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The Olivet Discourse (2)

J Gibson, Derby

The Temple

Herod’s temple was magnificent. It was built on a massive supporting platform. The Wailing Wall at Jerusalem is all that remains of this platform’s original retaining walls.1 Herod began to build the temple in about 20 BC. The temple itself, which was made of white marble stones that gleamed in the sunlight for miles around (Lk 21.5),2 took only one and one half years to complete. Many expensive gifts adorned the temple, enhancing its splendour (Lk 21.5). One of these was a golden vine with bunches of grapes as high as a man’s hand. The temple courts took a further eight years to build.3 Extra sections kept being added, so that by the time of our Lord the whole area, including the additions, had taken 46 years to finish (Jn 2.20). It was the disciples’ awe at this impressive sight that prompted the Olivet Discourse (see Table 1).

Christ answered their veneration of Herod’s temple (Mt 24.1) with a solemn prediction, quite consistent with Old Testament warnings (1 Kings 9.6-9), that "the days will come, in the which there shall not be left one stone upon another, that shall not be thrown down" (Lk 21.5,6). In AD 70 Roman legions under Titus destroyed the entire site. Fires burned so intensely that the stones crumbled. And once the Roman soldiers had extracted any valuable materials by sifting through the rubble, they shovelled all that remained into the surrounding valleys. Not one stone was left upon another. This devastating event, in which Christ’s words were literally fulfilled, established a rule of literal, rather than figurative, interpretation for the Olivet discourse. It also proved how quickly even the best things in this life can end. Herod had boasted that his temple would outlast the pyramids of Egypt.4 But within a few years, it was no more. Therefore, how important to "set [our] affection on [eternal] things above, not on [temporary] things on the earth" (Col 3.2).

Questions filled the disciples’ minds. Sitting on Mount Olivet and in full view of Herod’s temple the disciples asked the Lord Jesus two important questions. First, "when shall these things [the temple’s destruction] be?" (Mt 24.3). Second, "what is the sign of thy coming and the completion of the age?" (Mt 24.3, JND). The Olivet Discourse majors on answering this second question. God is presently holding back His wrath (2 Pet 3.9). But in the future, after the church (Christ’s bride) has been raptured and iniquity has fully expressed itself, God will judge this rebel planet in "the day of vengeance of our God" (Is 61.2). The technical term for this time is the Tribulation. This is not the final judgment of individual sinners but an outpouring of God’s wrath on wicked humanity, which immediately precedes Messiah’s triumphant return.

The Tribulation

The intensity of human suffering and fear during the Tribulation will be unprecedented. "At [God’s] wrath the earth shall tremble, and the nations shall not be able to abide his indignation" (Jer 10.10). No class will be spared. "And the kings of the earth, and the great men, and the rich men, and the chief captains, and the mighty men, and every bondman, and every free man, [will hide] themselves in the dens and in the rocks of the mountains; And [say] to the mountains and rocks, Fall on us, and hide us from the face of him that sitteth on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb: For the great day of his wrath is come; and who shall be able to stand?" (Rev 6.15-17). Israel, a nation guilty of repeatedly spurning God’s kindness and even rejecting His beloved Son, will be persecuted harshly. Having been cast down to the earth, and, sensing that his time is short, Satan will unleash his fury at God’s chosen race (Rev 12.12-17). For this reason one of the many Old Testament descriptions of the Tribulation (see Table 2) is "the time of Jacob’s trouble" (Jer 30.7). And yet, even in wrath God remembers mercy (Hab 3.2). The description of the entire Tribulation as only a day, in contrast to the much lengthier "acceptable year of the Lord" (Is 61.2), indicates divine mercy. Furthermore, for the elect’s sake God will limit this judgment period for "except those days should be shortened, there should no flesh be saved" (Mt 24.22).

Christ’s words gave a sweeping overview of the tribulation period, pointed out specific signs to look out for, and directed the disciples to a pivotal half way point which will indicate increasing intensity of human suffering generally and, more particularly, of persecution for the Jewish people. He gave practical instruction as to how genuine believers should live through these perilous days ahead: always to live in the light of Messiah’s imminent return. "When these things begin to come to pass, then look up, and lift up your heads; for your redemption draweth nigh" (Lk 21.28); "And take heed to yourselves, lest at any time your hearts be overcharged with surfeiting, and drunkenness, and cares of this life, and so that day come upon you unawares. For as a snare shall it come on all them that dwell on the face of the whole earth. Watch ye therefore, and pray always, that ye may be accounted worthy to escape all these things that shall come to pass, and to stand before the Son of man" (Lk 21.34-36).

To be continued.


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