Jesus' Olivet Discourse
about Two Future Events

by Ronald W. Leigh, Ph.D.
Image of Bible and cross
May 29, 2016
Copyright © 1971, 1979, 2006 Ronald W. Leigh
Biblical quotations are from the New International Version unless otherwise noted.
————————— Contents ——————————
A. Introduction
B. Context
C. The four questions
D. "These things" and "those things"
E. Diagram of events
F. Structure of the discourse
G. Harmony
H. Other occurrences of houtos and ekeinos
I. False messiahs, wars, famines, earthquakes
J. The destruction of Jerusalem as a punishment
K. Jerusalem surrounded by armies
L. This generation
M. The gospel preached to all nations
N. The great tribulation
O. Other predictions of Jesus' return
P. The preterist view

A. Introduction

During the final week before his crucifixion, Jesus delivered a remarkable discourse from the Mount of Olives.  In this discourse Jesus explained to his disciples two future events – future to them.  The near event, the destruction of Jerusalem by the Roman armies under the command of Titus, occurred in A.D. 70, a relatively short time after Jesus' prediction and within the generation of his original disciples.  The far event, the return of Jesus and the end of the age, is still future to us.

The Mount of Olives is located a Sabbath day's walk (Acts 1:12, approximately one-half mile) east of Jerusalem across the Kidron Valley.  Besides being the place from which Jesus ascended back to heaven (Acts 1:10-12), it was also a strategic military location for the Roman attack on the city.  One of its peaks was used as an observation post by the armies of Titus.  Thus the mount served as the perfect setting for Jesus to instruct his disciples about the fate of the temple and the city.

Chronologists point out that this discourse occurred on Tuesday of passion week, just three days before the crucifixion.  According to Luke 21:37-38, these teachings may have occupied more than one day, and thus may have spilled over into Wednesday, the so-called "missing" (undocumented) day of passion week.  Reading the discourse takes only a few minutes, which makes it likely that Jesus taught much more about these two future events than is recorded.  Our record of the Olivet Discourse is, no doubt, greatly abbreviated.

This Olivet discourse is the only lengthy discourse of our Lord recorded in all three of the synoptic gospels (Matthew 24, Mark 13, and Luke 21).  Each of the three separate accounts has its own integrity and stands on its own.  At the same time, the fact that we have these three accounts begs us to study them side by side as well.  The likelihood that each of the three accounts is actually only a brief summary makes a side by side comparison all the more appropriate.

The structure of the discourse is spelled out in section F below, and the harmony is given in section G.

B.  Context

Jesus' entrance into Jerusalem at the beginning of the passion week is known as "the triumphal entry" because the people were looking for a political or military triumph.  They thought they were ushering in the one who would liberate them from Roman oppression.  However, Jesus taught that his kingdom was not of this earth (the sermon on the mount;  Luke 17:20-21;  John 18:36;  etc.).  His real triumph that week was his substitutionary sacrifice and his resurrection from death, gaining the victory over Satan and sin.

But along with this spiritual triumph there is a tragedy for Jerusalem.  The leaders of the Jews, centered in Jerusalem, had rejected Jesus and were scheming to eliminate him.  Jesus knew that their rejection of him as God's son spelled the end of the Jewish nation, and that God would allow Jerusalem to be overrun by the Romans in only four decades.  So as Jesus approached Jerusalem, he wept over the city and said,

If you, even you, had only known on this day what would bring you peace – but now it is hidden from your eyes. The days will come upon you when your enemies will build an embankment against you and encircle you and hem you in on every side. They will dash you to the ground, you and the children within your walls. They will not leave one stone on another, because you did not recognize the time of God's coming to you.  (Luke 19:41-44)

This prediction parallels his teaching two or three days later in the Olivet discourse (Luke 21:20).

Later, as Jesus was being led away to Calvary to be crucified, he said to the women who were weeping,

Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me; weep for yourselves and for your children.  (Luke 23:28)

How heavy the fate of nonbelieving Israel was on Jesus mind!  No wonder we find in the Olivet discourse an emphasis on the fate of Jerusalem.  

Immediately before giving his Olivet discourse, Jesus had been teaching at the temple.  One of his parables involved a landowner who hired tenants, and those tenants killed the landowner's son  (Matthew 21:33-46).  The chief priests and Pharisees correctly judged the tenants, then Jesus pronounced their judgment – "the kingdom of God will be taken away from you" (verse 43).  The chief priests and Pharisees knew Jesus was talking about them (verse 45), and their animosity toward Jesus grew.  Here again the focus is on God's judgment of Israel's leadership centered in Jerusalem.

A little later Jesus gave a lengthy condemnation of the teachers of the law and the Pharisees, pronouncing multiple woes against them.  He repeatedly pointed out their hypocrisy, then ended with this blistering denunciation and prediction:

You snakes! You brood of vipers! How will you escape being condemned to hell? Therefore I am sending you prophets and wise men and teachers. Some of them you will kill and crucify; others you will flog in your synagogues and pursue from town to town. And so upon you will come all the righteous blood that has been shed on earth, from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah son of Berekiah, whom you murdered between the temple and the altar. I tell you the truth, all this will come upon this generation. O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing. Look, your house is left to you desolate. For I tell you, you will not see me again until you say, `Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.'  (Matthew 23:33-39, compare Luke 13:34)

Here again the focus is on God's judgment of Israel's leadership centered in Jerusalem.  And the statement that "all this will come upon this generation" underscores the fact that this is a short range prediction.

It is not surprising at all, then, that Jesus, while leaving the temple, was still talking about its destruction (Matthew 24:1-2 and parallels), which leads directly into the Olivet discourse.  In interpreting this discourse, it is helpful to keep this focus on the immediate future of Jerusalem in mind, for we find that the larger portion of the discourse also focuses on the near future of Jerusalem rather than the distant future of the world.

C.  The four questions

In response to Jesus' startling statement about the destruction of the Jerusalem temple, the disciples asked four questions which focus on "these things" as well as "your coming" and "the end of the age."  Our analysis of the discourse uses those four questions as one of the keys for interpretation.

