THE OLIVET DISCOURSE
JESUS REVEALS THE FUTURE
LESSON SIX – JESUS TEACHES PREPAREDNESS
Now that Jesus had answered the three questions put forth by His disciples, He gave them lessons on preparedness. We all know the wisdom of being prepared for possible “storms” or potential dangers that could come into our lives. The motto of the Boy Scouts of America is BE PREPARED. They are trained to know danger signs and to know what to do in case certain troubles might come. Jesus’ followers are now taught how to be ready for the coming events He has just prophesied. These are not just possible dangers but events that are guaranteed to happen.
I live in the mountains of Colorado where the gigantic Rocky Mountains are the playground for thousands of campers, hikers, and mountain climbers. There is always the potential of getting lost in the woods, getting trapped by a sudden snowstorm, falling off a cliff, or facing a sudden lightning-loaded thunderstorm at the top of a mountain. Warnings abound in the media and park stations about having the right gear and knowing how to protect yourself in case of accident or adverse weather conditions. Yet many people each year are caught unprepared. The same will be true of thousands in the end times.
Satan will pull out all of the stops in an attempt to deceive the people by offering false christs or attempting to persuade the people that Antichrist himself is the long expected Messiah by performing great signs and miracles. But those who know God and rely on His Word will be prepared to resist all attempts. In this time of great trouble, those who have listened to God will be looking for Jesus to return and deliver them. They will know the exact sign that will signal His coming.
Jesus had just told His followers that His coming would be sudden. At a moment in time it will appear that Satan’s triumph is a sure thing. The nations will be gathered together against Jerusalem in an attempt to finally wipe out the chosen people in the last great battle. Then suddenly Jesus will appear in all His glory to reclaim the earth and bring in His long-awaited Kingdom.
Jesus had yet a few things to say in the presence of these stunned disciples. The time He has just described is called the worst distress the world has ever known. Everyone needs to be fully informed and fully prepared.
DAY ONE: JESUS’ TEACHINGS BRING HOPE AND WARNING.
READ: Matthew 24:32-35; Mark 13:28-32; Luke 21:29-33
A. FIG TREE PARABLE BRINGS COMFORT.
Jesus then gave a lesson to be learned and remembered especially during the “time of Jacob’s trouble” – the terrible last days.1 He used an illustration from nature – the fig tree (and as Luke added – all trees). The putting forth of new tree leaves in the spring is evidence that summer is near. In like manner, when those living in the time of the tribulation see the signs Jesus just predicted (“all these things” – Matthew 24:33) they will know that the second coming of Christ is near. As Daniel says in Daniel 9:26, the end will come like a flood.
The generation that sees the abomination of desolation that triggers worldwide anti-Semitism will survive to see the Messiah coming in glory. This was meant to be a comfort in view of the worldwide attempt to destroy the Jewish nation. The abomination of desolation signals Satan and Antichrist’s final attempt to exterminate all Jews. The fact that this Jewish generation will still be there when Jesus comes shows that this attempt at destruction will fail!
I sometimes get very nervous while watching sports events, especially Denver Bronco football games. Yet the times when I have taped the game for watching later and know the final outcome is a victory, I can relax even when the action is fierce and the team is fighting all the way to the final play. Likewise, knowing the final outcome of the end time events should bring a peace to the chosen people. As the tribulation rages, suddenly Jesus will cut short the days and return to save the day. He will gather His elect from the four winds of the heavens to usher in the new age.
B. JESUS GAVE WARNINGS ABOUT LAXNESS.
READ: Matthew 24:36-44
Undoubtedly Jesus’ questioning disciples would have liked to know the exact date of His coming. We would all like to have that revelation! But Jesus told them that it is not possible to know that date, even though we can know the signs that tell us when the time is near. That information puts the responsibility on believers to study the prophecies and be acutely aware of the telltale signs.
The human tendency is to ignore this responsibility and let life happen to such an extent that we forget to keep watch. As in the days of Noah, everyday life and extraordinary events like weddings can totally absorb our minds and our time so as to crowd out any thought of end time events. Jesus commands us not to let that happen but to watch and be ready.
Jesus then revealed that some will be taken and others left. Some scholars have understood this section to refer to the rapture. When Jesus comes for His own, true believers will be taken up to be with Him and unbelievers will be left behind. Jesus’ coming for his own will be at a time when the world does not expect Him.
