Prophecy on Mount Olivet
By Arlen L. Chitwood
The Time, Sign
Then Jesus went out and departed from the temple, and His disciples came up to show Him the buildings of the temple.
And Jesus said to them, “Do you not see all these things? Assuredly, I say to you, not one stone shall be left here upon another, that shall not be thrown down.”
Now as He sat on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to Him privately, saying, “Tell us, when will these things be? And what will be the sign of Your coming, and of the end of the age?” (Matthew 24:1-3)
The Jewish section of the Olivet discourse (24:4-39) has been interpreted in several different ways over the years. The three main schools of interpretation look upon the prophecy as:
1) Having been fulfilled in the past.
2) Being fulfilled partly during the course of the present dispensation but mainly during and immediately following the Tribulation.
3) Being fulfilled in its entirety during and immediately following the Tribulation.
Bible students viewing the prophecy as having been fulfilled in the past invariably refer to events surrounding the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 A.D. as completing the fulfillment. A great deal of nonliteral interpretation (spiritualizing) marks this view; and it should come as no surprise that the proponents of this or similar views are mainly from the amillennial school of interpretation, although some from the premillennial school can be found within this group as well.
Those viewing the prophecy as being fulfilled partly during the course of the present dispensation but mainly during and immediately following the Tribulation invariably, on the basis of Luke 21:20-24, see events surrounding the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 A.D. as being included; but the main emphasis, in their thinking, lies beyond this time.
The main emphasis is upon events near the end of the age, which appear to set the stage for the Tribulation, and then to events during and immediately following the Tribulation.
Then, those viewing the prophecy as completely future see a reference by Christ only to events during and immediately following the Tribulation.
Both of the latter two views, in one sense of the word, are somewhat similar in nature. Both view a reference to certain events during the Tribulation and during the time immediately following; and individuals adhering to the premillennial school of interpretation normally hold to one or the other.
Through a casual observation, one might be led to believe that there is really no appreciable difference in the latter two interpretative views usually held by premillennial students of the Word. But this is not the case at all. Part or all of verses four through fourteen are the verses in question as to the time of fulfillment, and the period into which the fulfillment of these verses is placed (either before or during the Tribulation) will affect interpretation not only at this point in Scripture but at certain other points as well.
Because of hermeneutical interpretative principles involved, the manner in which this section of Scripture is understood will either open or close the door to a correct understanding of a number of key passages of Scripture.
Thus, one’s view of the time element involved in this section of Scripture is not something that should be taken lightly. And, as will be shown in this chapter and several subsequent chapters, the latter of the two views held by various premillennial interpreters, not the former, is the correct way to look upon verses four through fourteen.
The Jewish section of the Olivet Discourse actually has to do, in its entirety, with events beyond the present dispensation, with events beyond the time in which God deals with the Church. No single event in any part of this section of the Olivet Discourse has been fulfilled in the past; nor is any event in any part of this section presently being fulfilled.
Certain things similar to a number of events in this section of Scripture have transpired in the past and continue to transpire today (cf. vv. 4-7, 11, 12), but not these specific events.
Daniel’s Seventy Weeks
It must be understood that events can begin to occur in the Jewish Section of the Olivet Discourse only during that future time when God once again resumes His national dealings with Israel. Such dealings on the part of God await the coming Tribulation, and these dealings not only cover all of this period but also move beyond Daniel’s prophecy of the Seventy Weeks, as God continues to deal with Israel (Daniel 9:24-27).
Attempting to see some of these events being fulfilled during the present time (the closing years of the present dispensation), even though near the end of the age, immediately preceding the Tribulation, is out of line with the fact that God is not presently dealing with Israel as a nation. In short, this is a mistake of major proportions in hermeneutical interpretation (that part of hermeneutics that would present a clear distinction between God’s dealings with the Church and Israel within two separate dispensations).
Israel has been set aside, awaiting the calling out of a bride for God’s Son (cf. Genesis 23-25). God must complete His purpose for the present dispensation before resuming His dealings with Israel. And the fulfillment of all parts of the Jewish section of the Olivet Discourse must await that time.
The Olivet Discourse was delivered by the Lord to His disciples immediately preceding the completion of the first sixty-nine weeks of Daniel’s prophecy. Events in the Jewish section of the Olivet Discourse occur within and following a period of four hundred ninety years “determined” upon the Jewish people and the city of Jerusalem to, in effect, bring about a consummation of all things that must be brought to pass during Man’s Day, preceding the Messianic Era.
From the beginning of Daniel’s prophecy — “from the going forth of the command to restore and build Jerusalem” (given by Artaxerxes [about 445 B.C.; cf. Nehemiah 2:1ff]) — there was no break in the “determined” time until “Messiah the Prince” (Daniel 9:25).
The chronometer ran uninterrupted until the climactic events surrounding Israel’s rejection of her Messiah and the proffered kingdom of the heavens, leading into Calvary; and it was here, for the first time, that the chronometer marking off the full four hundred ninety years stopped. It stopped with Christ’s crucifixion at the end of the four hundred eighty-third year. Only seven years remained to be fulfilled, and these seven years still await fulfillment today.
Insofar as Daniel’s prophecy of the Seventy Weeks is concerned, the beginning of the Messianic Era is no nearer today than it was when the chronometer stopped almost two thousand years ago. Seven years remained then, and seven years still remain today.
During the interval, Israel has been set aside while God calls out a separate and distinct people — the “one new man” in Christ — to be the recipient of that which Israel rejected (the kingdom of the heavens). And events during this time (present time) are dealt with in the Christian section of the Olivet Discourse (24:40-25:30), not in the Jewish section (24:4-39).
Events in the Jewish section can begin to occur only when the chronometer marking off time in the prophecy of the Seventy Weeks begins once again, fulfilling the last seven years of the prophecy.
This period will begin, as foretold in Daniel’s prophecy itself, when the man of sin makes his seven-year covenant with Israel (v. 27); and the Jewish section of the Olivet Discourse will, beginning at this point, be rapidly fulfilled during an unbroken twenty-five hundred and ninety-five-day period (the seven-year Tribulation, twenty-five hundred twenty days [Daniel’s Seventieth Week], plus seventy-five subsequent days [cf. Daniel 12:11-13]). Then, the Messianic Era will be ushered in.
(For additional information on Daniel’s Seventy-Week prophecy, refer to Chapter 12 in the author’s book, The Time of the End.)
When Will These Things Be?
Christ referred to His coming at the end of chapter twenty-three only in connection with Israel’s “desolation.” But the larger scope of the disciples’ question takes in to account both the desolation of the house of Israel (23:38) and Christ’s subsequent statement concerning the destruction of the Temple (24:1, 2). This is evident from their additional question that concerned the sign of His coming and the end of the age.
Nothing is said in chapter twenty-three or in the opening two verses of chapter twenty-four (dealing with the Temple) about Christ’s coming in connection with the destruction of the Temple. But, within the scope of both questions in the next verse, in verse three, the entire matter would have to be in view. The disciples’ questions would have to be looked upon as referring to the Lord’s coming in relation to both Israel’s desolation and the destruction of the Temple.
Their question, “when will these things be,” can only refer to both the time of the desolation and the time of the Temple’s destruction. Since this is the case, some Bible students have questioned how Christ’s response could refer only to events during and following the Tribulation?
After all, the house of Israel is presently in a desolate state and has been for almost two millennia. It was left in this condition by Christ at His first coming; and the Temple itself (along with the city of Jerusalem) was destroyed in 70 A.D.
Note first of all the announced “desolation” in Matthew 23:38. It is true that the house of Israel — which includes the people, the Temple, the city of Jerusalem, and the land — has been in this condition for almost two millennia. But it is also true that there is a more specific, announced “desolation” of the house of Israel that is future — a desolation in connection with the prophecy, a desolation lying within the scope of time covered by Daniel’s Seventy-Week prophecy. In this respect this “desolation” is associated specifically with the Tribulation, during that future time when God resumes His national dealings with Israel.
In Luke’s account of the Olivet Discourse (Luke 21:5ff), reference is made to a desolation in connection with a future destruction of Jerusalem, and Luke places this desolation in the Tribulation (vv. 20-24; cf. Isaiah 27:10; note “the abomination of desolation” in Matthew 24:15 [cf. Daniel 9:27; 11:31]).
