The Widow’s Offering

21:1 Jesus looked up and saw the rich putting their gifts into the offering box. 21:2 He also saw a poor widow put in two small copper coins. 21:3 He said, “I tell you the truth, this poor widow has put in more than all of them. 21:4 For they all offered their gifts out of their wealth. But she, out of her poverty, put in everything she had to live on.”

We can almost hear the difference between the loud resonance as the large sums of the rich are tossed into the chest, compared with the soft tinkling sound as this woman’s coins are offered.  They have given much, but will remain rich; she has given what little she had, and becomes all the more destitute.

Lk 21:1–4 = Mk 12:41–44

“She…put in everything” – She might easily have kept back one of the two coins for herself, but she did not.

The widow's mite

21:1 Jesus looked up and saw the rich putting their gifts into the offering box. 21:2 He also saw a poor widow put in two small copper coins. 21:3 He said, “I tell you the truth, this poor widow has put in more than all of them. 21:4 For they all offered their gifts out of their wealth. But she, out of her poverty, put in everything she had to live on.”

Not exactly a ‘troublesome text’, this one, but a text which certainly invites a second look.

The usual approach is to understand Jesus as commending sacrificial giving.  Edwards, for example, says that the main point is the woman’s modelling of discipleship: ‘No gift, whether of money, time, or talent, is too insignificant to give, if it is given to God. And what is truly given to God, regardless how small and insignificant, is transformed into a pearl of great price. What may look like a great gift, conversely, may in reality be little in comparison with what one could give. The widow’s giving “ ‘all she had’ ” is a true fulfillment of the call to discipleship to follow Jesus by losing one’s life (Mk 8:35). The final Greek words of the chapter might be paraphrased, “she lay down her whole life.” That is what Jesus will do on Golgotha.’

Hurtado takes a similar approach: ‘The virtue of the widow’s gift lies in her giving all she had (v. 44), illustrating for the disciples the wholesale commitment   p 207  for which Jesus called (e.g., Mk 8:34–9:1; 10:28–31). Her action exemplifies the complete devotion spoken about in Mk 12:28–34, where it is hinted that commitment to God is not to be measured in the impressiveness of the sacrificial gift one is able to offer (v. 33). The elevation of this simple woman to such an exemplary place captures the essence of Jesus’ words that in God’s judgment “many who are … last [will be] first” (Mk 10:31).’

So also Hooker: ‘The story is a reminder to Mark’s readers that the humblest and poorest of them can make a worthy offering to God.’

Other commentators have suggested an additional layer of meaning.

One such is Wright, who thinks that the additional meaning is that ‘when we read this story in the light of Jesus’ riddle about David’s Lord and David’s son we discover a strange affinity. One might have thought she was ‘merely’ putting in two copper coins, but in fact she was putting in everything she had. One might have thought the Messiah was ‘merely’ David’s son—a human king among other human kings. But in fact, in the Messiah, Israel’s God has given himself totally, given all that he had and was.’

Writing in the Women’s Bible Commentary, Elizabeth Struthers Malbon is perhaps, on to something when she srites: ‘Later interpreters misuse this poor widow by making her the model for a stewardship campaign. She is, rather, an image of the demands and risks of discipleship that Jesus has proclaimed and is, at the moment of his telling of her story, in the midst of enacting—giving his whole life.’

The approach taken in Harper’s Bible Commentary also suggests that this story might be taken in more than one way: ‘The incident provides the bridge between Jesus’ attacks on the Temple and its authorities, Mark 11-12, and the predictions of the destruction of the Temple in Mark 13. It also prepares for the woman who anoints Jesus in Jerusalem who, like the widow, gave “what she had” (Mk 14:8; cf. 12:44) and for the discipleship of other women during the passion narrative (Mk 15:40-41, 47; 16:1-8).’

