Today, Jesus praises a widow who gave all she had. Do you know the signs of end times? Find out today. What will the return of Jesus be like? Today’s chapter gives us the answers. In light of this reality, Jesus reminds us to remain watchful.
A Widow Gives All She Has / 21:1-4
21:1-2 Jesus spent much time during his last week on earth in the Temple, teaching, preaching, and dealing with religious leaders (19:45–20:47). At some point during one of his days there, Jesus watched people put their gifts into the collection box for the Temple treasury. Jesus was in the area of the Temple called the court of women. The treasury was there or in an adjoining walkway. Seven boxes were in this area. Worshipers could deposit their Temple tax in these boxes. In addition, six boxes more collected freewill offerings like the one this woman gave. A lot of money came into the Temple treasury during Passover.
The rich people put their gifts into the treasury—large gifts that clattered into the boxes. Then a poor widow came and dropped in two pennies. As a widow, she had few resources for earning money, and may have been without financial support. But she put her coins into the freewill offering box, meaning that this was not a required tax, but a gift.
- LIFE APPLICATION – BEYOND CONVENIENCE
- This widow gave all she had to live on, in contrast to the way most people handle their money. Those who consider giving a certain percentage of their income to be a great accomplishment resemble those who gave out of their wealth. Here in 21:1-2, Jesus was admiring generous and sacrificial giving. Believers should consider increasing their giving—whether of money, time, or talents—to a point beyond convenience, comfort, or safety.
21:3-4 Jesus judged the poor woman’s gift not by how much she gave, but by how much she had left after giving. The rich did well to give out of their abundance, but they had plenty left. Yet she gave everything and therefore had given more than all the rest of them. The widow could have kept back one coin, but she willingly gave both coins. She gave everything and trusted God to care for her. Jesus wanted the disciples to see this lesson in total surrender of self, commitment to God, and willingness to trust in God’s provision. For more on giving, see 1 Corinthians 16:1-4; 2 Corinthians 8:1-5.
- LIFE APPLICATION – TRUE GIVING
- How do you react when you see the offering plate coming toward you? Annoyance, yawning, resignation? Would it change your attitude toward giving of your money to the work of the ministry in your church if you knew that God could do great things with little contributions? That’s the message of Luke 21:3-4. The poor widow’s offering far outclassed all the others because she gave sacrificially, while the others gave recreationally. It is obvious which kind of giving God honors. Which kind does yours resemble?
Jesus Tells about the Future / 21:5-24
A disciple’s casual remark concerning the splendor of the Temple gave Jesus the opportunity to make an alarming prophecy about the Temple and the end times. This section, along with 17:20-37, parallel the Olivet discourse given in Matthew 24:1-25 and Mark 13:1-23. Jesus spoke of the end times in order to realign his disciples’ priorities and to caution them about being deceived.
21:5-6 Jesus and the disciples would leave Jerusalem every evening of that final week and walk the couple of miles back to Bethany. As they left the city on one of those evenings, some of the disciples commented on the beauty of the Temple itself. The Temple that the disciples were admiring was not Solomon’s Temple—that had been destroyed by the Babylonians in the seventh century b.c. This Temple had been built by Ezra after the return from exile in the sixth century b.c., desecrated by the Seleucids in the second century b.c., reconsecrated by the Maccabees soon afterward, and enormously expanded by Herod the Great over a forty-six-year period. It was a beautiful, imposing structure with a significant history. Although no one knows exactly what it looked like, it must have been magnificent, for in its time it was considered one of the architectural wonders of the world.
Jesus used the disciples’ comments about the Temple to give them a prophetic statement about the fate of the Temple: it will be completely demolished. This happened only a few years later when the Romans sacked Jerusalem in a.d. 70. The Romans fulfilled Jesus’ words to the letter. After fire raged through the Temple, Emperor Titus ordered the leveling of the whole area so that no part of the original walls or buildings remained. Titus considered this punishment for the Jewish rebellion in a.d. 66. The Temple has never been rebuilt; the stones that we can see today, commonly called the “wailing wall” are part of the foundation. Truly the Temple was leveled.
- LIFE APPLICATION – PEOPLE, NOT BUILDINGS
- The church is people, not buildings. Even Jesus’ disciples lost sight of the truth at times. They admired the great beauty of the restored and expanded temple in Jerusalem, commenting to one another about its magnificence. Jesus gave them a rather startling lesson on perspective: “The days will come when not one stone will be left upon another.” It must have grieved the disciples, steeped as they were in Jewish tradition, to know this. And yet the church, the people of God—the true temple—would not only survive but also grow and flourish and ultimately conquer hell itself. Buildings are great tools, but people are the church. It’s all right to appreciate a place of worship. Just don’t confuse it with the church.
