At this point, after the beginning of sorrows, Luke’s account introduces an additional phrase: “before all these things.” Luke now communicates the answer to the first question of the disciples concerning the destruction of the Temple. This is evident from the following features:
- The phrase comes after the same signs given by Matthew and Mark. It clearly points that this will happen “before” the signs, marking the time of the events. The phrase connects this section with the preceding showing that this will take place before the preceding events. The beginning of sorrows will not happen before the destruction of the temple.
- There is an absence of any reference to the abomination of desolation happening “before these things.” This indicates that the events talked about are not found in the end of the age, but before the beginning of sorrows.
The Persecution of the Disciples
The tone of the text is that of a personal warning to the disciples, as well as, a prediction of what will happen to them before the temple’s destruction. Christ warns that they will “lay their hands on you, and persecute you, delivering you up to the synagogues, and into prisons, being brought before kings and rulers” (Luke 21:12). The laying on of hands indicates intent of violence. The word carries the idea of seizing. The Greek word for deliver is paradidomi meaning to deliver over. It is commonly used by Luke of being handed over to authorities or being arrested (Acts 8:3; 12:4; 21:11; 22:4; 27:1; 28:17). In Romans 8:32, the Apostle Paul uses the word of God delivering Christ to the death of the cross. The tone of the context is of violent persecution of the disciples.
In the book of Acts, Luke historically substantiates the persecution that believers and the Apostles faced preceding the destruction of the temple. The persecution is from both Jews and Gentiles. The kings and governors who dealt out persecution included Herod Agrippa (Acts 12:1); Felix of Caesarea (Acts 24); and his successor, Festus (Acts 25-26). Church history goes on to tell us that each of the apostles on the mount that day went on to die brutal deaths, save John who died in his sleep, but not without persecution and exile to Patmos. Persecution became common place in the lives of those men who heard this discourse.
The cause of persecution was not because of great crimes, rebellion, or terrorism. It was their teaching and preaching the gospel. They were hated because their master was hated. Jesus stated the persecution was “for My name sake” (Luke 21:12). This phrase suggests it was because of their identification and loyalty to Christ.
The purpose of this persecution was that “it shall turn unto you for a testimony” (Luke 21:13). What does this mean? There are two main views: first, that these disciples will give testimony on the Day of Judgment against those who persecuted them. This view points out that the word testimony (martyromia) favors the idea of being evidence, not activity of bearing testimony. This view is not without merit, especially in the light of Mark 6:11. Second, is the view that holds that the persecution will be an opportunity for testimony, which is reflected in newer translations, translating the phrase: “it will lead to an opportunity for your testimony.” This view fits the context. It goes better with Christ’s promise to give them wisdom and words for their testimony (cf. Luke 21:15). The historical record in Acts gives us examples of testimonies because of persecution (cf. Acts 3:12-26; 4:8-12, 19-21; 6:10; 7:1-53).
In the midst of these hardships and trials, Jesus instructed the disciples to depend upon God in these times (Luke 12:14-15). Barnes captures the essence of the meaning of these verses. He writes: “Fix it firmly in your minds—so firmly as to become a settled principle—that you are always to depend on God for aid in all your trials.” They are not to worry nor fear, but exhibit peaceful assurance and dependence on God. He will provide wisdom and the words to speak. Their adversaries will not be able to refute or resist the truth. This is what happened (cf. Acts 4:4; 6:10).
Jesus also warned that this persecution will not only come from the authorities, but also from family, friends, and strangers (Luke 21:16-17). This all extends from their identification and loyalty to Christ. It will climax in death for some. The phrase “some of you shall,” marks personalization of these things. He is speaking about them.
Jesus ends this section on persecution with a strange note of comfort or encouragement. He declares, “but there shall not an hair of your head perish. In your patience possess ye your souls” (Luke 21:18-19). This is not only a strange saying, but a difficult saying. What does Jesus mean? There are three ideas:
First, is the view that centers upon the Sovereignty of God. It suggests that no harm will occur to the disciples except by the Father’s permission. This view is not well accepted.
Second, is the view that focuses on the idea of spiritual assurance or security. Marshall says “the disciples may suffer injury and death, but nothing can really harm their essential being.” Liefeld says it has the implication of spiritual survival. This view is popular among Bible students.
Third, is the view of physical deliverance. What one is being delivered from varies. For example, Barnes suggests it denotes escape from physical suffering in the fall of Jerusalem. Yet, one is hard pressed to see how Christians would endure the fall, when most of them had long gone to Pella. The key to the physical view focuses on the idea of endurance of the persecution (Luke 21:9).
