How shall we read chapter twenty-one?
Does it refer to the end of time, or simply to the destruction of Jerusalem?
There are at least three sticky points in this chapter. First, the events that Jesus speaks of have to do with the coming of the kingdom of God (see verse 31). If we interpret this as the coming of the new age, or even the coming of the Church, then no matter how we take the prediction of events, the time table is off. Certainly, the destruction of Jerusalem happened after the coming of the new age and the Church – not before.
Second, it’s going to be tough to relate the coming of these events to the end of the world, because Jesus said his generation would not pass away before those events took place (verse 32). There are those who maintain that Jesus’ generation is not the one spoken of, but rather the generation that would see the signs. In other words, the generation that sees the signs will not pass away before it sees the signs. Obviously that’s true, but it is so obvious as to make the statement of Jesus nonsensical.
I think the best way to read this focuses on the Kingdom, or rule, of God. Four hundred years pass between the end of the Old Testament and the days of Jesus. In that time, God has appeared to be silent – not ruling at all. But now, a new dawn has arrived, the dawn of His obvious rule. It will be seen clearly in the destruction (and therefore judgment) of Jerusalem. It will culminate in the end of the world. Therefore, both events are alluded to as a sign of God’s authority and power.
Before the culmination of these events, Christians will find themselves in a difficult strait. Notice Jesus says not to worry about how to defend yourself against persecution, because God will provide the defense. But he doesn’t say you won’t have to go through difficult times. In fact, he guarantees we will. The main thing is being ready for them. We cannot be burdened with a self-indulgent lifestyle, nor with drunkenness, nor with worry. We must be free to focus on what’s really important. Those who look at this chapter to get insight to the time of Jesus’ arrival miss the point, which is the necessity of preparation for that arrival.