OLIVET DISCOURSE, PART 1
Small Group Leader Guide
Step 1. Introduce the Session
Our Lord emerges from the East Gate and—as He sits on the Mount of Olives—He proclaims judgment over Israel within that generation. Was He wrong? Was Jesus a false prophet?
- Get grounded on one of the most important and amazing prophecies in the Bible.
Step 2. Watch the Video
CONTENT SUMMARY (with timestamps)
- Understanding Olivet’s Mountain of Risk (01:55)
- Two Questions or Three? (03:39)
- End of the World or End of the Age? (05:15)
- Tribulation is Coming (07:47)
- All Nations? (14:03)
- Abomination of Desolation (17:23)
- Tribulation (Continued) (19:25)
- Unequaled Tribulation? (23:22)
- Lightning & Eagles? (24:19)
- Intermission (25:48)
Step 3. Discuss
Leaders: You might like to split into smaller groups at this stage so everyone has a chance to respond honestly. Don't feel like you have to hurry through all these questions; they are simply conversation starters.
Q. What did you find most helpful or most challenging in this lesson? Any surprises?
Step 4. Report Out [OPTIONAL] & Assign Homework
Leaders: If you're a team of leaders taking a class through the course and you broke into small groups in Step 3, regroup at the end and ask each small group to report out on their small group discussion. What were their ah-ha's? What did they struggle with?
HOMEWORK: Review the Day of the Lord lesson prior to entering Session 9, Olivet Discourse, Part 2.
Leaders: Failure to impress upon students the importance of completing this homework may lead to more students struggling with Session 9. (Just sayin'.)
Close with prayer.
The Olivet Discourse, Part 1
(Matthew 24, Mark 13, Luke 17:20-37, Luke 21:5-37)
Jesus is enraged. Standing in the Temple, He has just launched at the Jewish religious leaders, calling them out as blind hypocrites, white-washed tombs and a brood of vipers (Matthew 23). In Ezekiel 11:22-23, we saw the glory of the Father leave the Temple through the East Gate and settle upon the Mount of Olives before departing. Israel’s Babylonian exile soon followed. Now we see the Son of man leave the Temple through the East Gate and settle upon Mt. Olivet as He warns His followers and declares judgment over unbelieving Israel again.
Welcome to one of the most amazing (and hotly-debated) prophecies in the entire Bible—Jesus’ Olivet Discourse.
TAKE-AWAYS FROM THIS LESSON
- Get firmly grounded on one of the most misunderstood prophecies in biblical history
- This prophecy gives an approximate timeline for judgment over Israel
- Proclaims the end of the Jewish age and the start of the “times of the Gentiles”
- Warns of impending tribulation culminating with the abomination of desolation
The challenge of Mt. Olivet can be summed up easily enough: How much of the Olivet Discourse has already happened and how much is waiting to be fulfilled? The two primary lenses employed when dealing with this prophecy are the preterist and futurist lenses. If you’ll remember from our “Lenses vs Labels” lesson, all prophecy starts from the futurist perspective and eventually finds fulfillment in the preterist; it’s just a matter of whether it has yet. As faithful students of the Word, our charge is to open-handedly search the Jewish scriptures and grow in Spirit-led understanding, even if that understanding takes years of study to arrive.
Understanding Olivet’s Mountain of Risk
When it comes to the tension between the futurist and preterist positions on this prophecy, both camps claim “grammatical integrity”. Those taking the futurist position say their “literal” translation keeps things simple; aye, it does indeed! Applying a literal hermeneutic to symbolic, apocryphal language is indeed simple but it also undoubtedly leads to gross error! On the other hand, those taking a preterist position can fall prey to over-spiritualizing the text, making things symbolic that are not. We must allow the Old Testament witnesses to inform our New Testament understanding if we are to properly move between literal and metaphor.
