OUTLINE OF THE OLIVET PROPHECY
As the Lord was departing from the temple after His denunciation of the leaders of the people, certain of His disciples drew His attention to the massive stones of which the temple was built (some of these were 30 feet long); but while they were thus admiring its solidity and grandeur, He made what must have been to them the astounding statement that there should not be left of that huge pile of masonry one stone upon another that should not be thrown down (#Mt 24:1,2). This statement was the occasion of the Olivet prophecy.
A little later, as He sat upon the Mount of Olives, which overlooked the city, four of His disciples (Peter, James, John and Andrew) asked Him privately for further information concerning the matters to which He had briefly referred (#Mr 13:3). The words He had spoken to the Jews had indicated two things in a general way; first, that a severe judgment was to fall upon that generation of Jews; second, that He Himself was to come again visibly. This latter event was intimated in the words, "Ye shall not see Me henceforth, till ye shall say, Blessed is He that cometh in the name of the Lord" (#Mt 23:39).
These words of the Lord will account for the form of the question put to Him by His disciples, which, as recorded by Matthew, reads thus: "Tell us when shall these things be, and what shall be the sign of Thy coming, and of the end of the world (age)?"
It is evident that in the minds of the disciples the destruction of Jerusalem ("these things") and the coming again of the Lord Jesus ("the sign of Thy coming, and of the end of the age") were closely connected together. They might well have inferred from what the Lord had said to the Jews that the two events would be contemporaneous. Hence, as reported by Mark and Luke, the question was, "When shall these things be, and what shall be the sign when these things shall be fulfilled?" The disciples were evidently taking it for granted that, when Jerusalem should be again attacked by alien armies, the Lord Himself would come "and fight against those nations, " which idea would seem to find support in the prophecy of Zechariah (#Zec 14:1-5). The disciples, therefore, were not in reality asking several different questions about several distinct and unrelated events, but were asking about what was, in their own minds, a series of connected events. That it was regarded by them as being all one matter, clearly appears by the form of the question as recorded by Mark and Luke.
It is important that we take note of this, for it explains why the Lord, in His reply, was so emphatic and so painsintaking in warning the disciples not to expect His coming at the time of the siege of Jerusalem, and not to pay any heed to reports and false prophecies which were to be circulated at that time, to the effect that Christ was "here" or "there, "" in the desert" or in some "secret chamber." It also explains why He was so careful to impress upon them that what He was foretelling would be the fulfilmentnot of prophecies such as Zechariah and (#Joe 3:9-16, ) which end well for Jerusalem but of the words of "DANIEL THE PROPHET, " which end in utter and age long "desolations" for Jerusalem, to be attended by "a time of trouble" for the people, "such as never was since there was a nation even to that same time" (#Da 12:1).
In fact it will be clearly seen, upon a careful reading of the entire discourse, that the Lord did not give, or purpose to give, any information whatever concerning His second advent, except that it would occur when not expected. All that He said definitely on that subject was that it would not be at the time of the then impending destruction of Jerusalem. It was manifestly of the utmost importance that His own disciples should not be misled by false reports and false Christs at that time, and should not be looking (as were the mass of the Jews) for a miraculous deliverance, but that they should heed the sign He gave them, and should make good their escape by "flight." To this end the Lord began His reply by saying, "Take heed that no man deceive you; for many shall come in My Name, saying, I am Christ, and shall deceive many" (#Mt 24:4,5). The particular deception against which He thus warned them was the false expectation that He would come and deliver the city. The fanatical Jews were sustained in their stubborn resistance to the Romans by the confident expectation of a miraculous deliverance, as in Hezekiahs day. Our Lord, therefore, took great pains that His own disciples should not share this deception. And He continued this sort of warning down to the end of verse 14, cautioning them also that they were not to take such things as wars, rumours of wars, famines, pestilences, and earthquakes, as signs of His coming. Never were warnings more needed than these, or more generally disregarded. For all through the age the Lords people have been prone to look upon wars, or other great commotions, as signs of the Lords immediate coming.
