The Olivet Discourse

Introduction

Near the end of His earthly ministry, Jesus astounded his disciples by foretelling the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem. This led into the longest and most detailed of all the prophecies given by Jesus, and it was recorded in each of the three synoptic gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke). Jesus was sitting on the Mount of Olives as he spoke these things (Matt 24:3, Mark 13:3), and so this particular prophecy has come to be known as the Olivet Discourse. His prophecy included comments about His second coming, which is why it is deemed relevant to the prophecy in Revelation.

As to be expected, there are many disagreements among theologians regarding how to understand the written accounts of the Olivet Discourse. In this article, we will look at all three of the gospel accounts in parallel. We will discuss the interpretive challenges, some of the conflicting opinions, and I will offer my own thoughts on how to best understand the things Jesus taught in this prophecy.

Overview of the Three Accounts

The three written accounts of the Olivet Discourse prophecy are as follows:

  • Matthew 24:1-51 – Matthew’s account is the most often referenced because it is the longest and most detailed. His account actually extends beyond this prophetic portion into Matthew 25:1-46, where Jesus gave some parables concerning His coming at the end of the age and the final judgment.
  • Mark 13:1-37 — Mark’s account is quite similar to Matthew’s but with generally less detail. Still, it offers a different perspective that assists in the overall understanding. Mark is known to have been a close companion of Peter, so it is generally assumed that Peter is the primary source for Mark’s account.
  • Luke 21:5-36 — Luke’s account offers more variation from Matthew’s account. Of course, Luke’s gospel is a compilation of accounts he obtained as he sought to record the historical events of his day from eyewitnesses (Luke 1:1-4). We don’t know with certainty the sources Luke used for his account, although it’s likely that he spoke with John, given that: (1) Luke evidently spoke to Mary (e.g. Luke 2:48, 51) and that (2) she likely stayed with John (based on Jesus’ request to him in John 19:26,27).

Some of the things that Jesus spoke about in the Olivet Discourse also appear in Luke 17:22-37. The account in Luke 17 was an earlier occasion in which Jesus was discussing the end-times to His disciples. Since it is related material, we will also examine that passage in this article.

There are some differences between the three gospel accounts, but this is not a problem since they are not contradictory. It is only natural that different people would express their recollection of what they heard differently or emphasize different things. Even so, we must still resolve the differences in a manner that is consistent with each other and with other related scriptures.

All three accounts begin with Jesus leaving the temple, and each account (especially Matthew) indicates that he left the temple shortly after he confronted and spoke judgment against the Pharisees (Matt 23:34-39, Mark 12:12, Luke 20:45-47). This judgment against Israel’s leaders (and by extension their followers) provides the setting for the Olivet Discourse.

The Temple Destruction Foretold

MATTHEW – 1Jesus came out from the temple and was going away when His disciples came up to point out the temple buildings to Him. 2And He said to them, “Do you not see all these things? Truly I say to you, not one stone here will be left upon another, which will not be torn down.”

MARK – 1As He was going out of the temple, one of His disciples said to Him, “Teacher, behold what wonderful stones and what wonderful buildings!” 2And Jesus said to him, “Do you see these great buildings? Not one stone will be left upon another which will not be torn down.”

LUKE – 5And while some were talking about the temple, that it was adorned with beautiful stones and votive gifts, He said, 6“As for these things which you are looking at, the days will come in which there will not be left one stone upon another which will not be torn down.”

First, we see some of the disciples commenting to Jesus about the beauty and grandeur of the temple. That is when Jesus stunned them with his reply (related almost identically in each account) that the whole beautiful temple would be completely torn down!

To the Jew, nothing could be more devastating than the destruction of the temple. The disciples would surely connect the foretold destruction of the temple with God’s judgment, especially in view of Jesus’ very recent words of judgment against Israel’s leaders. After all, Israel’s temple had been destroyed once before (by Babylon in in 586 BC), and that came as an act of God’s judgment against His people Israel, and especially their leaders (e.g. 2 Chron 36:11-12, 14, 15-16, 17, 18, 19). A second temple was constructed and completed in 515 BC, about 70 years after the first temple was destroyed. Jesus is now telling His disciples that this second temple would also be destroyed.

We now know of course that Jesus’ prophecy concerning the destruction of the second temple was fulfilled when Rome sacked Jerusalem in 70 AD, about 40 years after Jesus spoke this prophecy.

The Disciples’ Questions: When and How?

MATTHEW – 3As He was sitting on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to Him privately, saying, “Tell us, when will these things happen, and what will be the sign of Your coming, and of the end of the age?”

MARK – 3As He was sitting on the Mount of Olives opposite the temple, Peter and James and John and Andrew were questioning Him privately, 4“Tell us, when will these things be, and what will be the sign when all these things are going to be fulfilled?”

LUKE – 7They questioned Him, saying, “Teacher, when therefore will these things happen? And what will be the sign when these things are about to take place?”

Naturally, the disciples had questions about this terrible prophecy concerning the destruction of the temple. However, Matthew and Mark make it clear that their questions were not asked immediately after the prophecy. The prophecy was made as Jesus was leaving the temple, but they did not ask Jesus to explain it until after they had reached and ascended the Mount of Olives, which is a walk of over two miles.

During their walk, the disciples would surely have been discussing the prophecy among themselves and forming their own ideas about what Jesus meant. When Jesus finally sat down, they questioned him privately about the prophecy.

The questions that they posed to Jesus reveal some of their ideas about how this prophecy would be carried out. Specifically, they assumed that the destruction of the temple, the return of Christ, and the end of the age would all occur at around the same time, effectively as one big event. Their questions also indicate that they thought that the prophecy would be fulfilled in their own lifetimes, since they wanted to know what sign would appear to alert them that the time had come. The disciples may have anticipated that they would then be given their roles as judges over the tribes of Israel, based on Jesus’ earlier promise in Matt 19:28, “And Jesus said to them, “Truly I say to you, that you who have followed Me, in the regeneration when the Son of Man will sit on His glorious throne, you also shall sit upon twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.

Perhaps their assumption about one big event within their own lifetimes was understandable given what Jesus had just recently said to the Pharisees in Matt 23:39, “For I say to you, from now on you will not see Me until you say, ‘BLESSED IS HE WHO COMES IN THE NAME OF THE LORD!’”. From this, they may have reasoned that this big event would mark the restoration of the kingdom of Israel, with even those Pharisees being there to acknowledge the coming of Jesus as king. Perhaps they assumed that king Jesus would then create an even more wondrous temple.

Of course, the assumptions formed in the minds of the disciples are not necessarily in agreement with the fulfillment of the prophecy as known in the mind of Christ.

Jesus Answers the Questions

We will see that Jesus provided a lengthy answer to His disciples’ questions. For the sake of discussion, I have divided His answer into ten sections so that we can step through and contemplate His answer one section at a time.

As we go forward, the reader is invited to consider the interpretive challenges that theologians have been debating for centuries:

  1. Does the prophecy refer to the destruction of the temple in 70 AD?
  2. Does the prophecy refer to the end-times?
  3. If the prophecy (in some sense) refers to both 70 AD and the end-times, how do we “draw the line” between the two?

Ultimately, we shall also consider how Jesus answered the disciples’ questions:

  • How did Jesus answer the question about when these things would happen?
  • How did Jesus answer the question about the sign that would portend His coming and the end of the age?

Answer Section 1: Birth Pangs

MATTHEW – 4And Jesus answered and said to them, “See to it that no one misleads you. 5“For many will come in My name, saying, ‘I am the Christ,’ and will mislead many. 6“You will be hearing of wars and rumors of wars. See that you are not frightened, for those things must take place, but that is not yet the end. 7“For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom, and in various places there will be famines and earthquakes. 8“But all these things are merely the beginning of birth pangs.

MARK – 5And Jesus began to say to them, “See to it that no one misleads you. 6“Many will come in My name, saying, ‘I am He!’ and will mislead many. 7“When you hear of wars and rumors of wars, do not be frightened; those things must take place; but that is not yet the end. 8“For nation will rise up against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; there will be earthquakes in various places; there will also be famines. These things are merely the beginning of birth pangs.

LUKE – 8And He said, “See to it that you are not misled; for many will come in My name, saying, ‘I am He,’ and, ‘The time is near.’ Do not go after them. 9“When you hear of wars and disturbances, do not be terrified; for these things must take place first, but the end does not follow immediately.” 10Then He continued by saying to them, “Nation will rise against nation and kingdom against kingdom, 11and there will be great earthquakes, and in various places plagues and famines; and there will be terrors and great signs from heaven.

Analysis: Right away, Jesus indicates that the fulfillment may not be as simple as the disciples may have assumed. Although the disciples asked Jesus for a positive sign of His coming, Jesus begins by warning them that there would first be many false Christs and unreliable signs, accompanied by instructions to neither be misled nor frightened by such signs.

Jesus began by mentioning false Christs, and His disciples must have wondered how they could possibly fail to distinguish between Jesus and some impostor. However, Jesus is clearly conveying the idea that such a mistake would be possible, which suggests that He would be going away and coming back in a different form. His warning is that before he comes back, there would be many false Christs.

Among the unreliable signs, Jesus mentioned wars, rumors of war, plagues, famines, and earthquakes. That is, people will see major political and natural calamities and be tempted to believe that these things are signs that they are in the end of the age. Jesus is warning his followers that even though these things will happen, they are not to be construed as signs. According to Luke’s account, Jesus also mentioned great signs from heaven, which I take to be another type of unreliable sign. This would include things like solar and lunar eclipses, comets, meteors, lightning, the motion of planets, the arrangement of stars, and any other such phenomena observed in the sky. Again, such things will happen but they are not to be construed to be signs.

Jesus describes these things as “the beginning of birth pangs“, thus employing the metaphor of a pregnant woman. The first birth pangs she feels (today called “Braxton-Hicks contractions”) may come several weeks before she actually gives birth, and they are sometimes even called “false labor pains”. She should not be alarmed by these feelings. Even so, she should be aware that more severe real labor pains will be coming, and those pains should alert her that childbirth is underway. This metaphor fits perfectly with the point Jesus is making in this section.

Could this pertain to the 70 AD fulfillment? Yes, it may pertain in the sense that during the years leading up to 70 AD, Israel witnessed the types of deceptions that Jesus had warned about. The Jewish historian Josephus described the period under Roman Emperor Claudius (who died 54 AD) as a time of many false prophets, magicians, and impostors.

Also during years the before 70 AD, there were rumors of wars. Most notable was the decree of Emperor Caligula in 39 AD claiming that he was a deity and that a statue of himself should be placed in the Jewish temple. This would have led to war except that Caligula was assassinated in 41 AD. Later, a Jewish revolt against Rome in 66 AD sharply increased tensions and ultimately led to the destruction of the temple in 70 AD, fulfilling Christ’s prophecy about the destruction of the temple (as well as Daniel’s prophecy in Dan 9:26).

Could this pertain to the end-times fulfillment? Yes, because the warnings that Jesus gives here about false Christs and false signs seems to parallel perfectly the prophecies of the end-times in Revelation.

We observe that the first four seal events in Revelation 6 begin with the emergence of a false Christ in the first seal event. This is followed by war (second seal), famine (third seal), and plague (fourth seal), which correspond well with these unreliable signs that Jesus mentioned (e.g. Luke 21:9, 11). In the context of Revelation, we should understand that even though the first four seal events will take place in the end-times, they are still not reliable signs of the end-times. That’s because there have been multiple wars, famines, and plagues in history, and we may see more of these things in the future. We have no reliable way to know which ones will be the fulfillment of these first four seal events.

Does this provide a sign? No. So far Jesus has only mentioned that there will be false Christs and unreliable signs, and He has explicitly cautioned his followers to not accept these things as signs of His coming.

Answer Section 2: Persecution

MATTHEW – 9“Then they will deliver you to tribulation, and will kill you, and you will be hated by all nations because of My name. 10“At that time many will fall away and will betray one another and hate one another. 11“Many false prophets will arise and will mislead many. 12“Because lawlessness is increased, most people’s love will grow cold. 13“But the one who endures to the end, he will be saved. 14“This gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all the nations, and then the end will come.

