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Sermon on the Mount
#92. Coming with Power and Great Glory (Luke 21:20-28)by Dr. Ralph F. Wilson
Other online lessons from Luke | Lessons in book format
 "When you see Jerusalem being surrounded by armies, you will know that its desolation is near.  Then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains, let those in the city get out, and let those in the country not enter the city.  For this is the time of punishment in fulfillment of all that has been written.  How dreadful it will be in those days for pregnant women and nursing mothers! There will be great distress in the land and wrath against this people.  They will fall by the sword and will be taken as prisoners to all the nations. Jerusalem will be trampled on by the Gentiles until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled.
 "There will be signs in the sun, moon and stars. On the earth, nations will be in anguish and perplexity at the roaring and tossing of the sea.  Men will faint from terror, apprehensive of what is coming on the world, for the heavenly bodies will be shaken.  At that time they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory.  When these things begin to take place, stand up and lift up your heads, because your redemption is drawing near."
We're continuing to examine Jesus' teaching on the end-times. Here again a brief outline of the material we are covering over a three-week period:
- Destruction of the Temple (21:5-6). Lesson 91.
- Deceptive Signs of the End (21:7-11). Lesson 91.
- Persecution of the Disciples (21:12-19). Lesson 91.
- Judgment upon Jerusalem (21:20-24). Lesson 92.
- Coming of the Son of Man (21:25-28). Lesson 92.
- Certainty of the End Events (21:29-33). Lesson 93.
- Be Watchful and Ready (21:34-36). Lesson 93.
This session of teaching began when Jesus predicted that not one stone of the temple would remain standing upon another, and the disciples asked: "When will these things happen? And what will be the sign that they are about to take place?" (21:7). Jesus seems to indicate that the destruction of the temple and of Jerusalem are separate in time from his own coming. In the first section of our passage Jesus tells his disciples what to do when Jerusalem is besieged. Then he explains how his Second Coming will be observed.
The Siege of Jerusalem (21:20)
Jesus foretells the beginning of the end for Jerusalem: The siege of Jerusalem under Titus actually took place over several months, from Spring until about August 9, 70 AD. It began with a gradual encirclement:
"When you see Jerusalem being surrounded by armies, you will know that its desolation is near." (21:20)
"Surrounded" (NIV) and "compassed" (KJV) translate the Greek verb kukloo, "to move so as to encircle an object, surround, encircle." Jewish historian Josephus explains that the encircling of Jerusalem took place in stages until finally troops from four legions surrounded the city, but people were still able to escape from the city or bring provisions into it. Finally, to cut off the survivors in the city from any hope, Titus ordered a wall to be built.
"Now the length of this wall was [nearly] forty furlongs. ... The whole was completed in three days; so that what would naturally have required some months was done in so short an interval as is incredible."
Each small unit of the Roman armies had a section to which they were assigned, and the units competed with each other for speed. The wall was completed within three days.
After that, Jerusalem's desolation was just a matter of time. "Desolation" is Greek eremosis, "state of being made uninhabitable, devastation, destruction, depopulation."
Flee Jerusalem (21:21)
This encircling of Jerusalem was to be a sign to Jesus' followers:
"Then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains, let those in the city get out, and let those in the country not enter the city." (21:21)
As a matter of historical fact, the Christians who had lived in Jerusalem fled as early as 66 AD. Third century church historian Eusebius writes, "The people of the church in Jerusalem had been commanded by a revelation given to approved men there before the war, to leave the city and to dwell in a certain town of Perea called Pella." As a result of Jesus' teaching and a contemporary revelation, the Christian community was prepared to leave the city and was preserved.
Punishment and Great Distress (21:22-24a)
But for the Jews who remained in the city, the siege and fall of Jerusalem was horrific.
"For this is the time of punishment in fulfillment of all that has been written. How dreadful it will be in those days for pregnant women and nursing mothers! There will be great distress in the land and wrath against this people. They will fall by the sword and will be taken as prisoners to all the nations." (21:22-24a)
The word translated "punishment" (NIV) or "vengeance" (KJV) is Greek ekdikesis. It carries the idea of "meeting out of justice, giving of justice" as well as "penalty inflicted on wrongdoers, punishment." All that Jesus predicted here took place with terrible destruction and loss of life.
