The Olivet Discourse

In coming posts I aim to show that Jesus, in answering the disciples’ questions on the Mount of Olives, predicted the end of the age and his coming (Parousia) within his own generation. They were left in no doubt that He would come in their generation.

Matthew, Mark and Luke were not mistaken either, writing down what would happen and which history confirms. Paul, Peter, John and James in their writings of the New Testament show they believed His coming was imminent. Soon.

The “last days” in the New Testament refers to the end of an era, an age and not the end of time. The end of the long Mosaic age. The end of one age and the beginning of a new age. A New Covenant.

Futurist commentators say that our Lord’s ‘second’ coming is yet to happen and many of them teach that event is soon. If that is true, it follows from the texts that we face a time of great falling away, a most terrible ‘great tribulation’ while Satan’s kingdom triumphs.

But good news! We do not face what Jesus referred to as ‘the great tribulation’. We will not be ‘left behind’. Such erroneous views promote despair and an escape mentality. Many people want to opt out, some with the wish to be raptured, to escape the spectre of dying. To get out of this terrifying world.

Yet Jesus prayed for his disciples “ I do not ask You to take them out of the world, but to keep them from the evil one” (John 17:15).

We are called to bear witness to Jesus, his death and resurrection and his matchless character, power and authority at the right hand of the majesty on high. He is present with us, his new creation, his holy nation, within our lives, at home in our hearts, in a new covenant of the Holy Spirit.

All Jesus’ predictions, all of them, that we read here in the Olivet discourse came true together in amazing detail. Glory to God and to the Lamb forever for ‘He shall reign until he puts all his enemies under his feet, and then the end shall come’!

We are using as a basis here the Matthew, chapter 24, NASB version —plus some references to parallel texts in Luke and Mark.

Jesus answered two questions put to him by the disciples—a ‘when’ question and a ‘what’ question.

The coming of the Son of Man, the end of the age, is about judgment on apostate Israel, the rejecters of Jesus Messiah, a judgment which will use earthly means, the Roman armies. It is not about the end of the world.

Before we begin, let us understand some important principles which must guide our interpretation.

First, context. This discourse must really be seen in the wider context of the gospel accounts of Matthew, Mark and Luke. This is especially so in Matthew. The reader should understand the narrative leading up to chapter 24, at least from chapter 21 and understand Jesus’ caustic and condemning words to the scribes and Pharisees and in the parables in chapters 21-23 of Matthew.

Reading of Chapter 23 is critical—for example, the ‘eight woes’ (vs.13-33) followed by the charge that their leaders will persecute those he will send and the terrifying prediction that “upon you may fall the guilt of all the righteous blood shed on earth, from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah, the son of Berechiah, whom you murdered between the temple and the altar. Truly I say to you, all these things will come upon this generation” (vs.34-36). This is the same generation mentioned in Mat 24:34.

As you know, there are no chapter divisions in the original texts. It is a continuous narrative.

Second, this discourse was addressed to four of the twelve apostles at a particular point in time and place. It was not addressed to disciples beyond that generation, let alone to today’s readers. Of course, these four hearers imparted what they learned to other disciples in their lifetime.

We must resist the all too common habit of applying Jesus’ words to us, as if he was speaking to 21st-century readers about our future. Of course, this applies to all the texts in the New Testament, although we are edified by seeing how the truth of the gospel applies to us. There are many words recorded as spoken by Jesus to his disciples which cannot apply to us today. God gave us scriptures for us but they were not written to us!

Matthew 24 is often dubbed “the Little Apocalypse” because of the symbolic nature of verses 29-31. Jesus used cosmic collapse language, understood by Jews, Hebrew thinkers, and was frequently used by the prophets speaking from God about judgment.

It is very important to realise, as scholar N. T. Wright wrote, “Jerusalem remained the focal point of everything that the Jews were and did. Jewish identity was bound up with, and focused upon, a single city, and within that city a single shrine.” Jerusalem Past and Present in the Purposes of God.1994.

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