When You See Jerusalem Surrounded by Armies, Know That Its Desolation Has Come Near

Flee to the mountains!

Luke 21:20-24 (ESV)

“But when you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies, then know that its desolation has come near. Then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains, and let those who are inside the city depart, and let not those who are out in the country enter it, for these are days of vengeance, to fulfill all that is written. Alas for women who are pregnant and for those who are nursing infants in those days! For there will be great distress upon the earth and wrath against this people. They will fall by the edge of the sword and be led captive among all nations, and Jerusalem will be trampled underfoot by the Gentiles, until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled.

Is this describing the time of all this from yesterday’s reading? Is this the time of great earthquakes … and great signs from heaven?

There’s no mention of any supernatural events here. Still, the connective “but” (“de” in the Greek) feels like a switch to the other time period. That’s an unfortunate translation effect; it’s not intended in the Greek. “De” can even be translated as “and”. The passage would make perfect sense if it was, “And when you see Jerusalem …” The NIV even leaves out the “de” and starts verse 20 with, “When you see Jerusalem …”

But “but” is correct. “De” is a connective of contrast used here to show that the subject is changing from persecution to the destruction of Jerusalem. It just isn’t meant to be a switch to the other time period. This isn’t a different era, just a different event.

And the contrast is stark. The Christians will be brutally persecuted but if they follow the advice Jesus is giving here, they will survive while the Jews will be slaughtered. That’s exactly what happened.

And Jerusalem will be trampled underfoot by the Gentiles, until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled.

Oh no, not another time period! Now we’ve got “the times of the Gentiles” to add to the time of “these things” and the time “before these things,” from yesterday’s reading. And don’t forget “the end,” which will not be at once, from the reading two days ago.

Tomorrow’s passage pulls these pieces together.

We live in a great nation which does not persecute Christians. But the enemy has many minions and many tricks up his sleeve.

So what? Does this mean anything in terms of how we live our lives? Is there something special we should be doing to deal with this kind of threat?

Since the forces of evil are boundlessly smarter than we are, prayer is our only safe path. Specifically, pray for the leaders in your church; they’re in the crosshairs.

Do not take this lightly.

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Mike Slay

As a mathematician, inventor, and ruling elder in the Presbyterian Church in America, Mike Slay brings an analytical, conversational, and even whimsical approach to the daily study of God's Word.