Luke 21:5–38 . . . Bible Study Summary with Questions
Jerusalem's Last Days
One big lie that Satan promotes is that believing in Christ as Savior will bring a trouble-free life. The pitch goes, Do you have problems? If you trust in Jesus, he'll get you out of them. So the person trusts in Christ but the problems worsen. The enemy says, See where trusting in Christ got you? You were better off before you became a Christian! The Bible promises believers peace and joy, but it doesn't promise the absence of trials, freedom from persecution, or protection from violent death; it promises peace and joy in the midst of such trials, as we rely on the Lord and his promises.
Signs of the End Times (vv. 5–19)
Jesus and his disciples were leaving the temple when one of them commented about how impressive that building was. By all accounts, it was a magnificent structure. At that time, it had been under construction for about 50 years. According to Jewish historian Josephus, some of the stones measured 35 feet long, 12 feet high, and 18 feet wide. Today, Israel's Western Wall (or Wailing Wall) is a part of the foundation of that temple structure. Its white marble walls rose about 200 feet above the Kidron Valley. The brilliance of those white walls and the gold trim in the morning sun was no doubt dazzling. The courtyard was about 400 by 500 yards square, enabling thousands of worshipers to gather there.
"Some of his disciples were remarking about how the temple was adorned with beautiful stones and with gifts dedicated to God" (v. 5). The disciples were likely nodding in agreement when Jesus shocked them by saying prophetically, "The time will come when not one stone will be left on another; every one of them will be thrown down" (v. 6). That was unthinkable! To their credit, the disciples didn't doubt Jesus' words, but they did ask when these things would take place and what signs would precede this momentous event. Jesus responded with his lengthy discourse on future things.
Jesus was showing his followers how to hold on not only to their sanity, but to their faith, when the world around them becomes chaotic and seemingly out of control. When the whole world goes crazy, God's people can remain sane by knowing that all things are under God's righteous, sovereign control. His purpose was not to satisfy curiosity about the end times. Rather, he was trying to instill assurance and faith in his disciples so that they wouldn't fall away under intense persecution or world chaos.
Let's look at a few key verses in this segment. The disciples must have been shocked by Jesus' prophecy of the temple's destruction (vv. 5–6). The words "thrown down" translate the Greek verb kataluo. It can mean literally "to detach by demolition, be thrown down, detached" as in this passage. But kataluo is more commonly used in the New Testament where it means more generally "destroy, demolish, dismantle, put an end to." The amazing stones were indeed turned into rubble by the Romans in 70 AD, leaving only a portion of the temple's Western Wall, which is the most holy prayer spot for present-day Jews.
Next, Jesus warns his disciples to resist false Christs (v. 8). Historically, it seems that every generation has had people claiming to be the Messiah. Neither are wars the sign of his coming, as Jesus alerts his readers to in vv. 9–10. "Uprisings" (NIV) or "commotions" (KJV) translate Greek akatastasia, which can refer to an "unsettled state of affairs, disturbance, tumult," as well as "opposition to established authority, disorder, unruliness, insurrections." When political and military upheavals convulse a nation or continent, it's tempting to see it as a sign of Jesus' coming. But notice: Jesus says clearly, "The end will not come right away." He predicts even more wars, earthquakes, famines, and disease epidemics.
The passage next addresses persecution and witness (vv. 12–13). Even though Jesus hasn't returned yet, we can expect persecution. When our world seems to be falling apart, we're to look to God and be witnesses to him. In vv. 12–15, Jesus warns his disciples not to spend hours in their prison cells preparing eloquent speeches to recite word perfectly to their judges. Jesus' "For I will give you words and wisdom. . ." is his wonderful promise that our testimony in such circumstances will come with such power that our opponents' false testimony won't be adequate to convince otherwise. When you consider the history of the Christian church, the death of martyrs has sometimes been more powerful than their lives. Killing Christians only serves to convince people of Christianity's truth. Tertullian said it well: "The blood of martyrs is the seed of the church."
Will your family members and friends one day betray, hate, and threaten you? One of the saddest parts of a disciple's suffering is having even those closest to us turn away from us and turn us in (vv. 16–17). When our relatives reject us it hurts. But there's some comfort in the fact that Jesus' contemporaries rejected him, too; they didn't want to hear his truth, however lovingly expressed. "All men will hate you because of me," he said (v. 17). It's because of Jesus, on his behalf, that we must sometimes bear this kind of painful rejection.
Next, Jesus tells us to stand firm and that not a head hair of ours will be hurt (vv. 18–19), thereby shifting from the physical realm to the spiritual. Even though we'll die physically, spiritually we're whole. Spiritually, we may die a martyr's death, but we'll stand firm and enter into his presence in great glory.
Observing His Second Coming (vv. 20–28)
In vv. 5–19, Jesus tells his disciples what to do when Jerusalem is besieged. In the next segment, he explains how his second coming will be observed as he foretells the beginning of the end for Jerusalem. We see in "Then 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" (v. 21) that the encircling of Jerusalem was to be a sign to Jesus' followers. Christians who'd lived in Jerusalem fled as early as 66 AD. But for the Jews who remained in the city, the siege and fall of Jerusalem was horrific (vv. 22–24a). All that Jesus predicted here took place with terrible destruction and loss of life.