We repeat then, that the Lords purpose in this discourse was not at all to give His people signs of His coming again, but to warn that generation of believers of the approaching destruction of Jerusalem, and to give to them a sure sign whereby they might, and whereby in fact His own people did, secure their safety by fleeing the land and city.
Viewing then the Lords discourse as a whole we may clearly see in it the following purposes:
1. To warn His disciples against being led astray by false Christs and false prophets, a danger to which they were to be peculiarly exposed at the time of the Roman invasion of the land.
2. To warn them that wars, commotions, famines, pestilences and earthquakes were not at any time to be taken as indications that His Second Advent was near. Manifestly it was the Lords design that His people should be, from the very beginning, always in an attitude of expectancy of His coming: that they should not be looking for signs, but for Him (see #Heb 9:26). As well stated by Edersheim: "All that was communicated to them was only to prepare them for that constant watchfulness, which has been to Christs own people, at all times, the proper outcome of His teaching on the subject"i.e., the subject of His second coming.
3. To give them a sure sign, whereby they might know with certainty that the hour had come for them to flee from Jerusalem and Judea.
The first two purposes are purely negative, so far as those disciples, and others of that generation, were concerned. The third only is positive in character; and in it we find the main object of the prophecy.
THE GREAT TRIBULATION. THE DAYS OF VENGEANCE
What we desire chiefly to establish at this point is that when Christ spoke the words found in Matthew 24:21, "For then shall be great tribulation, such as was not since the beginning of the world to this time, no, nor ever shall be", He was warning the disciples of the approaching destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans, and was letting them know in advance (what the event abundantly confirmed) that the sufferings of the besieged people, and the horrors and atrocities of that awful time, would be without parallel in the history of the world, past or future. It was needful to impress this upon His people of that day, to the end that they should not delay their "flight" when the sign He gave them should appear. The prophecy was, as we have already seen, exceedingly practical. Its purpose was to save the lives of the Lords own people at a time of extremist danger and distress. And we have only to glance at the three accounts of this utterance of the Lord to perceive that His warning concerning the great tribulation was given for the purpose that His own people might, through acting upon His words, escape from it. We shall call attention to this in detail; but in passing would just ask our readers to observe that the greatness of the tribulation was mentioned as the reason why the disciples were to pray that their "flight be not in the winter nor on the Sabbath day" (#Mt 24:20,21). Those words clearly confine the application of the prophecy to a time preceding the dispersion of the Jews.
Let it be understood then that we are not making any statements in regard to persecutions, tribulations and wrath, which are or may be yet in the future. That there will be such is certain. What we are asserting at this point is that the "great tribulation" whereof our Lord spoke to His disciples when He was on Mt. Olivet, and which He called "the tribulation of those days" (#Mt 24:29), was the destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans in A.D. 70. And we would say that it is most needful, in order to the understanding of other prophecies, that this fact be grasped.
The proof is ample. Indeed the scriptures already cited make it plain that the wrath, which God was then about to pour out upon those who had both crucified His Son and had also rejected His mercy offered to them in the gospel, was "wrath to the uttermost, " that all things which had been predicted of that nature were to fall upon that generation. But the clearest proof of all is to be found by simply reading, side by side, the three accounts which God has given us of this great prophecy. It never occurred to the writer to do this until a few months before these papers were written (it was in the summer of 1921). But when he did so he was beyond measure astonished that he had been for so long a time blinded to a fact which lies plainly revealed upon the surface of the Scriptures.
Briefly stated, what the writer found, and what anyone can see by making the same comparison, is:
1. That the words of Luke 21:20-24, beginning, "And WHEN YE SHALL SEE Jerusalem encompassed with armies, then know that THE DESOLATION thereof is nigh, " refer to the destruction of Jerusalem by the Roman armies under Titus (no expositor would dispute this);
2. That the words found in the corresponding part of Matthews account, beginning with the words, "WHEN THEREFORE YE SHALL SEE" (#Mt 24:15-22 Mr 13:14-20) refer to precisely the same event as that spoken of in (#Lu 21:20-24.)
