Sep 27, 2015
Mark 13:1-4

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Olivet Discourse: Part 1

Context for the Sermon: Mark 13:1-2, “Then as Jesus went out of the temple, one of His disciples said to Him, “Teacher, see what manner of stones and what buildings are here!” And Jesus answered and said to him, “Do you see these great buildings? Not one stone shall be left upon another, that shall not be thrown down.”

Scene of Activity:

It is still the Tuesday during Jesus’ week of passion.

After a full day in the Temple, Jesus and the disciples begin the journey back to Bethany.

Somewhere between the Temple - Kidron Valley to the east - and the western slope of the Mount of Olives, the disciples begin pointing out to Jesus the majesty of the Temple construction. “Teacher, see what manner of stones and what buildings are here!”

At this point in history, the Temple had undergone three construction phases.

1. First Temple (also known as Solomon’s Temple) was built in the 10th Century BC.

Designed by King David and modeled after the Tabernacle. 

The structure was viewed as one of the wonders of the ancient world. 

It was destroyed in 586 BC when the Babylonians sacked Jerusalem.

2. Second Temple (also known as Zerubbabel’s Temple) was built in 518 BC.

Following the fall of Babylon, Zerubbabel received permission from the Persian King to return to Jerusalem and rebuild the Temple. 

As stated in Ezra, the reconstructed Temple was a shell of it’s former self.

3. Herod’s Temple: As an Edomite, Herod the Great desperately wanted the good will and acceptance of the Jewish people under his rule. To gain their trust he embarked on an extensive remodel of Zerubbabel’s Temple. 

The project began in 19 BC and took 80 years to complete. 

By the time the project was finished the Temple was viewed as being one of the greatest physical structures in the Roman Empire.

Herod’s Temple maintained the same dimensions as the original: 60 cubits long, 20 cubits wide, 40 cubits high; but the complex surrounding the Temple eclipsed anything that had come before it! 

The outer courts were 500 yards in length and 400 yards in width. 

The average hight was 165ft with the pinnacle rising up 23 stories.

The construction of the Temple was an engineering marvel in and of itself. 

The Temple complex was constructed using huge, quarried limestones that fit together so perfectly there was no need for mortar. 

Some recently discovered ashlars of the Herodian Temple weigh 160,000 pounds and stand at an incredible height of 100ft about the foundation. These quarried blocks of limestone are so big (50ft wide, 25ft high, and 15ft deep) that modern construction cranes could not lift them.

On top of the limestone was laid brilliant, white marble imported from Europe. In many instances the marble itself was covered with golden plates. It was so blinding its reflection could be seen from 15-20 miles away. 

Because the Temple had been the center of Jewish life for almost a 1000 years, coupled with the fact Herod’s remodel had returned the structure to its former glory, this building had become the biggest single source of national pride. To speak against the temple was considered blasphemy (Acts 6:13).

In response to their gloating, Jesus rains on their parade by predicting the coming destruction of Herod’s Temple. “And Jesus answered and said to him, “Do you see these great buildings? Not one stone shall be left upon another, that shall not be thrown down.”

Note: Jesus was speaking both prophetically and literally. 

1st century Jewish Historian Josephus wrote extensively about the fall of Jerusalem and the destruction of the temple as an eyewitness to the events themselves.

Josephus was a Galilean Jew who had been the head of Jewish forces during the first Jewish-Roman War against Roman General Vespasian. 

Following a crushing defeat, he would ultimately surrender his command in 67 AD and become a hostage of and interpreter for Rome (he became a traitor).

When Vespasian became Emperor in 69 AD, Josephus was appointed the advisor of the Vespasian’s son Titus who was about to embark on a siege of Jerusalem.  

In 70 AD, Titus began his siege and in the months that followed Josephus says upwards of 1.1M Jews died from the attack and subsequent famine.  

According to his account, upon realizing the fall of the city was inevitable, many of the survivors retreated into the most fortified structure in the city - the Temple. 

Though Titus wanted the Temple preserved, in a ill-advised attempt to flush out the people hunkering down in the Temple, one drunken soldier accidentally started a fire that soon engulfed the entire building. 

Because the limestone was lined with cedar, the fire burned so hot the gold detail work in the roof melted down between the cracks of the temple walls. 

In order to retrieve the gold as the spoils of war, the Roman commander ordered the Temple be dismantled stone by stone just as Jesus predicted.

Mark 13:3-4, “Now as He sat on the Mount of Olives opposite the temple, Peter, James, John, and Andrew asked Him privately, “Tell us, when will these things be? And what will be the sign when all these things will be fulfilled?”

