Understanding The Bible
Douglas B. MacCorkle "Prophetic Peaks, Exposition of the Olivet Discourse"
CHAPTER THREE - Keys to The Olivet Discourse

Chapter Three
Keys to The Olivet Discourse

In the minds of the watching and listening disciples, the remarks of the Messiah (Matt. 23:37-24:2) had prophetic significance.

As Messiah sat upon the Mount of Olives a news story was in the making. It would cover a period from national sunset to national sunrise. This city mountain looms large in prophecy. Not many weeks later Messiah would ascend from Olivet (Acts 1:1112). He would descend to Olivet at His second advent (Zech. 14:4).

Olivet was a small range with four summits. At its highest peak it looked over Jerusalem from 2733 feet. It looked down from the east side upon the only capital of Israel recognized in prophecy. The fifteen centuries in which God conditioned the nation were more or less centered on Jerusalem.

Messiah had come down over this mountain to enter Jerusalem for Passion Week. The national leadership was preparing to cut Him off from His genealogically-channeled covenant rights to the Davidic throne, just as the Scripture predicted (Dan. .9:26), they would get more than they were bargaining for. There would be a termination of national history until the period connected with His second advent. The cause of this untimely termination of the national history is, according to Messiah (Matt. 23:39), due to the issue over the nature of His person.

The foolish builders of Israel insisted in building on sand — avoiding the rock of His deity (Matt. 7:24-27). These same leaders refused to enter the offered kingdom (Matt. 23:13) and they blocked those who desired to enter. The builders were rejecting the stone (Matt. 21:42). Messiah was about to scramble the stones of their temple.

All of this is one piece with the decrees, desolation and deliverance promised in both Testaments. There will be an easily identifiable series of phenomena distinctly related to an unmistakable land, people and temple.

The destruction of the temple.
Jesus has cleansed this same temple on Monday of Passion Week (Matt. 21:12-17). But it does not stay clean when an offspring of vipers (Matt. 23:32b) is its operating leadership. It appears clear that the decree concerning the destruction of the temple (Matt. 24:1-2) is a final touch to the eight woes pronounced in chapter 23.

The disciples attempt to cushion the sharpness of Messiah's open attack upon the national, religious leadership by suggesting that there was something good left, namely the temple structure. They certainly were not showing Him anything He had not seen before — when they showed Him the buildings of the temple (Matt. 24:1).

Messiah predicts, yes decrees, that total destruction shall occur. The city may be involved but the focus is on the temple buildings only. It is worthwhile to reserve a place in our thinking for a yet future destruction of the temple only — during the tribulation period (see for example, Matt. 24:15 f and its implications). In such an event, the destruction of 70 A.D. which is in the forefront of Messiah's mind must be a prototype of a future destruction. It is exegetically difficult to minimize the manner in which the contemporary disciples took the situation. Their questions indicate they took a long view of all that was said.

The questions of the disciples.
The two questions asked by the four disciples provide the major structural key to the understanding of the Olivet Discourse. The literary pattern of the discourse provides the answers to the questioning. This is of utmost importance to the unlocking of the truth therein.

According to the grammatical construction, [1] here are only two questions in Matthew 24:3:

And as he sat on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came unto him privately, saying, "Tell us when shall these things be? And what shall be the sign of thy coming, and of the end of the world?"

"When shall these things be?" is the first question. The future tense is employed. The usual interpretation is that this question refers only to the destruction of Jerusalem and that it is not treated to an answer in Matthew 24-25. It usually follows that its answer is found in Luke 21:20-24.

We believe this line of reasoning is too hasty. The question concerns a plural idea — these things. It is not merely the destruction of Jerusalem that fills the minds of the disciples. This is too simple and avoids the strong build-up of the argument precipitating Passion Week. Secondly, there is a noticeable break in the flow of the narrative. Messiah changes His position. As he sits on the mount they make their approach to question Him. The scene at the temple has been succeeded by one on the mount. This is sufficient to interrupt any strict or restrictive connection. Appealing to a parallel Gospel weakens an exposition of Matthew 24-25 when it is the first or last resort. Messiah's judgment prediction (Matt. 23:37-39) is a complex matter. Many things are involved. There is an effective moment of that judgment on the leadership. There is the implied change to be wrought in the people. There is the implied interim period before the Second Advent. There is the recognition, at last, of Messiah as Lord. There is the abandonment of the house of Israel (cf. Rom. 11:25).

