Jesus’ words on the Mount of Olives to His disciples give a wealth of information about the end of this age of humanity. Taking each verse on its own leads to confusion, or worse, incorrect doctrine. In order to rightly divide the Scriptures, we must take them as a whole. Not just a passage or chapter, and not even by book. We take the entire body, the whole wealth of the Bible, and weave it together to form our understanding.
Then we will no longer be infants, tossed about by the waves and carried around by every wind of teaching and by the clever cunning of men in their deceitful scheming. (Ephesians 4:14)
In a previous post, I wove together the tapestry of Matthew, Mark, and Luke. However, it is a little long and cumbersome to read, so I will provide an overview here. I understand that in tackling this, I can introduce my biases. Thus, I encourage you to search the Scriptures for yourself to see if these things are so.
Jesus has just told his disciples that the Temple will be destroyed, with not one stone left upon another. Because they, along with all of Israel, are anticipating Jesus ushering in the Messianic Kingdom, they don’t even know how to comprehend what He has just told them. And so they approach Him and ask Him when this is going to happen and when He’s going to finally usher in His Kingdom. They actually ask about the signs of His coming as well, but remember that they didn’t even comprehend His death and resurrection at this point. Even upon His ascension, they are markedly confused about how His plan is going to unfold. So although scholars have broken down the disciples’ questions into three parts (temple destruction, Second Coming, End of the Age), the disciples themselves did not see that these would necessarily be different events.
To answer their questions, Jesus first describes the Church Age in one broad sweep. He warns the disciples not to be led astray by false messiahs or false doctrine. He also states that there will be wars and rumors of wars, but the end is still to come. These things would be part of the general “trials and tribulations” that would end up being part of the entire church age. And of course, this is what the church age has seen. There have been many false religions in the name of Christ, including false messiahs and prophets. Wars continue to sprinkle throughout the pages of history.
In Luke’s version alone, Jesus answers the question of when the Temple would be thrown down. He tells them there will be much persecution for the disciples including prison and martyrdom. He encourages them that the purpose of this persecution is to bear witness for His name’s sake, and that He would give them the words to say when the time comes. Then, when Jerusalem is surrounded by armies, its destruction is near. He warns them to flee to the mountains at this time. Then Jerusalem will fall in order to fulfill all that is written, namely, the prophecies of Israel being scattered among the nations until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled. Again, we see Jesus’ words fulfilled in the pages of history. All the apostles died the death of martyrs, save John. Even though John had been boiled in oil, God spared His life for a time. The Temple was then thrown down and Jerusalem seized in 70AD. However, the process of the taking of Jerusalem involved some confusion, giving time for those who recalled Jesus’ words time to flee. It is recorded that no Christians died in the taking of Jerusalem. The complete regathering of Israel is yet future, when the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled at the Second Coming of Christ.
Next we have the arrival of the “time of the end”. Jesus describes a specific set of signs as marking the “beginning of birth pains”, which announces the “time of the end”. This collection of signs includes: nation rising against nation, kingdom rising against kingdom, famines, earthquakes in various places, terrors, and great signs from heaven. Individually, these signs don’t signify the end. When the end DOES arrive, it will be very obviously marked by this collection of signs occurring all at once. Note the parallels of these signs to Seals 2,3,4,6 and Ezekiel 38-39. The only other place a “great sign in heaven” is mentioned is in Revelation 12:1-2, which is an interesting connection as this sign is set to occur on September 23, 2017. The end will come like a flood, or a trap, indeed, and it will be obvious to all.
Jesus then describes a period of intense persecution, which is very similar to the persecution experienced by the original apostles. This persecution and its’ connection to Seal 5 is critical to understand. When we read through Seal 5 (Revelation 6), we see that the Seal 5 martyrs are given white robes and told to rest. Then, in Seal 6 the sky rolls back as a scroll to reveal the Lamb and the throne of God and a vast collection of people from all tribes, tongues, nations, and peoples. I have come to the understanding that the 5th Seal represents the resurrection of the dead (the dead in Christ will rise first), and Seal 6 the rapture of the resurrected dead and the living. While the Seal 5 martyrs, now resurrected and robed, “rest” in heaven (Isaiah 26), martyrs will continue to accumulate throughout the Day of the Lord. Instead of accumulating under the altar as in Seal 5, these collect before the throne of God on the “sea of glass” (Revelation 15:2; ref Revelation 4:2).
