When Shall These Things Be? Understanding the Olivet Discourse (Matthew 24-25)
Note: This essay is an excerpt from my book on eschatology, The Great End Time Debate (Redmption Press, 2022). My primary purpose in that book is to defend the classic amillennial view of our Blessed Hope: Christ will return once, at the end of the present evil age, to raise the dead, judge the world in righteousness, and create new heavens and a new earth, the eternal home of the redeemed. I hope you enjoy the essay . . . and perhaps the book as well!
Shortly before his passion, the Lord Jesus sat with his disciples on the Mount of Olives and taught them about the Consummation. All agree that his lengthy discourse, recounted by three of the four Gospel writers, is the single most important dominical teaching on this subject. It is also the most difficult and controversial. However, if our grasp of biblical eschatology is firm, and our understanding of prophetic diction clear, the difficulties are actually quite surmountable, and the controversies readily laid to rest.
My approach in this essay will be as follows. First, we will look closely at the Disciple’s Question, a question that both elicited the Lord’s reply and determined the prophetic principles by which he would give it. Secondly, we will briefly survey the discourse itself, using those principles to help us interpret his meaning. Thirdly, we will address some of the more difficult questions involved, even as we interact with different interpretations of controversial passages. And finally, we will summarize our findings, showing how richly they favor the amillennial view of the Consummation.
The Disciple’s Question (24:1-3)
In his final confrontation with the scribes and Pharisees, the Lord Jesus has just predicted—and lamented over—the coming destruction of Jerusalem: the desolation of the house of Israel (23:37-39). Now, as he leaves the temple area, his disciples comment on the grandeur of the buildings. Discerning their spiritual blindness to the times they live in, he urges a second look, telling them that here not one stone will be left upon another. Having often heard their Master teach about his coming both to judge and finally redeem, and now learning that the judgment includes the destruction of the temple and the city, they quickly surround him on the Mount of Olives, eagerly desiring to know, “When will these things be, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age” (Matt. 24:1-3)?
The Olivet Discourse is Jesus’ answer to this question. But in asking it the disciples have one thing in mind, while in answering it Jesus has another. The disciples, like the John the Baptizer, are thinking of a single coming in the near future, when Jesus, acting in God’s power, will bring the present evil age to a close in judgment and usher in the eternal Kingdom of God (Matt. 3:7-12).
However, with the benefit of biblical hindsight, we know better. We know that Jesus is thinking of two comings, separated by at least two millennia; two distinct comings, yet united by one common character and purpose. The first coming is providential, at the hand of the Roman general Titus, a coming that will destroy Jerusalem and seal the abolition of the Jewish theocracy (Mark 11:12-14). The second is a supernatural coming at the hand of the glorified Christ, a coming that will destroy the present world system and bring in the age to come.
Knowing all this, Jesus sees that he must frame his reply in such a way as to meet the needs of all his disciples; the needs of all who will look for his glorious coming and the signs that herald it. In other words, he knows he must speak to the needs of the generation that will live through the destruction of Jerusalem, the needs of subsequent generations that will experience the various tribulations of the Era of Gospel Proclamation, and the very special needs of the last generation that will pass through a great tribulation destined to occur immediately prior to his Parousia.
He did so. The result was yet another Kingdom prophecy characterized by prophetic perspective (blending, foreshortening). We have spoken of this before. Prophetic perspective occurs when the Holy Spirit refers to two or even three historical events, widely separated in time, yet blended into a single prophecy, since the events in view share a common character. As we saw, this pattern is especially prominent in certain OT prophecies of the Day of the LORD, where the prophets spoke not only of an imminent local judgment (whether on Israel or the nations), but also of a final global judgment (Is. 2:5-22, 13:1ff; Joel 2:1-20; Zeph. 1:1ff).
Such is the case here. In the Olivet Discourse, the Lord blends predictions of an imminent (and providential) coming of Christ in 70 AD with predictions of an eschatological (and supernatural) coming of Christ at the end of the age; he blends predictions of a local judgment of Jerusalem with predictions of a universal judgment of the whole world. Therefore, speaking of the Olivet Discourse, C. E. B. Cranfield well concludes, “Neither an exclusively historical nor an exclusively eschatological interpretation is satisfactory. We must allow for a double reference, for a mingling of historical and eschatological.”
Bearing this principle in mind, and applying it freely, let us now survey the remainder of the discourse. I will comment on Matthew’s version, which is the most extensive, but also refer to Mark’s and Luke’s where appropriate.
The Signs of His Two-fold Coming (24:4-28)
Verses 4-28 give us the signs of the Lord’s twofold coming. Here, a notable progression is evident. Verses 4-8 tell of “the beginning of the birth pains.” All throughout the Era of Gospel Proclamation the world will experience them: false Christs (5), wars, rumors of war (6), famines, earthquakes (7), and pestilence (Luke 21:11). These are indeed signs of the final judgment to come, and also of the new world that is sure to be born after it. They are not, however, signs that the end—or the birth—is imminent; that it is “right at the door.” On the contrary, they are signs that the end and the birth have not yet come (Mark 13:7). Therefore, when the saints see them, they are not be deceived, overly excited, or discouraged; rather, they are to stay busy!
In verses 9-14 the eschatological labor pains intensify. Yes, in most cases the signs mentioned here were fulfilled among first century Christians living in Israel. However, in this section the accent begins to fall on the middle and later portions of the Era of Proclamation. They include persecution, martyrdom (9), apostasy (10), more—and more deceptive—false prophets (11), increasing lawlessness, corresponding lukewarmness (12), and—on a happier note—the universal proclamation of the Gospel, after which the end (i.e., the Consummation) will come (14). Happy is the man who endures to that end (13).1
In verses 15-28 we reach transition. Now the labor is most intense. Now there is great tribulation. Now the coming, the end, and the birth are indeed at the door. By and large, these predictions again have a double fulfillment. The near-term fulfillment, emphasized by Luke (Luke 21:20-24), is at the coming of Titus and the judgment of the Israelite nation, epitomized in the destruction of their city and their temple. The far-term fulfillment, emphasized by Matthew and Mark, is in the Parousia and the subsequent Judgment of the entire world-system; the destruction of the City of Man and its “temple” (i.e., its man-made, man-centered religion). As one commentator aptly writes, “The destruction of Jerusalem was a foretaste of the Last Judgment, and so is a sign of the coming wrath” (RSB, p. 1401).2 Importantly, all three versions of the Discourse refer or allude to both comings and both judgments; contrary to our preterist brethren, none of them confines the coming of Christ to the events of 70 AD.
The prophetic particulars in this section are challenging to interpret, but the overall picture is clear. The Lord begins by instructing his disciples to watch for “the Abomination of Desolation, standing in the holy place” (15). Alluding to texts found in Daniel (Dan. 9:27, 11:31, 12:11), he is referring to Titus’ desecration of the temple in 70 AD, but also to the rise of the Antichrist, who will attempt to usurp the worship properly belonging to God (2 Thess. 2:1ff).
Next, he warns the disciples quickly to flee at the sight of these things (16-17). According to Eusebius, the early Jewish Christians obeyed implicitly, many of them escaping to Pella; perhaps, at the rise of the Antichrist, many latter-day Christians will be led to do similarly.
In verses 19-20, Jesus pronounces a woe upon women who are pregnant or nursing in those days, also urging his own followers to pray that their flight may not be in winter or on the Sabbath. These verses seem largely to apply to the siege of Jerusalem, though one can readily imagine analogues suitable for the dark days of the Last Battle. However, in the remainder of this section (vv. 21-28), the accent definitely falls upon events destined to occur at the end of the age.
