The Olivet Discourse

Jesus Second ComingJesus teaching known as the Olivet Discourse is recorded in the Synoptic Gospels: Matthew 24, Luke 21, Mark 13. Many scholars will look for a future fulfillment of the predictions Jesus made in the Olivet Discourse. However, a partial preterist view better fits the general  context of the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple which occurred in 70 AD.

First of all, Jesus began His discourse by His prediction concerning the destruction of the temple. “And Jesus went out, and departed from the temple: and his disciples came to him for to shew him the buildings of the temple. And Jesus said unto them, See ye not all these things? verily I say unto you, There shall not be left here one stone upon another, that shall not be thrown down” (Matthew 24:1,2). “And as some spake of the temple, how it was adorned with goodly stones and gifts, he said, As for these things which ye behold, the days will come, in the which there shall not be left one stone upon another, that shall not be thrown down” (Luke 21:5,6). “And as he went out of the temple, one of his disciples saith unto him, Master, see what manner of stones and what buildings are here. And Jesus answering said unto him, Seest thou these great buildings? there shall not be left one stone upon another, that shall not be thrown down” (Mark 13:1,2).

Next, crucial to the interpretation of the Olivet Discourse, the disciples asked Jesus when these things would be, namely the destruction of the temple of which Jesus just spoke in the previous verses. Directly following Jesus comments of the temple: “And as he sat upon the mount of Olives, the disciples came unto him privately, saying, Tell us, when shall these things be? and what shall be the sign of thy coming, and of the end of the world?” (Matthew 24:3). “And they asked him, saying, Master, but when shall these things be? and what sign will there be when these things shall come to pass?” (Luke 21:7). “And as he sat upon the mount of Olives over against the temple, Peter and James and John and Andrew asked him privately, Tell us, when shall these things be? and what shall be the sign when all these things shall be fulfilled?” (Mark 13:3,4). “They” in Luke 21:7 and “the disciples” in Matthew 24:3 are (according to Mark’s account) Peter, James, John and Andrew. So, if Jesus is speaking privately to the disciples, this should be the context of what is said.

When shall these things be? What things? The destruction of the Temple. “These things” (Luke 21:7; Mark 13:4) refers to the destruction of the temple and corresponds to Matthew 24:3 in which Matthew recorded, “the sign of thy coming, and of the end of the world.” Therefore, it can be inferred that “the sign of thy coming, and of the end of the world” also refers to the destruction of the temple when Jesus will come in judgment at the end of the world or aion (age) in Greek. Most likely, the word aion (or age) is in reference to the end of the previous age and the beginning of the Messianic age, and not the end of the world. The disciples were unaware of a Second Coming of Jesus at this time, so it is likely they would’ve understood the end of the aion (or age) to be the end of the current age or Jewish sacrificial system and the beginning of the age of Messiah. Indeed, with Jesus’ death on the cross and resurrection, the new age of the church was established with his kingdom. Some partial preterists who have acknowledged that the context of the Olivet Discourse is fulfilled primarily in the 70 AD destruction of Jerusalem have made a division in the Olivet Discourse by separating Jesus’s response into answering a twofold question: one part applying to the destruction of the Temple and Jerusalem in 70 AD (Matthew 24:1-35) and the other applying to the end of the world and Second Coming (Matthew 24:36ff.). This latter position appears to be supported best and is discussed later.

Next, Jesus speaks of false messiahs (Matthew 24:4,5; Luke 21:8; Mark 13:5,6). There is evidence in the book of Acts of false messiahs just before the time of A.D. 70. “For before these days rose up Theudas, boasting himself to be somebody; to whom a number of men, about four hundred, joined themselves: who was slain; and all, as many as obeyed him, were scattered, and brought to nought. After this man rose up Judas of Galilee in the days of the taxing, and drew away much people after him: he also perished; and all, even as many as obeyed him, were dispersed” (Acts 5:36,37). “But there was a certain man, called Simon, which beforetime in the same city used sorcery, and bewitched the people of Samaria, giving out that himself was some great one: to whom they all gave heed, from the least to the greatest, saying, This man is the great power of God. And to him they had regard, because that of long time he had bewitched them with sorceries” (Acts 8:9-21). Simon Magus has also been cited as one who claimed to be God that performed great signs and wonders. Justin Martyr wrote,