MARK – 9“But be on your guard; for they will deliver you to the courts, and you will be flogged in the synagogues, and you will stand before governors and kings for My sake, as a testimony to them. 10“The gospel must first be preached to all the nations. 11“When they arrest you and hand you over, do not worry beforehand about what you are to say, but say whatever is given you in that hour; for it is not you who speak, but it is the Holy Spirit. 12 “Brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child; and children will rise up against parents and have them put to death. 13“You will be hated by all because of My name, but the one who endures to the end, he will be saved.

LUKE – 12“But before all these things, they will lay their hands on you and will persecute you, delivering you to the synagogues and prisons, bringing you before kings and governors for My name’s sake. 13“It will lead to an opportunity for your testimony. 14“So make up your minds not to prepare beforehand to defend yourselves; 15for I will give you utterance and wisdom which none of your opponents will be able to resist or refute. 16“But you will be betrayed even by parents and brothers and relatives and friends, and they will put some of you to death, 17and you will be hated by all because of My name. 18“Yet not a hair of your head will perish. 19“By your endurance you will gain your lives.

Analysis: Jesus speaks here about a time of persecution for His followers, with indications that persecution will come from people they wouldn’t expect it from. Matthew mentions those who “fall away” and “betray one another” and how most people’s “love grows cold”, which suggests that persecution may come from those once considered friends and fellow believers. Mark and Luke mention betrayal from close family members and friends, and that persecution will occur not only at the personal level but also at governmental levels. Even so, Jesus tells them that those who remain faithful will be saved despite the persecution. Note that “being saved” doesn’t necessarily mean that your life on earth will be spared (Matt 24:9, Mark 13:12, Luke 21:16).

Mark and Luke recorded that Jesus told His disciples to not worry about what to say when confronted by their persecutors, because they shall be given divine utterances of truth and wisdom at that time. Jesus had given them that same advice earlier when He sent them out to preach the gospel in the towns of Israel (Matt 10:19-20) and when they were brought before the hostile Jewish religious leaders (Luke 12:11-12). Stephen is an example of a follower of Christ who received the promised inspiration under trial (Acts 6:8, 10, 7:54-55).

Matthew and Mark both say that “the one who endures to the end will be saved”, and Matthew concludes by saying that after the gospel reaches the whole world, then the end will come. We may rightfully question what could be meant by “the end” in these verses.

Could this pertain to the 70 AD fulfillment? Yes, these warning were certainly applicable during the years from 30-70 AD. Followers of Jesus were taken to synagogues, representing persecution from the hostile Jewish leadership. On an earlier occasion, Jesus had spoken very similar warnings to His disciples about such persecution in the near-term context of being Christ’s witnesses in Israel (Matt 10:17, 18, 19, 20, 21, 22, 23). The stoning of Stephen is one example of deadly persecution of Christians from the Jews (Acts 7:58-60, Acts 8:1-3).

Being brought before kings and governors speaks about the persecution of Christians from the ruling government, which certainly occurred before 70 AD (e.g. Paul himself in Acts 23-26). The death of the apostle James is an example of deadly persecution from the ruling government (Acts 12:1-2). Of course, the Roman persecution of Christians continued long after the 70 AD destruction of the temple.

In the context of 70 AD, what could the references to “the end” mean?

  • Perhaps those “who endure to the end and will be saved “ are His followers who escaped Jerusalem before the attack from Rome commenced, in which case “the end” refers to the destruction of the temple. In any case, it may be seen as an assurance that a faithful remnant of Israel will be preserved.
  • However, the statement that “this gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all the nations, and then the end will come” is more difficult. The assertion that the gospel had been preached to all nations by 70 AD is extremely tenuous. Arguably, the church had laid down some roots in many places throughout the Roman Empire, but this doesn’t quite satisfy the universal scope of the passage. Therefore, this statement sounds more like something that will happen after the destruction of the temple, in which case “the end” must refer to some greater end beyond 70 AD.

Could this pertain to the end-times fulfillment? Yes. There are end-times prophecies indicating that there will be a large-scale apostasy (2 Thes 2:3) and persecution at the governmental level (Rev 13:5-7, Dan 7:25). However, the statement about being brought into synagogues and flogged doesn’t seem to fit the end times as well.

The instructions to not worry about what to say and instead rely on the Holy Spirit also fits well with things we read about living in the end times. Jesus promises that those who keep His word of perseverance shall be strengthened during the coming tribulation (Rev 3:10). As discussed in Living During the Great Tribulation, Daniel’s reliance on God during the Babylonian captivity was rewarded with great wisdom and blessings in the difficult trials he faced, exemplifying how Christians should live during the persecution of the great tribulation (Rev 17:5-6).

In the context of the end-times, what could the references to “the end” mean?

  • Those who endure to the end and will be saved could easily refer to those saints who persevere amid the tribulation of the end-times, refuse the mark of the beast, and hold to the gospel of Jesus (Rev 12:11, 13:10, 14:12-13, 15:2), because shall will find salvation in heaven (Rev 20:4, 7:14, 15, 16).
  • The statement that “this gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all the nations, and then the end will come” actually fits better in the end-times context since the gospel will have already been preached around the world, certainly aided by modern means of communication. Furthermore, the end-times will feature 144,000 Jews (Rev 14:5), the two witnesses (Rev 11:3), and the faithful victorious Christians (Rev 12:11), all at work holding to the gospel during the great tribulation. Of course, the great tribulation will be followed by God’s wrath upon the earth, which may rightfully be called “the end” (Rev 15:1).

Does this provide a sign? Not really. One might suppose that the persecution could be considered a sign, but God’s people have always been subject to persecution, and they always will be up until the end. The passages in this section provide no means by which one may positively identify one particular period of persecution as a sign. However, we may see a distinct way to identify the persecution as a sign in the next section below.

Answer Section 3: The Abomination of Desolation

MATTHEW – 15“Therefore when you see the ABOMINATION OF DESOLATION which was spoken of through Daniel the prophet, standing in the holy place (let the reader understand), 16then those who are in Judea must flee to the mountains. 17“Whoever is on the housetop must not go down to get the things out that are in his house. 18“Whoever is in the field must not turn back to get his cloak. 19“But woe to those who are pregnant and to those who are nursing babies in those days! 20“But pray that your flight will not be in the winter, or on a Sabbath.

MARK – 14“But when you see the ABOMINATION OF DESOLATION standing where it should not be (let the reader understand), then those who are in Judea must flee to the mountains. 15“The one who is on the housetop must not go down, or go in to get anything out of his house; 16and the one who is in the field must not turn back to get his coat. 17“But woe to those who are pregnant and to those who are nursing babies in those days! 18“But pray that it may not happen in the winter.

LUKE – 20“But when you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies, then recognize that her desolation is near. 21“Then those who are in Judea must flee to the mountains, and those who are in the midst of the city must leave, and those who are in the country must not enter the city; 22because these are days of vengeance, so that all things which are written will be fulfilled. 23a “Woe to those who are pregnant and to those who are nursing babies in those days;

Analysis: This section begins by Jesus finally giving his disciples the first distinct sign they had asked for. He calls it the “Abomination of Desolation” in Matthew and Mark, and “her (Israel’s) desolation” in Luke.

In Matthew’s account, Jesus makes it clear that he is foretelling an event that had already been foretold by Daniel the prophet. Both Matthew and Mark add the remark, “let the reader understand” while Luke adds “so that all things which are written will be fulfilled“. With these remarks, Jesus calls attention to the fact that He and Daniel are, in some sense, speaking about the same time period. That is, when the followers of Jesus see this abomination of desolation sign, then they (assumed to be readers of the prophet Daniel) should understand that these things they read about in Daniel’s prophecy are actually being fulfilled.

The prophecy of this abomination of desolation event is actually encompassed by two passages in Daniel:

  1. Dan 9:27 – “And he will make a firm covenant with the many for one week, but in the middle of the week he will put a stop to sacrifice and grain offering; and on the wing of abominations will come one who makes desolate, even until a complete destruction, one that is decreed, is poured out on the one who makes desolate.”,
  2. Dan 12:11 – “From the time that the regular sacrifice is abolished and the abomination of desolation is set up, there will be 1,290 days”.

Luke’s account adds that this event will be marked by the sight of Jerusalem surrounded by armies.

Jesus then goes on to describe this event as the beginning of a merciless attack on the Jews. They are told to flee the city immediately and head for the mountains, with woes pronounced to anyone who might be impeded by pregnancy, the care of babies, by cold weather, or by Sabbath observances.

Could this pertain to the 70 AD fulfillment? Yes, these could easily be describing the attack from Rome in 70 AD. Jerusalem was indeed surrounded by Roman armies in the siege, which culminated with thousands of Jews killed and Jerusalem and its temple in ruins. In fact, Jesus gave a similar description about the destruction of the temple in Luke 19:41-44, “41When He approached Jerusalem, He saw the city and wept over it, 42saying, “If you had known in this day, even you, the things which make for peace! But now they have been hidden from your eyes. 43“For the days will come upon you when your enemies will throw up a barricade against you, and surround you and hem you in on every side, 44and they will level you to the ground and your children within you, and they will not leave in you one stone upon another, because you did not recognize the time of your visitation.

In the context of 70 AD, the abomination of desolation could simply be the pagan Roman soldiers entering, ransacking, and burning the Jewish temple.

Could this pertain to the end-times fulfillment? Yes. In fact the prophecies of Daniel referenced by Jesus fit much more naturally into the end-times context because the wicked ruler who commits the abomination of desolation will have a decreed destruction, and that there would be 1,290 days after that event. There is no clear way to relate these details in Daniel’s prophecy to the events of 70 AD, but they absolutely relate with prophecies about the end-times.

The wicked ruler of the end-times will clearly have a decreed destruction (Dan 7:26, Rev 17:11, Rev 19:20, 2 Thes 2:8). Also, one can argue that his persecution will extend for 1,290 days before his destruction occurs (Dan 7:25,27, Rev 13:5, 19:20), as discussed in Revelation Overview. This attack on Israel that begins with the abomination of desolation event will be the definitive sign that we are at midpoint of the end-times. This wicked ruler will lead all nations to attack Israel (Rev 16:13, 14), which agrees with what the earlier prophets spoke in regard to the end-times (Joel 3:2, Zech 12:9, Zech 14:2).

Does this provide a sign? Yes. Jesus mentioned a specific event, confirming that it was the same event foretold by the prophet Daniel. In addition to describing what it would be like, He instructed them on what action to take when they saw this event fulfilled. Interestingly, He described it in a manner that could serve as a sign in both the context of 70 AD and in the context of the end-times.

Answer Section 4: Great Tribulation

MATTHEW – 21“For then there will be a great tribulation, such as has not occurred since the beginning of the world until now, nor ever will. 22“Unless those days had been cut short, no life would have been saved; but for the sake of the elect those days will be cut short.

MARK – 19“For those days will be a time of tribulation such as has not occurred since the beginning of the creation which God created until now, and never will. 20“Unless the Lord had shortened those days, no life would have been saved; but for the sake of the elect, whom He chose, He shortened the days.

LUKE – 23 for there will be great distress upon the land and wrath to this people; 24and they will fall by the edge of the sword, and will be led captive into all the nations; and Jerusalem will be trampled under foot by the Gentiles until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled.

Analysis: In the previous section, Jesus said that there will be sign called the “abomination of desolation”, and people should flee when they see it. In this section, he explains why: “For then there will be a great tribulation”. Jesus describes it as period of unprecedented distress that will be marked by killings so extensive that few of the many intended victims would be left alive.

Who will be the victims? Matthew and Mark answer by saying that this period will be “cut short for the sake of the elect”. That is, the victims will be the elect (God’s chosen people). Luke adds that the distress will be wrath that comes upon “this people” and that they will be “led captive into the nations”, which makes it clear that Luke is specifically identifying the Jews in Jerusalem as victims. Luke also says that this period ushers in the “times of the Gentiles”.

It appears that this great tribulation period is the same period of persecution that Jesus mentioned in section 2. In other words, Jesus’ answer so far has been structured as follows:

  • Jesus first indicates that His true coming will be preceded by many false christs and unreliable signs (called “birth pangs”), with instructions to not be deceived by them (section 1).
  • He then informed his disciples that things they asked about would be preceded by a period of persecution (section 2).
  • He gave them the true sign (the abomination of desolation and Jerusalem surrounded by armies) that would precede this persecution (section 3).
  • He describes the scope and magnitude of the persecution (here in section 4).

