How can I understand the prophesies of the Olivet Discourse (Part 2)

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Last time I referenced that the church was not in view when Jesus gave his Olivet Discourse.  I shared this in a compact paragraph, and I would like to unpack that a little.  This is because the biggest struggle to understanding the Olivet Discourse is, we as people of the church, read Jesus' words and they sound very similar to some things that will happen to the church.  

First, Jesus' disciples and really many of the Jews were expecting the Messiah to set up his earthly kingdom immediately.  The Gospel of Luke says,

As they heard these things, he proceeded to tell a parable, because he was near to Jerusalem, and because they supposed that the kingdom of God was to appear immediately. (19:11)

Jesus tells them a parable to instruct them that he was not in fact setting up his earthly kingdom at that point.  The teaching of the parable shows that there will be a period of time when Jesus is gone.  At the end of that period, he will come again.  The Believer's Bible Commentary says:

As the Savior neared Jerusalem from Jericho, many of His followers thought the kingdom of God would appear immediately. In the parable of the ten minas, He disabused them of such hopes. He showed that there would be an interval between His First and Second Advents during which His disciples were to be busy for Him.

This is another example of when Jesus is teaching to Jewish people what to expect for their future.  There is a great principal here for Jews as well as for people of the church age, but it is important to note this was a question of when Jesus was going to restore Israel.  

Right before Jesus ascends into heaven, this question was still on the minds of his disciples.  Luke records this in Acts 1:1-9:

In the first book, O Theophilus, I have dealt with all that Jesus began to do and teach, until the day when he was taken up, after he had given commands through the Holy Spirit to the apostles whom he had chosen. He presented himself alive to them after his suffering by many proofs, appearing to them during forty days and speaking about the kingdom of God.
And while staying with them he ordered them not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait for the promise of the Father, which, he said, “you heard from me; for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.”
So when they had come together, they asked him, “Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” He said to them, “It is not for you to know times or seasons that the Father has fixed by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” And when he had said these things, as they were looking on, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight.

The disciples wanted to know when Jesus would "restore the kingdom to Israel."  There are specific Old Testament promises about Israel the kingdom which we will not detail today.  However, these Jewish people expected the Messiah would come and setup his kingdom.  This is what was on their minds, and this is what Jesus was addressing when he spoke to them.  It would be inaccurate to read the "church" back into Jesus' statements. 

To help us a little more, let's look at what Paul by the Holy Spirit in his letter to the Ephesians says about the church.

When you read this, you can perceive my insight into the mystery of Christ, which was not made known to the sons of men in other generations as it has now been revealed to his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit. This mystery is that the Gentiles are fellow heirs, members of the same body, and partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel. (Ephesians 3:4-6)

This was a mystery because although there were some hints from the Old Testament prophets, the church and what it was revealed to be in the New Testament was completely unexpected.  Paul, when writing by the Holy Spirit to the people at Colosse says it this way to them:

Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in Christ's afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church, of which I became a minister according to the stewardship from God that was given to me for you, to make the word of God fully known, the mystery hidden for ages and generations but now revealed to his saints. To them God chose to make known how great among the Gentiles are the riches of the glory of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory. (Colossians 1:24-27) 

The Apostles were surprised as the Holy Spirit extended the blessings that belonged to the new Jewish church to the Gentiles. (Acts 10-11).  Indeed, much of the raucous that happened in the early church surrounded the inclusion of the gentiles along with whether the Jewish laws should still be followed by the gentiles.  Jesus left all this for his apostles with the help of the Holy Spirit to lead the new church through.  

Since the church itself was a mystery, it makes sense that all that involves the church (leadership, church teachings, integration with God's kingdom, etc.) would be a part of that mystery.  In fact, Paul in his first letter to the Corinthians tells us a mystery within the mystery of the church.  The church itself had been a mystery until the Day of Pentecost (Acts 2), and now Paul is explaining a future event for the church that was a mystery until Paul by the Holy Spirit shared it (He also shared details of this mystery to other early churches (cf 1 Thessalonians 4:16-17).

Behold! I tell you a mystery. We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet.  (1 Corinthians 15:51-52a) 

So in summary, just as the church itself was an unrevealed mystery and distinct from Israel, so there can be a future event that just belongs to the church and is distinct from Israel's future events.  The Old Testament prophesies of a future restoration of Israel say nothing about the church.  

It is natural then that the Apostle John as he records in the Book of Revelation what he saw and heard (Revelation 1:1-3) that, as he shares the future events, he doesn't share anything about the church (Revelation 4-22).  John in his vision is lead to focus on the future restoration of Israel and what leads up to that point.  The end times focus is not on the church.  The church is, however, included in the eternal kingdom (Revelation 21:14). Therefore, as we make our way through the Olivet Discourse, if we keep in mind these truths about the church and Israel even when Jesus' descriptions of the restoration of Israel are tantalizingly similar to what will happen for the church (and there are some similarities), we will be able to understand the meaning of Jesus' words as he intended them to be understood.  

One final note: Truly there are some similarities and overlap between the church and Israel, and we do not want to overlook that.  However, it is a mistake when seeking to understand Jesus' words to treat them as the same.