There was a Samaritan, Simon, a native of the village called Gitto, who in the reign of Claudius Caesar, and in your royal city of Rome, did mighty acts of magic, by virtue of the art of the devils operating in him. He was considered a god, and as a god was honoured by you with a statue, which statue was erected on the river Tiber, between the two bridges, and bore this inscription, in the language of Rome:-“Simoni Deo Sancto,” “To Simon the holy God.’ (First Apology of Justin, Chapter XXVI)

Origen also spoke of Simon Magus and other false messiahs saying:

Such were Simon, the Magus of Samaria, and Dositheus, who was a native of the same place; since the former gave out that he was the power of God that is called great,4336 and the latter that he was the Son of God. Now Simonians are found nowhere throughout the world; and yet, in order to gain over to himself many followers, Simon freed his disciples from the danger of death, which the Christians were taught to prefer, by teaching them to regard idolatry as a matter of indifference. But even at the beginning of their existence the followers of Simon were not exposed to persecution. For that wicked demon who was conspiring against the doctrine of Jesus, was well aware that none of his own maxims would be weakened by the teaching of Simon. The Dositheans, again, even in former times, did not rise to any eminence, and now they are completely extinguished, so that it is said their whole number does not amount to thirty. Judas of Galilee also, as Luke relates in the Acts of the Apostles,4337 wished to call himself some great personage, as did Theudas before him; but as their doctrine was not of God, they were destroyed, and all who obeyed them were immediately dispersed. (Origen Against CelsusBook VI, Chapter XI).

The Apostolic Constitutions compiled in 390 AD stated,

And if you desire to know how this matter was among us, Judas was one of us, and took the like part of the ministry which we had; and Simon the magician received the seal of the Lord. Yet both the one and the other proving wicked, the former hanged himself, and the latter, as he flew in the air in a manner unnatural, was dashed against the earth.  (Constitutions of the Holy Apostles, Book II, Section III).

Jesus spoke then of earthquakes, famines, and wars (Matthew 24:6-8; Luke 21:9-11; Mark 13:7,8). In the context of Jesus’ Olivet Discourse to the disciples concerning when the temple will be destroyed, history and the Bible provide evidence that there were numerous wars and rumors of wars just prior to AD 70. For example, 50,000 Jews were killed in Seleucia, and 20,000 Jews were killed in a battle between the Jews and the Syrians in Caesarea. This period also just prior to AD 70 also had earthquakes (Matthew 27:51-54; Acts 16:26), false messiahs (Acts 5:36; Acts 8:9-21; Acts 21:38) and famines (Acts 11:28) in the period. For example, there were earthquakes in Crete, Smyrna, Miletus, Chios, Samos, Laodicea, Hierapolis, Colosse, Campania, Rome and Judea. Also, the city of Pompeii was damaged by a historical earthquake in AD 63. Cyprian wrote:

Moreover, that wars continue frequently to prevail, that death and famine accumulate anxiety, that health is shattered by raging diseases, that the human race is wasted by the desolation of pestilence, know that this was foretold; that evils should be multiplied in the last times, and that misfortunes should be varied; and that as the day of judgment is now drawing nigh, the censure of an indignant God should be more and more aroused for the scourging of the human race. For these things happen not, as your false complaining and ignorant inexperience of the truth asserts and repeats, because your gods are not worshipped by us, but because God is not worshipped by you. (The Treatises of Cyprian, An Address to Demitrianus)

Next in Jesus’ Olivet Discourse to His disciples, He warned them of persecution as the next sign preceding the destruction of the temple and the beginning of the Messianic age. He said, “Then shall they deliver you up to be afflicted, and shall kill you: and ye shall be hated of all nations for my name’s sake. And then shall many be offended, and shall betray one another, and shall hate one another. And many false prophets shall rise, and shall deceive many. And because iniquity shall abound, the love of many shall wax cold. But he that shall endure unto the end, the same shall be saved. And this Gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in all the world for a witness unto all nations; and then shall the end come” (Matthew 24:9-14; cf. Luke 21:12-19; Mark 13:9-13). Jesus was speaking to the disciples. This too was all fulfilled just before God’s judgment of 70 AD. They were persecuted (Acts 7:59), brought before councils and synagogues (Acts 5:27), beaten (Acts 16:23-24), and brought before rulers and kings (Acts 24:10,22; 25:23; 26:21).