It seems that there are differences in the focus of these gospel accounts. Luke uses language more applicable to the destruction of the temple and nations surrounding Jerusalem, and judgment against the Jews, while Matthew and Mark use more generic language that describes tribulation against the elect. Unlike Luke, they also mention a shortening of those days for the sake of the elect given in order to spare some of their lives. This isn’t a contradiction, since Jesus could certainly have conveyed both ideas. Having these different perspectives on what He said is actually illuminating.

Could this pertain to the 70 AD fulfillment? Yes. Luke’s account in particular seems to highlight the plight of Jews in Jerusalem since 70 AD. By calling this period the “time of the Gentiles” and saying that His people would be “led captive into all the nations“, it is clear that (1) the attackers are Gentiles, (2) that Gentiles will occupy the land that was given to Israel, and (3) the Jews would be scattered among Gentile lands. Of course we know from history that these things were all fulfilled as the Romans did invade Israel and eventually forced the Jews to be scattered among the Gentile nations.

In the context of 70 AD, the statement that “no life would have been saved; but for the sake of the elect those days will be cut short” is a bit unclear, although it could simply refer to the fact that the Jewish nation and and the covenant relationship with God remained intact even after the attacks and scatterings suffered under Roman rule.

Could this pertain to the end-times fulfillment? Yes. The more generic language used in Matthew’s and Mark’s accounts identify the victims of the tribulation as the elect, which includes Christians (Rom 8:33-34). The end-times prophecies agree with the description of a great tribulation for the saints and followers of Jesus (e.g. Dan 7:25, Rev 6:11, 12:17, 13:7, 14:12, 17:6).

In the context of the end times, the prophecy about those days being cut short for the sake of the elect actually has a clearer meaning if understood as a reference to the rapture event.

Does this provide a sign? The great tribulation isn’t really a sign itself, although it will be a confirmation of the “abomination of desolation” sign given in the previous section.

Answer Section 5: Great Deception

MATTHEW – 23“Then if anyone says to you, ‘Behold, here is the Christ,’ or ‘There He is,’ do not believe him. 24“For false Christs and false prophets will arise and will show great signs and wonders, so as to mislead, if possible, even the elect. 25“Behold, I have told you in advance. 26“So if they say to you, ‘Behold, He is in the wilderness,’ do not go out, or, ‘Behold, He is in the inner rooms,’ do not believe them

MARK – 21“And then if anyone says to you, ‘Behold, here is the Christ’; or, ‘Behold, He is there’; do not believe him; 22for false Christs and false prophets will arise, and will show signs and wonders, in order to lead astray, if possible, the elect. 23“But take heed; behold, I have told you everything in advance.

LUKE – [did not include comments for this section]

Analysis: Matthew and Mark include this section where Jesus warns his followers to not be deceived. This section is similar in to section 1 where Jesus warned them not to go after false Christs and unreliable signs. Here, Jesus repeats the warnings to not be deceived by false Christs and false prophets, but then He goes on to speak about a period where the deceptions are so convincing that they will be supported by great signs and wonders (apparent miracles), such that even the elect (God’s chosen) would be successfully deceived, if that were possible. The implication is that it’s not possible, and yet this great deception might prove to be a test that divides the elect from other professing Christians who are in fact deluded.

In both accounts, Jesus says “Behold, I have told you everything in advance”. This declaration conveys the idea that He may rightfully expect His followers to be sufficiently prepared to face the great deception test when it comes, and prevail.

Could this pertain to the 70 AD fulfillment? Yes, because as mentioned in section 1, there were false prophets in the land leading up to 70 AD. However, one part of this prophecy that doesn’t fit 70 AD so well is the “great signs and wonders”. There is no record of such great wonders being performed at that time. Perhaps some of the false prophets did things to trick some people into thinking they were witnessing miracles, but scripture only uses the terms “great signs and wonders” to describe truly miraculous events, such as healings (Acts 4:16, 5:12, 2 Cor 12:12) and the parting of the Red Sea (Acts 7:36). We should not suppose that these same terms would be used to describe “cheap tricks”.

Could this pertain to the end-times fulfillment? Yes. In fact it seems to fit the context of the end-times even better because the end-times prophecies do mention great signs and wonders being performed by the false prophet in order to deceive the world (Rev 13:13, 14, Rev 16:13-14, 2 Thes 2:8, 9, 10, 11, 12). The point of his deception is to cause people to worship a false Christ (Rev 13:12, 19:20).

Does this provide a sign? I don’t believe this constitutes a sign in the context of 70 AD. However, it certainly would be a sign in the context of the end-times if a religious leader is seen performing astounding miracles such as calling fire down from heaven (as described in Rev 13:14) and apparently making it appear that Antichrist has recovered from a fatal would (as in Rev 13:12, 15).

Answer Section 6: The Return of Christ

MATTHEW – 27“For just as the lightning comes from the east and flashes even to the west, so will the coming of the Son of Man be. 28“Wherever the corpse is, there the vultures will gather. 29“But immediately after the tribulation of those days THE SUN WILL BE DARKENED, AND THE MOON WILL NOT GIVE ITS LIGHT, AND THE STARS WILL FALL from the sky, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken. 30“And then the sign of the Son of Man will appear in the sky, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the SON OF MAN COMING ON THE CLOUDS OF THE SKY with power and great glory. 31“And He will send forth His angels with A GREAT TRUMPET and THEY WILL GATHER TOGETHER His elect from the four winds, from one end of the sky to the other.

MARK – 24“But in those days, after that tribulation, THE SUN WILL BE DARKENED AND THE MOON WILL NOT GIVE ITS LIGHT, 25AND THE STARS WILL BE FALLING from heaven, and the powers that are in the heavens will be shaken. 26“Then they will see THE SON OF MAN COMING IN CLOUDS with great power and glory. 27“And then He will send forth the angels, and will gather together His elect from the four winds, from the farthest end of the earth to the farthest end of heaven.

LUKE – 25“There will be signs in sun and moon and stars, and on the earth dismay among nations, in perplexity at the roaring of the sea and the waves, 26men fainting from fear and the expectation of the things which are coming upon the world; for the powers of the heavens will be shaken. 27“Then they will see THE SON OF MAN COMING IN A CLOUD with power and great glory. 28 “But when these things begin to take place, straighten up and lift up your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.”

Analysis: The disciples had asked about the coming of Christ, and Jesus now finally comes to that topic. He begins by describing that event.

In the context of the overall prophecy, Mark and especially Matthew make it clear that this event will immediately follow the period of great tribulation discussed in section 4, which means that it also follows not too long after the “abomination of desolation” sign that immediately precedes the great tribulation (discussed in section 3).

Jesus says, “just as the lightning comes from the east and flashes even to the west, so will the coming of the Son of Man be“, thus describing His coming using lightning as a metaphor. Choosing this metaphor could only mean that this event would be sudden, widespread, and even evoking a sense of terror.

After introducing His coming with the lightning metaphor, He elaborates further. He says that His coming shall occur at time when the world is darkened due to the loss of light from the sun, moon, and stars. Then there shall be a shaking in the powers of the heavens, which probably signifies a shaking of the entire natural realm (including the earth) as an act of God. Luke’s account may be describing this shaking by its effect on earth, in that there will be huge roaring waves on the seas and people feeling unbearable and utter dread about the fate of the world.

As bad as the darkness and shaking will be, it is at this point that the earth will witness the much more terrifying visible appearance of Christ. Jesus says that His appearance, already likened to lightning, will come “on the clouds of heaven with great power and glory”. Once again, Jesus is connecting the events in His prophecy with events described earlier by the prophet Daniel:

Dan 7:13-14, 13 — “13I kept looking in the night visions, And behold, with the clouds of heaven One like a Son of Man was coming, And He came up to the Ancient of Days And was presented before Him. 14“And to Him was given dominion, Glory and a kingdom, That all the peoples, nations and men of every language Might serve Him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion which will not pass away; And His kingdom is one Which will not be destroyed.

This describes Christ coming in power and glory to receive the kingdom that God had given to Him, while destroying the dominion of Antichrist (as the angel later explained to Daniel in Dan 7:26-27). Matthew also writes that the appearance of Christ will be a time of mourning for all the tribes of the earth, which identifies this as a day of God’s wrath. Note that Jesus would once again identify himself with Daniel’s prophecy during his trial before the chief priests:

Mark 14:61-62 — “61But He kept silent and did not answer. Again the high priest was questioning Him, and saying to Him, “Are You the Christ, the Son of the Blessed One?” 62 And Jesus said, “I am; and you shall see THE SON OF MAN SITTING AT THE RIGHT HAND OF POWER, and COMING WITH THE CLOUDS OF HEAVEN.

From these descriptions, it seems clear that the actual coming of Christ will be an event that will utterly dwarf all other events that people have ever witnessed on earth. It will even dwarf the coming of Antichrist and the great signs and wonders that will accompany his reign. When Christ’s second coming happens, there shall be no doubt about it. This is an important point because we can confidently say that this event has not happened yet.

Side note: From the standpoint of interpreting the prophecies of Daniel, it is highly significant to notice that in His prophecy, Jesus has connected Daniel’s prophecy concerning the abomination of desolation (Dan 9:27, 12:11) to the coming with the clouds of heaven (Dan 7:13). In doing so, He confirms our understanding (discussed in Revelation Overview) that the 70th Week of Daniel relates to the same time period as the other things in Daniel 7, such as the same wicked ruler (Dan 7:8, 21), the time, times, and half a time (Dan 7:25), and the coming of God’s kingdom to earth (Dan 7:27).

Luke’s account concludes with the phrase, “But when these things begin to take place, straighten up and lift up your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.” I take this to be a message to comfort God’s people who are on earth at the time. Note that it is not telling them to straighten up at the visible return of Christ, but rather to straighten up when “these things begin to take place”, which most sensibly refers back to the sign of the abomination of desolation. In other words, He is telling them to take courage when the attack comes and the great tribulation starts, because they can know with certainty that time of redemption is near.

Matthew’s and Mark’s accounts conclude this section by describing angels being sent to gather all of the elect from heaven (Mark says that they will be gathered from both earth and heaven). Of course, there are various ideas about what this means.

Finally, in Matthew’s account, we see Jesus including the comment “where the corpses are, the vultures will gather”. The meaning of this will be discussed later, when we review Luke 17.

Could this pertain to the 70 AD fulfillment? No, or at least not completely.

Could this pertain to the end-times fulfillment? Yes. In fact these things match up perfectly with the end-times prophecies in Revelation, which include darkness (Rev 6:12, 16:10), the shaking (Rev 16:18), and the appearance of Christ in power and glory and wrath (Rev 1:7, Rev 6:16, 17, Rev 19:11-12, 15). The gathering of all the elect from heaven and earth could correspond to the armies that accompany Christ upon his visible return (Rev 19:14, Zech 14:5, Joel 2:10-11).

The statement about “knowing that your redemption is near” in Luke refers to the perseverance of the saints during the tribulation (Rev 13:10, Rev 14:12), their assurance of heaven if killed (Rev 7: 14-15, 16, 17), and their ultimate entrance into the eternal kingdom of God , Rev 21:1, 2, 3, 4).

Does this provide a sign? Yes, in a sense because Jesus even called it “the sign of the Son of Man will appear in the sky” (Matt 24:30). However, this sign is the actual coming of Christ, and not the portent of Christ’s coming that the disciples had asked for. So far, the only definitive portent sign we have seen is the abomination of desolation sign (mentioned in section 3 of the Olivet Discourse, above).

The abomination of desolation sign will be followed by the great tribulation and great deception, which will then be followed all of the things in the bowl judgments that agree perfectly with Jesus’ own description of His return.

Answer Section 7: The Parable of the Fig Tree

MATTHEW – 32“Now learn the parable from the fig tree: when its branch has already become tender and puts forth its leaves, you know that summer is near; 33so, you too, when you see all these things, recognize that He is near, right at the door.

MARK – 28“Now learn the parable from the fig tree: when its branch has already become tender and puts forth its leaves, you know that summer is near. 29“Even so, you too, when you see these things happening, recognize that He is near, right at the door.

LUKE – 29Then He told them a parable: “Behold the fig tree and all the trees; 30as soon as they put forth leaves, you see it and know for yourselves that summer is now near. 31“So you also, when you see these things happening, recognize that the kingdom of God is near.

Analysis: At this point, Jesus has given His disciples (1) the signs that will portend His coming, and (2) a description of how His coming will happen. Jesus now connects these two points with a short and simple parable, followed by a short and simple explanation of the parable.

