“Watch ye therefore, and pray always, that ye may be accounted worthy to escape all these things that shall come to pass, and to stand before the Son of Man” (Luke 21:36). The Lord’s prophecy was given during the last week of his earthly ministry after He taught in the temple (Luke 21:37, Matthew 24:3). His words were carefully thought out with the intention of giving final instructions for his beloved followers regarding the end of the Jewish Age, his Presence at the end of the Gospel Age, and the events in between. The message of Luke 21 has a strong emphasis on the more immediate events to come upon the Jerusalem he longed to bless. By Divine providence a widow gave a small but wholehearted offering into the treasury. Jesus commented on her offering. This led to a discussion about the beauty of the temple and how it was “put in order” (kosmeo, Strongs 2885) with beautiful stones and consecrated gifts. Perhaps this was a divine overruling that led Jesus to discuss the destiny of Jerusalem, beginning with a shocking announcement. “As to these things which you are beholding, days will come in which stone shall not be left upon stone which shall not be thrown down” (Luke 21:6, Strong’s Interlinear Greek-English New Testament).
Before the Judgment, A Witness of Truth
In response to Jesus’ words, the disciples asked, “Teacher … when will these things happen? And what will be the sign that they are about to take place?” (Luke 21:7 NIV). Jesus warned against being led astray, saying many would come in his name claiming to be Messiah. (For example, see Acts 5:36.) There would be wars and commotions. “These things must take place first, but the end does not follow immediately. Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom, and there will be great earthquakes, … plagues and famines; and there will be terrors and great signs from heaven. But before all these things, they will lay their hands on you and will persecute you, delivering you to the synagogues and prisons, bringing you before kings and governors for my name’s sake. It will lead to an opportunity for your testimony” (Luke 21:9-13 NAS). These words describe the time preceding the destruction of the temple. Before the judgment and trouble there would be a time of persecution and challenge, a God-given opportunity to testify to the truth. Jesus was warning his followers of the persecution they would face after his death, and spoke of the courageous testimonies of Peter, Paul, and others before kings and rulers, fearless in the face of persecution and imprisonment (Philippians 1:12-14, Acts 5:25-27, 12:1-4, 23:33,34, 24:1-26, 2 Timothy 4:16,17, Revelation 1:9). These words also foreshadow the persecution of the Gospel Age, including the Dark Age Inquisition, when the love of many would fall away and the love of many would wax cold (Matthew 24:9-12, Revelation 6:9). They relate as well to the end of the age, before the final trouble, when the Church class has the privilege of speaking truth before kings and governors (Psalm 2, Acts 4). Satan’s purpose in this persecution has been to destroy God’s people and to deceive all others. However, God, in His wisdom, uses such evil to develop the faith of His people and give them the privilege of testifying for Christ (see Psalms 76:10).
How to Deal with Such Challenges
“Therefore settle in your heart not to premeditate to make a defense; for I will give you a mouth and wisdom which all those opposing you will not be able to reply to nor to resist. But you will be delivered up even by parents and brethren and relations and friends, and they will put some from among you to death, and you will be hated by all because of my name. And a hair of your head may in no wise perish. By your patient endurance gain your souls” (Luke 21:14-19). We see wonderful lessons demonstrated by our brethren as they experienced the fulfillment of Jesus’ words:
- Trust in the indwelling work of Christ in our hearts and minds. He can spontaneously equip us, through the holy Spirit, to say what needs to be said (John 14:26-27, 16:1-4, 13).
- Admit the limitations of human relationhips and their potential to betray (John 2:23- 25, Psalms 27:10).
- Trust in a Divine relationship, and that God knows every detail of the challenges we face and is able to protect our consecrations (1 Peter 1:3-5). The reference to “a hair of your head will not perish” or be lost (Luke 21:18) represents the vows of consecration pictured in the Nazarite Vow. “All the days of his vow of separation no razor shall pass over his head” (Numbers 6:5).
- Spiritual life is gained by hopeful endurance and constancy [hupomone, Strongs 5281] (Luke 21:19). Keep hope in God and His purposes alive in our hearts.
