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Bible Commentaries

Godet's Commentary on Selected Books

Luke 21

Verses 1-4

Second Cycle: The Reign of Jesus in the Temple, Luk 19:45 to Luke 21:4 .

From this moment, Jesus establishes Himself as a sovereign in His Father's house; He there discharges the functions not only of a prophet, but of a legislator and judge; for some days the theocratic authorities seem to abdicate their powers into His hands.

These are the days of the Messiah's sovereignty in His temple ( Mal 3:1-2 ).

This section contains the following facts: Jesus driving out the sellers ( Luk 19:45-48 ); His answer to an official question of the Sanhedrim regarding His competence ( Luk 20:1-8 ); His announcing their deprivation of authority ( Luk 20:9-19 ); His escape from the snares laid for Him by the Pharisees and Sadducees ( Luk 20:20-40 ); His putting to them a question respecting the person of the Messiah ( Luk 20:41-44 ); His guarding the people against those seducers ( Luk 20:45-47 ); His setting up, in opposition to their false system of moral appreciation, the true standard of divine judgment ( Luk 21:1-4 ).

Verses 1-38

FIFTH PART: SOJOURN AT JERUSALEM, Luk 19:28 to Luke 21:38 .

This part includes three principal events: I. The entry of Jesus into Jerusalem ( Luk 19:28-44 ). II. The exercise of His Messianic sovereignty in the temple ( Luk 19:45 to Luk 21:4 ). III. The prophecy of the destruction of Jerusalem and of the Jewish people ( Luk 21:5-38 ).

The relation between these three events is easily understood. The first is the final appeal of Jesus to His people; with the second there is connected the decisive rejection of Israel; the third is, as it were, the pronouncing of the sentence which falls on this refusal.

Verses 5-7

1. The Question: Luke 21:5-7.

To the preceding declaration, some of the hearers might have objected, that if only such gifts as the widow's had been made in that holy place, those magnificent structures and those rich offerings would not have existed. It was doubtless some such reflection which gave rise to the following conversation. This conversation took place, according to Mat 24:1 and Mark 13:1, as Jesus left the temple, and on occasion of an observation made by His disciples (Matthew), or by one of them (Mark). According to Matthew, this observation was certainly connected with the last words of the previous discourse (not related by Mark and Luke), Luke 23:38: “ Your house is left unto you [ desolate ].” How can it be asserted that three evangelists, copying the same document, or copying from one another, could differ in such a way?

In the answer of Jesus ( Luk 21:6 ), the words, ταῦτα ἃ θεωρεῖτε , these things which ye behold, may be taken interrogatively: “These are the things, are they, which ye are beholding?” Or we may take them as in apposition to λίθος , and the subject of ἀφεθήσεται , which is more categorical and solemn: “As to these things which ye behold...there shall not be left one stone upon another.”

It was evening ( Luk 5:37 ), at the moment perhaps when the setting sun was casting his last rays on the sacred edifice and the holy city.

Several critics think that Luke places this discourse also in the temple. But this opinion does not agree either with Luke 21:5-6, where the temple buildings are contemplated by the interlocutors, which supposes them to be at some distance from which they can view them as a whole, or with Luke 21:7, which conveys the notion of a private conversation between the disciples and the Master. According to Mark ( Mar 13:3 ), Jesus was seated with Peter, James, John, and Andrew, on the Mount of Olives, over against that wonderful scene. Here is one of those details in which we recognise the recital of an eye-witness, probably Peter. Matthew, while indicating the situation in a way similar to Mark, does not, any more than Luke, name the four disciples present. Luke and Matthew would certainly not have omitted such a circumstance, if they had copied Mark; as, on the contrary, Mark would not have added it at his own hand, if he had compiled from the text of the other two.

