The Olivet Discourse presents two key events linked to two different geographic contexts, one regional, and the other global.
In his ‘Olivet Discourse,’ Jesus described several key events that would occur in the future, especially the destruction of the Temple and the “coming of the Son of Man.” In doing so, he provided geographic details related to each of these two events that alternated between the local and the universal, depending on which event he was describing.
REGIONAL. First, Christ described events that would affect Jerusalem and the surrounding region, and NOT the larger Roman Empire or the world in general.
- (Mark 13:9) – “But take heed to yourselves: they will deliver you up into councils, and in synagogues, you will be flogged, and before governors and kings, you will be set for my sake for a testimony to them.”
The Greek word rendered “councils” is sanhedrin, the same term used in the gospel accounts for the ruling council of religious authorities in Jerusalem. But here, he puts it in the plural – “sanhedrins” – and applies it to local councils held in the towns of Judea. These councils had the authority to make judgments and mete out punishment on matters of Jewish religious law, but they had no legal standing with the Roman government or authority over local Gentile populations, and the book of Acts provides examples of the persecution of Christians by them – (Acts 4:15, 5:21-41, 6:12-15, 22:30, 23:1-6).
“Synagogue” refers to the building where Jews would gather in a town or village for prayer and Scripture reading. The book of Acts also gives examples of conflicts between Christian and non-Christian Jews in synagogues – (Acts 9:1-2).
“Flogged” refers to the Jewish punishment of forty lashes. Traditionally, the whip was applied thirty-nine times to avoid exceeding the designated maximum of forty lashes. Paul endured this form of punishment on several occasions – (2 Corinthians 11:24, (Deuteronomy 25:2-3).
The reference to “governors and kings” is generic and could refer to Jewish or Gentile political leaders, kings, and governors. Once again, Acts provides several examples of Christians examined by Gentile rulers- (Acts 25:13ff).
Jesus warned of the “abomination of desolation.” When it appeared, “those who are in Judea must flee to the mountains.” The description locates the event in Judea, and not in Rome, Alexandria, or any other part of the empire. Luke is even more specific – “When you see Jerusalem encompassed by armies, then know that her desolation has drawn near. Then they who are in Judea flee to the mountains.” Jerusalem was the place from which believers were to flee. And in Luke’s account, “desolation” translates the same Greek word used for the “abomination of desolation” – (Matthew 24:15, Mark 13:14, Luke 21:20-21).
Jesus also instructed disciples to pray that “it may not happen in winter.” In Palestine, the rainy season came in winter. A gully that was dry most of the year could quickly become a swollen river, and flash floods often made them impassable.
He expressed the wish that one’s flight from Jerusalem would not occur on a “Sabbath Day.” Travel was severely restricted in Judea on the Sabbath, and the gates of Jerusalem were customarily closed to prevent anyone from entering or leaving.
Luke describes a coming time of “great distress upon the land and wrath against this people.” As the context demonstrates, “the land” refers to the region of Judea, and not to the entire planet. This would be the time of “wrath” against “this people” – (Luke 21:22-23).
And in Luke’s account, Jesus predicted that the people of Judea would “fall by the edge of the sword and be carried away captive into all the nations, and Jerusalem will be trodden down by the Gentiles until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled.” This would transpire in Judea and Jerusalem would be the center of the conflagration.
The description of the “captivity” of the Jews and the city being “trodden down by the Gentiles” indicates the destruction of the city would occur during a period of some duration before the “coming of the Son of Man,” though for how long this Jesus did not state – (The “times of the Gentiles”).
UNIVERSAL. Prior to the arrival of the “Son of Man in the clouds,” humanity will experience terrestrial and celestial upheavals. The effects will be universal, and not limited to Palestine or the surrounding regions.
- (Mark 13:24-27) – “But in those days, after that tribulation, the sun shall be darkened and the moon will not give her brightness, and the stars will out of the heavens be falling and the powers which are in the heavens will be shaken. And then will they see the Son of Man coming in clouds with great power and glory. And then will he send forth the angels, and they will gather his elect out of the four winds, from the utmost bound of earth to utmost bound of heaven.”
The next passage portrays a cosmic event distinct from the local ones depicted in the preceding verses – “Then will they see the Son of Man coming with great power and glory.” To whom does the pronoun “they” refer? In Matthew, “all the tribes of the earth” will “mourn” when they see the “Son of Man” arriving.
When these cosmic events occur, the angels of heaven will “gather the elect out of the four winds, from utmost bound of the earth unto the utmost bound of heaven.” The geographic scope will be global, not regional, for the elect will be gathered from all four corners of the earth.
When disciples saw the “abomination of desolation” in Jerusalem they were to flee to the mountains, but that did NOT constitute the “end” when Jesus would arrive in glory, in which case fleeing to the mountains would be pointless.
In contrast, Jesus gave no warning to flee when believers saw the “Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven.” Instead, his angels would gather them from every region of the earth. On that day, the “tribes of the earth” will mourn since there will be no escape for them.
Thus, the ‘Olivet Discourse’ describes two key events set in different geographic settings. First, the destruction of the Temple and Jerusalem that will occur in Judea, and the effects will be regional. Second, the arrival of Jesus in glory will be heralded by cosmic and terrestrial upheaval, and its effects will be global.
The two events may be related, but they are separated by a period of some duration, however long or short.
In sorting this out, we must bear in mind the questions behind the Discourse.’ “When will these things be,” that is, the destruction of the Temple, and “What will be the sign of your arrival and the conclusion of the age?”
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