The Final Instructions
In view of the coming desolation of Jerusalem, Jesus’ final instructions to His disciples and to the Church in general is given in Luke 21:34-36,
34 Be on guard that your hearts may not be weighted down with dissipation [kraipale, “a hangover”] and drunkenness and the worries of life, and that day come on you suddenly like a trap; 35 for it will come upon all those who dwell on the face of all the earth. 36 But keep on the alert at all times, praying in order that you may have strength to escape all these things that are about to take place, and to stand before the Son of Man.
Jesus wanted His people to be alert and focused, rather than foggy brained and drunk (spiritually and physically). The “worries of life” is from the Greek word merimna, which comes from the root word, merizo, “to divide, separate.” It has to do with being distracted or trying to do two things at once while doing neither very well. Those who live like this are in danger of falling suddenly into the “trap” that “will come upon all those who dwell on the face of all the earth.”
The Sudden Trap
The people pictured a trap (pagis) in terms of birds or animals who are caught unawares when the trap springs unexpectedly and suddenly. When Jerusalem was destroyed in 70 A.D., the people had a few years’ warning, allowing the Christians to escape to Pella, yet for most of the people, it came unexpectedly because they were expecting divine deliverance.
We do not know yet how sudden the final destruction of Jerusalem will come, but the Christians there (and everywhere) ought to be alert in order to avoid the turmoil of a last-minute evacuation. Jesus’ description in Matt. 24:17, 18 shows how suddenly this destruction may come. The people on the housetops are told not to gather belongings from the house as they flee. People in the field should not even go home to get their cloaks. If this is to be taken quite literally, then it appears that the final destruction will give people very little advance notice, and most of their possessions will be lost.
While Luke 21:34-36 admonishes us to be alert in order to avoid being trapped in the city in those days, Matt. 24:42-44 focuses more on the coming of the Son of Man:
42 Therefore be on the alert, for you do not know which day your Lord is coming. 43 But be sure of this, that if the head of the house had known at what time of the night the thief was coming, he would have been on the alert and would not have allowed his house to be broken into. 44 For this reason you be ready too; for the Son of Man is coming at an hour when you do not think He will.
By comparing Matthew with Luke, we may conclude that the coming of the Son of Man is linked to the destruction of Jerusalem. Many prophecy teachers know this already, but as in the first century, they think He is coming to save the city at the last minute. If that were so, there would be no urgency to leave the city, but to take a stand, believing that they will be saved from the danger. But such a course of action runs contrary to Jesus’ instructions.
The Preterist View
There are others who subscribe to the prophetic viewpoint known as Preterism, which says that all prophecy was completed in 70 A.D., leaving nothing for the future. Their focus on the events in 70 A.D. are certainly helpful—and largely correct—but their understanding of the law and the feast days is limited and makes them near-sighted.
They teach that Christ came in 70 A.D., pointing to the signs in the heavens and the earth as proof. These do not see a dual fulfillment of Jerusalem’s destruction, because they do not consider Jer. 19:11, where the prophet says the city will be destroyed “even as one breaks a potter’s vessel, which cannot again be repaired.”
That Scripture was only partially fulfilled in Jeremiah’s time, because the city was rebuilt after the Babylonian captivity. Likewise, after 70 A.D. the destroyed city was rebuilt, and it exists to this day. We must conclude, then, that there is still another destruction that must occur in the future, wherein Jesus’ warnings must be heeded, and wherein the Son of Man must come.
Preterists generally do not understand either the Pentecostal Age nor the Tabernacles Age. I see no evidence that the Tabernacles Age began in 70 A.D. In fact, this would be impossible, because the Roman Empire (the iron kingdom of Daniel) was yet at its height and would not be destroyed for another 400 years (476 A.D.) Further, the “little horn” rising out of this iron kingdom had not yet even manifested itself.
It took 40 years to end Jerusalem’s persecution of the Church, 40 Sabbath years for Constantine to put an end to Rome’s persecution, and 40 Jubilee cycles to bring Babylon into judgment and accountability for its persecution. Hence, the destruction of Jerusalem was only the first forty-year cycle in a long wilderness journey of the Church. While 70 A.D. was indeed an important first step, there was much more prophecy yet to be fulfilled.
