No passages are more important to a study of the events of unfulfilled prophecies than those of the Olivet Discourse. Therefore we will be examining them carefully and presenting the accounts of the Olivet Discourse in my own translation of Matthew 24 and 25, Mark 13 and Luke 21 in parallel columns.
As the Lord Jesus Christ was leaving the holy city of Jerusalem intending to retire to Bethany where He spent the nights during the last week, the disciples called His attention to the large stones that had been used in constructing the Temple and to the magnificent tokens placed there by consecrated worshipers. This incident reflects their national pride despite three and a half years of close association with Him.
Under His matchless teaching the apostles had not grown in the spiritual life sufficiently to comprehend the transitory nature of material things. To correct this imperfection, our Lord foretold the complete demolition of the Temple, stating that one stone would not be left upon another that had not been thrown down. The prediction was sufficiently clear to show the disciples how fleeting and impermanent earthly things are.
This prophecy is very specific--one stone shall not remain upon another that has not been thrown down. The Lord never used a superfluous word, but each expression was freighted with meaning. This prediction was literally fulfilled in A.D. 70 by the Romans who, in their quest for the gold upon the Temple structure which melted at the time it burned, literally dug up the foundation stones. Jesus, knowing all things, foretold what they would do.
This fact warrants the observation that every word the Lord spoke will be fulfilled. Abraham, believing God, rested his faith on three little words in the Hebrew translated into English: "So shall thy seed be." No word from God is without power. The predictions which have already come to pass did so according to the literal meaning of the oracles. The accuracy and literalness with which prophecy has been fulfilled lead us to believe that those predictions yet unfulfilled will be made good with the same unerring exactness.
Signs of the Consummation of the Age
The prerequisite to understanding the Olivet Discourse is a correct understanding of the significance of the terms found in the question put by the apostles to our Lord: "When shall these things be? and what shall be the sign of thy coming, and of the end of the world?" (Matt. 24:3b A.S.V.). The Bible describes fully and minutely the outstanding characteristics of the end of this age. God has revealed to us what are correctly called the signs of the times so we might recognize the approaching end and no misunderstanding or hasty conclusion be drawn.
There are a number of signs set forth in Scriptures which indicate the approaching time of the consummation. Any one of them correctly interpreted and evaluated is positive proof of the closing of the age. For His disciples that they might not make any mistake, and for our benefit also, our Lord has given them to us, acting upon what is termed "the law of the witnesses." According to the Mosaic code, every word and matter had to be established by two or more witnesses. This precautionary measure reduces the possibility of doubt and uncertainty to the minimum. The Lord wants to eliminate all uncertainty so that His people might recognize the great consummation at its coming.
Among the many signs designated in the Scriptures might be mentioned the following:
The Regathering of Israel before the great and terrible day of the Lord comes (Zeph. 2:1-3).
The rise of anti-Semitism throughout the world which is foreshadowed in Ps. 83:1f. The same thing is found in Ezek. 20:33-39, which tells of God bringing Israel out from among the nations into "the wilderness of the peoples." To accomplish this result the Lord will and has used anti-Semitism, but of course He will punish those who have such a spirit. This gathering of Israel into the wilderness and entering into judgment with her comes at the end of this age and during the Great Tribulation.
The Great Apostasy (2 Thess. 2:1-12). This deflection consists of a general movement of men from the faith once for all delivered to the saints, thus preparing the way for the personal Antichrist.
The prevalence of Spiritism (1 Tim. 4:1-3). At the first coming of our Lord to the earth and during His personal ministry God permitted Satan to act within the human realm in a special manner so that, after the testimony for the truth is given, there might be a margin for the exercise of faith on the part of the truth-seekers.
The moral breakdown of civilization (2 Tim. 3:1-9). When an authoritative religion such as that revealed in the Scriptures is thrown into the discard, the inevitable result is a moral and spiritual breakdown of civilization.
The conflict between labor and capital (James 5:1-6). These two classes have always existed and there has been perpetual antagonism between them. According to James, it becomes very pronounced in the end time, with those who have accumulated vast fortunes pitted against the great laboring classes.
The rise of lawlessness and decay of civil government and authority. This prediction is found in Dan. 2, which gives a description of the metallic image, the symbol of the four world empires. The legs consist of iron but the feet and the toes of iron and clay. This brittle or miry clay has no cohesive power; hence, though there is in it the strength of iron there is also the element of weakness, which is symbolized by the clay. Since we see the injection into all governments of an extreme socialized democracy with its discontent and disorganization, we may be certain that this condition is signified by the clay.
There are other indications of the closing age which are set forth in the Scriptures, but the ones enumerated are the outstanding signs of the times.
Why Another Version?
I have always preferred to use the American Standard Version, 1901, as it presents a most accurate rendering of the Word of God. Weymouth in his New Testament in Modern Speech has given us an excellent modern translation which is true to the text, although occasionally his readings border on a paraphrase, and other individual versions have been made more recently, some of which are most excellent and the merits of them is freely acknowledged.
Our present day English is so very far removed from that of the time when the Common or King James Version was made that it becomes difficult sometimes for those of us who are less familiar with the English of over three hundred and fifty years ago to get the full force of the original idiom. Thus I felt that a literal and accurate translation in modern day English which follows the original text most loyally would be advantageous for this exposition.