Earlier, Jesus prophesied "great signs from heaven" prior to the End time (v. 11). But now he speaks of such signs prior to his appearance. The heavenly signs will be attended by astral phenomena, widespread fear, and disruptions in the oceans. A corresponding shaking will take place in the heavens (vv. 25–26). The effect on humans is powerful; we see several words that indicate the resulting terror. It's an anxiety-ridden time for earth dwellers. Finally, Jesus, the Son of Man, will appear (v. 27). We aren't told exactly when he'll come, but we know from Luke's teaching that it'll be after wars and rebellions, earthquakes, famines, and epidemics. How long will it take to fulfill the final prophecies of the Times of the Gentiles being fulfilled and the final cataclysms in earth and sky? Not long. They could be delayed for years or centuries; or they could happen at any time.
For when the heavens and earth shake, when stars seem to tumble and seas become unruly, fear falls upon everyone. Then joy should begin to break out in the hearts of Jesus' people. For when we see these things begin to take place, Jesus tells us to "stand up and lift up our heads, because our redemption is drawing near."
Be on Guard! Jesus Is Coming (vv. 29–38)
Jesus has already talked about the destruction of the temple and Jerusalem. He's discussed persecution, terrible signs, and signs of his own coming. Now he concludes the discourse emphasizing the certainty of his coming and admonishing his disciples to be ready.
According to a survey published by U.S. News and World Report in late 1997, two-thirds of American adults believed that Jesus will return to Earth some day. However, most who believed in Christ's return placed it well beyond their lifetime, with 33 percent saying that it'll happen more than a few hundred years from now.
Among us hearty believers, belief in Christ's return is likely close to 100 percent. But a few questions should be asked and answered: How much has your awareness of his return affected your life this past week? Did it affect how you spent your time? Did it fill you with hope as you faced a trial or crisis? Did it enable you to resist temptation as you thought about what it'll be like standing before Jesus on that great day? Did that awareness help you determine how you spent your money as a steward who'll give him an account when he returns? Or didn't you give any thought this week of our Christ coming soon?
Jesus' fig tree reference in vv. 29–30 is a simple "this is similar to that" kind of an expression. Just as new leaves appearing on a deciduous tree is a sign that summer is near, when you see these last signs taking place, you know that the kingdom of God is at hand. For Jesus, the kingdom of God was present in his own person as well as in the power that God had displayed through him and his disciples. But Jesus also refers to God's kingdom as coming in some future time. In the Lord's Prayer, he had his disciples pray, "thy Kingdom come..." (Matthew 6:10; Luke 11:2). There's a tension between the "now" and "future." We see a present fulfillment that will be followed by a greater and complete fulfillment, when God wraps it all up at the End.
Verses 32–33 refer to the passing of a generation. "This generation" likely refers to people who stubbornly turned their backs on the divine purpose. Jesus' followers can expect hostility and calamity until the very end. It is "this generation," this "set" of people whom Jesus had come to give his life to redeem. Do you sense that "this generation" includes you? Jesus is insistent, emphasizing that all these things must take place before the End. God's Word will never pass away!
Jesus then tells them and us to be watchful and prayerful (vv. 36). We're to be steadfast in our goal to please Jesus. This can never be passive, which is why Jesus uses active words: watch and pray constantly. It takes deliberate effort and constant striving against the obstacles. Finally, vv. 37–38 describe Jesus' pattern the last week of his life. He'd start teaching in the temple rather early in the morning, teaching throughout the day. But the evenings he'd spend praying on the Mount of Olives, a hill just east of Jerusalem.
If Christ's second coming isn't a major factor in your Christian life, you're likely missing one of the most powerful biblical motivations to godly living. As Jesus continued his discourse to his disciples about the future, he made this point: Since he'll certainly return, we must remain alert and ready, not dull and surprised by his coming.
[You can see in Warren's commentary on the Parable of the Budding Fig Tree how Jesus told his disciples about when his second coming would take place. Jesus is near, just as the budding of the fig tree indicates that summer and harvest time is near.]
Before we close our study of the signs of the End times, ask yourself this question: How prepared are you for Christ's return? Realize that you shouldn't have to make any special or unusual preparations; you should live each day alert and ready, dependent on him in prayer, obedient to his Word. When the world is gripped with fear due to frightening events, you should look up, filled with hope, because your redemption draws near.
- Q. 1 How can a Christian grow in discernment so as not to be taken in by spiritual deception?
- Q. 2 How can we prepare ourselves now to stand up under persecution when it comes to our land?
New International Version (NIV)
[To view it in a different version, click here; also listen to chapter 21.]
The Destruction of the Temple and Signs of the End Times
5Some of his disciples were remarking about how the temple was adorned with beautiful stones and with gifts dedicated to God. But Jesus said, 6"As for what you see here, the time will come when not one stone will be left on another; every one of them will be thrown down."
7"Teacher," they asked, "when will these things happen? And what will be the sign that they are about to take place?"
8He replied: "Watch out that you are not deceived. For many will come in my name, claiming, 'I am he,' and, 'The time is near.' Do not follow them. 9When you hear of wars and uprisings, do not be frightened. These things must happen first, but the end will not come right away."
10Then he said to them: "Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. 11There will be great earthquakes, famines and pestilences in various places, and fearful events and great signs from heaven.
12"But before all this, they will seize you and persecute you. They will hand you over to synagogues and put you in prison, and you will be brought before kings and governors, and all on account of my name. 13And so you will bear testimony to me. 14But make up your mind not to worry beforehand how you will defend yourselves. 15For I will give you words and wisdom that none of your adversaries will be able to resist or contradict. 16You will be betrayed even by parents, brothers and sisters, relatives and friends, and they will put some of you to death. 17Everyone will hate you because of me. 18But not a hair of your head will perish. 19Stand firm, and you will win life.
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. 26People 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"Truly I tell you, 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 carousing, drunkenness and the anxieties of life, and that day will close on you suddenly like a trap. 35For it will come on 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.