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Bible Commentaries

Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers
Luke 21

 

 

Verses 1-4

XXI.

(1-4) And saw the rich men casting their gifts.—See Notes on Mark 12:41-44. This may, perhaps, be thought of as one of the incidents which St. Luke derived from verbal communication with his brother-evangelist. (See Introduction.)


Verse 2

(2) A certain poor widow.—St. Luke’s word for “poor” differs from St. Mark’s, and seems to have been carefully chosen to express the fact that the widow, though “needy,” and compelled to work for her scanty maintenance, was yet not a “beggar,” as the more common word for “poor” suggested. It is not found elsewhere in the New Testament.


Verse 3

(3) Of a truth.—St. Luke’s use (according to the better MSS.) of the Greek for “truly,” instead of St. Mark’s “Amen” (so in the Greek), may, perhaps, be noted as characteristic.


Verse 4

(4) For all these have . . . cast.—Better, all these cast . . ., and so in the next clause.

Unto the offerings of God.—The better MSS. omit the last two words. “Offerings,” literally, gifts.


Verse 5-6

(5, 6) And as some spake of the temple.—See Notes on Matthew 24:1-2; Mark 13:1-2, where the “some” are identified with the disciples.

Goodly stones.—These were probably so called, either as being sculptured, or as being of marble, or porphyry, or other of the more precious materials used in building.

Gifts.—St. Luke uses the more strictly classical word for “offerings,” according to some of the best MSS., in the self-same form as the Anathĕma (1 Corinthians 12:3; 1 Corinthians 16:12), which elsewhere in the New Testament is confined to the idea of that which is set apart, not for a blessing, but a curse. The fact that he is the only writer to use it in its good sense is characteristic of his Gentile and classical training. Other MSS., however, give the more usual term, Anathçma, as if it had been found necessary to distinguish the form of the word according to its uses.


Verses 7-19

(7-19) Master, but when shall these things be?—See Notes on Matthew 24:3-14; Mark 13:3-13. St. Luke omits the Mount of Olives as being the scene of the question and the prophecy, and the names of the questioners, the latter being given by St. Mark only. The variations in the report throughout imply an independent source—probably oral—of information, as distinct from transcription either from one of the Gospels or from a document common to both of them. On the whole, he agrees much more with St. Mark than St. Matthew.


Verse 8

(8) Saying, I am Christ.—Literally, I am. The italics show that the word “Christ” is an interpolation. The sentence is better left in the vagueness of the original, or with only a pronoun as the predicate, I am He. The use of the words in John 1:21; John 8:58, may be referred to as showing that they had become significant even without a predicate.

The time draweth near.—Better, the season has come near.

Go ye not therefore . . .—The better MSS. omit the last words.


Verse 9

(9) Commotions.—The word does not occur in the other Gospels, but is used by St. Paul in 1 Corinthians 14:33 (“confusion”), 2 Corinthians 6:5; 2 Corinthians 12:20 (“tumults”). Its exact meaning is unsettlement, disorder.

Be not terrified.—The word is used by St. Luke only, here and in Luke 24:37, in the New Testament.

By and by.—Better, as elsewhere, immediately.


Verse 11

(11) Famines and pestilences.—The mention of the latter is, as far as the best MSS. are concerned, a feature peculiar to St. Luke. Others, however, give the same combination in Matthew 24:7. The Greek nouns are all but identical in sound (limos = famine, and loimos = pestilence), and there is accordingly a kind of rhythmical emphasis of sound which cannot be reproduced in English.

Fearful sights.—The Greek word, literally things of terror, is peculiar to St. Luke. He omits here “the beginning of troubles.” or “travail-pangs,” which we find in St. Matthew and St. Mark.


Verse 12

(12) Before all these.—The special indication that the sufferings from persecution should precede those from wars, famines, and the like, is peculiar to St. Luke, and was, it need hardly be said, abundantly fulfilled.


Verse 13

(13) It shall turn to you for a testimony.—There are but two writers in the New Testament who use the verb (literally, to come out) in this figurative sense. St. Luke is one, and the other is St. Paul, in a passage so closely parallel to this as to read almost like an echo of it (Philippians 1:19). The “testimony” is defined by Mark 13:9, as being borne to the kings and rulers before whom the disciples were to stand.


Verse 14

(14) Not to meditate before . . .—The word differs from that used in the parallel passage of Mark 13:11, “take no thought” (the addition of “premeditate” there is very doubtful), as involving less anxiety. It is not found elsewhere in the New Testament, but the uncompounded verb meets us, as used by St. Paul, in 1 Timothy 4:15.


