Bible Study from Calvary Chapel Newberg
with Tom Fuller
In some ways, the first 4 verses of Luke 21 belong with Chapter 20. Jesus harangues the religious leaders for thinking that their outward impressiveness means anything to God, when their inward reality was far from reflecting His character. He describes how they put on shows to impress people about how holy and close to God they are, but in private are filled with the values of this age including greed. An example Jesus gives is that in the management of the estates of widows. They actually embezzled funds from those very estates, impoverishing women who totally depended on that money to survive. Yet, what happens at the beginning of Chapter 21 can also link us to the topic of the rest of the chapter: The Jews felt that because God’s name was in their city and their temple that nothing could ever happen to it. They focused on the physical opulence as a sign of God’s blessing. But God did not want their show of fake holiness and He doesn’t need their money. He wants their hearts, something they are unwilling to give and so all the riches they think they have are about to leave and leave them destitute.
1 – 4
In the Court of Women there were 13 coffers shaped link inverted trumpets, used to collect money from the people. Nearby was a treasury where people could give their offerings to the Lord. Jesus watches as the rich pour in their money, as much a show of their wealth as a gift to God. Probably no one else would have noticed the woman dressed in shabby clothing approach the collection and drop two “mites” which represented the smallest coin in the Israeli currency. Though the sound of the rich gift would have no doubt made quite the impression, most likely no one but the widow, and God, could hear the two small coins hit bottom.
Jesus points out that it is not the amount of the gift that matters, but the amount left to the giver. This woman, perhaps impoverished by the religious leaders’ greed, still puts in all her disposable income, relying on God to provide for her needs.
The lessons we could focus on from this section are numerous. But I think in keeping with where Luke has been taking us, I would like to focus on raising our vision from this age to God’s kingdom. In the next section the disciples will marvel at how ornate the Temple was and at the “gifts dedicated to God”. In Chapter 20 Jesus points out that money is meaningless when it comes to relating to God, and that earthly relationships pale in comparison to knowing God personally. The religious leaders sought to have an outward show of impressiveness but did not impress God at all.
Instead of focusing on the gift of the pocketbook as a way to make ourselves seem impressive we should focus on the gift of the heart in devotion to the Lord. Are you “all in” when it comes to reliance on the Lord? And I’m really not talking about how much you give to the church either. I’m talking about whether you have entrusted yourself so completely to the Lord that if He fails, you will fail. Have you invested your value system and your affections so completely into your relationship with Jesus that everything else dims in comparison?
If not—if this age and its baubles and bangles hold your attention like a hypnotist’s swinging watch—you will be sorely disappointed, just as the Jews who relied on the physical Temple to give them security will be sorely disappointed when God allows that Temple to be destroyed.
Next we enter a section where Jesus is going to speak about two periods of time—both in the future. One would be a little under 40 years from when He spoke; the other is still future to us. But as we’ll see, the environment leading to both events mirror each other and are an example of the fact that prophecy can have both a near and long term fulfillment.
5 – 6
The Temple was one of the wonders of the ancient world. Herod the Great had begun a renovation project in 20 B.C. It wasn’t completed until 63 A.D. The building was a marvel to behold. The foundation stones were 40 feet long. Some of the stones were overlaid with gold. Gifts from many nations came to Jerusalem and were on display. Impressive would be an understatement.
So conversation about the ornateness would have been natural. Jesus uses the opportunity to begin a prophecy about the near future and the far future. Luke, in fact, focuses this chapter on what happened in 70 A.D. Matthew focuses more on what will happen leading up to when Jesus returns to set up His kingdom.
Jesus says that basically the whole Temple from the foundation stones to the ornate decorations would be torn down. This would seem impossible to someone viewing this incredible building. Anyone who was alive on 9-11, though, knows that even the most permanent seeming buildings can come tumbling down. For the Temple this occurred in 70 A.D. after repeated Jewish revolts. The Roman legions, led by Titus, surrounded the city, laid a siege wall against it and broke through, destroying the Temple and the city.
Why will this happen? Jesus said it Himself in Chapter 19, verse 41-44. Because the nation rejected Jesus, enemies will “hem you in on every side”, crush “you and your children” and will “not leave one stone on another in you, because you did not recognize the time of your visitation.”
This amazing statement raised some serious questions from the disciples.
7 – 9
In Matthew 24 the question is also posed about the “end of the age” but Luke is only concerned with the destruction of Jerusalem so only includes part of the question asked of Jesus. Jesus’ point in answering is two-fold.
- Deceivers will come
- Bad stuff will happen
In either case the disciples are not to get alarmed or panic, or even focus on the bad stuff. Instead they should focus on not being deceived by false Messiahs. These charlatans rose back then and still operate today, trying to pull many away from faith in Jesus. At the same time there will be wars and tensions aplenty. When either of these things happen we tend to be drawn away from our primary mission—to be transformed into servants useful to the Master in spreading the good news of the gospel. Don’t panic at the tumultuous world events around us, or even the growing hardness of heart and opposition to the gospel that we witness today. Jesus said “these things must take place first but the end won’t come right away” so be patient and hold on to Him!