In verses 21-22, the Lord now warns of a great tribulation, more severe than any the world has ever known or ever will. The siege of Jerusalem, dire as it was, only pictures it. Here, then, Jesus primarily has in mind the manifold judgments that will fall upon nature and society in the last of the last days; judgments designed to warn the whole world of the divine wrath shortly to come. However, the Lord has already hinted that he also has in mind the severe persecution that will befall the Church during the Last Battle (9). Happily, because of his love for the elect, God will cut those dark days short (22).
With this great tribulation especially in view, the Lord now issues solemn warnings to all his followers (23-26). Don’t be taken in by false Christs or false prophets, even if they can perform miracles (24-25). If anyone claims that the Christ is already on the earth, do not believe him (23, 26). Always remember that the true Christ will descend from heaven, illuminating earth and sky like a lightning bolt on a stormy night (27-28). When this happens, divine judgment—in part at the hand of the holy angels—will fall upon the spiritually dead in every place, even as eagles fall upon dead bodies wherever they may lie (v. 28; Ezek. 39:4; Matt. 13:41-42; Luke 17:34-37; Rev. 19:17, 21). Let no saint be found among them.
The Parousia (24:29-31)
These three verses are the pinnacle of the Olivet Discourse. Everything prior leads up to them, everything after flows down from them. Since they do not reference the Judgment and its aftermath (25:31-40), they do not give us the Consummation as a whole; nevertheless, they do give us the Agent of the Judgment, and the Agent of the Consummation as whole: Christ at his Parousia.
With extraordinary power and specificity, our Lord here represents the Parousia as cosmic in its scope and climactic in its impact on man and nature. It is the absolute end of the former world, and the absolute beginning the new. Accordingly, just prior to his appearing, the break-up of the old cosmos begins: There are signs in the sun, moon, and stars; upon the earth there is dismay among nations, and great perplexity at the roaring of the sea and waves; men’s hearts fail them for fear and for the expectation of things now coming upon the earth (Luke 21:26f). Finally, God sets the stage: The luminaries are completely extinguished, and darkest night falls on the cosmos. All is in readiness for the glorious appearing of the true Light of the World (29).
How exactly does our Lord depict the (unfolding of the) Parousia? It may not be possible to say with certitude. Nevertheless, honoring these verses as his seminal teaching on this subject, and supplementing them with further NT revelation on the Parousia found in parallel passages, I would offer the following as a likely scenario:
First, “the sign of the Son of Man” appears in the sky: Unless this is the brightness of the glory clouds that attend him, its exact nature remains undisclosed (30). Next, Christ himself appears, proceeding steadily towards the earth upon “clouds” (i.e., visible manifestations) of the Father’s power and glory, with all the holy angels at his side (25:31, 30; Rev. 14:14f). As he draws nearer still, there is a cry of command, the voice of an archangel, and the sound of a great trumpet (31; 1 Thess. 4:16). At this, all who have ever lived hear his voice, rise from the dead, and come forth from the graves (John 5:28-29; 1 Thess. 4:13-17; Rev. 20:13). Also, the Lord himself transforms and glorifies the bodies of the living saints (1 Cor. 15:50-54; 1 Thes. 4:17). Henceforth, every eye is beholding him: The saints of all ages who marvel and rejoice, and the hostile and unbelieving who mourn and recoil in terror (30; Matt. 26:64; 2 Thess. 1:10; Rev. 1:7, 6:16). As all watch, the holy angels now fly earthward to their appointed task of harvesting the earth. First, they gather in God’s elect, catching them up into the air and bringing them to safety at Christ’s right hand (31; Matt. 24:40-41; 1 Thess. 4:13-17; Rev. 11:12; but see also Matt, 13:30, 41). Then they gather the unrighteous, possibly casting them immediately into the (newly created) Lake of Fire, but probably bringing them first to the Judgment Seat of Christ (Matt. 13:41-42; 25:31ff; 2 Cor. 5:10; Rev. 14:14-20). The earth and its works below are now being consumed with fire (2 Peter 3:8-13; Rev. 20:11). Christ is enthroned in glory at the center of the universe (25:31:ff; Rev. 20:11-15). All men and all angels are assembled before him (2 Cor. 5:10). The Judgment of the Great Day has begun (Jude 1:6).