Jerusalem Trampled until the Times of the Gentiles Are Fulfilled (21:24b)
Now Jesus uses a curious phrase -- the Times of the Gentiles":
"Jerusalem will be trampled on by the Gentiles until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled." (21:24b)
What is the Times of the Gentiles? Apparently, this is a period that God has appointed or allowed Gentiles to possess Jerusalem. The phrase "trampled on" (NIV) or "trodden down" (KJV) is Greek pateo, " 'to tread heavily with feet with implication of destructive intent, trample, tread upon,' of the undisciplined swarming of a victorious army through a conquered city. Its heedlessness, which acknowledges no limits, causes pateo to take on the sense 'mistreat, abuse.' " The term "Gentiles" here and elsewhere is Greek ethnos. Its basic meaning is "a body of persons united by kinship, culture, and common traditions, nation, people." Our English word "ethnic" comes from this. But usually in a Jewish culture, the word refers to non-Jews, those who do not profess faith in the God of Israel, "the nations, gentiles, unbelievers."
But when will the Times of the Gentiles end? In 1949, the modern State of Israel took possession of the western and southern portions of Jerusalem, with Jordan controlling the eastern portion and the Old City. During the 1967 war, Israel took possession of the entire city. But the temple mount is still under Muslim control, since it is the site of the Dome of the Rock, one of the holiest places of Islam.
Has the Times of the Gentiles been fulfilled? "Fulfilled" is Greek pleroo, "to make full." It can mean "fulfill" a prophecy. But here it means "to bring to completion an activity in which one has been involved from the beginning, complete, finish." With Israeli possession of the entire city of Jerusalem, has the Times of the Gentiles been fulfilled and we are now awaiting the next step in the final drama which could happen at any time? Or will the Times of the Gentiles only be completed when control of the temple mount comes into Israeli hands? Or is there something else on God's horizon. We don't really know, but we should be ready -- that's for sure.
Signs in the Heavens (21:25-26)
Earlier in this passage, Jesus prophesied "great signs from heaven" prior to the end-time. But now he speaks of such signs just prior to his appearance:
"There will be signs in the sun, moon and stars. On the earth, nations will be in anguish and perplexity at the roaring and tossing of the sea. Men will faint from terror, apprehensive of what is coming on the world, for the heavenly bodies will be shaken." (21:25-26)
The heavenly signs will be attended by astral phenomena, widespread fear, and disruptions in the oceans. The ocean disruption is two-fold. First, Jesus mentions "roaring," Greek echoes, "sound, tone, noise." Second, he refers to "tossing" (NIV) or "waves" (KJV), The Greek noun salos means "a rolling or tossing motion, surge, especially the waves in a rough sea." The word is sometimes used to describe an earthquake. This may be more than just heavy surf, but perhaps tidal waves or something else. A corresponding shaking is taking place in the heavens, since the verb form, sale, is used at the end of verse 26, meaning "to cause to move to and fro, shake, cause to waver/totter." There's a whole lot of shakin' goin' on, but it is more than a rock concert.
The effect on humans is powerful. We see several words that indicate the terror that results. The word translated "anguish" (NIV) and "distress" (KJV) is Greek sunoche, "a state of distress that involves a high degree of anxiety, distress, dismay, anguish." "Perplexity" is Greek aporia, "perplexity, anxiety." The word translated "faint" (NIV) or "hearts failing" (KJV) is Greek apopsucho, "literally, 'breathe out, stop breathing,' hence either 'faint' or 'breath one's last, die.' " "Terror" (NIV) or "fear" (KJV) is phobos, the common word for "fear, alarm, fright." The word "apprehensive" (NIV) or "for looking after" (KJV) is Greek prosdokia, "expectation of something that is to happen, whether good or bad, expectation." It is an anxiety-ridden time for dwellers on earth.
Son of Man Coming in a Cloud (21:27)
Finally, Jesus, the Son of Man, appears:
"At that time they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory." (21:27)
As we have discussed previously, the title "Son of Man" is more than a way of identifying Jesus as human (see my essay: "The Son of Man" www.jesuswalk.com/lessons/son-of-man.htm). The title is used in Daniel 7:13-14 to describe the one who finally establishes the Kingdom of God:
"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 worshiped him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that will not pass away, and his kingdom is one that will never be destroyed." (Daniel 7:13-14)
This passage is key to Jesus' understanding of his ultimate destiny. When he is on trial before the Sanhedrin, shortly after this teaching, he is asked whether he is the Christ. Here is his answer:
"I am," said Jesus. "And you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Mighty One and coming on the clouds of heaven." (Mark 14:61-62; cf. Luke 22.69)
It seems clear that Jesus' teaching in our passage points to this very same title (Son of Man) and very same event (coming on the clouds). Now Jesus seems weak, but then he will be powerful. Now he is despised and rejected by men, abused and spat upon. But then he shall come with glory -- great glory, the glory of God himself, shall shine around him at his coming.
