It is evident the seclusion of the Mount of Olives was a favored location of Jesus. It is here He would often bring His twelve disciples to engage in private teaching and prayer, away from the crowds of people. Matthew provides the account of the next to last time they would meet together here.
And as He was sitting on the Mount of Olives, 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 end of the age?” (Matt. 24:3)
In our journey, the real study begins here. But why here in the Olivet Discourse? First and foremost because scripture tells us in Revelation 19:10 “For the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy.” Through reading the works of others I have discovered that many authors/teachers place a shamefully insignificant amount of importance to the Lord’s own words regarding the “end times”. Another reason is because I have taken the journey already and am now taking it again with you. I have discovered many important points in my previous journeys and I desire to assist you, to see if you also discover those points as being accurate truths of God’s Word. If I have erred, I want those errors to be manifest so I can make correct positive adjustments to align my theology with the truth of the Word. After reading dozens of books, hearing multiple sermons and radio broadcasts from preachers, having numerous personal conversations and spending hours and hours in private study, I can tell you that this work of mine is unique, in particular regarding starting with the Olivet Discourse. I realize that someone could raise the issue that I really didn’t start with the Discourse in that we spent a good portion of study in developing the context of the Discourse from other passages of scripture. But such is the nature of a proper study of the Lord’s teaching as recorded in Matthew 24. Still, I maintain this is the proper place to begin if one desires to have an accurate understanding of the second coming of the Christ. Let me state it as plain as I can while conveying the importance of this essential point. The Olivet Discourse establishes the outline, the framework or the skeleton if you please, regarding the Second Coming of Christ. All subsequent writers of scripture- the Apostle Paul, the Apostle Peter and the Apostle John, SUPPLEMENT, COMPLIMENT and AUGMENT the information Christ establishes in the Olivet Discourse. We will document this fact over and over as we continue the journey, seeing how these subsequent writers validate, substantiate and verify, expanding upon what they themselves learned from the Lord’s teaching as presented in the Olivet Discourse. Grasping this key point will affect huge amounts of other scripture passages. For example, I adamantly maintain that you cannot have an accurate understanding of the book of Revelation if you don’t have an accurate understanding of the Olivet Discourse- first!
After hearing the Lord’s harsh words regarding the destruction of the temple, the disciples come to Him privately having three burning questions as per Matthew 24:3. The first is, “when will these things be?” When will the temple buildings be torn down? They must have been very perplexed, wondering how Christ would rule His Kingdom if the buildings were destroyed. For whatever reason there isn’t much information given by way of an answer to this question. In appearance, Matthew doesn’t seem to touch on it much at all. In Luke 21 there seems to be a limited amount of information provided. However, history records a fairly detailed account of the “who, what, when, where and how” the Lord’s statement was fulfilled to the letter around 70 A.D. by the Roman army under the leadership of General Titus. There is a significant group of scholars referred to as “Preterists” who argue that basically, the whole Discourse deals with the historical period around 70 A.D. seeing little relevance to any future prophetic activity. The Preterists are opposed by a significant group of scholars known as “Futurists” who argue that the Discourse is largely prophetic with only a small portion of information referencing events leading up to and culminating in the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 A.D.
In our journey to discover the truth of God’s Word I want you to know it is my adamant belief that the position of the Futurists is the more accurate one. That being said, I ask you to recall the crucial principle that many prophecies have a “near” application, with a “far” fulfillment. While the Lord’s answer is revelatory and therefore not prophecy per-se, it is obviously prophetic in nature. I believe that the genius of the Lord is expressed in the Discourse in a way that encouraged early Christians of that era to apply His instruction to their historical climate and those that acted upon it were spared the harsh divine discipline meted out against the Jewish nation around 70 A.D. That many of those early Christians interpreted and acted upon the Discourse as applying to their current situation involving Jerusalem, the Romans and the Jews, is likely an issue promoted in support of the Preterist position. I advance a future prophetic significance to the Discourse regardless of the Holy Spirit’s influence upon those early Christians. I have no idea if any scholars would stand with me in agreement on this point but I believe it has much merit and I feel it is critical background information that must be faced for an accurate interpretation. Additionally, though what I wish to convey may seem somewhat contradictory to some and confusing to others, especially those who have little exposure regarding various viewpoints on the second coming of Christ, it is my opinion that verses 4 through 8 of Matthew 24 are applicable through the “gap” period of history; that period of unknown duration leading up to the start of Daniel’s 70th seven of years. If this interpretation is correct it should become clearer as the journey progresses. Let us continue; we’ve got a ways to go.
In Matthew’s account we find Christ’s concentrated answer to the second and third questions the disciples asked. They wanted to know, “what will be the sign of Your coming”, and, what about, “the end of the age?” Before one can understand the Lord’s answer to these questions, one must have an accurate understanding of precisely what the apostles questions meant; what it is they were really asking about. The only way to do this is to get a little technical in the approach. We must look at several words from the original language they were translated from. I am thoroughly convinced that much misunderstandings and diverse theological positions are due to not understanding critical points that we can discover only by referring to the original languages. The New Testament was written in Koine Greek. Koine (pronounced: koy-nay’) means “common” and was a modification of the older Greek language by Alexander the Great. There are some terrific aids available for a more technical studying of God’s Word. The tools I use are Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance, W.E. Vine’s, “An Expository Dictionary of Biblical Words” and “The Greek New Testament”, the standard used in several colleges and seminaries.