The question features time or timing. It may well be, in Messiah's mind, that the first question is really involved in the second also. As a result, He actually treats the second question fully without making any striking and direct reference to the first. In other words, our position is that since the destruction of Jerusalem is not featured in the first question there is no need to look for a further description thereof to be made in the discourse. The second question is "what shall be the sign of thy coming and of the full consummation of the age (Greek)?"

There are several structural features to be noted seriously. First, Messiah's discourse is a direct answer to the question. Secondly, the discourse is found to be patterned to the question's two folds. Thirdly, Messiah answers the second fold of the question first. Fourthly, the subject is the consummation of the age and not the course of the age. Fifthly, the disciples show clearly by their question that they understand the coming of Messiah and the consummation of the age to be of one piece. Sixthly, the question deals with time and timing and relates not to the past but to the future.

All of these features of the literary structure show that the disciples were taking the long look stimulated by Matthew 23:37-39. If this is true, we should expect the discourse to confirm the observations and we will not be disappointed in our study.

As we progress, we must ask which age is being discussed. It is plain from the text that we are facing Israel's economy and not the economy of the Church. There is the rejection of Israel's national leadership. There is the judgment on Israel's houses; temporary in nature. There is the prediction of Israel's future awakening. There is the prediction of Israel's temple. The discourse itself is saturated in Messianic terms and tones. It is Israel's prophecies that are subject to fulfillment. Therefore it is Israel's age and economy that is in view and a special segment of it at that—the consummation of the seventy weeks of Daniel (Dan. 9:24-27). We remind the reader that the book of Revelation (written about 95 A.D. and thus long after the 70 A.D. destruction of the city of Jerusalem) still predicts the content of the Olivet Discourse lies in the future.

We must also insist that the course of the age is not the question asked. Neither is it treated in the discourse. This will be seen most clearly in the exposition of verses 4-14. It is wrong to think that the disciples were asking for calendar dates. The real emphasis is on the timing aspect of time as it is in the book of Revelation.

The significance of the term sign must not escape us for it also relates matters to the nation Israel — the sign nation. The sign of Messiah's Second Advent is treated in Matthew 24:29-31. The sign of the consummation consists in the structure of events in both Testaments aligned with the seventieth week of Daniel's famous prophecy. Again the book of Revelation written later casts it into the future and into connection with Messiah's return (Rev. 6-19). A sign is different from a symbol (in the Bible) for it signals a major action which a symbol does not do.

The Church is not mentioned in the Olivet Discourse. It had not been born (cf. Acts 1:5; 2; 11:15; 1 Cor. 12:13) and was as vague in the mind of the disciples as was the impending death, burial and resurrection of Messiah. This is sharply discernible when the second advent of Messiah is described. When He comes for His Church, the operation will take a split second and no one will be able to take a second look and probably not a first one. When He returns to the earth with His Bride, the Church, every eye will see Him (Rev. 1:7 and Matt. 24:30). These are two different bodies of people with different relationships to the returning Lord.

The questions of the disciples are well informed ones. They give us an accurate picture of the contemporary position of believers at that time. This is more important than the conjectures of any of us who have been born late and later in time.

Two things have been helpful to this writer over the years. They help widen the base of understanding, as they have done in many Bible classes in a variety of situations. These are not intended as a series of mere proof-texts. The reader is asked to prayerfully study the contexts in which each reference is found.

First, the closing seven years of the age under consideration should be viewed from the following three standpoints:

The time of Jacob's trouble — Jeremiah 30:5-7

  1. A time of travail  — Jer. 30:6; Isa. 66:8-10; Matt. 24:8

  2. A time of terror  — Jer. 30:7; Matt. 24:22

  3. A time of triumph  — Jer. 30:7; Rom. 11:25-26

The times of the Gentiles ends — Luke 21:24 (cf. Dan. 9:24-27)

  1. A decreed course  — Dan. 2:7; 9:24-27.

  2. A determined consummation  — Lu. 21:24; Exo. 30:3; Dan. 9:24-27

The Day of the Lord commences —Joel 1-2; Zechariah 12-14.

