Luke 21 – Jesus Warns of Jerusalem’s Fall and His Return
A. A widow’s sacrificial gift.
1. (1-2) Jesus observes the widow’s giving.
And He looked up and saw the rich putting their gifts into the treasury, and He saw also a certain poor widow putting in two mites.
a. He looked up and saw the rich putting their gifts into the treasury: At the temple, Jesus noticed a long line of rich people who put in a lot of money, perhaps making some kind of display to call attention to their gifts.
i. The line at the offering box and the pride shown by the rich men in their giving shows us that it isn’t necessarily more spiritual to have an offering box instead of passing offering bags. It isn’t a matter of right and wrong, but a matter of which is an easier way for people to give in a way that doesn’t call attention to their gifts.
b. He saw also a certain poor widow putting in two mites: This poor widow must have been a welcome sight to a weary Jesus, who endured a storm of questions from His enemies.
i. He saw also: Jesus see us when we give. He notices how much we give, but is far more interested in the faith and motive and heart in giving than simply the amount.
c. Two mites: According to Poole’s calculations, the value of a mite can be determined like this: a denarii is one day’s wage, and equals six meahs; one meah equals two pondions; one pondion equals two issarines; one issarine equals eight mites. When you figure it all out, two mites is 1% of a denarii – 1% of a day’s wage.
i. The ancient Greek word lepton literally means “a tiny thing,” and so in the Old English was translated mite, which comes from the word for a “crumb” or “very small morsel.”
ii. She gave two mites, not just one. The widow might have kept one coin for herself, and no one would blame her if she did. Giving one meant giving half of all her money. Instead, she gave with staggering generosity.
2. (3-4) Jesus assesses the widow’s gift.
So He said, “Truly I say to you that this poor widow has put in more than all; for all these out of their abundance have put in offerings for God, but she out of her poverty put in all the livelihood that she had.”
a. This poor widow has put in more than all: Jesus did not say that she put in more than any one of them. He said that she put in more than all of them – all of them put together. The others gave out of their abundance; she gave sacrificially, out of her poverty.
i. Jesus’ principle here shows us that before God, the spirit of giving determines the value of the gift more than the amount. God doesn’t want grudgingly given money or guilt money. God loves the cheerful giver.
ii. The widow’s gift and Jesus’ comment on it also shows us that the value of a gift is determined by what it costs the giver. This is what made the widow’s gift so valuable. David refused to give God that which cost me nothing (2 Samuel 24:24).
iii. Jesus’ principle here shows us that God does not need our money. If God needed our money, then how much we give would be more important than our heart in giving. Instead, it is our privilege to give to Him, and we need to give because it is good for us, not because it is good for God.
b. Out of her poverty: The woman was poor because she was a widow and had no husband to help support her. It also may be significant that Jesus had just criticized the scribes as those who devour widow’s houses(Luke 20:47). Then a lone widow made a spectacular contribution. Perhaps a scribe devoured her house.
i. The widow challenged the mindset that says, “I’ll give when I have more.” The widow had virtually nothing, yet was a giver. This means that we can all please God with our giving just as much as the richest man can please God with his giving. Whatever we give sacrificially to God, He sees it and is pleased
B. Jesus speaks of future events.
1. (5-6) Jesus makes an amazing prediction concerning the temple.
Then, as some spoke of the temple, how it was adorned with beautiful stones and donations, He said, “These things which you see; the days will come in which not one stone shall be left upon another that shall not be thrown down.”
a. As some spoke of the temple: This temple was originally rebuilt by Zerubbabel and Ezra (Ezra 6:15), but greatly expanded and improved by Herod. It was the center of Jewish life for almost a thousand years. The temple was so revered that it was customary to swear by the temple (Matthew 23:16), and speaking against the temple could be considered blasphemy (Acts 6:13).
i. King Herod more than doubled the temple mount area, increasing it to about 36 acres (150,000 square meters). Herod’s rebuilding work started in 19 B.C., and was only completed in A.D. 63, taking more than eighty years. It was finished only seven years before it was destroyed.
b. How it was adorned with beautiful stones and donations: The temple wasn’t just big, it was also beautiful. The Jewish historian Josephus said that the temple was covered on the outside with gold plates, that were so brilliant that when the sun shone on them, it was blinding to look at. Where there was no gold, there were blocks of marble of such a pure white that from a distance, travelers thought there was snow on the temple mount.