The first word to check is the word “sign”. Looking in Vine’s dictionary we find that signs are given in the scriptures to confirm, identify or highlight a person or event as authentic or genuine. Signs are predominantly DIRECTIONAL- pointing to, rather than chronological- telling when. In verse 3 the word “sign” is translated from the Greek word “SEMEION” (pronounced, say’-me-on), which means, “attesting miracle”. It occurs 119 times in the Bible and some verses read, “signs, miracles and wonders” in an effort to convey a more complete meaning of the one Greek word, “SEMEION”. Signs are supposed to be obvious, open and public. They are to be conspicuous, observed and witnessed. However, there is another creature who loves to imitate God with his own brand of signs. Satan uses counterfeit signs for the purpose of deception and during much of the 70th week of Daniel he will utilize a number of counterfeit signs for the purpose of deceiving billions of people. People need to be discerning of miracles they may encounter during any generation of human history to avoid being misled but even more so during Daniel’s 70th week of years as the miracles will be quite spectacular.
The Old Testament contains numerous prophecies regarding various aspects of the first advent of the Christ. Of all those prophecies, I can think of only one sign. Isaiah 7:11-14 speaks of the virgin birth as the attesting miracle, the sign that authenticated Jesus, son of Mary, as indeed the Messiah! By the way, as you look at the dozens of prophecies regarding the first Advent, would you conclude that those prophecies were fulfilled in a literal, spiritual or allegorical sense? A very strong case can be made for a literal fulfillment.
The point is often made that much of the writings of scripture dealing with the Second Coming are symbolic, the primary example being the book of Revelation. However, it is important to understand that the majority of the symbolism found there is explained within the book itself or with help from other Bible books. The Revelation of Jesus Christ to the Apostle John expounds upon and often symbolically illustrates information established in previous scripture writings of a non-symbolic context! And that’s precisely what is provided here in the Olivet Discourse in Matthew 24. The disciples were still confused at this point. It wasn’t until after the resurrection and Pentecost that many of the Lord’s statements fell into place for them. The progression of their faith was somewhat of a roller-coaster ride. From the gospel accounts we see that their faith was constantly wavering. They had a hard time being convinced Jesus was the Messiah the first time He came; they didn’t want to blow it when He returned the SECOND time. So their big question was, how can we know for sure when the Boss is back? “What will be the SEMEION that will let us know, unequivocally, that it’s YOU Lord?”
The next English word to understand from the perspective of Koine Greek is “coming”. From several choices of Greek words in various forms, translated as “come” or “coming”, only 3 are directly associated with the subject of the Second Coming of Christ. The first Greek word that every student of the word, every scholar, every pastor and every teacher, every reader of printed material and every hearer of messages relevant to the Second Coming of Christ ABSOLUTELY, POSITIVELY, MUST have an adequate and accurate knowledge, understanding of and familiarity with, is the word…PAROUSIA (pronounced: par-oo-see’-ah).
Did I adequately convey an opinion that this word is essential to discovering the truth of God’s Word? It is also the word that is often ignored, avoided or trivialized by proponents of theological persuasions differing from the one that will be discovered on this journey. It is the major key, the major link to accurately organizing the sequence of major events associated with the Second Coming of Christ, as several critical passages and principles of scripture pivot on this word. As you memorize this word also learn key features from information provided in Vine’s Expository Dictionary. PAROUSIA is a noun; its primary meaning is “presence”. It does NOT carry the concept of the process of movement but movement may be implied depending on the context. It DOES carry the connotation of advent or coming but usually in a broad or general sense. Advent would be a poor translation in that it fails to convey the true essence. There is a technical, an abstract/complex nuance to PAROUSIA demonstrated even in non-biblical sources as well as the scriptural usage of this word.
When the scriptures refer to the PAROUSIA of Christ, they invariably emphasize and highlight the EVENT of His coming. There are several facets or aspects involved with the Second Coming and some of these facets include activities and movement. But PAROUSIA is used in reference to the main event as the pivot point or the focal point or the reference point around which these associated activities are enacted. PAROUSIA is like the hub of a wheel (the main event) with other activities, aspects or facets branching off like spokes connected to the hub.
My favorite illustration is the old song, “She’ll Be Comin’ ‘Round the Mountain When She Comes.” There are several verses of that song referring to separate, distinguishable aspects associated with the one main event, that being, the “coming” (when she comes or, at her coming). No one goes out to greet her until the “coming” (when she comes or, at her coming). The old red rooster does not get killed until the “coming” (when she comes or, at her coming). There is no meal of chicken and dumplings until the “coming” (when she comes or, at her coming). You will begin to appreciate the critical role PAROUSIA plays in developing the truth of God’s Word as this journey and study progresses.