His parable is based on well-known facts about fig trees and seasons. In particular, it is known that a fig tree produces leaves in the spring, and that spring is followed by summer. As such, one can know with certainty that summer is near simply by watching for the sign of leaves on a fig tree.

This is not a difficult parable, but to remove any doubt about what it means, Jesus explained it to them. There are just two figurative relationships:

  1. Seeing the fig tree produce leaves” figuratively corresponds to “seeing these things” that Jesus had just prophesied to them (i.e. the signs).
  2. Knowing that summer is near” figuratively corresponds to “knowing that the coming of Christ is near” (i.e. the event He described).

The point Jesus is making with this parable is that the sign of the event and the event itself will be near to each other. He even emphasized the nearness by saying that it is “right at the door”. This can only mean that once the sign appears, it will be a short wait until the event of Christ’s return, even by human reckoning.

As discussed earlier, the things that Christ gave as signs are the abomination of desolation and Jerusalem surrounded by armies, and that these signs will be further confirmed by a period of tribulation and deception.

Could this pertain to the 70 AD fulfillment? Yes. In this case, the most applicable sign is the Jerusalem being surrounded by armies (Luke 21:20). The short wait between the sign and the fulfillment may be reckoned as the six month period between the start of the siege (in February of 70 AD) to the destruction of the temple (in August of 70 AD). This period could certainly be considered a time of great tribulation for God’s elect, all as Jesus foretold.

Could this pertain to the end-times fulfillment? Yes. In this case, the applicable sign is the abomination of desolation foretold by Daniel. The short wait between the sign and the fulfillment may be reckoned to be 1290 days (Dan 12:11), which includes 1260 days (or 42 months) for the great tribulation (Rev 12: Rev 13), which leaves 30 days for the bowl events that lead up to Christ’s visible return at the conclusion of the bowl period. This corresponds to the short times mentioned in Revelation (Rev 6:11, Rev 12:12). This period will be a time of great tribulation on the earth, especially for God’s elect, all as Jesus foretold.

Does this provide a sign? Although it doesn’t identify a sign, the whole point of the parable is to teach Christ’s followers that there will be signs by which they can know that the coming of God’s judgment is near, right at the door.

Answer Section 8: Comments About Timing

MATTHEW – 34“Truly I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things take place. 35“Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will not pass away. 36“But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father alone.

MARK – 30“Truly I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things take place. 31“Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will not pass away. 32“But of that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but the Father alone.

LUKE – 32“Truly I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all things take place. 33“Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will not pass away.

Analysis: This section perhaps generates the most controversy among theologians. The disciples had asked when these “these things” would happen, and now Jesus finally comes around to discuss the timing of these things. However, His answer is not so simple.

Recall that in the minds of the disciples, “these things” would all happen at once. That is, they had assumed that the destruction of the temple (wrath against Israel’s leaders), the return of Christ at the end of the age, and the restored kingdom of Israel would all be part of one big event.

However, the answer Jesus gives regarding timing indicates that their “one big event” assumption was incorrect, because Jesus actually makes two statements about timing, and they are best understood to refer to different times, as discussed below.

Statement 1:This generation will not pass away until all these things take place” – Mentioned in all three gospel accounts.

Statement 2: But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father alone.” – Mentioned in Matthew’s and Mark’s accounts.

Question: What time frame is implied by “this generation” in statement 1?

It most naturally refers to the generation alive at the time when Jesus spoke. We may be more specific by observing that there are twelve other passages in scripture where Jesus refers to this generation, and in every other instance it was to speak judgment against the Jewish nation of His day, and the religious leaders in particular (Matt 11:16, 12:41, 12:42, 23:36, Mark 8:12, Luke 7:31, 11:30, 11:31, 11:32, 11:50, 11:51, 17:25). Thus we should understand “this generation” as a reference to the adult Jews of Jesus’ day.

When Jesus refers to this generation here in the Olivet Discourse, He is conveying the same meaning (i.e. adult Jews) and attitude (judgment), especially since the foretold destruction of the temple has to be seen as an act of judgment (Luke 19:44). Therefore, we may safely say that the time frame before “this generation passes away” could only extend to the next 70 years at most. In terms of our modern calendar, Jesus is saying that all these things must happen sometime within the first century AD. Therefore, statement 1 is referring to is a known time frame.

Question: How do we resolve the known time frame of statement 1 with the unknown time frame of statement 2?

Jesus is adamant that the fulfillment (or some part of it) will happen at a time known only to God the Father, even making the explicit point that He himself and other holy eternal beings (angels of heaven) do not know when it will be.

So, while statement 1 clearly indicates a fulfillment within the first century AD, statement 2 indicates a fulfillment at a strictly unknown time, which suggests that different parts of the prophecy will be fulfilled within different time frames.

Side Note: Some commentators may disagree, arguing that statement 2 is just speaking about the imprecision of statement 1. That is, they might paraphrase Jesus’ two timing statements as follows: “All these things will happen within the next 70 years, but nobody, not the angels or even the Son can say more precisely than that when it will happen (such as the day or hour). Only God the Father in heaven knows the precise timing.”

However, this interpretation seems to make God excessively pedantic. If it were correct, then statement 2 could easily be eliminated with no great impact on the prophecy. The disciples would still know that the fulfillment would occur within 70 years or so. What is gained by telling His disciples that an even more precise timing is absolutely off limits, even to Christ and the holy angels?

And if statement 2 is only making this minor point about precision, then why is Jesus so emphatic that the specific timing is unknown? He is obviously making a major point about it.

Statement 2 is not simply about the imprecision of statement 1, but rather it is speaking about a different time frame altogether. This point will be confirmed in the discussion below.

The idea that Jesus is expressing two different time frames is confirmed by Luke:

We’ve observed that the first part of Luke’s account seems more focused on the attack on Jerusalem than Matthew or Mark. As such, it does not include the (statement 2) remark about the timing being known only to the Father. However, Luke did write about a timing known only to the Father in chapter 1 of the book of Acts, where Jesus was again answering a question from His disciples:

  • In Acts 1, their question to Jesus was, “Lord, is it at this time you are restoring the kingdom to Israel?” (Acts 1:6). Note that this is essentially the same question they asked in the Olivet discourse regarding the coming of Jesus and the end of the age (e.g. Luke 21:31), but it makes no reference at all to the destruction of the temple.
  • In Acts 1, the answer Jesus gave to them was “It is not for you to know times or epochs which the Father has fixed by His own authority”. Note that Jesus is here giving essentially the same answer he gave in statement 2, but he makes no reference at all to anything being fulfilled before this generation passes away (as in statement 1).

In Acts, Jesus told His disciples that his return to restore the kingdom would take place in an unknown epoch, which clearly cannot refer to the known epoch Jesus had identified in statement 1 (the time before this generation passes away). This confirms that the time frame of “this generation” does not entirely confine the fulfillment of the Olivet discourse prophecy. Putting these prophecies together, we see that (1) the destruction of the temple which would be fulfilled in the known epoch of this generation, and (2) Christ’s return to restore the kingdom which would be fulfilled in an unknown epoch.

Looking ahead in the Olivet Discourse, we will see further confirmation of this claim, because Jesus will continue to make the point about unknown timing, but only in regard to His coming at the end of the age.

For the reasons given above, it seems best to regard these two timing statements as references to two different time frames, as follows:

Statement 1:This generation will not pass away until all these things take place
– At a minimum, this refers to the destruction of the temple. This refers to a fulfillment sometime in the first century AD, and indeed, the events of 70 AD fit this timing perfectly.

Statement 2:But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father alone.
– At a minimum, this refers to the coming of Christ and the end of the age. This refers to a fulfillment at an unknown epoch, and in fact it has still not yet been fulfilled. This remains future prophecy.

This means that the prophecy will not be completely fulfilled as one big event as the disciples had assumed. It would be better to recognize that Jesus has prophesied concerning two big events. However, as discussed in the previous sections, it may be that some other parts of the prophecy (the false Christs, false prophets, deceptions, signs of the upcoming attack, and persecution) could arguably fit with either one of these two big events, or even both of them.

Answer Section 9: The Wrath of Christ’s Return

MATTHEW – 37“For the coming of the Son of Man will be just like the days of Noah. 38“For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day that Noah entered the ark, 39and they did not understand until the flood came and took them all away; so will the coming of the Son of Man be. 40“Then there will be two men in the field; one will be taken and one will be left. 41“Two women will be grinding at the mill; one will be taken and one will be left.

MARK – [did not include comments for this section]

LUKE – [did not include comments for this section]

Analysis: Matthew’s account includes some information about the purpose of Christ’s return which is not present in Mark’s or Luke’s accounts.

Jesus leaves no doubt that this will be a time of wrath, comparable to the days of Noah. In particular, he points out that the flood came suddenly when people were not expecting it and it took them all away (killed them). By implication, the coming of Christ will likewise come as a sudden and terrifying surprise to the people on earth at that time (which fits well with the earlier comparison to lighting).

He then goes on to give some examples of two people, with one person taken, and the other left. These examples pertain only to the coming of Christ and not to the flood of Noah, because:

  • He starts in verse 40 by saying “Then there will be two people” where then refers to the time of the event He had just mentioned in context, which is the coming of the Son of Man in verse 39.
  • These examples themselves do not make sense in the context of Noah’s flood. If two women are grinding together at a mill, a sudden and massive flood would certainly not take one and leave the other.

Could this pertain to the 70 AD fulfillment? Not directly. As discussed in the previous section about timing, the coming of the Son of Man is an event that awaits a future fulfillment. Even so, we may still observe a similarity in purpose, because the fulfillment of 70 AD was also a time of God’s punishment.

  • The destruction of the temple in 70 AD was punishment upon the Jewish nation for having failed to recognize the time of their visitation (Luke 19:44). The coming of Christ will begin with the great tribulation, which will be a time of persecution to punish His unfaithful churches.
  • The destruction of the temple was earlier foretold by Daniel in Dan 9:26, and there Daniel also likened its destruction to a flood. Perhaps he too was alluding to the flood of Noah.

However, the verses that speak about two people together with one taken and the other left have no obvious meaning in the context of 70 AD.

Could this pertain to the end-times fulfillment? Yes. In fact, the end-times would seem to be the primary and most natural context in view. The flood of Noah was God’s sudden wrath upon the sinful world, which destroyed them all except for a chosen few. This is an apt description of how Revelation describes the coming of Christ (Rev 19:11-21) and how Isaiah described the Day of the Lord (Isa 13:12).

Jesus indicated that God’s wrath will come unexpectedly upon people who think that they are safe, and this also agrees with the end-times prophecies (Rev 11:10-11, 1 Thes 5:2-3).

Furthermore, those verses that speak about two people together, with one taken and the other left do make sense in the context the end-times if we connect them with the rapture event, and frankly there seems to be no other event that could adequately explain these verses. As discussed in The Rapture, the purpose of this event is to remove believers from the earth just before God’s wrath strikes. The one who is left on earth will face the wrath.

Answer Section 10: Warnings to Be Prepared for Christ’s Return

MATTHEW – 42“Therefore be on the alert, for you do not know which day your Lord is coming. 43“But be sure of this, that if the head of the house had known at what time of the night the thief was coming, he would have been on the alert and would not have allowed his house to be broken into. 44“For this reason you also must be ready; for the Son of Man is coming at an hour when you do not think He will. 45 “Who then is the faithful and sensible slave whom his master put in charge of his household to give them their food at the proper time? 46“Blessed is that slave whom his master finds so doing when he comes. 47“Truly I say to you that he will put him in charge of all his possessions. 48“But if that evil slave says in his heart, ‘My master is not coming for a long time,’ 49and begins to beat his fellow slaves and eat and drink with drunkards; 50the master of that slave will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour which he does not know, 51and will cut him in pieces and assign him a place with the hypocrites; in that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.

MARK – 33“Take heed, keep on the alert; for you do not know when the appointed time will come. 34“It is like a man away on a journey, who upon leaving his house and putting his slaves in charge, assigning to each one his task, also commanded the doorkeeper to stay on the alert. 35“Therefore, be on the alert—for you do not know when the master of the house is coming, whether in the evening, at midnight, or when the rooster crows, or in the morning— 36in case he should come suddenly and find you asleep. 37“What I say to you I say to all, ‘Be on the alert!’”

LUKE – 34“Be on guard, so that your hearts will not be weighted down with dissipation and drunkenness and the worries of life, and that day will not come on you suddenly like a trap; 35for it will come upon all those who dwell on the face of all the earth. 36“But keep on the alert at all times, praying that you may have strength to escape all these things that are about to take place, and to stand before the Son of Man.”

Analysis: The prophetic portion of the Olivet Discourse concludes with Jesus warning his followers to be watchful and alert, so that they may be prepared for the coming of Christ. He makes the following points:

  • Jesus reiterates that the coming of Christ will come suddenly at an unknown time (Matt 24:42, 44, 50, Mark 13:33, 35, Luke 21:34). Matthew likens it to a “thief in the night” (Matt 24:43).
  • Jesus tells His followers that they are like servants who are in charge of the household while the master is away (Matt 24:45, Mark 13:34), and that the Master will return and the servants will be judged based on their faithfulness (Matt 24:46-51, Mark 13:36, Luke 21:36.
  • The return of Christ will affect all nations (Luke 21:35).
  • Jesus indicates that it could be a long time before He returns (Matt 24:48, Mark 13:35).

Luke 17 – Another Discourse on Christ’s Coming

We will now look at a passage in Luke chapter 17 which recounts a separate occasion in which Jesus spoke about His return and the coming of the kingdom of God to earth. Even though this other occasion was not part of the Olivet Discourse, it is relevant because Jesus clearly spoke about some of the same things.

When we compared the three accounts of the Olivet Discourse above, we observed that Matthew 24 and Mark 13 seemed more adaptable to an end-times fulfillment than Luke 21, which seemed more adaptable to the near-term fulfillment in 70 AD. Perhaps the reason for this is that Luke had already dealt with the end-times fulfillment in this earlier Luke 17 passage.

Luke 17 – Context of the Prophecy

In Luke 17, Jesus is on his way to Jerusalem (Luke 17:11) and we don’t see Him arrive there until Luke 19:41-45. Since the Olivet Discourse occurred after Jesus had arrived in Jerusalem, we know that this account in Luke 17 must have happened at least a few days earlier. It appears that the discussion of the end times in Luke 17 was instigated by questions from the Pharisees, as follows:

20Now having been questioned by the Pharisees as to when the kingdom of God was coming, He answered them and said, “The kingdom of God is not coming with signs to be observed; 21nor will they say, ‘Look, here it is!’ or, ‘There it is!’ For behold, the kingdom of God is in your midst.”

We see that the Pharisees questioned Jesus about when the kingdom of God was coming, and we see how Jesus answered them. We also observe that the topic they questioned Jesus about relates closely to the questions Jesus answered in the Olivet Discourse (e.g. Matt 24:3, Luke 21:31).

One important difference, however, is the attitude of the questioners. We must bear in mind that the Pharisees had long been actively seeking to discredit and ridicule Jesus (e.g. Luke 11:53, 14:1, 15:2, 16:14). Almost always, their questions to Jesus were not motivated by a desire to learn, but rather with malicious intent, hoping to entrap him somehow. Knowing this, Jesus would sometimes answer them in ways that were terse and critical instead of teaching them as He would with His own disciples (Matt 13:10-11, 13-14). Here in Luke 17, we may likewise expect that the Pharisees questioned Jesus with malicious intent, and we shall see that Jesus in turn gave them an answer that was terse and critical.

Luke 17 – How Jesus answered the Pharisees

In His answer to the Pharisees, Jesus did not speak about the future second coming of Christ in great glory as He described in the Olivet Discourse (e.g. Matt 24:30, Mark 13:26, Luke 21:27). Instead, He spoke in terms of His present-day first coming. He tells them not to expect a grand entrance with everyone pointing to the king (as the Pharisees had supposed), but instead He announces to them: “behold, the kingdom of God is in your midst”!

Jesus is referring to the fact that God’s kingdom was now growing in this very generation of Israel. It consisted of His twelve chosen disciples and His many other Jewish followers, which is to say, the early church (Matt 16:18, John 7:41, 8:2, 11:45, 12:11, Matt 7:28, 9:8, 12:23, 15:31, 21:46). As Jesus said, the kingdom of God was right there in the midst of the Pharisees!.

By answering the Pharisees this way, Jesus was criticizing them for their blindness. He is effectively saying the them: “You Pharisees are asking about when the kingdom of God is coming, unaware that the kingdom is now here, growing right under your noses, and you are even talking to the king!

Side note: Some commentators take a different approach regarding Jesus’ answer about “the kingdom of God is in your midst” (some translations say “within you” instead of “in your midst”). They understand it to mean that the kingdom of God will come into the hearts of people as they accept Jesus as their Savior.

While this idea of may sound nice, it can hardly be what Jesus intended with regard to the kingdom, especially when speaking to the hostile Pharisees who of all people would reject Jesus and be excluded from the kingdom (Matt 5:20, Matt 21:43, Matt 23:13, 33).

Yes, the kingdom of God would continue to grow on earth even long after Jesus departed as more and more people would acknowledge Him as king and became part of His church. However, there is no reason for us to change how “kingdom” is defined. It always consists of a king and his people. To interpret this verse to mean that the kingdom of God is somehow an entity that resides in each person’s heart unnecessarily distorts the natural meaning of a kingdom.

It was perfectly appropriate for Jesus to speak to the Pharisees only in terms of His first coming because technically, they still had the option to acknowledge Him as the Christ and the rightful king. Of course, Jesus knew that they would reject him (Mark 8:31, Luke 19:44, 16:41, Matt 21:45), and the kingdom would not come in its fullness until Christ’s second coming (see Why Two Comings of Christ).

Luke 17 – How Jesus taught His disciples

After Jesus gave the above answer to the Pharisees, he continued to privately answer the question to His disciples, who already acknowledged Jesus as Christ the king, and whose minds were open to being taught (Matt 13:16-17).

LUKE 17 – 22And He said to the disciples, “The days will come when you will long to see one of the days of the Son of Man, and you will not see it. 23“They will say to you, ‘Look there! Look here!’ Do not go away, and do not run after them. 24“For just like the lightning, when it flashes out of one part of the sky, shines to the other part of the sky, so will the Son of Man be in His day.

Clearly, this answer is sharply different from the one Jesus gave to the Pharisees! To the Pharisees, He said that the kingdom would come without any great sign and was in fact already in their midst. To His disciples, he says that the days are coming when they will no longer see Him, but when He returns it will be an unmistakably huge event likened to a flash of lightning that fills the entire sky. He is clearly describing the same event that He later described to them in the Olivet Discourse (Matt 24:27, 29, 30). He also warned them to not be deceived about His return, which are the same warnings that he would give them later at the onset of the Olivet Discourse (Luke 21:8).

LUKE 17 – 25“But first He must suffer many things and be rejected by this generation.

Jesus here elaborates the point he made about going away in verse 22. He must first suffer and be rejected by this generation. He implies (and elsewhere says plainly, e.g. Mark 9:31, Luke 18:33) that in this generation, he must be killed.

However, He continues to describe what the second coming of the Son of Man will be like:

LUKE 17 – 26“And just as it happened in the days of Noah, so it will be also in the days of the Son of Man: 27they were eating, they were drinking, they were marrying, they were being given in marriage, until the day that Noah entered the ark, and the flood came and destroyed them all. 28“It was the same as happened in the days of Lot: they were eating, they were drinking, they were buying, they were selling, they were planting, they were building; 29but on the day that Lot went out from Sodom it rained fire and brimstone from heaven and destroyed them all. 30“It will be just the same on the day that the Son of Man is revealed.

Jesus likens His return to the days of Noah, just as He did in the Olivet Discourse (e.g. Matt 24:37-38), and even goes further by comparing it to destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah in the days of Lot. In both of these Old Testament examples, God’s wrath came suddenly upon sinful people who do not expect it. This all agrees with the account of Christ’s return described in Revelation.

LUKE 17 – 31“On that day, the one who is on the housetop and whose goods are in the house must not go down to take them out; and likewise the one who is in the field must not turn back.

This verse closely resembles what Jesus said in the Olivet Discourse (Matt 24:16-18, Mark 13:15-16, Luke 21:21). However, in the Olivet Discourse, these instructions were to be followed when His followers saw the abomination of desolation and Jerusalem surrounded by armies. Here it simply says “on that day”, as if these things should be done when the Son of Man appears in glory, mentioned in verse 24 above. However, we should understand that this phrase is an idiom that may encompass a broad period of time related to the day being described (e.g. Mark 2:20, Luke 6:23, John 16:23). That is, Jesus was referring broadly to His coming, which allows that verse 31 is instructions to be followed when the first sign of Christ’s coming occurs, in agreement with the Olivet Discourse.

LUKE 17 – 32“Remember Lot’s wife. 33“Whoever seeks to keep his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life will preserve it.

Continuing the example of Sodom and Gomorrah, Jesus mentions Lot’s wife who lost her life because she turned around to look back at the destruction after being warned to flee (Gen 19:17, 24, 26). The implication is that she was distressed over the worldly things she was losing instead of devoting herself to gaining her own salvation. Jesus uses her as a metaphor to convey a warning to His followers: By wanting to keep the temporal life will lose your eternal life, but letting go of the temporal life will preserve your eternal life.

LUKE 17 – 34“I tell you, on that night there will be two in one bed; one will be taken and the other will be left. 35“There will be two women grinding at the same place; one will be taken and the other will be left. 36[“Two men will be in the field; one will be taken and the other will be left.”]

Jesus now gives some examples of two people with one taken and one left as he did in the Olivet Discourse (Matt 24:40-41). As discussed earlier, these descriptions seem to best describe what is often called the rapture event, since they don’t make sense in the context of Noah’s flood or the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah.

LUKE 17 – 37And answering they said to Him, “Where, Lord?” And He said to them, “Where the body is, there also the vultures will be gathered.”

This passage in Luke 17 concludes with the disciples asking “Where Lord?”, and Jesus answered them with a cryptic phrase: “Where the body is, there also the vultures will be gathered”. One might think that this somehow explains where the people will be taken (referring back to the examples in verses 34-35). However, it’s best to understand this answer refers to the coming judgment as a whole. This is so because in the Olivet Discourse, Jesus made the same comment (Matt 24:28), but there it clearly had nothing to do with some people being taken and others left. Rather, he made the comment immediately after he likened the return of Christ to lightning (Matt 24:27). In each case where Jesus spoke this phrase, the only common context was the coming judgment.

Understanding Jesus’ phrase, “Where the body is, there also the vultures will be gathered” to be a statement about where (or upon whom) the coming judgment would fall, we can see it as a proverbial statement (similar to the hawk in Job 39:30), which effectively means just as a carcass attracts vultures, judgment will come upon people who attract judgment. Thus, this phrase is a way of saying that God’s judgment will be meted out justly.

Luke 17 – Relation to Olivet Discourse

In short, this passage in Luke 17 can be seen to be in harmony with the Olivet Discourse, and it demonstrates that Jesus did speak about these things more than once with his disciples.

It is also illuminating with regard to the question of timing, because Jesus describes some of the same things in Luke 17 that He described in the Olivet Discourse. However, Luke 17 has nothing to do with the destruction of the temple, which was the topic that instigated the Olivet Discourse. Unlike the Olivet Discourse, Jesus made no comment about these things being fulfilled within this generation (except for His own suffering and rejection in verse 25). This observation lends support to the claim that the fulfillment of the Olivet Discourse prophecy is not entirely confined to the events in 70 AD.

Overall Analysis of the Olivet Discourse

The Scope of the Prophecy

The questions posed earlier in this article (and have been debated by theologians for centuries) are as follows:

  1. Does the prophecy refer to the destruction of the temple in 70 AD?
  2. Does the prophecy refer to the end-times?
  3. If the prophecy (in some sense) refers to both 70 AD and the end-times, how do we “draw the line” between the two?

Now it is time to pull together all of the information we’ve discussed above and determine how to best answer these questions.

1. Does the prophecy refer to the destruction of the temple in 70 AD?

The answer must be yes. The whole discussion was started when Jesus foretold the destruction the temple, and the disciples replied by asking when it would happen. Jesus certainly indicated a correct answer when he said all these things will happen before this generation passes away, which easily accommodates the fulfillment when Rome destroyed the temple in 70 AD, only some 40 years after Jesus spoke the prophecy.

2. Does the prophecy refer to the end-times?

Again, the answer must be yes. The second coming of Christ, as described in the Olivet Discourse, cannot be confined to 70 AD or any other events since. As terrible as 70 AD was for Israel, it was just a “blip” in terms of overall world history. It was one among many occasions in which a city was destroyed by an invading army, resulting in thousands of deaths.