Amidst this time of persecution, Jesus warns against false prophets. This is the time of deception described in 2 Thessalonians 2. Satan will be empowering the False Prophet and the Antichrist to perform many signs and wonders. The indwelling Holy Spirit is not a part of this short “age of wrath”, so it will be very difficult to cling to faith in Jesus at this time and believers are encouraged to stand firm in their faith until the end.
Jesus states that the gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world, and “then the end will come”. This also is a potential stumbling point for timelines. Yes, it is the church’s job to spread the gospel, and we have indeed already successfully reached all nations. But this preaching of the gospel continues in our absence through the 2 witnesses (Revelation 11), the sealed 144,000 Jews (Revelation 7), and an angel – “Then I saw another angel flying directly overhead, with an eternal gospel to proclaim to those who dwell on earth, to every nation and tribe and language and people. And he said with a loud voice, “Fear God and give him glory, because the hour of his judgment has come, and worship him who made heaven and earth, the sea and the springs of water.” (Revelation 14:6-7) Everyone will hear the gospel before the final wrath of God is poured out. God, even in His wrath, calls people to repentance.
Jesus then refers to the book of Daniel and warns that when “the abomination that causes desolation” is seen standing in the holy place, that those who are in Judea (Jerusalem) should flee to the mountains. This hearkens back to the days of the destruction of Jerusalem in 70AD; however, this time the trigger is the “abomination of desolation” not “Jerusalem surrounded by armies”. From the books of Daniel and 2 Thessalonians, we know that the abomination reference here is the time when the antichrist sets himself up in the temple and declares himself to be “god”. We know that Jesus is referring to those in Jerusalem literally (and not symbolically) by the references to the holy place in the Temple and to the Sabbath. Only observant Jews would be concerned about fleeing on the Sabbath, as they were only allowed to travel very small distances from their homes at that time. This desecration of the holy place will mark the beginning of the most intense persecution of followers of Jesus Christ of all time – “the Greatest Tribulation”.
Jesus states that for the sake of the elect, the days of “greatest tribulation” will be shortened. I don’t believe we can know exactly what is meant here, other than that God has allotted a certain amount of time for satan to rule and not a moment more.
Jesus again warns about false messiahs and false prophets performing deceptive signs and wonders. This is Satan’s last chance to deceive humanity. You can bet that he has been planning this for thousands of years and that it is going to be very cunning. I’m anticipating that the antichrist will present as the Jewish “messiah”, literally, a “false christ”. However, no matter what is being claimed, the arrival of Jesus will be absolutely unmistakable. If there is ANY QUESTION AT ALL, it’s not Jesus.
Immediately after the distress of the greatest tribulation of all time, the vultures will gather in preparation for the sacrificial feast that will be offered to them at the Battle of Armageddon. The sun, moon, and stars will be darkened (note: DARK moon, not BLOOD moon; a critical distinction that trips people up all the time). Yes, this is similar to Seal 6, where the sun is darkened and the stars appear to fall from the sky. However, instead of a BLOOD moon at the Second Coming of Christ at Armageddon, the moon will be DARK. This is a critical distinction. The BLOOD moon specifically only occurs at the beginning of the Day of the Lord (Joel 2:30-31, Acts 2:17-21, Revelation 6/Seal 6). The DARK moon happens a few times throughout the day of the Lord as well as at the END of the Day of the Lord.
Zechariah 14:6-7 describes the END as “On that day there shall be no light, cold, or frost. And there shall be a unique day, which is known to the Lord, neither day nor night, but at evening time there shall be light.“ It’s possible that in the evening on this day of darkness is when the Son of Man will light up the sky in all His glory, when He comes on His white horse with all the holy ones behind Him. The powers of the heavens will be shaken at this time, as Jesus boots the rulers of this present world (Ephesians 6:12) out of power. When Jesus comes, the evil forces that currently run rampant in our realm will literally be shaken out of their abode.
