Bible Commentaries
Luke 21

Barclay's Daily Study BibleDaily Study Bible

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Verses 1-38

Chapter 21

THE PRECIOUS GIFT ( Luke 21:1-4 )

21:1-4 Jesus looked up and saw those who were putting their gifts into the treasury--rich people--and he saw a poor widow putting in two lepta. So he said, "I tell you truly that this poor widow has put in more than all, for all these contributed to the gifts out of their abundance, but she, out of her need, has put in everything she had to live on."

In the Court of the Women in the Temple there were thirteen collecting boxes known as the Trumpets. They were shaped like trumpets with the narrow part at the top and the wider part at the foot. Each was assigned to offerings for a different purpose--for the wood that was used to burn the sacrifice, for the incense that was burned on the altar, for the upkeep of the golden vessels, and so on. It was near the Trumpets that Jesus was sitting.

After the strenuous debates with the emissaries of the Sanhedrin and the Sadducees he was tired and his head drooped between his hands. He looked up and he saw many people flinging their offerings into the Trumpets; and then came a poor widow. All she had in the world was two lepta. A lepton ( G3016) was the smallest of all coins; the name means "the thin one." It was worth one fortieth of a new penny; and, therefore, the offering of the widow woman was only one-twentieth of a new penny. But Jesus said that it far outvalued all the other offerings, because it was everything she had.

Two things determine the value of any gift.

(i) There is the spirit in which it is given. A gift which is unwillingly extracted, a gift which is given with a grudge, a gift that is given for the sake of prestige or of self-display loses more than half its value. The only real gift is that which is the inevitable outflow of the loving heart, that which is given because the giver cannot help it.

(ii) There is the sacrifice which it involves. That which is a mere trifle to one man may be a vast sum to another. The gifts of the rich, as they flung their offerings into the Trumpets, did not really cost them much; but the two lepta ( G3016) of the widow woman cost her everything she had. They no doubt gave having nicely calculated how much they could afford; she gave with that utterly reckless generosity which could give no more.

Giving does not begin to be real giving until it hurts. A gift shows our love only when we have had to do without something or have had to work doubly hard in order to give it. How few people give to God like that! Someone draws a picture of a man in church, lustily singing,

Were the whole realm of Nature mine,

That were an offering far too small;

Love so amazing, so divine

Demands my soul, my life, my all,

while, all the time, he is carefully feeling the coins in his pocket to make sure that it is 10 p and not 50 p that he will put into the collection which is immediately to follow.

He is an insensate man who can read the story of the widow and her two lepta without searching and humiliating self-examination.

TIDINGS OF TROUBLE ( Luke 21:5-24 )

21:5-24 When some were speaking about the Temple, how it was adorned with lovely stones and offerings, Jesus said, "As for these things at which you are looking--days will come in which not one stone here will be left upon another, which will not be pulled down." They asked him, "Teacher, when, then, will these things be? And what will be the sign when these things are going to happen?" He said, "Take care that you are not led astray. Many will come in my name, saying, 'I am he!' and, 'The time is at hand!' Do not go after them. When you hear of wars and upheavals, do not be alarmed; for these things must happen first; but the end will not come at once."

Then he said to them, "Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be great earthquakes; in some places there will be famines and pestilences; there will be terrifying things, and great signs from heaven. Before all these things, they will lay hands upon you, and they will hand you over to the synagogues and prisons, and you will be brought before kings and governors for the sake of my name. It will all be an opportunity for you to bear witness to me. So, then, make up your minds not to prepare your defence beforehand, for I will give you a mouth and wisdom against which all your opponents will be unable to stand or argue. You will be handed over even by parents, and brothers, and kinsfolk and friends; some of you will be put to death; and you will be hated by all for the sake of my name. But not one hair of your head will perish. By your endurance you will win your souls.

"When you shall see Jerusalem encircled by armies, then know that the time of the desolation is at hand. At that time let those in Jerusalem flee to the mountains; let those who are in the midst of her go out of her; and let not those in the country districts enter into her, because these are days of vengeance, to fulfil all that stands written. Woe to those who, in those days, are carrying a child in the womb, or who have a babe at the breast. For great distress will be upon the earth and wrath upon all the people. They shall fall by the edge of the sword, and they will be taken away captive to all nations. Jerusalem will be trodden underfoot by the gentiles, until the times of gentiles are completed."

The Background Of The Chapter

From Luke 21:5 onwards this becomes a very difficult chapter. Its difficulty rests in the fact that beneath it lie four different conceptions.

(i) There is the conception of the day of the Lord. The Jews regarded time as being in two ages. There was the present age, which was altogether bad and evil, incapable of being cured, and fit only for destruction. There was the age to come, which was the golden age of God and of Jewish supremacy. But in between the two there would be the day of the Lord, which would be a terrible time of cosmic upheaval and destruction, the desperate birth-pangs of the new age.

It would be a day of terror. "Behold the day of the Lord comes, cruel with wrath and fierce anger, to make the earth a desolation and to destroy its sinners from it." ( Isaiah 13:9; compare Joel 2:1-2; Amos 5:18-20; Zephaniah 1:14-18.) It would come suddenly. "The day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night." ( 1 Thessalonians 5:2; compare 2 Peter 3:10.) It would be a day when the world would be shattered. "The stars of the heavens and their constellations will not give their light; the sun will be dark at its rising and the moon will not shed its light.... Therefore I will make the heavens tremble, and the earth will be shaken out of its place, at the wrath of the Lord of hosts in the day of his fierce anger." ( Isaiah 13:10-13; compare Joel 2:30-31; 2 Peter 3:10.)

The day of the Lord was one of the basic conceptions of religious thought in the time of Jesus; everyone knew these terrible pictures. In this passage Luke 21:9; Luke 21:11, Luke 21:25-26 take their imagery from that.

(ii) There is the prophesied fall of Jerusalem. Jerusalem fell to the Roman armies in A.D. 70 after a desperate siege in which the inhabitants were actually reduced to cannibalism and in which the city had to be taken literally stone by stone. Josephus says that an incredible number of 1,100,000 people perished in the siege and 97,000 were carried away into captivity. The Jewish nation was obliterated; and the Temple was fired and became a desolation. In this passage Luke 21:5-6, Luke 21:20-24 clearly refer to that event still to come.

(iii) There is the second coming of Christ. Jesus was sure that he was to come again and the early church waited for that coming. It will often help us to understand the New Testament passages about the second coming if we remember that much of the older imagery which had to do with the day of the Lord was taken and attached to it. In this passage Luke 21:27-28 clearly refer to it. Before the second coming it was expected that many false claimants to be the Christ would arise and great upheavals take place. In this passage Luke 21:7-9 refer to that.

(iv) There is the idea of persecution to come. Jesus clearly foresaw and foretold the terrible things his people would have to suffer for his sake in the days to come. In this passage Luke 21:12-19 refer to that.

This passage will become much more intelligible and valuable if we remember that beneath it there is not one consistent idea, but these four allied conceptions.

The Passage

It was a comment on the splendour of the Temple that moved Jesus to prophesy. In the Temple the pillars of the porches and of the cloisters were columns of white marble, forty feet high, each made of one single block of stone. Of the ornaments, the most famous was the great vine made of solid gold, each of whose clusters was as tall as a man. The finest description of the Temple as it stood in the time of Jesus is in Josephus, The Wars of the Jews, book 5, section 5. At one point he writes, "The outward face of the Temple in its front wanted nothing that was likely to surprise either men's minds or their eyes, for it was covered all over with plates of gold of great weight, and, at the first rising of the sun, reflected back a very fiery splendour, and made those who forced themselves to look upon it to turn their eyes away, just as they would have done at the sun's own rays. But the Temple appeared to strangers, when they were at a distance, like a mountain covered with snow, for, as to those parts of it that were not gilt, they were exceeding white." To the Jews it was unthinkable that the glory of the Temple should be shattered to dust.

From this passage we learn certain basic things about Jesus and about the Christian life.

