An Introduction to The Olivet Discourse
This prophecy, commonly known as the Olivet Discourse, was imparted by the Messiah to His disciples were walking toward the Mount of Olives. The disciples were discussing the grandeur of the Temple. However, the context surrounding the question actually begins in chapter 21. It was the week of Passover, and Jesus was riding on the colt of an ass into Jerusalem known as “the Triumphal Entry.” The scene was fit for a King, and the crowds were recognizing Him as their king.
Messiah went into the Temple and taught for three days. His subject, as always, was The Kingdom of Heaven. He began this series of teachings in the Temple ending with the final lesson on the Mount of Olives. This is how it is recorded in Matthew and is perhaps the author’s view of shortening the events to highlight the teaching. Luke, however, records the teachings at two different times. So Messiah must have given the teachings more than once.
This discourse, or conversation, occurred in the context of 1st century Temple worship in Judea, under the rule of the Roman Empire. In Jewish literature, of the 1st century before Jesus’ birth, there is evidence of a great expectation for the coming Messiah and His kingdom. These teachings presented a grand view of the universal acceptance of His rule and the political power of the people of Judea. That all mankind, could become the children of the Heavenly Father was lost to them. The Law being written on our hearts, a new spirit of forgiveness and righteousness, were not perceived by these same Jewish expositors. They had misunderstood the figurative language of the prophets, instead their interpretations where woodenly literal. The Messiah’s reign was seen as subjugation of the nations, with the Jewish people receiving all the wealth and power. It was nationalism injecting itself into theology. They saw nothing of the repentance, spiritual growth, and universal mercy that Messiah actually came to teach. They did not understand Isaiah’s teaching that His house would become a house of prayer for ALL peoples/nations. [Is 56:6-7] They missed the “good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people.”[Luke 2:10]
The lesson to be learned from these ancient Jewish expositors, is to not fall into the same mistake of egocentric hermeneutics; a common mistake of interpreting any passage of Scripture. Egocentric hermeneutics has at its’ core a certain amount of disregard for the historical grammatical context of a passage. This comes from the idea that the Bible was written to us. However, this is a simplified way of thinking that is not quite right. It was not in fact written to us, but rather it has been preserved for our benefit and use by those to whom the books were written. There is wisdom to be learned in all of Scripture, but not every passage is directed to us.
The Olivet Discourse was written in a time and place not our own and much of it is addressed to actual people in the 1st century, not to us. We are reading the writings, as it were, of someone else’s mail. The Olivet Discourse was also delivered most likely in Aramaic, or possible Hebrew, but certainly not in 21st century American English. That makes it incumbent upon us to understand how they understood what was written down. Their phrases and idioms were quite different from ours. Think of it, if someone were to tell you that we had a new toy that was hotter than a little red wagon and going to sell like hot cakes? Would you think we were taking about wagons or pancakes? All languages works like this. They are full of odd expressions and unfamiliar terminology. The Bible is no different. It does no good to say one interprets the Bible literally, if one does not account for these language, culture and historical oddities. The disciples understood the geography and immediate history intimately, as they walked the land and witnessed events around them. The questions the disciples asked at that time, are not what we would ask 2000 years after the event.
Correct understanding of the prophecy depends on correct Hermeneutics, or what rules of interpretation one uses. We are Historicist, a.k.a. the Historical Protestant Interpretation. Most of the post-modern churches teachings that one hears or reads today are from the Futurists. If one is familiar with there teachings one will notice a significant differences in interpretation; especially with symbolism and when events are to occur. See Also: Hermeneutics, for full definitions and explanations of these schools of interpretations.
The Futurist interpretation believes that the prophecy in Matthew 24 is about our time, and our government. We take a more narrative approach to this passage. We will champion a more reasonable historical grammatical reading. We do not find a seven years tribulation, political antichrist, or rapture here. These events/people are not in the actual passage in question.
Although Futurists claim to “interpret the Bible literally,” they abandon this ultra-literal interpretation when it comes to this passage and many others. They ignore that the passage starts with a question about the very Temple in view of Jesus and His disciples.
And as he came out of the temple, one of his disciples said to him, “Look, Teacher, what wonderful stones and what wonderful buildings!” And Jesus said to him, “Do you see these great buildings? There will not be left here one stone upon another, that will not be thrown down.” Mark 13:1-2
Instead they seek to rebuild a new temple to fulfill this prophecy. That causes their interpretation of the 1st century Temple that Jesus was referring to, symbolic or figurative, not literal. That is not physically possible.
Four points need to be considered:
- The immediate context of this discourse is about the Temple in Jesus and the disciples immediate view
- Applying the hermeneutical principle that the next event the prophecy describes, most likely fulfills the prophecy
- An understanding of what “Daniel the prophet spoke of” [Dan 9:27]
- Mark and Luke’s parallel passages concerning armies surrounding Jerusalem [Mk 13; Lk 17:22-27; 21:5-38]
Jesus was not a Christian. He was a first century Judean rabbi whose name in Hebrew is Yeshua. He would have been considered to be closest in theology to the faction of the Pharisees but, at times he sided with the Sadducees.
The Pharisees believed and taught both the Torah, i.e. the First Five Books of the Bible, and the Oral Law, i.e. the Talmud. They maintained a firm belief in a resurrection and afterlife. They thought, and still teach, that the coming of Messiah would/will bring world peace.
Sadducees are more difficult to understand, as they ceased to exist as a faction after the destruction of the Temple in 70 AD. Only minute amounts of their writings can be found, as the Pharisees did not preserve the Book of the Sadducees. What we know of their beliefs was that they rejected the Talmud and insisted that the Torah be read literally. They also rejected a resurrection and an afterlife, as they did not see that they are mentioned in the Torah. The Sadducees were the priestly class and were responsible for the administration of the Temple; and their chief concern was that the rituals of the Temple be observed properly. They were also willing to compromise with the Hellenist in the adoption of Greek culture of dress and eating habits.
FYI: A fact often lost to many Church goers is that the religion known as Judaism is not the temple worship of the Bible. Christianity is in fact older than Judaism. Judaism is a completely different religion than the what went on in the temple with its ritual sacrifices and washings. It was developed in 2nd century Palestine, after the failure of the Jewish Bar Kochba rebellion against Rome in 137 AD. When they failed to regain the temple they needed something to hold the people together. So a system of prayers and reedings was created to replace the rituals.
The actual Discourse is in four different passages [Matthew 24, Mark 13, and Luke 17:22-37, 21:5-37]. Each of these versions are slightly different. This is a clear indication that the sermon was given on more than one occasion. The four passages offer cross-referencing of Jewish phraseology that aid immensely in the interpretation of the events. It is essential to read all four passages to fully study what Messiah was communicating to those standing before Him.
Next Week: The Triumphal Entry