OLIVET DISCOURSE, PART 2
Small Group Leader Guide
Step 1. Introduce the Session
Continuing our exploration of the day of the Lord, His gathering of the elect, this generation, the passing away of heaven and earth and the end of the age.
- Recap the Jewish expressions “day of the Lord” and “coming in the clouds”
- Explain the “gathering the elect from the four winds of heaven”
- Agree with Jesus’ claim that all would occur within that generation
Step 2. Watch the Video
CONTENT SUMMARY (with timestamps)
- Day of the Lord + Coming in the Clouds (01:22)
- Gathering the Elect from the Four Winds of Heaven (04:12)
- This Generation (09:15)
- Heaven and Earth Will Pass Away (11:57)
- Does Jesus Change the Subject Here? (15:19)
- As the Days of Noah! Finally! Rapture!(?) (16:57)
- Stay Alert! Jesus’ Final Warning (21:10)
- How was Israel Delivered? (23:19)
- No Rapture? No Resurrection? (25:08)
- Was Jesus’ Second Coming in 70 AD? (25:37)
- Olivet Comes Down to This (26:27)
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?
Q. Who was the Olivet Discourse delivered to and what was Jesus’ message? Was He talking to “that generation” between 30 and 70 AD? Or was he talking to another generation, hundreds or thousands of years later?
Q. Was Jesus wrong about coming in judgment to unbelieving Israel? Or, have we been clouded in our understanding of Jewish expressions and history?
(If Jesus was wrong, it makes the Son of God a false prophet by the very Mosaic Law He came to fulfill.)
Step 4. Report Out [OPTIONAL]
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?
Close with prayer.
The Olivet Discourse, Part 2
(Matthew 24, Mark 13, Luke 17:20-37, Luke 21:5-37)
Welcome to Part 2 of the Olivet Discourse! In Part 1, we opened with Jesus exiting the Temple with His disciples and stopping on the Mount of Olives to prophesy the end of the Old Covenant age and the Jewish religious order. Here in Part 2, we continue His heated declaration of judgment over unbelieving Israel.
TAKE-AWAYS FROM THIS LESSON
- Recap the Jewish expressions “day of the Lord” and “coming in the clouds”
- Explain the “gathering the elect from the four winds of heaven”
- Agree with Jesus’ claim that all would occur within that generation
It may be with a little fear and trembling that we enter into the second half of our lesson on Jesus’ famous Olivet Discourse. If you’ve done your homework, you’re coming to this lesson having already absorbed the lesson on the “Day of the Lord”. If you haven’t, I recommend you turn back now and take in that lesson in first. You must be rooted in that Old Testament Jewish expression and its history if you are to keep up with what our Lord is unpacking in His Olivet Discourse.
Day of the Lord + Coming in the Clouds
29 “Immediately after the tribulation of those days, the sun shall be darkened, the moon shall not give her light, the stars shall fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens shall be shaken.”
30 “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.”
Wait. When was this happening? “Immediately after the tribulation of those days!” In Part 1 of this talk, we saw Jesus foretelling a great tribulation that would descend upon Israel. Pay attention! What He's about to say next “immediately” follows that time of great distress! Not thousands of years later as some teach!
Having digested the many examples of the day of the Lord across both the Old and New Testaments, you should now easily understand this as a Jewish expression of national judgment at the hands of a foreign invading army; not a literal end of the cosmos. Jesus, seated at the right hand of His Father, dons His heavenly authority and uses the Roman army to level Old Testament judgment at wicked Jerusalem and the unfaithful nation of Israel. In this way, unbelieving Israel literally “saw” (experienced) “the Son of man coming in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory!” This is more apocalyptic judgment language; not an end-times celestial event!
You may be thinking to yourself, “Okay, Matthew. Maybe. But what about the ‘sign of the Son of man in heaven’?” This is a direct reference to the fulfillment of Daniel 7:13-14, where the one like the Son of man is presented to the Ancient of Days. Jesus—who is recorded around 80 times in the gospels claiming the “Son of man” title—warned of His return in judgment (Luke 19:41-44, Matthew 26:63-64, Revelation 1:7, 2-3). The confirmation of Jesus’ claim as the Son of man is the fulfillment of His promises of judgment. That is, the sign confirming the son of Man has taken His throne in heaven was the day of the Lord judgment upon Israel and Jerusalem He promised.
Finally, what about that expression, “all the tribes of the earth shall mourn”? The word “tribes” is our key. While the word “nations” tends to refer to people groups, languages and countries—and only sometimes includes Israel—“tribes” usually points to Israel (“tribe of Judah,” “tribe of Dan,” etc.) But, “Earth! Tribes of the Earth,” you shout! “Surely, that means the whole planet, right?”
Well, more on that when we cover heaven and earth in a moment.
Gathering the Elect from the Four Winds of Heaven
31 “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.”
There are two places in Jesus’ Olivet Discourse where folks see the rapture illustrated and this is the first! Now, if a reader literalized the figurative apocalyptic language around the day of the Lord—from whence we just came—they’re likely to continue doing so here.
He will send His angels; Who is He? This should be easy for us at this point: He is Jesus, the Son of man who is returning in day of the Lord judgment. And what is He doing? He is sending His “angels”—from angelous, Strong's 32, which can certainly mean an angelic member of the heavenly hosts—or a human messenger (by implication, a pastor), as it does in Mark 1:2, Luke 7:24 and 27, Luke 9:52 and James 2:25.
With a great sound of a trumpet; Will that be an audible blast from the heavens? No. Only mentioned in Matthew, this is yet another day of the Lord reference. See Zephaniah 1:14-16: “The great day of the Lord is near; it is near and hastens quickly. The noise of the day of the Lord is bitter; there the mighty men shall cry out. That day is a day of wrath, a day of trouble and distress, a day of devastation and desolation, a day of darkness and gloominess, a day of clouds and thick darkness, a day of trumpet and alarm against the fortified cities and against the high towers.”
Heavy, right? Well, Jesus’ day of the Lord trumpet draws directly from Joel 2:1: “Blow the trumpet in Zion and sound an alarm in My holy mountain! Let all the inhabitants of the land tremble for the day of the Lord is coming, it is at hand.”
Just as we covered in the Day of the Lord lesson, we know the fulfillment of Joel in Acts 2 also meant the judgment of Israel was at hand.
They shall gather together His elect; Suffice it to say, if you’re not anchored in the Old Testament references to the day of the Lord by this point, you’re already envisioning the end of the cosmos, Jesus riding a literal cloud (much like His Father must have done over Egypt in Isaiah 19:1), and now there are legions of winged angels (because that’s what we who are born of the dust do with angels—we put wings on them) snatching up all the believers to carry them away to heaven in what’s commonly known as “the rapture.” But maybe—just maybe—the “gathering together of His elect” (“elect,” as in, the faithful, those who receive the Gospel) has a simpler, more down-to-earth meaning. Maybe the “gathering of the elect” just means “into community,” “into the Body of Christ,” or “into the kingdom of God,” which we already know was happening through the proclamation of the Gospel to the very ends of the Roman empire. “...and the Lord added to the church daily those who were being saved.” (Acts 2:47) 
Four winds; The “four winds” both Matthew and Mark mention are seen throughout Scripture (Jeremiah 49:36, Daniel 7:2, 8:8, 11:4, Zechariah 2:6, Revelation 7:1), often alongside its counterparts, the “four quarters” and the “four corners of the earth.” (Yes, one of the dangers of literalizing this verse is ending up with a flat, square earth!) Today, we would say something like, “From north to south, from east to west,” or, “From every direction.” Consider Matthew 8:11-12: “I say to you that many [believing Gentiles] shall come from the east and west and shall sit down with Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob, in the kingdom of heaven, but the children of the kingdom [unbelieving Israel] shall be cast out into outer darkness; there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” (See also Luke 13:29.)
From one end of heaven to the other; Finally, saying, “From one end of heaven to the other,” is like saying, “From horizon to horizon” or, “To the ends of the earth,” as Mark writes in 13:27. Deuteronomy 30:3-4 offers another example of this universal language in action: “Then the Lord your God will bring you back from captivity and have compassion upon you and will gather you from all the nations where the Lord your God has scattered you. If any of you have been driven out to the outmost parts of heaven, from there the Lord your God will gather you and from there He will fetch you.”
32 “Now learn a parable of the fig tree: When his branch is tender and puts forth leaves, you know that summer is near. 33 So likewise you, when you see all these things, know that it is near, even at the doors.
34 “Truly I say to you, this generation shall not pass away until all these things are fulfilled.”
Matthew 24:34 (and its counterparts in Mark and Luke) is a trouble-spot for a futurist lens. It’s at this point folks typically abandon any literal hermeneutic (“If language has any meaning,” they’ve said until now) and begin to allegorize “this generation.” Often, they will blur the phrase to mean this kind of generation will be present in the last days. Still others will totally abandon the biblical standard of 40 years and stretch “this generation” out to mean “throughout human history” extending 2,000 years to our present day.
Nonetheless, both these approaches to spiritualizing “this generation” die fiery deaths when held up to the other 17 times this term is used in Scripture beyond the Olivet Discourse. You see, every time the term “this generation” is used, it appears as a near demonstrative; it always refers to the generation being spoken to.
