What Does Matthew 24 (The Olivet Discourse) Really Mean? Is It About the End Times?

Please read this and think about it. I know that some of you probably sigh and close your browser any time you see that I have written about eschatology. But I promise this will be short. I simply want to give you some food for thought. I am using the New International Version for all scriptures quoted here.

A conversation with a friend of mine has sparked new life in my interest in eschatology, the study of last things. This is an unfortunate term for the subject since my belief holds that most of the “end times” prophecies of scripture have already taken place. Now I will admit that I can not answer every objection that folks may have. I cannot explain every one of the signs of Revelation but there are some things for which I can boldly and unwaveringly give an answer.

My friend and I have not yet started talking about Revelation. Lately we have been discussing the Olivet Discourse. You may not know it by that name but you no doubt are familiar with the passages of which I speak. I am talking about Matthew 24, Mark 13, and Luke 21. These three chapters outline the same discussion that Jesus had with his disciples. Jesus is leaving the temple and his disciples say to him (this is a paraphrase) “Jesus, look at these buildings that make up the temple. They are beautiful.” Jesus responds the same way in all three accounts: “I tell you the truth, not one stone here will be left on another; every one will be thrown down” or some variation thereof.

Then the disciples ask him a question. In Matthew they ask “When will this happen and what will be the sign of your coming and the end of age?” In Mark and Luke they are recorded as asking simply “When will these things happen and what will be the signs that they are about to be fulfilled?” Some would argue that in Matthew they are asking three different questions. I submit that based on the answer Jesus gave in all three accounts, that they were asking simply one question. They had one thing in mind that they wanted to know and that is what Jesus told them.

These passages are used by many end times prophecy teachers to refer to the last days of planet Earth and the second coming of Jesus Christ. I believe there are many passages that they can point to in order to teach on the Second Coming, but this is not one of them. Some are honest enough to admit that at least some of this passage is not about the Second Coming but is about the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 A.D. but they will still hold out some of it as “yet to come”. I believe that both of these camps are wrong.

I did a short study recently because my friend that I mentioned before used the argument that in Matthew 24, the disciples asked and Jesus was answering two or even three different question. So in my study I read through Matthew 24 and the answer Jesus gives the disciples and I made note of the major signs and events that He outlines. This passage includes such signs and events as “wars and rumors of wars”, “nation will rise against nation”, believers handed over to be punished or killed, the gospel of the Kingdom preached to every nation, the abomination of desolation, false christs, sun darkened/moon withholds its light, Son of Man coming on the clouds, gathering of the elect. These are the major signs given in all three accounts (Matt. 24, Mark 13, Luke 21).

Jesus then makes a declaration at the end of all three. He is recorded as saying the same exact sentence in all three of the synoptic gospels: “I tell you the truth, this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened.” Look it up for yourselves.

My friend is in error in saying that in Matthew 24 Jesus is answering multiple questions because in the other two accounts only one question is asked and Jesus STILL gives the same answer. Furthermore he states that ALL of the signs and events will have been fulfilled before the generation to whom he was speaking passed away. That means that within that generation’s lifetime they would have seen nation rising against nation and kingdom against kingdom, the abomination of desolation, the Son of Man coming on the clouds of Heaven, the gathering of the elect.

Now Luke gives us even more insight. In Luke 21:20-22 the author tells us exactly, in no uncertain terms, what the events will look like: “When you see Jerusalem being surrounded by armies, you will know that its desolation is near. Then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains, let those in the city get out, and let those in the country not enter the city. For this is the time of punishment in fulfillment of all that has been written.” This happened in 70 A.D. when Jerusalem and its temple were destroyed utterly by the Roman army led by Titus.

Weigh the evidence for yourselves. Put aside your sacred cows and what you may have been told by so-called prophecy experts. Be a Berean. The scripture is there for you to read, so read it already! Take God’s word for what it says. This generation will not pass away. No, I can not say exactly how each sign was fulfilled. The gathering of the elect? I’m not sure what that looked like. One school of thought is that this is a reference of the gospel being preached and multitudes of people getting saved between the time of Christ’s ascension and 70 A.D. (see Col. 1:23). But I know from Jesus’ own words that it happened before that generation passed away. I don’t know about you, but I pretty well trust anything Jesus has to say.

