THEN HE LOOKED up, and here were some of these rich men ostentatiously casting their money into the temple treasury, and amongst them came a poor widow casting in her two mites. We must not allow the break of the chapters to divorce in our minds these opening verses from the closing two of Luke 20. The widow was presumably one of those whose "house" had been devoured, yet instead of repining, she cast her last two mites into the temple treasury. Under these circumstances her gift was truly a great one, and the Lord pronounced it to be so. She went to the utmost limit; casting in her all.
Nor must we divorce this touching incident from the verses that follow, particularly verse 6. The widow expressed her devotion to God by casting her two mites into the collection for the upkeep of the temple fabric; yet the Lord proceeds to foretell its total destruction. Already it was displaced by the presence of the Lord. God was in Christ, not in Herod's temple. In her understanding the widow was, as we should say, behind the times; yet this did not mar the Lord's approval of her gift. Whole-hearted devotion He does appreciate, even if the expression of it is not marked by complete intelligence. This should be a great comfort to us.
Luke now gives us the Lord's prophetic discourse, putting on record that part of it which specially answered the disciples' question, as recorded in verse 7. As Matthew's account shows, both their question and the Lord's answer contained in them a good deal more than Luke puts on record. Here the question is as to the time of the overthrow of the temple, and the sign of it. The answer divides itself into two parts: verses 8-24, events that led up to the destruction and treading down of Jerusalem by the Romans, verses 25-33, the appearing of the Son of Man at the end of the age.
It is very noticeable how the Lord presents the whole matter not as a mass of details, appealing to our curiosity, but as predictions which sound a note of warning, and convey instructions of the utmost importance to His disciples. Everything is stated in a way to appeal to our consciences and not our curiosity.
The first part of the discourse, verses 8-19, is occupied with very personal instructions to the disciples. The Lord does indeed make predictions. He foretells (1) the rising up of false Christs, (2) wars and commotions, together with abnormal happenings in the physical world around, (3) the coming of bitter opposition and persecution, even unto death. But in each case His disciples are to be forearmed by His warnings. They are not for one moment to be deceived by false Christs, or follow them. They are not to be afraid of the violent movements of men, nor imagine that these convulsions mean that the end is coming immediately-for that is what "by and by" means here. They are to accept the persecution as an occasion for testimony, and in testifying are not to rely on a prepared defence but on supernatural wisdom to be granted to them when the moment arrives.
Verse 18 is evidently intended to convey the personal and intimate way in which God would care for them. The closing words of verse 16 show it does not mean that all of them would escape; but even if death claimed them, all would be made good in resurrection. By patient endurance they would win through, whether in life or in death. This seems to be the meaning of verse 19. We can see in the Acts how these things were fulfilled in the Apostles.
Then, verses 20-24, He predicts the desolation of Jerusalem. No word appears here as to the setting up of "the abomination of desolation," for that is only to happen at the end of the times of the Gentiles: all the things the Lord specifies were fulfilled when Jerusalem was destroyed by the Romans. Then the city was compassed with armies. Then those who believed the words of Jesus did flee to the mountains, and so escaped the horrors of the siege. Then there commenced "days of vengeance" for the Jew, which will not cease for them until all that is predicted is fulfilled. Then started the long captivity which has persisted, and will persist, with Jerusalem under the feet of the nations, until the times of the Gentiles are ended. Those times began when God raised up Nebuchadnezzar, who dispossessed the last king of David's line, and they will be ended by the crushing of Gentile dominion at the appearing of Christ.
Consequently verse 25 carries us right on to the time of the end, and speaks of things which will just precede His advent. There will be signs in the heavenly regions, and on earth distress and perplexity; "sea and waves" being expressions figurative of the masses of mankind in a state of violent unrest and agitation. In result men will be "ready to die through fear and expectation of what is coming" (N.Tr.). In view of the state of things that prevails on earth as we write, it is not difficult for us to conceive the condition of things which the Lord thus predicts.
This is the moment when God is going to shake the heavens as well as the earth, as Haggai predicted; and when only things which cannot be shaken will remain. All will lead up to the public appearing of the Son of Man in power and great glory. The day of His poverty will be over, as well as the day of His patience; and the day of His power, of which Psalm 110 speaks, will have fully arrived. Previous to His coming, the hearts of unconverted men will be filled with fear: when He has come, their worst fears will be realized, and "all kindreds of the earth shall wail because of Him" (Rev. 1: 7).
But to His saints His coming will wear another aspect, as verse 28 makes happily manifest. For them it means a final redemption, when all creation will be delivered from the bondage of corruption. That being so, the first signs of His advent are to fill us with glad anticipation. We are to "look up," for the next movement that really counts is to come from the right hand of God, where He sits. We are to "lift up our heads," the opposite of hanging them down in depression or fear. The very things that frighten the world are to fill the believer with the optimism of holy expectation.
Next comes the short parable of the fig tree. It is said to be "a parable," you notice, not a mere illustration. The fig tree stands for the Jew nationally. For centuries he has been dead nationally, and when at last there are signs of national reviving with them, and signs of reviving too with other "trees," of ancient nationalities, we may know that the millennial "summer" is near. Until that time comes there shall be no passing away of "this generation"-by this term the Lord indicated, we believe, that "froward generation . . . in whom is no faith," of which Moses spoke in Deuteronomy 32: 5, 20. When the kingdom is established, that generation will be gone.
Luke's short account of the Lord's prophecy ends with the solemn words in which He asserted the truth and reliability of His words. Every word of His lips has something in it, something to be fulfilled, and is more stable than the heavens and the earth. Thus verse 33 furnishes the striking thought that the words of His lips are more enduring than the works of His fingers.
He closed with another appeal to the consciences of His disciples, and our consciences as well. No doubt those three verses, 34, 35, 36, have special application to saints who will be on earth just before His appearing, but they have a great voice for the believer today. A multiplicity of pleasures surrounds us, and we may easily become over-charged with a surfeit of them. On the other hand, there were never more and greater dangers on the horizon, and our hearts may be laden with forebodings, so that we lose sight of the day that is coming. It is very possible to be occupied so much with the doings of dictators and the progress of world movements that the coming of the Lord is obscured in our minds. The word for us is, "Watch ye therefore, and pray always." Then shall we be thoroughly awake, and ready to greet the Lord when He comes.
In the closing verses of the chapter, Luke reminds us that He, who thus foretold His coming again, was still the rejected One. By day during that last week, He diligently uttered the word of God: at night, having no home, He abode on the Mount of Olives.
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