A brief Introduction to the Olivet Discourse: Matthew 24-25
Any time you are engaged in Bible study, you must ask yourself the following questions. I’ve included the answers for this text:
- Who is speaking? Jesus (and his disciples in v. 3)
- Who is the author? Matthew
- Why was this written (or spoken in this case?) For the edification of the followers of Christ
- When did this take place? C.34 AD
- Under what covenant? Old Covenant (Its last full day)
Once these questions have been answered, it is important to reflect on several things, since this is an unusually difficult passage. The first thing to reflect upon is simply the fact that the language is the difficult language of prophetic passages that we refer to as “Apocalyptic” or “Prophetic”: This type of literature must be understood correctly to mean a specific thing, namely that it reveals something. The word “Apocalyptic” comes from a Greek word meaning “to reveal”. It does not mean the end of the world, or a terrible catastrophe, as it is often used in common speech― it may or may not contain those things. Next, it is important to realize that Jesus is here speaking to his disciples, and that He may or may not have been overheard by others. Verse 3 says they came up to Him privately. This could mean that they were entirely alone, but the Mount of Olives is not necessarily a private place. Anybody could walk by if they wanted to. In speaking to them, it is not likely that He would tell them things that they could not possibly understand, or that they would not actually need to know. There would be no particular expectation that they would transcribe what He told them and then rush to the library to consult their commentaries to figure Him out.
Finally, to fully comprehend this passage, it is necessary to keep in mind the following:
- Much has been written about this passage by scholars and by purveyors of certain ‘end time’ theories. For the most part, these good folks have attempted to make this passage fit into a theory, either claiming that it supports their position or that it defeats someone else’s position. Very seldom is it actually studied by Christians as a passage other than in the context of an already accepted theory. The result of this sad fact (trying to make the text fit into a previously held theory) is that many commentators get it entirely WRONG!
- If you want to understand this passage of Scripture for what Jesus actually said here, you MUST forget everything you think you know about it. If you do not do so, you will miss one of the most amazing and frankly enlightening passages recorded in the Gospels. Our position for the purposes of this study is that Matthew 24 and 25 neither support nor defeat any end time theory. You have the opportunity to understand the most difficult passage in the entire New Testament if you will drop the idea that it is “Millennial” in nature: it is not.
- Even more than usual, the context of this passage is utterly crucial in understanding it.
- The passage can be understood by all Christians if they are willing to forget their pre-conceived notions and look at what it actually says, especially including its grammatical construction.
As mentioned above, the context of this passage is of utmost importance. This context is set up from Matthew chapter 21 through chapter 23; chapter 24 follows immediately at the conclusion of those events. For convenience, here is a brief synopsis of those chapters:
In verses 1-11 we have the account of Jesus’ triumphal entry into the city of Jerusalem; Palm Sunday. This is followed by the second cleansing of the Temple in vv. 12-16. After that He goes to Bethany to spend the night (V. 17). The next day He returns to the city and curses a fig tree en route (18-22). When He reaches the Temple area He runs into the Pharisees who demand to know by what authority He cleansed the Temple on the previous day. He asks them to answer a question first, which they find too hot to handle, and then says that since they didn’t answer His question, He won’t answer theirs (27). This is followed by giving the parable of the son in the vineyard (28-32) and the wicked husbandman (34-45) and applies both of the parables. They would have arrested Him at that point, but they feared the crowds (46).
This chapter opens with the parable of the wedding feast (1-14). In verse 15 they decide to set a trap for Him, and the rest of the chapter is a series of questions they ask in this effort, each of which He handles so as to make them look foolish (16-33). Jesus gives them one last question and they fall into a trap, saying that the Christ will be the son of David. Jesus, quoting from Psalm 110 asking why, then did David call him “Lord”. They ended the conversation.
Now, Jesus, addressing the crowd, no doubt in the hearing of the scribes and Pharisees, launched into a major denunciation of them, followed by seven awesome woes upon them (1-36) and ends with His lamentations over Jerusalem (37-39). Chapter 24 picks up with the disciples asking Him about Jerusalem.
“O 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, but 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.’
In these words, Jesus shows His sorrow that Israel would not follow God, and leads to His discussion of what the consequence would ultimately be.
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?”
Matthew 24:1-3; Points of Interest
v. 1:Immediately after this lamentation, Jesus was leaving the area, and His disciples call His attention to the massive structure of the Temple. Obviously, they were struck by His words.
v. 2:Jesus answers them by telling them that the Temple would be utterly destroyed; there can be no doubt of what He was referring to here. Understand something about the Jewish view of the Temple: Not only was it a massive structure that takes up an entire mountaintop, it was the dwelling place of God on the earth. God dwelt in the Holy of holies, the holiest place into which nobody could enter except for the High Priest, one day per year, under strict ceremonial requirements. If the High Priest failed to do it exactly right, or if anyone else attempted to enter through the veil into the Holy of holies, they would be struck dead immediately. The idea of this structure, and of God’s dwelling place being destroyed was, to say the least, traumatic to the Jewish psyche. In fact, this was not the first time that Jesus had spoken of the destruction of the Temple. When He had first cleared the Temple, He had said “destroy this temple and I will raise it again in three days”. As we know from John’s Gospel, they had taken this literally, and it appears that they may have connected the two events in their minds. John relates that it was only later that they had come to realize that He had spoken of the temple of
His body (John 2:19-22). How could they have understood that He referred to His body? They did not yet understand that His body had become the dwelling place of God at His incarnation; God had changed address! In Matthew 24, they still did not understand this, and they did not begin to get it until his resurrection. They completely understood by the Day of Pentecost.
v. 3:The disciples asked a question… it looks like they equated destroying the Temple with the end of the world. This shouldn’t surprise us, since it would surely be the end of the Jewish world. The question for us to figure out is this: How many questions did they actually ask?
This question is critical, because the answer to this question will determine how we interpret the entire answer. Certain theories require certain answers here. One of them requires this to be one big three-part question, or they can’t quote it to support their theory. In truth, we will need to decide before we continue with our study. The possible choices are: one question, two questions, or three questions.
The way to figure out the answer to this is to carefully study the grammatical structure of Jesus’ answer to determine how many questions Jesus answered. Accordingly, next week, that is precisely what we will undertake to do.