We have said that, so far as we know, it is agreed by all expositors that the words recorded by Luke refer to the then approaching destruction of Jerusalem by Titus. But a careful examination of the account given by Matthew will show that, not only does it manifestly refer to the same destruction of Jerusalem, but it contains details which clearly show that our Lord was speaking of an event then close at hand. We will refer later on to those details.
And now, in order that our readers may readily make the comparison we have spoken of, we here print, in parallel columns, the three accounts of our Lords great prophecy.
CHRISTS OLIVET DISCOURSE
MATTHEW 24 (#Mt 24:1-44)
And Jesus went out and departed from the temple, and His disciples came to Him for to show Him the buildings of the temple.
And Jesus said unto them, See ye not all these things? Verily I say unto you, there shall not be left here one stone upon another, that shall not be thrown down.
And as He sat upon the Mount of Olives, the disciples came unto Him privately, saying, Tell us when shall these things be? And what shall be the sign of Thy coming, and of the end of the world?
MARK 13 (#Mr 13:1-35)
And as He went out of the temple one of His disciples saith unto Him, Master, see what manner of stones and what buildings are here! And Jesus answering said unto him, Seest thou these great buildings? there shall not be left one stone upon another, that shall not be thrown down.
And as He sat upon the Mount of Olives, over against the temple, Peter and James and John and Andrew asked Him privately, Tell us when shall these things be? And what shall be the sign when all these things shall be fulfilled?
LUKE 21 (#Lu 21:5-30)
And as some spake of the temple, how it was adorned with goodly stones and gifts, He said, As for these things which ye behold, the days will come in the which there shall not be left one stone upon another, which shall not be thrown down.
And they asked Him, saying, Master, but when shall these things be? And what sign shall there be when these things shall come to pass?
Warnings Against Being Deceived
And Jesus answered and said unto them, Take heed that no man deceive you. For many shall come in My name saying, I am Christ, and shall deceive many.
6. And ye shall hear of wars and rumours of wars. See that ye be not troubled; for all these things must come to pass, but the end is not yet. For nation shall rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; and there shall be famines and pestilences, and earthquakes in divers places. All these are the beginning of sorrows (birth pangs).
And Jesus answering them began to say, Take heed lest any man deceive you; For many shall come in My name, saying, I am Christ, and shall deceive many.
7. And when ye shall hear of wars and rumours of wars, be ye not troubled; for such things must needs be, but the end is not yet. For nation shall rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; and there shall be earthquakes in divers places, and there shall be famines and troubles. These are the beginnings of sorrows (birth pangs).
And He said, Take heed that ye be not deceived, for many shall come in My name saying, I am Christ, and the time draweth near; go ye not therefore after them.
9. But when ye shall hear of wars and commotions, be not terrified; for these things must first come to pass; but the end is not by and by (immediately).
Then said He unto them, Nation shall rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. And great earthquakes shall be in divers places, and famines and pestilences, and fearful sights, and great signs shall there be from heaven.
Persecutions Predicted and Instructions What to Do
9. Then shall they deliver you up to be afflicted, and shall kill you; and ye shall be hated of all nations for My names sake.
And then shall many be offended, and shall betray one another, and shall hate one another.
And many false prophets shall rise and shall deceive many.
And because iniquity shall abound, the love of many shall wax cold.
13. But he that shall endure unto the end, the same shall be saved (#Mr 13:13).
14. And this gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in all the world for a witness unto all nations; and then shall the end come.
(Note: Matthews reference to the persecutions of the disciples is relatively brief. He omits the instructions as to premeditating, etc. Luke omits the statement that the gospel must first be preached. His "not a hair perish, " and "by your patience" (i.e. endurance), are the equivalent of "He that shall endure unto the end.")
