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 Luke and Apocalyptic?

Two texts deserve attention as indicators of Luke’s position on apocalyptic.

Luke 9:27

But truly I tell you, there are some standing here who will not taste death before they see the kingdom of God. 

Luke’s version of Mark 9:1 is essentially an abbreviation of Mark, but in doing so, he avoids the question of whether the Kingdom of God is present or future. He certainly does not heighten the imminent end-of-time motif, as Matthew does, and may in fact leave open a non-apocalyptic understanding of the kingdom, similar to what we find in Luke 17:21.


A reading of Luke’s version of the Little Apocalypse in Mark 13 reveals several things about the author’s position on end-of-time matters; in brief, his is a moderate position.

Luke 21:8-36

[Special Lukan material in purple]

8And he said, ‘Beware that you are not led astray; for many will come in my name and say, “I am he!” and, “The time is near!” Do not go after them. 9‘When you hear of wars and insurrections, do not be terrified; for these things must take place first, but the end will not follow immediately.’ 10Then he said to them, ‘Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; 11there will be great earthquakes, and in various places famines and plagues; and there will be dreadful portents and great signs from heaven. 12But before all this occurs, they will arrest you and persecute you; they will hand you over to synagogues and prisons, and you will be brought before kings and governors because of my name. 13This will give you an opportunity to testify. 14So make up your minds not to prepare your defense in advance; 15for I will give you words and a wisdom that none of your opponents will be able to withstand or contradict. 16You will be betrayed even by parents and brothers, by relatives and friends; and they will put some of you to death. 17You will be hated by all because of my name. 18But not a hair of your head will perish. 19By your endurance you will gain your souls.

20When you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies, then know that its desolation has come near. 21Then those in Judea must flee to the mountains, and those inside the city must leave it, and those out in the country must not enter it; 22for these are days of vengeance, as a fulfillment of all that is written. 23Woe to those who are pregnant and to those who are nursing infants in those days! For there will be great distress on the earth and wrath against this people; 24they will fall by the edge of the sword and be taken away as captives among all nations; and Jerusalem will be trampled on by the Gentiles, until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled. 25‘There will be signs in the sun, the moon, and the stars, and on the earth distress among nations confused by the roaring of the sea and the waves. 26People will faint from fear and foreboding of what is coming upon the world, for the powers of the heavens will be shaken. 27Then they will see “the Son of Man coming in a cloud” with power and great glory. 28Now when these things begin to take place, stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.’

29 Then he told them a parable: ‘Look at the fig tree and all the trees; 30as soon as they sprout leaves you can see for yourselves and know that summer is already near. 31So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that the kingdom of God is near. 32Truly I tell you, this generation will not pass away until all things have taken place. 33Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away. 34‘Be on guard so that your hearts are not weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and the worries of this life, and that day catch you unexpectedly, 35like a trap. For it will come upon all who live on the face of the whole earth. 36Be alert at all times, praying that you may have the strength to escape all these things that will take place, and to stand before the Son of Man.’


Some comments:

On the one hand, genuinely apocalyptic elements remain: 

•  The appearance of the Son of man, and 

•  The dating to the present generation.

On the other hand, there is a certain degree of de-apocalypticizing of the Marcan narrative:

•  The historicizing of the tribulations, in terms of the Judeo-Roman war of 66-70, the siege of Jerusalem, and its destruction (events in the past, when the gospel is written); and

•  The unlinking of the section to Daniel by way of removing the desolating sacrilege reference


The problem of the delay of the end of time is not solved, but the imminence of the end is perhaps softened by the warnings not to get excited:

“. . . but the end will not follow immediately (Luke 21:9).”

But before all this occurs . . . (Luke 21:12).”


On balance, therefore, whereas Matthew heightens the apocalyptic element, it may be said that Luke in a modest degree reduces it.


Revised December 30, 2003


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