Eschatology and the Olivet Discourse

I worry about guys who are obsessed with the return of Christ and what we call eschatology, the study of last things. There have been those throughout history who can be examples of this obsession with the last things being carried to the extreme. Men like Jim Jones and David Koresh are of the extreme variety. I think similarly there are those who, in pride, want to be able to be called an “expert” about the signs of the times and make predictions that will be proven true. Hebrews 9:28 says, “So Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him.” So we are to eagerly await his second appearing, I just think that there are those who are so obsessed with the last things that they lose sight of the reason they should be eagerly waiting for him. Some love to debate the subject. Others are obsessed with the headlines and trying to prove them in line with the secret codes of scripture.

My reason for doing this study is not because I’m obsessed with the end of the age or that I’m always on the lookout for the signs of Christ’s return. I’m not trying to win a debate or get you to win a debate. I’m not trying to be able to somehow predict what is going to happen by decoding scripture’s riddles. We’re simply dwelling on the scriptures that speak of Christ’s return so that, as the writer of Hebrews said, we will be found waiting eagerly when he appears the second time. I want our hearts and minds to be balanced with dwelling on the here and now as we must, but also looking in great anticipation to the day when we will receive the “adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies”, as Paul writes in Romans 8:23.

Unlike the convinced cult leaders and the weird guy in your Sunday School class, Jesus says that no one knows the day or the hour of his return – only the Father knows. He states this in what has become known as the Olivet discourse. The Olivet discourse occurs in the synoptic gospels. It begins in Matthew 24, Mark 13, and Luke 21.

Let me set the context of this discourse and then next time we’ll consider Christ’s take on His return. Jesus had just gotten through with some intense debates with the religious leaders in Jerusalem at the temple. Jesus and his disciples leave the temple to go back to Bethany and they stop at the Mount of Olives where Jesus looks back at the city and says, “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you would not! See, your house is left to you desolate. For I tell you, you will not see me again, until you say, ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord’ (Matt. 23:37-39). What catches the ears of the disciples is that phrase in v. 38 – “See, your house is left to you desolate.” The disciples question must have been, “If Jesus is the Messiah and Jerusalem is denounced and desolate, then where will Jesus rule? What will he rule?”

This brings us to the point of the discourse – Jesus is answering their 2 questions: 1) When will the temple be destroyed? 2) What will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age? It is important to note that the disciples are not asking about what is going to happen to the church that Jesus is going to build. I believe, because of this, the church is conspicuously absent in the Olivet discourse – Jesus’ answer to the disciples’ questions. Maybe the church has been raptured, some may draw that implication out. However, that is just an argument by inference when it comes to the Olivet discourse. The church may in fact be present during the times that Jesus describes, but he doesn’t talk about the church because that isn’t what the disciples asked him about. The rapture of the church and the timing of that event will have to be left to another discussion. We can say definitively that the Olivet discourse simply is not about the church. It is about Jerusalem and it is about the indicators of Christ’s return.

Luke’s gospel account deals swiftly and simply with the first question – “But when you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies, then know that its desolation has come near (Luke 21:20).” 70 AD the Roman armies surrounded the city of Jerusalem and left it desolate. Jesus’ words in Luke 21:20 and Matthew 23:38 were proven true in 70 AD.

The second question is answered in all three synoptic gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke – because they are so similar are called synoptic like synonymous or synonyms). In our study, let’s focus on Christ’s words as they are recorded in Matthew’s gospel. I’ll do that in the next post. Until then, spend some time reading through Matthew 24, and thinking about what Christ has to say about his appearing.

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3 comments so far

  1. Leslie on

    Check the code for the link to Mark 13. It’s got too many www’s and http’s. 🙂

  2. Leslie on

    Yes, it is so easy to get caught up in nailing down a timeline that we forget to look forward to and long for His appearing and our full redemption. Thanks for the reminder.

    Many years ago I did one study of Revelation that said that we should take Matthew 24 (and the other gospels’ corresponding chapters) and divide it up between verses that were meant specifically for the disciples at the time and the verses that speak to a coming “Great Tribulation.” That just makes everything so much more confusing. Read and understood in their original context, Jesus’ words make much better sense.

  3. blbarber on

    Leslie,

    I fixed the link. Thanks for pointing that out to me. I really feel the pressure now. It’s like I have a professional blogger checking out my work. Seriously, thanks for stopping by and I hope the blog is helpful to you.


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