The Olivet Discourse

The Olivet Discourse

W. Fraser Naismith

Part 7 of a series on Prophetic Subjects

The “Olivet Discourse” is the greatest prophecy extant; because it was spoken by the greatest prophet. One who is designated, “Greater than the Temple,” “Greater than Solomon,” “Greater than Jonas,” and to whom questions such as the following were addressed: “Art Thou greater than our father Abraham?” “Art thou greater than our father Jacob?” In point of fact, this blessed One is “far above all” (Eph. 1:21).

An Analysis of the prophecy will reveal that it is in three parts. The first section starts with verse 3 of chapter 24 and terminates with verse 44 of the same chapter. The second portion commences with verse 45 of chapter 24 and concludes with verse 30 of chapter 25. The last division begins with verse 31 of chapter 25 and ends with the closing verse of that chapter.

It is important to note that the Church, which is His Body, is not part of this prophetic declaration, but of New Testament revelation.

In Matthew chapters 21 and 22, the Lord revealed through the medium of two parables the outline of human history from the deliverance from Egypt till the present moment. God required fruit from His vineyard (The vineyard is always Israel, and not the harvest-field of the present dispensation — (see Psalm 80:8). For fifteen hundred years God had been sending servants to obtain for Him fruit from His vineyard, but the people refused to give Him any. Finally, He sent His Son, and “they caught Him; cast Him out of the vineyard; and slew Him.” The parable of the opening of chapter 22 presents almost two millenniums of divine grace; and during this period God has virtually been saying, “I am asking nothing from you: please let Me give you something!” The message of the Gospel and the messengers of the Glad Tidings have been despised and refused. In chapter 23, Christ passes eight “woes” on the scribes and Pharisees, designating them “hypocrites.” In verse 33 He calls them “serpents” and “a generation of vipers.” As of old the divine appeal had been ignored, so today the testimony of the Lord’s servants is rejected. This concludes His appeal to the nation; and thereafter He gives that remarkable prophecy which, if understood aright, will be found to be the key to all prophecy.

The departure from the temple, as indicated in chapter 24:1, reminds us of the comment of the wife of Phinehas (1 Sam. 4:21) when her child was born whom she named “Ichabod,” saying, “The glory is departed from Israel: because the ark of God was taken.”

The disciples came to the Lord to show Him the buildings of the temple; and there and then, He depicted its downfall. As He sat on the Mount of Olives the disciples came to Him privately and asked two questions. The first related to the destruction of the temple, “When shall these things be?” This is answered by the pen of Luke the beloved physician; and chapter 21 verse 24 should be carefully noted. The second question —”What shall be the sign of Thy coming, and of the end of the age?” is answered in Matthew 24 and 25.

“The end of the age” is prior to the setting up of the millennial kingdom. The Jewish age had been interrupted by the introduction of this present economy of grace, the dispensation of the Holy Spirit. The seventieth week of Daniel’s prophecy awaits its fulfilment. Israel knew only two dispensations, viz., Law and The Kingdom.

In verses 4 to 44 there are unfolded events which shall overtake the Jew in the days prior to the manifestation of Christ in great glory. The synoptic writers had the appearing of Christ in power before them; while John brought into relief what shall take place to the saints of God prior to the revelation of Christ in glory, He will receive them unto Himself (John 14.3).

Verse 8 of Matthew 24 reveals that the general symptoms alluded to in the previous verses are but the “beginning of sorrows.”

“This Gospel of the Kingdom shall be preached in all the world for a witness unto all nations: and then shall the end come” (v. 14). The Gospel of the kingdom was declared by John the Baptist, and men despised it. The Gospel of the grace of God has been heralded through more than nineteen hundred years—that “Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures… He was buried… He rose again the third day according to the Scriptures.” Such a message could not have been propagated prior to Calvary: but there were tidings—the Gospel of the kingdom—which announced the fact that the King was coming. When the “maschilim” —preachers of the Gospel of the Kingdom — have concluded their operations then shall the end come.

It is worthy of note that much of the discourse relates to the Jew and could only be appreciated by one who had a Hebraic mind. Allusion is made to the abomination of desolation spoken by Daniel the prophet. Dwellers in Judea are warned to flee to the mountains (v. 16). They should also desire that their flight should not be in winter nor on the Sabbath day: for restrictions in movement were attached to the ritual of keeping the Sabbath. Reference is also made to the coming of the Son of Man. This title depicts Christ in universal authority as He takes the reins of this world’s government and rules from shore to shore.

The Great Tribulation has been the means divinely used to judge the fighting forces of the world: first, the apostate part of the nation of the Jews together with the godless confederates from Western Europe, whose leaders shall be taken red-handed in their revolt against God and cast into the Lake of Fire: Rev. 19:20. Then the Eastern forces under the King of North, the Assyrian, are destroyed. The process of elimination shall proceed till all the fighting forces of the world are judged. Then shall appear “the sign of the Son of Man in Heaven” (v.30). The potentates of time and the princes and peoples shall mourn (vide Zech. 12: 9-14; Rev. 1:7).

It has been suggested that “the sign of the Son of Man” would be the Shekinnah glory which reluctantly left the temple as seen by Ezekiel in chapter 10:4; 10:17; and 11:23 of his prophecy. But is this so? This glory shall return at a future moment to a rebuilt temple and it shall diffuse its rays throughout the house (Ezek. 43:4). The disciples had asked “What shall be the sign of Thy coming?” The answer is now given by the Lord. The sign of the Son of Man brings to mind the observation of the scribes and Pharisees in Matthew 12: 38-42—” we would see a sign from Thee.” The Lord replied: “an evil and adulterous generation seeketh after a sign; and there shall no sign be given to it, but the sign of the prophet Jonas.” Jonas expresses to us the first characteristic of the Son of Man— for the title was used first by our Lord in connection with His rejection—Luke 9.22. Solomon gives character to the other reference, for Solomon pictures for us the fulness of authority and the glory of a righteous reign. The sign of the Son of Man would be the galaxies of glory which enshroud Him and which He diffuses to a wondering universe as He comes forth, first of all to execute judgment on all who refuse His authority; and thereafter to bring to the one centre of attraction the world’s future metropolis —Jerusalem — all His elect: the one hundred and forty-four thousand, together with the numberless hosts from the ranks of the nations who had received the testimony of the messengers (Rev. 7).

The Lord refers to the “fig tree.” The fig tree speaks to Israel nationally: the vine of Israel spiritually: and the olive tree of Israel religiously. In John 1:48 Nathaniel is seen “under the fig tree”. He was an Israelite in whom there was no guile. He pictures for us the faithful remnant of the coming day who shall find their delight in Jehovah and who willingly accept the Messiah as their King. In Matthew 21 the Lord cursed the fig tree (v. 19). Christ came and found nothing for God in the way of fruit; and no doubt such a condition provoked the Lord to give the parable of the vineyard later in the chapter.

Allusion is next made to the days of Noah and a marked similarity, between his days and those of the future are emphasized. They ate and drank, they married and were giving in marriage: all legitimate things in their place; but the tragedy was that they left God out of account. Those who despise the Messianic claims will in like manner perish in the judgment of God when Heaven is ablaze with divine artillery (2 Thess. 1:7-8).

Verses 40 - 41 have been interpreted in connection with the Rapture; but such a thought is foreign to the context of this passage. Two are in the field who are accustomed to hard toil, and each proceeding with his duties when one is suddenly cut down in judgment and the other left for the blessings of the millennial reign of Christ. The same is applicable to the women in their duties at the mill; one is taken in judgment and the other left for millennial blessing.

This section concludes with a call to “Watch!” The hour is unknown to anyone; and the coming of the Lord is likened to that of the thief, who, without warning, stealthily creeps into the house and takes the spoil.

This section reveals the effect of the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ on God’s earthly people, the Jews. It is also a revelation of the conditions which shall obtain prior to His manifestation as King of Righteousness; subjugating every foe and establishing a kingdom that shall never be moved.