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The Second Coming of Christ (Luke 21:25-36)

25 “There will be signs in the sun, moon and stars. On the earth, nations will be in anguish and perplexity at the roaring and tossing of the sea. 26 Men will faint from terror, apprehensive of what is coming on the world, for the heavenly bodies will be shaken. 27 At that time they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory. 28 When these things begin to take place, stand up and lift up your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.”

29 He told them this parable: “Look at the fig tree and all the trees. 30 When they sprout leaves, you can see for yourselves and know that summer is near. 31 Even so, when you see these things happening, you know that the kingdom of God is near. 32 “I tell you the truth, this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened. 33 Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away.

34 “Be careful, or your hearts will be weighed down with dissipation, drunkenness and the anxieties of life, and that day will close on you unexpectedly like a trap. 35 For it will come upon all those who live on the face of the whole earth. 36 Be always on the watch, and pray that you may be able to escape all that is about to happen, and that you may be able to stand before the Son of Man.”

Introduction

It often takes a while for things to “sink in” with me, but I think I finally have a bit of a clue as to why the disciples were so excited about the temple and its beauty. You will recall that in the early verses of this 21st chapter of Luke the disciples were awe-struck with the splendor of the temple. Jesus quickly told them not to get too worked up about it because it would not be there that long. But the question has lingered, “Why would the splendor of the temple be such a big deal for the disciples?” Then it suddenly struck me. It is not a very pious thought, but then few of the disciples’ thoughts about the kingdom and their place in it were pious, until after the cross.

Office space is what this was all about. The disciples, I suspect, had visions of having their own offices in this beautiful building. Jesus had marched on Jerusalem. He had, in many regards, taken possession of the temple, not only by its cleansing (29:45-48), but also by going there daily to teach the masses.

The Messiah was predicted to reign in Jerusalem, from the temple. If His disciples were to have a part in this reign, then surely they would “office” in the temple. Aha! So now I can see why the splendor of the temple was such a big thing.

The splendor of the temple was to be short-lived, however. Jesus told His disciples that not one stone would be left standing on another. It would not be He, nor His disciples who would “reign” from Jerusalem, not at least for some time. The temple and the city of Jerusalem were to be surrounded and sacked by the Gentiles, and this city would be trampled by the Gentiles until the “times of the Gentiles was fulfilled” (Luke 21:24). Jesus has, up to this point, emphasized the nearer prophecy of the destruction of Jerusalem, which occurred in 70 A.D. In verses 25-38 He will turn His attention to the more distant future, and to the time of His return to the earth. His emphasis, here as usual, will be on the practical implications of prophecy on our daily lives. Let us listen well to His words, especially in the light of this statement, made in our text: “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away” (21:33).

If our Lord would have His disciples “calm down” about the temple, because it was about to “pass away,” surely He would have us approach His words with great excitement and expectation, knowing that they will never pass away.

The Structure of the Text

We have seen from our previous lesson that verses 7-38 have to do with prophecy, with the events of the future and their implications. To a large degree, verses 7-24 have focused on the near prophecy of the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple, but not necessarily entirely so. So, too, verses 25-38 have to do with the second coming of Christ, but not exclusively so. The structure of verses 25-38 may be outlined as follows:

(1) The Coming of the Son of Man—(vv. 25-28)

  • Signs which precede it (v. 25)
  • The response of unbelievers (vv. 26-27)
  • The response of the saved (v. 28)

(2) The Parable of the Fig Tree—(vv. 29-31)

(3) Two Promises: Things That Won’t Pass Away —(vv. 32-33)

(4) Jesus’ Words of Application and Exhortation—(vv. 34-36)