Luke 21:20-24 though, dealing with the destruction of Jerusalem, is usually looked upon by Bible students as referring to events occurring in 70 A.D. However, such an understanding of this passage cannot be correct for several reasons:
1) Certain things stated in this passage cannot be viewed as having occurred in 70 A.D. or in the years following. Reference is made to “the days of vengeance, that all things which are written may be fulfilled” (v. 22), and to Jerusalem, following its destruction, being “trampled by Gentiles until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled” (v. 24).
Neither of these can be associated with the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 A.D. All, which is referred to by “all things . . . written,” were not brought to pass at this time. Most of the great prophecies surrounding the Jewish people still await fulfillment today. And Jerusalem is not presently being trampled by the Gentiles, even though the “times of the Gentiles” is still running its course.
Jerusalem is under Jewish control today; and although the Temple area within the city presently remains in possession of the Gentiles, the prophecy in Luke 21:24 cannot somehow relate just to this area per se, for the Temple area will come under Jewish control during the first part of the Tribulation, before the Times of the Gentiles ends.
This section in Luke’s gospel can refer only to a future destruction of Jerusalem that will be associated with “the days of vengeance,” the fulfilling of “all things which are written,” and Jerusalem being “trampled by the Gentiles until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled” (cf. Revelation 11:1, 2).
2) Comparing Matthew’s and Luke’s Olivet Discourse accounts, events in Matthew 24:15-22 must be looked upon as occurring at the same time as events in Luke 21:20-24.
(Note the sequence of events in parallel Scriptures in Matthew’s and Luke’s Olivet Discourse accounts [Matthew 24:3-14 and Luke 21:7-19; Matthew 24:15-22 and Luke 21:20-24; Matthew 24:23-31 and Luke 21:25-28; Matthew 24:32ff and Luke 21:29ff].)
The section in Matthew has to do with the man of sin entering into “the holy place,” the Jewish people told to “flee to the mountains,” and “great tribulation” throughout the land.
The section in Luke has to do with “Jerusalem surrounded by armies,” the Jews told to “flee to the mountains,” “the days of vengeance,” “great distress in the land,” and Jerusalem being “trampled by the Gentiles.”
In other words, both writers describe certain events surrounding the Jewish people and the city of Jerusalem (either the Temple or the entire city) that occur at the same time. Matthew describes one facet of the matter and Luke another.
Matthew’s description begins by viewing the Temple, and Luke’s description begins by viewing the entire city. Both accounts refer to events occurring at that future time when the man of sin breaks his covenant with Israel and, in all his fury, turns upon the Jewish people.
Both accounts, thus, refer to events that begin in the middle of the Tribulation and cover not only the last half of the Tribulation but also days immediately following.
Specific reference to Jerusalem being trodden down of the Gentiles during this time is given in Revelation 11:2b:
And they will tread the holy city underfoot for forty-two months [three and one-half years, the last half of the Tribulation, beginning with the parallel events in Matthew 24:15ff and Luke 21:20ff].
At the end of this period, Messiah will return, the Times of the Gentiles will end, and Jerusalem, through divine intervention, will cease to be trampled down.
The reference to the “destruction” of the Temple in Matthew 24:1, 2 is in connection with the announced “desolation” in Matthew 23:38. There is a past desolation of the house of Israel (extending into the present), and there is a past destruction of the Temple (70 A.D.); but the reference in the passage is to a future desolation of the house of Israel in connection with a future destruction of the Temple (a destruction also in connection with a future destruction of Jerusalem). And the text in Luke 21:20 places the occurrence of this future “desolation” and “destruction” in the Tribulation.
Thus, Jesus, answering the disciples’ question concerning the time when these things would occur, refers them to events yet future even today — events that will occur during the coming Tribulation.
