The Olivet discourse or Olivet prophecy is a biblical passage found in the Synoptic Gospels of Mark 13, Matthew 24, Luke 21. It is known as the "Little Apocalypse" because it includes Jesus' descriptions of the end times, the use of apocalyptic language, and Jesus' warning to his followers that they will suffer tribulation and persecution before the ultimate triumph of the Kingdom of God. The Olivet discourse is the last of the Five Discourses of Matthew and occurs just prior to the narrative of Jesus' passion beginning with the Anointing of Jesus. In the narrative is a discourse or sermon given by Jesus on the Mount of Olives, hence the name. The gospels, taken as a whole, indicate the discourse was given on Holy Tuesday.
A major challenge to theologians is to determine the timing of the fulfillment of Biblical prophecy. Of considerable relevance is the determination of whether the tribulation Jesus describes is a past, present or future event.:p.5 In each of the three gospel accounts, the sermon contains a number of statements which at first glance seem predictive of future events. There is general agreement that Jesus prophesies about the future destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem. However, modern Christian interpretation diverges as to the meaning of the additional topics in the discourse. Many evangelical Christian interpreters, including well known ministers and theologians such as John Hagee and Tim LaHaye, say the passages refer to the Second Coming of Jesus. They disagree whether Jesus describes the signs that accompany his return. The late British expositor, E. K. Victor Pearce, suggested that the middle part of the discourse referred to the Roman invasion but that the beginning and end referred to the end of the world.
The setting on the Mount of Olives is also thought by some scholars to have been not incidental, but a quite deliberate echo of a passage in the Book of Zechariah which refers to the location as the place where a final battle would occur between the Jewish Messiah and his opponents.
Destruction of the Temple
in the Gospels
According to the narrative of the synoptic Gospels, an anonymous disciple remarks on the greatness of Herod's Temple, a building thought to have been some 10 stories high and likely to have been adorned with gold, silver, and other precious items. Remembering that Jesus was responding to a disciple who was boasting in the Temple's construction, and that that disciple drew Jesus' attention to the precious stones sitting atop that construction, Jesus says that not one of those stones would remain intact in the building, and the whole thing would be reduced to rubble.
The disciples asked Jesus for a sign, "When will this happen, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?" The disciples, being Jewish, believed that the Messiah would come and that his arrival would mean the fulfillment of all the prophecies they hoped in. They believed that the Temple played a large role in this, hence the disciple in the first part boasting to Jesus about the Temple's construction. Jesus' prophecy concerning the Temple's destruction was contrary to their belief system. The Master sought to correct that impression, first, by discussing the Roman invasion,
Jesus first warns them about things that would happen that should not be interpreted as signs:
- Some would claim to be Christ, see also Antichrist. It was a general belief that if the Jewish Messiah arrived in Jerusalem, it would mean that the Kingdom of Heaven was imminent.
- There would be wars and rumours of wars.
Then Jesus identifies the beginnings of birth pangs, a metaphor for 'false alarm' (some older translations incorrectly read sorrows):
- Nations rising up against nations, and kingdoms against kingdoms.
- Fearful events
Next he described more birth pangs which would lead to the coming Kingdom:
- False prophets
- Persecution of the followers of Jesus
- The spread of Jesus' message (the gospel) around the world
Jesus then warned the disciples about the Abomination of Desolation "standing where it does not belong". The Gospels of Matthew and Mark add "—let the reader understand—". This is generally considered to be a reference to two passages from the Book of Daniel.
Some consider these declarations to be unlikely or implausible. However, there also are noted Christian theologians who believe that each of Jesus' declarations were prophecies. One view (Futurism) is that the future Jesus predicted is the unfolding of events from trends that are already at work in contemporary human society. Another prophetic view (Preterism) is that all of these predictions were fulfilled by the time Jerusalem fell in 70 AD. It is interesting to note that much of the confusion is the result of misunderstanding Jesus' discussion on key issues, the most important being the illustration of the fig tree (and other trees). This is a juxtaposition, balancing the two parts of the discussion. The first part being the answer to the first question concerning the destruction of the Temple, the second part being the answer to the question of Jesus' return at the end of the world. Hence, concerning the first he says that "this (His own) Generation" would see the fulfillment, whereas the second, "No man knows", not even Jesus himself.
