Luke 21:5-19 – Jesus Foretells of Destruction and Persecution (Nov. 12th)

**Note: The curriculum notes will not cover all the same verses as the message. Since this is a 3-week series, the curriculum notes are broken down in a way that allows leaders to focus more on the pericopes in the Luke, rather than just focusing on what is covered during the sermon.

Message Notes:  When The End Begins Nov 12

OPENING DISCUSSION:

Ask your group members if they think much about the future, especially the end of human history. What comes to their mind? What kinds of questions do they have? Over the next few weeks, we are going to look at some very specific words Jesus gave his disciples about future events that would happen in their lifetime…and ours. 

BIG PICTURE/MAIN IDEA:

Synopsis:  Persecution, the destruction of Jerusalem, and heavenly signs will point the way to the return of Christ to establish fully the kingdom of God. Pray that you will be ready when this happens.

Jesus’ teaching in the temple, which began in Luke 19:45, concludes with a long eschatological discourse involving the destruction of the temple-Jerusalem and the end of the world. Although Luke already has presented various teachings of Jesus on this subject (12:35–48; 13:35; 17:20–37; 19:41–44), he included these teachings because of their importance. He used this opportunity to clarify several misconceptions concerning the destruction of Jerusalem and the end of the world. As the disciples called attention to the magnificent stones and offerings that adorned the temple, Jesus replied that the day would come when the temple would experience destruction, and that destruction would be so great that not one of these magnificent stones would remain standing upon another. What follows is the third and largest pronouncement of Jerusalem’s destruction found in the Gospel (cf. 13:34–35; 19:41–44).

KEY POINTS IN THE PASSAGE:

  • The temple, for all its magnificence, is headed for destruction.
  • The disciples must not expect the end of the temple in the near future, however ominous the signs may seem.

  • They must expect official opposition, but they must maintain a fearless testimony.

WHAT DOES IT SAY?

READ Luke 21:5-19 and answer the questions below:

What did Jesus say will happen to the temple?

What provoked Jesus to make the statements in v. 6?

Who did Jesus say will come and what will they say? What did Jesus say not to do?

What all did Jesus say will happen when the end draws near?

What did Jesus say will happen to his disciples? What did Jesus say they will be able to do?

Who all did Jesus say will persecute them?

Jesus told His disciples about three things that would start to occur before the destruction of the temple, by Titus and the Roman army in a.d. 70, and one that would occur later. First, Jesus said others would claim to be Messiah (v. 8). He gave this warning so that the disciples would not be deceived. Second, Jesus said that wars would occur (vv. 9–10). When these things happened, the disciples were not to be frightened, for the end would not come right away. Third, Jesus added that tremendous earthquakes would occur, causing famines (loimoi) and pestilences (limoi; v. 11). But these events do not fit between Jesus’ day and the fall of Jerusalem. These fearful events and great signs from heaven refer to the Great Tribulation which will precede the return of the Lord to the earth.

Fourth, Jesus taught that persecution of believers would be common and severe. The disciples did undergo persecution by the authorities (cf. Acts 2–4). Because of Jesus’ prediction in Luke 21:9–11, it seems that His words in verses 12–17 refer not only to the situation which would confront the disciples before the fall of Jerusalem but also to what will confront believers during the time of the Great Tribulation (cf. vv. 25–36). The same kinds of persecution would be present at both times—imprisonment (vv. 12–15), betrayal (v. 16), and hatred (v. 17). The persecution the original disciples would experience was a precursor to the ultimate persecution which future disciples would undergo.

Jesus’ next two statements (But not a hair of your head will perish, and By standing firm you will save yourselves; vv. 18–19) have confused many. Some interpret these phrases as speaking of spiritual realities in a believer’s life. Ultimately even though a believer dies, he or she will be protected eternally by God. However, it appears that Jesus was speaking here of salvation as entering into the kingdom alive (cf. Matt. 24:9–13). To “save yourselves” by “standing firm” means that believers show that they are members of the believing community in opposition to those who turn away from the faith during times of persecution (Matt. 24:10). The ones who are saved are those who are preserved by God’s sovereign power (cf. Matt. 24:22).

