Luke 21:20
And when ye shall see Jerusalem compassed with armies, then know that the desolation thereof is nigh.
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(20-24) When ye shall see Jerusalem compassed with armies.—See Notes on Matthew 23:15-21; Mark 13:14-19. This is St. Luke’s equivalent, possibly chosen as more intelligible for his Gentile readers, for “the abomination of desolation,” which we find in St. Matthew and St. Mark. As far as it goes, it favours the view that he and others saw the “abomination” in the presence of the invading armies. On the other hand, it is possible, accepting, as we must accept, the thought of a substituted phrase, that we have one which, while it gives a partial explanation, fails to exhaust the meaning of the darker and more mysterious phrase. The occurrence of the word “desolation” in the latter clause of the verse, obviously favours the hypothesis now suggested.



Luke 21:20 - Luke 21:36

This discourse of our Lord’s is in answer to the disciples’ double question as to the time of the overthrow of the Temple and the premonitory signs of its approach. The former is answered with the indefiniteness which characterises prophetic chronology; the latter is plainly answered in Luke 21:20.

The whole passage divides itself in four well-marked sections.

I. There is the prediction of the fall of Jerusalem {Luke 21:20 - Luke 21:24}.

The ‘sign’ of her ‘desolation’ was to be the advance of the enemy to her walls. Armies had been many times encamped round her, and many times been scattered; but this siege was to end in capture, and no angel of the Lord would stalk by night through the sleeping host, to stiffen sleep into death, nor would any valour of the besieged avail. Their cause was to be hopeless from the first. Flight was enjoined. Usually the inhabitants of the open country took refuge in the fortified capital when invasion harrowed their fields; but this time, for ‘them that are in the country’ to ‘enter therein’ was to throw away their last chance of safety. The Christians obeyed, and fled, as we all know, across Jordan to Pella. The rest despised Jesus’ warning-if they knew it,-and perished.

Mark the reason for the exhortation not to resist, but to flee: These are days of vengeance, that all things which are written may be fulfilled.’ That is to say, the besiegers are sent by God to execute His righteous and long-ago-pronounced judgments. Therefore it is vain to struggle against them. Behind the Roman army is the God of Israel. To dash against their cohorts is to throw one’s self on the thick bosses of the Almighty’s buckler, and none who dare do that can ‘prosper.’ Submission to His retributive hand is the only way to escape being crushed by it. Chastisement accepted is salutary, but kicking against it drives the goad deeper into the rebellious limb.

So great is the agony to be, that what should be a joy, the birth of children, will be a woe, and the sweet duties of motherhood a curse, while the childless will be happier than the fugitives burdened with helpless infancy. We should note, too, that the ‘distress’ which comes upon the land is presented in darker colours, and traced to its origin, in {God’s}’wrath’ dealt out ‘unto this people.’ Happier they who ‘fall by the edge of the sword’ than they who are led ‘captive into all the nations.’

A gleam of hope shoots through the stormy prospect, for the treading down of Jerusalem by the Gentiles has a term set to it. It is to continue ‘till the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled.’ That expression is important, for it clearly implies that these ‘times’ are of considerable duration, and it thus places a period of undefined extent between the fall of Jerusalem and the subsequent prophecy. The word used for ‘times’ generally carries with it the notion of opportunity, and here seems to indicate that the break-up of the Jewish national existence would usher in a period in which the ‘Gentiles’ would have the kingdom of God offered to them. The history of the world since the city fell is the best comment on this saying.

II. Since the ‘times of the Gentiles’ are thus of indefinite duration, they make a broad line of demarcation between what precedes and what follows them.

Clearly the prophecy in Luke 21:25 - Luke 21:27 is separated in time from the fall of Jerusalem, and it is no objection to that view that the separation is not more emphatically pointed out by our Lord. These verses distinctly refer to His last coming to judgment. Luke 21:27 is too grand and too distinctly cast in the mould of the other predictions of that coming to be interpreted of His ideal coming in the judgments on the city.

