The fifth verse of Luke 21 is an important sentence to read carefully because it sets the direction of the discussion and teaching that Jesus is about to give. There are some (his disciples) who are speaking about the temple in Jerusalem, how it was adorned with beautiful stones. What Herod was doing in his renovation of the temple was amazing and beautiful. Herod was a master architect, an amazing designer and builder. Archaeologists have uncovered many architectural feats that Herod built in the Palestine region. Josephus records that the way the sun shone on the temple was brilliant because of the white marble on the building. So the disciples are pointing out the amazing construction of the new temple. But Jesus says something shocking. “The days are coming when there will not be left here one stone upon another that will not be thrown down” (21:6). We must recognize that the destruction of the temple is not the fall of another building. The destruction of the temple represented God’s wrath against the nation, the severing of fellowship between God and the nation, and the inability for the Jews to worship God. The temple was the place where God met humanity. To destroy the temple is to end the Jewish age, just as it ended that age in 586 BC when the temple was destroyed and the people were deported from the land. This leads the disciples to ask critical questions. “When will these things be and what will be the sign when these things are about to take place?” If you were told that the fall of the United States was going to occur, you would want to know the same things. When will it be and what will be the signs that show its nearness? Jesus spends his time answering these questions.
The Signs of The Temple’s Destruction (21:6-19)
Jesus begins by describing the signs that will lead us to the destruction of the temple. In verse 8 Jesus begins by noting that there will be many who will claim to be the Messiah and Savior of the nation. But they are not sent from God. They are not the deliverer and they must not follow after them. Further, there are going to wars, disturbances, and uprisings. But even with these things the end will not come immediately. Nations are going to be fighting against other nations. There will be wars, earthquakes, famines, pestilence, and the like occurring. These are going to be heavenly signs, messages to the people as a warning about this coming judgment against the Jewish nation. But before these things happen, Jesus’ disciples are going to be arrested and persecuted. But this is going to be their opportunity to give their testimony about to Jesus to the authorities. But don’t worry about what you will say, my disciples, because Jesus would give them the words to speak in those circumstances. We see this teaching expanded upon in detail in John 16 as Jesus promises to give his apostles the Holy Spirit to guide them into all truth. Verse 16 gives more startling information as it would be their own families that would turn them into the civil and religious authorities. Some of them are even going to be killed. We know that James, Peter, and Paul were killed for the cause of Christ. In fact, it is believed that many, if not all, of the apostles, except the apostle John, were killed before the close of the first century. But even though they will be killed for the cause of Christ, they are called to cling to their faith because they will not be destroyed spiritually, though killed physically. By their endurance through persecution they will gain their spiritual lives.
The Events of the Temple’s Destruction (21:20-28)
Now Jesus gives the key thing that his followers were to look for. When they saw Jerusalem surrounded by armies, then they would know that the destruction of the temple was near. When the Roman armies began their march upon Jerusalem, the people in the whole region of Judea were to run to the mountains. Those who are in the city were to leave as quickly as possible and those who were out in the country were not to return to the city. We know historically why Jesus tells them to do this. When the Roman armies surrounded the city, the Jews shut the city for protection and no one was allowed to leave. The Roman siege against Jerusalem lasted for three and a half years. So Jesus says that they need to leave immediately and not turn back to the city or else they will be caught in this siege. These are the days of vengeance (21:22). This is God’s execution of judgment on the wicked nation that had turned its back on God. Notice that Jesus says that this will be the fulfillment of what is written. Here is what Moses wrote in Deuteronomy:
47 Because you did not serve the LORD your God with joyfulness and gladness of heart, because of the abundance of all things, 48 therefore you shall serve your enemies whom the LORD will send against you, in hunger and thirst, in nakedness, and lacking everything. And he will put a yoke of iron on your neck until he has destroyed you. 49 The LORD will bring a nation against you from far away, from the end of the earth, swooping down like the eagle, a nation whose language you do not understand, 50 a hard-faced nation who shall not respect the old or show mercy to the young. 51 It shall eat the offspring of your cattle and the fruit of your ground, until you are destroyed; it also shall not leave you grain, wine, or oil, the increase of your herds or the young of your flock, until they have caused you to perish. 52 “They shall besiege you in all your towns, until your high and fortified walls, in which you trusted, come down throughout all your land. And they shall besiege you in all your towns throughout all your land, which the LORD your God has given you. 53 And you shall eat the fruit of your womb, the flesh of your sons and daughters, whom the LORD your God has given you, in the siege and in the distress with which your enemies shall distress you. 54 The man who is the most tender and refined among you will begrudge food to his brother, to the wife he embraces, and to the last of the children whom he has left, 55 so that he will not give to any of them any of the flesh of his children whom he is eating, because he has nothing else left, in the siege and in the distress with which your enemy shall distress you in all your towns. 56 The most tender and refined woman among you, who would not venture to set the sole of her foot on the ground because she is so delicate and tender, will begrudge to the husband she embraces, to her son and to her daughter, 57 her afterbirth that comes out from between her feet and her children whom she bears, because lacking everything she will eat them secretly, in the siege and in the distress with which your enemy shall distress you in your towns. (Deuteronomy 28:47–57 ESV)
This is why Jesus gives his woes to those who are pregnant and those nursing infants. Deuteronomy made it clear that they would eat their own children because the horrors of the siege would be so terrible. Jesus is referring to this text in Deuteronomy, and the people would have known that. This will be the great distress on the land and wrath against this people. Underline the word “this.” “This people” refers to the Jewish people. God’s judgment will at last have come upon them for persecuting the prophets, apostles, and disciples of Jesus. These are the days of vengeance. They will fall by the sword and be led captive back to Rome. Jerusalem is going to be trampled over by the Romans. This is what Daniel prophesied in Daniel 9:26 and what John saw in Revelation 11:1-2.
