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VI. JESUS’ MINISTRY IN JERUSALEM 19:28-21:38
Luke’s account of Jesus’ passion highlights Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem and His teaching there before His arrest.
C. Jesus’ teachings in the temple 20:1-21:4
Luke presented Jesus’ teachings in the temple as beginning with opposition from the religious leaders and leading on to Jesus’ condemnation of them. He evidently wanted to highlight the reasons for God’s passing over Israel and working with Gentiles equally in the present era. All of what follows in this section happened on Wednesday of "passion week."
7. Jesus’ commendation of a widow 21:1-4 (cf. Mark 12:41-44)
The connecting link in Luke’s narrative is the mention of a widow (cf. Luke 20:47). The contrast is between the false piety of the rich lawyers and the genuine piety of one poor woman. This is another lesson for Luke’s readers on how one’s faith should influence his or her attitude toward money. Jesus presented the real issue as being how much one keeps for himself or herself rather than how much one gives away.
"We tend to appreciate the amount of a gift, not necessarily the sacrifice that went into the giving." [Note: Bock, Luke, p. 527.]
Jesus observed people depositing their gifts in the temple offering receptacles. The "treasury" was a section of the court of the women in the temple complex. When He spotted a poor widow making a contribution, He drew His disciples’ attention to her (cf. Luke 20:45; Mark 12:43). He prefaced His remark with His standard attention-getter. It was apparently evident to everyone that the woman was destitute. Her sacrificial gift demonstrated the depth of her love for God and her trust that God would provide for her (cf. 1 Kings 17:8-16). The two small copper coins (Gr. lepta) that she donated were together worth only about one sixty-fourth of a denarius, the day’s wage of a workingman in Palestine. The lepta is the only Jewish coin mentioned in the New Testament. Some scholars believe there is evidence that the priests announced the amount of each person’s gift publicly as he or she gave it, but this is debatable. [Note: Marshall, The Gospel . . ., p. 751.]
"If the leaders of Jewish religion treated such pious people in the way criticized by Jesus in Luke 20:47, it followed that the system was ripe for judgment. It is no accident that the prophecy of the destruction of the temple follows: the priests were no better than the scribes in their attitude to wealth (Luke 20:45 f.)." [Note: Ibid., p. 752.]
Luke did not mention that Jesus gave this teaching on Mt. Olivet exclusively to His disciples (Matthew 24:1-4; Mark 13:1-5). His omission of these facts created continuity in his narrative and connected this discourse with Jesus’ preceding teaching in the temple that He gave on the same day. It also has the effect of making this discourse the climax of that teaching and suggests that it had value for all the people.
"This [apparently] double audience is appropriate to the eschatological discourse because, while much of it is directly relevant to the disciple, it deals once again with the fate of Jerusalem, a topic of special importance for the people who are listening." [Note: Tannehill, The Narrative . . ., 1:162.]
Luke substituted a description of the comments of others, as Matthew did, for direct quotations from them, which Mark narrated. He also mentioned that the temple’s decorations impressed the onlookers. Matthew and Mark wrote that the temple stones and complex of buildings impressed them.
1. The setting and the warning about being misled 21:5-9 (cf. Matthew 24:1-6; Mark 13:1-6)
D. Jesus’ teaching about the destruction of the temple 21:5-36
The emphasis in Luke’s version of this important discourse concerning the future, the Olivet Discourse, is a warning and an encouragement to persevere. Jesus gave this teaching so His disciples would be ready for the coming of the kingdom (cf. Luke 21:34-36). Luke had already reported much teaching about the future (Luke 12:35-48; Luke 17:20-37). However some lessons bore repetition, such as the place of signs in signaling the end and the importance of faithful perseverance. There is also new revelation. Particularly the relationship of the destruction of the temple and Jerusalem to Jesus’ return was not clear before. Jesus now clarified that these events would not occur together, but some time would elapse between them.