21:7-9 The disciples’ question had two parts. They wanted to know when the destruction would take place and if there would be any sign ahead of time. Jesus first answered the disciples’ second question about signs. Jesus warned them against false messiahs. He knew that if the disciples looked for signs, they would be susceptible to deception. Many false prophets would display counterfeit signs of spiritual power and authority. Jesus predicted that before his return, many believers would be misled by false teachers coming in his name—that is, claiming to be the Messiah. Jesus said clearly, “Don’t believe them.” According to Scripture, the one clear sign of Christ’s return will be his unmistakable appearance in the clouds that will be seen by all people (Matthew 24:30; Revelation 1:7). Believers never have to wonder whether a certain person is the Messiah. When Jesus returns, believers will know beyond a doubt because he will be evident to all.
Just as false messiahs and religious frauds come and go, so do political and natural crises. However, these do not signal the end of the world. The disciples probably assumed that the Temple would be destroyed only at the end of the age as part of God establishing his new Kingdom. Jesus taught that horrible events would happen, but the end won’t follow immediately. Believers should not panic. God will not lose control of his creation, and his promises will come true.
- LIFE APPLICATION – THE END IS NEAR!
- Have you heard anyone declare: “The Rapture will happen on ______”? There have been countless predictions in regard to end times throughout the history of the church. Every generation of Christians has believed it would be the last. So far, they all have been wrong. Does that mean that Christians should not study passages like Luke 21 or that these passages are of lesser importance? No, if it’s in the Bible, it’s worth studying. Each verse is beneficial. But believers should approach prophecy with humility, not arrogance and dogmatism. Whatever your beliefs about the end times, realize that you may not have the whole picture and that others may have helpful insights to offer you. If you have been dogmatic about your views, repent and ask God to give you a teachable spirit.
21:10-11 Jesus’ words indicated that there would be a span of time before the end of the age and the coming Kingdom. First, much suffering would occur as a part of life on earth, including wars and natural disasters. These, along with miraculous signs in the heavens, will mean only that history is moving toward a single, final, God-planned goal—the creation of a new earth and a new Kingdom (Revelation 21:1-3). Today we must guard against preoccupation with signs, such as frequency of earthquakes. Instead, we must focus on doing God’s will.
21:12 Without hesitation, Jesus explained that his followers would not escape suffering. Persecution soon began; Luke recorded such in the book of Acts. Jesus didn’t say it, but the disciples would learn that loyalty to Christ meant separation from Judaism. Not only would Jesus’ followers be in trouble with Jews, they would also find themselves standing trial before Gentile kings and governors because of being Jesus’ followers.
21:13-15 These trials in the synagogues and before Gentile rulers would give the disciples an opportunity to testify about Jesus. Standing before Jewish or Roman leadership would be intimidating, but Jesus explained that they could trust him to give them words and a wisdom that would astound their opponents. Notice that Jesus did not guarantee acquittal. James, one of the disciples here listening to Jesus, would be killed because of his faith (Acts 12:1-2).
21:16-19 Not only would the disciples face hatred from religious and civil leaders, as well as their own families, they also would be hated by everyone. For Jews to convert to Christianity would soon become very dangerous because they would be hated and ostracized. Jesus’ words also looked forward to the time when hatred of Christians would again occur. Jesus gave a promise however: “But not a hair of your head will perish! By standing firm, you will win your souls.” This does not mean that standing firm earns salvation; instead, it marks those who are already saved. Assurance of salvation will keep believers going through the times of persecution.
What assurance was Jesus giving in light of the eventual martyrdom of James and Peter? Some have taken the reality of the words about being put to death (21:16) and not a hair of one’s head perishing to mean that some will be taken and others will be preserved. But this seems to nullify the whole tone of assurance. Most likely, “not a hair of your head will perish” refers to ultimate deliverance and salvation in Christ’s Kingdom. Some will suffer and some will die, but none of Jesus’ followers will suffer spiritual or eternal loss. On earth, everyone will die, but believers in Jesus will be saved for eternal life.
