Welcome to Part Five in our series on the Olivet Discourse. So far we’ve examined many passages of scripture starting all the way back in Matthew chapter 23 and working our way up into Mathew chapter 24. All along the way we’ve also been examining several other passages of scripture that parallel with Matthew’s account and those passages have come to us from Mark 13 and Luke 21.
If you’ve missed Parts 1-4 I highly encourage you to go back and read them first because you need to recognize that Jesus was being asked some very direct questions by His disciples and He was therefore subsequently providing them with some very direct answers …… answers that would have direct impact on their 1st Century lives … not anyone’s life living in the 21st Century.
In conjunction with that, Jesus also made several distinct prophecies and proclaimed that in THEIR lifetimes, the disciples were going to witness and experience four prophetic things:
- He said the Scribes and Pharisees were going to persecute, scourge, and crucify believers in Christ – and of course that ended up including even Jesus Himself being crucified.
- 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 the 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 by emphatically declaring, “Truly I say to you, all these things will come upon this generation.” (Matt 23:36)
And these prophetic utterances were made all the more substantial and imperative when Jesus stated in Luke 19, “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.”
Through the use of repetitive parables and anecdotal forewarning 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 the city walls in THEIR lifetimes.
In other words, armies were indeed coming to surround them … siege works were going to be laid up against them … and the time of Jesus’ VISITATION (again don’t miss that – His VISITATION) would soon be upon them in spiritual judgment.
But, as we’ve studied previously, it was going to be a visitation and “coming of the Lord” in spiritual judgment … NOT a physical one. 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.
Secondly, we also saw that the “SIGN” of Jesus’ coming to Israel in judgment would be that a foreign, pagan nation would surround the city … and of course, because Jesus wasn’t a false prophet, that is precisely what happened. Not more than forty years after He 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 Jesus warned them the “SIGN” of His coming was so important that, “When you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies,” then, “…the one who is on the housetop must not go down, or go into get anything out of his house; and the one who is in the field must not turn back to get his coat.” You must immediately, “…flee to the mountains, and those who are in the midst of the city must leave, and those who are in the country must not enter the city.”
Thirdly, we’ve seen that the Disciples believed they were living in “THE LAST DAYS.”
- Paul wrote to Timothy and warned him saying, “But realize this, that in the last days difficult times will come.”
- And the author of Hebrews told the early church, “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.”
- And James warned the early church not to become lovers of money saying, “It is in the last days that you have stored up your treasure!”
- And he also told them in that same letter, “You too be patient; strengthen your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is NEAR.”
- And Paul told the believers in 1st Century Corinth that the scriptures, “…were written for our instruction, upon whom the ends of the ages have come.”
- And Peter told HIS 1st Century audience that Jesus, “…was foreknown before the foundation of the world, but has appeared in these last times for the sake of you.”
- And in that exact same letter he provides some sober instruction saying, “7The end of all things is near; therefore, be of sound judgment and sober spirit for the purpose of prayer.”
- And commensurate with the rest of this, the Apostle John told the early church, “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, Jesus was providing ample warning, instruction, and prophetic utterances to His 1st Century audience, and from everything we’ve just read and seen the Disciples GOT IT! They understood precisely what Jesus was warning them about and therefore they had a far different understanding and MEANING for the usage of terms like: “the last days,” the “last times,” or even “the end of the age” then many 21st Century Christians do today.
And because the disciples were asking Jesus about the end of the Jewish Age, and the coming of Christ in spiritual judgment (not the end of the world and what would take place thousands of years later), then Jesus told them exactly what to look out for and what to be cognizant of in THEIR lifetimes.
Which brings us to our fourth review point, and is precisely why Jesus eventually tells them in His discourse, “See to it that no one misleads YOU.”
And also why Paul told the early church to beware of false teachers because, “…such men are false apostles, deceitful workers, disguising themselves as apostles of Christ.”
And he warned them in Philippians 3:2, “Beware of the dogs, beware of the evil workers, beware of the false circumcision.”
And Peter also reiterated this warning 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. 2 Many will follow their sensuality, and because of them the way of the truth will be maligned; 3 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 continues the refrain 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, “7 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 precisely 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 these kinds of things occurred for REAL in their very lifetimes. One such instance was recorded by Luke in 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.
