As Jesus was sitting on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to him privately. “Tell us,” they said, “when will this happen, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?”
In the previous post we saw the setting in which this question was asked by the disciples, along with the events that led to it. Recall that Jesus had just completed His last public discourse in which He had pronounced judgment upon the religious establishment in the “Seven Woes” of chapter 23. As they left the Temple Mount, the disciples commented on the great buildings of central Jerusalem as they sat there with the Temple itself presiding over them, perched as it was on its mountain, and Jesus had told them that all of these structures would be utterly destroyed. Now here they were on the Mount of Olives, and they approached Jesus to get some clarification of this alarming statement of His.
Jesus was sitting on the Mount of Olives according to the text; let’s try to picture this panorama…
The Mount of Olives has a panoramic view of central Jerusalem, overlooking the Temple Mount. Have you ever watched a TV news program that had a panoramic view in the background of a discussion? For example, if the people on-screen are discussing the latest news from Congress, there might be a dramatic view of the Capitol as a backdrop, or if the guest was in New York, they might have the New York skyline in the background. I would imagine that if the person on-screen was in London, they might have a backdrop of Big Ben and the House of Parliament in the background. Keep in mind that for this discussion, the backdrop is central Jerusalem, with the Temple itself dominating the scene, and in this case, the backdrop is quite real… Even today, the view from the Mount of Olives is dramatic; it’s the one that’s on all of the postcards, the one behind the modern-day reporter who is reporting from Jerusalem.
The question they ask Jesus is an interesting one, for in order for us to be clear on the context of what follows, we need to be clear on what they are asking; how else can we understand the answer? Clearly, they were asking about Jesus’ remark that the city, including the Temple, would be destroyed, and they seem to equate this with the end of the world, yet Jesus up to this point hasn’t mentioned the end of the world… has He? Jesus only said that the city would be destroyed. Remember our discussion of the significance of the Temple in the previous post? If the destruction of Jerusalem includes the destruction of the Temple, then it would certainly mean the end of the Jewish world… When you think of the significance of the Temple for the Jewish person of that time, it isn’t hard to see why they might make such a connection.
The next thing that is striking about the question, is that it is a compound question and at first glance, there seem to be three questions in one: When will this happen? What will the sign of your coming? What will be the sign of the end of the age? My best guess is that from the disciples’ point of view, all three parts of the larger question were really the same thing, kind of like a question my sister and I used to drive our Mom crazy with: When’s Dad going to be home? When’s dinner? When are we going to eat? In our house, these were really all the same question!
In our time, this is a critical issue, because Christians are often influenced by teachings regarding the end of the world, and various teachings approach this passages with presuppositions derived from their end of the world views, meaning that they are eager to fit the Discourse into their already established view on these things, with the result being that we may or may not get an accurate reading of Jesus’ teaching here. Since this conversation is about the Olivet Discourse, and not on the end of the world, I propose to follow Jesus’ words wherever they might lead us. If they take us to the end of the world, fine and dandy, but if they don’t, that’s fine too. Thus, I’m going to forget all about the end of the world for right now and investigate the direction Jesus takes in this Discourse.
When we get back together tomorrow, we’ll scan the entire text looking for clues as to how many questions Jesus actually answers: 1, 2 or 3… and what they are. Accordingly dear reader, you have homework!
Carefully read both chapters 24 and 25, and look carefully for changes in subject, tense or time; consider verses that could be the transition from one subject (question) to another. If you seriously want to know what Jesus taught, then resist the temptation to look the answer up to see what someone else had to say on the subject; it isn’t time for that just yet. Another way of saying this is: let’s try to approach this text without any preconceived ideas or notions so we can join the disciples as though we were hearing Jesus speak these words for the first time, always an interesting approach…