One final reminder: It’s one thing to say a contemporary Bible teacher is wrong, but it's another thing to say our Lord was wrong! That would make Jesus—the Son of God—a false prophet by His own definition! Remember the quote I highlighted from Christian author C.S. Lewis in the “Why Study Prophecy?” lesson. C.S. was expressing his embarrassment regarding Jesus’ apparent mistake in predicting His Second Coming within that generation. My assertion remains this: Jesus was right, C.S. was wrong. When we’re confused about a particular scripture, it’s probably best we don’t lean on our own understanding, but yield to the Lord rather than declare Him a false prophet. Amen?
Two Questions or Three?
Beginning from Matthew 24:1:
Jesus went out from the temple and his disciples came to him, showing him the buildings of the temple. 2 And Jesus said to them, “See all these things? Truly, I say to you there shall not be left here one stone upon another that shall not be thrown down.”
3 As he sat upon the mount of Olives, the disciples came to him privately, saying, “Tell us, when shall these things be? And what shall be the sign of your coming and of the end of the world?”
Though this is not the first time during His ministry Jesus has alluded to the destruction of Jerusalem, He becomes very specific in His Olivet Discourse. Bible scholars start to unravel in their agreement with one another as early as verse three: Are Jesus' disciples asking two questions or three? Answering this question decides how scriptures get cut up later, so it’s best we settle this one early.
Fortunately, we see Matthew 24’s portion of the Olivet Discourse well-represented in the other synoptic gospels of Mark and Luke. In Mark 13:3-4, we find out it was Peter, James, John and Andrew doing the asking and according to Mark, they asked, “Tell us, when shall these things be and what shall be the sign when all these things shall be fulfilled?” In Luke 21:7, their question is, “Master, but when shall these things be and what sign will there be when these things shall come to pass?”
Based on Mark and Luke’s accounts, we will press forward with the understanding there are two questions being asked of Jesus: “When will this destruction come and what signs should we be watching for as it draws near?”
End of the World or End of the Age?
Though I favor the King James version as a sound word-for-word translation, its use of the English word “world” in Matthew 24 doesn’t do Bible students any favors. The Greek word here in verse 3 is actually “aion” which means “age”; not “kosmos” which would be the proper Greek word for “world”. This means we’re not talking about the end of all history but merely the end of a portion of it.
We have to ask then: How did the Jews think about their present age? Throughout the New Testament, Jesus and the apostles speak of two ages: “this age” (sometimes “this present evil age”, as in Galatians 1:4) and “the age to come”.
Of the age the apostles write from, we see they consider Jesus to be reigning and ruling following His crucifixion, resurrection and ascension. Paul, speaking of Jesus’ exaltation as the Son of man to the Ancient of Days (Daniel 7:13-14), declares Jesus is now seated at the right hand of the Father, “…far above all principality and authority, power and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come.” (Ephesians 1:21) In 1 Corinthians 2:6, 8, we learn the rulers of Paul’s present age—they who crucified the Lord—are coming to nothing.
So, when the disciples ask Jesus, “What shall be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?” we recognize this is in direct response to Jesus’ declaration that the Temple will be razed to the ground, leaving “not one stone left upon another.” The end of the Temple is synonymous with the end of their Mosaic rites and sacrificial system. As we see in Luke 21:24, Jesus defines this judgment as marking the end of the Jewish age, being followed by “the times of the Gentiles” “until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled.”
24 “They [the Jewish nation] shall fall by the edge of the sword and shall be led away captive into all nations. Jerusalem shall be trodden down by the Gentiles until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled.”
But our Lord has been trying to explain this for a while already! Back in Luke 13:28-30, He explained the same thing: “There will be weeping and gnashing of teeth, when you [Israel] see Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and all the prophets in the kingdom of God, and yourselves thrust out. 29 They [Gentiles] will come from the east and the west, from the north and the south, and sit down in the kingdom of God. 30 And indeed there are last [Gentiles] who will be first, and there are first [Jews] who will be last.”