9. But take heed to yourselves; for they shall deliver you up to councils; and in the synagogues ye shall be beaten; and ye shall be brought before rulers and kings for My sake, for a testimony against them.
10. And the gospel must first be published among all nations.
11. But when they shall lead you and deliver you up, take no thought beforehand what ye shall speak, neither do ye premeditate; but whatsoever shall be given you in that hour, that speak ye: for it is not ye that speak but the Holy Ghost.
12. Now the brother shall betray the brother to death, and the father the son; and children shall rise up against their parents, and shall cause them to be put to death.
13. And ye shall be hated of all men for My names sake; but he that shall endure unto the end, the same shall be saved.
12. But before all these, they shall lay their hands on you, and persecute you, delivering you up to the synagogues and into prisons, being brought before kings and rulers for My names sake. And it shall turn to you for a testimony.
14. Settle it therefore in your hearts not to meditate before what ye shall answer. For I will give you a mouth and wisdom which all your adversaries shall not be able to gainsay nor resist.
16. And ye shall be betrayed both by parents and brethren, and kinsfolks, and friends; and some of you shall they cause to be put to death. And ye shall be hated of all men for My names sake. But there shall not an hair of your head perish.
19. In your patience possess ye your souls
The Destruction of Jerusalem. The Sign to the Disciples "When Ye Shall See"
15. When ye therefore shall see the abomination of desolation spoken of by Daniel the prophet, stand in the holy place (whoso readeth let him understand); Then let them which be in Judea flee into the mountains; Let him which is on the housetop not come down to take anything out of the house; neither let him which is in the field return back to take his clothes.
19. And woe unto them that are with child, and to them that give suck in those days!
20. But pray ye that your flight be not in the winter, neither on the Sabbath day.
21. For then shall be great tribulation, such as was not since the beginning of the world to this time, no, nor ever shall be.
22. And except those days should be shortened, there should no flesh be saved; but for the elects sake those days shall be shortened.
23. Then if any man shall say unto you, Lo, here is Christ, or there; believe it not. For there shall arise false Christs, and false prophets, and shall show great signs and wonders; insomuch that, if it were possible, they shall deceive the very elect. Behold, I have told you before.
26. Wherefore, if they shall say unto you, Behold he is in the desert; go not forth; behold he is in the secret chambers; believe it not.
27. For as the lightning cometh out of the east, and shineth even unto the west; so shall also the coming of the Son of man be. For wheresoever the carcase is, there will the eagles be gathered together.
14. But when ye shall see the abomination of desolation spoken of by Daniel the prophet, standing where it ought not (let him that readeth understand); then let them that be in Judea flee to the mountains; and let him that is on the housetop not go down into the house, neither enter therein to take anything out of his house. And let him that is in the field not turn back again for to take up his garment.
17. But woe to them that are with child, and to them that give suck in those days!
18. And pray ye that your flight be not in the winter.
19. For in those days shall be affliction, such as was not from the beginning of the creation which God created unto this time, neither shall be.
20. And except that the Lord had shortened those days, no flesh should be saved; but for the elects sake, whom He hath chosen, He hath shortened the days.
21. And then if any man shall say to you, Lo, here is Christ; or lo, he is there; believe him not.
22. For false Christs and false prophets shall rise, and shall show signs and wonders, to seduce, if it were possible, the very elect.
23. But take ye heed; behold, I have foretold you all things.
20. And when ye shall see Jerusalem compassed with armies, then know that the desolation thereof is nigh. Then let them which are in Judea flee to the mountains; and let them which are in the midst of it depart out; and let not them that are in the countries enter thereinto.
22. For these be the days of vengeance, that all things which are written may be fulfilled.
23. But woe unto them that are with child, and to them that give suck in those days! For there shall be great distress in the land, and wrath upon this people.
24. And they shall fall by the edge of the sword, and shall be led away captive into all nations; and Jerusalem shall be trodden down of the Gentiles, until the times of the Gentiles be fulfilled.
