Notes on Luke 21:5-38

Luke 21:5‑38  •  11 min. read  •  grade level: 10
Luke alone of the Evangelists notices the fact that the disciples spoke to the Lord about the votive offerings with which it was adorned; all three speak of its goodly stones or buildings. But this does not warrant the inference that the prophetic discourse which follows belongs to those in the temple rather than those on the Mount of Olives. It has been properly remarked that the questions are distinct from the Lord's solemn answer to the admiration expressed, and may well have been to the chosen four on retiring thither as we are told He did by night at the end of our chapter. “And as some spoke of the temple that it was adorned with goodly stones and offerings, he said, [As for] these things which ye behold, there shall come days in which stone shall not be left upon stone which shall not be thrown down.” On the other hand it is surely without justification to assume that Luke could not have omitted the change of scene and auditory if aware of it. On both sides such reasoning leaves out the Spirit of God, and His having a purpose by each which alone accounts for differences on the basis of His own perfect knowledge of all, not of the writers' ignorance.
“And they asked him saying, Teacher, when then shall these things be? and what [is] the sign when these things are about to come to pass? And he said, See that ye be not misled. For many shall come in my name, saying, I am [he]; and the time is drawn nigh: go ye not after them. And when ye shall hear of wars and tumults, be not terrified; for these things must first come to pass, but the end [is] not immediately.” (Ver. 7-9.) It will be observed that the Holy Spirit inspired the writer to drop the question respecting the coming of the Son of man and the completion of the age. As with Mark, they ask when the destruction of the temple shall be, and the sign of its commencement. The Lord fully replies, but as usual gives much more. But there is neither the completeness of dispensational information right through, nor details as to the consummation of the age, found in the Gospel of Matthew. On the other hand here only are we given distinct light on the coming siege and capture of Jerusalem by the Romans, here only its subsequent ignominious subjection till the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled. Other peculiarities of Luke we may see as we proceed through the chapter. The question of the disciples goes no farther than the demolition the Lord spoke of, the Spirit having reserved for Matthew the parabolic history of the course, conduct, and judgment of Christendom, as well as the special account of the Jews at the end of the age, and of all the Gentiles gathered before the throne of the Son of man when He is come. The early warning that follows the inquiry here refers to what soon ensued. There may be analogous deceits in the last days; but I apprehend that here we are in view of what has been. If it were the closing scenes, where would be the propriety of assuring the disciples that the end is not immediately? Matthew may take in what soon followed; but the characteristic feature with him is the end of the age, first in general, then specifically, with its shadows before.
“Then said he to them, Nation shall rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom: there shall be both great earthquakes in various places and pestilences and famines, and there shall be fearful sights and great signs from heaven. But before all these things they shall lay their hands upon you and persecute you, delivering up to synagogues and prisons, being brought away before kings and rulers for my name's sake; but it shall turn to you for a testimony. Settle therefore in your hearts not to meditate before your defense; for I will give you a mouth and wisdom, which all your adversaries shall not be able to resist or gainsay. Moreover ye shall be delivered up by parents and brethren and relations and friends, and they shall put to death [some] of you, and ye shall be hated by all on account of my name; and a hair of your head shall in no wise perish. By your patience ye shall gain your souls.” (Ver. 10-19.) The strict application of all this to the state of things whether in the world or among the disciples before the siege of Jerusalem by the Romans must be evident to every unprejudiced mind. Luke alone sets forth the grace of the Lord in giving His own a mouth and wisdom beyond the craft and power of all adversaries. In Mark they are to speak “whatsoever shall be given you; for not ye are the speakers but the Holy Spirit.” Luke also puts in broad terms their winning their souls, which would be true in the highest sense for heaven if they were slain.
