SCRIPTURE: Luke 21:5-19
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CHAPTERS 19-21: THE DESTRUCTION OF JERUSALEM
Luke wrote this Gospel a decade or more after the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple in 70 A.D. Jerusalem's violent destruction would still be fresh in people's minds.
VERSES 5-6: EVERY STONE WILL BE THROWN DOWN
5As some were talking about the temple and how it was decorated with beautiful stones and gifts, he said, 6"As for these things which you see, the days will come, in which there will not be left here one stone on another that will not be thrown down."
"As some were talking about the temple and how it was decorated with beautiful stones and gifts" (v. 5). This is Herod's temple, the third Jerusalem temple. Under construction for half a century, it will not be completed until 63 A.D, but is nonetheless magnificent. It is sited on a prominence in Jerusalem, which itself is sited on a mountain. Josephus tells us that the facade is a hundred cubits (150 feet – 46 meters) wide and high. Josephus says, "being covered on all sides with massive plates of gold, the sun was no sooner up than it radiated so fiery a flash that persons straining to look at it were compelled to avert their eyes, as from the solar rays."
"As for these things which you see" (v. 6a). The disciples see the external adornment, but fail to see the spiritual bankruptcy behind the facade –– the hypocrisy (11:37-54) –– the oppression (18:7; 20:47) –– the rejection of the Messiah and the Gospel (13:33-34; 20:13-18; Acts 13:46-48; 18:5-6; 28:25-28) –– and the impending death of God's Son at the hands of the religious authorities (9:22; 18:31-33; 19:47; 20:14-19; 22:1-2, 52; 23:1-25) (Stein, 521; Bock 334).
"the days will come, in which there will not be left here one stone on another that will not be thrown down" (v. 6b). Six centuries earlier, God called Jeremiah to warn the people of Jerusalem to change their ways. The people failed to heed Jeremiah's warning, and the city and first temple were destroyed and the people taken into captivity.
In 19:41-44, Jesus predicted the fall of Jerusalem. Now he predicts the destruction of the third temple. Once, again the problem is the faithlessness of the people. His prophecy will be fulfilled a few decades later, in 70 A.D. in when the Jews will rebel against the Romans and will be punished by a siege. Most of the inhabitants will die; the rest will be taken into captivity; and the temple will be utterly destroyed (Barclay, 269).
VERSES 7-8: WHEN? –– WHAT SIGN?
7They asked him, "Teacher, so when will these things be? What is the sign that these things are about to happen?" 8He said, "Watch out that you don't get led astray, for many will come in my name, saying, 'I am he,' and, 'The time is at hand.' Therefore don't follow them."
"Teacher, so when will these things be? What is the sign that these things are about to happen?" (v. 7). In verses 9-11, Jesus gives the disciples three signs for which the disciples can watch:
• False prophets
• Political chaos and
• Natural disasters.
The question is whether the events of verses 8 ff. point to the destruction of Jerusalem or the Second Coming. Scholars tend to agree that it is the destruction of Jerusalem (Evans, 307; Henrich, 450; Stein, 514).
"Watch out that you don't get led astray, for many will come in my name, saying, 'I am he,' and, 'The time is at hand.' Therefore don't follow them" (v. 8). The destruction of Jerusalem will be brought about by people following false prophets.
Luke, in the book of Acts, records three instances of false prophets (Acts 5:36, 37; 21:38).
VERSES 9-11: TERRORS AND GREAT SIGNS FROM HEAVEN
9"When you hear of wars and disturbances, don't be terrified, for these things must happen first, but the end won't come immediately." 10Then he said to them, "Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. 11There will be great earthquakes, famines, and plagues in various places. There will be terrors and great signs from heaven."
Verse 28 promises a great banquet in Christ's kingdom, but first there will be terrible times –– war, political chaos, and natural disasters. Knowing that redemption is coming we need not be terrified. Jesus does not, however, promise life without pain. Rather than promising escape from hardship, he offers spiritual resources to cope with it.
"When you hear of wars and disturbances, don't be terrified, for these things must happen first, but the end won't come immediately" (v. 9). "They should not be terrified by what seems to be a chaotic unfolding of events, because such are not simply manifestations threatening to engulf them. Far from it! They represent the necessary unfolding of the divine plan" (Nolland, 993).
"Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be great earthquakes, famines, and plagues in various places. There will be terrors and great signs from heaven" (vv. 10-11). Jesus' imagery here is rooted in Old Testament prophecies (Isaiah 29:6; 51:19; Ezekiel 36:29-30; 38:19; Amos 8:11; Zechariah 14:5)
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VERSES 12-15: THEY WILL PERSECUTE YOU
12"But before all these things, they will lay their hands on you and will persecute you, delivering you up (Greek: paradidontes –– from paradidomi) to synagogues and prisons, bringing you before kings and governors for my name's sake. 13It will turn out as a testimony (Greek: marturion) for you. 14Settle it therefore in your hearts not to meditate beforehand how to answer, 15for I will give you a mouth and wisdom which all your adversaries will not be able to withstand or to contradict."
"But before all these things, they will lay hands on you and will persecute you" (v. 12a). "before all these things" means "before the destruction of the temple" rather than "before the Second Coming." In the book of Acts, Luke will report the fulfillment of these prophecies.
"delivering you up (paradidontes) to synagogues and prisons, bringing you before kings and governors for my name's sake" (v. 12b). "The apposition of both 'kings and governors' and 'synagogues and prisons' portends the persecution of Jesus' followers among Jews as well as among Gentiles" (Green, 736).
