So much has been made of the “End Times” – some love talking about it and see “signs” everywhere; some don’t like to talk about it and are afraid.
The disciples come to Jesus and ask 2 questions – when will the destruction of the Temple happen, and what will be the sign of your return? Jesus answers both of these questions – and more. He gives the basic framework that all of the New Testament teaching on the End Times has to be based on. I have also found that if we use this framework, the rest of the New Testament teaching is much easier to understand (and it is always good to start with Jesus!).
In this speech, known as the Olivet Discourse, Jesus gives a number of warnings. His first one: Don’t be misled – remember what Jesus is teaching, and let it guide you.
When will the destruction happen? There will be wars and persecution, and a time of intense suffering. This is not the destruction, but just the birth pains. There will be false prophets – so don’t believe them. And then when the foreign enemies come into the Temple with idolatry – as Daniel had predicted (and as had happened under the Greeks years before) – that is the time when the Temple will be destroyed. This happened when the Romans invaded Jerusalem in AD70, and Jesus’ words were fulfilled.
All of this reminds us that the first point Jesus is trying to make is a message to His own generation – just like the prophets of old. Jesus is speaking to His followers about the judgment that will come upon Jerusalem – for the leaders mismanagement of the nation (chapter 23), and for their rejection of the Messiah and Son of God.
This is ALSO as message about our future – as is clear from the book of Revelation. That book was written after Jerusalem was destroyed, and yet it still takes the words of Christ as words about the future. Not all of what Jesus says here is fulfilled fully – and that points to the future. In our verses, this points especially to the time of intense suffering, known as the Tribulation. Jesus gives no indication that Christians will be spared from this time of suffering (He in fact says the “elect” will be in it) – so we need to be prepared to suffer for Him.
Don’t be misled, be prepared – two strong and important messages for us as we start Jesus’ teaching on the Mount of Olives.