THE OLIVET DISCOURSE
JESUS REVEALS THE FUTURE
LESSON FOUR – THE DISCIPLES FACE A NEW REALITY
In Jesus’ day Jerusalem had become a beautiful city. Herod the Great was a talented builder. He had installed impressive aqueducts to bring water from the northern mountains to make the desert bloom in the southern area. He had built palace fortresses on mountain tops in strategic places around the country. He built a beautiful palace complex in the upper city in Jerusalem. There was a hippodrome in the lower city for races – like the great sports stadiums in cities today. However, his crowning achievement in the eyes of the Jewish people was the renovation of the temple mount and the beautification of the temple proper. From a very small beginning when the Jews returned from Babylon, the temple was now a sight to behold. It was made of white limestone with pure gold ornamentation. It was dazzling in the sunlight.
DAY ONE: DISCIPLES POINTED TO THE BEAUTIFUL BUILDINGS.
READ: Matthew 24:1-2
A. TEMPLE MOUNT WAS IMPRESSIVE.
As Jesus left the temple compound with his disciples, they couldn’t resist calling His attention to the buildings under construction. Herod had constructed a massive retaining wall to enlarge the temple mount to accommodate the growing population of Jerusalem and Judea. He had added a portico and buildings around the temple mount walls. Construction on the project had begun in 20 B.C. It had been in process for fifty years and would continue on until 64 A.D. (34 more years). It was completed shortly before it’s destruction by the Romans in 70 A.D.
B. DESTRUCTION OF TEMPLE SEEMED IMPOSSIBLE.
Jesus’ statement about the total destruction of this magnificent structure was most puzzling to His disciples. In the moment they were too stunned to respond. The temple was made of huge stones. Some were many tons in size. It seemed impossible that anyone would ever have a reason to throw down the stones. Even if God allowed an enemy army to overthrow the city and burn it, removing the stones of the temple seemed improbable.
What happens when the clear words of God seem humanly impossible? Do we believe God’s words or trust our human logic? This is one of the areas where our faith is sorely tested. We have some impressive Bible characters that faced this dilemma of trusting faith.
C. QUESTIONS FOR STUDY OR DISCUSSION
- Scripture deals with the issue of great faith in Hebrews 11. What did the following Bible characters believe that seemed impossible to man:
- Noah (Hebrews 11:7)
- Abraham (Hebrews 11:8)
- Abraham (Hebrews 11:11)
- Abraham (Hebrews 11:17-19)
- Joseph (Hebrews 11:22)
- Moses’ Parents (Hebrews 11:23)
- What had Jesus taught His disciples about belief in Matthew 19:26?
- What great promise did Jesus give to the apostles in Matthew 19:28?
- What promise is given to believers in Matthew 19:29-30?
- What does it mean to you that “many who are last will be first”
DAY TWO: JESUS’ PROPHECY CREATED CONFUSION.
READ: Matthew 24:3
A. FULFILLMENT OF GOD’S PLAN SEEMED IMPOSSIBLE.
As we studied in Lesson 3, from the beginning God has had a plan. History is moving toward God’s final goal of a beautiful Kingdom. He has progressively revealed His plan from the time of Adam. In every age God’s people have had questions – when and how will God’s plan all come about? Will Satan be able to hijack the plan? Will God’s chosen people (His instrument in the plan) be able to thwart the plan?
From the Hebrew prophets, Jesus’ followers knew the plan included the city of Jerusalem and the reunited nation of Israel. From Jesus’ teaching the apostles now know that the king is Jesus of Nazareth. But the king has been rejected by the nation’s leaders, and Jesus has just said that Jerusalem will be destroyed (Matthew 24:2) and the nation will be left desolate (Matthew 23:38). What about the destruction of Jerusalem, and when will this age end and the Kingdom age begin? Jesus’ followers are full of questions.
