The Olivet Discourse - A Bible Study
The event when Jesus explains to Peter, James, John, and Andrew what will take place to signal His coming into His Kingdom and the end of the age is known to Bible scholars as the Olivet Discourse, since it takes place on the Mount of Olives. It is recorded in all three of the synoptic Gospels in Matthew 24, Mark 13, and Luke 21. When something is repeated several times like this, we know that it is an important thing for us to study.
And as He sat upon the Mount of Olives, the disciples came unto him privately, saying, Tell us, when shall these things be, and what will be the sign of Thy coming and of the end of the world? Matthew 24:3
And while some were speaking of the temple, how it was adorned with noble stones and offerings, he said, “As for these things that you see, the days will come when there will not be left here one stone upon another that will not be thrown down.” And they asked him, ‘Teacher, when will these things be, and what will be the sign when these things are about to take place?” Luke 19:5-7
Jesus had already prophesied that the city would be destroyed in chapter 19:41-44. Here, He says that the Temple would also be destroyed. This happened in 70 AD when Titus Vespasian ordered the Vth, Xth, XIIth, and XVth Roman Legions to lay siege to the city of Jerusalem. Titus had decided not to burn the Temple with the rest of the city, but the soldiers inadvertently set it on fire and it burned. Later, they tore apart the stones in order to retrieve the melted gold so that not one stone was left upon another, just as Jesus had said. Another amazing fact is that both the 1st and 2nd Jewish Temples were destroyed on the same date on the Hebrew calendar – the 9th of Av. The first Temple in 586 BC and the second Temple on 70 AD. The Olivet Discourse describes the near fulfillment of the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD, but it also points forward to the end of the age, when God will judge the world just before Jesus returns to rule and reign in the Millennial Kingdom for 1000 years.
The Bible says in both Psalms and Hebrews, “The volume of the book is written of me,” meaning that the whole Bible is the story of Jesus and all that He will accomplish in His two comings to earth. Scholars have identified 1,845 prophecies concerning the second coming of Jesus, where there are only 356 prophecies about His first coming. With so many prophecies concerning the rule and reign of the Messiah, it’s understandable that the Disciples would think that He would set up His kingdom immediately. They had no concept of this age we call the “church age,” which has lasted 2000 years. The whole idea of God saving the gentiles and calling them out to be part of His church was hidden in the Old Testament. Paul explained all about the secret, or mystery, of the church in Ephesians 3.
The disciples’ three questions as recorded by Matthew were:
1. When would the Temple be destroyed?
2. What would be the sign of His coming?
3. What would be the sign of the end of the age?
The disciples thought that all of these events would occur at the same time, but we know that the Temple would be destroyed within a few years, and then a long period of time would elapse before the rapture and the Second Coming. It’s important to understand that Jesus was not discussing the Church, for which He can come at any time with no signs preceding it. “The Jews require a sign,” but the Church looks for a Savior. Jesus never addresses the church in His answer to their questions. He is speaking to Jewish men about what will happen to the Jews. At this point, the Kingdom is still being offered to the Jews even though Jesus knows that they will reject Him and the kingdom will be taken from them (Therefore I tell you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people producing its fruits. Matthew 21:43) I’ve heard it explained like this: God’s dealing with the Jews and the gentiles is like a chess clock where you hit the clock after you take your turn. Before Jesus came the first time, God was dealing with the Jews. After Jesus died, was buried, and rose again, God hit the clock and began timing His dealings with the gentiles (along with some believing Jews) – the church age. At the rapture, the clock will stop again and begin the time of the tribulation during which God will again deal with the Jews. Even though His answer deals with the Jews, there are still things we can learn about the end of the church age.
Jesus Answers the Disciples
And he said, “See that you are not led astray. For many will come in my name, saying, ‘I am he!’ and, ‘The time is at hand!’ Do not go after them. And when you hear of wars and tumults, do not be terrified, for these things must first take place, but the end will not be at once.” Then he said to them, “Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be great earthquakes, and in various places famines and pestilences. And there will be terrors and great signs from heaven. But before all this they will lay their hands on you and persecute you, delivering you up to the synagogues and prisons, and you will be brought before kings and governors for my name’s sake. This will be your opportunity to bear witness. Settle it therefore in your minds not to meditate beforehand how to answer, for I will give you a mouth and wisdom, which none of your adversaries will be able to withstand or contradict. You will be delivered up even by parents and brothers and relatives and friends, and some of you they will put to death. You will be hated by all for my name’s sake. But not a hair of your head will perish. By your endurance you will gain your lives. Luke 21:8-19
These characteristics that Jesus stated are non-signs. They can be seen in every generation and serve as reminders to the Church that Jesus is coming back. We are not to be terrified by these things because there is nothing anyone can do to prevent them. We instead yield to the plans of our loving Father who works all things after the counsel of His own will and for our good. Let’s take a look at each verse and see what Jesus is telling us…
Verses 8-10 warn us that deception will be a characteristic of the church age until Jesus returns. There have been many would-be Messiahs and false teachings about who Jesus actually is. Jesus instructs us not to believe it if someone claims to be Him or not to listen if someone sets the date for His return. The world will also experience the rise and fall of political leaders until the end. We are also told not to be fearful about these things. Jesus lived during a time of evil political leaders. Herod even beheaded His cousin, John, but Jesus wasn’t wringing His hands and worrying about the politics of His day. He was focused on God’s business of saving sinners and we need to be focused on that as well. Find God’s will and His job for your life and stay focused on doing it until He returns. We should do our part when it comes to voting for conservative people who will put forward godly policies, and we should pray for our governmental workers (not leaders because they are supposed to be civil SERVANTS who are chosen to represent our values!), but beyond that, we need to try not to get derailed in our Christian focus by politics.