i. As great as the temple was, Jesus never hesitated to claim that He was greater than the temple (Matthew 12:5). For many Jews of that day, the temple had become an idol – it began to mean more to the people than God Himself did.
ii. Good things can become the worst idols; and sometimes God sours or takes away even good things that we make our idols
c. Not one stone shall be left upon another that shall not be thrown down: Some 40 years after Jesus said this, there was a widespread Jewish revolution against the Romans in Palestine. The rebels enjoyed many early successes but ultimately, Rome crushed the rebellion. Jerusalem was leveled, including the temple – just as Jesus said.
i. It is said that at the fall of Jerusalem, the last surviving Jews of the city fled to the temple, because it was the strongest, most secure building in the city. Roman soldiers surrounded it, and one drunken soldier started a fire that soon engulfed the whole building. Ornate gold detail work in the roof melted down in the cracks between the stone walls of the temple, and to retrieve the gold, the Roman commander ordered that the temple be dismantled stone by stone. The destruction was so complete that today there is true difficulty learning exactly where the temple was.
2. (7) His listeners ask about the events connected with the temple’s destruction.
So they asked Him, saying, “Teacher, but when will these things be? And what sign will there be when these things are about to take place?”
a. Teacher, but when will these things be? Astounded by the prediction of Jesus, the disciples asked a logical question. This question begins one of Jesus’ most famous teachings, often called the Olivet Discourse because Matthew 24:3 tells us Jesus said these things seated on the Mount of Olives.
i. Matthew 24 seems to have a more complete account of this teaching, and it is helpful to answer questions about the Luke account from the more complete recording in Matthew.
ii. Both Matthew and Luke make it clear that Jesus spoke both of the coming destruction of Jerusalem, and of the ultimate end of the age and His glorious return. Prophetically, the two are connected, though separated by many centuries.
iii. “We must regard the siege of Jerusalem and the destruction of the temple as being a kind of rehearsal of what is yet to be.” (Spurgeon)
iv. “Most divines think that God in the destruction of Jerusalem intended to give a specimen of the general conflagration, and ruin of the world at the last day; so as the signs of the same kind with those seen before Jerusalem was destroyed, shall be seen before the great and terrible day of our Lord’s coming to judge the world.” (Poole)
b. What sign will there be when these things are about to take place: The reply of Jesus to these questions, recorded in both Matthew 24 and here in Luke 21, has in mind both the coming destruction to come upon Jerusalem in the near term and the ultimate return of Jesus at the end of the age. Luke’s record focuses more on the first aspect.
i. Matthew recorded the much more specific answer to this question, pointing to what Jesus called the abomination of desolation (Matthew 24:15 and following).
3. (8) To walk in these dangerous times, do not follow false leaders.
And He said: “Take heed that you not be deceived. For many will come in My name, saying, ‘I am He,’ and, ‘The time has drawn near.’ Therefore do not go after them.”
a. Take heed that you not be deceived: From the outset, Jesus warned the disciples that many would be deceived as they anticipated His return. There have been times in the history of the church when rash predictions were made and then relied upon resulting in great disappointment, disillusionment, and falling way.
i. One notable example of this was the prophetic expectation in 1846 with William Miller in the United States. Because of his prophetic interpretations, calculations, and publications, there were hundreds of thousands in the United States who were convinced that Jesus would return in 1846. When He did not, there was great disappointment, with some falling away, and some cultic groups spawned from the prophetic fervor.
b. For many will come in My name: Jesus knew that many would come after Him, claiming to be the political and military messiah for Israel. One striking example of this was a man named Bar Kokhba, who 100 years after Jesus many Jews considered to be the messiah. He started a widespread revolution against the Romans and enjoyed early success, but was soon crushed.
c. Therefore do not go after them: Tragically, those who rejected Jesus when He came to them as Messiah ended up falling after false messiahs who led them into nothing but death and destruction. In rejecting the truth, they were vulnerable to greater deception.
i. When the Romans came against Jerusalem, “Josephus tells, too, of six thousand refugees who perished in the flames of the temple porticos deluded by a ‘false prophet, who had on that day proclaimed to the people in the city that God commanded them to go up to the temple court, to receive there the tokens of their deliverance” (J.W. 6.285). They were deluded by charlatans and would-be messengers of God.” (Pate)
4. (9-11) To walk in these dangerous times, do not be frightened by catastrophes commonly associated with the end times.
“But when you hear of wars and commotions, do not be terrified; for these things must come to pass first, but the end will not come immediately.” Then He said to them, “Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. And there will be great earthquakes in various places, and famines and pestilences; and there will be fearful sights and great signs from heaven.”
a. When you hear of wars and commotions, do not be terrified: What Jesus said here applied both to the coming destruction of Jerusalem and the yet to be fulfilled return of Jesus at the end of the age.
i. In some sense, there were wars preceding the destruction of Jerusalem, because the Romans were frequently at war with the Jews, the Samaritans, the Syrians, and others during this period. In the broader Roman Empire there were notable earthquakes before Jerusalem was destroyed. There were famines, such as the one mentioned in Acts 11:28. In the greater Roman Empire there were fearful sights such as the destruction of Pompeii, only seven years before Jerusalem was destroyed. There were signs in the heavens, such as a comet that looked like a sword in the sky over Jerusalem before its destruction.
b. For these things must come to pass first, but the end will not come immediately: Yet Jesus specifically said that none of these things are the specific signs of His immediate coming. Matthew 24:8 described these things as the beginning of sorrows, more literally the beginning of labor pains. Just as is true with labor pains, we should expect that the things mentioned – wars, famines, earthquakes, and so on – would become more frequent and more intense before the return of Jesus – without any one of them being the specific sign of the end.
i. These things must come to pass first: “These things must happen because they are part of the prophetic programme of the End-time in general, and so are divinely decreed; but they do not usher in the immediate end. The fall of Jerusalem and the events leading up to it were morally, though not chronologically, of an eschatological character.” (Geldenhuys)
5. (12-15) Jesus describes what His disciples must expect to endure.
“But before all these things, they will lay their hands on you and persecute you, delivering you up to the synagogues and prisons. You will be brought before kings and rulers for My name’s sake. But it will turn out for you as an occasion for testimony. Therefore settle it in your hearts not to meditate beforehand on what you will answer; for I will give you a mouth and wisdom which all your adversaries will not be able to contradict or resist.”
a. But before all these things, they will lay their hands on you and persecute you: This was and is true both of the time preceding the destruction of Jerusalem and the time preceding the ultimate return of Jesus in glory. Disciples will be persecuted, but they must not regard any season of such suffering, no matter how severe, as the specific sign of the end.
b. Delivering you up to the synagogues and prisons: This indicates persecution from both religious and secular sources. Disciples of Jesus must expect both.
c. But it will turn out for you an occasion for testimony: From the Book of Acts on, there have been countless times when persecution has given Christians the opportunity to preach and give testimony to those they could otherwise never reach with the message, such as kings and rulers.
d. I will give you a mouth and wisdom which all your adversaries will not be able to contradict or resist: Jesus personally promised special grace, special help to His people in such circumstances.
i. Not to meditate beforehand on what you will answer: “The Greek word for ‘to prepare beforehand,’ promeletan, was a technical expression for practicing a speech in advance.” (Pate)
6. (16-19) To walk in these dangerous times, when all others turn against you, persevere and take a firm stand.
“You will be betrayed even by parents and brothers, relatives and friends; and they will put some of you to death. And you will be hated by all for My name’s sake. But not a hair of your head shall be lost. By your patience possess your souls.”
a. You will be betrayed: Christians must expect to suffer not only from enemies outside the church, but also from traitors among believers (parents and brothers, relatives and friends). Because of this some would even die (put some of you to death).
b. You will be hated by all for My name’s sake: It is strange to think that men and women would be hated for the sake of Jesus, who was and is only love and goodness. Yet of course it is true.
c. By your patience possess your souls: The word for patience here is the great Greek word hupomone. It speaks of a strong endurance, not a passive waiting. We endure, trusting the promise of Jesus that ultimately, in eternal perspective, not a hair of your head shall be lost.
7. (20-24a) To walk in these dangerous times, flee Jerusalem when armies begin to surround it.