In a few instances a paragraph division has been made which is not indicated in the American Standard Version. For instance, the translators' failure to make a paragraph at Matt. 24:9 has hindered the proper understanding of the drift of thought.
In a few cases a secondary or derived meaning was chosen for certain words of the original text. This has been done only when the context demanded such procedure. As we shall see in this investigation, the only rule by which one may be guided in the study of any language is to take every word at its primary, ordinary, usual, literal meaning unless there is absolute and positive proof in the immediate context and also in the general teaching of Scripture which demands a secondary or a derived meaning. That such a course was demanded by the facts of each context where I have chosen a secondary connotation is evident from the footnotes in the American Standard Version. Only when the context demands a secondary meaning are we justified in accepting one.
Only One Such Discourse?
Is the same discourse recorded in Matt. 24,25, Mark 13 and Luke 21? This question is sometimes asked by conservative, believing students. While as a rule scholars answer this in the affirmative, some have questioned the correctness of this position since Luke's record does not move in the same groove throughout the discourse along with Matthew and Mark. Luke's account has much that is not given by the other two writers, and he omits much given by them. In this connection, Matthew alone gives the material found in chapter 25 of his record.consummation used in Matt. 24:3 literally means to end together or at the same time. The term, rendered end in vss. 6 and 14, in the verbal form means to bring to a close, to finish, to end. The pictorial conception of this word may be illustrated by roads converging at one point. Evidently it was chosen because of data found in Zech. 14, which undoubtedly was in the apostles' minds when they asked these questions.
That our Lord frequently repeated His utterances and discourses is seen when making a close study of the Gospel narratives. In view of this, it becomes necessary for us to examine the context of each passage to learn the occasion, place and time of the discourse recorded.
The place and occasion: Matthew and Mark record Jesus' discourse on the Mount of Olives after he left the Temple on the last day of His public ministry.
Mark (12:41-44) tells of his observation of the worshipers in the Temple as they cast their gifts into the treasury and connects this incident with the Olivet discourse.
Though omitting this occurrence, Matthew places Jesus in the Temple immediately before going to the Mount of Olives to deliver this famous prediction. All the circumstances identify the two narratives as records of the same sermon.
Luke (21:1-4) calls attention to our Lord's comment concerning the donors at the Temple and His prediction relative to its destruction, showing that he was talking of the same incident mentioned by Mark. Thus it is evident that all three writers have presented a record of one discourse.
As they moved along the road, the disciples called the Lord's attention to the large stones used in the construction of the Temple and the consecrated gifts placed there by worshipers. Jesus then went out of the sacred precinct and sat down upon the Mount of Olives. Though Luke does not reveal this particular fact, he is in perfect accord with the other two evangelists. All the facts harmonize and can be woven into one story.
The time, as presented in each of these three records, is the same. Mark and Luke place the delivery of this discourse after our Lord sat over against the treasury, noting different individuals who made offerings. After that incident, according to Mark, Jesus went out from the Temple and sat upon the Mount of Olives where he delivered this wonderful discourse. Matthew omits this observation and simply calls attention to His having left the Temple and gone up to the Mount of Olives. These facts identify the time as being the same for the delivery of this sermon as recorded by the three authors. Furthermore, after the records of this incident, each of the evangelists speaks of the Last Supper which followed the delivery of the sermon within two days, thus confirming the time of the records.
The careful reader who has examined the translations above finds the similarities so striking and pronounced that he immediately identifies the three records as an account of one discourse. Since the three agree in the main yet two of them contain information not included by the other, it is convenient for the reader to have the three records side by side, as is done in all harmonies of the Gospel. By having in parallel columns those verses opposite each other that deal with the same matter, one can, at a glance, see all the facts as presented by the historians.
An Oriental Arrangement
In the Western world during these modern times the lecturer, speaker or writer outlines his material logically and follows a definite plan. The Orientals of our Lord's day did not place such great stress upon logical division. Since Christ gave His revelation in the terms and the style current in His day, it is to be assumed that there are not the clear-cut and well-defined divisions of material which we would expect in a modern college seminary or in university lectures. Logic in the lecture room is one thing; Life and reality are another, and our Lord was dealing with these. Hence we see a blending of His teachings, one with the other.
Warning Against False Christs
And Jesus answered and said unto them. Take heed that no man lead you astray. For many shall come in my name, saying, I am the Christ [Messiah]; and shall lead many astray. (Matt. 24:4,5 A.S.V.)
Jewish history enumerates a number of false prophets who have laid claims to Messianic honors. They have taken advantage of certain conditions and preyed at different times upon the credulity of the Hebrew people. Claiming to be the Messiah, they have always gained a following--some larger than others. Inevitably the deluded populace has suffered the effects of disappointment and often political and civil disabilities resulted. In my book Messiah: His First Coming Scheduled, I have given a cross-section of a few of the Messianic movements in Israel which have swept many innocent people into a vortex of suffering and calamity.
According to our Lord's prediction, there will arise many false christs in the end time, giving themselves out as the expected Redeemer. As in the past so in the future--they will gain many adherents. Here our Lord warned His disciples against these pretenders.
The first question as given by Matthew was, "Tell us, when will these things be ...?" We will study the answer to this question next.