A future destruction of the Temple and the city of Jerusalem, foretold in Matthew 24:15ff and Luke 21:20ff, is synonymous with the destruction in view in Daniel’s prophecy of the Seventy Weeks (note: “. . . shall destroy the city and the sanctuary” [Daniel 9:26]). The words closing verse twenty-six, “and unto the end of the war desolations are determined” (KJV), should literally read, “and unto the end, wars and desolations are determined.” “The end” is the end of the full Seventy Weeks, which corresponds to the end of the Tribulation; and the “desolations” have to do with the house of Israel being left desolate at this time, not during the present day and time (cf. Jeremiah 33:10; Ezekiel 36:33-35; Daniel 8:13; 11:31; 12:11; Matthew 24:15).
Verse twenty-seven in the book of Daniel then goes on to refer to the entire seven-year Tribulation period, with specific emphasis upon the same thing as in verse twenty-six — the “abomination of desolation” performing his work, beginning in the middle of the Tribulation. Once again the word “desolate” is used in this verse (KJV):
. . . he shall make it desolate [referring to a future, further desolation of that which Christ had left desolate — both occurring within the scope of Daniel’s Seventy-Week prophecy], even unto the consummation [the end of the Tribulation].
Verse twenty-seven is a commentary on verse twenty-six, and vice versa. Also, these verses together constitute a commentary on the Olivet Discourse passages, and vice versa.
(Note that events revealed in Daniel’s Seventy-Week prophecy occur during time covered by the prophecy, not outside of this time [as the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 A.D.)
What Will Be the Sign . . . .?
The Lord responded in a very clear manner to the disciples’ question concerning the “time” of the desolation of the house of Israel and the destruction of the Temple. The “abomination of desolation” (or, as in Daniel’s prophecy [11:31] in the KJV, “the abomination that makes desolate” [yet identical in the NKJV]) would desecrate the Temple; and his armies would then destroy, not only the Temple, but the entire city of Jerusalem.
The revealed “time” would thus be in the middle of the Tribulation, in the middle of Daniel’s Seventieth Week. And staying completely within the framework of Daniel’s prophecy of the Seventy Weeks, discounting the time that the chronometer marking off this period does not run (the entire present dispensation), the fulfillment of events to which Jesus referred would begin to occur three and one-half years after they were revealed.
Of equal clearness was the Lord’s response to the disciples’ second question, “what will be the sign of Your coming, and of the end of the age?” Christ led into the first question in verses four through fourteen, and He answered the question in a very specific manner in verses fifteen through twenty-two. He then led into the second question in a very similar manner beginning with verse twenty-three (cf. vv. 4-6; 23-26), and the question is specifically answered in verses twenty-seven through thirty-one.
Note verse thirty: “Then the sign . . . will appear . . . .” In this respect, the entire Jewish section of the Olivet Discourse constitutes a response to the disciples’ two questions. In each instance, Christ first presented material relevant to an understanding of the specific answers, and He then gave the specific answers.
The disciples’ second question is often thought of in the form of two questions: “What shall be the sign of Your coming?” and “What will be the sign of the end of the age?”
Further, these are sometimes thought of in a disassociated sense. However, such cannot be the case in either instance. This is one question with one sign. The question does have two parts, but these parts cannot be disassociated one from the other. The manner in which the question is worded will not allow the two parts to be understood in independent senses, and the Lord’s answer to the question occurs within this same framework as well. “Your coming” and “the end of the age” are marked by one sign, and the Lord’s coming can only be regarded as occurring in association with the end of the age.
The sign of the Lord’s coming and the end of the age occurs after the Tribulation, at the end of the time of desolation. Note the exact wording of verses twenty-nine and thirty: “Immediately after the Tribulation of those days… Then the sign . . . will appear . . . .”
This sign has to do with the “sun” and “moon” being darkened, the “stars” falling from heaven, and the “powers of the heavens” being shaken. Luke broadens this by referring to signs both in the heavens and upon the earth:
And there will be signs in the sun, in the moon, and in the stars; and on the earth distress of nations, with perplexity, the sea and the waves roaring;
Men’s hearts failing them from fear and the expectation of those things which are coming on the earth, for the powers of heaven will be shaken.
