The Olivet Discourse is Jesus’ main discourse of end-time events. Before getting into the discourse, it is helpful to see the setting, the three things that lead to the discourse.
The indictment of the leadership of Israel. In Matthew 23 there is an indictment against the spiritual leaders of Israel. They were blinded by their hypocrisy, high-mindedness, and empty rituals. Jesus had no choice. Those who should have accepted him with open arms have now rejected him with closed fists. Instead of having a soft open heart, it was now closed in hardness. Jesus pronounces an eight count indictment upon them:
- They shut the door of the kingdom in men’s faces; they would not accept the message themselves, and they did not want others to enter. They were obstructionists.
- They took advantage of widows and foreclosed on their homes. They were heartless.
- They went to any length to make a proselyte and then made him twice as deserving of going to hell as themselves. The were condemners.
- They made the gold in the temple and the gift on the altar more important than the temple and the altar, by saying that a man is not bound by his oath if he swears by the temple or the altar, but is bound if he swears by its gold or the gift upon the altar. They were legalists.
- They were careful to give a tenth of herbs, but neglected the important matters of the law: justice, mercy, and faithfulness. They were hypocrites.
- They scrubbed the outside of a cup clean, but inside they were full of greed. They were selfish.
- They were like whitewashed tombs, nice on the outside, but dead and full of corruption on the inside. They were spiritually dead.
- They built tombs and monuments for the prophets their ancestors killed, saying they would not have done such deeds. They were self-deceived.
Jesus leaving the temple. Jesus “came out…and was going away” (Matthew 24:1). The action of the Greek text shows Jesus “was going away, like one who did not mean to return.” Jesus never again would make a public appearance in the temple during His earthly ministry. The temple is desolate because He has left it; it is deserted to the trivial and ritualism.
It is interesting that in Judaism itself records such a feeling of desolation that happens historically at the same time as Jesus’ ministry. In Jewish legend we are told that in the fortieth year before the destruction of Jerusalem that the lamp of the Temple extinguished itself. It was purported that the guardian angels of the Temple deserted their guardianship. Abandonment of the temple is recognized by Jewish tradition and legend.
As he is leaving through the Court of Women, Jesus beheld a poor widow casting two mites into the offering box (Mark 12:41-44; Luke 21:1-2). This was an opportunity for Him to amplify the indictment, and to contrast true righteousness with self-righteousness. Inside, the extravagance of the temple true righteousness was missing; but outside the temple was found true spiritual extravagance in the humble act of self-denial by a poor widow.
The route Jesus took from the temple is the same as the Shekinah Glory recorded in the book of Ezekiel. The Shekinah Glory was the presence of the Lord. Its resting place was above the Mercy Seat in the Holy of Holies. From there it moved to the “threshold of the temple” to linger (Ezekiel 9:3). From there it departs to the east gate (Ezekiel 10:18-19). After lingering there, It departs to the Mount of Olives (Ezekiel 11:23). Jesus now leaves by the identical route for the same destination. God in the flesh is leaving, thus the embodied Glory of God departs the temple.
Prediction of the Temple’s destruction. While leaving the temple area, the disciples come to Him and point out the grandeur of this sacred place. It was indeed an impressive sight with its gold glittering in the sun. It was impressive, and the disciples were impressed, as we would have been. The temple was one of the wonders of the world. Yet, Jesus was not impressed. He responds: “Do you not see all these things? Truly I say to you, not one stone here shall be left upon another, which will not be torn down” (Matthew 24:2). In the Greek, the statement expresses future action and the certainty of that action.
This would have been a shock to the disciples. It was in contrast to the prevailing attitude and belief by the Jews about the temple. They actually believed God was on their side because of the temple: that God would not allow His holy temple to be destroyed. This belief leads to the false feeling of security. Little did they comprehend that there is never security in sin. Sin leads to judgment. They were judging security by the temporal instead of the eternal.
There is no question among Bible students that this prophecy was fulfilled in 70 AD. The roman army surrounded the city, burned it and its temple. The army then ripped the temple apart stone by stone to get to its gold that had melted in its cracks and joints. What was true inwardly of the temple on the day Jesus left became a reality in history. Jesus is showing Himself as Prophet. God fulfills His Word precisely and completely. The temple has not stood on that site since 70 AD.
It is these events that lead to the prophetic discourse at the Mount of Olives. He will continue to act as prophet on the mount, as he did leaving the temple.