Luke’s record of the Olivet Prophecy

In our lectures, one of the most commonly used sections of Scripture on ‘current events’ is taken from our Lord’s words in Luke 21. As we relate the events around the destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans in AD70 and the scattering of the Jews, we realise that Jesus was not giving a prophecy himself. Rather, he was explaining what already had been written in the prophets, and was giving guidance to his disciples on the way they needed to act in the light of these prophecies. He said, “For these be the days of vengeance, that all things which are written may be fulfilled.” (Luke 21:22). In the accounts of both Matthew and Mark, we read that Jesus specifically identified that Daniel’s prophecies foretold these events.

In verse 24, Jesus pointed out that the treading down of Jerusalem by the Gentiles would come to an end. Associated with the termination of that period there would be the re-gathering of Jews to the land and the establishment of the nation. The following words of the Lord should be of keen interest to us, because they relate to world events in our own time. Some of the expressions are figurative of the upheavals that will occur in the ruling powers of the political heavens, but these words are clear and unmistakable—“upon the earth distress of nations, with perplexity…Men’s hearts failing them for fear, and for looking after those things which are coming on the earth” (v26). In this cataclysmic situation the Lord says, “And then shall they see the Son of man coming in a cloud with power and great glory”. It is the people living in ignorance of what they are witnessing and what it portends who will be fearful and at their wit’s end. And then they will see an event they were not expecting—the coming of the Son of man in power and great glory.

However, the saints who are walking in faith will be well aware of what all this chaos means. Their longed-for Lord will appear—for our Lord said to us, “when these things begin to come to pass, then look up, and lift up your heads; for your redemption draweth nigh” (v28). The change in the personal pronoun shows that the Lord is now talking to his disciples. The saints who have longed and waited for the redemption of the body will be rewarded for their faithfulness at the coming of their Lord.

“Take heed to yourselves”

It is possible to become so engrossed in following international affairs and comments by world leaders and fitting them into our understanding of prophecy that we may miss the simple but clear prophecies that our Lord gave of his return and how to cope with those events he has foretold. To quote an example of this, the Pharisees once asked the Lord “when the kingdom of God should come”.

In just two verses the Lord gave a brief answer to them and then, turning to his disciples, he gave a clear picture of what the world would be like when he returned, warning them and giving them the antidote to save them from the evil of those days. His words to the disciples flowed on for another 23 verses after the brief two-verse comment to the Pharisees. It is one thing to know the situation the world will be in at the return of the Lord—it is another thing to be personally prepared to “stand before the Son of man” in that day.

Continuing in Luke 21 we notice the personal pronoun continues, as our Lord directs his words to the disciples: “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. For as a snare shall it come on all them that dwell on the face of the whole earth.” (v34-35). Here the Lord makes a distinction between two groups: the “you” who are his disciples, and the “them” who are those living in ignorance of God’s purpose to “judge the world in righteousness by that man whom he hath ordained” (Acts 17:31).

When Jesus spoke these words he possibly had in mind the words of Moses to Israel, a month before they entered the Land: “Take heed to thyself that thou be not snared by following them [the gods of the Canaanite world]…for every abomination to the Lord, which he hateth have they done unto their gods” (Deut 12:30-31). And what spiritually-minded disciples today will not heartily agree that the gods of this world are an abomination to God and a danger to themselves?

Now the Lord’s expression “take heed to yourselves” needs genuine and thoughtful consideration. It is not an instruction from the Lord that we can quickly rush past. We need to stop and carefully and prayerfully examine ourselves. We each need to seriously evaluate our discipleship. It is not unlike the expression, “let a man examine himself ”. The Lord was acutely aware of the deceitfulness of sin. The world and the flesh are at one. This is why we need to crucify the flesh with its affections and lusts. Friendship with the world is enmity with God— and no enemy of God will be in the kingdom.