Verse 15

(15) I will give you a mouth and wisdom.—The promise, even in its form, reminds us of that given to Moses when he drew back from the task of uttering God’s message to His people (Exodus 4:15-16). The inward faculty of thought, the outward power of uttering thought in words, should both be given. The words are not without their importance as bearing on the supposed distinction between verbal inspiration and that which is confined to thoughts. So far as it goes, it is against that distinction. And indeed, useful as it may seem in theory, as meeting some of the difficulties, real or supposed, which attach to the theory of verbal inspiration, it seems clear, even on purely psychological grounds, that, as men think through the medium of language, the inspiration which extends to thoughts must extend also, and under the same laws and conditions, to the words in which they are expressed. What those laws and conditions are is a wider question, on which this is not the place to enter. The answer is to be found in a reverential and careful induction from the facts which the phenomena of inspiration present to us.

Adversaries.—Another favourite word of St. Paul’s (1 Corinthians 16:9; Philippians 1:28, et al.), and used by no other writer in the New Testament except St. Luke.


Verse 18

(18) There shall not an hair of your head perish.—The promise does not meet us in this form in the parallel passages of the two other Gospels. A like promise meets us in Matthew 10:30, Luke 12:7. The very same phrase occurs, however, almost as if it were a quotation from this Gospel, in St. Paul’s address to the sailors, in Acts 27:34.


Verse 19

(19) In your patience possess ye your souls.—Better, By your endurance gain ye your lives. The verb, unless used in the perfect tense, always involves the idea of “acquiring” rather than “possessing,” and the command so understood answers to the promise, “He that endureth to the end, the same shall be saved,” in Matthew 23:13, Mark 13:13. Some of the best MSS., indeed, give this also as a promise, “By your endurance ye shall gain.”


Verses 20-24

(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.


Verse 21

(21) Let not them that are in the countries . . .—The noun is sometimes rendered “coasts,” sometimes “region,” sometimes “fields.” The latter meaning would seem to be that here intended. Comp. John 4:35, James 5:4, where the word is so rendered.


Verse 22

(22) These be the days of vengeance.—The words answer to the “great tribulation” of St. Matthew and St. Mark, and seem, as indeed does St. Luke’s report of the discourse throughout, to be of the nature of a paraphrase. The word “vengeance” may have been chosen, on this view, in allusive reference to the teaching of Luke 18:7-8. It may be noted as one which, though not exclusively used by them, is yet characteristic both of St. Luke and St. Paul (Romans 12:19; 2 Corinthians 7:11; and 2 Thessalonians 1:8). The reference to the “things which are (better, have been) written,” is peculiar to St. Luke.


Verse 23

(23) Great distress in the land.—Literally, great need, or necessity. The word, which St. Luke uses as an equivalent for “tribulation,” is not found in the other Gospels in this sense. It is, however, so used by St. Paul (1 Corinthians 7:26; 2 Corinthians 6:4; 2 Corinthians 12:10; 1 Thessalonians 3:7).


Verse 24

(24) And they shall fall by the edge of the sword.—There is nothing in the parallel prophecies of the other two Gospels that answers to this special description, and it is possible, as suggested above, that St. Luke’s report here has somewhat of the character of a free paraphrase, such as was natural in an oral communication of what was variously remembered.

Until the times of the Gentiles be fulfilled.—The thought expressed in this clause, that the punishment of Israel, and the desolation of Jerusalem were to have a limit, that there was one day to be a restoration of both, is noticeable as agreeing with the whole line of St. Paul’s thoughts in Romans 9-11, and being in all probability the germ of which those thoughts are the development. In Romans 11:25, “till the fulness of the Gentiles be come in,” we have a distinct echo of the words, “until the times (better, the seasons) of the Gentiles be fulfilled.”


Verses 25-33

(25-33) And there shall be signs in the sun.—See Notes on Matthew 24:29-35, Mark 13:24-31, where the “signs” are defined as the “sun being darkened, and the moon not giving her light.”

Distress of nations.—The Greek for the first noun means literally, constraint, the sense of being hemmed in, as when we say “in great straits.” It is used by St. Paul in 2 Corinthians 2:4, and not elsewhere in the New Testament. The word for “perplexity” is used by St. Luke only.

The sea and the waves roaring.—The better MSS. give a different punctuation and reading, with perplexity from the roar of the sea, and of the surge, or wave. In the common reading we have another instance of agreement with St. Paul, in 1 Corinthians 13:1, where the word is rendered “tinkling”—better, echoing, or resounding. Assuming, as has been suggested above, that St. Luke’s report is of the nature of a paraphrase, we may, perhaps, connect this feature in it with his own experience. To one who had known the perils of waters narrated in Acts 27, no picture of the more dread phenomena of nature could be complete without “the sea and the waves roaring.”


Verse 26

(26) Men’s hearts failing them for fear.—The verb so rendered is used by St. Luke only in the New Testament. Its literal meaning is to breathe out the soul, and it was, therefore, a word which would naturally enter into the vocabulary of a physician, both in its primary and figurative sense. The mental state which it expresses exactly agrees with that described in Acts 27:20, in connection with the tempest.

For looking after those things.—Literally, for expectation, the noun being used only by St. Luke in the New Testament.


