Luke 21
Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges
And he looked up, and saw the rich men casting their gifts into the treasury.
Luke 21:1-4. The Widow’s Mite.

1. he looked up] The expression seems to shew that He was sitting with downcast eyes, saddened, perhaps, in His human spirit and agitated by the great Denunciation; but this last little incident is ‘like a rose amid a field of thistles,’—an act genuinely beautiful in the desert of ‘official devotion.’

the rich men] More literally, “He saw those who were casting their gifts into the treasury—rich men.” St Mark tells us that the gifts were large (Mark 12:41).

into the treasury
] See John 8:20. This was in the Court of the Women. The High Priest Jehoiada had put a chest for this purpose at the entrance of the House, 2 Kings 12:9; see Nehemiah 10:38; Jos. B. J. vi. 5; Antt. xix. 6, § 1, and 2Ma 3:6-12. It contained the Corban, Matthew 27:6. But in our Lord’s day there were thirteen chests called Shopheroth, from their trumpet-shaped openings, adorned with various inscriptions. These rich men do not seem to have been observing the injunctions both sacred and Talmudic to give secretly, Matthew 6:4; Matthew 6:18.

And he saw also a certain poor widow casting in thither two mites.
2. also] If the kai be genuine, it should perhaps follow the tina— “some one—even a widow.”

two mites] “which make a farthing,” Mark 12:42. The lepton or prutah was the smallest of coins, and the Rabbis did not allow any one to give less than two.

And he said, Of a truth I say unto you, that this poor widow hath cast in more than they all:
3. more than they all] because “one coin out of a little is better than a treasure out of much, and it is not considered how much is given, but how much remains behind.” S. Ambrose. See 2 Corinthians 8:12. In the Talmud a High Priest is similarly taught by a vision not to despise a poor woman’s offering of meal. The true estimate of human actions, as Godet well observes, is according to their quality, not according to their quantity.

For all these have of their abundance cast in unto the offerings of God: but she of her penury hath cast in all the living that she had.
4. of their abundance] Rather, out of their overplus. The essence of charity is self-denial. But in these days most people give ‘mites’ out of their vast superfluity,—which is no charity at all; and they talk of these offerings as ‘mites,’ as though that word excused and even consecrated an offering miserably inadequate.

And as some spake of the temple, how it was adorned with goodly stones and gifts, he said,
5-7. The Doom of the Temple, and the Question about the End.

. as some spake] We learn from the other Evangelists that those who spoke were the Apostles, and that the question was asked as Jesus sat on the Mount of Olives opposite to the Temple, perhaps gazing on it as it shone in the last rays of sunset.

with goodly stones] bevelled blocks of stone, of which some are described as having been forty cubits long and ten high; double cloisters; monolithic columns; alternate slabs of red and white marble, &c. See Jos. B. J. v. 5 and Bab. Succa, f. 51, 1.

and gifts] Rather, sacred offerings (Psalms 62), such as the golden chain of Agrippa; gifts of Ptolemy Philadelphus, Augustus, Helen of Adiabene, and crowns, shields, goblets, &c.; the golden vine with its vast clusters given by Herod. (Jos. B. j. v. 5, § 4. See 2Ma 5:16; and Jos. Antt. xiii. 3, xv. 11, § 3.) Hence Tacitus calls it “a temple of immense opulence,” Hist. Luke 5:8.

As for these things which ye behold, the days will come, in the which there shall not be left one stone upon another, that shall not be thrown down.
6. As for these things which ye behold] Rather, these things which ye are gazing on (it is what is called the ‘pendent nominative’).

there shall not be left one stone upon another] See on Luke 19:44 and the remarkable passage in 2Es 10:54, “in the place where the Highest beginneth to shew His city, there can no man’s building be able to stand.” This was fulfilled in spite of the strong wish of Titus to spare the Temple, Jos. B. J. vi. 4, § 5; but see on Luke 19:44. He was himself so amazed at the massive substructures that he could only see in his conquest the hand of God (id. vi. 9, § 1). This prophecy was in reality that “Let us depart hence” which Josephus (B. J. vi. 5, § 3) and Tacitus (Hist. v. 13) tell us was uttered by a mysterious Voice before the destruction of Jerusalem.