Jesus said, “And this Gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in all the world for a witness unto all nations; and then shall the end come.” The word for “world” (oikoumene in Greek) is often used to express the Roman Empire (Acts 11:28; Luke 2:1). Jesus is using hyperbole in this statement just as Paul later did in Colossians and Romans. “Which is come unto you, as it is in all the world; and bringeth forth fruit, as it doth also in you, since the day ye heard of it, and knew the grace of God in truth” (Colossians 1:6); “First, I thank my God through Jesus Christ for you all, that your faith is spoken of throughout the whole world” (Romans 1:8). According to the NT, this prophecy of the Gospel being preached in all the Roman Empire (or the whole world) was fulfilled within the first century: “But I say, Have they not heard? Yes verily, their sound went into all the earth, and their words unto the ends of the world. (Romans 10:18).

Afterwards, Jesus told the disciples of the Abomination of Desolation spoken of by Daniel the prophet (Daniel 9:27). “When ye therefore shall see the abomination of desolation, spoken of by Daniel the prophet, stand in the holy place, (whoso readeth, let him understand:) Then let them which be in Judaea flee into the mountains: let him which is on the housetop not come down to take any thing out of his house: neither let him which is in the field return back to take his clothes. And woe unto them that are with child, and to them that give suck in those days! But pray ye that your flight be not in the winter, neither on the sabbath day: for then shall be great tribulation, such as was not since the beginning of the world to this time, no, nor ever shall be. And except those days should be shortened, there should no flesh be saved: but for the elect’s sake those days shall be shortened” (Matthew 24:15-22). “And when ye shall see Jerusalem compassed with armies, then know that the desolation thereof is nigh. Then let them which are in Judaea flee to the mountains; and let them which are in the midst of it depart out; and let not them that are in the countries enter thereinto. For these be the days of vengeance, that all things which are written may be fulfilled. But woe unto them that are with child, and to them that give suck, in those days! for there shall be great distress in the land, and wrath upon this people. And they shall fall by the edge of the sword, and shall be led away captive into all nations: and Jerusalem shall be trodden down of the Gentiles, until the times of the Gentiles be fulfilled” (Luke 21:20-24). “But when ye shall see the abomination of desolation, spoken of by Daniel the prophet, standing where it ought not, (let him that readeth understand,) then let them that be in Judaea flee to the mountains: and let him that is on the housetop not go down into the house, neither enter therein, to take any thing out of his house: and let him that is in the field not turn back again for to take up his garment. But woe to them that are with child, and to them that give suck in those days! And pray ye that your flight be not in the winter. For in those days shall be affliction, such as was not from the beginning of the creation which God created unto this time, neither shall be. And except that the Lord had shortened those days, no flesh should be saved: but for the elect’s sake, whom he hath chosen, he hath shortened the days” (Mark 13:14-20).

Notice how Matthew and Mark speak of the abomination of desolation mentioned by just before He tells them in Judaea to flee to the mountains. However, in the parallel verse, Luke identifies the abomination of desolation as when Jerusalem is surrounded by armies (Luke 21:20). According to Luke, Jerusalem being surrounded by armies is synonymous with the Abomination of Desolation in Matthew and Mark. This points to the fact that the Abomination of Desolation spoken of by the prophet Daniel was fulfilled in 70 AD with the Roman destruction of the temple and Jerusalem. This would mean that the “people of the prince that shall come,” of Daniel 9:26 is a reference to the armies of Rome: “And after threescore and two weeks shall Messiah be cut off, but not for himself: and the people of the prince that shall come shall destroy the city and the sanctuary; and the end thereof shall be with a flood, and unto the end of the war desolations are determined.”