WHY DOES IT MATTER?

Use the information from the text and the commentary notes below to help discern responses to the following questions. 

  • Why do you think Jesus pointed out the destruction of the temple to his disciples?
  • Why do you think Jesus told them to expect false teachers and wars?  
  • What do you think Jesus wanted his disciples to know about their inevitable persecution?

Having warned about the danger of being misled by false prophets (21:7–9) and of a false interpretation of the events surrounding Jerusalem’s fall (21:10–11), Luke then described the persecution that would come upon believers from government (21:12–15) and from family and friends (21:16–17).

Nevertheless he reminded his readers that in the midst of such persecution, Jesus has promised wisdom (21:14–15) and, to those who persevere, eternal life (21:18–19). Luke followed Mark in placing this material after 21:7–11 (cf. Mark 13:3–8 and 13:9–13). The present passage indicates Luke intended his readers to interpret 21:7–11 as referring to events surrounding Jerusalem’s fall and not events preceding the final consummation. This is seen not only by the opening words “but before all this” but in his depiction of these persecutions to fit the experience of the church in Acts. Thus he omitted the reference to appearing before “councils” (literally sanhedrins) in Mark 13:9 since no account of this will be given in Acts. Luke also omitted Mark 13:10 because of its end-time association. His omission of “to the end” as a description of the endurance necessary (cf. Luke 21:19 with Mark 13:13) is also best understood as due to his desire to make clear that the persecutions described in Luke 21:12–19 involve not the end time but the fall of Jerusalem. (Cf. also 21:7 and how Luke changed Mark 13:4, “about to be fulfilled” [literally to come to its end], to “about to take place.”)

The chronological designation with which this section begins indicates Luke’s understanding of 21:7–11. If 21:7–11 referred to the end time, the statement “but before all this” (21:12) would be quite unnecessary, as is evident from Mark 13:9 and Matt 24:9, which lack this. Of course, persecution must come before the end time, if it is to come at all. It is self-evident that an event in history such as the persecution of the church must take place before the end, i.e., before history comes to its conclusion. However, if as maintained Luke 21:7–11 refers exclusively to the fall of Jerusalem in a.d. 70, then there could be a question if the following persecutions in 21:12–19 were to take place before or after “these things” associated with Jerusalem’s fall.

Cultural/Historical Background

The Jewish historian Josephus’s account of the four decades leading up to the destruction of Jerusalem provides plenty of examples of the sort of events outlined in 21:8-11 in the area around Judea: messianic claimants, wars (both international and civil), earthquakes, famines, epidemics, and reported heavenly signs. His account of the siege and eventual capture of Jerusalem also fully justifies the graphic language of 21:20-24.

The meteorological and astronomical upheaval described in 21:25-26 recalls several of the Old Testament prophets who used similar metaphorical language to describe the destruction of earthly political powers, especially nations such as Babylon. For example, in Isa. 13:10 and 34:4, the passages more explicitly allude to the accounts provided in Mark 13:24-25.

HOW DOES IT APPLY?

What can we learn from this passage and apply to our lives today?

In v. 9, Christ told his listeners not to be terrified of all the bad things that must take place before the end comes. Do you struggle with fear of the unknown when it comes to the end of human history? How has this passage given you peace and comfort that God is in control?

Christ promised to give wisdom that our adversaries will not be able to contradict. What has God given you so far that you can use to help you through periods of trial and persecution?      