Another item we looked at was Jesus’ declarations concerning, “…wars and rumors of wars,” and His prophetic warnings concerning earthquakes and famines.
We saw that the 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.”
And Tacitus also recorded in his historical accounts that there were earthquakes in various places throughout the Roman Empire. He said they occurred in the cities of Crete, Smyrna, Miletus, Pompeii, Cibyra, Aegium, and Apamea.
But another historical account records that an earthquake occurred around AD 60 – 62 and destroyed THREE cities all at once: Laodicea, Colossae, and Hierapolis; and it happened during the reign of the persecuting beast Nero Caesar.
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!
Pliny the Elder wrote that that particular earthquake was, “…the greatest earthquake in human memory.”
And it is Dr. Luke himself who records in Acts 11:28, “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.”
Again, Roman historian Tacitus records this same famine in the following 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.”
And as I told you previously, I find it highly Interesting that 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, “5 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. 6 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, earthquakes, turmoil, wars, and heinous persecutions were ALL emphatically fulfilled just as He said they would be. And ALL of those things that we’ve discussed up to this point, ALL happened in THEIR lifetimes before the fall of Jerusalem.
Which is why Jesus kept telling them, “Truly, I say to you, all these thing will come upon this generation.”
Okay, now that our review is out of the way let’s keep moving along in our discussion by first reading the portions of scripture that come to us from Matthew 24:9-14, Mark 13:9-13, and Luke 21:12-19. Once you’ve done that, come back and rejoin my analysis.
So these statements by Christ are clearly intended AGAIN for His 1st Century disciples. He is obviously NOT talking about anything that is supposedly going to take place 500 years later or even thousands of years later in the 21st Century.
And of course, any cursory reading of the Bible and the annals of secular, human history bear this out. Because the disciples and the early believers were in fact arrested by the religious leaders, and whipped, and beaten, and persecuted, and even thrown to lions and wild beasts and burned at the stake.
So the context is clear, the audience He is speaking to is clear, and the correct interpretation and understanding of what He is saying should also be clear.
I always find it interesting that some Christian teachers, scholars, and self proclaimed prophets routinely take Jesus’ statements in Matthew 24, and when He talks about wars and rumors of wars, famines, and earthquakes … they declare that Jesus is CLEARLY speaking of 21st Century events and circumstances applicable TO THEM.
But just as soon as Jesus starts talking about persecution, arrests, beatings, floggings, and DEATH … well then suddenly, all in the same breath, Jesus is now miraculously talking about the 1st Century believers and NOT THEM anymore.
But of course that is just plain old poor, exegetical application and one giant, healthy dose of eisegetical, subjective bias to fit their own personal interpretation(s).
One additional thing I do want to point out here and bring to your attention is the statement Jesus makes in Matthew’s account when He says, “…you will be hated by ALL nations.”
And He uses similar hyperbole when He says in Mark’s account, “The gospel must first be preached to ALL the nations.”
Firstly, we should recognize that Jesus is using a bit of hyperbole when He says that the disciples would be hated by ALL nations……because obviously they weren’t hated by every single nation. The disciples were actually successful in preaching and promulgating the gospel message of salvation through faith in Christ because many, many nations and peoples DID listen and accept them.
Now yes, many of them didn’t, but obviously many of them did because even on the day of Pentecost three thousand people surrendered to faith in Christ all in one sitting.
So then is Jesus lying? Of course not; He is simply employing the literary device known as hyperbole to make a strong point: people are going to hate you and try and kill you, and some of you WILL die…so be ready.
But Jesus’ words weren’t meant to be taken woodenly literal because obviously people living in China, or Sweden, or Nigeria, or even Argentina never heard, saw, or witnessed the disciples in their lifetimes. So it wasn’t literally ALL nations that would hate them.
Secondly, when Jesus says that the gospel, “…must first be preached to ALL the nations,” did He again make another false statement and verbal blunder?
Well some say He did, and then they claim because of it, the Bible is unreliable and Jesus’ words can’t be trusted.
And then some Christians try and explain it away by saying that Jesus was telling the truth, and since the gospel hasn’t been preached to ALL nations on earth, then this particular prophecy hasn’t come true yet and therefore Jesus cannot return for a second time until it has.
But both of these explanations and viewpoints are absolutely wrong. Because Jesus wasn’t a false, unreliable prophet, and nor was He speaking prophetically about something that was supposedly going to happen far, far into the future, thousands and thousands of years later.
Instead, what Jesus was doing was again employing the literary form known as hyperbole to make a point. He was essentially saying that the gospel was going to make a huge impact in the earth FIRST, before the end of the disciples lives, and before that generation had passed away.
“Yeah, but Marc the gospel hadn’t been preached to ALL the nations before the disciples had all died, so how can that possibly be true?”
Well, you have to use proper, exegetical tools of interpretation to come to a fuller understanding of what is actually being said …… and not just here by Jesus but throughout the Bible in total.
Look how Paul describes it in Romans 10:17-18, “17 So faith comes from hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ. 18 But I say, surely they have never heard, have they? Indeed they have; ‘Their voice has gone out into all the earth, And their words to the ends of the world.’”
And he continues in that same letter in Romans 18:25-26 saying, “25 Now to Him who is able to establish you according to my gospel and the preaching of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery which has been kept secret for long ages past, 26 but now is manifested, and by the Scriptures of the prophets, according to the commandment of the eternal God, has been made known to all the nations, leading to obedience of faith.”
And look how Paul describes it in his letter to the believers in Colossae found in chapter one, verses 3 through 6, “3 We give thanks to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, praying always for you, 4 since we heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and the love which you have for all the saints; 5 because of the hope laid up for you in heaven, of which you previously heard in the word of truth, the gospel 6 which has come to you, just as in all the world also it is constantly bearing fruit and increasing.”
And just a little bit later in that same chapter he says in verse 23, “…if indeed you continue in the faith firmly established and steadfast, and not moved away from the hope of the gospel that you have heard, which was proclaimed in all creation under heaven, and of which I, Paul, was made a minister.”
So clearly Jesus wasn’t trying to provide some kind of predictive sign for a 21st Century audience to be on the lookout for. He wasn’t saying, “Okay Peter, James, John, all the rest of you; I know I’m talking to you about your questions, but hold on for just one quick second while I tell you about something meant for believers in a couple thousand years. Now you guys, way out there in the future, listen up. You’re going to be able to know when I am about to come again because FIRST, the gospel is going to have to be preached to ALL NATIONS before I can come back; so get busy!”
That kind of erroneous, unbiblical, subjective rendering is a forced imposition upon the text … because that is NOT what Jesus is saying.
If we pay careful attention to everything that He is saying, and the proper context from which He is saying it, then we understand completely what He is talking about.
Jesus was in essence saying that the gospel would be preached to all nations without distinction (no one would be exempt), but not all nations without exception (meaning every single person on earth would have contact with at least one of the disciples).
And then of course, if we still don’t understand what He is talking about, He makes it absolutely succinct and crystal clear for us when He finishes all of these statements with the repeated time stamp of, “Truly I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things take place.”
So regardless of what I think, what you think, what somebody else thinks; Jesus is telling us exactly what HE thinks, and HE KNOWS when the stuff He is talking about is going to take place …… it’s going to happen in THAT generation and no other.
Let’s move on; stop and read through Matthew 24:15-22, Mark 13:14-20, and Luke 21:20-24 and then return here.
The very first thing that ALL of us should immediately recognize is the statement made by Jesus when He uses a particular pronoun and says, “…when YOU see the abomination of desolation.” When YOU see it.
Now it should go without saying, but WHO is Jesus talking to, and who is He directly looking at, when He says, “…when YOU see this?” Of course the answer should be crystal clear … He’s looking at, speaking to, and answering the direct questions of, HIS 1st Century disciples.
In fact, one of the best things any student of scripture can do in regards to these particular apocalyptic passages is to take a highlighter or pen and circle each and every single pronoun written as “YOU.” Because every SINGLE time the word YOU is found printed on the pages of scripture in ALL 51 verses of Matthew 24, it is referencing and pointing directly to THE DISCIPLES whom Jesus was speaking to.