The ‘signs in sun and moon and stars’ may refer in accordance with a familiar symbolism, to the overthrow of royalties and dominions; the sea roaring may, in like manner, symbolise agitations among the people; but the ‘cloud’ and the ‘power and great glory’ with which the Son of man comes, can mean nothing else than what they mean in other prophetic passages; namely, His visible appearance, invested with the shekinah light, and wielding divine authority before the gaze of a world.

The city’s fall, then, was the initial stage of a process, the duration of which is undefined here, but implied to be considerable, and of which the closing stage is the personal coming of Jesus. The same conclusion is supported by Luke 21:28, which treats that fall as the beginning of the fulfilment of the prophecy.

III. That verse forms a transition to the section containing the illustrative parable and the reiteration of the assurance that Christ’s words would certainly be fulfilled.

The disciples might naturally quake at the prospect, and wonder how they could face the reality. Jesus gives them strong words of cheer, which apply to all dreaded contingencies and to all social convulsions. What is a messenger of destruction to Christless men and institutions is a harbinger of full ‘redemption’ to His servants. Earthquakes but open their prison doors and loose their bands, they should not shake their hearts.

Historically the fall of Jerusalem was a powerful factor in the deliverance of the Church from Jewish swaddling-bands which hampered its growing limbs. For all Christians the destruction of what can perish brings fuller vision and possession of what cannot be shaken. To Christ’s friends, all things work for good. So the parable which at first sight seems strangely incongruous becomes blessedly significant and fitting. The gladsome blossoming of the trees, the herald of the glories of summer, is a strange emblem of such a tragedy, and summer itself is a still stranger one of that solemn last judgment. But the might of humble trust in Him who comes to judge makes His coming summer-like in the light and warmth with which it floods the soul, and the rich fruitage which it produces there.

Observe, too, that the parable confirms the idea of a process having stages, for the lesson of the blossoming fig-tree is not that summer has come, but that it is nigh.

The solemn assurance in Luke 21:32, made more weighty by the ‘Verily I say,’ seems at first sight to bring the final judgment within the lifetime of the generation of the hearers. But it is noteworthy that the expression ‘till all things are fulfilled’ is almost verbally identical with that in Luke 21:22, which refers only to the destruction of Jerusalem, and is therefore most naturally interpreted as having the same restricted application here. The difference between the two phrases is significant, since in the former the certainty of fulfilment is deduced from the fact of ‘the things’ being written-that is, they must be accomplished because they have been foretold in Scripture,-whereas in the latter Christ rests the certainty of fulfilment on His own word. That majestic assurance in Luke 21:33 comes well from His lips, and makes claim that His word shall outlast the whole present material order, and be fulfilled in every detail. Think of a mere man saying that!

IV. Exhortations corresponding to the predictions follow.

Christ’s revelation of the future was neither meant to gratify idle curiosity nor to supply a timetable in advance, but to minister encouragement and to lead to watchfulness. Whether ‘that day’ {Luke 21:34} is understood of the fall of Jerusalem or of the final coming of the Lord, it will come ‘as a snare’ upon men who are absorbed with the earth which they inhabit. They will be captured by it, as a covey of birds in a field busily picking up grain, are netted by one sudden fling of the fowler’s net. A wary eye would have saved them.

The exhortation is as applicable to us, for, whatever are our views about unfulfilled prophecy, death comes to us all at a time which we know not, as the Book of Ecclesiastes, using the same figure, says; ‘Man knoweth not his time . . . as the birds that are caught in the snare.’ Hearts must be kept above the grosser satisfactions of sense and the less gross cares of life, being neither stupefied with gorging earth’s good, nor preoccupied with its gnawing anxieties, both of which are destructive of the clear realisation of the certain future. We are to preserve an attitude of wakefulness and of expectancy, and, as the sure way to it, and to clearing our hearts of perishable delights and shortsighted, self-consuming cares, we are to keep them in a continual posture of supplication. If our study of unfulfilled prophecy does that for us, it will have done what Jesus means it to do; if it does not it matters little what theories about its chronology we may adopt.

The two stages which we have tried to point out in this passage are clearly marked at the close, where escaping ‘all these things that shall come to pass’ and standing ‘before the Son of man’ are distinguished. True, both stages were to be included in the experience of Christ’s hearers, but they are none the less separate stages.

Luke’s version of this great discourse gives less prominence to the final coming than does Matthew’s, and does not blend the two stages so inextricably together; but it gives no hint of the duration of the ‘times of the Gentiles,’ and might well leave the impression that these were brief. Now in this close setting together of a nearer and a much more remote future, with little prominence given to the interval between, our Lord is but bringing His prophecy into line with the constant manner of the older prophets. They and He paint the future in perspective, and the distance, seen behind the foreground, seems nearer than it really is. The spectator does not know how many weary miles have to be traversed before the distant blue hills are to be reached, nor what deep gorges lie between.

Such bringing together of events far apart in time of fulfilment rests in part on the fact that there have been many ‘days of the Lord,’ many ‘comings of Christ,’ each of which is a result on a small scale of the same retributive action of the Judge of all, as shall be manifested on the largest scale in the last and greatest day of the Lord. Therefore the true use of all these predictions is that which Christ enforces here; namely, that they should lead us to prayerful watchfulness and to living above earth, its goods and cares.

Luke 21:20-21. And when ye shall see Jerusalem encompassed with armies, &c. — The admonition here given to them who were in the midst of Jerusalem to depart out of it, and to them who were in the countries not to enter thereinto, shows that the encompassing of Jerusalem with armies, spoken of in the prophecy, was such as would permit the inhabitants to flee out of it, and those who were in the countries to enter into it. Behold here the wonderful prescience of Jesus! Cestius Gallus, in the beginning of the war, invested Jerusalem, and took Betheza, or the lower town. Josephus, (Bell., Luke 2:24,) says, “If he had continued the siege but a little longer, he would have taken the city. But, I think, God being angry with the wicked, would not suffer the war to end at that time. For Cestius removed his army, and having received no loss, very unadvisedly departed from the city.” And, chap. 25. of the same book, he further informs us, that “immediately after Cestius’s departure, many of the principal Jews daily fled from the city as from a sinking ship.” Among these, we may believe there were numbers of the Christians, who, remembering their Master’s admonition, and foreseeing what was to happen, embraced the opportunity thus afforded them of fleeing out of Judea, and so escaped the general ruin, as their Master had promised them, Matthew 24:13; Luke 21:18. To this agrees what Eusebius tells us, (Hist., Luke 3:5,) “That the people of the church in Jerusalem, being ordered by an oracle, given to the faithful in that place, left the city before the war, and dwelt in a city of Perea, the name of which was Pella.” This oracle, of which he speaks, seems to have been our Lord’s prophecy and admonition, to which every circumstance of the history perfectly agrees.

21:5-28 With much curiosity those about Christ ask as to the time when the great desolation should be. He answers with clearness and fulness, as far as was necessary to teach them their duty; for all knowledge is desirable as far as it is in order to practice. Though spiritual judgements are the most common in gospel times, yet God makes use of temporal judgments also. Christ tells them what hard things they should suffer for his name's sake, and encourages them to bear up under their trials, and to go on in their work, notwithstanding the opposition they would meet with. God will stand by you, and own you, and assist you. This was remarkably fulfilled after the pouring out of the Spirit, by whom Christ gave his disciples wisdom and utterance. Though we may be losers for Christ, we shall not, we cannot be losers by him, in the end. It is our duty and interest at all times, especially in perilous, trying times, to secure the safety of our own souls. It is by Christian patience we keep possession of our own souls, and keep out all those impressions which would put us out of temper. We may view the prophecy before us much as those Old Testament prophecies, which, together with their great object, embrace, or glance at some nearer object of importance to the church. Having given an idea of the times for about thirty-eight years next to come, Christ shows what all those things would end in, namely, the destruction of Jerusalem, and the utter dispersion of the Jewish nation; which would be a type and figure of Christ's second coming. The scattered Jews around us preach the truth of Christianity; and prove, that though heaven and earth shall pass away, the words of Jesus shall not pass away. They also remind us to pray for those times when neither the real, nor the spiritual Jerusalem, shall any longer be trodden down by the Gentiles, and when both Jews and Gentiles shall be turned to the Lord. When Christ came to destroy the Jews, he came to redeem the Christians that were persecuted and oppressed by them; and then had the churches rest. When he comes to judge the world, he will redeem all that are his from their troubles. So fully did the Divine judgements come upon the Jews, that their city is set as an example before us, to show that sins will not pass unpunished; and that the terrors of the Lord, and his threatenings against impenitent sinners, will all come to pass, even as his word was true, and his wrath great upon Jerusalem.In your patience - Rather by your perseverance. The word "patience" here means constancy or perseverance in sustaining afflictions.

Possess ye your souls - Some read here the "future" instead of the "present" of the verb rendered "possess." The word "possess" means here to "preserve" or keep, and the word "souls" means "lives." This passage may be thus translated: By persevering in bearing these trials you "will" save your lives, or you will be safe; or, by persevering "preserve" your lives; that is, do not yield to these calamities, but bear up under them, for he that endureth to the end, the same shall be saved. Compare Matthew 24:13.

20, 21. by armies—encamped armies, that is, besieged: "the abomination of desolation" (meaning the Roman ensigns, as the symbols of an idolatrous, pagan, unclean power) "spoken of by Daniel the prophet" (Da 9:27) "standing where it ought not" (Mr 13:14). "Whoso readeth [that prophecy] let him understand" (Mt 24:15).

Then … flee, &c.—Eusebius says the Christians fled to Pella, at the north extremity of Perea, being "prophetically directed"; perhaps by some prophetic intimation still more explicit than this, which still would be their chart.

Ver. 20-22. After our Saviour’s ascension, the seditions amongst the Jews were so many, and they rebelled so often against the Romans, during the governments of Felix, Festus, Albinus, and Florus, that the Romans resolved wholly to destroy them, and to that purpose Titus Vespasian was sent with an army against them, who took the city. Our Saviour foresaw, that when that time should come there would be some vain persons full of stomach for their liberties, that would be prophesying their deliverance, and encouraging them to hold out to the last. He warns his disciples to give no credit to them, for God would certainly deliver the city into their hands; therefore he advises them, as soon as they should see the city besieged, they should all shift for themselves as first as they could, for there was no true ground to hope for any deliverance. The time of God’s vengeance was come, when God would most certainly fulfil against that place whatsoever he had foretold against it.

And when ye shall see Jerusalem compassed with armies,.... The Vulgate Latin, Syriac, and Persic versions read, "with an army"; that is, with the Roman army, as it was by the army which Titus Vespasian brought against it, and besieged it with:

then know that the desolation thereof is nigh; signifying, that there would be no deliverance to be expected, as when the Assyrian army under Rabshakeh appeared against it; but that whenever the Roman army besieged it, its destruction might be looked upon as inevitable; nor was the siege raised until it was destroyed, which was about four years after.

{4} And when ye shall see Jerusalem compassed with armies, then know that the desolation thereof is nigh.

(4) The final destruction of the whole city is foretold.

Luke 21:20-22. Comp. Matthew 24:15-18; Mark 13:14-16. What was to happen πρὸ τούτων πάντων, Luke 21:12, is now concluded. From this point the discourse continues where it broke off at Luke 21:12.

κυκλουμ.] representing the object as already conceived in the situation and therein perceived (Bernhardy, p. 477; Kühner, II. p. 357), being surrounded on all sides.[242]

Luke 21:21. οἱ ἐν τ. Ἰουδ] refers to the Christians; this follows from Luke 21:20.

αὐτῆς] has reference to Jerusalem, as subsequently εἰς αὐτήν. Theophylact: ἘΚΤΡΑΓῼΔΕῖ ΟὖΝ ΤᾺ ΔΕΙΝᾺ Ἃ ΤΌΤΕ ΤῊΝ ΠΌΛΙΝ ΠΕΡΙΣΤΉΣΕΤΑΙΜῊ ΠΡΟΣΔΟΚΆΤΩΣΑΝ, ὍΤΙ Ἡ ΠΌΛΙς ΤΕΙΧΉΡΗς ΟὖΣΑ ΦΥΛΆΞΕΙ ΑὐΤΟΎς.

] not in the provinces (de Wette), but in the fields (Luke 12:16), in contrast to the city into which one εἰσέρχεται from the country. People are not to do this, but to flee.[243]

Luke 21:22. τοῦ πλησθῆναι κ.τ.λ.] a statement of the divine counsel: that all may be fulfilled which is written. Without this day of vengeance, an essential portion of the prophetic predictions, in which the desolation of the city and the country is in so many different ways announced as a judgment, must remain unfulfilled. The prophecy of Daniel is, moreover, meant along with the others, but not exclusively. Comp. already Euthymius Zigabenus.

[242] Wieseler, in the profound discussion in the Gott. Vierteljahrschr. 2 Jahrg. 2 Heft, p. 210, finds in the words κυκλ. ὑπὸ στρατοπ. κ.τ.λ. an explanation of the βδέλυγμα τῆς ἐρημώσεως, Matthew 24:15, which Luke gave for his Gentile-Christian readers. He thereby maintains his interpretation of the βδέλυγμα of the Roman standards, and of the τόπος ἅγιος, Matt. l.c., of the environs of Jerusalem. Certainly our passage corresponds to the βδέλυγμα τῆς ἐρημώσ. in Matthew and Mark. But Luke did not want to explain the expression of Daniel, but instead of it he stated something of a more general character, and that from his later standpoint, at which the time of the abomination of desolation on the temple area must needs appear to him a term too late for flight. We have here an alteration of the original ex eventu.

[243] But the expressions are too general for a reference directly to the flight of the Christians to Pella (Volkmar, Evang. Marcion’s, p. 69).

Luke 21:20-24. Jerusalem’s judgment day (Matthew 24:15-21, Mark 13:14-19).

20. Jerusalem compassed with armies] See on Luke 19:43, and Jos. B.J. v. 2, § 6, 12. Some regard this as the “abomination that maketh desolate.”

Luke 21:20. Στρατοπέδων) with armies, legions.—γνῶτε, know ye) The siege will not be relaxed (raised) until the city be destroyed. The Jews, in their obstinacy, when the siege had already reached its height, supposed notwithstanding that the siege would be raised.

Verses 20-24. - The true signs which his people are to be on the watch for. Verse 20. - And when ye shall see Jerusalem compassed with armies, then know that the desolation thereof is nigh. This is to be the sign that the end has come for temple, city, and people. Wars and rumors of wars, physical portents, famine and pestilence succeeding each other with a terrible persistence, all these will, in the forthcoming years, terrify and perplex men's minds, presages of something which seems impending. But his people are to bear in mind that these were not the immediate signs of the awful ruin he was foretelling. But when the holy city was invested, when hostile armies were encamped about her - then this would surely come to pass, and some of these very bystanders would behold it - then, and not till then, let his people take alarm. Let them at once and at all cost flee from temple and city, for there would be no deliverance, God had left his house, given up the chosen people. "Jerusalem shall be trodden down of the Gentiles" (ver. 24). It is probable that these solemn words of the Master, becoming, as they did, at a comparatively early date, the property of the Church, saved the Christian congregations in Palestine from the fate which overtook the Jewish nation in the last great war. Clearly warned by Jesus that the gathering of the Roman armies in the neighborhood of Jerusalem was the unmistakable sign of the end of the Jewish polity, the Christian congregations fled to Pella beyond Jordan. The Jews never ceased to the last trusting that deliverance from on high would be vouchsafed to the holy city and temple. The Christians were warned by the words of the Founder of their faith - words spoken nigh forty years before the siege - that the time of mercy was hopelessly past. Luke 21:20
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