Prophecy on Mount Olivet
By Arlen L. Chitwood
The Beginning of Sorrows
And Jesus answered and said to them: “Take heed that no one deceives you.
For many will come in My name, saying, ‘I am the Christ,’ and will deceive many.
And you will hear of wars and rumors of wars. See that you are not troubled; for all these things must come to pass, but the end is not yet.
For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. And there will be famines, pestilences, and earthquakes in various places.
All these are the beginning of sorrows.” (Matthew 24:4-8)
False Christs, wars, rumors of wars, famines, pestilences, and earthquakes are ever in the news today. But the reference in Matthew chapter twenty-four is specifically to events in days ahead, events during the Tribulation. The stage is being set today for events that are about to occur, as revealed in the opening verses of the Olivet Discourse.
The end of the age is the matter at hand throughout these opening verses, in keeping with the disciples’ questions (v. 3); but the sign of the end of the age is not given until near the conclusion of the Jewish section of the discourse (vv. 29, 30). In verse six “the end” in is the same “end” referred to in verses thirteen and fourteen — the end of the age, or the end of the Tribulation. This is synonymous with “the end,” “the consummation,” in Daniel’s prophecy of the Seventy Weeks (Daniel 9:26, 27).
Although verses four through eight describe events that will actually exist throughout the Tribulation, the specific reference is to events during the first part of this period. Note verse six: “. . . but the end is not yet.” The specific events described here will occur at a time during the Tribulation that precedes the actual time of the end.
Verses nine through fourteen then continue from this point and provide information concerning events throughout the remainder of the Tribulation. Note the concluding statement in this section: “. . . then the end will come.” Here we have events that occur during the latter part of the Tribulation and lead up to the end of this period, the end of the age.
Thus, verses four through eight depict events that will occur more specifically during the first three and one-half years of the Tribulation, and verses nine through fourteen depict events that will occur more specifically during the last three and one-half years of the Tribulation.
The expression “the beginning of sorrows” (v. 8), as will be shown, is peculiarly related to Israel during the Tribulation, pointing to climactic events that will occur both in the middle and at the end of this seven-year period.
Verses four through eight carry one to the time of the first of these two climactic events (in the middle of the Tribulation), and verses nine through fourteen pick up at this point and carry one through to the time of the second of these two climactic events (at the end of the Tribulation).
Verses four through fourteen, thus, cover major related events pertaining to Israel from the beginning to the end of the Tribulation. The entire scope of the matter is revealed in these verses, but with very little detail.
Then, verses fifteen through twenty-six drop back and cover the same time period as verses nine through fourteen, providing additional details concerning a number of events that will occur in the middle and during the last half of the Tribulation.
(The reference to “famines, pestilences, and earthquakes” in v. 7b is in connection with wars between nations (vv. 6, 7a). Wars of this nature result in “famines” and “pestilences” in various places, but not in “earthquakes.”
The word “earthquakes” is a translation of a plural form of the Greek word seismos, which simply refers to a shaking, not to an earthquake per se [the English word “seismic,” meaning shaking, tremors, agitation, is an Anglicized form of the Greek word seismos]. The words “seismic” or seismos would refer to the shaking produced by an earthquake [or anything else that is being shaken], though not to the earthquake itself.
And, when used in Scripture, as in Matthew 24:7, that being referenced as being shaken must be derived from the context or by comparing Scripture with Scripture elsewhere.
And, by and through both the context and comparing Scripture with Scripture [e.g., Revelation 7:12-17, where the word seismos also appears], this shaking in Matthew 24:7 has to do, not with the earth, but with world kingdoms on the earth. It has to do with God, by and through His providential control of all things, bringing about chaos within Gentile world power, particularly toward the end of the Tribulation [toward the end of Man’s Day, toward the end of the Times of the Gentiles].
For more information on God one day shaking Gentile world powers in this manner, refer to Chapter 15, “The Great Seismos,” in the author’s book, The Time of the End.)
The End Is Not Yet
Attention in the Olivet Discourse centers itself particularly on events beginning in the middle of the Tribulation and carrying through to the end. Very little attention is given in this discourse to events that will occur during the first half of the Tribulation. And even in the five verses that do deal with this time (vv. 4-8), the main focus is still on climactic events that will occur in the middle, during the last half, and at the end of the Tribulation.