The Lesson of the Fig Tree (Matthew 24:32–35)
In a moment the Lord will complete his discourse by speaking of the Judgment (Matt. 25:31–46). However, before doing so he desires to draw out some practical applications of the truths he has spoken so far.
He begins by admonishing his disciples—all of them—to watch for the signs of his supernatural and eschatological Coming. To this end he bids them learn a lesson from the fig tree: When they see it put forth its leaves, they know that summer is near. So too, when they see “all these things”—all the signs he has just spoken of—they can know that his Parousia (vv. 29-31) and the end of the present evil age (vv. 32-33) are at hand.
But how do we know that he has his eschatological Coming in view, and not the providential coming of AD 70? We know it because “all these things” (i.e., all these signs) include events that did not occur prior to AD 70: the global proclamation of the gospel (v. 14), the universal hatred of Christians (v. 9), the appearing of the eschatological Abomination that Causes Desolation (i.e., the Antichrist, v.15), unprecedented and unparalleled tribulation (v. 21), false messiahs and false prophets who work deceptive signs and wonders (v. 24), and dreadful portents in the sky and sea (v. 29; Luke 21:25-26). All the saints must watch for all these things; and when they see them, they must lift up their heads, for in those days the Parousia, the Consummation, and the fullness of their redemption will be right at the door (v. 33; Luke 21:28)!
Having thus outlined the remaining years of Salvation History, the Lord now solemnly pledges: “I tell you the truth: This generation will by no means pass away till all these things have taken place. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away” (Matt. 24:34-35). These verses are quite difficult, and have therefore generated a host of interpretations, some of which I will touch on before briefly sharing my present view.
Note first his preface: “I tell you the truth.” This strong affirmation fits hand in glove with verse 35, where the Lord states that heaven and earth will pass away, but his words will never pass away. His meaning? “My words—my predictions, warnings, and promises—come straight from the divine Creator and King of heaven and earth. They are eternal, true, and trustworthy. In the face of all coming events, temptations, and persecutions you can take them to the bank.”
In much the same spirit, he then says, “This generation will by no means pass away till all these things have taken place.” What did he mean by “this generation”? We cannot answer with confidence until we understand what he meant by “all these things?” Now in light of verse 33, it is possible that he meant the various signs previously mentioned, but not the Parousia itself. Here, however, the expression seems to be all-inclusive. His solemn “I tell you the truth,” plus his reference to the passing of the (present) heavens and the earth (v. 35), both suggest that in addition to the signs, he also had in mind his Parousia, the Consummation, and the advent of the new cosmos (Matt. 25:31-46).
What, then, did he mean by “this generation”? The Greek is genea. Undeniably, the Lord customarily used this word to refer to his contemporaries: the Israelite men and women of his own generation (Matt. 11:16; 12:30, 38-42; 16:4; 17:17, etc.). Insisting that he was doing so here, theological liberals, rejecting a divine Christ and an inerrant Bible, assert that he was simply wrong. We who believe in both dare not follow them.
Others—our preterist brethren—agree that Jesus was referring to his own generation, but assert that in speaking of the signs of his Coming (vv. 3-28), and also of the Coming itself (vv. 29-31), he was largely using figurative, apocalyptic language to describe the events of AD 33-70, events that would culminate in Titus’s destruction of Jerusalem. But this “mystical” interpretation cannot possibly be correct, since it is obvious that throughout the entire discourse the Lord was making straightforward historical predictions about his providential coming on the one hand, but also about his supernatural and eschatological Coming on the other. The former has come to pass. The latter—and many of the events that must precede it—has not. And so we watch.