Jesus' answers
(section numbers refer to the chart
under "F. Structure of the discourse")
The destruction of Jerusalem 1.  When will these things happen? The time is near, within this generation (section 9), but expect wars and various troubles first (section 3).
2.  What will be the sign that these things are about to happen? When you see Jerusalem surrounded, flee to the mountains (section 5).
The second coming of Christ 3.  What will be the sign of your coming? The sun and stars will fail, the sea will roar, men will be terrified (section 8).
4.  What will be the sign of the end of the age?

As Jews, Jesus' disciples would have worshipped and sacrificed at the temple in Jerusalem.  And although they knew it had been destroyed by Babylon and desecrated by Antiochus Epiphanes, they may have thought that any future destruction of the temple buildings would mean the end of the world.  Thus, they may have thought they were asking questions all about one event rather than two events.  While it is true that Jesus had previously taught them about his return (Matthew 16:27;  Luke 17:20-37), even after Jesus' resurrection his disciples still did not realize the spiritual nature of his kingdom (Luke 24:21;  Acts 1:6).  But, whether the disciples envisioned one or two events, Jesus clearly predicts two distinct events:

Jesus disciples may have had to ponder this distinction between these two events because both events were still future to them.  But we find the distinction relatively easy to grasp since we live between the two events, and we now know that the far event must occur long after the generation of the original disciples.

D.  "These things" and "those things"

As another key for interpretation, our analysis uses the distinction between "these things" (Greek: ουτος, houtos) and "those things" (Greek: εκεινος, ekeinos) which are used consistently throughout the three accounts of the discourse.  "These things" refers to the near event, the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70 as well as the time period leading up to it.  "Those things" refers to the far event, the return of Christ and the end of the age as well as the time period leading up to it, starting with the destruction of Jerusalem.

Jesus' discourse can be divided into various sections by observing the use of "these things" (houtos) and "those things" (ekeinos).  The grammarians Dana and Mantey describe houtos as the "immediate" demonstrative pronoun, used to refer to that which is "relatively near."  And they describe ekeinos as the "remote" demonstrative pronoun, used to refer to that which is "relatively distant" (H. E. Dana and Julius R. Mantey, A Manual Grammar of the Greek New Testament, Macmillan, 1955, section 136).  Thus, the Greek usage of these two words parallels our usage of the English words "this" (plural: these) and "that" (plural: those).

A good illustration of the usage of these two Greek words is found in Luke 20, where Jesus refers to "this age" (while his listeners are still alive) and "that age" (a more distant time after his listeners have died).

Jesus replied, "The people of this [houtos] age marry and are given in marriage. But those who are considered worthy of taking part in that [ekeinos] age and in the resurrection from the dead will neither marry nor be given in marriage …  (Luke 20:34-35)

E.  Diagram of events

The following diagram places the events mentioned in the Olivet discourse on a timeline.  The destruction of Jerusalem is such a pivotal event that it serves both as the culmination of "These Things" and the beginning of "Those Things."

F.  Structure of the discourse

Below is a chart which shows the structure of the harmonized accounts of Jesus' Olivet discourse.  The first column identifies where the words houtos and ekeinos are used, forming the major divisions of the discourse.  The actual harmony, which is given later, demonstrates that these words are used consistently in all three synoptics within each of the major divisions.

Section Content Matthew
Occasion of Jesus' Teaching 1 Jesus makes a startling statement about the destruction of the temple and the disciples ask four questions 1-3 1-4 5-7
Things leading up to the destruction of the temple in A.D. 70,
(the near event)
2 Watch out for deceivers 4-5 5-6 8
3 Expect wars and various troubles to take place first 6-8 7-8 9-11
4 As my disciples you will be severely persecuted, but the Spirit will give you words for a testimony 9-14 9-13 12-19
5 When you see Jerusalem surrounded (the abomination), flee directly to the mountains 15-18 14-16 20-22
Things from the destruction of the temple in A.D. 70 up to Jesus' coming and the end of the age,
(the far event)
6 The worst tribulation and its effect on God's people 19-22 17-20 23-24
7 Watch out for deceivers 23-28 21-23
8 Signs in heaven and on earth; the coming of Jesus; the gathering of the elect 29-31 24-27 25-27
9 Its time is near 32-35 28-31 28-33
10 Its time is unknown 36 32

In the above ten sections, the degree of parallelism in the three accounts is relatively high.  The same topics are included.  The topics are in the same order.  And frequently the wording is identical or similar.  However, in the remainder of the discourse (Matthew 24:37 - 25:30;  Mark 13:33-37;  and Luke 21:34-36), the three gospel accounts are parallel only in emphasis.  The common message in these passages is "watch and serve."  Matthew alone adds a final section (25:31-46) which discusses the coming of the Son of man and the subsequent reward and punishment.  Our analysis of the Olivet discourse will focus on the ten sections in the above chart.

G.  Harmony

The following harmony uses the text of the New International Version.  The section numbers correspond to the section numbers in the above chart.  Occurrences of the two Greek words discussed above, when they refer to one of the two future events or time periods, are highlighted as follows:

 houtosthese things, these, this, they  (bold, green, underlined)

ekeinosthose, that  (bold, brown, overlined)

Matthew 24 Mark 13 Luke 21

Section 1 – Occasion

[1] Jesus left the temple and was walking away when his disciples came up to him to call his attention to its buildings. [1] As he was leaving the temple, one of his disciples said to him, "Look, Teacher! What massive stones! What magnificent buildings!"
[5] Some of his disciples were remarking about how the temple was adorned with beautiful stones and with gifts dedicated to God.
[2] "Do you see all these things?" he asked. "I tell you the truth, not one stone here will be left on another; every one will be thrown down."
[2] "Do you see all these great buildings?" replied Jesus. "Not one stone here will be left on another; every one will be thrown down."
But Jesus said, [6] "As for what you see here, the time will come when not one stone will be left on another; every one of them will be thrown down."
[3] As Jesus was sitting on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to him privately. "Tell us," they said, [3] As Jesus was sitting on the Mount of Olives opposite the temple, Peter, James, John and Andrew asked him privately, [4] "Tell us, [7] "Teacher," they asked,
"when will this happen, when will these things happen? "when will these things happen?
  And what will be the sign that they are all about to be fulfilled?" And what will be the sign that they are about to take place?"
and what will be the sign of your coming    
and of the end of the age?"