Verse 11 begins the list of things will occur just before and during the Tribulation as are described in the book of Revelation. As with birth pains, these will grow in intensity until the end when Jesus comes back to set up His kingdom on the earth.
Earthquakes: The National Earthquake Information Center now locates about 20,000 earthquakes each year, or approximately 55 per day. As a result of the improvements in communications and the increased interest in natural disasters, the public now learns about earthquakes more quickly than ever before. According to long-term records (since about 1900), we expect about 16 major earthquakes in any given year, which includes 15 earthquakes in the magnitude 7 range and one earthquake magnitude 8.0 or greater. In the past 44 years, from 1973 through 2017, our records show that we have exceeded the long-term average number of major earthquakes 11 times, in 1976, 1990, 1995, 1999, 2007, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2013, 2015, and 2016. There have been 46 significant earthquakes recorded in 2021 thus far. The USGS explains that the reason for the increase in earthquakes could be that we have more sophisticated equipment now to detect them, but many believe that it’s a sign of the times indicating that we are near to the return of Jesus.
Famines: At present, there are 10 countries dealing with extreme famine, most of them in Africa. Because of COVID-19, experts from the World Food Programme at the UN have identified 55 additional countries at greater risk for famine in the coming year. Conflict, an economic recession, a decline in aid, and a collapse in oil prices are all factors that could lead to massive food shortages in these countries, as well as the major drought taking place in Africa right now.
Pestilences: Exceptional drought followed by extremely heavy rainfall in the Horn of Africa contributed to the worst desert locust invasion in 25 years in 2019. We all were seeing pictures of the locusts devastating crops on Facebook and on the news. Since then, we have had the worldwide pandemic of COVID-19, which also qualifies as pestilence.
Great signs from heaven: At present, we haven’t experienced these, but the book of Revelation describes upheavals in the heavens after the rapture of the church and during the Tribulation. It is possible, however, that we could see some of this before the Tribulation begins. We will watch…
Verses 12-19 speak of persecution – both of the Apostles and of the Church throughout the ages. There is actually more persecution today than ever in the history of the Church. It seems that we may be facing more persecution in the days to come even in America. Currently, a church in Canada was warned not to meet during the pandemic but decided that the Bible instructs us not to forsake the assembling of the saints. As a result of their continued meetings, the Pastor was arrested and jailed in prison for 5 months. He has since been released and the church of 300 members is meeting again at an undisclosed location. They have been driven underground like the churches in China and other countries where persecution is common. Jesus said that even if we are killed for our faith, not a hair on our head will perish! We shouldn’t cower in fear, but rejoice that we have been found worthy to suffer for the Lord!
The Fall of Jerusalem
But when you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies, then know that its desolation has come near. Then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains, and let those who are inside the city depart, and let not those who are out in the country enter it, for these are days of vengeance, to fulfill all that is written. Alas for women who are pregnant and for those who are nursing infants in those days! For there will be great distress upon the earth and wrath against this people. They will fall by the edge of the sword and be led captive among all nations, and Jerusalem will be trampled underfoot by the Gentiles, until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled. Luke 21:20-28
Verses 20-24 refer to the destruction of the Temple in 70 AD that I touched on earlier. Josephus recorded that over a million people were killed and over 100,000 taken captive. However, many escaped because they remembered these words of Jesus. “The times of the Gentiles” began with Nebuchadnezzar and will continue until Jesus returns to set up His kingdom in Jerusalem. To this day, the Jews have not been in complete control of Jerusalem, but have had to share it with the so called Palestinians and the Muslims who have the Dome of the Rock built either on or near the place where the Temple once stood.
