“And when ye shall see Jerusalem compassed with armies, then know that the desolation thereof is nigh. Then let them which are in Judaea flee to the mountains; and let them which are in the midst of it depart out; and let not them that are in the countries enter thereinto. For these be the days of vengeance, that all things which are written may be fulfilled. But woe unto them that are with child, and to them that give suck, in those days! for there shall be great distress in the land, and wrath upon this people. And they shall fall by the edge of the sword, and shall be led away captive into all nations: and Jerusalem shall be trodden down of the Gentiles, until the times of the Gentiles be fulfilled. And there shall be signs in the sun, and in the moon, and in the stars; and upon the earth distress of nations, with perplexity; the sea and the waves roaring; men’s hearts failing them for fear, and for looking after those things which are coming on the earth: for the powers of heaven shall be shaken. And then shall they see the Son of man coming in a cloud with power and great glory. And when these things begin to come to pass, then look up, and lift up your heads; for your redemption draweth nigh,” Luke 21:20-28.
On Thursday past (7th), I read Luke chapter 21 as part of my regular daily devotions. It is a portion familiar to me and I know that many seek to use it to deny the position I take in eschatology, namely Historic Pre-Millennialism.
However, that requires those who seek to deny Historic Pre-Millennialism from this passage, to deliberately avoid what it is the Saviour plainly says!
Regrettably, it is not unusual for the Saviour’s words to be misunderstood and misapplied by men. Here is one example. “Jesus answered and said unto them, Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up. Then said the Jews, Forty and six years was this temple in building, and wilt thou rear it up in three days? But he spake of the temple of his body,” John 2:19-21.
But it was not only His opponents who misunderstood what the Saviour meant. His disciples likewise formed false opinions of what the Saviour said to them. Here is one example of that: “These things said he: and after that he saith unto them, Our friend Lazarus sleepeth; but I go, that I may awake him out of sleep. Then said his disciples, Lord, if he sleep, he shall do well. Howbeit Jesus spake of his death: but they thought that he had spoken of taking of rest in sleep,” John 11:11-13.
‘They thought’! Herein lies the problem. Back in the days of Isaiah the Lord had said: “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the LORD. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts,” Isaiah 55:8-9.
We do not naturally think on the same plane as does the Lord. His thoughts are on a very much higher plane! When the Saviour refers to death as a ‘sleep’, that was easy for Him to Whom belongeth all power. However, we, living as we do within our very limited perspective, cannot imagine being awakened from death as something as easy as awakening from sleep! Therefore, a very limited understanding of Christ’s words is arrived at.
1. Sadly, though it is understandable that men make this mistake, it is a mistake which robs them of much! Our earthly minds fail to grasp the wonderful and heavenly import of His words and, in so doing, we deprive ourselves of that which He desires to impart to us by His words. A receiving of Christ’s words, without limiting them, brings great benefits. “If ye abide in me, and my words abide in you, ye shall ask what ye will, and it shall be done unto you,” John 15:7.
It is for this reason that Paul urges upon us to, “ Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus,” Philippians 2:5. The contrast between our natural way of ‘thinking’ and that of Christ’s is set forth in that very familiar incident: “Then Peter took him, and began to rebuke him, saying, Be it far from thee, Lord: this shall not be unto thee. But he turned, and said unto Peter, Get thee behind me, Satan: thou art an offence unto me: for thou savourest not the things that be of God, but those that be of men,” Matthew 16:22-23.
The word ‘savourest’ simply means ‘think’ or ‘mind’ or ‘understand’ (see Acts 28:22, Romans 8:5, 1 Corinthians 13:11), at the level of a man and totally misunderstood the Saviour’s Words.
It should also be noted that Peter’s misunderstanding offended the Lord. That is important, for the word ‘offence’, means ’to trip up, cause to stumble’! What a terrible thing to be guilty of! It is the work of the devil to so seek to ‘trip up’ Christ, thus the Saviour addresses Peter as ‘Satan’. The word ‘Satan’, as I am sure you know, means ‘adversary or opponent’. Thus Peter’s ‘thinking’ caused him to act as the devil.
Sadly, many of us are guilty of that by our shallow, ill-considered understanding of what God’s Word teaches!
2. In the case of Peter, just mentioned, he surely was deeply grieved with his foolish and sinful utterance. It lived with him all his life, indeed, he likely lived long enough to know that the account of his folly had been written up by Matthew and thus read by believers everywhere ever since! That must have distressed him, even as the memory of our sins and follies, though forgiven of God and cast into the depths of the sea (Micah 7:19), remain in our memories to distress and trouble us.