Section 2 – "these things" – Deceivers

[4] Jesus answered: "Watch out that no one deceives you. [5] Jesus said to them: "Watch out that no one deceives you. [8] He replied: "Watch out that you are not deceived.
[5] For many will come in my name, claiming, `I am the Christ,' and will deceive many. [6] Many will come in my name, claiming, `I am he,' and will deceive many. For many will come in my name, claiming, `I am he,' and, `The time is near.' Do not follow them.

Section 3 – "these things" – Wars first

[6] You will hear of wars and rumors of wars, but see to it that you are not alarmed. Such things must happen, but the end is still to come. [7] When you hear of wars and rumors of wars, do not be alarmed. Such things must happen, but the end is still to come. [9] When you hear of wars and revolutions, do not be frightened. These things must happen first, but the end will not come right away."
[7] Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be famines and earthquakes in various places. [8] Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be earthquakes in various places, and famines.
[10] Then he said to them: "Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. [11] There will be great earthquakes, famines and pestilences in various places, and fearful events and great signs from heaven.
[8] All these are the beginning of birth pains. These are the beginning of birth pains.  

Section 4 – "these things" – Persecution

[9] Then you will be handed over to be persecuted and put to death, and you will be hated by all nations because of me. [9] You must be on your guard. You will be handed over to the local councils and flogged in the synagogues. On account of me you will stand before governors and kings as witnesses to them. [12] But before all this, they will lay hands on you and persecute you. They will deliver you to synagogues and prisons, and you will be brought before kings and governors, and all on account of my name. [13] This will result in your being witnesses to them.
  [10] And the gospel must first be preached to all nations.  
  [11] Whenever you are arrested and brought to trial, do not worry beforehand about what to say. Just say whatever is given you at the time, for it is not you speaking, but the Holy Spirit.
[14] But make up your mind not to worry beforehand how you will defend yourselves. [15] For I will give you words and wisdom that none of your adversaries will be able to resist or contradict.
[10] At that time many will turn away from the faith and will betray and hate each other, [12] Brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child. Children will rebel against their parents and have them put to death. [13] All men will hate you because of me, [16] You will be betrayed even by parents, brothers, relatives and friends, and they will put some of you to death. [17] All men will hate you because of me.
[11] and many false prophets will appear and deceive many people. [12] Because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold,    
[13] but he who stands firm to the end will be saved. but he who stands firm to the end will be saved. [18] But not a hair of your head will perish. [19] By standing firm you will gain life.
[14] And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.    

Section 5 – "these things" – Flee

[15] So when you see standing in the holy place `the abomination that causes desolation,' spoken of through the prophet Daniel--let the reader understand-- [14] When you see `the abomination that causes desolation' standing where it does not belong--let the reader understand-- [20] When you see Jerusalem being surrounded by armies, you will know that its desolation is near.
[16] then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains. [17] Let no one on the roof of his house go down to take anything out of the house. [18] Let no one in the field go back to get his cloak. then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains. [15] Let no one on the roof of his house go down or enter the house to take anything out. [16] Let no one in the field go back to get his cloak. [21] Then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains, let those in the city get out, and let those in the country not enter the city.
    [22] For this is the time of punishment in fulfillment of all that has been written.

Section 6 – "those things" – Tribulation

[19] How dreadful it will be in those days for pregnant women and nursing mothers! [17] How dreadful it will be in those days for pregnant women and nursing mothers! [23] How dreadful it will be in those days for pregnant women and nursing mothers!
[20] Pray that your flight will not take place in winter or on the Sabbath. [18] Pray that this will not take place in winter,  
[21] For then there will be great distress, unequaled from the beginning of the world until now--and never to be equaled again. [19] because those will be days of distress unequaled from the beginning, when God created the world, until now--and never to be equaled again. There will be great distress in the land and wrath against this people.
    [24] They will fall by the sword and will be taken as prisoners to all the nations. Jerusalem will be trampled on by the Gentiles until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled.
[22] If those days had not been cut short, no one would survive, but for the sake of the elect those days will be shortened. [20] If the Lord had not cut short those days, no one would survive. But for the sake of the elect, whom he has chosen, he has shortened them.  

Section 7 – "those things" – Deceivers

[23] At that time if anyone says to you, `Look, here is the Christ!' or, `There he is!' do not believe it. [21] At that time if anyone says to you, `Look, here is the Christ!' or, `Look, there he is!' do not believe it.  
[24] For false Christs and false prophets will appear and perform great signs and miracles to deceive even the elect--if that were possible. [22] For false Christs and false prophets will appear and perform signs and miracles to deceive the elect--if that were possible.  
[25] See, I have told you ahead of time. [23] So be on your guard; I have told you everything ahead of time.  
[26] So if anyone tells you, `There he is, out in the desert,' do not go out; or, `Here he is, in the inner rooms,' do not believe it.    
[27] For as lightning that comes from the east is visible even in the west, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. [28] Wherever there is a carcass, there the vultures will gather.

Section 8 – "those things" – Signs

[29] Immediately after the distress of those days
`the sun will be darkened,
and the moon will not give its light;
the stars will fall from the sky,
and the heavenly bodies will be shaken.'
[24] But in those days, following that distress,
`the sun will be darkened,
and the moon will not give its light;
[25] the stars will fall from the sky,
and the heavenly bodies will be shaken.'
[25] There will be signs in the sun, moon and stars. On the earth, nations will be in anguish and perplexity at the roaring and tossing of the sea. [26] Men will faint from terror, apprehensive of what is coming on the world, for the heavenly bodies will be shaken.
[30] "At that time the sign of the Son of Man will appear in the sky, and all the nations of the earth will mourn.    
They will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of the sky, with power and great glory. [26] At that time men will see the Son of Man coming in clouds with great power and glory. [27] At that time they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory.
[31] And he will send his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of the heavens to the other.
[27] And he will send his angels and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of the heavens.