The word “sorrows” (v. 8) is the key word depicting this. “Sorrows” is a translation of the Greek word odin, and it is really not a good translation as we understand words today. Odin has to do with “the travail” that a woman undergoes as she endures a time of labor immediately preceding the birth of a child; and the word “sorrows” carries too broad of a meaning in this respect. Odin could be better translated “birth-pangs” or “travail.”
The reference is to Israel in this condition during and at the end of the Tribulation (beginning in the first half). And related Scripture clearly reveals that the terminus of the matter will occur at two points — one in the middle and the other at the end of the Tribulation. Israel will give birth in the middle, and Israel will experience birth at the end.
Isaiah 66:7, 8 refers to future times when Israel will both give birth and experience birth:
Before she [Israel] was in labor, she gave birth; before her pain came, she delivered a male child.
Who has heard such a thing? Who has seen such things? Shall the earth be made to give birth in one day? Or shall a nation be born at once? For as soon as Zion was in labor, she gave birth to her children.
Israel will first deliver “a male child”; then, the nation itself will be “born at once.” But, though these verses in Isaiah refer to Israel bringing forth a male child, the “labor” and “pain” associated with birth are connected only with the birth of the nation, not with the birth of the male child.
Revelation 12:1-5 then presents the other part of the matter pertaining to Israel’s travail. In these verses, the only birth in view is that of the “male child,” occurring before the birth of the nation; and Israel is seen crying out while travailing in pain, awaiting the birth of this child. Events in these verses do not move beyond this point. The subsequent birth of the nation, as in Isaiah 66:8, is not in view at all.
Thus, related Scripture clearly reveals that Israel’s travail in Matthew 24:8 is associated with two events:
1) The nation first giving birth (Revelation 12:5).
2) The nation then experiencing birth (Isaiah 66:7, 8).
There will not only be a bringing forth by the one travailing in pain, but this same one will herself subsequently be brought forth. The one giving birth will be the same one ultimately born.
Daniel and Revelation
In the interpretation of particularly the Jewish section of the Olivet Discourse, the proper place that the books of Daniel and Revelation hold in Scripture must be recognized. These are companion volumes that deal largely with the same time period under discussion — with events during and following the coming Tribulation. It has already been demonstrated to some extent in Chapter 1 of this book how the book of Daniel sheds an abundance of light on the opening portion of the Olivet Discourse (note Matthew 24:15 in this respect: “. . . spoken of by Daniel the prophet . . . .”). The same also holds true for the book of Revelation, for no other book in Scripture deals so extensively with details surrounding events during the Tribulation than does this book (chapters’ 6-19a).
The book of Daniel concerns itself with the kingdom of this world in four different stages, depicted by Nebuchadnezzar’s image seen standing in Babylon. Space is given to different periods in history when this kingdom (the kingdom of Babylon) was under the control of different nations: the Babylonians themselves, then the Medes and Persians, and then the Grecians (cf. Daniel 2:31-33, 36-39; 7:1-6; 8:1-8, 20-22). But most of the space given to the Babylonian kingdom in the book of Daniel pertains to that future time when this kingdom will come under the control of worldwide forces headed up by Antichrist during the Tribulation, followed by the utter destruction of the final form of the kingdom of Babylon, “the kingdom of the world” in Revelation 11:15 (ASV; cf. Daniel 2:34, 35, 40-45; 7:7-28; 8:9-14, 23-26; 9:26, 27; 11:21-45).
The book of Revelation though does not deal with the first three parts of Nebuchadnezzar’s image, only with the fourth part. Beginning with chapter six and continuing through chapter nineteen, the kingdom of Antichrist is depicted from its beginning to its end.
This portion of Scripture opens by showing Antichrist focusing his attention on the throne by going forth “conquering and to conquer” (6:1, 2). He is then seen, after three and one-half years, enthroned in all his power (13:1ff). And at the end of the full seven years, chapters fifteen and nineteen reveal the utter destruction of his kingdom. “The kingdom of the world” at that time will become “the kingdom of our Lord, and of his Christ” (ASV; cf. Daniel 2:34, 35, 44, 45; Revelation 11:15).