I think that there is no greater example of the harm and self-hurt that our foolish misunderstanding of God’s Word brings us, than the consequences of the mistaken views that men have formed from the words of prophecy concerning the events leading up to the return of the Saviour in glory. That which was recorded for us to be a blessing to us in the midst of this world of distressing evil and the vexing ways of sinful men is neglected, or worse still, twisted and misapplied.
John writes at the very beginning of the last book of the Bible these words: “Blessed is he that readeth, and they that hear the words of this prophecy, and keep those things which are written therein: for the time is at hand,” Revelation 1:3. The ‘things’ referred to are found in verse 1. “The Revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave unto him, to shew unto his servants things which must shortly come to pass; and he sent and signified it by his angel unto his servant John,” Revelation 1:1.
I know of Christians who were advised by their ministers that they should AVOID reading the book of the Revelation! Is that not absolutely contrary to what the Holy Ghost had John write down? Is that not Christians speaking as Satan, savouring “not the things that be of God, but those that be of men”?
I believe such advice has been given by those who do not wish their flock to read the book of the Revelation for it is feared that they will come to an understanding of prophecy which is quite contrary to the one they stubbornly and stupidly cling to!
There is no excuse for misunderstanding God’s Word. “For whatsoever things were written aforetime were written for our learning, that we through patience and comfort of the scriptures might have hope,” Romans 15:4. It was meant to be understood by us and to thereby benefit and bless us. It is a most dreadful slander against the Lord to suggest that He cannot teach as He is unable to communicate in a fashion that we can understand. Any teacher of whom this was rightly said would get the sack!
The Saviour once asked His disciples: “Do ye not yet understand, neither remember the five loaves of the five thousand, and how many baskets ye took up?” Matthew 16:9. Surely He is indicating that their inability to understand was inexcusable! His rebuke worked! “How is it that ye do not understand that I spake it not to you concerning bread, that ye should beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and of the Sadducees? Then understood they how that he bade them not beware of the leaven of bread, but of the doctrine of the Pharisees and of the Sadducees,” Matthew 16:11-12.
Failing to understand God’s Word is a ‘rebukable offence’! It is inexcusable. We have both the Holy Spirit to guide us and the Saviour to Whom we can go in prayer for understanding.
At the start of Luke 21, we have an example of just what means we may access when puzzled or unable to understand. “And as some spake of the temple, how it was adorned with goodly stones and gifts, he said, As for these things which ye behold, the days will come, in the which there shall not be left one stone upon another, that shall not be thrown down. And they asked him, saying, Master, but when shall these things be? and what sign will there be when these things shall come to pass?” Luke 21:5-7.
Our sensing that we do not understand what it is we read in the Bible should be followed by our seeking of help from the Lord, not a placing upon the words a careless notion formed from our own thinking!
Peter wrote of such as acted like that.
“But the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night; in the which the heavens shall pass away with a great noise, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat, the earth also and the works that are therein shall be burned up. Seeing then that all these things shall be dissolved, what manner of persons ought ye to be in all holy conversation and godliness, Looking for and hasting unto the coming of the day of God, wherein the heavens being on fire shall be dissolved, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat? Nevertheless we, according to his promise, look for new heavens and a new earth, wherein dwelleth righteousness. Wherefore, beloved, seeing that ye look for such things, be diligent that ye may be found of him in peace, without spot, and blameless. And account that the longsuffering of our Lord is salvation; even as our beloved brother Paul also according to the wisdom given unto him hath written unto you; as also in all his epistles, speaking in them of these things; in which are some things hard to be understood, which they that are unlearned and unstable wrest, as they do also the other scriptures, unto their own destruction. Ye therefore, beloved, seeing ye know these things before, beware lest ye also, being led away with the error of the wicked, fall from your own stedfastness. But grow in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. To him be glory both now and for ever. Amen,” 2 Peter 3:10-18.
Yes, in that which is written regarding the ‘day of the Lord’, there are “some things hard to be understood.” But we must not do what Peter here says “unlearned and unstable” men do. That is, “wrest . . the . . . scriptures, unto their own destruction.” The men showed their ‘unlearned and unsteadfast’ character by wresting God’s Word, or ‘twisting it’, ‘turning it about’.
It is by such twisting that the study of Bible prophecy has gained the name of being an impossible and unprofitable task. Foolish men have caused it to have this reputation when it was intended to be a source of ‘happiness’, Revelation 1:3.