“But when you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies, then know that its desolation is near. Then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains, let those who are in the midst of her depart, and let not those who are in the country enter her. For these are the days of vengeance, that all things which are written may be fulfilled. But woe to those who are pregnant and to those who are nursing babies in those days! For there will be great distress in the land and wrath upon this people. And they will fall by the edge of the sword, and be led away captive into all nations.”
a. But when you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies: This warning of Jesus, focused on the nearer aspects of the greater prophecy, were virtually ignored by the Jewish people in A.D. 70 when Roman armies circled Jerusalem.
b. Let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains: Many Jews expected the Messiah to return in glory when hostile Gentile armies surrounded Jerusalem. However, Christians in Jerusalem knew what Jesus had said and they obeyed Him, fleeing across the Jordan River mostly to Pella. Few if any Christians perished in the fall of Jerusalem.
i. The ancient Christian historian Eusebius wrote that Christians fled to Pella in response to “an oracle given by revelation” (History of the Church, 3.5.3, cited in Morris)
c. For these are the days of vengeance: The Roman conquest of Jerusalem A.D. 70 was complete. History records that 1.1 million Jews were killed and another 97,000 were taken captive in one of the worst calamities ever to strike the Jewish people. Jesus warned them to avoid it.
i. When the Romans were done with Jerusalem in A.D. 70 not a single Jew was left alive in the city. The Romans eventually renamed the city Aelia Capitolina, and for many years would not allow a Jew to even enter what was formerly known as Jerusalem, except on one day a year – the anniversary of the fall of the city and the destruction of the temple, when Jews were invited to come and mourn bitterly.
ii. “From the commencement of the history of the Jewish nation, God through His servants warned them clearly that if they behaved unfaithfully and wickedly they would reap disastrous retribution. Cf. especially the striking words of Deuteronomy 28:15-68. There is almost no form of calamity that visited the Jews during the Roman-Jewish war, not mentioned here in Deuteronomy.” (Geldenhuys)
iii. Truly Jesus meant it when He said these are the days of vengeance. This is why He wept over Jerusalem (Luke 19:41-44), because He could see the massive devastation to come upon this city He loved – and why He warned all who would listen how they could flee from the coming destruction.
8. (24b) Jerusalem will be trampled by the Gentiles until the times of the Gentiles are over.
“And Jerusalem will be trampled by Gentiles until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled.”
a. Jerusalem will be trampled by Gentiles: After the destruction of Jerusalem and the dispersion of the Jews predicted by Jesus in the previous verses, there would come a long period when Jerusalem would be dominated by Gentiles.
i. After thousands of years of exile, a Jewish state was miraculously established in Israel again in 1948. It was not until 1968 that Israel controlled Jerusalem, but still today they yield the rule and the administration of the most central piece of Jerusalem – the Temple Mount – to Gentile rule (the Palestinian Authority). It can be argued that prophetically speaking, Jerusalem is still trampled by Gentiles.
b. Until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled: When these times of the Gentiles are completed, the author believes that the remaining seven-year period appointed to the Jewish people in Daniel 9 begins. The calamities described in following verses will come in this period.
i. “The Gentiles shall not always tread down Jerusalem.” (Trapp)
ii. “It is highly likely that Jesus intended by this phrase to suggest that the moment will come when Gentiles will no longer possess Jerusalem and that when such a time is fulfilled, the nation of Israel will repossess her land.” (Pate)
9. (25-28) When the final period of calamity hits the world, look up – your redemption is on the way.
“And there will be signs in the sun, in the moon, and in the stars; and on the earth distress of nations, with perplexity, the sea and the waves roaring; men’s hearts failing them from fear and the expectation of those things which are coming on the earth, for the powers of heaven will be shaken. Then they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory. Now when these things begin to happen, look up and lift up your heads, because your redemption draws near.”
a. Signs in the sun, in the moon, and in the stars; and on the earth distress of nations, with perplexity: History records no adequate fulfillment of these words in A.D. 70 or immediately following. Jesus here looked to the later aspects of the ultimate fulfillment of His return and the end of the age.
i. This kind of total chaos and calamity is described in horrific detail in Revelation 6, 8-9, and 15-18. All this will culminate in the dramatic, spectacular return of Jesus, coming with His church to this earth.
b. Then they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory: Again, history records no adequate fulfillment of these words in A.D. 70 or immediately following. Jesus has turned from describing what is (from our perspective) the past to describing events
c. Now when these things begin to happen, look up and lift up your heads, because your redemption draws near: The things that will begin to happen are described in Luke 21:25-27. Jesus assured believers on the earth at that time to be ready, because the time of great tribulation they experience will not last forever, but Jesus will return in glory soon.
10. (29-33) When you see these signs (spoken of in Luke 21:25-26), you know that the end is very near.
