LUKE - CHAPTER 21
Bible Study - Commentary by Jim Melough
2001 James Melough
“And he looked up, and saw the rich men casting their gifts into the
Their can be little question
that the rich practiced the same ostentation in connection with the
presentation of their offerings, as in everything else they did. All was for
the eye of man, and for the purpose of fostering pride, and this in spite of
the Lord’s exhortation, “Take heed that ye do not your alms before men, to be
seen of them ... do not sound a trumpet before thee, as the hypocrites do in
the synagogues and in the street, that they may have glory of men.... But when
thou doest alms, let not thy left hand know what thy right hand doeth: that
thine alms may be in secret: and thy Father which seeth in secret himself
shall reward thee openly,” Mt 6:1-4.
“And he saw also a certain poor widow casting in thither two mites.”
“And he said, Of a truth I say unto you, that this poor widow hath cast in
more than they all:”
It is not the amount we give
that matters, but the relationship it bears to what we keep. It is possible
to be giving what seems like a lot, and still be withholding from God what is
His due; and while in this age of grace, no percentage is specified, it is
emphasized that it is to be in proportion to what God has given, “Upon the
first day of the week let every one of you lay by him in store, as God hath
prospered him,” 1 Co 16:2. In the OT age the amount was ten percent of a
man’s income, plus other mandatory offerings, over and above which were the
voluntary offerings that might be offered as impelled simply by love and
gratitude to God. Surely we who are the recipients of greater blessings than
those bestowed on the saints of the OT age, ought not to give less than they!
It is further written
concerning giving, “He which soweth sparingly shall reap also sparingly; and
he which soweth bountifully shall reap also bountifully. Every man according
as he purposeth in his heart, so let him give; not grudgingly, or of
necessity: for God loveth a cheerful giver,” 2 Co 9:6-7. The recompense of
each man’s giving will be at the Bema. Our “reaping” there will be in
proportion to our “sowing” here on earth.
It is often forgotten that
that widow could have given just one mite, and she would proportionately still
have been giving more than the rich men, for she would have been giving half
of all she possessed.
“For all of these have of their abundance cast in unto the offerings of God:
But she of her penury hath cast in all the living that she had.”
Even our most liberal giving
falls far short of this. We would do well to remember that all we have, has
been entrusted to us as stewards by God, and that at the Bema we will have to
render an account of our stewardship.
“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.”
It is not unlikely that many
of the things mentioned had been given by those who hoped thereby to place on
permanent display the evidence of their lavish giving. Their folly is
revealed in that within thirty-eight years (in AD 70) the whole magnificent
edifice would be a pile of rubble. He is a wise man who gives in such a
spirit as will ensure the eternal preservation of the record.
“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?”
Most of them probably refused
to believe the Lord, for the temple wasn’t even complete at the time, and it
must have been unthinkable to them that its destruction could have been in the
foreseeable future. That the destruction was near declares the
instability of everything earthly, and the folly of building our hopes upon
anything in a place of such impermanence. Abraham, the great man of faith,
looked for the city which hath foundations, whose builder and maker is God,
and so should every man of faith.
“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
Clearly the Lord’s words
embraced, not only the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70, but the destruction
which is still future: that which will occur near the end of the Tribulation.
Prior to both occasions there would appear false Christs, but it won’t be
until the Tribulation that the Antichrist will appear.
“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 (coming
There would also be wars and
commotions (revolutions) both before the destruction that would come in AD 70,
and that which would come before the final destruction at the end of the then
far off Tribulation. The intimation that the prophecy extended to the
Tribulation era is given in the words “but the end is not by and by (coming
“Then said he unto them, Nation shall rise against nation, and kingdom against
This obviously applies
exclusively to the coming Tribulation, for no such wide scale wars occurred
before the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70.
“And great earthquakes shall be in divers places, and famines, and
pestilences; and fearful sights and great signs shall there be from heaven.”
This also relates to the
Tribulation, for no such phenomena preceded the destruction of AD 70. The
cosmic disturbances (the earthquake and darkness) at the time of the Lord’s
death did not meet the criteria listed here.
“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.”
