The Olivet Discourse (Part 4)

The Olivet Discourse - Part 3

So far in this discussion we’ve established several foundational principles and statements which have helped lay the proper contextual groundwork for our discussion, and our exegetical examination of these prophetic utterances which come to us from Matt 24, Mark 13, and Luke 21.

Firstly, we discussed that clearly, from a purely exegetical and scriptural context, Jesus’ prophetic discourse was obviously directed at and meant for a 1st Century audience and not a 21st Century one. And we saw that this principle is supported by numerous other passages of scripture and substantiate that the time-stamp of Jesus’ statements was intended for the 1st Century audience that was listening to Him at that point in human history (Cf. Matt 21:33-46). And verse 45 was perhaps the most significant verse in that chunk of scripture because Matthew records, “When the chief priest and the Pharisees heard His parables. They understood that He was speaking about THEM!”

Another substantiation came from the very next parable recorded in Matthew 22:1-14. In that parable the king is symbolic of God the Father and He has prepared a wedding feast between His Son and His Son’s bride (i.e. the body of Christ – the people of God) and the people He originally invited to participate in that wedding have rejected His invitation (i.e. the Jews). Therefore, the king becomes enraged and sends out His army to destroy them and their city!

And the parallel to this particular part of this specific parable just could not be more emphatically obvious especially when you compare it with what Jesus says in Luke 21:20, “But when YOU see Jerusalem surrounded by armies, then recognize that her desolation is NEAR!”

And Jesus’ declarations just previous to that statement in Luke 19:42-44 are even more emphatically clear when He says, “If you (Jerusalem) had known in THIS DAY, even you, the things which make for peace! But now they have been hidden from your eyes. For the days will come upon you when your enemies will throw up a barricade against you, and surround you and hem you in on every side, and they will level you to the ground and your children within you, and they will not leave in you one stone upon another, because you did not recognize the time of your VISITATION.” In other words, Jesus was saying, “Get ready, ‘cause I’m coming in power and great glory!”

Jesus was literally giving that generation, including His disciples, warning after parabolic warning that destruction, desolation, and spiritual judgment were metaphorically crouched at the door and ready to breech their city walls in THEIR lifetimes. And if they didn’t heed the warnings He was giving them, they would most assuredly suffer the consequences. Armies were indeed coming to surround them … siege works were going to be laid up against them … and the time of Jesus’ VISITATION (don’t miss that – His VISITATION) would soon be upon them.

God would once again use a foreign nation and a pagan army as His tool of vengeance upon His people because of their multiplied sins and continual rejection of His prophets and now His only Son. And we saw in part three how the SIGN of Jesus’ coming would be the very Roman armies that would come and surround their city in THEIR lifetimes.

And of course, since Jesus is not a false prophet, that is precisely what happened. Not more than forty years after Jesus ascended in glory back to the right hand of the Father, Roman conqueror Titus Flāvius Caesar Vespasiānus Augustus, by decree of his father Emperor Vespasian, surrounded and successfully sacked not just the city of Jerusalem but the very temple itself in A.D. 70 with four entire Roman Legions.

And one of the final points I made in part three was this: If Jesus is supposedly warning His disciples about something that is going to take place in the 21st Century, at a time when THEY are asking Him questions about stuff they want to know about in the 1st Century, why on earth would He do that?

And if Jesus is supposedly telling His 21st Century believers to be on the lookout for an army to surround Jerusalem in our lifetime, what good would it possibly do to be telling the 1st Century Disciples about it? There’d be no point to it.

But in reality, regardless of what anyone else says or thinks, and regardless of whatever you may hear over the radio waves or cable TV, Jesus clearly encapsulated all of His statements with something that simply cannot be ignored. It was the unwavering, repeated declaration of, “Truly I say to YOU, this generation will not pass away until all these things take place.”

So no matter what anyone says, how in the world could a 21st Century context and epoch of time ever fit into that kind of declarative time stamp at all?

And finally, the last element we examined was the disciples’ statement of when will, “…the end of the age” occur? And what we did was begin to realize and understand that the disciples had a completely different understanding and meaning for that phrase than many, many Christians of today do. And here’s how they phrased it in other parts of scripture:

2 Timothy 3:1, But realize this, that in the last days difficult times will come.”

Heb 1:1-2, God, after He spoke long ago to the fathers in the prophets in many portions and in many ways, 2in these last days has spoken to us in His Son, whom He appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the world.”

James 5:3, “Your gold and your silver have rusted; and their rust will be a witness against you and will consume your flesh like fire. It is in the last days that you have stored up your treasure!