Whenever we study eschatology we must approach it with humility and grace. We may think we have it all figured out in a well-documented outline with all kinds of Scriptural proofs. However, world events may bring changes that open up new possibilities of interpretation. Jesus’ disciples could not have imagined the church age and the long delay in bringing the prophesied Kingdom into existence.
B. JESUS’ DISCIPLES BEGIN TO QUESTION JESUS.
As the group returned to a private place on the Mount of Olives, Jesus’ disciples asked three probing questions:
- When will this happen?
(This question related back to Jesus’ words regarding the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple.) Luke 21:7 includes the fact that they asked for a sign when these things are about to take place.
- What will be the sign of your coming?
Jesus has just told the nation that they would not see Him AGAIN until they are ready to receive Him as the anointed one sent from God. He will come again to accomplish all that was promised and prophesied. The disciples didn’t doubt His words but wanted a sign that signaled this second coming to establish His Kingdom.
- What is the sign of the end of the age?
The rabbis taught about only two ages – the age in which they now lived (under gentile domination) and the Messianic age to come that was prophesied widely in their prophetic Scriptures. The disciples wanted to know the signs that the last days of this age were coming to an end so the Messianic age could be born. (In His reply, Jesus referred to these days and events as “birth pangs.”)
What the disciples were asking for were three signs to look for – signs that would signal that these things were about to happen. Jesus’ answer may have given them more than they wanted to know or at least more than they could fully understand at this point in time. What followed is a long discourse. To get the full story we must look in all three synoptic gospels. Not any one of the gospels gives all three answers. Jesus answered the last question first and only Luke gives the answer to the first question.
So, we will fit the pieces of the puzzle together and come up with some amazing information about the future – including the three specific signs that were asked for. Jesus’ long discourse has become known as the Olivet Discourse.
C. QUESTIONS FOR STUDY OR DISCUSSION
- Who asked these questions according to Mark 13:3?
- What did God say about revealing information concerning unfolding events? (Amos 3:7)
- What did Jesus say in John 15:15 to his followers?
- How does their asking for a sign square with Jesus’ words to the Pharisees regarding asking for a sign in Matthew 16:4?
- When is it okay for Christians to ask for a sign today? (James 1:5)
DAY THREE: JESUS GIVES ANSWERS AND WARNINGS.
READ: Matthew 24:4-8
A. JESUS BEGINS TO ANSWER THE THIRD QUESTION.
Matthew records that Jesus began with a warning and a list of events that will happen in the future in the period that we now know as the church age, but they are not the sign that the end of the age has begun. These things will happen in the coming course of history:
- There will be a rise of false Messiahs. Jesus was the first to make this claim to be Messiah. Since then there have been a number of Jewish men who have claimed this title as well as a few Gentiles. But none has proved to be true. As Jesus warned, the disciples were not to let themselves be deceived. Later He will give a sign for His coming that can’t be missed.
- There will be many local wars and rumors of wars. This has certainly proved to be true. From the time of Jesus until the 21st century there have been wars all over the globe. There is no end to man’s greed and lust for power.
The Hebrew prophets had written of a great war involving all nations (Armageddon) just prior to the coming of the Messiah to establish His kingdom. But here Jesus is speaking of local wars. Until the 20th century the technology and equipment necessary for a world war was not available.
So Jesus’ followers were warned not to be alarmed when they heard of local wars. This is not the beginning of the end of the age. (Matthew 24:6)
B. QUESTIONS FOR STUDY OR DISCUSSION
- What are some of the wars that were fought prior to the 20th century?
- What kind of equipment is available now that wasn’t available in prior ages?
- How are battles fought differently today?
- What did Jesus say about peacemakers in Matthew 5:9?
- How can you be a peacemaker in your family or neighborhood today?
DAY FOUR: JESUS ANSWERS THE THIRD QUESTION.
READ: Matthew 24:7-8; Mark 13:8; Luke 21:10-11
A. WHAT IS THE SIGN FOR THE END OF THIS AGE?
How will we know when this age is coming to an end so a new age can begin? It will not come on suddenly. Jesus reveals that it will be a series of events. He gives the signals that He calls “birth pains” or “travail.”
