20 “But when you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies, then know that its desolation has come near. 21 Then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains, and let those who are inside the city depart, and let not those who are out in the country enter it, 22 for these are days of vengeance, to fulfill all that is written. 23 Alas for women who are pregnant and for those who are nursing infants in those days! For there will be great distress upon the earth and wrath against this people. 24 They will fall by the edge of the sword and be led captive among all nations, and Jerusalem will be trampled underfoot by the Gentiles, until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled.
25 “And there will be signs in sun and moon and stars, and on the earth distress of nations in perplexity because of the roaring of the sea and the waves, 26 people fainting with fear and with foreboding of what is coming on the world. For the powers of the heavens will be shaken. 27 And then they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory. 28 Now when these things begin to take place, straighten up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.” – Luke 21:20-28 ESV
As Jesus and His disciples sat on the Mount of Olives gazing across the Kidron Valley at the majestic temple gracing the pinnacle of Mount Zion, He broke the news to them that God’s house would one day be destroyed.
“As for these things that you see, the days will come when there will not be left here one stone upon another that will not be thrown down.” – Luke 21:6 ESV
Then He followed this distressing news with the disturbing revelation that the temple }s destruction would be accompanied by wars, famines, and earthquakes. Not only that, they could expect to experience persecution, suffering, and betrayal; even by their own family members. Some of them would even end their lives as martyrs for the cause of Christ.
And as if all that was not bad enough, Jesus announced that Jerusalem itself would be besieged and destroyed.
“…when you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies, then you will know that the time of its destruction has arrived.” – Luke 21:20 NLT
The unexpected and disturbing nature of Jesus’ words left the disciples reeling. How could this be? Why would God allow His temple to undergo desecration and destruction at the hands of His enemies? Yet, that is exactly what Jesus announced would happen. And in 70 A.D., Jesus’ prophetic words of became a devastating reality. It was in August of that fateful year, after a five-month-long siege, that Titus and the Roman army entered Jerusalem and destroyed the second temple. Jesus predicted this event and warned that when it came, everyone in Judea and Jerusalem should make places to run for their lives.
“…those in Judea must flee to the hills. Those in Jerusalem must get out, and those out in the country should not return to the city…” – Luke 21:21 NLT
This tragic event would be a partial fulfillment of the “days of vengeance” as foretold by the prophets of God. But many of the Old Testament prophecies had a now-not-yet aspect to them. When Jesus prophesied about the destruction of the temple, His words also included a now-not-yet dimension. He was inferring far more than the disciples realized. Yes, within just a few decades, the nation of Israel would experience yet one more invasion by a foreign power that ended in the destruction of their capital and the demoralization of its people. But it would not spell the end of Israel. As bad as things would be in 70 A.D., Israel would rebound and survive.
But Jesus’ words contain a far more dire and long-term prognosis for Israel’s future. He describes a day when “there will be disaster in the land and great anger against this people. They will be killed by the sword or sent away as captives to all the nations of the world. And Jerusalem will be trampled down by the Gentiles until the period of the Gentiles comes to an end” (Luke 21:23-24 NLT).
Both Matthew and Mark recorded this very same warning from Jesus in their gospel accounts. They both report that Jesus described the nature of this future event as unprecedented in scope and scale.
“For there will be greater anguish than at any time since the world began. And it will never be so great again. In fact, unless that time of calamity is shortened, not a single person will survive. But it will be shortened for the sake of God’s chosen ones.” – Matthew 24:21-22 NLT
And all three gospel writers reveal that this future event will be accompanied by remarkable cosmic signs and supernatural environmental disasters.
“…there will be strange signs in the sun, moon, and stars. And here on earth the nations will be in turmoil, perplexed by the roaring seas and strange tides. People will be terrified at what they see coming upon the earth, for the powers in the heavens will be shaken.” – Luke 21:25-26 NLT
But when the people on earth least expect it, they will suddenly “see the Son of Man coming on a cloud with power and great glory” (Luke 21:27 NLT). This is a reference to Jesus’ second coming, when He returns to earth as the King of kings and Lord of lords. This will take place at the end of the seven years of Tribulation that immediately follow the Rapture of the Church. The timeline goes something like this: As 1 Thessalonians 4:16-18 indicates, the Lord will one day return for His bride, the church. This Rapture or “snatching up” up of God’s people will remove all believers from the face of the earth. This will also remove the restraining influence that God’s people provide. With believers no longer present to mitigate the devastating influence of evil, the world will become a place marked by unrestrained sin and rebellion against God. Yet, even then, God will redeem a remnant from among those living on earth in those days. They will end up as martyrs, the unfortunate recipients of the Satan-inspired wrath of the Antichrist. And while God will rain down a series of devastating judgments upon the world, most of those living in those days will refuse to honor Him as God. So, at the end of the seven years, God will send His Son to earth a second time.
The apostle John describes the nature of Jesus’ second coming in vivid terms.
Then I saw heaven opened, and a white horse was standing there. Its rider was named Faithful and True, for he judges fairly and wages a righteous war. His eyes were like flames of fire, and on his head were many crowns. A name was written on him that no one understood except himself. He wore a robe dipped in blood, and his title was the Word of God. The armies of heaven, dressed in the finest of pure white linen, followed him on white horses. From his mouth came a sharp sword to strike down the nations. He will rule them with an iron rod. He will release the fierce wrath of God, the Almighty, like juice flowing from a winepress. On his robe at his thigh was written this title: King of all kings and Lord of all lords. – Revelation 19:11-16 NLT
The disciples of Jesus will be long gone before this event takes place. Yet, Jesus told them, “…when these things begin to take place, straighten up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near” (Luk2 21:28 ESV). They were going to witness the “birth pains” that would preview the coming of His return, but they would not live long enough to see Him “coming in a cloud with power and great glory” (Luke 21:27 ESV). But they could rest in the knowledge that God’s grand redemptive plan for the world was impeccable and unstoppable. His will would eventually be done on earth as it is in heaven.
English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.
New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.
The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson