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Bible Commentaries

James Nisbet's Church Pulpit Commentary

Luke 21



Verse 4


‘For all these have of their abundance cast in unto the offerings of God: but she of her penury hath cast in all the living that she had.’

Luke 21:4


I. How keenly our Lord observes the things that are done upon earth.—‘All things are naked and opened to the eyes of Him with Whom we have to do (Hebrews 4:13). He measures littleness and greatness by a very different measure from the measure of man. Events in our own daily life, to which we attach no importance, are often very grave and serious matters in Christ’s sight.

II. Christ’s standard of liberality.—He would have us know that some persons appear to give much to religious purposes who in God’s sight give very little, and that some appear to give very little who in God’s sight give very much.

III. Our use of the money God has given us will have to be accounted for at the last day.—The ‘Judge of all will be He Who noticed the widow’s mite.’ Our incomes and expenditures will be brought to light before an assembled world.


‘Let us beware of lightly using the expression, “giving our mite,” in reference to giving money to religious or charitable causes. The phrase is often employed without thought or consideration. If people would “give their mite” really and literally as the widow gave hers, many would have to give far more money than they ever give now. Her “mite” meant something that she gave with immense self-denial, and at great sacrifice. Most men’s “mite” nowadays means something that is not felt, not missed, and makes no difference to their comfort. If all people gave their “mite” as the widow gave hers, the world and the Church would soon be in a very different state.’

Verse 5-6


‘And as some spake of the temple, how it was adorned with goodly stones and gifts, He said, As for these things which ye behold, the days will come, in the which there shall not be left one stone upon another, that shall not be thrown down.’

Luke 21:5-6

This discourse of our Lord is one of the most difficult for us to follow and apply, and yet it has made a vivid impression on the imagination of the world. It may be worth while therefore to try reverently to gather what was in our Lord’s mind when He spoke—what was transitory, what was permanent. It is impossible to leave on one side a matter of such vital importance as the final destiny of the world, and the promised Presence or coming of Christ. We notice at once these two things.

I. The transitory and the permanent.—First that, as, in an exhibition of dissolving views, one scene melts imperceptibly into another, so that at a given time we hardly know what is before us, so here a great deal of our Lord’s words refer to an immediate, local catastrophe of tremendous importance to His hearers—the fall of Jerusalem. And then His words dissolve, melt almost imperceptibly into another scene—the end of the world, His own Second Coming, and the dread phenomena which will precede and accompany it—the one event being connected with the other as that which symbolises with that which is symbolised.

II. The coming of Christ.—Secondly, we must remember and realise that there are certain images in Holy Scripture which cannot be reproduced pictorially, nor represented in human language. Our Blessed Lord Himself seems to say that a full knowledge of what is meant by the Day of Judgment, and when it will be, is impossible to the human understanding. But there is a bright side to final judgment. We are apt to forget this. In spite of the imagery of flame and earthquake, of wrath on sinners, of shame and endless doom, the idea which most strongly impressed itself on the early Church was the Presence of Christ, the victory of Christ, the coming and permanent reign of Christ.

III. The Presence of Christ.—His Presence! It is what they so longed to see. How impatient they were for it, how they hurried forward in imagination the slow winding up of the ages. ‘O thou enemy,’ they would say, ‘destructions are come to a perpetual end,’ and Christ is coming. His will be a great Presence. This is a side of the Judgment Day of which we think too little, one which surely has power to diminish much of our fear.

IV. What has the Presence been to us?—As we look back over life we each of us can see what the Presence, the coming of Christ has been to us. ‘Thy song shall be of mercy and judgment.’ Life has had its destructions. God nips off those things that we valued—youth, health, strength, and vigour—in order to develop the life of saintliness, the life of union with Himself. If you would meet your Judge with trembling hope, if you would rejoice in His Presence with exceeding great joy, go and tell it out among the heathen that the Lord is King; go and proclaim the paradox of welcome: ‘Let the floods clap their hands, and let the hills be joyful together before the Lord, for He cometh to judge the earth.’

—Rev. Canon Newbolt.