Section 9 – "these things" – Time is near

    [28] When these things begin to take place, stand up and lift up your heads, because your redemption is drawing near."
[32] Now learn this lesson from the fig tree: As soon as its twigs get tender and its leaves come out, you know that summer is near. [28] Now learn this lesson from the fig tree: As soon as its twigs get tender and its leaves come out, you know that summer is near. [29] He told them this parable: "Look at the fig tree and all the trees. [30] When they sprout leaves, you can see for yourselves and know that summer is near.
[33] Even so, when you see all these things, you know that it is near, right at the door. [29] Even so, when you see these things happening, you know that it is near, right at the door. [31] Even so, when you see these things happening, you know that the kingdom of God is near.
[34] I tell you the truth, this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened. [30] I tell you the truth, this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened. [32] I tell you the truth, this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things* have happened.
[35] Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away. [31] Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away. [33] Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away.

Section 10 – "those things" – Time is unknown

[36] No one knows about that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. [32] No one knows about that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.  

* Although the phrase "these things" appears in the NIV translation of Luke 21:32, houtos is not in the Greek.

H.  Other occurrences of houtos and ekeinos

There are other occurrences of houtos and ekeinos in the above sections.  However, they do not refer to either of the two major time periods or their culminating events.  For example, houtos is used in Matthew 24:2 to refer to the temple buildings with their massive stones, in Matthew 24:13 to refer to the one who endures to the end, in Matthew 24:14 to refer to the gospel of the kingdom, in Matthew 24:34 to refer to the generation that will not pass away, and in Luke 21:23 to refer to the Jews.  And ekeinos is used in Mark 13:11 to refer to the hour of trial.  With this in mind, it should be noted that, regarding the use of houtos and ekeinos to refer to the two major future time periods,

Mark 13:11 may appear to contradict the above generalization, since this verse contains ekeinos (in the phrase "at the time," literally, "in that hour") and it occurs in the middle of a section we have labeled "These Things."  Remember, however, that our distinction between "these things" and "those things" is intended to describe the two major time periods which Jesus is predicting.  Each of these two major time periods occurs only once.  "These things," leading up to the destruction of Jerusalem, would occur only once, and the disciples were already in this period.  The fate of Jerusalem was the result of the Jewish leaders' rejection of Jesus, whom they had already intended to kill for some time.  Also, Jesus' followers were the generation which would not pass away, placing them squarely in the first time period.  Similarly, "those things," the long period from the destruction of Jerusalem to the second coming of Christ, will also occur only once.  However, some things occur repeatedly during both of these two major periods, such as the presence of deceivers, trouble, and persecution.  Since Jesus' followers had not presently (at the time of the discourse) been arrested or brought to trial, it would make sense for Jesus to speak of their future arrest and trial as "that" hour rather than "this" hour, so it is perfectly fitting for the gospel writers to include a reference to "that hour" within a larger section discussing "these things."

The use of houtos and ekeinos in Luke 21:34-36 (following the 10 sections given in the chart) fits well with the above analysis, for "that day" is said to come upon "all those who live on the face of the whole earth" (not just the Jews), thus fitting in with the global events involving all nations, as described in section 8.  In contrast, Jesus' followers are told to pray to escape "these things" (translated "all that is about to happen" in the NIV).

I.  False messiahs, wars, famines, earthquakes

False messiahs

We hear of many false messiahs in our time, such as Alan John Miller, Jim Jones, David Koresh, José Luis de Jesús Miranda, and Apollo C. Quiboloy, as well as others.  Some are supposedly in hiding, waiting for the proper time to make themselves known.  However, were there false messiahs during the four decades between the death of Christ around AD 30 and the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70?

Even though John's first epistle may have been written a decade or two after AD 70, his comment that "many antichrists have come" (1 John 2:18) may well include false messiahs who had come before AD 70.

Plumptre comments on the lack of historic records of specific false messiahs during this time period, but then comments that,

in the excited fanaticism of the time, however, it was likely enough that such pretenders should arise and disappear, after each had lived out his little day, and fill no place in history.  (E. H. Plumptre, commentary on Matthew 24:5, Ellicott's Commentary on the Whole Bible, Zondervan reprint, 1959)


Were there wars and revolutions (particularly involving the Jews) between AD 30 and 70?

The Jewish historian Josephus completed his first major work, entitled The Wars of the Jews, around AD 75.  It describes Jewish history from around 170 BC (the time of Antiochus Epiphanes) until "The Great Revolt" (also called the "First Jewish-Roman War") which occurred between AD 66 and 73.  Book 2, chapter 18 of this work describes the great "calamities and slaughters" suffered by the Jews in many regions before the Great Revolt, including a war at Seleucia, where 50,000 Jews were killed, as well as other wars at Caesarea, Scythopolis, Joppa, Ascalon, and Tyre.

In his second major work completed around AD 94, called Antiquities of the Jews, Josephus describes (in book 20, chapters 1 - 6) various wars within the Roman Empire under Caligula (ruled 37-41), Claudius (41-54), and Nero (54-68).

The historian Philo adds a record of the conflict between the Jewish community at Alexandria and the Greeks, which took place under Caligula's reign, in AD 38.

Keep in mind that the Olivet discourse does not list these wars, etc. as signs which will suddenly signal the end (the destruction of Jerusalem, see section 3 above).  Rather, it refers to such things as the normal course of events.