Still other interpreters, noting that genea can sometimes mean race, believe that the Lord was referring to the Jews (cf. Matt. 13:15; 15:8, Luke 21:23), whether as an obdurate people who will remain under God’s wrath until the Judgment (Hoekema), or as a beloved people from whom God, in love and mercy, will continually save a remnant down to the very end (Hendriksen). Seeing, however, that the thrust of the discourse is to prepare the whole Church—both Jew and Gentile—for her age-long pilgrimage to the World to Come, this ethnic interpretation seems much too narrow, and therefore unlikely.
Given, then, the vast historical scope of the discourse, my view is that the Lord was using the word genea in its widest possible sense: as referring to the entire evil, adulterous (Matt. 12:39), yet beloved and eminently redeemable generation of Adam and Eve; as referring to Jews and Gentiles, saints and sinners, of all times and all places; as referring to the people of his own generation, the people of the last generation, and the people of all the generations in between.
Admittedly, such usage is rare. However, the disciples’ two-fold question, the historical reach of Jesus’ reply, and the very words he used in this short utterance all seem to demand it. Moreover, such usage is not unprecedented. Earlier, Jesus had said, “In their dealings with their own generation the sons of this age are wiser than the sons of light” (Luke 16:8; cf. 29:34-35). Similarly, the apostle Paul would soon refer to God’s saints as those who shine like lights amidst a crooked and perverse generation (Phil. 2:15). In both of these texts the word genea is used to describe huge blocs of different kinds of people who, since the fall of man, have always been with us, and always will.
So again, may it not be that in speaking to us as he did, the Lord was assuring all of his disciples that “this generation”—this fallen but beloved seed of Adam and Eve (and also, perhaps, “this present evil age” in which multitudes of them will be redeemed)—will not pass away until he himself (the divine Creator, Judge, and Redeemer of heaven and earth) fulfills all the words he has so solemnly, graciously, and comfortingly spoken to the world in his great Olivet Discourse?
A Day Unknown and Unexpected (36-44; Luke 17:26-27)
Here the exhortations begin. In essence, they come to this: stay awake (24:36-25:13) and stay busy (25:14-30). In this section, the emphasis is on staying awake. Why must the disciples always keep alert? Jesus gives two main reasons. First, no one—not even the Son himself (at least in the state of his humiliation)—knows the day or hour of his Parousia (36). By God’s good decree, the saints do not know the exact time of his coming, in order that they may be ready at all times for his coming. And secondly, as it was prior to the Flood, so it will be prior to the Parousia: People will be spiritually asleep, conducting business as usual, unaware of the disaster that looms on the horizon (37-42). In such an environment it will be all too easy for believers to fall asleep as well (Luke 18:8). Ominously, the Lord warns that if certain people had known the hour of his coming, they would have prepared themselves, so disastrous were the results of that visitation. Let no saint be found among them; let every saint stay awake (43-44).
Three Parables of the Judgment (24:45-25:30)
Jesus’ exhortations continue in the form of three parables focusing on the Last Judgment: The Parable of the Servants (24:45-51; Luke 12:42-46), the Parable of the Ten Virgins (25:1-12), and the Parable of the Talents (25:14-30; Luke 19:12-27). Very importantly, all three clearly reveal his underlying assumptions about the structure of the Kingdom and the Consummation. Soon, via Calvary, the Master, Bridegroom, and King of his people will journey to the far country of heaven (25:14; Luke 19:12, 20:9). Once there, he will be delayed for a long time (24:48, 25:5,19). Though necessary, the delay is dangerous, exposing his followers on earth to various temptations. Therefore, let them always remember: In the end, he will return to settle accounts with his own. When he does, he will richly reward the watchful, faithful, and diligent, welcoming them into his eternal Kingdom (25:34); but the foolish, wicked, and lazy he will judge, appointing them their proper portion in hell with the hypocrites and unbelievers (24:51, 25:41; Luke 12:46). Thus, in all three of these parables, Jesus shows that he presupposes a simple two-staged Kingdom, separated by a single Consummation at his Parousia. He also shows how much he desires his disciples to remain alert and faithful, so that at his coming—when the Resurrection and the Judgment occur at last—they may fully and finally enter into the joy of the their Lord (25:21, 23).