Our Perspective and this Passage

There are many difficulties with some of the details of our text, which at least be put into perspective. Chronologically, our passage deals with events which are all future to the listener, but which are greatly separated in time. Some events, like the destruction of Jerusalem and persecution for following Christ, will be experienced by the listener within a reasonably short time (as the book of Acts will report). Other events—those associated with the Lord’s second coming—will occur much later on, at the “end times.” And still other events will take place in the intervening times. Some events will happen more than once, such as the destruction of Jerusalem. It was to be “trampled by the Gentiles in the near future (which proved to be 70 A.D.), just as it will again be trampled by Gentiles at the end times:

2 But exclude the outer court; do not measure it, because it has been given to the Gentiles. They will trample on the holy city for 42 months. 3 And I will give power to my two witnesses, and they will prophesy for 1,260 days, clothed in sackcloth” (Revelation 11:2-3).

Thus, we cannot view the Lord’s prediction of the destruction of Jerusalem as only occurring once, in the lifetime of His listeners. Some events will be, as it were, types of things yet to come. The destruction of Jerusalem seems to be one of these.81 We should bear in mind also that even those events which take place at the end times are a part of an extensive program, which take some time to accomplish, as we can see from the book of Revelation.

Another perspective is the people involved. The people referred to in these verses are those of the various time periods. Thus, the people of that generation in which Jesus lived, those in the intervening years, and those who are alive at His return are in view at various times, or in some cases at all times. In addition, however, the people would include believers and unbelievers, whose perspective and response would be very different. Also, it would seem that there will be those believers who are not alert, and who would thus interpret events quite differently from those who eagerly await His return. All of these dimensions must be kept in mind when we seek to interpret and apply our Lord’s words.

Finally, the end times are viewed here, not from the perspective of the blessings which they will usher in, but from the aspect of divine retribution. According to our Lord’s words in verse 22, these are “days of vengeance.” As you read through the entire prophecy, this fact becomes more and more evident. Jesus could have chosen to speak of the blessings which await the believer (as Peter does in 1 Peter 1:6-9), but He chose instead to speak of divine judgment. This is because the destruction of the temple is an outpouring of God’s wrath.

Signs of the End Times
(21:25-28)

25 “There will be signs in the sun, moon and stars. On the earth, nations will be in anguish and perplexity at the roaring and tossing of the sea.82 26 Men will faint from terror, apprehensive of what is coming on the world, for the heavenly bodies will be shaken. 27 At that time they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory. 28 When these things begin to take place, stand up and lift up your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.”

Verse 25 depicts the end times as being signaled, not by a sign, but by various signs. In particular, the coming of our Lord will be preceded by cosmic chaos. In the heavens, sun, moon, and stars will be affected. On earth, the sea will be tossing and roaring. One must decide how literally to take these,83 and not all will agree. Nevertheless, I am inclined to see them as literal.84 In the first place, we know that the heavens, can greatly affect the earth. For example, the moon’s gravitational pull creates our tides in the seas. Second, and more importantly, the prophecies of the book of Revelation speak of cosmic and earthly chaos in what seems to be literal terms:

12 I watched as he opened the sixth seal. There was a great earthquake. The sun turned black like sackcloth made of goat hair, the whole moon turned blood red, 13 and the stars in the sky fell to earth, as late figs drop from a fig tree when shaken by a strong wind. 14 The sky receded like a scroll, rolling up, and every mountain and island was removed from its place. 15 Then the kings of the earth, the princes, the generals, the rich, the mighty, and every slave and every free man hid in caves and among the rocks of the mountains. 16 They called to the mountains and the rocks, “Fall on us and hide us from the face of him who sits on the throne and from the wrath of the Lamb! 17 For the great day of their wrath has come, and who can stand?” (Revelation 6:12-17).

8 The second angel sounded his trumpet, and something like a huge mountain, all ablaze, was thrown into the sea. A third of the sea turned into blood, 9 a third of the living creatures in the sea died, and a third of the ships were destroyed … 12 The fourth angel sounded his trumpet, and a third of the sun was struck, a third of the moon, and a third of the stars, so that a third of them turned dark. A third of the day was without light, and also a third of the night (Revelation 8:8-9, 12).