Other scholars understand this to be the second coming to set up His kingdom (because of the context). When He comes some will be left to enter the Kingdom and some will be taken away in judgment. In either case, there will be a time of separation of the saved and unsaved. The emphasis on either interpretation is on readiness.
Jesus warns his listeners to keep watch at all times. He compared the watch to be like a man guarding his house. If the homeowner knew exactly when the thief would arrive, he could let down his guard until that time arrived. Since the time of Jesus’ coming is not known, people have to be ready at all times. As Jesus said, “You also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him.” (Matthew 24:44)
C. QUESTIONS FOR STUDY OR DISCUSSION.
- What did the prophet Daniel say about the brevity of this final time of tribulation? (Daniel 12:7)
- What is another way of describing this time? (Daniel 12:11)
- How does Daniel describe the outcome of this time? (Daniel 12:10)
- What does Daniel prophesy about the survival of the chosen people? (Daniel 12:1-3)
- What did Peter say about the second coming? (2 Peter 3:3-7)
- What great promise is given to believers in Matthew 24:35?
- How does knowing the outcome of God’s story give you comfort today?
- How often do you read the final book of the Bible to reaffirm for yourself that “the battle belongs to the Lord” and victory will belong to those who belong to Him?
DAY TWO: PARABLE OF WICKED AND WISE SERVANTS STRESSED FAITHFUL SERVICE.
READ: Matthew 24:45-51
A. A FAITHFUL SERVANT WAS DESCRIBED.
As human beings there is always a tendency to live selfishly. After all, we must spend a certain amount of our time taking care of our families and meeting our basic needs. When this task is carried to the extreme, we find ourselves spending all of our time improving our lifestyles as well as seeking large amounts of time for pleasure.
Faithful believers are admonished by Jesus to remember their priorities. While Jesus is physically gone from this earth, He has put his followers (servants) in charge of kingdom priorities. They are His hands, feet, and voice to do the work He has left them to do. They are asked to “take up His cross” and carry on. While everyone who believes in Jesus Christ is going to Heaven (John 3:16-18), not everyone who believes is prepared to meet the Lord. All believers must stand before the judgment seat of Christ to give an answer for what they have done in the body. (2 Corinthians 5:10)
Jesus now used a parable to explain the possibilities of behavior while He is gone. The believer is compared to a servant in a household. (God’s people are called a household or a family in Galatians 6:10.) The wise servant will be responsible and diligent to give the other servants their food at the proper time. (This may refer to those leaders who have been gifted to provide spiritual food and leadership to the flock. When they are diligent to teach or preach faithfully, the flock will thrive.) If the designated servant is found faithful in his job, he will be rewarded when Jesus returns by being given greater responsibility in the Kingdom. He will be fully prepared to meet his master.
B. A WICKED SERVANT WAS DESCRIBED.
Jesus then turned to the other kind of behavior. The master in the parable left this servant to take care of his household while he is gone. The servant changed his behavior when the master didn’t return right away. He saw an opportunity to take advantage of his role by abusing his fellow servants and living in a worldly manner.
What caused this change of behavior? The heart of the servant was wicked. At the first opportunity this true character of wickedness came out. When Jesus returns he will be punished severely.
Service in the coming kingdom will be rewarded to those who have been found faithful during the day of testing. We need to be faithful in serving while we wait for His coming.
Again scholars differ on the interpretation of this passage. Some understand this servant to be an imposter or an unbeliever who will come under judgment and others understand him to be a slothful believer who gave in to temptations of the world and will suffer loss of reward and loss of opportunity. Whatever the interpretation, there will be a time of accountability when Jesus returns. Faithful service will be rewarded.
C. QUESTIONS FOR STUDY OR DISCUSSION
- What does Paul say about stewardship in 1 Corinthians 4:2?
- What does John say about those who look forward to Jesus’ coming? (1 John 3:2-3)
- What did Jesus say about priorities in Matthew 6:33?
- What warning did Jesus give in Matthew 6:24?
- Consider your own behavior. Which servant best describes you?
- Test your priorities. Ask someone in your family what is most important in your life.
DAY THREE: PARABLE OF TEN VIRGINS STRESSES PREPAREDNESS.