Garland (NIVAC) is content with understanding this story as an example of sacrificial giving.  Yet he agrees that ‘one can give this incident a quite different spin, which laments that this widow gives so sacrificially to this den of thieves. The woman is to be praised, but giving sacrificially to a corrupt, spiritually bankrupt, and oppressive temple is to be lamented. She exhibits unquestioning devotion to the temple, a fruitless cause that exploits her. The high priests live in luxury on their cut from the contributions made by the poor. Hers is a misguided gesture, a case of the poor giving to the rich, the victim lining the pockets of the oppressor. The costs to operate this extravagant temple are therefore one of the things that “devour the resources of the poor.”

Matt Anslow develops this alternative (or complementary) approach.  Note the context: this incident in preceded by Jesus’ denunciation of the scribes (vv38-40) and is followed by his prediction of the destruction of the temple (Mk 13:1f).  Note also that Jesus does not commend the woman’s giving.  It looks, then, as if his teaching is meant not as a celebration, but as a lament.  The woman had given all that she had.  Quite possibly, she would have nothing to eat for several days to come.  Her wealth, such as it was, had been ‘devoured’ (v40) by those responsible for the temple treasury.  An institution that should have protected her, exploited her.  This interpretation, it has to be said, is consistent with Jesus’ more general critique of the temple and its institutions.

Counting against this interpretation, however, is the observation that ‘The Lukan Jesus is thoroughly in favor of the temple and its worship: as recently as 19:45–46 he has, at least symbolically, put to rights the abuses interfering with temple worship; and for this whole section he is presented as a regular daily temple-teacher.’ (Nolland, WBC)

The Signs of the End of the Age

21:5 Now while some were speaking about the temple, how it was adorned with beautiful stones and offerings, Jesus said, 21:6 “As for these things that you are gazing at, the days will come when not one stone will be left on another. All will be torn down!” 21:7 So they asked him, “Teacher, when will these things happen? And what will be the sign that these things are about to take place?” 21:8 He said, “Watch out that you are not misled. For many will come in my name, saying, ‘I am he,’ and, ‘The time is near.’ Do not follow them! 21:9 And when you hear of wars and rebellions, do not be afraid. For these things must happen first, but the end will not come at once.”
Lk 21:5–36 = Mt 24; Mk 13
Lk 21:12–17 = Mt 10:17–22

Persecution of Disciples

21:10 Then he said to them, “Nation will rise up in arms against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. 21:11 There will be great earthquakes, and famines and plagues in various places, and there will be terrifying sights and great signs from heaven. 21:12 But before all this, they will seize you and persecute you, handing you over to the synagogues and prisons. You will be brought before kings and governors because of my name. 21:13 This will be a time for you to serve as witnesses. 21:14 Therefore be resolved not to rehearse ahead of time how to make your defense. 21:15 For I will give you the words along with the wisdom that none of your adversaries will be able to withstand or contradict. 21:16 You will be betrayed even by parents, brothers, relatives, and friends, and they will have some of you put to death. 21:17 You will be hated by everyone because of my name. 21:18 Yet not a hair of your head will perish. 21:19 By your endurance you will gain your lives.


'Not a hair of your head will perish'
This difficult saying has been understood in various ways:-

  1. Some, such as Barnes, think that this is a promise of supernatural protection to a particular people at a particular time.  Barnes thinks that this was fulfilled at the time of the fall of Jerusalem, when it has been thought that Christians suffered no serious harm.  But Kidner (commenting on Psa 121:7f) notes that ‘God’s minutest care (‘not a hair of your head will perish’) and his servants’ deepest fulfilment (‘you will win true life’, NEB) are promised in the same breath as the prospect of hounding and martyrdom (Luke 21:16f.).’
  2. Bengel and Hendriksen, take it to mean, “Not a hair of your head will perish outside of God’s providential purpose and timescale.”  See Mt 10:29f.
  3. Others, such as Marshall, France and Bock, take it to refer to spiritual safety (it is precisely such spiritual life that is promised in Lk 21:19; cf Lk 12:4-7).
  4. Still others, such as Stein, incline to the view that although individuals may perish, the church of Christ will live on.