Verse 28

(28) Look up.—The Greek word, literally, bend up, or turn up, meets us here and in Luke 13:11, and nowhere else in the New Testament, except in the doubtful passage of John 8:7; John 8:10.

Redemption.—The word, familiar as it is to us, is, in the special form here used, another of those characteristic of St. Paul’s phraseology (Romans 3:24; Romans 8:23; 1 Corinthians 1:30; Ephesians 1:7, et al.). It occurs also in Hebrews 9:15; Hebrews 11:35. In its primary meaning here it points to the complete deliverance of the disciples from Jewish persecutions in Palestine that followed on the destruction of Jerusalem. The Church of Christ was then delivered from what had been its most formidable danger.


Verse 29

(29) And all the trees.—The addition is peculiar to St. Luke. It confirms the impression that the words, which were spoken just before the Passover, when the flush of spring-tide life was seen in every grove and forest, were suggested by what met the eye of the disciples on the Mount of Olives. (See Note on Matthew 24:32.) One such tree, we know, had been found in full foliage (Matthew 21:19).


Verse 31

(31) Know ye that the kingdom of God is nigh at hand.—St. Luke’s paraphrase fills up and explains what stands in St. Matthew and St. Mark more simply, “It is near, even at the doors.”


Verse 32-33

(32, 33) Verily I say unto you . . .—Here the variation ceases for a time, and the two verses are identical with Matthew 24:34-35, and Mark 13:30-31.


Verse 34

(34) Take heed to yourselves, lest at any time . . .—We again pass into what has nothing corresponding to it in the other reports of the discourse, and may therefore be assumed to be of the nature of a paraphrase. We note in it, as such, that, as far as the New Testament is concerned, St. Luke only uses the words for “overcharged” and “surfeiting” (the latter word belonged, more or less, to the vocabulary of medical science); St. Luke and St. Paul alone those for “drunkenness” (Romans 13:13; Galatians 5:21), and cares “of this life” (1 Corinthians 6:3-4), and “unawares” (1 Thessalonians 5:3). In the last passage we have what reads almost like a distinct echo from this verse. The whole passage, it may be noted, falls in with St. Luke’s characteristic tendency to record all portions of our Lord’s teaching that warned men against sensuality and worldliness.


Verse 35

(35) As a snare . . .—The word is not found in the other Gospels, but is used several times by St. Paul (Romans 11:9; 1 Timothy 3:7; 1 Timothy 6:9; 2 Timothy 2:26).

Them that dwell . . .—Elsewhere in the New Testament, the verb is used in its literal meaning of “sitting.” In the sense of “dwelling” or “residing,” we find it, probably, again in Acts 2:2.


Verse 36

(36) Pray always.—The word is not the same commonly used for “pray,” but occurs once only in the other Gospels (Matthew 9:38). St. Luke uses it fifteen times in the Gospel and Acts together, and St. Paul six times (2 Corinthians 5:20; 2 Corinthians 8:4; 2 Corinthians 10:2, et seq.). It is not used by any other New Testament writer.

That ye may be accounted worthy . . .—See Note on Luke 20:35. The better MSS., however, give, “that ye may have strength to escape.”

To stand before the Son of man.—The same preposition is used with special reference to the final judgment in 2 Corinthians 5:10, 1 Thessalonians 3:13.


Verse 37

(37) In the day time . . . at night.—Literally, in the days . . . the nights, the words pointing to the mode in which the week was spent from the first day to the evening of the fifth.

Abode.—The word is better translated lodged in Matthew 21:12. Strictly speaking, it meant to lodge, not in a room, but in the court-yard of a house; and so was used generally, in military language, for a “bivouac.” It would seem to have been chosen by both Evangelists (it does not occur elsewhere in the New Testament) to include the fact, implied in all four and definitely stated by St. John, that most of the nights were spent not in a house, but in the garden, or orchard, of Gethsemane (John 18:1-2).

That is called the mount of Olives.—Better, perhaps, here, as in Luke 19:29 (where see Note), that is called Olivet.


Verse 38

(38) All the people came early in the morning.—The Greek verb, which answers to the five last words, does not occur elsewhere in the New Testament, but is not uncommon in the Greek version of the Old, as in Genesis 19:2; Genesis 19:27; Song Song of Solomon 7:12; and figuratively, in Job 8:5; Jeremiah 25:3; Wisdom of Solomon 6:14. It may be that the general statement thus given includes the fourth and fifth days of the week of the Passion, but it is remarkable that all three Gospels are silent as to anything that happened on those days till we come to the Paschal Supper. We may, perhaps, reverently conjecture that they were spent by our Lord, in part at least, in Gethsemane (John 18:2), in prayer and meditation, in preparing Himself and the disciples for the coming trials of the Passion. Possibly, also, the narrative of the Woman taken in Adultery, which occupies so strangely doubtful a position in St. John’s Gospel, may find its true place here. (See Note on John 8:1.)

 


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Bibliography Information
Ellicott, Charles John. "Commentary on Luke 21:4". "Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/ebc/luke-21.html. 1905.

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