The Olivet Discourse ... Luke's Version
Students of prophecy often pay more attention to Matthew's
version of the Olivet Discourse because of its greater length and detail.
But when we ignore Luke's account, we miss one third of the Lord's
message. That's because the
disciples asked the Lord three questions and in Matthew 24 He only
answered the last two. And it's
Luke's answer to their first question that confirms the whole message.
Here's why. When
a prophet revealed events that would take place beyond the lifetimes of the
people he was speaking to, the Lord often provided a short term partial
fulfillment to validate the distant prophecy.
This is because He had told the people that if what a prophet said didn't
come true, then the people were not to fear him, for he hadn't spoken for the
Lord. (Deut 18:21-22)
There are several of these partial fulfillments in Scripture
that would serve as good examples but perhaps the clearest one comes from
John 5:43. Speaking to Israel,
Jesus said, “I have come in my Father's name, and
you do not accept me; but if someone else comes in his own name, you will accept
him.” He was referring to the
anti-Christ, who many in Israel will believe to be the Messiah when he comes on
the scene at the start of Daniel's 70th week.
But just before Jesus was handed over to be executed, Pilate offered to
free Him as a sign of Roman mercy, traditionally expressed on Passover.
He gave the people a choice, the innocent Jesus who came in His Father's
name, or a convicted killer named Barabbas who came in his own.
The people chose Barabbas.
It was the partial fulfillment that
validated the Lord's prophecy of Israel and the anti-Christ in the 70th
As we'll see, the destruction of Jerusalem in 69AD was the
partial fulfillment that validated the Lord's prophecy of the End Times.
Let's take a look.
Some of his disciples were remarking about how the temple
was adorned with beautiful stones and with gifts dedicated to God But Jesus
said, "As for what you see here, the time will come when not one stone will be
left on another; every one of them will be thrown down."
"Teacher," they asked, "when will these things happen? And
what will be the sign that they are about to take place?"
According to Mark 13:3, it was Peter, James, John and
Andrew who asked, And in Matt.
24:3 we can read their complete
question. "When will this happen, and what will be the sign of your coming
and of the end of the age?"
This is our first hint that things will be different in Luke's
account. He only has the disciples
asking the first question.
As we get started, it's important to understand that none of
the gospel writers thought of themselves strictly as historians.
Had the Lord only wanted to document history, one gospel account would
have been sufficient. Instead, each
writer was assigned a different audience, and under the inspiration of the Holy
Spirit, tailored his account to meet the needs of that audience.
Each also portrayed Jesus a little differently to show a particular side
of Him. Matthew wrote to the Jews
showing them that Jesus was their Messiah-King, the Lion of Judah.
Mark wrote to the Romans, describing Jesus as the humble Servant of the
Lord. Luke wrote to the Greeks,
portraying Jesus as the Son of Man, and John wrote to the Church identifying
Jesus as the Son of God.
Among other things, this was the fulfillment of four Old
Testament prophecies of a figure God called “The Branch,” a messianic reference.
In Jeremiah 23:5 the Branch is called the King. In Zechariah
3:8 He's the Servant.
In Zechariah 6:12 He's the Man and in Isaiah 4:2 He's the
Branch of the Lord. In each case
the word Branch is capitalized.
Early Christians were sometimes called Netzerim, the people of the Branch.
OK, now let's get to the Lord's answer.
He replied: "Watch out that you are not deceived. For many
will come in my name, claiming, 'I am he,' and, 'The time is near.' Do not
follow them. When you hear of wars and revolutions, do not be frightened. These
things must happen first, but the end will not come right away."
Then he said to them: "Nation will rise against nation, and
kingdom against kingdom. There will be great earthquakes, famines and
pestilences in various places, and fearful events and great signs from heaven.
In the beginning, His answer sounds a lot like those in
Matthew and Mark. But that's about
"But before all this, they will lay hands on you and
persecute you. They will deliver you to synagogues and prisons, and you will be
brought before kings and governors, and all on account of my name. This will
result in your being witnesses to them. But make up your mind not to worry
beforehand how you will defend yourselves. For I will give you words and wisdom
that none of your adversaries will be able to resist or contradict. You will be
betrayed even by parents, brothers, relatives and friends, and they will put
some of you to death. All men will hate you because of me. But not a hair of
your head will perish. By standing firm you will gain life”. (Luke
This chain of events clearly describes the lives of the
Apostles in the earliest days of the Church.
Peter and John testified before the Sanhedrin.
Paul was on both sides of this prophecy, first attacking Christians with
a vengeance and after his conversion bearing witness to leaders like Felix,
Festus, and Herod Agrippa. Of the original disciples, only John died of natural
causes, and all of them suffered through the most terrifying forms of torture
without ever recanting a single word of their testimony.
"When you see Jerusalem being surrounded by armies, you
will know that its desolation is near. Then let those who are in Judea flee to
the mountains, let those in the city get out, and let those in the country not
enter the city. For this is the time of punishment in fulfillment of all that
has been written. How dreadful it will be in those days for pregnant women and
nursing mothers! There will be great distress in the land and wrath against this
people. They will fall by the sword and will be taken as prisoners to all the
nations. Jerusalem will be trampled on by the Gentiles until the times of the
Gentiles are fulfilled. (Luke 21:20-24)
Although the bulk of this passage is identical to Matthew'
account, there are two striking differences
showing us that they're not describing the same event.
