Jesus gave his ‘Olivet Discourse’ following his confrontations with Jewish authorities and his final departure from the Temple – Mark 12:41-13:4

The ‘Olivet Discourse’ is the last recorded block of teachings by Jesus. It was given to the disciples on the Mount of Olives following a series of confrontations between Jesus and the Temple authorities, and his final departure from the Temple complex. His conflicts with the leaders of the Jewish nation set the stage for his trial and execution at the hands of the Romans.

Because of the treachery of the religious authorities, and the failure of the nation to produce the required “fruit,” Jesus declared that the “kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a nation producing the fruit thereof,” a judicial pronouncement that pointed to the coming judgment on the Temple and the nation – (Matthew 21:43-44).

From the first hour after he entered Jerusalem, Jesus experienced ever-increasing conflicts with the leaders of Second Temple Judaism.

TEMPLE TREASURY – WIDOW’S MITE. His last act in the Temple occurred while he was “seated over against” the Treasury. The clause translates the Greek preposition katenanti, a rare preposition in the New Testament that occurs once more in the next paragraph, and not coincidentally, when Jesus was “sitting over against the Temple on the Mount of Olives.

  • (Mark 12:41-44) – “And taking his seat over against the treasury, he was observing how the multitude was casting in copper into the treasury, and rich men were casting in much. And there came one destitute, a widow, and she cast in two mites, which are a farthing. And calling near his disciples, he said to them: Verily, I say to you, this destitute widow more than they all has cast in, of those casting into the treasury; for they all, out of their surplus, cast in, but she, out of her deficiency, all, as much as she had, cast in, the whole of her living.

The story of the poor widow provides a contrast with the preceding paragraph in which Jesus chastised the “scribes” who, for a pretense, “devoured widows’ houses.” From his position, sitting “over against” the Treasury, he warned that the “scribes” would receive a “more surpassing judgment,” just as later, while sitting “over against” the Temple, he pronounced the destruction of the Temple.

In the “treasury,” thirteen trumpet-shaped receptacles were employed to receive Temple offerings, and they were located near the court of women. Jesus observed the woman donating two copper coins or lepta, small coins worth about one sixty-fourth of a denarius each. A single denarius was equal to the daily wages of a typical day laborer. For all intents and purposes, her gift was worthless, infinitesimally small.

She gave a freewill offering that she was not obligated to contribute. She could have given half or just one of her two small coins, and still she would have given “more” than the rich, for “they all out of their surplus gave, but she out of her deficiency, all as much as she had, the whole of her living.”

THE TEMPLE JUDGED. Next, Jesus left the “Temple” or hieros for the last time, which symbolized his final break with the Temple. The Greek noun hieros refers to the entire complex, which covered approximately one-sixth of the city, and not just to the inner sanctuary or naos – (The disciples referred to “buildings” – plural).

  • (Mark 13:1-4) – “And as he was leaving the temple, one of his disciples said to him, ‘Teacher, see what manner of stones and what manner of buildings!’ And Jesus said to him, ‘Are you beholding these great buildings? In nowise shall there be left here stone upon stone, which shall in any wise not be thrown down.’ And as he was sitting on the Mount of Olives over against the temple, Peter and James and John and Andrew were questioning him privately, ‘Tell us, when these things shall be, and what will be the sign when all these things are going to be concluded?’”

The disciples were admiring the great and beautiful stones used to build the complex. The irony is that Jesus had just praised the widow who gave out of her deficiency. The disciples were judging according to the ways of man.

He responded to the awe of the disciples: “Do you behold these great buildings? In nowise will there be left here a stone upon stone.” ‘Mark’ has Jesus using the Greek demonstrative pronoun houtos or “these,” which here is quite emphatic.

Jesus used the very words of the disciples in his judgment pronouncement, “buildings” and “stone.” The only antecedent in the paragraph for “these” is the Temple complex. The only Temple to which his words could refer was the one that was standing in his day. Grammatically, it cannot refer to another or a future Temple.

Jerusalem walls – Photo by Arno Smit on Unsplash

The summit of the Mount of Olives was higher than the walls of the city and would have afforded an excellent view into the Temple complex, including the inner sanctuary. His posture of “sitting” as he made this pronouncement points to his authority. The prediction of the demise of the Temple prompted the disciples to ask:

  • When these things shall be, and what [will be] the sign when all these things are going to be concluded?”

Once again, the English term “these things” translates the Greek demonstrative pronoun houtos. As before, it can only refer to the predicted destruction of the Temple that Herod built, the so-called “second Temple.” Thus, at least in part, what followed in his response to the disciples concerned events that would precede the destruction of the Temple that occurred in A.D. 70.

The disciples asked two questions. First, when (pote) would the destruction of the Temple occur? Second, what would be the “sign” (sémeion) that all these things would be “completed.” The latter term translates the Greek suntelō, meaning “to complete, to bring to an end, to conclude, consummate.” This suggests the destruction of the Temple was a paradigm or portend for something additional.

Regardless, in this context, his pronouncement cannot refer to any Temple other than the one standing in his day. Any attempt to make this a judicial pronouncement on a yet future Temple violates the literary context and the grammar of the Greek sentence.

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