Jesus then sends out His angels with a loud trumpet call to gather the elect “from the four winds”. The four winds represent the four compass points, meaning the entire globe. The elect in view here are the believing remnant of Israel. One of the main purposes of the Day of the Lord and the 70th Week of Daniel is to draw Israel back to God. Over and over again the Old Testament proclaims Israel’s regathering. This reminds us of Zechariah 2:6, where God states that “I have spread you abroad as the four winds of the heavens, declares the Lord.” Where He once spread the Israelites abroad via the four winds, He will now gather them via the four winds. “And so all Israel will be saved” (Romans 11:26).
I find that this also gives people a lot of difficulty. Note that at the rapture, 1 Thessalonians 4:16, the Lord Himself will give a shout of command (likely “Come Up Here!) along with the trumpet sound of God (“last trump”) and we will obey. Angels will not be involved in collecting the dead in Christ or the alive in Christ at the time of the rapture.
The remainder of humanity, both believers and unbelievers, will be collected at some point after this to enter the Sheep and Goats Judgment that Jesus discusses in Matthew chapter 25. They are not in view here, however. Neither are the deceased elect from time of the “tribulation”, commonly called the “tribulation martyrs”, who won’t be resurrected until after the Sheep and Goats Judgment. (Revelation 20:4)
In Luke, there is a change in the narrative with the word “Now”: Now when these things begin to take place, straighten up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.” (Luke 21:28). Our redemption draws near when all these things BEGIN to take place, not AFTER they have all taken place. Our redemption is our salvation – the completion of God’s work in us. This is when we will sing about salvation before God’s throne (Revelation 7 and parallel in Revelation 12). When these things (the beginning of the birth pains) BEGIN to take place, we will be harpazo’d (raptured) away from the time and place of the birth pains. We will come immediately out of the great tribulations/afflictions/trials that are just beginning on the earth.
The Fig Tree Parable is the next topic of discussion, which is generally agreed upon to be the rebirth of the nation of Israel in 1948. This parallels the Valley of Dry Bones prophecy in Ezekiel 37, where Israel first comes together politically and physically before it will be restored spiritually. Here, the fig tree will leaf out, but it will not yet bear mature fruit. Our redemption is drawing near when we see the fig tree leaf out.
Jesus then mentions a specific generation that will not pass away until “all these things are accomplished”. The most common interpretation of “this generation” is the one that sees all the signs Jesus mentioned in the Olivet Discourse being fulfilled. I agree, because of the little word “until”. Jesus is suggesting that this generation will pass away, but not until all these things have taken place. Thus, it must refer to an actual generation, and not the Jewish race (God’s covenant with them is ETERNAL, so as a race they will NEVER pass away). There will be a specific generation of Jews that will be a transitional generation, witnessing both their country’s rebirth and the Second Coming of Jesus Christ (and all the events in between).
Jesus emphasizes the sudden, severe, and global nature of the events that are coming. This is in harmony with other descriptions of the Day of the Lord as coming on like labor pains, like a trap, and like a thief in the night. We are to WATCH and be AWAKE at all times. Then, Jesus mentions the escape route. The truly saved, the invisible true body of Christ, will escape all these things that are going to take place. And we literally will stand before the Son of Man (Revelation 7). Again, we are to watch for the very BEGINNING of these signs, as when we see them our redemption is drawing nigh. This can only be the rapture, because it’s an escape route.
Next we have yet another highly debated phrase – “but concerning that day or that hour, no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.” It must be describing the escape route, the rapture, because it follows the statement that Jesus’ words will never pass away. Since they won’t pass away, there isn’t a day or an hour to watch for. There are four possible interpretations of this phrase:
- While Jesus was on earth, He laid down His deity to become as one of us. I’m not entirely sure, but this may have included his omniscience. When He ascended to heaven, He would have become fully omniscient again and would certainly now know the day and the hour.
- When Jesus was instructing the disciples in these things the offer for Israel to accept Him as Messiah was legitimately on the table. If they had accepted, the “day” and the “hour” could have come much sooner. In essence, the 70th week of Daniel could have carried on uninterrupted after Palm Sunday. Thus, the Day and the Hour could have been approximately only 7 years down the road! Clearly, Jesus knew they wouldn’t accept His offer, but it had to be a real option.