Thus, it is only natural when studying the Jewish section of the Olivet Discourse that continual reference be made to the books of Daniel and Revelation. These books deal with the same time period and provide a wealth of related, indispensable information.
The Male Child [KJV: Man-Child]
There are only three places in the New Testament where the word “labor (KJV: ‘travail’)” is used relative to Israel. The first two occurrences are in Matthew’s and Mark’s accounts of the Olivet Discourse (parallel references), and the third is in Revelation 12:2, 4 (odin appears in the Greek text in both Matthew’s and Mark’s accounts, and odino [a cognate word, having the same meaning] appears in Revelation 12:2). All three of these references are in accounts having to do with Israel during the coming Tribulation.
In Revelation chapter twelve though, unlike the Olivet Discourse accounts, specific reference is made to the birth of a child in connection with this travail. And the information in this complete account is such that when the Olivet Discourse passages are studied in conjunction with this portion of the book of Revelation, these related Scriptures begin to open up to one’s understanding.
1) Contextual Interpretation
There is a common but erroneous interpretation of the travail and childbirth in Revelation 12:1-5 which associates this passage with Israel bringing forth Christ almost two thousand years ago. This association is made largely on the basis of verse five:
She [Israel] bore a male child [KJV: man-child], who was to [‘is about to’] rule all nations with a rod of iron. And her child was caught up to God, and His throne.
This verse is looked upon as a reference to the birth, ascension, and coming reign of Christ, with little attention given to the contextual place that the verse occupies in the book of Revelation.
Contextually, this verse cannot be understood as a reference to Christ — past or future. The setting within the book of Revelation is at a time during the Tribulation; and the birth of a son and his removal to God’s throne will occur during that time, not during a time two thousand years prior to the events at hand.
Such is evident from several observations surrounding information given in the verses immediately preceding and following verse five. Looking at the context, Revelation 12:3 refers to Satan and his system of world government at a time near the middle of the Tribulation. All seven heads will have been crowned when events at this point in the book occur, and the seventh head will be none other than the Antichrist himself (cf. Revelation 13:1, 2; 17:8-11). This man will go forth at the beginning of the Tribulation, wearing a crown, “conquering and to conquer” (6:2); but his being crowned at this time and also at a later time during the Tribulation are two entirely different matters.
The words appearing in the Greek text for “crown” in Revelation 6:2 and in Revelation 12:3; 13:1 are not the same. Two different words are used; and through the use of these words, two types of crowns are in view, depicting marked differences. The first word is stephanos (6:2), referring to a “victor’s crown,” or a crown denoting certain types of “worth” or “valor”; and the second word is diadema (12:3; 13:1), referring to a crown denoting “regal authority” or “kingly power.” There is no such thing as an incumbent ruler wearing a stephanos; he must wear a diadema.
(For additional information on the use of stephanos and diadema in the Greek New Testament, refer to the author’s books, The Time of the End, Chapter 7, Judgment Seat of Christ, Chapter 12.)
In Revelation 6:2, the Antichrist is seen wearing a stephanos, undoubtedly pointing to his victory in conquest, anticipating regal power over the earth; but this crown cannot point to present regal power. In fact, it shows just the opposite. The stephanos worn by Antichrist in Revelation 6:2 shows that he, at that time, will not be in possession of regal power.
But Revelation 12:3; 13:1, 2 shows something quite different. In these verses, the Antichrist is seen in possession of a diadema, showing that he, at that later time, will have attained the regal power that he previously sought. And the setting of Revelation 12:3, with Israel in travail (vv. 2, 4), is following the time Antichrist ascends the throne as ruler over the entire earth. All seven heads of the beast will have come into possession of regal power at this point in the book (shown by the word diadema).
Then, Revelation 12:4 refers to that future time when Satan and his angels will be cast out of heaven onto the earth:
His [the great red dragon’s (Satan’s)] tail drew a third of the stars of heaven [his angels (cf. Job 38:7; Daniel 8:10)] and threw them to the earth . . . . (v. 4a)
This casting out will be accomplished by “Michael and his angels” (vv. 7-9) and will occur shortly before the middle of the Tribulation. According to the latter part of verse four, Satan at that time will stand before Israel (who will be in “labor” and “ready to give birth”) “to devour her child” as soon as it is born.
