The Olivet Discourse
“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 close of the age?’” (v. 3).- Matthew 24:3–8
On several occasions thus far in our study of Matthew, we have noted that the evangelist structures his gospel around five major teaching discourses of Jesus. There is widespread agreement as to the location of the first four discourses: chapters 5–7 (the first); 10 (the second); 13 (the third); and 18 (the fourth). Scholars debate the contours of the fifth and final discourse; some want to include the woes of Matthew 23 while others believe that the fifth discourse is found only in chapters 24–25. Either way, this fifth collection of teaching is commonly known as the Olivet Discourse because, even if Matthew 23 is included, the bulk of the discourse is delivered on the Mount of Olives.
No teaching of Christ has generated as much controversy as the portion of the Olivet Discourse recorded in Matthew 24:1–35. Many people believe that this section, at least in part, is about the final return of Jesus to usher in the new heavens and the new earth (see Rev. 20–21). Critics seize upon this belief to discredit our Savior’s words. If the Olivet Discourse is about His final return, they say, Jesus is a false prophet since the generation in which He lived died off and the world continues on (Matt. 24:34). Several people, in order to answer this objection, have said that “generation” refers not to Christ’s hearers but to a later group who will witness many of the signs in Matthew 24:1–35. According to this interpretation, Jesus is referring to events that will come in the far distant future. This view is unsatisfying, as we will see in the days ahead.
Dr. R.C. Sproul and other scholars propose a third way of interpreting Matthew 24:1–35, which argues that “the substance of the Olivet Discourse was fulfilled in AD 70” (The Last Days According to Jesus, p. 158). Our studies to come will advocate this approach. The main advantage of this view is that it takes seriously the time-frame references found in the Olivet Discourse. It also focuses on the context of the discourse — our Lord’s prediction of the fall of the temple (Matt. 24:2) — providing a coherent answer to the question as to when these things will take place (v. 3), that is, when Jerusalem and its temple will be destroyed.
This approach to the Olivet Discourse does not deny Christ’s future coming in glory “to judge the living and the dead,” as the creeds say. Those who advocate this view just argue that most of Matthew 24 is not directly applicable to this event. But many other passages affirm the second coming of Christ to usher in the new heavens and earth, and Christians must affirm that there is a day of judgment for the world (I Thess. 1:9–10). Are you longing for His return?
Passages for Further Study