James 5:8, “You too be patient; strengthen your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is NEAR.”

1 Corinthians 10:11, “…they were written for our instruction, upon whom [now get this] the ends of the ages have come.”

1 Peter 1:20, “…was foreknown before the foundation of the world, but has appeared in these last times for the sake of you.”

1 Peter 4:7, 7The end of all things is near; therefore, be of sound judgment and sober spirit for the purpose of prayer.”

And lastly, 1 John 2:18, 18 Children, it IS the last hour; and just as you heard that antichrist is coming, even now many antichrists have appeared; from this we know that it IS the last hour.”

So clearly, the New Testament writers had a far different understanding and MEANING for the usage of terms like: last days, last times, or even “the end of the age” then many 21st Century Christians do today. They were asking about the end of the Jewish Age, and the coming of Christ in judgment, not the end of all things.

Matthew 24:1-8

Alright, let’s move on. I first recommend that you read all three passages from Matthew, Mark, and Luke in parallel so we can discuss them congruently all at once (Cf. Matt 24:1-2, Mark 13:1-2, Luke 21:5-6)

We’ve already discussed this in previous lessons so all of that should make perfect sense to you by now. However, I want to make a quick reminder contextualization to you: Notice that it is the Disciples who are asking Jesus a question. And it is Jesus who is then speaking TO THEM!

Alright, let’s move and read all three sections which contain Matthew 24:3-8, Mark 13:3-8, Luke 21:7-11.

Again, it is the Disciples who are coming to Jesus and asking Him another series of questions. And it is Jesus who is once again speaking TO THEM! And we’ve already discussed all the meanings behind “the SIGN of your coming,” and “the end of the age.”

Don’t be deceived!

But let’s take a closer look at verse four and all three sections where Jesus says, “See to it that no one misleads YOU.”

The first thing I want to point out to you is that it says Jesus said, “Don’t let it mislead YOU,” … not me, not you, and not the 21st Century church. Jesus was giving a real life warning to HIS disciples right there in the first Century because THEY needed to be warned! False Teachers, False Prophets, and False Messiahs were going to be raising their ugly heads in the DISCIPLES’ generation! And Jesus wanted them to be ready for it.

And Jesus knew that for those who weren’t prepared, those false prophets, teachers, and messiahs would, “…mislead many!” Soooo many pastors, teachers, and authors of fanciful books today declare, “Oh no Marc, Jesus is talking about the false teachers of TODAY! He’s warning US about the false messiah and Anti-Christ that is about to rule upon on the earth TODAY!”

Really? Then how come the same warning that Jesus is giving His disciples right here in this narrative, is the EXACT SAME WARNING that the disciples continue to give to the early church all throughout the New Testament?

Paul tells the church in 2 Cor 11:12-13, 12 But what I am doing I will continue to do, so that I may cut off opportunity from those who desire an opportunity to be regarded just as we are in the matter about which they are boasting. 13 For such men are false apostles, deceitful workers, disguising themselves as apostles of Christ. It was going on right there in their own epoch of time.

And he warned them in Galatians 2:4, But it was because of the false brethren secretly brought in, who had sneaked in to spy out our liberty which we have in Christ Jesus, in order to bring us into bondage.”

And he warned them in Philippians 3:2, “Beware of the dogs, beware of the evil workers, beware of the false circumcision.”

And Peter tells the church in 2 Peter 2:1-3  But false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will also be false teachers among you, who will secretly introduce destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, bringing swift destruction upon themselves. Many will follow their sensuality, and because of them the way of the truth will be maligned; and in their greed they will exploit you with false words; their judgment from long ago is not idle, and their destruction is not asleep.”

And John tells the church in 1 John 4:1,Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world.”

And he warns the church again later on in 2 John 1:7 saying, For many deceivers have gone out into the world, those who do not acknowledge Jesus Christ as coming in the flesh. This is the deceiver and the antichrist.” Which is why John had written previously in his very first letter in 1 John 2:26, “26 These things I have written to you concerning those who are trying to deceive you.”

And Luke records these kinds of real life occurrences in the early church in places like Acts 13:6 where he says, “When they had gone through the whole island as far as Paphos, they found a magician, a Jewish false prophet whose name was Bar-Jesus.”

The point is simply this, Jesus KNEW that false teachers, false prophets, and false Messiahs were going to come and He wanted His disciples and followers to be forewarned, and He didn’t want them to succumb to false deceptions. Which is precisely why He warned them earlier in His ministry and then warns them here again in the Olivet Discourse:

In Matt 7:15 He said, “Beware of the false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly are ravenous wolves.” And now in Matt 24:11 He says, “Many false prophets will arise and will mislead many.” And further on in this same discourse He states in Matt 24:24, “For false Christs and false prophets will arise and will show great signs and wonders, so as to mislead, if possible, even the elect.” The impetus is clear! He’s warning them, “Don’t be deceived.”

