Nov 7, 2013

The Significance of Luke 21:31 for the Timing of the Kingdom of God

Michael VlachBy Dr. Michael J. Vlach
Theological Studies

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"So you also, when you see these things happening, recognize that the kingdom of God is near" (Luke 21:31).

Debate concerning the timing of Jesus' kingdom is ongoing. Did Jesus' kingdom come with His earthly ministry? With His resurrection? With His ascension? Or does it occur as a result of His second coming? Jesus addresses this issue directly in Luke 21:31. Here He tells us that certain events must take place before the kingdom would come. Thus, our point here is that Luke 21:31 shows that the kingdom of God will come after a period of intense tribulation.

The Context

With Luke 21, Jesus addressed His coming and events associated with the destruction of the temple. With verses 8-11 He predicted that there would be false christs, wars, earthquakes, famines, and signs from heaven. Theologians debate whether these events were fulfilled in the first century (preterist), the present age (historicist), or in the future (futurist). My personal view is futurist and I see verses 8-11 as awaiting future fulfillment.

With verse 12, Jesus then predicted events that will take place before the events of 8-11. He says, "But before all these things," and then discusses persecution (12-19) and the destruction of Jerusalem (20-23). (I think the destruction here is a reference to A.D. 70 when the Romans destroyed Jerusalem.)

Thus, the events in 12-23 will occur before the events mentioned in verses 8-11. Next, the "times of the Gentiles" mentioned in verse 24 covers the time period between the destruction of the temple in A.D. 70 and the Gentile domination of Jerusalem that will continue until Jerusalem is restored. With verses 25-27, Jesus again discusses events in the coming Tribulation. This time period involves cosmic signs, terrifying waves, and the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory.

The Fig Tree Example

Then with verses 29-30 Jesus offered the parable of the fig tree:

"Then He told them a parable: 'Behold the fig tree and all the trees; as soon as they put forth leaves, you see it and know for yourselves that summer is now near.'"

Jesus' point is that seeing certain things is a clear indication that something else is soon to happen. In this case seeing a fig tree putting forth leaves reveals that summer is near. Jesus then ties this principle of 'seeing one thing means another thing is near' with the coming of the kingdom in Luke 21:31:

"So you also, when you see these things happening, recognize that the kingdom of God is near."

The "these things" refers to the eschatological events He just discussed. What is significant here is that Jesus linked the coming of the kingdom of God with future events. When one sees cosmic signs, oceanic disturbances, and the other events of this time, one can know that the kingdom of God is near. But until these events occur, the kingdom is not near.

The Implications of Luke 21:31

The point of Luke 21:31 is this—the kingdom of God is future and will be near again only after the eschatological events of the Tribulation Period.

Late in His earthly ministry, when discussing events that would come after His crucifixion, resurrection, and ascension, Jesus places the kingdom's coming in the future.

Is it possible that what Jesus is referring to is a consummation of the kingdom that had already been inaugurated? Perhaps. But Jesus does not say that future events will lead to the "consummation" of an "already" kingdom. He appears to say that the kingdom comes after these future events. Thus, it is better to see the kingdom as coming in the future shortly after the Tribulation Period.