The Olivet Discourse – You Talkin’ to Me?

Before we start taking a look at the signs that Jesus said would accompany the destruction of the temple and surrounding buildings, it’s important that we continue to look at the context. I hope to keep each of these posts brief so it’s easier to digest. This post is no exception as I just want to point out something that is pretty obvious but most often overlooked. There is a temptation when reading Scripture. The temptation is that oftentimes we believe a particular text was addressed to us. Now, don’t get me wrong here. The Word of God in its entirety has been given to humanity so that God’s elect might believe. But it does not follow that everything in the Bible is directed to us.

Take one of the more abused texts in Scripture, Jeremiah 29:11. It reads, ‘For I know the plans that I have for you,’ declares the LORD, ‘plans for welfare and not for calamity to give you a future and a hope. Many pastors read this verse to their congregations as though it was a divine pronouncement by God to all people everywhere. But the truth is that God proclaimed this to the exiled Jews who had yet to return to the land. If we go a few verses up to verse 1, we read: 1 Now these are the words of the letter which Jeremiah the prophet sent from Jerusalem to the rest of the elders of the exile, the priests, the prophets and all the people whom Nebuchadnezzar had taken into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon. Unless you are one of these people, these words don’t apply to you. Notice that the “you” in verse 11 is qualified in verse 1. Verse 11 could be read this way, ‘For I know the plans that I have for the elders of the exile, the priests, the prophets and all the people whom Nebuchadnezzar had taken into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon,’ declares the LORD, ‘plans for welfare and not for calamity to give you a future and a hope. You might be wondering what relevance they have at all then. Well, don’t go tearing this page out of your Bible. The purpose here is to see God’s preservation of the Israelites. The reason they are in exile in the first place is because of their wickedness. Yet, God didn’t utterly destroy them. He kept a remnant unto Himself, an elect people. And the reason He did this is because Jesus Christ was to be born through the Jewish people. He didn’t preserve them because they were so obedient. It was because of the promise of the incarnation of Jesus the Messiah. So instead of reading this and walking away with, “Wow! I can’t wait for a bright future!” we should walk away with, “Wow! God preserved the Jews for the sake of the Messiah!” For a fuller explanation on this text, check [this] out.

So what does this have to do with the Olivet Discourse? Well, without getting into them, let’s just look at some of the signs listed by Jesus. Matthew 24:4-9:

4 And Jesus answered and said to them, “See to it that no one misleads you. 5 “For many will come in My name, saying, ‘I am the Christ,’ and will mislead many. 6 “You will be hearing of wars and rumors of wars. See that you are not frightened, for those things must take place, but that is not yet the end. 7 “For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom, and in various places there will be famines and earthquakes. 8 “But all these things are merelythe beginning of birth pangs. 9 “Then they will deliver you to tribulation, and will kill you, and you will be hated by all nations because of My name.

Many folks treat this passage as though Jesus wrote this privately, sealed it up, and put a “Do not open til 2012” label on it. But let’s apply the same standard for this that we did for Jeremiah 29:11. Take a look at these verses again:

4 And Jesus answered and said to them, “See to it that no one misleads you. 5 “For many will come in My name, saying, ‘I am the Christ,’ and will mislead many. 6You will be hearing of wars and rumors of wars. See that you are not frightened, for those things must take place, but that is not yet the end. 7 “For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom, and in various places there will be famines and earthquakes. 8 “But all these things are merely the beginning of birth pangs. 9 “Then they will deliver you to tribulation, and will kill you, and you will be hated by all nations because of My name.

Notice that Jesus continuously directs this to “you”. And who is the you? Well, let’s go up to verse 3 to see who He is responding to:

3 As He was sitting on the Mount of Olives, the disciplescame to Him privately, saying, “Tell us, when will these things happen, and what will be the sign of Your coming, and of the end of the age?”  

The very next verse reads:

4 And Jesus answered and said to them, “See to it that no one misleads you.

It’s plain to see that Jesus is speaking to the disciples about signs that they themselves will see. These are signs that will precede the destruction of the temple and surrounding buildings. And we know that Jerusalem was destroyed in 70 AD. This is how we would read any letter. Now the argument could be made that perhaps what has been labeled “the Great Commission” doesn’t apply to us either because it was directed to the disciples.

18 And Jesus came up and spoke to them, saying, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. 19 “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”
Matthew 28:18-20

This is where it is important to employ the whole of Scripture, and not isolate particular texts. We know from reading the writings of the apostles that these words of Jesus are applicable to the entire church for all time. With the Olivet Discourse, however, Jesus is giving very specific signs that will accompany a very specific event that history shows has already occurred within their lifetimes. Failure to read the Olivet Discourse contextually has caused many weird interpretations. It has also caused people to become crazy over the end times, wincing every time someone claims to be Jesus or there is news of war or a great earthquake or Israel announces something. They hold their newspaper stained hands over their open jaws every time something weird happens, and a new “sign of the times” appears. No guessing games are necessary here.

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2 thoughts on “The Olivet Discourse – You Talkin’ to Me?”

  1. The temptation to read Scripture like DeNiro. That is a great analogy, man! Smart, hip, and true. You talkin to me? You must be talkin to me. I don’t see nobody else here.

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