Disciples reaction to Jesus’ prophecy: 

The disciples are obviously concerned because they were convinced Jesus’ prophecy concerning the Temple was going to come true: “When will” and “What will!” 

Their reaction produces 2 pressing questions (one from Mark and Matthew):

Mark records, “When will these things be and what will be the sign when all these things will be fulfilled?” Their question literally asked: What “sign” (distinguishing, singular event) will indicate when these things will begin “be” and end “finish”

Matthew 24:3 records what Mark excludes, “What will be the sign of Your coming and of the end of the age?” Their question literally asked: What “sign” (distinguishing, singular event) can we look for that will indicate when you are coming back and when the world is going to come to an end?

Jesus responds with a sermon known as the “Olivet Discourse.” 

In addition to Mark 13, this sermon is also recorded in Matthew 24-25 and Luke 21.

The “Olivet Discourse” is one of the most complicated and debated sections of Scripture. 

With this in mind there are Two basic ways of interpreting the Olivet Discourse based upon two different eschatological viewpoints: 

Eschatology: The branch of theology concerned with the final events of mankind.

Note: There are hundreds of variations within each of these two viewpoints.

1. Preterism: The eschatological position that interprets most Biblical prophecy as already being fulfilled (there are hyper-preterists and partial-preterists)

Though Preterists will divide over whether the “Millennial Reign of Christ” is a literal  kingdom established by Jesus or simply a spiritual kingdom, all Preterists believe in a literal “2nd Coming of Jesus Christ” and reject the “Rapture of the church.”

Therefore, Preterists teach that Daniel’s prophecies were fulfilled in the 2nd century BC and that the events described in the Book of Revelation and the Olivet Discourse were fulfilled in the Roman destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD.

Eusebius of Caesarea first introduced Preterism in the 3rd century AD because it provided a remedy for future prophecy that exclude the Nation of Israel and a future Temple. (It quickly became the dominate view of the church.)

Because Preterists hold to what’s called “Replacement (Covenant) Theology” they believe God’s covenants and promises for the Nation of Israel have since been transferred to the Christian church.

This provided a doctrinal explanation for the destruction of Israel.

Though Preterism is still the eschatological view of many reformed theologians that holdfast to “Replacement Theology,” its popularity wained with many Protestants when in May 1948 the Nation of Israel was reborn after 2000 years. 

This supernatural event of history forced many theologians to reconsider a literal reading and future fulfillment of the prophecies concerning Israel.

Relevant Question Preterists pose concerning the Olivet Discourse: If Jesus prophetically responds to the disciples question about the future destruction of the Temple, then isn’t it only logical to assume the prophecy contained in His sermon found its literal fulfillment in 70 AD? 

Though this is a fair, intellectually reasonable question, I do believe there are two fundamental problems with their assertion: As you’ll see when we begin to examine this text, it is impossible to draw a hard connection between the prophetic events Jesus describes in the Olivet Discourse and the known historical events that occurred in 70 AD.

If Jesus’ prophecy concerning the destruction of the temple happened exactly the way He said it would (not one stone left upon another), shouldn’t we assume the rest of His prophecy would be fulfilled in the same literal way? 

As only one of many examples - it is impossible to fit Jesus’ description of the “Abomination of Desolation” and the great tribulation that follows into the eyewitness account of the historical narrative provided by Josephus?

Preterists also make the false assumption that Jesus’ answer intended to address both of the disciple’s questions. The two questions asked by the disciples indicated they made an immediate connection between three events: (1). the Destruction of the Temple, (2). Jesus’ Second Coming, and (3). the End of the Age. 

Though their question was spawned by a desire to know more about the destruction of the temple, Jesus’ answer focused on their greater concern: The “sign of His coming” in relation to the “end of the age.”

2. Pre-Tribulational / Premillennialism: The eschatological position that holds to a  literal, historical, futurist fulfillment of Biblical prophecy. 

This camp believes in a future fulfillment of 3 significant events:

(1) The Rapture of the Church: (Rev 4:1-2, I Cor 15:51-53, 1 Thess 4:16-17). They believe the “Church Age” is God’s reprieve from His handling of Israel, and once the “time of the Gentiles” is completed and the church is removed from earth, God will focus His attention back to Israel. 

(2) Seven Year Period of Worldwide Tribulation in which Jesus will judge the world of sin while finishing up His dealings with Israel: Daniel 9. 

(3) Jesus will return to earth in His 2nd Coming to establish a literal kingdom where He’ll reign for a period of 1000 years: Revelation 20. 