And they asked him, saying, Master, but when shall these things be? and what sign will there be when these things shall come to pass?
7. they asked him] The questioners were Peter and James and John and Andrew, Mark 13:3.

when...and what sign] Our Lord leaves the former question unanswered (see on Luke 17:20) and only deals with the latter. This was His gentle method of discouraging irrelevant or inadmissible questions (comp. Luke 13:23-24).

And he said, Take heed that ye be not deceived: for many shall come in my name, saying, I am Christ; and the time draweth near: go ye not therefore after them.
8-27. Signs of the End.

8. Take heed that ye be not deceived] A danger incurred even by the elect. Matthew 24:24. The moral key-notes of this great Discourse of the Last. Things (Eschatology) are Beware! Watch ! Endurel Pray!

for many shall come in my name] “Even now are there many antichrists,” 1 John 2:18. the time draweth near] Rather, the crisis has approached.

But when ye shall hear of wars and commotions, be not terrified: for these things must first come to pass; but the end is not by and by.
9. wars and commotions] The best comment on the primary fulfilment of this Discourse is the Jewish War of Josephus, and the Annals and History of Tacitus (Ann. xii. 38, xv. 22, xvi. 13), whose narrative is full of earthquakes, wars, crimes, violences and pollutions, and who describes the period which he is narrating as one which was “rich in calamities, horrible with battles, rent with seditions, savage even in peace itself.” The main difficulties of our Lord’s Prophecy vanish when we bear in mind (i) that Prophecy is like a landscape in which time and space are subordinated to eternal relations, and in which events look like hills seen chain behind chain which to the distant spectator appear as one; and (ii) that in the necessarily condensed and varying reports of the Evangelists, sometimes the primary fulfilment (which is shewn most decisively and irrefragably by Luke 21:32 to be the Fall of Jerusalem), sometimes the ultimate fulfilment is predominant. The Fall of Jerusalem was the Close of that Aeon and a symbol of the Final End (telos). This appears most clearly in the report of St Luke.

commotions] akatastasias, conditions of instability and rottenness, the opposite to peace. 1 Corinthians 14:33; James 3:16. Such commotions were the massacre of 20,000 Jews in their fight with the Gentiles at Caesarea; the assassinations or suicides of Nero, Galba, Otho, and Vitellius; the civil wars, &c.

be not terrified] The Greek word is the exact equivalent of our English word ‘be not scared,’ Luke 24:37; 1 Peter 3:6; Proverbs 3:25.

but the end is not by and by] Rather, but not immediately is the end. For ‘by and by’ see Luke 17:7; Matthew 13:21; Mark 6:25. The words are most important as a warning against the same eschatological excitement which St Paul discourages in 2 Thess. (“The end is not yet,” Matthew 24:6; Mark 13:7.) The things which ‘must first come to pass’ before the final end were (1) physical disturbances—which so often synchronise with historic crises, as Niebuhr has observed; (2) persecutions; (3) apostasy; (4) wide evangelisation; (5) universal troubles of war, &c. They were the “beginning of birth-throes” (Matthew 24:8); what the Jews called the “birth-pangs of the Messiah.”

Then said he unto them, Nation shall rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom:
And great earthquakes shall be in divers places, and famines, and pestilences; and fearful sights and great signs shall there be from heaven.
11. earthquakes] Tac. Hist. I. 2. For such physical portents at great crises see Thuc. i. 23; Tac. Ann. xii. 43, 64, Hist. i. 56; Liv. xliii. 13, &c.

famines] Acts 11:28. The original gives the common paronomasia (play on words) limoi kai loimoi.

pestilences] Josephus (B. J. vi. 9, § 3) mentions both pestilence and famine as the immediate preludes of the storming of Jerusalem. They were due, like the plague at Athens, to the vast masses of people— Passover pilgrims—who were at the time crowded in the city.

fearful sights] See Wis 17:1-21. The word phobetra, ‘terrors,’ occurs here alone. Among these would be the “Abomination of Desolation,” or “desolating wing of Abomination,” which seems best to correspond with the foul and murderous orgies of the Zealots which drove all worshippers in horror from the Temple (Jos. B. J. iv. 3, § 7, V. 6, § 1, &c.). Such too would be the rumour of monstrous births (id. vi. 5, § 3); the cry ‘woe, woe’ for seven and a half years of the peasant Jesus, son of Hanan; the voice and sound of departing guardian-angels (Tac. Hist. 13), and the sudden opening of the vast brazen Temple-gate which required twenty men to move it (Jos. ib.).

signs., from heaven] Josephus mentions a sword-shaped comet. Both Tacitus and Josephus mention the portent that

“Fierce fiery warriors fought upon the clouds,

In rank, and squadron, and right form of war;”

and Tacitus tells us how the blind multitude of Jews interpreted these signs in their own favour (Hist. v. 13).

