During the preceding days, Jesus had made his Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem, prophesied destruction for Israel in cursing the fig tree, cleansed the Temple, and entered into debates with the religious establishment, which he repeatedly won. Then, in exalting the poor widow and her offering, he passed judgment on the religious leadership of Israel. Now Jesus left the Temple for good.
As Jesus left the temple courtyards on Wednesday, He delivered a final pronouncement of judgment on apostate Judaism (13:2). Then, while sitting on the Mount of Olives looking back at the monumental edifice that had become the symbol of that apostasy, He explained to His disciples what must take place before the end of the age and the establishment of His earthly kingdom. This lengthy instruction and its parallel in Matt. 24/Luke 21 is known as the Olivet Discourse.
So what must take place before the end of the age and the establishment of His earthly kingdom?
The sheer enormity of Herod’s stone temple, combined with its magnificence and splendor, made it difficult to imagine that such an edifice would be destroyed. It had stones as large as boxcars.
In A.D. 70, Jesus’ words were literally and precisely fulfilled when God brought to Jerusalem the Roman army under Titus Vespasian. He destroyed the city and the entire temple complex. The fires caused by the Romans resulted in the large stones of the temple tumbling to the ground. The Temple was no longer to be the center of Christian hope.
Having heard prophecy of the temple’s destruction, they were eager to learn more about what the future held. Verse 5 marks the actual beginning of the Olivet Discourse, in which Jesus explained what would take place throughout the world, with a particular emphasis on those events that immediately precede His return to the earth. These things, however, are not necessarily immediate signs. They are foreshadows of what will occur on a global scale.
Though there have been many counterfeit messiahs and false prophets throughout history both before an after the time of Christ, their numbers will vastly increase a the end of the age. Their work of deception foreshadows that of the ultimate false teacher who will be revealed during the time of the tribulation.
As Jesus continued to articulate the birth pangs that will precede His return, He described global devastation resulting from both human conflicts and natural disasters.
War and rumors of wars between nations and kingdoms have been a reality through every generation, including the present. Yet, these, no matter how frequent or intense, only foreshadow the final, climactic conflict when the nations of the world converge on Israel.
On this occasion, the Lord explained that His followers would be mistreated and attacked by both Jewish and Gentile antagonists. Throughout church history, even until the present hour, countless believers follow the footsteps of Paul and other apostles by faithfully enduring suffering and mistreatment for the sake of the Lord.
Some have estimated that more than 70 million Christians have given their lives for their witness to Jesus, 45 million in the twentieth century alone. In the last decade “there were on average, 270 new Christian martyrs every 24 hours or approximately one million in the last 10 years” –Danny Akin.
However, the book of Revelation reveals that the worse persecution in the history will occur just before the Lord returns, as animosity toward God and the gospel will intensify under the leadership of the final and most influential Antichrist (Rev. 6:9-11).
The Lord’s warning here is coupled with a promise. Those who endure suffering for Christ’s sake demonstrate by their endurance the genuineness of their faith.
Conversely, those who fall away when persecution comes reveal that they never truly possessed saving faith in the first place. This is not a promise against martyrdom, but a picture of security in the face of martyrdom.
After describing the initial birth pangs, Jesus shifted His focus to a major event that will notify everyone that they are in this final time of tribulation. The book of Daniel mentions the abomination of desolation three times. In Daniel 11:31 the term is used to describe the historical pervasion of Antiochus Epiphanes, the Seleucid king who controlled Israel from 175-165 B.C. Calling himself “the manifest god.” He desecrated the temple in Jerusalem by sacrificing a ping on the altar. However, this was only a foreshadowing of the Antichrist’s future pervasion. (see 2 Thess. 2:3-4).
During the tribulation, the Jewish people will particularly be assaulted. Jesus’ instruction to those who will one day experience the events that directly target Israel is simple and clear. Get out immediately.
The escalating danger will be so great that there can be no time to waste, not even to go outside one’s house to collect personal belongings.
The abomination of desolation will mark the midpoint of the final seven-year tribulation. The second half of the tribulation will be even more severe than the first. The judgment of God on earth, including His allowing the fury of Antichrist against Jews and the saints, will make the great tribulation an unparalleled time of terror. The Antichrist’s savage against believers will be so severe that if God did not cut it short, none would survive.
At the end of the tribulation period, Christ will return. The most climactic moment in human history will be total darkness. In response to these cosmic events, unbelievers who are alive on earth will react in terror and confusion.
Against the pitch darkness of the time, suddenly and vibrantly, “the Lord will be revealed from heaven with His mighty angels in flaming fire” (2 Thess. 1:7). He will come to establish HIs kingdom and to destroy the ungodly.
Jesus continues by using a simple illustration to emphasize the appropriate response to His words of warning. The imperative “learn” translates a form of the Greek verb mathano, conveying the idea of accepting something as true and applying it to one’s life.
For people alive when these events occur, this prophecy takes on extreme urgency. When they see the signs that Jesus described, they should recognize that His return is nearly upon them.
Like dutiful doorkeepers, they must keep constant watch, so that they are prepared in readiness to welcome their Master upon His arrival.
When Jesus talks about the future, it’s meant to change the way we live in the present. There are three implications to the Olivet Discourse.