"Keep in mind that this was a message given to Jews by a Jew about the future of the Jewish nation. Though there are definite applications to God’s people today, the emphasis is on Jerusalem, the Jews, and the temple. Our Lord was not discussing His coming for the church, for that can occur at any time and no signs need precede it (1 Corinthians 15:51-58; 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18). ’For the Jews require a sign’ (1 Corinthians 1:22); the church looks for a Saviour (Philippians 3:20-21)." [Note: Wiersbe, 1:260.]
Luke’s record of Jesus’ reply is almost identical to what the other evangelists recorded. Jesus predicted the complete destruction of the temple (cf. Luke 19:44; Mark 14:58; John 2:19; Acts 6:14). His following explanation shows that He was speaking of a destruction in the Tribulation primarily.
Jesus hearers-specifically Peter, James, John, and Andrew (Mark 13:3)-then asked Him when the destruction would take place and what sign would precede it. They did not ask for a sign because they disbelieved Jesus but because they wanted a warning of the disaster. The destruction of the temple would constitute the end of Judaism as they knew it. When the Babylonians destroyed the first temple in 586 B.C., the result was dispersion and disaster for the Jews. Now Jesus announced that another similar catastrophe was coming. They associated this with the Lord’s return and the end of the present age, the present age being the age before the messianic kingdom (cf. Matthew 24:2-3).
Significantly Luke did not record the other questions they asked Him about the sign of His coming and of the end of the age (Matthew 24:3). Matthew and Mark concentrated on Jesus’ answer to the question about Jesus’ return, but Luke dealt mainly with His answer to the question about the temple’s destruction. The destruction of the temple and Jesus’ return would not coincide chronologically.
|The disciples’ questions||Jesus’ answers|
|"When will these things be?" (Matthew 24:3; Mark 13:4; Luke 21:7)||The time of the destruction of the temple||Luke 21:8-28|
|"What will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?" (Matthew 24:3) "What will be the sign when all these things are going to be fulfilled?" (Mark 13:4) "What will be the sign when these things are about to take place?" (Luke 21:7)||The sign that would signal Jesus’ coming and the end of the age||Matthew 24:4-31; Mark 13:5-27|
Jesus proceeded immediately to warn His hearers about being misled about the time of the temple’s destruction. There would be false messiahs who would appear and predict the imminent destruction of the temple (cf. Acts 5:36; Acts 21:38). They should not assume that wars and disturbances were signs of the coming destruction either. Those things would happen, but their occurrence would not signal the immediate destruction of the temple.
Luke’s interruption of Jesus’ teaching suggests a break of some kind in His thought. It seems clear from what follows, in Luke 21:11 especially, that Jesus now broadened His perspective from the wars that would precede the destruction of Jerusalem to include later wars. He was referring specifically to the wars that would precede His return to the earth. The disciples may not have understood this difference when Jesus spoke these words, but by the time Luke wrote his Gospel the difference had become clearer. Later revelation gives us much more information about the wars, earthquakes, plagues, famines, terrors, and great heavenly signs that will precede the Second Coming (Revelation 6-18). The Old Testament prophets had predicted this time of turmoil on the earth, namely, the Tribulation (cf. Isaiah 13:10; Isaiah 13:13; Isaiah 34:4; Jeremiah 30:4-7; Ezekiel 14:21; Ezekiel 32:7-8; Daniel 9:26-27; Amos 8:9; Haggai 2:6; et al.). However, Jesus’ hearers did not know when it would come.
2. The need for faithful perseverance 21:10-19 (cf. Matthew 24:7-10; Mark 13:8-13)
Before the calamities of the Tribulation, Jesus’ disciples would experience persecution from their enemies spoken of generally here as "they." Jesus proceeded to describe what His disciples could expect from the time He spoke until His return. He warned them about what to expect so they would not yield to persecution.
