How can I understand the prophesies of the Olivet Discourse (Part 4)

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Today we are going to dig into the first section of the Olivet Discourse.  We have spent the last three articles laying the foundation so that we can properly understand its contents.  This first section deals with the next official time period on the nation of Israel's calendar.  As you might remember, the disciples asked Jesus about what was coming next, and that is what prompted this whole sermon by Jesus.

As Jesus was sitting on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to him privately. “Tell us,” they said, “when will this happen, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?” (Matthew 24:3 NIV)

Jesus does not mention anything about the church or the rapture of the church because at this point, it is still an unrevealed mystery.  The next official part of Israel's history is what is called the "tribulation."  In Matthew 24:4-31, Jesus gives us gives some of the details from this period.  The fact that there was a yet future period called a "tribulation" was still confusing to Jesus' disciples.  They still expected since the Messiah had come, that he would setup his earthly kingdom.  Jesus' teaching here begins to reorient them to what they should be expecting.  Yet, it is understandable that they still didn't grasp it.  It was a big mental shift.[1]

See that no one leads you astray...

Jesus begins the Olivet Discourse describing the yet future tribulation period by saying, "See that no one leads you astray" (Matthew 24:4).  He proceeds to list many things that will happen in the future that might look like he is coming soon along with the end of the age (remember their question in verse 3), but in fact these events are just the beginning of a series of events.  More events will come before they should expect Jesus to come.  Some of these beginning events are:

  • Many people will claim they are "the Christ" (vs. 5)
  • There will be wars and rumors of wars (vs. 6)
  • Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom (vs. 7)
  • There will be famines and earthquakes in various places (vs. 7)

Jesus gives several phrases of direction as he lays out these events:

  • See that no one leads you astray (vs. 4)
  • See that you are not alarmed, for this must take place (vs. 6)
  • All these are but the beginning of the birth pains (vs. 8)

These events are happening today, but they will happen more so during this tribulation period.  As Believer's Bible Commentary puts it,

There will be wars and rumors of wars. Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. It would be easy to think that we are seeing this fulfilled today, but what we see is mild compared to what will be. Actually the next event in God’s time schedule is the Rapture of the church (John 14:1–6; 1 Cor. 15:51–57). There is no prophecy to be fulfilled before then. After the church is removed, God’s prophetic clock will begin and these conditions will quickly manifest themselves. Famines, pestilences, and earthquakes will occur in various parts of the earth. Even today world leaders are alarmed by the specter of famine due to the population explosion. But this will be accentuated by the shortages caused by wars. [2]

Who does the "you" refer to?

Jesus in verse four says, "See that no one leads you astray." This is possibly confusing for some of us.  Even when others understand it, it is not a natural way of speaking for us and thus, we must give it some extra thought. Jesus references people this way more than once in the Gospels.  Although there are the people who heard him in person at that moment, the people Jesus is speaking to span beyond that moment and into the future.  You and I cannot speak that way, and therefore it is unnatural for us, because we cannot see the future for ourselves or speak into the future for others (sorry for all you soothsayers and crystal ball users). 

Plainly stated, the words that Jesus spoke here were recorded in the Scriptures for people to read and apply beyond the life span of the men who heard them then.  These men needed Jesus' words for direction, but so will everyone up until the second coming of Christ.  


[1] John MacArthur gives seven reasons why the Olivet Discourse "refers to the distant future and could not apply either to the events related to the destruction of Jerusalem in a.d. 70, as many interpreters have suggested, or to the church age, as others propose." John F. MacArthur Jr., Matthew, vol. 4, MacArthur New Testament Commentary (Chicago: Moody Press, 1985), 14–15. 

[2] William MacDonald, Believer’s Bible Commentary: Old and New Testaments, ed. Arthur Farstad (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1995), 1293.