COMMENTARY NOTES:

21:5 Some of his disciples were remarking. Literally certain [ones] were saying. Although Luke may have omitted referring to the disciples here and in 21:8 to shorten his account (cf. Mark 13:3; Matt 24:3), more likely he wanted to direct Jesus’ words to a larger audience. How the temple was adorned. After Solomon’s temple was destroyed by the Babylonians in 587 b.c., those returning from exile under Zerubbabel (Ezra 3–6) and Haggai (Hag 1–2) replaced it with a smaller temple built on the same site. This structure, which was clearly inferior to Solomon’s temple (Hag 2:1–3), was completed around 515 b.c. Under Herod the Great the temple experienced massive reconstruction, which began in 20 b.c. (cf. John 2:20) and continued until a.d. 63. This new temple exceeded even Solomon’s temple in beauty and size and justifiably could have been included among the seven wonders of the world. With beautiful stones. Josephus described the size of some of these stones as being forty-five cubits by five cubits by six cubits (Wars 5.5.6 [5.224]). Elsewhere, however, he described them as twenty-five cubits by eight cubits by twelve cubits (Antiquities 15.11.3 [15.392]). (A “cubit” probably was about eighteen inches.) Regardless of which dimension one chooses as correct and allowing for exaggeration on the part of Josephus, the temple clearly was adorned with “beautiful stones.” Josephus (Wars 5.5.6 [5.223]) stated that the whiteness of the stones was such that from a distance the temple appeared to be a snow-clad mountain. Some of these stones can still be seen in the lower courses of the Wailing Wall. With gifts dedicated to God. The ornaments of the temple, such as tapestries, golden and bronze doors, and golden grape clusters were given by people as offerings to the temple.

21:6 As for what you see here. All too often one is enamored with the technical and artistic beauty of an object and is not aware of the spiritual poverty, blindness, and even evil that may underlie it. Jesus saw the latter and not so much the physical beauty of the temple (cf. Luke 13:33–35; 19:41–44), and in his understanding, the widow’s two very small copper coins were more precious to God than all this. The time will come. This expression refers to a future event within history (Luke 5:35; 17:22; 23:29; cf. also 19:43), and it is not used in Luke to describe the end of the world, i.e., the coming of the Son of Man (cf. “that day,” 10:12; 17:31; 21:34). Not one stone will be left on another. The saying is an example of Jesus’ use of exaggeration, for some stones adorning the temple complex can still be seen. This, however, does not in any way refute Jesus’ prophecy or minimize the massive destruction the temple experienced in a.d. 70. Such use of exaggeration only reveals the intensity Jesus felt when he spoke these words.

21:7 Teacher. This title of address is usually used in Luke by unbelievers (see comments on 5:5). This may indicate Luke understood the teachings that follow as having been addressed to a Jewish audience for whom the warnings of Jerusalem’s fall had been particularly applicable. When will these things happen? The use of the same term “these things” (tauta) here as in 21:6 indicates that the question involves what was referred to in the previous verse, i.e., the destruction of the temple. And what will be the sign that they [literally these things] are about to take place? The sign referred to concerns “these things” of 21:6. Luke also focused the question more clearly to a.d. 70 by changing Mark’s “about to be fulfilled” (synteleisthai, 13:4) to “about to take place” (ginesthai). Contrast Matt 24:3, which seeks to show how Jerusalem’s destruction is a type of Jesus’ coming at the end of the age. The present clause stands in synonymous parallelism with the preceding one.