"It will turn out as a testimony (marturion) for you" (v. 13). Arrest and persecution will provide the disciples with opportunity to testify (marturion –– transliterated "martyr" in English because of the martyrdom of early Christians).
"Settle it therefore in your hearts not to meditate beforehand how to answer" (v. 14). Jesus counsels the disciples not to worry about what they will say when the time comes. Their best preparation will not be in compiling a defense but in aligning themselves with the will of God.
"for I will give you a mouth and wisdom which all your adversaries will not be able to withstand or to contradict" (v. 15). Christians need not worry about what they will say, because Jesus will give them unassailable words of wisdom. Again, this is fulfilled in Acts (Acts 4:1-22; 5:17-42; 7; 16:16-40; 22:1-21; 23:1-6; 24:10-21; 26:2-29).
"for I will give you a mouth and wisdom" (v. 15a). "This is no mere order…to fight to the last man. It is, instead, a promise that God will be with us in the midst of our suffering and that this present order of things is not the end of it all" (Diers, 81).
Christians have witnessed powerfully to their faith in the midst of persecution on countless occasions. Even if not persecuted, we bear witness to Christ anytime we bear adversity with grace.
VERSES 16-19: BY YOUR ENDURANCE, YOU WILL WIN YOUR LIVES
16"You will be handed over even by parents, brothers, relatives, and friends. They will cause some of you to be put to death. 17You will be hated by all men for my name's sake. 18And not a hair of your head will perish. 19'By your endurance you will win your lives.'"
"You will be handed over even by parents, brothers, relatives and friends" (v. 16a). Earlier, Jesus said, "My mother and my brothers are these who hear the word of God, and do it" (8:21). He warned, "If anyone comes to me, and doesn't disregard his own father, mother, wife, children, brothers, and sisters, yes, and his own life also, he can't be my disciple" (14:26). He calls us to put discipleship not just above bad things, but also above good things such as family.
"By your endurance you will win your lives" (v. 19). If faced with persecution and/or death, how can we endure? It will help if we have counted the cost of discipleship rather than assuming that discipleship will be comfortable (14:26-33). It will also help to remember this promise –– that by our endurance we will gain our souls.
SCRIPTURE QUOTATIONS are from the World English Bible (WEB), a public domain (no copyright) modern English translation of the Holy Bible. The World English Bible is based on the American Standard Version (ASV) of the Bible, the Biblia Hebraica Stutgartensa Old Testament, and the Greek Majority Text New Testament. The ASV, which is also in the public domain due to expired copyrights, was a very good translation, but included many archaic words (hast, shineth, etc.), which the WEB has updated.
Barclay, William, The Daily Study Bible, The Gospel of Luke (Edinburgh: Saint Andrew Press, 1953)
Bock, Darrell L., The IVP New Testament Commentary Series: Luke, Vol. 3 (Downers Grove, Illinois, Intervarsity Press, 1994)
Cousar, Charles B.; Gaventa, Beverly R.; McCann, J. Clinton; and Newsome, James D., Texts for Preaching: A Lectionary Commentary Based on the NRSV–Year C (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 1994)
Craddock, Fred B., Interpretation: Luke (Louisville: John Knox Press,(1990)
Craddock, Fred B.; Hayes, John H.; Holliday, Carl R.; and Tucker, Gene M., Preaching Through the Christian Year, C (Valley Forge: Trinity Press, 1994)
Culpepper, R. Alan, The New Interpreter's Bible, Volume IX. (Nashville: Abingdon, 1995)
Diers, Lectionary Bible Studies, "The Year of Luke," Pentecost 2, Study Book
Edwards, O.C. Jr. and Taylor, Gardner C., Proclamation 2: Pentecost 3, Series C (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1980)
Evans, Craig A., New International Biblical Commentary: Luke (Peabody, Massachusetts: Hendrickson Publishers, Inc., 1990)
Gilmour, S. MacLean & Scherer, Paul, The Interpreter's Bible, Volume 8. (Nashville: Abingdon , 1952)
Green, Joel B., The New International Commentary on the New Testament: The Gospel of Luke (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1997)
Henrich, Sarah, in Van Harn, Roger (ed.), The Lectionary Commentary: Theological Exegesis for Sunday's Text. The Third Readings: The Gospels (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2001)
Holladay, William L., Proclamation 6: Pentecost 3, Series C
Johnson, Luke Timothy, Sacra Pagina: The Gospel of Luke (Collegeville: Liturgical Press, 1991)
Lueking, F. Dean, "Gaining one's soul," Christian Century, Nov. 4, 1998
Nickle, Keith F., Preaching the Gospel of Luke (Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2000)
Nolland, John, Word Biblical Commentary: Luke 18:35 – 24:53, Vol. 35C (Dallas: Word Books, 1993)
Ringe, Sharon H., Westminster Bible Companion, Luke (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press)
Sloyan, Gerard S. and Kee, Howard Clark, Proclamation: Pentecost 3, Series C (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1974)
Soards, Marion; Dozeman, Thomas; and McCabe, Kendall, Preaching the Revised Common Lectionary, Year C: After Pentecost (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1994)
Stein, Robert H., The New American Commentary: Luke (Nashville: Broadman Press, 1992)
Tannehill, Robert C., Abingdon New Testament Commentaries: Luke (Nashville: Abingdon, 1996)
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