Verse five then refers to the birth of the male child and the child’s subsequent removal from the earth into heaven to escape Satan’s wrath. Satan at this point during the Tribulation will no longer have access to the heavens. Consequently, the child, once removed from the earth, will be out of his jurisdiction.
Satan will then turn in all his fury against Israel and seek, in one vain, climactic attempt, to utterly destroy this nation. This is the point in both Daniel’s prophecy and the Olivet Discourse accounts where the Antichrist breaks his covenant with Israel and the Jews in Judaea are told to flee for their lives. Israel (more specifically, a remnant of the nation) at that time will flee into a specially prepared place in the mountainous terrain of the land (Matthew 24:16; Mark 13:14; Luke 21:21; Revelation 12:6, 13, 14), to remain and be protected for “a thousand two hundred and sixty days,” “a time and times and half a time” — the last three and one-half years of the Tribulation.
With all this in view, note once again the contextual setting of Revelation 12:5. Verses three and four have to do with events that will occur during the Tribulation, shortly before the middle. All seven heads of the beast will have been crowned at this point with diadems, something that cannot occur before a time near the middle of the Tribulation. Satan and his angels will then be cast out of heaven; and Satan will stand before Israel, who will be in travail (“ready to give birth”), “to devour her child” as soon as it is born (v. 4).
The child will, with Satan in this position, be brought forth and, apparently, be immediately removed from the earth (v. 5). Satan, failing in his attempt to destroy the male child, will then turn against the nation which gave birth to the child; and Israel, to escape his wrath, will flee into a place which God will have prepared for the nation, an event that will occur in the middle of the Tribulation.
Thus, events in verses three and four will occur shortly before the middle of the Tribulation, and events in verse six will occur in the middle itself. By no rational method of Scriptural interpretation can part of the events in verse five be moved back two thousand years in history. The birth of this child must be looked upon as occurring during the coming Tribulation, near the middle, between events described in verses four and six.
2) STRUCTURE OF Revelation
The very nature of the way that the book of Revelation is structured would also demand an interpretation of this nature. The book, by and through its own revealed format, is divided into three parts.
John was commanded,
Write the things which you have seen, and the things which are, and the things which will take place after this [after these things]. (1:19)
The “things which you have seen” are given in chapter one. Chapters two and three have to do with “the things which are” (the present Christian dispensation), and chapters four through twenty-two have to do with “the things which will take place after this [‘after these things’ (after the things pertaining to the Christian dispensation)].”
And there can be no mistake concerning which point in the book this latter division occurs (or, for that matter, the former division also). The same two Greek words, meta tauta (translated “hereafter” in Revelation 1:19), are used in Revelation 4:1 (translated “After these things” and “after this” [KJV: “After this” and “hereafter”]). The words meta tauta should be translated “after these things” in all three instances, calling attention, in each instance, to the third part of the book.
Beyond Revelation 4:2, all events occur after the present dispensation, either immediately preceding, during, or following the Tribulation.
Chapters four and five depict events that will occur immediately preceding the Tribulation (following the removal of the Church), chapters six through the opening verses of chapter nineteen depict events that will occur during the Tribulation, and the latter part of nineteen through chapter twenty-two depict events that will occur following the Tribulation. The setting of Revelation chapter twelve is in the third part of the book (following the Christian dispensation), with events in the chapter occurring during the Tribulation. The context of Revelation 12:5 and the books own built in three-segment division will not allow this verse to refer to the birth of Christ. It can only refer to events during the Tribulation.
3) Identity of the Male Child
If Revelation 12:5 is not a reference to Christ, then who? What person will Israel yet bring forth who is destined to “rule all nations with a rod of iron”? When all Scriptures bearing on the subject are taken into account, there can really be only one answer; and the surprising thing, in the light of all the erroneous interpretation, is the fact that the male child is actually identified in Revelation chapter twelve itself.
Note that language in this chapter is highly figurative: a “woman,” a “fiery red dragon,” “wings of a great eagle,” “water as a flood [KJV],” “the earth opened its mouth.”