When Jesus said, “no flesh should be saved,” (Matthew 24:22; Mark 13:20) many have argued that he must be speaking about world tribulation and not just the destruction of the temple localized in Jerusalem. However, this does not necessarily have to be referring to the whole world. There are other instances in Scripture where the term “no flesh” or “all flesh” is used without reference to the entire world but, when read in context, in reference to a single geographic region such as Judaea (Matthew 24:16). For instance: “The spoilers are come upon all high places through the wilderness: for the sword of the LORD shall devour from the one end of the land even to the other end of the land: no flesh shall have peace” (Jeremiah 12:12). “A noise shall come even to the ends of the earth; for the LORD hath a controversy with the nations, he will plead with all flesh; he will give them that are wicked to the sword, saith the LORD” (Jeremiah 25:31). “And seekest thou great things for thyself? seek them not: for, behold, I will bring evil upon all flesh, saith the LORD: but thy life will I give unto thee for a prey in all places whither thou goest” (Jeremiah 45:5). “Seeing then that I will cut off from thee the righteous and the wicked, therefore shall my sword go forth out of his sheath against all flesh from the south to the north” (Ezekiel 21:4). “The leaves thereof were fair, and the fruit thereof much, and in it was meat for all: the beasts of the field had shadow under it, and the fowls of the heaven dwelt in the boughs thereof, and all flesh was fed of it” (Daniel 4:12).

False prophets would also be a sign to the disciples of the coming judgment in 70 AD. Jesus said, “Then if any man shall say unto you, Lo, here is Christ, or there; believe it not. For there shall arise false Christs, and false prophets, and shall shew great signs and wonders; insomuch that, if it were possible, they shall deceive the very elect. Behold, I have told you before. Wherefore if they shall say unto you, Behold, he is in the desert; go not forth: behold, he is in the secret chambers; believe it not” (Matthew 24:23-26; cf. Mark 13:21-25). Mentioned earlier were those false messiahs during the time of 70 AD and beforehand. The NT has plenty of warning and examples of false prophets also fulfilling the Olivet Discourse within the disciples generation. “And when they had gone through the isle unto Paphos, they found a certain sorcerer, a false prophet, a Jew, whose name was Bar-jesus” (Acts 13:6). “But shun profane and vain babblings: for they will increase unto more ungodliness. And their word will eat as doth a canker: of whom is Hymenaeus and Philetus” (2 Timothy 2:16,17). “Beloved, believe not every spirit, but try the spirits whether they are of God: because many false prophets are gone out into the world” (1 John 4:1).

Finally, Jesus describes His coming. “For as the lightning cometh out of the east, and shineth even unto the west; so shall also the coming of the Son of man be. For wheresoever the carcase is, there will the eagles be gathered together. Immediately after the tribulation of those days shall the sun be darkened, and the moon shall not give her light, and the stars shall fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens shall be shaken: and then shall appear the sign of the Son of man in heaven: and then shall all the tribes of the earth mourn, and they shall see the Son of man coming in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. And he shall send his angels with a great sound of a trumpet, and they shall gather together his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other” (Matthew 24:27-31; cf. Luke 21:25-28; Mark 13:26,27). When Jesus said, “then shall all the tribes of the earth mourn,” it seems more appropriate to render the Greek word ge as land (the land of Israel) since He uses the word “tribes”, i.e., the 12 tribes of Israel. Jesus also later said to the high priest, “Hereafter shall ye see the Son of man sitting on the right hand of power, and coming in the clouds of heaven” (Matthew 26:64).