3. There is no passage more misapplied and foolishly misunderstood than the Saviour’s words on prophecy in Luke 21:8-36. The Lord Jesus is answering a question from the disciples which arose as a result of what He had said in response to the words of admiration expressed by some disciples regarding the splendour of the temple. “And as some spake of the temple, how it was adorned with goodly stones and gifts, he said,” (Luke 21:5). Then follows the Saviour’s reaction to these words. “As for these things which ye behold, the days will come, in the which there shall not be left one stone upon another, that shall not be thrown down.” The disciples were obviously full of nationalistic pride regarding the temple. The Saviour wished to have them know that a dark time of judgment was coming when the splendid temple would be destroyed because of the sin that had become resident there! It was an utter destruction He spoke of. “There shall not be left one stone upon another, that shall not be thrown down.” That statement provoked the query, “And they asked him, saying, Master, but when shall these things be? and what sign will there be when these things shall come to pass?” Luke 21:7.
Please note that the Lord Jesus answered this question at length and in great detail. He had not spoken in order to mystify and puzzle. He would have them UNDERSTAND the purpose of God regarding Israel and the temple and the Jewish nation.
How contrary this is to the notions of all too many preachers!
4. In the Saviour’s answer, there is a reference to the then not too distant future and also a reference to the very end of the age. I am referring to the destruction of the temple and the city and dispersion of the Jewish nation and to the Saviour’s answer regarding a repeated destruction away at the end of the age. The second destruction will be a somewhat ‘mirror image’ of that which took place in AD 70.
How can I say this? What evidence is there for me claiming that there is a two-fold reference to the destruction of Jerusalem in this passage. The answer is simple. I humbly follow the rules of grammar! I look at and take into account ‘every word of God’ by which Christian is fed, (Luke 4:4).
Following that simple rule, I can discern that there is a break between the section that ends at verse 24 and that which follows.
I believe that verses 8-24 relate to the character of the times that lead up to the end of the age and then specifically the destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans in AD 70.
The verses 25-36 refer to the last days and the events surrounding Jerusalem just before the Lord’s return.
A. Verse 8 is a warning of deception. “And he said, Take heed that ye be not deceived: for many shall come in my name, saying, I am Christ; and the time draweth near: go ye not therefore after them.”
It was a very necessary warning for few truths have been attacked as have the truth regarding the return of Christ. It is to be noticed that the deceptions will come from those who speak in the Saviour’s name! Christian ministers’ pulpits have echoed with many falsehoods, uttered in the name of the Lord Jesus but none so commonly as errors concerning eschatology!
B. Reports of wars will mark this age. Such reports of warfare are not the mark of the end. “But when ye shall hear of wars and commotions, be not terrified: for these things must first come to pass; but the end is not by and by,” verse 9. That is stated very emphatically. There are many places today where battles rage but it has always been so in this age.
C. The persecution of the saints will be common throughout the age. “But before all these, they shall lay their hands on you, and persecute you, delivering you up to the synagogues, and into prisons, being brought before kings and rulers for my name’s sake,” Luke 21:12. The phrase, ‘before all these’, indicates that the persecution will come before any of the signs that indicate the approach of the end. Persecution has, of course, marked the times since the apostles. It continues today despite innumerable acts of parliaments and pronouncements by such bodies as the United Nations, that none suffer for their religious opinion!
We also know that such persecution will increase as we near the end of the age. We are told of the time of Antichrist’s power that “it was given unto him to make war with the saints, and to overcome them: and power was given him over all kindreds, and tongues, and nations,” Revelation 13:7.
In all the persecutions Christians have faced and will suffer, Christ assures them of His presence and help. “Settle it therefore in your hearts, not to meditate before what ye shall answer: For I will give you a mouth and wisdom, which all your adversaries shall not be able to gainsay nor resist,” verse 14-15.
D. This persecution was to precede later signs of the approach of the end. “Then said he unto them, Nation shall rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom: and great earthquakes shall be in divers places, and famines, and pestilences; and fearful sights and great signs shall there be from heaven,” Luke 21:10-11. I think that this warfare on a great scale than mention in verse 9. The word ‘wars’ means ‘fights’ and ‘commotions’ means ‘disorders’. That to me means disturbances on a lesser scale than “Nation shall rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom.” I believe the latter refers to ‘international’ conflict! Linked to this world-wide unrest are natural catastrophes. “Great earthquakes shall be in divers places, and famines, and pestilences; and fearful sights and great signs shall there be from heaven.” This is that of which Paul writes in Romans 8:21-23. “Because the creature itself also shall be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation groaneth and travaileth in pain together until now. And not only they, but ourselves also, which have the firstfruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting for the adoption, to wit, the redemption of our body.”
As the Christian ‘sighs’ for the glorification of our whole being which will take place when Christ returns, (1 Thessalonians 4:16-17), even so the natural world groans for that time when the Saviour institutes His Millennial Reign, a time when “The wilderness and the solitary place shall be glad for them; and the desert shall rejoice, and blossom as the rose. It shall blossom abundantly, and rejoice even with joy and singing: the glory of Lebanon shall be given unto it, the excellency of Carmel and Sharon, they shall see the glory of the LORD, and the excellency of our God,” Isaiah 35:1-2.
The approach of the end of this age will be very well ‘signed’!
5. From verse 20, the Saviour specifically begins to speak of the events of AD 70. “And when ye shall see Jerusalem compassed with armies, then know that the desolation thereof is nigh,” Luke 21:20. Many of those to whom He was speaking would see this event. “And when ye shall see Jerusalem compassed with armies.” That event was a signal for the inhabitants to flee and escape what was about to take place. Of course, only those who believed the words of the Lord Jesus would act so. The vast majority of the inhabitants of the city would glory in its walls and view them as impregnable and would not therefore seek refuge by fleeing.
That is the story of the gospel of course. Men refuse to ‘flee from the wrath to come’ for they feel that they of themselves will escape God’s judgment. Only those who believe God’s Word avail themselves of the wonderful means He has provided for sinners.
Reader, how is it with you?
The surrounding of Jerusalem by armies would, the Saviour stated, result in the Jewish inhabitants falling “by the edge of the sword, and shall be led away captive into all nations: and Jerusalem shall be trodden down of the Gentiles,” verse 24. The city would remain ‘trodden down’ or ‘under the feet’ of the Gentile nations ‘until the times of the Gentiles be fulfilled’.
Jerusalem today is still very much under the power of the ’non-Jew’! Of late we have heard just how insecure is the city for the Jew. We hear of ‘Gentiles’ attacking and murdering Jews in their own city.
So, the time of the Gentiles is yet continuing!
6. From verse 25 to verse 36, we move from AD 70 to the future. The ‘times of the Gentiles’ will continue until the return of Christ. So, from speaking of the ‘fulfilment’ of the period in which the Gentiles will dominate Jerusalem, the Saviour begins to speak of that which marks the end of the time of the Gentiles and His return.
A. There will be celestial signs. “And there shall be signs in the sun, and in the moon, and in the stars; and upon the earth distress of nations, with perplexity; the sea and the waves roaring; Men’s hearts failing them for fear, and for looking after those things which are coming on the earth: for the powers of heaven shall be shaken,” Luke 21:25-26.
Those who would have us believe that the Saviour was still talking about the events some 2000 years ago, would have us believe that what is spoken of in verses 25 and 26 took place back in AD 70. But that is preposterously untrue! These signs have ever been linked in Holy Scripture with the return of Christ. (See Isaiah 13:9-13, 24:21-23; Joel 2:30-32; Matthew 24:29-30).
B. The very heaven shall shake. Paul wrote of this. “Whose voice then shook the earth: but now he hath promised, saying, Yet once more I shake not the earth only, but also heaven,” Hebrews 12:26. It is little wonder in the midst of all these supernatural events that men’s hearts will be “failing them for fear, and for looking after those things which are coming on the earth.”
No, there is going to be no mistaking the approach of the second advent!
C. Though while ungodly men will fear and cry out “to the mountains and rocks, Fall on us, and hide us from the face of him that sitteth on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb: for the great day of his wrath is come; and who shall be able to stand?”, it will not be so for the child of God. “And when these things begin to come to pass, then look up, and lift up your heads; for your redemption draweth nigh,” verse 28. As it was that night in Egypt, when “there was a great cry in Egypt; for there was not a house where there was not one dead,” (Exodus 12:30) there must have been in the blood-marked homes of the believing Hebrews, a wonderful rejoicing that God had come down to deliver them!
A misreading or abusing of the words of the Lord Jesus robs those so foolish as to act so, of the joyful anticipation of these glorious events and the assurance that believing the simple words of Christ brings that one day when the seventh angel shall sound and “the kingdoms of this world are become the kingdoms of our Lord, and of his Christ; and he shall reign for ever and ever,” Revelation 11:15.
Yes, simply believing Christ, taking Him at His Word, enables us to savour the glorious victory that is coming, long before it arrives!
Rev Ivan Foster (Rtd)
9th December 2023