READ: Matthew 25:1-13
A. FOOLISH VIRGINS FAILED TO BE READY.
Jesus told another parable to further illustrate the need for watchfulness and preparation for His second coming. To fully understand this parable we need to examine Jewish wedding customs. Their weddings had three stages:
- THE BETROTHAL – The legal marriage contract was arranged by parents of the bride and groom. After the formal signing, the bridegroom went away to prepare a place for his bride. This was often an addition onto the house of the groom’s parents.
- THE CEREMONY – When the groom’s father gave his approval that all was ready, the groom and his friends would travel from his home to the home of the bride and claim her for his own.
- THE MARRIAGE FEAST – The bridal party would then be joined by the bridesmaids carrying lamps as they returned to the groom’s home for the wedding consummation and feast.
There is a simple explanation of this parable. The virgins represent people from the tribulation period. At the midnight cry when Jesus comes again with His bride (the church), some will not be prepared. Because the wait has been long, some will procrastinate until it is too late.
Some scholars further explain that the ten virgins represent believers and non-believers from the tribulation period. The marriage feast represents the Messianic Kingdom. Only the wise ones enter the marriage feast or the Messianic Kingdom.
The shocking end of this parable is the fact that at a point in time the door is shut and there is no more opportunity to respond to Jesus’ call. Whatever the interpretation, the emphasis is on being prepared.
C. QUESTIONS FOR STUDY AND DISCUSSION
- How does this parable illustrate what Jesus taught in Matthew 7:21-23?
- How many years has the church been waiting for the bridegroom to come for the bride?
- How do most people in the world feel about the second coming?
- Read Isaac’s wedding story in Genesis 24. How does this differ from traditional Jewish weddings that developed later in their history? How does this differ from your wedding traditions?
- Did Isaac’s bride, Rebekah, have any choice in whether or not she became the bride?
- Some believe Isaac’s story is the story of the Father sending the Holy Spirit to secure a bride for His Son. When did you make a choice to become the bride of Christ?
DAY FOUR: PARABLE OF TALENTS STRESSED FAITHFUL STEWARDSHIP.
READ: Matthew 25:14-30
A. A MAN ENTRUSTED HIS MONEY TO SERVANTS.
It is a serious thing when a person entrusts his valuable property into the hands of another. We might compare it to a mother who entrusts her children to a caregiver for a time. She expects the caregiver to exercise the utmost care and concern for the children’s welfare. Stewardship is a serious issue in Scripture as well.
In this parable three servants were entrusted with investment money while the master was gone on an extended journey. A talent was worth about 20 years of wages, so we can imagine how seriously this master took his task of choosing the three servants to handle his money. The three servants were given one, two, or five talents according to their individual ability. No one was expected to perform or produce beyond his personal capability.
God assigns gifts and calls us to roles according to our unique preparedness and giftedness. It is our privilege to serve the Lord and enrich the body of Christ while we wait for His return.
B. FAITHFUL SERVANTS WORKED AND WERE REWARDED.
The faithful servants put their talents to work for their master. When he returned, they were rewarded with greater service and responsibility. It was not the amount but the effort that pleased the master. They received Jesus’ personal commendation – “Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!” (Matthew 24:21)
C. UNFAITHFUL SERVANT FAILED TO WORK.
The third man hid his money. There was no effort to use his entrusted talent at all. When confronted he was full of excuses, even trying to blame his master for being overly hard and demanding. The master revealed the fallacy in the man’s excuse. If he truly thought the master was harsh, he could have safeguarded the money in a bank and at least he would have drawn a little interest. The man is then condemned for his lack of faith. He didn’t really know Jesus. He is cast into outer darkness.
When Jesus returns, he expects faithful servants to have borne fruit for the Kingdom. As James tells us, our faith is proved by our works. (James 2:26) Those who know Jesus and love Him will want to please Him in this way. One of the evidences of true faith is the demonstration of bearing fruit for the master. When Jesus’ servants prove themselves faithful, they are given more and more until they will have an abundance (Matthew 25: 28). Again, the emphasis in this parable is on faithfulness, stewardship, and reward.
D. QUESTIONS FOR STUDY OR DISCUSSION
- What principle did Jesus teach that illustrates this parable? (Luke 12:48)
- Who decides the gifts we are given? (1 Corinthians 12:11)
- What is their purpose? (1 Corinthians 12:7)
- Picture yourself standing before the judgment seat of Christ. What service in your life might cause Jesus to say – “Well done, good and faithful servant!”?