When overlaid with Jesus’ words in Matthew 16:28, “Truly I say to you, there are some standing here who shall not taste of death until they see the Son of man coming in his kingdom,” it seems fairly airtight: Jesus meant that generation.
Yet a third timestamp: “But when they persecute you in this city, flee to another. For truly I say to you, you will not have gone through the cities of Israel before the Son of man comes.” (Matthew 10:23)
In John 21, after reinstating Peter as His disciple, Jesus prophesies Peter’s manner of death. Peter turns, looks at John and says, “Well, what about him?” Jesus says to Peter, “If I will that [John] remains until I come, what is that to you? You follow Me.” (John 21:22) This is another serious timestamp that shows us the timing of Jesus’ return in judgment; after Peter’s death but before John’s. In fact, there are around 100 time statements like these found throughout the New Testament. They include phrases like “near”, “about to come”, “at hand”, “passing away” and “last hour”.
As for the fig tree illustration, Jesus continues to drive His point home: when His disciples see the tribulation of those days, know the Son of man’s judgment over Israel is near.
Heaven and Earth Will Pass Away
35 “Heaven and earth shall pass away but my words shall not pass away.”
Earlier in Matthew's gospel—say, right around Matthew 5:18—Jesus says, “For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished.”
Well, this would present a problem, wouldn’t it? If we are still waiting for the literal heaven and earth to disappear before we come out from under the yoke of the 613 Mosaic laws, most of us are in trouble. Yet, there are multiple examples throughout Scripture of prophetic poetic use of “heaven” to refer to a nation’s ruling class (government) while “earth” refers to the people or nation itself. In Israel’s case, “heaven” can refer to the Old Covenant religious order and “earth” to the people of Israel. Here are just a couple examples:
In Genesis 37:9-11, Joseph dreams his family (represented as the sun, moon and 11 stars) bow down to him. By Revelation 12, we see Israel depicted as “a woman clothed with the sun, and the moon under her feet, and upon her head a crown of twelve stars.”
In Isaiah 1:2, the prophet Isaiah cries out to Israel, “Hear, O heavens, and give ear, O earth, for the Lord has spoken, ‘I have nourished and brought up children and they have rebelled against me.’” If we stopped reading here, we could certainly argue Isaiah was calling the literal heavens and earth as witnesses. However, in verse 10, Isaiah addresses Israel again, this time adding the wicked cities of Sodom and Gomorrah as symbols: “Hear the word of the Lord, you rulers [heavens] of Sodom; give ear to the law of our God, you people [earth] of Gomorrah.”
In Isaiah 24, God declares judgment over the “earth” (in this case, Israel at the hands of the Assyrians) and closes by addressing the sun and moon: “Then the moon shall be confounded and the sun ashamed when the Lord of hosts shall reign in mount Zion, and in Jerusalem, and before his ancients gloriously.” (v23) Celestial bodies being confounded and ashamed is obviously symbolic, figurative language. (See also Isaiah 34:1-5.)
Finally, in Jeremiah 22, after declaring judgment over Judah at the hand of the Chaldeans, Jeremiah says, “O earth, earth, earth, hear the word of the Lord.” (v29) Here the prophet is calling to the people of Israel; not the literal earth.
If we are forced to take “heaven” and “earth” literally wherever we see them in Scripture, we’ll also have to agree they have been destroyed multiple times in the past several thousand years.
“Heaven” and “earth” in Matthew 24:35 refers to the Jewish religious order and the nation of Israel. With this understanding, the mourning “tribes of the earth” of verse 30 is a clear reference to the tribes of Israel; not the whole planet.
Does Jesus Change the Subject Here?
36 “But of that day and hour no man knows, no, not the angels of heaven, but my Father only.”
No, Jesus is not switching to answer a new question about the end of the world, as some believe. He is simply saying, “Not even I know the exact day or hour this judgment will fall; I’ve given you what My Father has given Me. Recognize the season leading up to this judgment and take measures to distance yourself.” Luke 21:36 offers the way through: “Watch therefore, and pray always, that you may be accounted worthy to escape all these things that shall come to pass and to stand before the Son of man.”
In John's account of the Last Supper, Jesus tells His disciples, “I go to prepare a place for you.” (John 14:1-4) In first-century Jewish wedding tradition—prior to the consummation of the marriage—the groom would go away to prepare a place for his betrothed. Yet, it was the groom’s father who would approve those preparations and release the groom to return for his bride. And so, Jesus did not know the exact time. His divorce from unbelieving Israel was initiated in Matthew 23 as He left the Temple declaring, “Your house will be left to you desolate,” and was completed with the Temple’s destruction 40 years later. Similarly, His inauguration of the kingdom of God and the gathering of the bride of Christ—the faithful remnant—began during His earthly ministry and continues to this day.