The “woman” is not a literal woman, but Israel; the “fiery red dragon” is not a literal dragon, but Satan; and, within this same framework, the “male child” should not be looked upon as a literal man (as Christ), but…
The “woman” represents a nation. Could not the “male child” represent a segment of that nation, a first fruit of the nation preceding the birth of the nation itself, referred to as “the rest of her offspring [KJV: ‘the remnant of her seed’]” in verse seventeen?
Actually, this is the only interpretation that will fit the context and remain in line with all Scriptures bearing on the subject. This is also the interpretation that will open up verses four through fourteen of Matthew’s account of the Olivet Discourse, as well as parallel portions of Mark’s and Luke’s accounts.
When Christ was upon earth the first time He called and commissioned twelve disciples who, with Him, carried the gospel of the kingdom to “the lost sheep of the house of Israel” over a period of three and one-half years. To these twelve (Judas later being replaced), Christ promised the chief positions over Israel in the coming kingdom. They would be granted the privilege of sitting on “twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel” (Matthew 19:28).
Immediately preceding Christ’s return, during the Tribulation, one hundred forty-four thousand Jews will be called and commissioned to carry the gospel of the kingdom to the Gentiles throughout the earth (cf. Matthew 24:14). These individuals will have a three and one-half-year ministry and evidently occupy comparable positions over the Gentiles in the coming kingdom to those that the twelve will occupy over Israel. These are the ones who, during the Tribulation, will “keep the commandments of God and have the testimony of Jesus Christ” in Revelation 12:17 (a verse identifying the “male child” from verse five).
And, as the twelve will occupy positions in the coming kingdom over those to whom they ministered, the one hundred forty-four thousand will occupy positions in the coming kingdom over those to whom they will minister. They (as Christ and overcoming Christians of the present dispensation) are “about to rule all nations with a rod of iron” (cf. Psalm 2:8, 9; Revelation 2:26, 27).
Recognizing that the “male child” of Revelation 12:5 is synonymous with “rest of her [Israel’s] offspring [KJV: ‘the remnant of her seed’]” in verse seventeen — the one hundred forty-four thousand who will proclaim the gospel of the kingdom to the Gentiles during the Tribulation — will explain why those who have “the testimony of Jesus Christ” are seen in heaven and called a “ first-fruit [singular in the Greek text, a corporate group] to God and to the Lamb” in Revelation 14:1-5. They will have previously been removed from the earth to escape Satan’s wrath, and they will comprise “a first fruit” of the nation, anticipating “the main harvest” (the conversion of the entire nation) at the time of Christ’s return.
(Note that “a first fruit” and “the main harvest” are both intimately and inseparably associated with Israel’s travail. The “beginning of sorrows [‘labor/travail’]” will first result in the birth of the male child [“a first fruit” out of the nation]. The labor will then continue throughout the last half of the Tribulation and reach its most intense stage immediately before the birth of the entire nation [“the main harvest”] at the conclusion of the Tribulation. Israel’s travail will then be over.)
There are certain parallels surrounding the birth and ministry of Christ and the birth and ministry of the male child that would appear to shed light on events in Revelation 12:5.
Christ, following His birth, was removed from the land of Israel and taken to Egypt to escape Herod’s wrath. Herod had no jurisdiction in Egypt. Then, at a later time, He was taken back to the land; and, the day came, when He began His public ministry, proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom to Israel for a period of about three and one-half years.
In similar fashion, following his birth, the male child will be removed from the earth and be taken into heaven to escape Satan’s wrath. Satan, at that time, will no longer have jurisdiction in the heavens. Then, at a later point in time, the male child will be sent back to the earth to proclaim the gospel of the kingdom to the Gentiles for a period of about three and one-half years.
The length of time Christ spent in Egypt is unrevealed; but it could only have been relatively short, for He grew up beyond this time in the land of Israel. In like manner, the length of time that the male child will spend in heaven is unrevealed; but it can only be relatively short, for the male child — the one hundred forty-four thousand — is to proclaim the gospel of the kingdom to the Gentiles throughout the earth during the last half of the Tribulation.