All three gospels give the signs of the beginning of the travail: “Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be famines and earthquakes in various places. All these are the beginning of birth pains.” (Matthew 24:7-8)
Nation will rise against nation and kingdom against kingdom.
This is a Jewish way of saying world war. So when world war occurs we can know the last days of the church age have begun. This prophecy began to be fulfilled in the 20th century?
World War I – 1914 – 1918
World War II — 1939 – 1945
Both of these wars impacted the Jewish people. World War I led to the growth of the Zionist movement. Jews began returning to their homeland. World War II led to the establishment of the nation of Israel in l948. The birth pangs are moving along. Can the birth of the Messianic Kingdom be far behind?
B. QUESTIONS FOR STUDY OR DISCUSSION
- Why is it important for Israel to be an established nation before Jesus returns?
- Where will Jesus establish His throne? (Isaiah 9:6-7)
- What additional events did Luke say will happen in the end? (Luke 21:10-11)
- How should the knowledge of the soon return of Jesus affect your daily life?
- In what ways could you say that you are well prepared to meet Him?
DAY FIVE: FAMINES, PESTILENCES AND EARTHQUAKES WILL OCCUR.
A. EVIDENCE IS MOUNTING AROUND THE GLOBE.
The world wars that signal the beginning of birth pangs signaling the end of the age are to be accompanied with famines, pestilences and earthquakes (Luke 21:11). There have always been famines, pestilences and earthquakes on earth. However, the statistics of their increased severity in the 20th century are startling.
At the end of World War I (1918-19), a pestilence killed 23 million people. Just two years later (1920), the Great Chinese Famine took place killing a half million people and another in 1928-30 killing 3 million. This was followed by the Great Russian Famine (1921), killing an estimated 6 million people. Many other famines occurred in African countries.
The statistics regarding earthquakes are equally shocking. Consider the following statistics:
In the first 100 years after Jesus there were approximately 5 recorded major earthquakes. The severity has increased somewhat in following centuries until the 20th century.
14th century – 157 Major Earthquakes
15th century – 174 Major Earthquakes
16th century – 253 Major Earthquakes
17th century – 278 Major Earthquakes
18th century – 640 Major Earthquakes
19th century – 2119 Major Earthquakes
20th century – 900,000 Major Earthquakes 1
Despite the fact that some earthquakes may not have been reported in earlier years, the numbers are still quite startling.
B QUESTIONS FOR STUDY OR DISCUSSION
- Earthquakes seem to be natural phenomena that can be explained by scientific principles. However God sometimes uses earthquakes for His purposes. Describe the events surrounding the following earthquakes:
- Exodus 19:16-19
- Matthew 27:51-54
- Matthew 28:1-4
- Revelation 6:12
- Revelation 16:17-18
- Many famines and pestilences are connected with wars. What is another cause of these calamities such as the ones in Genesis 12:10 and Ruth 1:1? (Deuteronomy 28:20-24)
- When has God used this method for discipline as promised in Deuteronomy 28:38-42? (Joel 1)
- Why do you think God often uses earthquakes at significant events in His story?
- What does God do to get your attention today?
Jesus has freely shared knowledge of future events with his curious followers. We now know some of the things that will happen during the early course of this age. We also know the sign that signals the beginning birth pangs of the last days of this age. The news was not easy to hear because it involved destruction, wars, famines, pestilences and earthquakes. There is more to come as Jesus continues to reveal the signs they requested. As Luke added, there will be fearful events and great signs from heaven.
PRINCIPLE FOR THE WEEK
Jesus wants His followers to be fully informed and well prepared for the future. (Matthew 24:44)
Become a student of prophecy so that you can follow Jesus’ admonition to keep watch and be ready. (Matthew 25:13)
[i]Fruchtenbaum, Dr. Arnold G., FOOTSTEPS OF THE MESSIAH, Revised Edition (Ariel ministries, Tustin, CA, 2003-2004) pp. 96-97.
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