And then they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory.
Lk 21:25-28. 34-36
This passage concerns the end of the ‘time of the Gentiles’ and the judgment of mankind.
Lk resumes his narration of the cosmic signs, but now introduces a Christological dimension: Jesus, the victorious Son of Man, is in control of the forces of evil whether these are wars (v. 9) or sea (v. 25). He is the judge.
vv. 25-26. There will be signs in the sun, the moon, and the stars, and on earth nations will be in dismay, perplexed by the roaring of the sea and the waves. People will die of fright in anticipation of what is coming upon the world, for the powers of the heavens will be shaken.
Luke’s apocalyptic description, based on Mk 13:34, has been influenced by Is 13:10 and Ps 65. More clearly, too, the whole world is involved (v. 26).
The powers of heaven are the heavenly bodies, identified with the gods of oriental and Greco-Roman religion and regarded by Jews as angelic beings created by God and allowed by him to preside over the destinies of pagan nations (Dt 32:8; Is 24:21, 34:1-4). Thus, shaking these powers denotes not so much the ruin of the physical universe as the overthrow of pagan imperial supremacy.
v. 27. And then they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory.
The fulfillment of Dn 7:13f. Lk sets aside Mk 13:27.
In place of ‘the clouds of heaven’, which Mark derived fom Dn 7:13, Luke has simply ‘cloud’. It is an alteration which establishes a link between the glorious advent of Christ and other events in the gospel story in which the same cloud of the divine presence is mentioned (9:34).
v. 28. But when these signs begin to happen, stand erect and raise your heads because your redemption is at hand.”
This verse looks back to the signs of v. 25f. The cosmic events that will terrify the nations will indicate to the followers of Christ that the time of persecution is ending. Their ‘redemption’ (a Pauline word, cf. Rm 3:24; 8:23; Eph 1:7) is drawing near.
These signs before the End do not contradict 21:34f. The End will be preceded by signs, but yet the Son of Man will appear like lightning.
This verse bursts with a message of confidence and hope for the disciples. In contrast to the cowards actions of other men and women (vv. 26-27), the faithful disciples stand erect with heads held high to greet their faithful judge, Jesus, Son of Man (cf. 9:26; 12:9).
Lk has replaced the passage Mk 13:33-37 with an admonition to watchfulness (cf. 1 Thess 5:1-11), one influenced by his realization of the delay of the Parousia.
By placing the parable of the fig tree (Mk 13:28-31; Lk 21:29-31) after the description of the coming of the Son of Man, Mark has shown that he understood it to be a warning to be ready for the imminent Parousia. By itself, however, the parable suggests quite a different application: for it could easily have been spoken by Jesus as a warning to be ready for the disaster which was overhanging Jerusalem and which would on day be, quite literally, ‘at the very gates’ (Mk 13:29). Luke has followed Mark’s interpretation and has eliminated any possible ambiguity by introducing the words “the kingdom of God”.
As in Mark’s Gospel, this parable is followed by a declaration that all things will be accomplished within a generation (Lk 21:32-33). Mark undoubtedly understood this prediction to include the Parousia, and he was writing at a date near enough to the time of Jesus to feel no embarrassment about such a prophecy. But Luke, writing fifteen to twenty years later, was in a different case. We should expect him to interpret the saying otherwise and there is every indication that he did so. For his discourse ends with instructions to the disciples to pray that they may have strength to escape ‘all these things’, and it is a reasonable assumption that for him ‘all things’ in v. 32 covered the same set of events as ‘all these things’ in v. 36. But from the Parousia and the final consummation of the kingdom there could be no escape, nor can we imagine the disciples of Jesus being taught to pray for any. The disciples were taught to pray that they might survive the preliminary crises of persecution and the siege of Jerusalem. These, according to Luke, were the events which Jesus declared would happen before a generation has passed away.