In our last essay, we studied Luke 20:41-21:19, which contained teachings about the end times by Jesus. The first point Jesus made was that in the end-time there would be false Messiahs who would lead people astray (v.8). Second, Jesus said that there would be wars, earthquakes, famines, plagues, and “dreadful portents;” “but the end will not follow immediately” (v. 9). In other words, natural disasters and the like, even though terrible, are not signs of an immediate end of the world. Third, in verses 12-15, Jesus declared that persecution would be part of the end times, and he pointed out in verses 16-19 that the pain of the persecutions would be magnified by family betrayals.
This morning we are studying Luke 21:20-28. In verses 20-24 Jesus mentions a fourth point in regard to the end-times. Gentile armies will destroy Jerusalem, and the Gentiles will trample the city “until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled.” If the destruction of Jerusalem is an end-time event, we could argue that the end-times began with Jesus’ first coming rather than his second coming. But we are not going to develop that point in this essay.
Several things must be pointed out in relation to this passage about the destruction of Jerusalem. First, this prophecy was fulfilled when, during the Jewish Rebellion of AD 66-73, the Romans placed Jerusalem under siege and destroyed the city and temple in AD 70.
Second, fanatical Jews, like those who held out at Masada for three years after the war was lost, believed that God would save Jerusalem by a miracle. But he didn’t do it.
Third, Jesus clearly warned that people should not flee into the city when the Gentiles came. Rather they should flee from the city to the mountains, meaning to hiding places in the hills, places like those where David hid when fleeing from Saul (v. 21). David called them “strongholds.”
Fourth, they are to flee, because the destruction is going to be a divine judgment, and they will not want to participate in that (vv. 22-23).
Fifth, Jesus declared that the destruction would be a fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy (v. 22). The prophecies he had in mind may have been Dan. 9:26 and Micah 3:12. I suggest that you look them up and read them.
Sixth, the people of Jerusalem will fall by the sword or will be taken captive (v. 24). According to Josephus, a million Jews died in the siege of Jerusalem and 97,000 were taken captive to various Roman provinces, especially Egypt.
Seventh, the phrase “until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled” simply means that there was a limit to the time that the Gentiles would trample Jerusalem. When these events took place, the Christians in Jerusalem remembered what Jesus had said, and they did flee the city. According to the Church historian, Eusebius, they went to a place called Pella on the other side of the Jordan River and thereby saved their lives.
Before leaving this paragraph, we must mention one of the differences found in Mark and Matthew’s parallels. Mark and Matthew do not mention “surrounded by armies.” Rather they mention “the desolating sacrilege” of Dan. 9:26-27. Because of this, liberal scholars (who do not believe in predictive prophecy) believe that Luke wrote his Gospel after AD 70, after the destruction of the city and the temple. In other words Luke put this much more specific prophecy in Jesus’ mouth after the fact.
In the opinion of many evangelical scholars, a much stronger argument can be made to date Luke about AD 60-61 than to date it after AD 70. The book of Acts is the second volume in a two-volume work by Luke, and it is best dated about AD 63 prior to the death of Paul. The Gospel of Luke obviously had to be written prior to that. Those of us who believe in predictive prophecy have no difficulty believing that Jesus made the prediction.
In the next paragraph, verses 25-28, Jesus spoke of end-time cosmic signs and the coming of the Son of Man. As you can see, at this point Jesus leaped from the destruction of Jerusalem that took place in AD 70 to the coming of the Son of Man, which is yet to take place. He predicts that signs will take place in the sky that will frighten multitudes. People will faint from fear and foreboding as they observe what will take place. This kind of prophecy was not new. If you will read Isaiah 13:6-11, you will see that Jesus here was affirming Old Testament prophecies about the end-times.
Then Jesus predicted the coming of the Son of Man. Son of Man was Jesus’ preferred self-designation. So this was a prediction of his second coming. Jesus would have found the end-time Son of Man imagery in Daniel 7:13-14, which reads:
In my vision at night I looked, and there before me was one like a son of man, coming with the clouds of heaven. He approached the Ancient of Days and was led into his presence. He was given authority, glory and sovereign power; all peoples, nations and men of every language worshipped him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that will not pass away, and his kingdom is one that never will be destroyed (NIV).
Next, we read that Jesus said he would come “in a cloud with power and great glory” (v. 27). Remember that on the Mount of Transfiguration God appeared to the disciples in a cloud and spoke to them out of the cloud (Lk. 9:34). Also at the end of his earthly ministry, Jesus ascended to heaven into a cloud. The cloud is a symbol of the presence of God.
Mark and Matthew in their parallels add something significant that Luke omits. Mark 13;26b reads, “Then he will send out the angels, and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of heaven.” This is a reference to the so-called rapture of the Church. Paul offers the definitive Scripture on the rapture in 1 Thess. 4:13-18. Please turn to that passage and read it.
We can’t deal with this passage in great detail, but the main things I want you to see are, first, that when the Son of Man, Jesus, comes, the dead believers will be resurrected. Then, second, the living believers will be raptured. It is implied that the resurrected believers will have what Paul calls “spiritual bodies” (1 Cor. 15:44), and the bodies of living believers will be transformed into “spiritual bodies”. Thus all believers will be able to participate in the end time events on an equal basis.
Coming back to Luke 21, finally, in verse 28 Jesus gives an encouraging word to believers. If we are alive when these events take place, we are not to panic like the fearful multitudes. On the contrary, we are to lift up our heads, because our redemption is drawing near. The second coming of Christ is not a fearful matter for believers. It is a culminating redemption, the glorious saving event that our faith points us towards. Praise the Lord!