Having given them an idea of the times for about thirty-eight years next ensuing, he here comes to show them what all those things would issue in at last, namely, the destruction of Jerusalem, and the utter dispersion of the Jewish nation, which would be a little day of judgment, a type and figure of Christ’s second coming, which was not so fully spoken of here as in the parallel place (Matt. 24:1-51), yet glanced at; for the destruction of Jerusalem would be as it were the destruction of the world to those whose hearts were bound up in it.
I. He tells them that they should see Jerusalem besieged, compassed with armies (Luke 21:20), the Roman armies; and, when they saw this, they might conclude that its desolation was nigh, for in this the siege would infallibly end, though it might be a long siege. Note, As in mercy, so in judgment, when God begins, he will make an end.
II. He warns them, upon this signal given, to shift for their own safety (Luke 21:21): “Then let them that are in Judea quit the country and flee to the mountains; let them that are in the midst of it” (Of Jerusalem) “depart out, before the city be closely shut up, and” (as we say now) “before the trenches be opened; and let not them that are in the countries and villages about enter into the city, thinking to be safe there. Do you abandon a city and country which you see God has abandoned and given up to ruin. Come out of her, my people.”
III. He foretels the terrible havoc that should be made of the Jewish nation (Luke 21:22): Those are the days of vengeance so often spoken of by the Old-Testament prophets, which would complete the ruin of that provoking people. All their predictions must now be fulfilled, and the blood of all the Old-Testament martyrs must now be required. All things that are written must be fulfilled at length. After days of patience long abused, there will come days of vengeance; for reprieves are not pardons. The greatness of that destruction is set forth, 1. By the inflicting cause of it. It is wrath upon this people, the wrath of God, that will kindle this devouring consuming fire. 2. By the particular terror it would be to women with child, and poor mothers that are nurses. Woe to them, not only because they are most subject to frights, and least able to shift for their own safety, but because it will be a very great torment to them to think of having borne and nursed children for the murderers. 3. By the general confusion that should be all the nation over. There shall be great distress in the land, for men will not know what course to take, nor how to help themselves.
IV. He describes the issue of the struggles between the Jews and the Romans, and what they will come to at last; in short, 1. Multitudes of them shall fall by the edge of the sword. It is computed that in those wars of the Jews there fell by the sword above eleven hundred thousand. And the siege of Jerusalem was, in effect, a military execution. 2. The rest shall be led away captive; not into one nations, as when they were conquered by the Chaldeans, which gave them an opportunity of keeping together, but into all nations, which made it impossible for them to correspond with each other, much less to incorporate. 3. Jerusalem itself was trodden down of the Gentiles. The Romans, when they had made themselves masters of it, laid it quite waste, as a rebellious and bad city, hurtful to kings and provinces, and therefore hateful to them.
V. He describes the great frights that people should generally be in. Many frightful sights shall be in the sun, moon, and stars, prodigies in the heavens, and here in this lower world, the sea and the waves roaring, with terrible storms and tempests, such as had not been known, and above the ordinary working of natural causes. The effect of this shall be universal confusion and consternation upon the earth, distress of nations with perplexity, Luke 21:25. Dr. Hammond understands by the nations the several governments or tetrarchies of the Jewish nation, Judea, Samaria, and Galilee; these shall be brought to the last extremity. Men’s hearts shall fail them for fear (Luke 21:26), apopsychonton anthropon—men being quite exanimated, dispirited, unsouled, dying away for fear. Thus those are killed all the day long by whom Christ’s apostles were so (Rom. 8:36), that is, they are all the day long in fear of being killed; sinking under that which lies upon them, and yet still trembling for fear of worse, and looking after those things which are coming upon the world. When judgment begins at the house of God, it will not end there; it shall be as if all the world were falling in pieces; and where can any be secure then? The powers of heaven shall be shaken, and then the pillars of the earth cannot but tremble. Thus shall the present Jewish policy, religion, laws, and government, be all entirely dissolved by a series of unparalleled calamities, attended with the utmost confusion. So Dr. Clarke. But our Saviour makes use of these figurative expressions because at the end of time they shall be literally accomplished, when the heavens shall be rolled together as a scroll, and all their powers not only shaken, but broken, and the earth and all the works that are therein shall be burnt up, 2 Pet. 3:10, 12. As that day was all terror and destruction to the unbelieving Jews, so the great day will be to all unbelievers.
VI. He makes this to be a kind of appearing of the Son of man: Then shall they see the Son of man coming in a cloud, with power and great glory, Luke 21:27. The destruction of Jerusalem was in a particular manner an act of Christ’s judgment, the judgment committed to the Son of man; his religion could never be thoroughly established but by the destruction of the temple, and the abolishing of the Levitical priesthood and economy, after which even the converted Jews, and many of the Gentiles too, were still hankering, till they were destroyed; so that it might justly be looked upon as a coming of the Son of man, in power and great glory, yet not visibly, but in the clouds; for in executing such judgments as these clouds and darkness are round about him. Now this was, 1. An evidence of the first coming of the Messiah; so some understand it. Then the unbelieving Jews shall be confined, when it is too late, that Jesus was the Messiah; those that would not see him coming in the power of his grace to save them shall be made to see him coming in the power of his wrath to destroy them; those that would not have him to reign over them shall have him to triumph over them. 2. It was an earnest of his second coming. Then in the terrors of that day they shall see the Son of man coming in a cloud, and all the terrors of the last day. They shall see a specimen of it, a faint resemblance of it. If this be so terrible, what will that be?
VII. He encourages all the faithful disciples in reference to the terrors of that day (Luke 21:28): “When these things begin to come to pass, when Jerusalem is besieged, and every thing is concurring to the destruction of the Jews, then do you look up, when others are looking down, look heavenward, in faith, hope, and prayer, and lift up your heads with cheerfulness and confidence, for your redemption draws night.” 1. When Christ came to destroy the Jews, he came to redeem the Christians that were persecuted and oppressed by them; then had the churches rest. 2. When he comes to judge the world at the last day, he will redeem all that are his, from all their grievances. And the foresight of that day is as pleasant to all good Christians as it is terrible to the wicked and ungodly. Their death itself is so; when they see that day approaching, they can lift up their heads with joy, knowing that their redemption draws nigh, their removal to their Redeemer.
VIII. Here is one word of prediction that looks further than the destruction of the Jewish nation, which is not easily understood; we have it in Luke 21:24: Jerusalem shall be trodden down of the Gentiles, till the times of the Gentiles be fulfilled. 1. Some understand it of what is past; so Dr. Hammond. The Gentiles, who have conquered Jerusalem, shall keep possession of it, and it shall be purely Gentile, till the times of the Gentiles be fulfilled, till a great part of the Gentile world shall have become Christian, and then after Jerusalem shall have been rebuilt by Adrian the emperor, with an exclusion of all the Jews from it, many of the Jews shall turn Christians, shall join with the Gentile Christians, to set up a church in Jerusalem, which shall flourish there for a long time. 2. Others understand it of what is yet to come; so Dr. Whitby. Jerusalem shall be possessed by the Gentiles, of one sort or other, for the most part, till the time come when the nations that yet remain infidels shall embrace the Christian faith, when the kingdoms of this world shall become Christ’s kingdoms, and then all the Jews shall be converted. Jerusalem shall be inhabited by them, and neither they nor their city any longer trodden down by the Gentiles.