The next Greek word to touch on from Matthew 24 is the verb, ERCHOMAI (pronounced: er’-khom-ahee). It is used of people in association with movement from one place to another and emphasizes the act of either coming or going. For example, verses that speak of Christ coming in the clouds of heaven. He will be moving at that time, from one place and coming to another place.
Thirdly, the Greek word HEKO (pronounced: hay’-ko), means “to come, to be present”. This can be in reference to people or time/events, such as in Matthew 24:14. For a more scholarly explanation of these words refer to Vine’s Expository Dictionary.
I now want to give you a quick quiz: Which of the three Greek words will we discover was used by the disciples in asking Jesus about the sign of His “coming”? If you answered PAROUSIA, you passed the quiz! The apostles did not want to miss this momentous event! The return of the One they anticipated would establish a universal kingdom, restoring the nation of Israel to a position of power and prestige, had become very important to them.
Now let’s look at the third question which in truth is more like part B of the second question. I decided to treat it as a separate question because of its importance and technical nature. Discovering how this question accurately fits in the “end times” equation was a difficult reverent wrestling match for me. Most books, commentaries or messages seem to just skip over these questions without providing much information at all. I wanted to be confident I had the proper understanding of what the disciples were asking. Once again, looking at the Greek words shed invaluable light for discerning the truth.
There are several Greek words translated as “end” in English. The word used in the question is SUNTELEIA (pronounced: soon-tel’-i-ah). It is formed from the word TELOS and adding SUNE as a prefix. SUNE, when used as a prefix or suffix, changes the definition of a word from simple and concrete…to complex and abstract. This word signifies “a bringing to completion together”. Our English word “consummation” carries an idea of what is trying to be communicated and some Bibles have margin notes that supply that very definition. SUNTELEIA does not denote a termination, as the English seems to read in the passage. You would not use this word to describe coming to the end of your rope, for example! Rather, it denotes “the heading up of events to an appointed climax.” Allow me to offer a lengthy paraphrase of their question. The apostles were inquiring, asking Jesus to “Show us how to fit the puzzle pieces together. Tell us the story, explain to us what and how events are going to fall into place, and the sequence of these events, culminating in the final consummation of the age!”
Well now, what in the world is the “age”? The English word “age” is a translation of the Greek word AION (pronounced: ahee-ohn’) and according to Vine’s Expository Dictionary refers to an “era, epoch or a period of time” of indefinite duration, viewed in relation to events or characteristics of that period. But which epoch, what period of time are the disciples inquiring about? Matthew doesn’t record it as THIS (his present) age, it is THE age, a specific era that they are inquiring about. I believe their question must be understood in the context of Daniel’s 70 Sabbaths (weeks) of years. The “gathering to completion together” of the first 483 years (the period of time between the decree to rebuild Jerusalem and the crucifixion of Christ) and the final 7 years (which are separated by the “gap”), resulting in “the appointed climax” of the nation of Israel being restored to God and the anointing of the Most Holy One, as Jesus Christ, Messiah, begins His reign over all nations during the long awaited Millennial Kingdom. In the Greek, SUNTELEIA of the AION helps to bridge the “gap” between the first 483 years and the final 7 years of Daniel’s 70 sevens of years, highlighting the fulfillment of the requirements mentioned in Daniel 9:24, completing God’s divine discipline of Israel.
At the time of the disciple’s question, 483 years were complete. They were not aware of it but there was about to be an interruption in the flow of years. A “time gap” was about to be inserted between the 483 years and the final 7 years needed to complete the entire 490 year AION, or age. I believe the apostles are asking about “bringing together” the first 69 weeks of years with the final week of years, thus completing “the age”. There are numerous events, activities and characteristics associated with the last 7 years of the prophecy as well as the “gap” that must occur first, all having a proper sequence.
The disciples are really perplexed at this point. Their expectations are unraveling before their eyes! They are trying to put the pieces of the puzzle together as they inquire, “Lord, if you are going away and the temple buildings are going to be thrown down, how can we know if and when you come again? Aren’t you going to restore Israel and sit on David’s throne and rule the nations of the earth with a rod of iron? We need you to give us the scoop!” So, for the rest of Matthew 24 and all of chapter 25, the Lord is going to address the questions of the SEMEION of His PAROUSIA and the SUNTELEIA of the AION.
As I underwent my journey to discover the truth of God’s word I realized not only is it essential to understand the questions themselves but also understand that these two questions are intimately linked together by design. This is significant because Daniel’s 70th seven of years has an agenda and a schedule. The PAROUSIA is a major event on the agenda and schedule, which is intentionally linked to this historical period, to preclude associating it with any other future historical period. The PAROUSIA occurs within the context of the SUNTELEIA of the AION and we will discover scripture consistently affirms that in passage after passage. The PAROUSIA plays a major role in “bringing to completion together” and in “the heading up of events to the appointed climax” of the consummation of the AION. The debate is over where within the context of this period that role emerges.
At this point if you don’t feel you have a decent handle on the overall background and context, as well as what the disciples’ questions really mean, then please go back to any pertinent sections and read them again. When you are ready, please take your Bible and read Matthew 24:4-14, which is the rest of the paragraph started in verse 3. When you are done reading the paragraph we will analyze the Lord’s answer, verse by verse, in the next chapter of our journey.