Olivet Discourse (Matt. 24-25; Mark 13; Luke 21:5-36; 17:22-37)
The Olivet Discourse follows the series of confrontations between Jesus and the Jewish religious leaders in the temple compound (Matt. 21:12-23:39). They had questioned and ridiculed Him. The hypocrisy and false religion which so characterized the Scribes and Pharisees resulted in it now being the time to lament over the city and leave it and them desolate. So, the Lord after pronouncing the seven woes, pronounces the Temple's destruction, and lays out the plan for the future. Does His plan include a period premillennialists call the Tribulation which finds no Church present or just a local tribulation with the Church present?
This set of articles looks at Matthew's version of the Olivet Discourse (Matt. 24-25) and presents a grammatical look at a harmony alongside the other gospels. The translation presented is my own but I do not suggest it is better than any of the other established translations – it is just that mine has a specific purpose – to be as literal and hold to the word order of the original as to bring out the original author's work and intent.
One of the most important questions concerns whether the church can be found in this section of Scripture (and it cannot!)? Dr. Enns notes, "If Matthew 24 deals with the church, then the church must go through the Tribulation; the fact the church will not go through the Tribulation can be defended both exegetically and theologically. Exegetically, verses like Romans 5:9 and 1 Thessalonians 5:9 state rather forcefully that the church will be spared the wrath of God – which is the Tribulation. Theologically, the matter is resolved by asking the question, what is the purpose of the Tribulation? The answer is that the Tribulation is a time of outpouring of the wrath of God on unbelievers (Rev. 6:16-17; 11:18; 14:19; 15:1, 7; 16:1, 19; cf. Isa. 24:5-6, 21; Rev. 3:10). How does the Church relate to the wrath of God? It doesn't. Christ bore God's wrath for believers…Further, God's purpose in the Tribulation relates to Israel, to discipline the nation and bring it to repentance (Dan. 9:24; Jer. 30:7)." (Mal Couch gen. ed.. Dictionary of Premillennial Theology, p. 286)
Four Views within Premillennialism
The Olivet Discourse is the most important spot in the New Testament with respect to sequential events leading to the end-times. It is important to note that dates are not specified, just events corresponding to the general Jewish concept of measuring periods or ages without specific reference to time, but keeping the sequential aspect intact. It is hard at times to distinguish a clear break or shift within the period described, so within premillennialism there are differences of opinion. Dr. Chafer observes, "Few portions of the New Testament place recorded events in a more complete chronological order than this address." (Dwight Pentecost, Things to Come, p.277) There are typically four different views concerning the events of the tribulation period of Matthew 24:4-26. The first is held by Dr. Chafer who holds that 24:4-8 describes events of the present church age but prior to the seventieth week, calling them the "beginning of sorrows." Then the tribulation follows in verses 9-26. The second view is held by Dr. Scofield who holds to a double interpretation of verses 4-14, partly applicable to the church age and partly to the tribulation. A third view is held by Dr. English who holds that verses 4-14 refer to the first half of the week, the beginning of the end. Verses 15-26 refer to the latter half of the tribulation – the Great Tribulation. A fourth view is held by Dr. Gaebelein who holds that verses 4-8 outline the first half of the tribulation and verses 9-26 describe the second half.
I. The Destruction of the Temple Foretold (24:1-2)
1 Then Jesus went out, transferring Himself from the temple. His disciples drew near to show Him the buildings of the Temple. 2 Then Jesus said to them, [do] you not see all these things? Truly I say to you, in no way will one stone be left here upon stone that will in no way be thrown down.
The phrase Then Jesus went out relates a special type of action because a participle is used. The grammar points out (with special emphasis) to "he who went forth from" the Temple. The participle answers the question "who went out from the temple?" The answer is, "he who went forth from the temple was Jesus whose name means the Savior!" He is transferring Himself from the Temple area proper down the Kidron valley to the Mount of Olives, but before He gets very far in His departure, as the imperfect he was transferring himself suggests, His disciples ("learners" or "pupils") approached close to him to point out the Temple buildings. Herod's Temple was grand with various buildings covering the area of Solomon's original temple, but adding a Roman Guard area separate but close and high in order to keep watch over and keep order within the central place of Jewish life.
Jesus had just pronounced their house would be left desolate (23:38), and after leaving the leaders of Israel and the Temple, His disciples seem to point to the Temple's magnificence with all its courts, porches, and edifices, such a grand and strong structure it must have been. But Jesus pronounced its desolation declaring it would be no more.
He would leave them and their temple would not only be left without its true glory, namely, Christ, but moreover, in no way will one stone be left here upon stone that will in no way be thrown down. My translation is rather clumsy, but the literal and raw version points out the important fact that Jesus was not speaking figuratively, but literally referring to the structure and its stones. Their exuberance for the structure is amplified as recorded by Mark as he writes, "Teacher, see what manner of stones and what buildings" (Mark 13:1), or as Luke records, the temple was "adorned with beautiful stones and donations" (Luke 21:5). As Dr. Walvoord points out, "The temple had been under construction since 20 B.C., and, though not actually completed until A.D. 64, its main buildings apparently were largely finished." (John Walvoord, Matthew, Thy Kingdom Come, p. 179) For all the Temple's beauty it is nothing without the presence of the Lord! The double negative with the subjunctive expresses emphatic negation and can be translated "by no means" or "never" – the structure will come down (cf., Mat. 5:20).
Jesus' comment concerning its destruction is in the Greek a bit complex. In the first place, He says, [do] you not see all these things? The demonstrative pronoun "these things" is in the neuter which goes with its antecedent the Temple, which in turn includes all its buildings. But the question is placed as Dr. Nicoll says, "you ask me to look at them, let me ask you in turn to take a good look at them." (W. R. Nicoll, The Expositor's Greek Testament, vol.1, p.288) Then He says, amen – truly, most assuredly I say to you, no, not one stone, the double negative being the strongest possible wording one can find in the Greek. The sense is that not one stone will be left upon another. They will all be thrown down.
II. The Disciples Questions (24:3)
3 But the disciples came to Him who is sitting upon the Mount of Olives according to one's own, saying, tell us when will it be, these things? And what [is] the sign of your coming and the end of the age?
Once the Lord reached the height of the Mount of Olives, He sat down. The view of the Temple mount from the other side of the Kidron valley is spectacular. The height of the Mount of Olives is higher than the Temple mount and the Lord is identified as he who is sitting upon the Mount of Olives. No doubt He was looking down upon the activity within the temple. The phrase the disciples came to him according to one's own indicates that they came to Him privately, either, they separated themselves from the crowd, or that each one of them had their own individual question, but they all asked the question: when will it be, these things? The singular "when will it be" contrasts with the plural "these things" demonstrating that the disciples understood that Jesus prophecy of the destruction of the Temple was about be fulfilled and that this prophecy was directly related to the Messianic prophecies of the Old Testament. This is further declared by their question, and what [is] the sign of your coming and the end of the age. They knew something was up – but what?
The Old Testament is full of descriptions of the signs of the coming of the Messiah. They believed Him to be the coming Son of Man, the Messiah, as their question clearly indicates. They knew the Old Testament signs, but this situation had thrown them. This seems to be something new, something different from what they thought. They ask for the one definite "sign," "mark," or "token" of His parousia – "presence," "coming," or "advent." He is present with them now, but when will He become the Messiah, the Priest-King?
The third part of the question concerns the end of the age. The word in the Greek is aion and means "age," "a period of time," "an unbroken age." In the Jewish mindset the world is divided by God into seasons, times, or ages. They had just passed the age or dispensation of the Mosaic Law when the Jewish leadership rejected their King (it is hard to distinguish the end of the age of the Law, is it at the end of chapter 23 with the official rejection of the King or at His death on the cross or even at the destruction of the Temple? There are arguments on all sides, but it seems that there is not one specific event that ended the age, but both the rejection and the crucificixion are an inseparable package and this might be called the period of the rejection of the Law). The rejection was official and Jesus' death on the cross was to come – more prophecy was to be fulfilled.
A dispensation and an age are different in the following ways: (1) An age seems to exist over more than one dispensation, and (2) the age seems to be a specific term closely related to the end of the world as we know it. Dr. Darby says, "They class together the destruction of the temple, the coming of Christ, and the end of the age. We must observe, that here the end of the age is the end of the period during which Israel was subject to the law under the old covenant: a period which was to cease, giving place to the Messiah and to the new covenant." (John Darby, John Darby's Synopsis of the Old and New Testaments)
In the next article Jesus will answer one of their questions in detail and will present familiar wording recalling the Old Testament period known as the "birth pangs." When will this all happen and will the Church join in with the birth pangs?