While the physical deliverance view is hard to understand and defend, it should not be dismissed. There is a dispensational answer that sheds light on the problem. The key is verse 19. It demands attention. Luke 21:19 declares: “In your patience possess ye your souls.” The KJV here does not aid in understanding. A clearer and literal translation of the Greek test reads—“By your patient endurance gain your life or souls.” It is a clear injunction to endurance or steadfastness. The word patience is the Greek noun hupomone, a compound word meaning to abide under. Hauck says the word is: “…a prominent virtue in the sense of courageous endurance. As distinct from patience, it has the active significance of energetic if not necessarily successful resistance.” The context centers upon patient endurance, not simply patience.
The word possess is the Greek word ktaomai, meaning obtain or possess. Its tense indicates it is a promise. If they endure patiently they will obtain the object, i.e. their life or soul. The word can refer to either the natural life or the immaterial part of man. But in that case, their security depends upon their endurance. That implies if they do not endure they will not be secure. If that is so, then their security depends on their endurance. If one believes in eternal security, then how can this be reconciled?
A dispensational answer comes to bear. If Luke 21:18-19 refers to physical life or salvation, then this promise to the disciples who endure gives them the possibility of entering the earthly kingdom during their lifetime. John Martin suggests this: “…it appears that Jesus was speaking here of salvation as entering into the kingdom alive (cf. Matthew 24:8-13). To ‘save yourselves’ by ‘standing firm’ means that believers show that they are members of the believing community in opposition to those who turn away from the faith during times of persecution (Matthew 14:10). The ones who are saved are those who are preserved by God’s sovereign power (cf. Matthew 24:22).”
It must be remembered that this present dispensation of Grace is not the subject of the discourse, nor was it ever revealed or known at this time. It was still God’s mystery (Ephesians 3:1-10). The expectation of the disciples was the soon coming of the earthly Kingdom and the end of the age. Israel had not yet been set aside. The Kingdom would yet be offered, and is offered in Acts 3:19. J. Sidlow Baxter writes concerning Acts 3:19: “Never was a more direct promise given.” It is a promise of the restoration of Israel and the coming of the times of refreshing upon their repentance.
Because Israel and the Kingdom program was eventually set aside does not change the context and the possibility of Israel’s physical salvation offered in the discourse. The Kingdom was still at hand, and was still possible during the listener’s lifetime.
The distinction between the present dispensation of Grace and the dispensation of the Kingdom must be maintained to correctly understand the discourse. The Church of this dispensation is not revealed in this discourse. Jesus is speaking only about Israel’s future in the dispensation of the Kingdom. He moves from the present to the future logically, while not revealing the mystery, yet to be revealed (Ephesians 3). This is a common occurrence in prophecy. Jesus is like a man seeing three mountain peaks in the distance, telling about the three peaks, but not seeing nor telling of the valleys between. The three peaks are the destruction of the temple, the Lord’s coming, and the end of the age.
The Destruction of the Temple.
Not only will persecution come “before all these things;” so will the destruction of the city and temple. Luke 21:20-24 contains the specific prediction of the temple’s destruction. While the destruction of Jerusalem foreshadows end time events, and both are described in similar language in Mark and Matthew. However they are different from Luke. A comparison shows that Luke omits certain details.
First, Luke mentions armies, but not the abomination of desolation. The language of the passage notes that these military affairs were in process as Luke was writing. Luke’s text indicates nearness. The word compassed (verse 20) is a present participle suggesting that the encircling of the city may have started, or would will soon take place.
Second, unlike Matthew and Mark, Luke gives no immediate necessity to flee in spite of the nearness of fulfillment. The tone of Luke is completely different. History tells us the reason. There was no need for Christians to take sudden flight in the destruction of Jerusalem. The surrounding was gradual, not sudden as seen in Matthew and Mark. One group of believers left as early as two years before, moving to Pella. The siege of Jerusalem in 70 AD took place in stages and there was extended time to escape.
In contrast, both Matthew and Mark that in the end times, so rapid will be the events that they warn the reader not ever to go back to get one’s cloak (Matthew 24:16-20; Mark 13:14-18). Notice also the reason for the flight is the Abomination, whereas, Luke talks about armies. Luke’s account applies directly to 70 AD, whereas Matthew and Mark refer to the events at the end of the age. The events of 70 AD foreshadow the future events.
 I. Howard Marshall, NIGTC:COMMENTARY ON LUKE, 768.
 Albert Barnes, NOTES ON THE NEW TESTAMENT: LUKE AND JOHN, 142.
 Marshall, 789.
 Walter L. Liefeld, THE EXPOSITOR’S BIBLE COMMENTARY: LUKE, 1021.
 Barnes, 142.
 F. Hauck, “Hyomeno, Hypomone,” THEOLOGICAL DICTIONARY OF THE NEW TESTAMENT, Abridged in One Volume, 582.
 John Martin, “Luke,” THE BIBLE KNOWLEDGE COMMENTARY, 257.
 J. Sidlow Baxter, THE STRATEGIC GRASP OF THE BIBLE, 311.