I once asked a leading Preterist what he taught about Sonship. He confessed that he knew little about it or the feast of Tabernacles. He said that he assumed Tabernacles was fulfilled in the same year that Passover and Pentecost were fulfilled. If he had known the law, he might have seen that neither 33 nor 70 A.D. produced the manifested Sons of God, nor was Tabernacles fulfilled at that time. Insofar as the Church is concerned, the reign of “Saul” had barely begun, and the Age of Pentecost would continue until our time.
The Scope of Judgment
In Luke 21:35 we read that this “trap” will affect “all those who dwell on the face of all the earth.” The Greek word for earth is ge, which probably should be understood by the Hebrew word eretz, “the land.” It is not normally a reference to the planet earth, but to the land of Israel or a specific portion of the earth.
The scope of its meaning has to be seen by the context. If it is contrasted to the heavens, then it refers to the whole earth. If it is contrasted to the sea, then it refers to land that can be stood upon. Lexicons tell us that it mainly refers to “arable land,” or land that can be cultivated.
So how should we understand Jesus’ use of the term in Luke 21:35? The phrase “the face of all the earth” seems to broaden its meaning beyond the borders of Jerusalem or Judea. In Exodus 33:16 the nation of Israel was distinguished from all other nations “upon the face of the earth.” In Gen. 41:56 the famine in the time of Joseph “was spread over all the face of the earth.” It is unlikely that famine was actually worldwide, but certainly it was regional and included many nations in that part of the world.
In today’s world, what happens in one part of the world usually affects everyone else in some way, due to modern communications. Certainly, nuclear events can affect the whole world, as we see with the recent Fukushima radioactivity that began to spread through the Pacific Ocean on March 11, 2011.
The destruction of Jerusalem would have a direct impact upon Judaism, Islam, and Christianity, which includes a large portion of the earth’s population. I believe that the city’s destruction will be nuclear, as described in Isaiah 29:5, 6, but I believe that it will be a local or regional war and will not destroy the whole earth.
The Two Faces
Christians are admonished in Luke 21:36 to pray to “have strength to escape all these things that are about to take place and to stand before the Son of Man.” While many see this in terms of “The Rapture,” I see it as the fulfillment of the feast of Tabernacles. See my book, The Rapture in the Light of Tabernacles.
The first-century Church escaped from Jerusalem before it started, but they went to Pella, not to heaven. They escaped because they believed and took heed to Jesus’ warning. Those who escape are those who (reading it literally) “stand before the face of the Son of Man.” These are contrasted to those who are on the face of the earth.
This is powerful Hebrew imagery being expressed in Greek. The fulfillment of the feast of Tabernacles was first seen in Moses’ transfiguration, where his face shone with light (Exodus 34:30). This also happened with Jesus when He was transfigured (Luke 9:29). These were early examples of the presence of Christ being seen in their faces. Speaking of the first and last Adam (earthy and heavenly), Paul says in 1 Cor. 15:49,
49 And just as we have borne the image of the earthy, we shall also bear the image of the heavenly.
So the two faces are contrasted in Luke 21:35, 36, giving a promise to believers that they will be able to escape the trap by becoming the manifested Sons of God.
This is the climax of this section in Luke, which we have entitled, The Conflict. Each person must choose whether to swear allegiance to the rightful King or to join with His adversaries who disagree with Him and plot to usurp His throne. Those who choose to be His enemy will find themselves trapped in “the face of the earth,” continuing to bear the image of Adam, whose name means “earthy.” But those who believe in Jesus and support His claim to the throne may receive the promise of bearing the image of the heavenly and fulfill the feast of Tabernacles. They will “stand before the face of the Son of Man.”
This section concludes in Luke 21:37, 38,
37 Now during the day He was teaching in the temple, but at evening He would go out and spend the night on the mount that is called Olivet. 38 And all the people would get up early in the morning to come to Him in the temple to listen to Him.
As we said earlier, Jesus did not normally return to Bethany each night during that final week. Luke says that He spent the nights on the Mount of Olives, where He would review the events of the day with His disciples and answer any questions that they had. The battle lines were being drawn, and the people were being given opportunity to discern if He was truly the Messiah or not.
The climax was yet to come.