Luke records that Agabus, a prophet from Jerusalem,

stood up and through the Spirit predicted that a severe famine would spread over the entire Roman world. (This happened during the reign of Claudius.) (Act 11:28)

Earth quakes

According to Plumptre,

Perhaps no period in the world's history has ever been so marked by these convulsions as that which intervenes between the Crucifixion and the destruction of Jerusalem. Josephus records one in Judaea (Wars, iv, 4, § 5); Tacitus tells of them in Crete, Rome, Apamea, Phrygia, Campania (Ann. xii. 58; xiv. 27; xv. 22); Seneca (Ep. 91), in A.D. 58, speaks of them as extending their devastations over Asia [the province], Achaia, Syria, and Macedonia.  (E. H. Plumptre, commentary on Matthew 24:7, Ellicott's Commentary on the Whole Bible, Zondervan reprint, 1959)

J.  The destruction of Jerusalem as a punishment

Luke 21:22 speaks of the destruction of Jerusalem as "the time of punishment in fulfillment of all that has been written."  Certainly Daniel 9:26-27, cited in the next section, is one of those written prophecies.  This punishment is God's application of the negative consequences of the Abrahamic covenant, as predicted by Moses:

If you ever forget the LORD your God and follow other gods and worship and bow down to them, I testify against you today that you will surely be destroyed. Like the nations the LORD destroyed before you, so you will be destroyed for not obeying the LORD your God.  (Deuteronomy 8:19-20)

I will lay waste the land, so that your enemies who live there will be appalled. I will scatter you among the nations and will draw out my sword and pursue you. Your land will be laid waste, and your cities will lie in ruins.  (Leviticus 26:32-33)

Deuteronomy 28 gives a dire prediction which is both detailed and gruesome.

15 However, if you do not obey the LORD your God and do not carefully follow all his commands and decrees I am giving you today, all these curses will come upon you and overtake you: … 20 The LORD will send on you curses, confusion and rebuke in everything you put your hand to, until you are destroyed and come to sudden ruin because of the evil you have done in forsaking him. … 25 The LORD will cause you to be defeated before your enemies. You will come at them from one direction but flee from them in seven, and you will become a thing of horror to all the kingdoms on earth. 26 Your carcasses will be food for all the birds of the air and the beasts of the earth, and there will be no one to frighten them away. … 28 The LORD will afflict you with madness, blindness and confusion of mind. 29 At midday you will grope about like a blind man in the dark. You will be unsuccessful in everything you do; day after day you will be oppressed and robbed, with no one to rescue you. … 32 Your sons and daughters will be given to another nation, and you will wear out your eyes watching for them day after day, powerless to lift a hand. 33 A people that you do not know will eat what your land and labor produce, and you will have nothing but cruel oppression all your days. 34 The sights you see will drive you mad. … 36 The LORD will drive you and the king you set over you to a nation unknown to you or your fathers. There you will worship other gods, gods of wood and stone. 37 You will become a thing of horror and an object of scorn and ridicule to all the nations where the LORD will drive you. … 41 You will have sons and daughters but you will not keep them, because they will go into captivity. … 45 All these curses will come upon you. They will pursue you and overtake you until you are destroyed, because you did not obey the LORD your God and observe the commands and decrees he gave you. 46 They will be a sign and a wonder to you and your descendants forever. 47 Because you did not serve the LORD your God joyfully and gladly in the time of prosperity, 48 therefore in hunger and thirst, in nakedness and dire poverty, you will serve the enemies the LORD sends against you. He will put an iron yoke on your neck until he has destroyed you. 49 The LORD will bring a nation against you from far away, from the ends of the earth, like an eagle swooping down, a nation whose language you will not understand, 50 a fierce-looking nation without respect for the old or pity for the young. … 52 They will lay siege to all the cities throughout your land until the high fortified walls in which you trust fall down. They will besiege all the cities throughout the land the LORD your God is giving you. 53 Because of the suffering that your enemy will inflict on you during the siege, you will eat the fruit of the womb, the flesh of the sons and daughters the LORD your God has given you. 54 Even the most gentle and sensitive man among you will have no compassion on his own brother or the wife he loves or his surviving children, 55 and he will not give to one of them any of the flesh of his children that he is eating. It will be all he has left because of the suffering your enemy will inflict on you during the siege of all your cities. 56 The most gentle and sensitive woman among you -- so sensitive and gentle that she would not venture to touch the ground with the sole of her foot -- will begrudge the husband she loves and her own son or daughter 57 the afterbirth from her womb and the children she bears. For she intends to eat them secretly during the siege and in the distress that your enemy will inflict on you in your cities. 58 If you do not carefully follow all the words of this law, which are written in this book, and do not revere this glorious and awesome name – the LORD your God – 59 the LORD will send fearful plagues on you and your descendants, harsh and prolonged disasters, and severe and lingering illnesses. … 63 Just as it pleased the LORD to make you prosper and increase in number, so it will please him to ruin and destroy you. You will be uprooted from the land you are entering to possess. 64 Then the LORD will scatter you among all nations, from one end of the earth to the other. There you will worship other gods -- gods of wood and stone, which neither you nor your fathers have known. 65 Among those nations you will find no repose, no resting place for the sole of your foot. There the LORD will give you an anxious mind, eyes weary with longing, and a despairing heart. 66 You will live in constant suspense, filled with dread both night and day, never sure of your life.  (Deuteronomy 28:15-66)

The Jewish historian Josephus, in his History of the Jewish War, wrote in great detail about the fate of the Jews throughout their homeland as well as in Jerusalem.  Josephus wrote as a contemporary and eyewitness, for he fought the Romans in Galilee before the siege of Jerusalem, was captured by the Romans, then attempted to serve his captors as a mediator during the siege of Jerusalem.  His lengthy account shows how the terrible curses quoted above, prophesied through Moses a millennium and a half earlier, were fulfilled in every detail by the siege on Jerusalem and the resultant suffering of those trapped in the city, the city's destruction in A.D. 70, and the continued suffering of the Jews thereafter.

K.  Jerusalem surrounded by armies

The Jewish revolt against Rome occurred between A.D. 66 and 73.  Each year the Romans progressively quelled different areas of the revolt, taking over Galilee in 67, then portions of Judea in 68, then Jerusalem in 70, then strongholds south of Jerusalem from 70 to 73.