The Last Judgment (25:31ff)
Having issued both promises and warnings, the Lord now completes what he began in his description of the Parousia, bringing the Discourse to a close with his most extensive teaching on the Judgment. It will occur at his coming, when he arrives in the skies above the earth with all his holy angels (31). It will be universal in scope: Having raised the dead of all time, all nations will be gathered before him (32; John 5:28-29; Acts 24:15; 1 Cor. 15:23; 2 Cor. 5:10; Rev. 20:13). It will involve a final separation (32-33): Those who loved and served his brethren, he will welcome into the Kingdom prepared for them before the foundation of the world (34-40); those who did not, he will turn into Gehenna, the eternal (lake of) fire prepared for the devil and his angels (who are judged at this time as well) (41-42). Contrary to dispensational teaching, Jesus’ brethren are not the (tribulation) Jews. Rather, as he himself taught, they are loyal believers in him, whether Jew or Gentile (Matthew 10:42, 12:48-49). Those who received these brethren received the Christ whom they served and the Gospel that they proclaimed, and so became Christians themselves (Matt. 10:40-42). Finally, at the Judgment God will send all men to their eternal destiny: The wicked will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life (46). Clearly, this is not a partial or preliminary judgment, ushering in a temporary earthly millennium. No, it is the one final, universal judgment that ushers in the eternal Kingdom of God.
Questions and Answers
The Olivet Discourse raises a number of questions that have troubled modern Christians, in some cases opening the door to unorthodox views of the Consummation. Let us take a moment to examine three of the most important.
1. What exactly did Jesus have in mind when he spoke of “a great tribulation” (24:21)?
I suggested above that here the Lord had in mind a brief season just prior to his Coming at end of the age; a season characterized by unprecedented judgments upon the world and unprecedented persecution of the Church; a season pictured by the fall of Jerusalem, but not fulfilled in it. Here, I wish to stress the fact that he did not tell us how long this tribulation will be, only that God has cut it short for the sake of the elect. This is the biblical pattern. There is not a single biblical text telling us the duration of what I have called The Greatest Tribulation. For over 150 years, dispensationalists have taught us this seaon will last three and a half years. We have seen, however, that they base their assertion on a faulty exegesis of Daniel 9.3 Also, we have seen that in the Revelation there is nothing whatsoever to justify this notion. Rather, “The Great Tribulation” of Revelation 7:14 is the present evil age as a whole, out of which God has taken his suffering but faithful elect—both Old Testament and New—so that they might dwell with him in the World to Come. As for the permutations of three and a half found throughout the Revelation, they all refer symbolically to the Era of Proclamation as a season of tribulation and sustenance for Christ’s pilgrim Church (1 Kings 17:1-7; Rev. 12). If then, we wish to speak of “the Great Tribulation,” we shall have to be very careful about defining our terms!
2. Does Jesus really teach that his Parousia is “imminent,” in the sense that it could come “at any moment?”
We have seen that in the Olivet Discourse the Lord told his disciples that no one except the Father knows the day or hour of his coming (24:36); that he will come at a time when neither the world (24:38-39) nor the saints (24:40-43) expect him; and that his coming will indeed catch certain professing believers unawares (24:45-25:13). From texts like these some have concluded that true watchfulness requires the saints to believe that Christ could indeed return at any moment. However, this is not at all what the Lord had in mind; indeed, he had in mind quite the opposite. As Matthew 24:23-28 makes clear, Jesus understood that faith in an “any moment return” sets the saints up for all kinds of “winds” of prophetic doctrine, one of which powerfully blew through the church in Thessalonica (2 Thess. 2:1-3). Therefore, his point here—and Paul’s in 2 Thessalonians 2—is to insist that he will not return until certain definite signs appear on the historical horizon. When the saints see these, they will still not know the day or the hour of his coming; but they will know—or very strongly suspect—that the day and hour have drawn nigh. So then: Christians are indeed to watch: for the signs, signs that could quite suddenly appear on the stage of world history, with the return of their Lord following right behind (24:32-33; Mark 13:37).3
3. If, at the end, the world is going through a great tribulation, how can the Parousia spring as a trap on people going about business as usual?
The Olivet Discourse predicts both these developments: unprecedented upheavals in nature and society, and people eating, drinking, working, and marrying as usual, apparently oblivious to the Judgment looming overhead. How can we reconcile these seemingly contradictory phenomena? The best answer, I think, is to recall that Jesus spoke of the latter day tribulation in terms of birth pains (24:28). Birth pains come in waves, with each one more intense than its predecessor. It seems reasonable, then, to conclude that as the end approaches, the birth pains will intensify, yet still be marked by ebb and flow. Immediately prior to the end, they will ebb. Then, when the world says, “Peace and safety!” (presumably because of the ascendancy of the Antichrist) sudden destruction will come upon them as (transitional) labor pains come upon a pregnant woman, and they will not escape (1 Thessalonians 5:3).
Because of its great importance and difficulty, I have lingered long over the Olivet Discourse. In a few words, what have we learned? Simply this: When we understand that Jesus was answering the Disciple’s Question in prophetic perspective, and when we closely examine how he answered it, we immediately see yet again his underlying assumptions about the structure of the Kingdom and the Consummation. To be specific: He sees the Kingdom as coming in two simple stages, separated by a single Consummation at his Parousia. The first, which is coextensive with his heavenly reign, is a lengthy but finite season of mission, evangelism, testing, judgments, signs, persecutions, and Kingdom growth. The second is an eternal season, whether of reward in the World to Come, or retribution in the fires of Gehenna. Fittingly enough, the two stages are separated by a single Consummation that is cosmic in scope and climactic in its impact on man and nature. It will include the appearance of the glorified Son of Man in the darkened skies above the earth, a general resurrection of the dead, the transformation of the living saints, the gathering of all men and angels before the throne of Christ, the last Judgment, and the inauguration of the eternal Age to Come.
This is the premise of the Olivet Discourse; this is the teaching of the Olivet Discourse; this is the premise and teaching of all NT eschatology; and this is the premise, teaching, and heart of our blessed Reformation faith.
- Here Lord predicts that the gospel will be preached throughout “the whole world” (Greek: oikoumenee). Preterists contend that oikumenee refers exclusively to the inhabitants of Roman Empire (see Luke 2:1), and therefore cite Acts 17:6 (along with Colossians 1:6) to argue that the gospel testimony in view here was completed prior to 70 AD. However, while it is true that oikumenee can have this limited meaning, there are many other NT texts in which the word clearly refers to the whole earth, or rather to all the nations (ethne) inhabiting the whole earth (Luke 4:5-6, Acts 17:31, Heb. 1:6, 2:5 Rev. 16:14). Verses 9, 14, and 14 strongly imply that such is the case here.
- RSB stands for the Reformation Study Bible. It is published by Ligonier Ministries; general editor, R. C. Sproul.
- For my interpretation of Daniel 9, click here.
- Dispensationalists make much of the idea of the “imminence” of the Lord’s return. The return they have in mind, however, is not the Parousia (spoken of in Matthew 24-25), but the Rapture (set to occur seven years prior, and allegedly spoken of in 1 Thessalonians 4). The Rapture, they insist, is altogether imminent: It could occur at any moment, since God has not given us any signs by which to know it is near. In this way, dispensationalists completely overthrow the Lord’s purpose in the Olivet Discourse, and Paul’s in 2 Thessalonians 2, which was to steel and steady the saints against precisely the kind of prophetic frenzies that have repeatedly troubled the Church over the last few decades.