2 But exclude the outer court; do not measure it, because it has been given to the Gentiles. They will trample on the holy city for 42 months. 3 And I will give power to my two witnesses, and they will prophesy for 1,260 days, clothed in sackcloth” (Revelation 11:2-3).

3 The second angel poured out his bowl on the sea, and it turned into blood like that of a dead man, and every living thing in the sea died. 8 The fourth angel poured out his bowl on the sun, and the sun was given power to scorch people with fire … 9 They were seared by the intense heat and they cursed the name of God, who had control over these plagues, but they refused to repent and glorify him (Revelation 16:3, 8-9).

God created the cosmos, the heavenly bodies, the earth, and the seas. He also sustains them. Though men have rejected God, they often presume that the things He controls and “holds together” (Colossians 1:17) will remain constant. They predict time and location on the basis of the heavenly bodies. By means of astrology, men even regulate their lives by the heavens. The heavens and the earth are going to pass away, however, and there will not longer be any sea. The heavenly disorders are but a sign of the destruction which lies ahead.

Men will not ignore these signs. Indeed, they will be terrified by them, as Jesus indicated in verse 26. Many will not, however, repent of their sins, so as to be saved. They will continue to “eat, drink, and marry” (cf. Luke 17:26-29). Life will go on as usual, with men living in terror, but also in continued rebellion against God. This may seem inconceivable, but it is true, and we can see illustrations of this going on today. Aids has become a virtual epidemic. It is fatal, and there is no cure for it as yet. Many are terrified at the thought of contracting this disease. The homosexual community, not to mention others, are demanding that the government do more to curb and to cure this deadly disease, and yet they refuse to even discuss forsaking the sinful lifestyle which spreads the disease. Even though terrified by the disease, life goes on as usual in the homosexual community. The only modification that men will make in their practice is to strive to practice “safe sex,” when “godly sex” would stop the disease dead in its tracks. And so men may be frightened to death by a dangerous situation, and yet persist in living just as before at the same time.

The signs which the unbelieving world distort or deny are the same signs which the saint will heed. The signs which bring terror and fear to the unbeliever, will bring courage and hope to the saint. Thus, Jesus instructed believers to “stand up and to lift up their heads,” because their redemption was near (Luke 21:28). The reason is that these signs precede the return of the Lord Jesus, and His return in great power and glory (21:27). When He comes, He will deal with His enemies and ours. He will remove the wicked, as He will reward the righteous. His coming should bring terror to His enemies, and joy to His friends.

The Parable of the Fig Tree
(21:29-31)

29 He told them this parable: “Look at the fig tree and all the trees. 30 When they sprout leaves, you can see for yourselves and know that summer is near. 31 Even so, when you see these things happening, you know that the kingdom of God is near.

This parable is a simple story, as most of our Lord’s parables were. It pertains to the timing of the events Jesus has foretold. Jesus here teaches what we might call a “seasonal” approach to prophecy, rather than a “specific” approach. Jesus never encourages the setting of dates, just as He refused to indicate a single sign which would accompany and accredit His coming. He did not want his disciples to be ignorant of the approach of His return, as would be the case with all unbelievers. How, then, were His disciples to recognize that His return was near? Not by a single sign, but by a sensitivity to a combination of events which indicated that the “season” of His return was at hand.

This is an agricultural analogy, the discerning of the season by observing the signs of its arrival. When the fig tree (and all the others as well) begins to put out leaves, we know that it is Spring, and that summer cannot be too far off. We can, of course, look at our calendars, but we should all recognize that seasons don’t always follow a calendar. The farmer recognizes the season by noting those evidences of its arrival. Jesus has likewise just informed His disciples (of all ages) of the evidences of the “season” of His second coming. Those who would like to know the exact time of His arrival will not be happy with our Lord’s answer. His nearness of His return will be sensed by those who are alert to and aware of the evidences of its arrival.

Two Promises
(21:32-33)

32 “I tell you the truth, this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened. 33 Heaven and earth85 will pass away, but my words will never pass away.

There are two promises in these verses. The first is straightforward, but perplexing. It pertains to the fulfillment of the events predicted here. The second has to do with the words of our Lord. Both have to do with “that which won’t pass away.”

In verse 32, Jesus said that “this generation” would not pass away until all of “these things” had come to pass. The difficulty with these words should be obvious. How can Jesus say that “this generation” would not pass away until all these things come to pass when “all these things” occur over what we can now see to be nearly 2,000 years? The events described in these verses encompass many generations, so that no one generation will see all of them fulfilled in their lifetime.

The difficulties with this verse have led some to attempt to redefine the term “generation,” so that it may be taken more broadly, to mean either “mankind” or “Israel.” I do not think that the context of Luke (or the term “generation” itself) will allow this broadening. I believe that that generation was specifically in view. That generation had a particular privilege and a particular responsibility, both related to being those who witnessed the coming of the Christ. That generation also had a particular judgment, due to its rejection of Messiah:

49 Because of this, God in his wisdom said, ‘I will send them prophets and apostles, some of whom they will kill and others they will persecute.’ 50 Therefore this generation will be held responsible for the blood of all the prophets that has been shed since the beginning of the world, 51 from the blood of Abel to the blood of Zechariah, who was killed between the altar and the sanctuary. Yes, I tell you, this generation will be held responsible for it all (Luke 11:49-51, emphasis mine).

I understand, therefore, that when Jesus said “that generation” would not pass away until “all these things” had come to pass, He was referring to that generation of Israelites. How, then, do we square this with the fact that “all these things” must come to pass, when we know that some will fall upon generations to come? My best answer is that “all these things” really happen twice, not once. They will happen once, to that generation. And, they will happen a second time, in the last days, related to Christ’s return. Thus, Jerusalem was sacked in 70 A.D., in fulfillment of our Lord’s words. And so, too, Jerusalem will be trodden under the feet of the Gentiles again, during the tribulation (Revelation 11:2-3). There is also a sense in which much of what our Lord predicted would happen (e.g. persecution, betrayal by family, etc.) is something which saints have experienced throughout the intervening centuries.

Our Lord’s words, then, have relevance to those who heard Him speak these words. They also have had relevance to the saints over the centuries. And they will be relevant to the saints of the last days as well. No one dares to take these words idly, as though they will relate to a future people at a future time. Jesus does not allow this mentality to prevail.

The second promise is a related one. If the first promise related to the immediate relevance of His words, the second promise related to the eternal quality of his words. The first promise spoke with respect to the immediate value of His words, and the second to the long-term impact of His words. Jesus’ words were true for those who heard Him speak them, but they would be no less true for any saint, even though he might read them centuries later.

Two things strike me about this last promise of our Lord. First, I note that Jesus speaks here with an authority far greater than that of any other prophet. Jesus speaks here as God, not just as a man, and not even just as a prophet. Other prophets could, at best, say, “Thus saith the Lord.” Jesus here speaks of His words, words which will not pass away, as eternal words, and as His words. Jesus was speaking as God. His words were His own words of divine revelation.

Second, Jesus spoke of His words as eternal, never failing. Words, in our day and time (as then) are cheap. Words meant little. In time, even those who may have meant well may forget their word, or break it. Jesus assures His disciples that His words will never fail. Men tend to trust in material things, both because we can see them, and because they appear to have promise of lasting. Jesus here indicates that His words outlast heaven and earth. If we value things on the basis of how long they will last, nothing has greater value than the Word of God. Why is it that we so often value those things which are destined to perish above those words of God which will never perish?

