In the last essay we studied Luke 21:20-28. In this essay we are studying 21:29-38. Jesus had just announced that certain events would show that final redemption is near. So in verses 29-33 he followed that teaching with a parable about trees, though Mark and Matthew in their parallels mention only the fig tree. When fig and other trees sprout their leaves, it shows that summer is near. Likewise, says Jesus, when the cosmic events and the coming of the Son of Man just mentioned take place, it will show that the Kingdom of God is near.
The reference to the Kingdom of God is a reference to the future kingdom. Jesus in his teachings made it clear that the kingdom is both present and future. It is a present reality for believers, because by faith we enter the kingdom when we believe and the Holy Spirit takes up residence within us. But the kingdom will come in its fullness only when the Son of Man returns to rule over the world.
There is a difficulty in verses 32, namely, the interpretation of the phrase “this generation” in the statement, “Truly I tell you, this generation will not pass away until all thing s have taken place.” This phrase has been interpreted in at least three ways.
The first is that Jesus meant his Jewish contemporaries. But not all of the events Jesus predicted happened while that generation of Jews was alive.
The second interpretation is that Jesus meant the Jewish race. If that is what Jesus meant, he was giving the Jews hope, because it would have meant that they would survive as a race to participate in the future kingdom.
And the third interpretation is that Jesus meant the generation of the end-time. I prefer the third interpretation, because that generation is the one that will be alive when the Son of Man comes. However, I remind you that we must remember that Jesus spoke of events that would take place both during the lifetime of Jesus’ contemporaries (e.g., the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple in AD 70) and events that would not take place until the future coming of the Son of Man. Therefore he may have meant the phrase to serve both levels of meaning.
Next, in verses 34-36, Jesus gives an exhortation to watchfulness. Jesus begins the exhortation by saying, “Be on guard.” I believe this advice is not stressed enough in our churches. It is important for all of us. Any of us can get “weighed down” with the cares of life and the temptations of the world and the flesh. Some fall into serious sins of the flesh. Others succumb to greed and give all of their energies to making money. Even those of us who may not be tempted a great deal by sins of the flesh can allow ourselves to become overwhelmed by the anxieties of a busy life. All of these things can cause our spiritual senses to be so dulled that we will fail to see the signs of the end-time when they unexpectedly appear. Therefore we must constantly be on our guard.
But young people, including Christian young people, are especially vulnerable. Temptations to drink, take drugs, watch pornography, and the like, are pervasive in our culture. It is entirely too easy these days for them to go down one or more of these paths into dissipation and/or drunkenness. That lifestyle quickly sucks young people in. And it is very hard for them to extricate themselves from it. And like sinful adults, they may fail to see the signs of the end. Therefore we must teach our young people to be on their guard always.
There is another point to be made here. If we do get involved in sinful behavior and/or the cares of the world, we may not be ready when the Lord comes. As Jesus says, he will come unexpectedly, and his coming will affect everyone on the earth. And for those who have not been on their guard, it will be like a trap. The implication of this is that people who are not ready for the coming of the Lord may find, when he comes, that it is too late to get out of their sin and be saved. I believe this will include many church members who believe they are Christians but who do not have a real relationship with the Lord.
Jesus’ second exhortation is found in verse 36. The first was, “Be on guard.” The second is, “Be alert [literally watchful] at all times.” Obviously the two exhortations are closely related, though they are not the same. In order for one to be truly on one’s guard, one must be alert and watchful. Of course Jesus meant spiritually alert and watchful.
We can remain spiritually alert and watchful by regularly nourishing our souls on God’s Word, and by being obedient to his will. As you know, some Christians expend a great deal of energy trying to figure out a timetable for the Lord’s second coming, when the Lord clearly told us that cannot be done. What he wants us to do is to expect him to come at any time, to watch for his coming, and to be ready, if and when it happens.
At this point we need to discuss Matthew 25:31-46, a passage that is not found in either Mark or Luke. In that passage we find a representation of the final judgment. Although some people refer to this passage as the parable of the sheep and the goats, it is not really a parable. It is straightforward teaching about the end-time using a sheep and goat analogy.
The expression “All of the nations” in verse 32 is simply a way of saying everyone, because as we saw, the judgment is a judgment of individuals. In other words, everyone will come before the throne of the Son of Man for judgment.
In his analogy Jesus says that the sheep represent righteous people, and the goats represent the unrighteous. Jesus continues by saying that the sheep will be put on his right hand, because that is the standard place of honor, and the goats will be put on his left. The righteous will be judged as righteous, because they will have exhibited their righteousness in life by taking care of the hungry, thirsty, naked, and imprisoned. The unrighteous will be judged as unrighteous, because they will not have exhibited righteousness in their daily lives. They will not have cared for the unfortunate. Then the righteous will be invited into eternal life, while the unrighteous will be sent to eternal punishment.
Luke ends his version of the discourse in 21:37-38 with a simple summary of the pattern of Jesus’ teaching activities during the last few days of his freedom. He spent his days in the temple teaching the people, and he spent his nights on the Mount of Olives.