(i) Jesus could read the signs of history. Others might be blind to the approaching disaster but he saw the avalanche about to descend. It is only when a man sees things through the eyes of God that he sees them clearly.

(ii) Jesus was completely honest. "This," he said to his disciples, "is what you must expect if you choose to follow me." Once in the middle of a great struggle for righteousness, an heroic leader wrote to a friend, "Heads are rolling in the sand; come and add yours." Jesus believed in men enough to offer them, not an easy way, but a way for heroes.

(iii) Jesus promised that his disciples would never meet their tribulations alone. It is the sheer evidence of history that the great Christians have written over and over again, when their bodies were in torture and when they were awaiting death, of sweet times with Christ. A prison can be like a palace, a scaffold like a throne, the storms of life like summer weather, when Christ is with us.

(iv) Jesus spoke of a safety that overpasses the threats of earth. "Not one hair of your head," he said, "will be harmed." In the days of the 1914-18 war Rupert Brooke, out of his faith and his ideal, wrote these lines:

We have found safety with all things undying,

The winds, and morning, tears of men and mirth,

The deep night, and birds singing, and clouds flying,

And sleep, and freedom, and the autumnal earth.

We have built a house which is not for Time's throwing,

We have gained a peace unshaken by pain for ever.

War knows no power. Safe shall be my going,

Secretly armed against all death's endeavour:

Safe though all safety's lost; safe where men fall;

And if these poor limbs die, safest of all.

The man who walks with Christ may lose his life but he can never lose his soul.

WATCH! ( Luke 21:25-37 )

21:25-37 And there will be signs in sun, and moon, and stars, and on earth the nations will be in distress and will not know what to do in the roaring of the sea and of the wave, while men's hearts will swoon from fear and from foreboding of the things that are coming on the world. The power of the heavens will be shaken; and then they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud, with power and much glory. When these things begin to happen, look up and lift up your hearts for your deliverance is near.

And he spoke this parable to them, "Look at the fig-tree and all the trees; whenever they put out their leaves, you see it for yourselves and you know that the harvest is near. So, whenever you see these things happening, you know that the kingdom of God is near. This is the truth I tell you, that this generation will not pass away until all these things have happened. The heaven and the earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away."

Take care lest your hearts grow heavy with dissipation and drunkenness and anxieties for the things of this life, and lest that day come suddenly upon you like a trap closing, for it will come upon all who dwell upon the face of the earth. Be watchful at all times, and keep praying that you may have strength to escape all the things that are going to happen, and to be able to stand before the Son of Man.

During the days Jesus was teaching in the Temple, but at night he went out and stayed in the Mount called the Mount of Olives; and all the people came early in the morning to listen to him in the Temple.

There are two main conceptions here.

(i) There is the conception of the second coming of Jesus Christ. There has always been much useless argument and speculation about the second coming. When it will be and what it will be like, are not ours to know. But the one great truth it enshrines is this--that history is going somewhere. The Stoics regarded history as circular. They held that every three thousand years or so the world was consumed by a great conflagration, then it started all over again and history repeated itself. That meant that history was going nowhere and men were tramping round on a kind of eternal treadmill. The Christian conception of history is that it has a goal and at that goal Jesus Christ will be Lord of all. That is all we know, and all we need to know.

(ii) There is stressed the need to be upon the watch. The Christian must never come to think that he is living in a settled situation. He must be a man who lives in a permanent state of expectation. A novelist, in one of her books, has a character who will not stoop to certain things that others do. "I know," she said, "that some day the great thing will come into my life and I want to keep myself fit to take it." We must live forever in the shadow of eternity, in the certainty that we are men who are fitting or unfitting themselves to appear in the presence of God. There can be nothing so thrilling as the Christian life.

(iii) Jesus spent the day amidst the crowds of the Temple; he spent the night beneath the stars with God. He won his strength to meet the crowds through his quiet time alone; he could face men because he came to men from God's presence.

-Barclay's Daily Study Bible (NT)

Bibliographical Information
Barclay, William. "Commentary on Luke 21". "William Barclay's Daily Study Bible". 1956-1959.