But before all these, they shall lay their hands on you, and persecute you, delivering you up to the synagogues, and into prisons, being brought before kings and rulers for my name's sake.
12. they shall lay their hands on you, &c.] The best comment on the whole verse is found in Acts 4:3; Acts 5:17-41; Acts 6:11-13, Luke 12:2, Luke 16:19-31, 2 Timothy 4:16-17. Comp. John 15:20; John 16:2-3.

And it shall turn to you for a testimony.
13. for a testimony] See Mark 13:9. “In nothing terrified by your adversaries, which is to them an evident token of perdition, but to you of salvation,” Php 1:28. “A manifest token of the righteous judgment of God,” 2 Thessalonians 1:5.

Settle it therefore in your hearts, not to meditate before what ye shall answer:
14. not to meditate before] Luke 12:11; Matthew 10:19-20. The meaning is that they were neither to be anxious about the form of their Apologia, not to make it skilfully elaborate.^_

For I will give you a mouth and wisdom, which all your adversaries shall not be able to gainsay nor resist.
15. I will give you a mouth] as in Exodus 4:11-12; Jeremiah 1:9; Isaiah 6:6. God, as Milton says, ‘sendeth forth His cherubim with the hallowed fire of His altar to touch the lips of whom He will.’

shall not be able to gainsay] See Acts 4:14; Acts 6:1 o.

And ye shall be betrayed both by parents, and brethren, and kinsfolks, and friends; and some of you shall they cause to be put to death.
16. ye shall be betrayed] In consequence of the disunions prophesied in Luke 1:34, Luke 12:53; Matthew 10:21.

some of you] of the four to whom He was immediately speaking, perhaps all, and certainly two were martyred.

And ye shall be hated of all men for my name's sake.
17. hated of all men] Luke 2:34, Luke 6:22; John 17:14; 1 Peter 4:14; 1 Peter 4:16. “As concerning this sect we know that everywhere it is spoken against,” Acts 28:22. “We have found this man a pestilent fellow, and a mover of sedition, and a ringleader of the sect of the Nazarenes,” Acts 24:5. “They speak against you as evil doers,” 1 Peter 2:12. “Reproached for the name of Christ,” 1 Peter 4:14. “A malefic, an excessive, execrable superstition” (Tac., Plin., Suet.). ‘Away with the godless !’ ‘The Christians to the lions !’

But there shall not an hair of your head perish.
18. not a hair of your head] for they are “all numbered,” Matthew 10:30. The previous verse (Luke 21:16) is of course sufficient to shew that the meaning is spiritual here, not literal as in Acts 27:34.

shall...perish] i.e. not without the special Providence of God, nor without reward, nor before the due time. Bengel.

In your patience possess ye your souls.
19. In your patience possess ye your souls] Rather, with the better reading, By your patience ye shall gain your souls or lives. Mark 13:13. The need of patience and endurance to the end is very prominently inculcated in the N. T., Romans 5:3; 2 Thessalonians 3:4; Hebrews 10:36; James 1:4, &c. Endurance, not violence, is the Christian’s protection, and shall save the soul, and the true life, even if it loses all else.

And when ye shall see Jerusalem compassed with armies, then know that the desolation thereof is nigh.
20. Jerusalem compassed with armies] See on Luke 19:43, and Jos. B.J. v. 2, § 6, 12. Some regard this as the “abomination that maketh desolate.”

Then let them which are in Judaea flee to the mountains; and let them which are in the midst of it depart out; and let not them that are in the countries enter thereinto.
21. them which are in Judea] This expression again most clearly proves what was the near horizon of this Prophecy.

flee to the mountains] The Christians, in consequence of “a certain oracular utterance” (Euseb. H. E. iii. 5), or an angel-warning (Epiphan. Haer. i. 123), but more probably in consequence of this warning, fled, before the siege, out of Judaea, to the little Peraean town of Pella, among the Transjordanic hills.

in the midst of it] Rather, her, i.e. Jerusalem.

in the countries] Rather, in the fields.

