“Now while some were speaking about the temple, how it was adorned with beautiful stones and offerings, Jesus said, ‘As for these things that you are gazing at, the days will come when not one stone will be left on another. All will be torn down!’ So they asked him, ‘Teacher, when will these things happen? And what will be the sign that these things are about to take place?’” (Luke 21:5-7 NET).
Of the three accounts of the impending destruction of the temple in Jerusalem (Matthew 24; Mark 13; Luke 21), Luke’s is probably the simplest to understand.
Matthew was writing to people of a Jewish background, so he quoted from the Old Testament, which these people would have known very well. It isn’t so strange that when people misinterpret what Jesus said concerning the temple they generally go to Matthew’s account and ignore Mark’s and Luke’s. The problem is that many today do not understand the Old Testament scriptures very well. Luke’s is written in a very plain way that can be easily understood.
In answer to the disciples’ questions (Mark tells us that it was Peter, James, John and Andrew who were with him), Jesus began by speaking of a time of war, earthquakes, famines and plagues (Luke 21:10-11). This really doesn’t pinpoint the time very well because these have been the conditions throughout the world since the beginning. Jesus may have been saying that the conditions on earth will continue as they always have or he may have been referencing to a time of more rebellions.
Next, Jesus began to pinpoint some definite things they should look for. The first of these is persecution (Luke 21:12-18). At the time Jesus said this there had been no persecution of his followers. Although the Jewish leaders at this time were seeking to kill Jesus, this did not lead to any widespread persecution.
Even in the months and years following Pentecost, the Christians enjoyed the favor of the people. The persecution began in Jerusalem with the death of Stephen (Acts 7) and from then on we find the Jews persecuting Christians as they saw many following Jesus in the areas where they lived.
The defining sign they were to look for was Jerusalem surrounded by armies (Luke 21:20-24). This would be a definite occurrence which they could not miss. It was at this time that they needed to get out of the city and flee to the mountains. It would be a difficult time especially for women who were pregnant or nursing, as swift travel would be a problem for them. It was after this that “Jerusalem will be trampled down by Gentiles” (Luke 21:24).
It is the next few verses that give people the most trouble (Luke 21:25-28). This refers to signs in the sun, moon and stars and the powers of heavens being shaken. Although this type of language may be strange to us, we find these types of references throughout the Old Testament concerning God coming in judgment on a nation. This seems to simply be saying that this was God’s judgment on Jerusalem.
To emphasize that these were things that were going to happen very soon, Jesus gave them a rough time frame in which the temple would be destroyed: “I tell you the truth, this generation will not pass away until all these things take place” (Luke 21:32). Everything Jesus had spoken of about the temple’s destruction was going to take place during their lifetime.
This chapter does not give us signs to look for to determine when Jesus will return at the end of time. But the admonition he gave his disciples is applicable to us as we await that great event: “But be on your guard so that your hearts are not weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and the worries of this life, and that day close down upon you suddenly like a trap…But stay alert at all times” (Luke 21:34-36).
Readings for next week:
22 August – Luke 24:1-35
23 August – Luke 24:36-53
24 August – Acts 1
25 August – Acts 2
26 August – Acts 3