The Apostles on the Olivet Discourse
By David Pyles
Some Christian scholars of past and present interpret the important Olivet Discourse of Mt 21, Mk 13 and Lk 21 as having been completely and finally fulfilled in A.D. 70 at the destruction of Jerusalem and accompanying events. This is invariably the view of those in the preterist school, who also handle the Book of Revelation in much the same way. In opposition to this view is that of the futurists, who generally contend that the Olivet Discourse only had a preliminary fulfillment at A.D. 70, and that it will have its primary fulfillment in the final and visible coming of the Lord Jesus Christ.
All should agree that could we know the opinion of the Apostles on the Olivet Discourse, then this would settle the matter. While the Apostles did not offer any commentaries that were expressly applied to this discourse, they alluded to it many times. The Apostles frequently described the final, visible, and glorious coming of Jesus Christ. Upon examining the details of these descriptions, it will be found that they exactly match details of the prophecy given by Christ on the Mount of Olives. We believe this is convincing evidence that the Apostles interpreted the Olivet Discourse as having application to the last days.
Points of correlation between the Olivet Discourse and the writings of the Apostle's include:
1) Jesus said in the Olivet Discourse that His coming would occur with the sound of a trumpet:
And then shall appear the sign of the Son of man in heaven: and then shall all the tribes of the earth mourn, and they shall see the Son of man coming in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. And he shall send his angels with a great sound of a trumpet (or with a trumpet, and a great voice), and they shall gather together his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other. - Mt 24:31
This is the only time in the Bible where Jesus associated a trumpet with His return. Now observe what the Apostles said about the trumpet:
Behold, I shew 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 trump: for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed. - 1Cor 15:52
For this we say unto you by the word of the Lord, that we which are alive and remain unto the coming of the Lord shall not prevent them which are asleep. For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first: Then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord. Wherefore comfort one another with these words. - 1Thes 4:15-18
And the angel which I saw stand upon the sea and upon the earth lifted up his hand to heaven, And sware by him that liveth for ever and ever, who created heaven, and the things that therein are, and the earth, and the things that therein are, and the sea, and the things which are therein, that there should be time no longer: But in the days of the voice of the seventh angel, when he shall begin to sound, the mystery of God should be finished, as he hath declared to his servants the prophets. - Rev 10:5-7
Now if these three scriptures are indeed referring to Christ's statement about the trumpet, then there can be no doubt that both Paul and John believed the Olivet Discourse pertained to the end of time. Further, observe that Paul claimed to be conveying the word of the Lord in 1Thes 4:15-18. Since Jesus never associated a trumpet with His return anywhere other than in the Olivet Discourse, it seems very likely that Paul had this discourse in consideration when he penned these words obviously describing the end.
2) In the Olivet Discourse, Jesus compared His coming to that of a thief:
But know this, that if the goodman of the house had known in what watch the thief would come, he would have watched, and would not have suffered his house to be broken up. - Mt 24:43
Now consider how Paul and Peter used this same analogy:
But of the times and the seasons, brethren, ye have no need that I write unto you. For yourselves know perfectly that the day of the Lord so cometh as a thief in the night. - 1Thes 5:1,2
These scriptures are a continuation of Paul's comments in the fourth chapter, where he described the resurrection and the translation of the final day saints. We therefore believe it plainly refers to the end of time. Next, Peter said:
But the heavens and the earth, which are now, by the same word are kept in store, reserved unto fire against the day of judgment and perdition of ungodly men. But, beloved, be not ignorant of this one thing, that one day is with the Lord as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day. The Lord is not slack concerning his promise, as some men count slackness; but is longsuffering to us-ward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance. But the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night; in the which the heavens shall pass away with a great noise, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat, the earth also and the works that are therein shall be burned up. Seeing then that all these things shall be dissolved, what manner of persons ought ye to be in all holy conversation and godliness, Looking for and hasting unto the coming of the day of God, wherein the heavens being on fire shall be dissolved, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat? Nevertheless we, according to his promise, look for new heavens and a new earth, wherein dwelleth righteousness. - 2Pet 3:10-13
We believe all of this must pertain to the end of time. First, it describes the destruction of the heavens and earth by fire, and this destruction is placed on the same order as the destruction of the flood in the days of Noah (vss 5-7). Now since the latter was literal, we should expect the former to be literal also. Since the latter was universal, the former should be universal also. Second, the events described are to occur after a prolonged period of time; sufficiently long that scoffers will dismiss them on this basis (vss 3,4). Yet Peter's book is thought to have been written only about four years prior to A.D. 70. Further, Peter suggested that thousands of years could elapse before the fulfillment of these things (vs 8). Third, Peter applied this prophecy to a time he called the last days (vs 3), clearly suggesting that he was not in the last days. Fourth, God's longsuffering for His people did not come to an end in A.D. 70, and Primitive Baptists commonly apply verse 9 to all unregenerate elect. Fifth, because Peter expressed anticipation of a new heavens and earth, and because the church kingdom had already been established for over 30 years, he could not have been making an allegorical reference to such a kingdom. We believe he was referring to a literal new heavens and earth, and it is plain that such things must be future.
If these comparisons by Paul and Peter of the Lord's return to the coming of a thief were motivated by the Lord's use of the same analogy in the Olivet Discourse, then this strongly suggests that both Paul and Peter interpreted that discourse as pertaining to the end of time.
