Luke 21:20-38 - The Day of Fulfillment, Part 2

20"When you see Jerusalem being surrounded by armies, you will know that its desolation is near. 21Then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains, let those in the city get out, and let those in the country not enter the city. 22For this is the time of punishment in fulfillment of all that has been written. 23How dreadful it will be in those days for pregnant women and nursing mothers! There will be great distress in the land and wrath against this people. 24They will fall by the sword and will be taken as prisoners to all the nations. Jerusalem will be trampled on by the Gentiles until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled. 25"There will be signs in the sun, moon and stars. On the earth, nations will be in anguish and perplexity at the roaring and tossing of the sea. 26Men will faint from terror, apprehensive of what is coming on the world, for the heavenly bodies will be shaken. 27At that time they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory. 28When these things begin to take place, stand up and lift up your heads, because your redemption is drawing near." 29He told them this parable: "Look at the fig tree and all the trees. 30When they sprout leaves, you can see for yourselves and know that summer is near. 31Even so, when you see these things happening, you know that the kingdom of God is near. 32"I tell you the truth, this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened. 33Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away. 34"Be careful, or your hearts will be weighed down with dissipation, drunkenness and the anxieties of life, and that day will close on you unexpectedly like a trap. 35For it will come upon all those who live on the face of the whole earth. 36Be always on the watch, and pray that you may be able to escape all that is about to happen, and that you may be able to stand before the Son of Man." 37Each day Jesus was teaching at the temple, and each evening he went out to spend the night on the hill called the Mount of Olives, 38and all the people came early in the morning to hear him at the temple. (NIV)

REVIEW of LAST WEEK (Lk 21:5-19)

Since last Sunday's passage is really "of a piece" with the one for this morning, it's a good idea to briefly recap the main points of what Jesus says from verse 5 to verse 19 of Luke 21:

a) Jesus predicts the fall of Jerusalem, and implies, by extension, that not even the greatest powers - with all of their accompanying institutions and landmarks - can last forever. (vv. 5-6)

b) Jesus reminds his disciples how important it is for them not to lose sight of Him or his words. (v.8)

c) Jesus speaks of many signs - such as wars, natural disasters, and epidemics - that, despite the fact that they have always been found in a fallen world, will only confirm that he is coming again. (vv. 9-11)

d) Jesus says that his followers can expect opposition; but when they do, they will have opportunities to testify of His grace. (vv. 12-13, 16-17)

e) Jesus assures his disciples that he will give them what they need to persevere, and to magnify Him; however, he also calls upon them to persevere. (vv. 14-15, 19)


It's important to clarify just what the disciples were getting at when they said, "When will these things happen? And what will be the sign that they are about to take place?" Matthew sheds considerable light on the meaning of their words by recording their question this way: "When will this happen, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?" (Mt. 24:3). So they seem to be inquiring about two things: 1) the demise of Jerusalem (cf. Mt 24:1-2; Lk 21:5-6); and the return of Jesus as King.

If, indeed, there are two "events" being spoken of here, it seems likely that, from verse 5 to verse 11, Jesus begins by talking about "the later things" (i.e., the things that will happen immediately before His return) and then "works backward", so to speak, by speaking of the disciples' sufferings around the time of Jerusalem (vv. 12 to 19 - note especially the phrase "before all this" in v. 12) and then, of Jerusalem's destruction itself (vv.20-24). Lastly, Jesus comes back to speaking of events that will occur before His return (vv. 25-28).

To be sure, though, it is difficult to know precisely what frame of time Jesus is referring to in everything He's saying - especially when it comes to Jerusalem. Verse 24 seems to suggest that the city will suffer not only at the time of Rome's invasion (in A.D. 70), but also at the end of time too ("Jerusalem will be trampled on by the Gentiles until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled.") For our purposes, it is good to reflect not merely on the "events" in this passage, but also on what Jesus reveals about Himself, and what He wants His people to be like in the midst of these events.

MAIN POINTS in verses 20 to 38

1. God will fulfill His prophecies of vengeance (vv. 20-24).

- in the statements Jesus makes about Jerusalem in verses 20 to 24, verse 22 is especially worth noting (in the NASB it reads, "these are days of vengeance, so that all things which are written will be fulfilled."). Even if Titus' invasion of Jerusalem (in A.D. 70) is what Jesus has in view, He makes clear that the "vengeance" is not that of any emperor, but of God. "in fulfillment of all that has been written" - God will fulfill His intention to punish Israel for her covenantal unfaithfulness, as prophesied in Deut 28:64; Jer. 20:4-6; Zech 12:3; and countless other passages.

We have a holy God who means what He says.

Question for Reflection: How often do I think of God as the God of vengeance and judgment?

2. Events that are to occur immediately before Christ's return will bring great anxiety, confusion, terror and anguish to the world; but His own people are not to grieve as those who have no hope (vv. 25-29).

"...nations will be in anguish and perplexity....Men will faint from terror...the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory....stand up and lift up your heads, because your redemption is drawing near."

"Brothers, we do not want you to be ignorant about those who fall asleep, or to grieve like the rest of men, who have no hope. We believe that Jesus died and rose again and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him." (1 Thes 4:13-14)

Question for Reflection: Is my hope found in the glorious return of Christ? Or in something else?

3. Jesus once again says that all of these turbulent times will only confirm his return, and the consummation of His kingdom (vv. 29-32).

Here He uses the image of a fig tree, not as representing Israel this time, but rather as a picture for explaining the significance that "sprouting leaves" has for what is to come.

"This generation" - there are all kinds of interpretations of what Jesus means here; it probably doesn't mean the particular generation of people still alive at the time Jesus spoke. More likely it refers to the Jewish people.

4. Jesus calls upon his disciples to be faithful. This faithfulness involves alertness, prayerfulness, perseverance, and the constant ability to guard themselves against the inclinations of their own hearts (vv. 34-36).

- The temptation to be weighed down by "the cares of this life" has already been mentioned in Jesus' parable of the sower (Ch.8:14 - the seed that falls upon the thorns).

""Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the body is weak." (Mt. 26:41)

Paul also echoes Jesus' warnings in verses 34 to 36 when he pleads with the Ephesian church to put on the whole armour of God (Eph 6:10-20) since - like all of God's people - they are at war with "principalities and powers" who would love nothing more than hinder God's work in their lives.

Question for reflection: What is your heart occupied with these days?

5. Even in his last days, Jesus never ceased to fulfill the role of a teacher and prophet (vv. 37-38).

If the Lord Jesus was a teacher all day and night - even as His death was approaching - how much more will He be for us, now that He has conquered death and is standing at God's right hand?