Although the passage in the Book of Daniel internally claims to be a prophecy dictated to Daniel by Gabriel during the Babylonian captivity, some modern scholars believe that the Book was pseudepigraphically written in the mid-2nd century BC, and that rather than being a genuine prophecy the passage was a postdiction, written as a polemic against the shrine to Zeus set up in the temple in 168 BC by Antiochus IV Epiphanes, which had a pagan altar added onto the Altar of the Holocausts Exactly how the Synoptics meant it to be reinterpreted or interpreted, however, is a matter of debate among Christian scholars:
- A successful prophecy about Titus's destruction of the Temple in AD 70 (see preterism)
- Prophecies after the fact.
- A reference to a future Antichrist (see futurism)
- Another vaticinium ex eventu about Caligula's attempt to put a statue of himself or of Jupiter into the temple in AD 37-41
The reign of Gaius Caligula (37-41 AD) witnessed the first open break between the Jews and the Julio-Claudian empire. Until then—if one excepts Sejanus' heyday [19-31 AD] and the trouble caused by the census after Archelaus' banishment [6 AD]—there was usually an atmosphere of understanding between the Jews and the empire…. These relations deteriorated seriously during Caligula's reign, and, though after his death the peace was outwardly re-established, considerable bitterness remained on both sides. ... Caligula ordered that a golden statue of himself be set up in the Temple in Jerusalem. ... Only Caligula's death, at the hands of Roman conspirators (AD 41), prevented the outbreak of a Jewish-Roman war that might well have spread to the entire East.
Jesus' biblical prophecy
After Jesus described the "abomination that causes desolation", he warns that the people of Judea should flee to the mountains as a matter of such urgency that they shouldn't even return to get things from their homes. Jesus also warned that if it happened in winter or on the Sabbath fleeing would be even more difficult. Jesus described this as a time of "Great Tribulation" worse than anything that had gone before.
Jesus then states that immediately after the time of tribulation people would see a sign, "the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light; the stars will fall from the sky, and the heavenly bodies will be shaken".
The statements about the sun and moon turning dark sound quite apocalyptic, as it appears to be a quote from the Book of Isaiah.
Two opposing interpretations
- Tribulation as a past event (Dr. Gentry)
- The Great Tribulation occurred during the 1st century.
- Those events marked the end of God's focus on and exaltation of Israel.
- Jesus' prophecies marked the beginning of the Christian era in God's plan.
- The Tribulation is God's judgment on Israel for rejecting the Messiah.
- The Tribulation judgments will be centered around local events surrounding ancient Jerusalem, and also somewhat affecting other portions of the former Roman Empire.
- The Tribulation judgments are governed by Jesus as the Christ to reflect his judgment against Israel, thus showing that he is in heaven controlling those events.
- Tribulation as a future event (Dr. Ice)
- The Great Tribulation is still to come and is rapidly approaching prospect.
- Those events marked the beginning of God's focus on and exaltation of Israel.
- The prophecy says the Christian era will be concluded just after the church is taken from the world.
- Rather than being God's judgment on Israel, it is the preparation of Israel to receive her Messiah.
- The judgments involve catastrophes that literally will affect the stellar universe and impact the entire planet.
- The coming of Christ in the Tribulation requires his public, visible and physical presence to conclude those judgments.
Coming of the Son of Man
In the Olivet Discourse, Jesus states that after the time of tribulation and the sign of the sun, moon and stars going dark the son of man would be seen arriving in the clouds with power and great glory. Jesus would be accompanied by the angels and at the trumpet call the angels would gather the elect (God's chosen) from the heavens and the four winds of the earth.
Some Christians have seen this as a prediction of Roman tyranny being overcome by Christianity. Christianity did eventually become the official religion of the Roman Empire. The Eastern Roman Empire remained Christianized until its fall to the Turks in 1453, and large portions of its former territory, such as Greece, remain largely Christian to this day.
The Synoptics also describe Jesus as stating that "the elect" would be gathered together from across the earth and heaven. His actual wording is that they would be gathered "from the four winds, from the furthest part of the earth to the furthest part of heaven". Although most scholars, and almost all Christians, read this as meaning that the gathering would include people not only from earth but also from heaven, a few Christians, mostly modern American Protestant Premillennialists, have interpreted it to mean that people would be gathered from earth and taken to heaven—a concept known in their circles as the rapture. Most scholars see this as a quotation of a passage from the Book of Zechariah in which God (and the contents of heaven in general) are predicted to come to earth and live among the elect, who by necessity are gathered together for this purpose.
In the Olivet Discourse, Jesus stated that when all these signs are seen, his second coming would be imminent. He went on to say that this generation would not pass until all these things had happened.
