As you saw from part one, we began our examination of the Olivet Discourse by actually reviewing the entire chapter of Matthew 23 to help build some proper contextualization and background which would subsequently lead us chronologically to the statements we find in Matthew 24.
And the two most important things Jesus says in chapter 23 (contextually speaking) are these two statements:
- “Truly I say to YOU, all these things will come upon THIS generation.”
- “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, the way a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were unwilling. Behold, your house is being left to you desolate!”
In essence, Jesus was basically saying to THAT GENERATION, “Because you have rejected God time and time again, and you have continually rejected every prophet ever sent to you, and you are now rejecting the very Messiah of God Himself standing here in your midst, judgment is coming upon your house! And what was once the Holy City of God, flourishing with vibrant, vivacious, energetic religious frivolity will now become completely laid waste and demonstrably desolate!!”
And while these statements may not seem all that particularly “earth shattering” to you and I here in the 21st Century, it was indeed an incredibly disquieting and alarming prophecy for His hearers because Jerusalem WAS Israel … and Israel WAS Jerusalem! If you destroy her you destroy the very fabric of the people who so highly revered, respected, and admired her.
In fact it could easily be said that without Jerusalem, there is no Israel….period. Without a temple you cannot be a practicing, God honoring, and obedient priest or Jew…it would literally be physically impossible! Consequently, when you stand up and declare that Jerusalem was going to be destroyed (like Jesus did) and state that it is going to be left as a sign of desolation and destruction to the nations around her … the people of that day stood up and took notice.
AND SO DID HIS DISCIPLES. It shocked them! It got their apocalyptic minds racing and wondering just what in the world was Jesus saying. In fact it shocked them so much they couldn’t stop thinking about it as they walked all the way out of the city and up onto the Mount of Olives with their respected Master Teacher; which is precisely what leads us to what is recorded in Matthew chapter 24.
And don’t miss all of this contextualization, because it’s important: Jesus began by chastising the Scribes and Pharisees, He then prophetically spoke judgment over them and the ENTIRE city of Jerusalem … He then leaves that conversation and walks out of the temple with His Disciples … as they leave they point out to Him, “Oh wow Jesus…look how amazing the Temple is; isn’t it just breathtaking?” … Jesus responds by telling them the hard to believe prophetic truth that the temple is actually going to be destroyed … they then walk out of the city up to the Mount of Olives and sit gazing out over it … and now they’ve finally worked up enough courage to ask Jesus in private, “So Jesus…ah, you were saying some pretty outlandish stuff back there, and it’s really got us a bit worried, and we were just wondering: when is all this stuff going to happen?”
And just so you have full apprehension as to what’s going on here, quickly stop and read sequentially, back to back, from all three passages that record this entire interchange and discourse (Matt 24:1-3, Mark 13:1-4, and Luke 21:5-7.
So there it is in black in white and in its proper context; and all three gospel writers are establishing the same timeline and the same contextualization. But the real question here is, “What are the THINGS that the Disciples are asking about?” They questioned, “When will these THINGS happen?” Well, what are the THINGS they are asking about?
As we exegetically answer that, I want to emphatically encourage you to just stop and think about the question for a second, and think about the passages we just read without utilizing any of your preconceived, subjective biases or opinions; especially any of those that may come from something someone else has told you about, or something you’ve seen on some kind of “End Times” prophecy show, or something you’ve read in the Left Behind series.
For starters, the Disciples just got done hearing Jesus prophecy and declare four very specific things to THAT generation … meaning THEIR generation:
- He said the Scribes and Pharisees were going to persecute, scourge, and crucify believers in Christ – and of course that ended up including even Christ Himself.
- He said the City of Jerusalem was going to be utterly razed to the ground and become an uninhabited city of ruins left as a sign of desolation to world around her.
- He said the very beloved Temple itself would be utterly destroyed and hyperbolically speaking, “…not one stone [would] be left upon another.”
- And lastly, but most important of all, He said it would happen TO THEM, “Truly I say to you, all these things will come upon this generation.” (Matt 23:36)
So it seems clear to me that any plain reading of the text would lead us to see and understand that it was THOSE THINGS that were on the minds of the Disciples when they go to Jesus in private and ask Him, “When are these things going to happen?”
Luke records it this way, “…when therefore will these things happen? And what will be the sign when these things are about to take place?”
Mark records it as, “…when will these things be, and what will be the sign when all these things are going to be fulfilled?”