The introductory words “But
before all these” make it clear that this particular part of the warning
related specifically to what would occur between the time the Lord was
speaking and the year AD 70, though certainly the warning applies also to the
Tribulation period. The thirty-eight years between AD 32 and AD 70 saw the
fulfillment of the prophecy relative to the foretold persecutions; and the
almost two thousand years since then have been witness to the continuation of
those persecutions, the Tribulation era intensifying them in a more terrible
degree just prior to the Lord’s second advent.
“And it shall turn to you for a testimony.”
This assurance puts everything
in perspective. Persecution tests the reality of one’s profession, and
affords opportunity to win the martyr’s crown.
“Settle it therefore in your hearts, not to meditate before what ye shall
“For I will give you a mouth and wisdom, which all your adversaries shall not
be able to gainsay nor resist.”
This gives the further
assurance that there is no need for a persecuted believer to worry about what
defense to offer when he is brought before tribunals. The Lord Himself will
give His own not only the necessary wisdom, but also the language in which to
present their defense, though it is to be remembered that the assurance
doesn’t extend to guaranteeing preservation from death.
The fate of Stephen, the first
Christian martyr, warns against making such an assumption. The Lord’s
encouragement to His own is not preservation from death, but that to be absent
from the body is to be present with Him, which is far better. His promise to
give His own wisdom and words which their enemies will be unable to refute may
not be taken to imply that their enemies’ inability to reply will render those
foes also unable to act. On the contrary, their very frustration will often
be itself the impetus to silence the testimony by killing the witness.
“And ye shall be betrayed both by parents, and brethren, and kinsfolks, and
friends; and some of you shall they cause to be put to death.”
History bears eloquent
testimony to the accuracy of the Lord’s words. Many a believer has found that
confession of faith in Christ has converted friends into foes, and relatives
into bitter antagonists. The history of the Inquisition records the death of
many believers as the direct result of charges made by parents and siblings.
“And ye shall be hated by all men for my name’s sake.”
If we find ourselves enjoying
a cozy relationship with unconverted family members and friends, or any
unconverted person, it is time to examine the reality of our conversion. The
verse we are now considering declares the impossibility of such a relationship
existing between faith and unbelief. Experience shows, in fact, that such a
relationship can exist only when the professed believer fails to be a witness
for the Lord Jesus Christ.
As noted already, however, the
bitterest enemy of faith is not the professedly unconverted, but rather those
who mask their hatred of God and His people under the guise of religion.
“But there shall not an hair of your head perish.”
This in no way contradicts the
truth of the two preceding verses, but rather assures the believer that at the
resurrection of the just, see Ac 24:15, the life laid down for Christ’s sake,
will be taken upon again in power and immortality, revealing the wisdom of
having been willing to die for the sake of the One Who Himself died to redeem
“In your patience possess ye your souls.”
This verse might be
paraphrased, “By steadfast endurance you will secure your lives,” and may not
be taken to imply that one can be saved by works, but rather that such
endurance is one of the evidences of a genuine conversion.
“And when ye shall see Jerusalem compassed with armies, then know that the
desolation thereof is nigh.”
It is generally agreed that
this warning relates specifically to the siege of Jerusalem in AD 70, though
that doesn’t exclude its having reference also to what will be in the
Tribulation. The desolation refers to the almost two thousand years during
which the city and land have languished under Gentile domination, without a
temple for the worship of Jehovah, and with God’s earthly people scattered
amongst the Gentiles.
“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
It may well be asked how
anyone could either leave or enter the city when it was besieged by the Roman
armies, but history records that for a brief time the siege was lifted,
affording opportunity for the wise to realize that it was but a temporary
respite given by God so that they could escape; the believers outside having
the wisdom not to return to the city during that interlude.
Those who refused to believe
the Lord’s words, imagining that the lifting of the siege was permanent,
failed to flee, while unbelievers outside entered the city, both to their own
Many of those who fled
Jerusalem went to the old abandoned Edomite rock city of Pella or Petra, and
many competent students of prophecy believe that that same city will again
afford refuge for the Jews during the siege of Jerusalem in the Tribulation,
see Isa 16:1-4, and Ps 60:9.
“For these be the days of vengeance, that all things which are written may be
The application is both to the
thirty-eight years which followed the Lord’s death and resurrection, and to
the coming Tribulation; and in this connection it must be remembered that the
two thousand years of this present Church age form a parenthesis in the
continuity of God’s program for the restoration of Israel, and the
inauguration of the millennial kingdom. When the Church age is recognized
as such a parenthesis, there is no difficulty in seeing the close
relationship between the events of two thousand years ago, and what will be in
the impending Tribulation era.
“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
Apart from the obvious
difficulties for pregnant women and nursing mothers under such conditions as
are described here, it isn’t clear why these women should be specially
mentioned, for the same difficulties would apply to the aged, the sick, and
the infirm, etc.
“Wrath upon this people”
declares that the judgment of AD 70, and that yet to come in the Tribulation,
are God’s visitation on rebellious Israel, but other Scriptures, the book of
Revelation, for example, make it clear that in the Tribulation the judgment
will be directed also against the equally rebellious Gentiles.
“And they shall fall by the edge of the sword, and Jerusalem shall be trodden
down of the Gentiles, until the times of the Gentiles be fulfilled.”
Thousands of Jews fell by the
sword in AD 70, and since then Jerusalem has been under Gentile dominion, but
a worse slaughter will come in the Tribulation, and Gentile control of
Jerusalem will continue until Christ’s second advent. The times of the
Gentiles began when Nebuchadnezzar destroyed the city, and carried the Jews
captive into Babylon; and will not end until Christ returns in power and glory
to end the Tribulation, and establish His millennial kingdom.
“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
During the past two thousand
years there have been unusual cosmic phenomena, distress among the nations,
and destructive tidal waves, etc., leading many to believe that the end of the
world was near, but the passage of time has proved all such conclusions
wrong. It is to be remembered that all of these signs relate to the Jewish
age, not to the intervening Church age.
The three hours of darkness at
the time of the Lord’s crucifixion, the earthquake, the rending of the Temple
vail, etc., were all part of the signs to warn the people that the end of the
Jewish age was near. Had they as a nation believed, there would have followed
the seven years of the Tribulation, which would have ended with the Lord’s
return in power and glory, and the inauguration of the new age, the
Millennium. But Israel wouldn’t believe, with the result that the offer of
the kingdom was suspended in AD 70, and won’t be renewed until after the
rapture of the Church, and the beginning of Daniel’s seventieth week, the
seven years of the Tribulation, which will end the 490 years represented by
Daniel’s seventy weeks. The gap between the sixty-ninth and the seventieth
week portrays the two thousand year parenthesis of the Church age. In that
seventieth week, the Tribulation era, there will be again cosmic disturbances,
distress among the nations, and unusual activity of the oceans.
We must realize, however, that
above and beyond the literal, the signs may also have symbolic meaning. For
example, the book of Revelation makes it clear that the darkening of the sun
goes beyond the literal, and points to the darkening or reduction of the
knowledge of Christ during the reign of the Roman beast; while the bloody moon
depicts the slaughter of those who will comprise the true Israel during that
era; and the falling of the stars, points to the killing of individual
believers because of their testimony to Christ. The agitation of the sea
speaks of the anarchical turmoil among the Tribulation-age nations. A fuller
treatment of this subject is given in the book Revelation, the Epilogue to
Daniel by the present writer and also available on this web site.
“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.”
The terror that will grip
men’s hearts as a result of the terrible Tribulation judgments, will be
compounded by the dissolution of the whole fabric of society, and the collapse
of government as portrayed in the words, “the powers of heaven shall be
shaken.” The heavens are the source of all earthly rule, see Dan 4:17,26; Ro
13:1-7, so that the shaking of the powers of heaven speaks clearly of the
removal of all stable government.
“And then shall they see the Son of man coming in a cloud with power and great
This carries us to the end of
the Tribulation, and the Lord’s return to establish His millennial kingdom.
“And when these things begin to come to pass, then look up, and lift up your
heads; for your redemption draweth nigh.”
This encouragement is for the
Tribulation-age believers, not for the saints of the Church age. We look for
the Lord to come to the air and catch us up to heaven: the believers of the
Tribulation age will look for His coming to deliver them from suffering, and
to lead them into the enjoyment of the millennial kingdom. We look for Him to
come as the bright and morning star (Re 22:16); they, for Him to come as the
Sun of righteousness with healing in His wings (Mal 4:2).
“And he spake to them a parable; Behold the fig tree, and all the trees;”
“When they now shoot forth, ye see and know of your own selves that summer is
now nigh at hand.”
“So likewise ye, when ye see these things come to pass, know ye that the
kingdom of God is nigh at hand.”