In contrast, Jesus made it clear that His coming would impact the whole world:

  • It would be like lightning across the sky (Matt 24:27, Luke 17:24).
  • All nations would mourn this event (Matt 24:30, Luke 21:26).
  • It would be an event of great power and glory (Matt 24:30, Mark 13:26, Luke 21:27).
  • It will be preceded by a darkening of the sun and moon and involve shaking (Matt 24:29, Mark 13:24) with the seas roaring with great waves (Luke 21:25).
  • This event will accompany the gathering of saints from all heaven and earth (Matt 24:31, Mark 13:27).

These things certainly were not all fulfilled as described in 70 AD.

As discussed in section 8 (Comments about Timing), the return of Christ is not confined to the things that must be fulfilled before “this generation passes away”. Rather, Jesus said that the timing of His return was unknown (Matt 24:36, Mark 13:32), and we saw confirmation of this in Acts 1:6-7 and in our discussion of Luke 17.

3. If we say that the prophecy refers to both 70 AD and the end-times, how do we “draw the line” between the two?

This is by far the most challenging (and debated) question.

As we went through the various sections of the Olivet Discourse, we analyzed which sections could plausibly fit the fulfillment in 70 AD, and which sections could plausibly fit with the prophecies concerning the end-times. The results of this analysis are summarized in the table below:

Section of Olivet Discourse Could it “fit” the fulfillment in 70 AD? Could it “fit” the prophecies to be fulfilled in the end-times?
Section 1: Birth Pangs Yes Yes
Section 2: Persecution Yes Yes
Section 3: The Abomination of Desolation Yes Yes
Section 4: Great Tribulation Yes Yes
Section 5: Great Deception Yes Yes
Section 6: Return of Christ No Yes
Section 7: The Parable of the Fig Tree Yes Yes
Section 8: Comments About Timing Yes (before this generation passes away) Yes (at a time no one knows except God the Father)
Section 9: The Wrath of Christ’s Return No Yes
Section 10: Warnings to Be Prepared for Christ’s Return No Yes

There are some startling observations revealed in these results:

  • All of the sections fit reasonably well with the prophecies concerning the end-times.
  • Most of the sections fit reasonably well with the fulfillment in 70 AD (the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple by Roman armies). The only exceptions are the prophecies specific to the return of Christ (sections 6, 9 and 10).
  • Jesus provided two statements about timing (in section 8), with one pertaining well to 70 AD, and the other pertaining well to the end-times.

Interpretive challenges

The results above seem to present a problem because we tend to look for a nice clean division between the two fulfillments. Some will argue thus, e.g. “this range of verses is only about 70 AD” and “that range of verses is only about the end-times”. But all arguments of this nature are disputable and unconvincing because so much of the prophecy is applicable to both fulfillments. There is no clean and indisputable division between the two.

Things are further complicated because in section 8, Jesus said that “this generation will not pass away until all these things take place”, and He made this statement after He described the glorious return of Christ in section 6. If we make the reasonable claim that Christ did not return gloriously in 70 AD, how can His return be (apparently) included among all these things Jesus said would happen before this generation passes away?

Apart from saying that Jesus made a mistake, or that Matthew and Luke both misquoted Jesus, there are a few ways one might attempt to resolve this question:

(1) Limit the scope

That is, when Jesus said “all these things”, he was referring only to the signs that he spoke of earlier (the abomination of desolation, Jerusalem surrounded by armies, followed by a great tribulation), but not the second coming of Christ.at the end of the age.

This is plausible, but somewhat unsatisfying in that Jesus did seem to connect His glorious second coming to the tribulation of those days. For example, Matt 24:29-30 says: “But immediately after the tribulation of those days THE SUN WILL BE DARKENED, AND THE MOON WILL NOT GIVE ITS LIGHT, AND THE STARS WILL FALL from the sky, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken. And then the sign of the Son of Man will appear in the sky, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the SON OF MAN COMING ON THE CLOUDS OF THE SKY with power and great glory..

If the tribulation (which Jesus discussed at length earlier) is closely connected to Christ’s return, then most of the prophecy must be connected to Christ’s return.

(2) Consider it completely fulfilled

This approach supposes that Jesus actually did return in 70 AD to oversee the destruction of Jerusalem.

This idea suffers from (1) not fitting the glorious description of Christ’s return and (2) being a rather bold claim that has no support at all from scripture or even historical documentation of that event.

(3) Regard apocalyptic prophecy as exaggeration

This approach supposes that when we see prophecy that includes apocalyptic language, we assume that it’s just poetic hyperbole and thus it will never be fulfilled in any literal sense.

This is a commonly held view, but I do not agree with the idea that it’s our place to assume that God sometimes exaggerates. If we can assume that, then we also must assume the burden of deciding when prophecy exaggerates, and when it does not. How do we do that? Any prophecy can feel like an exaggeration until it is fulfilled. For example, before World War II, some theologians doubted that there would be a literal fulfillment of the prophecies about Israel being regathered in their Biblical homeland, until it happened in 1948.

Would God ever give man the option to decide when He is exaggerating? I don’t think so. The Bible records several places where Israel is rebuked for failing to heed the words of the prophets (e.g. Jer 25:4, 26:5, Dan 9:6, Zech 1:4, 7:12), but how can God justifiably rebuke them if He permits them to suppose that He might just be exaggerating?

When God’s true prophets warned Israel about the coming terrible judgments from God, there were plenty of false prophets who assumed the authority to dismiss the severe warnings of the true prophets (e.g. Ezek 13:6, Jer 14:15, 23:16,25, Mic 3:11,12). We should be cautious to not be like those false prophets.

Although the poetic apocalyptic prophecies may strike us as “too awesome to be real”, we have to keep in mind that all of the horrors foretold in the apocalyptic prophecy are also described in Revelation as actual judgments that will strike the earth in the end times, and God has demonstrated His willingness to execute such awesome judgments before (e.g. the flood of Noah, the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, and the plagues against Egypt).

As such, I think there must be a better way to explain the apocalyptic portion of the Olivet Discourse than to simply dismiss it as exaggeration.

(4) Recognize the use of a “prophetic type”

This approach allows that the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple in 70 AD constitutes a type of the return of Christ. That is, it foreshadows an even greater fulfillment that will occur at a later time.

In this view, the terrible events of 70 AD were not intended to be the complete and final fulfillment of the prophecy. Rather, those events serve to illustrate a similar but greater event that will occur in the end-times. In this sense, the portion of the prophecy describing the return of Christ was only figuratively fulfilled in 70 AD, but it will have a literal fulfillment in the end-times.

This is the interpretation that I prefer because it addresses the observation that all parts of the Olivet Discourse are in harmony with end-times prophecy, and it explains how Jesus could say “all these things” would be fulfilled within “this generation”. I recognize that this is a difficult concept that may not seem convincing to everyone. However, I would argue that it’s not a new concept and therefore it is a justifiable concept (see discussion below).

Justification for the Prophetic Type Interpretation

This portion of the article is primarily for the benefit of any reader who doubts the concept of “prophetic types”, or the idea that it is applicable to help explain the Olivet Discourse prophecy.

Is it possible for a prophecy to have dual fulfillments, where the first is intended to be a type (or foreshadowing) of the second?

First of all, the idea of types in scripture is well-known and widely accepted. A type is something (a person, object, or event) that appears at one point in time, and yet is used by God to foreshadow something even greater that will appear at a later time. That greater thing is called the antitype. Types and antitypes are not the inventions of clever Bible readers, but rather they are identified as such by the Bible writers.

Below are some examples of types and antitypes found in scripture:

  • Resurrection – Regarding the (Gen 22) account of God telling Abraham to sacrifice his son Isaac, we read in Heb 11:19, “He (Abraham) considered that God is able to raise people even from the dead, from which he also received him (Isaac) back as a type.” That is, Abraham understood that when Isaac’s life was to be sacrificed and yet was spared, it was type of greater principle that God would resurrect people from the dead, which of course is a key point in the gospel of Christ.
  • Passover – In the original Passover, lambs were sacrificed and their blood was placed on doorposts to save God’s people from judgment (Exodus 12:11-13). This event has been celebrated as the Passover feast ever since. Scripture makes it clear that the sacrificed lamb is a type of Christ (John 1:29, Acts 8:32, 1 Pet 1:19, Rev 5:6, 7:14, 12:11), and the Passover is a type of the salvation that Christ offers through His sacrifice (Luke 22:15-20, John 13:1, 19:14, 1 Cor 5:7, Heb 11:28).
  • The earthly temple – The things in the earthly temple are types of the realities of God’s relationship with man (Heb 8:3, 5, 9:11, 24, 10:1, 19-20). For example, the Ark of the Covenant represents the presence of God (Ex 25:22, Lev 16:2, Judg 20:27, Rev 11:19), the showbread represents sustenance and blessing through Christ (Lev 24:9, John 6:35), and the incense represents access to God through prayer (Psalm 141:2, Rev 5:8, Luke 1:10).
  • Melchizedek – He is a type of Christ because he was king-priest, just as Christ is both king and priest (Genesis 14:18, 19, 20, Zech 6:12, 13). Melchizedek’s priesthood predated the Levitical priesthood, and it was prophetically named as the priesthood to which the Messiah would belong (Psalm 110:4, Heb 5:5-10; 6:20; 7:1-17). Melchizedek was also the king of Salem, which means he was a king of peace and the king of early Jerusalem, just as Christ is the Prince of Peace (Isa 9:6) and the rightful heir to David’s kingdom which was based in Jerusalem (2 Sam 5:7, 9-10).

From the examples above, we can make this observation:

A type and its antitype are two things linked together by God in a manner that is itself a form of prophecy. That is, although there are two things, they as a pair form a single prophecy.

If we can accept that, then we may also accept the idea that a linked type and antitype could both be foretold by a single prophecy.

That is, a single prophecy can in some sense can have dual fulfillments:

  1. The type as a first fulfillment, and
  2. The antitype as the second, greater fulfillment.

To support this idea, I’ll present three examples of (what I claim to be) prophecies that involve dual (type and antitype) fulfillments:

Example 1. The Prophecy of Immanuel

First, consider this familiar Christmastime prophecy from the prophet Isaiah.

Isa 7:14-16 – 14“Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign: Behold, a virgin will be with child and bear a son, and she will call His name Immanuel. 15“He will eat curds and honey at the time He knows enough to refuse evil and choose good. 16“For before the boy will know enough to refuse evil and choose good, the land whose two kings you dread will be forsaken.

This is a prophecy given to Ahaz, the king of Judah, at a time when Judah was threatened by the kings of Aram and Israel (Isa 7:1). The prophecy says that Judah would be saved from their attack, and as confirmation of this prophecy, God offered Ahaz a sign:

A virgin (or maiden) would conceive and give birth to a son, who would be named Immanuel.

However, God was angry with Ahaz because he had sought protection from a foreign power (Assyria) rather than trusting in God (2 Kings 16:7, 2 Chron 28:19). Thus, this prophecy of salvation was immediately followed by another prophecy of judgment in Isa 7:17-25.

The name Immanuel means “God with us”, and so this promised son shall represent Israel’s covenant relationship with God, which promises both blessings for faithfulness, and calamity for unfaithfulness. Indeed, the prophecy of Isaiah 7 includes both.

We see a fulfillment of the Immanuel prophecy almost immediately in the next chapter of Isaiah:

Isa 8:3-4 – 3So I approached the prophetess, and she conceived and gave birth to a son. Then the LORD said to me, “Name him Maher-shalal-hash-baz; 4for before the boy knows how to cry out ‘My father’ or ‘My mother,’ the wealth of Damascus and the spoil of Samaria will be carried away before the king of Assyria.

The foretold birth of a son was fulfilled by Isaiah’s own wife, accompanied by a confirmation that his birth was the sign concerning the two kings that threatened Judah (Isa 7:16). As promised, those two kings fell shortly thereafter (2 Kings 16:8). However, just as he did in Isa 7:17-25, Isaiah goes on foretell a prophecy of judgment. Specifically, he foretold that Judah will come under attack yet again, this time from Assyria, the very nation from which Ahaz had faithlessly sought protection! Significantly, Isaiah addressed this prophecy to Immanuel.

