Memories of Olivet: The Discourse on the Mount

We refer to it as “The Olivet Discourse,” and what a discourse it was! It is a magnificent outline of future events given to the disciples in answer to their three-fold question. They had just spoken to the Lord about the beauty of the temple. They remarked upon the goodly stones which adorned it, white marble stones ornamented, as Josephus records, with golden plates which shone dazzlingly in the sun. As good Jews, these men would be justifiably proud of their temple. It had been built by Zerubbabel on the return from Babylon back in the days of Cyrus King of Persia, and later reconstructed by Herod the Great over many years. It was something to be proud of! Our Lord’s answer must have been rather disconcerting. “See ye not all these things?” He said, “Verily I say unto you, there shall not be left here one stone upon another, that shall not be thrown down.” For them it must have seemed almost inconceivable that all this splendor was to be demolished. They made their way quietly across to the Mount of Olives where they now sat musing upon the Lord’s words, with a glorious view of the city, and their temple shining in the Jerusalem sun.

Peter, James, John, and Andrew are particularly mentioned (Mark 13:3). Whether these alone were present on the occasion is not clear, but perhaps they were the spokesmen for the little band of disciples. They asked Him particularly about three matters. “Tell us,” they said, “when shall these things be? And what shall be the sign of Thy coming, and of the end of the world?” His protracted answer is the Olivet Discourse, sometimes called, “The Little Apocalypse.”

Two things ought to be remembered. First, these disciples were literally a Jewish remnant. They were Jews who thought and spoke “Jewishly.” This discourse has nothing to do with the Church, and to introduce the Church into it creates confusion. If it is argued that these men were indeed the nucleus of the new Church, that is so, but at that present moment they were a remnant of Israel who acknowledged Jesus as Messiah. But why should He address them as a Jewish remnant? The answer is that after the rapture of the Church there would be another remnant, just like them, and the instruction that He would give to them now would be most applicable in the difficult days of that future remnant.

Second, there is in the discourse both a near and a distant fulfillment. The destruction of the temple, as Jesus had predicted, would take place in less than forty years, and how literally it would all be fulfilled! The first of their questions, “When shall these things be?” has to do with that destruction and is answered first. The Lord gives the details of that terrible siege by the Roman Legions and the ultimate devastation. The historian records that although the Roman General Titus had given orders that the temple was to be spared, one of his soldiers “snatched a brand from the blazing timber, and, hoisted by one of his fellow-soldiers, flung the fiery missile through a golden window.” Some of the soldiers then stripped off the golden plates, but in the fierce conflagration which ensued, much of the gold ran molten between the stones. Later they searched amid the debris for gold, pulling every stone apart from its neighbor. In AD 70 the Savior’s words were literally fulfilled, and not one stone was left upon another. One million Jews perished in the siege and a further one hundred thousand were taken prisoner, many of whom were to be crucified.

However, all this was but a foreshadowing of a more distant fulfillment of the Lord’s predictions. Days of vengeance still lie ahead for the nation. Dark days are in store for Israel. The future time of Jacob’s trouble will be without parallel. Neither before nor after will there be anything to equal that coming great tribulation (Matt 24:21; Jer 30:7: Dan 12:1). “What shall be the sign of Thy coming, and of the end of the age?” they had then asked. He warned them that false messiahs would arise, and a suffering remnant, anxiously looking for deliverance, might be easily deceived. They should not be deluded for there would be no mistaking the event when the true Messiah would appear. His coming would lighten the sky from east to west (Matt 24:27). There would be another temple in those days, but when they would see it desecrated by the Coming Prince, this would be a sign. It would be the abomination of desolation, spoken of by Daniel the Prophet (Dan 9:27; Matt 24:15). It would be either the ensign of Rome emblazoned with their eagle, or the image of the Beast himself. The Man of Sin would sit in their holy place as God (2 Thess 2:3-4). He would demand homage on penalty of death (Rev 13:14-15). The godly should then flee to the mountains. References to Judea, to the temple, the housetop, and the Sabbath day, all confirm that this is Israel in view. It must be emphasized that the Church is not in this discourse.

There will, though, be triumph even in the midst of tragedy. The Gospel of the Kingdom will be preached in all the world by a faithful remnant. This will be the good news that the King is coming to set up His kingdom. Large numbers of Jews and Gentiles will respond to the message and await the King (Rev 7). He will come! He must come, for the salvation of the beleaguered remnant, for the fulfilment of Messianic Psalms and prophecies, for the accomplishment of the purposes of God, and for His own glory. What a day that will be!

The heavens shall glow with splendor,
But, brighter far than they,
The saints shall shine in glory
As Christ shall them array:
The beauty of the Savior
Shall dazzle every eye
In the crowning day that’s coming,
By and by.

It will be appreciated that other dear brethren have written volumes on the Olivet Discourse! These brief notes are penned only to be included as more “Memories of Olivet.”