In our last essay we studied Luke 20:20-40. In this essay we will study 20:41-21:19. In 20:41-44 we see Jesus ask a question about David’s son. And then he gives an answer to his own question. Matthew in his parallel identifies the audience here as Pharisees (Mt. 22:41). Jesus asks how it is possible that the Messiah can be called David’s son when David himself, in Psalm 110:1, speaks of the Messiah as his Lord.
The point of Jesus’ question and answer has to do with the person of the Messiah. For the Messiah to be both David’s son and David’s Lord, he would have to be both God and man, which was precisely the case. As a man, Jesus was David’s son, that is, he was a descendent of David; but as God, Jesus the Messiah was David’s Lord.
The last paragraph of the chapter, verses 45-47, is a denunciation by Jesus of the scribes and Pharisees. Here Jesus criticizes the way of life of the scribes and Pharisees. And it is a very strong denunciation. He accuses them of seeking prestige by their teaching rather than to glorify God; of enjoying respectful greetings in the marketplace, and of seeking the best seats in the synagogues and at banquets, rather than seeking humility; and even more reprehensible, of devouring widow’s houses. He also accuses them of hypocrisy, because they say long prayers in order to appear more pious than they are. And Jesus declares that they will receive great condemnation at the judgment.
As we move into chapter 21, Jesus is still in the temple. In verses 1-4 Jesus is teaching near the place in the temple called the treasury (Mk. 12:41). Thirteen trumpet-shaped collection boxes were located there to receive offerings of various kinds. Jesus observed people putting offerings into the boxes. He noticed some rich people putting in their offerings. Mark in his parallel says they were “large sums.” Then Jesus saw a poor woman drop in two copper coins that Mark says were worth a “penny” (Mk. 12:42). Jesus declared that the woman had given more than any of them, because they had given out of their abundance and she had given all she had.
The context is important here. In 20:47, the last verse prior to this story, Jesus had accused the scribes of devouring widow’s houses. Then we have this story of a poor widow, the very kind of person who was being defrauded, giving all that she had to God. What a contrast between the religious authorities and the woman! The scribes represented the religious hypocrites who took advantage of the poor, and the poor widow represented the genuinely pious Jews of the day. It is much the same today. The politically connected rich, including some religious leaders, tend to take advantage of the poor, whereas the poor are much more likely to be true believers.
Now then, a new section begins at 21:5. The change is not as easily seen in Luke as in Mark and Matthew, because Mark and Matthew give more details than Luke. According to Mark (13:1) and Mathew (Mt. 24:1), the “some” who asked the question in verse five were Jesus’ disciples (Mt.), or one of them (Mk.). And they asked the question as Jesus was leaving the temple. Luke tells us none of that. Yet it is important, because the fact that Jesus was leaving the temple means that the section of the Gospel on Jesus’ teaching in the temple is finished. In addition Jesus rather quickly takes up a particular theme, namely, the end-times.
Jesus responds to the disciples’ question with a prediction of the temple’s destruction. We are not told what the disciples’ immediate reaction was, but I don’t doubt that they were shocked by the prediction.
Respecting verses 7-11, once again Mark and Matthew give some helpful details. They tell us that Jesus’ disciples asked the question in verse seven about when the temple would be destroyed and what sign would precede that event after they reached the Mount of Olives opposite the temple (Mk. 13:3:Mt. 24:3). Jesus and his disciples would have had a wonderful view of the temple from there. Even today from the Mount of Olives one gets a spectacular view of the temple mount, minus the temple of course. And Jesus responds to their question with a discourse on the end-times.
The first point Jesus makes is that in the end-time there will be false Messiahs who will lead people astray. We have seen this happening in our own day with certain cult leaders such as Jim Jones, David Koresh, and Warren Jeffs. Therefore we must be wary of messianic claims.
Second, Jesus says that there will be wars, earthquakes, famines, plagues, and “dreadful portents;” “but the end will not follow immediately.” In other words, natural disasters and the like, even though terrible, are not signs of an immediate end of the world. Luke does not record Jesus’ statement, found in both Mark and Matthew, “all this is but the beginning of the birth pangs” (Mt. 24:8; cf. Mk. 13:8). By that Jesus meant that the wars and natural disasters, etc. are only preliminary signs and not part of the end-time itself.
In verses 12-15 Jesus makes a third point, namely, that persecution would precede the end times. The specific mention of “synagogues” in verse 12 is a reference to Jewish persecution. That is to say, the early Christians could expect persecution by the Jewish authorities in Palestine. And that certainly happened. The Apostle Paul himself was a Jewish persecutor of the church at the time of his conversion. Then the reference to their being brought before “kings and governors” because of Jesus’ name suggests coming Roman persecution. Thus Jesus was predicting widespread persecution of Christians from both the Jewish and Gentile sectors. And in verse 13 Jesus declares that the persecutions would provide opportunities to testify.
In verses 16-19 we see that not only would there be persecutions, but the pain of the persecutions would be magnified by family betrayals. Parents, siblings, other relatives, and friends would betray them to the persecuting authorities. And verse 16 says that some Christians would even die as a result. These were not happy words that Jesus was sharing with his disciples. Indeed they were quite scary.
Verse 18 poses a problem in light of what we have just read in verse 16. In verse 16 Jesus declared that some Christians would die as a result of the persecutions and betrayals. But in verse 18 he says, quote, “not a hair of your head will perish.” These two statements seem contradictory. Scholars have dealt with this problem in a variety of ways. The first suggestion is that Jesus simply meant that no harm could come to Christians without the Heavenly Father’s permission. The language Jesus used does not favor this view. A second suggestion is that verse 16 refers to a few martyrs, and verse 18 refers to the Church as a whole. Again, Jesus language is more precise than that. A third suggestion, and I believe the best, is that verse 16 refers to those who actually would die physically due to the persecution, and verse 18 refers to the fact that persecutors cannot snuff out spiritual, eternal, life. By their endurance, meaning their endurance in the faith, they would gain their souls. And the same is true for us. If we maintain the faith, we will gain our souls, regardless of external circumstances.