The Application:
Admonition and Encouragement
(21:34-36)

34 “Be careful, or your hearts will be weighed down with dissipation, drunkenness and the anxieties of life, and that day will close on you unexpectedly like a trap. 35 For it will come upon all those who live on the face of the whole earth. 36 Be always on the watch, and pray that you may be able to escape all that is about to happen, and that you may be able to stand before the Son of Man.”

In these final verses our Lord underscores the application of this prophecy to His followers. In verse 34 Jesus warned His disciples that they, like the unbelievers, could be caught off-guard by His return. The signs of His coming, brushed aside by the lost, might not be comprehended by the saint. Thus, the Christian would not realized that the season of His return was at hand. The reason in not in a lack of evidence or of signs, but of a dullness of mind and heart which causes the saint to miss these signs, and to fail to see them as such.

Our Lord listed three specific evils which would distract the saint, so as to cause him or her to miss these signs and their significance. The first evil is that of dissipation.86 This is the “hangover” resulting from drunkenness. The last thing one suffering from a hangover wants is “input.” I believe that the saint may be tempted to “grab all the gusto he can get,” knowing that the end of this world may be near. Thus, he or she may over-indulge in that which this world offers, and then be rendered dull and insensitive to what is really going on.

The second evil, drunkenness, if very much related. If dissipation is the result of drunkenness, drunkenness is the cause of dissipation. We are dealing with cause and effect. Drunkenness may well be a temptation for the suffering, afflicted, persecuted saint, who is also aware of the chaos taking place in the created universe, and who wishes to blot out the danger and the pain by anesthetizing his brain. Thus, dullness results.

The third and final evil is “worry,” the preoccupation with the “anxieties of life.” These are the very things Jesus has warned us against in the earlier chapters of Luke. They include unnecessary and unbelieving worry about our food, our clothing, and our basic needs. In times of great persecution worry might seem more justifiable, but not according to our Lord. Worry about such things only misappropriates our energies to worthless endeavors.

All three of the evils specifically identified by our Lord affect the heart and the mind of the saint, dulling him or her to the “signs of the times,” which should serve to show that they season of Christ’s return is at hand. These are the some of the major dangers facing the saint. In verse 36 our Lord turns to those activities which can promote preparedness, as opposed to those activities (listed above) which hinder it. Watchfulness or alertness toward the times in which we live is one antidote to apathy and dullness of heart and mind. A ready and expectant spirit inspires careful observation of the times, in comparison to the Scriptures which our Lord has provided.

The second antidote is prayer. “Watch” and “pray” are terms that are often found together. Those who are not watching are not praying, and those who are not praying are also no watching. Prayer here is focused on two matters: (1) Being able to escape the destruction occasioned by the coming wrath of God. Perhaps also, prayer that they will escape the wrath of those who oppose the gospel. (2) That we may be able to stand before the living God, who is our Judge and the Judge of all men.

Conclusion

There is no more awesome event than that coming day, here spoken of by our Lord, the day of His wrath. We, like the Israelites of old, tended to think of the “day of the Lord” only in terms of blessings. If there was to be any judgment, it would be on the Gentile “heathen.” But as God told Israel (cf. Amos 5), the “day of the Lord” was a day of judgment on all who were disobedient to Him. The forms and rituals of their religion were an offense to Him. What He sought was their repentance. The theme of judgment was thus a very important one, and it is that which our Lord focused upon in His teaching here in our text. Let us not fail to take heed to this coming reality and its implications for us.

The coming judgment of God is one of the realities to which the Holy Spirit will bear witness (John 16:8-11). It was the “bottom line” of Peter’s message to Israel in his sermon at Pentecost (Acts 2). If you have not come to a personal faith in Jesus Christ, it is a coming reality that you should take very seriously. Then wrath of God is that which every person on earth deserves, as the due reward for his or her sin. Jesus came to the earth not only to speak of God’s wrath, but to bear it personally. The Good News of the Gospel is that Jesus has born the eternal punishment we deserve. Salvation is the escape from God’s wrath which men can experience through faith in Christ. If you acknowledge your sin, and trust in the death of Jesus on the cross of Calvary, as being the payment for your sins, you will be saved from the wrath which is yet to come on those who will not accept the payment which Christ has already made.