As the Days of Noah! Finally! Rapture!(?)
37 “But as the days of Noah were, so shall also the coming of the Son of man be. 38 For as in the days that were before the flood, they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day that Noah entered the ark, 39 and knew not until the flood came and took them all away. So it will be with the coming of the Son of man.
40 “Then shall two be in the field, one shall be taken and the other left. 41 Two women shall be grinding at the mill, the one shall be taken and the other left.”
And here we have the second place in the Olivet Discourse that gets heavily “rapturized”. However, if we’re dialed in on the “coming of the Son of man” as heavenly judgment at the hands of a foreign, earthly army, the parallels between Noah’s flood and Daniel’s flood become clear. (Daniel’s “flood” being seen in Daniel 9:26, “...the people of the prince that shall come shall destroy the city and the sanctuary; and the end thereof shall be with a flood [of people], and unto the end of the war desolations are determined.”) Next, let’s compare Luke’s account:
“And as it was in the days of Noah, so it shall be in the days of the Son of man. 27 They ate, they drank, they married wives and they were given in marriage until the day Noah entered into the ark and the flood came and destroyed them all. 28 Likewise also as it was in the days of Lot; they ate, they drank, they bought, they sold, they planted, they built; 29 but the same day Lot went out of Sodom it rained fire and brimstone from heaven, and destroyed them all. 30 Thus it shall be in the day when the Son of man is revealed.” (Luke 17:26-30)
Question: Who are “they” whom both Matthew and Luke refer to?
In both accounts, it is the wicked who are swept away in judgment; not a rapturing away of the faithful!
Yet, even after reading this clear focus on the wicked, some say there is no possible way these verses could be applied to the destruction of Jerusalem. They say unbelieving Jews hearing the Olivet Discourse warnings could not have been caught off guard since they were in the middle of a war with Rome.
First, Jesus gave these warnings decades prior to the Zealot Temple siege, Nero’s persecution, the war with Rome, the fall of Jerusalem and the ensuing 3½-year manhunt following 70 AD.
Second, Peter describes the climate of unbelieving Israel during this time in his second epistle: “Knowing this first, that there shall come in the last days scoffers, walking after their own lusts, 4 and saying, ‘Where is the promise of his [the Messiah’s] coming? For since the fathers [the Jewish patriarchs] fell asleep, all things continue as they were from the beginning of the creation.’” (2 Peter 3:3-4)
But what of the “two in the field” or the “two grinding” or “the two in bed” (Luke 17:34) where one is taken and the other left? In Luke’s chapter 17 account, the apostles respond to this imagery by asking, “Where, Lord?” to which Jesus replies, “Where the body is, there the eagles will be gathered.” (v37) Again, we know Jesus is referring to reprobate Israel and Jerusalem. I believe the “two are, one taken, one left” language speaks to the speed and swiftness of the Roman army as it descended upon Israel’s towns, villages and countrysides. The “one taken” is the one swept away (captured or killed) and the “one left” is the one who managed to flee or hide from the Roman legions.
Stay Alert! Jesus’ Final Warning
42 “Watch therefore, for you do not know what hour your Lord comes. 43 But know this: If the master 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 you also be ready, for in such an hour as you think not the Son of man comes.”
45 “Who then is a faithful and wise servant whom his lord has made ruler over his household to give them meat in due season? 46 Blessed is that servant whom his lord, when he comes, shall find so doing. 47 Truly I say to you, he shall make him ruler over all his goods. 48 But if that evil servant says in his heart, ‘My lord delays his coming,’ 49 and begins to strike his fellow servants and eat and drink with the drunken, 50 the lord of that servant shall come in a day when he isn't looking and in an hour he is not aware of, 51 and shall cut him asunder and appoint him his portion with the hypocrites. There shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”
Moments ago, in Matthew 23, Jesus railed at the Jewish religious leaders, calling them hypocrites and declaring their house would be left to them desolate (v38) or—in the case of verse 43 here—“broken up.”
Titus Vespasian, the Roman general in charge of Jerusalem’s siege, is quoted in Josephus' War of the Jews as being utterly convinced God’s hand was propelling the Roman army to victory:
“For as to the seditions they have been in, and the famine they are under, and the siege they now endure, and the fall of their walls without our engines, what can they all be but demonstrations of God’s anger against them, and of his assistance afforded us?” (Of the War, Book VI, Chapter 1. Sec.5)
According to Philostratus’ Life of Apollonius, after Titus’ campaign in Jerusalem was finished, Titus continued to refuse credit for the victory, “on the grounds that he had only been the instrument of divine wrath.” (Wikipedia, First Roman-Jewish War.)