Isa 8:5-8 – 5Again the LORD spoke to me further, saying, 6“Inasmuch as these people have rejected the gently flowing waters of Shiloah And rejoice in Rezin and the son of Remaliah; 7“Now therefore, behold, the Lord is about to bring on them the strong and abundant waters of the Euphrates, Even the king of Assyria and all his glory; And it will rise up over all its channels and go over all its banks. 8“Then it will sweep on into Judah, it will overflow and pass through, It will reach even to the neck; And the spread of its wings will fill the breadth of your land, O Immanuel.

Thus we see this Immanuel child signifying God’s covenant to both protect God’s people Israel and yet punish them for seeking protection from a foreign king. Their punishment would be that this same foreign king will ultimately become a tyrant over them.

We may say that Isaiah’s son fulfilled the Immanuel prophecy of Isa 7:14. However, we must now ask if Isaiah’s son was the only fulfillment of that Immanuel prophecy. If so, then there are some aspects of the prophecy that leave us with difficult and unresolved questions:

  • Why did the prophet need to be mysterious about the identity of his own wife by referring to her as some anonymous virgin (or maiden)?
  • Why did the prophecy speak with such emphasis and exclamation regarding the normal, natural conception of this child?
  • Why did Isaiah give his son this special name that represents God’s eternal covenant with Israel?
  • Why did Isaiah address his own son (if he is the only Immanuel child) as if the land of Judea belonged to him (in 8:8)?

These difficulties with the Immanuel prophecy vanish if only we recognize that it must have an even greater fulfillment with yet another child. Sure enough, after the prophecy of punishment in Isaiah 8, we come to Isaiah 9 which tells of a much greater child who also represents God’s covenant with Israel:

Isa 9:6-7 – 6 For a child will be born to us, a son will be given to us; And the government will rest on His shoulders; And His name will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Eternal Father, Prince of Peace. 7 There will be no end to the increase of His government or of peace, On the throne of David and over his kingdom, To establish it and to uphold it with justice and righteousness From then on and forevermore. The zeal of the LORD of hosts will accomplish this.

This is certainly not Isaiah’s own son. The child introduced here will fulfill God’s covenant with king David, which promised that his descendant would inherit the kingdom and reign forever (2 Sam 7:12-13). As king, this child’s reign would be the final kingdom of peace on earth. Earlier in chapter 9, the prophecy said that this child would be a great light that comes forth from the Galilee region of Israel

Isa 9:1-2 – 1But there will be no more gloom for her who was in anguish; in earlier times He treated the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali with contempt, but later on He shall make it glorious, by the way of the sea, on the other side of Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles. 2The people who walk in darkness Will see a great light; Those who live in a dark land, The light will shine on them.

The Bible identifies this child as Jesus, the greater Immanuel (Matt 1:21, 22, 23, Matt 4:15) who would have the virgin conception worthy of the emphasis and exclamation that Isaiah gave to it (Matt 1:18, Luke 2:34, 35), and who did indeed come from the region of Galilee (Matt 2:22, 3:13) exactly as foretold.

Conclusion: The Immanuel prophecy had two fulfillments. First, in the immediate context we see Isaiah’s son who represents salvation from the two attacking kings by God’s covenant to preserve Israel. But Isaiah’s son was a type representing the coming of an even greater Immanuel, which was fulfilled by the birth and life of Jesus Christ, who was the great light who came out of Galilee and who provided a much greater salvation..

Example 2. The Prophecy of the Abomination of Desolation

Within this unique example of prophecy, Daniel actually foretold two “abomination of desolation” events spanning three different prophetic passages.

As discussed in Revelation Overview, the prophet Daniel described two apocalyptic time periods related to the end-times: (1) The 70th Week of Daniel, and (2) the time, times, and half a time. These two periods are closely related because the 70th Week of Daniel is a seven year period, and the time, times, and half a time is the last half (or 3 ½ years) of that seven year period. Also, both of these periods are connected to a single end-times event called the abomination of desolation.

Daniel’s two prophecies about the abomination of desolation in the end-times are as follows:

  1. Dan 9:27 – And he will make a firm covenant with the many for one week, but in the middle of the week he will put a stop to sacrifice and grain offering; and on the wing of abominations will come one who makes desolate, even until a complete destruction, one that is decreed, is poured out on the one who makes desolate.
    This is the 70th Week of Daniel which describes a wicked ruler who makes a covenant with Israel for one “week” (seven years), but at the midpoint of that covenant (i.e. the 3 ½ year mark) he shall break that covenant and attack Israel (stopping the sacrifices). That attack will climax with abominations that make desolate.
  2. Dan 12:11 – From the time that the regular sacrifice is abolished and the abomination of desolation is set up, there will be 1,290 days.
    This pertains to the time, times, and half a time because it starts with that attack on Israel at the midpoint, and lasts for 1290 days (which is 3 ½ Biblical years plus one Biblical month). We also know it pertains the time, times, and half a time because that is the period referenced in context, as seen in Dan 12:7.

The abomination of desolation event referenced in these two verses is the same event to which Jesus referred to in the Olivet Discourse (Matt 24:15).

However, Daniel foretold yet another abomination of desolation event, as follows:

Dan 11:31 – Forces from him will arise, desecrate the sanctuary fortress, and do away with the regular sacrifice. And they will set up the abomination of desolation.

Looking at this verse alone, one would think that this must surely be referring the same event described in the other two verses above. After all, it describes an abomination of desolation in connection with an attack on Israel that features the stopping of sacrifices.

However, this is not describing the end-times and it cannot be the same event that Jesus foretold in the Olivet Discourse. Rather, this verse foretells things that would happen during the Greek occupation of Israel, which followed the Persian occupation and preceded the Roman occupation. That means that this abomination of desolation prophecy would have already been fulfilled long before Jesus was born.

We know this because of how this prophecy is introduced in Dan 11:2-4:

2“And now I will tell you the truth. Behold, three more kings are going to arise in Persia. Then a fourth will gain far more riches than all of them; as soon as he becomes strong through his riches, he will arouse the whole empire against the realm of Greece. 3“And a mighty king will arise, and he will rule with great authority and do as he pleases. 4“But as soon as he has arisen, his kingdom will be broken up and parceled out toward the four points of the compass, though not to his own descendants, nor according to his authority which he wielded, for his sovereignty will be uprooted and given to others besides them.

The “mighty king” referenced in verse 3 is Alexander the Great, the Greek king who conquered the Persian Empire (mentioned in verse 2), bringing Judea under Greek control. Alexander certainly ranks as one of the mightiest kings of all time, but he died suddenly at the height of his power. Alexander’s son’s, who would most naturally have inherited his empire, were murdered and the empire was divided up among his four main generals. These things all agree perfectly with what Daniel foretold in verse 4. One of these four generals was named Seleucus, and he established the Seleucid Empire which encompassed the land of Judea.

Seleucus was assassinated in 281 BC, and control of his empire fell to his son Antiochus I. A few generations later, the Seleucid Empire was ruled by a particularly wicked king named Antiochus IV Epiphanes, and he is the despicable person foretold in Dan 11:21. The abomination of desolation prophecy in Dan 11:31 was fulfilled when Antiochus IV attacked Judea in 167 BC and he had a statue of Zeus erected in the Jewish temple. As the prophecy stated, he also prohibited Jewish rites and worship, thereby stopping the regular sacrifices.

Interestingly, these same things were also figuratively described earlier in Daniel chapter 8. There, we read:

  • Dan 8:5-7 – A male goat emerges and victoriously attacks a ram with two horns.
  • Dan 8:8 – The male goat magnified himself, but just as he arose to great power his large horn was broken, and it was replaced by four other horns.
  • Dan 8:9 – One of the four horns produced another “little horn” that grew greatly and toward the “beautiful land”.
  • Dan 8:10, 11, 12 – That little horn grew even toward heaven, making itself equal to the commander of the host of heaven, and stopped the regular sacrifice and attacked the sanctuary.
  • Dan 8:13, 14 — Daniel is told that this trampling of the holy place would last for 2,300 evenings and mornings.

It’s not too difficult to see how this prophetic imagery relates to the history from the fall of the Persian Empire, to the rise of Alexander the Great, and finally to Antiochus IV, but Daniel receives confirmation from the angel Gabriel (Dan 8:16-17):

  • Dan 8:20 – The ram with two horns is the Medo-Persian empire.
  • Dan 8:21 – The male goat represents the Greek empire, with the large horn representing Alexander the Great.
  • Dan 8:22 – The four horns that replaced the large horn after it was broken are four weaker kingdoms.
  • Dan 8:23, 24, 25 – The little horn that would arise would be an especially wicked king who would be skilled in intrigue and deceit, he would attack the holy people, he would greatly magnify himself, and yet be broken without human agency. All of these descriptions fit Antiochus IV.

The “2,300 evenings and mornings” mentioned in verse 13 would refer to the duration of Antiochus’ stopping of the regular sacrifices. There are different ways of interpreting the meaning of this period, but in any case it is different from the 1,290 days after the stopping of sacrifices mentioned in Dan 12:11.

Side note: One plausible interpretation of the 2,300 evenings and mornings is that it means 2,300 days. In this case, it may refer to the period (about 171-164 BC) that began when a Hellenist priest name Menelaus had himself installed as the high priest by Antiochus IV. Menelaus stole valuables from the temple and used this ill-gotten wealth to have the former high priest Onias III murdered (recorded in 2 Maccabees 4:24-27 and II Maccabees 4:32-34). It ended when the revolt led by Judas Maccabeus successfully regained Jerusalem and cleansed the temple.

Another interpretation of the 2,300 evenings and mornings is that it refers to 2,300 evening and morning sacrifices (Ex 29:38-39), which would occur over a span of 1,150 days. In this case, it might roughly refer to the period (about 167-164 BC) between the time that the idol was set up the temple until the cleansing of the temple.

Personally, I prefer the latter interpretation (as it seems to fit better with the evenings and mornings in Dan 8:26). But in any case, this period of 2,300 evenings and mornings is not the same period as the 1,290 days associated with the end-times prophecy in Dan 12:11.

Summary: The prophecy concerning the abomination of desolation has had one fulfillment that occurred about 167 years before Christ was born, and yet Christ confirmed that there will still be another even greater abomination of desolation. He said that this second abomination of desolation will be followed by the great tribulation (Matt 24:15, 21), which will in turn be immediately followed by the coming of Christ in glory (Matt 24:29-30). Thus, the first abomination of desolation event serves as a type of the second antitype event.

Furthermore, the wicked king Antiochus IV who committed the first abomination is type of the future antitype wicked king who will commit the second greater abomination. This future wicked king is discussed further in The Antichrist.

Example 3. The Prophecy of the Destruction of Babylon

This example comes from Isaiah 13, and it is actually the most similar in nature to the prophecy of the Olivet Discourse. For the sake of discussion, I will divide Isaiah’s prophecy into three parts.

Part 1: Isa 13:1-5 – 1The oracle concerning Babylon which Isaiah the son of Amoz saw. 2Lift up a standard on the bare hill, Raise your voice to them, Wave the hand that they may enter the doors of the nobles. 3 I have commanded My consecrated ones, I have even called My mighty warriors, My proudly exulting ones, To execute My anger. 4A sound of tumult on the mountains, Like that of many people! A sound of the uproar of kingdoms, Of nations gathered together! The LORD of hosts is mustering the army for battle. 5They are coming from a far country, From the farthest horizons, The LORD and His instruments of indignation, To destroy the whole land.

Isaiah begins his prophecy against ancient Babylon. Specifically, this prophecy is foretelling the defeat that Babylon will suffer at the hands of Media-Persia (identified in Isa 13:17).

However, as Isaiah’s prophecy of judgment against Babylon continues, it takes a startling apocalyptic turn in verses 6 through 13:

Part 2: Isa 13:6-13 – 6 Wail, for the day of the LORD is near! It will come as destruction from the Almighty. 7Therefore all hands will fall limp, And every man’s heart will melt. 8They will be terrified, Pains and anguish will take hold of them; They will writhe like a woman in labor, They will look at one another in astonishment, Their faces aflame. 9 Behold, the day of the LORD is coming, Cruel, with fury and burning anger, To make the land a desolation; And He will exterminate its sinners from it. 10For the stars of heaven and their constellations Will not flash forth their light; The sun will be dark when it rises And the moon will not shed its light. 11Thus I will punish the world for its evil And the wicked for their iniquity; I will also put an end to the arrogance of the proud And abase the haughtiness of the ruthless. 12 I will make mortal man scarcer than pure gold And mankind than the gold of Ophir. 13Therefore I will make the heavens tremble, And the earth will be shaken from its place At the fury of the LORD of hosts In the day of His burning anger.