The same parable is recorded
in Mt 24 and Mk 13, but with the mention of the fig tree only; and since the
fig tree represents Israel, the other trees here appear to represent the
Gentile nations. (The vine, incidentally, represents Israel in the past; the
fig, Israel during this present Church age; and the olive, Israel in the
Millennium). It is easy to see in the budding of the fig tree the symbolic
portrait of Israel’s national resurrection and the restoration of here
autonomy; and in the budding of the other trees the revival of the old Roman
Empire in its new form as the ten kingdom coalition over which the beast will
rule in the Tribulation.
The admonition continues to be
to Israel, not to the Church, though unquestionably we who are living in what
are clearly the closing days of the Church age, can discern the imminence of
these things which will occur after the rapture of the Church.
The same period of Israel’s
history is also described symbolically in the Lord’s cursing the barren fig
tree in Mt 21 and Mk 11. There, the fig tree covered with leaves, but without
fruit, represents Israel with much profession, but without any fruit of
righteousness. Its withering and dying following the Lord’s cursing it
portrays the state of Israel since AD 70 until the present.
“Verily I say unto you, This generation shall not pass away, till all be
While the application may be
to that generation then living, in the context of the additional details
given by Matthew and Mark, however, it is clear that “this generation” refers
to those who will be living at or near the end of the Church age. For
example, the reinstatement of Jewish autonomy in 1948 was the budding of the
long dead “fig tree,” and the continuing regathering of the Jews into
Palestine, inform all but the spiritually blind that the Tribulation and the
Millennium are very near. We are the generation witnessing the fulfillment of
the Lord’s prediction.
“Heaven and earth shall pass away: but my words shall not pass away.”
This declares the immutability
of God’s Word. The present earth and aerial heavens will be replaced with a
new heavens and a new earth, but the Word of God will endure eternally, its
every pronouncement being brought to pass.
“And take heed to yourselves, lest at any time your hearts be overcharged with
surfeiting, and drunkenness, and cares of this life, and so that day come upon
This warning was never more
needed than today. A pleasure crazed world is continually seeking to entice
the believer to abandon the path of virtue and duty, and to join its
thoughtless multitudes in the pursuit of its fleeting pleasures; nor is it any
less persistent in its attempted seduction through the cares of everyday
living. Its success may be measured in the rampant carnality displayed by the
number of professed believers who are better acquainted with the data of the
world of sport, theater, and business, than with the contents of the Bible.
There is very great need to be on constant guard against the wiles of Satan.
The speed with which that day
of the Lord’s advent will come (first to rapture the Church, and then to
inaugurate the millennial kingdom) is declared in that the word “unawares” is
related to the sudden springing of a trap. We should remember, however, that
every day multitudes are ushered into eternity with the same unexpectedness,
the unbelievers discovering with horror that they have lost their souls; and
carnal believers, that they have lost the reward reserved for faithful service
“For as a snare shall it come on all them that dwell on the face of the whole
The warning here is related to
the sudden descent of the fowler’s net upon an unwary bird; and again while
the primary application is to the suddenness of the Lord’s coming, it relates
also to the abruptness with which many are called into eternity.
“Watch ye therefore, and pray always, that ye may be accounted worthy to
escape all these things that shall come to pass, and to stand before the Son
The warning continues to be
primarily to those in danger of being caught in the catastrophe of AD 70, and
in that which will come in the Tribulation, but in its broader sense it
relates to all men in every age to be prepared to meet the Lord. Only those
who have trusted Him as Savior will stand in His presence acquitted: all
others will stand there condemned and to be banished into the awful eternal
torment of the lake of fire.
“And in the day time he was teaching in the temple; and at night he went out
and abode in the mount that is called the mount of Olives.”
The night hours spent on the
mount of Olives were undoubtedly the secret of the power that accompanied the
Lord’s words when He taught in the temple during the day: He held communion
with His Father there away from the crowds to whom He ministered tirelessly
during the day. He who would speak with power must also reserve time to be
alone with God.
“And all the people came early in the morning to him in the temple, for to
Why did the people flock to
the temple early in the morning to hear this Jesus Whom their leaders despised
and hated? The answer is furnished by the officers when explaining their
failure to arrest Him, “Never man spake like this man,” Jn 7:46. How could it
be otherwise? He Who spoke was the living Word as described in Jn 1:1, “In
the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”