The Desolation of Jerusalem

21:20 “But when you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies, then know that its desolation has come near. 21:21 Then those who are in Judea must flee to the mountains. Those who are inside the city must depart. Those who are out in the country must not enter it, 21:22 because these are days of vengeance, to fulfill all that is written. 21:23 Woe to those who are pregnant and to those who are nursing their babies in those days! For there will be great distress on the earth and wrath against this people. 21:24 They will fall by the edge of the sword and be led away as captives among all nations. Jerusalem will be trampled down by the Gentiles until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled.

“Wrath against this people” – This is the only place in the Synoptic Gospels where Jesus uses the word ‘wrath’ in relation to God.  This is not to say, however, that there are not many occasions when he expresses God’s hostility to evil, without actually using the word ‘wrath’.

The times of the Gentiles – The precise meaning is difficult to determine.  Morris suggests various alternatives: ‘the time for the Gentiles to execute God’s judgments, or to be supreme over Israel, or to exercise the privileges hitherto belonging to Israel, or to have the gospel preached to them.’

‘This suggests either that (1) the city will be dominated for only a limited time and that during this period Gentiles will be converted to the Messiah (cf. Dan 8:13–14; 12:5–13; Mk 13:20; Rom 11:25–27) or that (2) the mission to the Gentiles will run its predestined course, and God will then turn once more to work with the nation of Israel.’ (DJG, 1st ed., art. ‘Gentiles’ (McKnight)

The contributor to HSB regards ‘the times of the Gentiles’ as meaning simply ‘the period of Gentile domination of the city’.  See Rev 11:2.

France suggests that ‘in context the phrase seems to mean “for as long as God permits the Gentiles to have the upper hand.”’  France adds that, ‘no specific cutoff point for the period of Gentile dominance is stated.’

Israel to become an independent state?
This is the one passage in the NT that seems to speak of the return of Jerusalem to the custody of the Jews.

For some, the ‘times of the Gentiles’ came to an end on 14th May, 1948, when Israel became an independent state.

For Derek White, of Christian Friends of Israel, there is no doubt: ‘The plain meaning of these words of Jesus is that the imposition of Gentile rule and possession of Jerusalem is to have an end, and that it will come again into the possession of the Jewish people as their Capital. It is impossible, without doing disservice to all reasonable Bible interpretation, to spiritualise “Jerusalem” here and make it mean anything other than the city, the Capital of Israel, called by that name. In the first part of verse 24 Jesus is certainly speaking literally and therefore also in the second part of that verse. The implication of this verse is the restoration of sovereignty to the Jewish nation when the “times of the Gentiles” have run their course. Many believe this Scripture to have had its fulfilment in June 1967 when Israeli forces liberated East Jerusalem from Arab rule and returned it to Jewish jurisdiction for the first time in 1900 years. Whether or not this is so, we are certainly within the period of the close of the times of the Gentiles.’

But for most commentators, the issue is not nearly so clear-cut.  Stein (NAC), for example, says, ‘there may be hints in Luke about a future restoration of Israel in Lk 13:35 and Lk 21:24, but they are elusive, so that certainty on this issue is impossible.’

However, our Lord says nothing here about what would happen to Jerusalem at the end of the period spoken of.  The view of Hendriksen (citing Greijdanus & Lenski in support) is that the period of oppression of Jerusalem will last until the end of the age, the theme to which our Lord now turns, in vv25-28.

Travis remarks that although Jesus taught that the OT prophecies concerning the Kingdom of God were fulfilled in his own ministry, there is nothing to suggest that he expected a time when the Jews would have political independence in Palestine.  And although the present text does speak of the trampling down of Jerusalem until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled, it does not say that Jewish sovereignty will be restored at that time.  It is consistent with the general tenor of Jesus’ teaching that the fulfillment of the times of the Gentiles would be followed by the parousia.  (I Believe in the Second Coming of Jesus)

The Arrival of the Son of Man

See parallel accounts in Mt 24:29-35; Mk 13:24-31

Ascension or Parousia?
Ian Paul notes that this passage is selected as an Advent reading for Year 3 of the Revised Common Lectionary.  There is an assumption that this passage is all about Christ’s Second Coming.