JosephusIn support of the fulfillment of these prophecies in the lifetime of Jesus’ generation, the Jewish historian Flavius Josephus recorded a peculiar event accompanying the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD which could have been the fulfillment of the signs in the sun, moon and stars and the Son of Man coming in the clouds with great power and glory. He recorded,

Thus were the miserable people persuaded by these deceivers, and such as belied God himself; while they did not attend nor give credit to the signs that were so evident, and did so plainly foretell their future desolation, but, like men infatuated, without either eyes to see or minds to consider, did not regard the denunciations that God made to them. Thus there was a star resembling a sword, which stood over the city, and a comet, that continued a whole year. Thus also before the Jews’ rebellion, and before those commotions which preceded the war, when the people were come in great crowds to the feast of unleavened bread, on the eighth day of the month Xanthicus, [Nisan,] and at the ninth hour of the night, so great a light shone round the altar and the holy house, that it appeared to be bright day time; which lasted for half an hour. This light seemed to be a good sign to the unskillful, but was so interpreted by the sacred scribes, as to portend those events that followed immediately upon it. At the same festival also, a heifer, as she was led by the high priest to be sacrificed, brought forth a lamb in the midst of the temple. . . . So these publicly declared that the signal foreshowed the desolation that was coming upon them. Besides these, a few days after that feast, on the one and twentieth day of the month Artemisius, [Jyar,] a certain prodigious and incredible phenomenon appeared: I suppose the account of it would seem to be a fable, were it not related by those that saw it, and were not the events that followed it of so considerable a nature as to deserve such signals; for, before sun-setting, chariots and troops of soldiers in their armor were seen running about among the clouds, and surrounding of cities. (The Wars of the Jews, 6.5.3)

This is very convincing as to if these prophecies concerning the Son of man coming in the clouds with signs in the sun and moon were fulfilled or yet await future fulfillment. Certainly we anticipate Jesus’s Second Coming as the Scriptures bare witness and we cannot fall into the heretical camp of those who said the Resurrection was past, thereby overthrowing the faith of some (2 Timothy 2:18). But whether or not the Second Coming is in view in the Olivet Discourse is debatable. A large number of these images such as the sun darkening, the moon becoming blood, and the stars falling are borrowed from the OT when there was not a literal fulfillment but the prophets spoke as though God was putting out the lights of certain kingdoms, but now He speaks of Israel’s demise (Isaiah 13:10; Ezekiel 32:7-8). Also, in support of the 70 AD fulfillment of the Olivet Discourse is the use of term “coming.” Perhaps Jesus was simply referring to coming in judgment in the destruction of the temple similar to the word of the Lord in Isaiah 19:1 speaking of God coming in judgment against Egypt. “The burden of Egypt. Behold, the LORD rideth upon a swift cloud, and shall come into Egypt: and the idols of Egypt shall be moved at his presence, and the heart of Egypt shall melt in the midst of it” (Isaiah 19:1). “Who layeth the beams of his chambers in the waters: who maketh the clouds his chariot: who walketh upon the wings of the wind” (Psalm 104:3).

Lastly, Jesus shared the parable of the fig tree: “Now learn a parable of the fig tree; When his branch is yet tender, and putteth forth leaves, ye know that summer is nigh: so likewise ye, when ye shall see all these things, know that it is near, even at the doors. Verily I say unto you, This generation shall not pass, till all these things be fulfilled. Heaven and earth shall pass away, but my words shall not pass away. But of that day and hour knoweth no man, no, not the angels of heaven, but my Father only” (Matthew 24:32-36; cf. Luke 21:29-33; Mark 13:28-32). Indeed, “this generation” (the generation to whom Jesus was speaking) did not pass away until the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple about forty years later in 70 AD.

In the next section of the Olivet Discourse, only Matthew recorded what Jesus said. This author believes the next portion does convey the last days and Jesus’ Second Coming rather than the 70 AD destruction of Jerusalem. It corresponds to what Luke wrote in chapter 17 of His Gospel, separate from Luke’s Olivet Discourse account. There are certain contrasts between the two parts of the Olivet Discourse recorded in Matthew 24, the second of which corresponds to Luke 17:20ff. For example, Matthew 24:1-35 portrays the end of the Old Covenant age with specific signs in contrast with general signs in Matthew 24:36-25:46 which portrays the end of the world. Jesus instructed the disciples to flee when the events happened at the end of the Old Covenant age (Matthew 24:16), but to be ready at all times at the end of the world “for ye know not what hour your Lord doth come” (Matthew 24:42). In the first portion applying to the destruction of the Temple, Jesus knew when these things would take place (Matthew 24:4-34) as opposed to the end of the world which Christ did not know the time or hour (Matthew 24:36). He gives warning sings in the first part of the Olivet Discourse (Matthew 24:4-34) whereas the second part will come unexpectedly with no signs or indications as in the days of Noah (Matthew 24:37); it will come like a thief (Matthew 24:43). The end of the Old Covenant age will have abnormal times (Matthew 24:4-34) while the end of the world will consist of normal buying, selling and weddings (Matthew 24:38). The first part speaks of judgment on earth and second of judgment in heaven (Matthew 24:51).

