What is the Olivet Discourse?
Question: "What is the Olivet Discourse?"
Answer: The Olivet Discourse is the name given to the orderly and extended teaching given by Christ on the Mount of Olives. This discourse is recorded in Matthew 24:1 - 25:46. Parallel passages are found in Mark 13:1-37 and Luke 21:5-36.
Though the discourse itself begins at Matthew 24:3, Mark 13:3 and Luke 21:7, Christ's discourse is in response to questions from the disciples, questions based on what Jesus told them in Matthew 24:1-2, Mark 13:1-2, and Luke 21:5-6. The record in Matthew is most extensive, so reference here will be to Matthew's Gospel.
Before discussing the teaching found in this discourse, it is important to recognize that the interpretation of this discourse must be with reference to Israel and not the Church. Christ was speaking of God's program concerning Israel, and the content of this discourse in large part has direct reference to Daniel 9:24-27, as well as Revelation 6:1 - 19:21, passages that refer to the future 7-year period called the tribulation. The completion of God's program for the Church is the rapture, which is not found in the Olivet Discourse, but instead is found in John 14:1-4; 1 Corinthians 15:51-52; and 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18.
In Matthew 23, Jesus spoke to the Pharisees concerning judgment. This can be seen in the "woe" statements in that chapter. In chapter 24:1-2, Jesus is leaving the temple when the disciples ask Him about the temple buildings, seemingly so that Jesus could explain how the judgment of which He spoke related to the temple. Herod, who built the temple buildings that existed during the time of Christ's earthly ministry, built them to last. They were of limestone and would have lasted for thousands of years had the temple not been destroyed by the Romans in A.D. 70. In Matthew 24:2, Jesus tells the disciples that not one stone of the temple would be left on top of another. This sets the stage for the Olivet Discourse.
Beginning in Matthew 24:3, we find Jesus and the disciples on the Mount of Olives. The disciples ask Jesus, "Tell us, when will these things be, and what will be the sign of Your coming, and of the end of the age?" When the disciples asked, "When will these things be?" it was with reference to the destruction of the temple. The destruction of the temple occurred in A.D. 70 when Rome, led by Titus, destroyed Jerusalem. The temple was burned. The things made of gold that resided in the temple melted as the temple burned and the gold ran down into the cracks between the stones. Every stone was toppled from its place as people searched for the gold. The destruction of Jerusalem is referenced in Matthew 24:15-22 and more clearly spoken of in Luke 21:20-24 as Christ taught that those in Jerusalem should flee for their lives. This first destruction of Jerusalem is a foreshadowing of what is in store for Jerusalem. It also should be noted that there will be a double fulfillment of the destruction of Jerusalem. While Titus did destroy the city in A.D. 70, he did not fulfill all that Christ spoke in the Olivet Discourse concerning the destruction of Jerusalem. It will be fulfilled in its entirety when the Beast or Antichrist first takes authority and sets up an image of himself in the future temple that will be in Jerusalem (Daniel 9:27; Matthew 24:15; 2 Thessalonians 2:1-4; Revelation 13:1-18). He will rule from Jerusalem for 42 months (3 1/2 years), which is the last half of the tribulation.
The content of what Jesus taught in Matthew 24-25 primarily refers to the future tribulation period and the second coming of Christ at the end of the tribulation. In Matthew 24:4-26, Christ is answering the disciples' question, "what will be the sign of Your coming, and of the end of the age?" As stated earlier, the tribulation is a future 7-year period. During this time, God will complete His punishment of Israel and will judge the world (Daniel 9:24-27; Revelation 6–19).
The teaching in Matthew 24:4-8 refers to the first half of the tribulation. Daniel 9:27 indicates that the tribulation will be divided into two equal parts. The birth pangs refer to the sufferings that Israel will experience during the first 3 1/2 years. The signs with reference to Christ's return and the end of the age are 1) false messiahs (v.5); 2) reports of wars (v.6-7); and 3) natural catastrophes (v.7). A parallel passage to this is Revelation 6 where the Apostle John writes of the seal judgments. Revelation 6:2 speaks of a rider on a white horse, which could refer to a false messiah. Revelation 6:4 says that peace is taken from the earth (war). Revelation 6:6-8 speaks of famine and death. These are only the "beginning of birth pangs" (Matthew 24:8). With reference to Revelation, the last half of the tribulation does not seem to begin until Revelation 13 when the Beast sets up his rule for 42 months, the last half of the tribulation (Daniel 9:27; Matthew 24:15). There is a reference to 1,260 days (42 months or 3 1/2 years) in 11:3 and 12:6, which could also refer to the beginning of the last half of the tribulation. Therefore, at least Revelation 6-10 can be considered the first half of the tribulation.
The teaching in Matthew 24:9-14 refers to the signs of the second half of the tribulation. The persecution and death (v.9) will be the result of the Beast's rise to power and the persecution of those that refuse to follow him (Revelation 13:1-18). Though there will be many false prophets (Matthew 24:11), Revelation 13:11-18 presents the ultimate false prophet, the one who will demand the worship of the Beast. The salvation promised in Matthew 24:13 is salvation or deliverance from the persecution of the Beast. The one who endures until Christ returns will be saved from the Beast. The preaching of the gospel of the kingdom refers to the good news (gospel) that Christ will soon return in judgment, and then setup His earthly kingdom (Revelation 20:4-6). This will help people to realize their sinful state and receive the Savior during the tribulation.
The teaching in Matthew 24:15-26 gives further details concerning the tribulation. Matthew 24:15 refers specifically to the Beast who will establish his power during the last half of the tribulation (Daniel 9:27; Revelation 13:1-18) and to the persecution of those who refuse to worship him and take his number (666), the mark of the beast. In verses 16-20, Christ instructs that those in Jerusalem should flee for their lives when they see that Beast has taken his seat of authority. Verses 21-22 tell us that there never has been nor shall be again a time like this on the earth and that if those days were not cut short (ended) by the return of Christ, every person would be destroyed. Verses 23-26 tell us of the prominence of false christs and false prophets in those days and how those on earth at that time can identify and avoid them.
The teaching in Matthew 24:27-31 addresses the second coming of Christ. His second coming will be 1) openly done, perhaps even seen by all (v.27); 2) announced by the sun, moon and stars (v.29); and 3) followed by the gathering of the elect from all over the earth (v.31).
What follows Matthew 24:31 are illustrations, some in the form of parables. Matthew 24:32 is the parable of the fig tree. Jesus says that by the signs already given you can recognize His coming is soon, just like you can recognize the nearing of summer. Matthew 24:36-41 is the illustration of the days of Noah. It should be noted that verses 40-41 do not refer to the rapture but rather to the people who are taken in judgment during the tribulation. Matthew 24:42-44 is the parable of the faithful householder, and 24:45-51 is the parable of the wise servant. All of these are given that those who are living during that time can recognize the time in which they are alive and be prepared for Christ's return.
Matthew 25:1-13 is the parable of the ten virgins, and 25:14-30 is the parable of the talents. These are given specifically as a warning to Israel that they may be prepared for Christ's return. The last section is that of Matthew 25:31-46. This concerns the judgment of the Gentiles after Christ's return. The Lord will separate the Gentiles as a shepherd separates sheep and goats. They will be separated based on how they treated Israel, "these brothers of mine." Those individuals who did not treat Israel well during the tribulation (which marks them as unbelievers) will go to everlasting punishment. Those who did treat Israel well (indicating belief in Christ) will inherit everlasting life and be allowed to go into the millennial kingdom (Revelation 20:4-6).
Recommended Resource: Understanding End Times Prophecy by Paul Benware.
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