And after the sixty-two weeks, an anointed one shall be cut off and shall have nothing. And the people of the prince who is to come shall destroy the city and the sanctuary. Its end shall come with a flood, and to the end there shall be war. Desolations are decreed. (Daniel 9:26 ESV)
Then I was given a measuring rod like a staff, and I was told, “Rise and measure the temple of God and the altar and those who worship there, but do not measure the court outside the temple; leave that out, for it is given over to the nations, and they will trample the holy city for forty-two months. (Revelation 11:1–2 ESV)
Now notice verse 25. This is not a new topic. Jesus is not talking about something different. Jesus is continuing in his teaching, “And there will be signs…” Jesus begins to use language that God used through the prophets to describe the fall of a nation. In speaking about the king and the nation of Babylon, Isaiah prophesied:
Behold, the day of the LORD comes, cruel, with wrath and fierce anger, to make the land a desolation and to destroy its sinners from it. For the stars of the heavens and their constellations will not give their light; the sun will be dark at its rising, and the moon will not shed its light. (Isaiah 13:9–10 ESV)
Therefore I will make the heavens tremble, and the earth will be shaken out of its place, at the wrath of the LORD of hosts in the day of his fierce anger. (Isaiah 13:13 ESV)
In speaking about Judah, the prophet Joel prophesied:
“And I will show wonders in the heavens and on the earth, blood and fire and columns of smoke. The sun shall be turned to darkness, and the moon to blood, before the great and awesome day of the LORD comes. (Joel 2:30–31 ESV)
Notice how the prophet Haggai explains to the readers what it means for the heavens and the earth to shake:
“Speak to Zerubbabel, governor of Judah, saying, I am about to shake the heavens and the earth, and to overthrow the throne of kingdoms. I am about to destroy the strength of the kingdoms of the nations, and overthrow the chariots and their riders. And the horses and their riders shall go down, every one by the sword of his brother. (Haggai 2:21–22 ESV)
This language does not describe the end of the world, but the end of the nation. The overthrow of a nation is about to take place. In our context in Luke 21, it means the fall of Jerusalem and the destruction of the temple. This is further seen in verse 27: “They will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory.” This is also imagery of God acting in judgment against a nation (cf. Daniel 7:19; Isaiah 19:1; Revelation 1:7). Jesus said these words to Caiaphas that he would see the Son of Man coming in the clouds (Matthew 26:64). It is the coming fall of Jerusalem and the shattering of the nation. Thus, this is the vindication and redemption of God’s people who have been persecuted and killed.
Parable of the Fig Tree (21:29-33)
Jesus now tells a parable to explain how these signs are working and why they need to be watching. Jesus said that just like a tree begins to put out leaves then you know that summer is coming very soon. In the same way, when you see these things taking place (that is, the signs of wars and famine and the event of Jerusalem surrounded by armies) then you will know that the kingdom of God is near. This needs some explaining. How can it be that the destruction of Jerusalem is the coming of the kingdom of God and the events and signs leading up to it proving that the kingdom of God is coming? I submit to you that many have created the wrong idea in saying that the kingdom came in Acts 2 as if that was the end of the matter. The scriptures describe the kingdom as being restored in Acts 2 but that was not the end of the story. The kingdom arrived and must now subjugate all the enemies and powers that stand in opposition to Christ the King. The kingdom of God comes powerful against all those who are against him. This is exactly how we see the kingdom used in the book of Revelation.
Then the seventh angel blew his trumpet, and there were loud voices in heaven, saying, “The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ, and he shall reign forever and ever.” (Revelation 11:15 ESV)
Why has the kingdom of the world become the kingdom of the Lord? The reason is because King Jesus has conquered yet another nation, judging it for its sins and rebellion. Christ continues to rule on his throne and continues to subjugate the powers of the world under his feet. Therefore, verse 31 is describing that the power of Christ’s kingdom is coming against Jerusalem.
Verse 32 is a critical time marker. “Truly, I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all has taken place.” Jesus’ audience is the “this generation.” Any other answer makes no sense and distorts Jesus’ words. So many writers want to say this means that the generation that sees these things will not pass away before the end. The reason they do this is to try to make this chapter about the end of the world and the second coming of Christ. But as we have seen, there is no reason to do this to the text. Jesus has not starting talking about something else. “This generation” refers to the generation that is listening to him in his presence. That group of people who are looking at Jesus are going to see these events happen in their lifetimes. These events are coming soon. Verse 33 declares the certainty of these events. Creation is less permanent than this teaching. The word of God has spoken and it will certainly happen.
Be Watching (21:34-38)
Finally, Jesus says they need to be watching because these events were going to happen in their lifetimes. These are things that must soon take place. Jesus admonishes them to watch and pray. Now I understand the struggle people have. So what does this text mean for us? I believe this is one reason why people are so adamant in trying to make this text be in the future so that it has relevance to us. But this is such a mistake because none of the scriptures were written directly to us. But this does not mean that the scriptures do not teach us great and important truths. Obviously there are lessons for us because God wanted these teachings recorded and preserved for all time. So what do we learn?
- Your enemies are God’s enemies and they will be dealt with through judgment
- Prepare to die to gain your life
- God’s people are vindicated for their faith, but redemption comes through suffering