They would undergo examinations from hostile Jews in synagogues (cf. Matthew 10:17; Mark 13:9), and they would experience confinement in prisons. Gentiles also would arrest them and bring them before kings and governors because of their allegiance to Jesus (cf. Matthew 10:18; Mark 13:9). Nevertheless these situations would provide opportunities for witness. The disciples should not fret about their verbal defense ahead of time but should rely on Jesus’ promise to provide them with the words (cf. Exodus 4:11; Exodus 4:15; Ezekiel 29:21) and the wisdom they would need then (cf. Luke 12:11-12; Matthew 10:19-20; Mark 13:11). This would come to them through the Holy Spirit’s ministry to them (Mark 13:11). They would discover that their witness would be very powerful. We have examples of this happening in the early church (e.g., Acts 4:14; Acts 6:10; Acts 8:3; Acts 12:4; Acts 21:11; Acts 22:4; Acts 27:1; Acts 28:17) and throughout church history. It will continue through the Tribulation.
They would also experience betrayal by close relatives and friends (cf. Mark 13:12). Some of them would die for their testimonies. Hatred would descend on many more than would die (cf. Mark 13:13).
Jesus promised that He would keep them safe. This probably means that no harm would befall them without the Father’s permission (Luke 21:16; cf. Acts 27:34). [Note: Geldenhuys, p. 527; Morris, p. 298; Lenski, p. 1017.] Some interpreters believe it refers to their spiritual safety. [Note: E.g., Plummer, p. 480; Marshall, The Gospel . . ., p. 769; A. T. Robertson, Word Pictures in the New Testament, 2:259; H. A. Ironside, Addresses on the Gospel of Luke , 2:619; Liefeld, "Luke," p. 1021; and G. Campbell Morgan, The Gospel According to Luke, p. 237.] However physical safety seems to be in view throughout the passage.
By persevering faithfully when persecuted they would preserve their lives (Gr. ktesesthe tas psychas hymon). That is, they would not die before it was God’s will for them to die (Luke 21:18). Some interpreters believe that this verse simply restates in different terms the principle that those who endure to the end will experience salvation (Matthew 24:13; Mark 13:13). [Note: E.g., Martin, p. 257.] Matthew and Mark recorded a principle for disciples living just before the Lord’s return. Those who remained faithful to the end of the Tribulation would enter the kingdom without dying (Matthew 24:13; Mark 13:13). However the differences in terminology in Luke argue for a different meaning here. This verse seems to be an additional promise. It cannot mean that martyrs can earn justification by remaining faithful rather than apostatizing since justification comes by faith, not works (cf. Romans 2:7). It may mean that perseverance will earn an eternal reward (cf. Luke 21:36; Revelation 2:10).
The sign that Jerusalem’s destruction was imminent would be the presence of besieging armies (cf. Luke 21:7). This happened when Titus encircled the city with troops and put it under siege beginning in A.D. 68.
3. The judgment coming on Jerusalem 21:20-24
Jesus now returned to the subject of when the temple would suffer destruction (Luke 21:7). The similar passages in Matthew and Mark are sufficiently different to alert the reader to the fact that they deal with a different incident from what Luke described (Matthew 24:15-22; Mark 13:14-20). Even some commentators who believe that Luke depended heavily on Mark for his material admit this difference. [Note: E.g., Marshall, The Gospel . . ., p. 770-71.]
Then the Jews should get away from the city. Those in it should leave, those outside it should not enter it while it would be under siege, and those living in the surrounding area should move farther from it. God’s vengeance on the city would descend shortly in fulfillment of prophecy (Daniel 9:26).
Earlier Luke recorded Jesus’ teaching about the destruction that would come on Palestine just before His return (Luke 17:22-37). Matthew and Mark wrote that Jesus also gave that teaching in the Olivet Discourse (Matthew 24:15-22; Mark 13:14-20). However though that teaching is similar, it is different from what Jesus announced here. Here He predicted the destruction of Jerusalem that happened in A.D. 70.
"In fact, when the Romans were beginning to invest Jerusalem, the local Christians mostly fled to Pella, one of the cities of Decapolis and situated in trans-Jordan, south of the sea of Galilee (Eusebius says they went in response to ’an oracle given by revelation’, which may mean Jesus’ words or a later injunction of a similar kind from a Christian prophet; see Historia Ecclesiastica III. Luke 21:3)." [Note: Morris, pp. 298-99.]
The distress of pregnant women and nursing mothers then represents the trouble that all people in and around Jerusalem would face. God’s wrath and the wrath of Israel’s enemy would also be great. Some of the Jews would die in battle, and others would become captives and have to leave Palestine. Gentiles would dominate Jerusalem itself. This would last until the end of "the times of the Gentiles." This is a phrase that describes the period during which Gentiles rather than Jews would control the fate of Jerusalem (Daniel 2; Daniel 7). It began when Nebuchadnezzar destroyed Jerusalem in 586 B.C. and will continue until Jesus Christ returns at the Second Coming (cf. Daniel 2:34-35; Daniel 2:45; Romans 11:25). Throughout this entire long period of history, including the present, Gentiles have controlled the fate of Jerusalem. [Note: See J. Dwight Pentecost, The Words and Works of Jesus Christ, p. 399; John F. Walvoord, "The Times of the Gentiles," Bibliotheca Sacra 125:497 (January-March 1968):3-9.] Luke’s reference to the times of the Gentiles is consistent with his interest in Gentiles.
Again careful comparison with the similar passages in Matthew and Mark reveals that they were recording Jesus’ prediction of the attack on Jerusalem just before His return (cf. Zechariah 14:1-2). Luke recorded His prediction of Jerusalem’s destruction that happened in A.D. 70.
Acts 3:19 records Peter’s invitation to the Jews to repent and to return to a proper relationship to God with the result that "times of refreshing" might come from the Lord’s presence. This is probably a reference to the inauguration of the messianic kingdom (cf. Zechariah 12:10-14). If the Jewish nation as a whole had believed in Jesus then, how could Jesus’ predictions about the destruction of Jerusalem have taken place? Probably the Romans would have invaded Jerusalem sooner than they did, the Rapture would have happened (John 14:1-3), the seven-year Tribulation would have followed, and Jesus would have returned to set up His kingdom. All of this could have happened within about 10 years from the time Peter extended his invitation.
Tribulation conditions at the end of the times of the Gentiles are again in view (cf. Luke 21:10-11; Revelation 6-18). The scope of these crises is global, not just in Judea (cf. Luke 21:20-21). Probably we should understand the roaring of the sea literally since Jesus also mentioned waves. Evidently the disturbances in the heavens will affect the tides and waves causing great insecurity. Global catastrophes will portend even greater trouble to come for those living on the earth in the Tribulation, and they will fear greatly. The universe will appear to be about to break up.
4. The second coming of the Son of Man 21:25-28 (cf. Matthew 24:29-31; Mark 13:24-27)
Luke omitted Jesus’ warnings about false prophets that Matthew and Mark recorded (Matthew 24:23-28; Mark 13:21-23). Perhaps he did this because he had included similar warnings in his account of Jesus’ earlier teachings (Luke 17:21-23). Clearly Jesus was now speaking again of events that would precede His return to the earth (Luke 21:27).
"Jesus is pointing to signs that will precede His coming and teaching His followers not to be discouraged." [Note: Morris, p. 300.]
When conditions are at their worst, people living on the earth then will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory (Daniel 7:13; cf. Luke 9:36; 2 Peter 1:16-17). He will come to set up the messianic kingdom and to reign on the earth for 1,000 years (Daniel 7:14; Revelation 20:1-6). The cloud may be the Shekinah (cf. Acts 1:9-11).
These calamities should have the result that believers living then will realize that the Second Coming is very near. Consequently they should prepare to meet the Lord. The approach of their redemption refers to the approach of the final stage of their redemption, namely, their entering the safety of the kingdom (cf. Psalms 111:9; Isaiah 63:4; Daniel 4:34). When Jesus returns, He will remove believers from the Tribulation by ending it. This verse contains encouragement for believers. Lifting up the head is symbolic of hope and rejoicing (cf. Judges 8:28; Job 10:15; Psalms 24:7; Psalms 83:3).
