Having entered into Jerusalem, the action of Luke 21 now centres there, and especially at the temple.
The “widow’s mite” has become emblematic of self-sacrificial giving. This woman placed in the offering box an amount so small that the world would barely notice. A “lepta” (the small coin) was worth a tiny fraction of a basic labourer’s wage (1/128th!). So these two small coins, using a reference in our terms of $15/hour at 8 hours—$120 for a basic daily wage—that would be about $1.88!
In contrast, the rich would put in much more than that, and would make sure they were seen doing it. But their gifts, though worth way more in terms of the dollar amount, were not an exercise of faith. They gave “out of their abundance” which means they had far more than they needed and their gifts were more about being seen to be generous than actually being generous.
In addition, the Pharisees taught that widows should do exactly what this widow did: give all they had to the temple work. And Jesus rebukes them for teaching that and taking advantage of the poor, including widows (we hear that in the verses immediately preceding this account—in Luke 20:47—so there’s an immediate connection here, as Jesus continues to rebuke the hypocrisy shown by the religious leaders).
So Jesus commends this widow because of her faith. Some might see this action as irresponsible—why would anyone with so little give it away? But keep in mind that widow describes not only a woman whose husband has died, but if was a more formal thing in that time (1 Timothy 5:9-16). A widow was dependent on either her family or the religious community to assist her (again 1 Timothy 5), and so her faith was exercised in this offering, believing that God would indeed provide for her.
The centrality of the temple appears again. Jesus foretells the destruction of the temple, which actually happened in history about 70 A.D. when the Romans destroyed it. And it’s important to understand that in this section, Jesus goes between talking about that historical event and the end of all things. It’s important to keep that clear and distinct so that we don’t misinterpret God’s Word in this section.
Verses 8-24 are about the historical event of the destruction of the temple. Some have taken them together with verses 25-33 and thus interpreted the signs in verses 8-24 as signs of the coming “rapture”. But there is a much more immediate context to those verses.
Verses 25-33 are then about the cosmic ending of all things. This becomes clear, as Jesus changes the subject in verse 25, leading to the mention of His coming in verse 27 (“Son of Man” is Jesus’ most-used term to refer to Himself.)
It’s fair to say that there’s some tension and perhaps some “both/and” in verses 29-36, though these verses are primarily eschatalogical, that is, dealing with the end times of the world.
The centrality of the temple continues for now, as it is the place where Jesus teaches. How appropriate it is that God Himself is teaching in that place! And the people are rising early in the mornings to come and hear him; notice again Luke’s focus on people being hearers of the Word, that is disciples, or catechumens (students).
It’s an interesting thing to note that Jesus spends the evenings and nights outside the city on Olivet (the Mount of Olives). We will see Jesus and His disciples there in the evening just a few days after this, on the evening of the Last Supper, when Jesus is betrayed and arrested.