‘In the dark days of the Catacombs, where they found Christ in the mystic Eucharistic Presence on the altar which covered the bones of some friend or some earlier martyr who had laid down his life for Christ, the Presence was a hurried and a fleeting one, to be followed too often by dark days of persecution and anguish. It was so difficult for them to keep Christ’s Presence with them in its living beauty. Think of them as they walked through the heathen city, with its consecrated sin, and its sights and sounds of shame, which formed part of the religion of the heathenism which surrounded them. We, too, do we not know how difficult it is to retain the Presence of Christ? How difficult we find it to breathe for any time the rarified air of heaven! We fall asleep on the Mount of Transfiguration; we are dazed and stupefied in the hour of mysteries, when the atoning agony of Gethsemane and Calvary is revealed to us. The Presence of Christ—it lingers, perhaps, as a memory infrequent and glorious in those “days of the Son of Man,” when heaven seemed nearer to us, and the veil of the sacraments was thinner, and temptation less obtrusive, and sin less persistent, the Presence of Christ always and everywhere, in a time when there should be neither day nor night, but one day. This was the conception that swallowed up all others in the loving heart of the Christians as they talked of that coming of Christ which was a Presence joyful and abiding.’

Verse 19


‘In your patience possess ye your souls.’

Luke 21:19

I. Patience never seems to be an heroic remedy, least of all in the face of action so overwhelming and scenes so terrific as those which Christ predicted as He sat with that little knot of anxious men on the summit of Olivet on that momentous evening.

II. And yet there are times when patience is by no means a counsel of despair, but when rather the contest lies between the power of inflicting and the power of bearing, when in the working out of great issues all depends on the capacity of those involved to bide their time, to refuse to be crushed, to hold out until the right moment.

III. So here, in answer to their nervous question as to the ‘when’ and ‘how,’ our Lord is impressing on them that, as far as they are concerned, all will depend on their powers of bearing, that they are not to regard themselves as so many pawns on the board which will be sacrificed to the movements of the bigger pieces, that every individual counts with God, that the patience will have to last on through suffering, even possibly through physical death; that although they may be hated and persecuted by friends, and in some cases put to death, yet still in the highest sense not a hair of their heads should perish. And, therefore, He would say, ‘Make your souls your own.’ Keep your heads, keep your independence, be as those who can say that their souls are their own, and so (in accordance with another reading of these words) they shall win their souls, and save their lives, in all that makes life valuable, in all that counts as living.

Rev. Canon Newbolt.


(1) ‘The historian of the Crimean War has told us of the trial of courage which came upon our young soldiers at the battle of the Alma, when they were halted for a considerable time under fire, with no impetuosity of onslaught, nothing to take the chill from their blood or to inspire them with a feeling of action—simply to stand and be shot at, and to be told this was war.’

(2) ‘The doctors will tell us of one of the most common and dangerous diseases which attack our suffering humanity that nothing that medical skill can do will arrest it, only the smallest alleviations are possible, everything must be directed to brace up the patient to endure the blows of the storm while the tempest is at its height. It is a battle between onslaught and endurance until the crisis is past.’

Verse 27


‘Then shall they see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory.’

Luke 21:27

The coming of Christ.

I. A real living Person. is coming. People think that religion is obeying certain rules and attending many services. But Christianity is faith in a living Person, the Lord Jesus Christ, and believers commit themselves to Him.

II. He comes to us now.—In His Word, by His ministers and stewards. At the Second Advent He will

III. Come to judge.—Think, then, of our responsibility. At the Last Day Christ will judge us. Will our life, as we are now living it, bear the judgment of Christ?

IV. Can we face Christ?—Is there any part of our life that He would have to condemn? Remember that God hates sin. But He loves us. Therefore Christ’s Second Advent need not be a terror to any but those who persist in their wickedness. Submit to His judgment now, when He comes, not to condemn, but to save. Then, when the Great Day comes, you will be accepted for His sake.

—Rev. the Hon. James Adderley.


‘Then, that is after the troubles of those days are over. Great trouble, and fear, and misery, our Lord tells us, will precede His coming. Great persecutions will be inflicted upon Christ’s people. The strong will persecute the weak—the world will persecute the Church. It will be a time of trial to the faith of all Christians—of fear and trouble and perplexity—“men’s hearts failing them for fear and for looking after those things which are coming upon the earth.” All this shall draw to a close. Either the persecution and the suffering will reach its climax and then come to an end, or the Second Advent shall break in upon it and interrupt it in the midst of its horrors.’



