Notes on the Olivet Discourse
J. M. Davies, Canada
MATTHEW 24. I-44; MARK 13. I-37; LUKE 21. 5-36
The Old Testament Scriptures indicate clearly that Israel's Messiah, the Lord Jesus Christ, would be Prophet, Priest and King. Moses had said, "The Lord thy God will raise up unto thee a Prophet . . . like unto me", Deut. 18. 15; speaking prophetically David said, "Thou art a priest for ever after the order of Melchizedek", Ps. no. 4; Isaiah declared, "Behold, a king shall reign in righteousness", Isa. 32. 1, while Zechariah declared, "Behold, thy King cometh", Zech. 9. 9. In the Olivet discourse, the Lord fulfils the role of the Prophet, and there is a marked similarity between its notes of judgment and those sounded in the final message of Moses to the nation.
Its setting as recorded in Matthew should be noted. In the preceding chapters the entry and rejection of the King is recorded, followed by the parable of the vineyard in which the Lord tells how the husbandmen would cast out the Heir and slay Him. But "The stone which the builders rejected, the same is become the head of the corner", Matt. 21.42, and later becomes the crushing Stone grinding to powder all upon whom it would fall. Then follows the parable of the king making a marriage for his son, in which it is made clear that Israel would not only reject the Messiah but also the message of the Gospel and the ministry of the Spirit. Consequent upon this the murderers would be destroyed and the city burned, 22.7. Then in chapter 23 we have recorded the woes pronounced upon the leaders of the nation for their hypocrisy, concluding with a reference to His grief over Jerusalem and His final words, "Ye shall not see me henceforth, till ye shall say, Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord".
The Two Questions. The disciples were naturally disturbed in mind by what they had heard., and one of them came to the Lord to show him the buildings of the temple. "And as some spake of the temple, how it was adorned with goodly stones and gifts,, he said . . . there shall not be left one stone upon another,, that shall not be thrown down", Luke 21. 5,, 6. Possibly the disciples had debated in their minds as to whether the judgments which had been pronounced would be literally fulfilled. The Lord's answer removed every vestige of doubt which they might have had with regard to this. He confirmed what he had already stated when He had wept over the city, 19. 41-44. The destruction of the temple would be complete.
Later, having left the temple and the city, as He sat upon the mount of Olives, having a full view of the city and the temple, four of the disciples, Peter, James, John and Andrew came to Him privately and asked Him two questions, Mark 13. 3; Matt. 24. 3.
i. "When shall these things be?"
ii. "What shall be the sign of thy coming, and of the end
of the world (age)?"
Since the two questions refer to two separate historical events, the Lord answers them separately. Of the three evangelists, Luke alone gives the details connected with the answer to the first question. After a brief statement concerning the final tribulation, Luke 21. 8-11, we read, "But before all these . . .". This implies, before the catastrophic happenings described in verse n, the earthquakes and the signs from heaven, the disciples would be subjected to severe persecution, and they are instructed as to how they were to re-act to it and a way of escape is shown from the horrors which would overtake the city, vv. 12-22. In His answer to the first question the Lord speaks of the destruction of the temple, the desolation of the city - Jerusalem, and the dispersion of the nation as well as the persecution which would be the lot of the disciples. Jerusalem was to be trodden down of the Gentiles until the times of the Gentiles would be fulfilled, v. 24.
The Answer to the First Question. In His answers to the questions, the Lord draws attention to certain signs which are easily and clearly recognisable. These signs are well defined land-marks in the onward march of time and the course of Jewish history. They are important milestones in the main highway of prophetic fulfilments, and are sign-posts heralding the fast approaching end of the age. The first sign is connected with the first question and concerned the impending judgment on the city. "And when ye shall see Jerusalem compassed with armies, then know that the desolation thereof is nigh", Luke 21. 20. This would be an unmistakable sign to the disciples that Jerusalem was about to be destroyed, and they were to flee to the mountains to escape its desolation, when there would be great distress in the land and "wrath upon this people", v. 23. "The sufferings of the Jewish people at the time of the destruction of Jerusalem in a.d. 70 by the Roman army, which numbered about 100,000, were almost beyond description. Famine reigned within the city until wives snatched food from their husbands, children from their parents, mothers from their babies, and some mothers even killed, cooked and ate their own children. Those who fled from the city were captured and crucified outside the walls. So horrible was the situation within the city, that Titus called God to witness that he was not responsible. Josephus tells us that over a million perished and that over 97,000 were captured. Sixty-five years later, when the Jews were finally dispersed by Hadrian, there were 587,000 persons slain." (O. Smith's book Prophecy).
The Answer to the Second Question. In verse 25, Luke reverts to the prophecy regarding the signs in the heavens, "And there shall be signs in the sun, and in the moon, and in the stars; and upon the earth distress of nations, with perplexity ; the sea and the waves roaring . . .". Matthew and Mark state that these signs will occur after the tribulation, Matt. 24. 29; Mark 13. 24. Therefore the answer to the second question deals with a time yet future, with events which are not to be confused with the destruction of Jerusalem in a.d. 70. The whole period spoken of by the Lord as "the times of the Gentiles" was to intervene between the treading down of Jerusalem, or its desolations, and the signs in the heavens. However, since similar conditions are to prevail in Palestine at the end time as at the time of the destruction of the city, the instructions given to the disciples are repeated for the benefit of the faithful remnant which will be found in the land at that crucial time, Matt. 24. 16-20.
In the consideration of the second question and its answer, it is necessary to ascertain the contextual meaning of certain words which are used. A definition of terms is essential if we are to interpret aright this most important prophecy. We shall examine the words "coming", "end of the age", "great tribulation" and "kingdom".
To be continued.