when these things are about to take place?’”
Don’t be tossed about in fear and panic; don’t be surprised when such events start to take place
Steven Cole: there are multiple fulfillments of these prophecies, leading up to the final fulfillment at the second coming of Christ. Since Jesus emphasizes that many of these cataclysmic events will take place well before the end (21:9, 12), His words apply to believers in trying situations down through the centuries, as well as to those living at the time of the destruction of Jerusalem or just before His second coming.
2. (:8) Need for Discernment – Don’t Be Misled
“And He said, ‘See to it that you be not misled; for many will come in My name, saying, ‘I am He,’ and, ‘The time is at hand’; do not go after them.”
David Guzik: Jesus knew that many would arise more than willing to assume the role of political messiah for Israel. One striking example of this was a man named Bar Kokhba, who 100 years after Jesus was considered by many Jews to be the Messiah. He started a widespread revolution against the Romans and enjoyed early success, but was soon crushed.
Lenski: The procession of such deceivers from Simon Magus and Barcochba onward to the great Antichrist and the little antichrists goes on to the end of time. Some are petty and have some little sect of fanatics following them, some sit on thrones like the popes in their long succession; some are out for the third cash; some are viciously lascivious. The sad thing is that they succeed in their deceptions, for all men have an affinity for religious error, and many yield to it with avidity and develop the strongest fanaticism. They find no limit in perverting to their own ends what the Scriptures say about the kingdom. “Do not go after them!”
3. (:9-11) Need for Patience – Don’t Be Terrified
“’And when you hear of wars and disturbances, do not be terrified; for these things must take place first, but the end does not follow immediately.’
Then He continued by saying to them,
‘Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom,
and there will be great earthquakes, and in various places plagues and famines; and there will be terrors and great signs from heaven.’”
Lowery: The world is a chaotic place. It is the (necessary) consequence of living in a fallen world. Disciples should not think that human or natural disasters, however tragic, signal the end. These are but the prelude to a truly catastrophic finale (Mt 24:21). Disciples must keep their balance and stay faithful.”
C. (:12-19) Systemic Persecution Will Lead to Opportunity for Testimony
1. (:12) Description of Systemic Persecution
“But before all these things, they will lay their hands on you and will persecute you, delivering you to the synagogues and prisons, bringing you before kings and governors for My name’s sake.”
Darrell Bock: Jesus has already noted that false claims, social upheaval, and cosmic signs do not signal the coming of the end (21:7–11). He now describes something that precedes these “non-end” events: persecution. He seems to make the point that persecution is the church’s short-term destiny. Only Luke has a temporal note, which helps to organize Jesus’ reply and clarify the relationship between events.
2. (:13) Door for Gospel Testimony
“It will lead to an opportunity for your testimony.”
MacArthur: The persecution of the church always brings gospel opportunity. Persecution of the church always purifies the church. The persecution of the church always makes the church strong, it makes the church bold….Persecution of Christians has allowed Christians to give, strong, bold, confident, faithful testimony to the glory of the gospel. You read Foxe’s Book of Martyrs. And you hear these incredibly stirring, beautiful testimonies of those who were brought to the edge of the flames, about to be burned to death, or to the edge of the sword, or the guillotine for their love for Christ and how powerful their testimony is now resounding.
3. (:14-15) Dependence on Divine Defense
a. (:14) Reject Confidence in the Flesh
“So make up your minds not to prepare beforehand to defend yourselves;”
b. (:15) Receive Irrefutable Divine Wisdom
“for I will give you utterance and wisdom which none of your opponents will be able to resist or refute.”
4. (:16-19) Deliverance from Systemic Persecution
a. (:16) Possibility of Death
“But you will be delivered up even by parents and brothers and relatives and friends, and they will put some of you to death,”
b. (:17) Pervasiveness of Hatred
“and you will be hated by all on account of My name.”
c. (:18-19) Preservation by Providential Endurance
“Yet not a hair of your head will perish.
By your endurance you will gain your lives.”
Geldenhuys: But although they are to suffer physical pain and death, they can never be plucked form the protecting hand of God – nothing will happen to them outside His will, and He will make all things work together for their highest welfare and their eternal salvation, and at His second advent they will arise with glorified, celestial bodies in which there will be no defect or injury.
Deffinbaugh: Now, the Lord speaks of the persecution which believers in Christ must suffer by virtue of their identification with Him. The persecution spoken of here is characteristic of that which has taken place down through the history of the church, but it is that which directly affected the disciples to whom Jesus was speaking. Luke, in his second volume, the book of Acts, gives a historical account of some of the sufferings of the saints in the days after our Lord’s ascension.