Tribulation is Coming
Across the next several verses of Matthew 24, Jesus begins to warn His disciples; tribulation is coming.
4 And Jesus answered and said to them, “Take heed that no man deceives you. 5 For many shall come in my name, saying, 'I am Christ,' and shall deceive many. 6 And you shall hear of wars and rumors of wars. See that you are not troubled for all these things must come to pass, but the end is not yet. 7 For nation shall rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There shall be famines, and pestilences, and earthquakes in diverse places. 8 All these are the beginning of sorrows.”
9 “Then shall they deliver you up to be afflicted and shall kill you and you shall be hated of all nations for my name's sake. 10 And then shall many be offended and shall betray one another, and shall hate one another. 11 Many false prophets shall arise and shall deceive many. 12 Because iniquity shall abound, the love of many shall wax cold. 13 But he that endures to the end shall be saved.”
Wars and rumors and wars; When we hear “wars and rumors of wars” in the 21st century, we think, “Oh, that’s going on right now!” At the time Jesus is delivering this message, however, Israel was under the Pax Romana—the Roman Peace. This was a time of unparalleled peace between the tribes and nations of the Roman empire, due largely to Rome’s adroit alignment of its subjugated nations and its low tolerance for civil unrest. Therefore, Jesus’ warning of war and strife is an anomaly to those hearing it. By 60 AD, however, revolts and skirmishes began breaking out across the Roman Empire and by 66 AD, the Jews had entered the fray.
What about famines? Per Acts, “And in these days prophets came from Jerusalem to Antioch. Then one of them, named Agabus, stood up and showed by the Spirit that there was going to be a great famine throughout all the world, which also happened in the days of Claudius Caesar.” (Acts 11:27-28) Indeed, there were potentially two famines during Claudius’ reign. Jewish historian Josephus refers to at least one these in his writings: “Her arrival [Queen Helena of Adiabene] was very advantageous to the people of Jerusalem; for a famine oppressed them at that time, and many people died for want of money to procure food.” (Antiquities 20.2.5 49-53)
Pestilence decimates Rome; There are several examples of local plagues around this time. Roman historians Suetonius and Tacitus record one of the clearest examples of pestilence following devastation left by a hurricane in Campania in 65 AD. Suetonius reports at least 30,000 people died from the ensuing plague. Tacitus paints a grim picture:
“Upon this year, disgraced by so many deeds of shame, Heaven also set its mark by tempest and by disease. Campania was wasted by a whirlwind [hurricane], which far and wide wrecked the farms, the fruit trees, and the crops, and carried its fury to the neighborhood of the capital, where all classes of men were being decimated by a deadly epidemic. No outward sign of a distempered air was visible. Yet the houses were filled with lifeless bodies, the streets with funerals. Neither sex nor age gave immunity from danger; slaves and the free-born populace alike were summarily cut down, amid the laments of their wives and children, who, themselves infected while tending or mourning the victims, were often thrown upon the same pyre.” (Tacitus, Annals, XVI, xiii.)
Earthquakes in various places; During Claudius Caesar's reign (41-54 AD), several earthquakes were recorded in Rome (51 AD), Crete (46 AD), Smyrna, Miletus and other locations. In 53 AD, the earthquake in Apameia was so severe, Claudius waved the city's taxes for the next five years so they could rebuild. According to Tacitus, Eusebius and others, around 61 AD, during Nero's reign, Colossae, Laodicea, and Hierapolis were destroyed by a catastrophic earthquake. Due to the magnitude of the destruction, Laodicea was the only one of the three cities that rebuilt. Earthquakes also severely damaged Pompeii (62 AD), Neapolis (64 AD) and Rome again (69 AD) during this same time period. Many of these cities had considerable Jewish populations, including Christians. In Acts 16, one of these earthquakes was instrumental in freeing Paul and Silas from their imprisonment in Thyatira, leading to the salvation of their jailer and his family.