“After Titus had taken Jerusalem, and when the country all round was filled with corpses, the neighboring races offered him a crown; but he disclaimed any such honor to himself, saying that it was not himself that had accomplished this exploit, but that he had merely lent his arms to God, who had so manifested his wrath;” (Life of Apollonius, 6.29.)
How was Israel Delivered?
Going back to Matthew 24:21, Jesus directly quotes Daniel 12:1 when He refers to the tribulation of that time as the greatest tribulation that will ever be. This passage also says Daniel’s people shall be delivered.
“And at that time shall Michael stand up, the great prince who stands for the children of your people, and there shall be a time of trouble such as never was since there was a nation even to that time. At that time, your people shall be delivered, every one that is found written in the book.” (Daniel 12:1)
The question gets asked: How was Israel “delivered” in 70 AD? It looks like they were judged, scattered and exiled.
Yes, national, unbelieving Israel was absolutely judged and shattered in 70 AD! Daniel 12:7 confirms this time will “scatter the power of the holy people.” How then can we be sure Daniel 12 is focused on 70 AD and not some event 2,000 years into the future? Daniel 12:11 offers a very specific timestamp given to explain the angel’s “time, times and half a time” reference: “From the time the daily sacrifice is taken away [Zealot Temple siege, winter of 66 AD] to the abomination of desolation being set up [Roman siege of Jerusalem, spring of 70 AD], there shall be 1,290 days.”
Who were Daniel’s people then, if not Israel? As the apostle Paul points out, not all Israel is of Israel. (Romans 9:6-7) As we discussed in Part 1, faithful Israel—believing in their Jewish Messiah—heeded His warnings and fled Judaea and Jerusalem. They are Daniel’s people who were delivered, the elect, “those found written in the book.”
No Rapture? No Resurrection?
As I’ve mentioned, the Olivet Discourse has been misused to make the case for the rapture—the catching away of the faithful. By now, you can see how neither resurrection nor rapture are anywhere to be found in our Lord’s warning from the Mount of Olives. Jesus’ prophecy was a warning to prepare His followers and the early Church for the awful tribulation they would face in their day.
Was Jesus’ Second Coming in 70 AD?
I want to recognize the possible tension some of us might be feeling at this moment. If we say the Olivet Discourse was fulfilled entirely in 70 AD, we may find long-held beliefs about our Lord’s Second Coming threatened. Yes, Jesus “came in the clouds of heaven” to Jerusalem, but now you understand this is a Jewish expression for heavenly judgment. Is this then what we call Jesus’ Second Coming? No! He will come again (bodily, per Acts 1:9-11) to gather us to Himself (1 Thessalonians 4:13-18) and to judge the living and the dead at the end of human history (Revelation 20:11-15).
But that is another lesson.
Olivet Comes Down to This
In this Bible study, I’ve made the case for a first-century Jewish understanding of Jesus’ prophetic warning known as the Olivet Discourse. In closing, I think there are some key questions earnest Bible students need to come to grips with:
First, who was the Olivet Discourse delivered to and what was Jesus’ message? Was He talking to “that generation” between 30 and 70 AD? Or was he talking to another generation, hundreds or thousands of years later? (Hint: Over the past 2,000 years, many have been convinced the end of the world would be in their generation which means many have been really, really wrong.)
Second, was Jesus wrong about coming in judgment to unbelieving Israel? If Jesus was wrong, it makes the Son of God a false prophet by very the Mosaic Law He came to fulfill. Or, have we been confused in our understanding of Jewish expressions and history? Have we been guilty of claiming our Lord was in error when it’s been our own understanding of the scriptures that’s been clouded?
As I’ve illustrated in this two-part teaching, Jesus’ Olivet Discourse has been fulfilled completely. I believe Jesus delivered judgment upon unbelieving Israel, on time and as prophesied, at the hands of the Roman army. I believe He gathered His bride—faithful Israel, the early Church—to Himself, as He continues to today, generation after generation. He faithfully kept them from the hour of wrath that fell upon Jerusalem and the nation of Israel. And, He will come again to judge the living and the dead on the final day of this earth’s history. Let Him find us about our Father’s business when He returns.
And remember: It’s the Truth that sets you free.
 See also Genesis 49:10: “The sceptre shall not depart from Judah, nor a lawgiver from between his feet, until Shiloh come; and unto him shall the gathering of the people be.”
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