- LIFE APPLICATION – PAYING THE PRICE
- Has following Christ cost you? Have you lost friendships, business associates, promotions, or even relationships with family members because of your Christian faith and lifestyle? You are not alone. Throughout history, God’s people have suffered great losses for the sake of their beliefs. Jesus even predicted that these things would happen. Of course, it hurts to be ridiculed and outright hated for what you believe. But if that is your experience, remember: you are in good company with countless of other Christians and with Jesus himself. Take the rejection of the world as a confirmation of your acceptance by the Lord.
21:20 Luke 21:20-24 refers not to the end times (the warning for that is recorded in 17:30-36), but to the coming destruction of the city of Jerusalem that would occur in a.d. 70. The verb surrounded pictures the coming siege of the city. Jesus’ words in the next verses explain what the people should do quickly before the city would be completely surrounded and put under siege.
21:21-22 With the armies coming to surround the city, the people who are outside should flee to the hills, those in the city should escape, those in the country should not enter the city. This was the opposite of the usual advice—generally, in time of war, the people outside would go to the city for protection. But not this time. The time of God’s vengeance will have arrived; the city would face the full punishment for its history of unfaithfulness and rebellion against God.
Many of Jesus’ followers would live to see this happen. The Jewish historian Josephus wrote that from a.d. 66, Jewish Zealots clashed with the Romans. Many people realized that rebellion would bring the wrath of the Empire, so they fled to Pella, a town located in the mountains across the Jordan River. As Jesus had said, this proved to be their protection, for when the Roman army swept in, the nation and its capital city were destroyed.
21:23-24 Jesus expressed sympathy and concern for those who would have difficulty fleeing because they were pregnant or had small children. These people literally would be running for their lives from the great distress. If they didn’t get away, they would be brutally killed by the sword or sent away as captives. According to the historian Josephus, ninety-seven thousand people were taken prisoner during the war and over one million were killed.
Jerusalem, the holy city, will be conquered and trampled down by the Gentiles until the age of the Gentiles comes to an end. These would have been horrifying words to any Jew. The “age of the Gentiles” began with Babylon’s destruction of Jerusalem in 586 b.c. and the exile of the Jewish people. No longer an independent nation, Israel was under the control of Gentile rulers. In Jesus’ day, Israel was governed by the Roman Empire, and a Roman general would “trample” the city in a.d. 70. Jesus was saying that the domination of God’s people by his enemies would continue until God decided to end it. The “times of the Gentiles” refers not just to the repeated destructions of Jerusalem, but also to the continuing and mounting persecution of God’s people until the end.
After predicting Jerusalem’s destruction, Jesus described his second coming (21:27). It will be accompanied by all kinds of cosmic signs, instilling terror in those who are unprepared for the end but inspiring hope in those who are anticipating his return. Don’t be caught unprepared; commit yourself to follow Jesus wholeheartedly and to pray fervently (21:34-36).
21:25 The disciples had asked if there would be a sign (21:7); here Jesus gave the answer. Jesus spoke of his return in full glory without any of the limitations he had taken on by becoming human. Jesus was not speaking of his immediate resurrection but of his eventual, glorious return. Some of the signs would be in nature, for nature itself would experience change. As taught in Romans 8 and 2 Peter 3, the entire universe had become involved in humanity’s fallen predicament; thus, the entire universe will be changed when humanity is changed. There will be a variety of changes—the sun going dark, the moon not being seen, stars falling, heavenly bodies being shaken (see Matthew 24:29). Roaring seas shows that nature will be in chaos from one end of the earth to the other (see Psalm 46:2-4; Isaiah 17:12). These words also recall the words of the prophets (Isaiah 13:10; Joel 2:10-11). What Jesus described here, John saw in his vision (Revelation 6:12-14 ).
21:26 Persecutions and natural disasters will cause great sorrow in the world—people will falter. When believers see these events happening, they should realize that the return of their Messiah is near and that they can look forward to his reign of justice and peace. Rather than being terrified by what is happening in the world, believers should confidently await the Lord’s return, an event that will shake the very heavens.
21:27 The signs will occur, and afterwards everyone will see the Son of Man arrive on the clouds with power and great glory. Jesus’ return will be unmistakable. To the Jews, clouds signified divine presence (Exodus 13:21; 19:9; Psalm 97:1-2; Daniel 7:13). Jesus will return as the powerful, glorious, and divine Son of Man. There will be no doubt as to his identity.
21:28 When believers see these events happening, they will know that the return of their Messiah is near, and they can look forward to his reign of justice and peace. Rather than being terrified by what is happening in the world, believers should confidently await Christ’s return to bring justice and restoration to his people.
