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 largest and most catastrophic avalanche in history occurred on May 31, 1970, when an earthquake off the coast of Peru caused a large section of the north slope of Mount Huascarán to collapse. The avalanche — a crushing mass of roughly eighty million cubic feet of ice, mud, and rock, about a half-mile wide and a mile long — moved at a speed of one hundred miles per hour. The flow swept downhill for nearly eleven miles, burying the towns of Yungay and Ranrahirca in up to three hundred feet of ice and debris.
Sadly, a warning that just such a deadly event was imminent had been given eight years earlier. In 1962, climbers David Bernays and Charles Sawyer were concluding a climbing expedition through the Cordillera Blanca mountain range in Peru when they decided to investigate a glacier known only as “Glacier 511,” which was thought to have been the source of an earlier avalanche. They discovered that the glacier was precariously unstable. They quickly ended their expedition in order to warn Peruvian authorities, but their assessment was rejected out of a fear that tourism dollars would be lost if the avalanche potential was known. Eight years later, the worst ice, mud, and rockslide in history buried over 25,000 people.
In today’s text, Jesus told His followers of the approaching destruction of Jerusalem, of His Second Coming, and of several distinct signs that would precede these events. He instructed His disciples to watch for these signs and pray continually; otherwise, they could be caught off guard and suffer destruction.
The words of our focus verse were not just for the disciples who walked with Jesus; they are for us as well. Many today believe in God and have heard of His Second Coming, but how many are truly watching for Christ’s return and preparing themselves spiritually? Tragically, it seems that most people, like the Peruvian authorities, are choosing to ignore the warning. Just as it was not enough to simply be aware of the indicators that a massive avalanche could occur, knowledge of the Lord’s second coming will not be enough to ensure readiness for that event. It takes action! To watch for the Lord’s return is to endeavor daily to live our lives in a way that pleases Him, to maintain an active prayer life, and to be a witness to those around us.
Today, let us take notice of the signs of the times that surround us, and purpose in our hearts to be ready for the Lord’s return. Jesus is coming soon! Are you watching?
Today’s text opens with a brief account of a widow putting two small coins into the treasury. “Mites” here probably refers to prutahs, the smallest coins used by the Jews. In Mark’s account of this story (Mark 12:41-44), the author pointed out that two mites equal one “farthing,” or quadrans, which was the smallest Roman copper coin. In all, the widow’s contribution may have equated to about six minutes of work at an average rate of pay, but because it was all she had, this tiny sum was more valuable to Jesus than any of the contributions of the rich men. In fact, in the original Greek, Mark’s account indicates that even the rich men may have been putting prutahs into the treasury — a large quantity of small coins, as opposed to a large sum of money.
The remainder of chapter 21 includes Jesus’ discourse on the events that were to come. He foretold two distinct events — the destruction of Jerusalem, and His second coming. Jesus transitioned so seamlessly between one event and the other that it can be challenging to ascertain which signs referred to which event, perhaps by design. History shows that some of His prophecies already have come to pass; others are yet to be fulfilled.
Perhaps the most explicit prophecy Jesus made regarding the destruction of Jerusalem is found at the beginning of His discourse. After the people commented on the “goodly stones and gifts” of the Temple, Jesus said there would come a day when “there shall not be left one stone upon another, that shall not be thrown down” (verse 6). According to the ancient historian Flavius Josephus, the stones which Jesus referred to were as much as forty cubits long and ten cubits high, or about sixty feet long by fifteen feet high. In spite of their immense size, history confirms the accuracy of Jesus’ prophecy. In A.D. 70, Jerusalem was destroyed by the Romans, led by then-general (and later, emperor) Titus. In fact, the Romans did not just destroy the city — they dug up its foundation (fulfilling the prophecy of Micah 3:12 that the city would be “plowed as a field”). Historical records indicate that Jerusalem was so thoroughly destroyed that, with the exception of a few towers and a part of the wall, there was not enough left of the city to indicate that anyone had ever lived there. In the midst of this destruction, the Temple was completely leveled, just as Jesus had foretold.
In verses 20-24, Jesus spoke of a time when Jerusalem would be “compassed with armies,” and instructed His followers to “flee to the mountains.” Prior to the destruction of Jerusalem by Titus, Syrian president Cestius Gallus laid siege to the city in A.D. 66. He appeared to be in position to conquer the city, but to the surprise of all, he ended the siege and left. Vespasian was set to take the place of Cestius Gallus, but several factors (including the death of Nero) delayed his confirmation in the empire and the appointment of his son, Titus, to lead the Judean forces. It was during this unique window of opportunity that the Christians in Jerusalem followed Jesus’ instructions to flee, thereby saving their lives before the continued attack and eventual destruction of the city.
In verses 25-28, Luke recorded the signs given by Jesus that related to His second coming. While these were also recorded by the other synoptic Gospel writers (Matthew and Mark), Luke includes two prophetic details not mentioned in those other accounts: the fact that men’s hearts would fail them for fear, and that the “powers of heaven” would be shaken (verse 26).
In Jesus’ parable of the fig tree (verses 29-33), the fig tree is generally thought to represent Israel, whose revival will be an indicator of coming events. While this parable perhaps alluded to the coming destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70, Bible scholars agree that it may also have a broader scope as a sign of Christ’s return to earth and the setting up of His kingdom.
The chapter concludes with Jesus’ exhortation regarding the necessity of watchfulness and prayer as the key to constant readiness for His return.
(Hannah’s Bible Outlines - Used by permission per WORDsearch)
VII. The passion of the Son of Man
B. The public ministry of the Son of Man concluded
3. The opposition of the scribes
d. The widow’s contrast to the scribes (21:1-4)
4. The destruction of Jerusalem predicted (21:5-36)
a. The occasion (21:5-7)
b. The discourse (21:8-27)
c. The exhortations (21:28-36)
5. The conclusion of Christ’s public ministry (21:37-38)
As the world around us neglects the warnings of Christ, let us renew our commitment to be ready for His return!