3) Jesus claimed in the Olivet Discourse that His coming would be with clouds:
And there shall be signs in the sun, and in the moon, and in the stars; and upon the earth distress of nations, with perplexity; the sea and the waves roaring; Men's hearts failing them for fear, and for looking after those things which are coming on the earth: for the powers of heaven shall be shaken. And then shall they see the Son of man coming in a cloud with power and great glory. And when these things begin to come to pass, then look up, and lift up your heads; for your redemption draweth nigh. - Lk 21:25-28
To this we may add that Jesus ascended into a cloud, and it was claimed He would return in like manner (Acts 1:9-11). Furthermore, His glorification on the mount of transfiguration was very likely a prelude to His visible return (Mt 16:28, 2Pet 1:16-18), and the Bible clearly states He was transfigured in a cloud (Mt 17:5, Mk 9:7, Lk 9:34).
Upon two occasions, the Apostles associated clouds with His coming:
Then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord. - 1Thes 4:17
Behold, he cometh with clouds; and every eye shall see him, and they also which pierced him: and all kindreds of the earth shall wail because of him. Even so, Amen. - Rev 1:7
The first of these scriptures obviously pertains to the final coming of Christ. We believe the second scripture does the same. It clearly pertains to His visible return, which did not occur in A.D. 70. Again, the apostolic references to clouds at His coming suggests they interpreted the Olivet Discourse as having application to the end of time.
4) Jesus said in the Olivet Discourse that His coming would be accompanied with angels:
And then shall they see the Son of man coming in the clouds with great power and glory. And then shall he send his angels, and shall gather together his elect from the four winds, from the uttermost part of the earth to the uttermost part of heaven. - Mk 13:26,27
Apart from the Gospel writings, there is but one place in the scriptures where an apostle described Christ as returning with angels:
And to you who are troubled rest with us, when the Lord Jesus shall be revealed from heaven with his mighty angels, In flaming fire taking vengeance on them that know not God, and that obey not the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ: Who shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord, and from the glory of his power; When he shall come to be glorified in his saints, and to be admired in all them that believe (because our testimony among you was believed) in that day. - 2Thes 1:7
We believe the latter text must describe the final coming of Christ. The text was addressed to a Gentile church. Since Gentiles generally were not being persecuted by Jews, the vengeance under consideration could not be the destruction of Jerusalem. The text also describes Christ as being revealed from heaven along with His angels. We do not think this occurred in A.D. 70. Further, the text is describing a time in which everlasting destruction is administered to the wicked, and in which the saints are glorified. This being the case, if the assertions of this text regarding angels were motivated by the Olivet Discourse, then this shows that Paul interpreted the discourse as pertaining to the last days.
Observe that the Olivet Discourse has Christ gathering His elect not only from earth but also from heaven. We do not believe this can be fulfilled at A.D. 70, nor can it be fulfilled in anything else but the final events of the world. We believe this must refer to the dispensation of the fulness of times wherein all things are gathered in Christ (Eph 1:10). Paul claimed in 1Thes 4:14 that when Christ returns, He will bring with Him all that sleep in Jesus. The apparent meaning is that the souls of the departed will be brought with Jesus to be reunited with their bodies. Hence, there is indeed a gathering of the elect both from heaven and earth at the end of time.
5) In the Olivet Discourse, Christ compared the times of His coming to the times of Noah:
But as the days of Noe were, so shall also the coming of the Son of man be. For as in the days that were before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day that Noe entered into the ark, And knew not until the flood came, and took them all away; so shall also the coming of the Son of man be. Then shall two be in the field; the one shall be taken, and the other left. Two women shall be grinding at the mill; the one shall be taken, and the other left. Watch therefore: for ye know not what hour your Lord doth come. - Mt 24:37-42
There is but one place in the scriptures where an apostle compared the days of Christ's coming to the days of Noah:
Knowing this first, that there shall come in the last days scoffers, walking after their own lusts, And saying, Where is the promise of his coming? for since the fathers fell asleep, all things continue as they were from the beginning of the creation. For this they willingly are ignorant of, that by the word of God the heavens were of old, and the earth standing out of the water and in the water: Whereby the world that then was, being overflowed with water, perished: But the heavens and the earth, which are now, by the same word are kept in store, reserved unto fire against the day of judgment and perdition of ungodly men. - 2Pet 3:3-7
We believe Peter must be referring to the end of the world. Now if he based his belief in the comparability of the last days and the days of Noah upon what Christ said, then this suggests that he interpreted the Olivet Discourse as applying to the last days.
6) Christ said in the Olivet Discourse that the days of tribulation prior to His coming would be analogous to travail upon a women:
For nation shall rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom: and there shall be earthquakes in divers places, and there shall be famines and troubles: these are the beginnings of sorrows (The word in the original import the pains of a woman in travail)." - Mk 13:8
Compare this with what Paul said:
For when they shall say, Peace and safety; then sudden destruction cometh upon them, as travail upon a woman with child; and they shall not escape. - 1Thes 5:3
Again, the words of Paul must apply to the end of time, as is made evident by considering the context. The common analogy of a woman in travail adds yet more evidence that Paul interpreted the Olivet Discourse as applying to the times of the resurrection, the general destruction of the wicked, etc.
We do not know of any place in the Bible where the Apostles referred to or alluded to the Olivet Discourse when warning of the destruction of Jerusalem. We have absolutely no doubt that the Olivet Discourse is a prophecy concerning that event, but we believe the testimony of the Apostles confirms that they interpreted this discourse as primarily referring to the end of time.