Chapter 21 - Commentary on Luke's Gospel

21:1-37 A Poor Widow and the Fall of Jerusalem - Jesus now turns from the confrontation with the religious leaders, and their defrauding of widows, to the gift of one particular very poor woman. He then announces the destruction of the temple and city of Jerusalem in that generation (it took place within 40 years in AD 70).

21:1-2 There is a contrast between the token giving of the very rich (see comments on 16:1-14, 18:18-25), and the giving of one particular widow. Perhaps she was among the ones that had been defrauded by one of the Pharisaic scribes ( 20:47, Matthew 23:14, Mark 12:40). Jesus' hearers all knew that the oppression of widows and God's concern for them is often noted in the Old Testament (Deuteronomy 10:18, 14:29, 27:19, Psalm 68:5, 94:6, 146:9, Proverbs 15:25, Isaiah 1:17, 23, 10:2, Jeremiah 7:6, Ezekiel 22:7, Zechariah 7:10, Malachi 3:5). And this concern is picked up in the New Testament (Acts 6:1, James 1:27).

21:3-4 From God's point of view what counts is not the amount of the gift, but the devotion and sacrifice of the giver. Perhaps this woman had been so defrauded that she had nothing left to live on, and she decided to appeal to God by giving her last two pennies.

21:5-6 This event occured as Jesus was leaving the temple, and the disciples were admiring its beautiful decoration, the huge stones, and the magnificence of the buildings (Matthew 24:1, Mark 13:1). Instead of joining with them in this admiration, Jesus abruptly announced that the temple would be destroyed with not one stone left standing on another (as happened in AD 70).

21:7 By now Jesus and the disciples have crossed the Kidron Valley and are looking back at the city from the Mount of Olives (Matthew 24:3, Mark 13:3). Naturally the disciples wanted to know when the destruction of the city would happen, and what would warn them of this calamity. Later in the chapter Luke explains this would be in that generation (21:32) when they saw "the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory" (21:27. Jesus refers to his own coming a dozen times in Matthew 24:27, 30, 37, 39, 42, 43, 44, 46, 50, 25:10, 19, 31). And Matthew makes clear the destruction of the temple would be the result of the Messiah's coming at "the end of the age" (Matthew 24:3).

21:8 But first Jesus wants the apostles (who would need to keep the early church steady) not to be deceived by false messiahs (as in Matthew 24:4, Mark 13:5). These would appear before and during the Roman attack, and even make the claim to be divine by saying "I am," not "I am he" (eheyeh is the first person of the verb yiheyeh or Yahwehmeaning HE IS given in Exodus 3:13-14. Jesus used the words "I am"in John 8:58, 13:19, 18:5-6, and one might add that 6:35, 8:12, 10:7, 10:36, 11:25, 14:6, 15:1 have the same implication).

21:9-11 Nor should they be terrified by the wars which would follow the Jewish revolt (the sicarii captured Masada in 66 AD), and the Roman counterattack (68 AD) before the final destruction of the city in AD 70. There would also be earthquakes, famines, plagues, and meteorological disturbances. Jesus also called these events ("birthpangs" Matthew 24:8, Mark 13:8) and "great suffering, such as has not been seen from the beginning of the world" (Matthew 24:21, Mark 13:19).

21:12 Before this happened there would be arrests and imprisonments (as described in Acts 4:18, 5:17-18, 27, 40, 6:12, 8:1, 9:1-2, 12:1).

21:13-15 It is in the very process of being persecuted that our witness is most effective. The wisdom that God gives is by the Holy Spirit (Acts 6:3, 1 Corinthians 2:4-5, 13, 12:8, Ephesians 1:17, James 1:5, 3:17).

21:16-17 Faith to follow the Messiah in the period before the fall of Jerusalem (21:12) will inevitably divide families (see 17:34).The expression "hated by all" is a hyperbole (exaggeration for effect see notes on 18:25, 19:40). The "all" does not include Christian brothers and sisters, but it does mean a lot of opposition.

21:18-19 Nor does "not a hair of your head will perish" deny that some will be dragged away by their hair (Acts 8:3) and martyred (21:16), but it does mean that God knows every detail of what is being done to them (as in 12:7, Matthew 10:30). And "gaining your souls" by endurance (as in Matthew 24:13, Mark 13:13) does not contradict salvation by the unmerited grace of God (Ephesians 2:8). The point is that some will have a share in the Messiah's reign and others will "suffer loss"when nothing that they have done will survive the Day of the Lord, but they will still have a place in heaven (1 Corinthians 3:13-15).

21:20 Jesus described the surrounding of Jerusalem by the Roman legions in AD 68 as "the desolating sacrilege standing in the holy place" (Daniel 9:27 quoted in Matthew 24:15, Mark 13:14), which suggests that the "holy place" may refer to the city of Jerusalem now being encircled. But it may also refer to the Zealots taking over the temple and profaning it at that time (described in Josephus, Wars 4:6, sections 6-8).

21:21-22 In any case the sign was clear enough for the Christians in the city to leave immediately (Eusebius Ecclesiastical History 3.5). The mountains were apparently the mountains to the east of the Jordan. The word "vengeance"(see 18:8) is used in connection with Old Testament days of the Lord (Deuteronomy 32:35, Isaiah 34:8, 61:2, Jeremiah 46:10, 50:15. Jeremiah used the same language (50:28, 51:11) for the fall of Jerusalem to the Babylonians six hundred years before). What is vengeance for some (as in Matthew 23:35-38) becomes vindication for others. The fall of Jerusalem in AD 70 freed the churches of all nations to take the good news far and wide (Matthew 24:31, Mark 13:27 see note on 21:28).

21:23 Jesus feels particularly for women who are pregnant and nursing their babies at that time. He explained there would be a period of terrible tribulation "such as has not been from the beginning of the world until now" (Matthew 24:21, Mark 13:19).

21:24 The Jewish leaders and those who followed them, instead of listening to the warnings of their Messiah, would be killed in the fall of the city, and some would be taken away for the triumphal processions of the victorious Roman generals. The Jewish people would not be allowed back to occupy Jerusalem for 1900 years (as Paul also explained in Romans 11:25).

21:25 Jesus used the exact words for the signs that Isaiah prophesied in the Day of the Lord on Babylon (13:6). In that situation the sun was metaphorical of the emperor, the moon was his consort, the stars were the generals and great merchants of the city, and as they fell from power their light was obscured (Isaiah 13:10). So obviously Jesus is not referring to literal portents in the sun and moon and stars which would appear above Jerusalem in AD 70 (see Matthew 24:29, Mark 13:24-25).

21:26 Terror and fear for the future is typical of the traumatic events of a day of the Lord (Psalm 55:4-5, Isaiah 2:10-19, Jeremiah 6:24-25, 30:5-8, Ezekiel 32:24, 27). The powers of the heaven being shaken is not an upsetting of the laws of gravity, but a description of the shaking of the very fabric of the Babylonian empire (Isaiah 13:13). Similarly all that was considered stable in the Jewish nation (temple, priesthood, animal sacrifices, the Sanhedrin, Pharisaic and Sadducee Judaism) would be shaken and terminated.

21:27 Jesus knew that as Son of Man (and as Messiah Son of God) he would come to destroy the city (for the word "coming" see note on 21:7). "In a cloud" is a common literal or metaphorical expression for a divine intervention (as in Exodus 13:21, 16:10, 19:9, Psalm 104:3, Isaiah 19:1, Joel 2:1-2, Matthew 24:30, Mark 9:7, Mark 13:26, 14:62, 1 Thessalonians 4:17, Revelation 1:7).

21:28 Rather than be terrified, Jesus' disciples were to "stand erect" (the Greek rather than "stand up"in the NRSV) and view the terrible events of the Day of the Lord on Jerusalem as their redemption (freeing). Here redemption does not mean forgiveness of sin by the cross (as in Ephesians 1:7) but the freeing of the church from its Jewish womb (as in the Exodus redemption from Egypt).

21:29-31 When a fig tree sprouts its leaves, you know summer has come. And when these events begin to unfold they will see the fuller revelation of the Kingdom of which the Messiah is King.

John the Baptist had said "the Kingdom of heaven has come near" (Matthew 3:2), and Jesus repeated the same words (Matthew 4:17, 10:7 see note on Luke 17:20-21 "the Kingdom of God is among you" which is better than the old King James translation "within you"). In each case the Kingdom is the presence and/or activity of the Messiah King (see 6:20, 8:1, Acts 1:3, 8:12, 19:8, 28:23, 28:31).

21:32 Many prophetic interpreters locate these events in the future (in that view the generation spoken of by Jesus is already 1900 years old). Jesus had no doubt it would happen in the life of his hearers (actually 40 years ending in AD 70) as all three synoptic Gospels make very clear (Matthew 23:36, 24:34, Mark 13:30. This is the event the early Christians expected in their lifetime (see the large number of references to this in Romans 16:20, 1 Corinthians 1:7-8, 3:13, 4:5, 7:26, 29-31, Philippians 1:6, 10, 2:16, 4:5, 1 Thessalonians 1:10, 2:19, 3:13, 4:15, 5:2-3, 23, 2 Thessalonians 1:7, 2:1, 3, 2 Timothy 1:18, 3:1, 4:1, Titus 2:13, Hebrews 8:13, 9:28, 10:25, 37, 12:27, James 5:7-8, 1 Peter 4:7, 13, 5:10, 2 Peter 3:3, 1 John 2:18, 28, Revelation 3:10-11).There is no evidence that the early Christians were speaking of a time nineteen centuries later.

21:33 Everything could change in the world, but Jesus' prophecy of his coming to destroy Jerusalem is absolutely certain (unless in the intervening period there was a national repentance).

21:34-36 It would be easy to be so busy partying that people could get caught in the siege when it was too late to escape (see 21:20-21). It would take courage and strength to be ready for the Lord when he came (see Matthew 25:13, Mark 13:35). The impact would not just be felt in the city of Jerusalem, but on "all (Jewish people) who live on the face of the whole earth." As a result of the rebellion in AD 66 Jews were hated and reviled everywhere as enemies of the Roman empire. Then after the fall of the city those taken captive were paraded in every major city, and sold into slavery.

21:37-38 From Monday to Thursday Jesus taught all these things in the temple courts from early morning till the afternoon, and he went out to spend the night in Bethany (Matthew 21:17).

Note The above explanation of the words of Jesus about the fall of Jerusalem (in that generation) looks very different from the way most Christians have interpreted them. The assumption was that Jesus was predicting a second coming, which has been awaited for the past 1900 years. If we are right, Jesus came and intervened in AD 70 to topple the religious establishment of the city. And this was proof that he would keep coming to intervene in days of the Lord throughout the history of every nation. Again and again when Christians have faced terrible situations, and have prayed for the Lord's coming, a day of the Lord has brought them into freedom. There will certainly be a final end of our world, as Paul said "He must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet" (1 Corinthians 15:26). One way of combining the events of AD 66-70 with the final coming to terminate our world is to suggest that prophecy can see a series of mountain peaks, and the fall of Jerusalem in AD 70 was just the first range.

Chapter 22 .....