This chapter gives us an overview of the hair-raising, terrifying events leading to Christ's return. Despite all the evidence that will be available for us to witness and thus motivate us, He feels it is necessary to warn us to be alert.
It seems almost redundant. Why should we of all people need to be warned? Well, the general answer is because the Laodicean has trouble keeping his attention, his mind, focused. His mind is all over the place. At least in terms of spiritual things, the Laodicean, has a short attention span. He can go at it for spurts—maybe on the Sabbath for a couple of hours—but what happens during the week? Has his love of beauty—the beauty that this world is fully capable of producing to distract the senses—kept him occupied? Is he drawn to those things? If he is, what relationship will be abused? The answer to that is very clear: his relationship with God.
When we consider Revelation 3:14-18 carefully, we see that this is the problem. The Laodicean has compromised with his life in the use of his time. It is not that he is sinning all the time, but that he is not paying attention to the Bridegroom!
Ladies, how would you feel if the man you are to marry pays attention to everything but you? What would happen to the relationship? That is the problem with the Laodicean: His mind is drifting to take in all kinds of things except the One that he is going to marry—until the Sabbath comes along. He will appear in church, and everything looks fairly good, but all during the week he has been paying attention to everything except Christ.
Prayer becomes ineffective. He does not allow God to communicate with him through Bible study in the way that he should. There is very little meditation. He is not doing a great deal of thinking about the One to whom he is betrothed. We can begin to see that his love of beauty is taking him in the wrong direction, and the abuse falls on the relationship that he most needs to build and to protect.
John W. Ritenbaugh
According to Strong's Concordance, agrupneo, the Greek word translated as watch in verse 36 means "to be sleepless, i.e. keep awake." Frequently, when the Bible mentions being asleep or tells us to wake up, it refers to our spiritual state (Matthew 25:5; Romans 13:11; I Thessalonians 5:6-8). Instead of "watch," some Bible versions use words such as, "don't go to sleep at the switch" (The Message), "be always on the watch" (NIV), "be ready all the time" (New Century Version), "keep awake" (Amplified Bible), "keep on the alert" (NASB), "stay awake" (ESV), "keep a constant watch" (Living Bible), and "beware of slumbering" (The New Testament in Modern Speech). This is a call to the spiritual, not the physical.
Just over two decades ago, an elderly man named Herbert Armstrong cried out, "Wake up!" and he was not talking about any other waking up than a spiritual one. Because we did not heed his warning then, the church has experienced twenty years of apostasy and scattering. If we do not wake up eventually, God has a three-and-a-half-year plan guaranteed to get our attention.
In our former association, we obeyed the instructions in Luke 21:7-33 to watch world events, but we did not closely follow Christ's commands in Luke 21:34-36 to guard our spiritual condition, hence the scattering. Interestingly, the condition of the church at that time mirrors how Luke 21:36 was generally applied—physical rather than spiritual.
It is always a good practice to allow the Bible to interpret itself rather than adding extra-biblical interpretations (II Peter 1:20). Because the Bible uses sleep and waking from sleep as spiritual metaphors, why would we want to add another meaning to the "watch" of Luke 21:36? That would be walking on shaky ground (Deuteronomy 4:2; 12:32), and we want to avoid repeating past error.
To emphasize that "watch" in Luke 21:36 is all about the spiritual and not about the physical, notice how agrupneo is used in its only other appearances in the New Testament:
Mark 13:33: "Take heed, watch and pray; for you do not know when the time is." (This verse parallels Luke 21:36.)
Ephesians 6:18: ". . . praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, being watchful to this end with all perseverance and supplication for all the saints." (The context of this verse is putting on the whole armor of God—definitely a spiritual exercise.)
Hebrews 13:17: Obey those who rule over you, and be submissive, for they watch out for your souls, as those who must give account. Let them do so with joy and not with grief, for that would be unprofitable for you. (The ministry's first priority is the spiritual health of called-out Christians.)