So before you attempt to try and understand whatever it is that Jesus is going to be saying about the infamous “abomination of desolation,” you should immediately first stop and recognize that He is telling some REAL people that they are going to see it in THEIR lifetimes.
So whatever interpretation or understanding you come up with for this particular moniker HAS to fit in THEIR 1st Century context … NOT OURS.
Secondly, notice how Matthew and Mark start off by stating virtually the same things, “…when you see the ABOMINATION OF DESOLATION,” but Luke starts off by describing the EXACT SAME EVENT, but he uses different words and phrases. He says, “…when you see JERUSALEM SURROUNDED BY ARMIES.”
All three authors are writing about the same event but they are doing so by using slightly different language to record the exact same thing. Two of them call it the abomination of desolation and Luke calls it the Roman invasion!
It’s literally the exact same thing. The abomination of desolation IS the arrival of a foreign, invading army led by a godless, pagan authority; which God is intending to use as His vassal and tool of judgment and destruction, just like He’s done so many times in the past with the nation of Israel all throughout her adulterous and unrighteous history.
And in conjunction with this, when Jesus tells them that this desolation was spoken of by Daniel the prophet, He is intentionally drawing their attention back to what occurred after Daniel’s epic of time, to highlight and describe what is going to happen later on in THEIR epic of time.
So if you’re familiar with scripture you know that Daniel received a prophetic vision some six centuries before the appearance of Christ, and it was a horrifying depiction of an invading force coming in destructive power to overthrow the temple fortress and abolish the daily sacrifices offered up by the Levitical priesthood.
And of course, Daniel’s prophecy did indeed come true in 167 B.C. when Antiochus IV Epiphanes, a megalomaniac who believed he was God incarnate, attacks the holy city and ends up erecting an idol to the Greek god Zeus right in the temple!
And he didn’t just abolish all future sacrifices but he decreed that the Jews could also no longer even observe the Sabbath.
In the book of 2nd Maccabees it records this event partially by stating in book 5:11-14, “When these happenings were reported to the king, he thought that Judea was in revolt. Raging like a wild animal, he set out from Egypt and took Jerusalem by storm. He ordered his soldiers to cut down without mercy those whom they met and to slay those who took refuge in their houses. There was a massacre of young and old, a killing of women and children, a slaughter of virgins and infants. In the space of three days, eighty thousand were lost, forty thousand meeting a violent death, and the same number being sold into slavery.”
Antiochus was simply, zealously promulgating the Greek Hellenization of the known world upon everyone within the confines of his every expanding power, and he was indeed what we might call a Syrian anti-Christ who purposefully shunned the God of Israel and just as purposefully sought to destroy the Jews, desecrate their temple with pigs blood (which incidentally was intentionally poured out on the ceremonious altar), and sacrilegiously erect a pagan image of a rival god.
So even though the language used by both Daniel and Jesus is the same: “abomination of desolation,” what actually took place was an invasion of a foreign army, not the establishment of some kind of supposed Anti-Christ and a one world government … and most definitely not ANYTHING WHATSOEVER that would take place in the 21st Century.
And that is why Luke records this particular prophetic utterance as, “…when you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies, then recognize that her desolation is near.”
Again, this would be the “VISITATION” of Christ upon the nation of Israel in judgment, that Luke had previously described in chapter 19 when Jesus said, “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.”
The very Son of God had visited them in the flesh, and they rejected Him and crucified Him. So the Son of God will again “visit” them in the future, but this time He won’t be coming physically as the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world; instead He will be coming spiritually as the Lion of the Tribe of Judah in ferocious judgment.
And one of the final ways we can know that the abomination of desolation is not a 21st Century event or moniker, is because of the REASON for its coming. The abomination of a foreign, invading army was God’s direct response to Israel’s sinful rejection of His Son – the Messiah; therefore it was a direct judgment upon THEM, in THEIR lifetime, as a righteous response to THEIR sinful disobedience and murderous actions.
I truly hope as you have been enlightened thus far in your desire to study and learn from the Word of God, and be able to properly exegete and mine it for all its wealth. See you in part six!