We pick up the narrative in v20 where our Lord resumes His description of the events that will surround His actual return.
(vv20-21) But when you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies, then recognize that her desolation is at hand. Then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains, and let those who are in the midst of the city depart, and let not those who are in the country enter the city; Did Jesus specifically use the words “her desolation” to remind them of all of the Old Testament’s prophets’ use of this term? It had been used before by Isaiah and Jeremiah to describe what would happen to Jerusalem when Israel was conquered by Babylon and they were carried off into captivity. Daniel prophesied in Babylon during that period of captivity. Were those Old Testament events only partial fulfillment of prophecy, pointing toward a greater final fulfillment in the Tribulation? I believe that is so, and that our Lord’s use of this term would have evoked an immediate reminder of those historic prophecies in their minds — as He fully intended. The Book of Revelation may also allegorically refer to the flight from Jerusalem in chapter 12 (esp. v6). If so, the flight described by our Lord as He instructed His disciples on this occasion was indeed a reference to events far into the future and well beyond their earthly lifetimes.
(v22) because these are days of vengeance, in order that all things which are written may be fulfilled. Here is stark evidence that Jesus is talking about not only the Tribulation, but about events that will follow the Millennial Kingdom. The days He is describing, days of vengeance (deserved judgment and punishment), will be the final prophetic fulfillment of all that has been prophesied, and is in no way another partial fulfillment of prophecy.
(vv23-24a) Woe to those who are with child and to those who nurse 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; These verses continue the description of Israel’s flight to the wilderness in those final days of terror and vengeance.
(v24b) and Jerusalem will be trampled underfoot by the Gentiles until the times of the Gentiles be fulfilled. Here is an interesting verse that some use as evidence that Christ spoke of the church of this Age of Grace during His earthly ministry. Certainly it is true that Jerusalem is divided geographically between Jews and Gentiles today, and the Gentiles seem to have the upper hand all over the world politically. But it is also possible that Jesus was referring to the Tribulation Period when the Antichrist and his one-world government are in control. Given the context, this is the more likely meaning, and IMHO any indication of the Age of Grace is a secondary and extremely shaded meaning. Insisting that our Lord meant the church of today is to ignore the context, especially since it would have been meaningless to the disciples who had not yet learned of the unprophesied Age of Grace because it was still a mystery hidden in God at this particular point in their training!
(vv25-27) Here, dear reader, I will ask you to open your own study Bible and read the words for yourself. What Jesus describes here is unmistakably the same period described by John in Revelation as the results of the seven seals, the seven trumpets, the seven bowls and the final victory at the Battle of Armageddon.
Jesus now proceeds to conclude His description of events to come (everything from v8 through v27) with a generalization in the next verse, a parable in the following three verses and some closing admonitions about their attitude and expectations as they enter these events in the following verses.
(v28) But when these things begin to take place, straighten up and lift up your heads, because your redemption is drawing near. One of the great difficulties of understanding this passage is that with perfect hindsight we see from history that, while He was speaking to His disciples as if these things would happen within a few years at most, in actuality two thousand years have gone by and they have yet to happen. Realizing this is fundamental to an understanding of the entire Book of Acts (and especially Acts 1:6-7), and we will explain it in greater detail as we progress through it. But suffice it to say for now that God continued to offer the Millennial Kingdom in their immediate future, if their leaders would only accept Jesus as the Messiah. The Book of Acts is the history of Israel’s continual obstinate rejection of that offer, in parallel with God turning to the Gentiles and ushering in the Age of Grace in spite of Israel’s rejection. God patiently waited through thirty years for Israel to repent, but in the end had to set them aside. This is what Paul describes through the allegory of grafted olive branches in Romans 11, but that was unknown to them because it was still a mystery hidden in God.
(vv29-31) 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. Even so you, too, when you see these things happening, recognize that the kingdom of God is near. Clearly He is speaking to His disciples and He is giving them the impression that these events will take place in their own lifetimes. The choice of fruit trees leafing out in the spring as a harbinger of summer is intended to invoke an understanding that these events will happen just as quickly as the seasons change from month to month. The problem is compounded in the next verse.
(v32) Truly I say to you this generation will not pass away until all things take place. Here Jesus apparently leads His disciples to think that these events will begin in their very near future. The Greek word for “generation” is genea, a word with several shades of use. It can mean a biological generation, like “Baby Boomers”. It can mean the members of a family that are siblings, excluding their parents and their children. It can also refer to the spiritual state of society at a given point in time. Was Jesus saying these things will all take place during your lifetime or was He saying Israel’s rejection of Me as their Messiah will persist until these things take place? I believe it is the latter. If it isn’t, then we are firmly impaled on the horns of a dilemma. Because of the hindsight of history, we know that all of the disciples, including John and Paul, died before these things happened. If so, Jesus lied to His disciples about their future in this passage. But Jesus is God and does not lie. If we take this position, either we call Jesus a liar and deny His deity, or we are forced to conclude that these events have already taken place and have gone unnoticed. Indeed, some denominations hold that these events did take place in the first century, and that the rapture, the Tribulation, the Millennial Kingdom, and the Triumphant Return of Christ are nothing more than colorful allegories, not to be taken literally. IMHO, Jesus did not lie to them, but also did not tell them the whole story. He says as much to them in Acts 1:7 — it is not for you to know times or epochs which the Father has fixed by His own authority. There is no need to squirm on the horns of this artificial dilemma. Had Israel repented as a nation immediately (had the Pharisees led the way by recognizing Jesus was the Messiah and had repented of murdering Him), these things would have indeed taken place, and that was what Jesus was preparing His disciples for in this discourse. He chose to keep the mystery hidden until the time was right, ultimately revealing it to the Apostle Paul later.
(v33-36) Again, dear reader, read these verses for yourself from your own study Bible. Jesus reminds them that earthly (and even heavenly) things are only temporary, but what He says is eternal. Consequently what He has told them will actually happen exactly as He described it, they can be sure of it. It’s better than “set in concrete”, as concrete is, after all, earthly. (It’s even better than “heavenly concrete”, if you can imagine that!) So, He tells them, don’t get distracted and then caught off guard when it happens, because it will affect everyone alive on the face of the earth in that day. What we often fail to notice in this verse (v35) is that the disciples are included in who will be affected. That stands in sharp contrast to what the Apostle Paul tells the Thessalonians (and us by implication): Then we who are alive and remain [after the dead in Christ have risen] shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and thus we shall always be with the Lord. (I Thessalonians 4:17) The disciples will remain on the earth during the times described by Jesus, but believers from this current dispensation, the Age of Grace, will be snatched away from the earth to be with the Lord wherever He is.
In concluding this lengthy three-part study, I’ll boldly go so far as to say that there is not a single statement in the entire passage that either reveals anything about the nature of the Dispensation of Grace (the church of today, the mystery hidden in God), or that should be taken as something that believers should necesarily interpret as commands to them from the lips of our Lord. Of course, the Bible admonishes us to study and understand this passage and appreciate its eternal significance, which I certainly do. But the One who I claim as Lord and Savior is now a different person than the One who diligently prepared His disciples in this passage in Luke. He is not different in essence, but He is different in appearance and message. His time in a human body was completed when He ascended into Heaven, and since that time, as the Apostle Paul says, “even though we have known Christ according to the flesh, yet now we know Him thus no longer.” (II Corinthians 5:16) From the time of His ascension to today and on into the future, He is as Paul saw Him on the road to Damascus — clothed in unapproachably brilliant light, and yet as loving and gentle toward me as Paul was toward the ever-excessive Corinthians, like a mother nursing her child. Jesus’ training of His disciples during His earthly ministry was for a different time and dispensation, still waiting in the wings to be fulfilled. As Paul concludes when speaking of the Gentile wild vines grafted into the One True Vine in Israel’s place, Oh the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and unfathomable His ways!… For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things. To Him be the glory forever. Amen. (Romans 11:33,36)