Thoughts on the Olivet Discourse
Matthew, the tax-collector, is a Jew writing a Gospel to the Jews. He quotes the Old Testament more than any other Gospel writer. Matthew has 93 quotations compared to Luke 80, Mark 49 and John 33. A general theme throughout Matthew is that Jesus is the fulfillment of Messianic prophecy and that He is Israel’s Messiah. Many scholars point out this is why Matthew is the first book of the New Testament, although it is clearly not the first chronologically.
In Matthew we also observe that Jesus was rejected by the Jews (His own) and that they crucified Him as the “King of the Jews”. The seeds of this rejection are sown from the opening pages of Matthew, at the time of John the Baptist, as he preaches to and baptizes the people of Israel.
But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming for baptism, he said to them, “You brood of vipers, who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Therefore bear fruit in keeping with repentance… The axe is already laid at the root of the trees; therefore every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. (Mtt 3:7-8,10)
This obviously does not sit well with the Pharisees and Sadducees, who we will later see questioning Jesus’ motives and miracles.
When the Pharisees saw it, they said to his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?” (Mtt 9:11)
But the Pharisees said, “By the prince of the demons, He casts out demons.” (9:34)
Later in the ministry of Jesus, as He taught and healed throughout the land of Israel, Jesus pushed things with the religious leaders even further by eating grain and healing “on the Sabbath“.
In doing so, the anger and evil of the Pharisees comes to a head.
But the Pharisees went out, and conspired against him, how they might destroy Him. But Jesus, aware of this, withdrew from there. (12:14-15)
Shortly after this “withdrawal”, Jesus clarifies who the kingdom of heaven belongs to and distances Himself from the Jews by declaring that “Whoever does the will of My Father who is in heaven, he is My brother and sister and mother.” (12:50)
At Jesus’ “triumphal entry” (Mtt 21), near the end of His life, He rides into the city of Jerusalem on a lowly foal of a donkey; a visual display of not just His humility but how He has been rejected by the Jews.
In Mtt. 23 Jesus delivers His strongest possible rebuke against the scribes and Pharisees with seven consecutive “Woes”; seven being the number of completion.
Finally we arrive at the Olivet Discourse, Mtt 24-25. Jesus has just said to Jerusalem (and Israel) that their “house is being left to you desolate!”(23:38) Seemingly oblivious to this rebuke, the disciples instead point to the beauty and majesty of the Temple.
“Teacher, behold what wonderful stones and what wonderful buildings!” (Mk 13:1)
Jesus’ response to His disciples is right where we dive into the Olivet Discourse and here is where wide-ranging interpretations have run amuck for centuries.
Rightly Divide the Word of Truth.
The first thing to do is to rightly divide these two chapters. (By the way, these two chapters are really one prophecy, so ignore the chapter breaks – which is a good Bible study tool in any case!)
As the disciples turn their attention to the “wonderful buildings”, Jesus tries to get them back on track in regards to His rebuke and cursing of the Jews (“FROM NOW ON you shall not see Me…” 23:39)
He starts with the coming destruction of Jerusalem which was predicted by Daniel.
“The people of the prince who is to come will destroy the city and the sanctuary.” (Dan. 9:26)
Jerusalem would soon be destroyed, surrounded by armies, and “nation would rise against nation, earthquakes, famines, false prophets, terrors from heaven, etc.” (Luke 21)
All these things would happen in the ensuing forty years before the Jerusalem would be surrounded by her enemies (the Roman army) and completely destroyed, so much so that “not one stone here shall be left upon another, which will not be torn down” (24:2)
Arousing their attention, the disciples then ask three questions (24:3):
1. “When will this happen?”
2. “And what will be the sign of Your [second] coming?”
3. “What will be the sign of the end of the age?”
The first question belongs to the destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans in 70 A.D. and is answered by the prophesied events of Mtt 24:4-14. However, in 24:6 we are told that all “those things must take place, BUT that is not the end [of the age].”
We must read this chapter carefully and realize that verses 13-14 are the transition verses which move us towards the Last Days and declares that “the one who endures to the end [of the age] shall be saved” and that the “gospel of the kingdom must first be preached in the whole world for a witness to all the nations, AND THEN the end shall come.”
What are the signs “of Your coming and of the end of the age”
The second and third questions are yet future and are answered in 24:15 – 25:46.
The sign of Jesus’ Second Coming (Q. #2) is the “abomination of desolation” written about in 24:15. This reference comes as a surprise to modern readers but did not come as a surprise to the disciples, who were well versed in the OT prophets. Jesus often rebuked the religious leaders with the refrain: “Have you not read…” (Mtt 12:3,5; 19:4; 21:16,42)
Remember, too, that Jesus is sitting on the Mount of Olives privately discussing these things with His disciples (24:3). They knew what he was talking about!!
The “abomination of desolation” is a clear sign, contrasting the unclear signs or events of “wars and rumors of war”, famines, plagues, false prophets and earthquakes. These others things were called “merely the beginning of birth pangs” (24:8) and were not signs of the end but forerunners that where to express that more is coming. These conditions will again occur on the earth “at the time of the end” and are seen in the Four Horsemen of Revelation 6 (conquest, war, famine, and pestilence).
But when the future disciples of “the end of the age” (for now we are answering the 2nd and 3rd questions) will see the “abomination of desolation” they know that they are to “head for the hills” and leave Jerusalem in a hurry. (24:15-28) A great tribulation, such as the world has never seen since the beginning of time, would soon fall upon Jerusalem and the surrounding land.
By using other Biblical texts (Dan. 9-12, 2 Thess 2, Rev 13) we can piece together this incredible sign of the abomination of desolation — when the antichrist, the man of sin and lawlessness, is revealed and takes his place in the temple as god and demands that the whole world worship him. He will set up a “talking image“ of himself in the Most Holy Place and for 42 months seek to wipe out the Christian faith and rule the world for satan.
This event coupled with the “great tribulation” (24:21) — which will occur after the setting up of the image — will be immediately followed by the glorious return of the Lord. This is readily agreed upon by most Bible teachers and is the answer to the 3rd question: “What will be the sign of the end of the age?”
“But immediately after the tribulation of those days the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will fall from the sky, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken. And then the sign of the Son of Man will appear in the sky, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of the sky with power and great glory. And He will send forth His angels with a great trumpet and they will gather together His elect from the four winds, from one end of the sky to the other. (24:29-31)
In many ways the coming antichrist is nothing more than the “rod of God’s anger” and will be used to bring His wrath one final time upon Israel, God’s chosen people. We have seen this imagery and wording before in the book of Isaiah:
Woe to Assyria, the rod of My anger
And the staff in whose hands is My indignation,
I send it against a godless nation [the people of Israel]
And commission it against the people of My fury
To capture booty and to seize plunder,
And to trample them down like mud in the streets. (Isa. 10:5-6)
We learn from Zechariah that a remnant will survive the great tribulation, a third, and they will see the coming of the Lord and will remain alive on the earth to be the leaders of the Millennial church.
It will come about in all the land,”
Declares the LORD,
“That two parts in it will be cut off and perish;
But the third will be left in it.
And I will bring the third part through the fire,
Refine them as silver is refined,
And test them as gold is tested.
They will call on My name,
And I will answer them;
I will say, ‘They are My people,’
And they will say, ‘The LORD is my God.’” (Zech 13:8-9)
Yours for the Coming King,