“But as the days of Noe were, so shall also the coming of the Son of man be. For as in the days that were before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day that Noe entered into the ark, and knew not until the flood came, and took them all away; so shall also the coming of the Son of man be. Then shall two be in the field; the one shall be taken, and the other left. Two women shall be grinding at the mill; the one shall be taken, and the other left. Watch therefore: for ye know not what hour your Lord doth come. But know this, that if the goodman of the house had known in what watch the thief would come, he would have watched, and would not have suffered his house to be broken up. Therefore be ye also ready: for in such an hour as ye think not the Son of man cometh. Who then is a faithful and wise servant, whom his lord hath made ruler over his household, to give them meat in due season? Blessed is that servant, whom his lord when he cometh shall find so doing. Verily I say unto you, That he shall make him ruler over all his goods. But and if that evil servant shall say in his heart, My lord delayeth his coming; and shall begin to smite his fellowservants, and to eat and drink with the drunken; the lord of that servant shall come in a day when he looketh not for him, and in an hour that he is not aware of, and shall cut him asunder, and appoint him his portion with the hypocrites: there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth” (Matthew 24:37-51).

And here is Luke’s account: “And when he was demanded of the Pharisees, when the Kingdom of God should come, he answered them and said, The Kingdom of God cometh not with observation: neither shall they say, Lo here! or, lo there! for, behold, the Kingdom of God is within you. And he said unto the disciples, The days will come, when ye shall desire to see one of the days of the Son of man, and ye shall not see it. And they shall say to you, See here; or, see there: go not after them, nor follow them. For as the lightning, that lighteneth out of the one part under heaven, shineth unto the other part under heaven; so shall also the Son of man be in his day. But first must he suffer many things, and be rejected of this generation. And as it was in the days of Noe, so shall it be also in the days of the Son of man. They did eat, they drank, they married wives, they were given in marriage, until the day that Noe entered into the ark, and the flood came, and destroyed them all. Likewise also as it was in the days of Lot; they did eat, they drank, they bought, they sold, they planted, they builded; but the same day that Lot went out of Sodom it rained fire and brimstone from heaven, and destroyed them all. Even thus shall it be in the day when the Son of man is revealed. In that day, he which shall be upon the housetop, and his stuff in the house, let him not come down to take it away: and he that is in the field, let him likewise not return back. Remember Lot’s wife. Whosoever shall seek to save his life shall lose it; and whosoever shall lose his life shall preserve it. I tell you, in that night there shall be two men in one bed; the one shall be taken, and the other shall be left. Two women shall be grinding together; the one shall be taken, and the other left. Two men shall be in the field; the one shall be taken, and the other left. And they answered and said unto him, Where, Lord? And he said unto them, Wheresoever the body is, thither will the eagles be gathered together” (Luke 17:20-37).

Two men shall be in the field; the one shall be taken, and the other left. And they answered and said unto him, Where, Lord? And he said unto them, Wheresoever the body is, thither will the eagles be gathered together. It has been suggested that these passages in Luke 17:36 and Matthew 24:40 are referring to the Rapture of the church in the end times. However, when the disciples specifically asked Jesus, “Where, Lord? (where will they be taken?)” He said, “Wheresoever the body is, thither will the eagles be gathered together,” alluding to Job 39:27-30. Jesus simply said that those who are taken will be slain and perish, not be raptured. “Doth the eagle mount up at thy command, and make her nest on high? She dwelleth and abideth on the rock, upon the crag of the rock, and the strong place. From thence she seeketh the prey, and her eyes behold afar off. Her young ones also suck up blood: and where the slain are, there is she” (Job 39:27-30).