The form of the disciples' question, Luke 21:7, differs in Luke and Mark, but the sense is the same: the question in both refers simply to the time of the destruction of the temple, and to the sign by which it shall be announced. It is, no doubt, possible the disciples more or less confounded this catastrophe with the event of the Parousia; but the text does not say so. It is quite otherwise in Matthew; according to him, the question bears expressly on those two points combined: the time of the destruction of the temple, and the sign of the coming of Christ. Luke and Matthew each give the following discourse in a manner which is in keeping with their mode of expressing the question which gives rise to it. In Luke, this discourse contemplates exclusively the destruction of Jerusalem. If mention is made of the end of the world ( Luk 21:25-27 ), it is only in passing, and as the result of an association of ideas which will be easily explained. The Parousia in itself had been previously treated of by Luke in a special discourse called forth by a question of the Pharisees (chap. 17). On his side, Matthew combines in the following discourse the two subjects indicated in the question, as he has expressed it; and he unites them in so intimate a way, that all attempts to separate them in the text, from Chrysostom to Ebrard and Meyer, have broken down. Comp. Luke 21:14; Luke 21:22, which can refer to nothing but the Parousia, while the succeeding and preceding context refer to the destruction of Jerusalem; and on the other hand, Luke 21:34, which points to this latter event, while all that precedes and follows this verse applies to the Parousia. The construction attempted by Gess is this: 1. From Luke 21:4-14, the general signs preceding the Parousia, that believers may not be led to expect this event too soon; 2. From Luke 21:15-28, the destruction of the temple as a sign to be joined to those precursive signs; 3. Luke 21:29-31; Luke 21:29-31, the Parousia itself. But ( a) this general order is far from natural. What has the destruction of the temple to do after the passage Luke 21:4-14, which (Gess acknowledges) supposes it consummated long ago? The piece (No. 2) on the destruction of Jerusalem is evidently out of place between the description of the signs of the Parousia (No. 1) and that of the Parousia itself (No. 3). ( b) This division cannot be carried out into detail: Luke 21:22, which Gess is obliged to refer to the destruction of Jerusalem, can apply only to the Parousia. And the “ all these things ” of Luke 21:34, which he restricts to the destruction of Jerusalem and the first preaching of the gospel to the Gentiles, as first signs of the Parousia, has evidently a much wider scope in the evangelist's view. It must therefore be admitted, either that Jesus Himself confounded the destruction of Jerusalem and the end of the world, and that those two events formed, in His judgment, one and the same catastrophe, or that two distinct discourses uttered by Him on two different occasions appear in Matthew united in one. Different expedients have been used to save the accuracy of Matthew's account, without prejudice to the Saviour's infallibility. It has been supposed that the description of the Parousia, Matthew 24:0, refers exclusively to the invisible return of Jesus to destroy Jerusalem. This explanation is incompatible with the text, especially Luke 21:29-31. It has also been alleged that in the prophetic perspective the final coming of the Messiah appeared to the view of Jesus as in immediate connection with His return to judge Israel. But ( a) this hypothesis does not at all attain the end which its authors propose, that of saving our Lord's infallibility. ( b) Jesus could not affirm here what He elsewhere declares that He does not know ( Mar 13:32 ), the time of the Parousia. Even after His resurrection He still refuses to give an answer on this point, which is reserved by the Father in His own power ( Act 1:6-7 ). ( c) We can go further, and show that Jesus had a quite opposite view to that of the nearness of His return. While He announces the destruction of Jerusalem as an event to be witnessed by the contemporary generation, He speaks of the Parousia as one which is possibly yet very remote. Consider the expression, ἐλεύσονται ἡμέραι , days will come ( Luk 17:22 ), and the parable of the widow, the meaning of which is, that God will seem to the Church an unjust judge, who for a protracted time refuses to hear her, so that during this time of waiting the faith of many shall give way ( Luk 18:1 et seq.). The Master is to return; but perhaps it will not be till the second, or the third watch, or even till the morning, that He will come (Mark 13:35; Luk 12:38 ). The great distance at which the capital lies ( Luk 19:12 ) can signify nothing else than the considerable space of time which will elapse between the departure of Jesus and His return. In Mat 25:5 the bridegroom tarries much longer than the bridal procession expected; Luke 24:48, the unfaithful servant strengthens himself in his evil-doing by the reflection that his Lord delayeth His coming. Matthew 24:14, the gospel is to be preached in all the world and to all the Gentiles (Mark 16:15, to every creature); and Matthew 26:13, Mary's act is to be published in the whole world before Jesus shall return. In fine, the gospel shall transform humanity not by a magical process, but by slow and profound working, like that of leaven in dough. The kingdom of God will grow on the earth like a tree which proceeds from an imperceptible seed, and which serves in its maturity to shelter the birds of heaven. And Jesus, who knew human nature so deeply, could have imagined that such a work could have been accomplished in less than forty years! Who can admit it? The confusion which prevails in this whole discourse, Matt. xxiv (as well as in Mark 13:0), and which distinguishes it from the two distinct discourses of Luke, must therefore be ascribed not to Jesus, but to the account which Matthew used as the basis of his recital.

This confusion in Matthew is probably closely connected with the Judeo-Christian point of view, under the sway of which primitive tradition took its form. In the prophets, the drama of the last days, which closes the eschatological perspective, embraces as two events nearly following one another, the judgment whereby Israel is purified by means of the Gentiles, and the punishment of the Gentiles by Jehovah. Preoccupied with this view, the hearers of Jesus easily overlooked in His discourses certain transitions which reserved the interval between those two events usually combined in the O. T.; and that so much the more, as, on looking at it closely, the destruction of Jerusalem is really the first act of the world's judgment and of the end of the days. The harvest of an early tree announces and inaugurates the general harvest; so the judgment of Jerusalem is the prelude and even the first act of the judgment of humanity. The Jew has priority in judgment, because he had priority of grace (comp. the two corresponding πρῶτον , Rom 2:9-10 ). With the judgment on Jerusalem, the hour of the world's judgment has really struck. The present epoch is due to a suspension of the judgment already begun, a suspension the aim of which is to make way for the time of grace which is to be granted to the Gentiles ( καιροὶ ἔθνων , the times of the Gentiles). The close combination of the destruction of Jerusalem with the end of the world in Matthew, though containing an error in a chronological point of view, rests on a moral idea which is profoundly true.

Thus everything authorizes us to give the preference to Luke's account. 1. Matthew's constant habit of grouping together in one, materials belonging to different discourses; 2. The precise historical situation which gave rise to the special discourse of chap. 17 on the coming of Christ, and which cannot be an invention of Luke 3:0. The established fact, that the confusion which marks the discourse of Matthew was foreign to the mind of Jesus; 4. Finally, we have a positive witness to the accuracy of Luke; that is Mark. For though his great eschatological discourse (chap. 13) presents the same confusion as that of Matthew in the question of the disciples which calls it forth, it is completely at one with Luke, and, like him, mentions only one subject, the destruction of Jerusalem.