- “About that Day or Hour No One Knows” is a common Hebrew idiom for the Feast of Trumpets. This was a feast that could not be predicted with accuracy, because it relied on the confirmation of 2 witnesses sighting the first sliver of light after the New Moon. Thus, it could vary by a day or two. It is the only feast of God’s appointed times that no one could predetermine the day or hour of, and it is the only feast on God’s timetable where the fulfillment is somewhat enigmatic. Thus, when Jesus announces that “about that day and hour no one knows”, He is declaring it to occur on the Feast of Trumpets. And as such, until that day, we would not know whether or not it was the day. (If we could somehow discern the year).
- We truly may not know the time of Jesus’ coming within a range of dates.
Regardless of the exact meaning of the phrase, we will definitely know the season if we watch for the signs. Jesus tells us to WATCH, be AWAKE, and Paul adds in that we are not of the darkness that we should be overtaken as by a thief in the night. On the day, we may know the day. At the hour, we may know the hour. Always be prepared for Jesus to return! We don’t know when our Master will come, and we want to be found doing His work when He arrives.
Next, we have Jesus describing how the coming of the Son of Man will be as in the days of Noah and as in the days of Lot. Mark 13 describes these as the “days of the Son of Man” when the “Son of Man is revealed”, which is a better indication of what is happening when some are taken and some are left. People will be going about with ordinary daily activities, knowing nothing about what is to come on the world. Noah and Lot were pulled out of the paths of destruction and then wrath came down upon the rest like a flood. This passage emphasizes the unexpected nature of the beginning of the Day of the Lord. Elsewhere it is referred to as a “trap” and “birth pains” – both of which have no escape. This stands in stark contrast to the End of the Day of the Lord when the Son of Man returns (the Second Coming). At the battle of Armageddon (the END of the Day of the Lord), life will not have been continuing on as usual. The “flood” will be almost over – well over half the human population will have died by that point. Everyone will know about what has been happening on the earth. It won’t be a surprise that Jesus is coming, because people have gathered deliberately in expectation to fight Him.
We then see one person taken, and one person left behind from ordinary activities. Jesus is clearly talking about the rapture here. He just mentioned His revealing and how it will WHAM! come unexpectedly. This emphasizes the sudden nature of the rapture – it will happen in the twinkling of an eye – we will be changed, and then snatched. There won’t be time to actually turn back at that point (don’t worry!). But nor will there be time to repent and join in. The word used for “taken”, paralambanetai, is used elsewhere to represent “received”. I believe this translation gives a better picture of what is happening: believers are seized (harpazo) and received (paralambanetai) unto the Lamb, while the ones left behind will suffer the wrath of God.
Mark ends his passage with a reference to corpses and vultures, which seems out of place. It actually ends up being a very useful connection marker. We dig in scripture to find the key. There are two instances in prophetic verses where God prepares a banquet for the birds of prey and wild animals. There is one at Armageddon, yes – at the END of the Day of the Lord. However, there is also one at the Gog/Magog war at the BEGINNING of the Day of the Lord. This passage, among other keys, connects Ezekiel 38-39 with the BEGINNING of the Day of the Lord, as well as the rapture. Ezekiel 39:17 “Son of man, this is what the Sovereign Lord says: Call out to every kind of bird and all the wild animals: ‘Assemble and come together from all around to the sacrifice I am preparing for you, the great sacrifice on the mountains of Israel. There you will eat flesh and drink blood.” (Notably, this also brings in the death by “wild beasts” of seal 4).
We are then commanded again to keep watch and be ready!!!
I hope this has helped clear up the Bible prophecy timeline in the Olivet Discourse. In it we find a number of useful connection keys. For further reading I have written posts on all these keys separately:
- The Gospel Will Be Preached to All Nations
- The Fig Tree Sign and Israel’s Rebirth
- The Terminal Generation
- Is it Better to Be Taken or Left?
- The End of the Age According to Jesus – Matthew, Mark, Luke
A Disclaimer: The Bible is infallible. I am not. Be a Berean – examine the scriptures to see if these things are so!