For these be the days of vengeance, that all things which are written may be fulfilled.
22. the days of vengeance] See Daniel 9:26-27. Josephus again and again calls attention to the abnormal wickedness of the Jews as the cause of the divine retribution which overtook them. In his Wars of the Jews he declares that no generation and no city was “so plunged in misery since the foundation of the world.” B. J. v. 10, § 5.

all things which are written] See Luke 19:42; Isaiah 29:2-4; Hosea 10:14-15; Deuteronomy 28:49-57; 1 Kings 9:6-9; Psalm 79:1-13; Micah 3:8-12.

But woe unto them that are with child, and to them that give suck, in those days! for there shall be great distress in the land, and wrath upon this people.
23. woe unto them that are with child] The ‘woe’ is only an expression of pity for them because their flight would be retarded or rendered impossible.

great distress...and wrath] 1 Thessalonians 2:16, “Wrath is come upon them to the uttermost.” Josephus says that, when there were no more to plunder or slay, after “incredible slaughter and miseries,” Titus ordered the city to be razed so completely as to look like a spot which had been never inhabited. B. J. vi. 10, vii. 1.

And they shall fall by the edge of the sword, and shall be led away captive into all nations: and Jerusalem shall be trodden down of the Gentiles, until the times of the Gentiles be fulfilled.
24. fall by the edge of the sword] Literally, “mouth of the sword.” Genesis 34:26. 1,100,000 Jews are said to have perished in the war and siege. “It seems as though the whole race had appointed a rendezvous for extermination.” Renan.

led away captive into all nations] Josephus speaks of 97,000 Jev]s sent to various provinces and to the Egyptian mines. B. J. vi. 9.

shall be trodden dawn of the Gentiles] So that the very thing happened which the Maccabees had tried to avert by their fortifications (1Ma 4:60). All sorts of Gentiles—Romans, Saracens, Persians, Franks, Norsemen, Turks—have ‘trodden down’ Jerusalem since then. The estai patounmene of the original implies a more permanent result than the simple future. Comp. Revelation 11:2.

until the times of the Gentiles be fulfilled] By the times — ‘seasons’ or ‘opportunities’ of the Gentiles—is meant the period allotted for their full evangelisation. Romans 11:25, “Blindness in part is happened to Israel, until the fulness of the Gentiles be come in.”

And there shall be signs in the sun, and in the moon, and in the stars; and upon the earth distress of nations, with perplexity; the sea and the waves roaring;
25. signs in the sun, and in the moon, and in the stars] The articles should be omitted. These signs are mainly metaphorical—the eclipse of nations and the downfall of potentates—though there may be literal fulfilments also. The language is that of the ancient prophets, Amos 8:9; Joel 2:30-31; Ezekiel 32:7-8, as in Revelation 6:12-14.

distress of nations] Synoche, xii. 50 and 2 Corinthians 2:4.

the sea and the waves roaring
] The true reading is probably ἤχους and the translation, “in perplexity at the roar of the sea and surge.” Comp. Psalm 46:4.“In that day they shall roar against them like the roaring of the sea,” Isaiah 5:30. The raging sea is the sea of nations, Jdg 1:13; Revelation 17:15.

Men's hearts failing them for fear, and for looking after those things which are coming on the earth: for the powers of heaven shall be shaken.
26. men’s hearts failing them] Literally, “men fainting.”

on the earth
] Literally, “on the habitable world.”

the powers of heaven
] i.e. the “bright dynasts” (Aesch. Ag. 6)—the Hosts of the Heavens.

And then shall they see the Son of man coming in a cloud with power and great glory.
27. coming in a cloud] Metaphorically in great world crises (Matthew 16:17; Matthew 16:28); actually at the Last Coming. Acts 1:11; Matthew 26:64; Revelation 14:14.

And when these things begin to come to pass, then look up, and lift up your heads; for your redemption draweth nigh.
28. Hope for the Faithful.

. look up] The ‘earnest expectation’ (apokaradokia—‘watching with outstretched neck’) of the creature, Romans 8:19; Romans 8:23. This verb anakuptein only occurs in Luke 13:11. Comp. Matthew 24:31.

And he spake to them a parable; Behold the fig tree, and all the trees;
29-36. Parable of the Fig-tree. Duty of Watchfulness.

