Once more, I reiterate what has already been established in part 1: Jesus is addressing His disciples concerning events and destruction that was going to be coming in their lifetime. This entire context (Luke 21.5-26) is pointing to AD 70 and the destruction of Jerusalem. Unforutnately, scholars and theologians have tried to make this text say something it does not say. In fact, one writer says that Jesus “intermingles” discourse about the destruction of Jerusalem and the tribulation and second coming, as though Jesus is so scatter brained He cannot entertain one thought for too long. Jesus is addressing one question from his disciples (v.4) concering the coming end of the Jewish world.
This is an important point: the Jewish world (as they knew) was nigh unto coming to a close. Their quasi-theocracy, their entire system for worship, indeed, their very world was about to come crashing down around them when Rome came in conquest. And Jesus uses very specific langauge (prophetic and apocalyptic langauge) which the Jewish mind would be familiar with in order to drive His point home to a Jewish audience. So we continue to examine Jesus’ warnings to His disciples concerning the coming calamity in Jerusalem.
In v.10, Jesus talks about conflict among nations. Indeed, this plays out in history just prior to the destruction of Jerusalem. The Jews (nationally) revolt against their rulers, the Romans (a nation). So you have the assumed kingdom of God (although by the late 60’s of the first century the kingdom of God was now in the hearts and minds of men, see Col 1.13-14) and THE kingdom of the world, Rome. It will be Rome who rises and squashes this revolt with an iron fist. The devestation is horrific and Jerusalem suffers a seige from Rome. There is starvation and bloodshed in the city, and then the Romans breach Jerusalem.
In v.11, Jesus talks about earthquakes and famine, pestilence and signs from heaven. What’s that all about? Some interpret these signs as figurative, apocalyptic in nature. It is simply Jesus’ way of saying, “Your world is coming to an end.” Others point to history. Josephus, in his The Wars of the Jews, records accounts of earthquakes. In fact, in 1.19.3, there is a very great earthquake which swallows many cattle and 30,000 men. Adam Clarke in his commentary on Matthew states about earthquakes that there was “one at Crete in the reign of Claudius, one at Smyrna, Miletus, Chios, Samos.” Also in Josephus are famines that constantly came upon the Jews. In fact, so severe was the famine in Jerusalem that the Jews actually invented terrible methods of torture to discover the location of food. And don’t forget the famine predicted by Agabus (Acts 11.28).
Because of these famines, pestilence also followed. A general term for frightening things that were to come is used by Jesus. Indeed, how terrifying would all these things. But then great signs in the sky. This is an interesting one. But diving into history we find Josephus, that great historian, in his WOTJ explains manifold signs (and terrors) which took place before the rebellion of the Jews (see 6.5.3). All the predictions of our Lord Jesus, then, are finding their fulfillment in human history.
Next Jesus address conflict which the disciples will experience from their own people. He explains that they will be handed over to authorities for persecution before all the tumult and turmoil just described. Before conflict nationally and geographically, the disciples will experience conflict locally. Indeed, this is detailed and documented in the book of Acts. Luke records those events of intense persecution, first from Saul of Tarsus, then the persecution from Rome (directed both at Jews and Christians), and also the persecution of the church from Jews, esp. that persecution endured by the apostle Paul (formerly Saul). Indeed, in this history we see the fulfillment of Jesus’ words here as Christians are delivered to synagogues and prisons, brought before kings and govenors all for Jesus’ sake (see Acts 8.1-4; 12.1-4; 14.19-22; 16.19-24; et al concerning the early church and persecution).
How should a Christian view what would appear to be negative circumstances? Jesus tells us in v.13: this is an opportunity to bear witness. Indeed, here before Jesus are the eyewitnesses themselves – the Twelve who had been with Jesus. Whether in prison or before kings, view it as an open door for the gospel. Jesus further explains they have nothing to worry about once in that particular situation. In v.14-15, he promises to give them the message, a mouth and wisdom, which no one will be able to speak against. “Don’t meditate before hand” – in other words there is no need to sit down and write up your speech. Indeed, there is no need. Jesus promises his apostles elsewhere (John 14.26; 15.26; 16.13) that he would send them the Holy Spirit who would guide them into all knowledge concerning salvation. Of course, this explains why no one can contradict it; it is from God, the source of all knowledge. The enemy may not like, may not accept, may try to kill them, may hate them for it, but they will not be able to withstand or contradict this wisdom and understanding.
The disciple must be warned, though, that though he is given the words he needs in the time he needs it, it does not mean that the road will be easy. In v.16, Jesus tells His disciples whom it will be that betrays them into the hands of the authorities: parents, brothers, relatives, friends. Notice the pattern. Those people that were closest to the disciples, even these would betray them and turn them in. Jesus has already addressed this idea previously in Luke (12.49-53). Families will be divided and that because of Christ. Tragically, even at the hands of their own countrymen, the disicples will even be killed for Christ’s sake. Jesus punctuates this with v.17: the disciples will be hated by all because of Jesus.
In Jesus’ own words, He details just how bad it is going to get. Conflict from every side. Persecution from everywhere. Ah, but the disciple has a comforting word from His Lord. However, this promise seems contradictory to what Jesus just said in v.16: how can Jesus promise that not a hair on their heads will perish when he just explicated to them that they will be killed? Here Jesus is pointing them back to who is in control in the midst of what appears to chaos: God. God is over all, through all and in all. He is in absolute sovereign control of the lives of this small band of brothers. This is a call to faithfulness to the sovereign God even through the most difficult of circumstances. “By your endurance you will gain your lives.” Although you may lose you life in this world, you gain your life in eternity (see 9.24). What is important is not what this world can do to the body, but what God can do to the soul. Truly, that was the message of the apostles. Don’t worry about anything but be prayerfully expectant of His final return.