Then He spoke to them a parable: “Look at the fig tree, and all the trees. When they are already budding, you see and know for yourselves that summer is now near. So you also, when you see these things happening, know that the kingdom of God is near. Assuredly, I say to you, this generation will by no means pass away till all things take place. Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will by no means pass away.”
a. Look at the fig tree: The fig tree is just one example of a tree that buds before summer; no special reference to Israel seems to be intended (as indicated by the words, and all the trees). The idea is that when a fig tree buds, there is an inevitable result – summer is near, and fruit is coming. In the same way, when these signs are seen, the coming of Jesus in glory with His church to this world will inevitably follow.
b. This generation will by no means pass away till all things take place: Jesus did not refer to His own generation and that of the disciples, but of the generation that sees those signs; they will also see the very end. This is God’s promise that He will not prolong what Jesus called the Great Tribulation (Matthew 24:21) forever.
i. There is also a strong case to be made that Jesus meant the Jewish people by the term this generation, meaning that they would not perish (despite terrible persecution and attempted genocide) until these things were fulfilled.
ii. “Genea can mean three things: (1) the descendants of a common ancestor; (2) a set of people born at the same time; (3) the period of time occupied by such a set of people, often in the sense of successive sets of people. I cannot be said without further ado, therefore, that genea necessarily means generation.” (Pate)
c. Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will by no means pass away: No mere man could truthfully say this. Jesus claimed that His words were the very words of God – and they are.
11. (34-36) How to live in the last days.
“But take heed to yourselves, lest your hearts be weighed down with carousing, drunkenness, and cares of this life, and that Day come on you unexpectedly. For it will come as a snare on all those who dwell on the face of the whole earth. Watch therefore, and pray always that you may be counted worthy to escape all these things that will come to pass, and to stand before the Son of Man.”
a. But take heed to yourselves: We must take heed because there are certain things that will make one unprepared – carousing, drunkenness, and cares of this life. Each of these things can make us unprepared for the day of Jesus’ return. They make the heart weighed down.
i. According to Morris, carousing literally refers to the hangover that comes after a time of intoxication.
b. It will come as a snare on all those who dwell on the face of the whole earth: Jesus here spoke of His coming from a different angle. In Luke 21:25-26, He spoke of unmistakable calamity to shake the earth before the coming of Jesus. In Luke 21:34-36 Jesus said that He would come as a surprise, a snare – and emphasized the importance of readiness.
i. This is because the second coming of Jesus has two distinct aspects, separated by an appreciable time. The first aspect comes suddenly, unexpectedly, as a snare, in a time of peace and safety. The second comes with great anticipation to a world almost destroyed by the judgment of God, with Jesus coming to the earth with His people from heaven.
ii. Those who are ready for the first aspect of His coming would be counted worthy to escape all these things, the things of great calamity to come to the earth. They would instead stand before the Son of Man. These are those who are caught up together with Jesus, to meet the Lord in the air (1 Thessalonians 4:17), to escape the tribulation to come upon the earth.
iii. What Jesus spoke of at this part of Luke’s record of the Olivet Discourse applied to those of the whole earth, not only those who lived in Jerusalem or Judea. This speaks of much more than what happened to Jerusalem of A.D. 70.
c. Watch therefore: Because this is relevant to the whole earth, we must watch. Anyone who watches will never be caught in a snare; a failure to watch prevents us from being ready.
d. Pray always that you may be counted worthy to escape those things that will come to pass: Jesus told His followers to pray always, that they may be found worthy to escape all these things that will come to pass. The good news in Jesus is that we don’t have to go through this calamity that is coming. He will take as many as are ready before this calamity begins.
i. In a lesser and more immediate sense regarding the destruction of Jerusalem, those who listened to and obeyed Jesus escaped the horrible destruction that came upon the city.
ii. Regarding the far greater destruction that is coming upon the whole earth, those who listen to and obey Jesus can escape the horrible destruction that will come.
12. (37-38) The public nature of Jesus’ ministry.
And in the daytime He was teaching in the temple, but at night He went out and stayed on the mountain called Olivet. Then early in the morning all the people came to Him in the temple to hear Him.
a. In the daytime He was teaching in the temple: Luke emphasizes the public, open character of Jesus’ teaching work, even teaching early in the morning at the most public place in Jerusalem. Jesus did not hide in these few days before His betrayal, arrest, and crucifixion.
b. At night He went out and stayed on the mountain called Olivet: Like many Galileans who came to Jerusalem for Passover, Jesus essentially camped out on Mount Olivet in the days leading up to Passover.
©2018 David Guzik – No distribution beyond personal use without permission