. and all the trees] This is added by St Luke only. The fig-tree would be specially significant to Jewish readers.

When they now shoot forth, ye see and know of your own selves that summer is now nigh at hand.
So likewise ye, when ye see these things come to pass, know ye that the kingdom of God is nigh at hand.
Verily I say unto you, This generation shall not pass away, till all be fulfilled.
32. This generation shall not pass away, till all be fulfilled] This verse has a nearer and a farther meaning. That very generation would not have passed when, 40 years later, the Jewish nation was crushed, and the Mosaic dispensation rendered impossible. But genea also means race, and the Jewish race shall last till the end of all things.

Heaven and earth shall pass away: but my words shall not pass away.
33. Heaven and earth shall pass away] 2 Peter 3:7; Isaiah 51:6; Psalm 102:26.

but my words shall not pass away] Rather, my sayings, my utterances. Isaiah 40:8.

And take heed to yourselves, lest at any time your hearts be overcharged with surfeiting, and drunkenness, and cares of this life, and so that day come upon you unawares.
34. surfeiting] The headache after drunkenness.—Lat. crapula.

drunkenness] Comp. Romans 13:13. Hence the exhortation “be sober,” nepsate, 1 Peter 4:7; 1 Thessalonians 5:6.

cares of this life] Comp. Matthew 13:22. The surfeit of yesterday; drunkenness of today; cares for to-morrow (Van Oosterzee).

For as a snare shall it come on all them that dwell on the face of the whole earth.
35. as a snare] Ecclesiastes 9:12 “as the fishes that are taken in an evil net, and as the birds that are caught in the snare, so are the sons of men snared in an evil time.” There is the same metaphor in Isaiah 24:17. The common metaphor is “as a thief1 Thessalonians 5:3; Revelation 3:3; Revelation 16:15; but St Paul uses this metaphor also, Romans 11:9; 1 Timothy 3:7.

them that dwell] Literally, “them that sit.” A Hebraism (Genesis 19:30, &c.), but perhaps with the collateral notion of ‘sitting at ease,’ Jeremiah 8:14; Jeremiah 25:29 (LXX.). ‘Face of the earth’ is also a Hebraism, 2 Samuel 18:8.

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.
36. pray always] Luke 18:1; Ephesians 6:18. Render, watch ye at all times, making supplication.

accounted worthy] See on Luke 20:35. Another reading is “ye may prevail” (katischusete).

to stand before the Son of man
] “The ungodly shall not stand in the judgment,” Psalm 1:5. “Who shall stand when He appeareth,” Malachi 3:2.

the Son of man] See on Luke 5:24, Luke 9:58. On this day our Lord also uttered the Parables of the Ten Virgins and of the Talents, and other warnings, Matthew 25. On this occasion too (as Van Oosterzee conjectures) our Lord may have used His agraphon dogma “in that wherein I shall find you, in that will I judge you,” Just. Mart. Dial.

And in the day time he was teaching in the temple; and at night he went out, and abode in the mount that is called the mount of Olives.
37, 38. How Jesus spent the last Public Days of His Ministry.

. in the day time] Rather, during the days. The notice is retrospective, applying to Palm Sunday, and the Monday and Tuesday in Passion Week. After Tuesday evening He never entered the Temple again. Wednesday and Thursday were spent in absolute and unrecorded retirement, perhaps with His disciples in the house at Bethany, until Thursday evening when He went into Jerusalem again for the Last Supper.

at night] Rather, during the nights.

and abode] Literally, “used to bivouacit is very probable that He slept in the open air with His disciples, as is very common with Orientals. He would be safe on the slopes of Olivet, among the booths of the Galilaean pilgrims; see Luke 22:39; John 18:1-2.

in the mount] Literally, “into;” i.e. he went to, and stayed upon.

And all the people came early in the morning to him in the temple, for to hear him.
38. came early in the morning] The verb, which does not occur elsewhere in the N.T., means ‘resorted to Him at early dawn? Jeremiah 29:19, ‘rising up early’ (LXX.). ‘

in the temple] Comp. Luke 19:47; Acts 5:21. They came for the last time on Tuesday morning. On the Thursday morning, Nisan 13, our Lord woke never to sleep on earth again.

A few cursive MSS. here add the “Gospel for Penitents,” John 7:53 to John 8:11.

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