(Note: The special warning to beware of false Christs and false prophets at the time of the siege of Jerusalem is omitted from Lukes account.)
Luke alone gives the statement that, after the destruction of the city, the Jews should be led away captives into all nations; and that Jerusalem should be trodden down of the Gentiles until the times of the Gentiles be fulfilled. The statements of (#Mt 24:27) are found in (#Lu 17:24,37.)
After The Tribulation of Those Days
29. Immediately after the tribulation of those days, shall the sun be darkened, and the moon shall not give her light, and the stars shall fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens shall be shaken;
And then shall appear the sign of the Son of man in heaven; and then shall all the tribes of the earth mourn; and they shall see the Son of man coming in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory.
31. And He shall send His angels with a great sound of a trumpet, and they shall gather together His elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other.
24. But in those days, after that tribulation, the sun shall be darkened and the moon shall not give her light. And the stars of heaven shall fall, and the powers that are in heaven shall be shaken.
26. And then shall they see the Son of man coming in the clouds with great power and glory.
27. And then shall He send His angels, and shall gather together His elect from the four winds, from the uttermost part of the earth to the uttermost part of heaven.
25. And there shall be signs in the sun, and in the moon and in the stars; and upon the earth distress of nations with perplexity; the sea and the waves roaring; mens hearts failing them for fear, and for looking after those things which are coming on the earth; for the powers of heaven shall be shaken.
27. And then they shall see the Son of man coming in a cloud with power and great glory.
28. And when these things begin to come to pass, then look up, and lift up your heads; for your redemption draweth nigh.
The Parable of the Fig Tree
32. Now learn a parable of the fig tree; when his branch is yet tender and putteth forth leaves, ye know that summer is nigh; so likewise ye, when ye shall see all these things, know that it is near, even at the doors.
34. Verily I say unto you, This generation shall not pass till all these things be fulfilled. Heaven and earth shall pass away, but My words shall not pass away.
28. Now learn a parable of the fig tree. When her branch is yet tender, and putteth forth leaves, ye know that summer is near. So ye in like manner, when ye shall see these things come to pass, know that it is nigh, even at the doors.
30. Verily I say unto you that this generation shall not pass till all these things be done. Heaven and earth shall pass away, but My words shall not pass away.
29. And He spake unto them a parable: Behold the fig tree, and all the trees, when they now shoot forth, ye see and know of your own selves that summer is now nigh at hand. So likewise ye, when ye see these things come to pass, know ye that the Kingdom of God is nigh at hand.
32. Verily I say unto you, This generation shall not pass away, till all be fulfilled. Heaven and earth shall pass away, but My words ahall not pass away.
No Sign of "That Day." The Lords People Must Always "Watch" and "Be Ready"
36. But of that day and hour knoweth no man, no, not the angels of heaven, but My Father only.
37. But as the days of Noe were, so shall also the coming of the Son of man be. For as in the days that were before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day that Noe entered into the ark, and knew not until the flood came, and took them all away; so shall also the coming of the Son of man be.
40. Then shall two be in the field; the one shall be taken and the other left. Two women shall be grinding at the mill; the one shall be taken and the other left.
42. Watch therefore, for ye know not what hour your Lord doth come. But know this, that if the goodman of the house had known in what watch the thief would come, he would have watched, and would not have suffered his house to be broken up.
44. Therefore be ye also ready; for in such an hour as ye think not the Son of man cometh.
32. But of that day and that hour knoweth no man, no, not the angels which are in heaven, neither the Son, but the Father. Take ye heed, watch and pray, for ye know not when the time is.
34. (For the Son of man is) as a man taking a far journey, who left his house, and gave authority to his servants, and to every man his work, and commanded the porter to watch.
35. Watch ye therefore, for ye know not when the master of the house cometh, at even, or at midnight, or at the cockcrowing, or in the morning: lest coming suddenly he find you sleeping. And what I say unto you, I say unto all, Watch.