Might Mark have taken the form of his question from Luke, and that of the discourse from Matthew, as Bleek alleges? But the incongruity to which such a course would have led would be unworthy of a serious writer. Besides, the form of the question is not the same in Mark as in Luke. Finally, the original details which we have pointed out in Mark, as well as those special and precise details with which his narrative abounds, from the day of the entry into Jerusalem onwards, do not admit of this supposition. No more can Luke have taken his question from Mark. He would have borrowed at the same time the details peculiar to Mark which he wants, and the form of the question is too well adapted in his Gospel to the contents of the discourse to admit of this supposition. It must therefore be concluded, that if in the compilation of the discourse Mark came under the influence of the tradition to which Matthew's form is due, the form of the question in his Gospel nevertheless remains as a very striking trace of the accuracy of Luke's account. The form of the question in Matthew must have been modified to suit the contents of the discourse; and thus it is that it has lost its original unity and precision, which are preserved in the other two evangelists.

Verses 5-38

Third Cycle: The Prophecy of the Destruction of Jerusalem, Luke 21:5-38 .

This piece contains a question put by the disciples ( Luk 21:5-7 ), the discourse of Jesus in answer to their question ( Luk 21:8-36 ), and a general view of the last days ( Luk 21:37-38 ).

Verses 8-19

Vers. 8-19. The Signs which are not such. But He said, Take heed that ye be not deceived; for many shall come in my name, saying, I am he, and the time draweth near. Go ye not therefore after them. 9. And when ye shall hear of wars and commotions, be not terrified; for these things must first come to pass; but the end cometh not so speedily. 10. Then said He unto them, Nation shall rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. 11. And great earthquakes shall be in divers places, and famines, and pestilences, as well as great and terrible signs from heaven. 12. But above all, they shall lay their hands on you, and persecute you, delivering you up to the synagogues, and into prisons, bringing you before kings and rulers for my name's sake. 13. But it shall turn to you for a testimony. 14. Settle it, therefore, in your hearts, not to meditate before what ye shall answer. 15. For I will give you a mouth and wisdom, which all your adversaries shall not be able to gainsay nor resist. 16. And ye shall be betrayed even by parents, and brethren, and kinsfolks, and friends; and some of you shall they cause to be put to death; 17. And ye shall be hated of all for my name's sake; 18. And there shall not an hair of your head perish. 19. In your patience save ye your lives.

The sign to which the question of the apostle refers is not indicated till Luke 21:20. The signs Luk 21:8-19 are enumerated solely to put believers on their guard against the decisive value which they might be led to ascribe to them. The vulgar are inclined to look on certain extraordinary events in nature or society as the evidences of some approaching catastrophe. Many events of this kind will happen, Jesus means to say, but without your being warranted yet to conclude that the great event is near, and so to take measures precipitately. The seduction of which Matthew and Mark speak is that which shall be practised by the false Messiahs. The meaning is probably the same in Luke ( γάρ ). History, it is true, does not attest the presence of false Messiahs before the destruction of Jerusalem. And those who are most embarrassed by this fact are just our modern critics, who see in this discourse nothing but a prophecy ab eventu. They suppose that the author alludes to such men as Judas the Galilean, the Egyptian (Acts 21:0), Theudas, and others, prudently described by Josephus as mere heads of parties, but who really put forth Messianic pretensions. This assertion is hard to prove. For our part, who see in this discourse a real prophecy, we think that Jesus meant to put believers on their guard against false teachers, such as Simon the magician, of whom there may have been a great number at this period, though he is the only one of whom profane history speaks.

The μὴ πτοηθῆναι , not to let themselves be terrified ( Luk 21:9 ), refers to the temptation to a premature emigration. Comp. the opposite Luke 21:21. Further, it must not be concluded from the political convulsions which shall shake the East that the destruction of Jerusalem is now near.

Jesus had uttered in substance His whole thought in those few words; and He might have passed immediately to the contrast ὅταν δέ , but when ( Luk 21:20 ). Yet He developes the same idea more at length, Luke 21:10-19. Hence the words in which Luke expressly resumes his report: Then said He unto them ( Luk 21:10 ). This passage, Luke 21:10-19, might therefore have been inserted here by Luke as a fragment borrowed from a separate document differing from the source whence he took the rest of the discourse.

We should not take the words ἔλεγεν αὐτοῖς as a parenthetical proposition, and connect τότε with ἐγερθήσεται : “Then said He unto them, One nation shall rise.” According to the analogy of Luke's style, we should rather translate: “ Then said He unto them, One nation...” When to great political commotions there are added certain physical phenomena, the imagination is carried away, and the people become prophets. Jesus puts the Church of Palestine on its guard against this tendency ( Luk 21:11 ). It is well known that the times which preceded the destruction of Jerusalem were signalized in the East by many calamities, particularly by a dreadful famine which took place under Claudius, and by the earthquake which destroyed Laodicea, Hierapolis, etc., in 67 or 68. By the signs from heaven we are to understand meteors, auroras, eclipses, etc., phenomena to which the vulgar readily attach a prophetic significance.

One of those events which contribute most to inflame fanaticism in a religious community is persecution; thus are connected Luke 21:12-13. Those which are announced will arise either from the Jews ( synagogues), like that marked by the martyrdoms of Stephen and James, or from the Gentiles ( kings and rulers), like that to which Paul was exposed in Palestine, or that raised by Nero at Rome.