After this, Isaiah seems to return back to the original focus on the ancient kingdom of Babylon. Below is a portion of the prophecy that follows:

Part 3: Isa 13:7-19 – 14And it will be that like a hunted gazelle, Or like sheep with none to gather them, They will each turn to his own people, And each one flee to his own land. 15 Anyone who is found will be thrust through, And anyone who is captured will fall by the sword. 16Their little ones also will be dashed to pieces Before their eyes; Their houses will be plundered And their wives ravished. 17 Behold, I am going to stir up the Medes against them, Who will not value silver or take pleasure in gold. 18And their bows will mow down the young men, They will not even have compassion on the fruit of the womb, Nor will their eye pity children. 19 And Babylon, the beauty of kingdoms, the glory of the Chaldeans’ pride, Will be as when God overthrew Sodom and Gomorrah.

The ancient kingdom of Babylon, which was once likened to a hunter (Lam 4:18) shall become like the hunted, and the peoples it had conquered shall flee to their own land. They, who had once ravaged the women in Israel (Lam 5:11), shall see their wives ravaged. In verse 17, Isaiah identifies the conquerors of Babylon as the Medes.

Side note: Isaiah did not identify them as “Media-Persia” as we commonly identify that kingdom today because in Isaiah’s day, Persia was not a meaningful name. The name Persia did not come into use until the reign of the Persian king, Cyrus the Great.

This is truly a astonishing prophecy because in Isaiah’s day (~700 BC), the prophecy would not have even make much sense. Assyria was the sole superpower in the region and Babylon was itself under Assyrian domination. However, as history unfolded, the soundness of prophecy was revealed:

  • 612 BC (about 88 years after Isaiah) – Babylon, led by Nabopolassar, successfully rebelled against Assyria, sacking the Assyrian capital of Nineveh in 612 BC. Babylon then became the new superpower in the region.
  • 586 BC (about 114 years after Isaiah) — Babylon, led by Nebuchadnezzar (Nabopolassar’s son), sacked Jerusalem, destroyed the temple, and took thousands of Jews into captivity. This was God using Babylon as His instrument to punish Israel for their unfaithfulness and idolatry.
  • 540 BC (about 160 years after Isaiah) — Media-Persia, led by Cyrus the Great, sacked Babylon, fulfilling Isaiah’s prophecy concerning the destruction of Babylon.
  • 538 BC – 444 BC — The Persian defeat of Babylon brought relief to the Jews under Babylonian captivity, and before long Cyrus and other Persian kings issued decrees that permitted the Jews to return and rebuild Jerusalem and the temple (Ezra 1:2, 5:13, 6:1, 3–5, 7:13, 21, Neh 2:8).
  • 515 BC (about 185 years after Isaiah), the second temple was rebuilt. This occurred about 70 years after Babylon destroyed the first temple, fulfilling the prophecy of Jeremiah (Jer 25:12).

The key figure in the fulfillment of this prophecy is Cyrus the Great, the Persian king who defeated Babylon and ultimately restored Israel. The most remarkable thing about him is that Isaiah actually foretold that Israel would be saved and restored by someone named “Cyrus”, long before Cyrus the Great was even born:

Isa 44:28-45; 45:1-4 – 28 It is I who says of Cyrus, ‘He is My shepherd! And he will perform all My desire.’ And he declares of Jerusalem, ‘She will be built,’ And of the temple, ‘Your foundation will be laid.’

1 Thus says the LORD to Cyrus His anointed, Whom I have taken by the right hand, To subdue nations before him And to loose the loins of kings; To open doors before him so that gates will not be shut: 2 I will go before you and make the rough places smooth; I will shatter the doors of bronze and cut through their iron bars. 3 I will give you the treasures of darkness And hidden wealth of secret places, So that you may know that it is I, The LORD, the God of Israel, who calls you by your name. 4 For the sake of Jacob My servant, And Israel My chosen one, I have also called you by your name; I have given you a title of honor though you have not known Me.

Please notice the messianic language that is used to describe Cyrus. He is called God’s anointed (the same meaning as messiah). He is called God’s shepherd (compare to Isa 40:11, Micah 5:4, Ezek 34:23, Psalm 23:1). It speaks about going before Cyrus to make rough places smooth (compare to Isa 40:3-4, quoted in Luke 3:5).

It is safe to say that much of what Isaiah described in the apocalyptic verses of Isa 13:6-13 (Part 2) did not literally happen when the prophecy was fulfilled by Cyrus the Great in 540 BC. That is, God did not cause the sun, moon, and stars to go dark, nor did the earth shake. He did not exterminate sinners or make mortal man scarcer than gold. In fact, these things have never happened on earth in any kind of complete sense.

How can this be? I would argue that God is using Isaiah’s prophecy about Babylon and his prophecy about Cyrus as types. This means that each of these prophecies will have an even greater fulfillment, and thus there will still be a greater Babylon and a greater Cyrus. When these greater fulfillments (or antitypes) happen, then the things described in those apocalyptic verses (Part 2) of Isaiah’s prophecy will be completed in reality, and not just figuratively. Also, the messianic descriptions applied to king Cyrus as conqueror and savior will be applied to an absolute king, conqueror, and savior.

Summary: Collectively, all of the prophecies concerning ancient Babylon were fulfilled as the kingdom of Babylon rose to power, sacked Jerusalem, took Jews captive for 70 years, and was destroyed by the Persian Empire under Cyrus the Great, which allowed the Jews to flee Babylon and return to their own land to rebuild Jerusalem and the temple. These fulfillments all took place between 612 BC – 540 BC.

However, the apocalyptic language included in the prophecy of Babylon’s destruction and the messianic language used in the prophecy of Cyrus indicates that there shall be yet a greater fulfillment of these prophecies. In other words, Babylon and Cyrus are both types, and each will have a greater antitype.

For Babylon, the kingdom the persecutes and destroys:

  • The Babylon type — Babylon’s persecution of the Jews followed by its sudden destruction serves as a type that foreshadows another greater kingdom that will persecute God’s people and then be suddenly destroyed.
  • The Babylon antitype— Antichrist’s kingdom will rise to great power and persecute the saints for a limited period of time (Rev 6:11, Rev 13:5, 7), but it will fall suddenly and the hands of a greater king. As the bowl judgments strike the earth, the apocalyptic statements in Part 2 of Isaiah’s prophecy, which he calls the Day of the Lord,  shall be completed, including the darkness (Rev 16:10), a great shaking of the earth (Rev 16:18) and the extermination of sinners (Rev 19:20, 21). Significantly, Antichrist’s future kingdom is symbolically called “Babylon” in Revelation (Rev 14:8, 16:19, 18:1, 21).

For Cyrus, the king who conquers Babylon and saves God’s people:

  • The Cyrus type — Cyrus the Great’s defeat of ancient Babylon and his decrees to restore Israel serves as a type of a greater king who will bring about the destruction of that future Babylon-like kingdom and restore God’s people.
  • The Cyrus antitype — When Antichrist’s allotted time expires, Christ Himself will be that greater king who exerts His reign on earth (Rev 11:17, 19:15, 16) by bringing about the bowl judgments that destroy Antichrist’s kingdom (Rev 19:20). He will restore the saints as they reign with Him in the new kingdom (Rev 20:4, 21:3, 4).

The Type and Antitype of the Olivet Discourse

Hopefully, we may now have a defensible answer to the third (and most challenging) question posed earlier in this article:

If we say that the prophecy refers to both 70 AD and the end-times, how do we “draw the line” between the two?

As I proposed above, I believe that the apocalyptic portion of the Olivet Discourse indicates that the prophecy as a whole uses prophetic types. As such, it will have a dual fulfillment where the first fulfillment serves as a type that serves as an illustration of the greater second fulfillment.

If we take this view, we can answer the challenging question above by understanding that the prophecy foretells both a type and its antitype:

TypeMost of the Olivet Discourse prophecy relates to the sacking of Jerusalem and destruction of the temple fulfilled by Rome in 70 AD.

Antitype – The entire Olivet Discourse prophecy relates to a greater fulfillment in the end-times, in agreement with other end-times prophecies in Revelation and elsewhere. This second fulfillment will have much in common with the sacking of Rome in 70 AD.

As mentioned earlier, the Olivet Discourse prophecy concerning Rome is very similar in nature to the prophecy concerning Babylon (discussed in example 3 above).

This actually seems quite natural since Babylon and Rome constitute both of the monumental occasions in which God’s temple on earth was destroyed. Both prophecies involve God punishing His people for their sin (idolatry in Babylon’s case, and the rejection of Christ in Rome’s case). Both prophecies also involve God preserving His people according to His covenant, and both include a section that uses apocalyptic language to describe the coming of God’s wrath.

Therefore, Israel’s experiences with both Babylon and with Rome constitute types that correspond to greater antitype fulfillments in the end times. Clearly, God has made it a point to give us abundant illustrations of how things will end on earth.

What does the Olivet Discourse say about the things to come?

The Olivet Discourse prophecy was not just a warning to God’s people Israel about the punishment they would face for rejecting Christ, as fulfilled in 70 AD. It is also a warning to God’s people in the churches about the punishment we must expect to face if dishonor Christ by our actions.

The sad fact is that churches are in fact dishonoring Christ (as scripture foretold that it would, e.g. Acts 20:30, 1 Tim 4:1-2, 2 Tim 3:1-2, 3-4, 5, 7, 3:13, 4:3-4, 2 Pet 2:1-2). We see Christ dishonored by Christians who are unloving (Rev 2:4, 5), teaching false doctrine (Rev 2:14, 15, 16), tolerating sin within the churches (Rev 2:20, 22), dead worship (Rev 3:1,3), and worldliness (Rev 3:16, 17, 18). The prophecy of our coming punishment has already been written, and so it shall come.

Israel’s failures were given as an example for us to learn from (1 Cor 10:11), and we shall prove to be no more faithful than they were. Just as God was very patient with Israel (Ex 34:6-7), He has been very patient with us (2 Pet 3:9).

However, God’s patience will not last forever (Psalm 103:8-9, Isa 48:9, 2 Chron 36:16). He will finally punish our faithlessness just as He punished Israel’s. We have seen that Israel’s punishments, both at the hands of Babylon and Rome, have been given to the churches as symbols or types of the punishment we shall face in the end times at the hand of Antichrist. In the Olivet Discourse, Jesus described a great tribulation (Matt 24:21), and just as it came upon Israel in 70 AD as a type, it shall similarly come upon the churches as the antitype (Rev 6:11, 13:5, 7). As with all the other types and antitypes, the antitype shall be the greater.

There are other similarities as well. When Israel was punished (both by Babylon and by Rome), they were plagued by false prophets who created confusion by contradicting the true prophets. The Olivet Discourse informs us that the churches in the end times will also be plagued by many false prophets and even false signs and wonders (Matt 24:24). Jesus made a major point of saying that His followers will be expected to discern between which are true and which are false (e.g. Matt 24:25, Luke 21:8, Mark 13:21, 22).

Thankfully, the prophecies of the Olivet Discourse didn’t end with tribulation and false prophets, either for Israel or for the churches. Neither Babylon nor Rome succeeded in eliminating Israel. In fact, both of those mighty kingdoms fell long ago while little Israel remains to this day. God has promised that in the end, all Israel will be saved (Rom 11:26, 27). Likewise, the church shall not be eliminated. There will remain a victorious remnant that will cling to the testimony of God, even it if means not shrinking from death (Rev 2:10, 12:11, 15:2), and in the end they too shall be saved (Rev 7:10, 14, 15, 12:10, 19:1).

Just when Antichrist will appear to have conquered the saints (e.g. Rev 11:7, 10), his reign shall be forcibly removed from him and Christ will begin His reign on earth. Christ’s reign shall begin with the bowl judgments which will literally fulfill all of the apocalyptic prophecies (such as Matt 24:29,30 in the Olivet Discourse and Isa 13:6-9 concerning Babylon). The bowls will conclude with the visible return of Christ, who shall finally destroy the kingdom of Antichrist (Rev 19:20, 21) and graciously save His people, in spite of their sins. In the end, both Israel and the Gentile Christians shall be united in receiving God’s restored kingdom.

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