Jesus and the Future: An Introduction to the Olivet Discourse

Part 1: An Introduction to the Olivet Discourse

Jesus and the Future: Understanding What He Taught About the End Times was written as a guide to walk you through Jesus’ teaching about the future in all four Gospels. The Gospels tell us that Jesus predicted the future. To some extent this was expected since he was viewed by the common people of his day as a prophet in line with the prophets of the Old Testament. Some considered him to be the future prophet promised by Moses (Deut 18:15, 17–19).

History is littered with the false predictions of self-proclaimed prophets. But what about Jesus? Did he ever utter a prophecy that could be verified in history to either validate or falsify his claims? The Olivet Discourse contains such a prophecy which serves as the focal point of this series of blogs. It’s a prophecy “so bold and specific that his reputation would forever hinge on its fulfillment” (p. 21). In addition, it’s essential to gain a proper understanding of this prophecy as it’s the key to interpreting his other teachings about the future.

The Historical Context

The Olivet Discourse is found in Matthew 24–25, Mark 13, and Luke 21. Jesus gave this well-known set of instructions on the Tuesday afternoon of Passion Week, the week of his crucifixion: “It is the longest discourse recorded in the Synoptic Gospels during Jesus’ final week. Its length and central location make it the centerpiece of Jesus’ instruction during this timeframe” (p. 25). It was also the week before Passover when Jerusalem was flooded with pilgrims from around the world to celebrate the annual Jewish festival. Each year, the Jews commemorated God’s deliverance from slavery in Egypt through Moses. Similarly, the Jews longed for God to raise up another leader to rescue them from Roman rule and oppression. The Romans also recognized the volatility of the times and typically brought in extra troops to quell any signs of a riot or rebellion.

In this politically explosive time, Jesus entered Jerusalem, fully aware of the dangers and implications associated with his mission. On the Sunday before Passover, he rode into Jerusalem amidst a joyful crowd to introduce himself as Israel’s long-awaited Messiah. Filled with messianic fervor, the crowds hailed him as their king (Matt 21:9; Mark 11:9–10; Luke 19:37–38; John 12:13). Having been hesitant to identify himself openly as the Messiah earlier in his ministry, Jesus now accepts the title knowing he would be viewed as a political threat by the Jewish and Roman leaders.

On Monday, Jesus clears the temple of money changers and animal sellers, confirming the Jewish leaders’ suspicions.

On Tuesday, he is confronted by the same Jewish leaders and responds to their challenges to his authority.

Nothing much is recorded on Wednesday.

Thursday is spent in preparation for the Passover. Jesus spends that evening celebrating the Passover with his disciples.

By Friday, Jesus was crucified for his messianic claims and hastily buried in a tomb.

This very concise survey of Jesus’ final week “provides the context for understanding Jesus’ words in the Olivet Discourse” (p. 24). Notably, it’s the longest discourse recorded in the Synoptic Gospels during Jesus’ final week. “Its length and central location make it the centerpiece of Jesus’ instructions during this timeframe” (p. 25).

Interpretive Views

One of Jesus’ primary predictions in the discourse is that the temple in Jerusalem will be destroyed within the lifetime of that generation (Matt 24:2; 34 and parallels). This prediction was fulfilled in AD 70. So far so good! But shortly before Jesus gives the timeframe of the destruction of the temple, Jesus refers to events that appear to refer to “cosmic upheaval and his return” (p. 26). Scholars have produced various resolutions to this difficulty.

First, some claim that Jesus was wrong (hardly a satisfactory solution!).

Second, others reinterpret Jesus’ teaching on “this generation” and say that the entire discourse is about future events that have not yet happened.

Third, others reinterpret Jesus’ sayings in a different direction, saying that everything Jesus says in the discourse was fulfilled in the year 70.

Finally, still others claim that Jesus is speaking about two different historical events: the destruction of the temple and his future return.

In order to provide a clear answer to this inquiry, this series of blogs will first walk through the Olivet Discourse step by step and then explore four key topics that Jesus covers in his teaching about the future: (1) future persecution; (2) the escalating conflict that would lead to the destruction of Jerusalem; (3) the need for patient endurance before the coming of the Son of Man; and (4) the events surrounding the end, namely resurrection, judgment, reward, and punishment (p. 28).


Note: This blog is based upon excerpts from Jesus and the Future: Understanding What He Taught about the End Times by Andreas J. Köstenberger, Alexander E. Stewart, and Apollo Makara. It was written by Mark Baker and Jimmy Roh, both Ph.D. students at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, and edited by Andreas Köstenberger, senior research professor of New Testament and Biblical Theology at Southeastern.


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