Flee to the Mountains
“When you see Jerusalem being encircled with armies then know that her desolation has drawn near. Then those in Judea, let them flee to the mountains; and those in their midst depart out, and those in the countries let them not enter into her; for these are days of avenging, that all things … written may be accomplished” (Luke 21:20-22). Jesus instructed his followers how to survive the destruction of Jerusalem. In 66 AD the Jews of the Judean Province revolted against the Roman Empire. As a result Nero appointed Vespasian to put down the rebellion. By 67 AD all of Galilee had been subdued and plans for the strategic encirclement of Jerusalem were soon formed. When news of Nero’s death arrived in 68 AD, Vespasian decided to halt the siege of Jerusalem and wait for further instructions. In 69 AD Vespasian returned to Rome with tremendous military backing to become emperor. It was the withdrawal of Roman forces from Jerusalem that gave Christians of the city the opportunity to follow the Lord’s instruction and flee to the mountains. These were able to escape the awful horrors of the siege. The siege of Jerusalem was later renewed by Titus, the son of Vespasian, and the city was destroyed in 70 AD. As many as 1,100,000 Jews perished. (See Josephus, Wars of the Jews 6.9.3.)
Another Instruction to Flee to the Mountains
Matthew records a similar warning for those living after the gospel of the Kingdom has been preached to the whole world. This was accomplished when the Bible was translated into every major language (Matthew 24:14). “When you see the abomination of desolation which was spoken of through Daniel the prophet, standing [“having stood,” Harper’s Analytical Lexicon and Diaglotts: McReynolds, Wilson, and Kingdom Interlinear] in the holy place, let the reader understand, then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains; let him who is on the housetop not go down to get the things out that are in his house; and let him who is in the field not turn back to get his cloak” (Matthew 24:15-18).
We are told to flee to the mountains when we see, not the literal army of Rome, but the Papal system having introduced abominating doctrines that have caused spiritual ruin (Matthew 24:15). In Daniel 11:31, 12:10-11 the doctrine of transubstantiation and the Mass are specifically referred to as “taking away the daily sacrifice.” 1 When we see the desecration of the ransom doctrine, because we understand the lengths and breaths and heights and depths of the sacrifice of Christ, we become aware of a number of other desolating doctrines. We flee to the mountain of God’s Kingdom, so that His government and authority direct our lives (Colossians 1:13). In another illustration Jesus said, “There shall be two men in one [creed] bed; the one shall be taken, and the other shall be left” (Luke 17:34).
The command to “flee” tests our commitment to obey. When Jesus said that one is “taken” (Strongs 3880, paralambano: to receive near or associate with), he was saying that God has made a commitment to help us in this rigorous spiritual journey (Matthew 24:41). The Apostle Paul said, “I am apprehended [2638, katalambano: to take eagerly, seize, possess] by Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:12). Jesus eagerly takes hold of his followers. When Jesus described some being taken and others left the disciples asked, “Where, Lord?” Where are they taken? His answer was, “Where the body [carcass] is, there also will the eagles be gathered” (Luke17:37, Matthew 24:28).
We flee every vestige of man-made doctrine and sectarianism. We flee to feed and to be nourished by the true meaning of the sacrifice of Christ and the “gathering” fellowship in appreciation of all he has done. We are seized by the strength and direction of Christ Jesus.
Jesus continues on in Luke 21:24, “There will be great distress upon the land, and wrath to this people, and they will fall by the edge of the sword and be led captive into all the nations.” Jerusalem would continue to be trampled under the Gentile foot until 1914, when the Times of the Gentiles would be fulfilled. It was not possible for Israel to become a nation until after this Gentile domination was removed. Beginning in 1914, World War I was a momentous event in human history. It began the “Day of the Lord’s Vengeance” (Isaiah 34:8) against those systems that have opposed His righteousness. The Time of Trouble would prepare the world for the coming Kingdom. The restoration of Israel was one important event that grew out of the terrible conflict of the First World War. (See the article on Israel’s restoration for further details.)
