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Prophecy - Past, Present, Future

Luke 21:5 -- 38

Lesson audio

When dealing with matters of prophecy, it is a good idea to take some consideration of the nature of the author of the book. Daniel was considered a learned man in his time; some of the minor prophets were shepherds. Many possessed the gift of poetry. John the Apostle was Jesus’ closest friend on earth; his Revelation is the crowning work of prophecy. From these different types of men sprang different prophetic revelations, for God speaks to the prophets as well as through them. Style counts.

So, then, what is Luke’s style? Let’s review:

  • Luke is the careful researcher of the New Testament. His words are researched rather than remembered. This limits some of the prophetic words; Matthew’s account includes much more.
  • Luke tries to include “what you need to know.” He has no personal reminiscences to include (though he does show some discreet favoritism to the medical profession.) We should expect his view of the return of our Lord to be concise, inclusive – and covering all necessity.
  • The main comparison to this is Matthew’s passage on the Olivet discourse. You will quickly see that Matthew adds much detail, giving us the parables which reinforce our learning.

So you can see that this lesson will cover that which is sufficient for a Christian’s knowledge. There is much more to tell, but the do’s and don’ts are here for us to examine.

One thing more: please remember that we are trying to do this without reference to any particular (or millennial, or dispensational) scheme of prophecy. You may infer, therefore, that the author thinks one, or another, or all such theories to be false. This is not the case. Consider the paratrooper:

It is well for a paratrooper to have a complete inventory of weapons, tools and supplies; it is well for him to be thoroughly trained in them. But the essential is still this: a well packed parachute. Without that, the rest are useless. Today we will pack the parachute, so that when the time comes, you will be ready to jump.

And while some were talking about the temple, that it was adorned with beautiful stones and votive gifts, He said, "As for these things which you are looking at, the days will come in which there will not be left one stone upon another which will not be torn down." They questioned Him, saying, "Teacher, when therefore will these things happen? And what will be the sign when these things are about to take place?" And He said, "See to it that you are not misled; for many will come in My name, saying, 'I am He,' and, 'The time is near.' Do not go after them. "When you hear of wars and disturbances, do not be terrified; for these things must take place first, but the end does not follow immediately." Then He continued by saying to them, "Nation will rise against nation and kingdom against kingdom, and there will be great earthquakes, and in various places plagues and famines; and there will be terrors and great signs from heaven. "But before all these things, they will lay their hands on you and will persecute you, delivering you to the synagogues and prisons, bringing you before kings and governors for My name's sake. "It will lead to an opportunity for your testimony. "So make up your minds not to prepare beforehand to defend yourselves; for I will give you utterance and wisdom which none of your opponents will be able to resist or refute. "But you will be betrayed even by parents and brothers and relatives and friends, and they will put some of you to death, and you will be hated by all because of My name. "Yet not a hair of your head will perish. "By your endurance you will gain your lives. "But when you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies, then recognize that her desolation is near. "Then those who are in Judea must flee to the mountains, and those who are in the midst of the city must leave, and those who are in the country must not enter the city; because these are days of vengeance, so that all things which are written will be fulfilled. "Woe to those who are pregnant and to those who are nursing babies in those days; for there will be great distress upon the land and wrath to this people; and they will fall by the edge of the sword, and will be led captive into all the nations; and Jerusalem will be trampled under foot by the Gentiles until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled. "There will be signs in sun and moon and stars, and on the earth dismay among nations, in perplexity at the roaring of the sea and the waves, men fainting from fear and the expectation of the things which are coming upon the world; for the powers of the heavens will be shaken. "Then they will see THE SON OF MAN COMING IN A CLOUD with power and great glory. "But when these things begin to take place, straighten up and lift up your heads, because your redemption is drawing near." Then He told them a parable: "Behold the fig tree and all the trees; as soon as they put forth leaves, you see it and know for yourselves that summer is now near. "So you also, when you see these things happening, recognize that the kingdom of God is near. "Truly I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all things take place. "Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will not pass away. "Be on guard, so that your hearts will not be weighted down with dissipation and drunkenness and the worries of life, and that day will not come on you suddenly like a trap; for it will come upon all those who dwell on the face of all the earth. "But keep on the alert at all times, praying that you may have strength to escape all these things that are about to take place, and to stand before the Son of Man." Now during the day He was teaching in the temple, but at evening He would go out and spend the night on the mount that is called Olivet. And all the people would get up early in the morning to come to Him in the temple to listen to Him.

(Luk 21:5-38 NASB)


We must first remember that Jesus said these words almost two thousand years ago. It would be naïve, then, to think that none of these words had been fulfilled as yet. Equally, we should expect that there could be prophecy which is yet to be fulfilled. Which is which? There is much dispute; what follows is a system that has the advantage of simplicity; that which looks to have been fulfilled we will display as fulfilled. That which hasn’t is taken as being yet to come. In all this, we must observe a certain humility; or, as Oliver Cromwell once put it to the Scottish Presbyterians, “I beseech thee, in the bowels of Christ, consider that thou mayest be wrong.”