And Matthew records it as, “…when will these things happen, and what will be the sign of Your coming, and of the end of the age?”
Clearly these three passages, though slightly different in phrasing, are ALL talking about the exact same things. After all, what else could the disciples possibly be speaking of and asking Jesus about? What else is there?
I mean are we supposed to believe that after hearing Jesus make all of these incredible statements TO THEM and to THAT generation; are the disciples suddenly now switching to a completely different mindset and a completely different context altogether and now, for some unknown, enigmatic reason asking Jesus about what is supposed to take place in some other generation’s lifetime over two thousand years after they’re dead and gone???
Honestly, why would they even care about that? It would literally have no direct application to their lives whatsoever. Especially in light of everything that had just taken place between them and Jesus, and all the things He had just prophetically uttered to them and the Jewish Leadership.
Frankly, from a purely scriptural and contextual standpoint that kind of nonsensical interrogative just wouldn’t make any sense whatsoever. It seems clear to me that they were interested and concerned about what they understood to be emphatic references and prophetic utterances relevant TO THEM and which were about to take place IN THEIR LIFETIME … not somebody else’s……and that’s why they wanted to know more about it. So in summation, they’re asking for further guidance and clarification about the THINGS that are going to take place around and to them.
And one way we can again know this with absolute certainty is because of what Jesus says yet again to His disciples in private; it is the precise thing He had uttered to the Pharisees and Scribes in public, “Truly I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things take place.” (Matt 23:36, 24:34)
So no matter what anyone may think or believe, it has to fit within the timeline that Jesus is establishing for His audience; because we was intending to convey to them that they were going to be the direct recipients of everything He was prophetically espousing to them. No other group of people or any other epoch of time fit the parameters Jesus is establishing.
The SIGN of His coming
Now I know one of the areas that trips up a lot of Christians right here at the beginning of the Olivet Discourse is the phrasing that is unique to Matthew’s account; the part that says, “…when will these things happen, and what will be the sign of Your coming, and of the end of the age?” But to properly understand this all you have to do is be a student of the Old Testament so that you can be a student of the New. So I want to draw your attention to just a couple of things:
- First and foremost, don’t put too much exegetical stock in the word, “…coming,” because it isn’t reiterated by Mark and Luke. So when you compare scripture with scripture synergistically speaking, that becomes important. In other words, don’t be too quick to jump on the interpretive bandwagon that says, “See! See! I told you this is about the second coming of Christ.”
So does that mean Mark and Luke missed something as important as the second coming of Christ? No; instead it means we are quick to fail as students of scripture to properly understand what is actually being said.
- Secondly, and perhaps even more important than the first point, I want you to take careful notice that Matthew didn’t record that the disciples asked Jesus, “…when are YOU coming again?” No, they actually asked Him, “…what is the SIGN of Your coming?”
They weren’t asking about the physical coming of Christ…his supposed corporeal embodiment upon the earth again … they were asking about the SIGN of His coming. And there’s a difference.
Now don’t forget, at this point in their lives the disciples had no reason whatsoever to believe that Jesus was going to leave them, let alone be arrested, scourged, and crucified…and even NEED to “come again.” Remember, not only had the crucifixion NOT happened yet, it was also something they couldn’t even fathom even while it was occurring. After all, far later down the road, when Jesus did try and tell them that very thing later on in His ministry, they all rebuked Him for it and didn’t even believe Him.
And then …… even after He WAS arrested, scourged, and crucified they thought He was gone for good and the whole thing was over!! They were spiritually devastated. They were left as bewildered, cowering, and scattered sheep … not zealous proselytizers full of the vibrant expectation of His second coming! In fact, the scriptures record that Jesus’ resurrection was a SHOCK to them! Remember that? And when the women at the tomb tried to tell them He WAS alive again…they didn’t believe ‘em!!
And even after Jesus did show Himself to them for a period of some (40) days, and He ate with them, and talked with them, and spent time with them … they were STILL failing to recognize that He was going to leave them. In fact, it hadn’t even crossed their minds that Jesus was going to leave them for good and then one day come back at His “second coming” as we now think of it.
If you don’t believe that, don’t forget that even up to the point of His final ascension, the disciples were still asking the wrong questions and had their minds set on earthly things and earthly kingdoms rather than on eternal verities and the things that Jesus had prophetically told them about. After all, this is what they said in Acts 1:6 right before Jesus ascended to the right hand of power, “Lord, is it at this time You are restoring the kingdom to Israel?”