The Sign of His Coming to Set up the Millennial Kingdom
And there will be signs in sun and moon and stars, and on the earth distress of nations in perplexity because of the roaring of the sea and the waves, people fainting with fear and with foreboding of what is coming on the world. For the powers of the heavens will be shaken. And then they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory. Now when these things begin to take place, straighten up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near. And he told them a parable: “Look at the fig tree, and all the trees. As soon as they come out in leaf, you see for yourselves and know that the summer is already near. So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that the kingdom of God is near. Truly, I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all has taken place. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away. But watch yourselves lest your hearts be weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and cares of this life, and that day come upon you suddenly like a trap. For it will come upon all who dwell on the face of the whole earth. But stay awake at all times, praying that you may have strength to escape all these things that are going to take place, and to stand before the Son of Man. Luke 21:25-36
Verses 25-28 refer to the time just before the Second Coming. We will not be looking for these signs, because we will not be on the earth at this time. Believers today are looking for the Savior and for the rapture of the church, which has no preceding signs, but could occur at any moment. However, as we begin to see things falling into place for the Second Coming, then we know that the time of the rapture is also looming nearer. The world is more ready now than ever before for a One World government ruled by a charismatic man who will seemingly have the answer to all its problems. This man is described in Scripture as the Antichrist, the Lawless One, and the Man of Perdition. He is the seed of Satan from Genesis 3 who will try to usurp the rule of Christ and set up a kingdom in place of the one Jesus is destined to set up for a thousand years after His Second Coming. The love of so many people for socialism, Marxism, and communism is evidence that Satan is preparing those who are under his control and caught in his web of deception to receive this coming world leader and pledge their allegiance to him. It looks to us as if the world is falling apart, but actually things may be falling into place for the return of our blessed hope and Savior, Jesus Christ! We need to be busier than ever sharing the good news of the Gospel with a lost and deceived world!
In verses 19-33 Jesus gives the parable of the fig tree. Just as the generation of the Apostles saw the fall of Jerusalem, the near fulfillment of the prophecy, the generation that sees the other signs come will see the Second Coming, the far off fulfillment of Jesus’ words. Once the signs come, the events will happen within a generation. Interestingly, the Apostles waited 70 years for the fulfillment of Jesus' predictions for the fall of Jerusalem. Those who see the beginning of the tribulation will wait for 7 years.
In verses 34-36 we, as the church, are admonished not to be preoccupied with signs, but to watch and pray that we would be accounted worthy to escape the things that are coming to pass and to stand before the Lord. So how do we escape the coming judgment we generally refer to as the Great Tribulation? Matthew records in his account of the Olivet Discourse that Jesus said, “For as were the days of Noah, so will be the coming of the Son of Man.” The total destruction of everyone on the earth except for a few who are miraculously preserved by God is a model for what will happen at the end during the Great Tribulation. When we study the account of the flood, we can learn several things about the Second Coming. I want to focus on the two ways to escape the coming judgement that are modeled for us by the account of Noah and the flood.
1) One way to escape and to stand before God is to die as a Christian before the judgement comes as Methuselah died before the flood. Methuselah means “his death shall bring it.” He was prophetically named by his father, Enoch, and the very year that he died, the flood came. When people mention Methuselah, it’s usually in reference to something or someone being very old – “They’re as old as Methuselah!” That’s because he lived to be 969 years old. No one was recorded to have lived longer than that. His long life is a picture of the long-suffering grace of God, who is not willing that any should perish, but that all would come to faith in Jesus. Despite the preaching of both Enoch and Noah, the people would not listen and failed to repent, even though God, in His grace, gave them ample time. Those who die in Christ before the judgement will be raised at the rapture and will be counted worthy to stand before Jesus in their bodies along with those who are changed.
2) A second way to escape is to be raptured before it happens as in the example of Enoch, who walked with God and was no more, for God took (raptured) him before the flood came. This is the first mention in Scripture of someone being raptured – taken straight to heaven without experiencing death. (There are actually seven!) The Principle of First Mention is a Biblical law of interpretation that says that when a key concept of the Bible is first mentioned, the connotations surrounding it carry forth throughout the rest of Scripture. Note that Enoch was removed supernaturally BEFORE the judgement came, not during or after. He was found worthy to escape and stand before God!
3) There were also those who were preserved through the flood in the ark at the time of Noah. The 144,000 Jews mentioned in Revelation 7 will be sealed and protected until the end of the Tribulation. There will also be those who refuse to follow the Antichrist during that time who will still be alive at the Second Coming and will go into the kingdom in their physical bodies according to Matthew 25:31-46.
In conclusion, even though the Olivet Discourse isn't directly pointing to what will happen to the church, we still learn many things. As we begin to see the signs Jesus gave to the Jewish people, we know that the rapture must be close. We aren't waiting for signs to be fulfilled, we are waiting to hear a trumpet blast and a shout. It will all happen in the twinkling of an eye for us, at the last trumpet when the dead in Christ will rise and we who are still alive will be changed and will rise up to meet Him in the air. Oh how I am looking forward to that day! Amen! Even so, Lord Jesus, come!