SYNOPSIS – The ‘Olivet Discourse’ presents two key events linked to different geographic contexts – Regional and 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” on the clouds of heaven. In doing so, he provided geographic details and clues related to each event that alternate between the local and the universal, depending on which event was under discussion.
- (Mark 13:9) – “But be taking heed to yourselves: they will deliver you up into councils, and in synagogues shall ye be flogged; and before governors and kings shall ye be set for my sake, for a witness unto them.”
Jesus warned that his disciples would be “delivered up to councils and flogged in synagogues.” The Greek word rendered “councils” is “sanhedrin,” the term used in the gospel accounts for the ruling council of religious authorities in Jerusalem. But here he puts it in the plural, or “sanhedrins.”
“Sanhedrins” refers to local Jewish councils held in the towns and villages of Judea with the authority to make judgments and mete out punishment on matters of Jewish religious law – They had no legal standing with the Roman government or authority over local Gentile populations. The book of Acts provides examples of this predicted form of persecution against the followers of Jesus – (Acts 4:15, 5:21-41, 6:12-15, 22:30, 23:1-6).
“Synagogue” refers to the building in a town where Jews would gather for prayer and Scripture reading. The book of Acts also gives examples of conflicts between Christian and non-Christian Jews in such synagogues, for example:
- Saul was “breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord and went to the high priest and asked him for letters to the synagogues at Damascus so that if he found any belonging to the Way, men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem” – (Acts 9:1-2).
“Flogged” points to the Jewish punishment of forty lashes. The whip was applied usually 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. It could refer to Jewish or Gentile political leaders, kings and governors, or both. Once again, Acts provides several examples of Christians examined by Gentile rulers- (Acts 25:13ff).
Jesus warned of a coming “abomination of desolation.” When this appeared, then “those who are in Judea must flee to the mountains.” The description locates the predicted event in Judea where disciples must flee to the mountains, not Christians living in Rome, Alexandria, or other parts of the Empire. The geographic area affected by this event would be regional, not global.
The gospel of Luke is more specific – “When you see Jerusalem encompassed by armies, then know that her desolation has drawn near. Then they who are in Judea, let them flee into the mountains.” Not only would this event occur in Judea, but the city of Jerusalem was the place from which believers were to flee with all haste. Here, “desolation” translates the same Greek word used to render the “abomination of desolation” – (Matthew 24:15, Mark 13:14, Luke 21:20-21).
Jesus also instructed his disciples to pray that “it may not happen in winter.” In Palestine, the rainy season came in winter. A wadi or gully that was dry most of the year could become a swollen river, and flash floods often made them impassable.
He expressed the wish that the 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. If this event occurred on the Sabbath, believers might be prevented from fleeing the city.
The account in Luke describes a time of “great distress upon the land and wrath against this people.” As the context demonstrates, “the land” refers to the region of Judea (verses 21, 24), not to the entire planet. This was to be a time of “wrath” against “this people.” Luke employs the Greek term laos for “people,”a term applied often to the “people” of Israel in distinction from the “Gentiles,” or ethnos – (Luke 21:22-23, Matthew 2:4, Acts 10:2, 15:14).
In the account in Luke, 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 violent judgment would transpire in Judea and center on Jerusalem. The description of the “captivity” of the Jews and the city being “trodden down by the Gentiles” indicates that the destruction of the city would occur during a period of some duration before the “coming of the Son of Man.” How long this period would last Jesus did not state – (The “times of the Gentiles”).
- (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 together his chosen—out of the four winds, from utmost bound of earth, unto utmost bound of heaven.”
There will be terrestrial and celestial upheaval just prior to the arrival of the “Son of Man.” The effects will be universal and not limited to the region of Palestine. This passage portrays a cosmic event distinct from the local ones depicted in verses 5-23. When this occurs, “then will they see the Son of Man coming in clouds with great power and glory.” To whom does “they” refer? In Matthew 24:30, this group is identified as “all the tribes of the earth.” They will “mourn” when they see the “Son of Man” coming on the clouds of heaven.
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 range of this action will be global, not regional – The elect will be gathered from all corners of the world.
When disciples in Jerusalem saw the “abomination of desolation,” they were to flee to the mountains. This means that event did NOT constitute the “end” when Jesus would arrive in glory, in which case fleeing would be pointless.
In contrast, Jesus gave no warning to flee when the “Son of Man appears on the clouds of heaven.” Instead, his angels will gather the “elect” from all regions of the earth. On that day, the “tribes of the earth” will mourn because there will be no escape for them, while the elect will be gathered to the Son – (Revelation 6:12-17 – “Fall on us and hide us from the face of him who is seated on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb; for the great day of their wrath has come and who can stand before it?”).
The ‘Olivet Discourse’ describes two key events set in different geographic settings. The events the precede and accompany the “abomination of desolation” and the destruction of Jerusalem occur in Judea. Their effects are regional, not universal.
The events that occur “after the great tribulation” and just prior to the arrival of the “Son of Man” include cosmic and terrestrial upheaval – They are global in scope. The two sets of predicted events may be related but they are separated by a period of some duration – However long or short – And the extent of their geographic effects differs.
In sorting this out, the reader must bear in mind the questions that prompted this ‘Discourse.’ After he predicted the destruction of the Temple, the disciples asked Jesus – “When will these things be?”
This query referred to the destruction of the Temple, which Jesus had just foretold. The disciples then asked – “What will be the sign of your arrival and the conclusion of the age?” The first question was about events localized in and around Jerusalem; the second concerned things global and even cosmic in scope.