(Luke 21:25, 26; cf. Joel 3:15, 16)
A reference to these events found in Hebrews 12:26 reveals that God is going to shake both the heavens and the earth, bringing these events (these signs) to pass:
Yet once more I shake not only the earth [as in the past at Mt. Sinai (Exodus 19:18)], but also heaven.
(The shaking of the mount at Sinai during Moses’ day would foreshadow the unshakeable kingdom of Christ shaking and destroying all world kingdoms during Christ’s day — seen occurring in Daniel at the time that the Stone strikes the image in its final form, at its feet [cf. Daniel 2:44, 45]; and the shaking of the heavens would refer to the shaking of powers in these kingdoms. This shaking will cause the sun and moon to be darkened and the stars to be dislodged from their present courses [again, a reference to Gentile world powers]. And this shaking is seen in Scripture to result in utter governmental chaos upon the earth in that coming day.
All of the preceding is vividly described in the book of Revelation by and through the breaking of the sixth seal [6:12-17], the sounding of the seventh trumpet [10:1-7; 11:15-19], and the corresponding pouring out of the seventh vial [16:17-21].
This is further described in Luke 21:25 by a reference to “the sea [pointing to the nations] and the waves roaring,” describing the previously mentioned “distress of nations, with perplexity.”
For additional information on this subject, refer to Chapters 15, 18, 29 in the author’s book, The Time of the End.)
Thus, the answer to the disciples’ question concerning the sign of the Lord’s coming and the end of the age centers on that future time when God will shake the heavens and the earth (referring to God bringing about an end to Gentile world power), immediately preceding and following the completion of Daniel’s full Seventy Weeks. Then “the sign of the Son of man will appear in heaven”; then “then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory.” And it will be then, not before, that Israel will say, “Blessed is He who comes in the name of the LORD!” (Matthew 23:39)
(Note a parallel derived from teachings surrounding Hebrews 12:26: The past shaking of the earth occurred immediately before God made a covenant with Israel [the Mosaic covenant, old covenant], anticipating the nation’s establishment within a theocracy. The future shaking of the earth and heaven will occur immediately before God makes another covenant with Israel [the new covenant], anticipating the nation’s reestablishment in the land within a restored theocracy [cf. Hebrews 8:6-13]
In both instances, the shaking of Gentile world power would be in view, for in both instances Gentile world power was to be/will be destroyed, with a view to Israel then holding the scepter within a theocracy.)
Christ or Antichrist
I have come in My Father’s name, and you do not receive Me; if another comes in his own name, him you will receive. (John 5:43)
There is an axiom in biblical study to the effect that if the truth is rejected over a long enough period of time, God will cause the individual or individuals rejecting the truth to believe that which is untrue (cf. 2 Thessalonians 2:9-12). For Israel, this time arrived when the scribes and Pharisees filled up “the measure” of their fathers (Matthew 23:31-32). They were the children of those who had exhibited unbelief in Israel down through the years, and they held the dubious honor of being the ones who brought the entire matter to the point where the Lord could allow it to go no further. Israel, over a prolonged period, had rejected the truth; and the scribes and Pharisees in Matthew chapter twenty-three caused the nation to bring the entire matter to a climax by rejecting the One who is very Truth Himself, the Lord Jesus Christ.
Thus, the nation at this point was left to believe that which was untrue. The nation was left desolate, awaiting an individual who would be received by the Jewish people and subsequently bring about a further desolation, a desolation having no parallel in history.
Israel had rejected the true Christ, and the nation was left to believe the false Christ. Israel had rejected the Truth, wherein deliverance could have been effected; and the nation was then left to receive the Lie (cf. John 8:44), wherein complete and total destruction, apart from divine intervention, would await the nation (cf. Matthew 24:22).
Israel must be looked upon as fitting within the scope of the principle revealed in 2 Thessalonians chapter two; and the outworking of this principle within Israel’s national affairs must come to pass, which God will use to bring the nation to the place of repentance. This is the reason for the impending “time of Jacob’s trouble” (Jeremiah 30:7).