34. And take heed to yourselves, lest at any time your hearts be overcharged with surfeiting and drunkenness, and cares of this life, and so that day come upon you unawares. For as a snare shall it come on all them that dwell on the face of the whole earth.
36. Watch ye, therefore, and pray always, that ye may be accounted worthy to escape all these things that shall come to pass, and to stand before the Son of man.
(Lukes account ends here, but the Lords words concerning the days of Noe, and the days of Lot are found in Luke 17:26-30.) (Note: Each account has an ending different from the others; yet the lesson is the same in each, namely that no definite "sign" would be given to show when the Lord was about to come again, but on the contrary His return would be entirely unexpected, as was the coming of the flood, and as is the coming of a thief. Hence the great importance to the Lords people that they should always "watch, " and "be ready also." Mark and Luke add "and pray." Luke mentions the things which are to be feared, and against which the saints are to watch"surfeiting and drunkenness, and cares of this life.")
"WHEN YE SHALL SEE"
The reader will be well repaid for whatever time and effort he may expend in a diligent study and comparison of these three accounts of our Lords prophecy. (It is the only utterance of any length whereof three separate accounts have been given us; and there must be a special reason for this.) But what we would emphasize at this point is that the section beginning "When ye shall see" (#Mt 24:12 Mr 13:14 Lu 21:20) manifestly refers, in each account, to one and the same eventthe approaching destruction of Jerusalem. "The abomination of desolation standing in the holy place" (Matt. and Mk.) means the same thing as do the words "Jerusalem"the holy city"encompassed with armies" (the armies being the "abomination" which was to make the place a "desolation, "# Lu 21:20). We will return to this interesting point.
The "great tribulation, such as was not since the beginning of the world, " &c. (#Mt 24:21), is the same as the "affliction" (the same word in the original as "tribulation") "such as was not since the beginning of the creation which God created" (#Mr 13:19), and as "the days of vengeance, that all things which are written may be fulfilled, " the "great distress in the land, and wrath upon this people" (#Lu 21:22,23).
In all three accounts are mentioned the same woes, "to them that are with child, and to them that give suck in those days, " and the same directions for instant flight are given. But in Matthews account only we have the Lords instruction to His disciples to pray that their flight be not in the winter nor on the Sabbath day. Those words show clearly that He was speaking of a time when the stringent Rabbinical rules concerning the distance that might be traversed on the Sabbath day would be still in force. That remark fixes the time with certainty as previous to the destruction of Jerusalem. Those strict Rabbinical rules have not been in force for centuries; and there is no reason to suppose that they will ever be revived. The words do not, of course, imply that Christs own disciples would be bound by those rules even then; but so long as they were in Judea they would have been hampered by them in their flight, should that take place on the Sabbath.
In the light, therefore, of this comparison of scripture with scripture, we think it plain that the "great tribulation" of Matthew 24:14 was that unparalleled calamity, with its unspeakable sufferings, which befell the city and people in A.D. 70.
In the history of "The Wars of the Jews" by Josephus we have a detailed account, written by an eye witness, of the almost unbelievable sufferings of the Jews during the siege of Jerusalem. To this account we will refer later on; but we wish to state at this point that the distresses of those who were hemmed in by the sudden appearance of the Roman armies were peculiar in this respect, namely, that what they endured was mainly self-inflicted. That is to say, they suffered far more from cruelties and tortures inflicted upon one another, than from the common enemy outside the walls. In this strange feature of the case it was surely "a time of trouble such as never was since there was a nation, even to that same time" (#Da 12:1).
What went on within the distressed city calls to mind the words of Isaiah:
"Through the wrath of the Lord of hosts is the land darkened, and the people shall be as the fuel (the food) of the fire. No man shall spare his brother. And he shall snatch on the right hand and shall be hungry; and he shall eat on the left hand and not be satisfied; they shall eat every man the flesh of his own arm. Manasseh, Ephraim; and Ephraim, Manasseh. For all this His anger is not turned away, but His wrath is poured out still" (#Isa 9:19-21).