21:8 Watch out that you are not deceived. On Jesus’ lips and, if Mark were written before a.d. 70 on his as well, this was a warning to the church not to be deceived by false prophets and messianic types who would flourish during the years before Jerusalem’s destruction. Josephus (Wars 6.5.2–3 [6.285–88]) gave witness to such false prophets at this time. For many will come in my name. “In my name” can mean (1) under my authority, (2) claiming to be me, or (3) claiming the title of messiah. Claiming, “I am he.” Literally I am. This can mean (a) I am the Messiah or (b) I am Jesus, risen from the dead. Since the Jewish false prophets associated with Jerusalem’s fall made no claim to be associated with or to be Jesus, for Luke the meaning of these phrases probably is (3) they claim to be the messiah, [falsely] saying (a) I am the Messiah. And “The time is near.” In Luke’s setting this looks back to the coming of false prophets before Jerusalem’s destruction who proclaimed the world’s end. Luke may have intended, however, for his readers to understand that those in their own day proclaiming “the time is near” were also false prophets. Compare Luke 7:22; Rev 1:3; 22:10. Do not follow them. Why Luke replaced the parallel statements in Mark 13:6 and Matt 24:5 (“and will deceive many”) with an imperative is unclear. This is especially puzzling, if, as maintained, the present description refers to what happened at the fall of Jerusalem, which is now past. A similar command is found in Luke 17:23. Perhaps Luke made this into a command because he expected his readers to understand that just as there was a rash of such false prophets before a.d. 70, so false prophets would be a continual problem for the church (cf. Acts 20:29–31). Jesus’ two commands found in Luke 21:8–9, even though directed to a particular time and audience (the believers before a.d. 70), thus function as commands for Luke’s present audience, even as the particular form of OT piety exhibited by Elizabeth and Zechariah (1:6, 59), the baptism of John (3:3, 16), and even certain teachings of Jesus (5:14; 17:14) directed to a particular time and audience are to be applied by his readers to their own situations.

21:9 When you hear of wars and revolutions. The revolutions referred to probably refer to the Jewish revolt in a.d. 68–70 because of the reference to “these things” in the latter part of this verse. War is a standard image in eschatological/ apocalyptic imagery. It has also been suggested that this may allude to the tumultuous period between the reigns of Nero and Vespasian (ca. a.d. 68–69). Do not be frightened. Although directed by Jesus and Mark to believers before the destruction of Jerusalem, Luke saw this injunction as also applicable for his readers. These things must happen first. Luke’s readers could take heart at such a time, for God’s sovereign rule requires this. The reference to “these things” refers back to the destruction of Jerusalem in 21:7–8. But the end will not come right away. In this section the “end” refers to the destruction of Jerusalem just mentioned and repudiates the claim of the false prophets in 21:8 that “the time is near.” Other things must take place before this occurs. These other things are described in 21:10–18.

21:10 This verse repeats the thought of 21:9a. The imagery may come from 2 Chr 15:6 and Isa 19:2.

21:11 There will be great earthquakes. Compare Ezek 38:19. It is unlikely that Luke was thinking here of the events associated with the catastrophic eruption of Vesuvius in a.d. 79. Famines and pestilences in various places. Compare Acts 11:28. And fearful events and great signs from heaven. Reference to such signs is frequently made in eschatological/apocalyptic literature. Such descriptions may be used to describe historical events in the future such as the destruction of Babylon (Isa), the destruction of Pharaoh’s army (Ezek), the coming of the Spirit at Pentecost (Joel), and the destruction of the Northern Kingdom of Israel (Amos). Thus the description of “these things” given in these verses is best understood as referring to the destruction of Jerusalem. According to Josephus (Wars 6.5.3–4 (6.288–315), such signs occurred before Jerusalem’s destruction.

21:12 But before all this. “All this” means before the events of 21:7–11, which involve Jerusalem’s destruction in a.d. 70. Compare Acts 5:36; 21:38. They will lay hands on you. Compare Luke 20:19 (the Greek text is much closer in these verses than the NIV translation’s suggestions); cf. also Acts 4:3; 5:18; 12:1; 21:27. And persecute you. Compare 11:49; Acts 7:52. As with Jesus, so it will be with his followers in the early church. They will deliver you to synagogues. What follows describes how the previous two statements will be fulfilled. Compare Acts 9:2; 22:19; 26:11; cf. also 2 Cor 11:24. And prisons. Compare Luke 22:33; Acts 5:19, 22, 25; 8:3; 12:4–6, 17; 16:16–40; 22:4; 26:10; cf. also 26:19. And you will be brought. Compare Luke 22:66; 23:26; cf. also Acts 12:19. Before kings. Compare Acts 12:1–11; 25:13–26:32; cf. also 4:26; 9:15. And governors. Compare Acts 23:24–24:27; 25:1–26:32; cf. also Luke 23:1–25. All on account of my name. Although this expression was a common one in the early church (cf. John 15:21; 1 Pet 4:14, 16; 3 John 7; Rev 2:3), it occurs most frequently in Luke-Acts.