First, in Matthew 24:15 the warning sign that it's time to flee is
the Abomination of Desolation standing in the Holy Place.
Here it's the positioning of the Roman army around Jerusalem.
Normally it would be too late to flee when a besieging army
could be seen encircling a city.
But in 68-69AD the political situation in Rome was unstable to say the
least. The former general of the Roman armies in the Middle East was a man named
Titus Vespasian. He had recently
turned his command over to his son, also named Titus, so he could position
himself to become the next Emperor.
This came to pass upon the death of Nero in 68, and Vespasian was named Emperor
on July 1, 69. He
had been concerned that he'd need more military backing to make his claim
good, so even though the legions now under his son's command had already begun
their siege of Jerusalem, Vespasian ordered them to disengage and return to
Rome. When they began pulling back to prepare for the journey, the believers in
Jerusalem who had been taught the Lord's warning hastened to escape the city.
But before the Romans could leave, Titus Vespasian sent word
to his son that the troops wouldn't be needed after all and ordered them to
resume their siege of Jerusalem. By
then all the believers had escaped.
In the month we call August of 69 AD the walls were breached
and the Temple was captured. The
interior furnishings caught fire and the heat caused the gold plating on
the wooden ceiling beams to melt.
As the liquid gold ran down the walls it flowed into the cracks between the
stones. When the fire had gone out
and the stones had cooled, the Roman soldiers tore the ruins apart stone by
stone to get the gold the had flowed between them and solidified.
Not one stone was left standing on another in fulfillment of the Lord's
In 70 AD the Roman army completed its conquest of the Holy
Land in the siege of Masada. Although over one million Jews had perished,
according to tradition not a single believer died in the destruction of
Jerusalem. (Some historical
accounts place the fall of Jerusalem and the Temple one year earlier in 68AD but
there's general consensus that it happened as I've described it.)
The second difference in the two accounts is that while
Matthew's ends with the 2nd Coming and is world wide in its focus,
Luke's describes the Jewish diaspora and the ensuing control the city by the
Gentiles. In short Luke's account
has so far been confined to describing events concerning the fall of Jerusalem.
He was describing the short term partial fulfillment within the lifetimes
of the Lord's audience that validates the total fulfillment at the End of the
"There will be signs in the sun, moon and stars. On the
earth, nations will be in anguish and perplexity at the roaring and tossing of
the sea. Men will faint from terror, apprehensive of what is coming on the
world, for the heavenly bodies will be shaken. At that time they will see the
Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory. When these things begin
to take place, stand up and lift up your heads, because your redemption is
drawing near." (Luke 21:25-28)
Suddenly Luke expanded the vision to include the whole world
and the End of the Age. Those who
are alive on Earth when the signs he described begin to happen are to understand
that the culminating event will be the Lord's return.
And believers are told that when we first begin to see these signs, we
should start looking at the sky in expectation, because the Lord's on His way
for us. Notice how the narrative changes from the third person, “men will faint
from terror” and “they will see the
Son of Man coming” to the second person “lift up your heads,” and “your
redemption”. And also how the focus
changes from the end of the sequence “they will see the Son of Man coming” to
its beginning “ when these things begin to happen”.
If you didn't already know it from Paul's teaching you couldn't recognize
that He's hinting at two separate events, the Rapture and the 2nd
Coming. But since you do, you can.
He told them this parable: "Look at the fig tree and all
the trees. When they sprout leaves, you can see for yourselves and know that
summer is near. Even so, when you see these things happening, you know that the
kingdom of God is near.
"I tell you the truth, this generation will certainly not
pass away until all these things have happened. Heaven and earth will pass away,
but my words will never pass away.
"Be careful, or your hearts will be weighed down with
dissipation, drunkenness and the anxieties of life, and that day will close on
you unexpectedly like a trap. For it will come upon all those who live on the
face of the whole earth. Be always on the watch, and pray that you may be able
to escape all that is about to happen, and that you may be able to stand before
the Son of Man." (Luke 21:29-36)
As in Matthew's account, the fig tree parable is not meant to
signify Israel, but the speed with which these events would unfold once they
began. The fig was the last tree to
get leaves in the spring, so they knew when they saw the fig leaves that summer
was really close. In the same way, the span of time between the beginning of the
End Times signs and the Lord's return will be relatively short.
I think this summary was meant both for the generation alive
during the Fall of Jerusalem and the one
that's here at the End of the Age.
Thirty five years after the Lord spoke these words the Romans began their
three year campaign to complete the overthrow of the Jewish nation.
Many who were taught this prophecy by the very men who got it straight
from the Lord's mouth were still alive when this happened.
And at the End of the Age many who are alive as these signs begin to
appear will still be alive at their conclusion.
The last sentence is especially meaningful.
“Be always on the watch, and pray that you may be able to escape all
that is about to happen, and that you may be able to stand before the Son of
Man.” By watching for the sign
of the Roman armies encircling Jerusalem and praying for deliverance, the
church's first generation was able to escape the death and destruction of
Jerusalem's judgment. Just so, by
watching for the End Times signs and praying for deliverance, the church's last
generation will be able to escape the death and destruction of
Earth's judgment. The
partial fulfillment then confirmed the ultimate fulfillment of all that's about
to happen now. You can almost hear
the footsteps of the Messiah. 07-05-08