- LIFE APPLICATION – UPLIFTED
- Watch what happens when someone wins a gold medal in an athletic competition: she throws her hands in the air and lifts up her face. It is so universal that it almost seems part of being human. Victory, or celebration of any kind, causes people to lift up their heads. Conversely, defeat or sorrow makes one’s countenance fall. Jesus said that these signs of the times would be reason to “stand up and lift up your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.” As frightful as some of those signs will be, Christians need not cower and feel cast down. The signs merely indicate that the King is returning. Does your faith cause you to walk around with your head lifted up, or your face downcast? If you belong to Jesus, hold your head up. He’s coming back for you.
21:29-31 Here Jesus answered the disciples’ other question about “when” the events would occur (21:7). People knew when summer was coming by looking at the fig tree. Seeing the dry, brittle branches becoming tender, filled with sap, and beginning to bud, people knew that summer was near. Just as people can interpret the seasons by watching the signs in nature, so they can know that when they see the events he has been describing taking place, then the Kingdom of God is near. The second coming of Jesus is both certain and near. The fulfillment of Jesus’ prophecy would assure the disciples that the other prophecies he had given regarding the end times would also come true.
21:32 There are three main views of the meaning of this generation will not pass: (1) It refers only to those alive at the time Jesus spoke and who still would be alive at the destruction of Jerusalem; (2) it refers only to those who would experience the end times; (3) it refers both to the destruction of Jerusalem and the end times—the destruction of Jerusalem contains within itself the elements of the final end times and thus serves a precursor. The Greek word for “generation” is genea; it refers both to those living at a given time as well as to race or lineage (therefore, Jesus would have been speaking of the Jewish race). This makes the third view most likely.
21:33 Everything may change, and eventually everything will disappear. But one truth is absolutely, eternally certain: Jesus’ words will remain forever. Everything he said will come true.
- LIFE APPLICATION – ETERNAL OR TEMPORAL?
- Political trends come and go. Office seekers keep a close watch on each day’s opinion polls. Fashions have a very short life expectancy. A life’s savings can be lost or squandered. Music groups and other entertainers are the rage one day and forgotten the next. Every certainty that the world values so highly is temporal at best. Contrast them with Jesus’ words: “Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will by no means pass away.” If your beliefs, values, and philosophy of life are not based on Christ’s supremacy and his authoritative words, you are headed for eventual collapse. Your life’s work will die when you do.
Jesus Tells about Remaining Watchful / 21:34-38
Jesus concluded his teaching on the end times (21:5-38) with a grave warning to his disciples. They were to guard against letting the worries of this life or the pleasures of the world distract them from the truth—especially, the truth that the Son of Man would return, in judgment. They were to be always prepared for his return. They could be fully prepared by praying that God would help them persevere in faith until Christ’s return.
21:34-36 Believers know that Jesus will indeed return. But because no one knows when this great event will occur (Matthew 24:36), Jesus told his followers to watch out, and not let the temptations or worries of this life distract them from being ready. That day will come unexpectedly, and it will come upon everyone—no exceptions. There will be no opportunity for last-minute repentance or bargaining. The choice that each person has already made will determine his or her eternal destiny.
For Jesus’ followers to keep a constant watch and pray pictures an attitude toward life that seeks to stay away from evil and to follow and obey Jesus. Both watching and praying are volitional actions—as believers await Jesus’ return, they work to further his Kingdom. Only with a focus on him can believers escape the horrors to come. Only through obedience to him will they be able to stand before the Son of Man when he returns.
- LIFE APPLICATION – READY TO MOVE
- Jesus told the disciples to keep a constant watch for his return. Although nearly two thousand years have passed since he spoke these words, their truth remains: Christ is coming again, and believers need to watch and be spiritually fit. This means working faithfully at the tasks God has given them. Don’t let your mind and spirit be dulled by careless living, drinking, or the foolish pursuit of pleasure. Don’t let life’s anxieties overburden you. Be ready to move at God’s command and welcome his return. “For you know quite well that the day of the Lord will come unexpectedly, like a thief in the night” (1 Thessalonians 5:2 nlt, see also Revelation 16:15).
21:37-38 During this final week on the earth, Jesus went every day to the Temple to teach the people (samples of that teaching have been recorded in chapters 20–21). He left the city in the evening and spent the night on the Mount of Olives, probably in the city of Bethany (Matthew 21:17). He returned the next morning, and already crowds of people had gathered to hear him.
Only 3 days left, the best is yet to come. Darrell