Signs in the Sun, Moon and Stars
“And there shall be signs in the sun and moon and stars, and upon the earth distress of nations with perplexity [from 639: no way out, to be at a loss], roaring of the sea and rolling surge, men fainting at heart from fear and expectation of that which is coming on the habitable earth; for the powers of the heavens shall be shaken” (Luke 21:25-26, Matthew 24:29, Mark 13:24-25). Both the sun and the moon exercise gravity and life-sustaining cycles on the earth. Stars were a vital means of navigation. Our day of darkness and gloom makes people walk like blind men (Zephaniah 1:15,17).
We have experienced a whole gamut of events since the Lord’s return. Some of the signs in the sun, moon, and stars may include the fluctuation of error and truth in the various teachings of Christianity from the beginning of the harvest to its end. Evolution has undermined the need for the ransom, and Higher Criticism has challenged the credibility of the Word of God. Both were commonly preached from the pulpit in Brother Russell’s day. The harvest message was also well publicized in that time period, but the light of the ransom has been darkened since then. We now see trends toward greater political involvement by many of the churches, and this will add to the spiritual darkness and confusion, as false stars come down from a spiritual level to a political level.2
“The sun shall be turned into darkness, and the moon into blood, before the great and terrible [awesome, NASB] day of the LORD come” (Joel 2:31). The description of the moon in these verses can refer to an eclipse of the moon. During a lunar eclipse the moon often appears red because red light has the longest wavelength and passes through the atmosphere more easily than other colors. It falls on the moon making it appear red. The prophecy of Joel then describes a matter of perception regarding how people see the moon. The moon pictures the Law Covenant and Israel. The views of society eclipse and obscure the Gospel perspective on the nation of Israel and the light it shines on the Law Covenant. The world sees the sacrifices of the Law as bloody and barbaric, not understanding their true meaning. In our day we see a more positive view of Israel as a result of harvest truth and the work of our returned Lord standing for Israel (Daniel 12:1). But prophecy indicates that in the future there will be no support for Israel from the other nations of the world. Political expediency will force the views of the political powers to again see the “moon” of Israel’s covenant and existence in a different, more negative light. This will result in their abandonment of Israel (Zechariah 14:1-2).
(1) One editor suggests that the “abomination of desolation” is Papal Rome reigning as though Christ’s Kingdom, and determined to desolate the faithful church.
(2) Volume 4, The Battle of Armageddon, page 590.
Coming in a Cloud
“And then shall they see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory” (Luke 21:27). This is an extraordinary statement. They see (3700: to gaze with wide open eyes as at something remarkable — “to perceive” as in Matthew 13:13,14) the Son of Man, coming in a cloud of trouble. This may refer to the remnant of Israel who are first to recognize the deliverance of God through Jacob’s trouble, and the first to recognize the one whom they pierced as Messiah (Zechariah 12:10). In the Matthew 24 context, verse 31 mentions angels with a great trumpet who gather together God’s elect from the four winds, from one end of the sky to the other (see also Mark 13:27).
These verses may have an application to spiritual Israel as well as to natural Israel. In Deuteronomy 30:3-4 Israel is gathered from the “outmost parts of heaven.” This suggests that the harvest, or re-gathering of Israel, has some principles that correspond to the harvest of spiritual Israel. There are points of attraction for both natural and spiritual Israelites. Both are called to come out of the world. The land of Israel draws many Jews to their ancestral roots. Spiritual Israelites are drawn to a deeper fellowship and appreciation of the sacrifice of Christ. There is a sickle of truth for both classes. Zionism taught the need for a new nation of Israel to be formed. To the seeking Christian the understanding of prophecy and all of the related harvest truths are deeply compelling. There are also angels at work, on the natural side as well as the spiritual. On the natural side, they included Theodor Herzl, Arthur James Balfour, and Eliezer Ben Yehuda. On the spiritual side is Pastor Russell and other saints who have delivered God’s word. The harvest encompasses a far-reaching work: from the four corners of the earth, wherever the chosen people of God may be. Despite the distance or obstacles, they will be found and gathered.