  1. A day of destruction  — Joel 1:15.

  2. A day of darkness  — Joel 2:1-2.

  3. A day of decision  — Joel 3:12-14.

  4. A day of destiny  — Zech. 14:4, 5, 9; II Peter 3:8ff.

The second help suggested is the careful examination of the specific data found in the following selected Old Testament passages:

Numbers 24:17; Deuteronomy 4:1; Isaiah 2:1-4, 12, 19; ll:ll-i6; 13:1-16; 24:1-13; 26:20-21; 34:1, 2, 8; 59:20; 60:8-16; 61:2; 66:15-16; Jeremiah 3:18; 16:14-15; 20:34- 38; 22:19-22; 23:3-8; 30:4-7; 31:8-9; 46:10; Ezekiel 20:40-44; 36:24-32; 37:1-28; Daniel 12:1; Hosea 3:4-5; 6:1-2; Amos 5:18-20; 9:11-12; Obadiah 1:15; Zephaniah 1:14-18; Zechariah 12:2, 39; 13:9; 14:1-2, 4, 5, 9; Malachi 3:1-3; 4:1.

All of the preceding passages floodlight the nature of the seventieth week under consideration. It is a thrilling experience to sense the pulse beat of the prophets in this regard. With these passages acclimatizing and conditioning our hearts and minds we can simulate the outlook of the disciples as they asked their questions.

Data on time sequences in the discourse. There is a very striking set of references to the time sequence featuring a play on the when and then axis. This is natural to the question when, but it also provides the color of the literary binders throughout the discourse. We select the more striking instances:

"When shall these things be (24:3)?" "Then shall the end come (24:14)." "When therefore ye see the abomination of desolation (24:15)." "Then shall be great tribulation (24:21)." "Then shall appear the sign of the Son of Man (24:30)." "When the Son of Man shall come in His glory (25:31)." "Then shall He sit on the throne of His glory (25:31)."

Another great time reference in the discourse is found in 24:29. "But immediately after the tribulation of those days . . ." This sets the coming of the Lord to earth to reign as an event taking  place immediately after the tribulation period (cf. 24:21).

Due to current opinions, it is necessary to press the reader to come to an understanding that such a coming could not be imminent in relation to our day. It obviously follows predicted events and is connected to vivid signs. Much confusion has been brought into the Scripture by reading the rapture into the second advent of Messiah to the earth to reign. The descent to the clouds (1Thess. 4:13-5:9) is to be distinguished from His descent to the earth to reign (Matt. 24:29-31; 25:31-34). The rapture is imminent. The return to earth cannot be so identified until the events of the tribulation are concluded.

The time references, then, provide additional keys to the discourse; God is a master of timing (Acts 1:7). There is such a factor as timing connected with the return to reign. The discourse openly and structurally deals with this matter because the discourse is Messiah's answer to intelligent questioning.


[1] Granville Sharp's rule applies here and determines that there are two folds to the one question, rather than two questions.

  [1] The Writings of Douglas B. MacCorkle (also see brief Biography)

Prophetic Peaks, Exposition of the Olivet Discourse. Copyright 1968 by Douglas B. MacCorkle. Third Printing 1972. Printed by Careers With Christ Press, Philadelphia College of Bible, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Printed in the United States of America. Published by the not for profit MacCorkle Bible Ministries, Inc. Books. P.O. 320909, Cocoa Beach, Fl 32932-0909. Used by permission through the generosity of Judith and Ray Naugle.

God's Own VIPS, Copyright 1987 by Douglas B. MacCorkle. MacCorkle Bible Ministries, Inc., Printed in the United States of America. Published by the not for profit MacCorkle Bible Ministries, Inc. Books. P.O. 320909, Cocoa Beach, Fl 32932-0909. Used by permission through the generosity of Judith and Ray Naugle.

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