The Man of Lawlessness

And as I said previously, the disciples continued to warn the early church even after Jesus was gone. And Paul provides perhaps the LONGEST warning of the entire New Testament when he writes to the church in 2 Thess 2:1-12 saying, “1Now we request you, brethren, with regard to the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our gathering together to Him, that you not be quickly shaken from your composure or be disturbed either by a spirit or a message or a letter as if from us, to the effect that the day of the Lord has come. Let no one in any way deceive you, for it will not come unless the apostasy comes first, and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the son of destruction, who opposes and exalts himself above every so-called god or object of worship, so that he takes his seat in the temple of God, displaying himself as being God. Do you not remember that while I was still with you, I was telling you these things?

And don’t miss these next two verses because contextually they are the most important of all!!

And YOU KNOW what restrains him NOW, so that in his time he will be revealed. For the mystery of lawlessness is already at work; only he who NOW restrains will do so until he is taken out of the way.

This is why soooo many people don’t understand this particular passage of scripture and have such difficulty in trying to figure out what it’s saying about the supposed “Anti-Christ” who is going to supposedly appear in the next couple of years here in the 21st Century! They simply don’t read the text and what is actually written.

The “man of lawlessness” was already in existence in Paul’s day and the whole church knew about him … because Paul had already revealed him to them previously when he was there in Thessalonica in person. And the “man of lawlessness” was, “…already at work!” It was ALREADY GOING ON! And the “restraining” of that false teacher and false messiah was ALREADY occurring.

So let’s not forget to read the words that are actually written and read them with comprehension instead of subjective, presuppositional opinions and viewpoints.

Alright, let’s continue on:

Paul continues in his warning, “Then that lawless one will be revealed whom the Lord will slay with the breath of His mouth and bring to an end by the appearance of His coming; that is, the one whose coming is in accord with the activity of Satan, with all power and signs and false wonders, 10 and with all the deception of wickedness for those who perish, because they did not receive the love of the truth so as to be saved. 11 For this reason God will send upon them a deluding influence so that they will believe what is false, 12 in order that they all may be judged who did not believe the truth, but took pleasure in wickedness.”

So the lawless one would have the ability to do false signs and wonders and deceive people into believing he was a true Apostle and a true follower of Christ but HE WASN’T. This is exactly like the man named Simon who is recorded in Acts 8:9-10, Now there was a man named Simon, who formerly was practicing magic in the city and astonishing the people of Samaria, claiming to be someone great; 10 and they all, from smallest to greatest, were giving attention to him, saying, ‘This man is what is called the Great Power of God.’”

Speaking of these very kinds of things, the early church father Eusebius Sophronius Hieronymus (known to us today simply as St. Jerome) wrote that, “At the time of the Jewish captivity by Rome, many Jewish elders claimed to be the Christ (i.e. the Messiah). There were so many, in fact, that there were three distinct camps of them when the Romans besieged Jerusalem.”

And in reference to what Luke recorded in Acts chapter 8, the early church father Eusebius actually wrote about this exact same man named Simon, in his histories, and declared, “After the Lord was taken up into heaven the demons put forth a number of men who claimed to be gods. These not only escape being persecuted by you, but were actually the objects of worship – for example Simon, a Samaritan from the village called Gittho, who in Claudius Caesar’s time, thanks to the art of the demons who possessed him, worked wonders of magic, and in your imperial city of Rome was regarded as a god, and like a god was honored by you with a statue in the River Tiber between the two bridges. It bears this inscription in Latin, SIMONI DEO SANCTO. Almost all Samaritans, and a few from other nations too, acknowledge him as their principle god, and worship him.” (p. 86)

In Acts 5:34-36 we read about another false prophet, 34But a Pharisee named Gamaliel, a teacher of the Law, respected by all the people, stood up in the Council and gave orders to put the men outside for a short time. 35 And he said to them, ‘Men of Israel, take care what you propose to do with these men. 36 For some time ago Theudas rose up, claiming to be somebody, and a group of about four hundred men joined up with him. But he was killed, and all who followed him were dispersed and came to nothing.’”