Forty years before Jerusalem's destruction, Jesus gave predictions of its fate on several occasions.  Just before entering Jerusalem Jesus spoke of the city being encircled and destroyed (Luke 19:41-44).

Again, in the Olivet discourse Jesus spoke of "Jerusalem being surrounded by armies" (Luke 21:20).  But where Luke records this statement about the armies surrounding Jerusalem, Matthew (24:15) and Mark (13:14) record a statement about "the abomination that causes desolation."  Some scholars have understood this "abomination" to be a desecrating sacrifice in the temple, similar to the one committed by Antiochus Epiphanes in 168 B.C.  However, the facts both from the passages and from history disqualify this view.

The harmony of the parallel passages

These three statements ("abomination that causes desolation" in Matthew and Mark and "Jerusalem being surrounded" in Luke) occur in the exact same place in all three accounts, just before the command, "then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains."  Furthermore, in all three statements, the effect is the same – desolation.  This high degree of parallelism leads to the idea that the abomination should be equated with Jerusalem being surrounded by armies.

Daniel's prediction

Matthew informs us that the prediction comes from Daniel, and we find a clear reference to "an abomination that causes desolation" in chapter 9 of Daniel.

… The people of the ruler who will come will destroy the city and the sanctuary. The end will come like a flood: War will continue until the end, and desolations have been decreed. … And on a wing of the temple he will set up an abomination that causes desolation, until the end that is decreed is poured out on him.  (Daniel 9:26-27)

See the paper "Daniel 9" for a discussion of the structure of Daniel 9:26-27.

Also, consider the phrase "wing of the temple" in the above quotation from the NIV.  This phrase is probably misleading, as the words "of the temple" are not in the Hebrew.  In addition, the word "wing" comes from the Hebrew kanaph which can mean several things including wing, extremity, edge, border, and skirt.  Indeed, the focus of the entire passage (verses 24-27) is primarily on the city of Jerusalem and only secondarily on "the sanctuary."  So Daniel is certainly not limiting the abominable activity to the temple proper.

Even though there are three other places in Daniel where a desolating abomination is mentioned, the passage quoted above must be the one to which Jesus referred.  In 11:31 there is an "abomination that causes desolation" which, based on the context earlier in that chapter, refers to Antiochus Epiphanes, who desecrated the temple in 168 B.C.  In 12:11 there is another "abomination that causes desolation" which may also refer to the timing of the events involving Antiochus Epiphanes.  The similar phrase, "rebellion that causes desolation" found in Daniel 8:13 and explained in verses 23-25, is another reference to Antiochus Epiphanes.

The wording

Matthew also informs us that this abomination will stand in the "holy place" (24:15).  Some have equated this phrase, "holy place," with the holy of holies, the innermost sanctuary of the temple.  The two Greek words involved are hagios (αγιος) and topos (τοπος) respectively.  But there are no other places in the New Testament where these two words are combined to refer to the holy of holies.  In Acts 6:13-14 "holy place" refers to the entire temple, and in Acts 21:28 "holy place" refers to the areas near the temple that were forbidden to non-Jews, that is, the courts just outside the temple proper.  Furthermore, those passages which do speak about the holy of holies (or the "Most Holy Place" as translated in the NIV, Hebrews 9:3, 8, 12, 25; 10:19; and 13:11) do not use the word topos at all.  According to Greek lexicons, the word topos is a rather general word which can refer to a place, location, region, or vicinity.  Thus, it makes perfect sense to equate Luke's description, "when you see Jerusalem being surrounded by armies," with Matthews description, "when you see standing in the holy place the abomination that causes desolation."

Was there time to flee?

Also, keep in mind that in all three accounts the disciples were told that, when they saw the abomination (the surrounding armies) they were to flee immediately.  If they were outside their houses, or even on top of their houses, they were not to go into their houses but to flee directly to the mountains.  As it turned out, the siege of Jerusalem lasted for several months during A.D. 70, with the Romans invading and capturing different sections of the city one after the other.  They completed a siege wall sealing off the city a month before they were able to fight their way into the temple area.  If the signal to flee to the mountains were actually the desecration of the temple, that would have been too late for anyone to escape.  Instead, Jesus warned his disciples to flee at the first sign of an impending attack, that is, as soon as they saw the Roman troops building up around Jerusalem.

Roman armies an abomination?

Some question whether or not the Roman armies surrounding Jerusalem could be so serious as to be called an abomination.  However, an event which occurred shortly before Jesus delivered the Olivet discourse answers that question.

Pilate was the Roman procurator of Palestine from A.D. 26-36 under emperor Tiberias.  Pilate was headquartered in Caesarea, on the coast roughly 60 miles north of Jerusalem.  When Pilate began his reign he commanded the Roman army to carry its usual ensigns into Jerusalem.  These ensigns were topped by eagles and effigies of the emperor (sculptured representations of Tiberias).  They were not merely standards or banners for identification, but objects of worship, no different than idols to be worshipped.  Would the Jews consider such effigies abominable?  Below is book 18, chapter 3, section 1, of Josephus' Antiquities of the Jews which records the Jews' reaction when soldiers carried such ensigns into Jerusalem.  (This section can be found online at ccel.org/j/josephus/works/ant-18.htm.)