10 – 11
Jesus then details some of the things in the environment of the disciples that could make them panic. They fall into several major categories:
- Political disasters like war and national strife
- Natural disasters like earthquakes
- Human disasters like drought and disease
- Cosmic disasters like in Joel 2:28-32 and Revelation 6:13-14 and likely more at the end of the age then when Jerusalem fell
It’s interesting to me that Jesus lists these things with little detail. We would think they are the main thing—what fills the news every day. But It’s almost like just they are just background happenings. The real drama is what takes place with the disciples, not the world or the nations. I think that a common ploy of the enemy is to make our environment so toxic that we panic and forget that we are here on a mission. Like soldiers in a battle we need to tune out the bombs going off around us and focus on the job at hand: to live our lives representing the joy of the Lord in the salvation of Jesus. That’s no easy task but vital. Don’t let bad things happening around you pull you off mission!
12 – 18
What Jesus says in this paragraph has both short-term and long-term fulfillment. The disciples were brought before kings and governors, they were persecuted and handed over to the synagogues (like Saul of Tarsus). They threw them into prison and were betrayed by family and yes, some were killed and many where hated because they loved Jesus.
Though we don’t experience that here in America, not yet anyway, there are those in other parts of the world that experience that betrayal and even death, just for naming the name of Jesus. That’s where the real battle is going on. It’s not about natural or human disasters, it is a pitched battle against the gospel that has Jesus’ attention.
But notice what He says in verse 13: that even though the most terrible things you can imagine, use it as an opportunity to continue to spread the gospel. And despite horrific circumstances you might face, trust that the Holy Spirit will give you exactly what you need to say to defend your faith.
And a final promise that no matter what, Jesus will never let us go: 2 Timothy 4:18 (HCSB) The Lord will rescue me from every evil work and will bring me safely into His heavenly kingdom. To Him be the glory forever and ever! Amen. (also see Galatians 1:4).
His final Word about endurance does not mean that we earn salvation, but rather that getting through these times requires endurance—and we know even that is a gift from God. The word “endurance” in Greek means: “cheerful constancy”. We know who wins. We know who is more powerful. We can “bear up” even in the worst of circumstances knowing that we belong to the most powerful Being.
John 16:33 (HCSB) “I have told you these things so that in Me you may have peace. You will have suffering in this world. Be courageous! I have conquered the world.”
So finally, He speaks directly about what will happen to the Temple and to Jerusalem:
20 – 24
This is pretty heady stuff—fulfilled in 70 A.D. As the Roman armies converge on the city, Jesus warns the people to flee. There is evidence that the followers of Jesus heeded His direction—Christians did indeed run from Jerusalem knowing that the Temple was about to be destroyed along with the city. He warns the especially vulnerable as well, those about to give birth or who were nursing. Children were especially at risk. Josephus, the Jewish historian who lived through the siege, said upwards of a million Jews perished. He was prone to exaggerating but even half that amount is a slaughter. This is also a picture of circumstances prior to His second coming (Revelation 16).
The Jews were indeed dispersed to all the nations. Jesus says that this will occur until “the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled.” Many scholars believe this refers to the time when we are living—when the Gentiles are welcomed into God’s kingdom and the church. But there will come a time when the church is full. I believe at that time Jesus will come back for His church and the prophetic timeclock of the Jews will begin again. There will be a time of great difficulty for Israel but the nation will turn back to its Messiah.
- Does the destruction of the temple and Jerusalem mean God is done with the Jews? No! But it does mean He is done with the sacrificial system represented by the temple. It’s not needed anymore. It’s like the Styrofoam model of an Oregon highway project I saw. You don’t drive on the model, it’s a tiny representation of something much larger being built. The model promises great things but can’t deliver. Once you build the road the model isn’t needed anymore. So too, once Jesus dies it is the one sacrifice that is the reality the old system pointed to. The old system is only a shadow and we don’t rely the model once the reality is here.
- The second thing that strikes me from this portion of the chapter for us to meditate on can be summed up in two words: Don’t Panic! Bad things are going to happen; maybe really bad things. We need to embrace two important truths: 1) God is more powerful than your worst nightmare and 2) His plan, though it might involve personal pain, is to bring great joy and salvation to many.
So how should we respond when things go south in our lives? You’ve probably heard the cliché to “look up!” I see the truth in that, but I’d like to suggest something else. Don’t, look up expecting to be immediately released from your circumstances, don’t look down in shame or despair, don’t look around and panic at your surroundings—but look forward. What do I mean? I want to leave us with a vital verse for every Christian:
Hebrews 12:1-2 (HCSB) 1 Therefore, since we also have such a large cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us lay aside every weight and the sin that so easily ensnares us. Let us run with endurance the race that lies before us, 2 keeping our eyes on Jesus, the source and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that lay before Him endured a cross and despised the shame and has sat down at the right hand of God’s throne.
Living the life of a disciple of Jesus in this age is a marathon. We need to continue to look forward to the track ahead of us—what steps are we to take right now to bring glory to God. We hear the witnesses around us cheering—both those in our present who can encourage and pray and those from the past that have gone through similar trials. We do what Jesus did—looked to the joy of finishing the race as a way to “despise” or in Greek can mean “ignore” the difficulty of the present. You finish a marathon not by running 26 miles, but by taking 27,664 individual steps forward.