Again, this is the exact same Theudas mentioned by Eusebius who wrote, “When Fadus was procurator of Judea, an imposter called Theudas persuaded a vast crowd to take their belongings and follow him to the River Jordan; for he claimed to be a prophet, and promised to divide the river by his command and provide them with an easy crossing. A great many people were deceived by this talk. Fadus however did not allow them to enjoy their folly, but sent a troop of cavalry against them. These attacked them without warning, killed many, and took many alive, capturing Theudas himself, whose head they cut off and conveyed to Jerusalem.” (pp.84-85)

And in Acts 21:37-38 Luke recorded yet another false prophet,37As Paul was about to be brought into the barracks, he said to the commander, ‘May I say something to you?’ And he said, ‘Do you know Greek? 38 Then you are not the Egyptian who some time ago stirred up a revolt and led the four thousand men of the Assassins out into the wilderness?’”

And yet once more, early church father Eusebius speaks of this exact same false prophet when he writes, “A greater blow than this was inflicted on the Jews by the Egyptian false prophet. Arriving in the country this man, a fraud who posed as a seer, collected about 30,000 dupes, led them round by the wild country to the Mount of Olives, and from there was ready to force an entry into Jerusalem, overwhelm the Roman garrison, and seize supreme power, with his fellow-raiders as bodyguards. But Felix anticipated his attempt by meeting him with the Roman heavy infantry, the whole population rallying to the defense, so that when the clash occurred the Egyptian fled with a handful of men and most of his followers were killed or captured.” (pp. 96-97)

And speaking of the “supernatural” he writes further, “These works, that were done by the robbers, filled the city with all sorts of impiety. And now these impostors and deceivers persuaded the multitude to follow them into the wilderness, and pretended that they would exhibit manifest wonders and signs, that should be performed by the providence of God. And many that were prevailed on by them suffered the punishments of their folly; for Felix brought them back, and then punished them. (Book XX, Chapter VIII, Section 6)

So it seems plausible to me that Paul could have easily been referring to either one of these fellows in his second letter to the Thessalonicans, or anyone else similar to them, who were running around claiming to be gods, messiahs, and workers of signs and wonders.

So this warning from Jesus in the Olivet Discourse was a PROPHETIC warning and it came from a TRUE prophet … the Son of God! And His prophecy did in fact COME TRUE!

After Jesus ascended to the right hand of God, false teachers, and false prophets, and false miracle workers came in by the droves and took advantage of gullible people and made a name for themselves time and time again right there in the FIRST CENTURY!

But if you were a genuine believer, and you took seriously Jesus’ warning about all of these things, and the warnings given by people like the Apostle Paul, then you were ready …… and you didn’t fall into deception and get led astray by them.

The reality is, this has nothing whatsoever to do with the 21st Century, or some supposed future Anti-Christ, or some kind of rapture event preceding the second coming of Christ which is purportedly about to come upon the whole world in just a few more years.

Honestly, just look at the text. Look at the words themselves that are spoken by Christ in these passages and then ask yourself if He mentions the Anti-Christ anywhere; of if He mentions the rapture anywhere, or if He is speaking about His second advent and the end of the world. Or is He clearly still speaking to a first century audience throughout His entire discourse.

I personally believe that a plain reading of what Jesus is saying here, and an exegetical examination of the text itself, just simply doesn’t allow for that kind of pretext and eisegetical imposition to occur.

Matthew 24:6-8

Alright, let’s continue on by first reading all three sections which contain Matt 24, verses 6-8.

Now first things first … who is Jesus talking to? Please don’t miss the fact that He is sitting there with them at the Mount of Olives overlooking Jerusalem, looking directly into His disciples’ faces, and He declares TO THEM, “YOU … YOU will be hearing of wars and rumors of wars.”

Not US …… THEM!

Jesus is continuing to warm THEM that THEY will be hearing of wars and rumors of wars in THEIR generation …… in THEIR lifetimes. In other words, “YOU GUYS are going to see this stuff happen……so get ready.”

Oh come on Marc, clearly this is Jesus speaking about the wars and rumors of wars that are going on today. After all, what kind of supposed wars and rumors of wars were going on in the 1st Century? And what about earthquakes and famines? When did the early church ever suffer earthquakes and famines. Surely you can see all the famines and earthquakes going on in our lifetime and recognize that Jesus is talking about the 21st Century and his second coming.”

Roman historian Gaius Cornelius Tacitus wrote in his Annals about the time before the fall of Jerusalem in AD 70 and said there were: “Disturbances in Germany, commotions in Africa, commotions in Thrace, insurrections in Gaul, intrigues among the Parthians, a war in Britain, a war in Syria, and a war in Armenia.”

It sounds like to me that Jesus was right … they did in fact hear, see, and experience, “…wars and rumors of wars,” just like He prophesied that they would.