Premillennialists view the prophecies of Daniel, the Book of Revelation, and the Olivet Discourse as a futuristic description of a literal period of great tribulation culminating in Jesus’ 2nd Coming and His Millennial reign.

Though many claim this eschatological position is a new idea finding its resurgence in the dispensationalism of the late 1800’s, several recent discoveries build the case the early church fathers held to a Pre-Tribulational / Premillennial position.

Clement (writing around 96 AD) said, "Of a truth, soon and suddenly shall His will be accomplished, as the Scripture also bears witness, saying, 'speedily will He come, and will not tarry.'"

The Didache (written between 70-180 AD) says, "Be vigilant over your life; let your lamps not be extinguished, or your loins ungirded, but be prepared, for you know not the hour in which our Lord will come."

Tertullian (writing between 155-245 AD) said, "But what a spectacle is that fast-approaching advent of our Lord!"

The Relevant Question this position must address: 

If the Olivet Discourse finds its fulfillment in a future end times scenario, shouldn’t we believe the church will go through all or at least half of the Great Tribulation? 

The Logic is as follows:

Since this sermon explains end times events.... 

And since Jesus exhorts the disciples to endure using personal pronouns.... 

Can’t we conclude His exhortation was for the church as well as Israel?

Though intellectually reasonable, I disagree with this assertion for 3 reasons:

The context for the disciples question represented a concern for the future of Israel and their Temple, not the church (a concept still foreign)

Their assertion doesn’t take into account other Biblical passages that indicate the Rapture will come before the Tribulational Period. Hermeneutically, you must consider all that the Bible says about the Rapture when attempting to place the event into the prophetic timeline:

Precedent of Judgment: The Bible clearly establishes the precedent that before God punishes the wicked He removes the righteous. Examples: Noah and the Ark, Lot and Sodom.

1 Thessalonians 5:9, “For God did not appoint us to wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ.”

I Thessalonians 1:10, “And to wait for His Son from heaven, whom He raised from the dead - who delivers us from the wrath to come.”

What’s Restricting the Revealing of the Antichrist: The Bible is clear the only thing keep back the forces of evil is the presence of the Holy Spirit at work in the world through the church.

2 Thessalonians 2:5-8, “Now you know what is restraining, that he may be revealed in his own time. For the mystery of lawlessness is already at work; only He who now restrains will do so until He is taken out of the way. And then the lawless one will be revealed, whom the Lord will consume with the breath of His mouth and destroy with the brightness of His coming.”

Theology of Comfort: Everywhere the doctrinal concept of the Rapture appears it is always being presented as an encouragement to the church. 

Revelation 3:10, “Because you have kept My command to persevere, I also will keep you from the hour of trial which shall come upon the whole world, to test those who dwell on the earth.”

1 Thessalonians 4:16-18, “For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And thus we shall always be with the Lord. Therefore comfort one another with these words.”

If the church had to endure any of the coming tribulation, how would this doctrine provide any comfort or encouragement?

Imminency: The Bible presents the idea that the return of Jesus for the church will happen at any moment and is not predicated upon any event. 

Time and time again the imminency of Christ’s return is presented as encouragement for each generation of believers to be faithful and ready.

As we’ll see in our examination of this tribulational period, Daniel 9 provides a precise 7 year timeline with signifying events marking the beginning, halfway point, and end of the tribulation.

If the Rapture of the church occurs at the end or middle of the tribulational period, it would remove any notion of imminency. 

Environment: The Bible presents the conditions on earth leading up to the Rapture in such a way it could not happen during the tribulation.

Environment when Jesus returns for the church: There will peace on the earth and life will be good and normal. The opposite environment of a tribulational world in judgment, chaos, and calamity. 

The Olivet Discourse tracks almost succinctly with the chronology laid out in the Book of Revelation beginning with chapter 6.

In Revelation 1:19, Jesus gives John an outline for what he was to write: 

“Write the things you have seen.” 

Revelation 1: John describing the Person of Jesus.

“Write the things which are.” 

Revelation 2-3: John records seven letters Jesus wrote to the church. 

“Write the things that will take place after this.” 

Revelation 4-22: John records future events that would come “after this” - After what? After the age of the church. Revelation 4-5 describes the church in heaven before transitioning in chapter 6 to the events occurring on earth. At this point the church is no longer mentioned in world affairs and the attention is solely placed on God’s dealings with Israel.

In conclusion: Why should we care about End Times events?

1. The Bible speaks about these things more than any other doctrine.

2. Knowing how things end should clarify what things should be important now.

Living a life of righteousness.

Being a servant that will be found faithful by the coming King.

Having more passion for reaching a lost world. 


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