21:13 This will result in your being witnesses to them. The clause is literally, It shall be to you for a witness. This can be interpreted, “This will be a witness on your behalf in the day of judgment” or “This will be (an opportunity) for you to witness” (to them). The latter is more likely in light of Luke 24:48 and Acts 1:8. This is how Mark 13:10 interprets the expression. Compare Acts 4:33.

21:14 But make up your mind. “Make up your mind” means decide. Compare Luke 9:44; Acts 5:4; 19:21. Not to worry beforehand how you will defend yourselves. Compare Luke 12:11b. To “worry beforehand” may mean to practice or memorize one’s reply beforehand.

21:15 For I will give you words and wisdom. Compare Exod 4:11, 15; Ezek 29:21. For examples of this wisdom, cf. Acts 4:8–12; 5:29–32; 6:10. For Luke 21:14b–15a, cf. 12:11b–12. In Luke 12:11b–12 (as in the parallel in Mark 13:11), the Holy Spirit is the giver of this wisdom. Luke may have omitted the reference to the Holy Spirit here because of his reference to him in 12:11b–12 and because of a desire to emphasize the role of the risen Christ at such times. The “I” is emphatic in this verse, I, myself, will give. That none of your adversaries will be able to resist or contradict. Compare Acts 6:10; cf. also 4:13–14; 13:8–12.

21:16 You will be betrayed even by parents. Although such opposition is not expressly described in Luke-Acts, cf. Luke 12:53; 14:26; 18:29. And they will put some of you to death. Compare Acts 7:54–60; 12:1–2; 26:10. Again as with Jesus, so it will be with his followers. The use of the term “some” suggests that this will not be the normal experience of the church.

21:17 All men will hate you. Literally, You shall be hated by all. This is another example of exaggeration in which Luke followed Mark 13:13. That Luke understood this as hyperbolic is clear from Acts 2:47; 3:9; 4:21; 5:13. Yet such language is appropriate in expressing that Jesus’ followers would experience persecution. Compare the similar use of exaggeration for the sake of emphasis in Acts 4:26–28 (cf. also 28:22). For similar warnings cf. Luke 6:22, 27–28.

21:18 But not a hair of your head will perish. This proverbial statement seems strange after such statements as found in 21:12–17. Note especially “they will put some of you to death” (21:16). Luke was certainly not unaware of these earlier statements when he added this proverb of Jesus to the account. Does this mean that in Luke’s thinking, except for a few martyrs, the church would remain unharmed?

The whole flavor of 21:12–19 indicates that whereas martyrdom may be experienced by only a few, many will experience persecution. Furthermore, although Acts ends before the Neronian persecutions, Luke’s readers must have known about them, and the martyrdoms at that time were more than a “few.” Most probably this proverb is meant to contrast what humanity can do and what it cannot do to God’s people. In 12:4–5 the reader is told not to fear those who kill the body and after that can do no more. Rather they are to fear him who has the power to cast into hell.

After this warning of future persecution, there follows in 12:7a, as here, a similar statement (“the very hairs of your head are numbered”). These words are therefore meant to encourage Jesus’ followers by reminding them that whatever may happen to them by way of persecution, nothing can ultimately harm them, not even death, for they possess eternal life (18:30; cf. John 10:28).

21:19 By standing firm you will gain life. Literally gain your souls. Here Luke described how not a hair of their heads would perish. By faithfully enduring (cf. Luke 8:15) in this time of persecution, the believer gains for himself or herself eternal life (cf. 9:24). There is confusion among the manuscripts about whether the verb is an imperative (ktēsasthē, Gain!) or a future indicative (ktēsesthe, you will gain). The manuscript evidence favors the former, and so we probably should interpret this as an exhortation (an imperative) rather than an encouraging word (an indicative).

Posted in Group Notes, Luke 14, Luke: A Jesus for Everyone