It is altogether possible and seemingly very probable that the one hundred forty-four thousand will be taught the message they are to proclaim by Christ Himself during the time they spend in heaven. Christ taught His twelve disciples the message that they proclaimed, and He also appeared personally to the Apostle Paul and taught him the message that he proclaimed (Matthew 5:1, 2; 10:5-42; Galatians 1:11, 12; Ephesians 3:2, 3). Those having “the testimony of Jesus Christ” during the Tribulation will be sent back to the earth with a commission and a message, both possibly received while in the very presence of Christ in heaven.
Comparing the Different Accounts
A further connecting link between the male child and those who will proclaim the gospel of the kingdom during the Tribulation can be derived by noting the presence or absence of certain parallel Scriptures in the Jewish sections of all three Olivet Discourse accounts (Matthew, Mark, and Luke), studying these sections after this fashion in the light of Revelation chapter twelve.
Israel’s labor [KJV: travail] is mentioned in Matthew 24:8 and Mark 13:8, but there is no mention of this labor in the parallel section of Luke’s account (21:8-19). In like manner, Matthew and Mark both call attention to the proclamation of the gospel of the kingdom throughout the earth during the Tribulation (Matthew 24:14; Mark 13:10), but Luke in his account is completely silent concerning this event.
The connection between Israel’s labor, the birth of the male child, and the proclamation of the gospel of the kingdom throughout the earth during the last half of the Tribulation is, of course, self-evident. The male child, brought forth following Israel’s labor/travail, is the one who proclaims this message; and the relationship between the three (labor, male child, proclamation of the gospel of the kingdom) is further shown in the three Olivet Discourse accounts. Matthew and Mark record both Israel’s labor and the worldwide proclamation of the gospel of the kingdom, but Luke does not record either of these events.
Why are both Israel’s labor and the worldwide proclamation of the gospel of the kingdom recorded in Matthew’s and Mark’s accounts but neither one is recorded in Luke’s account? The reason becomes self-evident once the connection between the two events is understood in its proper perspective. Israel, in labor, brings forth the one who proclaims the gospel of the kingdom. The nation’s labor and the proclamation of this message are, in this respect, so inseparably connected that one is not recorded in the Olivet Discourse accounts apart from the other. Matthew and Mark record both, for the inclusion of one necessitates the inclusion of the other; but Luke does not record either, for the omission of one necessitates the omission of the other.
Things in Scripture, such as the preceding, are by divine design. The Word of God is to be studied by comparing Scripture with Scripture (1 Corinthians 2:13; cf. John 5:39, 40). The best commentary on Scripture has always been, and will always remain, “Scripture itself.” The indwelling Holy Spirit is the One who guides the Christian “into all truth”; and that which the Spirit uses in this respect — “comparing spiritual things with spiritual” — is that which He moved some forty different individuals over a period of about 1,500 years to record, the God-Breathed Word (cf. Psalm 12:7; 138:2; 2 Timothy 3:16; 2 Peter 1:21).
Israel’s labor, with birth following, is associated with the most severe and intense time of trouble that this world has ever seen or ever will see. The beginning of labor is associated with wars, famines, pestilences, and a shaking of governmental powers during the first part of the Tribulation, preceding the birth of the male child (Matthew 24:7, 8; cf. Revelation 6:3-6); and this labor will reach its most intense state during the latter part of the Tribulation, the time of “Jacob’s trouble” (Jeremiah 30:6, 7) — with events surrounding wars, famines, pestilences, and a sifting and shaking of governmental powers being brought to an apex — immediately preceding the birth of the nation itself (Matthew 24:9-13; cf. v. 22; Revelation 6:12-17).
(Somewhat of a parallel to this can be seen in modern times. Israel, during the years of the Third Reich in Europe [1933-1945], passed through what is called the “Holocaust.” Then, about three years later, an Israeli nation was born in the Middle East .)
The present Israeli nation will one day pass through a period “such as has not been since the beginning of the world until this time, no, nor ever shall be” (Matthew 24:21). The intensity of Israel’s labor will be commensurate with the troublesome times; and the birth of the nation at the conclusion of this period will result in Israel subsequently finding herself in a completely antithetical position (as it were, an antithetical position commensurate with the labor). Israel will be restored, realize her calling, and be placed in a position wherein such a time of trouble can never exist again.