This time of trouble (during which Israel will believe the Lie) will befall the Gentile nations as well (Luke 21:35), and the reason for this is very simple. Israel was the nation called into existence to be the channel through which the Gentile nations would be both reached and blessed. Israel was to be placed in her own land at the head of the nations as a kingdom of priests within a theocracy, and all the Gentile nations were to be reached with God’s message by Israel and be blessed through Israel. The Gentile nations, in this fashion, were to enter into that which Israel entered.
However, Israel, like Jonah, went in the wrong direction; and the impending “time of Jacob’s trouble” awaiting Israel will be the ultimate result. And the Gentile nations must also enter this time of trouble as well because of the existing relationship that God established between Israel and the nations. This relationship demands that the nations enter into that which Israel enters. It was supposed to be salvation and blessings, and it one day will be so; but a time of unparalleled trouble awaits Israel first, and, resultantly, the nations as well. Israel and the nations together must enter and pass through the coming Tribulation.
(A note of interest within this line of thought is the fact that the relationship existing between Israel and the Church is not at all the same as the relationship existing between Israel and the nations. The Church is an entirely separate, a distinct entity, an entirely separate “nation” [1 Peter 2:9, 10]; and, unlike the Gentile nations, the Church, in this respect, does not enter into that which Israel enters. Again, hermeneutics would be involved in seeing a clear distinction between Israel, the Church, and the nations [cf. 1 Corinthians 10:32; 2 Corinthians 5:17; Ephesians 2:11-15].
Resultantly, the reason for the coming Tribulation has nothing to do with the Church; and the clear teaching of Scripture attests to the fact that the Church will be removed from the earth before the Tribulation begins [Revelation 1:10ff; 4:1, 2; 6:1ff].)
Satan’s climactic efforts to destroy Israel, preceding the overthrow and destruction of his kingdom, will revolve around the Antichrist. Satan will give to this false Christ that which he previously offered to the true Christ — “the kingdoms of the world [looked upon as one world kingdom in Revelation 11:15]” (Matthew 4:8, 9). Satan will give to this man “his power, his throne, and great authority” (Revelation 13:2); and he will begin exercising this authority in all its fullness “in the middle of the week” (Daniel 9:27), in the middle of the Tribulation.
In this position, the one whom Israel will receive at the beginning of Daniel’s Seventieth Week, will, after three and one-half years, reveal his true colors and turn against Israel in all his fury. Millions of Jews will die, and billions of Gentiles will suffer the same fate — all by and through climactic efforts by Satan to destroy the one nation called into existence to be the channel by and through which all the nations of the earth would be reached and blessed.
A remnant from Israel though will survive the Great Tribulation (one-third [Zechariah 13:8, 9]), and so will a segment of the Gentiles (less than one-half [cf. Revelation 6:8; 9:15-18; 13:15; 14:14-20]). Israel must occupy the position for which the nation was called into existence; and Gentile nations must be present for Israel to occupy this position. “. . . the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable [KJV: ‘without repentance’]” (Romans 11:29). God will not change His mind concerning the reason He formed the nations and then called Israel into existence.
Israel though (and resultantly the nations) must first have her part in the outworking of the principle set forth in 2 Thessalonians chapter two. Then, Israel will realize her calling in relation to the nations of the earth.
The disciples’ questions in Matthew 24:3 are Jewish in their entirety, and these questions are answered in the Jewish section of the Olivet Discourse. These questions relate to the desolation of the house of Israel and the destruction of the Temple (expanded to the city of Jerusalem in Luke’s account); and the Lord honored the questions by answering them within this same framework.
The entire matter was projected out into the coming Tribulation, a period through which Israel must pass because of the climactic events outlined in chapter twenty-three. At the point of these climactic events, keeping within the axiom set forth in 2 Thessalonians chapter two, Israel’s destiny was set; and the Lord responded to the disciples’ questions accordingly.
Of striking difference in the Jewish and Christian sections of the Olivet Discourse is the presence of the period of Tribulation in the former and the absence of this period in the latter. Events in the Jewish section occur, in their entirety, within the Tribulation; and events in the Christian section occur, in their entirety, without the Tribulation. There is a total association with the Tribulation on the one hand and a total disassociation with the Tribulation on the other hand. This is as it must be. The revealed purpose for and hermeneutical principals surrounding the whole of the matter necessitate such.