Next we have a graphic picture of the crisis for Jerusalem under Titus. “But when ye shall see Jerusalem compassed with armies, then know that its destruction is drawn nigh. Then let those in Judea flee unto the mountains, and let those in the midst of it depart out, and let those in the fields not enter into it. For these are days of vengeance that all the things written may be fulfilled. Woe to them that are with child and to them that give suck in those days; for there shall be great distress upon the land and wrath upon this people. And they shall fall by edge of sword and be led captive into all the nations; and Jerusalem shall be trodden down by [the] nations until [the] times of [the] nations be fulfilled.” (Ver. 20-24.) Here there can be no misunderstanding unless for a pre-occupied mind. The siege with its consequences described by our Lord cannot be a future event because it is followed by the humiliating possession of the Jewish capital by one nation after another till the allotted seasons of Gentile supremacy terminate. This is peculiar to our evangelist who accordingly speaks of armies encompassing the city, which was true then, not like Matthew and Mark of the abomination of desolation, which can only be verified in its closing throes. Hence too the reader may notice, that in spite of a considerable measure of analogy (for there will be a future siege, and even a twofold attack, one of which will be partially successful, the other to the ruin of their enemies, as we learn from Isa. 28; 29 and Zech. 14), there are the strangest contrasts in the issue; for the future siege will be closed by Jehovah's deliverance and reign, as the past did in the capture and destruction of the people dispersed ever since till the times of the Gentiles are full. Accordingly we hear nothing in this Gospel of the abomination of desolation, nor of the time of tribulation beyond all that was or shall be; we hear of both in Matthew and Mark where the Spirit contemplates the last days. Here we are told of great distress on the land and wrath on the Jewish people, as indeed there was. The notion that Luke's variation is designed as a paraphrase of Matthew and Mark, a simpler expression in his Gospel for one more obscure in theirs, is most unworthy of the Holy Ghost and destructive of the truth in the first two Gospels if not in the third. There is fresh truth, and not a sacred comment on what the others said.
In verse 26 and onward we are naturally carried on to the conclusion of the Gentile times. “And there shall be signs in the sun and moon and stars, and upon the earth distress of nations in perplexity at sea and waves roaring, men fainting from fear and expectation of the things coming on the habitable earth; for the powers of the heavens shall be shaken. And then shall they see the Son of man coming in a cloud with power and great glory. But when these things begin to come to pass, look up and lift up your heads, because your redemption draweth nigh.” (Ver. 25-28.) It is Luke only who mentions the moral signs of men's anguish spite of the deceits and pretensions of that day. No doubt there will be strong delusion and the belief of falsehood; but for this very reason there is no rest nor contentment, for only the grace and truth of God in Christ can give peaceful enjoyment with a good conscience. Hence God will know how to trouble men's dreams and to break up Satan's ease, their horror culminating at the sight of the rejected Lord, the Son of man, coming in a cloud with power and glory. But there will be those then on earth, disciples tried by the evils of that day, for whom even the beginning of these troubles and the tokens of change for the world will be the sure harbinger of deliverance.
“And he spake a parable to them, Behold the fig tree and all the trees: when they already sprout, by looking ye know of your own selves that summer [is] now near. So also, when ye see these things take place, know ye that the kingdom of God is near. Verily I say to you that this generation shall not pass away till all things be done. The heaven and the earth shall pass away but my words shall in no wise pass away. But take heed to yourselves lest at any time your hearts be weighed down with surfeiting and drunkenness and cares of life, and that day come upon you suddenly; for as a snare it will come upon all that are settled down upon the face of the whole earth. But watch, at every season praying that ye may be deemed worthy to escape all these things that are about to come to pass, and to stand before the Son of man.” (Ver. 29-36.) We have here an instance of the exceeding accuracy of scripture even in figures. Who but God could have thought of giving only the fig-tree in Matthew speaking of Israel, the fig-tree and all the trees in Luke where the Gentiles are mixed up with the troubles of Israel?
But this is not the only point of interest in this appendix to the prophecy. For the Lord has given us the positive proof, by the way in which verse 32 stands here, that “this generation” cannot mean a mere chronological space of thirty or even one hundred years, for it is brought in after the running out of Gentile times and the coming of the Son of man with power and glory, events still unfulfilled. Its force is moral; not exactly the nation of Israel but that Christ-rejecting race which then refused their Messiah as they do still. This will go on till all these solemn threats of judgment are accomplished. It is profitable to remark that here, not in doctrine or in practice only, but in these unfoldings of the future, the Lord pledges the impossibility of failing in His words. The Lord does not say that “this generation” shall not pass away till the temple is destroyed or the city taken, but till all be fulfilled. Now He had introduced the subsequent treading down of Jerusalem to the end of Israel's trials in His appearing, and He declares that this generation shall not pass away till then; as indeed it is only then grace will form a new generation, the generation to come. The more we hold fast the continuity of the stream of the prophecy, as distinguished from the crisis in Matthew and Mark, the greater will be seen to be the importance of this remark.
Notice the strongly moral tone in which the dangers and snares of the days before the Son of man appears are touched by the Lord, an often recurring characteristic of our evangelist, The concluding verses (37, 38) are a summary of our Lord's manner or habit at this time, the nights spent on the Mount of Olivet, and by day teaching in the temple, whither all the people came early to hear Him. It was this which led several copyists to insert here the paragraph from John 7:5353And every man went unto his own house. (John 7:53) to 8: 11; but there is no real ground for such a transposition, any more than for denying it to be the genuine writing of the last evangelist in spite of alleged difficulties.