They were still sitting there thinking, “Okay, so He’s the real Messiah … He’s been put to death and risen from the grave … and we know the Messiah is going to restore the nation of Israel … soooooo, ah ha! The time is now! Jesus is going to conquer the Romans! Yahoooooo!!!”
It wasn’t until after Jesus was gone for good, and the Holy Spirit had been poured out on the day of Pentecost, that the disciples finally began to properly put everything together and fully realize what it was Jesus had been saying all along.
So CLEARLY there is no reason whatsoever to believe that the disciples thought for even one second that Jesus was going to leave them, and then return again at some far future date, ESPECIALLY at the point that they are having this conversation with Him on the Mount of Olives and bringing these questions to Him in Matthew 24, Mark 13, and Luke 21.
Instead, they were asking about the “signs” they could be looking for in THEIR generation because they knew Jesus was telling them, “…this generation will not pass away until all these things take place.” In fact, He’d made that statement TWICE to them.
They were on the lookout for signs that THEY could see in THEIR lifetime, signs that would warn them and prepare them for the impending doom and destruction that was about to come upon them …… not signs that someone else would see in a couple thousand years after they were dead and gone.
The “coming” of Christ
So then what about the signs of the “coming” of Christ? Well, there can really only be two options here:
- Either the disciples were asking about a literal, physical, corporeal coming of Christ in some supposed future date…
- Or they were talking about some other kind of “coming” altogether. And this is why I said that to be a student of the New Testament you have to be a student of the Old.
For starters, I think I’ve already clearly articulated and shown that by utilizing proper exegetical skills and the scriptural, surrounding contextualization … the disciples were obviously not speaking or asking about some kind of second, physical coming either in their generation, or even more farfetched, somebody else’s generation in a couple thousand years.
Okay, so then what kind of coming were they talking and asking about? Well, the truth is no matter what you think or believe, it would have to be the kind of “coming” that would need to be tied with the four previously mentioned prophetic utterances that Christ had already made. The “coming” had to be tied with:
- The Scribes and Pharisees persecuting, scourging, and crucifying believers in Christ – and even Christ Himself.
- The City of Jerusalem being utterly razed to the ground and becoming an uninhabited city of ruins left as a sign of desolation to the world around her.
- The beloved Temple itself being utterly destroyed with, “…not one stone being left upon another.”
- And lastly, with Jesus’ capstone statements of, “Truly I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things take place.”
And the reason this prophetic “coming” of Christ had to be tied with those four things is because those were the four things the disciples were wondering about … and wondering WHEN and at what point they would occur in THEIR lifetimes.
Well then what kind of “coming” could possibly accomplish all of that? The answer is: a coming in judgment.
You see Jesus wasn’t doing anything unique or new; He was simply speaking and acting just like one of the myriad of prophets who had gone before Him all throughout the Old Testament. And in the spirit of the prophets before Him, He was using the exact same kind of hyperbolic, symbolic, and metaphorical language and monikers that they had used (as the mouthpieces of God) for many, many thousands of years!
Just like them, He wasn’t speaking of a physical, literal coming in the flesh …… He was speaking of the coming of the Lord in judgment …… a spiritual coming! And what’s more; that’s exactly how the disciples understood it …… unlike many of us; they actually understood what Jesus was talking about! They were worried about a coming judgment upon the whole city of Jerusalem! A judgment they could very well witness with their own two eyes!
And commensurate with Jesus’ prophetic utterances of a coming judgment the Bible itself is chocked full of this same kind of “coming” of God in spiritual judgment over and over again! So much so that by doing just a very cursory search of the Old Testament on this kind of occurrence I’ve found no less than 92 verses that make these same kinds of identical statements in regards to the “coming” of God upon humanity time and time again all throughout the history of His creation…but not physically, He came spiritually.
