The Olivet Discourse

The term “Olivet Discourse” is a reference to the discourse Jesus gave to his disciples in the three synoptic Gospels which include Matthew 24, Mark 13, and Luke 21. This thesis will focus on Matthew 24:1-25:46 from the viewpoint known as preterism. With this thesis, I intend to show that the fulfillment of Jesus words spoken here were fulfilled. The term preterism means “past” or finished. This view of the Olivet discourse is that what Jesus was describing in these chapters, specifically here, Matt: 24:1-25:46 did not refer to some future event as promulgated by Premillenialists (both Historic and Dispensational), and Amillenialists, but in fact referred to events leading up to the destruction of Jerusalem in AD70. The Partial Preterist view is that Jesus switches in Matthew 24:36 – 25:46 to a time yet to be determined in the future. Both of these positions will be analyzed in this thesis. Since this thesis is long, I have provided a link to a PDF at the end of this section.

My goal is always to be like those in the Berean Church as described in Act 17:11: “Now these Jews were more noble than those in Thessalonica; they received the word with all eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so.”I welcome challenges to the information that I am about to present. I have no agenda to defend. As always, my goal is to get to the truth and depart from views which are not in line with God’s Word.  As with every exegesis, we should begin with the basic premise of Biblical interpretation.

This is aptly stated in A.B Mickelsen’s book, “Interpreting the Bible (1981 Eerdmans p. 5)”:

“Simply stated, the task of interpreters of the Bible is to find out the meaning of a statement (command, question) for the author and for the first hearers or readers, and thereupon to transmit that meaning to the modern readers.”

It is with this view in mind that we begin the examination of the Olivet Discourse.

The Olivet discourse has been the subject of much controversy over the centuries since Jesus was alive on the earth. As R.C. Sproul explains on his website:

“No teaching of Christ has generated as much controversy as the portion of the Olivet Discourse recorded in Matthew 24:1–35. Many people believe that this section, at least in part, is about the final return of Jesus to usher in the new heavens and the new earth (see Rev. 20–21). Critics seize upon this belief to discredit our Savior’s words. If the Olivet Discourse is about His final return, they say, Jesus is a false prophet since the generation in which He lived died off and the world continues on (Matt. 24:34). Several people, in order to answer this objection, have said that “generation” refers not to Christ’s hearers but to a later group who will witness many of the signs in Matthew 24:1–35. According to this interpretation, Jesus is referring to events that will come in the far distant future. This view is unsatisfying, as we will see in the days ahead.”

This approach to the Olivet Discourse does not deny Christ’s future coming in glory “to judge the living and the dead,” as the creeds say. Those who advocate this view just argue that most of Matthew 24 is not directly applicable to this event. But many other passages affirm the second coming of Christ to usher in the new heavens and earth, and Christians must affirm that there is a day of judgment for the world (I Thess. 1:9–10).

Thus, from what is mentioned here on Dr. Sproul’s website, since this view does not mean all things are past, we get the term “Partial Preterest.”

As a Premillennial Christian, I was taught that the first part of the Olivet discourse was a future event; and described a future great tribulation. With this thesis, I now challenge that view. With this in mind, I will try to present my findings to encourage others who believe as I did to look into this matter further. The information I am about to present was overwhelming to me upon first hearing it, and it has deeply challenged beliefs which I have held for years. It is with a humble heart and an open mind that I present this material.

As I already stated, the Olivet discourse is found in all three synoptic Gospels. The accounts are Matthew 24, Mark 13, and Luke 21. These are parallel accounts of the same event. In the Olivet discourse we find several items that are time stamped by Jesus:

    • These passages of scripture detail a time of unprecedented trouble.
    • A definite period of time is outlined: “This generation will not pass away”
    • Very specific questions are asked by the disciples present, and Jesus answered them.
    • A very specific audience is given here, the audience that will “see all these things.”
    • Very specific events are told that will take place in the near future.
    • Very specific instructions are given as to what the disciples should do and when.

Just prior to chapter 24 of Matthew’s account, at the end of Chapter 23, we find Jesus speaking boldly to the scribes and Pharisees, excoriating their hypocritical religious practices. He prophesies against them in Matt 23:31-36 as follows:

“Thus you witness against yourselves that you are sons of those who murdered the prophets. Fill up, then, the measure of your fathers. You serpents, you brood of vipers, how are you to escape being sentenced to hell? Therefore I send you prophets and wise men and scribes, some of whom you will kill and crucify, and some you will flog in your synagogues and persecute from town to town, so that on you may come all the righteous blood shed on earth, from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah the son of Barachiah, whom you murdered between the sanctuary and the altar. Truly, I say to you, all these things will come upon this generation.” (ESV, underline mine)

Notice that Jesus pronounces judgment on “this generation.” There is no question that he was referring to the generation to whom he was speaking. This was confirmed again when He was standing before Pilate. On this occasion they would say in Matt 27:25 “His blood be on us and on our children!” Yes, our Lord Jesus was very sorrowful of this. He expressed this great sorrow that His own people would reject him and told them in Matt 23:38 “See, your house is left to you desolate.”

It is after this, in Matthew chapter 24 that Jesus told them in verses 1 and 2 that this magnificent temple, one of the architectural wonders of the ancient world would be completely reduced to rubble. The disciples then came to him privately to ask him: “Tell us, when will these things be, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?” Notice that they were actually asking 2 questions. When will these things be? What will be the sign of your coming and the end of the age? Some Translations show it this way. Some have said that these are actually 3 questions. But if this is true, in the minds of the disciples, the last two are clearly linked. In the Greek, the last phrase is linked by the conjunction kai (kai) translated “and” which ties together the last phrase. But were the disciples correct in linking the last two together? This is one of the things that should come out in this investigation.

With regard to the word “generation,” it is defined in Strong’s Greek dictionary as:

γενεά geneá ghen-eh-ah’ from (a presumed derivative of) 1085; a generation; by implication, an age (the period or the persons):–age, generation, nation, time.

The futurist view is that Jesus corrected them in their thinking, – that the term “this generation” refers to some future generation. But there is no such language in the text of Matthew 24:1-35. In fact, in every case in the Gospel accounts that the disciples heard the term “this generation” they had no doubt that he was referring to “their generation,” not some future generation. Besides the references to “this generation” in the Olivet discourse passages, there are 14 such examples in the gospel accounts. They are listed below:

Mat_11:16 “But to what shall I compare this generation? It is like children sitting in the marketplaces and calling to their playmates,

Mat_12:41 The men of Nineveh will rise up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it, for they repented at the preaching of Jonah, and behold, something greater than Jonah is here.

Mat_12:42 The queen of the South will rise up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it, for she came from the ends of the earth to hear the wisdom of Solomon, and behold, something greater than Solomon is here.

Mat_23:36 Truly, I say to you, all these things will come upon this generation.

Mar_8:12 And he sighed deeply in his spirit and said, “Why does this generation seek a sign? Truly, I say to you, no sign will be given to this generation.”

Luk_7:31 “To what then shall I compare the people of this generation, and what are they like?

Luk_11:29 When the crowds were increasing, he began to say, “This generation is an evil generation. It seeks for a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of Jonah.

Luk_11:30 For as Jonah became a sign to the people of Nineveh, so will the Son of Man be to this generation.

Luk_11:31 The queen of the South will rise up at the judgment with the men of this generation and condemn them, for she came from the ends of the earth to hear the wisdom of Solomon, and behold, something greater than Solomon is here.

Luk_11:32 The men of Nineveh will rise up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it, for they repented at the preaching of Jonah, and behold, something greater than Jonah is here.

Luk_11:50 so that the blood of all the prophets, shed from the foundation of the world, may be charged against this generation,

Luk_11:51 from the blood of Abel to the blood of Zechariah, who perished between the altar and the sanctuary. Yes, I tell you, it will be required of this generation.

Luk_17:25 But first he must suffer many things and be rejected by this generation.

I would like to emphasize this point again. All of the above instances in which there is a reference to “this generation” it means exactly what it says – their generation.

Next, I would like to point out that the audience was local in nature. There is no evidence here that Jesus reference was to some other future group. He specifically said this information was addressed to you” not “they.” Notice the applicable verses in chapter 24: 1-34:

 Mat_24:2 But he answered them, “You see all these, do you not? Truly, I say to you, there will not be left here one stone upon another that will not be thrown down.”

Mat_24:4 And Jesus answered them, “See that no one leads you astray.

Mat_24:6 And you will hear of wars and rumors of wars. See that you are not alarmed, for this must take place, but the end is not yet.

Mat_24:9 “Then they will deliver you up to tribulation and put you to death, and you will be hated by all nations for my name’s sake.

Mat_24:15 “So when you see the abomination of desolation spoken of by the prophet Daniel, standing in the holy place (let the reader understand),

Mat_24:23 Then if anyone says to you, ‘Look, here is the Christ!’ or ‘There he is!’ do not believe it.

Mat_24:25 See, I have told you beforehand.

Mat_24:26 So, if they say to you, ‘Look, he is in the wilderness,’ do not go out. If they say, ‘Look, he is in the inner rooms,’ do not believe it.

Mat_24:32 “From the fig tree learn its lesson: as soon as its branch becomes tender and puts out its leaves, you know that summer is near.

Mat_24:33 So also, when you see all these things, you know that he is near, at the very gates.

Mat_24:34 Truly, I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things take place.

If Jesus had been addressing some other future group, he would have addressed the referenced people as “they” or “them” with appropriate language.

Additionally, Jesus told the disciples what to do. He told them in verse 16: “then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains.” If this was addressed to some other future generation, it would not be applicable and would make no sense. Would some future generation need to come to Jerusalem so they could “flee to the mountains”? This clearly was given to a local audience for a contemporary fulfillment. In conclusion to this part of the Olivet Discourse, Jesus makes an exclamation that settles the matter of the first question asked by the Apostles in Matt 24:35: “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.”

As Albert Barnes puts it in his commentary:

Heaven and earth shall pass away … – You may sooner expect to see the heaven and earth pass away and return to nothing, than my words to fail.

With this sentence, Jesus completes the answering of the first question.

This is only the beginning! For a PDF of the complete thesis click on the following:

The Olivet Discourse Matthew 24 – 25

Published by

Rob Pike

D. Robert Pike (Rob) is a retired Engineer and husband of his beloved wife Ida. He holds a Bachelor of Science degree from Indiana Wesleyan University, a Master of Arts Degree from Webster University, and Ph.D in Theology at Trinity College and Seminary. He is the author of three books: 1. God’s Promise of Redemption, a story of fulfilled prophecy, 2. God's Purpose for Hell, a compelling probe of God's love for the lost 3. Jehovah's Witnesses, Modern Day Arians or Not? and is a member of New Day Christian Church in Port Charlotte, Florida. He lives with his wife of 33 years in Southwest Florida in the winter, and Indiana in the summer. His life verse is Proverbs 3:5,6: “Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths.”

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s