THE Olivet Discourse, recorded in Matthew 24 and 25, Mark 13, and Luke 21, is one of the most important prophetic utterances in the Scriptures. If one has a clear understanding of this prediction, one will have an outline into which almost all other subjects of prophecy will fit perfectly.
The student is requested to note on the chart above the two questions which were asked by the apostles. He is to follow the arrows and note the phrases on each one and the positions to which they point. Then he is to notice the answers that are given below the basic line running through the center of the chart.
In order that the reader may understand this chart and the passage which it diagrams, I wish to call attention to certain points indicated on this central line. The first to be noted is the time when Jesus spoke the sermon. This was given from the Mount of Olives at the conclusion of the last day of his public ministry.
The basic line running through the center of the chart represents the time beginning with the birth of Christ, continuing through the centuries, and culminating in the Millennial Age. The reader is to bear in mind the fact that this chart is not made upon a definite scale of proportions. This is seen by the fact that the first thirty years of our Lord's life is a disproportionately long line in comparison with the entire Christian Dispensation. Just before the cross appears an arc indicating His public ministry. This is followed by the cross. The second arrow above the line points to the time when the prediction concerning the destruction of Jerusalem made by our Lord was fulfilled70 A.D. Luke alone recorded the answer relative to this prediction (Luke 21:20-24).
The third arrow above the line divides into two sections, the lower of which carries an adjective clause explaining the time when the sign concerning which they asked would occur. But this sign is indicative of the close of the age and the second coming of our Lord which takes place at the end of the Tribulation. Thus this double-pronged arrow points to the time when the sign occurs which is indicative of the two other events about which the question was asked and to the time of the fulfillment of the same.
A little to the right of this arrow is one that comes from the top with one meeting it from the position of the central line. This represents the rapture of the church which occurs, according to the Scriptures, prior to the Tribulation. As to whether or not this period of judgment follows immediately after the church is translated, no one can say definitely. Some passages seem to indicate this position, whereas others leave it indefinite. We must therefore be very careful and not inject into the Scriptures something that is not there.
To the right of the arrow indicating the rapture is the arc that represents the Tribulation. From a careful study of Daniel 9, examined in the light of other related passages, we learn that the Tribulation is the seventieth week of Daniel, which is a period of seven years. It is in various passages called the day of Jehovah.
The second coming of Christ, which is accurately designated as "the revelation" occurs immediately upon the conclusion of the Tribulation. This is our Lord's return to the earth in response to Israel's plea for Him to appear in her behalf in order to redeem her and to establish a reign of righteousness upon earth. One must differentiate most clearly between the rapture, just mentioned, which occurs before the Tribulation and pertains especially to the church, and the second coming, which follows the Tribulation and which relates particularly to Israel.
INASMUCH as we are studying the Olivet Discourse as recorded by Matthew, we are to devote attention to our Lord's answer to the second question put to Him by His disciples: What shall be the sign of thy coming and of the end of the world?" The marginal reading, which follows the Greek accurately, renders the last of this phrase "the consummation of the age." The word employed by the apostles indicates most clearly the ageChristian Dispensationand not the material earth. This question is a double one. The apostles asked to know what one event or sign would indicate the approach of the time for Him to return and for the age to be brought to a close. When we note carefully the development of the thought and see how the apostles, in response to our Lord's prediction concerning the destruction of Jerusalem, asked for the sign indicative of the two events, we can see that three ideas were associated in their minds: the destruction of the temple, the second coming of Christ, and the end of the age. Why was it that these three ideas were associated in their thinking so that the mention of the destruction of Jerusalem brought into the field of consciousness the idea of His second coming and the consummation of the age? The apostles were familiar with the Old Testament Scriptures and largely thought in terms found there. A glance at such a passage as Zechariah 14 shows that these three events are mentioned as occurring one in connection with the others. The prophet saw the armies of the nations of the world gathered against Jerusalem and the city half-captured. At that time Jehovah appears upon the Mount of Olives, delivers Israel, and becomes King over all the earth, introducing a new era. Naturally, therefore, when our Lord spoke of the destruction of the Temple and the siege of Jerusalem, the apostles asked for the sign which would be indicative of His return in fulfillment of Zechariah 14 and His establishing His kingdom upon the earth.
Since the apostles were interested in His second coming, our Lord warned, according to Matthew 24:4,5, that false messiahs would come in His name and would lead many astray. They, therefore, were to be very careful not to be deceived by such.
Since the passage which was uppermost in their minds foretold the siege of Jerusalem, our Lord warned the disciples against drawing a hasty conclusion when they should hear of wars and rumors of wars. These have no prophetic significance. Wars and rumors of wars characterize the entire period of His absence. When, therefore, a war should break out, His disciples were not to be alarmed and jump to the hasty conclusion that such a conflict would develop into the final siege of Jerusalem foretold by the prophets. The conditions which produce wars are here, have been, and will continue until Jesus returns. When one breaks out, the end is not yet.
The disciples were to wait foralthough they were to be busy about their Father's business all the timethe outbreak of a world war before concluding that His coming and the time for the introduction of the new age were at hand. The expression, "nation shall rise against nation and kingdom against kingdom" is an Old Testament idiom found in such passages as II Chronicles 15:1-7 and Isaiah 19:1-4. An examination of the context of these passages shows clearly that the conflict expressed by this idiom indicated a war that would affect all the territory before the speakers' visions. Since Jesus was a Hebrew and used the idiomatic expressions of His mother tongue, this term could mean nothing but a World War in view of the fact that His outlook in the Olivet Discourse was that of an international situation. This idiom, therefore, "nation shall rise against nation and kingdom against kingdom," can mean only a World War. It must be distinguished most definitely from the term, "wars and rumors of wars." Let the reader now note the third arrow on the chart below the central line. Here he will see the words, "a world war, 1914-18', which is the sign of the end of the age, vs. 7." Here one must be very cautious and avoid dogmatism. The conflict of 1914-'18 seems to have filled out the picture of a World War breaking out suddenly and taking on such international proportions as that indicated by our Lord's prophecy. If this is the correct understanding (and I personally do not have any doubts about this interpretation), that titanic struggle was the sign given by our Lord to indicate that the time is very close at hand for His return and for the introduction of the Millennial Age. In verse 8 of Matthew 24 our Lord said that a World War attended by famines and great earthquakes in divers places (and Luke adds: pestilences) together constitute "the beginning of travail," the first birth pain. We call this conflict the first birth pain because the apostles were familiar with this figure in Isaiah 66:7-9.
IN MATTHEW 24:9-31 is a detailed description of this period of travail. This is indicated on an arrow pointing to the Tribulation arc on the chart.
According to verse 14 the gospel of the kingdom will be preached to all the nations for a testimony unto them and then shall the end come. This passage, read in the light of Revelation 7, is clearly a reference to the mighty revival that will be conducted during the Tribulation by the 144,000 Jewish evangelists to whom we who are preaching the gospel to Israel are giving the message. This mighty proclamation of the truth by these Jewish evangelists will bring about the greatest soul-awakening that has ever come to the earth. Multitudes which no man can number will then be won to a saving knowledge of the Lord. (Let us pray and work to the end of giving the truth to Israel now.)
In Matthew 24:32-25:30 is found a prediction concerning the rapture of the church. This forecast is introduced by the parable of the fig tree. Because it is sometimes used symbolically to refer to the Jewish nation, certain commentators see in this parable a prediction concerning the restoration of the Jews to their own land. We are never to understand that the fig tree is used symbolically unless the facts of the given context indicate such a significance. Are there any facts which show that Jesus used this language other than literally? One will seek in vain for such negative evidence. The fig tree in this passage therefore must be understood literally. This conviction is strengthened by the parallel passage in Luke 21:29. "And He spake to them a parable: Behold the fig tree, and all the trees." If the fig tree is used symbolically to indicate Israel, "all the trees" is used symbolically and signifies the other nations. According to the theory under examination, if the fig tree symbolizes Israel and its budding indicates the beginnings of national life, then the budding of the other trees assumes on the part of these nations a deadness but a coming to life at the same time. This proves too much. What proves too much prove nothing at all. In view of these facts we know that the fig tree is not in this passage used symbolically.
As seen before and as indicated on the chart above, the entire Christian Dispensation is covered by Matthew 24:4-6. The World War, attended by famines and pestilences and great earthquakes, is the sign of the end or the first birth pain. Verses 9 to 31 bring the discussion to the very end of the Tribulation and the coming of the Son of man. Thus the entire Christian Dispensation, the Tribulation period, and the beginning of the Millennial Age are covered in verses 4-31.
Since the apostles asked for the sign of the end of the age, and since Jesus said in verse 8, "... all these things are the beginning of travail," and since He used the budding of the fig tree as an illustration of His point, the statement, "... when ye see all these things, know ye that he is nigh, even at the doors," refers to "all these things" of verse 8, which constitute the sign of the end of the age. In other words, in verses 32 and 33 Jesus said to His disciples: When you see a World War accompanied by famines, pestilences, and great earthquakes in divers places occurring, you can understand that this is the sign of the nearness of the time of my return and of the introduction of the Millennial Age. The section of Scripture, 24:32-25:30, deals with the rapture prior to the Tribulation, together with events connected therewith. This fact is indicated by an arrow pointing toward the rapture on the chart. In Matthew 25:31-46 is a prediction of the judgment of the living nations by the Lord Jesus Christ at His second coming in glory to set up His millennial kingdom.