The difficulties of these hard times is no barrier to the gospel, however. Indeed, these hard times provide an excellent opportunity to demonstrate and to proclaim the hope which we have in Christ. Believers will be brought forward, and charged publicly, and thus they have the opportunity for a public witness, whether before Jewish opponents in the synagogues,76 or Gentile opponents, such as kings and governors. In such cases, the saint is not to plan his testimony in advance, but rather to look to the Lord to give the right words for the moment. Stephen’s powerful message (recorded in Acts 7) is but one example of the faithfulness of God to give His servants the right words to speak.
The persecution which men will face will be even more personal, however. Not only will we be opposed by the enemies of the gospel, such as religious and political leaders, but we will be opposed by our own families. Saints in those hard times will be betrayed by their closest relatives, handed over to persecution, and even to death. Now, the hard words of Jesus concerning the disciple and his family (Luke 14:26), make a great deal of sense. The “hard words” of Jesus were intended for the “hard times” ahead, times such as those described here in chapter 21. If we are going to be betrayed by our own family, we must have chosen Christ above family, or we will forsake the faith in such times.
John MacArthur: Since He had just warned that believers would die in the coming persecutions, this cannot be a guarantee of absolute physical protection. The point of the saying is metaphoric—that though they may die physically, true believers will not perish spiritually. Some have interpreted the Lord’s concluding statement, “By your endurance you will gain your lives,” as a reference to physical survival. That, however, reduces it to a meaningless tautology, saying in effect that those who do not die will not die. What Jesus was actually pointing out is that those whose trust in Christ endures to the end (cf. Matt. 10:22; 24:13), so that they do not fall away, prove that their faith is the authentic gift from God. Such will receive the final aspect of salvation, glorification, and live forever in the joy of God’s glorious kingdom.
D. (:20-24) Severe Plight Described
1. (:20) Desolation Imminent
“But when you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies,
then recognize that her desolation is at hand.”
Donald Miller: Luke makes it clear that this section of the discourse (:20-24) refers to the destruction of Jerusalem and not to the end time.
2. (:21-22) Days of Vengeance Unleashed
a. (:21) Flee
“Then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains,
and let those who are in the midst of the city depart,
and let not those who are in the country enter the city;”
Donald Miller: When the armies of Rome surround the city, there will be no possible defense. . . For Jerusalem’s doom is sure. It is the judgment of God (vs. 22). When Jerusalem was attacked in A.D. 66-70, the Christians followed this counsel of their Lord, leaving Jerusalem for Pella, east of the Jordan. The Jews, on the other hand fanatically expected that God would intervene to save them. They cried to God to the last – but no help came. The wall was breached, the Temple went up in flames, and the city was decimated.
b. (:22) Fulfillment
“because these are days of vengeance,
in order that all things which are written may be fulfilled.”
3. (:23) Distress Upon the Land
“Woe to those who are with child and to those who nurse babes in those days;
for there will be great distress upon the land, and wrath to this people,”
4. (:24a) Death and Captivity
“and they will fall by the edge of the sword,
and will be led captive into all the nations;”
5. (:24b) Domination by the Gentiles
“and Jerusalem will be trampled under foot by the Gentiles
until the times of the Gentiles be fulfilled.”
Must interpret in light of Romans 9-11
Morris: a variety of explanations has been suggested: the time for the Gentiles to execute God’s judgments, or to be supreme over Israel, or to exercise the privileges hitherto belonging to Israel, or to have the gospel preached to them. The reference to these times as being fulfilled points to a divine purpose in them.
II. (:25-36) PREPARE FOR THE SECOND COMING OF CHRIST
A. (:25-26) Cosmic Signs
1. (:25) Imagery
a. In the Heavens
“And there will be signs in sun and moon and stars,”
b. On Earth
“and upon the earth dismay among nations,
in perplexity at the roaring of the sea and the waves,”
2. (:26a) Impact
“men fainting from fear and the expectation of the things
which are coming upon the world;”
3. (:26b) Intensity
“for the powers of the heavens will be shaken.”
Morris: Such language is often used in apocalyptic to denote sudden and violent change and the emergence of a new order. In any case this will be the main part of the meaning here. Men will be perplexed and fearful. They will know that strange things are happening, but will not understand what is about to befall them.
B. (:27-28) Coming in Glory
1. (:27) Visualization
“And then they will see the Son of Man coming
in a cloud with power and great glory.”
2. (:28) Anticipation
“But when these things begin to take place, straighten up and lift up your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.”
Steven Cole: These cosmic signs will be so great that the world’s population will cower in fear to the point of passing out. The Greek word translated “perplexity” normally refers to being chained; it means that men will be gripped or bound by anxiety. But believers will stand apart from the unbelieving world at this point. Rather than being in distress, believers will be saying, “All right! Jesus is coming soon! Our redemption draws near!”
III. (:29-36) PARABLE OF THE FIG TREE – BE PERCEPTIVE AND READY
A. (:29-33) Be Perceptive
“And He told them a parable:”
1. (:29-30) Learn the Seasonal Lesson of the Fig Tree
“Behold the fig tree and all the trees; as soon as they put forth leaves,
you see it and know for yourselves that summer is now near.”