These facts lead to the conclusion that "watch" in Luke 21:36 has little, or perhaps even nothing, to do with watching world events. A careful reading shows that the "watch" of Luke 21:36 is only minimally directing us to watch world events. Overemphasizing that meaning of this verse has overshadowed its real message, perhaps the most important survival instructions Jesus gives to Christians living at the end.
Praying Always (Part One)
Christ warns His disciples, especially those at the end, that they need to take heed to themselves. We understand the spiritual danger of carousing and drunkenness, but even legitimate cares can become spiritual snares, depending on our approach. If our perceived needs revolve around material things, the Day of the Lord will come on us unexpectedly. It will be a day of darkness and not light because it will be a day of wrath on all the things that we cherish. We may find ourselves disagreeing with God's judgment and siding with the world!
As part of this warning, Christ advises us to pray always. He is not saying that our every prayer should be to escape what lies ahead. Instead, it indicates that prayer is a means by which we become worthy. But we must clarify this, too, because we can pray by rote rather than desire—just punching the clock on our knees is not what makes us worthy. What makes us worthy through prayer is quality time spent with our Creator so that He changes us as we regularly come before Him. Through this relished contact, combined with plumbing the depths of His Word, we begin to think like Him, see things like Him, and live as He lives.
By watching ourselves and praying, we compare ourselves with the true Standard and become aware of our spiritual needs. Then we can begin to take steps to fill them. Because only Jesus Christ can truly fill each spiritual need, we must keep returning to Him in prayer. Along these lines, we must persevere through the strength He gives and not deceive ourselves that we are already at the finish line, victorious.
The verses following II Peter 3:10, where we began, reinforce these conclusions:
Therefore, since all these things will be dissolved, what manner of persons ought you to be in holy conduct and godliness, looking for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be dissolved, being on fire, and the elements will melt with fervent heat? Nevertheless we, according to His promise, look for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells. Therefore, beloved, looking forward to these things, be diligent to be found by Him in peace, without spot and blameless. (II Peter 3:11-14)
Jesus Christ's return broadly encapsulates our great hope. But as we eagerly anticipate it, God's Word reminds us to consider ourselves in relation to what God desires of us because it is easy to make assumptions that will leave us unprepared.
During our time of judgment (I Peter 4:17), God is looking for things like poverty of spirit and contrition (Psalm 34:18; 51:17). He makes note of—and protects—those “who sigh and cry over all the abominations” (Ezekiel 9:4). He is watching out for those who tremble at His Word and conduct their lives in appropriate fear of Him. He responds to those who seek Him so He can change them. He requires conduct that is holy and godly. And He delights in children who are becoming without spot and blameless through surrendering their lives to Him. The Day of the Lord will still be terrifying, but for those with such character, it will at least end in salvation and glory.
David C. Grabbe
Do You Desire the Day of the Lord?
"Surfeiting" (KJV) or "carousing" (NKJV) means indulging in one's appetites excessively. It could be food or drink or many other things. This world, especially in its advertising, is pushing the overuse of our appetites all the time. We cannot turn on the television without them pushing automobiles, foods, toys, jewelry, drugs, insurance, appliances, travel, housewares, clothing, tools, movies, and other television programs. Advertisers are constantly and repetitiously urging us,"Do this." "Try this." "Use your time this way." We can feel pressured, "under the gun," stressed from resisting their products, their way of life, and their attitudes.
This is the issue in the book of Hebrews. The people to whom the book was written had not given into immorality, but the author knew that sooner or later the stress of resisting would get to them. Because of the constant pressure to conform to this world, they were becoming apathetic, and apathetic people are in a kind of stupor, blind to the reality of their spiritual condition. And what is the end result? Jesus said what happens is that we forget when we are living—and the day comes upon us unawares.