In the phrase, before all these, the πρό ( before) refers to the importance of this sign, not to its time. Meyer denies that πρό can have this meaning; but Passow's dictionary cites a host of examples for it. It is, besides, the only meaning which suits the context. If πρό here signified before, why not speak of the persecutions before the preceding signs? What Jesus means by this word is, that among all those signs, this is the one which might most easily throw His disciples out of the calm attitude in which they ought to persevere. We have translated the passive ἀγομένους by the active ( bringing). It is hardly possible to render the passive form into English. Holtzmann thinks that Luke here traces after the event, though in the form of prophecy, the picture of those persecutions to which St. Paul was exposed. Can we suppose an evangelist, to whom Jesus is the object of faith, allowing himself deliberately thus to put words into His mouth after his fancy?

Bleek applies the word testimony ( Luk 21:13 ) to that which will accrue to the apostles from this proof of their fidelity. It is more natural, having in view the connection with Luke 21:14-15 ( therefore, Luk 21:14 ), to understand by it what they shall themselves render on occasion of their persecution. This idea falls back again into the Be not terrified: “All that will only end in giving you the opportunity of glorifying me!” It is the same with Luke 21:14-15, the object of which is to inspire them with the most entire tranquillity of soul in the carrying out of their mission. Jesus charges Himself with everything: ἐγὼ δώσω , I will give.

The mouth is here the emblem of the perfect ease with which they shall become the organs of the wisdom of Jesus, without the least preparation. The term ἀντειπεῖν , gainsay, refers to the fact that their adversaries shall find it impossible to make any valid reply to the defence of the disciples; the word resist, to the powerlessness to answer when the disciples, assuming the offensive, shall attack them with the sword of the gospel. In the Alex. reading, which places ἀντιστῆναι first, we must explain ἤ in the sense of or even.

To official persecution there shall be added the sufferings of domestic enmity. The name of Jesus will open up a gulf between them and their nearest. Luk 21:17 is almost identical with John 15:21. But even in that case there will be no ground for disquiet. The time will not yet have come for them to quit the accursed city and land. Luke 21:18: “ There shall not an hair of your head perish,” seems to contradict the close of Luke 21:16: “ some of you shall perish. ” This contradiction is explained by the general point of view from which we explain this piece: There shall, indeed, be some individual believers who shall perish in the persecution, but the Christian community of Palestine as a whole shall escape the extermination which will overtake the Jewish people. Their condition is indicated in Luke 21:19, where this piece is resumed. It is one of patience, that is to say, peaceful waiting for the divine signal, without being drawn aside either by the appeals of a false patriotism or by persecution, or by false signs and anti-Christian seductions. The fut. κτήσεσθε in A. B. is probably a correction of the aor. κτήσασθε (T. R.). The imper. signifies: “Embrace the means which seem the way to lose everything..., and ye shall save yourselves.” Κτᾶσθαι does not mean to possess (Ostervald), but to acquire. The word suggests that of Jeremiah, I will give thee thy life for a prey. And now at length comes the contrast: the time when it will be necessary to leave the passive attitude for that of action ( ὅταν δέ , but when, Luk 21:20 ).

Verses 8-37

2. The Discourse: Luke 21:8-36.

The four points treated by Jesus are: 1 st. The apparent signs, which must not be mistaken for true signs ( Luk 21:8-19 ); 2 d. The true sign, and the destruction of Jerusalem which will immediately follow it, with the time of the Gentiles which will be connected with it ( Luk 21:20-24 ); 3 d. The Parousia, which will bring this period to an end ( Luk 21:25-27 ); 4 th. The practical application ( Luk 21:28-36 ).

Verses 20-24

Vers. 20-24. The true Sign, and the Catastrophe. But when ye shall see Jerusalem compassed with armies, then know that the desolation thereof is nigh. 21. Then let them which are in Judoea flee to the mountains; and let them which are in the city depart out; and let not them that are in the fields enter thereinto. 22. For these be the days of vengeance, that all things which are written may be fulfilled. 23. But woe unto them that are with child, and to them that give suck, in those days; for there shall be great distress in the land, and wrath upon this people. 24. And they shall fall by the edge of the sword, and shall be led away captive into all nations; and Jerusalem shall be trodden down of the Gentiles, until the times of the Gentiles be fulfilled.

Here is the direct answer to the disciples' question: “When...and with what sign?” Jesus up till now has been warning believers not to give way to hasty measures. Now He guards them, on the contrary, against the illusions of fanatical Jews, who to the end will cherish the belief that God will not fail to save Jerusalem by a miracle. “By no means, answers Jesus; be assured in that hour that all is over, and that destruction is near and irrevocable.” The sign indicated by Luke is the investment of Jerusalem by a hostile army. We see nothing to hinder us from regarding this sign as identical in sense with that announced by Matthew and Mark in Daniel's words (in the LXX.): the abomination of desolation standing in the holy place. Why not understand thereby the Gentile standards planted on the sacred soil which surrounds the holy city? Luke has substituted for the obscure prophetic expression a term more intelligible to Gentiles. It has often been concluded from this substitution, that Luke had modified the form of Jesus' saying under the influence of the event itself, and that consequently he had written after the destruction of Jerusalem. But if Jesus really predicted, as we have no doubt He did, the taking of Jerusalem, the substitution of Luke's term for the synonym of Daniel might have been made before the event as easily as after. Keim sees in the expression of the other Syn. the announcement of a simple profanation of the temple, like that of Antiochus Epiphanes, a prediction which, according to him, was not fulfilled. But in this case we must establish a contradiction between this threat and that of the entire destruction of the temple (Matt. Luke 21:6; Mark, Luk 21:2 ), which is purely arbitrary.

This utterance preserved the church of Palestine from the infatuation which, from the beginning of the war, seized upon the whole Jewish nation. Remembering the warning of Jesus of the approach of the Roman armies, the Christians of Judaea fled to Pella beyond Jordan, and thus escaped the catastrophe (Eus. Hist. Ecclesiastes 3:5, ed. Laemmer). They applied the expression, the mountains ( Luk 21:21 ), to the mountainous plateaus of Gilead.

Ver. 21. “ Let those who dwell in the capital not remain there, and let those who dwell in the country not take refuge in it. ” The inhabitants of the country ordinarily seek their safety behind the walls of the capital. But in this case, this is the very point on which the whole violence of the storm will break.

Ver. 22 gives the reason of this dispensation. Comp. Luke 11:50-51.

Ver. 23 exhibits the difficulty of flight in such circumstances. Luke here omits the saying of Matthew about the impossibility of flight on the Sabbath, which had no direct application to Gentiles.

The land should be taken in the restricted sense which we give the word, the country.

St Paul seems to allude to the expression, wrath upon this people, in Rom 2:5-8 and 1 Thessalonians 2:16.

Ver. 24. A million of Jews perished in this war; 97,000 were led captive to Egypt and the other provinces of the empire (Josephus). The term πατουμένη , trodden, denotes more than taking possession; it is the oppression and contempt which follow conquest; comp. Revelation 11:2. This unnatural state of things will last till the end of the times of the Gentiles. What means this expression peculiar to Luke? According to Meyer and Bleek, nothing more than: the time of Gentile dominion over Jerusalem. But would it not be a tautology to say: Jerusalem shall be trodden down by the Gentiles until the time of Gentile dominion come to an end? Then the plural καιροί , the times, is not sufficiently accounted for on this view. Neither is the choice of the term καιρός , the opportunity, instead of χρόνος , a certain space of time. In the passage Luke 19:44, the time of Israel, καιρός denotes the season when God visits this people with the offer of salvation. According to this analogy, the times of the Gentiles should designate the whole period during which God shall approach with His grace the Gentiles who have been hitherto strangers to His kingdom. Comp. 2 Corinthians 6:2, the expressions καιρὸς δεκτός , ἡμέρα σωτηρίας . The plural καιροί , the times, corresponds with the plural the nations; the Gentile peoples are called one after another; hence there arises in this one epoch a plurality of phases.

Modern criticism accuses Luke of having introduced into the discourse of Jesus at his own hand this important idea, which is wanting in Mark and Matthew (Holtzmann, p. 406). This supposition, indeed, is inevitable, if his work is founded on those two writings or on the documents from which they are drawn, the proto-Mark or the Logia, e.g. But if this saying is not found in the other two Syn., the thought which it expresses is very clearly implied. Do they not both speak of the preaching of the gospel to all Gentile peoples ( Mat 24:14 ), and of a baptism to be brought to every creature (Mark 16:15; Mat 28:19 )? Such a work demands time. Gess refers also to Mark 12:9, Matthew 21:43; Matthew 22:18, where Jesus declares that the kingdom of God will pass for a time to the Gentiles, and that they will bring forth the fruits thereof, and where He describes the invitation which shall be addressed to them with this view by the servants of the Master (parable of the marriage supper). All this work necessarily supposes a special period in history. Can Jesus have thought of this period as before the destruction of Jerusalem? We have already proved the falsity of this assertion. When, therefore, in Luke Jesus inserts the times of the Gentiles between the destruction of Jerusalem and the Parousia, He says nothing but what is implied in His utterances quoted by the other two Syn., necessary in itself, and consequently in keeping with His real thought. That established, is it not very arbitrary to affect suspicion of Luke's saying in which this idea is positively expressed?

This era of the Gentiles was a notion foreign to the O. T. For, in the prophetic view, the end of the theocracy always coincided with that of the present world. We can thus understand how, in the reproduction of Jesus' sayings within the bosom of the Judeo-Christian Church, this notion, unconnected with anything in their past views, could be effaced, and disappear from that oral proclamation of the gospel which determined the form of our two first Syn. In possession of more exact written documents, Luke here, as in so many other cases, restored the sayings of Jesus to their true form. If Jesus, who fixed so exactly the time of the destruction of Jerusalem (“ this generation shall not pass till...”), declared in the same discourse that He did not Himself know the day of His coming ( Mar 13:32 ), it must infallibly have been because He placed a longer or shorter interval between those two events, an interval which is precisely the period of the Gentiles. Is not this explanation more probable than that which, contrary to all psychological possibility, ascribes to Luke so strange a licence as that of deliberately putting into his Master's mouth sayings which He never uttered?

Verses 25-27

Vers. 25-27. The Parousia. And there shall be signs in the sun, and in the moon, and in the stars; and in the earth distress of nations with perplexity; the sea and the waves roaring; 26. Men's hearts failing them for fear, and for looking after those things which are coming on the earth; for the powers of heaven shall be shaken. 27. And then shall they see the Son of man coming in a cloud with power and great glory.

We have found that the main subject of this discourse was the destruction of the temple of Jerusalem. But how could our Lord close the treatment of this subject, and the mention of the epoch of the Gentiles which was to follow this catastrophe, without terminating by indicating the Parousia, the limit of the prophetic perspective? The mention which He made in passing of this last event, which was to consummate the judgment of the world begun by the former, doubtless contributed to the combination of the two subjects, and to the confounding of the two discourses in tradition.

The intermediate idea, therefore, between Luk 21:24-25 is this: “And when those times of the period of grace granted to the Gentiles shall be at an end, then there shall be...;” then follows the summary description of the Parousia. Those two judgments, that of the theocracy and that of the world, which Luke separates by the times of the Gentiles, are closely connected in Matthew by the εὐθέως , immediately, Luke 21:29, and by the words following: after the tribulation of those days, which cannot well refer to anything else than the great tribulation mentioned Luke 21:21, that is to say, to the destruction of Jerusalem ( Luk 21:15-20 ). In fact, the Parousia is mentioned here by Matthew ( Mat 24:27 ) only to condemn beforehand the lying revelations of false prophets ( Luk 21:23-26 ) as to the form of that event. In Mark there is the same connection as in Matthew, though somewhat less absolute, between the destruction of Jerusalem and the Parousia (“ in those days,” but without the immediately of Matthew). The three writers' compilations are, it is easily seen, independent of one another.

Jesus described Luk 17:26-30 and Luk 18:8 the state of worldliness into which society and the Church itself would sink in the last times. In the midst of this carnal security, alarming symptoms will all at once proclaim one of those universal revolutions through which our earth has more than once passed. Like a ship creaking in every timber at the moment of its going to pieces, the globe which we inhabit ( ἡ οἰκουμένη ), and our whole solar system, shall undergo unusual commotions. The moving forces ( δυνάμεις ), regular in their action till then, shall be as it were set free from their laws by an unknown power; and at the end of this violent but short distress, the world shall see Him appear whose coming shall be like the lightning which shines from one end of heaven to the other ( Luk 17:24 ). The cloud is here, as almost everywhere in Scripture, the symbol of judgment. The gathering of the elect, placed here by Matthew and Mark, is mentioned by St. Paul, 1Th 4:16-17 , 2 Thessalonians 2:1, where the word ἐπισυναγωγή reminds us of the ἐπισυνάγειν of the two evangelists. Is it not a proof of the falsity of that style of criticism which seeks to explain every difference in text between the Syn. by ascribing to them opposite points of view?

Ver. 27. It is not said that the Lord shall return to the earth to remain there. This coming can be only a momentary appearance, destined to effect the resurrection of the faithful and the ascension of the entire Church (1 Corinthians 15:23; Luke 17:31-35; 1Th 4:16-17 ).

Verses 28-33

Vers. 28-33. It might be thought that after this saying relative to the Parousia ( Luk 21:26-27 ), which is strictly speaking a digression, Jesus returns to the principal topic of this discourse, the destruction of Jerusalem. The expression: your deliverance, would then denote the emancipation of the Judeo-Christian Church by the destruction of the persecuting Jewish power. The coming of the kingdom of God, Luke 21:31, would refer to the propagation of the gospel among the Gentiles; and Luke 21:32: this generation shall not pass away, would thus indicate quite naturally the date of the destruction of Jerusalem. Yet the fact of the Parousia, once mentioned, is too solemn to be treated as a purely accessory idea. The kingdom of God seems, therefore, necessarily to denote here rather the final establishment of the Messianic kingdom; and the deliverance ( Luk 21:28 ) should be applied to the definitive emancipation of the Church by the return of the Lord (the deliverance of the widow, Luk 18:1-8 ). Of yourselves, Luke 21:30: “It is not necessary that an official proclamation announce to the inhabitants of the world that summer is near!” It is about the middle of March that fruits begin to show themselves on the old branches of the spring fig-tree; they reach maturity before the shooting of the leaves. The first harvest is gathered in June (Keim, iii. p. 206).

Can Luk 21:32 refer still to the Parousia? But in that case, how are we to explain the expression: this generation? Jerome understood by it the human species, Origen and Chrysostom the Christian Church. These explanations are now regarded as forced. That of Dorner and Riggenbach, who take it to mean the Jewish people (applying to their conversion the image of the fig-tree flourishing again, Luk 21:29-30 ), is not much more natural. In this context, where we have to do with a chronological determination (“ is nigh,” Luk 21:31 ), the meaning of γενεά must be temporal. Besides, we have the authentic commentary on this saying in Luke 11:50-51, where Jesus declares that it is the very generation which is to shed His blood and that of His messengers, which must suffer, besides, the punishment of all the innocent blood shed since that of Abel down to this last. It is not less false to give to this expression, with the Tübingen School, such an extension that it embraces a period of 70 years (Hilgenfeld), or even of a century (Volkmar): the duration of a man's life. It has not this meaning among the ancients. In Herod. (2. 142, 7. 171), Heraclitus, and Thuc. (1. 14), it denotes a space of from 30 to 40 years. A century counts three generations. The saying of Irenaeus respecting the composition of the Apocalypse, wherein he declares “that this vision was seen not long before his epoch, almost within the time of our generation, towards the end of Domitian's reign,” does not at all prove the contrary, as Volkmar alleges; for Irenaeus says expressly: σχεδόν , almost, well aware that he is extending the reach of the term generation beyond its ordinary application. An impartial exegesis, therefore, leaves no doubt that this saying fixes the date of the near destruction of Jerusalem at least the third of a century after the ministry of Jesus. The meaning is: “The generation which shall shed this blood shall not pass away till God require it” (in opposition to all the blood of the ancients which has remained so long unavenged). Πάντα , all things, refers to all those events precursive of that catastrophe which are enumerated Luke 21:8-19, and to the catastrophe itself (20-24).

The position of this saying immediately after the preceding verses relative to the Parousia, seems to be in Luke a faint evidence of the influence exercised by that confusion which reigns throughout the whole discourse as related by the other two Syn. There is nothing in that to surprise us. Would not the omission of some word of transition, or the simple displacing of some sentence, suffice to produce this effect? And how many cases of similar transpositions or omissions are to be met with in our Syn.? But if this observation is well founded, it proves that the Gospel of Luke was not composed, any more than the other two, after the destruction of Jerusalem.

Heaven and earth ( Luk 21:33 ) are contrasted with those magnificent structures which His disciples would have Him to admire ( Luk 21:5 ): Here is a very different overthrow from that which they had so much difficulty in believing. This universe, this temple made by the hand of God, passeth away; one thing remains: the threats and promises of the Master who is speaking to them.

Verses 28-36

Vers. 28-36. The Application. When these things begin to come to pass, then look up, and lift up your heads; for your redemption draweth nigh. 29. And He spake to them a parable: Behold the fig-tree, and all the trees; 30. When they now shoot forth, ye see and know of your own selves that summer is now nigh at hand. 31. So likewise ye, when ye see these things come to pass, know ye that the kingdom of God is nigh at hand. 32. Verily I say unto you, This generation shall not pass away till all be fulfilled. 33. Heaven and earth shall pass away; but my words shall not pass away. 34, But take heed to yourselves, lest at any time your hearts be overcharged with surfeiting and drunkenness, and cares of this life, and so that day come upon you unawares. 35. For as a snare it shall come on all them that dwell on the face of the whole earth. 36. Watch ye, therefore, and pray always, that ye may be accounted worthy to escape all these things that shall come to pass, and to stand before the Son of man.

Jesus draws practical conclusions from the whole of the preceding discourse: 1. In respect of hope, Luke 21:28-33; Luke 2:0. In respect of watchfulness, Luke 21:34-36.

Verses 34-36

Vers. 34-36. Here, as in chap. 12, the life of the disciples is apparently to be prolonged till the Parousia. The reason is, that that period is ever to remain the point on which the believer's heart should fix ( Luk 12:36 ); and if, by all the generations which precede the last, this expectation is not realized in its visible form, it has its truth, nevertheless, in the fact of death, that constant individual returning of Jesus which prepares for His general and final advent.

The warning Luk 21:34 refers to the danger of slumbering, arising from the state of the world in the last times, Luke 17:26-30. On the last words of the verse, comp. 1 Thessalonians 5:1-7.

Ver. 35. The image is that of a net which all at once encloses a covey of birds peacefully settled in a field. To watch ( Luk 21:36 ) is the emblem of constant expectation. With expectation prayer is naturally conjoined under the influence of that grave feeling which is produced by the imminence of the expected advent. The word σταθῆναι , to stand upright, indicates the solemnity of the event. A divine power will be needed, if we are not to sink before the Son of man in His glory, and be forced to exclaim: “ Mountains, fall on us!

With this discourse before it, the embarrassment of rationalism is great. How explain the announcement of the destruction of Jerusalem, if there are no prophecies? that of the Parousia, if Jesus is but a sinful man like ourselves (not to say, with Renan, a fanatic)? Baur and Strauss say: Under the influence of Daniel's extravagant sayings, Jesus could easily predict His return; but He could not announce the destruction of Jerusalem. Hase and Schenkel say: Jesus, as a good politician, might well foresee and predict the destruction of the temple, but (and this is also M. Colani's opinion) it is impossible to make a fanatic of Him announcing His return. Each writer thus determines à priori the result of his criticism, according to his own dogmatic conviction. It is perfectly useless to discuss the matter on such bases. Keim recognises the indisputable historical reality of the announcement of the destruction of Jerusalem, on the ground of Matthew 26:60 (the false witnesses), and of Acts 6:11-14 (Stephen), and the truth of the promise of the Parousia as well; the saying Mar 13:32 is a proof of it which cannot be evaded. Nevertheless, agreeing in part with M. Colani, he regards the discourse Matthew 24:0 as the composition of an author much later than the ministry of Jesus, who has improved upon some actual words of His. This apocalyptic poem, Jewish according to Weizsäcker, Judeo-Christian according to Colani and Keim, was written shortly before the destruction of Jerusalem.

The following are our objections to this hypothesis: 1. It is not in this discourse only that Jesus announces the catastrophe of Israel, and appends the extraordinary assertion of His return. On the destruction of Jerusalem, read again Matthew 21:44, Luke 19:42-44, Mark 11:14; Mark 11:20; Mark 12:9, etc. etc.; and on the Parousia, Matthew 7:21-23; Matthew 19:28; Matthew 25:31-46; Matthew 26:63-64, Luk 9:26 and parall., Luke 13:23-27, etc. How could those numerous declarations, which we find scattered over different parts of our Syn. Gospels, be all borrowed from this alleged apocalyptic poem? 2. How could a private composition have obtained such general authority, under the very eyes of the apostles or their first disciples, that it found admission into our three Syn. Gospels as an authentic saying of our Lord? Was ever a pure poem transformed into an exact and solemn discourse, such as that expressly put by our three evangelists at this determinate historical time into the mouth of Jesus? Such a hypothesis is nothing else than a stroke of desperation.

Volkmar finds in this discourse, as everywhere, the result of the miserable intrigues of the Christian parties. John the apostle had published in 68 the great reverie of the Apocalypse. He still hoped for the preservation of the temple ( Rev 11:1 et seq.), which proves that he had never heard his Master announce its destruction. Five years later, in 73, Mark composes another Apocalypse, intended to rectify the former. He elaborates it from the Pauline standpoint; he rejects its too precise dates, and the details which had been hazarded, but which the event had proved false; the fixing, e.g.,, of the three years and a half which were to extend to the Parousia, a date for which he prudently substitutes the saying: “As to that day, even I myself know it not,” etc. Such is the origin of the great eschatological discourse in the Syn., the most ancient monument of which is Mark 13:0. But, 1. This alleged dogmatic contrast between the discourse Mark 13:0 and the Apocalypse, exists only in the mind of Volkmar; the latter celebrates the conversion of the Gentiles with the same enthusiasm as the former foretells it. 2. The composition of the Apocalypse in 68 is an hypothesis, the falsehood of which we have, as we think, demonstrated. 3. It is utterly false that the Apocalypse teaches the preservation of the temple of Jerusalem. The description Luk 11:1 et seq., if it is to be rescued from absurdity, must necessarily be taken in a figurative sense, as we have also demonstrated. 4. Certainly the poetical representations of the Apocalypse were not the original of the simple, concise, prosaic expressions of the discourse of Jesus in the Syn.; it was these, on the contrary, which served as a canvas for the rich delineations of the Apocalypse. Is it not evident that the literal terms war, famine, pestilence, earthquakes, in the mouth of Jesus ( Luk 21:9-11 and parall.), are amplified and developed into the form of complete visions in the apocalyptic seals ( war, in Revelation 6:3-4; famine, in Luke 21:5-6; pestilence, in Luke 21:7-8; earthquake, in Luke 21:12-17; comp. also the persecutions foretold Luke 5:16-17, with Revelation 6:9-11, and the false Christs and prophets predicted Matthew 24:24, with Revelation 13:0)? The inverse procedure, the return from the elaborate to the simple, from the Apocalypse to the Gospels, is in its very nature inadmissible. The composition of Jesus' discourse in the Syn. is therefore anterior to that of the Apocalypse, and not the reverse. 5. The historical declaration of Jesus in Mark: “Of that day knoweth no man, not even the Son,” is confirmed by Mat 24:36 and Mark 13:35. It results from the very contents of this marvellous saying. Who would have thought, at the time when the conviction of the Lord's divinity was making way with so much force in the Church, and when Jesus was represented in this very discourse as the universal Judge, of putting into His mouth a saying which seemed to bring Him down to the level of other human beings? Such a saying must have rested on the most authentic tradition. 6. We have proved the mutual independence of the three synoptical accounts. The origin of this discourse of Jesus was therefore, no doubt, apostolical tradition circulating in the Church, agreeably to Luke 1:1-2.

Jesus then called Himself, and consequently either knew or believed Himself to be, the future Judge of the Church and the world. In the former case, He must be something more than a sinful man

He can be only the God-man; in the latter, He is only a fool carried away with pride. In vain will MM. Colani, Volkmar, and Keim attempt to escape from this dilemna. Genuine historical criticism and an impartial exegesis will always raise it anew, and allow no other choice than between the Christ of the Church and the clever charmer of M. Renan.

What conclusion should be drawn from this discourse as to the date when our Syn., and Luke in particular, were composed? De Wette has justly concluded, from the close connection which this discourse, as we have it in Matthew, fixes between the destruction of Jerusalem and the Parousia, that this Gospel must have been composed before the former of those two events. And, in truth, it requires all Volkmar's audacity to attempt to prove the contrary by means of that very εὐθέως , immediately ( Luk 24:29 ), which so directly, as we have seen, connects the second event with the first. But if this conclusion is well founded in regard to the first Gospel, it is not less applicable to the second, which in this respect is in exactly the same circumstances as the first. As to Luke, it has often been inferred from the well-marked distinction kept up between the two subjects and the two discourses (Parousia, chap. 17; destruction of Jerusalem, chap. 21), that he wrote after the destruction of Jerusalem, when the interval between the two events was historically established. Rational as this conclusion may appear at first sight, it is nevertheless unfounded. For, 1. Luke himself, as we have seen at Luke 21:32, is not wholly exempt from the confusion which prevails in the other two. 2. If Jesus in His own judgment distinctly separated those two events, why might He not have spoken of them Himself in two separate discourses; and why might not Luke, in this case as in many others, have simply reproduced the historical fact from more exact originals ( Luk 1:3-4 )?

Verses 37-38

3. General View of the Situation: Luke 21:37-38.

The preceding discourse was delivered by Jesus on the Tuesday or Wednesday evening. Luke here characterizes our Lord's mode of living during the last days of His life. Αὐλίζεσθαι : to pass the night in the open air. The use of the εἰς arises from the idea of motion contained in ἐζερχόμενος (Bleek). 4 Mnn. place here, after Luke 21:38, the account of the woman taken in adultery, which in a large number of documents is found Joh 7:53 to John 8:11. We can only see in this piece, in Luke as well as in John, an interpolation doubtless owing to some marginal note taken by a copyist from the Gospel of the Hebrews, and which in some MSS. had found its way into the text of the Gospel. As to the rest, this narrative would stand much better in Luke than in John. It has a close bond of connection with the contents of chap. xx (the snares laid for Jesus). And an event of this kind may have actually occurred in the two or three days which are summarily described in Luke 21:37-38.

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Bibliographical Information
Godet, Frédéric Louis. "Commentary on Luke 21". "Godet's Commentary on Selected Books". https://studylight.org/commentaries/eng/gsc/luke-21.html.