Deffinbaugh: This parable is a simple story, as most of our Lord’s parables were. It pertains to the timing of the events Jesus has foretold. Jesus here teaches what we might call a “seasonal” approach to prophecy, rather than a “specific” approach. Jesus never encourages the setting of dates, just as He refused to indicate a single sign which would accompany and accredit His coming. He did not want his disciples to be ignorant of the approach of His return, as would be the case with all unbelievers. How, then, were His disciples to recognize that His return was near? Not by a single sign, but by a sensitivity to a combination of events which indicated that the “season” of His return was at hand.
This is an agricultural analogy, the discerning of the season by observing the signs of its arrival. When the fig tree (and all the others as well) begins to put out leaves, we know that it is Spring, and that summer cannot be too far off. We can, of course, look at our calendars, but we should all recognize that seasons don’t always follow a calendar. The farmer recognizes the season by noting those evidences of its arrival. Jesus has likewise just informed His disciples (of all ages) of the evidences of the “season” of His second coming. Those who would like to know the exact time of His arrival will not be happy with our Lord’s answer. His nearness of His return will be sensed by those who are alert to and aware of the evidences of its arrival.
2. (:31) Sense the Nearness of the Consummation of the Kingdom of God
“Even so you, too, when you see these things happening,
recognize that the kingdom of God is near.”
This offers strong support for the Premillennial interpretation of eschatology. Kingdom of God is not yet here in its consummation.
3. (:32) Grasp the Certainty of Complete Fulfillment of End Times Prophecy
“Truly I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all things take place.”
Lenski: “This generation” consists of the type of Jews that Jesus contended with during this Tuesday (19:45 – 20:47). He foretells the destruction of their nation (v. 20-24); and one might easily conclude that this would surely end the generation of Jews who were like the Pharisees and the Sadducees. But no; we are solemnly assured (and for this the assurance is in place) that this type of Jews will continue to the very Parousia. It has continued to this day.
Steven Cole: Perhaps the best solution is to say that “this generation” refers to the generation that is living when all of these end time signs begin to occur. Jesus then is saying that “the generation that sees the beginning of the end, also sees its end. When the signs come, they will proceed quickly; they will not drag on for many generations” (Bock, 2:1691-1692). The main objection to this view is that “this generation” usually refers to the present generation, not to a later one. But in this context, Jesus is referring to these cataclysmic signs. Thus the phrase “this generation” could refer to the generation that sees these unusual events unfold. Since there is so much controversy over the verse, we should not be dogmatic.
4. (:33) Trust the Faithfulness of Christ’s Promises Regarding Future Events
“Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will not pass away.”
B. (:34-36) Be Ready
1. (:34) Warning Against Distractions
“Be on guard, that your hearts may not be weighted down with dissipation and drunkenness and the worries of life, and that day come on you suddenly like a trap;”
– Distraction of dissipation and drunkenness
– Distraction of worries of life
Geldenhuys: On every occasion that the Saviour referred to His second coming and to the events preceding it He impressed it upon the minds of His disciples that they must so live in faithful vigilance that they will be prepared for His coming. His predictions concerning the End are not intended to satisfy human curiosity about the programme of the centuries or to give His disciples occasion to rejoice in the final downfall of the wicked. By no means, for He mainly emphasizes the challenge of the coming events – a challenge to true repentance and to faithful vigilance. What the Saviour gives is not a systematic exposition of future events in the smallest details but a message for practical life.
2. (:35) Certainty of Universal Impact of the Coming Day of the Lord
“for it will come upon all those who dwell on the face of all the earth.”
3. (:36a) Exhortation to Alertness and Prayer
“But keep on the alert at all times,”
4. (:36b) Goal of Triumphant Perseverance
“in order that you may have strength
to escape all these things that are about to take place,”
“and to stand before the Son of Man.”
(:37-38) EPILOGUE – FINAL DAYS OF MINISTRY IN JERUSALEM
A. (:37) Typical Schedule
1. Daytime Teaching in the Temple
“Now during the day He was teaching in the temple,”
2. Nighttime Solitude on Mt. Olivet
“but at evening He would go out and spend the night on the mount
that is called Olivet.”
B. (:38) Temporary Loyalty to His Teaching
“And all the people would get up early in the morning
to come to Him in the temple to listen to Him.”
Donald Miller: Verses 37 and 38 give a brief summary of Jesus’ last days in Jerusalem. He taught in the Temple by day. He went to the Mount of Olives by night, possibly to avoid secret arrest before the time of his suffering came, and certainly to have opportunity for uninterrupted prayer and communion with his Father (see 22:39-40). The people remained loyal to him, rising early in the morning to hear him teach, and still casting around him a bulwark of protection from the religious leaders (see 22:2).