God’s Word for You
Luke 21:23-24 Four laments
by Pastor Timothy Smith on Monday, March 4, 2019
23 Woe to those women who are pregnant and to nursing mothers in those days! For there will be great distress on the earth and wrath against this people. 24 They will fall by the sword and be taken away as captives to all nations. Jerusalem will be trampled by the Gentiles until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled.
Jesus falls into a lament with four pairings of grief for God’s people. In the first set, he grieves for women and children, especially pregnant women and nursing mothers, who naturally are burdened in two ways, by virtue of their slowness as they try to flee, but also their inner anguish over a baby which otherwise would mean a happy future of joy and growth, but in this case means that the future is uncertain at best, and probably a future that will vanish with the death of mother and child together.
Second, the Lord proclaims the pain of the people who are being punished. Their own pain is “great distress.” The “distress” here is anangke (ἀνάγκη), which is a necessary distress out of compulsion. This is the word Paul uses for being “compelled” to preach in Romans 9:16 and the “distress” that comes with persecution in 1 Thessalonians 3:7. What makes this distress necessary? It is the wrath of God against “this people” for their sin of unbelief, which has displayed itself in so many different ways, not least of which is the persecution of the saints. This second lament is not about the people of God at all, but those who will be punished for their sins. Yet God says, “I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked” (Ezekiel 33:11). His wish is that they would turn back to him in repentance, but on the Last Day it will be too late, and destruction will fall on them without notice. “Suddenly,” he warns, “I will bring down on them anguish and terror” (Jeremiah 15:8). And Jesus says: “Behold, I come like a thief!” (Revelation 16:15).
The third pairing of grief is the violence of the day when the city will fall. Some of the people “will fall by the sword,” and doubtless this includes some Christians as well as unbelievers. As for the others, some “will be taken away as captives to all nations.” This dispersion will be one that many will not escape.
The final pair of griefs consists in two ways of looking at “the times of the Gentiles.” This begins with Jerusalem being trampled by the Gentiles, especially the Romans but not only them. The second part of this pairing is that this trampling will go on “until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled.” When will this be? We are still in those days. The Gentiles here are not really the ethnic group of nations who are not Jews, but rather all those who are outside the family of believers. In this case, “Gentiles” means Jews, Muslims, and all the people of the world who reject Christ. In this light, it is evident that this Gentile trampling upon the physical city of Jerusalem is being carried out to this day, and yet there is also a spiritual application. The world, the Jews, the Muslims, and others, trample on Christians, especially true Christians who sincerely believe in Christ and the empty tomb and don’t try to water down the gospel into a make-believe “Judeo-Christian” philosophy of morality and kindness regardless of faith in Jesus, which is no Christianity at all.
There is hope held out in the end. Jesus says achri hou (ἄχρι οὗ), “up to when” or “until.” This trampling and difficult time will have an ending; it will not keep going on forever. In the end, our Lord will return, descending to earth still in the same body in which he ascended so very long ago. He will return as the judge of the living and the dead (Acts 10:42).
This lament shows our Savior’s grief for the unbelievers who will be condemned, but also his loving compassion on believers who are caught up in the ravages of the last days. Jesus Christ is not a cold, calculating despot. He is our loving God, concerned about everything in our lives, and he will snatch us away in the end to live with him forever.
Pastor Timothy Smith