Following G.B. Caird and R.T. France, Paul argues that this passage is actually about the Ascension and the subsequent spread of the gospel.  The key elements in the argument are:-

  1. ‘the ‘technical’ language of parousia (used repeatedly by Paul in e.g. 1 Cor 15.23, 1 Thess 2.19) occurs in the second half of Matt 24 (Matt 24.37, 39) but is absent in the first half, except in Matt 24.27 when Jesus says all that is happening is not sign of his coming;
  2. ‘English translations confuse this, by using the same wording (‘coming’) to translate both this word and the quite different present participle erchomenos;
  3. ‘the language of the ‘coming of the Son of Man’ in Matt 24.30 is a direct allusion to Dan 7.13, which refers to the Son of Man coming from the earth to the throne of the Ancient of Days. Matthew conflates it with a reference to Zech 12.10, which talks of the Spirit being poured out on the House of David, and all the tribes of Israel seeing the one they have pierced—used in reference to Jesus’ crucifixion and then the events of Pentecost;
  4. ‘the main stumbling block for the ‘traditional’ reading comes in Matt 24.34–35 – “Amen I say to you: this generation will not pass away until all these things take place. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away.”‘  This seems to demonstrate that the events spoken of would take place within the next 30-40 years.

Paul comments that, in contrast to Matthew and Mark, Luke places these events much more clearly in the context of the destruction of Jerusalem.

Source: Parsons, cited by Paul.

Paul cites Mikeal Parsons to the effect that ‘in keeping with the consistent and distinctive emphasis in Luke on promise and fulfilment, this passage with its predictions of difficulties for the followers of Jesus is actually fulfilled in a range of elements of the narrative in Acts.

The implications for preaching from this passage are, according to Paul:-

First, we need to take this passage seriously in its historical context, noting first what it would have meant for Luke’s original audience, before seeking its meaning for us today.

Secondly, we need to note ‘the connections Luke makes between the events of the fall of Jerusalem, Pentecost, and the gentile mission.’

Thirdly, we need to understand that, for Luke, ‘the “end days” have already commenced with Jesus’ Ascension, the fall of Jerusalem, and Pentecost. God’s covenant grace has now been broken open to include gentiles within the “Israel of God”.’

Fourthly, ‘because of all this, the troubles that Jesus’ followers experienced throughout Acts are troubles that we ourselves might well encounter. Like them, we are to ‘hold our heads up’ and not be dismayed, since this Jesus is Lord, and he will return.’

21:25 “And there will be signs in the sun and moon and stars, and on the earth nations will be in distress, anxious over the roaring of the sea and the surging waves. 21:26 People will be fainting from fear and from the expectation of what is coming on the world, for the powers of the heavens will be shaken. 21:27 Then they will see the Son of Man arriving in a cloud with power and great glory. 21:28 But when these things begin to happen, stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.”

The Parable of the Fig Tree

21:29 Then he told them a parable: “Look at the fig tree and all the other trees. 21:30 When they sprout leaves, you see for yourselves and know that summer is now near. 21:31 So also you, when you see these things happening, know that the kingdom of God is near. 21:32 I tell you the truth, this generation will not pass away until all these things take place. 21:33 Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away.

Be Ready!

21:34 “But be on your guard so that your hearts are not weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and the worries of this life, and that day close down upon you suddenly like a trap. 21:35 For it will overtake all who live on the face of the whole earth. 21:36 But stay alert at all times, praying that you may have strength to escape all these things that must happen, and to stand before the Son of Man.”
21:37 So every day Jesus was teaching in the temple courts, but at night he went and stayed on the Mount of Olives. 21:38 And all the people came to him early in the morning to listen to him in the temple courts.