Josh H.


7 Responses to “What Does Matthew 24 (The Olivet Discourse) Really Mean? Is It About the End Times?”

  1. September 8, 2008 at 8:45 pm

    It’s always been a mystery that people who hold to ‘Left Behind’ theology disregard the context of the Olivet discourse and Revelation. One one hand, in the Olivet discourse, Jesus is talking pretty plainly about things and answering questions that are plainly asked to him. And yet, dispensationalists are quick to say that Jesus was speaking in metaphors when talking about ‘this generation.’ And yet, in the book of Revalation, which is full of metaphor and word pictures, they insist on taking things like a millenium completely literally.

  2. 2 Renee
    September 8, 2008 at 9:06 pm

    Good post, Josh. I admire your “Bereaness” (great new term, don’t you think?) to read scripture, listen to the opinions of others, and come to your own conclusions – tossing aside preconceived notions and looking for the honest truth of Scripture.

    Great comment, Matt. I had never actually thought of how backwards the dispensationists’ are in their of literal/metaphorical views of Scripture.

  3. September 8, 2008 at 11:07 pm

    @Renee: Thanks! I really labor over this stuff. Not to win an argument…but because I want to know the truth. I don’t want to go around believing erroneous things about God’s word.

    @Matt: No joke! Strange, ain’t it?

  4. September 8, 2008 at 11:20 pm

    Too true, too true.

    The thing that gets me is that, in denying these events as fulfilled in the lifetime of Jesus’ original audience, we’ve got 1) Jesus making out like he was answering their question(s) when he was actually misleading them into missing the signs of the destruction of the temple (which is what they were asking about), and 2) giving them a sign in answer to their request that would definitely result in a false positive. Here’s what I mean.

    1) The disciples, in no uncertain terms, are asking how they were going to know when all this – especially the destruction of the temple – was about to happen. Jesus then supposedly goes off on a tangent and mixes it all up, talking about eschatological events some two millennia in the future. So if the disciples were supposed to gauge the nearness of the destruction of the temple (their original question, mind) by Jesus’ answer, they would never have seen it coming, because the moon didn’t turn to blood, the stars didn’t fall, etc. “Gee thanks, Jesus. Coulda mentioned you were talking about something totally unrelated!”

    2) If somehow they caught that he changed the subject midstream and started prophesying the end of the world, they would have seen the events surrounding the destruction of Jerusalem as the time in which those supposedly literal cosmic events were to take place – having been misled by one of the “signs” of his coming. Read Luke 21.20-22, quoted above, again. “When you see Jerusalem being surrounded by armies, you will know that its desolation is near. Then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains, let those in the city get out, and let those in the country not enter the city. For this is the time of punishment in fulfillment of all that has been written.” All this is in the future? Sure would have looked to them like it was happening before their very eyes – they would have been wrong not to think of the Olivet Discourse “when [they saw] Jerusalem surrounded by armies” before that generation passed away in the first century. Surely they would have felt betrayed (and with good reason) to find that Jesus was not talking about what was happening to them at all!

  5. 5 Al
    September 14, 2008 at 2:55 pm

    Very interesting!
    I have alot to learn.

  6. 6 thekeynote00
    January 9, 2009 at 9:11 am

    I think you have the correct concept. Jesus says in Matt 24:14, “this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.” Which has lead many to take the view that we must preach the gospel to the ends of the earth and THEN the end will come. Yet, looking at scripture Paul wrote in Colossians 1:23b “This is the gospel that you heard and that has been proclaimed to every creature under heaven, and of which I, Paul, have become a servant.” This letter was written anywhere between 58-62 AD, before the destruction of the temple. Thus Jesus words do more clearly fit the idea that Jesus was not talking about “end times” but the end of the temple.

  7. January 9, 2009 at 2:34 pm

    Amen, thekeynote00. I could not have said it better or more succinctly. Thanks for dropping by!

Comments are currently closed.


Subscribe to Posts

Subscribe to Comments

Add to Technorati Favorites Technorati


Read the Old Stuff


%d bloggers like this: