Studies On Christ’s Olivet Discourse
Dr. Frederick A. Telford of East Sussex, England, is President of the Prophetic Witness Movement, international, well-known lecturer and conference speaker, and author of over sixty books on Biblical themes. This is the fifth of an extended series of studies by Dr. Tatford on Christ’s Olivet Discourse.
The Second Advent
At Caesarea Philippi the previous week, Peter had confessed that Jesus was the Messiah, the Son of the living God (Matt. 16:16), and it seems evident that this had been accepted by the other disciples. The term “Messiah” was only used on two occasions in the Old Testament, viz. in Daniel 9:25, 26, but the Jews appealed to 456 Old Testament references as perdictive of the Messiah. According to Edersheim the rabbinical interpretations embraced “such doctrines as the pre-mundane existence of the Messiah; his elevation above Moses, and even above the angels; his representative character; his cruel sufferings and derision; his violent death, and that for his people; his work on behalf of the living and of the dead; his redemption and restoration of Israel; the opposition of the Gentiles, their partial judgment and conversion; the prevelance of his law; the universal blessings of the latter days; and his kingdom.” As Merrill F. Unger remarks, “The all-absorbing ideas were those of kingship and deliverance. And these were chiefly of national significance. The restoration of national glory was the great hope of Israel. All else was subordinate to that.”
The four disciples obviously had similar ideas in mind. The Messiah had appeared, but had not yet been manifested nationally. His first action surely would be to set up His standard so that all might flock to it in preparation for the revolt against Roman rule. This had not yet occurred and not unnaturally they were anxious and impatient to know when it would happen and for what sign they should look. They accordingly asked Him outright what the sign would be of His parousia (Matt. 24:3) — the first time this term was employed in the New Testament. J. F. Walvoord points out that the word parousia is the word most used to describe the return of Christ and that it occurs 24 times in the New Testament. “As its etymology indicates, the word means to be near or alongside,” he says. “It involves all that the English word presence connotes … It has come to mean not simply presence but the act by which the presence is brought about, i.e. by the coming of the individual.”
It was questionable whether, in posing their third question, the disciples were entertaining any technical or eschatological concept. They were clearly convinced that the Messiah was actually in their midst and they wanted to know when He was going to manifest Himself to the nation. What sign would He give? Plainly, they did not have in view the Second Advent, of the relation of which to their Master they seemed lamentably ignorant.
Our Lord disclosed the limitation of their understanding by describing the details of His Second Advent. He first revealed the times at which the event would occur; it would be immediately after the great tribulation, i.e. at the conclusion of the seventieth “week” of Daniel 9:27. Their nationalistic hopes were not going to be realized at the time then present, however. The kingdom had been offered to Israel and had been rejected by the nation. The King was personally about to be publicly rejected and to be accorded the ultimate indignity and ignominy of crucifixion. His public manifestation was not yet to occur. All the events of which He had spoken were to take place first and His parousia would follow all these.
The disciples had asked what sign there would be of His coming. They undoubtedly envisioned some form of challenge to the Roman authorities — possibly the issue of a manifesto to the nation, or the calling to arms of all the loyal members of Israel, or a sudden attack upon the Roman procurator. They must have expected that by some sign of this nature, their Master’s Messiah-ship would be made plain to the nation and that all would then rally to His banner. They were living in exciting days of expectancy.
But the Lord disclosed that the signs of His coming would be far different. The signs would be primarily celestial. The sun would be darkened, the moon would give no light, the stars would fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens would be shaken (Matt. 24:29; Mark 13:24, 25). Luke added that not only would there be signs in the sun, moon and stars, as described by Matthew and Mark, but also terrestrial signs. Nations on earth would be distressed and plunged into perplexity, the waves of the sea would roar, and men’s hearts would fail them for fear at the sight of the happenings coming upon the earth, for the powers of heaven would be shaken (Luke 21:25, 26). Civil authorities would no longer be able to control or direct the affairs of men. Religious leaders would be unable to provide light or guidance. The judgments executed and the sufferings inflicted during the great tribulation would fill the minds of nations with perplexity and anxiety and, in their disturbed state, they would be incapable of logical decision and would be unable to deliver themselves from the frightening happenings of the hour. Fear would strike into every heart. The imagery of heavenly bodies used by our Lord probably implied both religious and civil authorities and their loss of power at His Advent.
Did the disciples imagine that He was going to appear as an insurrectionary, secretly gathering His supporters together and then suddenly emerging into the blaze of public limelight as the leader of a national revolt? Rather would His coming be like the lightning which flashes across the sky from east to west. If they were under the impression that He was coming solely for the blessing of Israel, it was a fallacious concept. The first purpose of His Second Advent would be the execution of judgment upon both the nation of Israel and the Gentile powers. As the carcass attracts the vultures, so would the corrupt and guilty attract the judgment of God (Matt. 24:28; Luke 17:37).
When the events He had predicted had occurred, then there would appear in heaven the sign of the Son of Man. Then, He said, would all nations of the earth mourn and they would see the Son of Man coming in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory (Matt. 24:30; Mark 13:26; Luke 21:27). Centuries earlier, Daniel had predicted that “the Son of Man” would come with the clouds of heaven and that the theocratic kingdom of which so many prophets had spoken would be the subject of His rule. At His trial before Caiaphas our Lord declared that the Son of Man would be coming in the clouds of heaven (Matt. 26:24). The Apocalyptic seer also declared that “He comes with clouds and every eye shall see Him and they also who pierced Him, and all kindreds of the earth will wail because of Him” (Rev. 1:7).
Sin must be punished and the prophet Ezekiel revealed that, in a coming day, God will bring Israel to account and purge her of rebellion and transgression (Ezek. 20:33-38). The Gentile nations which have also sinned will be brought to judgment, as indicated in the Olivet discourse (Matt. 25:31-46) and, although the judgments of God will be poured out during the period of the great tribulation (Rev. 6 to 16), both Israel and the nations must give personal account to Christ.
Yet the Old Testament prophets repeatedly indicated that it was the Divine intention ultimately to regather Israel and to restore her to her own land (Isa. 11:11, 12; 49:22; Jer. 16:14, 15; 23:3-8; Ezek. 34:11-16; Amos 9:14, 15; Zeph. 3:20; Zech. 10:8). Not surprisingly, therefore, the Lord declared that, at His Second Advent, He would send forth His angels with a trumpet and a great voice (lit.), and that they would gather together His elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other (Matt. 24:31; Mark 13:27). Three million Jews have returned to their own land, but millions more are located in every quarter of the world. The ultimate purpose of God is that all should be brought back by His power to inhabit their own land.
Our Lord’s statement regarding the gathering together of His elect is sometimes confused by the “gathering together unto Him” of 2 Thessalonians 2:1, but the Apostle Paul’s words referred to the gathering together which he had described in 1 Thessalonians 4:15-17. He was concerned with the gathering together of Christians and their removal from the world at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ to the air. No angel will be sent to summon Christians to meet their Lord. He will come personally to call them to Himself. The believers of the present Christian age form an elect people of God, but their prospect and future are in heaven. Our Lord’s words related to the earthly elect people of Israel and not to the heavenly elect, the Church.
It might perhaps have been anticipated that the Master would have given a full explanation of the events attendant upon His Second Advent and have provided enlightenment regarding many of the Old Testament prophecies. But His purpose was clearly to give a concise reply to the question posed and not to give a complete exposition of facts already revealed.