The thrust of Jesus' exhortation is that we should be continually expecting His return; it should always be a major part of our focus. The exhortations in Hebrews are for us to return our focus to the return of Jesus Christ and prepare ourselves for what is coming in that troubled time. We should not be allowing this world to hammer away at our minds and attitudes—taking up our lives, our time, with things that should not be our concern.
Do we need some of the things that the world hits us with? Yes, we have to live. However, we need to have enough spiritual understanding not to let them wear away at us until they become a major part of our lives. Thus, Jesus is warning us not to allow ourselves to become secure and self-satisfied with this life and the good things that it furnishes—but to jolt ourselves spirituallty awake!
John W. Ritenbaugh
Hebrews: A Message for Today
Christ relates the Parable of the Fig Tree (verses 29-33) to give instruction regarding His warnings in the previous verses. The "these things" in verse 31 refers to the question asked in verse 7 and Jesus' subsequent answer in verses 8-28. "These things" are the events foretold to happen as the end nears. In the parable, Christ provides the perspective we should have as we anticipate the unfolding of the previously described events.
What owner of a fig tree would spend hours each day scrutinizing his tree to see if it was budding? Would he make the fig tree the focal point of his day? Of course, no one would. An owner of a fig tree would be aware of its location, its level of health, and its progression through the annual cycle of growth, but these matters would not require his all-consuming effort.
The parable, then, shows us that we should be aware of prophecy, we should keep an eye on what is happening in the world, but it does not require—and we should not allow it to become—our primary focus. In the fig-tree analogy, Jesus illustrates for us the balanced view we should have toward prophecy. We must be aware of what is taking place, but we need not be over-attentive.
Some make the mistake—a spiritually dangerous mistake—of ignoring the lesson of this parable by making prophecy a major or even sole focus that distracts them from their primary spiritual responsibilities. It is easier to focus on prophecy and world events than it is to give the same scrutiny to the evils lurking in our corrupt human nature (Jeremiah 17:9). In Luke 21, Christ definitely does not overlook the latter, as we see in verses 34-35:
But take heed to yourselves, lest your hearts be weighed down with carousing, drunkenness, and cares of this life, and that Day come on you unexpectedly. For it will come as a snare on all those who dwell on the face of the whole earth.
With the opening "But" in verse 34, Christ's message takes a definite turn. He is still talking about preparing us for the end of the age, but He shifts from the external events of verses 7-33 to the internal: "take heed to yourselves, lest your hearts. . . ." He is no longer talking about world events, the physical and external, but our "hearts," the spiritual and internal. He gives a warning to those who are not spiritually aware and focused—those who are distracted. They will be caught completely off guard—"that Day come[s on them] unexpectedly"—because their hearts are misdirected.
Verse 35 re-emphasizes that the end will be a surprise to some people, one that Christ compares to a bird snared or trapped. Why? Verse 34 supplies the reason: They are burdened by the "cares of this life," not focused on what counts. They are looking in the wrong direction, and the trap springs on them without warning. Rather than overcoming the world (I John 5:4), as Laodiceans, they are being absorbed by it (Revelation 3:14-22).
Between verses 8-33 and verses 34-35 of Luke 21, we can also see a contrast in the awareness levels we need to have regarding the physical versus the spiritual. For the physical, we are to be aware but not over-attentive. For the spiritual, however, Christ raises the level of vigilance: "Take heed to yourselves," or be on guard! He exhorts us to be in a high state of spiritual alertness.
Praying Always (Part One)
Of itself, having a party is not wrong. But what happens when Babylon reaches the apex of its influence on men's lives? People fall into dissipation, into abuse of their God-given responsibilities. Christ worries that although we intellectually say the world is full of self-centeredness and excess, we will still find it attractive. Thus, He warns us to be careful because, if not, the consequence is that the Day will come on us unexpectedly. This is sobering!
John W. Ritenbaugh
The World, the Church, and Laodiceanism
Other Forerunner Commentary entries containing Luke 21:34: