God’s Word for You
Luke 21:18-19 you will gain your lives
by Pastor Timothy Smith on Thursday, February 28, 2019
18 But not a hair of your head will perish.
This verse begins the conclusion to the warnings for martyrs and the persecuted. It answers the question that is not asked in a calm hour of study, but rather in the agony of the martyrs dying moments: “Has God forsaken me? Should I cry out as David did, and Jesus, too: ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’” (Psalm 22:1; Matthew 27:46; Mark 15:34). Jesus’ answer is: “No, I have not forgotten you. You are not lost. Just as I have always numbered the hairs of your head (Luke 12:7) and I know everything about you, so also I will not allow any part of you to perish utterly. I will never forsake you or forget about you.”
There are several other interpretations of this passage which Lenski describes with a respectful rejection (Luke p. 1017). We don’t need to repeat them here, as long as we remember that this statement of Jesus is for the comfort of all Christians.
19 By patient endurance you will gain your lives.
Is this verse to be taken as law or gospel? The question may hinge on a Greek letter, whether “gain” is to be spelled with an epsilon (ε) or an alpha (α). The first possibility, ktēsesthe (κτήσεσθε), would be a gospel promise, “you will gain (your lives / souls).” The second possibility, ktēsasthe (κτήσασθε), is an imperative (aorist), which “expresses the coming about of conduct which contrasts with prior conduct” (A Greek Grammar of the New Testament, Blass, DeBrunner & Funk, par. § 337). Here it would mean, “Gain your lives by endurance (rather than by other means).” We would call this a gospel imperative, in which Jesus is encouraging his followers to be patient in trials and tough times, right up to the end.
The manuscript evidence for these two different spellings (and therefore applications) is split fairly evenly; both spellings are ancient and widespread. But whether the word is a promise of the future or a command based on the comfort of the gospel (a gospel imperative), the resulting interpretation is similar: The Christian who suffers persecution will nevertheless gain eternal life, therefore, endure such things patiently!
While we endure, we also remember the comforting words of the prophet about our Lord: “A bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out” (Isaiah 42:3). Your faith, even when it is shaken, is saving faith in Christ. When you are frightened, you are not sinning. When you are in pain, you are not sinning. When you call out to the Lord for his help and for him to end your suffering, you are not sinning. So whether you weep, or grimace, or pray or cry out to God for help, you are putting your faith into action. So Jesus comforts you: “By patient endurance, you will gain your life,” a life that will last for all eternity through Jesus.
Pastor Timothy Smith