Tacitus also recorded in his historical accounts that there were earthquakes in various places throughout the Roman Empire. He said they occurred in Crete, Smyrna, Miletus, Pompeii, Cibyra, Aegium, Apamea,

And according to other historical accounts an earthquake occurred around AD 60 – 62 and destroyed THREE cities all at once: Laodicea, Colossae, and Hierapolis. This was during the reign of the persecuting beast Nero Caesar.

Tacitus records that only Laodicea was later rebuilt which would make sense since one of the letters in Revelation is directed by Christ to the church in Laodicea but no letter is directed to Colossae or Hierapolis.

In one of his records Tacitus describes the city of Rome itself during this time period saying, “Several prodigies occurred in that year. Birds of evil omen perched on the Capitol; houses were thrown down by frequent shocks of earthquake, and as the panic spread, all the weak were trodden down in the hurry and confusion of the crowd. Scanty crops too, and consequent famine were regarded as a token of calamity.”

Tacitus also records the earthquake of AD 17 which absolutely decimated the region of Lydia in Asia Minor and destroyed at least TWELVE cities all at once!

Again, Pliny the Elder wrote that it was, “…the greatest earthquake in human memory.”

It appears Tacitus is speaking of this particular calamity when he writes, “That same year twelve famous cities of Asia fell by an earthquake in the night, so that the destruction was all the more unforeseen and fearful. Nor were there the means of escape usual in, such a disaster, by rushing out into the open country, for there people were swallowed up by the yawning earth. Vast mountains, it is said, collapsed; what had been level ground seemed to be raised aloft, and fires blazed out amid the ruin. The calamity fell most fatally on the inhabitants of Sardis, and it attracted to them the largest share of sympathy.”

And this catastrophic earthquake would have literally occurred no less than somewhere around 8-10 years after Jesus’ prophetic utterances were made right here in the Olivet Discourse.

Truly it can be said that Jesus’ prophetic warnings about earthquakes came to pass just like He said they would.

But what about famines? Well, we don’t have to look any further than the Bible itself to see that this too was a direct fulfillment of Jesus’ warnings to His disciples on the Mount of Olives.

In Acts 11:28 Dr. Luke records, “One of them named Agabus stood up and began to indicate by the Spirit that there would certainly be a great famine all over the world. And this took place in the reign of Claudius.”

And of course we know from extra-biblical, historical accounts that Tiberius Claudius Caesar Augustus Germanicus (i.e. Claudius) was indeed the Roman Emperor from AD 41 to AD 54 so this famine would have easily occurred in the 1st Century before the destruction of Jerusalem.

Again, Roman historian Tacitus records this famine in this manner, “Several prodigies occurred in that year. Birds of evil omen perched on the Capitol; houses were thrown down by frequent shocks of earthquake, and as the panic spread, all the weak were trodden down in the hurry and confusion of the crowd. Scanty crops too, and consequent famine were regarded as a token of calamity. Nor were there merely whispered complaints; while Claudius was administering justice, the populace crowded round him with a boisterous clamor and drove him to a corner of the forum, where they violently pressed on him till he broke through the furious mob with a body of soldiers. It was ascertained that Rome had provisions for no more than fifteen days, and it was through the signal bounty of heaven and the mildness of the winter that its desperate plight was relieved.”

This is the same famine that Paul talks about in his letter to the Corinthian church wherein he takes up an offering from numerous churches to assist the believers in Jerusalem struggling under it.

Interestingly enough, all of this seems to be indicative of precisely what we read about in the Revelation of Jesus Christ when Jesus uses symbolic imagery and metaphor to warn the early church about the impending judgment soon to visit the Roman Empire and the Jewish nation as we read in chapter 6, verses 5-6 which say, When He broke the third seal, I heard the third living creature saying, ‘Come.’ I looked, and behold, a black horse; and he who sat on it had a pair of scales in his hand. And I heard something like a voice in the center of the four living creatures saying, ‘A quart of wheat for a denarius, and three quarts of barley for a denarius; and do not damage the oil and the wine.’”

In other words, the famine was going to be so great that common, inexpensive, every day commodities like wheat and barley would suddenly cost you an entire day’s wage just to purchase. In today’s vernacular it would be similar to having to pay $150-$200 just for a loaf of bread!

In summation, all of this clearly shows that once again Jesus was indeed a true prophet and His prophecies concerning famines were emphatically fulfilled just as He said they would be. And ALL of these things that we’ve discussed up to this point ALL happened in THEIR lifetimes before the fall of Jerusalem. See you in part five!

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