Prophecy fulfilled

Is there anything which could be seen as fulfilled? Yes indeed. The events relating to the sack of Jerusalem by the Romans in A.D. 70 fulfilled several elements of this prophecy:

  • The city was surrounded by her enemies; that was the way a siege was conducted in those days.
  • The city was sacked and her inhabitants slaughtered or sold into slavery. As was the custom of the time, the Romans practiced what is known today as “frightfulness” – the concept that everyone will hear what happened at Jerusalem and thus be more inclined to surrender. This included the charming practice of taking all the pregnant women and ripping their bellies open with a sword, leaving them and the unborn child to die in the streets.
  • The Temple was destroyed – right down to the ground. The Wailing Wall in Jerusalem today was simply a retaining wall ensuring a flat surface for building.
  • The Jews were then dispersed all over the world; returning after such time as was required, in 1947. The careful student will please note that the timing of this is usually dependent upon the theory being used.

But there is a curious point. Not all the prophecy in this passage is fulfilled; certainly we have not seen the return of Christ. But he clearly tells us that all will be fulfilled in “this generation.” But look to your Bible’s footnotes. The word can also be translated “race” (in the sense we would say “people group” or “tribe”) or even “age” (as in “Middle Ages” for example.) The most common interpretation is that the Jews, as a people group, would not disappear before the coming of Christ. So far, this has most certainly been the case. Ammonites, Hittites, Philistines and such are long gone; the Jews are ever with us.

Prophecy unfulfilled

Christ makes it clear that there’s a lot of history ahead. His first point is that the normal run of history – wars and disasters – are going to happen. There are not of concern to the Christian in examining prophecy. Fear God, dread naught.

But there is one thing of concern to you that is clearly prophesied, here and elsewhere in the Scriptures: persecution.

  • The Christian will be persecuted by the synagogue – and, by a reasonable extension I think, by various religious authorities. Christ woos his followers with love; his enemies ram their religion down other throats. Sometimes his enemies call themselves by his name.
  • The civil authorities, too, will persecute the Christian. It is the normal state of affairs. Religion which exalts “our tribe” will be met with favor; religion which ignores the boundaries of tribal or national prejudice will be persecuted. The “loyalty oath” has not yet outlived its usefulness to the state.

This is the normal state of the Christian: persecution, one way or another. Christ does not promise deliverance from persecution but deliverance in persecution. You will be able to withstand it; and if you choose to do so, you will stand with Christ on the Day of Judgment knowing that you were worthy to suffer for the faith. It is a great honor.

More than that, such persecution is an opportunity to testify for the faith. Of this we shall have more to say later.

What surprises Christians in this is the hatred the world feels towards them. In our own time there are people who consider themselves too advanced to fall for Christianity (the people who do must be mentally defective). They consider themselves “good people” – so it seems that good people must hate Christians. The sadness and pain of such hatred is greatest when it comes from your friends or even your own family. But make no mistake: it will happen that way.


The future is coming (one day at a time, until The Day). So what should we do about it now?

The Don’ts

We begin with preparing our speeches – or rather, by not preparing them. While we are to have a ready defense for what we believe[1], we are not to be anxious about defending the faith on public occasions – such as when the authorities ask us why we are Christians. The Spirit will provide both words and wisdom. It’s certain enough for most of us that we don’t have them naturally.

Another don’t: don’t be misled. We will see false prophets (Mohammed, Joseph Smith, and a bunch of others) and false Christs (none lately, but we find plenty who consider themselves fit to stand in his place.) Don’t bother with them; ignore them, for they will soon go away.

Don’t be weighted down, either. Do not engage in dissipation and drunkenness.[2] More than that, don’t be weighted down by the cares of this life. So often we expect too much from others, and grow bitter at them when we are disappointed. Worse, we expect too much of ourselves, and become bitter at our own failures. Worst of all: God does not do what we expect, and we become a bitter weed on the side of the narrow way.

Foghorn Leghorn He tells us all this so that we won’t be surprised. As Foghorn Leghorn used to put it, “Pay attention, boy!”


If there are don’ts, there are usually do’s – and here are a few:

·         Do have the endurance needed to live through the persecution – or die trying. Cultivate the patient endurance that cannot be defeated.

·         Do pray for strength. The reason you fear persecution is that you are not strong enough to withstand it – so pray for strength.

·         Do keep alert. Constantly examine yourself and your ways.

·         Do look for the signs of the times. When you see them, get ready – lift up your head, redemption draweth nigh.

Signs of the Times

There is debate on exactly how to interpret these passages for “signs of the times.” There is always the temptation to announce that the signs are there, and we are very close to his return. (Just because it hasn’t happened yet means no more than it’s one day closer).

  • Some hold that Jerusalem will be surrounded by armies again. Others that this was fulfilled in AD 70.
  • There will be signs in the sun, moon and stars. Until recently, these were interpreted as being figurative (remember Joseph who told his brothers of his dream in which their stars bowed down to him?[3]), which is in accord with what is revealed in the Bible. Some, lately, have taken this in a literal sense.
  • Most intriguing of all is this: Luke mentions only one slight parable, that of the fig tree. His hearers would have understood: the fig tree means Israel. When it puts forth leaves, you know the fruit is coming. The other trees would be the other nations. Have we seen the beginning of this in the restoration of the nation of Israel?

Finally, with great economy Luke comes to the end of the story: the Son of Man will return in power and glory. Note how he does this: he quotes the Old Testament. There is no description given here; isn’t it clear that Luke assumes you already know what it will be like? Do not plead ignorance; rather, be ready at any time for your Lord to return.

[1] 1 Peter 3:14-15

[2] Remember the Alka-Seltzer commercial line “Try it, you’ll like it?” That’s the world’s way – but even then you get the upset stomach and headache.

[3] Genesis 37:5-10

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