Part 2: FACTORS BEHIND THE DISCOURSE
Jesus left with his disciples through the Eastern gate of the temple grounds, crossed the brook Kidron and its valley and came to a welcome place above the city on the Mount of Olives. The Mount received its name from the abundant olive trees found on its slopes. Even today we are told some of the trees found on the Mount of Olives date back to the time of Christ. From their viewpoint that had a panoramic view of the temple and the city. The grandeur of the city and the temple was spread before them.
The walk from the Eastern gate of the temple to the Mount would have been about 10 minutes. This walk was evidently spent in silence. The disciples must have been in shock. They could hardly believe their ears; greatly bewildered about what they just heard. They need time to think about what was said. They knew that the Scriptures taught that the temple was an integral part of the end of the age. Was not the Messiah to come into His Temple in the end times (Malachi 3:1-2)? What did it mean that the temple was to be destroyed? If the temple were destroyed would there be another sign of the end? How does it affect our hope in the Messiah? These and other questions must have entered their minds as they walked in silence.
As they gain their thoughts and recover from what Jesus had told them at the temple, four of the disciples come to Jesus to clear their thinking and gain understanding. They asked: ‘Tell us, when will these things be, and what will be the sign of Your coming and the end of the age” (Matthew 24:3).
While the English translation seems to indicate three questions were asked by the disciples, in actuality there were only two. The construction of the Greek text clearly points this out. The last half of the verse has only one article in the Greek. It is found before the word “coming” and is joined with the word “end” with the conjunction “and” so “these two words actually are two parts of one question.” It actually reads, “and what will be the sign of your coming, even [and] end of the age.” There is no Greek article before end of the age. If there had been an article, then there would have been three questions in the Greek.
There is little doubt that the disciples thought of the coming and the consummation as one event. Therefore, the two questions are: (1) When will be the destruction of the temple? (2) What are the signs of your coming, even the end of the age?
To correctly understand these questions there are some important considerations that should be considered.
The Factors Behind the Questions.
Behind these questions are three underlining factors: First, Old Testament prophecy. Zechariah predicted that the setting up of the kingdom would be preceded by an invasion and destruction of Jerusalem (Zechariah 12:1-3; 14:1-3). Based on this prophecy it would be hard for the disciples to dissociate the destruction of the temple from the end of the age. The context of Zechariah is “the Great Consummation” of Israel’s deliverance into the earthly kingdom. Zechariah 14 identifies three events that will happen in the Day of the Lord: Jerusalem will be captured by a great army (14:1-3); Deliverance will come by the coming of Messiah from the Mount of Olives (14:4-5); The glory of the Kingdom will be realized. To the Jewish way of thinking these events are linked together. Zechariah 14 would be a factor and on the minds of the disciples as they asked the questions leading up to the discourse.
Second, is the dilemma of harmonizing the sufferings of Christ with the glory of Christ. Walvoord writes:“It is most significant that saints in the OT (including the writers of Scriptures [1 Peter 1:10-12]) as well as the twelve disciples in the NT never understood clearly the difference between the first and second coming of Christ. It was only after Christ’s ascension into heaven that the distinction was made clear.”
The disciples’ dilemma was how to reconcile the destruction (and the death of Christ) with the idea of the glory of Christ and His kingdom. The temple was an essential part of God’s glory. They could not reconcile this with what Jesus was predicting. They needed clarification.
Third, is the fact of the mystery (Ephesians 3:1-10). It must be recognized that the church and the dispensation of grace remained a mystery at this point (cf. Ephesians 3:2, 3, 5). The student should recognize this important fact. They knew nothing about the church or the dispensation of grace. These questions were asked in the context of Jewish and Old Testament concerns and ideas. Gaebelein correctly observes:“…the disciples knew nothing of a Christian age. Such an age could not even begin, when they asked the question about the end of the age. They did not mean a Christian age, but their Jewish age.”
The disciples are asking about Israel’s destiny, and theirs. The revelation of the present dispensation was not even a consideration in their minds. This is an important factor.
Factors Concerning Prophecy.
The Olivet Discourse is pure prophecy. Prophecy is “the oral or written message of a prophet, especially related to future events.” Three factors go into correctly understanding prophecy: First, because the answer is prophetic, it must have some type of literal fulfillment. The Biblical test demands it (Deuteronomy 18:22).
Second, the time element in prophecy is not always discernible. In this regard, the language of prophecy, certain points should be noted:
- The prophets of things that are future as if they are actually watching them and present in their view (Isaiah 9:6).
- The prophets speak of things of the future as past (Isaiah 53).
- The prophets often speak in the continuous, although there may be gaps of time between events spoken of. This is known as “prophetic foreshortening.”
- The prophets may speak of near events that foreshadow the future fulfillment. This may be known as “double reference.” Foreshadowing is a picture or type of the fulfillment or a limited fulfillment; however it is always the second element that fulfills the passage. However, it is far from manifold or successive fulfillment in history. One acknowledges that there is a message for the immediate and the distant future, not that it is repeatedly or successively fulfilled.
Factors Concerning the Gospel Records.
The Olivet Discourse is recorded in varying detail by the three synoptic Gospels, Matthew, Mark and Luke. We must not lose sight of three factors: First, of the three, only Matthew was a member of the original audience. This accounts for the greater detail and space of the discourse in Matthew’s gospel. Mark and Luke used secondary sources (cf. Luke 1:1-3). Second, the Holy Spirit moved and guided the writers of the accounts (1 Peter 1:20-21; 2 Timothy 3:16). Third, of the three accounts it is Luke that emphasizes the destruction of the temple in 70 AD. Mark and Matthew emphases are on the end-time events. McNeile observes:“Luke forms his discourse to bear mainly on the destruction of Jerusalem. Matthew and Mark seem to assume that this will be an event preceding the Parousia, since they, like Luke, place the discourse with the incident in vv. 1, 2, but the discourse, as they record it, speaks neither of the temple nor the city being destroyed.”
These factors are vital keys for the correct understanding of the Olivet Discourse
 Stanley Toussaint, BEHOLD THE KING: A STUDY OF MATTHEW, 269.
 This is know as the Granville Sharp rule, which states: When two nouns are connected by kai [and], the first with the article and the second without it, are by the single article identified as one and the same individual or class.
 Charles Feinberg, GOD REMEMBERS, A STUDY OF ZECHARIAH, 192.
 John F. Walvoord, “Is a Posttribulational Rapture revealed in Matthew 24?” GRACE THEOLOGICAL JOURNAL, Fall 1985, 280.
 A.C. Gaebelein, THE GOSPEL OF MATTHEW, 468.
 Paul Lee Tan, THE INTERPRETATION OF PROPHECY, 368.
 Ibid, 93.
 Ibid, 179.
 A.M. McNeile, THE GOSPEL ACCORDING TO ST MATTHEW, 343-344.