False prophets; Origen wrote that Dositheos the Samaritan (mid-first century) sought to persuade the Samaritans that he was the Jewish Messiah. Origen lists him among John the Baptist, Theodas and Judas of Galilee as people whom the Jews mistook for the Messiah (Hom. xxv in Lucam; Contra Celsum, I, lvii).
As for Theudas, Josephus reports:
“It came to pass, while Cuspius Fadus was procurator of Judea, that a certain charlatan, whose name was Theudas, persuaded a great part of the people to take their effects with them, and follow him to the Jordan river; for he told them he was a prophet, and that he would, by his own command, divide the river, and afford them an easy passage over it. Many were deluded by his words. However, Fadus did not permit them to make any advantage of his wild attempt, but sent a troop of horsemen out against them. After falling upon them unexpectedly, they slew many of them, and took many of them alive. They also took Theudas alive, cut off his head, and carried it to Jerusalem.” (Jewish Antiquities 20.97-98)
If this is the same Theudas mentioned in Acts 5:36, the men among his followers numbered about 400.
Acts 5:37 further tells us of Judas of Galilee, who “rose up in the days of the census and drew many after him.” Judas is largely credited with founding the “fourth philosophy” of first-century Judaism (after the Pharisees, Sadducees and Essenes) which declared Israel was to have no ruler but God alone and therefore should not pay any taxes to Rome. This theocratic nationalist movement would eventually become the group known as the Zealots who would wreak havoc in Jerusalem decades later.
Finally, the book of Acts offers many snapshots of the divisions created by—and the hostilities toward—this new Jewish sect called “Christianity”.
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.”
A quote from my lesson on the present reality of the kingdom of God:
Another thing we need to get clear on is the idea of “nations”. These days, we look at maps riddled with lines and we call those segmented swaths of land “nations”. In Jesus’ time, nations had a broader meaning. Nations [εθνεσιν, ethnesin, Strong’s Greek 1484: Probably from etho; a race, i.e. a tribe; especially, a foreign one] meant people groups, tribes and kingdoms; not just countries. Matthew 24:14 declares, “And this gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in all the world [οικουμενη, oikoumenē, land] for a witness unto all nations; and then shall the end come.” Matthew isn’t talking about all nations listed on maps 2,000+ years later. He’s talking about the known lands, which were largely under the domain of the Roman Empire.
Was the gospel then proclaimed to all nations? According to Paul, yes it was:
“For the hope which is laid up for you in heaven, whereof you heard before in the word of the truth of the gospel, which has come to you, as it is in all the world…” (Colossians 1:5-6)
“If you continue in the faith, grounded and settled, and are not moved away from the hope of the gospel which you have heard, and which was preached to every creature which is under heaven…” (Colossians 1:23)
“But I say have they not heard? Yes verily, their sound went into all the earth, and their words unto the ends of the world.” (Romans 10:18)
“Now to him that is of power to establish you according to my gospel…made known to all nations for the obedience of faith…” (Romans 16:25-26)
But wait! There’s more! Additional New Testament examples include: “...your faith is spoken of throughout the whole world,” (Romans 1:8) and “...a decree from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be taxed.” (Luke 2:1)
Even in the Old Testament, we have examples of “whole world” language that obviously highlight local judgment. Consider the day of the Lord judgment spoken over Edom (Idumea) in Isaiah 34:
1 “Come near, you nations, to hear; and hearken, you people: let the earth hear, and all that is therein; the world, and all things that come forth of it. 2 For the indignation of the Lord is upon all nations, and his fury upon all their armies. He has utterly destroyed them, he has delivered them to the slaughter. 3 Their slain also shall be cast out, and their stink shall come up out of their carcasses, and the mountains shall be melted with their blood. 4 And all the host of heaven shall be dissolved, and the heavens shall be rolled together as a scroll: and all their host shall fall down, as the leaf falls from the vine, as a falling fig from the fig tree.”