What a vast difference there is for men with respect to the coming day of His wrath. When our Lord comes to the earth again, it is to give men what they deserve. For sinners, it is eternal torment. For saints, it is deliverance—salvation—not because they deserve it, but because the Lord Jesus Christ has purchased it, at the cost of His life.

The Second Coming of Christ is, then, for sinners, the day of God’s vengeance, of destruction; for saints, it is the day of their deliverance. That deliverance includes salvation from their enemies, as well as from the presence and power of sin. For the sinner, the “day of the Lord” is something to dread; for the saint, a delight. For the sinner, the day will be unexpected, a shock; for the saint, it will be one that has been eagerly awaited, and sensed to be near for those who have discerned the “season” of His return.

The day of the Lord should be a truth that radically changes the Christian’s lifestyle. Knowing that the material world will vanish, we should not place too much value on material things. Knowing that the Word of God will never pass away, we should find it of infinite, eternal, value. And knowing that undue indulgence of earthly pleasures will dull or sensitivity to the time of His return should motivate us to live a disciplined life, a life marked by self-control, not self-indulgence. Neither should we worry or be anxious about the things of this life, knowing that this concern will also hinder our prayers and watchfulness.

Let us live our lives in the light of this reality—that Jesus Christ is to return to the earth to judge the wicked, and to bring deliverance to His saints. Let us live as though the material world is a vapor, and the unseen world (including the Word of God) is our only certainty.


81 “This [generation] cannot well mean anything but the generation living when these words were spoken: vii. 31, xi. 29-32, 50, 51, xvii. 25; Mt. xi. 16, etc. The reference, therefore, is to the destruction of Jerusalem regarded as the type of the end of the world.”Alfred Plummer, The Gospel According to S. Luke (Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1896 [reprint]), p. 485.

82 Of v. 25, Plummer writes, “Similar language is common in the Prophets: Is. xiii. 10; Ezek. xxxii. 7; Joel ii. 10, iii. 15: comp. Is. xxxiv. 4; Hag. ii. 6, 21, etc… The remainder of this verse and most of the next are peculiar to Lk.” Plummer, p. 483.

83 Plummer takes this reference to the sea symbolically: “It is the nations who are ‘in perplexity at the resounding of sea and surge.’ Figurative language of this kind is common in the Prophets: Is. xxviii. 2, xxix. 6, xxx. 30; Ezek. xxxviii. 22; Ps. xlii. 7, lxv. 7, lxxxviii. 7.” Plummer, p. 484.

84 Plummer seems to agree, when he writes, “By … [powers of heavens] is meant, not the Angels (euthym.), nor the cosmic powers which uphold the heavens (Mey. Oosterz.), but the heavenly bodies, the stars (De W. Holtz. Eridd, Hashn): comp. Is. xl. 26; Ps. xxxiii. 6. Evidently physical existences are meant.” Plummer, p. 484. Plummer takes the heavenly bodies literally, as we see here, but he takes “the sea” more symboically, as we see in the previous note.

85 “Comp. [the expression ‘heavens and earth’ of v. 33] 2 Pet. iii. 10; Heb. i. 11, 12; Rev. xx. 11, xxi. 1; Ps. cii. 26; Is. li. 6. A time will come when everything material will cease to exist; but Christ’s words will ever hold good.” Plummer, p. 485.

86 “Dissipation (kraipale) is properly the hangover after a carousal, ‘the vulgar word for that very vulgar experience’ (Henry J. Cadbury, The style and Literary Method of Luke (p. 54), as cited by Leon Morris, The Gospel According to St. Luke (Grand Rapids: William b. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1974), p. 301.

Related Topics: Christology, Eschatology (Things to Come)