This parable illustrates the truth that the kingdom’s appearing will follow the signs that Jesus just identified (Luke 21:10-11; Luke 21:25-26). It will follow as certainly as summer follows the budding of trees in the spring. Jesus here connected the beginning of the kingdom with His return to the earth (Luke 21:27).
"If the kingdom had already come, why did Jesus prophesy the future Tribulation in Luke 21:31 and say in connection with that series of events, ’When you see these things happening, recognize that the kingdom of God is near’? The implication is clear: This kingdom is not near now. It was near (in the sense that Jesus personally offered it to Israel), but then it ceased being near [when the Jews rejected Jesus as their Messiah]. Then in the future Tribulation the millennial kingdom will again be near." [Note: Stanley D. Toussaint and Jay A. Quine, "No, Not Yet: The Contingency of God’s Promised Kingdom," Bibliotheca Sacra 164:654 (April-June 2007):138.]
Luke is the only recorder of this teaching who included the phrase "and all the trees." The fig tree was a symbol of Israel. The budding of the fig tree could therefore be a figurative reference to Israel’s revival (cf. Isaiah 27:12-13; Matthew 24:31; Mark 13:27). Similarly the budding of all the trees may refer to the revival of other Gentile nations. Luke may have included this phrase to help his Gentile readers understand that Jesus’ words deserved a literal as well as a symbolic interpretation here.
5. The certainty of these events 21:29-33 (cf. Matthew 24:32-35; Mark 13:28-31)
Jesus told the parable of the fig tree to illustrate the certainty of what He had prophesied. He then gave other assurances of fulfillment. Luke omitted Jesus’ statement that no one would know the day or hour when He would return (Matthew 24:36; Mark 13:32). He may have felt that this would weaken the force of these predictions, and he recorded a similar statement later (Acts 1:7). He also omitted Jesus’ reference to the sign of Noah and the parables of the one taken and the other left behind (Matthew 24:37-41). He had recorded this teaching earlier when Jesus gave it in another context (Luke 17:26-27; Luke 17:34-35).
This verse begins Jesus’ final word confirming the certainty of His prophecy. He introduced it with the solemn "Truly I say to you" or "I tell you the truth."
"This generation" refers to the unbelieving Jews who were alive when Jesus spoke, as it usually does in the Gospels (cf. Luke 3:7; Luke 7:31; Luke 9:41; Luke 11:29-32; Luke 11:50-51; Luke 17:25; Mark 11:14; Acts 2:40). Jesus may have meant that that generation would not disappear until the fulfillment of all that He had predicted had begun. A better interpretation is that "this generation" refers to the generation referred to in Luke 21:25 that will see the beginning of the end in the cosmic signs. [Note: Bock, Luke, pp. 538-39, M. Bailey, pp. 146-47, and Wiersbe, 1:263. For a discussion of other interpretations, see my note on Matthew 24:34; Maddox, pp. 111-15; and Morris, pp. 300-1.] The destruction of Jerusalem was the beginning of the fulfillment of what Jesus had predicted in this discourse. Obviously all the things that He predicted here did not happen within the lifetime of His hearers. He evidently regarded the beginning of fulfillment as a guarantee of complete fulfillment. This was a common Semitic viewpoint. The Semites regarded a part of the whole as the whole (cf. Deuteronomy 26:5-10; 1 Kings 13:32; Jeremiah 31:5; 2 Samuel 5:6-10; Revelation 14:1; Revelation 22:1; Romans 15:19-24). The name that some scholars have given this viewpoint is representative universalism. [Note: See A. J. Mattill Jr., "Representative Universalism and the Conquest of Canaan," Concordia Theological Monthly 35:1 (1967):8-17.]
Heaven and earth is a merism for the universe. Jesus meant that the universe would someday end (cf. Revelation 21:1), but His Word would not end (cf. Luke 16:17; Psalms 102:25-27; Psalms 119:160; Isaiah 40:6-8; Isaiah 51:6; Matthew 5:18). This is a strong way of affirming the certainty of what He had just predicted. It also implied that Jesus had divine authority.
"That day" is the day of His return, not the destruction of Jerusalem, since it would come on all earth-dwellers (Luke 21:35). Jesus did not want His disciples to be unprepared for His return. He did not want them to be so self-indulgent and selfish that they disregarded His return. In that case it might catch them as a trap. Even though believers should be able to anticipate the Lord’s return by the signs that precede it (Luke 21:10-11; Luke 21:25-26), they may become so entangled in the affairs of life that they lose sight of it.
6. The concluding exhortation to watchfulness 21:34-36 (cf. Matthew 24:42; Mark 13:33-37)
Luke concluded his account of the Olivet Discourse with Jesus’ exhortation to remain ready for what He had predicted. Jesus’ words presupposed an interval before His coming, but He allowed that His coming might occur in the lifetime of His hearers. Nothing that He said precluded the passing of millennia before His coming.
Praying brings spiritual strength to maintain alertness. It enables disciples to withstand their temptations to depart from God’s will and consequently stand before the Son of Man, when He returns, without shame. Faithful perseverance in the midst of persecution is in view (cf. Luke 21:19).
The people who first heard Jesus give this exhortation needed to trust in Him and commit themselves to remaining true to Him since hard times lay ahead of them. This was especially true of Jesus’ disciples. If the Tribulation had begun shortly after Jesus’ ascension, some of them who became Christians after the Rapture would have been in it and would have anticipated His return in just seven years. After the church began on the day of Pentecost, believers could have been raptured at any moment. After the Rapture, the people who became believers could anticipate the Lord returning at the end of the Tribulation, and they would need to be ready.
Luke’s original readers evidently lived after Pentecost and before the destruction of Jerusalem. [Note: See my introductory comments on the date of composition.] Most of them lived to witness the fulfillment of Jesus’ prediction of Jerusalem’s destruction. This event would have encouraged them to believe His teaching about His return and to prepare for it. They could have met the Lord anytime if the Rapture occurred during their lifetime.
As history has unfolded, we know that the Second Coming is still future. Before that the Tribulation must occur and before that the Rapture. The New Testament apostles voiced many of the same warnings urging watchfulness in view of the Rapture that Jesus gave in view of His second coming (e.g., Romans 13:13; Galatians 5:21; Ephesians 5:18; 1 Thessalonians 5:4-11; 1 Thessalonians 5:17; et al.). After the Rapture, people who become Christians will need to remain vigilant because they will go through intense persecution in the Tribulation. For them the Second Coming will be only a few years away.
Jesus’ exhortation to be watchful is therefore applicable to all disciples regardless of when they may live before His second coming. Vigilance is essential because the Lord’s return is imminent (i.e., impending, overhanging) regardless of when we live.
E. A summary of Jesus’ ministry in Jerusalem 21:37-38
This summary is unique to Luke’s Gospel. The writer included it to round off this phase of Jesus’ ministry. During the Passion Week Jesus spent His days teaching in the temple area, probably Tuesday through Thursday. He must have presented Himself as the God-man and called on His hearers to believe on Him. At night He would go out to Mt. Olivet, probably with the Twelve, to pray and sleep. He may have stayed with Mary, Martha, and Lazarus in their Bethany home, which stood on the mount (cf. Matthew 21:17). Possibly He slept out of doors, perhaps in the garden of Gethsemane. There were multitudes of pilgrims in Jerusalem at Passover time, and many of them slept in the open air.
Again Luke mentioned the eagerness of the people generally (Gr. laos) to hear Him (cf. Luke 4:14-15; Luke 4:22; Luke 4:32; Luke 4:37; Luke 4:42; Luke 5:19; Luke 5:26; Luke 5:29). Their response contrasted with that of the crowds (Gr. ochloi), who pressed Jesus to receive something from Him, and the nation’s leaders, who listened to Him only to do Him harm. Perhaps Luke noted the people’s eager responsiveness to the gospel to encourage his readers in their evangelism.
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Constable, Thomas. DD. "Commentary on Luke 21". "Dr. Constable's Expository Notes". https://studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 21 / Ordinary 26