5 “For my sword shall be bathed in heaven: behold, it shall come down upon Idumea, and upon the people of my curse, to judgment.”
To believe Matthew 24’s reference to “all nations” includes the whole globe 2,000 years later means we may be out of touch with how first-century people thought about their world.
Abomination of Desolation
15 “Therefore when you see the abomination of desolation, spoken of by Daniel the prophet, stand in the holy place, (let the reader understand)…”
It’s a little surprising to me this one gets missed as often as it does, but from what I can tell, this disconnect happens because 1) Bible students don’t often turn to the other synoptic gospels to further unpack the Olivet Discourse, and 2) their Bible teachers don’t either. So, in the absence of mature exegesis, we end up with comments like this one by Little King Kaleb:
“Outstandingly on point.💯 The abomination that causes desolation is artificial intelligence.”
Sweet goodness! No, Little King Kaleb, the abomination of desolation is not artificial intelligence! Friends, do you want to know what the abomination of desolation is? Well, Matthew and Mark were writing to Jewish audiences, but Dr. Luke? He was writing to a Gentile audience and he skips this Jewish idiom and makes it clear to our Greek-trained minds:
“When you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies, then know desolation is near.” (Luke 21:20)
Yes, the abomination that brings desolation is none other than the pagan, reprobate army of Rome. In the book of Daniel, the prophet actually writes about this event twice. The first time is in Daniel 9:26-27, the latter half of Daniel’s 70 Weeks prophecy, and then again in Daniel 12:11:
“And from the time that the daily sacrifice shall be taken away, and the abomination that makes desolate set up, there shall be a thousand two hundred and ninety days.”
We know from history the Zealot Temple siege stopped the daily sacrifice during the winter of 66 AD and the Roman armies (the abomination that makes desolate) showed up (set up) about three and a half years later to surround Jerusalem in April, 70 AD.
16 “Then let they who are in Judaea flee into the mountains. 17 Let him which is on the housetop not come down to take anything out of his house. 18 Neither let him which is in the field return back to take his clothes. 19 Woe to those that are with child, and to them that give suck in those days! 20 But pray your flight is not in the winter nor on the sabbath. 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 Except those days should be shortened, there should no flesh be saved, but for the elect's sake those days shall be shortened.
23 “Then if any man says to you, ‘Lo, here is Christ, or there,’ believe it not. 24 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. 25 Behold, I have told you before.”
Luke’s version reads similarly: “Then let those who are in Judaea flee to the mountains and let them who are in the midst of it depart and let they who are in the countryside not enter. 22 For these will be the days of vengeance, that all things which are written may be fulfilled.” (Luke 21:21-22)
Stop. Are we talking about the whole world? No, we’re talking about the region of first-century Israel called Judea, south of Samaria, north of Idumea and east of the Mediterranean Sea. This is a local judgment! Furthermore, Jesus’ instructions here are counterintuitive. In the case of a raid or invasion, you would flee from your town, village or country farm to the nearest walled city (like Jerusalem.) Yet Jesus is warning—not to run deeper into Judea—but to flee the area entirely. We know from the writings of Eucebius and others, this is exactly what the early Church did:
“The people of the Church in Jerusalem were commanded by an oracle given by revelation before the war to those in the city who were worthy of it to depart and dwell in one of the cities of Perea which they called Pella. To it, those who believed in Christ traveled from Jerusalem, so that holy men had altogether deserted the royal capital of the Jews and the whole land of Judea.” (Eusebius, Church History 3, 5, 3)
“For after all those who believed in Christ had generally come to live in Perea, in a city called Pella of the Decapolis...” (Epiphanius, Panarion 30, 2, 7)
Regarding Luke’s “days of vengeance” reference, remember in the beginning of Jesus’ ministry when He read from the scroll of Isaiah 61? (Luke 4:17-21) Remember how He deliberately left out that line in verse 2, “And the day of vengeance of our God…” Well, here, Jesus is adding it back in. Go back and read the Book of Joel. It’s short; only three chapters. It’s all about the days of vengeance promised to come to Israel at the hands of a northern army if they don’t repent and turn back to the Lord. That northern army was, of course, Rome.