When Is Jesus Coming? (21:28)
We aren't told exactly when Jesus' coming will be. We know from his teaching in Luke that it will be after wars and rebellions, earthquakes, famines, and epidemics, "but the end will not come right away" (21:9). There will be persecutions -- the Holy City itself will fall and the temple will be destroyed before he comes. But apparently a final set of cosmic convulsions and terrestrial shakings will be some of the final signs prior to his coming. He says:
"When these things begin to take place, stand up and lift up your heads, because your redemption is drawing near." (21:28)
How long will it take to fulfill the final prophecies of the Times of the Gentiles being fulfilled and the final cataclysms in earth and sky? Not long. They could be delayed for years or centuries or they could happen at any time. We don't know when Christ is coming, but we are to be ready. Ready and hopeful.
For when the heavens and earth shake, when stars seem to tumble and the seas become unruly, and fear falls upon everyone. Then joy should begin to break out in the hearts of Jesus' people. For when we see these things begin to take place, Jesus tells us to "stand up and lift up our heads, because our redemption is drawing near."
Come soon, Lord Jesus! Come soon, O Redeemer!
Father, it has been nearly two millennia, and still Jesus has not returned. Help us not to become complacent or cynical. We look at the tenuous condition of Jerusalem. We anticipate the fulfillment of the Times of the Gentiles. We have seen the most widespread and destructive wars ever experienced on earth. We look to the signs in the heavens and the signs on earth. Help us to be ready. Come, Lord Jesus. Amen.
"At that time they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory. When these things begin to take place, stand up and lift up your heads, because your redemption is drawing near." (Luke 21:27-28)
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We come from dozens of denominations, traditions, and fellowships. We have different theories of Christ's coming, and different buzzwords that describe our theories. But let us put them aside for this lesson, and just see what Jesus is teaching us about the end-times. Let's be gentle with one another.
- According to Jesus' teaching here, how is the destruction of Jerusalem related to the time of his return? (21:20-24a)
- What is the Times of the Gentiles (21:24b). What significance does it have for the return of Christ?
- What words are used in verses 25 and 26 to describe what will take place at the very end? What effects will these have upon people?
- What will be the direct sign of Jesus' return? (21:27) What Old Testament scripture passage is Jesus referring to when he describes his coming?
- If fear will characterize unbelievers at these terrible signs, what emotion should characterize believers? (21:28)
Common Abbreviations www.jesuswalk.com/faq/abbreviations.htm
- Topics according to Marshall, pp. 752-784.
- BDAG 574.
- Josephus, Wars of the Jews 5, 12, 1-2. http://bible.crosswalk.com/History/BC/FlaviusJosephus/?book=War_5&chapter=12
- BDAG 392.
- Eusebius, Church History III, 5, 3. Also mentioned by Epiphanius in De pond. et mens. 15. More information on this is contained in a webpage, "The Flight to Pella Tradition," BibArch. http://www.bibarch.com/The%20First%20Christians/flight_to_pella_tradition.htm See also "Did Jerusalem Christians Flee to Pella?" by J. Julius Scott, in the Preterist Archive. http://www.preteristarchive.com/GeneralStudies/gs_flee-pella.html
- BDAG 301.
- BDAG 786.
- BDAG 276-277.
- BDAG 827-829.
- BDAG 441.
- BDAG 911.
- BDAG 974.
- BDAG 119.
- BDAG 125.
- BDAG 1062.
- BDAG 877.
Copyright © 1985-2017, Ralph F. Wilson. <pastorjoyfulheart.com> All rights reserved. A single copy of this article is free. Do not put this on a website. See legal, copyright, and reprint information.
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- JesusWalk: Beginning the Journey
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- Moses the Reluctant Leader
- Names and Titles of God
- Names and Titles of Jesus
- Rebuild & Renew: Post-Exilic Books
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- Sermon on the Mount
- Seven Last Words of Christ