Historically, this has been one of the most difficult passages to resolve with a literal interpretation of the text. At face value it would seem to imply that the disciples would still be alive today. Awkward legends arose suggesting that the disciples to whom Jesus was speaking did not die but remain alive, eventually developing into legends like those of the Wandering Jew and Prester John. C. S. Lewis called this "the most embarrassing verse in the Bible".
The fourth-century church father John Chrysostom held this interpretation:
After this, that they might not straightway return to it again, and say, “When?” he brings to their remembrance the things that had been said, saying, “Verily I say unto you, This generation shall not pass, till all these things be fulfilled!” All these things. What things? I pray thee. Those about Jerusalem, those about the wars, about the famines, about the pestilences, about the earthquakes, about the false Christs, about the false prophets, about the sowing of the gospel everywhere, the seditions, the tumults, all the other things, which we said were to occur until His coming. How then, one may ask, did He say, “This generation?” Speaking not of the generation then living, but of that of the believers. For He is wont to distinguish a generation not by times only, but also by the mode of religious service, and practice; as when He saith, “This is the generation of them that seek the Lord. ”
— John Chrysostom
In the earliest known Christian document, the First Epistle to the Thessalonians, Paul seems to envisage that he and the Christians to whom he was writing would see the resurrection of the dead within their own lifetimes: "For this we declare to you by a word from the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep. (ESV)"
In modern times, a popular (but far from unanimous) opinion is that Jesus in the Olivet Discourse is using the apocalyptic language of his time symbolically, as did many Jewish prophets. Nevertheless, throughout history there have been many groups who read the discourse literally. Christian thought continues to include groups who say that the end of the world is near, some even giving exact dates which have since come and gone without an intervening end of world (see also Second Coming). Some Christians believe that predictions of several events are related: the second coming of Jesus, the war of Armageddon, the arrival on earth of the Antichrist, the Tribulation, the Rapture, some horrendous natural disaster, etc. Jewish, Islamic, psychic and occult predictions have also been offered as well. ReligiousTolerance.org lists over 7 dozen past predictions of the end of the world, none of which has come true. Some very prominent individuals have been consistently wrong when they predicted the end of the world. End-of-the-world predictions have been common throughout Christianity and other religions for almost 2000 years.
The Idealist (timeless) sees no evidence of timing of prophetic events in the Bible. Thus they conclude that their timing cannot be determined in advance. Idealists see prophetic passages as being of great value in teaching truths about God to be applied to present life.
Idealism is seldom applied to Bible prophecy except in liberal scholarship. It is not a factor in current mainstream conservative deliberation over when prophecy will be fulfilled.
Preterism (from Latin for "past") considers that most, if not all, prophecy has been fulfilled already, usually in relation to the destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans in AD 70. This doctrine differs on some important points:
- Partial preterism says that most (but not all) Bible prophecy, including everything within Matthew 24, Daniel, and Revelation up to chapters 19 or 20, has already been fulfilled when Jerusalem was destroyed. Since it still includes belief in a future physical "Second Coming" of Christ, the resurrection of the dead, and the last judgment, partial preterism falls within the parameters of orthodoxy because it conforms to the early Christian creeds.
- Full preterism says all biblical prophecy was fulfilled by AD 70. It does not hold to a future judgment, return of Christ, or resurrection of the dead (at least not for non-Christians). Due to the belief that all biblical prophecy has been fulfilled, it is sometimes considered "radical" and usually described as "unorthodox" because it goes against all of the early Christian creeds.
Historicism considers that most prophecy has been or will be fulfilled during the present church age. It was the chief view of Protestants from the Reformation until the mid-19th century. Only among Seventh-day Adventists is historicism applied to current conservative Christian interpretation of Tribulation understanding.
Futurism typically holds that all major unfulfilled prophecies will be fulfilled during a global time of catastrophe and war known as the Great Tribulation, in which many other prophecies will be fulfilled during or after the Millennium Reign of Jesus Christ. According to many futurists, many predictions are currently being fulfilled during the Church Age, in which lawlessness and apostasy are currently plaguing secular society. This is seen as a major sign of the approaching fulfillment of all other prophecies during the Tribulation. Within evangelical Christianity over the past 150 years, futurism has come to be the dominant view of prophecy. However, around the 1970s evangelical preterism—the polar opposite of futurism—was seen as a new challenge to the dominance of futurism, particularly within the Reformed tradition. Yet, futurism continues as the prevalent view for the time being.:p.7
Futurists anticipate many coming events that will fulfill all eschatological prophecy: the seven-year period of tribulation, the Antichrist's global government, the Battle of Armageddon, the Second Coming of Jesus, the millennial reign of Christ, the eternal state, and the two resurrections.
- In his popular book, The Late Great Planet Earth, first published in 1970, evangelical Christian author Hal Lindsey argued that prophetical information in Matthew 24 indicates that the “generation” witnessing the “rebirth of Israel” is the same generation that will observe the fulfillment of the “signs” referred to in —and that would be consummated by the second coming of Christ in approximately 1988. He dated it from the “rebirth of Israel” in 1948, and took a generation to be “something like forty years. ” Lindsey later stretched his forty-year timetable to as long as one hundred years, writing that he was no longer certain that the terminal "generation" commenced with the rebirth of Israel.
- Another detailed analysis, one written by theologian Ray Stedman, calls it the "Olivet Prophecy: The most detailed prediction in the Bible". According to Stedman: "There are many predictive passages in both the Old and New Testaments, but none is clearer or more detailed than the message Jesus delivered from the Mount of Olives. This message was given during the turbulent events of the Lord's last week before the cross".
- Christian eschatology
- Five Discourses of Matthew
- Last Judgement
- Life of Jesus in the New Testament
- Second Coming
- Summary of Christian eschatological differences
- "Frontline" TV series. PBS. Online: http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/shows/apocalypse/primary/ Accessed: 19 September 2008
- Gentry, Kenneth L.; Thomas Ice. The Great Tribulation—Past Or Future?: Two Evangelicals Debate the Question. Kregel Academic & Professional, 1999. ISBN 978-0-8254-2901-9
- Kilgallen, John J. A Brief Commentary on the Gospel of Mark Paulist Press, 1989. ISBN 0-8091-3059-9
- Refer to the original language or modern translations for the two different words used for "stones"
- Stedman, Ray C. What on Earth Is Happening? What Jesus Said About the End of the Age. Discovery House Publishers, 2003. ISBN 1-57293-092-6
- Jackson, Wayne. "A Study of Matthew Twenty-four" November 23, 1998. Christian Courier. Contains in-depth discussion of the significant of the chapter and the signs that have come to fruition.
- Souvay, Charles. "Altars (in Scripture)". The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 1. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1907. 5 September 2009 htm.
- Brown, Raymond E. et al. The New Jerome Biblical Commentary. Prentice Hall, 1990. ISBN 0-13-614934-0. p.624
- Miller, Robert J. (ed.) The Complete Gospels. Polebridge Press, 1994. ISBN 0-06-065587-9 p.44)
- Craig Blomberg, Jesus and the Gospels, Apollos 1997, pp.322-326
- Wright, N.T., Jesus and the Victory of God (Christian Origins and the Question of God, Volume 2), Fortress 1996. ISBN 978-0800626822. pp. 348ff.
- Gospel of Mark
- Brown, Raymond E. An Introduction to the New Testament. Doubleday 1997 ISBN 0-385-24767-2144
- Ben-Sasson, H.H. A History of the Jewish People. Harvard University Press, 1976. ISBN 0-674-39731-2, pp. 254-256
- Rosen, Christine. Preaching Eugenics. Oxford Press, 2004. http://books.google.com/books?id=DrKgIIxCHVIC&pg=PA17&lpg=PA17&dq=Protestant+Premillennialists&source=web&ots=ChZsRrqbQJ&sig=z7Xj6CMYPaBuVlmWVYKEtNLd7DU&hl=en&sa=X&oi=book_result&resnum=4&ct=result
- C. S. Lewis The World's Last Night and Other Essays
- http://www.ccel.org/ccel/schaff/npnf110.iii. LXXIV.
- Without agreeing with this theory, biblical scholar Leon Morris reports it in his book The First and Second Epistles to the Thessalonians. Eerdmans, 1991. ISBN 978-0-8028-2512-4
- Ravitz, Jessica. "Road trip to the end of the world".  Accessed 6 May 2013
- Web: http://www.religioustolerance.org/end_wrl1.htm
- Hendricks, J.L. What on Earth Is God Up To? Xulon Press, 2009. ISBN 978-1607918318, p.41
- Gentry, Kenneth L. Jr. "Falsely Declaring 'The Time. ' The Great Tribulation in Progressive Dispensationalism (Part 5)". Dispensationalism in Transition: Challenging Traditional Dispensationalism's 'Code of Silence. ' November 1998. Online: http://reformed-theology.org/ice/newslet/dit/dit11.98.htm. Accessed: 13 December 2008.
- Lindsey, Hal. The Late Great Planet Earth. Grand Rapids, MI. Zondervan, 1970.
- Lindsey, Hal. 1977. Eternity, January 1977