- When have you given an excuse for not serving in the body?
DAY FIVE: SURVIVORS FROM NATIONS WILL BE JUDGED.
READ: Matthew 25:31-46
A. RIGHTEOUS “SHEEP” WILL ENTER THE KINGDOM.
In the Olivet Discourse Jesus has revealed to His Jewish disciples what will happen in the time prior to His return to set up His Messianic Kingdom. He has also told them how to be prepared for His return. They are to be found faithfully watching and serving.
Now He tells them what will happen to Gentiles after he returns. Those Gentiles who have survived the tribulation will be gathered before Jesus to be judged. They are described as sheep and goats intermingled. The sheep will be placed on Jesus’ right hand and the goats on the left. The tribulation will be a time of unrivaled anti-Semitism where the majority of Jews will be killed. Gentiles have to risk their lives to befriend the Jews.
The “sheep” on the right will be invited to enter the Messianic Kingdom. The basis of their judgment will be the way they treated the Messiah’s brethren (Jews) during the tribulation. We are reminded of the WW II stories of Corrie Ten Boom who befriended Jews in Holland and Ann Frank’s benefactors who hid her family in Amsterdam.
B. UNRIGHTEOUS “GOATS” WILL BE DESTROYED.
Many centuries ago God made a covenant with Abraham – “I will bless those who bless you and curse those who curse you.” (Genesis 12:3) Anti-Semitism has always been a fact of life for God’s chosen people. Satan has used many devices to destroy the people that God has chosen as His special nation. Now we see the judgment that rightly comes to the people who have sided with Satan against the Jews. They will be told to depart from Jesus into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.
C. QUESTIONS FOR STUDY AND DUSCUSSION
- What is the place of this judgment of nations? (Joel 3:1-3)
- Read Matthew 13:24-30; 36-43. How does this parable and explanation match the story of sheep and goats?
- What evidence might the “goats” have to reveal their true master? (Revelation 14:11-12)
- What evidence in your life would indicate who your master is?
- What are you prompted to do when you read about the judgment of the unsaved?
We have now come to the end of the Olivet discourse. In His role of prophet, Jesus has described the events and signs that bring this age to a grand climax. The message He gave fits perfectly with the prophecies in Daniel and the other Old Testament prophets, but Jesus gave specific details and signs that had not been revealed before and signs that Jesus’ followers needed to know.
The Jews needed to know how the prophecies of a glorious kingdom on earth would be fulfilled at the second coming. Jesus will come again in triumph and power to become their King of Kings and Lord of Lords. Their beloved prophets were not false prophets – every prophecy will be fulfilled when history is played out. This is “good news” to those who will cast their lot with Jesus Christ while there is still time.
The Jewish remnant (who will become believers) needed to know what to do when the Antichrist determines to finally exterminate them. They were told to flee after the abomination of desolation is set up.
Gentiles in the tribulation need to know the signs and outcome of events especially during the turbulent years of the tribulation when it looks like Satan is winning the battle to control the earth. They will have to make a choice of whether to align with Antichrist or with Christ. Their choice will determine their eternal destiny.
Undoubtedly the disciples of Jesus did not understand all of this revelation at the time. As the events of the crucifixion and resurrection play out in the next few days, they will again ask the question of when the Kingdom will be brought in. (Acts 1:6) As time goes on, New Testament writers will reveal more facts and finally Jesus will appear to John to give more details of the end of the story recorded in the book of Revelation. The best and worst is yet to come – birth pangs will become hard labor, and then the birth of the Kingdom planned by God before the creation of the earth will finally take place. It will be a glorious day.
Jesus’ message is still the same today. Believers are told to look up for our redemption draws nigh. Paul tells us in 1 Thessalonians 5:6 “So let us not be like others, who are asleep, but let us be alert and self-controlled…. (v.8) putting on faith and love as a breastplate, and the hope of salvation as a helmet.” We are to be found faithfully serving and watching when He comes for us.
In the Olivet Discourse, all people are warned not to waste our opportunities while there is still time.
Carefully listen to Jesus’ warnings. Examine your life to see if you are faithfully watching and serving in such a way that you will receive Jesus’ commendation when He comes.
[i] The Time of Jacob’s Trouble is a phrase used in Jeremiah 30:7 to describe the second half of the tribulation when the Jews will go through a time of extreme distress and purging just prior to Jesus’ return.
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