Gen 11:7; Ex 3:8, 9:3, 19:9, 11, 20:20, 24; Num 11:17; Ps 14:7, 50:3, 53:6, 66:5, 72:6, 80:2, 96:13, 98:9, 144:5-8; Is 13:6, 19:1, 23:17, 26:21, 30:27, 31:3-4, 35:4, 56:1, 59:19, 62:11, 64:1, 66:15; Jer 9:25, 12:12, 17:27, 25:31, 31:27, 50:31, 51:47, 52, 56; Ezek 24:14, 38:15-18; Dan 7:13; Hosea 6:3, 10:12, 11:19, 14:8; Joel 1:15, 2:1, 2:31, 3:13; Amos 8:2, 9, 11; Micah 1:3, 12; Nahum 2:1, 3:7; Hab 2:16, 3:3-5; Zeph 1:1-18; Zech 2:10, 13:2, 14:5; Mal 3:2, 4:5-6.
This means that God “comes” in all sorts of ways…He comes in power, blessing, strength, and encouragement, but also in anger, and in judgment all the time. But any sagacious student of scripture will immediately recognize that at no time do any of these verses depict God’s actions as something wherein He came physically and showed up in person.
And as proof and prima facie evidence of this kind of literary form and language being used time and time again to describe the “coming” of God upon humanity here’s a couple of examples. The first time God “came” to His creation is during the famous Tower of Babel incident and Genesis 11:7 says that God responded to humanities efforts by declaring, “Come, let Us go down and there confuse their language, so that they will not understand one another’s speech.”
But the interesting thing about God’s response is that He didn’t actually “go down” and show up physically at the Tower of Babel did He? No, He came to them spiritually and confused their language.
The next example from scripture is found in Exodus 3:7-8, “The Lord said, ‘I have surely seen the affliction of My people who are in Egypt, and have given heed to their cry because of their taskmasters, for I am aware of their sufferings. 8 So I have come down to deliver them from the power of the Egyptians, and to bring them up from that land to a good and spacious land, to a land flowing with milk and honey, to the place of the Canaanite and the Hittite and the Amorite and the Perizzite and the Hivite and the Jebusite.’”
Again, even though God did in fact deliver His people from the hand of their Egyptian oppressors, He didn’t show up physically to do it, instead He came spiritually through judgment and the infamous ten plagues brought by the power of His Spirit.
The next example is found in Psalm 144:5-8 and it describes David’s desire for God to intervene in his life in which he says, “Bow Your heavens, O Lord, and come down; touch the mountains, that they may smoke. 6 Flash forth lightning and scatter them; send out Your arrows and confuse them. 7 Stretch forth Your hand from on high; rescue me and deliver me out of great waters, out of the hand of aliens, 8 whose mouths speak deceit, and whose right hand is a right hand of falsehood.”
So again, what we see here is a description of God’s actions from a spiritual sense, NOT a physical one. David wasn’t really expecting or even asking for God to literally touch the mountains, nor was he asking God to literally shoot lightning bolts at his enemies or a bunch of His arrows.
And even though the Bible does record many instances that God did in fact deliver David from the hands of his enemies He never once showed up physically in person on the earth, or swung a sword to fight on David’s behalf. Instead, God continually showed up spiritually and intervened supernaturally in David’s defense.
In these next three scriptures we are going to see further examples of this same type of literary form and how the Bible contains numerous examples of God acting spiritually and supernaturally towards His creation but never showing up literally in physical form.
Isaiah 19:1, “The oracle concerning Egypt. Behold, the Lord is riding on a swift cloud and is about to come to Egypt; the idols of Egypt will tremble at His presence, and the heart of the Egyptians will melt within them.”
Isaiah 64:1-2, “Oh, that You would rend the heavens and come down, that the mountains might quake at Your presence—2 As fire kindles the brushwood, as fire causes water to boil—To make Your name known to Your adversaries, that the nations may tremble at Your presence!”
Zech 2:10, “‘10 Sing for joy and be glad, O daughter of Zion; for behold I am coming and I will dwell in your midst,’ declares the Lord.”
So as we can see, Jesus was simply telling His disciples that He was going to be “coming” in judgment against their generation and He was using the same kind of familiar language and apocalyptic imagery that was repeatedly found in the Old Testament to describe this exact same kind of supernatural action all throughout human history.
In final summation, what I’m submitting to you is that by utilizing some correct exegetical analysis, we can see the proper contextualization for everything that Jesus is stating to those listening to Him during their conversation on the Mount of Olives, and it shows us that He had THEM in mind when He made all of His prophetic utterances about the Scribes and Pharisees, about their coming persecution, about the destruction of the city of Jerusalem, the destruction of the beloved temple, and that it all would take place within the verbal time stamp that Jesus established by stating time and again, “Truly I say to you, all these things will come upon this generation.”
See you in part three…