Our Spiritual Posture
Between these momentous events is the important instruction for us: “When these things begin to take place, straighten up and lift up your heads, because your redemption is drawing near” (Luke 21:28). This verse addresses our spiritual posture. When we look down we see a very limited view. But when we look up we see the vast expanse of the heavens and the unlimited possibilities of God. “Sorrow looks down. Worry looks around. Faith looks up.”3 “To Thee I lift up my eyes, O Thou who art enthroned in the heavens!” (Psalm 123:1). “Let me hear Thy lovingkindness in the morning; for I trust in Thee; Teach me the way in which I should walk; for to Thee I lift up my soul” (Psalm 143:8).
The reason we should reach up to God with every emotional and spiritual aspect of life is because His guidance and wisdom are profound and unfailing. He is our buckler, and the One who lifts up our head from discouragement to amazement, because He responds to our needs in His best time and way. That is His part. Our part is to look up so that we can see and take hold of His deliverance (1 Timothy 6:12,19, Hebrews 6:18). When we look up we can see His bigger picture and the greater cause behind every turmoil and conflict, especially in the events of our day. We can see the ultimate triumph of our deliverance, followed by the deliverance of our whole human family.
The Fig Tree Blossoms
After discussing the Gentile Times, Jesus then comes back to the subject of Israel, pictured by the fig tree. He says that Israel, as well as many other nations, would blossom and put forth leaves. Along with the re-birth of the fig tree the number of nations has more than doubled since World War 2. These signs indicate that summer is near and the Kingdom is at the door (Matthew 24:33). The centralized powers of Europe have been fragmented as the Gentile Times have ended. Jesus then said, “This generation shall not pass, till all these things be fulfilled” (Luke 21:34).
From Desolation to Restoration
Luke 21 opened with Jesus’ dire words about the desolation of Jerusalem. In discussing the blossoming fig tree He has now come full circle to describe her restoration. The remnant of Israel, and then the nation as a whole, will see and understand the deliverance of God when all nations turn against her and there appears to be no hope of survival. Through their deliverance they will gaze at Messiah with the eyes of their understanding wide open, and with heartfelt appreciation for their remarkable deliverance and for his sacrifice on their behalf.
Israel will not only put forth leaves but will also bear fruit, as those rightly exercised will grow and mature in the image of Christ. Once again, the whole hearted offering of a foreigner or a eunuch (Isaiah 56:3-8), or a woman who was once a widow, (Luke 21:2) will bring honor to the Temple of God, a temple made with beautiful, strong stones of character and consecrated gifts of the Christ, head and body. “The heaven and the earth shall pass away, but my words in no wise may pass away” (Luke 21:33). The governments of Satan and man will be destroyed. All that can be shaken will be shaken (Hebrews 12:25-29). If our faith is not shaken in these tumultuous times the blessings will be sure.
Watch and Pray
“But take heed to yourselves, lest your hearts be laden with surfeiting [2897 kraipale, Vines; the giddiness and headache resulting from excessive winebibbing, a drunken nausea]; and drinking [3178 methe: intoxication]; and cares [3308 merimna: distractions] of life, and suddenly that day should come upon you; for as a snare shall it come upon all those sitting upon the face of all the earth. Watch therefore, praying at every season, that you may be accounted worthy to escape these things which are about to come to pass, and to stand before the Son of Man” (Luke 21:34-36). Rather than surfeiting, drunkenness, and the cares of life, Matthew describes the days of Noah. “They were eating and drinking, they were marrying and giving in marriage, until the day that Noah entered the ark, and they did not understand until the flood came and took them all away” (Matthew 24:37-39). Normal activities of life are listed, yet the days of Noah were filled with violence and angels took wives as it pleased them (Genesis 6:1-12). It is interesting that Jesus described this very violent and evil time in such normal terms. Perhaps the lesson is to not be overtaken by insensitivity to sin as we live in the deceptive “normality” of our own culture. We need to be aware of three traps: surfeiting — the impairment of our spiritual senses by worldly thinking, intoxication — absorbing too much worldly influence (Proverbs 20:1, 23:29- 35), and cares of the world — distractions which choke spiritual growth (Luke 8:14). Let us watch and pray in order for us to recognize and avoid these traps (Revelation 17:2,6, Ephesians 5:18-20, Romans 13:13, 1 Peter 5:7).