There are three things to notice:—

I. The signs of the coming of the Son of Man (Luke 21:25-26). We know the value of signs in ordinary matters. By observation we can foretell what the weather will be (Matthew 16:2-3). So of the coming seasons (Luke 21:29-30). In the same manner God would have us watch for Christ’s coming (Luke 21:31). The future belongs to God alone (Acts 1:7; Deuteronomy 29:29; Isaiah 48:3-8); but He reveals coming events, and shows signs of them (see Luke 21:8-11; Luke 21:20-27). By these we should know the times (1 Chronicles 12:32; Romans 13:11).

II. The blessings of the coming of the Son of Man (Luke 21:27-28). It is true that, as the Son of Man, He shall come for judgment (John 5:27); but to His people He shall bring redemption (Romans 8:23; Philippians 3:20-21). We read here that He shall come ‘with power.’ This will be a blessing for His own (Psalms 110:2-3; 2 Corinthians 13:4; Romans 1:4; Revelation 11:15). We read also that He shall appear with ‘great glory.’ It is for this glory that we wait (2 Thessalonians 1:10; Romans 8:18).

III. The certainty of the coming of the Son of Man (Luke 21:32-33). What a blessed thing to know that these matters are not doubtful (Psalms 119:89; John 10:35). They have had a partial accomplishment with regard to Jerusalem (Luke 21:20; Luke 21:24). This makes the Word sure to us (2 Peter 1:19). But notice the words of Jesus (Luke 21:33. See Isaiah 54:10; Jeremiah 33:20-21).

You may say, ‘This is prophecy, and too hard for me’; but think what prophecy is (Revelation 19:10). Think what God says of it (2 Peter 1:19; 1 Thessalonians 5:20). Think how the Jews suffered for neglecting it (Nehemiah 9:30). Let us receive it in faith (Luke 24:25); and so watch for our redemption drawing nigh.

Bishop Rowley Hill.


‘What was it that largely kept up the courage of the garrison in Lucknow, and gave them strength to endure the horrors of that siege? It was the knowledge that Havelock and his men were hastening to bring them relief. We are not yet in the critical condition of a besieged city, but we are in the midst of enemies, powerful and numerous and very subtle. We are often tempted to surrender to the forces of darkness in times of weakness and discouragement. To know that reinforcements are on the way will put fresh courage into the stoutest-hearted soldiers. And this we do know, albeit the conflict thickens and faith is low, that “Christ is coming back again.”’

Verse 28


‘And when these things begin to come to pass, then look up, and lift up your heads; for your redemption draweth nigh.’

Luke 21:28

Redemption dawns, as order out of chaos, and rides triumphant on the storm of a shattered world. Is not this the way of God? ‘He knoweth whereof we are made; He remembereth that we are but dust.’ The infinite pathos of life appeals irresistibly to His infinite pity. And they run ever side by side—wrath and redemption, punishment and pity, doom and restitution.

I. Redemption!Note the expression. It is a word with which we are familiar in the writings of St. Paul—as the paying of purchase-money to secure the captive’s liberty; and it emphasises the fact, which we are so apt to miss, that a purpose of God runs through all which seems to be most turbulent and irresponsible in the dealings of men. And, further, it declares to us that the help we look for is from above, that the life and death of Jesus Christ are not so many lessons on which the reformer may base his precepts, but the working out of a Divine purpose and the extension of Divine help to meet the sore needs of human trouble.

II. It may be true that anxious times are before us in Church and State, but if so there is redemption behind them.—There are anxious questions whichever way we turn, portents and signs of wickedness, of immorality, clever enough to steer clear of criminality, and more deadly because more clever; of heartless luxury, of indifference, of the shaking of great principles and the abandonment of fundamental beliefs. And yet here, too, there are signs of coming redemption, the timid leaves of better things are starting forth. It is an immense thing, for instance, to be able to feel that there is a real growth in sincerity. If there is far less official religion than there used to be, or a respectful conformity with despised traditions, there is an immense growth in earnestness. The man who belongs to no party may enjoy the cynical contempt of the gods of Olympus looking down on a struggle which they despise and avoid, but he will carry no weight nor get a hearing for his message. There is a bright side even to the restlessness which is such a characteristic of our times. Those of us who know least of the writings of St. Augustine know the famous passage in his Confessions where he says, ‘We were made, O Lord, for Thee, and our heart is restless until it rests in Thee.’

—Rev. Canon Newbolt.

Verse 33-34


‘Heaven and earth shall pass away: but My words shall not pass away. And take heed to yourselves.’

Luke 21:33-34

So, and with such solemn words, doth Christ the mighty Prophet close the awful strain of the prophecy. ‘My words shall not pass away.’ ‘Heaven and earth shall. My words shall not.’ My words. Oh, surely here we are listening to the Divine asseveration of the Eternal Son with which He clenches and confirms the weighty truths He has just now uttered: truths weighty, but truths marvellous, truths hard to understand and harder still to reconcile, truths strange and unacceptable to flesh and blood. Note:—

I. The certainty of Christ’s coming.

II. The abiding character of Christ’s words.

III. How we may realise these things.

Our Lord says, ‘Take heed to yourselves.’ We must force ourselves to look at our life and all about us in this spirit. By prayer; by resolute determination in God’s strength to see things from God’s point of view, and not man’s; by avoiding, as far as in us lies, the excitements and distractions of busy life and frivolous society, which drown the voices by which God speaks to the soul, and dim the eye of faith by the dust of the world. We know, we all of us know, the things of which we have spoken; but we do not realise them. There is a world of difference between the two.


‘Surely this means that His words are eternal, perpetual; for ever present, possible, imminent; for ever coming true. So, indeed, they would not pass away. So they would be like the heavens and the earth, and the laws thereof; like heat, gravitation, electricity, what not—always here, always working, always asserting themselves, with this difference, that when the physical laws of the heavens and the earth, which began in time, in time have perished, the spiritual laws of God’s kingdom, of Christ’s moral government, of moral beings, shall endure for ever and for ever, eternal as that God Whose essence they reflect. Most miserable would mankind be if these words were not to be fulfilled till some future last day and Day of Judgment.’

Verse 38


‘And all the people came early in the morning to Him in the temple, for to hear Him.’

Luke 21:38

The circumstance mentioned here, and in the verse just before it, was connected with our Lord’s last days on earth. It was one of the things that happened in the last week of His earthly life. The Holy Spirit inspired the Evangelist to write down the record of this circumstance for our instruction and profit, that, as it is brought before us, we might gain from it what it is meant to teach us.

Let us pass on to the teaching of the New Testament on this subject. This teaching is what we may call indirect teaching, but there is a great deal of this indirect teaching in the Bible, and by this indirect teaching it speaks to us as well as by its direct teaching.

I. Look at our Lord’s own example of early devotion.—It is mentioned in Mark 1:35. What an example our Lord here sets us in this matter! Whilst men and women were wrapped in slumber, when all around was calm and still, before the time for men to go out to work, He, our Lord and Master, arose, and went out to pray, not only with the first break of dawn, but even before the dawn, ‘a great while before day,’ as Mark says.

II. In the text we are told of the people coming to our Lord in the Temple early in the morning.—Our Lord gave them the authority of His own consent for it. He gave them the opportunity of thus coming to Him in the Temple at this particular time, viz. early in the morning. If He had not given them the opportunity they could not have come, but He gave them the opportunity, and they availed themselves of it, and came.

III. There is another instance which seems to point to the value of early services.—In Luke 24:1, it is mentioned that it was ‘very early in the morning’ of the first Easter Day that the holy women came to the sepulchre in which our Lord’s body had been buried. They came ‘very early in the morning,’ and oh, what they gained by coming thus early!

—Rev. T. H. Simpkin.


‘Apply this teaching to the Early Celebration of the Holy Communion. Is it not an opportunity given to people to come in the early morning into our Blessed Lord’s spiritual, though real Presence, vouchsafed to us here in His Temple through His especial Presence in the Blessed Sacrament of His love, just as of old He gave to those people of whom we read in the text an opportunity of coming into His visible Presence in the Temple? And were it not well if we could carry the parallel on still further? Were it not well if men in these days were more ready to come early in the morning to God’s House to meet the Saviour when He comes by means of His Sacramental Presence and brings His Sacramental blessing with Him?’


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Bibliography Information
Nisbet, James. "Commentary on Luke 21:4". Church Pulpit Commentary. 1876.

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