But now Pilate, the procurator of Judea, removed the army from Cesarea to Jerusalem, to take their winter quarters there, in order to abolish the Jewish laws. So he introduced Caesar's effigies, which were upon the ensigns, and brought them into the city; whereas our law forbids us the very making of images; on which account the former procurators were wont to make their entry into the city with such ensigns as had not those ornaments. Pilate was the first who brought those images to Jerusalem, and set them up there; which was done without the knowledge of the people, because it was done in the night time; but as soon as they knew it, they came in multitudes to Cesarea, and interceded with Pilate many days that he would remove the images; and when he would not grant their requests, because it would tend to the injury of Caesar, while yet they persevered in their request, on the sixth day he ordered his soldiers to have their weapons privately, while he came and sat upon his judgment-seat, which seat was so prepared in the open place of the city, that it concealed the army that lay ready to oppress them; and when the Jews petitioned him again, he gave a signal to the soldiers to encompass them routed [around], and threatened that their punishment should be no less than immediate death, unless they would leave off disturbing him, and go their ways home. But they threw themselves upon the ground, and laid their necks bare, and said they would take their death very willingly, rather than the wisdom of their laws should be transgressed; upon which Pilate was deeply affected with their firm resolution to keep their laws inviolable, and presently commanded the images to be carried back from Jerusalem to Cesarea.

Clearly, the Jews considered what the Roman army had done so serious that they were willing to die in protest.  This incident, according to historians, happened at the beginning of Pilate's reign, which would have been only a very few years before Christ gave his Olivet discourse.  Thus, when Christ referred to a future "abomination" that causes desolation, he may well have been counting on the Jews' recollection of this recent abomination caused by Pilate and the Roman army.


All the above factors point toward the conclusion that the abomination that causes desolation is to be equated with the Roman armies surrounding Jerusalem.

By the way, if the early church historian, Eusebius, is correct, many Christian Jews did escape Jerusalem before its destruction and fled north to Pella.  They were able to escape death because they heeded the instructions Jesus gave his disciples.  Pella is one of the cities of the Decapolis between the Dead Sea and the Sea of Galilee just east of the Jordan River.  It is surrounded by mountains and lies outside the areas which revolted and were taken over by the Romans.

L.  This generation

Various commentators offer different interpretations of the meaning of "this generation" in Matthew 24:34, Mark 13:30, and Luke 21:32  (see also Matthew 23:36).

In the Greek the word generation is γενεα (genea).  When it is used in the singular, it can mean a generation as a span of time (such as 30, 40, or 70 years), or a generation as a race (a people group), which can be determined easily from the context.

When the focus of the passage is on the quality or character of a group, then "race" can be the meaning of genea.  For example,

However, when the focus of a passage is on a time element, then genea has a time span in view.  For example,

Thus, option 3 should be eliminated.

Regarding option 2:  If the harmony and structure presented above are accepted, there is no doubt that the phrase refers to Jesus' original followers rather than a future generation.  Matthew 23:36 provides additional support for this view since it refers to "this generation" in the context of an entire chapter of condemnation of the current leaders of Israel as well as Jesus' lament over Jerusalem.

M.  The gospel preached to all nations

According to Mark 13:10 and Matthew 24:14, the gospel must be preached in the whole world to all nations before the end comes.  Many commentators place this statement in the context of Christ's second coming, that is, during that part of the second major time period still future to us.  However, we have placed it in the first major time period, prior to "the end" of Jerusalem in A.D. 70.

It must be noted that Paul claims that the gospel had already been preached to the whole world in his day.

All over the world this gospel is bearing fruit and growing. … This is the gospel that you heard and that has been proclaimed to every creature under heaven.  (Colossians 1:6, 23;  see also Romans 1:8;  1 Thessalonians 1:8;  and 1 Timothy 3:16 )

Paul died in the late A.D. 60's and probably wrote Colossians at the time of his first Roman imprisonment, around A.D. 60.  Thus, the above statements were probably made a full ten years before "the end," that is, the destruction of Jerusalem.

Remember that there were Jews "from every nation of the world" (Acts 2:5) staying at Jerusalem when Peter preached to the crowd on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2:14-41).  It is likely that these Jews were the ones who took the gospel back to their homelands and thus evangelized the whole world.

The Greek word for "world" in Matthew 24:14 is oikoumene (οικουμενη), which often refers to a limited portion of the world.  For example, see Luke 2:1 where the NIV translators render this word with the phrase "Roman world" even though "Roman" is not in the original.  See also Acts 19:27;  24:5.

Clement, bishop at Rome from A.D. 88 - 97, helps us understand the first century concept of the world when he says that

Paul … was a preacher in both east and west, and won great renown for his faith, teaching uprightness to the whole world, and reaching the farthest limit of the west …  (First letter of Clement 5:5-6, probably around A.D. 95, Goodspeed translation)

Paul may have traveled as far west as Spain.  At least, that is where he had planned to travel  (Romans 15:24).  If Clement equated Spain with "the farthest limit of the west" and with the boundary of the "whole world," then his concept of the whole world was considerably smaller than our concept.

Thus, when Jesus stated that the gospel must be preached in the whole world before the end, he was speaking of the end of Jerusalem, and was speaking in the language and the world view that his listeners understood.

N.  The great tribulation

In Matthew 24:21 and parallels, the great tribulation is described as follows:

In Matthew and Mark the Greek word for "distress" is thlipsis (θλιψις) which means trouble, distress, affliction, or suffering.  It is the same word translated "be persecuted" earlier in the discourse (Matthew 24:9).  In Luke the Greek word for "distress" is ananke (αναγκη), which means distress, trouble, necessity, or compulsion.

We understand this tribulation to be, not something yet future to us that is limited to seven years, but occupying the entire time starting with the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70 and extending through the present.  Such an understanding fits the statement in Luke 21:24 that Jerusalem will be trampled on by the Gentiles until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled.  If the tribulation predicted here were interpreted as a seven year period still future to us, then the statement recorded by Luke would have little significance since at that future time Jerusalem would already have been trampled on for thousands of years.

In Matthew and Luke the Greek word for "great" is megas (μεγας), a general word which simply means large or great.  It is used frequently in the New Testament to describe not only objects and animals of great size but also great strength, fear, joy, honor, sounds, banquets, and storms.  We might ask in what sense the tribulation predicted by Jesus was to be great.  Was it to be great in severity?  Or great in length?  There is nothing in the word itself which limits its sense to one or the other.  Looking back at the description of the siege of Jerusalem written by Josephus, as well as the long history of Jewish persecution including the Jewish holocaust in the last century, the continuing bombings in modern Israel, and the frequent persecution of believers in various countries for centuries, we are able to say that the tribulation has been great in both senses.

According to Matthew 24:29-31 and parallels, the very next thing to happen after the completion of the times of the Gentiles is the second coming of Christ in power and the gathering of his elect, for he comes "immediately after the distress of those days."  Although Paul speaks of a wrath yet to come, he never speaks of a great tribulation yet to come.

O.  Other predictions of Jesus' return

In section 8 Jesus predicts his own return, teaching his disciples that

Subsequently, others also predict Jesus' return and these predictions include many of the same elements.  For example, immediately after Jesus had ascended to heaven, two men dressed in white told the disciples that Jesus would return in the same way he ascended, that is, before their very eyes, and from the other side of the clouds  (Acts 1:9-11).  Similarly, Paul's detailed prediction of Jesus' return (1 Thessalonians 4:14-17) includes the clouds, an archangel, a trumpet call, and the gathering of all the believers.  Paul also speaks of the "splendor of his coming" (2 Thessalonians 2:8;  see also 1:7).

P.  The preterist view

The preterist maintains that all of Jesus' predictions in the Olivet discourse (even those in section 8) were fulfilled by the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70.

Matthew 16:27-28 has been used by some preterist commentators as proof that some of Jesus' hearers would still be alive to see not only the destruction of Jerusalem but also Jesus' return in glory.  When they apply this mistaken notion to the Olivet discourse, they conclude that there is no future (to us) return of Christ.  Such an interpretation requires that the phrase "come in his Father's glory with his angels" in verse 27 be equated with the phrase "coming in his kingdom" in verse 28.  However, in context, verse 27 belongs with the preceding verses, not with verse 28.  The same basic sequence of statements is found in all three synoptic gospels (see the context of Mark 9:1 and Luke 9:27), but we will examine the sequence only in Matthew.

The verses preceding verse 27 exhibit a continuous flow of thought which includes verse 27.  In verses 16 & 17 Peter asserts that Jesus is "the Son of the living God" and Jesus affirms the truth of this statement.  After Jesus' disciples understand his identity, he begins to teach them about his mission – that he must go to Jerusalem, be killed, and rise on the third day (verse 21).  Peter's rebuke shows that, even though he may understand who Jesus is, he still thinks Jesus' mission is to free Israel from Roman domination, thus he thinks Jesus cannot go to Jerusalem and die (verse 22).  This earns a sharp rebuke from Jesus, and a statement that Peter is thinking the "things of man" rather than the "things of God" (verse 23).  As Jesus continues he compares the relative importance of denying oneself and focusing on the things of the soul with the relative unimportance of the mere preservation of life (verses 24-26).  Finally, Jesus refers to his own return (future to us) at which time he will judge people's actions (verse 27).  This judgment relates to the choices people have made as he explained earlier (verses 24-26).

Then in verse 28 Jesus states that some of those who are listening to him will live to see him coming in his kingdom.  This is not his return in glory.  Rather, it is a reference to the various events which will provide additional evidence to his followers that he is indeed the Son of God and that his kingdom is a spiritual kingdom.  These events certainly include the transfiguration, for Peter refers to the transfiguration as "the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ" (2 Peter 1:16-18).  These events also include the miraculous events surrounding his death, his resurrection, his ascension, and even the early miraculous ministry of the apostles and the success of the church in Jerusalem and Judea.  Indeed, even the destruction of Jerusalem should be understood as one of these events, for it involved the cessation of the Jewish "kingdom" due to their leaders' rejection of Jesus as the Son of God, as well as the survival of the believers (the real, spiritual kingdom) who fled because of their reliance on the foreknowledge of their divine savior who made this prediction (compare John 13:19).

So there is no need to interpret the entire Olivet discourse as referring to the destruction of Jerusalem.  Clearly, the events mentioned in sections 6, 7, 8, and 10 of the discourse extend far beyond A.D. 70 and the return of Jesus Christ in glory is still in our future.

Another passage cited by preterists is Luke 17:20-37.  This passage records another statement of Jesus about his return.  It starts as a response to a question of the Pharisees (verse 20), but very quickly changes to a discourse addressed to Jesus' disciples (verse 22).

Verse 31 refers to the one who is on the roof of his house and the one who is in the field, and says they should not return to the house to get anything.  At first glance this appears to be similar to section 5 of the Olivet discourse, where Jesus warns his followers to flee immediately from Jerusalem.  This has caused some interpreters to claim that the Luke 17 passage is about the destruction of Jerusalem.  And since the Luke passage refers to "the day the Son of Man is revealed" (verse 30), the claim is that, in some spiritual sense, Jesus was revealed in the destruction of Jerusalem.  In other words, Jesus' return is past, not future, to us.

However, a closer look at verse 31 in context proves otherwise.  The fact is that Jesus' return will be unlike the destruction of Jerusalem.  The destruction of Jerusalem involves a sign (the Roman armies surrounding the city) for believers which gives them just enough time to flee to the mountains.  In contrast, the revelation of Jesus will be both sudden and obvious to all.  That is the emphasis of section 7 (part of "Those Things") in the Olivet discourse, and it is also the emphasis of Luke 17:22-37.  That is why Jesus' followers should pay no attention when someone says "Here he is" or "There he is" (verse 23).   And that is why the lightning (verse 24), and Noah (verses 26-27), and Lot (verses 28-29) make perfect illustrations.

In Luke 17:31, the references to being on top of the house and being in the field also refer to the long period after the destruction of Jerusalem.  They serve merely as another emphasis on the suddenness of his return.  There are significant differences between Luke 17:31 and section 5 of the Olivet discourse.  For one thing, in the Luke passage there is no reference at all to either Jerusalem or Judea.  Also, there is no command to flee and no reference to any mountains.

Thus, the Luke 17 passage has plenty of parallels to the "Those Things" sections of the Olivet discourse, and no necessary parallels to the "These Things" sections.  The destruction of Jerusalem is long past, but the revelation of Jesus is still future to us.