“But woe to them who are with child and who nurse in those days! For there shall be great distress in the land, and wrath upon this people.” (Luke 21:23)
Imagine trying to guide and protect a young family while also trying to quickly escape an invading army. “Great distress in the land.” Which land? Judea. And wrath upon whom? “This people”; Israel.
“They shall fall by the edge of the sword and shall be led away captive into all nations. Jerusalem shall be trodden down by the Gentiles until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled.” (Luke 21:24)
Does modern warfare use swords anymore? No. As I mentioned earlier, this will signal the close of the Old Covenant Jewish age and establish the beginning of the final age, the times of the Gentiles. (See also Romans 11:25.)
What of the idea of unequaled tribulation mentioned in this passage? Many have argued 70 AD can’t be the worst tribulation the world shall ever see! They usually point to the Jewish Holocaust of World War II where millions of Jews were killed in concentration camps and the death toll among the nations rose into the millions. But does the quantity experienced in WWII surpass the barbarity in the years surrounding 70 AD? This continues to be debated. Savage persecution, famine, disease, earthquakes, civil war, siege, mass crucifixions, exile, genocide and the utter destruction of the Temple taking with it its covenantal rites and the cornerstone of Jewish religious identity; the curses of Deuteronomy 28 fell upon the Jewish nation in the years leading up to 70 and continued until 73 AD.
Lightning & Eagles?
26 “If they say to you, 'Behold, he is in the desert,' do not go, or 'Behold, he is in the secret chambers,' do not believe it. 27 For as the lightning comes out of the east and shines to the west, so shall also the coming of the Son of man be. 28 For where the carcass is, there the eagles will be gathered.”
Notice Jesus is warning against a rise in false Christs again? He first mentions it in verse 3 and then again here, from verses 23 to 26. He is developing a picture of deception surrounding the coming of the Messiah. The Jews knew the prophets foretold the Messiah’s arrival around this time period, but they were expecting a great military leader to help them throw off Rome’s yoke; not a suffering servant. Those (the elect) who accepted Jesus as the Messiah would heed His words of warning. Those who rejected Him and awaited another would be targets for all forms of trickery and malice.
Like watching gathering storm clouds, Jesus’ followers were to recognize the nearness of His impending judgment. When that judgment fell, it would be as swift and obvious as lightning in the night sky. “Carcass” refers to the spiritual corpse of unbelieving Jerusalem and—while many modern Bible translations try to change “eagles” to “vultures”—the Greek word is aetoi, which literally means “an eagle,” or “bird of prey” (Strong's 105) and points to the Roman standards that would surround the city.
And so ends Part 1 of this two-part explanation of Jesus’ Olivet Discourse! Part 2 of this talk will open with a brief overview of the “day of the Lord” and its twin “coming in the clouds”. Please! I beg you! Do not go into that session without a foundation for what these Jewish expressions mean! I have provided a short lesson on the day of the Lord. I feel it is vital you see the Old and New Testament witnesses prior to entering the rest of the Olivet Discourse.
Seriously. I don’t want you lost, confused or worse. I don’t assign much homework during the Prophecy Course, but we’re entering one of those moments where we need to slow way down and go deeper. Now, listen! You may be tempted to skip straight to Part 2! I understand! The flesh is weak! Pray! Fast! Equip yourself with a deeper understanding on the day of the Lord and then—after you’re armed and ready—then dive into Part 2 of the Olivet Discourse.
Please, take my solemn warning on this; and remember: It’s the Truth that sets you free.
 See also Josephus’ The Jewish War, Book 5, Chapter 2, Section 1, describing the Roman formations as Titus marched on Jerusalem: “After these came the ensigns, with the eagle...”
(See Olivet Discourse, Part 2.)