The Olivet Discourse
Matthew 24 – 25
Parallel Texts: Mark 13; Luke 21:5-37
This discourse takes place in Jerusalem, a far-flung outpost of the Roman Empire in approximately 34 AD. This region has been under foreign occupation since the time of the Babylonian Empire, having gone through a succession of foreign powers including the Medes, Persians, Greeks and Romans. The most influential of these, the Greeks under Alexander and his successors, fundamentally transformed the region culturally, and over the centuries since their time, there has been an underlying tension between those who adopted Hellenic culture and those who strive to maintain the ancient Jewish traditions and who hearken back to the glory days of Davidic Israel.
Jesus, the long-awaited Messiah has come according to the timetable set forth by the prophet Daniel. Throughout the three plus years of His ministry, Jesus has fulfilled prophecy after prophecy as documented by Matthew, the author of the gospel to the Jews, and at the time of this discourse Jesus, nearing the end of His ministry, gives His own prophecy about the future, at the request of His disciples.
Context Within Matthew’s Gospel
Jesus entered Jerusalem for the last time in chapter 21, and in that chapter and chapter 22 we see the unfolding drama of His battles with the Jewish authorities culminating in His last public address at the temple, where He pronounces judgment upon the religious establishment in the “Seven Woes” recorded in chapter 23. The Olivet Discourse takes place immediately after this, followed by the Last Supper, arrest, trial, death, burial and resurrection. The Olivet Discourse, then comes at a key turning point between His public teachings and the remainder of His ministry that is conducted in private leading up to His arrest. Even at this late juncture, the people are expecting Jesus to overthrow the Roman occupiers and restore old Israel, for the nature of His radical new Kingdom seems to be elusive to their human understanding. Chapter 23 ends with Jesus final public words as He pronounced the judgment of God upon the religious elite of the city, and then a lament:
“Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were not willing. Look, your house is left to you desolate. For I tell you, you will not see me again until you say, ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.’”
Thus ends the public ministry of Jesus, the Son of the Most High God; a note of lamentation for what must soon take place, a dark fate for the people there who simply refuse to follow God, as their ancestors had done so many times before. Yet even now He holds out hope that they will repent of their evil and welcome Him upon His resurrection, only a few days hence.
Jesus and His disciples exit the temple and make their way toward the Mount of Olives, across the narrow Kidron Valley from the Temple Mount…
Chapter 24 begins as they are walking
Jesus left the temple and was walking away when his disciples came up to him to call his attention to its buildings. “Do you see all these things?” he asked. “Truly I tell you, not one stone here will be left on another; every one will be thrown down.”
As Jesus was sitting on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to him privately. “Tell us,” they said, “when will this happen, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?”
Right after Jesus’ lamentation for Jerusalem, walking away the disciples call His attention to the great and majestic buildings of the city center, with the Temple proudly rising from atop its Mountain dominating the scene. The Temple was the very center of Jewish life, for it was the very dwelling place of God on the earth. For the Jewish people it was the very pride and joy of all things Jewish, the symbol of their identity as God’s chosen, the very thing that set them apart from all other Peoples, the one thing that made them feel superior to everyone else, even though they lived under Roman rule. Having His attention called to this scene, Jesus tells them that it will all be destroyed completely.
For just a moment, try to put yourself into the disciples’ sandals; how would this make you feel? Here, let’s hone in a little bit to their point of view: You have been following this guy for over three years now as He preached the Kingdom and performed miracles and drove out demons. You have heard Him teach, you have seen Him raise a man from the tomb right in front of you, you have completely bought into His whole Kingdom thing, assuming that at the heart of any such Kingdom would be God’s holy dwelling place, the Temple… and He just dropped the bomb that everything would be destroyed. Would that sit well with you?
When they reach the Mount of Olives, those disciples were probably about to burst! As soon as they can, they must ask Jesus about all of this…Matthew, himself one of those disciples, records their fateful question in verse 3:
“Tell us,” they said, “when will this happen, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?”
These prophetic words of Jesus that follow are given in answer to this question. To understand His answer, all we need to do is to figure out how many questions were asked, and how many he answered, but for that, we’ll have to wait for next time!